Leading reform

Education sector has published a survey of teachers and their attitudes towards a number of issues, including their unions. Their top findings should come as little surprise to anyone who has been following the education policy debate in Ohio. Their report is titled "Trending Towards Reform", it might more appropriately be titled, "Leading Reform".

1. Teachers want the union to protect them.

Since 2007, teachers have demonstrated strong and significant increases in their support for unions. In 2007, 24 percent of union members were involved and engaged in their local union; in 2011, 38 percent were. This isn’t surprising— with layoffs looming and constant policy changes, teachers are seeking security and turning to the one place they know they can find it: the union. Eighty-one percent of teachers say that without a union, teachers would be vulnerable to school politics or administrators who abuse their power.

In Ohio, this level of engagement has been even higher, due in large part to the significant budget implemented by the Governor, and of course the roll back of SB5 which sought to all but eliminate collective bargaining for public employees.

2. But the union should also engage in reform.

Teachers want more from their unions than traditional “bread and butter” basics. For example, among teachers who say their union does not currently negotiate evaluation, 75 percent say the union should play this role. Are teachers more supportive of union involvement because they view evaluation as important and in need of overhaul? Perhaps. Or teachers may want unions more involved in the negotiation process because they are concerned about the seemingly inevitable changes that are coming to evaluation.

Our experience has been that it is because of the latter. Indeed, education associations have been deeply involved in education reform. Around half of Ohio's school districts have engaged in some form of Race to the Top which requires association support, not to mention the reforms that teachers unions in Cincinnati and of course, Cleveland have embarked upon.

3. Teacher evaluation is improving—but still not good enough.

Compared to 2007, teachers’ overall assessment of their most recent formal evaluation improved. They are more likely to say that their evaluation was useful and effective by seven percentage points, and less likely to say it was just a formality by nine. Still, 35 percent continue to describe their evaluation as “well-intentioned but not particularly helpful” to their teaching practice. While the numbers show a notable improvement over the four years, it’s clear that evaluation must improve further.

This section of the survey is perhaps the most misleading. Evaluation systems such as the one being attempted to be implemented in Ohio are not yet off the ground, so attitudes towards their acceptance are yet to be determined.

As you can see from the results above, only 16% of survey respondents had student test scores used as part of their evaluation - that number is going to climb rapidly over the next few years, and along with it, we suspect, the number of teachers reporting a fair evaluation will fall.

4. Teachers show strong support for some pay proposals.

Teachers are most in favor of pay reforms based on factors they can control, such as their school and the subject they teach. The less control teachers feel they have over performance measures, like student test scores, the less likely they will support proposals that tie pay to performance. In fact, only 35 percent favor financial incentives for teachers whose students routinely score higher than similar students on standardized tests. A much larger proportion (57 percent) support higher pay for teachers who consistently receive outstanding evaluations by their principals, indicating a pay-for-performance plan that may be more agreeable to teachers.

This is a response that corporate education reformers simply do not understand, and will no accept. Teachers are not looking for pay schemes that a Wall Street day trader would enjoy.

5. Tenure is a must—but shouldn’t prevent ineffective teachers from being dismissed.

Teachers want to keep tenure—only one-third would consider trading tenure for a $5,000 pay bonus. But they are ready and willing to make changes to tenure-related dismissal policies to ensure that tenure is not, as AFT president Randi Weingarten said, “a shield for incompetence.” Seventy-five percent of teachers think the union should play a role in simplifying the process of removing ineffective teachers instead of leaving it to district and school administrators, compared to 63 percent of teachers in 2007.

This has been said by teachers over and over again, and yet opponents of teachers and their unions continue to deny it. The charge that teachers and their unions want to protect ineffective teachers is simply false, but what they don't want is a process whereby a capricious administration can dismiss teachers without reasonable cause.

The entire survey and it's findings can be found below.

Trending Toward Reform

Stop Tying Pay to Performance

The evidence is overwhelming: It doesn’t work.

That's the headline from a Harvard Business Review article. If the HBR can conclude that pay for performance doesn't work for big business executives, it's not a giant leap to understand it won't work for the teaching profession where there is no profit motive, but instead relies on collaboration and teamwork.

Time frame: next week | Degree of difficulty: operationally easy, psychologically hard | Barrier: greed, economic theory

We’ve talked about this since the financial meltdown. Now it’s time to do it: Unlink pay from performance. The evidence keeps growing that pay for performance is ineffective. It also may induce executives to take company-killing risks. There are other ways to motivate employees that yield better results at lower cost.

It may take a while before actual evidence and research finally convinces corporate education reformers they have it wrong, but month after month the moiuntain of evidence grows.

Trust the Evidence, Not Your Instincts

Consider this scenario. You have a serious illness. Your doctor prescribes an intrusive, painful, and expensive treatment— and you have to pay for it. What she doesn’t tell you—because she has not consulted the research – is that most studies show the treatment is ineffective and fraught with negative side-effects. You go through the procedure, suffer severe pain, and spend a lot of money. Unfortunately, as with most patients, the procedure proves ineffective. You later uncover the research your doctor failed to consult. When you ask why she didn’t use this evidence, she answers, “Who pays attention to studies? I have years of clinical experience. Besides, the protocol seemed like it ought to work.”

Does that sound like malpractice? It does to us. Fortunately, pressures to practice evidence-based medicine are reducing preventable errors. Not so in most of our workplaces, where failure to consider sound evidence repeatedly inflicts unnecessary damage on employee well-being and organizational performance. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

No workplace practice is as important—and apparently vexing—as pay. Many people believe that pay for-performance will work in virtually any organization, so it is implemented again and again to solve performance problems -- even in settings where evidence shows it is ineffective. Consider the recent decision to end New York City’s teacher bonus program after wasting three years and 56 million dollars. As this newspaper reported in July, a Rand Corporation study found this effort to link incentive pay to student performance “had no effect on students’ test scores, on grades on the city’s controversial A to F school report cards, or on the way teachers did their jobs.” This bad news could have been predicted before squandering all that time and money.The failure of such programs to boost student performance has been documented for decades. A careful review of pay for performance in schools in the 1980s showed these programs rarely lasted more than five years and consistently failed to improve student performance. The 300 page Rand report emphasizes that (although exceptions exist) evidence against the efficacy of teacher incentive pay in U.S. schools continues to grow stronger and is especially evident in the most rigorous studies.

This practice doesn’t just waste money. As Chicago economist Steve Levitt and others show, strong incentive programs can entice – or scare -- teachers and administrators to “cheat” on the tests, either by providing students with questions and answers in advance or changing student’s answer sheets to increase apparent performance. Recent well-publicized cheating scandals in Atlanta, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and elsewhere could have been foreseen by anyone who read and heeded this research. Building a culture of cheating in schools corrupts both students and teachers for no good purpose.

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