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Roundup of "merit pay" opinion

Written by Admin Friday, 19 October 2007 03:06

As the Times notes today, reaction so far on the city's new "merit pay" program has been mixed. The Times article talks to a cast of reformers, teachers, and former teachers who think the plan is interesting but may not be effective in the way the DOE hopes. For now, I'm going to turn now to what parents and teachers are saying online.

One parent leader told us he sees the agreement as a victory for the UFT because it reduces the retirement age, unheard of in any field. And the UFT's own blog, Edwize, is predictably thrilled about the agreement, saying, "The agreements create positive, pro-active programs that address two major issues which face our schools: attracting and retaining quality educators in our schools, and creating collaborative learning environments where teachers have real voice."

But other teachers are more skeptical about both of those claims. I've seen many comments expressing skepticism that teachers will actually influence the way the money is distributed given that the the principal and his or her appointee make up half of the four-member school-based committees. In the comments on Edwize, a teacher writes, "I sit on a few different 'committees in my school.' The meetings all follow the same formula. My principal tells us what she/he plans on doing and we get to nod approval."

NYC Educator
, who opposes the current UFT leadership in general, writes that teachers have paid twice for the change in pension structure, which the UFT indicated was on the horizon when the union's contract was signed in 2005, but only gotten it once. Some, such as Jim Horn on School Matters, have picked up on the line in the original Times article that said the plan would "allow [UFT head Randi] Weingarten, a potential candidate to lead the national American Federation of Teachers, to cast herself as a reform-minded union leader" to support their claims that the new deal is not necessarily good for teachers, even though it was negotiated by the woman charged with advocating for them.

And some teachers are simply speechless.

What do parents think? Again on Edwize, the head of ACORN's education committee, a parent, writes, "The plan isn’t merit pay. It’s $20 million for 200 of New York’s lowest performing schools." She also writes that the program is a "savvy investment" that will pay off big in terms of teacher retention for good teachers.

But NYC Public School Parents criticizes the plan's dependence on test scores as practically the only determinant of bonus eligibility, saying it will lead to corruption at the school level. The parents' blog also weighs in on the pension issue, noting that the agreement will give an incentive for the most experienced teachers to retire.

From the policy angle, it's a question whether the plan is actually a form of merit pay at all. Judging from the language in today's article, the Times appears to have concluded that it is not, drawing on merit pay proponent Eric Hanushek's quote in the Post, where he said, "This is just group rewards." (The Post and the Daily News, however, enthusiastically continue to call it a merit pay plan, leading NYC Educator to write sarcastically, "If the Post and the News both like it, it must be great for teachers.")

On the internet, big questions seem to be getting lost a little in the pitched discussion over contract details and philosophies of education. Will the plan make a difference in spreading good teachers across the city? Will it entice good teachers to move to low-performing schools? Will it make bad teachers leave the field? The folks quoted in the Times article think it's too soon to tell, but that the amount of money probably is not large enough to encourage teachers to change their place of work and quality of life. One reformer told the Times the biggest benefit is that the bonus plan "sends a signal that your performance, your effort, your talent, is recognized and rewarded in this industry."

Millon dollar ads say NYC schools are making progress

Written by Admin Thursday, 18 October 2007 15:24

I've spent so much time blogging and visiting schools that I haven't had much time to watch TV lately. But I've settled in for a Thursday evening of "Jeopardy!" and "Ugly Betty" and I just saw for the first time the Fund for Public Schools' ad touting the turnaround at Evander as proof of the DOE's improvement. It's a slick ad — part of a campaign called "Keep it Going NYC" — but as other bloggers have noted, it makes some questionable claims. Gotham Gazette's Wonkster has a roundup of opinion from the excellent Eduwonkette to Edwize to NYC Public School Parents. All of these blog say Evander's "turnaround" has less to do with leadership than with the fact that the types of students the building serves has changed, an outcome forewarned by a Parents for Inclusive Education report last year that highlighted new small high schools' failure to serve students with disabilities.

The Fund for Public Schools, which encourages private donations to the schools, is running several ads, all of which can be viewed on the fund's website. What do you think of them?

Today, I stayed home sick (somehow my back went out yesterday after a long School Leadership Team meeting), so I figured I'd be productive and write a post. A few days ago, I sent out my first college application so I am a little "college-on-the-brain"ed. It looks like other people are too.

In September, Deborah Bial, the founder of the Posse Foundation, won a MacArthur "genius grant" of $500,000. I have a lot of friends who are currently going through the Posse process and they are really working hard so that if they win they could end up at the one of the great schools that Posse is connected to. Posse is a pretty innovative way to encourage students from NYC to go to and succeed in college. Its strategy is sending students in groups, or posses, of about ten students to one college where they would be more comfortable and eager to continue because they come into the school with a built-in posse.

Another interesting strategy for getting kids to go to and succeed in college was announced last week.

Though controversial, the plan would give students up to $1,000 for scoring well on an Advanced Placement exam. As some of you may remember, my fellow students and I were a bit uncomfortable with Opportunity NYC; however, I'm kind of into this new plan.

Studies have shown that students who take AP courses are more likely to succeed in college. Then, you ask, why doesn't every student take AP courses? In my experience students refrain from taking AP courses for several reasons:

1) Their school doesn't offer the AP course they're interested in.
2) They have a time-consuming job and can't bear the extra work.
3) They don't see college as a real option.

Seems to me that this program could alleviate those problems. It could encourage schools to offer more AP courses through the extra funding they'd receive. It could make taking an AP course more accessible for students who need the money. And it could encourage more students to pursue a college education, now that they have some idea of what a college course looks like.

The reason I prefer this program to Opportunity NYC is that this uses the cash-for-kids formula to promote the idea of going to college and to give students the abilities to succeed. Even though both problems draw similar criticisms, I feel that Opportunity NYC was more of an end in itself and didn't work to promote future plans so much.

Do I contradict myself? Just a little? Okay then, I contradict myself. This is the New York City public school system. There's a lot going on.

Incident in Red Hook feeds fears about multi-age buildings

Written by Admin Thursday, 18 October 2007 07:47

I don't usually like to post about incidents at individual schools that only involve one kid. The Post and the Daily News get a lot of mileage out of stories where affronted parents and kids tell their tale, but you can never be sure whether their stories point out real flaws in their school, although undoubtedly they sometimes do. But today the Daily News is reporting that a 1st grader at Agnes Humphrey School for Leadership in Red Hook was bound with tape by two older students, who threatened to throw him down the stairs, and I think the situation deserves a little attention.

Adults intervened quickly, the child wasn't hurt, and one 9th grader was suspended for bullying and intimidation. The school has only recently expanded to include high school grades, and the mother says in the article, "Teenagers are going to be teenagers and they are going to be doing things that aren't appropriate for younger kids," reflecting the argument made by angry parents at other elementary schools where the DOE has tried to place middle and high schools. At most schools I've visited, kids in different school levels keep to themselves, but at Agnes Humphrey, these fears appear to have been borne out.

Also mentioned in the article: another older student was arrested "after becoming belligerent with authorities." Another downside of housing middle and high schools in the same building as elementary schools? Younger kids may be exposed to tensions between school safety agents and students.

PENCIL principals take to the schools today

Written by Admin Thursday, 18 October 2007 02:58

Many schools are in for a treat today -- it's PENCIL's 14th annual "Principal for a Day" event. The non-profit, whose expanded name is Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning, has since 1994 recruited business leaders and community leaders to spend part of the day in a public school. (By 1:30 p.m., participants will retire to Tavern on the Green for a celebratory luncheon.) Often, the Principal for a Day partnership becomes a long relationship that brings financial resources to schools. At Park East High School, for example, a former PENCIL principal for a day funded a new library, and at the New School for Arts and Sciences in the Bronx, the former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA paid for science labs. PENCIL now has imitators in other cities and even abroad.

The mayor has just announced a massive merit pay plan for the city's teachers. About 200 schools this year will be eligible for awards of up to $3,000 per teacher, with responsibility for distribution falling to school-based committees.

Corporate-minded education reformers have been promoting the idea of merit pay for teachers for years, but it hasn't gained too much traction because of opposition by teachers unions. Joel Klein hadn't been able to get a program in place here until now because of the UFT's opposition, but UFT president Randi Weingarten stood with the mayor at his press conference today, so I guess the issue has been hammered out.

All that's clear at this point is that New York City truly is the site of an educational experiment of enormous proportions and that Klein is a master at moving private funds into the public sector. We can only hope that the folks who belong to the Research Partnership for New York City Schools are able to isolate the effects of the many different incentives that are going into place to improve the performance of parents, teachers, and students. Good research could generate important information for school reformers everywhere.

UPDATE: The press release is up now at the city's website.

It's official: KGIA principal says she was forced out

Written by Admin Wednesday, 17 October 2007 08:44

Saying the job as principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy quickly turned from an "American dream" to an "American nightmare," Debbie Almontaser said at her press conference yesterday that she was forced to resign in August. As expected, she also announced that she is reapplying for the job now and also suing the DOE for violating her civil rights. The DOE isn't taking her application seriously; the press office issued a statement saying, "The chancellor agreed with [Almontaser's] decision, accepted her resignation, and now considers the matter closed.” Discussion is continuing in the comments on the Times' City Room blog coverage, and unfortunately, I'm guessing that those who agitated for Almontaser's ouster also feel they have more to say.

What's new at Insideschools

Written by Admin Wednesday, 17 October 2007 07:24

Insideschools has just posted a bunch of new pieces. As promised, we have a full account of AFC Director Kim Sweet's report to the Citywide Council on High Schools last week. We also have a primer for where to go in the reorganized DOE when you have specific problems; parent questions answered by Judy, our resident college counselor, and, for the first time, a school psychologist; and the first new reviews of the school year. Head on over to the home page for more. And be sure to check out your school's page, which we've now updated with School Support Organization and network leader information!

Uh oh. Recently departed DOE deputy chancellor Andres Alonso is having a tough time in his new home, Baltimore.

Only a couple of months into his term as CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools, Alonso has angered the teachers union by trying to get principals to require that they spent 45 minutes a week planning collaboratively with their colleagues. Sounds innocuous enough, but Baltimore teachers are working without a contract and aren't happy that Alonso is stripping them of precious planning time without their consent. Last week, teachers marched to call for Alonso's ouster.

Sounding very much like someone else we know, Alonso told teachers in August that one of his top priorities is to "devolve resources, autonomy and decision-making to schools" -- but he is also trying to expand the role of his office. It sounds like he is trying to collapse both phases of the recent reforms in New York into one but foundering without the unwavering support of a mayor who fully controls the schools.

Good luck to PSAT-takers!

Written by Admin Wednesday, 17 October 2007 03:32

Good luck to 10th and 11th graders, who are all taking the PSAT this morning, thanks to the DOE, which is paying for the test. The test is used to screen kids for the National Merit Scholarship Competition and is also a useful diagnostic to see how students can prepare for the SAT used for college admission. At last week's Citywide Council on High Schools meeting, one council member expressed concern that kids are taking the PSAT for no reason, and a high school superintendent said schools are getting more instruction this year about how to use PSAT scores to help kids beef up their skills before the higher-stakes SAT.