January 4, 2008

Benefit/Cost Disconnect

Justin Katz

Marc offered the substantive commentary yesterday, so all I've got in response to bad news about Rhode Island's high schools is a quip (emphasis added):

But proficiency rates among students statewide are stagnant. Despite an aggressive statewide high school reform effort, test scores of high school juniors have remained flat for the past several years, with about 53 percent scoring proficient or better on the English portion of the test and 43 percent scoring proficient or better in math.

And yet the teachers continue to demand annual raises, on top of annual step increases. Personally, I'd be embarrassed to demand more money if I couldn't show improvement. Before anybody doubles down on the good work of individual teachers, let me remind y'all that the teachers have chosen to negotiate as a group. So thus must their performance be judged.

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I fail to see the correlation between requests for pay increases and level performance (of students) figures. I believe you're implying that if teachers want a raise, the performance of their students (and impliedly their own performance) should be increasing as well. This fails to recognize that 1 - there is no necessary correlation between the performance of a given student or group of students and their teachers and 2 - the better pay for better performance theory is inherently flawed. On 2, if teachers would achieve 100% proficiency across the board they would be entitled to no more pay increases - ever; because there is no new level to bring achievement to. If teachers achieved and maintained such a rate tomorrow, they'd be starving to death (if any remained) somewhere down the road as the CoL in the State inevitably increases.

I'm no fan of most teaching contracts, but I'm no fan of such a critique of them either.

Posted by: Mach at January 4, 2008 5:45 PM

South Kingstown High 72.12 58.39 Insufficient Progress

But who cares about Reading Riting & Rithmatic! The kids can just mark an X on the petition. lol

From the Narragasnett Times

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The school committee got an earful Tuesday night after several parents and concerned citizens raised complaints about the political leanings of speakers at the high school.
During public comments, Keith Mlyniec, whose son John Henry attends South Kingstown High School, said he was outraged that students were made to attend a speech by Dr. John Nirenburg in the library last week.
Nirenburg is a 60-year-old Vermont resident who is walking from Boston to Washington D.C. to persuade Congress to impeach President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
At the high school, Mlyniec said Nirenburg spoke out against the war and then passed around a petition for students to sign for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.
“He said [Bush] was a criminal and asked them to sign a petition for his impeachment. There was no opposing side and there was no choice for the students not to go. There were adults in the room clapping for this guy,” said Mlyniec, pastor of West Kingston Baptist Church.
“I want to know when and who will give a balanced view now. This speaker was so far to the left that you’d need one so far to the right to balance it out,” he added.
Three years ago the high school found itself in a similar situation when the school invited former Boston University professor, Dr. Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, to speak to students about his opposition to American foreign policy and President Bush.
Several parents and town Republicans came out to raise objections and the school later invited Dr. Stephan Thernstrom of Harvard, a conservative commentator, to counter Zinn’s viewpoint.
Mlyniec stated he not only expected another speaker to be brought into balance Nirenberg’s views, but also asked if offended students were owed an apology.
“I read your bylaws, it says no solicitation is allowed,” explained Mlyniec, adding another bylaw he found which states the school discourages bias.
Chairman of the South Kingstown Republican Party David Cote was also in attendance with a few other town Republicans to voice their concerns about the speaker.
“Over the past five years do we have a list of speakers coming to South Kingstown High School, because it seems like the far left is the predominant viewpoint,” said Cote.
“Some of the information he said about the Iraq war was totally erroneous. I see a lot of erroneous letters in the paper about the war and now it’s being brought into the classrooms.”
Chairman of the School Committee Dr. Anthony Mega, responded that the school committee does not have a policy to determine which speakers are invited.
“I think school committees get into dangerous areas when they determine who represents educational value,” said Mega, citing that the school committee does no decide on what speaker’s staff choose to bring into the school.
“I will say that critical thinking is part of the educational process. If critical thinking is brought to the forefront then it did have some educational value,” added Mega.
Superintendent Dr. Robert Hicks said that in the past he had received complaints about speakers being pro-government and that the school should have more anti-government speakers.
Mega then explained that they felt South Kingstown High School students were fully capable of critical thought regardless of the speaker’s beliefs, something Cote agreed with, but still felt there were balance problems.
“The students are very intelligent,” said Cote.
Even Jim Cavanaugh, former chairman of the Narragansett Republican Town Committee was in attendance, because his granddaughter is a student at the school.
Citing Nirenburg’s assertion that to much money is being spent on a Iraq, Cavanaugh said he felt to much money was being spent on social programs.
“Twenty-six percent of our budget is spent on social programs. The founding fathers said our number one goal was national defense,” said Cavanaugh.
“It’s well I’m not armed. If I find my granddaughter signed that petition, the next time I see you will be in court and I will sue your butts.
“This left-wing wacko crap has got to stop,” he added.
At the end of the meeting, committee members commented about the issue further.
“We have to walk a fine line between managing policy and getting involved in instruction,” said committee member Richard Angeli.
“I hope fair balance is considered as seeing both sides is important. I am concerned about students being able to opt out of a program and I think passing a petition around may have crossed the line.”

Posted by: Tim at January 5, 2008 9:28 AM

"But who cares about Reading Riting & Rithmatic! The kids can just mark an X on the petition"

Very good, Tim ...

Posted by: Monique at January 5, 2008 11:02 AM

I'm quite surprised that nobody has responded to Mach's point. The claim that "we're paying a lot for education and not getting much back" is easy to make, but real solutions require much more thought than has been evidenced here.

First, there's the question of what "proficiency" actually means. How is it different from the "Basic" standard on the NECAP? How does that relate to the standards on the national tests? Does anyone here understand this? Does anyone care? Thorough analysis is needed, not just posturing.

Second, Mach makes a great point. Put a random teacher into Barrington High and she/he will produce high test scores. It has less to do with teaching skill than with the SES and educational background and involvement of the parents. Should we reward teachers for that? Put the same teacher into a Central Falls school and you'll get lower scores. It's a fact of life, and punishing teachers for it is nonsense.

Third, having been a PTO president, I have to say that the level of involvement of parents in the schools is critical, and is generally appalling. Stop complaining and get your butt into the school. Yes, you'll find some teachers who resist your efforts. Forget them. Keep pushing for the best education for your child. Go to school board meetings too. Public education is NOT a consumer good and it's a mistake to think of it that way. It is, rather, part of a democratic (small d) society. Get involved in your child's classroom. It's YOUR responsibility. Quit whining.

Justin says that, because teacher negotiate as a group, their "output" should be judged as a group. I think that's wrong and I'm surprised that Justin says it. Performance is an individual matter. If the unions reject this, I don't see any reason why we should join them.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at January 5, 2008 10:49 PM

Sorry to leave you surprised, Thomas. I've intended to respond to Mach, but I was up 'til 2am trying to model a difficult architectural issue on my jobsite, and today, I did side work all day. That's the way it is in Rhode Island, though: Gotta work extra hard so others can benefit.

The bottom line is that I find both of Mach's points utterly ludicrous, nearly devoid of logic.

1 - there is no necessary correlation between the performance of a given student or group of students and their teachers.

Then why do teachers believe they ought to be treated as highly skilled, specialized professionals? If the teachers in a school aren't providing any additional benefit from year to year, why should they be better compensated? Granted, scores and grades will vary from demographic area to demographic area, but is the claim now that even trends within a group give no indication of the quality of teaching? Bah. Sounds like a scam to me.

2 - the better pay for better performance theory is inherently flawed. On 2, if teachers would achieve 100% proficiency across the board they would be entitled to no more pay increases - ever; because there is no new level to bring achievement to. If teachers achieved and maintained such a rate tomorrow, they'd be starving to death (if any remained) somewhere down the road as the CoL in the State inevitably increases.

This one is either a joke or the poorly considered ruminations of somebody with a priori conclusions and an unrealistic view of the world.

  1. No district will ever hit the point at which improvement is impossible.
  2. If one somehow did, the entire team, from the janitors up to the superintendent would be highly sought professionals. The union MO distorts this reality (as do such practices as district-related defined-benefit retirement programs), but there's a reason that in most fields of employment, highly successful professionals can always find ways to keep advancing... or they can "cash out" that advantage, maintain the status quo, and take it easier.
  3. The argument is pure rhetoric, positioning two improbable abstracts in opposition to each other.

It is just jaw-dropping that somebody would argue that standards tied to improvement are "flawed" because perfection would be a disadvantage. Only in a union dominated field is such backwards thinking possible, and it, of itself, stands as evidence that our children ought never be subjected to such mentality.

If you're good, you reap. No school district would let go a full set of flawless teachers simply because policy requires improvement, and any that did would quickly be scrambling to get its stars back, even at a premium.

And I'm completely flummoxed that it ought to surprising to suggest that a group that negotiates collectively ought to be judged collectively. What a racket: "Pay us at the rate deserved by our best, but don't you dare judge our efforts by our overall accomplishments, because our overall accomplishments are impossible to discern."

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 5, 2008 11:45 PM

I never cease to be amazed at how the same tired arguments come up time and again in any discussion of education policy in RI. Thank you Thomas and Mach for making this point yet again.

If you go here: http://www.infoworks.ride.uri.edu/2007/default.asp

you will find data and analysis that adjusts school scores for the differing socioeconomic characteristics of their student populations. Just on the basis of those demographics, you can construct a regression that predicts an average school score on a given test. If the actual score is above this, the teachers at said school are said to have added value. In contrast, if the actual score is below the predicted score, one could say that the efforts of the teachers have destroyed value.

Now why we don't pay large bonuses to the teachers at those schools that have created value is beyond me. However, I'm sure that Mach and Thomas have solid, union blessed arguments to explain that sad fact...

Posted by: John at January 5, 2008 11:50 PM

"Sorry to leave you surprised, Thomas."

Wow....I wasn't referring to you personally, Justin. I'm sorry if you're having a rough week, but Mach's points are quite reasonable. Dismissing them as "ludicrous" and "utterly devoid of logic" is reaching. Your post says to me that you're so set in your way of thinking about things that you're just not listening to reasonable points on the other side.

You say, "Granted, scores and grades will vary from demographic area to demographic area, but is the claim now that even trends within a group give no indication of the quality of teaching? Bah. Sounds like a scam to me.."

I don't think anyone made this claim. The claim frequently made here, the one to which Mach was responding goes like this: "RI student perform poorly, therefore teaching in RI is poor and teachers are paid too much for the return".

It's a non sequitur. RI teaching may or may not be poor, but you can't tell this from outcomes alone because it is wrong to assume that, if RI teaching was uniformly great, all our students would have high scores.

Let's ask two simple questions. Why do Barrington kids perform so much better than Central Falls kids? Do you really think it's because the Barrington teachers are better? Should we pay Barrington Teachers more becuae the kids there are doing better?

Barrington does great because Barrington kids tend to be smart, tend to have educated parents who value education and understand the value of education, and who encourage their kids in all sorts of ways (from praise for good grades to buying them computers to do their homework on. They also tend to have good nutrition and a lot of great role models around them. A great teacher CAN make a difference to some kids without those advantages, but really can't make up the difference for most of them. It's unreasonable to expect them to.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at January 6, 2008 1:09 AM


Apart from the gratuitous reference to "union blessed arguments", your post points to an interesting point. Except, the link you give is to the infoworks site generally and not to data that support your point. Can you provide the data, or a link to the data, to which you refer? Which are the school districts that provide positive value, and which provide negative value?

My guess is that the greatest "increased value" comes from the worst performing schools (which will also be the most economically disadvantage) , but I am sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at January 6, 2008 1:19 AM

Justin says "And I'm completely flummoxed that it ought to surprising to suggest that a group that negotiates collectively ought to be judged collectively. What a racket: "Pay us at the rate deserved by our best, but don't you dare judge our efforts by our overall accomplishments, because our overall accomplishments are impossible to discern."

So, you don't agree that teachers ought to be evaluated individually?

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at January 6, 2008 1:29 AM

In another thread, I mentioned that I wanted to post something else. I have to say that being labeled a union apologist just for posting something that does not agree with the conventional wisdom here has come close to convincing me that posting here is generally a waste of time. However, here's a a parting gift.

In December, I attended a meeting of the RI Board of Regents for Primary and Secondary Education. Parent/citizens were invited to comment on the question of how the teachers' contracts affect public education. It was not a large crowd and, given it was on a weekday at 3pm in Providence, almost everyone in the audience was from the city.

Our group concentrated on criticizing the practice of "bumping", by which senior teachers get to push junior teachers out of jobs, regardless of qualification. (There was a post on this issue on this blog back in October). The Regents, and chair Judge Flanders in particular, seemed genuinely interested in hearing our stories.

At the end, noting the limited number of speakers, the Regents indicated that they would welcome further comment by email. I am passing this on to you because I know that some denizens of this blog have an interest in these issues.

The Regents seem to be taking this quite seriously. They are listening, and they are looking for practical ways to improve things. They have asked for comments about specific ways in which contracts affect public education. Stories about how the contract gets in the way of quality education would be welcome. (e.g. work-to-rule, teachers who refuse to meet with parents because of contract provisions, etc). So would stories about positive aspects of the contracts (e.g. how a contract protected a good teacher from unreasonable administrative retaliation). What is requested, and what is needed if actual changes are to happen, are specific examples tying provisions of the contracts to specific behaviors. Generalized polemics will probably turn out to be less than useful.

Send your comments to Regents' staff member Sharon Osborne at sharon.osborne(AT)ride.ri.gov, they will be forwarded to the Regents.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeing at January 6, 2008 1:43 AM

Thomas Schmeling,

In your comparison of Barrington to Central Falls you forgot to add one fact, I believe a year or two ago State of RI Department of Education took control of Central Falls School Department system and it receives direct state funding not like other cites/towns in state..

Posted by: Ken at January 6, 2008 1:47 AM

Yes, I'm aware of the state take-over of Central Falls. I don't think that affects the general point I was trying to make about the relation of teacher quality to test scores.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at January 6, 2008 1:58 AM


The discrete point of this post, as I italicized in the blockquote is that "proficiency rates among students statewide are stagnant." Mach and your commentary suggest that either (at least Mach) is making the claim that even trends within a group give no indication of the quality of teaching or you're both pulling all points back to the demographic comparison across districts (which is in reality the claim that nobody is making).

Of course I think that teachers ought to be evaluated individually. That's one of the reasons I so despise their being unionized. They can't have it both ways: putting forward their best individuals while negotiating for the whole group, but not taking responsibility for their cumulative failures.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 6, 2008 8:31 AM

Come on, Mr. Schmelling, it's not too hard to look at a webpage, now is it? About halfway down on the left side, pdf downloads for elementary, middle and high schools. The words "Value Added" are quite clearly displayed.

Posted by: John at January 6, 2008 2:43 PM

"if teachers would achieve 100% proficiency across the board they would be entitled to no more pay increases - ever; because there is no new level to bring achievement to."

By the same absurd reasoning, a brain surgeon would only perform half the operation, a carpenter would build only half a house, authors would write only half a book, etc.

Further, the erroneous implication in Mach's comment is that teachers are holding back and deliberately doing a bad job teaching students to ensure continued raises.

Speaking for myself, Thomas S, I did not bother to respond Mach's comment because I assumed it was a joke.

Posted by: Monique at January 6, 2008 3:04 PM

Rhode Island proficiency of high schools in English and Math will not raise more than another 10%-20% because of the education system in the State of RI.

I can’t believe RI Department of Education is holding Special-Ed, the blind and English as a second language to the same high proficiency test standards.

Why am I (Mr. middle of the line) so bold to stick my neck out with the above prediction? It’s because if a child does not receive the basics in elementary grades they will not carry the information through into middle and high school. It is suggested that RI College is not requiring certain proficiency classes for some elementary teachers for their teaching certificates and license (see document links below).

Some of the problems might be attributed directly to individual teachers but that cause I believe can be attributed directly to the colleges, principals, local school departments, State of RI Department of Education and Board of Regents.

The individual teachers are only teaching the students based on the way they were trained to teach (if in RI, RI College, Roger Williams University and Providence College) to the state-wide standards, curriculum, state laws and guidance and local cities/towns school department laws and guidance.

Yes you have excellent teachers some above and beyond anyones expectations, average and some not so average and how did they get that way? The state of RI state-wide education system.

Federal No Child Left Behind attempts to weed out low performing teachers by requiring testing and additional testing and if the teacher does not meet compliance they are to be fired however it’s up to the local principal; and local school department to do the individual evaluations on top of the required testing. Some of you will blame the unions but in the end, it's still the State of RI Department of Education System.

In the next couple of years there will be a mass retirement of teachers in RI due some teachers to just fed up with the RI state sport of “teacher bashing” and the highly experienced baby boomer teachers regular retirement. Local school departments will be happy costs will drop with hiring of just out of college 1st year teachers.

The National Council on Teacher Quality 50 state comparison ranks State of Rhode Island’s Department of Education and local law and guidance which suppose to foster teacher quality in the classroom “languishing”

May I suggest for your reading and intellectual enlightenment (because RI and MA are mentioned and some of you can stick your neck out with me) the following:

“How the world’s best school systems come out on top September 2007”

“What Education Schools aren’t Teaching about reading and What Elementary Teachers aren’t Learning May 2006”

“The Preparation Gap: Teacher Education for Middle School Mathematics in Six Countries: Mathematics Teaching in 21st Century (MT21)”

Posted by: Ken at January 7, 2008 2:13 AM

In response to Justin:

Point 1 - No necessary correlation.

I do not know why teachers demand more pay despite there being mere correlation between their individual abilities and individual student performance. I never said I thought they were justified in requesting the things they do, if you'd note my original post then you'd see that I'm no fan of most of their contracts, I simply take issue with the idea that a "pay for performance" model works in education. The data might show patterns, but tying everything to teacher performance accomplishes nothing because that is hardly the sole, or even primary in my opinion, factor in student performance. It might help push an anti-union argument, but it doesn't help education. That being said, I agree with your ultimate goal - a freeze to some of the union requested increases - but simply take issue with your logic for it.

point 2 - the "ludicrous" logic

Of course 100% is an absurdity, but it illustrates just as well as say 75% or 50% or any % that if you tie pay to performance then the only way to increase pay is to increase performance. At SOME point, pick any one, you reach your ceiling and pay freezes. Be it 100%, 75% or whatever today's rate is that ceiling freezes pay. Did I choose a ridiculous number? Sure, but plug in any other ceiling lower than 100% and the result is the same - no pay increases once student performance maxes out, no matter the % it maxes out at.

The additional absurdity in tying pay to performance is that the "crops" of students change annually for elementary school teachers and every 4 years for high school teachers. If they were trying to improve the same kids over their career it might be understandable, but the rates that are compared from year to year compare different groups of students that have different backgrounds, different initial education, and frankly just aren't the same as the kids from other stats. So you essentially are comparing the 1927 Yankess to the 1989 Ynakess and saying the 89 Yankees shouldn't be payed more than the 1927 because the 89 suck. But despite performing worse than the 27 Yankess, the 89 Yankess were not necessarily overpaid and were arguably being compensated at a fair rate. Two different groups of people, two different management systems, different pay rates, both justified by the times. But to judge the management on the performance in 88 versus 27 is absurd, an just as absurd is comparing annual rates of student performance when the students, teachers, and raw abilities of students change annually as well.

In closing to Justin, I agree with individual review for each teacher. It would greatly improve teaching, as many "poor" teachers (subjective judgment) are so difficult to dismiss that they are allowed to stay on. But, the "pay for performance" model does not translate well into education.

I won't even bother responding to Monique, the numerous logic errors in that post (and the absurd analogies) speak for themselves.

Posted by: Mach at January 7, 2008 10:17 AM
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