Performance based compensation. Merit pay. Strategic compensation. These are all names for a method of teacher compensation that uses teacher ratings, informed by standardized testing of students, and sets in place a system that gives more money to high rated teachers. Some think this is needed in order to “run schools like a business”. Others promote it because it weakens the options teacher unions have to ask for raises, and they see any method of weakening unions as a good thing. What none of the proponents can show is a correlation between these plans and increased performance in the classroom by students.
I looked back at the history of this idea in Ohio, identified some of the people pushing it, and how well they succeeded in putting it into practice. I also looked at the Reynoldsburg school district, to figure out how the school board members decided to try it in their schools, and what they told the parents about their plans before they caused a three week long strike, disrupting all learning and costing the school more than a million dollars.
What the experts say
I highly recommend reading this post by Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D.. He did an exhaustive compilation of the research on the issue of teacher evaluation based on student test scores. There isn’t any “maybe it works” to be found in the research, every single study done by a non-ideological researcher or organization finds that the “noise” in normal student test variation drowns out any useful teacher evaluation data.
School system that try to use these teacher rating systems regularly show how wrong they can be. A Teacher of Year rated “unsatisfactory” in Florida. One of nation’s top high schools rated as ‘needs improvement’ under the state’s teacher evaluation system. Contrary the what the Bill Gates style reformers think, the best schools come from areas with strong teacher unions.
Bill Gates should stick to computers
Bill Gates retired from running his software mega-giant, and decided to use his vast wealth to make changes in the way schools are run. The problem is that using methods and thinking that made him a billionaire turns out to have little value in improving schools.
Around 2000 he decided that big schools were the problem with education, and he began a program to offer schools money to break up the size of large schools. Not a totally wrong idea, but after he found that it it resulted in small improvements after spending a lot of money, he dropped the plan. His current idea that will revolutionize the school system in this country is to “run schools like a business”, and offer more money to teachers who have students that do well in standardized tests.
That’s not a new idea at all, it has been tried (and failed) a number of times in the past. The difference is that Gates’s foundation has the money to really promote the idea, and the political power to push it in the halls of government. The federal “Race to the Top” program encourages these ideas. The school system that have implemented these teacher rating systems have again shown that the plan is a failure.
SB 5 in Ohio
While Gates says he doesn’t have a problem with teacher unions, and is not shy about trying to buy their willingness to try out his ideas, the Republicans in Ohio are open with their contempt for unions. This resulted in the passing of Senate Bill 5 in 2011.
Under the supervision of Governor John Kasich, the Republican controlled senate passed a bill called SB 5 that was a direct attack on all public employee unions. It sharply limited the ability of police, teachers, firefighters and all other public union members to negotiate for higher wages and better working conditions. It would have stripped step pay increases from teachers and required student test based compensation plans.
The unions went full out in opposition. In the Nov. 2011 general election the law was repealed 62 percent to 38 percent. It was hoped that this was the end of these sort of dumb ideas in Ohio, but instead it just shifted the plans to implement them on a local level, one school board at a time.
Reynoldsburg board drives off a cliff
There were clues that indicated the Reynoldsburg school board was trying to remove step pay and implement teacher compensation based on student scores. The vice-president was a hard line right winger, featured in a film that showed the anger and contempt she held for those outside her Value Voter Coalition. Yet there was no conversation between the board and the community about the possibility of the board taking this radical action, the newspaper report of the candidate night recorded that the questions and answers were focused on class size. Board president Swope and VP Tornero were re-elected in 2013, and took this as an approval for them to take the school system off the cliff on a foolish and expensive attack on the teacher union. They hired a new superintendent who was an insider with the Kasich team.
The only way the public found out about the removal of step pay from teachers was as the negotiations broke down in the summer. Large crowds attended Reynoldsburg board meetings in August and September, pleading with the board to stop. The board ignored the large crowds and hired a strike-breaking company, insuring that the fight would be long and dirty.
Three weeks after they started the fight with the teachers, the board capitulated on all points. The school had not been able to hire enough strike-breaking teachers or control the fighting going on inside the schools with private security patrolling the halls. Teaching was reduced to giving the kids chromebooks and telling them to look at online instruction.
The school system now faces a bill of more than a million dollars for the failed attempt at running a school without union teachers. The students now need to re-start the year, with weeks of wasted learning to try to catch up on. The October board meeting was filled with angry parents who booed the board into silence when they tried to fend off criticism. A petition signed by more than 1K community members asked for the resignation of the superintendent and the president and VP of the board.
(Dec 16) Reynoldsburg Board of Education President Andrew Swope resigned, and said he was moving his family out of the area.
Who is next?
This will not be the end of the attempts by the true believers in pushing the teachers of Ohio into giving up step pay and using performance compensation. The only question is, which school district will be next?
The Kasich question
A complication to the question of strategic teacher compensation is the re-election of Kasich to the Governor’s office. Will he take his re-election, and the even more republican statehouse, as an opportunity to pass “Son of SB5”, as a way to solidify his support with the tea party on the way to a presidential run?
I have read a lot of stories that try to plot out the path Kasich could take on the way to a run for the white house. Most of them fail to see a man who wants to go through the wringer of a national campaign after his failed attempt in 1999. But he has a window that is open – the current field is filled with tea party, hard right candidates, unpopular with women and working class voters. Kasich won in the 2014 Ohio election with 60 percent of the women’s vote. He had support from workers. He even had 40% of the black vote. There is no other national republican candidate who seems to have a broad a support base as Kasich, even if he is unpopular with the tea party for accepting Medicaid money to bring Obamacare to the poor in Ohio.
If Kasich is thinking about running for national office, he has no reason to bring back a fight he lost the last time SB 5 was tried in Ohio. His brand will be “the moderate republican who can get a broad base of support”. And if he doesn’t run – what does he gain by doing something he said he wouldn’t try in his election campaign?
The above is speculation about Kasich’s plan for the future. His party in Ohio, and the true believers who want strategic compensation, will continue to push it on a local level. As soon as the memory of Reynoldsburg has faded (and Kasich showed that memories are short), a new school district will be the pushing the idea, bringing in strike-breaking management, filling the school with private security. You can be sure that Reynoldsburg was the laboratory for learning how to break unions.