Saturday, January 29, 2005

This is Serious.

I'm going to take a moment and step away from my usual idiotic ramblings about leg hair, weird kids from my class, and beagle antics. I'm going to be serious for a minute. Well, for as long as I can make my serious muscle focus. It doesn't get a lot of exercise.
A post on MadHatter's blog called "Insulting" got me all riled up. I think this is something of which people really need to understand the implications. On paper and in the politics of the general public, it appears that the state of Texas and Governor Perry are doing a really good and noble thing. It appears that they are trying to increase teachers' much deserved pay and improve schools and the quality of teaching. The plan in the works is to "give pay raises to only the "best and brightest" teachers with "incentives tied to student results." Student results being test scores on the end of grade TAKS tests.
The general public is going to view this as a great way to help kids and teachers simultaneously.

Here is what is really going to happen:

1. The teachers who teach in middle class to rich, primarily white, suburban schools are going to receive incentive pay because their students are going to perform well on the state mandated TAKS exams.

2. The teachers who teach in inner-city, primarily minority/economically disadvantaged schools are not going to receive incentive pay because when compared to their suburban counterparts, they are not going to perform as well.

3. Any good teachers from the low-performing schools are going to migrate to the high-performing schools so that they can earn their rightful incentive pay which they deserve for being good teachers. They will not have a problem getting hired.

4. The inner-city schools are then left with a combination of bad teachers who cannot get a job in the wealthier districts and new, inexperienced teachers to teach the neediest students in the area. These students speak less English, have less money, and have less of a chance to begin with.

5. The performance gap between the two classes of schools is widened again, even worse that it is already. This will bring us around to my rant on No Child Left Behind again.

An editorial covering these five points will appear in the newspaper to which an Oprah-loving, feel-good, warm-fuzzy of a person will respond, "But what about those 90/90/90 schools?" These schools are environments that have been studied in which 90%+ of the students are minority, 90%+ students are economically disadvantaged, but they are able to maintain scores that are in the 90th percentile. Oprah likes to spotlight these schools, which I think is fabulous, except that one of the ones that she loves to rave about the most is in Houston and was recently put under investigation for high instances of TAKS cheating.
TAKS cheating has become a big issue in the past year. So much emphasis has been placed on TAKS scores that teachers, not students, have taken to regular cheating. A school near Dallas in which the majority of students do not speak English had the highest 3rd grade Reading TAKS scores in the state. The principal said they just "worked really hard." The year before they were something like the 3rd percentile in the state. That's quite a year of growth!

6. Teachers in low-performing schools will begin cheating and trying more desperate measures to reach the unlikely goal that has been set for them and has limited their pay.

Which brings me to my point. When I taught in North Carolina, we also had state testing. The teachers were offered incentive pay and it was extremely effective. Because. The pay was based on growth of the individual school. When I began at my first teaching job, it was at a school that had such poor performance that it was turned over to the state. It had a 45% pass rate of the state tests. Our state-set goal that year was to increase our pass rate to something like 65%. If we met our goal, each teacher received $750. If we beat it, it doubled to $1500. I got my $1500 bonus every year for the next four years, and when I moved to Texas, the state-set goal for that school was up to over 90%. That school was not a lily-white middle class suburban school, but we were motivated to teach there. At the upper-class richer schools, the kids performed at their highest every year. That meant that every year, they had to acheive a 100% pass rate to even meet their goal. Do you know how difficult that is? Even with super-smart kids? Hard. I don't know if NC still uses incentives that way, but it certainly worked for me and it worked for that school.
So that's the end of my diatribe. If Texas is going to tie incentive pay to test scores alone, they are doing their most needy students and the morale of their teachers a tremendous disservice. They need to expect the wealthy to do better and the poor to do worse. They need to expect an onslaught of institutionalized cheating. That's all I have to say about that. My serious muscle is aching. We will now be going somewhere to tell bad jokes.


GuusjeM said...

Oh so true - I teach at a low income school and we work HARD - much harder than the upper income schools. Our test scores are very good - in the 90+ percentiles but it takes blood, sweat and tears to produce them. The burnout rate is high. I feel for the rest of the country, since George W. will now unleash this system on everyone else.

girlfiend said...

I hear you. Can't a teacher in the ghetto get a break?

Mad Hatter said...

the incentive plan in NC is really interesting. i wish we had a gov. that actually cares about social justice. or teachers, for that matter.

posthipchick said...

when discussing merit pay with my stepfather (a retired teacher), i was saying how it wouldn't be fair because it could not take growth into consideration (depending on how it gets written here in CA). he said "oh, no, how could that be? it wouldn't be fair." and then we both scoffed. of course it could be, we've seen much worse.
i agree that something needs to be done in the educational system, but i don't think merit pay is the answer.

scientist said...

our country really does not value teachers and children very much, and that is very sad.

gandalf23 said...

not to be a troll, but...

How would tying the incentives to the growth of the school eliminate any of the problems you listed, other than number three?

If "Teachers in low-performing schools will begin cheating and trying more desperate measures..." in the one situation, why wouldn't they do it in the other?

Personally, I'd hate to think of teachers cheating in that manner. I'd like to think that teachers, and people in general, have higher moral fiber than that. I realise that the folks down in Houston and over in Dallas, and probaly others, did cheat, but that speaks poorly on their morals, not on the incentive program.


Pigs said...

To answer the previous question:

How would tying the incentives to the growth of the school eliminate any of the problems you listed, other than number three?

It would eliminate all of those because the schools and teachers would be receiving incentives fairly. Growth is set for each school based on its current level of performance. It says that just because School #1 has a test average of 96%, not all schools are expected to attain that number this year. It's focused on moving UP and improving, but fairly and realistically.

If "Teachers in low-performing schools will begin cheating and trying more desperate measures..." in the one situation, why wouldn't they do it in the other?

Because the pressure would be lifted for them to attain impossible scores. They would be expected to make a set amount of growth, to be raised each year...gradually over time. If they exceed that goal, they are rewarded further. Therefore, teachers are striving to succeed internally, not because they have to keep up with the Joneses. See? :o)

birdwoman said...

This is the best explanation I've seen of the problems with merit pay. Thanks for making it clear to a non-teaching taxpayer.