Archives for category: Merit pay

Mercedes Schneider continúes her close reading of the Senate reauthorization bill, crafted by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patti Murray. This is part three. The others are linked inside her post.


You will find this an interesting post. You will see that the bill penalizes states that cut their education budget by more than 10%; that it allows but doesn’t mandate merit pay; that it includes a big loophole for Teach for America; and much more.


Mercedes is going through this bill line-by-line. Members of Congress would learn much by reading her reports.

Jersey Jazzman calls out journalist Jon Chait for being against political correctness except when it serves his purpose.

It seems Chait was deeply offended when I said that former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is no educational expert. Her campaign to eliminate teacher tenure won’t improve education, I dared to say. We might, as a test case, compare the academic performance of states that have tenure with states that don’t, but that involves a rudimentary knowledge of actual research.

It is highly offensive to those bashing teachers to suggest that their campaign to remove teacher tenure and to provide merit pay has no evidence behind it and is illogical. They don’t like it when you point out that VAM sounds good but doesn’t work. If they read the statement of the American Statistical Association, they would be informed, but that requires research, or if you open the link, reading.

Remember the post called “Two Bonuses”? It actually described three bonuses: one went to Mercedes Schneider, who received a bonus of $427.76 after she was rated a “highly effective teacher”; she gave her bonus away to a friend raising an autistic child. The second bonus went to a charter school teacher who raised scores by 88%; her bonus was $43,000! The third bonus went to a kindergarten teacher at the same charter school who had raised scores even more, but her bonus was $4,086 because her class’s scores did not “count” toward state ratings. The kindergarten scores went  up by 165%! The teacher was Ashleigh Pelafigue.


Of course, the bonus plan is completely unsustainable because it is funded by a one-time federal grant of $2.3 million that went to a charter chain called New Beginnings with four schools.


I learned from a comment left on the post that Ashleigh Pelafigue, who had the highest gains in the school (not sure how kindergarten children were tested!), was fired. She now teaches in a public school.


And then Ashleigh herself wrote a comment on the blog:


I AM the (former) kindergarten teacher referenced in this story and the above comment about me is true [that she was fired]. As far as teacher to pupil ratios, never did I have a class of less than 25 students. I also had no aide or interventionist to pull my students. My students were not serviced for special needs nor were they appropriately designated for ESL. Despite countless hours of hard work, hours upon hours of self-directed professional development, and even continuing my own education to ensure I was providing the most up-to-date instructional strategies, it is true, I was fired without just cause, with no warning, and given only hours to clean out my classroom. My email was wiped out within three hours of receiving my termination letter and I was denied the bonus that I had earned because I was not returning to the school. I was not actively looking for a new job; completely blindsided does not even accurately express my shock. As the above comment states I did in fact find employment in a new parish, only three days after being terminated. I applied, was interviewed and hired in a matter of 24 hours. My resume and data speaks for itself.I have never been happier. Although the situation I was dealt was wrong and disgraceful to the New Beginnings Charter School Network, it was the best thing they ever did for me. An adequate bonus would have been nice, a word of thanks or gratitude would have been appreciated, but letting me go opened my eyes. I would have faithfully gone down with a sinking ship. Instead, I am flourishing and becoming even better in a supportive, appreciative and engaging environment that is well on its way to becoming an A school and leading the way to our parish’s continued success.



Mercedes Schneider was rated a “highly effective” teacher. She received a bonus of $427. 76. She gave it to a friend who is raising an autistic child.

A fourth-grade teacher at Pierre Capdeau Charter School in Louisiana got a bonus of $43,000 for raising her students’ test scores by 88%. The bonus is about 75% of her annual salary. A kindergarten teacher got even larger gains but her bonus was only $4,086 because the kindergarten scores don’t count for the state rankings.

The school is rated a D by the state. Last year it was graded D-.

Peter Greene, in his incisive and typically humorous style, explains here why performance incentives don’t work in the public sector.


He offers as one example the case of fire fighters. Imagine if they were paid based on how many fires they extinguished, and how much money was saved as a result of their doing so.


We have always paid public servants a flat fee, untethered to any sort of “performance measures.” That’s because we want public service to be completely disconnected from any private interests. (And if you just thought, “Damn, this is a long post,” you can get the basic point here and decide if you want to travel down the whole web of alleys with me.)

Fighting Fire with Money

Imagine if, for instance, we paid fire fighters on sliding scale, based on how many of which type fires they put out at a certain speed. This would be disastrous for many reasons.


Fire fighters would refuse to work in cities where there were few fires to fight, because they couldn’t make a living. In cities where there were commonly multiple fires, fire fighters would look at each fire call through a lens of “What’s in it for me?”


For instance, in a system where fire fighters were paid based on the value of the flame-besieged property, fire fighters might view some small building fires as Not Worth the Trouble. Why bother traveling to the other side of the tracks? It’s only a hundred-dollar blaze, anyway. Let’s wait till something breaks out up in the million-dollar neighborhood.


In the worst-case scenario, one of our fire fighters depending on performance-based pay to feed his family may be tempted to grab some matches and go fire up some business.


He writes, later in the post:


It makes business-oriented reformy types crazy that the way I do my job doesn’t make any difference to my pay. I understand the terror for them there, but that Not Making A Difference is actually the point of how we pay public servants.

It doesn’t matter it’s a big fire or a small fire, a rich person’s house or a poor person’s house– the fire department still does their job. It doesn’t matter whether I have a classroom full of bright students or slow students, rich students or poor students, ambitious students or lazy students– I will still show up and do my job the best I know how. I should never, ever, ever have to look at a class roster or a set of test results or a practice quiz and think, “Dammit, these kids are going to keep me from making my house payment next month.”


Why I Won’t Suck


Reformsters are sure that human beings must be motivated by threats and rewards, and that the lack of threats and rewards means that I can too easily choose to do a crappy job, because it won’t make any difference. They are wrong. Here’s why.


1) I knew the gig when I started. I knew I would not get rich, not be powerful, not have a chance to rise to some position of prominence. There was no reason to enter teaching in the first except a desire to do right by the students.


2) Teaching is too hard to do half-assed. Do a consistently lousy job, and the students will eat you alive and dragging yourself out of bed every day will be too damn much. There isn’t enough money to keep people flailing badly in a classroom for a lifetime. Just ask all the TFA dropouts who said, “Damn! This is hella hard!” and left the classroom.
And Most Importantly


Threats and rewards do not make people better public servants (nor have I ever seen a lick of research that suggests otherwise, but feel free to review this oft-linked video re: motivation). Threats and rewards interfere with people’s ability to get their job done. Threats and rewards motivate people to game the system.


And any time you have a complex system being measured with simple instruments, you have a system that is ripe for gaming. In fact, if your measures are bad enough (looking at you, high stakes tests and VAM), your system can only be successfully operated by gaming it.


Greene explains his case so clearly that even a child can understand why performance pay creates perverse incentives. (As Krazy TA, a regular reader is sure to say, quoting Groucho Marx, “please send for a child.”)



This is a newsletter from Australia, written by Phil Cullen in a blog called The Treehorn Express.

Treehorn Express

Facts About Australian Schooling

Schooling in Australia is a state responsibility. Each state, however, relies on the distribution of money collected from its citizens by the commonwealth government, which then places conditions on the way the money must be spent by the states. It is a strange relationship. Because this arrangement locates exceptional power in the centre, the federal minister for education assumes full responsibility for all levels of schooling; and this allows the incumbent political party to determine aspects of schooling, some of which might be at odds with a state’s notions. :”There has been concern at the political level over the intrusion of the Commonwealth government and Commonwealth agencies into the field of education, traditionally and constitutionally a State responsibility. Some of these enterprises appeared to have a philosophical basis different from that underlying State activities in education” [M.J.Ahern Q, Hansard 04-04-78] . Such differences depend a great deal on the federal minister’s view of schooling. Few state ministers ever disagree and things runs smoothest when both governments share the same political ideology. The federal minister possesses enormous personal power and is allowed to indulge his or her will – from the sublime to the ridiculous – without reference. No state has reclaimed its right to supervise the curriculum requirements of schooling since the drastic changes to schooling in Australia in 2008, for instance; so the federal minster can do as he or she likes e.g introduce a high stakes testing regime or call for a curriculum review or whatever is part of a personal fancy. The state ministers have yet to test the limits of their own power over schooling in their own state.

SCHOOLS Children can attend a public state school for twelve years, free of charge. If they have rich or frugal parents, they can attend a private school at high cost. There is little difference, if any, in quality.
School years operate according to the calendar year, and promotion is year by year from Year 1 to Year 12.
Most children sit still in classrooms for twelve years or more. In some schools, the children must all face the same way for most of each school day. This benefits the sermonising teaching tactics required to practise for the annual testing program.

AGE Children can start school at age five, even though they need not do so. Many prefer to wait for sound reasons. In some states they may attend when as young as four and a half. Laws of compulsory education differ in each state, so the age of admission differs and causes disruption to people who change states, but there is little interest in stabilizing national ages of schooling,

TESTING & CURRICULUM The present-day written curriculum is over-burdensome. It’s huge. Any additions would be insane. Despite its extent, only certain aspects of literacy and numeracy need be taught. These are tested each year – Years 3,5,,7,9 – using a cold heatless format – in May. Results are available some months later, but there are moves to provide the tests quicker, more often, electronically. This testucating ideology is aimed at bringing each child up to the exact same standard on the exact same day….nothing more, nothing less. The tests have little relevance to the intellectual development of children, but they are handy for descriptive purposes by those who know only a little bit about classroom practices and nothing about the effects of testing on child development.

Since most schools are not trusted to describe a pupil’s suitability for his or her career opportunities or have its own evaluation and reporting program, intense testing is also undertaken towards the end of Year 12. A certificate is issued to school graduates, purporting to describe the level of competency in school subjects undertaken; and employers interpret them as best they can. If employers wish to know about the more essential qualities required, they have to make their own arrangements.

SYLLABUS LEVELS A curriculum usually refers to the learning entitlements of children when they attend school. A syllabus details requirements for pupils to reach curriculum goals. Australia has three levels of syllabus requirements according to the prevailing schooling ideology. The tri-level system introduced to Australia in 2008 distinguishes the requirements: 1. Testable aspects of literacy and numeracy are high level. Schools need only teach these, to be regarded as a ‘good’ school. Nothing else needs to be taught. 2. Mid-level interest can be taken in science, history, geography, social studies according to the level of pressure by people in authority. 3. Music and Art and similar airy-fairy subjects don’t count very much. They take time from test preparation. They command some attention on special occasions; and the results are usually spectacular.

‘STUDENTS’ Children at school are described as ‘students’, because the term has no relationship to schooling per se. It’s a safe description. It infers that children at school don’t have to be taught. They study. More serious authorities [e.g. Britain] describe all school attenders as ‘pupils’, using the O.E.D. meaning that suggests learning at a school involves the use of teachers. Although pupilling involves a teaching/learning contract between two people, Australia prefers the United States descriptor of ‘student’ because it follows the U.S. in all things as blindly as possible; especially schooling arrangements. The word doesn’t mean anything special.

PRIVATE or PUBLIC There are differing opinions as to quality of offerings. Australia has joined the U.S. in the press for the privatisation of schooling despite the high quality education by public schools. A private school can be a very profitable business and Australia’s ruling governments in recent times have been controlled by the neoliberalist philosophy of privatisation. People tend to believe that private and systemic schools are better, despite the results from various scrutinies. Many see NAPLAN tests as an admission ticket to the ‘best’ private or select school. Indeed some such schools, whose notions of pupilling is limited, ‘brand’ their intakes for streaming purposes using test scores. The brands last forever. But………

Nice people go to private schools. Some public schools contain a lot of foreigners, some of whom are Muslims.

HOME SCHOOLING is permitted, albeit grudgingly. A worthy alternative to institutionalised forms of instruction, it is becoming very popular with parents who are able to do so and who enjoy sharing their children’s educational development within a family setting. Such parents disapprove of test-driven forms of schooling, threatening their children’s welfare. Some use reliable diagnostic tests as required when required. While little state assistance is offered to these home-based forms of pupilling in a pure form, local coteries of home schoolers in various localities share teaching experiences, learning enterprises and shared evaluation techniques.


1.The printing and sale of Practice Tests and associated texts is now in the multi-million dollar range. Schools prescribe them even though their popularity is a reflection on the profession; and parents use them extensively at home or on holidays. 2. The rise in the number of ‘back-yard mechanics’ aka tutoring shops that concentrate on NAPLAN tests, has been quite staggering. A quick google will indicate the extent. Costs range from $20 to $50 per hour. 3. The use of pharmaceutical supplements to enhance performance is not disallowed nor discouraged by education authorities. While the rugby league and Australian football authorities have taken this matter seriously, no warnings or cautions have ever been provided to the public by educational jurisdictions. Neither has the extent of the use nor the side effects of such usage been researched extensively. Medical assistance for those children who are in distress, vomit and become emotionally ill or cannot sleep during the preparation period is, of course on the increase as part and parcel of the testing industry. Sadly, it would appear that child health and social welfare is at a low level of interest to the various state authorities while testing resides within..

MAJOR CONTEMPORARY ISSUES The dramatic changes to schooling in 2008, when these testing devices were introduced to control the curriculum, have caused wide rifts in professional conversations. The gulf between what is now called the ‘testucation’ community and the ‘education’ one is wide. As with most macabre political issues, the gap will slowly close. and this repulsive use of Standardised Blanket Testing to mould children according to a one-size-fits-all pattern. using tactics that run counter to all the sacred beliefs of caring for kids, should disappear. Its disappearance needs encouragement.

The belittlement of teachers has never been been so high. The blame for the muck-up in the 2014 NAPLAN writing test was said to be theirs. Their over-zealous practising disposed the testucating hierarchy to try to ‘catch’ them by requiring a most peculiar response to a weird question…..and their attempts rebounded.
Small wonder there is a heavy resignation rate. Those who continue to teach in the face of extreme unethical behaviour are surely amongst the greatest of all times; producing such quality all-round products in the face of the requirements of test tyrants and muddled, muffled political deviants.

That’s Australian schooling…… girt by political unscrupulousness in a sea of arrested intellectual development. It’s been so for six years now. Time to stop the rot. The damage has been too costly for our future.

OUR FUTURE Our present schooling system is clearly a product of our obsession with all things American. Australia seems to be compelled to copy quasi-educational. unsubstantiated Yank gimmickry that usually ends up in disaster. High-stakes testing, charter schools, performance pay, core curriculum, common core syllabuses and serious judgements made on unreliable testing procedures are features of this American/Australian system. Australian classroom-experienced teachers have the capacity to design a system, uninfluenced and unsupervised by the testing fraternity, that will establish a high-level learning culture based on love of learning, instead of on a fear of it. Encouragement to learn can easily replace the fear-of-failure syndrome now dominating our classrooms. Our future depends of the freedom to learn. It needs to be released from bondage before any progress can be made.
Phil Cullen [….in support of a fair-dinkum, no-nonsense,kid-oriented Australia] 41 Cominan Avenue, Banora Point Australia 2486 07 554 6443


The Guardian of London has an excellent article that explains why payment by results always fails. The article is based on a study that the article links to.

Two examples of payment by results in the current “education reform” strategy that is promoted by the Obama administration: basing teacher evaluation on test scores and merit pay.

The article calls payment by results in “dangerous idiocy” and explains why:

“Payment by results is a simple idea: people and organisations should only get paid for what they deliver. Who could argue with that? If your job is to get people back to work, then find them a job dammit.

“Plenty of people working in local government and public services are already starting to realise this is nonsense, and a pernicious, damaging nonsense at that. The evidence is very clear: if you pay (or otherwise manage performance) based on a set of pre-defined results, it creates poorer services for those most in need. It is the vulnerable, the marginalised, the disadvantaged who suffer most from payment by results.

“Here’s why: payment by results does not reward organisations for supporting people to achieve what they need; it rewards organisations for producing data about targets; it rewards organisations for the fictions their staff are able to invent about what they have achieved; it pays people for porkies.

“We know that common things happen when people use payment by results, and other outcomes-based performance management systems. There have been numerous studies that show that such systems distort organisational priorities and make organisations focus on doing the wrong things – and they make people lie.

“This lying takes all sorts of different forms. Some of them are subtle forms of deception: teachers who teach to the test or who only enter pupils for exams they know they are going to pass; employment support that helps only those likely to get a job and ignores those most in need; or hospitals that reclassify trolleys as beds, and keep people waiting in ambulances on the hospital doorstep until they know they can be seen within a target time. In the literature, this is known as gaming the system…..

“Sadly, the distortion of practice by payment by results doesn’t just stop with managers. The evidence shows that it also undermines the practice of frontline workers. It turns the relationship between support worker and client upside down. When payment-by-results practices are introduced, workers who used to ask their clients “How can I help you to achieve what you need?” instead think “How can you help me to produce the data I need?”

The article was written by Toby Lowe, a visiting fellow at Newcastle University business school and chief executive of Helix Arts, a charity that transforms lives through art. He is collecting stories from people who have been forced to lie by payment for results. you can reach him at Twitter: @tobyjlowe

EduShyster’s guest blogger Patrick Hayes, a fifth-grade teacher from Charleston, South Carolina, asks a simple question: “If you could ask Arne Duncan just one question what would it be?”

Try this one: “what would you get Bill gates for Boss’s Day? The man has everything.”

But he actually has a bunch more questions, which Duncan can answer with pre-packaged non-responsive answers.

Like: why do you push states to adopt value-added measurement, when your own department shows it has a failure rate of 36%?

Or, why do you promote merit pay, when it has failed everywhere?

Or, why do you keep bragging about Tennessee and D.C. when the other 11 states “using the same playbook… had below-average, flat, or negative growth?”

Lots more good questions to ask Arne, but Patrick does give us the answer to his first question:

“So Arne…whaddya’ get Bill Gates for Boss’s Day? Maybe you could ask your chief of staff and deputy secretary.

They used to work for him.”

Patrick, by the way, is the Director of EdFirstSC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group working to empower people who care about public schools. If you live in South Carolina or care about it, join EdFirstSC.

Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher in Florida, received a bonus of $400. She donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the failed ideas of corporate reform, which prevail in her state.

She is the second teacher to donate their bonus to NPE to fight fake reforms that demean teachers and distort education. Not long ago, Kevin Strang, an instrumental music teacher from Florida, donated his $800 bonus, awarded because he teaches in a school that was rated A.

On behalf of NPE, we thank Kim and Kevin. We hope other teachers will follow their lead. We pledge to fight for you and to advance the day when non-educators and politicians stop meddling with your work and let you teach.

I asked Kim to tell me why she decided to do this. This was her reply:

“Hi Diane,

“Yes, I donated $400. I am a first grade teacher in Alachua County, Florida. I was inspired by Kevin Strang’s donation last month. I, too, received bonus money, not because I work at an “A” school, but because my school’s grade went from a “D” to a “C.”

“Here’s the catch: I don’t teach at the school that determines my school’s grade. I teach at Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, which only serves grades K-2. My school’s grade is determined by students at the grade 3-5 school up the road.

“I have only been working at Irby Elementary for three years, so I have never met–never even passed in the hall–the fourth and fifth grade students whose FCAT scores determined my school’s grade. Even if I had, I completely disagree with high-stakes testing and tying teachers’ bonuses, salaries, and evaluations to those scores. I am donating my bonus money to NPE because I am fighting the failed policies of education “reformers” in every way that I can. Thank you for providing me an avenue through which to do that!

“Here is some background information on me. I am the Florida teacher that received an unsatisfactory evaluation based on students I had never taught at the same time I was named my school’s teacher of the year. My story made it into Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet.

I am also the lead plaintiff in Florida Education Association/NEA’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAM.

With deep appreciation and respect,

Kim Cook

One of our Marion’s leading experts on teacher evaluation, Audrey Amrein Beardsley, here evaluates Michelle Rhee’s efforts to promote her failed ideas in South Carolina.

Rhee trots out her familiar rhetoric about bad teachers and failing schools in one of the nation’s poorest states, urging them to buy her snake oil. Will they buy? Or will they do some research?


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