Tough School Chief Enacts Tough Merit Pay Reforms….in Washington

Posted by on Jul 19th, 2010 and filed under Government. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

(Chuck Muth) – The Clark County school district is looking for a new chief while political candidates up-and-down the ballot bleat about the lousy state of public schools in Nevada.

While the left, under the direction of the teachers union, continues to say all it takes to fix the problem is mo’ money, the right points out that dramatic non-monetary changes in the system is what’s called for. The left, as usual, is wrong….and if the right is looking for the right role model for Clark County, it should follow the lead of Michelle Rhee, superintendent of the Washington, DC, public school system. And update from James Hall of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation:

Despite decades of union gridlock, the Washington, D.C., school board, with the help of school Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s leadership, has successfully contracted with teachers unions to implement performance pay.

The contract with the Washington Teachers’ Union is a huge triumph for Rhee in her fight for education reform in our nation’s capital. Rhee has battled with teachers unions for nearly two years over the new contract. The agreement offers teachers more compensation in return for greater accountability in their students’ academic achievement.

The contract will provide significant bonuses to teachers who demonstrate positive results in the classroom. Bonuses of up to $20,000 to $30,000 will be awarded to teachers whose students show better-than-expected growth in test scores—one of the primary benchmarks in the performance pay teacher evaluation system. This new teacher evaluation system will also allow principals to base their employment decisions on performance instead of seniority. The contract also offers development opportunities called “teacher centers,” where teachers can go to learn new approaches to improve their teaching skills in the classroom.

Michelle Rhee recently had this to say about the performance pay aspect of the new contract:

The new union contract passed unanimously by the City Council means students will have more effective teachers in the classroom and teachers will be rewarded monetarily for increasing student achievement. … It also tackles three of the perennial problems that have plagued school district agreements over time—lock step pay, seniority and tenure.
A report entitled “New Millennium Schools: Delivering Six-Figure Teacher Salaries in Return for Outstanding Student Learning Gains” from the Goldwater Institute demonstrates how performance pay has the potential to dramatically improve the education system in our country. According to their study, performance pay makes teaching careers more attractive by treating educators as professionals—offering comfortable salaries without increasing the burden on taxpayers.

Anything short of a radical Rhee-like reformer ought to be disqualified from the list of Clark County school chief candidates. But something tells me we’re going to once again get a status quo, money-is-the-problem superintendent who will talk the talk, nibble around the edges of reform, rearrange the deck chairs a bit and keep doing whatever it is the teachers union wants.

Anyone truly interested in saving public schools in Nevada needs to tell the teachers union where to go….and it ain’t Carson City.

5 Responses for “Tough School Chief Enacts Tough Merit Pay Reforms….in Washington”

  1. efavorite says:

    With any luck, you can have Michelle Rhee herself soon. She has threatened to leave DC if Mayor Fenty loses his bid for re-election – and he is behind.

    She’s marrying the Mayor of Sacramento on labor Day (that’s right, just after school starts) so she may be open to cutting down her commute some, even if the Mayor in DC wins. By her willingness to leave if Fenty doesn’t win, she’s already shown that the kids in DC are not her first priority, so why not move closer to her husband’s home?

    Just one problem, the scores on standardized tests for DC elementary school students decreased by 10% this year – Rhee’s third year as chancellor, so her reforms don’t seem to be working out that well.

    Another problem – Clark county may not be glamorous enough for Rhee. However, it is closer to Hollywood, and even Las Vegas may hold some appeal for her.

  2. Please take Rhee says:

    Please take her! We are willing to pay for a one-way ticket? Please note that she couldn’t take the superintendent position b/c she doesn’t have the degree to qualify as one. Oh yeah but maybe those three years of experience in K would suffice for Nevada. Laslty you will have to buy out her $275000 salary.

  3. Daniel Hancock says:

    Merit pay sounds good, at first, but there is a lot to be worked out under a merit pay system. First of all, a lot depends on the students that the teacher gets. A teacher with a group of better students has an advantage over teacher with a group of lesser acheivers. I am not sure how it could be set up so teachers could all start with an equal group of students.

    Also, when money is on the line, there is the temptation for teachers to teach the test. This already happens to a large extent. Some teachers may try to game the system. Who could blame them?

    Some of the measures that Michelle Rhee has implimented such as giving principals more autonomy in hiring decisions are good but a merit pay system is hardly a panacea for the problems of the public education system.

  4. former_nv_educator says:

    @Daniel Hancock: One form of measurement for merit pay has teachers give a standard test at the beginning and end of each year. How well the students improve is the measure of effectiveness, not the students’ overall grade at the end of the year. This somewhat eliminates the ‘student quality’ argument against merit pay.
    I believe most people think “Teaching to the test” means coaching the students to memorize answers. This means the teacher must know the exact exam questions in advance, but in my state (and, I bet, in others) this is actually illegal! Most teachers I know feel “teaching to the test” means giving the students the information and methods they need to answer relevant questions, and removing the extraneous and superfluous junk from the curriculum. In my opinion and experience, this is a good thing!
    Overall, I agree that merit pay isn’t a panacea (there isn’t one), but if administered correctly (and isn’t that the real argument?) it can help.

    if the test is a general test of a body of knowledge (say, algebra, for example), why not teach to the test, meaning teach the students to answer general algebra questions? Only in the case of the teacher knowing in advance the exact questions on the exam and coaching the students to memorize them would there be a problem, in my opinion.

  5. Daniel Hancock says:

    NV ed: Your explanation makes merit pay evaluation seem more plausable But I still think the system could be unfair and could be gamed by teachers. Under the methods you suggest, it would be advantageous for a teacher if the students score very low on the first test. That way more dramatic improvement could be shown. What if a teacher gets a group of high acheivers that score high on the first test. There is nowhere to go but down.

    As far as teaching the test is concerned, I went through this in Texas. Schools did a variety of things such as creating an extra mini-period at the beginning of the day that covered questions on the Texas assesment test and test taking skills in general. They also had mock tests to prepare for the real thing. This was not necessarily a bad thing but it created more work for teachers and made the test the end all and be all.

    But, I am more open to the idea than I was before

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