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A new paper out from the National Bureau of Economic Research has results that may surprise people in New Jersey who object to efforts to financially reward high-performing teachers. According to the five education researchers who produced “Attracting and Retaining Highly Effective Educators in Hard-to-Staff Schools,” when Dallas Public Schools started a program called Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE), which used “large compensating differentials to attract and retain effective teachers in its lowest achievement schools,” the city saw an “immediate and sustained increases in student achievement.”
In other words, when school leaders identify and give bonuses to teachers who bolster student growth through a multi-measure evaluation system (like the Danielson Rubric, which many NJ school districts use), students win: “The improvements at ACE schools were dramatic, bringing average achievement in the previously lowest performing schools close to the district average.”
What happened when Dallas eliminated ACE? A “substantial” fraction of highly effective teachers left the district and test scores fell.
Those with long local memories may recall during the Christie Administration when the State Legislature passed a bipartisan bill (penned by a Democrat, now Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz) reforming tenure and teacher evaluation rules. The 2012 law called the “Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act” took us from a system where annual teacher evaluations were subjective and desultory to one where a significant factor for determining teacher effectiveness was student growth year-to-year. Finally we had a system that differentiated great teachers from poor ones, at least on the margins. (In 2012-2013, the last year before TEACHNJ went into effect, only 0.8% of NJ teachers were rated “partially effective” or “ineffective.” In 2013-2014, the first year of TEACHNJ’s implementation, 2.8% were given those low marks.)
That didn’t last long.
The law required “a provision ensuring that performance measures used in the rubric are linked to student achievement” — at the time of the bill’s passage, 30% of a teacher’s evaluation was linked to student outcomes. That percentage was temporarily reduced to 15% to ease the transition but in 2016 gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy promised NJEA, the state teachers union, that he would lower that percentage even further.
He did: Now only 5% of teacher evaluations are linked to student growth, rendering this form of accountability meaningless.
Patricia Morgan, then-executive director of the education reform advocacy group JerseyCAN, had this to say:
Student growth on assessments is the only objective measure used in teacher evaluation. So the reduction of mSGP [student growth percentiles] to 5 percent in a teacher’s overall evaluation essentially eviscerates the only objective measure in teacher evaluation, so this is a really troubling development. It’s a real step back for families and parents who want a real objective measure on how their schools are performing.
If we really care about kids, we’ll listen to the analysts at NBER, as well as local education leaders like Morgan, and revisit Murphy’s transparent pander to lobbyists. While we’re at it, maybe we should think not only about differentiating teacher compensation based on performance but also offering more money to our most effective teachers and to those in hard-to-fill subjects areas like STEM, special education. (A few districts do this already under the radar.) Teachers aren’t interchangeable widgets! Let’s show some respect for their profession.