Friday, October 26, 2007

Thoughts on NYC's Performance Pay Plan

Now that we've gone over performance pay assumptions and how performance pay works in other sectors, what about the NYC plan?

The refrain we've heard this week from the UFT and other observers is that this is a collective plan that, as Leo Casey wrote, "transformed a negative into a positive, and 'shut the door' on individual merit pay programs." Echoing this sentiment in the NY Daily News, Diane Ravitch wrote, "Score one for this union."

I've already written about the likely impacts of financial incentives on collaboration (see Tuesday and Thursday's posts). To recapitulate, the argument that school-based incentives address collaboration problems fundamentally misunderstands the reasons why collaboration doesn't happen.

However, if we did believe that school-based incentives spur collaboration, existing accountability systems, both state and federal, should have already taken care of this. That your school will lose students, control over how funds are allocated (i.e. NCLB SES provisions), and potentially control over the school itself are strong incentives to collaborate. I just haven't seen that happening.

So let me talk about a different question. Namely, is NYC's plan a collective or an individual plan? I see this as an individual plan with an additional step - first, the school must meet benchmarks, and second, teachers can be differentially rewarded. Unless the committee of four announces upfront that bonuses will be distributed equally (can someone weigh in here about whether a distribution plan will be ratified upfront?), teachers are going to operate under the assumption that there will be unequal shares based on their students' test scores. Even if we see equal bonuses this year, the door is wide open and I see Mike and Joel on the horizon in a performance pay Mack truck.

Given the limited supervisory resources, the availability of individual teacher reports via the new data system (ARIS), and widespread concerns about favoritism and cronyism, I predict scores will weigh heavily if unequal shares are allocated. Despite all the hype about data-driven decision making, most administrators do not have the quantitative expertise to analyze test score data to differentiate teachers. Nor should they. Administrators should be instructional leaders, and data expertise and instructional leadership don't come in packages.

But to drive this point home: I've sat next to many principals as they review test scores, and they are not well-equipped to think about non-random assignment (in the same breath that they acknowledge that they intentionally placed more difficult kids with teacher A than B) and measurement error (I've had conversations that go like this: "Look, eduwonkette. Teacher A had 72% passing and Teacher B had 70%. I wouldn't have guessed it, but it looks like Teacher A is a better teacher." Principals really struggle with the idea of randomness.)

Before you cry eduwonkette elitism, let me also note that 95% of education researchers lack the training to make these distinctions. As I've said before, we would be much better off with a holistic evaluation system, but the resources just aren't there.

So I worry about the ramshackle way of comparing teachers that is likely to come out of this plan, and I'm afraid that Bloomberg/Klein gave the UFT just enough rope. If the UFT wanted to experiment with performance pay, I wish they would have locked in an equal share bonus plan or none at all. Why? Because when committees can't agree, or they do agree and some faculty members cry foul, there is going to be a tsunami of momentum for creating a centralized, individualized, and entirely test score-based system of measuring teacher effectiveness.

Did the UFT score one for NYC kids? I don't think so. But I hope for their sake that I'm wrong.

** Special thanks go to the UFT's Leo Casey and Steve Perez for fielding my questions about the plan, despite knowing that I probably wouldn't write a glowing endorsement. I'll look forward to your comments about this post.

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