Teachers

The "Differentiated Compensation in Education" conference, hosted by fellow Buckeye Staters Battelle for Kids, in Houston this week reminds me how messy the "nuts and bolts" of policy implementation can get. Performance pay to teachers??imposes incredible challenges in the way of program evaluation, validity of test scores, political buy-in, sustainable funding, and unintended consequences. While these are all tough issues to sort through, I am jealous that Texans have the opportunity to grapple with them. Texas has had three major statewide performance-pay programs (see a 2007 report on the first two, GEEG and TEEG, here), Houston's ASPIRE program, and well-known merit plans in districts like Lamesa, Dallas, and Austin that go back as far as 1995.

Yesterday district officials, principals, and teachers participating in District Awards for Teacher Excellence (DATE) (a $397.5 million statewide grant program) outlined the goals and structure of their particular performance pay program. The descriptions were stunningly diverse - there seem to be as many ways to spend DATE money as there are belt buckles in the Houston airport.

Part 1 of the DATE funding (which represents about 60 percent of the overall grant) goes to principals and teachers, but how that is allotted is entirely up to the district. Awards may be available to all teachers, teachers only in tested subjects and grades, teachers at the poorest schools within a district, or subject/grade-level teams. While one district official defends targeting awards to teachers only in tested grades 3-11 (I'd hate...

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Much has been made of the new New Haven collective bargaining agreement--by President Obama, Secretary Duncan, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and even reformers in Connecticut, like Alex Johnston of ConnCAN, who sees it as promising. But here's the problem (and where I respectfully disagree??with my colleague Eric Ulas): The majority of the details have not been worked out, and as with most things, that's always where you'll find the devil. For example, the contract promises better teacher evaluations--but we haven't seen what they'll look like yet. Furthermore, the contract boasts an odd veto power that would let the union or the district prevent a school whose teachers voted to be released from the general contract's work rules to do so. The appeal process for overriding said veto is woefully inadequate. (I explain more in Rate that Reform from the??October 29 podcast, "Our Secret 400 Maryland Ave Listeners.") Today, the??Washington Post editorial board agrees, pointing out that not only has praise for the New Haven contract been way over-blown, but such praise is to the detriment of D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee's own attempts at a new (and better than New Haven's) CBA. Whether praise for New Haven's contract will derail DC bargaining attempts remains to be seen.

Tom Carroll also??weighed in over at HuffPo, comparing the New Haven contract (and finding it??inferior)????to that of his own New York City; Carroll and Johnston went back and forth in??Flypaper's comment section two weeks ago,...

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A week ago, I posted this in response to Secretary Duncan's speech about education schools at Teachers College. Over the course of several days, there were 11 comments posted that, when printed out, clocked in at 20 pages (single spaced, mind you). What was all the ruckus, you ask?

It was a vigorous give-and-take between two loyal Flypaper readers, Ze'ev Wurman and Karl Wheatley. Ze'ev once served as Senior Adviser in the U.S. Department of Education and helped shape California's math standards; Karl is Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Cleveland State University. Their long-winded debate started when Karl took umbrage at my accusation that education schools often don't deliver what all teaching candidates need-namely, a thorough understanding of the content they'll be teaching. By mentioning E.D. Hirsch's work, I thought Duncan highlighted the need for content-prepared teachers and content-rich curriculum.

Karl insisted that education professors (after all, he is one) ARE listening on this front, but that Duncan's proposals have "shown a weak grasp of the issues and what works in education." Eschewing "teacher-dominated" instruction, Karl goes on to say that "educational approaches with integrated, interest-based, real-life curriculum, substantial student choice, local control, and authentic assessment simply work better in the long run." Further, he insists that, "pretending a teacher who has content knowledge is ???highly qualified' is like pretending a plumber who owns a wrench is a good plumber."

Then Ze'ev picks up the gauntlet and reminds Karl of the...

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Eric Ulas

The New Haven, Connecticut school district has not failed to disappoint lately in grabbing our attention and is back in the news again- This time for being what is hailed as a potentially groundbreaking new teacher contract. This comes as no surprise, given the reformers (one might even say, gadflies) that have been filling the ranks of the district's leadership.

If ratified by the city's board of Aldermen, the contract would allow for new ways of paying, evaluating, and supporting teachers.

Essentially, the contract allows for two committees to measure student growth and evaluate teachers. The committees would be comprised of all pertinent parties - district officials, parents, and union officials.??

Granted, it remains to be seen if this type of committee system will be successful, but the importance of the AFT and a school district reaching a working agreement for performance-backed merit pay can't be stressed enough. This is a promising agreement, and hopefully similar ones will be on the horizon for other districts.

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Core Knowledge and Joanne Jacobs both picked up on a blog this week by Linda Perlstein, who says that Obama is "wrong" to suggest that teachers are the single most important factor related to student achievement. Perlstein points out that this is accurate only in that "of the various factors inside school, teacher quality has had more effect on student test scores than any other that has been measured."

And?

I don't think it's fair to suggest that Obama has misrepresented the evidence. He didn't say "of all things measured and non-measured on the earth, teacher quality is the most important." Of course not everything has been measured, but do you expect the president to include that nuance in a 20 minute speech? Moreover -I don't see the point in asking policymakers or politicians to clarify that teacher quality is just an "inside school" factor (which actually Obama did mention in the quote Perlstein uses).?? Of course we're only talking about inside school factors. Those touting teacher quality as a critical factor to student achievement are not claiming it's paramount to everything else, ever --just that it's the most important factor thus far that we've measured, and that we actually have some degree of control over.

And, given how much public money we spend on teachers (their salaries and benefits make up about 80 percent of districts' overall budgets) should we really be surprised when politicians talk about teacher quality and not the...

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Sec. Arne Duncan made the first (of three) speeches intended to recruit an "army of great teachers" when he spoke to UVA's Curry School of Education last Friday. But his address wasn't the typical rally cry for the teaching profession (although it did include feel-good phrases like "Our children need you" and "A great teacher can change the direction of an individual's life").

Duncan's take on America's teacher preparation programs was in tune with other parts of his agenda that have surprised (and angered) teachers unions - such as Race to the Top's guidelines emphasizing charter schools and teacher evaluations linked to student test scores, and his speech to the NEA last summer that pointed out the tendency for teacher contracts to "put adults ahead of children" and the subsequent need for teacher merit pay.??

His Virginia speech called out teacher training programs for being "theory-heavy and curriculum-light" and for not preparing teachers "for what awaits them in the classroom." Duncan outlined the need to expand human capital pipelines such as Teach For America and The New Teacher Project, in addition to overhauling teacher preparation programs (which certify 22 times as many teachers as alternative programs). Specifically, he cited the need for education programs to train teachers in the use of student achievement data, to better prepare them to work in high-need schools, as well as to track graduates in order to measure their success in the classroom.

Duncan's unapologetic focus on critical reforms,...

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The Education Gadfly

Check out this week's Ohio Education Gadfly to read about our upcoming conference, "World-Class Standards in Ohio." We're excited to welcome an impressive lineup of education experts and state leaders, who will discuss Ohio-specific standards issues (timely, since the state is mandated to revise its academic standards by 2010) as well as examine high-performing states and the national ("common") standards movement. Terry is spot on when he says "Ohio, and indeed the country, is at a pivotal moment in the development of standards-based education."

Next, Jamie brings us an informative piece exploring education tax credits (and deductions) and their potential to raise (private) money for education in Ohio. Given Ohio's gaping budget hole, might Ohioans consider this vehicle for school choice?

Also featured in the Ohio Education Gadfly is a video by Mike and Eric in which Ohio Rep. Lynn Wachtmann discusses the current crisis facing Ohio's pension systems. Finally, it wraps up with Flypaper's Finest, and timely recommended readings from Eric, Kalli, and Emmy....

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Eric Ulas

You may recall that in 2007, Fordham published a report critical of Ohio's state teacher pension funds. The report found that the current system was wildly unsustainable and essentially hindering recruitment of quality teachers. Don't miss this week's Ohio Education Gadfly for a timely (and fascinating) look at what's happening to the system now. Fast forward two years later-- the fund is going bankrupt (by the admission of its own director) and seeking a handout of cash from taxpayers. Although STRS promises to tighten their belt and to reign in benefits, such measures are little more than short term fixes. Mike Lafferty and Terry Ryan explore this crisis and what might be done about it.

Next, Checker discusses From Schoolhouse to Courthouse, a new book??released by??Fordham and??the Brookings Institute.??This piece (also featured in the Education Gadfly last week) is so good we're mentioning it again. In another piece, Eric examines two new studies and the impact they could have on shaping Ohio's new teacher mentoring programs. Mike also reviews a recent study that measures states' science standards and evolution - with some surprising results.

Finally, our Ohio offices welcome new fall interns Kalli McCorkle from Ohio State University, and Nicole Berry from Wright State University....

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Heal for America? William Healy argues in this weekend's Wall Street Journal that healthcare could benefit from a Teach for America-esque program. HFA corps members would be like an at-home medical force, dealing with smaller medical problems that typically go unattended in poorer families and clog up emergency rooms and simultaneously teaching about hygiene, exercise, proper eating, blood sugar, and a host of other useful items that would improve quality of life and lower health care costs. They could also help teach health classes in schools and help families set up doctor's appointments or call in prescriptions.

This idea seems a bit far-fetched to me, but it's nice to know that successful education reform programs are getting positive attention for folks outside the edu-sphere.

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There's a lot to chew over in yesterday's New York Times article by Sam Dillon, "Schools Aided by Stimulus Money Still Facing Cuts," (including the implications for our home state of Ohio). Any reader would feel empathy for the L.A. high school students now facing average class sizes of 42.5 students; the many teachers who have been laid off; the schools that have cut back on sports, arts, and more. I certainly do.

But of course there's another story between the lines here, which is that districts have often been either unable or unwilling to cut costs sensibly. Tim Daly of The New Teacher Project is quoted describing a common problem, that "Districts tend to make their problems worse by laying off good teachers and keeping bad ones," firing based on seniority (as often required by collective bargaining agreements). Yet it's even deeper than that, for education is an industry that has rarely been forced to grapple with spending cuts; nearly every year this century, education spending per-pupil has grown, in good economic times or bad. It has rarely faced much pressure to really reinvent itself in order to contain costs. For example, Marguerite Roza explains that schools have long suffered from something called "Baumal's disease," in which costs rise for lack of innovation. (Whereas firms in other industries become more efficient by replacing labor with technology, for example.)

Dillon's article implies a day of reckoning is at hand. He writes:

Driving the layoffs was

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