Race to the Bottom

Consider, for a moment, the Performance Management System as designed by Seattle Public Schools.

All schools get some funding and resources from the Performance Management System.

Schools with low performace or slow performance growth and deemed in need of help will get more additional funding and resources. Schools with high performance and adequate performance growth will get less additional funding and resources.

So the worse your scores, the more funding and resources you get. They reward low performance. The downside is that the Education Director decides how those funds are spent at your school. Presumably the Education Director makes the decision based on a knowledge of the school's needs.

And what is the reward for high performance? You get less money but the principal decides how it is spent. That, by the way, is the extent of "earned autonomy". That's the autonomy you can earn: the right to determine how your school's small allotment (less than $50,000) of Performance Management money is spent. And it isn't that autonomous. The principal has to choose off of a set menu.

So there isn't much upside or reward for doing well. First, you just get less money. Second, the autonomy you win isn't that autonomous. And it's kind of insulting to the professionals to think that the Education Director would spend the money in ways that are wildly different from the way the Principal would spend it, or that the Education Director would do it without any consultation with the principal.

The upside of doing poorly, however, is significant - hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Anyone regarding these incentives would teach the children as best they could, but also do whatever they could to spike the assessments. In short, encourage children and their families to opt out of the MSP or the HSPE (the tests formerly known as the WASL) so your scores are artificially bad.

It's a race to the bottom.

I don't know if this scenario will be much altered by performance pay for teachers or principals, but those folks are really much motivated by money and the performance pay for professionals shouldn't be predicated much on student test scores when there are other measures that show that the students are learning. The Performance Management scoring system for schools isn't nearly as insightful as we expect the peformance evaluation system for professionals to be.


ttln said…
It looks like Principal and BLT Management if Ed Directors get to take the budget decision making power away. That may not be a terrible thing in some cases.
I do agree that the extra money that comes with being 'in improvement' (what a school is labeled when not making AYP according to NCLB) is mighty nice and helpful when used effectively. Which says something about fully funding education, no?
Eric M said…
"Performance pay" of all kinds has been shown to be worthless. See this article on "merit" pay. http://www.ednews.org/articles/study----texas-teacher-merit-pay-program-hasnt-boosted-student-performance-.html

Your insights about this are about right on. Would any of this stupid crap make anyone work harder ?

It's just a neo-fascist attempt to solve problems by applying a more rigid structure.

There was a (fairly) good article in the New York Times yesterday about the rise of adult cheating on high stakes testing for students.

I say fairly good, because it unfortunately left out mention of test cheating in Dr.Goodloe-Johnson's former district, under her watch. Here's another Times article about that: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/31/education/31charleston.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&oref=slogin

Beware when the next Superintendent candidates claim that test scores went up in their former district.
Charlie Mas said…
That reminds of another outcome of opting out of the MSP: it makes the superintendent look dreadful.

Imagine if a significant portion of Seattle Public Schools families opted out of the state test. It wouldn't hurt their students or schools any (in fact, as I have described, it would benefit them), but it would seriously damage the superintendent's ability to get another job in education.
dan dempsey said…
Race to the Bottom ... that plan is in clear evidence for math at the moment ....

So after the SPS buys crappy materials and vertically aligns them internally as per the Strategic Plan and even expensive and extensive professional development does very little ... then I guess we just wait for a non-Bergeson WASL Math GLE test .. on say the WA Math Standards but ... when will the teachers be teaching those New WA Math Standards because it is NOT happening now.

Why were we using a MAP test that for math was not aligned to the State Math Standards and gave teachers very little useful information about their students? .... Oh yes It is clearly a "gearing up" for Race to the Bottom; now I see.

A perfect way to spend $450,000 per year .... wonderful.


Face facts this current system under MGJ exists as a place for vendors to sell products ... and unfortunately little else.
Meg said…
Actually, from what I understand (and I'll let y'all know if I'm wrong), strongly performing schools don't get any more freedom in how to spend their performance management funds than poorly performing schools. All schools - whether they're participating in performance management this year or not - have to write CSIPs (Continuous School Improvement Plans). If they're participating in performance management, the idea is that they use the CSIP to apply to the funding arm of performance management (possibly narrowing their request some) - and those folks, in the central office, decide how that school can spend their performance management money. It's highly prescribed, even for highly performing schools receiving small grants. Here are two examples (the stuff in quotes is from a public records request to the district about performance management funding)

Schmitz Park, for instance, will receive $24,061, and with it they must:
"-Support common planning time for teachers facilitated by math specialist (no cost)
-Support common building-wide PD @ 16 TRI hrs/teacher (no cost)
-support Innovation Team Leadership Stipends ($9,600)
-Support teacher exchange & observation time ($6,000)
-Support .1 FTE Intervention Coordinator to be combined with a PT resource room position to chair the SIT, coordinate RTI, structure tutoring and monitor frequent assessments ($8,461)
-Support 1:1 tutoring (paid for by PTA, no cost)"

Cleveland will be getting $440,250 (guess the "alternate funding" source didn't come through) to:
"-Support 2.0 FTE math teachers to support common planning time for math dept for 9th & 10th grade and additional math labs for targeted students ($172,696)
-Support 0.5 UW Math Consultant, [emphasis theirs] pending agreement between SPS & UW and require UW consultants to meet with SPS coaaches every Friday ($50,000)
-Support 1.0 FTE LA teacher ($86,348)
-Support 1.0 FTE social worker to support PBIS program ($70,682)
-Support 1.0 FTE re-entry intervention specialist ($60,524)

Additional Recommendations:
-Provide extended learning time in math for targeted students
-Build on Advisory period as a strategy to increase attendance (no cost)"

In many ways, Cleveland is no more prescribed than Schmitz Park - but Cleveland will get nearly 20x the amount of money.

Schmitz Park, like all other schools participating in the funding arm of performance management, doesn't necessarily know what the district will decide to fund, but it is not discretionary.
Ben said…
Naive question here:

If rewarding low-performing schools and "punishing" high-performing schools is bad (and it sure sounds bad), what's the alternative?

NCLB rewards (rewarded?) high-performing schools, and all that does is create a bizarre sort of education where students are considered educated even if all they've learned is what's on the test.
Charlie Mas said…
NCLB didn't reward anybody except charters, bus companies, and tutoring services. For schools, NCLB had only sanctions for failure, no rewards for success. Even then, the sanctions were only for Title I schools. Schools full of middle class students could fail to make AYP forever and there would be no consequences.

I just think it's weird that the incentives are upside-down. Don't you? Can you imagine the school that realizes that they could get funding for a counselor if only thirty more kids failed the MSP.
Ben said…
I guess I don't know much about NCLB (even though I can use the snazzy abbreviation like a pro).

I agree that rewarding failure is dumb.
Sahila said…
Charlie - I seriously doubt that school BLTs and Site Councils or principals and teachers sit around saying... oh lets not teach our kids well this year, cos then we'll get money next year for a counsellor...

And I think punishing low performing schools(for factors that are symptoms of societal inequity and dysfunction) will not encourage academic improvement in those schools either... they will just fall further and further behind...

I'm sorry, but I think your perspective is too narrow and doesnt include the realities of life at the bottom of the heap... it seems to me you are assigning values held by the privileged amongst us and trying to apply them to the (already) disadvantaged...

Too many of us have bought into the myth that if certain members of our community arent making it, its their fault... they haven't worked hard enough, they're lazy, its their own fault they're living lives of misery... if only they did what the rest of us did as conscientious citizens, they too would find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow...

The system isnt set up to allow us all to succeed... it needs many of us to fail and it works to make sure that happens...

And education is the same...
mascarah said…
Give me a break. Money spent on forced professional development during our summer vacation, and condescending instructional coaches is hardly a reward. Nobody is racing to the bottom for this kind of stuff. This is a really narrow analysis that does not address the structural inequalities (translating to different needs) that kids in some schools face.
Charlie Mas said…
Sahila, I didn't suggest that the schools not teach the children well.

I suggest that the children just not pass the test.

And the best way to keep them from passing the test would be for them to refuse to take it in the first place.

So if a school just convinced 30 kids to opt out of the test, they would have the 30 additional "fail" scores they need.

Teach the children as best you can; just have them marked as "fail" on the test.
Charlie Mas said…
By the way, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's merit pay is dependent on increased pass rates. If students opt out of the test it will cost her money out of her pocket.
Charlie Mas said…
And it will spike her resume-building efforts.
Sahila said…
I agree with the boycotting of tests, for the reasons you articulate and a host of others... you should see what is happening in Florida with incompetent testing companies...


I think I suggested a test boycott when I first started writing on this blog a year ago... If I remember rightly, I was "booed off the stage", for using our kids as pawns in a political campaign and ruining their chances of getting into college...

I also suggested one-day rolling stoppages (teachers and students, or only students) across our schools... or a mass boycott of school once per month... again, lots of criticism for that approach - funny how I've been having people suggest that to me in the past couple of months...
seattle citizen said…
Here's the entire article Sahila linked to about Florida's testing troubles. Scary: 254 million in Florida, times 50 states, = 12.5 BILLION dollars in testing contracts. Good work if you can get it.
Scores are useless now, caught between data bases. They've gone from two scorers to one for each test, leaving lots of issues with fairness....Yikes.

"Get FCAT right this time

OUR OPINION: Only independent audit can ensure accuracy
How could a huge testing company like NCS Pearson leave Florida students, parents and schools in the lurch, waiting for FCAT scores that will tell them whether they made the grade or need extra help in reading or math?

That's the $254 million question that begs for an independent auditor to answer.

The Florida Department of Education maintains it selected NCS Pearson because its bid came in $200 million lower than its competitor, CTB McGraw-Hill, which held the previous state contract to oversee FCAT testing and scoring. But now NCS Pearson blames computer glitches that have mismatched test results with each child's demographic information.

Meanwhile, the school year is over and the test scores for most students are stuck between two databases that can't seem to reconcile results, that of the state DOE and NCS Pearson's. Test results should have been released in April for writing tests and in May for reading and math.

Contract no bargain

The $254 million, three-year contract may have seemed like a bargain when it was awarded, but now it's one expensive headache as superintendents and principals can't plan for next year's classes and figure out how many students need remedial courses without those FCAT scores. The company is promising to fix the mess by the end of June, and the state DOE will hit NCS Pearson with a $250,000 fine each day it's late, but that's chump change because the contract caps penalties at 10 percent.

What's $25 million less in a $254 million contract? The cost of doing a lousy job may still contain a hefty profit margin.

Accuracy compromised

Then there's the silliness of having a writing test that allows proficiency with a 3.5 score but this year's method of scoring won't offer any half points. Instead of having two trained graders going over the same writing test, as has been the case to ensure results are objective, this year there is only one grader on each test. Such cost-cutting doesn't ensure accuracy. As it is, more than a third of Miami-Dade's students earned half scores in a district trial, which speaks to the nuances of grading a writing test. Having one grader is simply unfair.

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is a high-stakes business that can make or break a student -- and a school. Low FCAT scores can force a third-grader to repeat the grade or keep a high-school senior from graduating. Students' performance on those tests -- and whether poor or minority students are improving -- also result in scoring schools with money strings attached.

Fortunately, the ``glitch'' has not affected third-graders or high-school seniors, who graduated last week. The state maintains those results came in fine. But how can anyone be sure?

Floridians can't trust these results. That's why an independent audit is needed, both on the procedure used to award this contract to a company that has a long history of problems in several states -- including Florida a decade ago -- and the accuracy of this year's results. "

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