Bringing Miles the Beef on Teacher Pay….

Having spent the past year working with a group of highly accomplished teachers studying the issue of professional compensation for educators as a part of the first TeacherSolutions team, I was bothered by comments made by Miles Myers—a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Standards, Curriculua and Assessment—in the latest issue of Education Week

Mr. Myers wrote:

Thanks for the recent article about a so-called teacher panel calling for pay raises for K-12 teachers who increase student performance ("Teacher Panel Calls for Overhaul of Pay Across Profession," April 18, 2007). The story was a welcome joke at one school¹s brief lunch break, providing an entertaining game focusing on ³Who is a teacher?² and ³How does the panel¹s report propose to measure increased student achievement?²

First, the lunch gang estimated that only seven of the 18 panel members are full-time K-12 teachers. The others are employed as coaches, community college teachers, coordinators, librarians, and facilitators, among other positions, and one is retired. Second, the report does not tell us how increased student achievement is to be measured for purposes of raising teacher pay.

As one of the 7 (actually 10) "full-time K-12 teachers" on the policy team, I figured I’d try to answer Mr. Meyer’s question regarding "how increased student achievement is to be measured for purposes of raising teacher pay."

Our contention throughout countless hours of conversation was that alternative compensation plans for educators were all too often focused on simplistic models that rewarded top performers on end of grade tests. Having a deep understanding of both children and of the tests that are used for assessment, we recognized that such models (consider Florida’s now-abandoned STAR efforts) rarely identify truly accomplished teaching. To quote our report, standardized tests alone do not "always accurately capture the effect of teachers" because of the wide range of factors that go into student success.

This over-reliance on simplistic measures of student achievement has stood as the primary barrier to reforming the single salary schedule for educators. Constant reporting about the failures of standardized tests and first-hand experience has taught most teachers—and the unions that represent them—that basing salaries on unpredictable measures would be unwise at best. As a result, resistance grows in the ranks of classroom teachers towards compensation plans that could improve our profession by helping us to retain young colleagues frustrated by current systems that are antiquated

What’s more, using standardized testing as the sole measure for student achievement would do nothing more than encourage teachers to "teach to the test." Higher level thinking and constructivist approaches to instruction would take a back seat, turning our schools from places of learning into places of rote memorization. Tying compensation to such unprofessional practices would harm students and be inherently irresponsible. 

Instead, our plan places emphasis on rewarding teachers who learn to collect and manipulate data on student progress at the classroom level. Recognizing that the most effective information on students is collected over long periods of times and with multiple measures that allow students to approach content—and to demonstrate mastery—from different directions, we’ve advocated for professional compensation models like those in place in Denver and Minneapolis where teachers learn to set goals for student achievement, document progress towards meeting those goals and then amplify the knowledge that they gain from this cycle of reflection on instruction.

Essentially, our argument is that professional compensation that is based on improving student achievement can also serve to incentivize responsible practices as well. Children benefit when their teachers are rewarded for developing complex understandings of "assessment" and "achievement." When we push ownership of assessment into the hands of educators again, we ensure that high quality instruction can remain a part of every classroom in an era of accountability. 

Myers also writes:

So where is the beef in this story? The beef appears to be embedded in a haze around two questions: Why did the panel¹s sponsors, the Joyce, George Gund, and Stuart foundations, pay good money for such a hustle, and why did Education Week run an article on it? Only one guess per person!

My guess is that the Joyce, Gund and Stuart foundations paid good money for our project because they realized that the best educational policies must be informed by the knowledge of classroom teachers.  Educational policies have failed in this nation for decades because they are crafted by those who are often furthest removed from the real work of schools. 

Policies developed by senior researchers and long-serving policy wonks only are often doomed from the start because they are divorced from the reality of our work. Listening to the voices of career educators on critical issues is the first step towards ensuring that our system of public education serves every child well.

2 thoughts on “Bringing Miles the Beef on Teacher Pay….

  1. Mike

    Mr. Myers did indeed sound a bit pleased with himself, but of course, we’re only reading an excerpt of a presumably longer missive.
    In terms of detemining teacher pay, I’ll suggest three general propositions and provide a bit of rationale for each.
    Proposition 1: There must be a base level of pay sufficient in and of itself to attract and retain the best and the brightest. This minimum level would need to be above the current national average. This would be a substantial boon for much of the nation, and those who already pay above the average, would be unaffected.
    Rationale: Trying to apply a business model to education is generally disasterous with a few narrow exceptions. You do get what you pay for in terms of salaries. I’ve seen teacher pay schemes wherein a teacher’s pay could fluctuate wildly from year to year based on a variety of factors. Who could possibly afford to be a teacher under such circumstances? Who could buy a car, a home, make investments, have children if their income could change at any time for reasons beyond their control. Yes, I know that there are no gaurantees in life, but the odds against capricious change must be reasonably in a teacher’s favor. Who would want to be a teacher if their financial security was even more tenuous than it is now?
    Proposition 2: Increased salaries for excellence must be primarily based upon the degree to which a teacher suceeds at providing an excellent educational opportunity for students.
    Rationale: A teacher has primary control over their talent, energy, dedication, skill, content knowledge, cultural literacy and enthusiasm. We all recognize that some teachers are much better than others in applying these (and other) qualities to teaching. It requires no magical supervisory abilities to recognize this, just competence. The ultimate question should be, on a scale of 1-10, to what degree is a given teacher providing the maximum educational opportunity to their students that their abilities and circumstances allow? If they are in the 9-10 range, we would expect that their students would do better than a teacher in the 5-6 range. But this is primarily up to the students and their parents. Remember, we’re judging professional accomplishment, not student initiative.
    Proposition 3: Student accomplishment must be a part of any pay scheme, but it must be a minority percentage of any equation, standardized, mandated, high-stakes test scores must be a minority percentage of the reckoning, and factors allowing for student ability and initiative must be built in.
    Unless we are willing to state (and believe) that the current mandatory tests are perfect instruments that need no improvement and that will never change (unlike the last perfect instrument that preceeded the current perfect instrument), we cannot rely on those scores for more than a small part of an overall determination of a given student’s yearly progress.
    A much better method requires three things: File cabinets, hanging files and manila folders. Each student keeps a portfolio in a hanging file in a filing cabinet in each classroom. The manila folders are for necessary organizing within each portfolio, and all of the portfolio is maintained each day throughout the year by each student. Everything they produce in a given year goes into this portfolio.
    With this method, an administrator can accurately judge real progress over time. Are there students who score well on mandatory tests, but do relatively poorly otherwise simply because they are lazy? Of course. On the other hand, a student who fails a mandatory test may, through examination of their portfolio, should great real world improvement that would not be otherwise apparent. This method would reveal such problems, and would make complete and fair assessments of student progress and teacher ability easier to do properly and far more accurate.
    Unless we’re willing to accept the irrational notion that teachers can be actually wholly responsible for student performance and that students and parents bear no responsibility whatever, a rational pay system must take into account these, and other factors.

  2. Michelle Capen

    I was offended by the tone in Mr. Myers letter. I would like to see legitimate comments and criticism about this landmark report. Condescension is neither helpful nor productive. Thanks for the reply, Bill.

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