Kansas school establishment rejects reform

A recent New York Times editorial (Accountability in Public Schools, August 29, 2009) reports on the “$4.3 billion pot of money known as the Race to the Top Fund.” This fund is meant to encourage states to embrace high standards in K-12 public education.

There are a variety of provisions in the proposal, but as the Times says: “The most important provision — the one that should be non-negotiable — requires states to show how student achievement will be taken into account when judging teacher performance. … But the country will never get where it needs to be if we take the approach — as union leaders have sometimes done — that student test scores should be out of bounds when it comes to judging teacher effectiveness. That is an indefensible position.”

The idea of merit pay or differential pay for public schools teachers based on their performance is not likely to happen soon in Kansas. Not if the recommendations recently prepared by the Teaching in Kansas Commission are followed.

In particular, the document Teaching in Kansas Commission: Final report, starting on page 33, makes it clear that teacher merit pay in Kansas is not desired unless it is so watered-down as to be meaningless. The document is also useful as it gives us an insight into the mindset of the public school establishment in Kansas.

Rejecting standardized tests as a way to measure teacher effectiveness, the document proposes “compacting” the salary schedule. This is because, according to the document, “by the completion of the first ten years, the individual is an independent, skilled educator.” So they deserve a “top-level professional salary” then. A cynic might say this is just a way to pay teachers more without requiring them to teach for 20 years (a common figure) to reach the top salary schedule. Some might wonder why “independent” and “professional” workers need a union to represent them.

Another recommendation is to add additional dimensions to the ways teachers can advance in salary. Currently the two dimensions are years of experience, and education credentials earned. Some of the added dimensions mentioned include acquiring specialized skills, professional development and mentoring, taking leadership roles, and engaging in community outreach.

Each of these items becomes a new layer in the salary schedule, providing additional ways teachers can advance in salary. Whether these items increase teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom is a different matter. The traditional factors in determining salary — experience and earned credentials — are rapidly being recognized as not useful in measuring teacher effectiveness.

The document makes the case — as did the former head of the Wichita teachers union — that merit pay couldn’t happen until all teachers had their pay increased. Then, as this report states: “One cannot expect buy-in if some employees have his/her salary reduced as a result of a change to a new system or addition of new elements to an existing system.” There’s no willingness to accept that some teachers are being paid too much at present.

Furthermore, because of the alleged “negative impact of competition between teachers” compensation systems linked to achievement should be implemented only for a group of teachers, such as an entire grade level or department. Even then, the achievement goals should be attainable; the report praising a Colorado school system where 90% of the departments that pursued an incentive were successful in achieving it.

I could go on, and this report does at considerable length in making its case against merit pay.

In Kansas, we’re left to wonder: when our education establishment rejects reforms that even the liberal editorial page of the New York Times embraces, what hope have schoolchildren in Kansas?


9 thoughts on “Kansas school establishment rejects reform”

  1. The USD 259 mantra ‘for the children” has never been about the children. I never know whom to blame with regards to student achievement… parents, the union, the BOE or the teachers. But we all know where the buck stops. I pray the new superintendent knows its coming. And I pray he will be different from all who went before him.

  2. It’s ALWAYS the parents fault… PERIOD. Even though we have a ridiculous percentage of “welfare” mentality citizens – who think it’s ALWAYS someone else’s fault / responsibility (shame on them) – a parent is the first and foremost educator of a child. I am teaching this to my children. I have also made sure that each teacher my children have had know that I am responsible for their education. By sending my child to a school, I am paying for a service (via taxes, donations, etc.). Well like any other service one may obtain (health, oil change, etc.), he take steps to make sure he got what he paid for. Hence, if I am not proactive in my child’s education, and he is not performing well, I can blame NO ONE BUT MYSELF if success does not ensue.
    I do, however, recognize the daunting task that schools have to contend with: the welfare mentality. It’s an infectious, debilitating, mental disease that is, in my humble opinion, at the root cause to student failure. How we deal with is another subject left to another day.

  3. Terry…………good for you. I agree that parent involvement makes all the difference in the world.

    However it would certainly be nice to have the other adults in a child’s life be just as demanding. The superintendent can set that tone.

  4. Terry, in many ways, I agree. As an entity, however, the public school system is still responsible for providing instruction that is timely, rigorous, relevant, and useful. This should not be so; elected bodies at any level have no right to a monopoly on education. However, the public schools have fought for their monopoly and now they must defend it, and people should be pushing for honest, data-based teacher evaluation with consequences.

    I understand the concern about using test scores. So many variables affect a child’s (or an adult’s, for that matter) performance on a standardized assessment, most of which are not necessarily tied to the teacher’s instruction. Such tests should not be the only basis for teacher evaluation, but neither should they be off the table. Any number of measures can be valuable in measuring teacher performance, from attendance and growth-model measurements to performance goals and classroom observations. Teachers who perform at these higher levels should absolutely be entitled to higher pay. In Wichita, you can thank UTW for shooting this idea down – they have demonstrated no interest in pursuing bonuses for high-performing teachers, let alone tying performance into job evaluations.

    I do take issue, though, with the idea that teachers are paid “too much”. Teacher salaries across the nation are lower than other professionals with comparable education and experience. Of course, this is because teachers are almost universally employed by local governments, and public sector pay usually pales in comparison to that in the private sector. There are simply inadequate choices for teachers who want to work in the private sector, due to unconstitutional legal discrimination against private education businesses.

  5. Hi, First of all, both of my parents are retired teachers in another state (who both regard the NEA as a Communist org.). Teacher salaries have been rising in recent years, but in 1983 I left college as an electrical engineer making $3,000 more than my father with a Master’s in Math and 25 plus years in. Teachers are no longer “a respected member of the community” like they were from say 1910 to 1965. We haven’t paid them much and we’re getting our money’s worth. To quote Dad, “If he’s going to be a teacher, he can find someone else to pay for his college.”

    Secondly, parental involvement, while crucial, is not rewarded. My daughter was in Special Ed. In order to help her learn, we sat with her until her homework was completed, then checked it and had her go back over what was incorrect. After her first semester of High School, she was no longer allowed to bring any work home to do. She was doing too much better than the other kids in her classes.

  6. Mike – regarding your second anecdote, you had the potential for a case for educational malpractice. Students who improve in their academic performance should be first in line to be moved out of special education, as a matter of least restrictive environment.

  7. Hi Scotty, possibly, but it wouldn’t have been worth the trouble it would cause. My daughter really wasn’t ready for the regular classroom, but she was one of the better behaved students in her classes. Unfortunately many kids in Special Ed are there because their learning difficulty is their attitude and their actions, not their capability to learn, but that’s another thread… The schools don’t seem to like having a kid get out of a money making program like Special Ed or the advanced programs.

    Mike

  8. Thanks Terry for expressing much of what I wanted to say. It’s unfortunte that many people put the responsibility of education on the teachers. Education comes from the home first. The teachers should be allowed to do their job in conjunction with the parents. Unfortunately, that is not the case in many of the situations I am familier with.

    As the spouse of a teacher in 259 as well, I was a member of a suburban BOE for 8 years. I could tell you story after story of children who, because of their home environment mostly, couldn’t give a hoot about school and therefore no matter how much the teacher tries to engage and motivate the student. It is evident as well when conference time comes around each semester, parents who’s students are successful are the ones who attend and those who are failing for all intents and purposes, their parents do not show up nor do they show for special meetings when their child is disruptive in class. The old line goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink…that is true with kids and school as well .

    In addition, No Child Left Behind, in its current format has long outlived its purpose and is in need of serious overhaul. To base the quality of a teacher by these standards in completely wrong. NCLB leaves out of education many critical skills necessary in life. As well, it does dumb down the classroom.

    Now, I will say not all teachers are that great and that there are bad apples in the barrel and need to be weeded out of the system. There is no question of that, but for the most part, many of those in ed are good, hard working and student oriented individuals.

    I am an ultra conservative, but I do get extremely put out by those who are quick to put the blame on the teachers or someone else when they should be looking in the mirror. There is where they will start to find the problems. Beginning with my generation and filtering to subsequent generations have all failed kids when it comes to education.

  9. Hi, the referenced portion below bother’s me in that it is a NEW way for the education business to add requirements, paid for by the tax payers, that only the education business is allowed to provide.

    “Another recommendation is to add additional dimensions to the ways teachers can advance in salary. Currently the two dimensions are years of experience, and education credentials earned. Some of the added dimensions mentioned include acquiring specialized skills, professional development and mentoring, taking leadership roles, and engaging in community outreach.

    Each of these items becomes a new layer in the salary schedule, providing additional ways teachers can advance in salary. Whether these items increase teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom is a different matter. The traditional factors in determining salary — experience and earned credentials — are rapidly being recognized as not useful in measuring teacher effectiveness.”

    In order to get a raise, you must take EDU 50001 from USD 259, costing $4,000 over the summer for a 3 hour per day 4 day a week class. The second year, it will cost $40,000 and be paid for by the taxpayers. It’s possible that I’m cynical.

    Later

    Mike

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>