Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I'm still a bit confused about why the district wants to do this, but they've said that they won't approve a charter school unless the school mirrors the district demographics. It would also be interesting to find out what would constitute an allowable variance and how they would put that into a legal policy.
By definition, a charter school is a school of choice. It's funny to me that if a charter school had too large of a populations of ethnic minorities, then it's considered a problem. If the population is to small, that's a problem too. So, people like those Greeley board members would trump choice by forcing a particular ethnic mix. In addition, they would not even allow the school to open if it didn't provide some kind of guarantee or something that it would meet those criteria. Then it's difficult to imagine what the district would do with a high performing school that might end up having different demographics by a percentage point or two. It's also difficult to imagine what would happen if the school mirrored the district at first, then the district demographics changed. Would the school then have to kick out students of a particular race in order to fill slots with students from a different race?
Of course, my confusion is not the real point. The main point is that a forced ethnic mix is illegal in almost in other circumstance. Why not here?
The point about the school not being eligible for a large start up grant if they adhere to the school district demand is also frustrating. The state requirement is very clear. A school must have a lottery policy that allows equal access for everyone in order to be eligible for the start up grant. To force a new charter school to give up start up grant funding is almost like saying that they shouldn't exist. Start up grant funds are used for many essential items that charter schools often can't fund out of their normal operations.
All in all, I find it hard to find polite words to describe my frustration and amazement that a school board would propose such a policy. So, since my mother always said, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," I guess I'll stop now.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Democracy Prep's argument is simple. We hire the best candidates who meet our high standards.
It seems to me that the results of the school should be allowed to speak. It's the output that matters, not whether or not they hire teachers with a credential. This is especially true given the number of studies that show that certification doesn't mean much, if anything.
Letting the school and the parents of the children decide, much like a democracy, is one of the main purposes of having charter schools. How can a school truly support innovation if it cannot hire the people that it determines will be the best fit for its culture and the best educators for its students.
Rhode Island needs to rethink its policies to support real reform. What it needs is more democracy.
Friday, November 26, 2010
On the other hand, charter school leaders can hardly be surprised. As charter schools continue to increase in favor, it means that more teachers are in charter schools. It means that there may be fewer teachers in traditional public schools. Either way, it means that the unions have the opportunity to expand and receive more dues for their marketing efforts.
In addition, teachers are free to organize if they do not feel as if they are being supported by their schools. I am not necessarily opposed to allowing organized labor. The organization of teachers in charter schools appears to signal that teachers are unhappy with the work arrangements at their schools. If this is the case, then charter school leaders should blame themselves for their teachers' desire to organize.
The flip side is that charter school teachers may eventually find themselves in need of a job if unionization means that the charter schools end up failing.
I'm also concerned that union leaders will cause charter school leaders to be forced to choose between honoring their mission statements and serving union demands. If this happens, then there will be no reason for charter schools to exist.
I've always wondered if the union desire to move into charter schools had the ulterior motive of eliminating charter schools. Only time will tell.
In the mean time, charter school leaders need to ensure that they are taking measures to:
1. Ensure that they are meeting their goals.
2. Ensure that they are treating their teachers well and as part of the community.
3. Provide strong motivation for teachers to remain independent from the union.
The only reason for teachers to choose a non-union school to a union school is if the non-union environment is perceived as superior to a union environment. Providing that environment rests on the school leaders, including board members.
Charter schools cannot ignore unions who come knocking, but they can provide an environment in which teachers refuse to open the door.
The article reports on six charter schools that were declared to be unauditable because their record keeping was so bad.
This is really bad because I've gone into schools with poor record keeping and managed to piece their books back together. So, for a school to be unauditable is pretty bad. I'm not trying to justify this situation.
However, to these schools (all managed by the same group) and then conclude that charter schools don't work is just plain silly. I'm not sure which school the tweeter attended to learn logic skills, but I'm hoping it wasn't a charter school.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Today I'm taking a break from my banter about charter schools. As much as I love to talk about education and charter schools and ways to improve schools, I also have a real passion for helping orphan children. I am on the board of trustees for Children's HopeChest.
We are currently doing a campaign to help Russian and Moldovan girls who are vulnerable to the sex trade. If you can help, click here. My goal is to raise $2,000 and I will match that $2,000. For every dollar that is donated up to $2,000, I will match the donation. If you donate through this link, your donation will be recorded and I will match it.
Thanks for supporting these young girls as we try to keep them from entering a life of slavery.
Help us CHANGE THEIR STORY!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I am not hopeful that facts or the urging of economists will change the current pay structure favoring additional degrees. However, given the current economic times and the pressures on education budgets, this appears to be an obvious time to reconsider this waste of public resources. Because less money will be available for public education, education leaders need to reallocate money to where it is most effective.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Charter schools often have a bone to pick with their districts. Sometimes those bones are legitimate. Other times they are personal.
I've seen so many reasons for bad relationships between schools and their districts that I could create quite a list.
The question I've been asking myself lately has to do with existing unwanted school facilities and charter schools. In Colorado, we've had another case in which a district destroyed a building rather than allowing it to be occupied by a charter school. One of the reasons given was that the district did not have an obligation to educate the charter school students. I think what they meant was that they didn't have an obligation to keep the charter school alive.
It's absolutely true that there is no legal responsibility, but isn't there a moral responsibility? The two are not necessarily the same. I suppose an argument could be made that the district has facilities and those students can be absorbed into existing schools. Therefore, the students are not harmed.
On the other hand, the school was approved as a viable and useful option for students. The school has a charter. The facility was built by taxpayers as a school.
I know that I'm biased, but if we really believe (as I do) that we need to seek options for all students and we need to care about all students, then why would we not believe that an existing building shouldn't be used to house these children?
In addition, if the charter school closes (which it will), then a number of teachers will be put out of jobs.
If charter schools are going to be compared to traditional public schools as if they are on a level playing field, ought we not actually hold districts to practices that actually put charter schools on a level playing field? Right now the facilities game is weighted completely against charter schools, forcing charter schools to take budget actions that are more difficult even than those made by districts in the current economy. It seem that it's ok to judge charter schools without helping them. Let's tie their arms behind their back and expect them to play the game. This case of facilities is a perfect example where a charter school could have be assisted at no substantial cost to the district or the taxpayers.
It is always nice when laws catch up to morality. It doesn't always happen, and it's not always effective, but it is also nice when entities that should be in the same business work together.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
In traditional educational compensation, there are two variables—education level and experience—nothing else matters. A teacher may be excellent or poor, enthusiastic or boring. As long as teachers earn degrees and stay in the system, their pay increases by a specified amount. However, neither experience nor education necessarily correlates to student achievement. While it’s difficult to prove cause from correlation, it’s disingenuous
Similarly, merit pay systems that reward teachers for variables outside their control— such as snapshot test scores or competitive school rankings—are statistically bankrupt and demoralizing. Strategic Teacher Compensation is intellectually honest because it holds school leaders accountable for choices about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Teachers are compensated for how well they embody and execute the school’s strategy.
Another distinction that separates strategic compensation from traditional or scores-based compensation is coherence. The traditional system is incoherent in the extreme. If the purpose of a pay system were to provide absolute equity, employment protection, rigid seniority benefits, and fund the teacher’s union then traditional pay systems would be perfect. In fact, many union representatives talk as if the schools exist for the sake of the teachers. The traditional system completely ignores the educational priorities of students. In fact, it ignores the priorities of almost all stakeholders—including excellent teachers. The only priorities taken into account are the security of moderately successful teachers, those who don’t necessarily excel, but want to preserve their jobs and increase their pay all the same.
As a thought experiment, consider four kinds of teachers: slackers, grinders, stars, and heroes. In a traditional system, pay is spread around the grid without regard for the quality of the teacher.
Slackers are just as likely as heroes to earn the highest salaries in the district. Some schools seem like magnets for slackers and grinders, while high-performing student populations attract high-profile stars. Heroes can be found anywhere—except at the top of the salary scale.
In a merit pay system, either all teachers share equally in the efforts of a few (such as when bonuses are distributed universally for school performance) or the stars and heroes soak up available bonus budgets. If systems values absolute performance, then stars reap rewards. If longitudinal growth is the measure, then heroes take the prize. Either way, the slackers and grinders lumber along while unfortunate students slumber along.
These incoherencies are endemic to traditional pay systems. Strategic Teacher Compensation is different. Under a strategic system, school leaders identify strategies to respond to the major challenges and opportunities facing the school and its students. If the school needs more stars and heroes, then leaders devise a system to recruit, recognize, and reward them. If some schools or subjects are hard to fill, the compensation system boosts their appeal. If slackers are undermining the strategic plan, their compensation should shrink or disappear. While this approach is not perfectly objective, aligning the pay of each individual teacher to the explicit priorities of the school allows leaders to reinforce teachers who provide the greatest value to the students. It also restores teacher autonomy to match their positions and posture with their professional goals.
A strategic system is coherent because major institutional systems, such as compensation, are held together (cohere) by virtue of their alignment to central strategic priorities. Rather than emphasizing false paired variables like experience/education or high/low test scores, strategic compensation systems reward as many relevant variables as needed to improve student achievement or meet other goals that school leaders might set as strategic priorities.
Faced with the problems of traditional compensation, schools adopted corporate-style merit pay structures to correct systemic deficits. Like strategic compensation, merit pay was designed as an attempt to take into account additional variables, such as performance. Unfortunately, most merit pay systems are not truly systematic. Often, compensation judgments are subjective and performance rubrics are unclear or nonexistent. In addition, because merit systems are not required to set a scale or associate salaries with specific outcomes and rubrics every year, some teachers can rest on past performance and achievement. For teachers, merit pay can also mean that salary is tied to test scores in ways that are not fair to all teachers. Teacher cannot necessarily control the outcomes that determine merit pay, which results in unpredictable outcomes for teachers.
In a major study conducted by Vanderbilt University (2009), teachers were asked to rate different variables that they felt deserved differentiated compensation. Not surprisingly, teachers were generally very skeptical about single–point standardized test scores. However, teachers were supportive of paying themselves and their colleagues more to teach in schools with high percentages of high needs students, or in subject areas that are particularly hard to staff. This means that teachers are sensitive to market factors that can make it hard for school systems to hire, place, and retain the teachers they need in the classrooms that need them.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Strategic Teacher Compensation
The ecosystem of teacher compensation is largely as it was two or ten decades ago. Most debates about teacher compensation are dominated by a labor-management calculation where teachers are treated like widgets and students are conspicuously absent from the equation. In 2010, the vast majority of teachers are still paid according to a single-schedule (step-and-lane system). Even though there is no evidence to associate experience, education, or seniority with student performance, the entrenched systems of tenure and collective bargaining perpetuate Paleolithic compensation structures.
Within the stone-age compensation environment, there are a few pockets of new ideas and growth. Some, like merit pay, present their own problems and incoherence. Others, like the massive incentive programs in Denver and Nashville, are too large to be nimble. They are monoliths too—Neolithic instead of Paleo. As we look across the landscape of teacher pay and the various approaches that are currently being used, we observed that none of them really captured what our experience and intuition tell us is right about compensation and performance. We concluded that the key problems with existing pay systems are that they consistently fail to align teacher pay with strategic purpose. The system we have developed—Strategic Teacher Compensation™—aligns the work of teachers with the work of the school.
Most of the compensation discussion contrasts merit/performance pay with step and lane systems—creating a misleading dichotomy. Neither approach values the teacher in a way that is appropriate to the teaching profession or, perhaps more importantly, the teacher’s strategic contribution to the education of children and a given school’s mission. Strategic Teacher Compensation draws a bright line from the actions of teachers to fulfillment of the school’s mission.
A simple truth, worth injecting in any compensation discussion, is that schools are not all the same. Districts are not all the same. While they share commonalities, they also have differences in population, parental participation and community support.
This causes schools to differentiate, especially in their strategic goals. Because of this divergence, a great teacher in one school may be just so-so another school. Teachers who lead or join efforts to form a cohesive vision for the school add more value than teachers who thwart those efforts. These varying levels of contributions should be reflected in the teachers’ compensation.
Effective school leaders develop a comprehensive strategic plan that is understood, accepted and supported by the school board. This strategic plan should be designed so that if faithfully implemented, the school will achieve its mission. For that reason, teachers who show support for the plan and assist in implementing the plan should be rewarded. Those who fail to support the plan and its implementation should not be rewarded to the same degree. This approach gives leaders more options rather than the binary choice between keeping teachers on staff or attempting to remove them from staff. Strategic Teacher Compensation lets leaders add salary to the package of persuasion and inspiration that typically motivates teachers to support the mission of the school.
WEBINAR ALERT! This Friday, on November 5, 2010, the Colorado League of Charter Schools and the Colorado Charter School Institute are sponsoring a free webinar on alternative (strategic) compensation. Details are below. HT CLCS Friday Wire.
Alternative Compensation for Educators - Webinar
Hosted by the Colorado League of Charter Schools and Charter School Institute
Date: Friday, November 5
Time: 9:30 AM - 10:30 AM
Location: Online Webinar
Description: The Colorado League of Charter Schools and the Charter School Institute invite you to participate in a Webinar on alternative compensation for educators. The Webinar will be moderated by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, and will feature several perspectives from Colorado charter school leaders who are in various stages of implementing alternative compensation programs. Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now at:https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/813447657. Questions? Contact Dale DeCesare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-227-0089.