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Posts Tagged ‘merit pay’

Peter Greene on Why Bill Gates is a Very Bad Choice to Help NYS Schools

May 9, 2020 Comments off

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Education writer and public school teacher Peter Greene offers a clear eyed and objective analysis of Bill Gates’ failures as a school reformer. He cites several major flops, all of which have been detailed in this blog over the years: the small schools initiative: a VAM initiative in FL; several tech-based initiatives; and the Common Core. But Mr. Greene rightfully identifies Bill Gates’ biggest failure in this single sentence near the end of the article:

It’s not quite correct to say that Gates has always failed in his educational projects; he has managed to infect much of the education establishment with his belief in a narrow definition of success and a thirst for “data.”

Bill Gates’ Foundation has done good work on many fronts, particularly in the field of international public health. But after reading Peter Greene’s analysis one wonders why Governor Cuomo is making him the face of his Redesign Team… that is unless the team intends to use some form of standardized testing to determine the success of students on a structured curriculum that avoids the inclusion of any content that cannot readily yield data.

Bad News Betsy Blistered by Guardian

December 30, 2019 Comments off

Guardian writer David Smith wrote a blistering essay outlining the many ways Betsy DeVos has undermined public schools in her short tenure as Secretary of Education. Here are some highlights, beginning with Randi Weingarten’s assessment:

“We’ve had plenty of Republican as well as Democratic secretaries of education but none of them, even those who believed in alternatives to public education, actually tried to eviscerate public education,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Here is someone who in her first budget tried to eliminate every single summer school programme, every single after-school programme, and who has done everything in her power to try to make it harder for us to strengthen public [sector] schools.”

Then there’s the federal court’s assessment:

DeVos is currently attacking a programme, known as “borrower defense to repayment”, intended to forgive federal loans for students whose colleges misrepresent the quality of their education or otherwise commit fraud. The programme was expanded under Barack Obama but DeVos has been accused of stalling it for more than a year while she altered the rules and made it harder for students to get loan relief, resulting in a large backlog.

Last month, a federal judge held DeVos in contempt for violating an order to stop collecting loan payments from former Corinthian Colleges students, a for-profit college chain that collapsed in 2015 amid allegations that it lied about the success of its graduates in order to get students to enroll.

And centrist MD legislator John Delaney’s take:

“If we were grading her on a report card, I would give her very low grades if not a failing grade,” he said by phone from Iowa. “The reason I think she has not been a successful secretary of educationwas obvious from the day she was given the job, which is she doesn’t believe in the public education system in this country. She would voucherise the whole system if she could.”

But the most chilling quote from Mr. Delaney was this one:

Delaney warned: “We have to be careful not to be so preoccupied with every single ridiculous thing the president does because, to some extent, it might be a strategy to distract us from the bad policy that’s actually getting done.Obviously the things he did with Ukraine deserve this attention they’re getting. But in some ways he’s the bright, shiny light and every little tweet causes people to just be incredibly preoccupied.

“Meanwhile, environmental regulations are getting rolled back. Ethanol waivers are being granted. There are proposals to spin off the entire student loan portfolio of the Department of Education. The list goes on and on and on of real policies that are happening that deserve much more attention. She has largely kept her head down and gone about her business, which I think is ideologically driven and hasn’t attracted that much attention.”

John Delaney is onto something insidious: while the President issues ridiculous tweets that occupy bandwidth on the evening news his appointees and the anti-government wing of the GOP are doing horrific damage to our country… damage that will cost billions of dollars and, in all probability, decades to repair.

Mr. Smith’s article concludes with this prediction from Neil Sroka, an activist from Michigan:

“(Betsy DeVos)… scion of wealth and privilege has never had a real job but made it her life’s work to attack public schools, teachers and students. She only escapes scrutiny because so much incompetence, grief and evil comes out of this administration that she’s been able to ride out the storm. But she’s made it much more likely we’ll get a Democratic education secretary who’s a real champion for teachers.

Sroka’s prediction will only come true if we elect a Democrat who opposes the neoliberal agenda. If the Democrats choose someone in the mold of Barak Obama or Bill Clinton they will likely get a secretary of education in the mold of Arne Duncan, someone who will never be held up as “…a real champion for teachers”.

A Lesson in Economics 101: Teacher Pay Diminishes as Teacher Shortages Increase

April 27, 2019 Comments off

The Economic Policy Institute’s Sylvia Allegretto and Laurence Mishel just issued a report on teacher compensation that indicated the disparity between teacher’s wages and those of other college graduates just hit an all time high and appears to be widening. The result is unsurprising to anyone who took a basic economics course in high school or college:

The deepening teacher wage and compensation penalty over the recovery parallels a growing shortage of teachers. Every state headed into the 2017–2018 school year facing a teacher shortage (Strauss 2017). New research by García and Weiss (2019) indicates the persistence and magnitude of the teacher shortage nationwide:

The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers. (1)

And, as Ms. Allegretto and Mr. Mishel indicate, the states are not short of money:

Spending cuts over the recovery were not the result of weak state economies. Rather, many state legislatures and governors cut spending in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.

As corporate taxes diminish so do the revenues for public services and, again unsurprisingly, so does the quality of those services. Sadly, for children, education is no exception and so the quality and depth of the teaching pool is diminished.

Providing teachers with a decent middle-class living commensurate with other professionals with similar education is not simply a matter of fairness. Effective teachers are the most important school-based determinant of student educational performance.1 To promote children’s success in school, schools must retain credentialed teachers and ensure that teaching remains an attractive career option for college-bound students. Pay is an important component of retention and recruitment.

The report notes that teachers across the country are uniting and demanding higher pay, particularly in those states where the wage disparity is the highest. The report also examines the benefits teachers receive as compared to other college graduates and acknowledges that there is a favorable gap in that area. But even with that taken into consideration, the total compensation gap is wider now than it has been in any year since 1960!

In their concluding paragraphs, Allegretto and Mishel describe the compensation gap and its consequences, and note that any alternative compensation plans like performance pay will not solve the problem unless total compensation is increased:

It is good news that teachers are able to bargain for a total compensation package—though it seems they may have forgone wage increases for benefits recently: As we’ve documented, teacher wages have been stagnant since the mid-1990s; public school teacher weekly wages have not grown in the 22-year period from 1996 to 2018! This makes the wage penalty, on its own, critically important, as it is only wages that families can put toward making ends meet—only wages can pay for expenses such as rent, food, and student loan payments.

Raising the level of teacher compensation, including wages, is critical to recruiting and retaining teachers who have the qualifications associated with teacher effectiveness in the classroom. Policies that focus solely on changing the composition of current compensation (e.g., merit or pay-for-performance schemes) without actually increasing compensation levels are unlikely to be effective. Simply put, improving public education in this country—by preventing teacher turnover, strengthening retention of credentialed teachers, and attracting young people to the teaching profession—requires eliminating the teacher weekly wage and compensation penalty.

EPI’s research is thorough and even handed… and it’s results prove the laws of supply and demand. If you demean a profession, lower the compensation for that profession, and limit job security in that profession it is difficult to find employees.

Arne Duncan Still True Believer in VAM, “Failure” of Public Schools, Standardized Testing

August 9, 2018 Comments off

Arne Duncan has written a new book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, and he is getting lots of publicity as he tours the country selling his book and the tired ideas in it. Here’s the opening paragraph from a review of his book by Atlantic reporter Alia Wong:

Arne Duncan, the former education secretary under President Barack Obama, has always been more candid than others who’ve served in that role. He’s often used his platform to talk about what he sees as the persistent socioeconomic and racial disparities in access to quality schools. His new book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, further cements that reputation. How Schools Work’s first chapter is titled “Lies, Lies Everywhere.” The first sentence: “Education runs on lies.” If one were to create a word cloud of the book, lies would probably pop out as one of the most frequently used words. Duncan writes that even the countless fantastic schools across the country “haven’t managed to defeat the lies that undermine our system so much as they’ve been able to circumvent them.” These lies, according to Duncan, include a culture of setting low expectations for high schoolers who later discover they’re not prepared for the real world, and poorly designed accountability systems that allow teachers to fudge their students’ test-score results.

This paragraph itself is full of canards about public education that only someone who never set foot in a public school could believe. I worked in an urban middle school, a blue collar suburban high school, and a rural high school that served many poor families. The teachers in these schools, even the weakest, had high expectations for their children.

As for the “accountability systems that allow teachers to fudge their test-score results”, I presume he must be referring to the grading systems that allow students to pass a course with a “C” or a “D”, grades that typically require a student to get grades that do not require mastery of ALL the information presented. And the norm-referenced tests that were the backbone of the RTTT “accountability systems” Mr. Duncan imposed on schools that were presumably designed to avoid the “fudging” did nothing to help students. They only reinforced the notion that students were poorly prepared because teachers were lazy and incompetent and did so by providing a sheen of precision.

In the interview with Ms. Wong that accompanied this overview of his book Mr. Duncan DID reveal an understanding of the root cause of “failing” schools… and it isn’t the teachers… it’s parents who are disengaged from the lives of their students, parent’s whose disengagement is often the result of working multiple jobs or, in the worst case, drug and alcohol abuse. Here’s Mr. Duncan’s take:

It’s the parents who aren’t present whose kids you have to worry about even more because those parents just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education. Those kids are the ones I actually worry about the most.

But, as written frequently in this blog, actions speak louder than words. IF Mr. Duncan believed this as the head of public education in Chicago and then the nation, why did he not take action to provide support for the children of disengaged parents, the children whose performance pulls down the test scores he values so highly and whose ultimate withdrawal from schools increases the drop out rates he blames on “the system”?

Mr. Duncan’s perspective on gun violence was also on point. But like his views on the problems presented by disengaged parents, it’s a perspective he failed to share when he led the nation’s schools:

I talk a lot about gun violence—it’s what I’m dealing with in Chicago all the time; it unfortunately shaped me as a kid; we saw it in the Sandy Hook massacre, which happened when I was education secretary. There’s no political leader who says they don’t value kids, but the truth is: we value guns more than we value the lives of our children .And that is irrefutable if you look at the rates of gun deaths in the U.S. compared to other nations that make other policy choices.

Mr. Duncan purports to be one who perceives education as a great equalizer and one who attempts to use data to help him see what works and what doesn’t work. I wish that as Secretary of Education emeritus he would take a dispassion look at the true impact of RTTT and acknowledge that it was a doubling down on NCLB, a program he viewed as “horribly constructed.” I wish he would acknowledge that the standardized tests he advocated were not constructed to perform the VAM he mandated and resulted in the discrediting of the teaching profession. I wish that he would trumpet the need for programs to support parents who “…just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education” and speak out against the politicians who value guns more than we value the lives of our children. Finally, I wish he would acknowledge that the programs he advocates, the expansion of choice and charters, reward those parents who are engaged in the lives of their children, sidestep the need for a larger investment in the safety net, and divert needed funds away from public schools.

Blogger-Teacher Steven Singer Admits He Isn’t Superman and Urges Us to Get Over It

August 2, 2017 Comments off

Steven Singer, a blogger-teacher whose work is often cited by Diane Ravitch and whose posts are sometimes featured in publications like Common Dreams where I read this piece,  I Am Not A Hero Teacher. In this essay Mr Singer offers some solid evidence against the notion that teachers can make that much of a difference and apologizes for his limitations:

According to landmark research by Dan Goldhaber and James Coleman, only about 9 percent of student achievement is attributable to teachers.

That’s right – 9 percent.

If you add in everything in the entire school environment – class size, curriculum, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, etc.), all that only accounts for 20 percent.

There’s another 20 percent they can’t explain. But the largest variable by far is out of school factors. This means parents, home life, health, poverty, nutrition, geographic location, stress, etc. Researchers estimate those count for 60 percent of student success.

Yet we somehow expect teachers (9%) to do it all.

I’m sorry, America. I can’t.

There are two reasons (at least) that the American public wants to believe teachers can make a difference. The first reason is a positive one: everyone had one teacher who they admired and who made a difference for them and, in all probability at least on teacher who they disliked. The public, therefore, can be easily convinced that if every teacher was as good as the teacher they admired and made a difference for them and all the terrible teachers were eliminated that schools would be excellent. The second reason is that a relentless sorting process would not require any additional funding! Simply “weed out” the terrible teachers and keep the super-heroes and schools would automatically improve! This makes it easy for “reformers” to market their notion that super-hero teachers like, say, Jamie Escalante, can save the day.

And there are two reasons (at least) that the public resents public school teachers and therefore is open to solutions that would yield more super-hero teachers. First, teachers have benefits that exceed those currently available to most employees in today’s workforce. They have benefit packages, extended summer breaks, pensions, job security, and decent if not spectacular wages. This can lead to resentment, particularly when taxpayers realize the “bad teachers” they had in school are recipients of this largesse at their expense. Secondly, teachers are represented by unions, which hardly exist in the workplace and, when they DO exist, require out-of-pocket contributions that are not funded directly or indirectly by taxpayers.

I urge anyone who thinks teachers have it easy to read Ms. Singer’s column. It will set them straight!

Small Michigan District Sees the Light, Ends “Merit Pay”

April 18, 2017 Comments off

As readers of this blog realize, I oppose “merit pay” for teachers on a number of grounds, several of which were exemplified in the decision of Whitmore Lake Public Schools decision to end what they called “merit pay”— a laughable bonus of $100 for each teacher who was rated effective and $500 for teachers rated very effective. Based on an article by Lauren Slagter in Michigan Live, Whoitmore Public School Superintendent Tom DeKeyser announced to the Board that he was suspending the merit pay plan because “…while people are happy to receive it – has become negative” adding that “We’ll find another way to reward our highly effective teachers through collective bargaining.”

The article went on to note another problem DeKeyser encountered with his version of “merit pay”: it was linked to test scores and when the State changed their tests it became “…difficult to draw conclusions about teaching quality from students’ scores.” 

Patti Kobeck, president of the Whitmore Lake Education Association, offered her insights on merit pay:

“By taking the merit pay away and rewarding teachers in other ways, I think it will change the atmosphere. We’re here for the kids. Without merit pay, teachers can stop worrying about what another teacher is getting and worry about what they’re giving the kids.

In general, merit pay isn’t an effective way to motivate teachers to perform their jobs better. Small gestures of appreciation can be more meaningful, she said, because of the lack of respect for their profession many teachers feel.

After reading the closing paragraph of this article it is abundantly clear that an increase in base pay would go a long way to improving morale in Whitmore Lake:

Whitmore Lake teachers currently are under a one-year contract that granted them 1-percent raises, following a 4.9-percent pay cut they took under a 2014 to 2016 contract. The current contract expires June 30, 2017.

Hopefully other small districts will learn from Whitmore Lake’s misguided effort to offer bonuses based on test scores and restore the compensation levels before offering bonuses.

David Brooks Celebrates Human Nature’s Natural Compassion, Overlooking Conservatism’s Natural Darwinism

July 8, 2016 Comments off

David Brooks, an orthodox old-school conservative, seems incapable of connecting his humanity with his political thinking. In today’s column, “The Power of Altruism”, he offers several examples of research that demonstrates the fundamental compassion that humans possess and then laments that selfishness is viewed as the primary motivation for human behavior. He writes:

When we build academic disciplines and social institutions upon suppositions of selfishness we’re missing the motivations that drive people much of the time.

Worse, if you expect people to be selfish, you can actually crush their tendency to be good…

To be a good citizen, to be a good worker, you often have to make an altruistic commitment to some group or ideal, which will see you through those times when your job of citizenship is hard and frustrating. Whether you are a teacher serving students or a soldier serving your country or a clerk who likes your office mates, the moral motivation is much more powerful than the financial motivations. Arrangements that arouse the financial lens alone are just messing everything up.

Given the research cited in this column and this compelling paragraph, how can conservatives like Mr. Brooks possibly believe merit pay for teachers is a good idea? CAn’t they see that by encouraging teachers to earn more money by virtue of increasing test scores they are making an altruistic profession into a utilitarian one. They are, in Mr. Brooks’ words, “manipulating an institution that arouses the moral lens” and converting into one that is based solely on bloodless test scores. As a result, neoliberal and conservative “reformers” are creating a school culture that is “less cooperative, less trusting, less effective and less lovely.”

As a result of the “reform” movement we are taking children who are naturally caring and converting them into young social Darwinists who want to build their resumes so they can get into good colleges and earn lots of money. When will we collectively realize the damage we are doing to children as a result of this ‘reform” and cultivate the caring nature of children instead of feeding their competitive fire?  Given the recent passage of ESSA and the desire to measure the effectiveness of post-secondary education based on earnings I don’t expect to see a change any time soon unless opinion writers like Mr. Brooks come to their senses and begin advocating a more humanitarian approach to education.