Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The King and I (on Q-Comp)

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:17 PM |  

King Banaian has a couple of excellent posts that comment on my Q-Comp teacher pay for performance post and column. King’s economic perspective provides some valuable insights.

In this post, he cites a comment from a teacher that questions the value of economic motivation for “great teachers.” King quotes --
Teaching is a calling, not a job. Great teachers are born, not made and economic incentives don’t work for teachers.

There is only one incentive that works on teachers. FREEDOM!Freedom to explore and create is the only thing that will excite good teachers. It is the only thing that will turn children into students.

Soooo, if you want great teachers, offer them an economic incentive program and fire all the ones that accept it. Give all the ones who don’t 20 kids in a class and let them go to college in the summer for free to learn more about anything they want. Pay them a middle class wage and ask them occasionally what they are up to. That is how you will get the best teaching force.
King notes that the writer is missing the point --
… which is this: How do you find more Michaels [great teachers] when you have more students? There is not an infinite supply of Michaels in the world; there are competing claims for their time and talent outside of teaching.

We don't pay finance professors double what we pay history professors because the finance professors are any better; we pay them that way because there are more competing claims willing to pay more for a talented PhD in finance than for a the talented PhD in history. Michael may not see this because he assumes everyone is like his circle of friends. And he may wish that others acted like that circle. But it cannot. The market operates on teachers whether or not Michael likes it. If he wants more talented people teaching around him, he should support economic incentives.
In an earlier post, King notes --
Teachers need to buy into the fact that they are going to be rewarded for something that is objectively measured and something that their efforts can in fact control. That is important: The problem teachers have, from the ones I speak with, is that the accountability tests on which the performance is based measures something over which the teacher has little influence. I don't see that as being an unreasonable position to take; proponents of more accountability need to show the connection between teacher effort, teacher reward and student achievement. If it's just more achievement-->more reward, reward might simply go to teachers who luck into better students.
This point was also made in an e-mail comment I received.

Teachers need to teach well, and students need to learn well. Those are not the same thing. Holding a teacher responsible for a student's learning performance is akin to holding you responsible for your reader's unanimously agreeing with you. It isn't going to happen.It's not that teaching isn't correlated with satisfactory performance from learners. It's just that the major part of the performance variance must be attributed to the learner. The parents also play a big role. The teacher is an important, but distant third.

Make no mistake, though. There are many behaviors teachers must perform well for their students to do well. Those can be measured. But measuring the students' performance on a standardized test to see how well the teacher is doing makes as much sense as polling your readers to see how well you are writing. Correlation is not causation. Drinking and being led to the water are not the same.

When I was working in the St. Paul schools some years ago, one of our elementary schools serving a poorer east-side neighborhood had a typical 35 students in the classroom when we did the fall enrollment count. It also had 35 students when we did the spring count. The problem for the teacher was that none of the 35 students was the same. How could you hold the teacher accountable for student performance when the students had moved to another school, or on any given day a third or more of them are absent, or over half of them did not speak English?

You are right. Teachers need to teach better. More importantly, however, students need to learn better, value it higher, try harder, seek mentors and learning buddies. Parents need to care about their child's learning, work more closely with the school, check to see that kids do their homework. The list goes on.

But tying teacher performance to their student's standardized tests makes no sense. We need better solutions than that.

Point taken, and in many ways, I agree with King and the reader. In general, I'm not a fan of standardized tests and have written about problems I have with such tests and consequently with the NCLB Act. Nonetheless, if you're not going to operate in a choice system where education consumers ultimately make the decision on what is "good" teaching, that is a parental school choice system, then what are you left with? Subjective criteria, I believe, don't cut it.

Using raw scores on state tests, I agree, might not be a fair approach. However, using tests to measure improvement can be. In a previous life I worked in quality assurance. We used statistical process control to measure manufacturing quality and to verify improvement when we changed a process. Using statistical methods, we were able to determine whether or not the change we made had a positive or negative effect. That type of analysis can be applied to teachers.

In fact, Jay Greene at the Manhattan Institute has done somewhat that kind of study in a much more complex setting. He developed a Teachability Index that rated how difficult kids are to teach based on subjective characteristics like low-income, single-parent family and the like. He then determined an expected test score for cohorts of students based on how difficult they are to teach. He then looked at individual schools and whether or not their test scores were higher or lower than expected for the degree of difficulty of their students. Not surprisingly, he found some schools scored significantly higher than might be expected. Shouldn't those teachers receive merit pay even if the raw test scores are not in the top percentile?

The point of my column is simply that because objective criteria are hard, that doesn't mean a) we should give up finding them and b) moving to arbitrary subjective criteria isn't an acceptable alternative.

Read King’s comments. They provide the economic dimension to need for a pay for performance system for teachers.