18 June 2010

Negotiating merit pay for teachers

In the Washington Post, Michele Kerr argues that merit-based pay and promotions are fine, but ought to be subject to a few conditions. Those conditions are below, along with my comments:

  1. Teachers be assessed based on only those students with 90 percent or higher attendance. I think this is fair. If a student's performance is hindered by lack of attendance, that is clearly not the teacher's fault. I should note that in Texas, at least, 90% attendance is a requirement for advancement, so very few students would be excluded by this standard.
  2. Teachers be allowed to remove disruptive students from their classroom on a day-to-day basis. I would be shocked to find anybody who objects to this. A better disciplinary policy, based on common sense, might be one of the toughest things to actually implement, though. This is one of the areas where the education establishment stands in the way of reform. It is worth observing that this policy would take us "backwards" to those golden conservative days.
  3. Students who don't achieve "basic" proficiency in a state test be prohibited from moving forward to the next class in the progression. I think that eliminating"social advancement" policies is one of the prime goals of the merit-based pay movement. Setting this condition up front achieves the goal immediately. I'm on board.
  4. That teachers be assessed on student improvement, not an absolute standard -- the so-called value-added assessment. This is the most problematic condition. Ms. Kerr argues that an absolute standard would work against teachers dealing with the lowest performing students, and this is true. But an improvement-based standard works against teachers of high performing students. What's the middle ground? I think there needs to be a level of achievement after which performance can't be rated low. Say, for example, 90% efficiency. If your students are at that level, and they don't fall, you're good. If they are at 50% and improve to 55%, you've hit a performance mark. The other difficulty is this: how to decide the starting point. If you teach third grade, and you teach your kids well, there is no way to compare that to next year's third graders. The relevant comparison is last year's second graders to this year's third graders. It can be done, but let's not pretend it's simple.
Ms. Kerr's piece is worth reading. If more teachers are entering the profession with her background, that's a good thing.

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