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.

If parents show up, teachers earn bonus

In some Idaho districts, teachers’ merit pay is based on parent attendance at conferences.

At Wendell High, up to 70 percent of the possible bonus is based on how many parents show up for conferences. To earn the maximum bonus, the teacher must inspire at least 40 percent of parents to attend.

Wendell Middle School bases half of the school’s pay-for-performance plan on the percentage of students who complete their portfolios for student-led conferences. Ninety  percent of portfolios must be completed to trigger the maximum bonus. The theory is that if students do portfolios, parents will show up.

Do teachers really control whether parents come to school?

The future of teachers means accepting parent power, writes RiShawn Biddle.

 

NEA likes GOP bill to revise NCLB

How’s the ice skating in hell? The nation’s largest teachers’ union likes the Senate Republicans’ No Child Left Behind overhaul, reports Politics K-12.

The National Education Association sent a letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander supporting his NCLB revision bill.

In particular, the union is in favor of the accountability provisions in the bill, which would largely leave decisions about how to fix all but the bottom 5 percent of schools to states. The Alexander bill would also offer additional options for states seeking to turn around struggling schools. (NEA isn’t such a fan of the current menu put forth by the Obama administration.)

. . . The union also likes the fact that the bill would maintain disagreggated data (breaking out student performance by subgroup), and allow for multiple measures to demonstrate student achievement.

The union even likes the bill’s teacher-quality provisions, which provide merit pay incentives but don’t require districts to pay extra for performance.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin is negotiating with Republican Sen. Michael Enzi on another NCLB rewrite. A draft could be released next week, predicts Politics K-12.

Like the waiver package and the Alexander bill, many of the proposals under discussion represent a signficant departure from current law. They would put most of the federal focus on schools that are struggling the most, leaving states to decide what happens when it comes to student achievement in the vast majority of schools, including for particular subgroups of students.

The drafts now circulating don’t set achievement targets as long as students are improving. States wouldn’t need federal approval of their college-and-career-ready standards.

 

Miami tries merit pay

Miami is giving performance pay to teachers under a plan the teachers’ union helped design. Federal Race to the Top dollars are paying for bonuses based on students’ or schools’ test scores and gains.

For Miami-Dade teachers who do not teach FCAT subjects — such as P.E., chemistry or drama — their entire school’s FCAT reading scores will be factored into their reviews for the 2011-12 school year. Eventually, under state law, there will be a test for every subject that will be used to evaluate students and teachers.

In the first wave of bonuses, about 85 percent of the Miami-Dade district’s 20,000-plus teachers qualify for extra money in four categories, depending on how their school, department or students scored on the FCAT. Most bonuses range from about $500 to just more than $1,500. Some teachers will not see any extra money.

All Florida districts are required to pay teachers based on effectiveness by 2014.

Public, teachers’ views split on reform

Teachers’ views on education issues have diverged from public opinion in the last year, concludes a Harvard survey. Take the survey here.

The public splits on whether teachers’ unions have a positive or negative influence; teachers defend their unions more strongly.

Public opposition to teacher tenure edged upward; teachers support tenure more than ever. Public support for basing tenure on student academic progress increased from 49 percent to 55 percent, but only 30 percent of teachers agreed.

The public supports merit pay by a 47 to 27 percent margin. Only 18 percent of teachers favor merit pay and 72 percent oppose it.

The public agrees with teachers on one issue: 55 percent of the public and 82 percent of teachers favor higher pay. Only 7 percent of the public would cut teacher pay.

However, public support for higher teacher pay falls to 42 percent when those surveyed are told how much the average teacher in their state is currently paid.

Given a choice between increasing teacher salaries and reducing class sizes, the public opted for smaller classes. Told that “reducing average class sizes by three students would cost roughly the same amount as increasing teacher salaries by $10,000,” 44 percent chose class-size reduction and 28 percent selected increasing teacher salaries.

Teachers split on whether to opt for higher pay or smaller classes.

By a strong margin, the public favored teachers paying a percentage of their benefit costs, while teachers overwhelmingly reject this cost-cutting measure.

Public support for vouchers increased: 47 percent backed “a proposal to give families with children in public schools a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition.”

Forty-three percent of the public — and 45 percent of teachers — supported charter schools; a minority are anti-charter and many are undecided.

Merit pay and 'Bad Teacher'

To balance the state budget, Texas cut 90 percent of funding for the nation’s largest merit pay program, reports the Dallas Morning News.

A Texas Education Agency study of the merit-pay program found slightly increased test scores at participating schools and higher teacher retention rates.

Some districts spread out the bonus money to most teachers, cutting the average payment to $1,361. Other districts gave bonuses to teachers at select schools; the average payment was $3,344. “Generally, larger bonuses produced better test scores and teacher retention,” notes the Morning News.

The movie Bad Teacher, which is getting mixed or negative reviews, features a gold-digging, booze-swilling bimbo who becomes a middle-school teacher (not sure how) in hopes of making enough money for breast implants to attract a wealthy substitute teacher. She stops showing movies in class and tries to teach when she learns of a bonus for high test scores. Not credible, points out the National Council on Teacher Quality.

We must point out that such incentives don’t exist in Chicago, where the film is based. In fact, of the 100 largest school districts in the country, according to our TR3 database, only six offer bonuses on the basis of performance to individual teachers that would be substantial enough to cover the average cost of breast augmentation surgery — around $3,800.

In order for performance pay to make a substantial impact on teacher recruitment and retention, the incentives have to be significant enough to make a real impact in teachers’ lives. Bad Teachers unquestioned premise is more anecdotal evidence that the public, inside and out, overestimates the true role of performance pay in schools today.
Also, middle school is not a great place to find a wealthy husband.

Merit pay train wreck in Florida

Florida’s new merit pay law is going to be a “train wreck,” predicts Rick Hess in Ed Week.  The new law  would end tenure for new teachers and stop districts for paying more for master’s degrees, which Hess supports. But SB 736 also puts the state in charge of how all teachers are evaluated and paid. Micromanaging will stifle innovation, he writes.

If schools are using staff smart–for example, having one fifth-grade teacher do the bulk of math instruction and another take the lead on English language arts–the system breaks down. If schools are piping in virtual instruction, or making heavy use of in-house tutors (a la High Tech High School or Boston’s MATCH School), the system breaks down. If a school adopts New York’s School of One model, with teachers sharing ownership of middle school math instruction in a slew of ways, the system breaks down. In short, SB 736 calls for a “21st century” evaluation and pay system that works only so long as schools cling ever more tightly to the rhythms of the one-teacher-and-twenty-five student classroom of the 19th century. Swell.

Florida will get a half-baked plan that relies heavily on data of “uncertain reliability, validity or import,” writes Hess.

He quotes Charles Miller, former chair of the Spellings Commission on Higher Education, who writes:  “The teacher incentive pay stampede has the makings of a disaster. It’s hard enough in the private sector and incentives always produce unintended consequences and often huge distortions. Imposing incentive pay on individual teachers with inadequate measures onto a culture where it is totally foreign is foolish at worst and merely hopeful at best.”

States roll back teachers’ bargaining rights

Wisconsin’s new law restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights is on hold to give Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi time to consider a lawsuit charging Republican lawmakers failed to give 24-hour notice of the vote. However, if the judge overturns the law, Republicans could pass it again.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has signed a law phasing out tenure for new teachers and restricting collective bargaining. The Republican governor also signed legislation to introduce teacher merit pay.

Collective-bargaining limits are moving forward in Ohio and Indiana.

In Tennessee, Republicans are debating whether to limit collective bargaining for teachers or ban it entirely. Again, Republicans control the legislature and the statehouse.

Florida will end tenure for new teachers, offer merit pay and limit bargaining rights.

Merit pay fizzles in Big Apple

New York City’s merit pay plan for teachers didn’t improve student achievement, concludes a new study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who compared merit-pay schools to schools that didn’t participate. But few merit-pay schools allocated the bonus money based on performance. More than 80 percent split the extra money equally among all or nearly all the teachers, writes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.

 The program didn’t raise test scores at all and may have slightly depressed middle school scores in the participating schools. The impact of the incentives on student attendance, behavior, course grades, regents test scores, and high school graduation were negligible, Fryer writes. And it did not seem to affect teacher behavior either, as measured by retention rates in the school or the district; absenteeism; or teacher perception of the learning environment.

Fryer speculates the incentive scheme was “too ambiguous in its goals and complex in its means” to change teachers’ behavior.

New York City spent $75 million over three years on the bonuses. But it will cost taxpayers much more, notes Teacher Beat, because the district paid off the union to agree to the experiment.  For a minimal payment, teachers were allowed to retire with full benefits five years earlier.  “Performance pay is temporary, but a pension is pretty much forever,” writes Sawchuk.