How to change teacher pay systems

William Taylor earns a hefty bonus for being a highly effective teacher in a high-poverty Washington, D.C. school.

William Taylor, 29, teaches math and coaches colleagues at a Washington, D.C. elementary school. Only 40 percent of his students start at grade level, but 90 percent end the year at or above grade level, reported Amanda Ripley in a 2010 Atlantic story on “what makes a great teacher.”

Before District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) revamped teacher compensation in 2009, Taylor was paid $42,000 a year.

In 2013, after seven straight years of extraordinary performance reviews Taylor received a base salary of $96,000, a $25,000 bonus for being a highly effective teacher in a high-poverty school, and a $10,000 award for outstanding teaching and dedication to his work.

Taylor no longer plans to leave the profession, according to Do More, Add More, Earn More. The report by Education Resource Strategies and the Center for American Progress looks at 10 school districts that have redesigned their teacher compensation systems to reward effectiveness and additional responsibilities.

The transition is challenging, writes Fawn Johnson on National Journal.

 The authors recommend, for example, that teachers be offered extra incentive pay for taking jobs in hard-to-staff schools or for taking on leadership roles such as department heads, curriculum writers, or principal interns. They suggest speeding up the salary growth for new, high-performing teachers such that they can reach the district maximum in 10 years or fewer. New hires will more likely be attracted to the job if they know they won’t be on subsistence wages well into middle age.

. . . Teachers on the old salary structure need to be transitioned into a new one that doesn’t automatically increase their pay for time on the job or for extraneous things like advanced degrees. The lowest-performing teachers need to stop getting raises. Period. These changes can be incredibly disruptive, especially in districts that need to cull a lot of “dead weight” teachers. (Yes, that happens.)

Teacher evaluation is the trickiest part.

Why suburban moms fear the Core

Hysteria about Common Core teaching and testing has gripped suburban moms, writes Laura McKenna in The Atlantic. She likens it to anti-vaccination fears.

Millions of children will take new Core-aligned tests this spring.  “Conspiracy theories . .  .have grown out of parents’ natural instinct to protect their children from bureaucracies and self-styled experts,” writes McKenna, who’s a suburban mom herself.

White, middle-class parents, often very involved in their kids’ education “worry that they won’t be able to help kids with homework, because the new learning materials rely on teaching methods foreign to them,” she writes. They feel powerless to stop the juggernaut.

Social media fans the fears.

There are those Facebook posts promoting articles with click-bait titles like “Parents Opting Kids Out of Common Core Face Threats From Schools,” or “Common Core Test Fail Kids In New York Again. Here’s How,” or “5 Reasons the Common Core Is Ruining Childhood.”

 I can picture it in my head: articles with stock photos of children sitting miserably at a desk or ominous images of broken pencils.

Teachers across the country, including those in her suburban New Jersey district, are turning against the Core, especially if scores are tied to teacher evaluations, writes McKenna.  That’s influenced parents.

Some states have pulled out of the Common Core.  “More than half of the 26 states that initially signed onto the PARCC exam in 2010 have dropped out,” notes McKenna. A dozen states will use the test this spring, while 17 states will take the rival SBAC. The rest will use their own tests.

New tests + new evaluations = chaos

Sheri Lederman

Sheri Lederman

Rolling out new standards, new tests and a new test-based teacher evaluation system — at the same time — is “overwhelming” teachers, writes Amanda Fairbanks in The Atlantic.

New York tied 40 percent of teachers’ scores to their students’ test scores at the same time the state launched new, more difficult tests aligned to Common Core standards.

Sheri Lederman, a veteran fourth-grade teacher in a middle-class New City suburb, was rated “effective” one year and “ineffective” the next.

The state gave her just one out of 20 possible points on the state’s Common Core-test ranking because her new batch of students performed slightly more poorly than her previous class, and teachers’ ratings are based largely on year-to-year progress. Even though these new 18 students far surpassed state averages in both reading and math—and even though Lederman once again achieved high district scores—these strides weren’t enough to overcome the low score on the state portion of the evaluation.

So, Lederman, whose husband is a lawyer, decided to take action: In late October, she filed a lawsuit against the state’s education department alleging that the new evaluations punish teachers rather than award excellence, among other claims. A hearing is scheduled for March 20.

The backlash against both teacher evaluations and the Common Core has gone national, writes Fairbanks.

“A lot of people are saying let’s just throw the whole thing out,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, of the Common Core.

Cuomo sets union-unfriendly agenda

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “has declared war on the public schools,” charges Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State speech.

The Democratic governor thinks too hard to fire underperforming teachers, wants to raise or eliminate the limit on charter schools and backs a tax credit for people and companies donating money to public schools and private school scholarships, reports the New York Times.

Chester Finn calls Gov. Cuomo’s education agenda “awesome (and radically union-unfriendly).”

“Its single boldest and most surprising item is the governor’s endorsement of a tax-credit scholarship program so that more young New Yorkers can afford to attend private schools,” writes Finn. That makes Cuomo “the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state.”

How Core literacy could fail

Common Core’s literacy standards could fail because teachers aren’t being given enough time to make them work, says a lead standards writer, Sue Pimentel.

Teachers need time to develop materials and teaching techniques and “to observe and critique each other’s teaching,” she tells Marc Tucker. “The time needed to transform the way students are taught stands in stark contrast to the rush to evaluate teachers based on old assessments that are not aligned to the Common Core.”

“I think it is clear to anyone with a grain of common sense that there should have been a five-year amnesty on consequences for testing when implementing the Common Core,” says Catherine Snow, a Harvard education professor who served on the validation committee.

This would have allowed for developing the aligned materials.  It would have been fairer and smarter to help teachers focus on teaching and learning instead of assessment and accountability.

Teachers have been given a simplified, distorted version of the standards, says Snow.  They’re told: “Give students complex texts and make them close read and then everything will be fine.”

. . . you can’t give 9th grade students, who have been exposed to a completely different educational regime, the texts associated with much more rigorous standards, and expect them to do close reading immediately.  Introduce these tasks in the first grade and build them up instead of imposing a full-blown version on teachers and students who are totally unprepared for it.

Much of the teacher training has come from the top down, says Pimentel.

Too often teachers are corralled into school gymnasia and told either a) they have to do things entirely differently or b) they are doing the Common Core already and no change in practice is necessary.  Neither is true, and neither will work.

“Without some big changes in the way the Common Core is being implemented, this really elegant vision could crash and burn through poor implementation or premature assessment,” concludes Snow. “And then it will be 20 years before anyone gets the courage to try again.”

Have unions flipped on Common Core?

Have the teachers’ unions joined the anti-Core pushback? asks Alexander Russo. The “unions’ rhetoric and tone have changed,” he writes. But it’s not clear that it matters in “concrete substantive ways.”

Before Core-aligned tests were developed, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association were strongly pro-Core. Then the Education Department pushed states to use test scores to evaluate teachers in order to get No Child Left Behind waivers. And it was clear scores on the new tests would be low, at least at first.


“They’re trying to walk a fine line in which they still support the standards but don’t like the way they’ve been implemented,” says Bob Rothman, a Common Core supporter at the Alliance for Excellent Education. “But they haven’t reversed themselves.”

“If the standards go down the tubes because of fear-mongering and misinformation, the NEA is going to look really bad,” one union official explained to Education Week. “Why would anyone take us seriously if we had a seat at the table, and then we turned our backs on the standards?”

But core-haters in the rank and file aren’t satisfied with the union’s stand, writes Russo.

Why do teachers hate Common Core?

What is it teachers truly hate about the Common Core? asks Shawna on The Picture Book Teacher’s Edition.
The Picture Book Teacher's Edition common core

In Why I Want to Give Up Teaching Elizabeth A. Natalie complains that, “In English, emphasis on technology and nonfiction reading makes it more important for students to prepare an electronic presentation on how to make a paper airplane than to learn about moral dilemmas from Natalie Babbitt’s beloved novel Tuck Everlasting.”

Her worth as a teacher will be based on how well her students do on the new Core-aligned exams.

Shawna also links to Robert Pondiscio’s column, What’s Right About Common Core.

It makes sense to have students read more nonfiction, writes Pondiscio. Reading in different genres — “recipes, instructions on how to put something together, a contract, medical news, political views, sales ads and disclaimers, and reasons for or against something” — is a key to functioning in the world.

Pondiscio also says “Broad general knowledge of the world correlates with reading comprehension — the more you know, the more you take from reading.”

Common Core aims to achieve a “knowledge-rich curriculum,” but it’s school districts’ job to develop a curriculum for teachers to teach. “Has your district given you quality content?” asks Shawna.

Do I hate the Common Core Standards or the curriculum (or lack of) my district has given me?”

Do I hate the Common Core Standards, or the data that my district, the state, and the government are requiring me to track?

Do I hate the Common Core Standards, or the fact that I have to teach areas and content in which I am not used to or uncomfortable teaching?

Great teachers “take the standards, the curriculum and what they know is right and they just teach,” concludes Shawna. “They are having meaningful discussions about fiction books, they are using technical vocabulary when reading nonfiction texts, they are talking through different strategies for solving one math problem, and they are showing what they know in their writing and answers.”

Getting classroom observations right

For all the talk of “value-added” performance measures, most teachers can’t be evaluated by gains in their students’ test scores because they don’t teach tested subjects or no prior test scores are available, write Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos and Katharine M. Lindquist in Education Next. That makes it important to get classroom observations right.

“Teacher evaluations should include two to three annual classroom observations, with at least one of those observations being conducted by a trained observer from outside the teacher’s school,” they recommend.

In addition, classroom observations “should carry at least as much weight as test-score gains in determining a teacher’s overall evaluation score when both are available.”

ednext_XV_1_whitehurst_fig03-smallTeachers with lots of low-performing students complain they’re rated ineffective unfairly.

That’s true, say the researchers. “Districts should adjust teachers’ classroom-observation scores for the background characteristics of their students, a factor that can have a substantial and unfair influence on a teacher’s evaluation rating.”

Scores can be adjusted for “the percentages of students who are white, black, Hispanic, special education, eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, English language learners, and male,” they write.

Never diet without a scale and a mirror

Never Diet Without a Bathroom Scale and Mirror, writes Thomas J. Kane, who directed the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project, on Brookings’ blog. And don’t give up on measuring teachers’ effectiveness just because it’s difficult to do well.

“We can change textbooks, shrink class sizes, publish test scores, and build new buildings, but unless we change what adults do every day inside their classrooms, we cannot expect student outcomes to improve,” Kane writes. That won’t happen without feedback.

Does anyone believe that simply describing new standards, providing new textbooks and showing videos of successful instruction will be sufficient to change teaching?  Would anyone expect that an analogous strategy—e.g. showing videos of healthy people exercising and smiling over their salads—would be enough to reduce smoking or shrink waistlines?

. . . Investing in professional development without an evaluation system in place is like launching a Weight Watchers group without any bathroom scales or mirrors.  It wouldn’t work.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, professional development hasn’t worked in the past.

The transition to Common Core is a good time to reinvent teacher evaluation, argues Kane.  It’s “safest for teachers to ask for help” in a time of transition.

Kane hopes to change the U.S. “norm of autonomous, self-made, self-directed instruction — with no outside feedback or intervention.” In most high-performing countries, teachers “expect standards, they expect feedback from peers and supervisors and they expect to be held accountable — for the quality of their delivery as well as for student results.”

On the Shanker Blog, Matthew DiCarlo analyzes New York’s teacher evaluation system. What’s most important is how teachers and principals respond, he writes. “For example, do teachers change their classroom practice based on the scores or feedback from observations?”

My husband has lost 70 pounds and 3 1/2 sizes this year by measuring calories, carbs, protein, weight, body fat, muscle mass, etc., analyzing results and modifying his eating plan. “What you measure, you improve” is his mantra. I eat the low-carb meals he cooks — “vegetti” instead of pasta — and monitor my exercise via FitBit. I’m down 23 pounds and two sizes. And that doesn’t count my size 4 jeans. (Women’s clothing is prone to “vanity sizing.”)

Poor kids’ teachers score low, but why?

New teacher evaluation systems tend to give lower ratings to teachers with disadvantaged students. Teacher Beat’s Stephen Sawchuk asks the critical question: Are the ratings biased? Or do high-need kids get fewer high-quality teachers?

Value-added measures (VAM) are supposed to judge teachers by whether they’ve done better than previous teachers at improving their students’ progress. But many question whether VAM is a reliable measure of teachers’ effectiveness.

Evaluation systems also include classroom observations. And those have problems too, writes Sawchuk. “Observations by principals can reflect bias, rather than actual teaching performance,” writes Sawchuk.

Yet we also know that disadvantaged students are less likely to have teachers capable of boosting their test scores and that black students are about four times more likely than white students to be located in schools with many uncertified teachers.

Teachers in low-poverty Washington, D.C. schools were far more likely to ace the teacher-evaluation system, IMPACT, observes Matthew Di Carlo, at the Shanker blog.


The Pittsburgh teacher-evaluation program shows similar results, according to a federal analysis, writes Sawchuk. “Teachers of low-income and minority students tended to receive lower scores from principals conducting observations, and from surveys administered to students. Those teaching gifted students tended to get higher ratings.”

It’s hard to know whether all methods of evaluation are inaccurate or whether a “maldistribution of talent” explains the low scores for teachers of disadvantaged students, concludes Sawchuk.

It will be hard to persuade teachers to work in high-poverty, high-minority schools if they know they’ll risk being rated ineffective.