Posts Tagged: merit pay

A meritorious merit pay grant

During the tenure of Education Secretary and former Chicago Public Schools head Arne Duncan, the Chicago public schools have not received any Education Dept. grant money under either the Race to the Top or the Promise Neighborhood programs. However, contrary to my speculation, Duncan is open to getting some federal grant money to CPS. The Chicago Tribune‘s Tara Malone reports that CPS will receive $35.9 million to expand its teacher merit pay program, as part of a $442 million Education Dept. pot of money devoted to merit pay.

What the Obama administration means by merit pay in these grants ought to to be accepted by most sides of the education policy debate. (more…)

Chicago teacher pay program lacks merit

Arne Duncan

A Dept. of Education-funded teacher merit pay program in Chicago is not working, reports the Chicago Tribune’s Azam Ahmed.  In 2007, the Chicago Public Schools (then led by current Education Sec. Arne Duncan) received a $27.5 million federal grant to implement a program in select schools where teachers — and the entire school staff — would be rewarded bonus pay for improved student achievement. (more…)

Will California Race to the Top?

Are competitive grants the answer to America education problems? The jury is still out, but the newly born federal Race to the Top public schools aid program is already suffering growing pains. Ten states declined to participate in the first round and Kansas and Indiana have taken themselves out of the running for the second round. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that California, which scored poorly on the first go round, was supposed to announce whether or not it would re-apply today. That hasn’t happened and (more…)

Teaching to the Test

The Chicago Sun-Times Art Golab has a piece that bolsters the argument to effectively link teacher pay with student test scores. (more…)

Illinois Races To The Top…Or At Least Toward Where They Were Before The Recession

The Chicago Current’s Katy Yeiser reports that the Illinois State Board of Education will apply for a $400 million slice of the Education Department’s $4.3 billion, stimulus-funded “Race to the Top” grant program. Illinois could really use the money: the state is borrowing $3.5 billion this year to balance a $26 billion annual state budget. But even with the record-setting borrowing, Illinois is still cutting $180 million in education money, with early childhood education taking the hardest hit.

As I’ve written about before, the genius, as it were, of Race to the Top is that it doesn’t just shore up education funds for states clobbered by the recession. Instead, the Education Dept. forces states to show they are adhering to the education reforms, championed by Education Sec. (and former head of Chicago Public Schools) Arne Duncan. So if Illinois is going to get federal cash, they need to show progress implementing controversial policies like teacher performance pay.

One Small Step For Teacher Merit Pay

The Chicago Tribune’s John Keilman reports that the Chicago northern suburb of Evanston has started a system of merit pay for teachers. For the first time ever in any Illinois school district, teachers will be evaluated by the individual test scores of their students. This judgment will then combine with more qualitative evaluations (like a principal monitoring a teacher in the classroom) to evaluate teachers as “excellent,” “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

As I’ve reported on, state education departments and local school districts across the country feel a ton of pressure to introduce some form of teacher merit pay so they can qualify for billions of dollars in federal Dept. of Education grants. Barack Obama and Education Sec. Arne Duncan speak constantly of teacher accountability and see student test-based performance pay as the main way to hold teachers accountable. However, most local school districts are skeptical. Keilman reports that the most sweeping merit pay plan was done in Washington, D.C. — where the U.S. Congress utilized its power over the district to install the new teacher evaluation system.


Looking at the question of merit pay for teachers, Andrew Sullivan features a couple of heavy-hitting pundits, Dana Goldstein and Matthew Yglesias, though in fact the train has left the station: our own resident heavy hitter Matthew Blake reports that teacher pay is already tied to student results in several states. The Obama administration measure will likely make it a reality nationwide.

Wide-ranging reforms and shaking up the status quo are clearly what Education Secretary Arne Duncan is pushing for with his Race to the Top package. TIME’s Gilbert Cruz looks at Duncan’s motivations and sees a fighter known for his “willingness to try anything,” including facing up to potential challenges from teacher’s unions. (Though as Matt’s article makes clear, teachers and their unions are not as inflexible as the labels we’ve stuck them with over the years). All in all, these are good problems to have. And in Arne Duncan, America may have found an education secretary who’s willing to duke it out for America’s kids. -NH


Apropos of my back-to-school extravaganza on teacher merit pay, the New York Times’ Sam Dillon takes a look today at teacher layoffs around the country. Dillon can’t give figures on how many teachers have been laid off in the past year, but a clear pattern emerges: State X can’t generate any revenue in the recession. So they lay off, say, 1,000 teachers. Then State X taps into stimulus money and re-hires, say, 700 teachers they’ve just laid off.

One issue here is whether the stimulus should have been big enough to prevent all teacher layoffs or whether the most sensible policy is really the status quo that just makes the layoffs less severe. Related is something I wrote about in the merit pay piece: the Education Dept. got $115 billion from the stimulus bill — more than twice its yearly budget. But a significant amount of that money is not just formula funding so states can deal with budget shortfalls. Billions, instead, are in competitive grants awarded to states whose education policy goals (more charter schools, strict evaluations of teachers) are in line with Barack Obama and Education Sec. Arne Duncan.

I’m ambivalent about how this allocation of education stimulus money is a good idea. On the one hand, if the federal Education Dept. thinks these state education departments are currently not very effective than maybe they’re right to use the stimulus to make these states change, instead of just blindly comping the status quo. But the fiscal crisis might not be the best time for innovation at a state level. Can school districts implement splashy new policies when these same districts are looking for coins under couches to keep band programs and 5th grade art teachers?-MB


The Obama administration drew a line in the sand in late July when it outlined how state education departments could get a slice of a $4.3 billion federal grant program called Race to the Top. The guidelines, in essence, said to states battered by the recession: adopt most of Barack Obama and Education Sec. Arne Duncan’s vision of education reform — or fund schools on your own. In addition, states must lift caps on the number of charter schools and start judging teachers based on student performance. Hinging on the question of student performance is a crucial part of the Obama administration’s education reform: merit pay, which means that teachers will earn tenure and their salary (or less dramatically, their annual bonuses) based not on seniority or their advanced degrees, but instead on evaluations of their teaching performance. These evaluations tend to link teacher performance to student performance on high-stakes standardized tests.

Aug. 31 marked the end of the public comment period on the Race to the Top grant guidelines. Merit pay may be the most politically explosive part of the Obama-Duncan education agenda. But the stakes aren’t only political — there is still no clear evidence that merit pay works. Nonetheless, Obama and Duncan may be on to something that will have impact far after the headlines have faded away.

A National Education Strategy

When Barack Obama signed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or stimulus bill, this February, he instantly changed Washington’s role in education. (more…)


Michael Shear and Nick Anderson of the Washington Post have a pretty helpful article explaining the "Race to the Top" fund, a $4.35 billion part of the stimulus bill that Education Sec. Arne Duncan can use at his discretion in granting to state education departments. As for the the politics of the initiative, Shear and Anderson cover the same ground Rom Tomsho of the Wall Street Journal did a week ago: Duncan is clear that this money will only go to states that aggressively expand charter schools and start merit pay for teachers.

Barack Obama has said he wants charter schools and merit pay for teachers because he wants to go with "what works" but there’s no real evidence charter schools are better than traditional public schools. Nevertheless, states like Massachusetts and Tennessee are tripping over themselves to say how much they love charter schools so they can get more stimulus money. So it seems that instead of asking what’s the best policy, state governors and education departments are asking what policies will deliver the most federal money.

A totally different point, in defense of Obama and Duncan, is that we shouldn’t get too alarmed about this Race to the Top fund. While $4.35 billion is a lot in the world of education spending, it’s 1/170th of the $680 billion defense spending bill the Senate just voted for. Probably any money to school districts will be put to relatively good use at this point in the recession when budget shortfalls have forced sweeping cuts in education.-MB