Sink Our Schools
Speaking of charters, the
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EKP -- a local (Washington, DC) and national blog about education policy, politics, and research.
The Teacher Incentive Fund has been kicked around for a year or so as an idea (from OII, natch) to give grants to states, districts, and others to build performance incentives into teacher compensation. Merit pay (oh no!), bonuses for qualified teachers high demand subjects, that sort of thing.
It started out as a $500 million proposal, whittled down to $100m, but passed last year or early this year in one of this clauses slipped into another piece of legislation during a conference committee... you get the idea, not a big signing ceremony. A 1% recission leaves it at $99m, with a chunk taken out for technical assistance, leaving about $94m for grants to run the programs.
This will be a very exciting program to watch. I put even odds on the feds wasting the money on small pet projects instead of (a) vetting the grantees to make sure they are more realistic (read: have teacher buy-in) than idelogical; and (b) selecting them strategically so that researchers can step in and rigorously evaluate some of these ideas for reforming teacher compensation.
The U.S. Deparment of Education is now hammering out rules for the grant competition. Let's see if they wire it to Jeb for paying for E-comp in Florida. A better use would be to send it to folks doing the Teacher Advancement Program, like the Minnesotans with Q-comp, but to make them earn it by demonstrating positive impacts on teacher performance and retention.
Sadly, the NEA has a knee-jerk opposition to this. I found their anti-TIF page on Google but had to retrieve it (here) from the cache because they must have pulled it after they lost their bid to kill it. If they were smart they would just accept the TIF and try to be constructive by reminding policy makers which programs have lasted and which ones have not. Unions can be very good when they're concrete. For example:
Ok, I'm fed up with this. The blogger software now puts all my text in one long paragraph. I barely have time to make one entry a week. Sorry if this blog is not edutaining enough. One day I will work out all the kinks.
I will start comiling a to-do list and get myself a webmaster.
Andy Eduwonk Rotherham being a prolific blogger, covered it much sooner than I could, but the Center for American Progress had an event last week that featured Robert Gordon, discussing his paper with Tom Kane and Doug Staiger called "Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job."
I'm all for a think tank that tries to be the Heritage of the left, but the CAP is not quite cutting the mustard yet. Kane or Staiger, who are actual social scientists, could not be bothered to attend this event and I can't say I blame them. Gordon is a classic DC type -- a lawyer who gives policy advice to campaigns in hopes that his guy gets elected and appoints him to something. Fair enough. Folks like that are necessary. Here Gordon is touting bold, innovative ideas, which as far as I can tell have all been tried before or have been in circulation for decades, with the exception of a few of the more naive extensions like firing the teachers who have low value added scores after three years. Ok, I guess it's unusual for Democrats to be pushing them.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the ideas are bad. They're mostly very good with a few clunkers that are not as well thought through. All schools and districts should attempt to use student acheivement data to identify the unique contributions of teachers and schools (value added) to student learning, but this paper is fairly naive. Performance based pay is one of those things that does get a bit easier with the prevalence of more testing data, but as we will soon see in Florida, the policies have a half life of about one school year.
One of the strongest pieces to argue against placing high stakes on teacher-level value added indicators is this one here, by, um, Kane and Staiger, on the volatility of these measures. Their proposed "solution" of aggregating across years and applying a Kalman Filter is much less convincing than their documentation of the problem.
There's more to say on the substance of the paper, but Andy does a good job at pithily summing that up.
By the way, the average age in the room must have been 25, with half the audience made up of what must have been CAP interns. Come on CAP, you have to do better than that.
The discussants were two union people who gave predictable (but still good) responses and two other people -- a child policy advocate and a DC teacher-- who didn't seem to have any social science training. Very disappointing. I wish I had the text of the Joan Baratz-Snowden's (bio here) comments, which she read off the page. Some of the points were standard union tripe but some of them were cleverly worded counterarguments or calling Gordon et al. to task for being naive.
On its face this is a gimmick and probably bad public policy. For the benefit of their NRO audience Greene and Butcher point out that there will be pressure to get to 65% just by throwing more money at teachers. But everyone who cares about education and public spending should worry, as they also rightly say, that there is no research justifying why codifying this arbitrary parameter into a regulation will improve education.
The weird thing about this policy is that its champions are Republicans. Tim Mooney. Patrick Byrne. Tim Pawlenty (GOP Gov of MN). Ken Blackwell (wants to be a GOP gov of OH). Somebody tell those guys that their party used to rail against government regulation like this. This is one that Stalin's planners would have been proud of. What's next for the GOP platform, wage and price controls?
This is just an innocent research study to test the effects of teacher incentives, so why do these teachers hate science so much? Ok, maybe there was a concerted effort to kill the plan because the union felt threatened. And that's all it is, really. The plan was a bit simplistic and could have passed with some tweaks. The real question is, why were the Waltons so clueless about PR? Why didn't they get some friendly teachers to consult on the design so they could have at least a fig leaf of teacher buy-in?
Florida is about to make the same mistake with E-Comp (preditable critique here), the state's recently unveiled teacher merit pay program. Hmmm, create a plan that has zero buy-in among the teachers who are subject to it. Force it down their throats, and then see how successful it is. Duh. The sad thing is that some of these plans are promising, but the tin-eared business leaders who push them are too arrogant to get some teacher input, they way, for example, Denver has done. Not that Denver's plan is so great, but you have to make compromises.
The Teacher Advancement Program may look watered down to hardcore merit pay supporters, but it has lasted for 5 years and spread to about a dozen states, so they must be doing something right. They require a 70% faculty vote before a school can adopt that model.