Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Big, bold plan to spend $6 billion on education has some cutting-edge parts

I think Senator Meeks and Governor Blagojevich deserve a lot of credit for putting forward a big-picture, innovative plan for education in Illinois. Everyone agrees that we need to improve education and most people agree that we need to invest more money into education. Finally, there's a big, bold plan out there (right at the top of that would demonstrably improve education if implemented.

I think the most innovative part is a call for merit pay instead of seniority pay, with the full support of the teachers unions. (That is, the plan calls for the unions to work to craft a merit pay plan. I'm not suggesting the unions support the concept today.)

For some background on merit pay, check out Denver. They are probably running the most aggressive merit pay system in the nation. And the teachers unions crafted the plan.

Here's an interview in Education Sector (a neat independent think tank) with Brad Jupp, a labor organizer with the Denver Classroom Teacher Association and a lead negotiator and advocate for the merit pay system.

The whole interview is worth a read, but here are some of the best parts.

ES: What were some of the specific lessons you learned in the pay-for-performance pilot?

BJ: The most important lesson was that you can build pay systems around pragmatic judgments. By pragmatic judgments, I mean decisions that are not necessarily based on researched psychometric standards but reflect common sense and professional judgment to make effective decisions. In fact, almost all pay systems–including the single salary schedule in place in most schools today–are built around pragmatic judgments. We will never create a perfectly objective basis for compensation decisions, but if we rely on the common sense of professionals we can go a long way.

The second thing we learned, which is very important, was that differentiated pay did not destroy workplace morale; it created new challenges, but in our pilot schools, we never saw the plummet in morale predicted by opponents of alternative compensation schemes.

The third thing we learned was that, when teachers set goals and plan to meet them, students perform well whether teachers meet those goals or not. When teachers set high-quality objectives, objectives that have clear, measurable outcomes and well-articulated strategies to meet them, and those objectives are assessed routinely throughout the year–kids learn more. Learning became the cornerstone of the way we built the pay system.

A fourth thing that we learned was that we need to think hard about how to connect the stakes in a pay system to the behavior that we're trying to change. Policymakers often think of pay systems in very simple ways: "If I put a lot of money on the table, it's going to change people's behavior dramatically, so I'll put a lot of money on the table for the behavior I want." But you often don't need to do that, and you may, in fact, be making a big mistake.

We've found, for instance, that a $1,000 incentive to work in a high-poverty school with low-performing kids doesn't motivate teachers in schools with wealthier kids that perform well to move to that low performing school. On the other hand, it does motivate teachers to stay at that high-poverty school after they've been hired there. Maybe what you need to do is to put a small amount of money on the table, stabilize the workforce, and then build the workforce in these schools over time, rather then to assume that what you want the incentive to do is to steal teachers from the suburbs. Another example is that it doesn't take a whole lot of money–only about $330 in the compensation model that we have–to get people to commit to look at their objectives twice a year. But if there's no money, they don't do it. Sometimes smaller stakes make a big difference.

There's a lot more, including why teachers should embrace accountability measures, because then they'll get paid more (as they should).

I also love the call in the plan for longer school days and longer school years.

So, say what you want about the efficacy about licensing the lotto to come up with the money, but this is the best plan that's out there about how to improve education. I think it's a big step forward.


FightforJustice said...

Dan, what makes you think this plan will be enacted? After all, it won't come up, if at all, until the veto session, and that assumes Rod wins re-election and keeps his word. Other Democratic legislators demanded memos of understanding from the Gov to secure their pork projects.

FightforJustice said...

As of June 1st, it's apparent the lotto scheme is DOA. But Meeks is out of the race, so the plan served its intended purpose.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

I think the rest of the plan is actually fairly thoughtful. Coming up with the money is the tough part. Wouldn't you agree that the non-Lotto portion of the plan is pretty good?

Truthful James said...

Money is not what the Illinois Public School System needs. For years now, Education Costs (read union salaries and administrator salaries) have been rising, while Education Quality drops. Since we can't abolish a public system, the only answer is competition.

Take a peek at San Francisco's system which is Competitive Choice.

Every child is vested with a weighted sum of public revenues. The parent has the full choice of any accredited school. Public, parochial (no religious classes during regular school hours), charter, private and even home schooling.

Our ISBE is at the heart of the problem. They do not set standards. They dumb them down and norm up their test results. This is in spite of days are spent by teachers cuing their instruction to the upcoming tests.

Upon reform, let ISBE accredit, the Districts manage, Competitive Choice.

What is there to lose. The Prseident's Advisory Commission on Science and Technology in its 2004 report noted the poor standing of American schools relative to those of the countries of Western Europe, Eastern Asia, and India. Our Advabced Placement Courses in Math and in Science ranked in the bottom percentiles.

How is our counry going to compete in a 21st Century world economy?

Money is not the answer it is the excuse.

If the pay of the Titanic skipper had been tripled, the ship would still have been sunk. It was a design flaw.

Anonymous said...

Not to say that there are not some good aspects to the plan BUT this is not a good plan overall. It is speculative and not long term.