Pay For Test Scores: The Price of my Humanity

MNPS Teacher Molly Handler offers her thoughts on merit pay:

 

When I first began teaching 9 years ago in MNPS, Vanderbilt was beginning a pay for performance study in Nashville middle school mathematics classrooms. This was the first scientific study of its kind in the US, and it sought to answer if merit pay alone, independent of other resources and support, increased student achievement as measured by test scores. Teachers in my middle school were eligible to be part of this study; I declined to participate, and explained extensively in the questionnaire the ideological reasons for this. The results of this study suggest that performance pay alone did not improve student outcomes.

 

A few years later, the same school in which I was working was eligible for the TIF grant which, “supports efforts to develop and implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need schools.” Eligibility for performance awards is based on student achievement growth, educator effectiveness and professional growth. If you examine the matrix used by my district to determine these performance awards, there is one lone area in which a teacher may earn incentive pay that is not directly tied to standardized test scores. This was not something I could opt out of, as I had the Vanderbilt study so I vowed that if I ever received money from this grant that I would not be able to keep it.

 

My third year of working at a TIF eligible school (2013-2014) I received $1,000 via the grant. When I first found out I would receive this money I began to think about the organizations to which I would donate it, and was excited that I could represent an ideology in which I had strongly believed since my first year of teaching. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my thought process strayed from this for a while, and I strongly considered keeping the money. It’s no secret that teachers don’t make great money, and I had some bills I could put it toward. I told myself I deserved this money that it would be a small token for the overwork and underpay scenario in which I had been living for my entire teaching career. While it did not incentivize me to do anything differently than I would otherwise, it was a small portion of the money I was owed. During this time I also heard Diane Ravitch speak at Vanderbilt, and one thing she discussed was how merit-based pay systems have never worked in the teaching profession. She called them a ‘zombie idea,’ something that fails over and over yet just won’t die. This made me realize I could not abandon this ideology that I held before I ever even began teaching, before I knew significantly less than I do now about the realities of this profession. I decided to give this money (which ended up being about $600 after taxes and other deductions) to the Metropolitan Nashville Education Fund (affiliated with Metro Nashville Education Association) and the Johnella H Martin Scholarship fund. This scholarship is awarded to an MNPS graduate who plans to study teaching and learning, and is awarded for all 4 years of college. The following outlines my ideologies of why I oppose merit-based pay, and why the cause to which I gave this money represents the complete opposite of what merit-based pay (and privatization of public schools) suggest.

 

  1. Our profession deserves to be compensated, not individuals within the profession whose students score well on tests. Money should support increasing pay for all teachers, rather than only given to some. I’m not suggesting that every teacher should make the exact same money; I believe that differences in pay should be reflected by experience, commitment to the profession, and education. When merit pay is given only to some and based on a flawed accountability system we are being forced into the competitive free market mentality on which privatization is dependent. Differences in pay should not be inconsistent and retroactive as they are when based on test scores, and they should represent equitable choices that all professionals in the field may access if they desire rather than based on the whim of a single score. The field of teaching is the most successful and best advanced when teachers work in collaboration not competition.

 

  1. Rather than awarding some people extra money for test scores, that money would be better spent on services that actually serve the needs of students and families. Schools need resources…not always physical resources, but resources to help support the failures of our society that seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of our public schools (health care, a living wage, affordable housing, hunger, etc.). Receiving the actual social services that are needed in schools and classrooms is more valuable, useful, and rewarding to teachers than possible incentive pay. It is certainly more valuable to the neediest students and families. I believe all teachers would choose support services for their students and classrooms as a job ‘incentive’ rather than merit-based pay.

 

  1. The field of teaching is being de-professionalized, and merit-based pay is one of many vehicles for such de-professionalization. Giving this money in support of MNEA suggests that the teacher voice should be the one guiding the field of education, not the bureaucratic one. Decision makers in our field have become people with little to no teaching experience, and this dynamic has run rampant. Returning decision-making (not to be confused with power and authority) to the collective teacher voice is vital.

 

  1. The Johnella H Martin Scholarship fund supports students of the school system in which I work who want to make a commitment to become career teachers. We need young people to study and commit to this field and profession, rather than filling our classrooms with teachers from programs like Teach For America.

 

  1. The testing and accountability movement is the foundation on which the privatization movement is based. Its use to credit or discredit individual students, teachers, schools, or school systems, is ill willed, and flawed. Tests are important and useful, but they are simply indicators that should be used as such. Teachers should use them in the classroom to guide specific aspects and topics of instruction, and systemically they might provide the ability to generalize information over a longer period of time. Interpreting and using them narrowly and then attaching a high stakes institutionalized practice to them, which is used to make sweeping generalizations and important decisions that affect peoples’ lives, for example, how much income they bring home is misuse, ill informed, and morally reprehensible.

 

  1. What I witnessed on the ground level, during the implementation of these various plans, at various schools, amongst various staff, is that they did nothing to change the actual practices of teacher pedagogy and student learning for better or worse. Despite the fact that matrices laid out the desired input a teacher must achieve in order to earn merit-based pay, such understanding of teaching practice is problematic and ignorant both pedagogically and logistically. I watched as extra money was awarded or not awarded to people who taught subjects never tested, to people who far exceeded the number of absences within the matrix, to teachers who actively improved their practice, to people who did not intend to be career teachers, to people who showed strong compassion for students, to teachers who worked in isolation or collaboration, and to teachers who did or did not focus exclusively on teaching to the test. My point is, that if the goal of such a system is to change the practice of teaching and learning in a consistent way for the better, there seemed to be no correlation between earning merit-based pay with such an outcome. The idea that matrices will somehow allow teachers to understand exactly what they need to do in order to get higher test scores amazes me to this day, as if teaching and learning is like a function table, and all we must do is understand the right input in order to get the desired output. Then, we must be rewarded for such output because otherwise we aren’t incentivized to implement the input in the first place. The over simplicity of such a system is linear in thought and organization, as compared to the cyclical complexities of classroom teaching. This juxtaposition speaks strongly to the alienation and true motives of those trying to implement merit-based pay in the first place.

 

It seems we, as teachers, are powerless over many of these changes that seek to devalue our profession both monetarily and pedagogically. Even if law imposes TIF-like plans on us, it is our money and we may do with it what we like. Much in the same way that sick banks are established in large group health insurance plans, teachers might find a way to establish group plans that seek to redistribute merit-based pay that recognizes the entirety of the profession rather than the narrow measures of the few. Such a system could interpret this redistribution in any way deemed fit, as it could be divided up equally amongst its members, donated to a valuable cause, or used to purchase additional supports and services that go unfunded but that its members felt were vital to their work and for their students. Most importantly, however, it might empower us to reclaim that the true nature of our profession is to work collaboratively in service of our students and our field, rather than to compete with one another for individualized monetary benefit that is awarded via a single measure.

 

Allowing our field to be stratified and quantified based on attaching payment to test scores dehumanizes the realities of our day-to-day work. This alienation robs us of our humanity. I feel this dehumanization seeping into my profession and the lives of my students and myself more and more each day, as data and test scores supersede true learning, service, and compassion. We accept practices and ideologies with which we do not agree, that our training and experience contradict, as we are fearful for our livelihoods and our profession. As a teacher, I needed something to reassert myself and the humanity of my career. For me, accepting this money would have further forfeited my ability to define the relationships, actions, and knowledge that have become part of my identity and the profession of teaching. Teaching is an art, talent, service, belief, career, and skill set, and I cannot trade those things for a practice that suggests otherwise, even if such a practice involves a thousand dollars.

 

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reform is Working

That’s the message from the Tennessee Department of Education based on recently released TCAP results and an analysis of the data over time.

You can see for yourself here and here.

The one area of concern is reading, but overall, students are performing better than they were when new TCAP tests were started and standards were raised.

Here’s the interesting thing: This is true across school districts and demographic subgroups. The trend is positive.

Here’s something else: A similar trend could be seen in results before the change in the test in 2009.

Tennessee students were steadily making gains. Teachers and schools were hitting the mark set for them by policymakers. This in an age of collective bargaining for teachers and no TVAAS-based evaluation or pay schemes.

When the standards were made higher — certainly a welcome change — teachers again hit the mark.

Of course, since the standards change, lots of other reforms have taken place. Most of these have centered around teachers and the incorporation of TVAAS in teacher evaluation and even pay schemes. The State Board of Education even gutted the old state salary schedule to promote pay differentiation, ostensibly based on TVAAS scores.

But does pay for TVAAS actually lead to improved student outcomes as measured by TVAAS?

Consider this comparison of Putnam County and Cumberland County. Putnam was one of the original TIF recipients and among the first to develop a pay scheme based on teacher evaluations and TVAAS.

Putnam’s 2014 TVAAS results are positive, to be sure. But neighboring Cumberland County (a district that is demographically similar and has a similar assortment of schools) also shows positive TVAAS results.  Cumberland relies on the traditional teacher pay scale. From 2012-13 to 2013-14, Putnam saw a 50% increase in the number of categories (all schools included) in which they earned TVAAS scores of 5. So did Cumberland County.

Likewise, from 2012-13 to 2013-14, Putnam saw a 13% decline in the number of categories in which they earned TVAAS scores below a 3. In Cumberland County, the number was cut by 11%.

This is one example over a two-year cycle. New district level results for 2015 will soon be available and will warrant an update. But, it’s also worth noting that these results track results seen in Denver in analysis of their ProComp pay system. Specifially, University of Colorado’s Denver ProComp Evaluation Report (2010-2012) finds little impact of ProComp on student achievement, or on teachers’ professional practices, including their teaching practices or retention.

The Putnam-Cumberland initial analysis tracks with that of the ProComp studies: Teacher performance pay, even if devised in conjunction with teacher groups, cannot be said to have a significant impact on student performance over time.

So, prior to 2008, student academic achievement as measured by Tennessee standardized tests showed steady improvement over time. This occurred in an environment with no performance pay. Again from 2009-2015, across districts and demographic groups, student achievement is improving. Only a small number of Tennessee districts have performance pay schemes — so, that alone would indicate that performance pay is not driving improved student outcomes.  Then, a preliminary comparison of two districts suggests that both performance pay and non-performance pay districts see significant (and similar) TVAAS gains.

Reform may be working — but it may not be the reform the reformers want to push.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

TEA Files Second TVAAS Lawsuit

Suit Names Haslam, Huffman as Defendants

The Tennessee Education Association has filed a second lawsuit challenging the use of TVAAS data for teacher merit pay.  This suit, like the one filed last week, was filed in Knox County.

In this case, a science teacher was denied a bonus under the APEX system as a result of TVAAS scores associated with just 16% of the students he teaches.

Here, it seems the principles behind incentive pay didn’t work.  That is, proponents of merit pay suggest that teachers will be more motivated to perform if they know there’s a monetary incentive attached to their performance.  In this case, the teacher knew his pay was tied to performance in only one of the classes he taught and yet it was the scores in that class that were not high enough on TVAAS to earn him a bonus.

The perverse incentive created by such a system is that a teacher would focus on only a few of his or her students in order to achieve a raise.

In this case, it could be that the teacher wasn’t at his best in this particular class.  Or, it could be he treats all his courses the same and the results he achieved in this particular class were good, but not high enough to reach the bonus level.

The challenge of merit pay is that it assumes that if there’s a monetary bonus attached to pay, teachers will work harder than they are.  The very premise is insulting because it assumes that teachers aren’t working at their best right now and if only they had a small financial incentive, they’d work a little harder. The facts of this specific case suggest otherwise.

Another takeaway from this case is that the system is not paying teachers based on the totality of their work.  This teacher taught other, upper level science courses that were not tested.  He didn’t have TVAAS data for those, but there is surely some form of test data that could be used to assess value-added if that’s the desired way to establish performance.  That’s not being done, either.  Maybe this teacher does an outstanding job in the upper level courses.  We don’t know.  And, based on the pay structure in place in Knox County, the system sends that message that his performance in those courses is irrelevant to his pay.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

 

TEA Files TVAAS Lawsuit in Knox County

Use of TVAAS is Arbitrary and Violates 14th Amendment, TEA Alleges

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Knox County teacher who was denied a bonus under that school system’s pay plan after Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) data for 10 of her students was unknowingly attributed to her.

TVAAS is Tennessee’s system of measuring student growth over time. It generates data based on student test scores on TCAP and end of course tests.

In this specific case, the teacher, Lisa Trout, was assigned TVAAS data for 10 students after being told her evaluation would be based on system-wide TVAAS data because she taught at an alternative school.

The TEA lawsuit cites two different memos which indicated that Ms. Trout could expect an evaluation (and bonus eligibility) to be based on system-wide data. At the conclusion of the school year, Ms. Trout was informed that her overall evaluation score, including observations and TVAAS data was a 4, making her eligible for a bonus under the Knox County pay plan.

When she did not receive the bonus as expected, she began asking questions about why the bonus had not been paid.  She ultimately determined that without her knowledge, a school counselor had assigned 10 students to Ms. Trout for the factoring of TVAAS scores.  The students were in an Algebra II course Ms. Trout taught, even though she does not hold an endorsement for teaching Alegbra II.

Though the suit does not specifically mention this, it should be noted that 10 students is a particularly small sample size subject to significant statistical anomaly.

The TEA lawsuit contends that Ms. Trout was owed the bonus based on Knox County School Board policy and in this specific instance, the bonus should have been paid.

Arbitrary?

The TEA goes on to contend that Ms. Trout and similarly situated teachers for whom there is little or no specific TVAAS data are held to an arbitrary standard in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Specifically, the suit notes: ” … the majority of teachers in the Knox County Schools … have had their eligibility for additional compensation (under the APEX bonus system) determined on the basis of the test scores of students they do not teach and/or the test scores of their students in subjects unrelated to the subjects they teach.”

The suit alleges that such a system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because some teachers are evaluated and receive bonuses based on the scores of their own students while other teachers are held accountable for students they do not teach and over which they have no influence or control.

In short, the entire system is flawed and should be discarded.

A spokesperson for TEA confirmed that the organization does not believe that teacher pay should be tied to TVAAS data.

On a related note, the Metro Nashville Public Schools recently announced it is putting plans to pay teachers in part based on TVAAS scores on hold indefinitely.

A TEA press release announcing the Knox County suit indicated that the organization anticipates additional lawsuits along these lines.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 

The Education Agenda

What’s the best way to move Tennessee schools forward? It seems lots of people have opinions about this.  And some organized groups (teachers, superintendents, parents) are familiar faces around the General Assembly as education legislation is discussed, debated, and voted on.

Here, I attempt to break down the education agenda according to various groups attempting to influence the debate at the General Assembly this session.

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

This group of teachers is the smaller of the two organizations in the state representing teachers (the other being the Tennessee Education Association).

We’ve written about PET’s 2014 agenda before.

Essentially, they are focusing on teacher licensure (and the use of TVAAS to determine continuation), protection of student and teacher data, and testing.

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE)

We reported last week on the launch of this new group. They appear to stand in opposition to much of the current reform agenda in Nashville (state charter authorizer, vouchers, etc.). They also support full funding of BEP 2.0.

Tennessee Education Association (TEA)

TEA is the state’s oldest and largest association of teachers.  The TEA has historically opposed the expansion of charter schools and the use of public dollars for private schools (vouchers). They have a fairly wide-ranging legislative agenda. Additionally, they are currently undertaking a “road trip” to expose flaws in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS).

Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA)

As its name implies, this group represents school boards across the state.  Though a few systems are not members, most in Tennessee are.  Here’s their complete agenda.  The organization opposes vouchers and opposes revoking a teacher’s license based solely on TVAAS data.

Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS)

The statewide organization representing school superintendents.  Their full legislative agenda can be found here. TOSS opposes vouchers, a statewide charter authorizer, and the revocation of a teacher’s license based on TVAAS data.

Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)

SCORE is headed-up by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.  The organization is comprised of many education stakeholders and aims to provide information to policymakers as they make decisions that impact schools.  They have been supportive of the new teacher evaluation model and are the leading organization in Tennessee in support of the Common Core State Standards.  More on SCORE here.

Stand for Children

This organization has been active in Tennessee since 1999.  For the sake of full disclosure, I worked for Stand in TN from 2007-2009. The organization made its mark in Tennessee advocating for expanded access to Pre-K.  According to a recent email from new Executive Director Betty Anderson, the organization plans to focus this year’s legislative efforts on maintaining the Common Core State Standards.  They are also supportive of expanded access to Pre-K and to improvements to the BEP.

StudentsFirst

This is the Tennessee affiliate of Michelle Rhee’s nationwide StudentsFirst organization. Here’s the group’s official issue agenda.  They have been supportive of vouchers, a statewide charter authorizer, and teacher merit pay.

Tennessee Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

The Tennessee PTA is comprised of parents organized at the local school level. While these groups typically support their specific school, the PTA also supports schools and students in the community and state. Their complete legislative agenda can be found here. The PTA includes in its agenda support for the inclusion of parent and student feedback in teacher evaluation and the use of “strategic compensation” for teachers.  They also support the Coordinated School Health program and changes to the BEP that would provide funding for additional nurses. The PTA opposes vouchers.

School Choice Now

This group is a joint project of the Tennessee Federation for Children and the Beacon Center of TN.  Their focus is on a statewide school voucher program, which they call “opportunity scholarships.”

Those are the major groups I’m aware of attempting to influence education policy in Tennessee. There are likely others.  But this is a starting point to understanding what’s going on at the Legislative Plaza regarding education policy and who is pushing for what policies.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport

 

Test Questions

A group of parents attempting to reduce the amount of standardized testing Tennessee students are subjected to each year is now raising questions about Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s testimony in defense of Common Core at a recent state Senate Education Committee hearing.

Huffman essentially admitted that TCAP is not a very strong test.  The parent group wants an explanation of why this weak test is being used to determine teacher licensure and possibly teacher pay.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport

20 Years of TVAAS has Told Us Almost Nothing

Valerie Strauss has an interesting piece over at the Washington Post dealing with Value-Added Modeling.  More specifically, the post analyzes what can be learned from 20 years of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) implemented as a result of the Education Improvement Act — the Act that created the Basic Education Program (Tennessee’s school funding formula, also known as BEP).

The promise of Value-Added Assessment was that we could learn a lot about which schools were working and which weren’t.  We could learn a lot about kids and how they were progressing.  We could even learn about teachers and how they were doing with all their students and with specific groups of students.  With all this information, Tennessee would intervene and take action that would move schools forward.

Unfortunately, that promise has not been delivered.  At all.

Here, I highlight the key takeaways from the Strauss piece.  Tennessee parents and policymakers should take note – TVAAS is taking up tax dollars and impacting teacher evaluations and it doesn’t really work all that well.

1. Using TVAAS masked persistently low proficiency rates.

The Tennessee value-added assessment model basically identified the schools that were already making required annual proficiency targets, but it failed to distinguish between schools with rising or declining proficiency scores.

In short, the Sanders Model did little to address the essential unfairness perpetuated by NCLB proficiency requirements, which insisted that those student further behind and with fewer resources than those in economically privileged schools had to work harder to reach the same proficiency point.  More importantly, there was no evidence that the Sanders version of value-added testing did anything to help or even predict the future outcomes for those furthest behind.

 

2. TVAAS is unstable and inappropriate for high-stakes decisions — like hiring and firing teachers, renewing licenses, or determining pay.

And despite the National Research Council and the National Academies’ flagging of value-added assessment as too unstable for high-stakes decisions in education …

…states like Tennessee rushed to implement a federally recommended system whereby value-added growth scores would come to dominate teacher evaluation for educators who teach tested subjects.  And contrary to the most basic notions of accountability and fairness, two-thirds of Tennessee teachers who teach non-tested subjects are being evaluated based on school-wide scores in their schools, rather than their own.

3. Continued use of TVAAS as an indicator of “success” leaves the most vulnerable students further and further behind.

In a 2009 Carnegie-funded report, Charles Barone points out that focus on value-added gains, or growth in test scores, may downplay the need for interventions to address low proficiency rates:  “Due to the projection toward proficiency being recalculated annually [in the TVAAS model], there is not necessarily a significant progression, over time toward proficiency . . . causing a delay of needed intervention at appropriate developmental times” (p. 8). So while showing academic progress, gain scores or growth scores easily mask the fact that minority and poor children are far below their well-heeled peers in becoming intellectually prepared for life and careers. And in masking the actual academic progress of the poor and minority students, the state (and the nation) is let off the hook for maintaining and supporting an adequate and equally accessible system of public education for all students. At the same time, politicians and ideologues can celebrate higher “progress rates” for poor and minority students who are, in fact, left further and further behind.

4. Tennessee has actually lost ground in terms of student achievement relative to other states since the implementation of TVAAS.

Tennessee received a D on K-12 achievement when compared to other states based on NAEP achievement levels and gains, poverty gaps, graduation rates, and Advanced Placement test scores (Quality Counts 2011, p. 46).  Educational progress made in other states on NAEP [from 1992 to 2011] lowered Tennessee’s rankings:

• from 36th/42 to 46th/52 in the nation in fourth-grade math[2]

• from 29th/42 to 42nd/52 in fourth-grade reading[3]

• from 35th/42 to 46th/52 in eighth-grade math

• from 25th/38 (1998) to 42nd/52 in eighth-grade reading.

5. TVAAS tells us almost nothing about teacher effectiveness.

While other states are making gains, Tennessee has remained stagnant or lost ground since 1992 — despite an increasingly heavy use of TVAAS data.

So, if TVAAS isn’t helping kids, it must be because Tennessee hasn’t been using it right, right? Wrong. While education policy makers in Tennessee continue to push the use of TVAAS for items such as teacher evaluation, teacher pay, and teacher license renewal, there is little evidence that value-added data effectively differentiates between the most and least effective teachers.

In fact, this analysis demonstrates that the difference between a value-added identified “great” teacher and a value-added identified “average” teacher is about $300 in earnings per year per student.  So, not that much at all.  Statistically speaking, we’d call that insignificant.  That’s not to say that teachers don’t impact students.  It IS to say that TVAAS data tells us very little about HOW teachers impact students.

Surprisingly, Tennessee has spent roughly $326 million on TVAAS and attendant assessment over the past 20 years. That’s $16 million a year on a system that is not yielding much useful information. Instead, TVAAS data has been used to mask a persistent performance gap between middle to upper income students and their lower-income peers.  Overall student achievement in Tennessee remains stagnant (which means we’re falling behind our neighboring states) while politicians and policy makers tout TVAAS-approved gains as a sure sign of progress.

In spite of mounting evidence contradicting the utility of TVAAS, Commissioner Huffman and Governor Haslam announced last week they want to “improve” Tennessee teacher salaries along the lines of merit — and in their minds, TVAAS gains are a key determinant of teacher merit.

Perhaps 2014 will at least produce questions from the General Assembly about the state’s investment in an assessment system that has over 20 years yielded incredibly disappointing results.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport

 

 

ALL of Tennessee is an Education Priority

The recently announced plan to award bonuses to high-ranking teachers if they either stay at or move to a high priority school (those schools in the bottom 5% in terms of student achievement) reminded me of a similar effort to recruit teachers to the state’s Achievement School District by paying them significantly more than they could make at other schools.

In fact, I wrote about this topic when the ASD plan was announced.

My first question when I heard the story was “where is the money coming from?”  But it is federal money, so the state hasn’t come up with some pool of money to be used to give bonuses.  And there’s no indication the program will (or will not) continue beyond the first two years.

The point is, Tennessee lags behind the rest of the country in college degree attainment. And our NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) scores are quite low.  Of 8 states that test 100% of graduates on the ACT, we rank 7th in average composite score.

Improving schools in our entire state should be a top priority.  And if it makes sense that you can attract more teachers (and more talent) with bonuses and higher pay, shouldn’t that simply become the policy of the state?

If Tennessee became the state where teachers were very well paid and had lots of professional support (professional development, mentoring, paid training), we’d surely attract bright candidates from across the country to teach in our schools.  50 Tennessee counties border other states.  Bright graduates from colleges near Tennessee would soon want to teach here because the pay and support were such a strong incentive.

Metro Nashville Public Schools started using a compressed, improved pay scale this year.  It helped triple the number of applicants they had for teacher openings.

Why not do the same for the entire state? An investment along these lines could be a game-changer for Tennessee.  We have a long way to go.  But we can get there IF the political will exists to push forward.

 

Teacher Merit Pay is on the Way in Tennessee

The Tennessee State Board of Education met today and gave approval on first reading to two proposals that essentially mandate teacher merit pay starting in the 2014-15 school year.

The first proposal, effective in the 2013-14 year, removes the automatic step increases now mandated for each additional year of service.  Instead, teachers would earn a mandated base salary plus an additional amount in years 1-5, 6-10, and 11-15.  Teachers with an advanced degree would earn a higher additional amount in essentially the same time blocks.  Here are the details.

This proposal is somewhat similar to the pay plan adopted last year by Metro Nashville Public Schools that front-loaded pay, making starting salaries about $6000 higher and raising pay for most all teachers in the system, but capping any years of service increases at year 15.

The plan guarantees that no teacher may see their salary go down as a result of the adoption of this pay plan. Some teachers, however, would likely be at or above the new mandated ranges and so may not see any pay increases for a few years, depending on how their local school systems handle the pay issue.

The idea is to free up funds currently used for step increases for teachers so those funds may be used to differentiate pay among teachers.

To that end, the Board adopted another proposal effective in 2014-15.  It mandates that all systems develop a differentiated pay plan to be approved by the Department of Education.  The plan is to be merit-based and essentially must depend on either 1) filling hard to staff schools or hard to fill subjects and/or 2) rewarding performance as determined by the state’s new and ever-evolving teacher evaluation system.

Aside from the fact that performance pay doesn’t seem to work that well, there’s no indication of how districts will locate the funds necessary to make these pay adjustments work.  That is, aside from the funds that may be freed up from ending mandatory step increases, there’s no movement to add state funds to the pot to allow for significant incentives.  In fact, the base pay plan adopted by the Board simply doesn’t go far enough toward establishing an effective base.  Moving the base closer to $40,000 is part of an education agenda designed to make a meaningful impact on Tennessee schools.

Performance pay plans almost always cost more money than the step/level plans.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be pursued, but it does mean money is necessary to make them work.  Metro Nashville’s compressed pay plan cost $6 million in year one.  In Denver, where a performance pay plan has been in effect for a number of years (ProComp), the average teacher now makes $7000 more per year than they did under the old plan.  Paying teachers more is a good thing and a key component of investing in teachers to help improve schools.  But absent state dollars, it’s unclear where or how local districts will find the money to make this proposal work.

Further, because local teachers’ associations no longer have the power to bargain collectively, there is no requirement of input on new plans by teachers.  Local Boards may consult any party they wish or simply adopt an approved plan and impose it on the teachers of their district.  Of course, consulting those whose pay you are about to change about how they’d like to see it improved makes sense, but that doesn’t mean local districts will do that. And the State Board doesn’t require such collaboration.

Some (StudentsFirst) have indicated that because of this year’s teacher and state employee pension reform, there will be more money available in the state budget.  They’ve suggested using that money to improve teacher pay.  The first savings should be realized in 2014-15.  So, it will be interesting to see if there are legislative proposals that incorporate the savings from pension reform into funds available to districts for the performance pay scheme that will soon be mandated from the State Board of Education.  It will also be worth watching to see if the Board makes any movement on giving teacher base pay a meaningful increase.

Tennessee has experimented with performance pay before.  The Career Ladder program was implemented by Governor Lamar Alexander.  It was funded for a time, then became expensive, then was stopped, and is now being phased out — with fewer and fewer Career Ladder teachers remaining in service each year.

The point is, without careful planning and implementation, the proposals adopted on first reading today and likely headed for final approval in July may do nothing but put added financial pressure on local governments.  Local school districts should watch cautiously and should ask their legislators to put forward plans to use state money to fund these proposals.  While it is not clear performance pay will even have the intended positive results, it will surely fail if there is no commitment in the form of investment from those backing the plan.

Study Finds Perfomance Pay Does Not Affect Teacher Motivation

A new study released this month in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis found that pay-for-performance programs do not affect teacher motivation. The article, “Incentive Pay Programs Do Not Affect Teacher Motivation or Reported Practices: Results From Three Randomized Studies,” looked at three schools that were testing pay-for-performance programs. Metro Nashville Public Schools took part in this study. The study was conducted with five researchers from the RAND Corporation and professors from University of Southern California and Vanderbilt University.

The abstract of the paper lays out the major findings of this project:

“This study drew on teacher survey responses from randomized experiments exploring three different pay-for-performance programs to examine the extent to which these programs motivated teachers to improve student achievement and the impact of such programs on teachers’ instruction, number of hours worked, job stress, and collegiality. Results showed that most teachers did not report their program as motivating. Moreover, the survey responses suggest that none of the three programs changed teachers’ instruction, increased their number of hours worked or job stress, or damaged their collegiality.” (emphasis mine)

When reading the article, the authors do a great job of explaining the three main rationales behind pay-for-performance.

  1. Performance pay will improve student achievement by motivating teachers to improve or innovate their teaching practices.
  2. Performance pay will improve student learning by changing the work environment of teachers.
  3. Changes the supply of teaching candidates and retain high performing teachers.

The research took place at three different schools systems.

  1. Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT) – Metro Nashville Public Schools
  2. Pilot Project on Tea Incentives (PPTI)- Round Rock Independent School District- Texas
  3. School-Wide Performance Bonus Program (SPBP) New York City Public Schools

The researchers wanted to answer two research questions:

  1. Did teachers find these three incentive pay programs to be motivating?
  2. In response to the implementation of these programs, did teachers report changes in their practices or their working conditions?

 

Results

-The majority of POINT and SPBP teachers agreed that rewarding teachers based on student test scores were problematic because those scores did not “capture important aspects of teaching performance.”

-Half of POINT and PPTI teachers said that they believed teachers were limited on what they could do because family environment played a larger role in student achievement.

-A little over 40% of POINT teachers and 20% of PTTI teachers reported that the chance of a bonus would energize them to improve their teaching.

-“In addition, the majority of incentive eligible teacehrs in all three programs reported that their programs had no effect of teaching, 85% POINT, 78% in PTTI, and 90% SPBP.”

We see that these pay-for-performance programs won’t change how teachers teach or even motivate these teachers to change their teaching styles. The majority of teachers who were participating in this program thought standardized test scores were a bad way to measure the bonus and half of the teachers believed home environment played a bigger role than teachers. If teachers don’t agree with the measurement, they won’t agree with the program.

The authors believe that the way pay-for-performance is designed right now is not the best.

“The lack of program impact on teacher’s practices suggest that more careful thinking about the logic model of incentive pay programs is necessary.”

The authors suggest that based on this study and others with weak effects, that policy makers should be looking at other ideas of reform.

If bonus-based policy is pursued, policymakers need to recognize this lack of evidence and take steps to monitor program implementation and evaluate program impact on targeted outcomes.

We know that some people are trying to bring pay-for-performance to Tennessee. Will this latest research slow them down? Doubtful, but at least we can show these people the research and open their eyes to some programs behind pay-for-performance.