Monday, September 10, 2007

Merit Pay

My AP has been berating all us old timers, telling us constantly that the young teachers are the only ones who never have discipline problems. In fact, one of the young teachers (brand new) took over a class mid year from a teacher going on sabbatical last year. The teacher had lots of problems with the class she left. My AP has been going on non stop about how this young teacher had such control, you could hear a pin drop in her room. Today we learned the secret to her success. HE REMOVED ALL THE TROUBLE MAKERS AND LEFT HER WITH THE NICE, QUIET ONES! Too bad he won't share this recipe for success with the rest of us.

We had a teacher in my department a few years ago who had the best regents results around. The reason???? Any kid failing was removed from her class. That would explain other teacher's poor results.

And thus we see the reason that merit pay will never work in the city of New York.


X said...

How does one obtain this magical ability to have students removed? Not that I'd really, truly want it...but it'd be handy in an emergency.

mathmom said...

I suspect that merit pay is tricky anywhere. There are often good reasons to not necessarily evenly distribute the strongest or weakest or most problematic students, and in some cases this may also be dictated by scheduling realities. I can't really think of a way that one could reliably and objectively evaluate a teacher's "merit".

I've just recently discovered your blog, by the way, and have been enjoying reading it.

Pissedoffteacher said...

X, I wish I knew the answer. I've never been able to get a kid removed from my class. Some people are special, I guess.

Mathmom, thanks. I've been reading your blog for a while.

17 (really 15) more years said...

I hate to say it, but when I see the treatment incompetent staff gets, I only have one response- "shit floats". Don't you love it when the most incompetent people get the cushiest jobs?

Anonymous said...

This is true even on the elementary level. The principal used to let teachers do reorganization, now she does it. And like magic some of the best kids go to her favorites. There was a time when classes were reorganized evenly. Not under her regime.

Anonymous said...

People who snitch on others and write letters to investigators also get their rewards. In spite of being exonerated of any wrongdoing, the people written about lose their coveted positions and it goes to the snake-in-the-grass snitch. Evil is good in BloomKleinGartenspeak.

Mrs. T said...

Don't get me started on merit pay....

Catherine Johnson said...


Offhand, it seems to me that a value-added criterion would (or could) make merit pay work.

(I do think that any system can be gamed if administrators want to do it.)

Every student in the class needs to make at least one year's progress starting from where he or she started.

As I understand the research, we are finding teachers who routinely produce only half a year's gains in students; we are also finding teachers who routinely produce, I believe, 2 years progress in one year -- and we're talking about the exact same student.

If "Jane" makes 6 months progress in Teacher A's class, then, the next year, makes 12 months progress in Teacher B's class, Teacher B is presumably a more effective teacher.

I'm thinking....if you want to punish a teacher you don't like.... can you get around this system?

I suppose you could deliberately stack his/her class with the students as far apart as possible in scores.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm curious about this "young teachers do great" idea.

I live in Westchester County, in a district where school funding is $22,000 per pupil.

In times gone by, the district interviewed and hired only teachers with experience and proven track records in other districts.

Now we won't even speak to these people, and our baby boomers are retiring. We do nothing to persuade them to stay on.


* we don't seek ways to keep expert teachers on staff (reducing teaching load, giving them formal positions as teacher trainers, or just working out a way for them to teach half-time, etc.)

* we don't scout or recruit expert teachers from other districts

* we refuse even to interview expert teachers (I know of one case in particular)

* if we do make an offer to a veteran teacher, we tell that person he will have to take a pay cut down to a 5th year salary (I've spoken to the math teacher who was made this "offer")

* we hire only brand new young teachers straight out of ed school, or with no more than 5 years of teaching experience. SPED hires can differ, and we do hire some career changers who are older, but still new to teaching.

Over the summer, in August, the superintendent summoned two of the few veteran teachers we have left in the district, one a superb high school Spanish teacher, the other a superb middle school Spanish teacher, and told them they were switching jobs. The high school teacher is devastated; the union is involved; 163 students wrote letters asking the district not to go through with this, etc.

Now I read that in NYC young teachers are having boisterous kids pulled out of their classes, while middle-aged teachers are being admonished for not maintaining classroom discipline.

Are you too expensive for NYC?

Are administrators trying to move the older teachers out before their time?

Speaking as a parent, this situation is a nightmare. Parents here are almost all middle-aged themselves; the new young teachers we hire have no mentors and no idea how to relate to a parent who's old enough to be their parent, too.

And they are simply not as good as the teachers who are leaving.

That's another thing.

No one starts out as an expert. It takes 10 years to develop high-level expertise.

Nearly all of our very young teachers get tenure, whether they're good at teaching or not.

The ones who aren't good will stay.

But many of the ones who are good now, and who will be getting better as they gain more experience, will leave.

From where I sit, my extremely well-funded district is systematically lowering the quality of our teaching force.

Catherine Johnson said...

Sorry to take up so much of your Comment space, but one more thing...

I think many people would be shocked to learn what goes on inside affluent districts.

We pay massive property taxes; I'm spending myself into the ground supporting my own school. In fact, I basically feel I've been taxed out of my house. We're going to need to move.

Teachers here earn 6-figure salaries, with pensions and health care for life, and more than a few are charging parents $80 to $100/hour to tutor their kids.

This isn't tutoring for "enrichment."

Many, many kids here, with every advantage in the world, are struggling.

What does my district do when a student is struggling?

Refers the parent to a district teacher who will tutor.

I've exchanged emails with one parent, a research scientist at a major university, who is paying something like $45,000/yr property tax and spending $10,000/yr for tutoring on top of that.

For awhile there, teachers were doing their tutoring gigs in the school building. They didn't even have to drive to the client's house.

Only 25% of the 8th grade class takes Math A, and the school's goal has been to lower that number, not raise it.

I could go on (and on and on), but I'll rein it in.



I see in another of your post a reference to Principal Suit advising a friend of yours to quiet you down.

What a coincidence!

I've had the same advice from the administration of my own school.


Let me add that we do have many terrific teachers.

But it often seems that they are terrific in spite of the school, not because of it.

I don't get any sense that the current administration values excellent teachers.

Pissedoffteacher said...

Catherine, thanks for all your comments. I agree with you that some teachers are more effective than others, there is just no way to honesty measure it, at least in my school, not with all the games they play. My AP does not like one of the teachers in my department that happens to be excellent. She tutors late (no charge to anyone) and goes out of her way for all her students. Yet, as far as he is concerned, she doesn nothing right.

As for your comments about senior teachers, I do feel we are being harrassed out. Why keep us when the principal can keep the same budget and get two babies for what he pays us. And the babies will do everything he wants, without question. School is being treated as a business and the kids are beingleft behind.

Catherine Johnson said...

OK, I have the answer to merit pay in NYC.

Ed (my husband) just got home. He talked to a former teacher today (I think she's working on a Ph.D.).

She taught at KIPP (loved it!) and in public schools in Atlanta.

In Atlanta, pay is now pegged to performance -- though not to the specific teacher's performance, but, rather to the principal's performance.

There was HUGE cheating. Huge, widespread, vast.

She was written up for insubordination TWICE because she refused to cheat. Before every state test the principal would call her into the office & tell her to be sure to give the kids codes so they would know which answer to pick.

Dealing with public education, our family motto has become, "It's always worse than you think."

Catherine Johnson said...

there is just no way to honesty measure it, at least in my school, not with all the games they play

As desperate as I am to believe we could pay good teachers better than bad or mediocre teachers, I'm going to have to take your word for it.

I carry on thinking that there has to be a way, but the history of school "reform" doesn't give me much reason to hope.

Here in my district, I'm one of the agitators, and while we've made some headway, what you see is progress or reform immediately subverted.

A recent example: I'll skip the details, but the issue was the district's refusal to listen to parents or members of the community with expertise.

We managed to hammer that point now a citizen's oversight committee has been set up to oversee the fields project. (The bond was voted down; that caused the district to make some reforms.)

Last night my husband found out that two of the activist parents volunteered to serve on the oversight committee and received rejection letters in the mail telling them they weren't "qualified."

So now, thanks to our efforts to improve district practice, we have the district evaluating parents expertise.

Not surprisingly, one of the parents receiving this letter has overseen major commercial development....

What are the odds that we'll keep pushing, pushing, pushing --- and end up with worse?

Catherine Johnson said...

don't answer that!

Catherine Johnson said...

And like magic some of the best kids go to her favorites. There was a time when classes were reorganized evenly. Not under her regime.

I can't tell you how furious this kind of thing makes parents.

Catherine Johnson said...

In my district there are parents living in active fear that "the school will hurt my child."

When I began to criticize district policy and practices publicly, one parent said to me, and this is a direct quote, "The district will crush you. They'll hurt your child."

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm told, too, that parents in K-5 believe that if they complain their children will be put in the bad teachers' classes.

Catherine Johnson said...

Here's a question.

Would it help to have parent evaluations be made part of a merit pay arrangement?

Now, it's true that parents like teachers who give As.....but I've been a parent for a very long time now, and I don't think I've ever found the "parent consensus" to be flat wrong.

My experience has been that parents know who the good teachers are.

Would this be out of the question for your parent population?

Catherine Johnson said...

And the babies will do everything he wants, without question.

I'm glad to hear you say this. (Well, not glad.)

This is exactly what parents suspect.

Pissedoffteacher said...

In my district there are parents living in active fear that "the school will hurt my child."

That has happened in my school. A few years ago we had a mom of learning disables twins who made herself quite known to the principal, fighting for what was right for her kids. The principal refused to talk to her, refused to take her calls and refused to sign paper for her kids to have extended time on SAT. (She had to get the parent-coordinator to get the signature for her.)

As for the years growth, I've had seniors that could not count past 100 and didn't know multiplication tables. I can't believe every teacher they ever had was terrible. Then there is the prejudice issue from principals. Last year the PTA of my school gave me The Heart Award. I had been nominated before, but he blocked it every step of the way because he doesn't like me. He tried to do it again this year, but they outsmarted him and he couldn't say no. If he wouldn't give me a little plaque, he would never give me money, no matter how mufch I deserved it. Each week, he commends teachers that do things like collect lunch forms or pick up paper on the floor. He never once commended my award. I would not like to work for a system that gave him monetary power over me.

proofoflife said...

Dear Pissed, You are not alone! Although I work through my lunch ,and hardly have sat down once this year.. if it was up to my principal I think I would be in potters field! I am ever so curious as to how parents would be involved in the merit pay system too! In my building they walk in and curse us out. Yes indeed , those teachers that lower the standards and pass the children (whose parents don't ever check homework) might just be in line for extra pay. Merit pay for teachers and for students is a very tricky prospect!