Monday, April 4, 2016

Puzzle of the Day: Trying to Understand the Opt-Out Movement's Contempt of Objectivity

Those who ally themselves with the "opt out" movement are hyperventilating as we begin 2016 standardized tests. So much angst over the timeless tradition of assessing student proficiency in math and reading!

Of course, it's not about the tests themselves: it's about the use of the tests, which have generated a startling antipathy. While we once had consensus  -- from AFT President Randi Weingarten to former  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, from N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo to N.J. Governor Chris Christie -- on linking some small portion of student growth to teacher evaluations, suddenly data-based measurement is toxic.

Except when it's not.

When we're talking teacher compensation, objectivity is just grand. But when we're talking about students, even the faintest whiff of objectivity is fetid.

Public educators in traditional schools garner salary increases not through merit but through 1) longevity and 2) credits/degrees earned. Typical salary schedules are "step and lane." Every additional year of teaching lets you move up a "step" and additional credits and/or degrees lets you move laterally to a higher-paying "lane." For example, this salary schedule from the Chicago Teachers Union (whose members walked out on Friday, leaving students and families in the lurch) has 16 steps, one for each year, for teachers who work a 205-day year.  (Here's the link for salary schedules for educators who work longer years.) There are 6 lanes: lane I is for  teachers who have a B.A. or B.S. and lane VI is for teachers who have a Ph.D. So a teacher in his or her 13th year of employment (step 13) with a Master's degree plus 15 credits (lane IV) would make $93,409 per year.

(Exception:  CTU high school teachers who teach more than 5 periods get prorated overtime, between 12%-16% of base pay.)

TNTP calls this kind of assembly-line, merit-blind  compensation system "the widget effect":  no differentiation allowed.

But when we come to students, subjectivity is just grand. Whole new ball game. Take your objectivity where the sun don't shine, even when all the tests are shorter than they were last year and the impact of student growth on teacher evaluations is de minimus.  Diane Ravitch, queen of the test refusal movement, just told parents "that taking the tests are not in the best interest of their children and that they should instead 'insist that your child have a full curriculum' and be assessed by their teacher rather than by high-stakes exams."

That's my puzzle. How does one reconcile union leaders' fidelity towards a lockstep compensation system with their campaign for a student evaluation system that is completely subjective?  If we can embrace the whole child, can't we embrace the whole teacher? A little consistency, please, or I might start feeling cynical.



1 comment:

Unknown said...

When it comes to compensation pay is now based on objective measures (as you pointed out, years teaching and degrees/training acquired), but when it comes to evaluations, performance is based solely on subjective measures (principal observations, peer observation). This system is bad for our children. It also does little to reward our most effective teachers, while doing even less to identify and help rectify struggling teachers. It is a system of job protection through politics; it rewards those with time in the system and those that form strong relationships with principals/administration, at the expense of children's needs.

Using Objective measures (data), in concert with Subjective observations is a better approach. This would lead to recognizing, identifying & rewarding best practices. It makes clear and visible the goals teachers need to accomplish. This is how you achieve positive change.