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Society for Quality Education


Incentivizing Great Classroom Teachers

July 23, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:38 AM

Shortchanged: The hidden costs of lockstep teacher pay is a new report that shows how "lockstep pay hampers recruitment, creates perverse incentives for retention, and ignores the urgency of bringing top talent to the schools that most need great teachers". The report recommends compensation systems that are "based on three core principles: make early-career teacher salaries competitive with those in other fields; offer raises for strong classroom performance; create incentives to teach in high-needs schools". There are already a few dozen US systems that are trying to find smarter ways to pay their teachers. Here is an excerpt from the case study of Achievement First, a network of 29 high-achieving charter schools located in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. 

"The model is composed primairly of base salary increases based on the individual teacher's performance and experience, as well as school-wide bonuses based on the overall success of the school. Newly hired teachers are generally placed in Stage 1, 2, or 3 based on their previous teaching experience. As teachers progress up the stages, they receive increased compensation, stipends for independent professional development, school-based and network-wide recognition and greater input into school and network decisions.

"A teacher must satisfy rigorous criteria to be called a 'distinguished' or 'master' teacher, including multiple years of data showing strong performance in classroom instruction, student achievement, and peer, student and family relationships. Accordingly, Stage 4 and 5 teachers in Achievement First's schools earn dramatically more through base salary alone than they would on the standard district salary schedule.

"Emily Spine is a Stage 3 teacher who relocated to New York City from Milwaukee this year specifically to teach first grade at Achievement First Aspire Elementary School, after experiencing one of the network's professional development sessions in her previous district. The Teacher Career Pathway was a major influence on her decision to move. 'In my second year of teaching, I was in the building from seven until seven, and I was looking at my paycheck andd that was not being reflected at all,' she says of her experience under a traditional steps and lanes system. 'That's not right. I wanted to find a place that compensated its teachers in a way that's commensurate with the impact they are having on their kids and their commitment to their schools.

"For Greta Gartman, a fifth-grade science teacher at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Middle School in Connecticut, the focus on teacher leadership was a huge draw to the network. 'I was very excited to hear that Achievement First was valuing great teachers staying in the classroom, rather than pushing great teachers into administration,' she says. 'Having less contact with students because you're great doesn't really make sense to me.' As a Stage 4 teacher, Gartman says she feels inspired to be a role model for other teachers. 'My lessons should be examples,' she says. 'Other people are looking at me to know what great teaching looks like, so I'm always trying to do my best."

Not closing the gap

July 22, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:12 AM

The Sesame Street Foundation has released an excellent Framework for School Readiness that outlines the skills and knowledge young children need in order to succeed in school. As you cast your eye over the framework, I suggest you think about how effective a play-based preschool program, especially one with 25 children to a class, will be in bringing disadvantaged children up to speed.

It’s time that teachers’ unions became part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem

July 21, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:38 AM

Click here for an interesting column by an American Democrat and former union leader who is troubled by the unwillingness of the teachers' unions to work together with education reformers to make things better. His last two paragraphs may be of interest to Canadian teachers' unions, as they sum up what has happened in the US as a result of the intransigence of the teachers' unions there.

"Meanwhile, parents are voting with their feet. Today, nearly 10 million students have opted out of the traditional public-school system, attending private schools or public charter schools, or they are home-schooled. Another million parents are on charter-school waiting lists and surveys show overwhelming support for vouchers among minorities.

"Parents will not tolerate resistance to common-sense changes that are necessary for preparing our children for the future. We can do the right thing for our children and for our teachers. We can hold ourselves accountable without demonizing one another and we can all be honest about our shortcomings. Let's cool the rhetoric, find common ground and get to work."   H/T JC

Sunday at the Movies (Word Crimes)

July 20, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 04:53 AM

Here's a very light, suitable-for-summer, video that was sent to me by two readers. Great graphics and 8,379,549 views!  H/T TB & LDA

Accentuate the positive

July 19, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:44 AM

Yesterday, Stephen challenged us to talk about something positive that is happening in Ontario publicly-funded schools. Here are the ones I can think of offhand, and I invite my fellow bellyachers to add the ones they are aware of. As Stephen points out, I - like many of us - am no longer in schools and thus my positives are just generalizations.

There are tens of thousands of dedicated teachers working hard and helping students despite the roadblacks the system puts in their way.

There is reliable and safe supervision, along with an important safety net to identify and protect the community's most vulnerable children.

There are some wonderful programs like the International Baccalaureate and the schools for the arts.

Schools' facilities are kindly made available to the community for things like elections and Brownies.

Teachers tend to have a camaraderie and esprit de corps that results in a very positive and happy working environment in schools.

Ketchup Day

July 18, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:13 AM

Improving education is a hard, messy, complicated process - the Swedish experience.  H/T JE

In the US where more and more school choice is being introduced, school choice is very popular.  H/T DW

Just one more beat-the-odds school that uses teacher-led direct instruction.  H/T TB

An opinion column that sheds light on why teaching is not widely regarded as a profession.

A report on why there are so few competent principals.

Designing a better school system - what's happening in Peru.  H/T TB

Chapter and Verse

July 17, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:46 AM

Click here for an interesting article from this month's Atlantic about the Philadelphia school system. The author, having made the discovery that the students' standardized test scores can be gamed by teachers who use the textbooks published by the same company that publishes the standardized test, then finds that many (most?) Philadelphia teachers don't have access to the textbooks. The author concludes that Philadelphia schools are underfunded - in that they either can't afford the textbooks and supplementary materials in the first place or else they can't afford to keep track of the textbooks.

Things I Agree with in the Article

  • It is ridiculous that standardized test scores can be gamed by teachers who use the right textbooks.
  • Having a good textbook is very important.

Things I Disagree with in the Article and/or Things Not Considered by the Author

  • The Philadelphia school system spends about $20,000 per student (approximately the same as Ontario, btw). If you postulate 20 kids per class, that is $400,000 per student - surely enough to pay for the teacher and overhead, with plenty of money left over to buy textbooks.
  • The test/textbook publishers are ripping off the school boards with their outrageously-expensive, shoddy materials. Everday Math, for example, is mentioned as the "branded curriculum" for most Philadelphia schools. Perhaps because it is such a dreadful teaching vehicle, Everyday Math is accompanied by dozens of supplementary materials, such as manipulative kits, math mats, wall charts, game kits, classroom kits, CD ROMs, workbooks, and much more. If you are an investor, I suggest you buy shares in the big three publishers.
  • The author empathizes with the school/school board officials for not being able to keep track of their textbooks, but how hard can it be? Obviously, Philadelphia's current system isn't working. What about switching over to a system whereby each school orders its own supplies in consultation with its teachers and has one person (the vice principal?) solely in charge of allocating them?

The Principal Problem

July 16, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:02 AM

There has been some discussion of incompetent principals in the comments to previous blogs - so I thought I would reproduce an excerpt from a letter I received from Don Cropp, a retired high school science teacher. After regaling me with many amusing anecdotes about his various incompetent principals, Don writes as follows.

"In the Wallasey Grammar School [in Scotland] which I attended, there was a Headmaster (who had no scheduled teaching duties but who, when his work permitted, filled in for absent teachers) and a Second Master who took on a half-load of teaching. The support staff consisted of the headmaster's secretary and the custodial staff of three-four persons. To some extent, the academic evaluation of the school was measured by the students' success in national examinations, and in this both staff and students had a vested interest. Unlike the present Ontario system which is driven by politics and bogus 'successes' rather than measurement by disinterested agencies....

"Lord Kelvin, who was famous for his work on thermodynamics and electricity during the 19th century, once stated that 'when you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind'. By measurement, of course, he was referring to a comparison with a recognized and agreed standard (ruler, thermometer, balance weights). We do not measure or evaluate students' academic performances in Ontario, since there are no agreed standards. As noted above, awarded marks are numbers which are often plucked from the air by someone who has no idea of the subject matter of the course and probably no clue as to the abilities of the students in the class. (Editor's note - one of Don's enduring complaints concerns his principals who arbitrarily raised the marks Don had awarded his students.)

"In many other academic professions, performance evaluations are carried out by other knowledgeable practitioners from outside. Historians, phys ed teachers, guidance heads, etc. are not qualified to judge the teaching practices of teachers of mathematics, physics, and chemistry - yet they often rise to the rank of principal and are expected to do so. Furthermore, evaluations carried out in-house will always lack the disinterestedness of outsiders, but are instead frequently loaded with biases, opinions, and politics. In my experience, there was nothing to indicate that those who rose to administrative positions were particularly skilled as teachers, and they often had less experience in the classroom than those on whom they passed judgment.

"I saw little evidence that they were exceptionally skilled at personnel management, and a few had a great reluctance to enforce any discipline with the students. (What is that quote about prisons being run by the prisoners?) I felt that most of them should have stuck to their knitting and concerned themselves with classroom allocation, timetabling, and school bus scheduling - keeping their noses out of academic matters. Perhaps the principal's job should be broken down into two positions - one whose job is to keep the books and run the administrative affairs of the school (and absorb the bureaucratic demands of the board of education) and the other to be an academic head to oversee the teaching and learning carried outwithin the establishment. Even then, what qualifications would such a head need to judge high school teachers in so many different subjects?"

Who’s on first?

July 15, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:20 AM

Perhaps parents' biggest complaint about public education is that their children's incompetent and/or unprofessional teachers can't be gotten rid of. It's also probably classroom teachers' (and principals') biggest complaint as well, as conscientious educators greatly resent being held back by and having to cover up for the deadwood on their staffs.

Of course, the reason why incompetent and/or unprofessional teachers can't be gotten rid of is because their unions protect them so well. 

So when the Alberta Minister of Education (who is very very friendly to progressive educators) asked Alberta school boards for information about incompetent and/or unprofessional teachers, the Alberta teachers' union filed a formal complaint against the Minister with the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner. Such is the power of the Alberta teachers' union that the Minister of Education has been forced to back down and publicly admit that he may be able to do without the information after all.  more

Georges Clemenceau famously said that "war is too important a matter to be left to military men". I, less famously, say "education is too important a matter to be left to the education men".  H/T TB

It’s Not Me, So It Has to Be You.

July 14, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:17 AM

It was thought by some readers that my comment in Occam's Razor should be considered for a stand-alone post. So here goes: 

This brief list  was found while researching  for another topic, but it appears to be from the Lambton-Kent School Board's Riverview School Council meeting.  It is the school’s response to the school council' concerns to the Grade 3 EQAO test results. No date is on the sheet, but from the text it is probably from about five years or so ago.


Notice that nowhere Is there any mention on how reading will actually be taught. Most of the initiatives the school proposes are nice and safe, but in themselvles not likely to lead to any significant improvements in reaching achievement.

The school seems to be more concerned about how parents are doing things at home.  Considering school councils’ main job is to monitor student achievement, I’d say the school is not being accountable at all and puts all the blame on the parents. Again.

Here's the full text is below, in case the link isn't working:

Response to Council members question on the low EQAO Grade 3 Reading Results for
the past couple years and what is being done to address the issue:

  •  Writing folders consistent practice all grades.
  •  Bins organized by interest e.g. boys.
  •  Smart Board purchased for all classrooms/listening centre all rooms/non-fiction books new additions in classrooms.
  •  Professional Book for all teachers: Reading With Meaning and Better Answers.
  •  DRA – 3X per Year: Oct/Jan/April – target setting – small groups Jump 2 to 3 focus.
  •  Learning Upgrade for 20 Junior students struggling readers in Spring 2008.
  •  Premier Suites Grade 3-8 in-service for students and all had flyer information sent home. UBS for non high speed users for Premier suites download at home.
  •  Writing Continuum – Writing consistent practices all grades for 2008-09.
  •  Materials for teachers Central Storage Library – mentor texts for Reading and Writing.
  •  Graphic Novel – resources purchased and put in classrooms for struggling readers.
  •  System Support– Irene Katzman LKDSB program contact, teacher moderation PLC for teachers, literacy coach (Anne Hazzard), Arm contact Geri Haskell (Spec. Ed.) developing common IEP practices in system, Student Tutor 7 hours per week in literacy block times to help struggling readers.
  •  PD Workshops for teachers attended on Write Trait/Smart Board.
  •  100 min. blocks of literacy – tardiness of late students arrival has been addressed through parent communication and loss of time late arriving at recesses.


Concerns Riverview Staff still have regarding making improvements to academic scores:

  • holiday during school year, many families take vacation thus evaluation of skills earned cannot be assessed.
  • attitude survey for reading in last EQAO survey of students in grade 3 and 6 indicated very little home support for reading with children.
  • support of home for R/W/M shows lack of support for an adult helping children with homework in these areas.


(PS: Further digging found that Riverview Central School was facing some redistribution issues last year.  On EQAO testing it performs above the provincial average but is trending downward.  In 2008 it has particularly poor results.  In 2012 it did not report.

PPS:  Stats Can on Lambton Kent demographics.  There is a high average income there.  

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