Friday, October 26, 2007

New York City Merit Pay Plan

Supporters of the concept of merit pay/pay for test scores have been talking about how teachers in New York City have agreed to some type of plan to enhance their salaries. Imagine a group of teachers in Oklahoma being told what teachers in New York City have done. The image is reminiscent of those cowboys sitting around the campfire eating a bad brand of picante sauce. When they ask the cook where it's from and he says "New York City", everyone of those cowboys respond, in disbelief, "New York City???"

That's exactly the response you'll get from Oklahoma teachers when we are compared to teachers in New York City. To begin with, pay us a starting salary of $42, 512 ( $10,912 raise) for the beginning teacher. After 22 years NYC teachers top out at $79,810. We top out at $42,325 after 25 years.

Teachers with Masters start at $46, 503 compared to our $32,800. They finish at $85,141. For Oklahoma it's $43,950. At the Doctorate level they start at $53,521 and end at $93,419. We start at $34,000 and end at $46,000.

The average teacher salary is $63,000 compared to our $42,124. Their starting salary is above our average salary.

New York City??? The comparison is worthy of an old fashioned Bronx cheer.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Interim Study on Merit Pay Concluded

The Oklahoma House Education Committee concluded its interim study on merit pay/pay for test scores recently and you have to wonder where we are headed with this idea.

One of the more encouraging aspects of this "study experience" has been the overwhelming support for basic core principles to be addressed in putting together this type of program. Expert after expert has testified that this can't be done in place of raises, it must be fair and open to everyone, objective, supported by a large majority of teachers, and it must be developed by and with teacher input just to name a few of the most important building blocks to the development of this kind of program.

On the other hand, what is coming out in the form of press releases and sound bites, is either different or taken totally out of context then what has been said at the interim study. A variety of people aren't sure they've even been in the same study chambers based on some of the releases. One of the better articles on the subject was written by Ben Fenwick of the Oklahoma Gazette. You can read Ben's complete story in the October 3rd issue of the Gazette, or a partial of it on-line at The printed article is the better read. You can call the office and we'll make sure you get the information.

The supporters of pay for test score plans say they don't have any preconceived ideas, but based on those press releases and soundbites, is it any wonder teachers question the fairness of this study?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Alva Middle School

Yesterday I was in Alva to do an interview with the local paper. After finishing up at the paper, I went over to the Middle School to say hello to our local President, Mary Hamilton and active OEA member Jeff Levetzow. Mary and Jeff introduced me to their principal, Mr. Terry Conder.

Mary invited me to speak to her class about the extended school day and year. The kids already knew about the issue and I tried my best to answer their questions. By the time we were finished, I think they were very interested in the concept of the year-round school, where they would go to school for nine weeks and then get three weeks off.

Alva is a community where many of the kids are involved in farm work. This is one of the reasons that the local districts should have a say in a variety of issues around their schools and put together programs that meet the needs of the community. Mandates from the Oklahoma State Legislature don't always address the uniqueness of every district.

I had a wonderful time in Alva. It's always fun getting to be a part of a classroom and to share with kids and wonderful teachers like Mary and Jeff.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Celebrating Oklahoma's Centennial at the OEA Convention

The OEA held its annual convention in Tulsa last Thursday, and members were in for a special treat as the Association also celebrated the Oklahoma Centennial. As part of the opening session, Lance Brown, aka. Will Rogers, presented a tremendous routine reminiscent of a Rogers' performance during his reign as the top comedian of years ago. "Will" told us about his life and upbringing and how he got into comedy. He then treated us to some jokes of the times before talking about his observations of today. Lance did a tremendous job and I would highly recommend him for a performance.

The Convention started with our members congratulating finalists for State Teacher of the Year and Stepahnie Canada, the 2007 Teacher of the Year from Shawnee. Stephanie told the crowd how she was a born and raised in Oklahoma, a product of our public schools, and how committed she was to representing all of the great teachers in Oklahoma. Stephanie will do a great job representing all of what is great about our profession.

During my address, I talked about the leadership role our organization has played in the development of education in our state. Our influence has moved Oklahoma forward and we have been successful in providing quality education throughout our history. It was a great look back at our accomplishments, but we still have challenges ahead of us.

William Jennings Bryan said, "Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved." I believe his quote accurately describes the OEA and its ability to make things happen for better educational opportunities for our children and professional opportunities for our teachers. Because of our dedication and commitment to education, we've made, and continue to make, a positive difference for our state.

After the opening session, members had a number of professional development opportunities throughout the day. Another one with a great deal of Oklahoma "flavor" was the luncheon with the Oklahoma authors sponsored by Reasor's Grocery Stores. Authors Michael Johnson, Faith Clune, and Lance Brown shared their thoughts, ideas and insights into writing with 100 of our members. It was a great presentation and has been one of my favorites over the last few years.

While the day was filled with professional development opportunities, the OEA Convention also starts the opening of our budget hearings. OEA members provide the input to start the development of our budget. All of our members are encouraged to participate and help set the direction of our Association.

After the professional development and budget hearing, our closing session featured political satirist, Frosty Troy, lampooning Democrats and Republicans alike. After speaking, Frosty answered a variety of questions from the audience.The day ended with our cash prize giveaways sponsored by the OEA and its vendors.

The OEA Convention is always a great time for me to see friends from all over the state. There are so many people who attend every year. It was great seeing all of you and I appreciate all you do for Oklahoma's schools and kids. Thanks for your commitment to the organization and your profession.

With all that took place on Thursday, it was a special day for our Association as we celebrated both our state and organization's history while looking to make our own mark for future generations of Oklahoma Education Association members.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

2007 OEA Convention

Whether you call it it fall break or the annual teacher's meetings, the OEA Convention will be held on Thursday, October 18th. It's an excellent opportunity for teachers to get quality professional development.

Teachers are life long learners and the OEA Convention provides them with the most up to date and information and teaching strategies they can take back to their classroom. For more on the convention go to the link at

The convention starts at 9:ooam in the Tulsa Convention Center across from the Downtown Doubletree Hotel.

I hope to see you there.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Geography Quiz--Culture & Fashion

Test your knowledge with this quiz on geography and culture from the National Geographic Society. Have a great weekend.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cleveland, Ohio Tragedy

What can we learn from this latest incident?

In the shooting aftermath, experts warn educators to pay attention to threats.

The CBS Evening News (10/11, story 2, 2:30, Couric) reported that educators and community members in Cleveland, Ohio, "where a high school freshman opened fire [Wednesday], wounding two students and two teachers before taking his own life," are asking "could it have been prevented?" According to the Centers for Disease Control, "nearly half of all violence in schools is preceded by warning signs, many times as talk of revenge against bullies."

ABC World News (10/11, story 3, 2:25, Gibson) added that the shooter in Wednesday's tragedy "worried fellow students," because of threats he made. Ronald Bruce, a senior at the school, is one of several classmates who have told media sources that they expressed their fears to teachers or administrators. "I actually talked to a teacher," Bruce said, "about how we could get him out of" the school. The student was serving a suspension at the time of the shootings.

"As school officials in Cleveland revise their security plans," USA Today (10/12, Bazar, Bello) adds, "[P]rofessionals who study youth violence said the solution is simple: Pay attention to threatening behavior and talk." Experts interviewed by USA Today "said educators should learn a key lesson from the more than two dozen school shootings since Columbine in 1999: Troubled teens who plan attacks often warn of their intentions. Schools should teach staff and students to recognize and report threats, and require they be investigated." Northeastern University Criminologist Jack Levin, who has studied school violence, emphasized that "[e]very school should have a program to stop bullying and one to overcome the mind-set that reporting a threat is 'snitching.'" He called installing cameras and metal detectors in schools "a politically expedient solution that doesn't work."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Flawed Research-Increased Course Requirements & Exit Exams

You would think the people who put these studies out would realize their "research" would be challenged.


Increased course requirements and exit exams are simplistic solutions destined to fail

LANSING, Mich. – Several recent high-profile reports calling for the “reinvention” of the American high school are simplistic and seriously flawed, according to a new policy brief released by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The brief, “‘Restoring Value’ to the High School Diploma: The Rhetoric and Practice of Higher Standards,” is by W. Norton Grubb and Jeannie Oakes. In the brief, the authors analyzed a wave of commission reports since 2004 that attack the American high school and call, in particular, for higher state graduation requirements and for exit exams.

Grubb and Oakes conclude that this current push for “rigor” fails on several levels. The reports don’t adequately consider the likely consequences of the policies intended to enforce higher standards. They also “have little to say about how [the] imposition [of these standards] will enhance student performance.” And most discussions in these reports focus on narrow definitions of rigor—higher test scores, more demanding courses, or both—while ignoring other conceptions of rigor that may be as valid, if not more so.

The authors explain that other conceptions of rigor include: depth rather than breadth; more sophisticated levels of understanding including “higher-order skills”; and the ability to apply learning in unfamiliar settings. These conceptions are largely neglected in the new “high standards” commission reports. In addition, while the reports stress “college and workplace readiness,” very few offer strategies that link to the workplace.

The commission reports analyzed by Grubb and Oakes have had a very real policy impact. As they note, “Recent legislation has forced the translation of rhetoric into practice. Most states have increased their graduation requirements, and half the states have adopted exit exams.”
Yet the current push to increase rigor and heighten standards is “seriously flawed,” they write, and “any gains come at the expense of other goals for high school reform, including equity, curricular relevance, and student interest.”

In place of the current approaches, Grubb and Oakes describe a clear and distinctly different alternative to the nineteenth century model of the traditional high school. They suggest that high schools offer “multiple pathways” structured around themes, some drawn from occupational areas, others drawn from broad, multidisciplinary concepts.

Such an approach would “provide room for examining the important occupational, political, and social issues of adult life in the process of teaching disciplinary subjects.” They also explain that focusing “on a single theme nurtures multiple concepts of rigor,” and “the approach distributes responsibility for standards throughout the educational community, and it provides students with the benefits of curricular choice and several routes to graduation.”

Find “’Restoring Value’ to the High School Diploma: The Rhetoric and Practice of Higher Standards,” by W. Norton Grubb and Jeannie Oaks on the web at:

About the authors:
W. Norton Grubb is an economist who holds the David Gardner Chair in Higher Education at University of California, Berkeley--(510) 642-3488;

Jeanne Oaks holds the Presidential Chair in Education Equity at University of California, Los Angeles--(310) 825-2494;

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Flawed Research-"ABC's of School Choice"

Just another voucher study that doesn't stand up to legitimate research.

Review finds Friedman Foundation Report to be a glossy publication of little value

LANSING, Mich.—A new report from the Friedman Foundation claims to offer “a large body of evidence” to help educate people on the merits of school vouchers and other school-choice programs. A review of the report, however, finds it is based on very selective and shoddy evidence and makes misleading and false claims.

“The ABC’s of School Choice,” by the Friedman Foundation, was reviewed for the Think Twice project by Christopher Lubienski, Associate Professor and Fellow at the Forum on the Future of Public Education at the University of Illinois.

The report “is designed as a resource to provide ammunition for persuading people as to the merits of school choice,” according to Lubienski. “While there may indeed be a number of reasons to argue for school choice, this handbook shoots blanks.”

Lubienski writes, “Based on the production values, simplistic assertions and the difficulty of verifying the claims made in the report, it appears that the Friedman Foundation is aiming at a relatively uninformed audience, one that it hopes will spread the gospel of vouchers far, wide and without question.”

The review focuses on the merits of each key factual assertion in the report’s “Frequently Asked Questions” section which contains the main claims about research. Lubienski points out that the report tends to rely upon on a very selective sample of studies from other advocacy organizations that are not peer reviewed and are highly biased and of questionable quality.

According to Lubienski, “Evidence – particularly on the issue of achievement – is consistently abused in the report, both by misrepresenting individual studies (including those by voucher advocates) and misrepresenting the general body of research on school choice. Lubienski concludes that the report, as a misleading work of advocacy, offers no useful guidance to policymakers.

“A policy advocacy publication like this should always be read cautiously; the buyer should beware and should read the fine print,” he writes. “The problem here is that there is no fine print — there is only a glossy, highly attractive misrepresentation of the research literature."
Find Christopher Lubienski’s review and a link to the Friedman Foundation’s “ABC’s of School Choice” report at:

Contact: Christopher Lubienski, (217) 333-4382; (email)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Merit Pay:Repeating Mistakes of the Past

This is a rather long article that was in Education Week. Ms. Olson does a great job of talking about the issues involved in Merit/Performance Pay. Many of these issues are being ignored by either various members of the legislature and/or some of their supporters.

Based on the issues raised in the article, you would have thought Ms. Olson was at our presentation on September 11th. Reading the article, you will find that she wasn't, and quotes regarding our same concerns, came from a variety of experts across the country. It is my hope that our elected leaders will benefit from this article and not make the same mistakes that were made 20 years ago.

You can check the orange high-lighted areas for specific references you may find interesting.

NCLB Debate Focuses Attention on Performance Pay for Teachers
By Lynn Olson Education Week

The debate over linking teacher pay to student test scores that ignited on Capitol Hill last month underscores the growing momentum—and continued controversy—behind tying what teachers earn to what students learn.

Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers came out swinging against language in a draft bill for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act that would encourage districts to experiment with performance-based pay for teachers.

But across the nation, experimentation with such efforts is mounting, as states and districts start to crack open the traditional salary schedule by providing teacher bonuses based at least in part on student test-score gains.

At least half a dozen states have statewide or pilot programs that provide financial incentives to teachers based on achievement growth at the classroom or school level. And hundreds of districts are experimenting with such programs, including Denver, Houston, and Nashville, Tenn. The U.S. Department of Education has spent nearly $100 million to promote the idea through the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, which supports the development and implementation of performance-based pay in high-need districts. With the exception of Denver, though, few districts have entirely eliminated pay increases based solely on years of experience and course credits.

“Each year, it seems like there’s more going on than the previous year,” said Allan R. Odden, a professor of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies teacher compensation, “so the momentum is building.”

‘Critical Juncture’
The past is littered, however, with largely short-lived and unsuccessful efforts to redesign teacher-pay systems.

During the 1980s, states experimented with merit-pay plans that tied teachers’ salaries, in part, to evaluations of their performance, and with career ladders that paid some teachers more for taking on extra roles and responsibilities. But teachers often complained that the evaluations were too subjective, and that the limited pots of money available for such programs encouraged unhealthy competition between colleagues. And when tight budget times came, such initiatives were often the first to go.

“I think we’re really at a very critical juncture,” said William J. Slotnik, who has provided technical help to a number of districts working on pay-for-performance plans, “because we’re now 25 years beyond the failed merit-pay experiments of the early 1980s. And if we replicate the same mistakes that burdened that movement, we’re going to lose a generation of compensation reform.”

Research about the effectiveness of performance-based pay is scarce. A 2007 research synthesis by the federally financed Consortium for Policy Research in Education concluded that such plans “have met with some, but limited, initial success. Evidence of a substantial positive impact on either student achievement or teacher performance is lacking, and teachers report a wide variety of both positive and negative reactions to local plans.”

More recent studies have found a generally positive relationship between financial incentives for teachers and improved student achievement.

“We don’t think the literature is sophisticated enough to say, ‘This is the right way to do it,’ ” said Michael J. Podgursky, a professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia, who conducted a recent synthesis of such studies with Matthew G. Springer, the director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University. “But we think it’s strong enough, at this point, to say districts and states ought to go out there and seriously think about experimenting and attempting to innovate in this area.”

The surge of interest in such experimentation is bolstered by research findings that some teachers are far more effective than others in raising student achievement. Compensation changes that reward talented teachers so that they stay in the profession, and encourage ineffective ones to improve or leave, potentially could have a large impact on student learning.

Learning From Experience
But despite a growing consensus that compensation systems for teachers need to be altered, said Brad Jupp, a senior academic-policy adviser to the superintendent of the Denver public schools and one of the creators of the district’s performance-based pay plan, “there’s no clear consensus about what the best way to pay people, other than the single-salary schedule, is. We’re in that period of time after the old paradigm has gone and before the new paradigm has finally evolved.”

Under the single-salary schedule, the long-dominant approach, teachers are paid based on uniform pay steps that reward years of experience and education coursework completed.

For states and districts willing to wade into an overhaul of how they pay teachers, experts offer a number of pointers based on experience. For starters, they suggest, the basic salary and benefits package needs to be competitive before policymakers embark on a performance-pay plan. Experts also suggest the rewards should be substantial—such as 5 percent of base pay—if they’re going to motivate teachers.

Stable and adequate funding is also a necessity—and one of the hardest issues for school systems, given the sizable costs of such programs. In 2005, the Denver school board persuaded voters in the 73,400-student district to raise their taxes by $25 million a year to support the ProComp Plan, which pays teachers more if they improve student achievement, acquire and demonstrate new knowledge and skills, choose to work in hard-to-staff schools and positions, and receive satisfactory job evaluations.

In contrast, many of the programs launched under the Teacher Incentive Fund are running almost entirely on federal money, with little guarantee they can be sustained without that aid.

Pay increments also need to be open to all teachers, not just those in state-tested subjects or an arbitrary percentage of the teaching force, advised a blue-ribbon panel of teachers, the TeachersSolution group, that called last year for overhauling how teachers are paid. ("Teacher Panel Calls for Overhaul of Pay," April 11, 2007.)

In addition, compensation changes need the early engagement and broad public buy-in of teachers and their unions, people who have studied the issue say.

“Too many times in the past, these programs have been imposed, and you can’t force people to do it,” said Lewis C. Solmon, the president of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, which last year issued recommendations on creating a successful performance-compensation system for educators.

Union concerns about performance-pay policies have been evident in the response to the recent NCLB-reauthorization draft, released by leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee. ("Unions Assail Teacher Ideas in NCLB Draft," Sept. 19, 2007.)

In a Sept. 20 letter to U.S. Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who chairs the committee, AFT President Edward J. McElroy reiterated his union’s opposition to having the federal government “mandate” the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“The AFT does believe that the decision to use or not use student test scores as part of a teacher -evaluation system should be made at the local level by the district officials and teachers who are directly affected by and most knowledgeable about the differential compensation plans that will work in their schools,” he wrote. “The AFT believes that compensation is a mandatory matter of collective bargaining subject to state and local, not federal, law.”

The Denver plan was crafted in collaboration with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate. Philadelphia, in contrast, had to scale back its pilot compensation program this school year to a handful of charter schools because it could not reach an agreement with its local AFT affiliate about how to implement the program in district-operated public schools.

Denver also permitted veteran teachers to opt into the program, rather than forcing them to participate.

“I never felt pressured to join it,” said Elizabeth G. Douma, a humanities facilitator at the 650-student Hill Campus of Arts and Sciences, a Denver middle school. “I can’t say enough about the fact that the district has let veteran teachers enter at their own pace, and really given us a lot of advice about where to enter.”

As of this fall, almost half of Denver’s teachers, including Ms. Douma, are taking part in ProComp.

Experts say there’s no such thing as “overcommunication” when it comes to explaining performance-pay plans to teachers and making their provisions clear. Denver’s ProComp has its own Web site and a salary calculator so teachers can determine the payout they’ll receive for various accomplishments.

Equally important, such plans need to rest on a strong measurement system for evaluating teachers, particularly if they hope to gain teachers’ trust and be seen as fair. Both national teachers’ unions remain opposed to financial incentives tied solely to student test scores, such as Houston’s ASPIRE Awards program.

In Denver, teachers can earn annual salary increases for student growth on both state tests and on classroom objectives teachers themselves set in collaboration with their principals. An evaluation of Denver’s pilot program found students whose teachers set higher-quality objectives achieved higher scores on state tests than did pupils whose teachers set lower-quality learning goals.

“I feel it has pushed staff to look at their own practice and how it impacts student growth,” Marcia W. Cornejo, a school psychologist and social worker at Swansea Elementary School, said of ProComp. The 17-year veteran, who had been at the top of the salary ladder under the traditional pay schedule, received an extra $10,000 last year through the program.

Not Pay Alone
The good news, said Mr. Podgursky of the University of Missouri, is that states and districts are rapidly developing data systems that permit them to estimate teachers’ effectiveness based on their students’ test-score gains over time. Much debate remains about the accuracy of those measures, particularly when it comes to rewarding individual teachers. But Mr. Podgursky also argued that states and districts don’t have to rely on a single measure of teacher performance. Evaluations by principals can also be a reliable guide for identifying high- and low-performing teachers.

“Any single measure has faults,” Mr. Podgursky said, “but by combining a set of independent measures, you get a better fix on true effectiveness.”

One of the most widely used innovations in teacher compensation—the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, started in 1999 by the Milken Family Foundation—provides bonuses to teachers who increase students’ academic growth and who demonstrate their skills through classroom evaluations that are conducted four to six times a year by multiple evaluators whom TAP trains and certifies.

The first broad evaluation of the program, released this year by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, which operates TAP, found that teachers in schools that participate in the program are more likely to significantly raise student achievement than similar teachers in other public schools.

But Mr. Solmon, the president of the institute, emphasized that TAP is a comprehensive program that includes more than performance-based pay. It also gives qualified teachers opportunities to take on more responsibility and get paid for doing so. And it provides teachers with school-based professional development during the day to help them develop their knowledge and skills. Critics argue that performance-based pay plans are unlikely to raise student achievement without a clear path for teachers’ to actually improve their skills.

Indeed, one of the key lessons coming out of the research is that financial incentives alone are probably not enough to dramatically change the teacher-talent pool or improve student learning. Studies have found that teachers’ working conditions—including school principals’ leadership, teachers’ opportunities for advancement, the availability of materials and resources, student behavior and discipline, and the chance for teachers to influence decisions and work with others—are strongly linked to satisfaction and turnover.

One of the biggest mistakes of the past, said Mr. Slotnik, the executive director of the Boston-based Community Training and Assistance Center, which provides help to a number of performance-pay efforts around the country, was that changes in compensation policy were viewed as separate from the other factors that lead schools to be effective.

“People see it as being a tack-on, or in addition to, what they’re doing, instead of seeing that it’s fundamentally changing what they’re doing,” he argued. “This is a systemic reform. It’s going to affect virtually every part of the organization”—from how teachers are selected and evaluated to how they are supported and encouraged to hone the skills the compensation system rewards.

“When you see all these stipend efforts that are providing more money but aren’t touching other parts of the organization,” Mr. Slotnik said, “it’s going to run into problems.”

Monday, October 01, 2007

NCLB Reauthorization Action

Urge Senators to Co-sponsor Bills on Common-Sense Assessment Systems

Two critical bills have been introduced in the Senate that would make a real difference in improving assessment systems and offering meaningful accountability.

Urge your Senators to sign on as co-sponsors to the Improving Student Testing Act of 2007 (S. 2053), sponsored by Senator Russ Feingold (WI) and Patrick Leahy (VT). Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Ken Salazar (D-CO) have also introduced the No Child Left Behind Reform Act (S. 1194).

Both bills would make significant, meaningful changes to measurement of student performance and school success, including by allowing states to use growth models and multiple measures and ending the over-reliance upon two standardized tests given one day out of the year.
Both bills have NEA's support, but they need the additional sponsorship of your Senators.


Tell your Senators to cosponsor the Improving Student Testing Act and the No Child Left Behind Reform Act.