Archive for September, 2010

Colorado Lost RTTT, but Jeffco wins big with TIF

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Public school teacher compensation has taken shots from every direction based on its lock-step grid structure.  Generally, all teachers in a district who have worked ten years and have 30 post-secondary credits receive the same salary.

Jefferson County School District in Colorado, the largest district in the state, is piloting a completely different compensation program funded by a $32.8 million federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant.

The grant provides money for a 20-school pilot project at elementary and middle schools with at least 50% of students on free or reduced price lunch.  Ten schools will pilot the new compensation plan; ten “control” schools will receive an across-the-board one percent pay increase and all the additional professional development services of the grant.  Teachers in the control group will continue to be paid for “steps and levels” negotiated in the District’s teacher contract.

The new strategic compensation plan is the result of collaboration by Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA), the teacher’s bargaining unit, district administration, and the school board.  It divides compensation into three tiers:  new teachers, experienced classroom teachers, and teacher leaders.  The pay structure looks like this:

Tier 1:  $40,000-$50,000

Tier 2:  $55,000-$75,000

Tier 3:  $80,000-$100,000

In Jeffco’s “steps and levels” structure, beginning salary is $33,000, and salaries top out at about $85,000.

How does the compensation plan work?

New teachers will start at $40,000 and will have a minimum of three years, and up to five years, to move out of the first tier.  During that time, they will establish annual individual, team, and school goals.  They will receive additional compensation, up to a total of $10,000, for goals met.  Goals include student achievement and growth using the Colorado Department of Education growth model.  Theoretically, new teachers can earn up to $50,000 their first year out.

Tier 2 teachers represent the experienced teacher corps.  These teachers will also establish individual, team, and school goals.  They will receive pay based on goal achievement levels, with up to $20,000 on the table.

Tier 3 teachers will serve as teacher leaders.  This level continues the career pathway set by Tiers 1 and 2, focusing on additional value that leaders bring.  These teachers may work longer days or more days during the school year.  They will mentor, provide data analysis skill, do model teaching, and/or perform peer performance evaluation.  With an entry salary of $80,000, these teachers can earn up to an additional $20,000.  Ideally, this tier will offer teachers a chance to try out leadership roles that can prepare them for administration leadership positions.

Additional professional development

Compensation change isn’t the only purpose of the TIF grant.  The district will create professional development programs for both pilot and control schools.  Schools will also receive an additional half-time vice principal to help manage the grant.

Overall the grant, distributed over five years, encourages creativity and innovation to ensure that children in low-income areas receive the support and powerful teaching necessary for their success.

Program received with mixed results

The JCEA is now meeting with the 25 elementary and middle schools that meet the free and reduced lunch criteria.  High schools are currently excluded from the study because of their size.  Issues have arisen around teachers at the top end of the current salary structure.  Some salary adjusting in Tier 2 will have to occur to accommodate the transition.  Some teachers are eager for the opportunity; others see risks and are “wait and see.”

Teachers’ union key to developing the plan

The Jefferson County Education Association was a critical player in developing the plan.  The union wants to take a lead role in figuring out how their professional compensation will look in the 21st century.  Kerrie Dallman, president of JCEA, said, “I am excited about this grant because it gives Jeffco teachers the opportunity to shape our profession now and in the future.  We know change is coming, and we want to help plan that change.”

Answering important core “reform” questions

Does teacher compensation affect teacher performance?  Does more focused professional development make the most difference for kids?    A related question is whether such a plan will attract a broader array of college students into the teaching profession if they can increase their income faster than in the current system.  JCEA wants to know if having a career path giving teachers more leadership opportunities will make a critical difference.

The five-year time frame may not be long enough to adequately test these premises, but much is at stake in the Jeffco study: new ways of thinking about compensation, professional development, career opportunities, new teacher training, and especially union-management collaboration.

How Many Americans Think Public Schools Are ‘In Crisis’?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

We received our Academic Performance Index (API) results Monday, September 13, and pumped our fists since our school, middle-of-the-road as far as our district goes, reached a score of 908.

Almost any school reaching 800 or above is considered fine and dandy, but according to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) benchmarks a couple of the schools in my district, though showing an API of 900 or higher, are considered ‘program improvement’ schools.  That’s right. A disaggregated group did not reach the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) state goal of 56.8% in English/Language arts, 58% in Math.

The glitches in federal guidelines and state benchmarks, long warned about, are beginning to show up.  Of course, the school district immediately began to examine scores of the students who stayed at ‘basic’ or below, i.e. not good enough, and as we already knew, it was the special services students who didn’t make the grade.  Those small number of students are spread through the grades and so there aren’t enough to label my school ‘program improvement,’ especially since the younger students managed to make a good enough score.

Loud wailing about the weaknesses of the NCLB inspired exams and benchmarks set in 2002 continue all over the country.

But 67% of Americans think the public schools are ‘in crisis’?  As usual, statistics and polls must be read with caution–including Time magazine who paid for the poll.  What does the question mean?  No one in my school district, parents or educators, would say we’re in crisis as far as learning success.  Budget yes, learning, no.

I read, however, in The San Francisco Chronicle an opinion article that STAR tests aren’t secure, that is, old test examples can be modeled and even correct answers handed out, though I don’t know what evidence indicates that illegal activity.  Not at my school.

In my Masters classes, however, we have discussed tests like California’s STAR testing which will have to change now that the legislature and state Department of Education have agreed to Common Core Standards.

About time!  Special services students as well as high-achieving students might do better if the way to account for successful learning changed.  Right now a multiple-choice exam once a year is the easiest to score, disaggregate, and analyze.  Perhaps the experts should look at some other ways to find out if students, from high-achievers, special service students and all the diverse groups in between, are learning to read and do math well enough to think through to the meaning.

In an article by Susan Engel, director of the teaching program at Williams College, I was reminded of using and analyzing reading samples which is the reason I want to get funds for iPod-Touch tools.  In fact, that type of reading sample has been used in many schools to analyze reading and English Language Development.

Ms. Engel also suggests that we don’t need to obsessively follow each and every student every year to see how a particular school is doing.  Using that instrument to punish teachers is not going to improve a school.  I know this blog has enumerated a number of models that would keep public schools strong without being dependent on tests only.

Right now, of course, I’m just happy that this year my students are willing to learn without having to coax them every step of the way.

*For more see Susan Engel, The New York Times “Scientifically Tested Tests” September 20, 2010.

*See Time Magazine’s print article abridgement of the poll done by ABT SRBI, August 17-19, 2010.

Who is Being Tested?

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The single word ‘test’ sets off certainty and abuse.  Toss in the word ‘evaluation,’ especially ‘teacher evaluation’ and the argument becomes furious.

analyzing 8-week tests

analyzing 8-week tests

For example, based on the once a year test, California schools received their Annual Yearly Progress scores mid-August and on September 13 Academic Performance Index scores, statistically calculated mainly from the test assessment.  Some schools were grinning and some were down so far it looked like up.

At the same time California legislative bill SB1381 is ready to be signed by the governor which over time will change the test results for schools because Kindergarten students must be 5 years old by September 1 rather than December 1 (with possible waivers, of course).  This change introduced over three years is guaranteed to revise the test scores for even the most low-performing third graders in the next few years.  The older the student, the more likely he or she is to understand how to perform.

Why the fury?

Read any newspaper, education magazine, or online journal to read a long list of reasons one test is an unreliable measure of a student or teacher.  Here are three often named: scores can bounce for a student from one year to the next; short tests every 8 weeks or so assesses what students are learning and provides opportunity to revise teaching; the tests used for AYP and API do not “measure the social skills that are crucial to early learning.” See Daniel Leonhardt’s article “Stand and Deliver” in The New York Times Magazine, September 5, 2010.

The Congressional Edujobs bill with money being sent to states will allay some anxiety during this year as more teachers are not worried about their positions and thus not so vehement about tests-whichever exams are used.

In addition, Race to the Top guidelines and funds for states is a good thing overall.  At least a set of proposals has been generated and states are now addressing the education problems that in the past have been enumerated until one’s eyes glaze over.  No district is asked to choose one over another way to save low-performing public schools.  The models that eventually show the most improvement in student achievement will likely combine several of the many models available.

One sure thing, however, is the chance to revise each state’s testing program.  Keeping in mind the long list of problems with the current tests, it seems valuable to devise a system for the state that will assess the achievement success of students and provide support for learners from the analysis of reliable assessments.  It may be that lots of short assessments (like old-fashioned spelling tests or brief math operations weekly assessments) will turn out to be the most useful.

Anxiety is using one exam a year to label students as well as use that score to evaluate teachers.  A few teachers unhelpful to students may be identified.  However, if the school does not receive the resources to improve, what good is it to castigate a particular school, its teachers and students?

Here is where small grants like those saluted in the current issue of the California Teachers Association magazine California Educator are important as well as financially well-liked in a state with a continuing budget crisis.  Teachers can develop a program that suits their own school’s difficulties, then apply and receive a grant to implement the plan.  Of course, concerns arise like does the small plan allow replication, does it become an institution for the school, does the entire school support the plan.

The struggle is faced in California as well as states all over the country: teachers must be accountable, the latest term for being responsible in elementary school for the success of 20-30 students a year.

A system of testing, if it doesn’t assess what teachers are being asked to do, is going to be seen as an obstacle, something to defend against, so that it takes up a lot of thinking time that one would hope was being used for instruction.

Waiting for the Teachers Unions

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

When the Puritans settled on the East coast, in spite of many beliefs people nowadays find, well, puritanical, those men and women did believe in education for all members of the community.  They arose against the idea that only children from wealthy families who could afford tutors and governesses would be educated.

It’s also true that by the 19th century the number of teachers graduating from normal schools and accepting positions in small mid-western towns put up with poor wages and behavior rules we citizens would still find puritanical.

Things weren’t equal for children, of course.  Think of slave children, poor rural children hidden in Appalachian mountain valleys and deep in the French Louisiana bayous, immigrant children who didn’t speak English crowded into urban schools.

No wonder joining together to put pressure on the powers that be to improve conditions became a choice many shared.  For teachers, as well as miners, train conductors, factory and construction workers, the changes came by supporting each other.

Eventually heroic efforts gained job security, improved salaries, safe conditions for school buildings, and health benefits.  Can anyone discount the improvements for teachers and students? The National Education Association (NEA) locals and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) affiliates are proud of solidarity, mutual assistance, and well-established worker’s rights.

Today, however, schools are at another precarious stage and trouble is brewing.  Today the monumental concern is not over salaries or benefits for teachers, but how to improve the curriculum for students so they achieve academically and succeed in the 21st century.  Why are unions still standing on the achievements for teachers’ rights gained 50-60 years ago?

It is hard to grasp why the teachers unions have not taken the upper hand in the current debate.  After all, the overarching purpose of the teachers unions is to set conditions so students succeed.

Teacher evaluation is the highest priority of most states and the bane of teachers unions.  Since the 1980’s numerous proposals have appeared in the education world to evaluate teachers: Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) programs, “value-added” models, point scales of performance to name three.  Why don’t teachers unions with all their resources take on the job of designing a fair evaluation system, including pay?  A change in evaluation procedures will not help every teacher.  Some will have to go and part of the teachers union expertise would be better used to help teachers make the transition.

The Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI) has already developed and state departments of education have voted on Core Curriculum Standards to help teachers design their curriculum.  Teachers, countrywide, should be happy.  Now texts will actually be organized to help set up pertinent lessons, not be arranged to support purchase by 50 different states with 50 different curriculums.  And one day tests will actually assess what students have learned so teachers can spend their time and effort helping low-performing students achieve.  Unions should be advocates for such testing changes, setting forth guidelines for the tests, offering personnel to help design the tests.  Don’t fight with Education Testing Service (ETS), join them to make sure the tests reflect what teachers want.

Last, as teachers unions represent a professional group, it would seem better for NEA and AFT newsletters to address the best-researched curricula; highest assessment successes; fairest evaluation models; strongest plans for infrastructure; most professional school boards.  No longer write articles and press releases only about how a local has stood up against some stupid school district regulation.  Good to know, but the thrust should be to ensure the schools supported by teachers unions are the best schools that have turned around.

Teach, Teacher, Teachers Union

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Newspapers have stopped writing about Race to the Top (RTTT) “winners and losers.”  TV news has been showing off New Orleans schools resurrected from the water-logged marshes.

Only Newsweek, August 23/30, 2010, p. 25 talked about the Achievement Gap, reminding readers of what works not only in the U.S. but in Europe, South America, and Singapore.  Anyone in the education world who teaches can name the first factor-family circumstances.  Those not fortunate enough to have a family that makes sure of mastery in reading and math skills by age 10 are most likely to fail in school from then on.

Most in the education world can name the strategies to overcome those factors which affect low-performing students.  That’s right.  Pre-schools galore.  Rigorous standards followed through with tutoring from the early grades on.  More time in school-the number of hours and days.  Effort in teacher training in college and during the school year, i.e. don’t cut professional development in order to balance the school district budget.

Of course, in California instead of balancing a state budget so there are enough funds for student education which is the California Teachers Association (CTA) position no matter what the issue, the legislature sits back and lets the teachers unions fight it out with school districts about teacher evaluation, seniority, and layoffs that still are looming for some.

Along came President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg to propose SB1285 which assures that urban schools with the newest teachers “would not lose a greater proportion of teachers than the districtwide average in layoff.” San Francisco Chronicle, “Seniority vs. civil rights” August 31, 2010.  Sounds like a good change, teachers having struggled with the idea of seniority vs. students’ rights to have strong teachers for a long while.

Few are happy with CTA on the issue of evaluation and seniority, but doesn’t this bill throw one more stone at the wall, given the lack of a balanced state budget and funds from RTTT.  Who is the bad guy and who is the good guy in this standoff?

Now a radio program produced by American Radio Works examined how Chattanooga Public Schools in 2000, well before No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and RTTT was available, looked at achievement in reading and math and took steps.

Be aware, from the start the school district was lucky to have the Benwood Foundation and The Public Education Foundation with lots of money to support steps taken.  The school district was fortunate to have an abundance of test data from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System to answer why 9 of 20 Chattanooga public schools were so low on the achievement scale.  Yes, it is similar to the system used by the Los Angeles Times recently that is causing a huge ruckus and that is analyzed on the front page of The New York Times, September 1, 2010, “Formula to Grade Teachers’ Skill Gains Acceptance, and Critics” by Sam Dillon.

To make change happen, there was a long fight with the teachers union, but eventually it came out that firing poor teachers didn’t help students do better, increasing the professional development and standards for good teachers did help.  In the documentary the strategies that improved student success were learned right away, e.g. pacing of lessons, knowing the material and how to teach it; and long term, e.g. working as a team, analyzing what helps students learn, teaching each other, using mentors.

Though not as strong as the Chattanooga Public Schools on the hill where family circumstances help, student success continues to improve in the valley, the whole point of “turn around.”

Which tells anyone in the education world to beware of the cost of resistance to change.