I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, October 31, 2011

Merit Pay = Cutting Teacher Pay

For a long time, I've been asking a question of the believers in the Merit Pay Fairy: will your program decrease or increase the overall payroll of the teaching force?

Looks like they can't avoid the question any longer in Tennessee:
Two years into work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teacher effectiveness, city school officials have determined that the financial outlook has changed so much that the effort will be unsustainable without a major retooling.
By revamping teacher salaries -- paying for test results instead of degrees or years of service -- Memphis City Schools leaders hope to find a big chunk of the $34 million a year it will take to keep going when the Gates money stops in 2015. [emphasis mine]
First of all, can we finally acknowledge that putting billionaires in charge of education runs the risk of having them withdraw their funds when they become bored and move on to the next shiny object that catches their fancy? (Some folks impolitely call this phenomenon "White people... destroy and leave." How gauche of them...)

Second, can we finally stop this nonsense from Arne Duncan and Chris Christie and Michelle Rhee and all the rest about how they want teachers to make more money? Merit pay is about cutting the teacher payroll. We're finding out about this in Tennessee because this is the first place they've tried this crap, but it will soon be the case everywhere else.

Remember: these people say every kid deserves a great teacher. Well, if their doomed plans somehow defy logic and history and magically come true, every kid will have a great teacher: what then? If they all deserve merit pay, won't we have to raise the total teacher payroll?

Or do they just plan to keep suckering folks into the profession - as if bright young people won't respond to the labor market?
Tennessee overhauled its teacher evaluation system last year to win a grant from the federal Race to the Top program. Now many teachers say they are struggling to shine, and that's torpedoing morale.
For Janna Beth Hunt, who teaches first grade at Norman Binkley Elementary in Nashville, it's been a disappointing process. Tennessee's new observations grade teachers on a scale of 1 to 5. Many are scoring what feels like a C, which under the system isn't enough to get the job security of tenure.
"I definitely feel like I'm better than an average teacher. I'm not happy with a 3, but I told my principal that, and he knows that I'm a perfectionist and that I want a 5. It's just extremely difficult to get a 5," Hunt says.
Here's the rubric on which Tennessee's teachers are graded. It was clearly written by people who have no practical experience in the classroom and think the best way to raise morale is to nitpick every little thing out of context ("Wait Time" must be 3-5 seconds. Sorry, you waited for 8 seconds too often - no merit pay for you...).

Is anyone here prepared to tell me that this teacher doesn't have other opportunities in the job market? And that if, as Chris Christie says, she isn't satisfied with being hectored over inconsequential and trivial criteria for smaller pay, fewer benefits, and non-existent job protections... well, this probably isn't the right job for her.

These people are destroying the profession. The damage they are doing will haunt this country for years. It's disgusting, it's immoral, and it needs to stop.

And if you are so wedded to corporate "reform" that you can't see this, you are part of the problem.

ADDING: Eh, why am I so worried. We're obviously overpaid: just ask a bunch of people who don't teach! Everything will be just fine, because if anyone's in touch with reality of how labor markets work, it's conservative think tanks on the wingnut welfare gravy train...


Stuart Buck said...

"Second, can we finally stop this nonsense from Arne Duncan and Chris Christie and Michelle Rhee and all the rest about how they want teachers to make more money? "

How is it nonsense? You just cited an article about how a school district has been paying teachers roughly $34 million a year more.

Duke said...

I admit I need to be elaborate more, and will post on this later.

The game is to turn teaching into a revolving door, not a career. The article talks about teachers at the highest steps - the ones who earned better pay through seniority - being the problem.

Merit pay becomes to lever to move everything. Again, more later.

Anonymous said...

How do you pay super star teachers more money when you slash school funding, fire teachers, fire support staff and eliminate programs? How does merit pay work with much less funds to work with? Will art teachers, gym teachers and music teachers ever be able to get merit pay? Merit pay for teachers or schools is a hideous idea that has been tried before and failed. Christie, Rhee and Duncan have this punitive attitude towards teachers and seem to be implying that the schools are bursting with incompetent or ineffective teachers who must be fired, fired, fired and FIRED some more. Let's stop the gibberish and cut to the real goal: UNION BUSTING and reducing teachers to easily replaceable facilitators.

Anonymous said...

JJM, I am afraid you overthink things and see motives and monsters where there are none. Appropriate for Halloween. Merit pay is not a single program in Tennessee or something. It is a concept that says better teachers should be paid better. This concept makes sense to everyone but bad teachers and unions that depend on their members walking like a herd of zombies (appropriate for Halloween)through life with 3 percent raises and manually deducted union dues.

Duke said...

Anon #2, I look at facts. The facts are merit pay has never worked when it's been tried.

I know you think merit pay "makes sense," and I know you like to denigrate unions, but that doesn't change the facts.

Duke said...

One other thought, Anon #2: unions have almost all teachers as members, not just the "bad" ones. We all pay dues.

Are we all zombies?

Oh, and I have dealt with the "big raises" teachers get over and over again on this blog. Teacher pay has not kept pace with private worker pay, and that includes benefits. Sad but true.

Anonymous said...

Hi Duke (anon 2). What merit pay study has ever calculated the true value -- the great teachers who make teaching a career and the lesser ones who move to another field? How many years did that take to study? And if you are quoting a study based on success ratios, I'd love to hear what they are, because we all know that we can't measure on test scores, administrator judgement, parental reviews, SATs, child molestation convictions, or any other metric whatsoever known to man, because teachers are 100 percent impossible to evaluate, like a rainbow or an abstract painting, we all know that. So how can anyone say a merit based plan failed?

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, unions are horrible evil institutions protecting the 50% of incompetent teachers in NJ schools. If only we can get rid of unions, then we will have achieved educational nirvana (sarcasm). So why the fark is NJ always rated in the top tier of schools in the country? Mass and CT also have high ranking schools in the US and they are also heavily unionized. Finland has a high ranking school system in the world and its teachers are unionized. In fact, the overall unionization rate for Finland is well above 80% The overall unionization rate for the US is about 11.9% and falling because this country seems to hate unions and union members. The right wing meme in this country is that union people are lazy despicable thugs. That's the image that Christie tries to project as regards teacher unions. It's all part of the drive to reduce teachers to powerless fearful and timid peons.

Anonymous said...

In my sarcastic hyperbolic comment, I meant to say that the evil thuggish unions protect the 50% of the NJ teachers who are incompetent. According to the union haters, if we get rid of unions, then we can fire teachers any time, any day of the week without any fuss or muss or without any worry of a teacher seeking redress for unfair treatment. As everyone knows, principals and administrators are always right, never make mistakes don't ever have biases or petty vendettas against a given teacher, never happens, ever.

Anonymous said...

I am starting to have this brilliant flash of insight into these debates. Unionistas use all that educated free time pouring out metrics on how wonderfully NJ rates (except for the schools that are dramatically failing that need success the most). The unionistas also have metrics that can tell us how vouchers failed here and there, and metric pay was a proven loser by this formula there and here.

Ah ha! Metrics! Damn, there are excepted scientific ways to measure education outcomes. Now we can solve vouchers, merit pay, teacher evaluations....all those other reforms stopped dead by no acceptable metrics we can all agree upon. Yay! Okay, cite those studies, unionistas ! We r a waitin'

Duke said...

Anon #2: I'm having a hard time deciphering your comment. If what you're trying to assert is that there is no difference between experienced teachers and new teachers, you're wrong: even the most adamant opponents of seniority admit teacher effectiveness needs several years to hit its peak.

As I've said here before: the burden of proof is on those who assert that merit pay will increase student achievement. I can't prove a negative. And the studies show merit pay does not work.

As to the use of data: again, I am not against using data, but it has to be used APPROPRIATELY. Test scores are fine for research purposes, program evaluations, etc. They are terrible for assessing individual teacher effectiveness. I have pointed to the vast amount of research that shows this.

Put simply: hammers are great for driving nails, but they shouldn't be used to drill holes. This is not a complex concept.

Duke said...

Last Anon: see comment above.

I'm not going to waste time trying to prove negatives. The burden of proof in on the corporate reformers.

And data must be used appropriately. These are simple concepts.