Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To Pay or Not to Pay?

I feel like I am always talking about Obama but he is always in the news about education lately. This time the article titled Obama, taking on unions, backs teacher merit pay. It caught my interest either way I will not get merit pay so you can call me an unbiased onlooker. The main reason I am in a private school so most likely it will not affect the private sector either way. I have researched about merit pay before I see the good things and the bad parts. One part that I never like is it usually highly based on test scores and not what happens in the classroom. I don't mind testing students to find out what they know, are weak at and to identify problems. If a student drops dramatically in a subject, you can research and retest to see exactly where and why? Yes it could be the previous year's teacher or this student could have had other issues on test day.

Here is a fictional example:

Last year's Bob a 3rd grader did really well in the reading comprehension. Now Bob is in the 4th grade and bombed the reading comprehension and other scores lowered this year. WHY? Is it because of last year's teacher didn't teach certain materials? Or if you look at it this new 4th grader he just had a new baby brother a week ago that has kept the entire family up all night this past week. I would guess the baby may have had something to do with it. Between family stresses, excitement, lack of sleep, and disrupted routine he was not at his optimal test taking capacity. But the test would not show that. This is a good example. I know you can think of all the other not so good reasons, divorce, hunger etc. Now this is only one student.

Now I know if an entire class scores go down it gives you reason to look. I'll give you my schools example.

My school is a private school based near a military facility that rotates yearly, so some classes can see a 10% of the class changes each year just due to military and then regular influx of new students and others leaving the school. Most of the time the scores don't change to drastically, but the ones that do you can look and see that is the class that had a big turnover in students. However most students are good academically so it is rarely an issue the new students are usually at the same academic level as the ones leaving so it stays balanced.

Now I haven't looked at inner city and very poor district test scores recently (since Grad school 7 years ago) but I am interested to see if it has changed. I know from the ones I researched in grad school many students routinely move from district to district. The one in our area is a poor rural area with a lot of trailer parks with single mothers/low income families on subsidies and migrant workers with children. Students move from one trailer park to another depending on housing funding, job changes, and new boyfriends etc. So an average of 15% of the class is different students with a broad range of test scores. I went in and gathered on site research from parents, teachers and students about why test scores for classes changed and those where the reasons for the class turnover, rural poverty. One class had a 40% turn over, up from 25% the year before mostly due to migrant and housing subsidy changing the address and school. Those teachers are screwed they can get the test and teach the exact answers for next year's test until the child could take the test with their eyes closed and still have a completely different class take the test next year and get low scores. So merit pay if only based on tests will only go to rich and stable school districts. Leaving the poorer and less stable school districts with lower pay teachers and disgruntled teachers that may move on to a higher paying district. Do you hear the plug being pulled yet and teacher's moral going down the drain! Stable is a key word that a lot of people forget about in education if students move from school to school to teacher to teacher then gaps form in information learned which does show up in testing. This is the reason for the tests to see what NEEDS to be taught!

Now most in my school that change are military and they expect to move so most are very picky about what is taught and what is not. One parent I knew scanned all tests and other important documents onto the computer and kept a log of what was taught and not, so gaps could be covered when they moved to a new school. Now most military families stay in an area for 3-4 years. But some do move more frequently this one did almost every year or two, so that is why she was so picky about curriculum and content, she was highly educated so had the resources to cover gaps in her child's education. The families that I am talking about rural poor may expect to move but have no plan in place when it happens or resources. Then migrant workers expect to move and have no resources and the families are not educated.

I have read about performance based testing, portfolio use, and differential assessment but I haven't seen a good model yet on how to transfer that into the merit pay, to many political and administration hands in the pot. Maybe they will come up with one time will tell. A quote from the article says that it will not be based solely on test scores and those in the high poverty areas could be helped. I hope he means it and it is not just for the cities poverty! The rural and now some suburban areas, especially in this economy, are becoming "poor" due to job loss. This can transfer over to children and school achievement.

"Van Roekel insisted that Obama's call for teacher performance pay does not necessarily mean raises or bonuses would be tied to student test scores. It could mean more pay for board-certified teachers or for those who work in high-poverty, hard-to-staff schools, he said. However, administration officials said later they do mean higher pay based on student achievement, among other things."

You confused me already just in those few sentences. Time will tell…


Article about Merit Pay:

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