The arguments that teachers make against merit pay are nothing new, according to Steven Malanga. When merit pay was introduced into American industry in the 1980s, many grumbled that the contributions of individual workers couldn't be measured. But while developing performance-pay systems that work takes time, many believe that the introduction of merit pay was crucial to the boost in productivity that American firms began to experience in the late 1980s. In an article in the latest City Journal, Steven Malanga examines how merit pay has been used in the private sector and how teachers in Cincinnati, Iowa, and Denver are experimenting with it today. Read "Why Merit Pay Will Improve Teaching," by Steven Malanga, City Journal, Summer 2001. Not available online; for more information about the magazine, see http://www.city-journal.org

Inasmuch as last week's column was about chickens (Chicken Littles, to be precise) it's fitting that this one is about canards-the loud-quacking kind-that need to be put out of their misery and cooked fast.

Roaming the education reform field, I've encountered many ridiculous statements hurled at those who seek major changes in the K-12 delivery system. My purpose here is to respond to a half dozen of the most absurd.

First canard: "You'd let anyone into the classroom to teach, without having them meet any external standards."

The truth: This canard is generally voiced by people who assume that the way to get better teachers for U.S. schools is to regulate entry ever more stringently via state certification and a requirement that everyone complete a state-approved and nationally-accredited training program. But why is this the only option? Private schools are free to hire whomever they like, as are many charter schools, and they seem to be doing fine. Why can't that freedom be extended to regular public schools as well? Each school should be able to select and deploy its own teaching team-and be held accountable for their classroom results. The state's role-here come the external standards-should be to ensure...

Two new working papers released by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggest that having high grading standards and grouping students by ability (i.e. tracking) lead to improvements in academic achievement. For more, see "Do High Grading Standards Affect Student Performance?" by David Figlio and Maurice Lucas at http://papers.nber.org/papers/W7985 and "School Choice and the Distributional Effects of Ability Tracking: Does Separation Increase Equality," by David Figlio and Marianne Page at http://papers.nber.org/papers/W8055

A long piece by Linda Perlstein in the Washington Post Magazine's Education Review issue explores how schools and teachers have lost our trust and how they might restore it. "Suspicious Minds," by Linda Perlstein, Washington Post Magazine, July 22, 2001. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11086-2001Jul17.html

For the first time, the US has lost its world lead in college completion rates. The UK, New Zealand, Finland, and the Netherlands all have higher percentages of young adults with college degrees than we do. Jay Mathews considers whether we should be worried in "The New Completion Competition," Washington Post Magazine, July 22, 2001. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/23/nyregion/23SCHO.html?searchpv=day01

Caroline Hoxby wondered whether adopting report cards for schools causes a state to improve academic achievement. She examined state NAEP scores to see if there was any difference between states that adopted report card systems early on and states that were latecomers to the report card bandwagon. She found small but statistically significant gains for states after they began report card systems. For more, see "Testing is about Openness and Openness Works," by Caroline M. Hoxby, Hoover Weekly Essay, July 30, 2001. Essay available soon at http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/pubaffairs/we/default.html Data available at http://post.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/hoxby/papers.html

Police commanders in New York City face weekly "Compstat" meetings in which reams of crime statistics are scrutinized and commanders are grilled about trends in their precincts. As he prepares to leave office, Mayor Rudy Giuliani is pressing other city agencies to adopt similar programs to improve productivity, and Chancellor Harold Levy has announced that the New York City public school system's 32 district superintendents will face Compstat-like meetings beginning this year. While the school district's version of the meetings will not include "intense grillings ... with public upbraidings for those who cannot explain negative trends in their districts," the data, and the superintendents' responses to it, will factor heavily into their annual evaluations, and those with troubling data will have to attend private follow-up meetings with deputy chancellors. With the help of McKinsey & Company, the school district has developed new performance indicators, and the district has created mapping systems that allow the various indicators to be integrated and compared. The new data systems should make it easier not only to identify trends but also to explain them. The meetings with superintendents will be quarterly rather than weekly because most school data does not fluctuate from week to week....

University of Exeter

A study examining the just-completed first year of a new performance-pay plan in Britain has been released by University of Exeter Professor Ted Wragg. He analyzed responses from a sample of 1000 primary and secondary head teachers (principals) who were charged with implementing government-mandated performance pay in their schools. Teachers were judged in five areas: knowledge and understanding; teaching and assessment; pupil progress; wider professional effectiveness; and professional characteristics. External auditors assessed head teachers' decisions on these applications, but rarely disputed their conclusions (though the auditors based their own analysis almost entirely on paperwork, not classroom observation). The study reports that three-quarters of head teachers surveyed felt that performance pay had little or no effect on what teachers did in the classroom. The main effect of the new pay package, said the head teachers, was to increase teachers' record keeping rather than to improve classroom practices. Head teachers also reported that evaluating teachers made an awful lot of work for them! Wragg's report is full of procedural details as well as opinions and observations-mostly negative-by primary and secondary teachers. One may fairly wonder whether this is the best way to conduct this kind of evaluation. Still,...

The National Center for Education Statistics

The National Center for Education Statistics has released a new (June 2001) study of public-school teacher preparation and development, based on data gathered in 2000 and meant to be compared with similar data from two years earlier. This 50 page report mostly consists of tables, though there are several interpretive pages at the beginning. I was struck by how many teachers say they participate in professional development. For example, 80 percent said they took part during the previous year in professional development related to state or district curriculum and standards, 74 percent learned about technology and 72 percent learned more about their subject areas. The time spent in these pursuits, however, mostly amounted to fewer than 8 hours in the year. According to the teachers, "in-depth study in the subject area of main teaching assignment" was most apt to improve their classroom teaching-and, not surprisingly, the more they studied the more improved they felt. (For example, among those who studied their subject area 8 hours or less, just 13 percent felt that it helped their teaching "a lot," while among those who studied more than 8 hours the figure was 37 percent.) Teachers...

Council of Chief State School Officers' Initiative to Improve Achievement in High Poverty Schools

Those interested in opportunities for coordinating special and compensatory education programs between states, districts, and schools may be interested in obtaining this new report, which details the findings of two such efforts. These brought together peer consultants from six states representing state Title I and special education staff, auditors, school districts, and parents to meet with federal Title I and special education staff. The two groups discussed ways to better serve students at risk of academic failure via special and compensatory education collaboration at the federal, state, local, and classroom levels. In summarizing the consultants' comments, the report focuses on four main issues: the state teams' vision of collaboration between special education and Title I; examples of current successful collaborations among the states; the challenges to collaboration between special education and Title I; and strategies and next steps to facilitate greater collaboration. The publication is available on the Council of Chief State School Officers website at http://publications.ccsso.org/ccsso/publication_list.cfm. Hard copies are not currently available.