Dispute may be brewing over when Indiana schools must implement new evaluations, merit pay

The debate over whether to enact Senate Enrolled Act 1, Indiana’s new teacher-evaluation and merit-pay law, ended in late April when Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the legislation. But the debate over how and when the law will be implemented is still to come.

One likely point of contention: When will the provisions kick in for school districts that approved valid, long-term teacher contracts before SEA 1 took effect?

The Monroe County Community school board, for example, approved a four-year contract with its teachers’ union in early April. The contract provides a 1-percent pay increase for teachers in 2011-12 and specifies that salary negotiations may be “reopened” in subsequent years.

It’s generally agreed that the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from nullifying valid contracts. So the provisions of SEA 1 that clash with existing contracts – typically, provisions that specify how teachers are evaluated and how their raises are determined — won’t come into play until the existing contracts expire.

But when do the contracts expire? According to the Indiana Department of Education, if a school district and union “reopen” their contract to negotiate money matters, the old contract is finished. A change in pay or benefits makes for a brand new contract – and the district must then comply with SEA 1.

The DOE spells out its position in an FAQ: See Question 2.

But Lisa Tanselle, a staff attorney with the Indiana School Boards Association, says school law experts don’t all agree with the department’s position. Continue reading

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NEA may change position on using test scores for evaluations and accountability

Leaders of the National Education Association have proposed a policy statement that positions the union in favor of using stepped-up evaluations – and even measures that include student test scores – to improve the effectiveness of the teaching profession.

Squint really hard and you can almost see similarities between the proposal and Senate Bill 1, the teacher evaluation and merit-pay measure that the Indiana legislature approved last month.

The statement “outlines a system to help teachers improve instruction and meet students’ needs,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel in a news release. “It offers sweeping changes to build a true profession of teaching that is focused on high expectations.”

It calls for “regular, comprehensive, meaningful and fair evaluations” of teachers that will be conducted by trained evaluators and based on multiple factors. And in language that can only be called cautious, it says such factors may include “valid, reliable, high quality standardized tests that provide meaningful information regarding student learning and growth.”

The statement says evaluations must be fair and comprehensive. And it says they must be used to provide feedback to help teachers improve. If a teacher “fails to meet performance standards,” an improvement plan should be developed for the teacher. And if the teacher doesn’t improve, he or she “may be counseled to leave the profession or be subject to fair, transparent and efficient dismissal process that provides due process.”

Indiana’s SB 1, a key part of the Daniels-Bennett education agenda, calls for annual teacher evaluations based on several factors. It does require implementing improvement plans for teachers who get bad evaluations. It also says teachers can be dismissed for multiple evaluations that result in a verdict of “needs improvement” or “ineffective.”

While the NEA statement says standardized test scores may be used in teacher evaluations, SB 1 says they must be. Continue reading

Indiana education reforms: research-based … or not?

Are the education reforms that the Indiana General Assembly approved really “based on substantial research,” as the state Department of Education claimed in a recent message? Or are they faith-based, relying on an ideology that says the market is good and unions are bad?

It’s easy to be cynical about vouchers, charter schools and merit pay – and to assume the Mitch Daniels-Tony Bennett agenda is simply about paying off business supporters and busting teachers’ unions.

But listen to Gov. Daniels tear up as he celebrates his legislative successes at a bill-signing ceremony for Senate Bill 1, the teacher merit-pay bill. He seems to truly believe he is doing what is best for children. (And never mind that he repeats, yet again, the bogus claim that teacher quality is 20 times more important than any other factor in student learning).

Still, research or faith, that’s the question.

School Matters asked the Department of Education to cite research showing that: 1) merit pay will benefit students; 2) more charter schools will benefit students; 3) vouchers will benefit all students, not just those who transfer to private schools; and 4) collective bargaining for teachers hurts students.

To their great credit, the DOE media folks replied with an extensive list. We’ll summarize, providing links so you can judge for yourself:

Merit pay – The department provided references to studies and white papers on this topic, but none showed evidence that a U.S. merit-pay system, on its own, had produced improvements in learning. A number of the links show that teaching matters; well, no one argues that it doesn’t. Several came from Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond and the Colorado-based National Center for Education Policy, both adamant foes of merit pay based on test scores. There’s a study that shows small student improvement from the TAP system, which includes merit pay; another that shows benefits from teacher bonuses for school-level improvement, a cross-national study of merit pay, and a study from India.

DOE made no reference to recent studies from New York and Tennessee that showed no positive effects from merit pay.

Charter schools – The department cited the Stanford CREDO study that found charter schools in Indiana produce slightly more improvement in test scores than traditional public schools. But that study doesn’t argue for increasing the number of charter schools, as provided for in HB 1002. The author said Indiana charter schools may do well because only a few organizations have been allowed to award charters and the schools are well regulated.

Vouchers – The “research” cited is a series of talking points straight from the Foundation for School Choice, a voucher advocacy organization, and a book from the libertarian Cato Institute. Not mentioned were studies and reports that found little or no academic benefit for students in voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Collective bargaining – There’s a Brookings Institution paper that calls collective bargaining an “anachronism” and advocates its overhaul; a couple of studies that suggest getting rid of collective bargaining reduces teacher absenteeism; and a study from New Mexico that finds bargaining agreements helped high-achieving students and hurt low-achieving students.

So what does one make of all this? The studies on vouchers and charter schools are, at best, mixed. And there’s no evidence that implementing merit pay or weakening unions has helped students, possibly because it hasn’t been widely tried or possibly because it’s just not a good idea.

As school-reform advocate Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute has written, “To a frustrating degree, the conclusions one draws from the educational-performance evidence depend on which experts one trusts.”

You can pick your studies and argue that maybe, just maybe, schools will improve under the changes Indiana has adopted. But to think the legislation is sure to make a significant, positive difference for students – well, that takes a leap of faith.

Performance pay for teachers is here: Some reflections

The Indiana General Assembly, to no one’s surprise, passed Senate Bill 1 Monday and sent it to the governor to sign into law. The legislation upends how teachers are compensated in Indiana, replacing a system based on experience and education with one based on measures of effectiveness.

The old system has been in place for decades. And while it served important purposes – reducing discrimination, providing job security, creating a career path in which a person could count on making a decent living in a relatively low-paying profession – it couldn’t hold up to the new political reality.

So now Indiana will have a system in which teachers undergo yearly evaluations, which must be “significantly informed” by student test scores and test-score improvement, and are placed in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, needs improvement and ineffective.

Give some credit to state lawmakers for amending the SB 1 to make clear that teachers won’t face salary cuts from the change; early versions of the bill weren’t clear about that. Also, the Department of Education seems to be doing the right thing by asking school corporations to try out new teacher assessment systems in 2011-12 before they’re implemented statewide in 2012-13.

Here are a few concerns:

– SB 1 says “objective measures of student achievement and growth” will “significantly inform” teacher evaluations, and ISTEP exams will be used to rate teachers whose effectiveness can be measured that way: i.e., classroom teachers in grades 3-6, middle-school English and math teachers, Continue reading

Senate Bill 1 amendments are introduced, but we’re still waiting to see them

Apparently it was wishful thinking for School Matters to believe that Indiana legislators would let us all know Monday exactly how they are reshaping Senate Bill 1, which changes teacher evaluations and tenure protections and institutes merit pay.

Amendments were introduced when the House Education Committee considered the bill on Monday. But they haven’t been posted to the legislature’s website; the version of SB 1 that appears on the site hasn’t been updated since Feb. 16.

According to Tosha Salyers, director of educator outreach with the Indiana Department of Education, the amendments may not be posted until the end of this week. But the Indianapolis Star reports the committee is expected to vote on the amended bill today.

The Star’s Scott Elliott does provide an account of Monday’s committee meeting in today’s paper, so it’s not as if we have to be totally in the dark. And Salyers of the DOE offers a summary of what some of the amendments will do. For example, they clarify that teacher salaries won’t be cut, let school corporations count experience and advanced degrees as the basis for 33 percent of a teacher’s raise, and end “last in, first out” criteria for teacher layoffs.

Some of the changes appear to be positive steps made in response to concerns about the version of the bill passed by the Senate. But it would still be helpful to see the actual language of the amendments.

Putting a dollar value on teacher effectiveness

School Matters has cited Stanford researcher Eric Hanushek several times to debunk the claim – made by Gov. Mitch Daniels, state Superintendent Tony Bennett and the Indiana office of Stand for Children – that teachers have 20 times more impact on student learning than any other factor, including poverty.

So it’s only fair to point out that Hanushek advocates the thrust of Senate Bill 1: rewarding good teachers and making bad teachers improve or get out.

In an Education Week article, Hanushek puts the teacher effect in economic terms. “By conservative estimates, the teacher in the top 15 percent of quality can, in one year, add more than $20,000 to a student’s lifetime earnings, my research found,” he writes. “ … For a class of 20 students, we see that this very good teacher is adding some $400,000 in value to the economy each year.”

Skeptics would point to studies that suggest a teacher who is in the top 15 percent of quality this year may be in the middle next year, and a teacher who’s at the bottom this year may do much better next year. Tweak the formula for measuring quality and you get very different results.

Indiana merit-pay bill: Still waiting for details

Forget vouchers and charter schools for the moment. Senate Bill 1, a merit-pay bill that establishes new procedures for evaluating, compensating, hiring and firing teachers, is arguably the most far-reaching education legislation being considered this year by the Indiana General Assembly.

But what exactly will it do? Maybe we’ll have a more complete picture Monday, when the House Education Committee considers the bill and long-promised amendments may be made public.

We know the bill is a big deal because of the effort that’s going into passing it. Stand for Children, an organization based in Oregon, was brought to Indiana to lobby for SB 1. Aiming Higher, which advocates for Gov. Mitch Daniels’ initiatives, is running TV ads supporting it. The ads urge viewers to ““Tell legislators to pass reforms to pay teachers for their excellence and results, not seniority.”

Paying for excellence and results sounds obvious. But it gets messy when you try to define excellence and implement a fair system to measure and encourage it. And recent studies of merit pay in Tennessee and New York have raised questions about whether it will produce better results. The biggest challenge may be scaling up the resources and personnel to implement this system in 2012.

The SB 1 centerpiece is a mandate for annual evaluations that place teachers in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, improvement necessary and ineffective. Teachers in the two lower categories wouldn’t get raises. If rated ineffective or improvement necessary multiple times, they could be fired.

The bill says that “objective measures of student achievement and growth” must “significantly inform the evaluation.” That means results or improvement on ISTEP-Plus tests for teachers who teach subjects that are covered by the exams, and other measures for teachers who don’t. Continue reading

Daniels’ education agenda: Is thoughtful debate too much to ask?

In case you missed it, Gov. Mitch Daniels laid out his ideas for reforming Indiana’s K-12 education system earlier this month in a guest column in the Indianapolis Star.

The list goes like this:

— Base teachers’ pay and job tenure on how well their students learn.
— Free schools from unnecessary state rules and teacher contract restrictions.
— Expand parent choice and allow more charter schools.
— Encourage students to finish high school early and pay them if they do.

These are interesting ideas, but Daniels presents them with such bombast that he seems to be begging for a fight, not a discussion.

Making the case for merit pay, he writes: “If there is one fact that every expert and all the data confirm, it is that the single most important predictor of a child’s academic success is the quality of the teachers he or she encounters.”

To quote just one expert who disagrees, the education historian Diane Ravitch: “The single most reliable predictor of test scores is poverty, and poverty, in turn, is correlated to student attendance, to family support, and to the school’s resources.”

That’s not to say that poverty should be an excuse for a lack of learning, or that teachers aren’t important. But ignoring such an important factor doesn’t contribute to honest debate — nor does glossing over the difficulty of being able to identify Continue reading