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Jay on the Web: Why Michelle Rhee Is Wrong on Merit Pay for Teachers

Jay Mathews wrote in Monday's column that charter schools -- not Michelle Rhee's plan -- offer a good model for merit pay for teachers:

Rhee has proposed paying teachers as much as $135,000 a year based on achievement gains, classroom practices, meeting school goals and choosing high-needs students, as long as they are willing to forgo tenure protection. The chancellor is part of a national movement, backed by some leading policy experts, to create for teachers the same kind of merit pay enjoyed by football players, stock analysts and shoe salesmen...

This makes sense to many people but not to educators who remember how they created good schools. Extra pay for better work sounds as logical as sharpened pencils and multiplication tables. But if done in the public and routinized way indicated by Rhee and the president, it could ruin the team spirit that has produced the most successful public schools, particularly in urban and rural areas.

Derek Viger over at The Maine View finds holes in Rhee's plan as well:

Now let's pick this apart. Achievement gains means what? Could it be progress in test scores? High test scores? Graduation rates? Vague measurements such as these are pervasive in Rhee's plan, as mentioned earlier. Really we need a mix of all things I mentioned, shifting focus where applicable. A high performing school would be expected to maintain that performance etc. Of course, as I mentioned in earlier posts, our methods of measuring student performance are severely flawed. Unless Rhee's plan includes changes to the standardized testing system I expect a her policies to be a huge failure. More of a bad thing will not suddenly make it good.
Weigh in on Michelle Rhee's merit pay plan below.

By Washington Post Editors  | June 3, 2009; 11:08 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Michelle Rhee, merit pay for teachers  
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When you mention foregoing tenure protection, shouldnt you also add "for one year"? That is the case, right? That is not a small detail. One can earn their tenure back.

Note: I havent looked at any of the materials since the fall and I dont know what has changed recently.

I'm not saying you are doing this on purpose but I think this:
"Rhee has proposed paying teachers as much as $135,000 a year based on achievement gains, classroom practices, meeting school goals and choosing high-needs students, as long as they are willing to forgo tenure protection."

Is not as accurate as this:
"Rhee has proposed paying those individual teachers who choose to forego tenure for one year 135,000..."

The way you write it, you can't tell if you are referring to all the teachers collectively or individual teachers. And then, I'm pretty sure you can get your tenure back.

I realize all new teachers will have to go with the pay for performance plan. I think I remember they had the ability to get tenure after 3 or 4 years instead of the 2 that it is now. Maybe those numbers are slightly off

Posted by: makplan20002 | June 3, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Merit pay might work but it would have to be accomplished in a much more complex way than Michelle Rhee envisions. Teachers would have to be evaluated on many criteria and by more than one person. A career ladder with promotions based on the opinions of an evaluation team, made up of senior teachers and administrators, might be a good beginning. However, this would be very expensive. As things are now, the public schools are in dire economic straits. Also, traditionally it has been extremely difficult to hire teachers for urban districts such as Washington, DC. Once these teachers are hired, the usual pattern is to do whatever is necessary to retain them. Only in bad economic times, such as the one we're in, do we suddenly get so selective. In fact if you do a little research, you will find that because of Michelle Rhee's merit pay plan and her disdainful attitude towards teachers, the district is already experiencing difficulty in recruiting teachers, highly qualified or not. As for tenure, you might want to find out why Georgia outlawed it a few years ago, only to bring it back with the newly elected governor.

Here is a story I love to tell about the dangers of judging teachers on the basis of test scores;

Many years ago the teacher next door to me, who also taught fifth grade, had much higher test scores than I did. Each spring I would scratch my head in dismay, wondering what she did that was so superior to what I did. I questioned her and asked for her advice. I visited her classroom and watched her teach, but hard as I tried, I couldn't figure it out. One day my colleague announced that she had been promoted to principal. As a parting gift, she gave me a big box of her "stuff." I took the box home that night and excitedly opened it up and looked at everything inside. At the bottom was a xeroxed copy of the CTBS (Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills).

And that is exactly what is going on right now in all our "miracle" schools.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 3, 2009 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Exactly right ...
Rhee's plan will promote a higher level of cheating. It's unfortunate; but you pay teachers with high test scores (let's say $8000) than everyone wants to be paid and you have a situation like a school where 90 percent of the students are incapable of reading and writing but they all test proficient on standardized test. Wait a minute, that did happen, just last year in DCPS.

I shouldn't even say Rhee's plan. Rhee promotes cheating by paying teachers off who have a 30 to 40 percent gain in their test scores. She's done it the last two years and every year the list gets longer and longer because everyone wants the big payoff and who loses in the end, the children.

Posted by: wtf1 | June 3, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

ok. here's my question with regard to the $135k... where is this money coming from? Is there some large pot of cash sitting around that I am unaware of? I mean, seriously, where is the sustainable means to support a program that pays like that? And if it exists, why isn't it being deployed already? Am I to believe that for the last 12 years I have been working as a teacher, admin has been holding back a sizable pot of cash... waiting for the effective teachers to arrive?

Posted by: dianalaufenberg | June 3, 2009 11:40 PM | Report abuse

The money for increased salaries will come from foundations seeking to promote education reform. A major focus of this reform is pay for performance and forfeiture of tenure for a year where your performance can be evaluated.

The district does not have this money. Rhee says she has committments from these donors to fund the program for five years and they will give her the money when the reforms are put in place (i.e. a teacher contract that gives individual teachers the option to give up tenure for a year and try to get paid a lot)

It is not being deployed because teachers fearful for their jobs wont agree to the contract, even though they can choose to keep their tenure (and still get a decent raise) while others individually chose to forfeit tenure with the risk/reward of firing/high pay. I dont know why those teachers have to deprive other risk seeking teachers of the opportunity to make big bucks. It is this possibility of big bucks that will lure more talent to the school. The talent effective teachers dont arrive before the money. Why would they?

So the cash is contingent upon reform which is met with resistance at every turn. You will not get this money unless you risk your job. Makes sense to me. Why pay people who arent teaching students well more money while maintaining job security?

Rhee will receive enough money for this plan for 5 years. By then end of this period she hopes to have cut costs in other areas so she can maintain the pay plan. Even if this doesnt happen and you have survived the 5 years under the pay for performance plan, you probably will have made much more money that you would have otherwise and demontstrated yourself to be a good teacher, and then you would probably take a pay cut to a more traditional pay plan. But hey, you still got a ton of money for your efforts you otherwise wouldnt have.

Posted by: makplan20002 | June 4, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

No question that merit pay if equitably implemented is a good thing - its power is self-evident across a host of contexts. But it seems to overlook lots of intermediate steps that can get the ball rolling in the right direction. If motivating teachers to do a great job is your goal, I would have to first ask if your managers/leaders have been trained to effectively motivate/inspire/draw the best out of the teachers? How effective are they in getting the best out of their people? Money absolutely talks but so do many other things talk to that part of each of us that strives for greatness - just ask a US Marine.

Posted by: petercat926 | June 7, 2009 12:26 AM | Report abuse

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