Monday, April 18, 2016

Another Teacher Incentive Fund Failure

The Teacher Incentive Fund is transitioned from the US Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education over to the Office of Innovation and Improvement (right next door to the Office of Silly Bureaucratic Nomenclature); the program is supposed to provide "funding for projects that develop and implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need schools."

So, yes-- under the current administration we have an official Merit Pay Department. And another one of its programs just bit the dust.

It has been three years since TIF dropped a $23.7 million grant on the Charleston County School District, where it became the Bridge program. That failure in branding should have been a sign right off the bat ("bridge" is both generic, and already used in educational contexts such as the "bridge year").

After three years, the merit pay program has resulted in-- well, I don't want to say "nothing" because the program has produced results. They're just all negative.

The Charleston schools that were used to pilot the program saw an increase in teacher turnover. Surveys that the merit incentives hurt morale and inspired nobody. And this is absolutely jaw-dropping--- the district has spent about half the grant, aka around $11.8 million, and the amount of that money that actually reached a classroom teacher was $614,000. That's 5%. Five. Per. Cent.

Where the heck did the money go? Consultants and bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, the big fat super-motivating bonuses for teachers? Anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000. Which simply adds insult to insult.

Because merit "rewards" for improved student test scores are insulting. In fact, it's impressive how many different ways such a program can insult teachers. Here are the insults packed into this sort of ridiculous program:

1) Hey, teachers! We know your students are getting low test scores because you just don't care. You went into teaching for the money, not because you give a rat's rear about educating students, and you've just been holding back all these years, refusing to do your job until someone bribed you. Well, here's your bribe.

2) You are probably too stupid to know the difference between actual student achievement and just racking up a few more points on a crappy standardized test.

3) Not only do you need to be bribed to do your job, but you can be bought really cheap.

The Charleston district has read the writing on the wall. This is one of those grants that lasts for only a few years, with the government hoping you'll be so hooked on the grant crack that you will decide to keep funding the program after they stop handing you federal bucks. But the Charleston district has figured out that A) the whole program is pretty much a failure and B) if they keep it going with their own money, they'll have to cut something else to pay for it.

So the district is leaving the rest of their grant money on the federal table. Hats off to them, because of course that grant money represents Our Tax Dollars At Work. I am grateful that Charleston can look at the grant crack and Just Say No. Now the US Department of Education Office of Wasting Tax Dollars could just transition into an Office of Not Funding Stupid Ideas, that would be super.

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