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CMS Administrator, Teacher, And Parent Talk Pay-For-Performance

Andy Baxter, CMS Director of Pay for Performance on left; Ann Patterson, Dilworth Elementary parent; Jim Means, North Meck

Final installment in a three part series. It's easy to find someone who says the best teachers should be paid the most. The challenge is in how to decide if teachers are good or bad. CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman wants standardized tests to help make that determination. He wants a pay-for-performance system to take effect in two years. This week, WFAE has examined the work already underway and the work that remains in developing such a system. Today, we listen to a conversation. Three people visited our uptown studio to discuss pay-for-performance. Andy Baxter is the Pay-for-Perfmance director for CMS; Jim Means teaches civics and economics at North Meck High School, and parent Ann Patterson has a child who attends Dilworth Elementary. WFAE stayed out of their conversation. Here's an edited version of that discussion: BAXTER: We can't measure a lot of things that are affecting a student. We can't measure if the parents are going through a divorce, if a parent lost a job, or any number of things. But what we can measure are things that are related to that. So, for example, the biggest thing that we've got is what the student has scored in the past. So for a lot of people who maybe come from a rough home life or something, that's going to get picked up in their prior test scores, right? Like this isn't a new thing for them. Then you start to think about, 'Well, what if there was just a sudden disruption in the last year?' So that's why we have things like their number of absences, their number of discipline incidents. I'm not trying to tell you those are perfect measures, but those are things that we can observe. It's also possible as a student you just have a bad day or a good day. You could have a bad day. Your grandmother died over the weekend; it's on your mind. You're not going to score right. But if you're a teacher and you've got a lot of students you expect that the more students you have that the random things wash out. PATTERSON: Is that value-add measure going to be higher and easier to see in some schools that have a higher percentage of students who are being suspended, who do have a challenged life at home? BAXTER: Yeah, that's a good thought and that's a perception that in trying to level the playing field have you stacked the deck against schools that have a lot of students coming in who are well-prepared for the school year. And what I say is it doesn't seem to be the case. If we thought that it was stacked against we would expect that teachers whose students had been scoring lower would be high this year. And that's not what we find. MEANS: I love this district. I don't what to end up because you put so much pressure on teachers to arrive at this goal that at the end of the day, it really isn't about teaching, it's about: Do I get my paycheck? How do I get my paycheck? And what must I do to get that? BAXTER: I hear you. I hear you on that. I would just say that if we create a system where there's that much immense pressure on only one result, on the test, then we've already failed. We've failed the teachers and the students. We can't create something where that much is riding on only one measure. MEANS: We're going to have 52 tests, though, in our system, right? I mean we're going to test everything. BAXTER: Eventually. MEANS: You know it worries me that you take the fun out of education, you take the learning process out, that it's okay to be wrong. It's okay because you learn from your mistakes. BAXTER: Here's my thinking on it. I know that we're not approaching this as a way of saving money. I think there's a growing--it's too strong to call it a consensus--but a growing body of research that suggests your most economical way of helping kids learn is through the teachers, that a highly effective teacher can offset the loss of having two extra students in the classroom, for example. MEANS: Let's assume that your son or daughter, they take eight classes in high school and at the end of the year half those teachers do the value-added method and, of course, other measurements turn out to be ineffective. You've had four ineffective teachers. How would you recoup... would you get a chance to re-take classes because you had ineffective teachers? BAXTER: What you're describing is happening now. We're just not measuring it, right? It's not like there are no ineffective teachers until we measure it. They're out there and your kids have them. We just don't know it. Also, on the positive side, there's really effective teachers out there. You may know it as the parent, but no one else does, we don't learn from it, etc. What it does raise for me that is interesting for our community to look at is a new way of thinking about equity is not so much how many VCRs your library has verses mine, but do we have students who have gone three years and never had one of our most effective teachers. PATTERSON: What is the plan for the teachers who are proven to be ineffective through these measures? BAXTER: I think some people fear that this is all about firing teachers and that's not at all what the approach is. Some people say you should just fire your bottom 10 percent every year and then you'll get better. And that's not the way to run a school system. Our focus is not really... it's in helping every teacher improve. We're going to do everything we can. We have these multiple measures that we can say, "All right, here's what you're doing well. Here's what's not going so well." Our pledge is to do everything we can to help you get better, point you to professional development. If at the end of the day, after you've seen year, year, year of data and we've done everything we can and still you're not doing well on any of the measures. Then, there's nothing bad about the person, it just may be it's not a good fit as a career. MEANS: If my pay's going to be tied to my student performance, a lot of parents may get inconvenient phone calls during the day, during the evening, during the morning. And you may get multiple phone calls a week. Because if I told your student to do homework or I told your student to carry out a project and he didn't, I'm going to call home and I want to know why. Because my pay is tied to this and it may be more of an inconvenience for you than it is me, but then again at the end of the day my compensation is tied to this. But at the same time when I pass that kid on to the next grade at the 99th percentile, you've got your work cut out for you. On the flip side of the issue once again, what I have to hope for as a civics teacher is that maybe I get lucky and my kids coming in didn't have very good teachers before me and I could show a lot of growth. Because based upon their scores I would be able to show significant growth if they were weaker teachers. But if they were better teachers, I've got to be on my A-game now. I really have got to pull their scores up.