Posts filed under ‘Incentive Pay’

A Blogger’s Reflection

Five years ago, I started the SchoolsRetooled blog and began to gather my thoughts on the US PreK-12 Education Delivery System and, more specifically, urban education. Periodic stints back in the classroom have put the blog on hiatus, and it flagged quite a bit after a family tragedy a couple of years ago. But I stand by my initial vision for education reform, not as a call for competition but, rather, a renewal of the system itself to create the capacity to fully integrate 21st Century innovations and continue to evolve toward excellence.

In December 2011, near the end of my first year of blogging on, I published Seven Keys to Education Reform. In this 10-page summary of my approach to system reform, I identified seven levers of change that could improve the system’s functioning by getting more information from data systems, taking a broader view of pedagogy, streamlining organizations around the mission of educating the children, and providing incentives for common ground among educators and between educators and the communities they serve. Beyond organizational dynamics, my thesis presumed an absence of fault on behalf of any of the participants in the education system and, in particular, an end to ageist scapegoating.

In the years since then, policy conflicts defined by political affiliation have shaped the conversations among educators, much to my dismay. My biggest disappointment has been the extent to which the goals of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) were allowed to slip away and the 2014 deadline passed unnoticed. The Obama Administration relaxed the accountabilities, pushing for the Common Core State Standards and advancement of teacher evaluations. Conservatives renewed their support for competition for public schools, choosing incubation of ideas in charter schools, often with private bankrolling.

By the time ESEA was renewed late in 2015 bipartisan support was achieved in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) with very little prescription for how this would be ensured. The clearest policy directive was the prohibition on any further Federal intervention in accountabilities that the legislation defined as states’ rights. The legislature was ruled by Republicans in both houses; the Obama activism in lieu of overdue ESEA renewal was over.

I continue to believe in system reform. The quiet period after the passage of ESSA allows me to reflect here on progress made with my own agenda as well as initiatives needed in the future.

On no-fault education reform

Education reform has evolved such that rhetoric is less about frenzied reactions to missed targets for student achievement on high-stakes tests and more about opportunities for concrete system improvements and real school transformations. However, the worst performing districts often remain trapped in blame-based failure cycles. They will not be able to get out of their own way until they become more inclusive in their solutions, recognizing their allies and working in concert rather than with antagonism and derision.

On a student-centered data system

Data systems have shown great strides within education, but they are not student-centered. ESSA authorizes a limited number of districts to experiment with student-centered accounting, but they focus only on the revenue stream, not really addressing matching of revenues to expenses at the student level. I continue to believe that we will not be able to manage student outcomes effectively until both sides of the equation are in synch. Once the money is at stake, school systems that are reluctant to embrace the challenge of student-centered accounting will realize its necessity. Data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness will follow logically.

On broad-based pedagogy

Software is beginning to catch up with the structural changes in hardware and data. This bodes well for implementation of blended learning, which balances digital resources with tradition methods. In addition, personalized and competency-based learning can be realized with greater potential for educators and students to share management of the learning process.

Educators are accepting technology that combines attendance, assignment completion, and grading in databases that can also support student portfolio development. In addition, these same platforms support collaborative projects that can be pursued and documented on shared platforms. Textual content is available digitally, and learning is becoming an interactive, multi-media experience. Student support is routinely enhanced with multisensory digital options and close-reading strategies.

On alignment to mission and benchmarks

There have been many experiments in school transformation; however, reorganizing the actual schools has not been a priority yet. I believe this will happen organically as data systems provide better information on student outcomes.

On performance incentives for Special Education

New Special Education guidelines from Federal regulators have shifted emphasis toward student outcomes. This promising development should help to accelerate progress toward grade-level proficiency. I continue to recommend earlier student involvement as members of their education planning teams, but there has not been much movement in that direction. For now, younger students tend to be present more so if they have disciplinary hearings than for prospective planning sessions.

On school leadership and general management

A couple of years ago, the time seemed ripe for two trends to deepen. The first was the emergence of empowered parents demanding a voice in troubled schools. The second was the trend toward education schools entering joint ventures with their management school counterparts within major universities.

Threats of parent trigger interventions have given way to mayors and school district leaders joining to speak with one voice, a more politically savvy voice that recognizes the importance of community members proactively. The university-based collaborations have gotten caught up in concerns about educators finding a back door to access to highly competitive MBA programs. I suspect the long-term solution will be dual degree programs that require admission to graduate programs in both the business and education schools.

On portable pensions

The issues around underfunding of pension plans continue to dominate the conversation, and most actions are currently being focused around solvency. Unfortunately, the recommendations are more likely to be made by those who have mismanaged the programs historically. The pension beneficiaries have continued to be called out for reasons that baffle me – they are the only people who have given up their pay to the fund without fail through the whole fiasco – and ways to eliminate funding shortfalls that reduce obligations to the pensioners get more traction than ways for the government employers to pay back their missing contributions to their employees. This is particularly troublesome when government entities got holidays from making their contributions in lieu of Social Security, something that would never be allowed in the smallest of entrepreneurial businesses.

On financial incentives linking educators to performance

As I stated originally, validated educator effectiveness reports need to precede merit-based pay. There has been significant progress in teacher evaluations and leadership performance assessment. However, there is more work to be done, which necessitates postponing this objective for a while longer. The recent developments in technology cited above should offer greater options for multiple measures of educator performance, a key to getting beyond controversial value-added test scores as the proxy for overall effectiveness in schools.

On valuing people of all ages

The fervor has died down over targeting veteran teachers as the source of all evil in education, and the conversations around accountability for test scores alone have softened. That said, charters schools continue to be organized with an unwritten rule against hiring teachers beyond a fairly young age. Teach for America and other similar programs continue to be granted exemption from teacher prep rules, giving an edge to youth-oriented private organizations that funnel a revolving door of teachers into public systems. As these groups mature, they are demanding a greater role in leadership at the risk of stifling the voices of educators with a deeper commitment to schools and important insight into the issues.

January 22, 2016 at 12:44 PM Leave a comment

Whole-school Bonuses in NYC…It’s Complicated

Columbia University PhD candidates Serena Goodman and Lesley Turner prefer individualized teacher bonuses over whole-school bonus plans. That was the only conclusive evidence I could find in their article describing their work on the aborted whole-school bonus program at the NYC DOE. Now the Rand Corporation has revisited the experiment, suggesting in the fine print that it failed because of inadequate teacher buy-in and competing accountabilities. Too bad they did not stop there.

New York City’s Department of Education has scuttled an experiment that paid merit bonuses to staff for whole-school performance. The DOE suspected that the program was ineffective and ended the bonuses less than two years into a three-year plan. A couple of Columbia PhD candidates seemed, at least on the surface, to confirm that perception. However, too many factors were in flux to draw any real conclusions. Further, the researchers spent more time suggesting support for an alternative (unstudied) program than they did critically assessing the flaws that made the whole experiment invalid. Their persistent attempts to draw an untested conclusion seemed inexcusable. That was before I read the Rand Corporation’s research brief, What New York City’s Experiment with Schoolwide Performance Bonuses Tells Us About Pay for Performance. Rand repacked the flawed study with some attitude surveys and spun it for release as legitimate research.  Sadly, rapid electronic dissemination of their fictional findings has transformed them into virtual reality.  

Whole-school merit pay failed to drive a statistically significant change in outcomes in the New York experiment. This absence of a result occurred in a truncated time period, under unstable conditions, and using an unreliable measurement tool. This form of merit pay deserves reconsideration under more reasonable conditions. The issues…

1.       The objective of the study did not match the method.

The study sought to evaluate the impact of whole-school bonuses on motivation to achieve student outcomes in effective schools. Instead of conducting the experiment in stable, effective schools, the study group was chosen from the most disadvantaged schools.

2.       Bonus-related motivation was obscured from the onset by externalities.

The system-wide New York City accountability system was implemented simultaneously with the whole-school merit pay experiment. These new public report cards became the basis for high-stakes decisions across the NYC DOE that could lead to principal firings and school closures. These factors held the potential to overwhelm the impact of the bonus money on differential performance. The researchers discarded this factor, suggesting that the new NYC DOE accountability was barely noise in the environment compared to NCLB.

Teachers did not have a clear idea of their bonus potential. In each school, a committee of four administrators and teachers decided, after the fact, how to distribute the bonus money, if earned. Individual bonuses varied from $200 to $5,000 with few limitations on the gang-of-four’s discretion.

The results were measured using an unstable tool. The NYC accountability reports, which formed the basis for merit pay, were new and unfamiliar to many employees.  Also reports were subject to variability in NYSED test scores. Standardized test scores had been rising across all populations during the period studied, suggesting that the tests themselves were becoming less rigorous. Control groups could have seen their performance rise regardless of motivation.

3.       The study sample was not representative of the population.

Random selection did not yield demographics that were representative of overall populations in schools. In fact, bonus pool schools had a higher percentage of students whose learning was complicated by special needs, English language proficiency, and poverty. They had more minority students, less experienced faculty, and higher absenteeism. In addition, they had a history of lower than average test scores in math and reading.

4.         Performance measurement was not standardized between the study group and the control group.

Bonus pool schools with lower test scores were required to make larger incremental improvements to meet accountability goals than their counterparts in the control group.

5.         The time horizon for the study was too short.

The program was implemented late in the first year – announced in November with accountability for test results beginning two months later in January – and ended in the second year. This is not adequate time for authentic behavior change.

July 19, 2011 at 11:35 AM Leave a comment