Three Flawed #edpolicy Assumptions that Every Parent Should Pay Attention To

In the past few months, the North Carolina legislature has pushed forward two bills (see here and here) designed to change the way that teachers are held accountable.

While the bills are different in a few important ways, they share a common trait:  Neither are likely to improve education — and both are likely to hurt kids — because they are built on three fundamentally flawed assumptions about what works in schools.

Here are those flawed assumptions:

Flawed Assumption #1: Competition is the Key to Improving Schools

Like many state legislatures, North Carolina is working to strip away contract protections from teachers and to replace them with alternatives that encourage competition between teachers for long-term contracts.

The Senate’s proposal, for example, makes it possible for principals to offer four-year contracts ONLY to the top 25% of teachers in their schools.  The rest of the teachers in any building will work on one-year, terminating contracts.

Competing for long-term contracts, argues Representative Bryan Holloway, will keep teachers “on their toes from the day they step into the classroom.”

Whether or not Holloway is right in assuming that there are large numbers of teachers who actually NEED a outside incentive to do their best on a year-to-year basis, encouraging teachers to compete against one another for contracts will literally kill collaboration between teachers in our schools.

Think about it:  If YOU identified instructional practices that were effective at helping students learn, would YOU share  them with your peers if you knew that sharing them with your peers might actually put YOUR own long-term employment in jeopardy?

My guess is that your answer is no.  Instead, you’d keep your best practices a closely guarded secret — and allow students in classrooms with less effective peers to languish.

How does THAT improve education?

Flawed Assumption #2: Teachers Can Be Motivated by Cash Incentives

The most bothersome suggestion in either bill put forth by the North Carolina Legislature is the Senate’s plan to offer $500 annual bonuses to teachers who place in the top 25% of any school’s teaching workforce.

Not only are $500 bonuses insulting — earning an extra $50 a month in a state where teaching salaries have been frozen for the past six years hardly seems like much of an incentive, y’all — legislators who push bonuses ignore the simple truth that few teachers report leaving the profession because of their salaries to begin with.

Instead, we leave the profession because we’re dissatisfied with our working conditions.  We’re just plain tired of bearing the brunt of the criticism for what’s wrong with education even though we have little control over what happens in our buildings.

Legislatures that REALLY wanted to keep accomplished individuals in the classroom would keep their bonuses and instead create the kinds of workplaces that any accomplished professional would be drawn to.

Flawed Assumption #3: Standardized Test Scores Provide Reliable Evidence of Accomplished Teaching

North Carolina’s proposals for changing the way that teachers are held accountable use standardized testing data as the tool for identifying the best educators.

Outside of the fact that just over 40% of school employees actually work in tested subjects — which means that either MOST educators WON’T be held accountable by these proposals or that students are going to start taking WAY more standardized tests — suggesting that multiple-choice exams can actually help schools to identify accomplished teachers ignores piles of evidence about the value of the tests that we are currently giving to our kids.

Need proof?

Consider the fact that 60% of the accomplished professionals — state legislators, business leaders, scientists — who recently took Rhode Island’s high-stakes graduation exam FAILED it.

Or consider the fact that a recent study out of Northwestern University shows that students who do well on standardized tests are rarely successful at the kinds of cognitive tasks that it takes to succeed in knowledge-driven workplaces.

Long story short:  Policies like those being pushed through the North Carolina legislature aren’t likely to improve education. 

They create isolated environments where best practices are protected instead of shared; they create incentives that won’t keep accomplished individuals in our classrooms; and they rely on evidence that does little to identify teachers who are actually preparing students who will succeed in tomorrow’s world.

Does this make sense to anyone OTHER than me?

#sheesh

_______________________

Related Radical Reads:

Value-Added Teacher Accountability Models Fail Kids AND Communities

What Every Parent Should Know about Merit Pay in Education

Nate Silver on Using Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers

  • Diana Beasley

    Legislative action

    As usual, Bill, you are right on all counts. Thanks for explaining what we all feel so eloquently 

    • billferriter

      Hey Princess Diana!

      Hey Diana, 

      Just wanted to let you know that I miss you!  I hope you’re well, that’s for sure.  

      We need to talk by phone, don’t you think?

      #withlove

      Bill

  • Mark Sass

    Flawed assumptions

    Spot on Bill,

    To build the professional capital needed to raise the profession, any attempt to isolate teachers through incentive programs will fail. What are your thoughts on moving away from individual teacher incentives to a school-wide incentive?

    Perhaps the great people of North Carolina should incentivize their politicians to try harder.   

  • Parry Graham

    Bill,

    Bill,

    What do you think about the possibility of administrators being able to grant multi-year contracts to any teacher? In other words, get rid of the idea of tenure, but have contracts available that lasted from one to five years. Based on teacher evaluations leading up to the contract renewal year, the administrator would grant contracts that varied in length based on the details of the evaluations (e.g., a teacher with a middling evaluation, based on a host of factors, might only get a one-year contract, whereas a teacher with a stellar evaluation would get a five-year contract, and then variations in-between)?

    Parry

    • billferriter

      A Bit Leery of Principal Only Evaluations. ..

      Parry asked:

      What do you think about the possibility of administrators being able to grant multi-year contracts to any teacher? In other words, get rid of the idea of tenure, but have contracts available that lasted from one to five years.

      – – – – – – –

      As a guy who had a HORRIBLE experience with a principal who was trying to railroad me out of a building, Parry — literally frightening stuff that involved multiple lies and forged evaluations — my first reaction was this scares the hell out of me.  

      There is still a TON of gray area in the way teachers are treated by principals — think the teacher that is intentionally assigned to a crappy position in order to get them to leave whether he is a legitimate dud or whether he just rubbed the prinicpal the wrong way — and that gray area could be abused.

      That being said, if we could incorporate MORE than just the principal’s opinion into the evaluation — maybe peer evaluations, parent surveys, student surveys, sample lessons etc — I’d be all for differing contract offers for different teachers.  Believe me, I’ve seen too many crappy teachers making more money than me for too long to be okay with the step-system of teacher compensation and evaluation.

      Any of this make sense?

      Bill

  • Wesley Fryer

    Preach on

    Yes, this makes complete sense. You have articulated these points which should be obvious (but are NOT for many legislators) very well. The next question is, how can we develop non-partisan coalitions (which need to transcend periodic shifts in who controls the statehouse) which can advance an alternative, constructive vision for educational improvement and reform instead of the damaging vision of NCLB/RTTT/High Stakes Accountability/Pay teachers based on student test scores model. I’d really like to amplify and contribute to that movement. We certainly need it here in Oklahoma.

    • billferriter

      It’s Raising Modern Learners, Wes…

      Wes wrote:

      The next question is, how can we develop non-partisan coalitions (which need to transcend periodic shifts in who controls the statehouse) which can advance an alternative, constructive vision for educational improvement and reform instead of the damaging vision of NCLB/RTTT/High Stakes Accountability/Pay teachers based on student test scores model.

      – – – – – – – – – – –

      First, thanks for stopping by Wes!  You’ve been an inspiration to me for a long time, so to see you in my space is pretty darn cool.

      Second, don’t you think Will’s new project — Raising Modern Learners (http://raisingmodernlearners.com/) — is the starting point that we’re looking for?  The notion is that if we can give parents a better view for what good teaching and learning is supposed to look like, THEY will start to demand something better than we currently have.

      That resonates with me.  Ain’t no one in any conservative legislature going to listen to us practitioners.  They think we’re complaining and trying to avoid accountability no matter how right we are. 

      But once parents know what to ask for, they’ll demand something better for their kids, won’t they?

      #fingerscrossed

      Bill

       

  • Dale Cole

    Most Impressive

    Great post, Bill, as always.  These are some of the exact messages I plan to preach over the next year as the NC Principal of the Year at state board meetings and with NC  General Assembly members, whenever I can track them down.  I have been following you for several years on my Google Reader.  Feel free to follow me @DaleColeNCPOY or on my WordPress blog over the next year.  I am leaving for an Ed trip to China tomorrow where I will be visiting three different schools.  Should be fun and I will try to post from Twitter while there.  Keep up the fight with me!