Thursday, July 17, 2014

TNTP Lost on Search for Truth

Any time TNTP writes a blog piece with "truth" in the title, you know we are about to go down the rabbit hole. But not surprisingly, an unnamed contributor over at TNTP has decided to clue us in on "The Truth About Teacher Pay." How can that possibly end badly? Let's see what truths they have uncovered!

Fact: Most districts now have multiple high quality options beyond experience and credentials for making pay decisions.

At first they start out well:

Setting teachers’ pay strictly on factors like experience or academic credentials may have been the only option before most districts had tools in place to assess teachers’ performance.

Unfortunately, they immediately head into the weeds. The correct next sentence is "We still don't have any other reliable measures of teacher performance in place, but when someone comes up with those some day, we should jump right on those. Anybody working on a real teacher eval system? Anybody?"

Instead, they compare "lockstep pay" (which is emerging as the preferred reformster term for the traditional system) to paying basketball players by height. This could have been fun if they had gone to explain how their idea (evaluating teachers for "talent, hard work, and performance") resembles the way basketball players are actually paid, but, no. Also, shed a tear for all those students who had great young teachers untimely ripped away from them.

Which is a hard drum to keep beating, since one-year-experience teachers are the largest sector of the teaching pool, and also the section mostly likely to quit the profession. If we worried about that loss of bright young things, perhaps we could talk about retention, or at least see what the numbers are when we stack the Number of Teachers Who Are Unjustly Laid Off next to the Number of Teachers Who Get Out of Dodge Early. Do you have those Numbers of Truth handy, TNTP?

Fact: Very few districts have tried true performance-based pay, but where it’s been tried it seems to be working.

Who knew?  DC schools have made it possible to earn 100K in year four, and so teacher pay has dropped as a leading reason to get the hell out of DC schools. Wait. Doesn't that help prove that performance pay doesn't help retain teachers? And supposedly it's really helping in Tennessee, where this big report that, frankly, I'm still too jet-lagged to read in its entirety, but check out the abstract:

We report findings from a quasi-experimental evaluation of the recently implemented $5000 retention bonus program for effective teachers in Tennessee’s priority schools. We estimate the impact of the program on teacher retention using a fuzzy regression discontinuity design. We exploit a discontinuity in the probability of treatment conditional on the composite teacher effectiveness rating that assigns bonus eligibility. Point estimates for the main effect of the bonuses are consistently positive across all specifications, and for teachers of tested subjects the program appears to have an effect that is generally both statistically and substantively significant. Implementation concerns, including the timing of application process and observed noncompliance in bonus distribution, present obstacles for both the program’s effectiveness and its evaluation

Oh, guys, stop. You had me at "fuzzy regression discontinuity design."

Fact: Performance-based pay can easily be structured to value experience when it is accompanied by strong performance.

Hey! It's an actual fact. Way to go, TNTP!

Fact: The research base has become much stronger in recent years on the question of distinguishing levels of teacher performance. Evaluation systems that use multiple measures to rate teacher performance can help school systems recognize and reward those who are getting the best results in the classroom.

So much for facty stuff. Our single link of "proof" here takes us to that golden oldie, the Gates Foundation MET study. TNTP tells us that we need multiple measures (a phrase they use so often that I imagine it cropping up in odd contexts, like a reformy version of "that's what she said.") and to check with the community and make sure that administrators know what they're doing and give teachers a way to up their game and, hey, I already have that system finished. When is my gazillion dollar grant coming, anyway?

Fact: Teachers in the same school won’t be competing with one another for slices of a static pay pie because performance-based pay isn’t a zero-sum game.

Oh, TNTP. Mostly this blog of your has been an exercise of fuzzy discontinuity with the truth, but this is just a lie. Or you are dumb as rocks. One of those two. Your explanation is so short that I suspect you figured you'd better get out quick before you started laughing.

TNTP says "There is no cap." I look forward to watching them explain that to taxpayers. I want TNTP to come to a school district and stand before taxpayers to say, "There are so many awesome teachers in your district that you have no choice but to raise taxes ten mills to fund their performance-based pay levels." In referendum states, that will be particularly entertaining.

Or maybe we'll get to enjoy watching TNTP explain to a district, "We had to cut the arts program because the English teachers all get super-huge capless performance based pay."

Of course performance-based pay is a zero-sum game. School districts do not make more money when they do well. The pie is fixed by the tax rate. Performance-based pay means we must all get out the knives, either for the pie or each other.

Fact: School systems can implement performance-based pay by re-allocating existing funds.

See above.

This does get closer to the real motivation behind the new fix-the-pay initiative. See, we move to evaluation-based employment decisions. We up pay at the lowest levels. We rig the system to favor people who don't want to have a teaching career, because it reduces overall costs both in obvious and unobvious ways.

When we look at the spread of TFA, we tend to focus on how cheap they are to hire. Sometimes we forget the ticking time bomb in many states that is teacher pensions. Teaching temps aren't just cheap now-- they're cheap later, because No Pension Costs!

See, TNTP, when you say stuff like this:

School systems that decide to pay for great teaching can afford to do it because they will no longer be constrained by the rigid boundaries of lockstep compensation. 

It's hard to take you seriously. We're going to get rid of all the imaginary legions of allegedly crappy teachers and replace them with the best and the brightest, and we're going to pay all the best and brightest top dollar no matter how long they've been there.

IOW, it would be like a district under the current system where all teachers are long-timers who are on the top step.

How can that not be expensive as hell? Only if the top step becomes lower than it is under the current system, or if the school cuts programs, or raises taxes, or hires fewer teachers, or has no pension funding liabilities because all teachers leave within five years.

So thank you, nameless TNTP functionary, for searching for the truth for us. But I suggest you get back out there are search some more, because what you have brought back looks kind of old and dead and also smells funny.

1 comment:

  1. My district just paid 600grand for them to tell us our teachers basically suck, well the teachers at the poor schools anyways...