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Clever way to reward teachers as teams

I don't think I have ever met Kim Marshall, but I swear he has been reading my mind, and the minds of many educators who have shared with me their doubts about fascination with merit pay for individual teachers.

Marshall is a principals' coach, email advice service provider (The Marshall Memo) and author ("Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation.) He was also an elementary school principal in Boston for 15 years. His recent commentary in Education Week, "Merit Pay or Team Accountability?," is the smartest piece ever written on this subject.

His unconventional proposal is to reward small teams of teachers, such as everyone teaching second grade in an elementary school, or everyone teaching Algebra I in a high school. This discards the idea of merit pay for individuals, the hot topic, and merit pay for the whole school, a favorite of mine whose flaws he quickly sees.

He does not want to measure teacher work with standardized tests but with principal observations and internal benchmarks chosen by the teachers themselves, with approval of their supervisor. He wants them to get NOT more money for good work, but better evaluations that can lead to more lucrative assignments as master teachers or classroom stars in high-need schools.

Totally weird, right? Still, he doesn't look crazy in the picture on his Web site. His deft dismantling of all the arguments for individual merit pay suggest he knows what he is talking about:

"It’s time to admit," he says "that the idea of evaluating and paying individual teachers based on their students’ test scores is a loser. This logical-sounding strategy for improving teaching and learning sinks for multiple reasons: practical (standardized-test results arrive months after teachers are evaluated each spring); psychometric (these tests aren’t valid for one-shot assessments of individual teachers, and it takes at least three years of value-added data for reliable patterns to emerge); staff dynamics (when individuals are rewarded, collaboration suffers); curriculum quality (low-level test preparation festers in a high-stakes environment); moral (turning up the heat increases the amount of cheating); and simple fairness (how can schools divvy up credit among all the teachers who contribute to students’ success?).

"So why are folks still talking about individual merit pay when it’s clear that it won’t work? Because the idea of holding teachers accountable for their students’ test scores sounds so obvious—and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a bunch of powerful politicians are enabling that gut feeling. States that didn’t include student achievement in end-of-year teacher evaluation and compensation worried that they stood very little chance of winning desperately needed Race to the Top funds."

Such breathtaking clarity means he is probably an exceptional principals' coach. He has good reasons for his unorthodox approach to the issue:

Why teacher teams? "Rewarding teams avoids the problems of individual rewards (idea-hoarding and silo-dwelling) and large-group rewards (freeloading by lazy and ineffective colleagues)," he says.

Why measure individual classroom performance and the teams' student gains on in-school assessments? "There are new ways for principals to get a much better sense of what is going on in classrooms," he says, "and we have increasingly precise tools for measuring student learning during the year: scales of reading proficiency, rubrics for scoring students’ writing, open-ended math questions that uncover students’ understanding, and carefully worded multiple-choice tests that give insights into students’ mistakes and misconceptions."

Why no money? "A pat on the back isn’t enough, but merit pay (for individuals, teams, or the entire staff) increases the chances of shenanigans and gaming the system," he says. "There is a role for monetary incentives in three areas: career-ladder opportunities for the most highly rated teachers to take on extra responsibilities for extra pay; incentives for the most effective teachers to work in high-need schools and subject areas; and denial of step increases to teachers with mediocre ratings (while, of course, moving to dismiss teachers with unsatisfactory ratings)."

Assessments crafted by the teachers and their principals sounds risky. There are all kinds of ways such private deals could go off track. But removing the cash reward and substituting a chance for a good evaluation that leads to a more challenging job--sort of like it is done in my business---makes sense to me.

I still think rewarding entire schools that perform well, and divvying up the proceeds, might work if the principal is well-chosen, and has the power to get rid of slackers. But that was is (1) expensive, and (2) unlikely to be approved by any large districts any time soon.

So the Marshall Plan looks like the best approach to me. Teachers I know would like it. What do you think?

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | September 14, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Kim Marshall, individual teacher merit pay is a loser, just good evaluations, no cash, no standardized tests, try rewarding teacher teams  
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Comments

Kim Marshall has it exactly right. What he is proposing is encouraging teacher collarboration - and that is where power comes from - COLLABORATION!

I used to work in several techncial support contract jobs. I loved collaboration, it made the work so much easier when everyone was collaborating. Things got fixed faster, stress went down. If you had 2 people working together, you up with valid adding of 3 people If you had 3 people collaborating together it was as if you had 5 collaborating.

If you had two people working together - it was like 3 people were workign
If you had three people together it was like 5 people were working together.

What I am trying to agree is that if you have two collaborating, you got the work of three out of the two.

If you have three, you get the work 4 or 5 out of the three.

Collaboration is great because it produces so much than when people work by themselves.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 14, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Collaboration between teams of teachers is sure to a blessing for the kids. They will get so much out of a lesson when their teachers collaborate on it.

I agree with everything Kim Marshall says. Everything he says is sensible.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 14, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Collaboration between teams of teachers is sure to a blessing for the kids. They will get so much out of a lesson when their teachers collaborate on it.

I agree with everything Kim Marshall says. Everything he says is sensible.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 14, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for printing this Jay, otherwise I would not have known about it.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 14, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

So how would this work for a teacher who is the only one in his or her content area such as the music, art, p.e., speech, media, ESOL, etc. etc. teachers?

Posted by: musiclady | September 14, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Oh, please. First, this is straight out of Linda Darling Hammond's playbook. It's revolting.

"He does not want to measure teacher work with standardized tests but with principal observations and internal benchmarks chosen by the teachers themselves, with approval of their supervisor. He wants them to get NOT more money for good work, but better evaluations that can lead to more lucrative assignments as master teachers or classroom stars in high-need schools. "

I'd slit my wrists with a rusty razor and pay my college loans without forgiveness before I'd sign on for this. Nauseating collectivist crap. Spare us all.

I don't want to be a "master teacher", piously preaching gospel to nervous newbies. I want to work with kids, not adults.

Again, Jay, do your homework. Much of this is Linda Darling Hammond, Obama's SecEd reject. For example, from her testimony before Congress:

"• A focus on improving teacher education and teacher effectiveness through the
The development of career ladders for teachers that can recognize and reward
highly-accomplished and effective teachers who show high levels of performance
and the ability to contribute to student learning – and that can take advantage of
these teachers’ expertise by creating mentor and master teacher positions that
allow them to support other teachers and the school as a whole in improving
curriculum and instruction."

Sound familiar?

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | September 14, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

Cal_Lanier: "I want to work with kids, not adults."

This reminds me of certain doctors and nurses in settings where they are increasingly bogged down by administrative work or an inordinate amount of mentoring/training when they would rather be devoting more time and energy to "healing the sick." Quite understandable.

Posted by: shadwell1 | September 15, 2010 7:45 AM | Report abuse

"It’s time to admit," I say "that the idea of evaluating individual teachers based on their teams principal observations and internal benchmarks chosen by the teachers themselves is a loser. This logical-sounding strategy for improving teaching and learning sinks for multiple reasons: practical (there's no way for a principal to do this in a timely fashion and what do we do when different teams have completely different evaluation criterea - and they're all stupid); psychometric (what does a good teacher do when stuck with a terrible team - LEAVE); staff dynamics (what does a good teacher do when stuck with a terrible team - LEAVE); curriculum quality (THERE IS NONE!! MAKE IT UP AS YOU GO ALONG); moral (PRINCIPALS WILL BE BRIBED!!!); and simple fairness (how can we punish GREATER teachers on TERRIBLE teams)
"So why are folks still talking about team evaluations when it’s clear that it won’t work? Because of the fact that teachers don't want to be held accountable — and teachers union shills and a bunch of powerful politicians who want their campaign contributions are enabling them. Politicians that don't go along with them stand very little chance of winning desperately needed Race to the Top of Campaign Contribution funds.

Such breathtaking clarity means that I am and exceptional blog commenter. I have good reasons for his unorthodox approach to the issue:

Why teacher teams are good, but evaluating them as a group should only be a part of individual teacher evaluation? "Rewarding individuals avoids the problems of team only rewards causing the best teachers to leave", I say.

Sorry about this but I have to leave now. This concept of not evaluating individual teachers is BREATHTAKINGLY STUPID!!!

Posted by: david_r_fry | September 15, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

What's the difference between merit pay and denial of step increases for mediocre teachers. If you have to demonstrate effective teaching to earn a pay increase, that to me is merit pay. It eliminates the automatic pay increase currently enshrined in most teacher contracts.

I'm all for using school-based assessments and principal observations to evaluate teams, but ensuring the validity and reliability of the former is very difficult and there is so very little trust by teachers of the latter. If teachers can be convinced that their principals have a valuable role to play in evaluating teacher performance, then maybe this has a shot. I also see no reason that standardized tests can not be one of multiple measures used to evaluate team performance, which allows for comparison across schools and identification of effective practices for others to emulate.

Posted by: gideon4ed | September 15, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

david_r_fry gets the prize for most clever comment of the day, even though I do not agree with it. As for Linda Darling Hammond, she has many strengths, but I have never seen her write anything as clear and persuasive as Marshall's piece here.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 15, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I love the ideas! Why are 55 year old physical education teachers making $100,000 a year and fourth year math teachers are making $45,000? The way things are currently is down right ridiculous.

1) Provide monetary incentives for teachers to teach in high need schools and subjects.
2) Love the idea of denying step increases to ineffective teachers. So many simply show up, do just enough to get by, and make bank.
3) Merit pay, peer to peer evaluations, student/parent evaluations, admin evaluations. All should be used to determine a max salary. I think you should be guranteed a base salary which is the same for all teachers, but can earn more based upon what I mentioned above.

Posted by: PoorTeacher | September 15, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for my prior rushed response. As it relates to individual teacher evaluations, the use of standardized tests in evaluations, and team teaching as I know it, his proposals are very close to irrelevant, particularly as far as the lowest performing urban schools go. First of all, the best way to quickly improve performance in poorly performing urban schools is to identify the worst teachers and get them to improve or leave. Merit pay evaluations I assume will eventually use the same evaluation process, at least in part, but in most places that will come later. Standardized tests are going to be a part of this identification process, but not the only part. Trained evaluators (not necessarily principals) will also be a part of the process, as will other identification methods. If the teachers are a part of a team the team leader's evaluation will also be a part of the process. The timing of evaluations will be flexible, not just in the spring. If you want an online description search on "joint intervention team report Albany High School". His claim that you have to have 3 years of value added data for it to be of any use is ABSURD!!! What if a teacher's students make no progress in a year, ie 0 value added? Believe it or not I know of teachers where that is almost exactly what happened. I can't understand why teachers unions want to protect teachers like that. I'd be interested in some links to descriptions of differant types of team teaching. Kim makes it sound like the TEAM in team teaching is like the TEAM in basketball team. It's not. It's much more like the TEAM in golf TEAM. The team teaching that I'm most familiar with occured in a small grade school in a small town in N.H. There were 3 teams 1st and 2nd gr, 3rd and 4th, and 5th and 6th. There were 2 classes for each grade. Each teacher had a specialty that they taught for all 4 classes the team covered. Why should teacher A be penalized for bad teaching by teacher B when standarized tests show that teacher B wasn't performing? In the paragraph with the quote that starts "There are new ways for principals ..." everything he states sounds great, and probabaly is, when done properly. But people like me are going to demand that there be some external objective way of making sure that and everything else related to the education of our kids is being done properly. He talks about cheating like there will be more of it by using standardized tests than his way. BALONEY. There will be much, much, more of it done his way, and it may be nearly impossible to detect in a timely fashion. If properly constructed, monitored, and evaluated it's nearly impossible to cheat on a standardized test. If educators can't figure out how to do it they should get non educators to show them how to do it because it's not that complicated. Jay, why don't you call a statistician at Georgetown U to confirm this. This approach is going to let teachers off the hook and leave way too much power with principals.

Posted by: david_r_fry | September 15, 2010 11:52 PM | Report abuse

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