Posts Tagged ‘teacher performance’

Merit Pay Snafu

Monday, December 27th, 2010

The Prince William County school system plan to institute a merit pay program in some of its schools may have hit a snag. The Federal Department of Education provided the school system with an $11.1 million grant to pay for the five-year Teacher Incentive Performance Award pilot initiative, but it turns out that the taxpayers will still end up footing some of the bill.

At a school board meeting, Prince William County officials found out that the school system will have to pay 20 percent of the program’s cost the first year. Then the percentage the school system pays will go up 20 percent every year until it is taking care of 80 percent of the tab in the 2015-2016 school year.

The idea is that the school system should demonstrate its ability to continue to fund the program beyond the life of the grant. Unfortunately, school board members who were so keen on the merit pay program didn’t realize when they voted for it that taxpayer money was going to have to pay for some of the program in the near term.

This news comes in the midst of a poor economy and a sour outlook for the school system’s budget. It was cut $25.6 million from last year. At the same time, enrollment increased by 2,460 students.

While it looked like this experiment in merit pay was going to be free for county schools, the reality is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The taxpayers must pony up.

For those that don’t remember, the merit pay program is a system where well-performing teachers will get extra compensation for their efforts in the classroom. Nobody’s salary would be affected negatively by the program, but some teachers will end up making more money than their peers. The program is planned only for the poorest schools in the system. The hope is that by offering merit pay, teachers will be inspired and student achievement will rise as a result.

The only “question” left now is how willing are taxpayers to start paying for this experiment in the near term? Everybody thought the monetary burden was going to be delayed, but instead it’s immediate, and in a tough economic time, painful.

It is generally recognized that something must be done to help students in the poorest and lowest performing school systems. Merit pay is just one experiment that is being conducted in an effort to improve the quality at such schools. Eventually, if they are to have a real chance of succeeding, taxpayers at the local level are going to have to pay. Of course, since the grant came from federal funds, the taxpayers are already paying, but the impact is less immediate.

If merit pay is effective, then it might be worth the cost. If it’s not, then the county could just be throwing money away. Time will tell which outcome is true.

To read more about this, go to Washington Examiner.

“Waiting for Superman”

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

If you haven’t been watching or reading the news, then you may think we are about to talk about comic books or a new superhero movie. Alas, no. That would be more heartening. But instead we are talking about the state of schools in our nation.  Although most would agree that improvements are desperately needed to meet the needs of all children in our schools, whether or not “Waiting for Superman” provides an unbiased solution is up for debate.

“Waiting for Superman” is a new documentary from the guy who did “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Al Gore-centric look at global warming.

It focuses on five children trying to make it into charter schools. The parents are involved, the children are enthusiastic, and all they need is the chance at a better education to ensure their futures.

The movie chronicles the ways in which our education system fails, and notes the power of unions to keep unfit teachers in their jobs. It includes Michelle Rhee, the chancellor for the Washington, D.C. school system. She argues we have to find a way to encourage the good teachers and do away with the bad ones. You may have read about Michelle Rhee when she fired 241 teachers at D.C. schools over the summer. That was 5 percent of all the teachers in D.C.

You will learn shocking statistics in “Waiting for Superman.” For instance, this nation spends twice as much on its students now as it did 40 years ago. What do we have to show for it? Our school children are 25th in math and 21st in science on a list of 30 developed countries.

Reviews of this documentary vary. There are glowing write-ups like a recent one in Entertainment Weekly, which called the movie “powerful, passionate and potentially revolution-inducing.” There are also less enthusiastic assessments. A Washington Post review by Richard Cohen said that the documentary’s view is skewed.

His point is that all five children in the movie are active students with involved parents. However, Cohen says that there are a vast number of students who aren’t represented in the movie. They are the ones whose parents are not as involved and who have behavioral and learning difficulties. These students, he argues, present unique challenges that are not addressed in the documentary.

Regardless, even he thinks the movie is worth watching. He says, “It deals with what may be the single most important issue facing this country, an education system that satisfies no one and nothing.”

For all of you parents, teachers and students out there, that’s a subject you have a stake in.

Read about the movie at the following web sites:

Here are a couple of positive takes.,,20428080,00.html

The next two perspectives are less-than-glowing. The first one is the Richard Cohen review mentioned in the above article. The other is a blog post that has a detailed account of what the movie gets wrong.

Dramatic Firings in D.C.

Monday, July 26th, 2010

There is a lot of talk today about the importance of education. We are constantly trying to find ways to decrease student-to-teacher ratios, find better testing methods, and search out new types of schools and systems of education. Despite all these efforts, there is one area in which school systems are generally hesitant to do their duty: Firing ineffective teachers.

In theory, it’s simple. If a teacher isn’t adequately teaching students, then he or she should no longer have a job. In practice, poorly-performing teachers often get to stay on. But Washington, D.C., in a move that is getting national attention, has decided to do something about it.

Michelle Rhee, chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools, fired 241 teachers Friday. That’s 5 percent of all D.C. teachers. Most of the teachers fired had received the lowest rating possible from a new evaluation system. But wait, there’s more. Others in the school system — who are also performing poorly, though perhaps not as abysmally as the already-fired crew — have been told that if they don’t shape up in a year, they’ll be out too.

This isn’t the first time Rhee has fired teachers for poor performance. She did so in the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years as well. However, the number of teachers let go back then, 79 and 96 respectively, is small-time compared to the slaughter witnessed Friday.

To read more about the firings, check out this article in the New York Times.

Rhee’s move is dramatic, but is it right?

According to an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner, Rhee’s stint as chancellor appears to be an effective one. When she started her job in 2007, the D.C. schools were terrible. Since then, the schools have been improving, though the opinion piece does note that when measuring the schools’ progress, Rhee “has used highly publicized — and sometimes highly spun — test scores.”

Perhaps she knows what she’s doing. The Washington Post certainly thinks she deserves strong backing.

“A lot of lip service is given to not tolerating bad teachers. Educators, politicians, and even union leaders say that there is no place in the classroom for a teacher who can’t produce results. But actually doing something about the situation is an entirely different matter. That’s why D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee should be supported for taking the difficult but necessary steps to rid the system of ineffective teachers,” states a July 25 Washington Post editorial.

The importance of Rhee’s move isn’t applicable only to Washington, D.C. If her decision survives and the D.C. schools improve further, then you shouldn’t be surprised to see other school systems follow suit.  In fact, Rhee was not the first to consider drastic measures. According to this AolNews article, in February, a Rhode Island school district got rid of all teachers at one high school because of their poor performances. The article also states that Houston, Texas will start evaluating its teachers via test scores next year. And these may not remain isolated incidents. The article says that Obama’s education policy promotes tough teacher evaluations. If the president is behind this kind of thing, then expect to see it become more widespread.