Saturday, July 16, 2005

"Q-Comp" is not education reform

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:53 AM |  

In a response to this post, King Banaian at SCSU Scholars asks for some details on the Governor's Q-Comp (merit pay for teachers) program as it was incorporated in the special session education bill passed by the legislature. An electronic version of the bill has not yet been posted [now posted line 77.21], but I have hard copy of the final marked up version dated 7/08/05 -- which includes both new language and language struck from the original House File 872.

First, the name has been changed to the “Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System.” This is more than a semantic change from the original Q-Comp notion of “Quality Compensation,” that is merit pay for teachers that do a quality job as measured by objective criteria. Instead, the legislation as passed is little more than a professional development program for teachers at taxpayer expense. In the 14-page bill, there is one line -- one line -- that directly refers to testing student achievement as a measure of teacher quality -- and that line is followed by the word “or” and subjective evaluation options that may be substituted for student achievement as a measure of teacher evaluation.

Here are the devilish details --

A $78 million dollar grant fund has been allocated for the program. This money will be distributed on a first come, first served basis to school districts that submit a qualifying plan to the Minnesota Department of Education at a rate of $260 times the number of enrolled students. From the first section of the legislation, which defines the purpose --To qualify for funds, a district may develop a plan that must include measures for improving school district, school site, teacher and individual student performance (nothing about pay for performance).

The plan must be approved by the school board and must include eight elements. Seven were in the original HF 872. Added (#8) was the requirement for substantial participation by exclusive representative of the teachers in developing the plan. This requirement is repeated at the site level. A special section on charter schools requires a 70 percent agreement in a formal vote of all the teachers -- essentially creating the first step to unionization of charter school teachers.

Union involvement has again been inserted into the planning process as a requirement that the district and the “exclusive representative of the teachers” prepare the plan, which can include using the funds for “on-going site-based professional development activities.” A district also must agree to use up to two percent of the funding formula funds for staff development purposes.

It’s time to do some linking. With just these requirements, we have gone from real reform-minded merit pay for the best teachers as determined by criteria established by the employer, the school district, to evaluation of teachers based on criteria developed by their representatives. Further, taxpayers must also foot the bill for “professional development” for teachers so they can advance their pay and careers without necessarily any measurable improvement in student achievement as determined by objective tests.

This is all still planning before a district can apply for the funds supposedly to pay for teacher performance. We’re not getting any closer to pay for performance. Here’s what such an agreement must include -- modifications from original house bill noted.

(1) The original read “describe the conditions necessary for career advancement and additional compensation.” The revised reads “describe how teachers can achieve career advancement and additional compensation. In other words, the legislation moved from here’s what is expected of a teacher to here’s the professional development provided to you so you can advance.

(2) [Note deletions and changes] [The system must] describe how the school district, school site, or charter school will provide teachers with career advancement options [deleted -- for teachers retaining] that allow teachers to retain primary roles in student instruction and facilitate site-focused professional development that helps other teachers improve their skills. [Note, we’re still talking about professional development, at taxpayer’s expense, not pay for performance.]

Struck from the original was all language that referred to “replacing” the step and lane salary schedule and years-of-service-based pay replaced with the following --

(3) reform the “steps and lanes” salary schedule, prevent any teacher’s compensation paid before implementing the pay system from being reduced as a result of participating in this system, and base at least 60 percent of any compensation increase on teacher performance using:

Okay, here’s where the rubber meets the road, or rather where the program spins out of control. Teacher performance can be measured using --

. . . school wide student achievement gains under [MCA’s] or locally selected standardized assessment outcomes, or both.

In other words, “teacher performance” means whatever a district or site in conjunction with the teacher’s union says it means. A list of six items follows that “clarifies” the latter with more obscurity. It is basically an outline for professional development at taxpayer expense, not pay for performance. Number (6) is especially interesting in a “merit pay” program” --

. . . encourage collaboration rather than competition among teachers.

If unsure exactly how the funds are to be used, the calculation of $260 times the number of pupils enrolled is termed “revenue,” not “compensation.”

In other words this legislation is not education reform. It doesn’t do away with steps and lanes, it is “revenue“ for districts on top of funding formula revenue. It doesn’t take the teacher’s union out of the equation, it actually strengthens its position, especially in charter schools. It doesn’t demand a link between meaningful student achievement -- i.e. standardized test scores. It’s little more than an additional $78 million in education funding; if one looks at the effort required to apply for this money, one realizes its an awful lot of somebody’s time that is not going into working on something that will actually help kids.

Here’s the best indication that this is not promised education reform. Mention the concept of “merit pay,” and teacher’s unions go into apoplectic fits. White papers roll off the presses declaring pay for performance is a bad idea and won’t work, won’t improve the quality of teachers and won’t improve student achievement. Yadda, yadda, yadda. So where are the union objections to this “pay for performance” plan? Do you hear any? You don’t and you won’t.

This will be a low-key issue for the teacher’s union as they don’t want to appear to be endorsing real “pay for performance,” but secretly they have to rejoicing at a bill that puts more money into education, gives the union a “substantial” role in how that money is spent, is earmarked for teacher’s professional development and increased compensation based on requirements negotiated by their union.

Once again public education for the benefit of kids and the public it’s suppose to serve gets short-changed for the sake of the system and the benefit of its employees.

Update: King Banaian adds some keen economic insight into the pay for performance model. He's also changed his mind on Q-Comp after seeing the way the bill was gutted. That's good news and bad news. The good news is King becomes another voice pointing out why this bill is not "education reform." The bad news is that many people won't read the bill, won't understand the bill, and will simply accept the fact that becasue it says "pay for performance," it must be a good conservative thing. King also points out the relationship between school choice and merit pay for teachers -- a point I make in my Pioneer Press column submitted for publication tomorrow.