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.

Teacher bashing

Pay teachers more is the headline of Nicholas Kristof’s latest New York Times column, but the “to be sure” graph “swallows the rest of the piece,” writes Mickey Kaus in the Daily Caller, mock-accusing Kristof of  “teacher bashing.”

 According to Kristof:

(Teachers’ unions) used their clout to gain job security more than pay, thus making the field safe for low achievers. Teaching work rules are often inflexible, benefits are generous relative to salaries, and it is difficult or impossible to dismiss teachers who are ineffective

. . . 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores).

If unions do all those bad things, Kaus wonders, why does Kristof object to Wisconsin Republicans’ move to  “emasculate” them? Does he secretly admire Gov. Walker?

Kristof denies he wants to throw money at the “low achievers” who are now teaching ineffectively. He claims the ”pay should be for performance, with more rigorous evaluation.”  Good idea! But the teachers’ unions are the people who will fight that idea tooth and nail, and probably win.  Again, it seems as if Kristof should back Gov. Walker.

BTW, Kristof is off base on the SAT issue.  High school seniors who say they want to major in education earn below-average SAT scores, but that includes many who won’t earn a degree.  Elementary teaching  attracts some who love children but aren’t into academics.  (Of course, not all elementary teachers fit the sweet-but-dim model.) Would-be secondary teachers who plan to major in English, history, science or math tend to have above-average SAT scores.

Merit pay is ‘blocked, diluted, co-opted’

Merit pay plans are blocked, diluated and co-opted, according to an Education Next study by Jay Greene and Stuart Buck of the University of Arkansas.  Even “symbolic” plans are rare. Only 3.5 percent of districts have some form of merit pay, including token plans.

To be truly effective, pay for performance must mean in education what it does in other industries—salary increases for the successful, and salary reductions, even dismissals, for poor performers. State laws governing teacher tenure in most states make implementation of such plans unlikely.

Many plans reward teachers “mostly or entirely for inputs (e.g., professional development, graduate degrees, national certification) rather than for outputs (test scores, graduation rates, or even supervisor assessments).”

Arizona’s Classroom Site Fund (CSF) required districts to allocate 40 percent of the money to “teacher compensation increases based on performance and employment related expenses.” Only 29 of 222 districts created “strong performance pay plans” that linked teacher pay to student achievement, according to a 2010 report from the Arizona Auditor General.  One example:

One district awarded performance pay to eligible employees if freshman students’ algebra test scores increased by at least 10 percent between a pre- and post-test. The actual increase in test scores was almost 90 percent. Since the pre-test is given to freshman students who have never been exposed to algebra and the post-test is given to them after receiving a full year of algebra instruction, it should be expected that scores would increase significantly more than 10 percent.

Denver’s much-hyped ProComp program rewards earning a degree more generously than improving student learning.

The largest monetary award is for earning a graduate degree: a $3,300 permanent salary increase plus a tuition or student loan subsidy of $1,000 per year for up to four years. By comparison, teachers receive a one-time award, not a bump up in base salary, of up to $2,403.26 if their students exceed “district expectations” for student growth.

Moreover, as Paul Teske, a principal evaluator of the ProComp program, noted in the Christian Science Monitor, bad teachers face no penalty under the ProComp or similar merit-pay programs: “I guess your salary stays low, and maybe that sends the message that you should look at another career. But ProComp doesn’t directly address that.”

Many districts turn merit pay into a small across-the-board pay boost, write Green and Buck. In Houston, 88 percent of teachers qualified for a small “merit” bonus. That’s nothing compared to Minnesota, where 22 school districts gave Q Comp bonuses to more than 99 percent of teachers.

Schools that don’t need to compete for students have no incentive to design pay schemes that attract the best teachers, Greene and Buck write.  In the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, only 6 percent of traditional public school administrators said they used salaries to reward “excellence.” By contrast, 36 percent of charter administrators and 22 percent of private school heads offer performance pay.

Merit pay international

Achievement is higher in countries that pay teachers for outstanding performance, concludes an analysis of PISA data by Ludger Woessmann, a University of Munich economics professor.

(Students in performance-pay countries) score approximately one-quarter of a standard deviation higher on the international math and reading tests, and about 15 percent higher on the science test, than students in countries without performance pay. These findings are obtained after adjustments for levels of economic development across countries, student background characteristics, and features of national school systems.

. . . Since one-quarter of a standard deviation is roughly a year’s worth of learning, it might reasonably be concluded that by the age of 15, students taught under a policy regime that includes a performance pay plan will learn an additional year of math and reading and over half a year more in science. However, this conclusion depends on the many assumptions underlying an analysis based on observational data.

Twelve of 27 OECD countries with PISA data report incentive pay for outstanding teachers, but the pay schemes vary considerably.  For example, outstanding performance may be measured “based on the assessment of the head teacher (Portugal), assessments performed by education administrators (Turkey), or the measured learning achievements of students (Mexico,” Woessmann writes. Countries in Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) and Eastern Europe (Czech Republic and Hungary)  are the most likely to use performance pay.


Attacks on tenure build union’s base

Unions fear lost membership more than lost teacher tenure, writes Doug Tuthill, a former teachers’ union president who now runs Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program, on redefinED.

. . . when I was a union president, I knew that battles over tenure were great for business. That’s because teacher unions are in the business of selling protection, and anything that causes teachers to experience more job-related fear or insecurity increases union membership. I could never say so publicly, but the elimination of tenure would mean the union contract would be the only protection teachers had. That’s amounts to a full employment act for unions.

I had a similar attitude toward merit pay. Many teachers genuinely don’t think it’s possible to create a one-size-fits-all merit pay plan that is fair. Consequently merit pay proposals create fear and insecurity and also increase union membership.

Teacher unions fear vouchers, charters and virtual schools, because teachers aren’t likely to be unionized, he writes. Trying to organize teachers in a bunch of small, independent schools wouldn’t be worth the cost.

Therefore FEA (Florida Education Association) sees spending money to prevent teachers and parents from creating learning options outside the control of school boards and teachers unions as the smarter business move.

“With state legislatures pushing tenure and merit pay proposals this spring, teacher unions will be flush with cash over the next few years and highly resistant to change, Tuthill concludes.

Via Education Intelligence Agency’s Communique.

Spend money like it matters

Spend Money Like It Matters, writes Rick Hess in Educational Leadership. Specifically, we need to spend money to “attract, retain and make full use of talented educators.”

Question: Do you think that employees who are good at their work ought to be rewarded, recognized, and have the chance to step up into new opportunities and responsibilities? I do. If you’re with me on this, you embrace the principle of merit pay — whether you know it or not.

. . . I don’t imagine that paying bonuses for bumps in test scores, as though we were compensating traveling encyclopedia salesmen in the 1950s, is going to improve teaching or learning. And I don’t think that value-added calculations are themselves a comprehensive or reliable measure of teacher quality, even in grades where we can calculate such numbers with a reasonable degree of statistical accuracy. But money and metrics are invaluable tools in shaping a 21st century teaching profession.

Many merit-pay proposals foolishly try to “slather some test-based bonuses atop existing pay scales,” Hess writes. We need to rethink teacher pay to “help make employees feel valued, make the teaching profession more attractive to potential entrants, and signal that professional norms are displacing those of the industrial model.”

Merit pay, done right, will improve productivity, which schools no longer can afford to ignore. (See Productivity or the poorhouse.)

One-size-fits-all compensation means that we’re either paying the most effective employees too little, paying their less effective colleagues too much, or, most times, a little of each. In a world of scarce talent and limited resources, this is a problem.

A quick fix won’t work for teacher pay, Hess writes. This is going to take time to figure out. And we’re not likely to end up with one right answer for all schools and all sorts of teachers.

We can improve teacher quality through school design, writes Ed Sector’s Elena Silva, who looks at the Generation Schools model. “Many schools are insufficiently attractive to talented professionals, and they squander the talent of those they manage to employ.”