When Emmy returned from a Midwest REL conference on educator compensation in October, she brought with her a Center on Education Reform report on "alternative compensation terminology." Not the most scintillating title, but the paper had some persuasive takeaways. Educators and policy makers have far too many expressions denoting alternative compensation (merit, pay, alternative compensation, differentiated pay, pay for performance, etc), and terminology should be streamlined. "Merit pay" especially has negative connotations leftover from its use in the 1980s and 90s and therefore should be discontinued (the term is outdated and brings to mind the system of paying teachers based on potentially biased principal evaluations).

Okay. I can see the need to evolve our vocabulary. Every since reading this report, I've made a conscious effort to be more precise when referencing alternative compensation.

But my conscientiousness can only go so far. When it comes to discussing the impact teachers make on student performance, I will not refer to "context-adjusted achievement test effects" in lieu of "value-added." Sorry, Center for American Progress. Their newly released report, "Adding Value to Discussions about Value-Added," argues that:

"...the conventional language used to discuss productivity today- especially the term "value-added"-is well-suited to that sector of the economy. In elementary and secondary education, however, the use of the term value-added has proved problematic. Although widely embraced by researchers and policymakers to denote estimates of teachers' productivity, typically referred to as effectiveness, the term value-added ???sends chills down the spine' of...

This week The New Teacher Project (TNTP) unveiled its Cincinnati-focused report on human capital reform. The report's recommendations for Cincinnati Public Schools and the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT) are similar (predictably so) to client reports for other districts, like Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Chicago. That's because problems related to teacher quality are ubiquitous in American urban education.

Read the Cincinnati findings as well as the defensive reaction of the CFT, and you'll swear you could be reading a narrative of any city's human capital challenges: late hiring timelines prevent districts from snagging the best teacher candidates; evaluating teachers once every five years is meaningless; single step salary structures aren't the best way to recruit and reward excellence. It's chocked full of a lot of common sense. But common sense doesn't always translate into political action and policy reform.

Where TNTP's client cities part ways is in their willingness to truly make "teacher effectiveness" the helm of the human capital ship, and to measure this with student performance data. (There are other ways that districts/states can improve teacher quality but whether they place "effectiveness" at the core of their human capital philosophy says volumes.)??

In Ohio, the budget bill raised the bar for teacher tenure to seven years (the highest in the country among tenure-granting states) and made it easier to dismiss the worst teachers. These changes are positive, but ultimately don't overhaul the way that teachers are evaluated. Without meaningful...


The holiday season has arrived - and here at Fordham Ohio we're feeling pretty darn generous. ??We've decided to bestow upon you this week not one, but TWO Ohio Education Gadflies!

Hot on the heels of Monday's Special Edition, the regular Ohio Education Gadfly returns and you won't want to miss it!

This edition features a Q&A with Mark North, superintendent of Lebanon City Schools whose district is facing challenges from the unfunded mandates in H.B. 1. Jamie provides timely coverage of a report from The New Teacher Project that could have profound implications for improving teacher effectiveness in Cincinnati Public Schools. And be sure to check out a recap of Checker's recent keynote address at the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools Annual Conference. (You can find the full text here??and the Q&A session below.)

The Dayton Daily News asked today why the "big names" in education from the Dayton area weren't on the state's new "Ohio School Funding Advisory Council". The names referenced included Fordham's Terry Ryan.

Capital Matters overfloweth with timely coverage of the recent flood of education-related legislation. Among them are bills that address the Buckeye State's bid in Race to the Top, and the proposed changes to the Ohio school rating system and its all-day kindergarten mandate.

Rounding out the issue are several excellent short reviews and Flypaper's...

One of the main criticisms of individual-teacher merit pay is that it will undermine teacher collaboration. This same argument is also leveled at teachers who choose to sell their lesson plans online. Will putting a price tag on instructional materials undermine forums that encourage the free (literally and figuratively) exchange of ideas? Will it devalue them as educational tools?

Probably not. We sell everything from collector's editions of comics to that left over gallon of paint from a home renovation project on the internet. There are sites to sell homemade arts and crafts, (legally) scalp sold out concert and sports tickets, and offer rare treasures like a first edition copy of Paradise Lost. The prices can be a bit high--and the niche market super specialized--but that's the beauty of the internet. Finally, we can shop all over the country, or the world, from the comfort of our own homes. The shopping around has never been so easy: With the click of a finger, you can find a dozen other versions in ten more colors.

The same concept applies to lesson plans. Why should we let the big textbook companies and curriculum developers corner the market? There are surely plenty of smart capable people who don't work for one of them--and could use the extra buck much more, to boot. With sites like Teachers Pay Teachers, an online market for educators, teachers who have perfected a unit on linear equations can share their materials...


On October 29, the Ohio Grantmakers Forum, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Frank M. Tait Foundation, and the Fred and Alice Wallace Memorial Charitable Foundation hosted an education forum in Fordham's hometown of Dayton to talk about the state of education in that city as well as Ohio and the nation.?? Our Terry Ryan was a participant in the panel discussion ???Making a Difference: What's Been Accomplished and What Needs to be Done,??? along with Tom Lasley, University of Dayton; Kurt Stanic, Dayton Public Schools; Margy Stevens, Montgomery County Educational Service Center; and moderator Scott Elliott of the Dayton Daily News.?? The following are selected segments of that panel.

Terry Ryan on Data Policies and Availability in Ohio


??Dayton Education Panel - Terry Ryan on Performance Data and Teacher Evaluation


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...

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,...

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...

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.

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."


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...