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July 22, 2011

New York City stops pay for performance

The New York Times is reporting that a “program that distributed $56 million in performance bonuses to teachers and other school staff members over the last three years will be permanently discontinued” because a study by the RAND corporation found that “the bonuses had no positive effect on either student performance or teachers’ attitudes toward their jobs.”

Before you react, consider this encouraging quote from the article: 

“The results add to a growing body of evidence nationally that so-called pay-for-performance bonuses for teachers that consist only of financial incentives have no effect on student achievement….Teachers also reported that improving as teachers and seeing their students learn were bigger motivators than a bonus, [the researchers] said.”

In an arena where attacks can often be cloaked under the phrase “It’s for the sake of the children,” it’s refreshing to see tangible evidence that children’s learning truly is a powerful motivator. And some of the other reasons given by the researchers for the program’s ineffectiveness, such as not understanding how the awards were determined, also point out that the logistical can be just as important (and far less divisive to fix) than the ideological.

In fact, several of the results of the RAND study seem to correlate with the Center’s earlier research review, “Promise or peril? Teacher pay for performance,” which pointed out that it is often how these programs are developed and structured that makes a difference.

So if your state or district is considering pay for performance, educate yourself first. There’s no use spending money on something that doesn’t work. –Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: Pay for Performance,teachers,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — rstandrie @ 10:01 am

April 26, 2011

Here comes another one

This time it’s Ohio: Its S.B. 5 would cut automatic pay raises for public school teachers and replace it with a statewide pay-for-performance system based on teachers’ evaluations. According to cleveland.com, fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation would come from a yet-to-be-developed test measuring students’ academic growth over a year (commonly known as a growth model).

The test still has to be developed, there’s the possibility of a voter referendum on the bill — there’s a lot to happen in Ohio before this becomes reality. But it’s another example of how teacher evaluation systems are getting a major overhaul. Are you ready for it to happen where you live?

Is Ohio’s proposal right? Is it fair? Is it practical? Judge for yourself, but make sure to read the Center’s guides on teacher evaluation systems and pay for performance systems first.  –Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: Pay for Performance,Teacher evaluation,Uncategorized — rstandrie @ 11:48 am

January 7, 2011

What does baseball have to do with evaluating teachers?

“Look on the back of their baseball card.”

That’s the common reply from baseball managers and general managers around the major leagues when asked about what kind of production they expect from a player in an upcoming season.

It is a reference to the career stats of baseball players, which appear on the back of their baseball cards. Most often, at the end of the season a player’s stats will be more or less as their career stats.

This basic assumption is so accepted in Major League Baseball that teams offer tens of millions of dollars to those players with the strongest career stats, while players with the weakest stats tend to disappear after a few years.  The stakes don’t get much higher than that.

But in education, it’s still rare for similar high stakes decisions about school personnel (teachers, principals, and other administrators) to be made using data such as student test scores. Critics argue that evaluating educators primarily based on student test scores would be unfair. That even the most complex statistical models designed to isolate educators’ impact, such as value-added growth models, are not reliable enough to base high-stakes decisions such as salaries or tenure.

Now, these critics argue correctly that there is only a moderate correlation between a teacher’s past performance, as measured by value-added models, and their future effectiveness. For example, a Brookings report on value-added models stated that the correlation between test-based measures of teacher effectiveness between one school year and the next is between .30 and .40 (1.0 would mean a perfect correlation and 0.0 would be no correlation). This is a low to moderate correlation in statistical terms. Sounds like the critics have a strong point.

However, Brookings also points out when comparing that correlation to statistics used in other professions, such as Major League Baseball, the correlation doesn’t sound very weak.

Take batting average—one of the most widely used statistics to evaluate a player. The between-season correlation for batting averages for Major League Baseball players is just .36. Yet, a team will pay a player millions for hitting .300 and cut a player for hitting .250.  

Of course batting average is just one statistic teams use to evaluate a player and value-added scores are just one statistic that could be used to evaluate educators, but both can be key measures to determine how effective they will be in the future if used correctly.  

Do teams sometimes make the wrong decision by paying millions for the player who hit .300 last season while cutting the player who hit .250? Yes, it does happen. But overall, the teams are better off signing the players who had the strongest stats on back of his baseball card. Our schools could be more effective if they kept the educators with the strongest stats as well.– Jim Hull

Filed under: Growth Models,Pay for Performance,teachers — Tags: , , — Jim Hull @ 12:50 pm

December 22, 2010

Be bold, but maybe not too bold

Across the country, policies to link teachers to student performance are on a fast track. Spurred by the competition for federal Race to the Top and Teacher Incentive Grant dollars, several states changed laws and regulations that govern the use of teacher-student data in order to put themselves in a favorable position to win the grants. At the same time, numerous urban districts are at work with teachers to implement pay for performance plans, often with the aid of sizable private foundation support. 

The focus on teachers is well-placed. Of all the factors that influence student learning, research shows that teachers are the most significant. Yet, with some notable exceptions, teachers  haven’t exactly embraced the idea of being judged by the performance of their students. Many aren’t convinced that the data is valid, and the effort remains controversial.

Two recent reports shed valuable light on the teacher-student link and show how complex the task of teacher evaluation is.  The sources themselves are interesting — One report was published by the Gates Foundation and the other by Center for American Progress. Both organizations are high-profile advocates for using value-added measures of student growth to identify and reward effective teachers as the key strategy in school improvement plans. Both reports see a lot of value in value-added, especially when used for school and staff improvement.  But while neither report flat out says “don’t do it” they also advise care when using student performance for high stakes decisions about teachers.

 The Gates study reports the preliminary findings from their multi-year “Measuring Effective Teaching” project. The executive summary is here.  Among the more interesting findings: classroom observations and student perceptions have strong correlations to teacher value-added data. If this relationship holds, this could go a long way toward building up teachers’ trust in the data as districts move forward with teacher-student links.

The Center American Progress report is by Dan Goldhaber – a widely respected researcher of teacher effectiveness — who draws on his considerable background to explore the uses of value added data in high stakes decisions. Goldhaber provides a good, accessible description of the quirks in value-added models and shows how to improve the stability of the data, for example, by using multiple years of data.  He also compares value-added measures to current methods for evaluating  teachers, which he argues do little or nothing to distinguish good teaching from mediocre or just short of bad teaching, and finds value-added to be the better option.  

 My takeaway – we should keep moving ahead to develop effective and fair means to link teachers with student performance. But we might want to ease off of the accelerator a bit. 

Also check out the Center’s report, Promise or Peril: Teacher pay for performance plans. – Patte Barth

Filed under: Growth Models,Pay for Performance,teachers — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 3:34 pm

July 29, 2010

Agreeing on teacher placement

Among the many debates surrounding teacher hiring practices, mutual consent, the practice of requiring both principal and teacher to agree to the latter’s school assignment, especially in cases of transfers, is among the most contentious. EdWeek tackled the issue in an article earlier this month.

Administrators like it because it gives schools the power and flexibility to directly address their specialized needs.  For example, if a school is guided according to a certain vision, then “it’s really important that all members of the team…buy into that vision,” according to Tom Boasberg, superintendent of the Denver school district. If the principal is the leader behind such a vision, then who better to identify the right team members?

The message from unions appears to be mixed.  Randy Weil, Director of Field Programs at the American Federation of Teachers remarked in the EdWeek article that mutual consent is not supported as a matter of general policy by the AFT.  However, the school districts of the 3 largest cities in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago), all AFT school districts, have negotiated collective bargaining agreements with mutual consent provisions within the last 4 years.

On reason parent unions are less-than-ecstatic about mutual consent is that it does not guarantee job placement for veteran teachers who have been excessed from their current schools.  In DC, for example, if an excessed teacher cannot find a school that will hire him or her within 1 year, he or she can be rightfully terminated.   There is a pertinent question here of justice to teachers.

This shouldn’t be separated, however, from the question of equal educational opportunity.

Common practice allows senior teachers to bump junior teachers in their preference of transfer assignments, often regardless of a principal’s wishes.  These senior teachers usually choose suburban schools serving high-achievement students over urban schools, according to a study done by Frank Papa Jr. and Iris Baxter.  The reasons include the perception of difficult working conditions, unfavorable environmental factors, ineffective or unsupportive administrations, and a dearth of like-minded colleagues.  Because of this, schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students end up disproportionately staffed by inexperienced and uncertified teachers.

We know that teaching is the most important school-based factor to a child’s performance.  One prominent study noted that “teachers near the top of the quality distribution can get an entire year’s worth of additional learning out of their students compared to those near the bottom.”  If that’s the case, then serious consideration should be given to what tools principals are given to close achievement gaps.

Pay-for-performance (PFP) addresses the supply side of the equation.  While research is mixed, there is evidence that at a certain salary level, talented teachers who would otherwise avoid a disadvantaged school may be induced to apply or transfer there.  Of course, ineffective teachers are just as apt to supply their labor in such cases.  From the demand side, then, having no way for principals to choose between teachers of differing labor quality seriously diminishes the benefits of a higher quality applicant pool.  PFP could thus be rendered ineffective if seniority bumping rights remain too dominant within PFP frameworks.

It might be no coincidence, then, that mutual consent clauses correlate with incentive pay in its various forms in the teacher contracts of the cities mentioned above.  Los Angeles, New York and DC all reward teachers for either teaching hard-to-staff subjects, working in needy schools, or exceptional performance, and Chicago is piloting a standardized-test score-driven bonus pay system.

Mutual consent isn’t a panacea for optimally distributing teachers within school districts.  But it may give principals an effective tool for closing achievement gaps, especially when in used in combination with pay-for-performance measures. – David English

Filed under: Pay for Performance,teachers — Jim Hull @ 4:37 pm

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