Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Ed News

Scholastic is launching a new Harry Potter Reading Club for the start of the school year.  There will be a live webcast with J.K. Rowling and she will answer questions from kids.

Teachers can sign up now (it's on October 11 at 9 am our time).   As well there are welcome kits to the first 10,000 registrants (but you can download it as well).

Hilariousness with an sober side.  It seems that there is this new idea for merit pay for teachers called "loss aversion."

Economist Roland Fryer has been trying for years to find the magic incentive that would produce higher scores.

He tried merit pay, and that didn’t work.

He tried paying students to get higher scores, but that didn’t work.

Now, he has at last found the key: He and his colleagues have perfected a technique called “loss aversion.”

They give teachers a bonus (say, $4,000) at the beginning of the year. If the scores go up, the teachers keep the money.  If the scores don’t go up, they lose the money!

Diane Ravitch was asking readers to write a parody of this idea and this one is very funny.

The first study was by the awesome Roland Fryer. He says that the key to making merit pay work is loss aversion. Now math is hard, but the way I understand it instead of giving teachers money if they show improvement on tests, you give them the money up front and then if their students’ test scores don’t improve they either cough up the dough, or your Uncle Rocco pays them a little visit. If they’re like me, they’d probably spend it all on shoes.

What we need is a way to make teachers feel rewarded, retain the best teachers, and use loss aversion to scare teachers into working really hard. Now, if you believe like I do, the best teachers come from programs like Teach for America, this is really easy. When teachers go through the Teach for America program, put like a dozen of them up in a mansion that they could never afford on a teacher’s salary. Then as the school year goes on, have teachers vote each other out of the mansion, but if your kids improve on standardized tests, you have immunity.

The best part is we film this as a reality television show. Now one problem is Teach for America’s training is only 5 weeks and a reality tv show season is much longer, but that’s fixed by following the recruits through the beginning of their teaching careers.

Uh oh for TFA - here comes Venture for America.  What's that?  Why it's a program for new college grads with start-ups in economically challenged areas of the country.   I have to say that looking it over that if I were a new grad, I might go this route.  Apparently I'm not far off as they have way more applicants than spaces.   Example companies:

Audiosocket in New Orleans has a strong culture where everyone is either a musician or a huge music buff. NABsys in Providence is a thriving biotech company that would like someone with a life sciences degree. 

Doesn't that sound more fun (and a lot easier)than a classroom and you still get that gold star on your resume?

Their mission:

Our mission as an organization is to rebuild American cities through entrepreneurship, enable our best and brightest to create new opportunities for themselves and others, and restore our culture of achievement to include value creation, risk and reward, and the common good. 

Hmm,  that sounds a lot like Mitt Romney talking.


james boutin said...

What bothers me the most about Loss Aversion is that the media writes about it with such an uncritical stance. Roland Fryer and friends act as if the only way to improve education is to dig furiously for ways to motivate teachers more. I won't deny that finding ways to motivate people is perhaps useful, but it certainly implies that they're not already motivated enough for us to think about other ways of improving education. If we spent the money we're spending on these kinds of studies on schools and kids and curriculum development....


mirmac1 said...

That sounds like the "revelatory" study that demonstrated how an effective teacher adds $$$X million to the nation's economy (all other things being equal, NOT!). OMG, it must be true!

Miss Waterlow said...

1) can anyone tell me how we decided in the first place that the whole problem is unmotivated teachers? I mean, really, what’s the genesis/history of that idea?

2) I haven’t looked into the entrepreneurship program, but I like the idea (withholding judgement on this particular outfit). Melissa, I wasn’t sure if you were dissing it with the MItt Romney comment or if you also liked it.

When we lived in south east Africa, I saw so many well-meaning aid programs do meh. The most impressive “program” for helping people in that urban community was “run” by an Irishman who’d lived there with his family for over a decade. He simply owned an auto shop. He hired and trained locals because he needed employees. Many of these (mostly men) became expert mechanics. They had real jobs - and the Irishman wasn’t going anywhere, unlike our Western aid friends (TFA) who flit in and out…. If a program like the one you mentioned can grow viable (not continually propped-up) businesses that employ others, excellent.

mirmac1 said...

I know how to motivate teachers. How about not treating them like dirt? Works in my field. What did our next education governor McKenna (*snark*) say:

“It’s how the rest of the world works.”

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm not sure I was dissing anyone but it sounds a lot like what Mitt Romney says. You can make your own judgment if this is good or bad for the country.

Also, "unmotivated" teachers. I'll let teachers weigh in but frankly, in any given school there are a few teachers who are either burned out or tired and are not as inspiring as others. This, of course, happens in ANY profession but teachers are on view in a way that many other professions are not.

I also think there is recognition that teachers are not paid in proportion to what they do and maybe the carrot would push more of them. I doubt it.

mirmac1 said...

More Ed news. Lesley Rogers woke up and posted the following:

Superintendent Banda to participate in Green Apple Day of Service project at Denny Middle School this AM

I can't picture Enfield doing this. She might break a nail.

Catherine said...

If the "solution" to improving education was simple and straightforward, we'd have stumbled on it by now. It's multi-faceted. It's a long term prospect. And it's not a one sized fits all. And it's broader than just what happens in the schools and with teachers.

Motivation theory is fascinating stuff. Until we look at the motivation, and motivations, on all sides of the education equation, we're trying top push overcooked spaghetti up a teflon baking pan with a toothpick.

mirmac1 said...

Hey Catherine, how'd you find out my secret recipe?!

Jan said...

Spot on, Catherine. And as for "motivation" systems, I learned (from watching teachers trying to "motivate" a child) that it is darn hard to come up with a positive reinforcement system that does not immediately "flip and go turtle" -- becoming a negative reinforcement (punishment) system.

seattle citizen said...

Loss Aversion is merely a punishment system - the money has already been given to the teacher and if the high-stakes test scores don't go up (forever?) then the teacher is basically fined. How motivating.

Jan said...

seattle citizen -- you are right. I think they think it will somehow be MORE effective if the teacher actually HAS the money in hand (and has to return it if they fail) than if it is just some "pie in the sky" thing they might get if they somehow produce high enough test scores. Pathetic. It is the essence of a punitive system. Maybe they could line up all the downtown staff and make the teachers who have to return the money give it back in person, and only after running a gauntlet of jeering, name calling administrators? Who thinks up this stuff?

Anonymous said...

someday, politics will be about the rational analysis of alternatives and the rational analysis of priorities. and no one will be mean or selfish because everyone will be noble and selfless.

let's look at WHO are the people who are push-push-pushing in the ed deform world.

many of the worked really hard to attain a certain kind of educational background, a certain kind of leafy neighborhood existence, a certain kind of job (oops! profession!) in the community, a certain kind of pay in the job market, a certain level of status from those credentials, from that zip code, from that job title and from that paycheck. (oops! professional compensation)

let's deprive them of their ability to hob nob with people from similar backgrounds and attainments.

let's deprive them of their access to the right parties and the right events and the right social gatherings ... with the right people.

let's deprive them of their gossiping with each other about what Sauron ... I mean what Gawd ... I mean Bill wants.

let's deprive them of access to their secret little email lists and their big shot rolodex.

Are you getting the picture?

By fighting what Jack Whelan called the honchos, and their dupes, WE know no bodies are causing these social climbing honchos and dupes to fight like hell because the social climbers don't want lose all their access, their cliques, their praises and prizes.

Loss Aversion IS a great Motivator -


Charlie Mas said...

Hey, here's an idea for a teacher incentive:

How about the District identifies the successful principals that teachers think are great, and then assigns those principals to our most challenging schools.

Then the incentive to teachers would be that if they work in those challenging schools they get to work with the best principals in the District.

School quality - real school quality based on the school and not the students in it - is driven largely by the school leadership. Which is not to say that there aren't variations in teacher effectiveness, but that teachers want to work with great principals, which re-doubles the impact of principal quality.

Great principals have the opportunity to build teams of great teachers because great teachers want to work with them.

Bad principals see more applications from ineffective teachers because they don't get applications from the good ones.

Want to give teachers an incentive to work in challenging schools? Put the great principals there. The teachers will follow.

I mean the principals that the TEACHERS think are great, not the principals that the District administrators think are great.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good idea, Charlie.

Anonymous said...

It's a great idea in theory Charlie...but I don't know if it could really work since it's so speculative—beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

For example, I thought Lisa Escobar was a great principal. I was so impressed by her when I toured Center School...but the District moved her to RBHS and the magic was gone. She wasn't wanted by either staff or families. It seems like RBHS is doing better under its new principal. Maybe I'd be impressed if I toured the school now rather than 4 years ago.

Could we really get a consensus from teachers on which principals are the great ones? Perhaps a handful could meet this criteria, but maybe not, since the families have to be happy too.

As a real start, I'd like to see the District get rid of the bad principals—the ones that get shuffled from school to school leaving ruin in their wake, the ones that drive good teachers away, the ones that are constantly out on leave, the ones that bounce back and forth between headquarters and schools. Then at least we'd have a chance of having principals who are at least competent and will do no harm in every school.


Jan said...

Interesting point, SolvayGirl. I had forgotten about the Lisa Escobar thing.

Charlie -- I think your idea is great, in the abstract. But I think we need to stop looking at schools generically (just like teachers need to not look at kids generically, but to see each student strengths and weaknesses). My impression of moving Lisa to RBHS was that the community felt they had many more pressing needs than a co-principal (and no one was listening to them), the District got no buy in from parents (and staff?) for the move, and thus -- she didn't have the support she needed from day one. (This assumes, of course, that she wasn't just plunked down as a sort of downtown enforcer/head fake towards a solution -- in which case, throwing her at the problem had no chance of success anyway.

Maybe there needs to be an additional step in there -- at least for schools like RBHS where the parent community is highly frustrated with (and justifiably critical of) failed "help" in the past.