The Independent Budget Office's latest suggestion for how to cut costs at the Department of Education is to cut a performance pay program for school administrators that the Bloomberg administration convinced the principals union to accept.
Since 2007, the department has distributed about $6 million a year to principals and assistant principals on the basis of their schools' progress report scores. Last year, 275 administrators — including some who were under investigation at the time — took home $5.7 million, with individual rewards as high as $25,000, for principals at the top 1 percent of schools. Department officials said today that this year's bonuses, based on 2011-2012 progress reports, are in the process of being paid out now.
In its annual "Options" report listing ways for the city to save funds and raise revenue, the IBO argues that the performance pay might be better off conserved. The annual report is meant to inform city government officials as they head into their final negotiations before adopting a budget for the 2014 fiscal year. The education department, which takes up about a quarter of the city's planned spending, was listed in 14 of the 80 suggestions this year.
For each cost-cutting idea, the IBO lists arguments that supporters and opponents might make. For the performance pay idea, the report notes, "Proponents might argue that the more weight that is placed on the Progress Reports, the more incentive there is for administrators and teachers to 'teach to the test' and even to manipulate data. Moreover, the remaining measurement problems in the Progress Reports might imply that the basis for awarding the bonuses is flawed."
The high-profile commission charged with overhauling New York's public schools released its first set of recommendations today, endorsing several popular education reform policies but shying away from declaring a position on others. The full report, titled "Putting Students First," is below the jump.
Governor Cuomo, who created the commission, stopped short of endorsing its recommendations, but did express early support for several ideas, including teacher performance pay and the community school model of using schools to offer supports beyond academic preparation.
Other recommendations include expanding pre-kindergarten for students in poor districts, strengthening teacher and principal preparation programs, and extending the school day and year.
The commission did not address some prickly issues, such as teacher evaluation. Chairman Richard Parsons said that was by design, citing a recommendation from State Education Commissioner John King that the commission wait to take up the topic until its next report, scheduled for next fall.
The principals of top-ranking city schools got their annual bonuses today, adding as much as $25,000 to some school leaders' pay.
The bonuses, guaranteed under a city agreement with the principals union, went to administrators at schools with the highest scores on the city's progress reports. A total of 275 principals and their assistant principals received bonuses totaling more than $5 million.
The bonuses went to the principals of some of the city's most selective schools, such as the Anderson School for gifted students and Staten Island Technical High School, one of the city's specialized high schools. But they also went to administrators at schools that serve low-performing students, including eight transfer high schools, which had their own bonus division.
In at least a couple of cases, the bonuses went to principals who have gotten into hot water. Darlene Miller, the principal of the NYC Museum School, received a bonus despite being arrested for driving drunk over winter break, as did Ling Ling Chou, who was removed as the Shuang Wen School's principal last summer amid multiple investigations.
Last spring I took a position as English department chair at a New York City independent school, giving me a chance to work in the city after many years in suburban schools. The head of my new school told me that he and the board planned to launch a performance-based compensation system and asked me to help administer it. Like many teachers, I object to being paid based on student test scores, but after learning that wasn't the plan at my new school, I found myself intrigued.
I admit it: I believe in merit pay, performance-based compensation, or whatever you want to call it. I've been in education too long not to be frustrated with the lock-step salary system: No matter how hard a teacher works, she's paid the same as everyone else who started the same year she did and has the same number of postgraduate credits she does. While no one goes into teaching for the money, we're also not volunteers. And why shouldn't great teachers make more than mediocre ones?
So in I jumped, working with a formula that the department chairs, grade leaders, and heads of the secondary and primary schools had created. We made classroom observations and assessed each teacher's collegiality, commitment, and participation in activities outside the classroom. Teachers were scored 1 to 4 in 20 different categories. The categories were weighted, producing final scores that fell into four ranges. Teachers who fell into three of the ranges would — when the plan went into full effect — receive bonuses.
Good thing it turned out to be a pilot program. We made some mistakes; we learned a lot; and we saw hope for the future.
In a speech that called for more charter schools, performance pay, and tougher state standards, President Obama this morning laid to rest some doubts that he had not yet made up his mind on several education policy questions currently dividing the Democratic Party.
At the same time, Obama called for a truce in education politics, which has lately been divided by those, including Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who are pushing for aggressive changes in how schools are run and those who say that schools cannot be fully improved unless lawmakers address poverty and other roots of educational failure. He said his administration will invest heavily in initiatives that are proven to boost student achievement, such as early childhood education and home health care for young families, regardless of who supports them. And in proposing major changes to how teachers are hired, compensated, and fired, Obama never once mentioned teachers unions, regarded by some as obstacles to reform.
Thanks to the stimulus bill passed last month, the federal government is authorized to spend an unprecedented amount of money on education in the coming years. Obama said his administration would offer special funds to states that want to boost their preschool quality, develop more rigorous standards and assessments, and cut their high school dropout rates. During a visit to a Brooklyn charter school last month, Obama's new education secretary, Arne Duncan, said he would support districts that want to build new data systems to track student achievement and pay teachers based on their students' test scores, as New York City has done. Without mentioning New York, the president today said he supported the same initiatives.
On how some of the more controversial elements of his education plan would be put in place, Obama gave few specifics in the speech delivered in Washington, D.C., to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Merit pay, also known as performance pay, keeps turning up on the ed blogs and in the news. How do merit pay plans work? And, coming soon, how does the merit pay debate affect New York City schools?
The gist of performance pay is that districts offer teachers increased pay on the basis of student achievement and other measures of success, often in return for weakened job security. Plans vary: some reward individual teachers, others reward schools, some are based largely on test scores, some include peer and administrator evaluations, and some offer pay increases for taking on extra responsibilities such as mentoring new teachers, or for teaching in a high-needs school or subject area.
A 2007 New York Times article noted teachers' increasing openness to merit pay programs, especially those involving teacher input and collaboration with their unions. Still, the Times pointed out, many teachers in Texas and Florida rejected merit pay plans, citing concerns about divisiveness, unfairness to teachers of high-needs students, and simplistic evaluations. Educators often say they are insulted by the idea that a little extra cash will increase their motivation to help struggling students.
Paul Tough has written extensively about teacher pay-for-performance plans on his Schoolhouse Rock blog at Slate. He launched last week with a look at political pressure on Barack Obama to push increased teacher pay but decreased job security, then spent the rest of the week examining existing performance pay programs. Tough summarized Michelle Rhee's proposed salary plan for DC teachers, which would increase salaries across the board, do away with tenure rights, and create an opt-in performance pay program while phasing out the traditional pay scale. Rhee has warned that if teachers reject her plan, she will turn, instead, to tougher evaluations and licensing requirements, making it easier to fire teachers.