Emanuel tries to turn Chicago schools

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fought fiercely for education reform in Chicago, writes Alexander Russo in Ed Next.  When he took office in 2011, Emanuel pledged “to do bold, concrete things—enact a longer school day and year, implement principal performance bonuses, expand International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, and revamp teacher evaluations—and get them done as quickly and visibly as possible.” After three years, results are mixed.

Test scores have risen in the Windy City, but lag far behind the Illinois average.

Emanuel faced a $1 billion budget deficit and massive and unfunded pension liabilities. Enrollment was declining leaving schools half empty. The mayor rescinded teachers’ 4 percent salary increase to balance the budget.

The “newly energized” Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), led by Karen Lewis, went on strike for seven school days at the start of the 2012-13 school year. The new contract blocked merit pay and gave teachers 2 to 3 percent raises. 

Yet Emanuel was able to extend the school day and year and introduce a new teacher evaluation program.

Despite some progress, Chicago schools face budget problems, bitter fights over school closures and $19 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Emanuel and Lewis have not been able to work together on funding or pension issues.

Emanuel was pushing for a delay in addressing pension liabilities. “I’m going to turn this battleship around,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times, but “I’m not going to reverse 30 years of bad practices in just three years.”

Americans want small classes, more tech

Smaller classes and more technology  would help schools the most, say adults surveyed for School Choice Signals, a new Friedman Foundation report. Merit pay and longer school days would be the least effective of seven reforms, the survey takers said.

Making the most of the best teachers

If effective teachers taught more students — and weaker teachers had smaller classes — everyone would learn more, according to Right-Sizing the Classroom. Michael Hansen, senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, analyzed North Carolina data.

At the eighth-grade level, assigning up to 12 more students than average to effective teachers can produce gains equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school, Hansen concluded. Three-quarters of that gain can be realized by moving six students. There are smaller gains at the fifth-grade level.

The benefits of assigning more students to the best teachers are the equivalent of firing the worst 5 percent of teachers, Hansen concluded. Unequal class size would be politically difficult, even with bonuses, but it’s easier than firing the incompetent.

In a survey last year, 73 percent of parents preferred a class of 27 students — “taught by one of the district’s best performing teachers” — over a class of 22 students “taught by a randomly chosen teacher.”

In a 2006 study, 83 percent of  Washington state teachers said they’d prefer an extra $5,000 in pay to having two fewer students in their classes. (Two is not a very large number.)

“Right-sizing” also is a way to sidestep merit pay while rewarding good teachers, the study observes. Bonuses would be “extra pay for extra work.”

Tiger Rhee

In Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, Michelle Rhee touts her skills at firing people — and buying them off — writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in a Wall Street Journal review of the book.

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To get union approval for performance pay and a new teacher evaluation system, Rhee raised millions of dollars from foundations.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty backed Rhee — and lost his bid for re-election. Rhee resigned from the chancellorship and founded StudentsFirst to lobby for school reform.

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Rhee “was urged by her Tiger Mom to go to law school,” writes Riley. Instead, she volunteered for Teach for America.  She almost quit after her first year at a tough Baltimore school, but her father told her to finish what she’d started. In her second year, she asked for advice from the best teachers and found new ways to “push her students harder and keep them interested.”

As chancellor in D.C., Rhee “became livid” when she learned a sign at a Washington school that read: “Teachers cannot make up for what parents and students will not do,” Riley writes. As a Tiger Reformer, Rhee thinks effort always pays off.

When she was a child, Rhee attended school in Seoul, South Korea for several months, she writes in Radical. Every child in her class of 70 was ranked, publicly. “Rather than damaging the souls of the less accomplished, the rankings focused every family on moving their children up the ladder.”

CREDO: Indiana charter students do well

Students at Indiana charter schools outperformed similar students at traditional public schools in math and reading, concludes a new report from Stanford’s CREDO. Indianapolis charter students did especially well, reports Ed Week.

The study tracked 15,297 charter school students at 64 schools from grades 3-8. On average, students in charter schools ended the year having made the equivalent of 1.5 more months of learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school counterparts did. Students in charter schools in Indianapolis ended the year ahead of their traditional public school counterparts by two months in reading and three months in math.

Charter students and the control group were matched by  demographic and performance data (gender, race/ethnicity, special education status, English language proficiency, free-or-reduced lunch participation, grade level, and prior test scores on state achievement tests).

In Indiana, 58 percent of charter students are black, compared to 11 percent of the state’s students. Eleven percent of charter students are in special education compared to 15 percent in traditional public schools.

In a wrap-up on education research in 2012, Matthew Di Carlo notes that CREDO’s research on charter gains in Indiana and New Jersey show most of the progress comes in big cities, Indianapolis and Newark. By contrast, rural charter students tend to underperform similar students.

One contentious variation on this question is whether charter schools “cream” higher-performing students, and/or “push out” lower-performing students, in order to boost their results. Yet another Mathematica supplement to their 2010 report examining around 20 KIPP middle schools was released, addressing criticisms that KIPP admits students with comparatively high achievement levels, and that the students who leave are lower-performing than those who stay. This report found little evidence to support either claim (also take a look at our post on attrition and charters).

An another analysis, presented in a conference paper, “found that low-performing students in a large anonymous district did not exit charters at a discernibly higher rate than their counterparts in regular public schools,” DiCarlo adds.

On the flip side of the entry/exit equation, this working paper found that students who won charter school lotteries (but had not yet attended the charter) saw immediate “benefits” in the form of reduced truancy rates, an interesting demonstration of the importance of student motivation.

Di Carlo has more on the research this year on charter management organizations, merit pay and teacher evaluations using value-added and growth measures.

Merit mandate = $1 bonus for top teachers

Some Michigan school districts think their best teachers are worth $1 more than their worst, reports Michigan Capitol Confidential.

That’s the amount the Davison Community Schools in Genessee County, and the Stephenson Area Public Schools in Menominee County, pay to be in compliance with the state’s merit pay law, which was put in place when Jennifer Granholm was governor. The Gladstone Area Public Schools in Delta County pays its top-notch teachers $3 more than the worst.

Job performance must be “a significant factor in determining compensation,” according to state law. In Davison and Stephenson schools, that means a $1 bonus for  “highly effective” teachers. Gladstone pays a $3 bonus to “highly effective” teachers, $2 to those rated “effective” and an extra $1 to any teacher who “meets goals.”

Eighty percent of Michigan districts are ignoring the merit pay law, estimates the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.  Teachers are paid based on years of experience and credits earned past a bachelor’s degree. There’s no monetary reward for teaching well.

. . .in the Troy School District in Oakland County, seven gym teachers made more money in 2011 than a biology teacher who was selected as a national teacher of the year.

A measure on the November ballot, Proposal 2, would end the merit pay mandate by letting government union contracts  overrule state laws.

A few districts have replaced the old salary scales with performance pay without spending more overall on salaries, says Michael Van Beek, education policy director at Mackinac.

Romney floats radical education idea

Education policy had a few moments in the Obama-Romney debate last night.

President Obama said education would be gutted, if Republican challenger Mitt Romney is elected, Ed Week reports.

“I’m not going to cut education funding . . . and grants that go to people going to college,” Romney said.

Obama touted his plan to hire an additional 100,000 math and science teachers.

Romney countered that Obama’s $90 billion invested in green energy (“You pick losers.”) would have paid for two million teachers.

Obama linked his education reform agenda to Common Core Standards, which are supposed to be a state effort, Ed Week notes.

Obama, who doesn’t refer to Race to the Top much on the campaign stump, invoked his signature education-reform brand three times in the debate as having “prompted reforms in 46 states.” (Clearly a reference to the common core, without naming the common-standards movement, which is a politically dicey thing for the federal government to support these days.)

Both candidates said improving education is a key to economic prosperity.

 Romney “floated the most radical, furthest left idea” in education in his debate with President Obama, writes Dana Goldstein on Slate. Romney called for letting poor and disabled schoolchildren use their federal education funding to cross district lines to attend a better school.  The idea is included in his education policy white paper released in May.

“Historically, affluent and white parents and school districts have gone to great lengths to keep poor, nonwhite kids out of their own kids’ classrooms,” Goldstein writes.

  The Obama administration’s signature school reform program, Race to the Top, did nothing to encourage school integration or allow children to attend schools outside of their home districts—an important right, since many failing schools are located in districts where almost every school is underperforming, and those that aren’t have overflowing wait lists.

Romney hasn’t explained how his proposal would work and the chances it would happen are slim, she predicts.

What would President Romney do on education? Rick Hess looks at Romney’s record as governor of high-scoring Massachusetts.

Romney’s education record as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007 looks a lot like President Obama’s has. Romney inherited a strong reform tradition — built around standards, testing, and accountability. He maintained and strengthened this commitment by adding a science test to the state’s accountability system and supporting high school exit exams. He also pushed a controversial plan to mandate parenting classes for parents in low-performing districts seeking to enroll their kids in kindergarten.

In terms of school choice, Romney vetoed a bill to place a moratorium on opening new charter schools, and the number of charter schools increased modestly, from 46 to 59. He unsuccessfully championed merit pay for the top third of performers and for math and science teachers, offering bonuses of up to $5,000. He pushed for addressing low-performing schools with strategies that are quite similar to those favored by the Obama administration, including making it easier to replace principals and teachers in such schools or turning them into charters.

President Romney probably would push an Obama-like reform agenda, “but would do so with a lighter touch, less spending, and more emphasis on choice,” Hess predicts.

Making merit pay work

Merit pay motivates teachers if they fear losing compensation, writes Patrick Brennan, citing a new study.

Researchers offered performance pay to two groups of teachers in nine low-income K-8 schools near Chicago. Half were told they could get up to $8,000 at the end of the year, based on their students’ progress. The other half got $4,000 up front with the chance to make more if their students’ made above-average gains or give back money if their students showed below-average performance.

“Gain” groups showed weak but insignificant benefits for student achievement, while the “loss” groups showed very significant gains . . . “roughly the same order of magnitude as increasing average teacher quality by more than one standard deviation.”

Apparently, “loss aversion” is known to be a more powerful motivator than the hope of gain.

Teachers talk about unions, reform

Teachers support their unions, but they’re open to reform ideas, according to a new Education Sector survey, Trending Toward Reform

Teachers think evaluations are improving. In 2011, 78 percent said their most recent evaluation was done carefully and taken seriously by their school administration.

Three out of four teachers—76 percent—say that the criteria used in their evaluation were fair.

Teachers are warming to the idea that assessing student knowledge growth may be a good way to measure teacher effectiveness, with 54 percent of 2011 teachers agreeing. This compares with 49 percent in 2007.

Teachers are still opposed to including student test scores as one component of differentiated pay, with just 35 percent supporting that idea.

Teachers do support differentiated pay for teachers who work in tough neighborhoods with low-performing schools (83 percent support). Teachers also support differentiated pay for teachers who have earned National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification or for those who teach hard-to-fill subjects.

Few teachers want to eliminate tenure – only a third would be willing to trade tenure for a $5,000 bonus – but most agree it shouldn’t protect bad teachers, notes the Hechinger Report.

. . . a growing number of teachers believe that unions should play a role in making it easier to fire ineffective teachers. “Teachers pay the greatest price for incompetent teachers,” one teacher wrote in response to the survey. “Year after year, [other teachers] pick up the slack.”

Forty-three percent of teachers said unions should focus more on improving teacher quality, up from 32 percent in the 2007 survey. Sixty-two percent said unions could be “helpful partners in improving schools.”

Bloomberg’s $20,000 teacher bonus

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposes a $20,000 salary increase for teachers rated highly effective two years in a row, reports the New York Post.

If they ever get to vote, city teachers would approve merit pay even if their union opposes it, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday.

“Will the teachers union stand in the way of their most effective members being rewarded for all of their work?” Bloomberg asked during his speech before the US Conference of Mayors in Washington.

Washington, D.C. teachers rated “highly effective” are eligible for annual bonuses of $2,400 to $25,000 a year.

Merit pay doesn’t work, responded Mike Mulgrew, president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers.

Arthur Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students at Francis Lewis High School, says no to Bloomberg’s bonus in the New York Daily News.

The bonuses will reward teachers who teach to the test and never challenge their principals, Goldstein argues.

Whatever happens, teachers like me — who advocate for kids, who have no qualms about making the odd phone call to an education reporter, who care about honest education more than test prep — are never going to get merit pay.

. . . We are role models. We inspire kids. We teach them to speak out, stand up, to express themselves. That will be particularly tough if we’re all placing knives in one another’s backs chasing bonuses.

We are not wait staff, and I know of not one teacher who got into this to work for tips. More importantly, I refuse to believe that teachers who don’t get merit pay are without merit. If, in fact, we do not have merit, we should never have been hired in the first place.

Margaret Coppolo, a middle school teacher in Manhattan, thinks the $20,000 offer is “worth seriously considering,” if the city can work out a fair way to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness.

We need to keep our best teachers in our most struggling schools and compensate them for their dedication.

The merit pay “efforts that have failed either didn’t offer a compelling enough incentive or linked bonuses to school-wide results and not individual performance,” writes Coppolo.

In Washington, on the other hand, where significant raises are tied to an individual teacher’s effectiveness, early results show improvement in teacher retention and achievement.

In my newspaper days, I was a member of the union, the Newspaper Guild. We received higher pay for up to six year of experience. After that, experience didn’t matter. We got small bonuses for working a swing or night shift and for certain jobs, such as copy editing or editorial writing. Beyond that, an individual could try to negotiate merit pay, known as overscale, with his or her boss. I never thought of merit pay as a tip. It was a recognition of the value I added to the newspaper.