$10K Reward or Reason to Wonder?

I have tried to keep a level head about this particular RTT “initiative”, touted by some as a method of getting the very desirable highly effective teachers to either stay at their high-needs school or move from their already satisfactorily achieving school to a neighboring high-needs school. I really have tried.

I certainly understand the necessity and desire to get really good teachers in front of those students who exhibit the greatest deficits in academic achievement. I certainly understand the pressures to identify effective and highly effective teachers. I can appreciate the need to implement and refine an effective accountability system–a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

[As an aside: Did it just recently occur to education leaders that struggling students would greatly benefit from working with good and great teachers? Wouldn’t district administrators, especially those in the position of hiring staff, have known that all along? Wouldn’t they have only sought and hired top candidates? Wouldn’t school administrators work carefully to fulfill their commitment to monitor teaching proficiency and maintain a top-performing staff? Who among them has been sloppy in their hiring and evaluation procedures? Shame on them.

I am but a humble teacher. (Ahem,…) Am I and my colleagues to be taken to task for this lack of attention to the obvious? And, don’t give me that trite excuse: “We were forced to hire late in the game, forced to take what was available.” Whatever,…  Negotiated agreements can and have been adjusted. Perhaps state policy regarding deadlines for unit count disclosures could be altered. Perhaps school funding calendars could be reviewed and revised.

Shouldn’t boards of education be held responsible for allowing some of the schools in their stewardship to flourish and others to languish and fall behind? Who was paying attention? Who should have been minding the store? In my experience, local education unions did not hesitate to point out the discrepancies, only to be ignored or silenced.

I continue to be amazed that few entities in the world of public education are held accountable or blamed besides the teaching staff. It ain’t me, Babe. As a teacher, I have been placed in charge of my classroom instruction, and not much else.]

However, I cannot understand what is to be gained from $10,000 payouts to yet-to-be identified reading and math teachers in grades 3-10 in a select list of up to thirty Delaware schools who happen to have enough kids who meet certain achievement thresholds. The original plan was to provide financial awards to teachers for the retention or attraction of “highly effective” teachers to high-needs schools. The plan this year will function purely as an incentive to keep teachers designated as “highly effective” in identified schools.

What will a plan like this achieve?

A DEDOE press release from May 11 provides a few details about the program and indicates that there are some proponents of this plan. Here are a few bits:   

For the first year of this three-year pilot program, only those teachers who teach English Language Arts and mathematics tested by the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System in grades 3-10 of the select schools will have the opportunity to qualify.

District and charter school leadership will have the opportunity to decide whether their eligible buildings participate. If they opt to do so for Year 1 of the program, select top-performing highly-effective principals, assistant principals and teachers in the schools would be eligible for a financial incentive of $10,000, funded by part of the state’s federal Race to the Top grant. Selected educators commit to remain in their respective schools for at least two additional years as part of the program. The financial reward will be linked to that commitment.

Sally Maldonado, head of school at Kuumba Academy Charter School in Wilmington, said the program is a great opportunity for teachers.  “As a charter we are always looking for ways to do more for our teachers with less. This is finally a way to reward some of our very hard-working, results-oriented staff,” she said. “Our teachers certainly do not do what they do for the money, but this bonus is a great way to give them just a piece of what they deserve.”

I love Dr. Lowery, and I have the utmost respect for her. However, I am not swayed by the following observations about and rationale for pay for performance.

“Our top educators are our most important asset, and we need to ensure we are attracting and keeping our best teachers and leaders in the schools where students need their talents the most,” Secretary of Education Dr. Lillian M. Lowery said. “This is an incredible opportunity to reward and incentivize the great teaching that leads to great learning.”

“Research has shown that the most important in-school factor for student success is an excellent teacher,” Lowery said. “Reward programs such as this one have helped retain top-performing teachers and principals in high-needs schools nationally. This initiative will help our buildings in need of top educators to attract and retain them in the months and years to come.”

A News Journal article from May 12 laid out the projected costs for the three-year program.  By my calculations, all else being equal, and none of the money going to administrative costs, this would enable the Department to reward up to 820 educators, or about 273 people per year.

The $8.2 million, three-year program is meant to help reward and attract teachers to challenged schools in Delaware. Thirty schools were named by the state as eligible for the program, which will award a $10,000 bonus to certain teachers in these schools who meet yet-to-be-defined student test score goals set by the state.

(Student test score goals have actually just been defined this past week. Details about the required percentages of students who meet test score goals in reading and/or math were sent out to teachers on May 30. If 65% or more of Miss Jones’s 7th grade math students meet or exceed their test score goals, then she would be designated as a “highly effective” math teacher and eligible for the “incentive”—assuming that Miss Jones works in one of the identified schools. For the sake of example, let’s call it School X.)

I am a bit confused though. Here are some of the issues that I find pretty darned confounding.

Apparently both successful ELA/math teachers who actually implemented an effective instructional program, as measured by DCAS test results, and their building administrators will be eligible for incentive rewards. Including principals and APs in the plan is news to me. I am guessing that if a certain percentage of teachers in School X can be identified as “highly effective,” then the building admins will be eligible for the money. Things are getting interesting. What was Principal John’s direct contribution to student success? A bit tenuous, I suspect.

Oh, my. Is this an incentive or is this a reward? Does the distinction matter? Language matters. Names matter. Synonyms for incentive include: motivation, inducement, impetus, and enticement. So, this money in intended to motivate Miss Jones to either remain at School X or to induce Mr. Smith to transfer to School X from the school in which he currently resides. O.K. I get it.

Timing is everything. The final determinations of teacher effectiveness will not be announced to eligible teachers until after the school year ends—later in June, I believe. Most Delaware schools will close by June 8th. Staffing changes of any kind had to be revealed to teachers by May 15—a date set by state statute, not by contractual agreement, as some have supposed. This includes lay-offs, unassigned status (you still have a job, but not in your current school), and reassignments (still in School M, but in a different assignment—e.g., changes from special ed. to regular ed.; 4th grade to 2nd grade—as if it did not matter where you were assigned, what your experience level, or  in which assignment you had proved you excelled—another story for another post).

So, how does the announcement in June of this $10K (Jeez, that seems like a hell of a lot of money!) serve as an incentive to stay or go if staffing has already been finalized by May 15th???? If I’m good old Miss Jones, and I have not been laid off or unassigned, and I did not voluntarily transfer (VT) to another school, am I not already slated to remain in School X? What’s the purpose of this money as an incentive to stay? I am already staying.

$10K as an attraction incentive. During my 39-year teaching career, I have worked in three schools that by everyone’s standards were high-functioning, effective, and successful. [Boy, was I lucky!] I have been trying very hard this week to recall myself, first, as a young teacher who was the sole bread-winner for several years while my husband was still in school, or 10-15 years later, as a working mother in a two-income household where neither income was remarkable. $10,000 would have been a very welcomed addition to our family.

The question is: Would I take the money?  The money comes only with the stipulation that I would give up my position at a school I know and love, at a school where I and my colleagues have experienced both success and recognition, at a school where I know the principal, the parents, and the kinds of kids I might get next year? Would I agree to pack up and move my 2000 book classroom library (when I taught 3rd grade) or my hundreds of science supplies and books (as a middle school science teacher; my own stuff, mind you—not the school’s stuff)? Would I give up all that; do all that? For $10,000?

[Teachers tend to be quite possessive: It’s my school, my room, my students. This is good. You want them to feel committed—to take ownership.]

The money supposedly will also come with a commitment to stay for two years at the high-needs school and to participate in a fellowship program that includes lots of additional, mandatory professional development and training. That part of the deal would not bother me, as long as it was relevant and high-quality. I actually begged for appropriate PD during my last two years in the classroom.

I was quite idealistic when I started teaching. It was 1972, and I had been active in politics, civil rights, environmental causes, the anti-war movement—you get the picture. If this was then—if that was now—would I take the money? Would I sacrifice comfort, familiarity, and well-being to put myself out there in service of challenging students in a struggling school? I do not think I would.

“Working conditions” mean everything to a teacher. For us, this includes (in no particular order) the principal, instructional resources, school supplies, school discipline, cleanliness and condition of the building, parental engagement, reputation, availability of parking, safety and security issues, opportunities for EPER (extra pay for extra responsibility) and teacher leadership, etc. (Note: I did not mention teacher salary as one of the conditions.)

No, I would not take the money. I sincerely doubt it. Not worth it to me, even to assuage my guilt.

O.K. You do the math. $8.2M divided by $10,000 = 820 educators who can be rewarded. 820 divided by three years = 273.33 educators per year. 273 educators divided by 30 schools = about nine educators per school, if all 30 schools participate. There will be no money at all for R & A incentives—unless someone coughs it up—after RTT finishes up in two more years. Capacity and sustainability seem to be issues here.

What do you achieve with an individual incentive program like this—with pay for performance? Not much that is truly worthwhile.

I predict that this will become incredibly divisive, dividing teachers, teams, grade levels, staffs, schools, districts. I thought that we were all about collaboration and teamwork and cooperation and sharing and partnership. Well, you can kiss that good-by if Jones gets the money while the rest of us get doodly-squat. Why on earth would one math teacher work with another if there was a chance that she would get the moolah and he would get bupkas.

We have already acknowledged that very little in the way of innovations, skills, or strategies have been shared out in the past 15 years to local district community schools by their charter school neighbors. With the advent of this kind of money, why would they want to share anything?

Resentment may already be brewing, and no money has even been laid on the table. Eight districts were selected to participate, as well as eight charter schools. Each charter school operates independently here in Delaware—there is no charter school district. However, of the eight districts, two of the largest districts had seven and eight schools designated—the other six had one school each. Imagine the conversations at those schools that may get the money. Now imagine the conversations at the other schools.

What do you suppose the kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers will say when the third grade teachers get $10K a piece for the test scores of the kids they have this year—the same children who greatly benefited from the fine teaching that they received for the previous three years as 5, 6, and 7-year old students at the same school.

In reality, any reward money should be distributed school-wide.  It takes a village to raise a child.  It takes the whole school to help a child succeed. This is the mantra that has been repeated from DEDOE leaders, from district leaders, from school leaders—all the way down the line. This money thing is ill-conceived, lacking support, unsustainable (thank goodness), and WRONG. The plan may have gotten Delaware extra points in the RTT application, but, it may prove to be more trouble than it is worth. It may be counter-productive.

If you are of my vintage, you may recall this chestnut: “What if they gave a war, and no0body came.” What if they paid for performance, and nobody took the money.

N.B.: File this under “Going out onto thin ice.”



This entry was posted in "Reform Experts", Accountability, Education Reform, Merit Pay, Race-to-the-Top (RttT), Student Success, Teacher Evaluation. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to $10K Reward or Reason to Wonder?

  1. John Young says:

    The Christina School District administration politely declined to participate in this program in a note to the TLEU on 5/25 for many of the reasons you note above. A bad program, using flawed logic, not even fully developed as of the date of it required response.

    Our DOE is not a finely tuned machine, that much is certain.

  2. John Young says:

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  3. John Young says:

    Also, Dr. Lowery is just trying to sell the program. There is no way, In my opinion, she believes a word of what she says there. If she does, I have grossly underestimated her education acumen.

  4. gilda says:

    Yet another RTTT misstep–quel surprise!! I hope all invited districts and charters “politely decline”–as Christina did. And if several do decline, does their share of the $$ go to the others, or is it “found money” for DOE? Inquiring minds want to know…….

  5. Lorraine says:

    Reading this made my head hurt- it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I’m glad I retired (although as an art teacher I wouldn’t be eligible for any of this anyway………)

    • Frederika says:

      Lorraine: I am a science teacher and would not be eligible either. However, the question is would I/should I take the money if I were eligible?

  6. Pingback: WTF ! Bonuses for doing job pay is to compensate. « Kilroy's delaware

  7. zman says:

    red clay politely declined

  8. Lorraine says:

    Not sure if I would take the money either-probably not. I agree that we teachers can be territorial (my room, etc) and who knows how well things would go at a new place without your colleagues- the support of the particular community of teachers in each situation cannot be denied. Also, it usually takes a few years in a new situation to really get your students into your “groove”. Glad districts are politely declining.

  9. gilda says:

    I am a retired teacher of reading,and there is NO WAY I would have put myself and my colleagues in this situation. Talk about making a bad situation worse!

  10. Jack says:

    In Red Clay 7% of the teachers in North Star have less than 4 years of service, Baltz 37%. Why do teachers stay longer at North Star than at Baltz?

  11. zman says:

    could have been that Baltz had/has a more senior staff

  12. fsjenner says:

    Stability is incredibly important for a school’s success. However, this is assuming that the school has a great leader or a bevy of teacher leaders who carry the day–who can work together to overcome less than stellar leadership. Looking for the right person in the right place at the right time. This should be the goal. In my experience, some districts spend too little attention on leaders and leadership, fail to hold school leaders genuinely accountable, and utilize a management strategy of rearranging principals and AP’s instead of cleaning house when it is called for. When faced with someone who really should be shown the door, they occasionally promote to central office. Is this a plan for success?

    Teacher effectiveness is universally recognized as critical to student success. Why hasn’t the school leader, a.k.a. the principal, received the same attention?

  13. Barbara J. Finnan says:

    I stayed at Baltz for 23 of my 30+ years of teaching. All the “extra” years came before Baltz. At Baltz, I taught 5th Grade every year except for 2 when I ran the BEAR Room, a discipline/time-out room which I turned into a remedial instruction place, one year when I was the school coordinator for Response To Instruction (Does that state program still exist?), and one year, my last, teaching all 4th Graders ELA. I stayed at Baltz because that’s where I thought the need was greater and I could hopefully provide what needy students should have. I think I did provide exacting but effective instruction, mostly without the help of DoE, and with minimal help from my District. Our staff was extremely stable through many administrative changes, but the straws that broke the camels’ backs for many staff was mainly the last Principal who the district allowed to falsely accuse, target and otherwise make life miserable for anyone who objected to the lack of professionalism in e-mails, etc. For some reason, I was not subjected to this – which was a good thing for all. If education were not such a swamp, I’d still be in a classroom today – I constantly updated my teaching so no old fogey here – so far my health is good, and my brain seems to still function.

    Frederika has absolutely hit the nail on the head on every facet of the issues today. It’s just too bad that we can’t seem to get this out to the general public since the media is so profoundly skewed to Business – as if they’ve done so well!!!

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