Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Teacher Performance Pay Programs Don't Make the Grade

Most of the nation's most heralded teacher "performance pay" programs don't even come close to truly reforming teacher pay to benefit talented educators, according to a new study and report card from The Center for Education Reform. For more than twenty years, the notion of paying teachers more money if they are effective in the classroom has been an issue that has resonated with citizens and policymakers alike. Alternative compensation programs have been established from Colorado to Washington, DC, but most don't make the grade.

"Performance pay for teachers is a simple concept with complicated opposition," says Jeanne Allen, President of The Center for Education Reform. "True performance pay is not a system of bonuses or incentives, which in essence bribe teachers to work hard, but an evaluation and compensation package that rewards demonstrated impact on student achievement growth."

A look at several programs around the country shows that:

- Most place too little emphasis on student achievement and growth while offering reward for benchmarks that do not have impact in the classroom

- Many are opt-in and therefore do not have the intended transformative effect on the culture of teaching in their areas

- Some programs labeled as "performance pay" initiatives are merely a series of bonuses, often school-wide

CER's report provides policymakers with a roadmap to the implementation of meaningful performance pay guidelines and dispels the myths, confusion and misunderstandings that have blocked true evaluation and contract reform in the US.

"The greatest obstacle to performance pay and teachers being treated as other professionals is the teachers union and their ironclad, one-size-fits-all contract," says Allen. "Performance pay that is not written into law and is not mandatory will always be watered down by special interests. That is why real performance pay must become the new status quo."


TN: Teacher-run schools interest Nashville

Possibility of experiment, control excites educators

Many Metro Nashville teachers would jump at the chance to run their schools their way. Whether the district will give them that chance remains to be seen. The district is debating whether to experiment with a teacher-led school, following the lead of other urban areas that have removed the principals and administrators and turned failing schools over to the teaching staff to see whether they can straighten them out.

"The teachers I've talked to about this have been very excited about the opportunity to have more say-so in how their schools are run," said Erick Huth, president of Metro's teachers union. "I think it would be empowering for a lot of teachers."

The state's latest school reforms put a lot of emphasis on teacher accountability. If test scores don't rise, if students don't succeed, the system looks to the teachers for an explanation. Teacher-led schools are a response to that pressure. If they're goingto take on that responsibility, some teachers say, they also should get to take control.

A delegation of Metro school officials visited a teacher-led math and science academy in Denver earlier this year and came away impressed.

"This kind of frees up the teachers to become intimately involved with deciding the curriculum and developing policies that affect their students directly," said Earl Wiman, who heads special programs for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and who saw the teacher-led philosophy in action. "The teachers might not be as involved in ordering the toilet paper or who's cleaning the floors, but they are very interested in what those students are having for lunch."

Teachers work collaboratively to solve problems that arise. In Denver, Wiman said, there was an issue of a school bus that was dropping children off a block away. Somebody was needed to escort the youngsters across the street and safely into the schoolyard. The teachers put their heads together and came up with a schedule that allowed them to take turns on bus escort duty.

"If that school had been principal-led, there would have been a lot of hard feelings" if an administrator had simply ordered someone to make time to escort the students, Wiman said. "The ownership teachers felt in what was going on at that school is what made the difference."

Teacher-led schools are part of the regular school district and are held to the same standards as any other school. In Detroit, teachers were so eager to try the experiment, they volunteered to give up their tenure protection for a shot at autonomy.
Prospects intrigue teachers

The teacher-led schools are generally struggling schools with low test scores, low-income students and large populations of students learning English as a second language.

"These are schools that have not traditionally attracted high numbers of qualified teachers," Wiman said. But the chance to bypass the administrative bureaucracy could lure large numbers of the best teachers to the schools that need them most. Or so the school district hopes. "The teachers we've talked to are just fascinated by the thought that they could actually be in charge of the school," Wiman said.

The Denver school opened its doors last year. The Detroit teacher-led school began operating this fall. And teachers in Minneapolis just received permission to start their French-immersion academy in 2011.

If Nashville follows suit, it won't happen until at least 2012, Wiman said. He will spend the next year researching the various teacher-led school models and trying to find grants to help fund the project.

Meanwhile, the talk of teacher-led schools is creating a buzz in education circles. "A lot of principals out there have a beat-people-down approach," Huth said. "This is a chance to see if we could have done things different, an opportunity to at least have a say-so in decisions."
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British schools in better-off areas will lose cash to aid poor

Schools in middle-class areas will have their funding cut to pay for the Liberal Democrat policy of helping children from low-income families, the Government has admitted.

Just four months after David Cameron promised that no families would suffer to meet the cost of the £2.5 billion "pupil premium", Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, conceded that the plan meant some schools "will have less".

Ministers struggled for months to come up with funding for the pupil premium, a key plank of the Lib Dem election manifesto. Other parties warned it would be impossible to pay for when cuts were being imposed across the public sector.

Earlier this month, Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister, announced that he had secured the necessary funding for the scheme, which is intended to give the poorest children access to the best schools and universities. State schools could be given up to £2,000 more per pupil to educate children from low-income families.

At the time, it was reported that Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, had been leant on to find greater cuts from the defence budget to finance the premium, following promises from ministers that the funding would come from outside the existing schools budget.

Lib Dem MPs were promised as part of the coalition agreement that the money would be an "add on".

However, Mr Gove has now admitted that some of the £2.5 billion will be found from Department of Education funds after all, with children from middle-class families paying the price. He told the BBC's Politics Show: "It is a very tight settlement and that does mean, and I won't run away from it, that there will be some schools that will have less."

Economic experts have predicted that most schools will suffer financially as a result of government spending plans.

Andy Burnham, the shadow education secretary, said that the Lib Dems had been "sold a pup" by the Conservatives over the pupil premium, which he predicted would "take money from one school and give it to another". He added: "Many schools will be losers and they will not have a protected budget in real terms as suggested by the Government."

In announcing the results of the spending review last week, George Osborne, the Chancellor, made much of the fact that the Department of Education, along with the departments for health and international development, would not suffer cuts.

However, it has since emerged that much of the tiny 0.1 per cent increase in the education budget will be swallowed up by the cost of providing school places for the extra children born during a recent slight rise in birth rates, with the result that the budget will fall by 0.6 per cent in real terms every year – a total cut of 2.25 per cent.

It became clear yesterday that Mr Gove has also been forced to inform schools that were given permission to proceed with building work earlier this year that their construction budgets were being reduced by 40 per cent. The schools thought they had been spared from a cull of building works under the cancellation of Labour's Building Schools for the Future scheme. Many were aghast to told that they would be hit after all by the austerity drive.

Middle-class families also face higher costs when their children go to university with the introduction of increased tuition fees from 2012.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, confirmed yesterday that he was considering "progressive" ways of stopping successful graduates from paying off their student loans early to avoid paying high levels of interest.

In a further blow to families, Mr Gove admitted it seemed inevitable that schools outside the poorest areas would see further cuts. He said: "I think there will be some schools who will have less funding. At the moment we're consulting on how the pupil premium will be allocated. "Some of it comes from within the education budget."

His words directly contradicted those of the Prime Minister, who in June told the Commons: "We will take money from outside the education budget to ensure that the pupil premium is well-funded."

Analysis by the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies last week estimated that 87 per cent of secondary school pupils and 60 per cent in primaries would see their school’s funding cut over the next four years. Mr Gove disagreed with the figures “because they’re making an estimate based on one particular interpretation of how the premium would work”.

Adding that he hoped that some of the money would come from savings in the welfare budget, he added: “I think it’s only fair to acknowledge that if you have school spending rising very modestly … you’ve got a government that’s signalled that looking after schools and investing in education is our top priority.”

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader, warned that his party’s MPs still expected the pupil premium to be paid for from outside the schools budget. “I am clear that we wanted a pupil premium which was an add on. If it is not an add on, then clearly there is work to be done,” he said.

Mr Burnham disclosed that the pupil premium had been a top Lib Dem concern before entering into the Coalition. “When the Lib Dems and Labour were in talks after the election, this was an issue upon which those talks foundered,” he said. “The Lib Dems said to us, 'The Tories have agreed to fund the pupil premium over and above the schools budget. Will you do the same?’ And Labour said, 'Well we can’t because the money isn’t there to give a pupil premium over and above.’ And that is why the political significance of this issue is huge.”


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