Merit Pay

New York

Fact-checking Bloomberg's education campaign promises

Remember how, in 2001, when he was first running for mayor, Michael Bloomberg vowed to require all public school students to wear uniforms, to bring in private companies to take over long-failing schools, and to re-evaluate tenured teachers every two years? These are among the fun facts included in a self-evaluation Bloomberg released today, running through all the promises he made in his 2001 and 2005 campaigns, and reporting that he's followed through with most of them (97% in 2005, the report says). The list of education promises Bloomberg terms stick-a-fork-in-it "Done" (as opposed to those he "reconsidered") includes many that did obviously happen, but it also includes claims that could inspire challenge. Four promises that caught my eye: Improve access to selective schools for students in under-served communities. (2005 campaign promise) The mayor's report notes that the city now offers summer workshops for parents to encourage them to consider having their children take the entrance exam for selective high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. The city has also offered summer test-prep institutes for low-income students. Still, The New York Times reported last year that proportionately fewer racial minorities were taking the admissions exam, and a lower percentage were passing. There was little change when the paper reexamined the figures this year. Gifted and talented programs for primary school students, meanwhile, have also gotten less racially diverse under Bloomberg's watch, The Times reported. Give teachers more control over how they teach. (2001 promise) The report explains that this "done" stems from the new availability of "a series of tools for teachers that highlight students needs and provides teachers the information to focus on helping students master their subjects." I assume that refers to projects like ARIS, the data warehouse, and the periodic assessments known as Acuity, meant to give teachers an ongoing portrait of what students do and don't know throughout the school year. While some teachers embrace these tools, others say the tools limit the way they teach, forcing them to focus too much time on test preparation.
New York

Teacher-centered reforms key to Chattanooga schools' turnaround

Federal Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings visiting a Chattanooga school in 2005. Bonuses for teachers based on value-added measures. Firing and selective re-hiring of all teachers. Were these the key reforms responsible for the significant improvement of the "Benwood eight," a group of struggling schools in central Chattanooga? Elena Silva of Education Sector argues in Phi Delta Kappan that what really turned around these schools was validation, support, and on-going professional development for Chattanooga's existing teaching force: [It} would be a mistake to conclude that efforts to bring different, more effective teachers into the Benwood eight represent the only -- or even the primary -- lesson of the Chattanooga reforms. What Benwood teachers needed most were not new peers or extra pay -- although both were helpful. Rather, they needed support and recognition from the whole community, resources and tools to improve as professionals, and school leaders who could help them help their students. The pay incentives didn't attract many new teachers, Silva says, but they were "a way of signaling that the local community valued the Benwood teachers and supported their work." Silva says that though the district made all teachers in the Benwood schools re-apply for their jobs, the majority were re-hired and the teaching staff in these schools did not change significantly, although the numbers she cites suggest that the re-hiring process was more than just letting go of a few bad apples. If cleaning house and providing performance incentives weren't wholly responsible for improvement, what was? The answer is all the more crucial given the blitz of new and expanded merit pay plans, teacher-linked data collection, and aggressive evaluation of teachers in districts across the country. Silva believes it was a host of reforms focusing on supporting teachers and improving their practice.