For all of its victories over the last couple of years, including Scott Walker’s on Tuesday night, the school reform movement finds itself in a pickle. To succeed in creating world-class schools and raising student achievement, it needs education’s front line workers—a.k.a. teachers—to feel motivated, empowered, and inspired. And yet, according to the recent MetLife survey and anecdotal reports, many teachers are down in the dumps.
Sure, low morale might simply reflect tough economic times; when (or if) state and local coffers finally recover, higher morale might too. But let’s be honest: The message we reformers are sending isn’t all peace, love, and happiness, and that’s probably having an impact, and not for the better.
The message we reformers are sending isn’t all peace, love, and happiness, and that’s probably having an impact, and not for the better.
We think many teachers are dumb (look at those SAT scores!); greedy (look at those gold-plated healthcare and pension plans!); racist (look at those achievement gaps!); lazy (look at those summers off!); ill-prepared (look at those crappy ed schools!); uncaring (look at all that bullying!); unnecessary (look at what computers can do!); and incompetent (look at those low value-added scores!). Or at least that’s how many teachers hear it, I suspect. We love teachers—we just hate everything about them.
One option, according to union leaders, Diane Ravitch, and others, is to stop pressing for reform. Stop complaining about unaffordable pensions or healthcare
Paul Farhi of the Washington Post created a stir this weekend with an American Journalism Review article ripping mainstream education reporting for being uncritical of school reform. His comments were particularly pointed when it came to television coverage of the subject, especially NBC’s.
NBC has concentrated on initiatives favored by self-styled education reformers. The network has been particularly generous to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting teacher merit pay proposals and privately run charter schools—an agenda strongly opposed by many public school teachers, labor unions and educators.
During its first "Education Nation" summit in 2010, for example, "NBC Nightly News" aired a profile of a Gates Foundation initiative, "Measures of Effective Teaching," which seeks to create a database of effective teaching methods. The reporter was former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw. During the second summit last fall, Brokaw showed up on "Today" with Melinda Gates to discuss the same Gates initiative. Turning from reporter to advocate, Brokaw told host Natalie Morales, "So what Bill and Melinda have done, and it's a great credit to them, and it's a great gift to this country, is that they have taken the kind of episodic values that we know about teaching and they've put them together in a way that everyone can learn from them. So that's a big, big step."
The media has indeed been obsessed with the teacher effectiveness agenda.
This guest blog post is from Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst and a former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and Eric Lerum, StudentsFirst's Vice President for National Policy. In this post they analyze a Colorado school district's innovative approach to teacher compensation, profiled in Fordham's latest report, "Teacher Compensation Based on Effectiveness: The Harrison (CO) School District's Pay-for-Performance Plan."
StudentsFirst had the pleasure of working with teachers and a principal from Harrison, Colorado late last year. We assisted the New Jersey State Superintendent in organizing roundtables across the state on the proposed teacher evaluation system under development. The Harrison folks were passionate about their work and their success in elevating the teaching profession there. It was incredibly powerful to listen to these veteran educators talk about how they felt that their evaluation system treated them as professionals and how they relied on it as a tool to help them and their colleagues improve. The principal described the increased, targeted development she could provide to staff and how the system enabled her to build a team solely focused on raising their students’ achievement.
What strikes me most about the Harrison model and why I think it’s so significant is that it dispels so many of the myths we hear about why a reform like this can’t be done or why change like they’ve seen in Harrison can’t be implemented and replicated elsewhere. These are students like we
Today, Fordham’s Ohio team is releasing a new report looking at a pay-for-performance teacher compensation program that is among the boldest in the country. Harrison School District 2, in Colorado Springs, is in the second year of an ambitious plan that has significantly overhauled teacher pay for this district of over 10,000 students. In this report, Harrison Superintendent F. Mike Miles describes his district’s innovative approach to compensation and provides a useful template for districts seeking to recognize and reward successful teachers. Download the “Teacher Compensation Based on Effectiveness: The Harrison (CO) Pay-for-Performance Plan” to learn more.
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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