Would you be willing to bet your entire teaching career that you will never have students who score low on the Big Standardized Test? Would you take the bet for a little bit more money?
Alabama is hoping there are people who will take that bet, as their legislature rolls out the Rewarding Advancement in Instruction and Student Excellence Act-- RAISE!! The actual intent of this bill is telegraphed by the fact that it has often been touted as a "tenure reform bill." To read up on it, I suggest this piece, as well as the blog of Larry Lee, who has covered the act pretty thoroughly and includes many comments from affected parties.
The bill is intended to tie teacher pay and teacher employment to student test results. There will be whole new state action to make up a list of possible evaluation tools for all teachers of untested subjects. There will be requirements for student growth. There will be an opportunity for some students and parents to evaluate teachers.
The BS Test that will be used is the ACT Aspire, a pre-ACT manufactured by the ACT folks. Is it aligned in any way with Alabama's standards? If it is, nobody seems to be saying so. But those test results will be the basis of pretty much everything?
The big bet that I opened with-- that's the choice that RAISE presents teachers with. You can have a traditional tenure track or a performance track. The performance track is supposed to bring you the big bucks, with huge money on the table. The starting salary on this schedule must be $2,500 more than the lowest traditional starting schedule, so maybe not so huge in some districts. All you have to do is get your students to produce big time test scores-- in fact, once your students aren't producing those scores, your career is done. In other words, on this track, your job is literally only to prepare students for the test.
On the traditional track (called the "grandfathered salary schedule"), you will still be judged by test scores. You'll wait five years for tenure, and your tenure will be not protect you from low test scores-- two bad years and your tenure is revoked, with another five year stretch before it can be re-instated. Also, your extra education will no longer make any difference in your pay. What did you think-- that the state was going to hire you to stay smart about your field? No smarty pants extra degrees necessary in Alabama.
Teachers hired before May of 2017 get a choice of which salary schedule to choose-- but once they choose the performance schedule, they may not switch back. And if tenured teachers choose the performance track, they must give up tenure.
Also, as just a fun side note, RAISE also boosts the Alabama Longitudinal Data System, a giant data mining and storage program which will make Big Brother proud.
There are many reasons to hate this proposal, including but not limited to the way in which it reduces Alabama schools to nothing but test prep facilities. For teachers who aren't directly prepping for the ACT, it will be a crap shoot as far as what test they'll be prepping their students for. But all these tests will be tests that are given strictly to determine the pay and job standing of the teacher in the classroom.
Clearly, Alabama has entered the Drive Teachers Out of the Classroom derby. After all, who would want to take a teaching job where you made some good-ish money for a couple of years but had no hope of maintaining an actual lifetime teaching career. I mean, who would want to get into a classroom, make some bucks, just teach to a test, and then get out before they were even thirty years old? Oh, wait.
Yes, Teach for America has been in Alabama for about five years, and they've done pretty well for themselves at selling the standard narrative. When they moved into Hunstville, the local tv station coverage started with this lead: "Huntsville City Schools tout themselves as a data-driven district, which
is why they turned to Teach For America. They want to turn around the
numbers at under-performing schools." And the head of Alabama TFA managed to also land the job of executive director of the Birmingham Education Foundation, another one of those foundations that lets community leaders take charge of schools without going to the trouble of being elected to do so. So the TFA story is selling well in Alabama.
TFA's placement presence in Alabama is small so far, but if RAISE isn't tailored for exactly their kind of high-turnover, test-prep pedagogical approach, I will eat my hat (and you should see my hat).
Are there problems with the bill (I mean, you know, other than gutting the teaching profession and replacing actual education with test prep). Well, there seems to be some question about where all the extra money to pay all those performance-based raises will come from. And
You can read the draft version of the bill here, and you can say a little prayer for education in Alabama. You can prepare to add Alabama to the list of states in which actual teachers aren't really welcome (no reason for North Carolina to be lonely). And I suppose if you like the idea of betting your career against a thousand dollars or so, you can pack your bags and be Alabammy bound.