For example, given that only short-term funding is available for the new compensation program, a valid question is what happens when the money runs out? Does Rhee expect increased public funding? substantial corporate contributions that continue even after her program is old news? Or will it be "back to the old compensation scheme" but with no tenure? I'm not affected by the proposal and I want to know, so why cant the teachers who are being asked to get behind the proposal?
Hiatt serves up a couple of anecdotes, the first of which is a pretty typical story about Rhee, and I think it highlights why she inspires such support.
A principal recently was defending a teacher whom D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee had observed in the classroom and found wanting.That story also highlights why she wants to be able to do something about D.C.'s teachers - clean house of perhaps entire schools full of underperforming teachers, and pay enough that good teachers who wouldn't otherwise consider D.C. may consider signing up.
"Would you put your grandchild in that class?" Rhee asked the principal.
"If that's the standard, we don't have any effective teachers in my school," the principal replied.
Recalling that comment a few days later, Rhee is still steaming. "I said, 'That is the standard,' " Rhee says, and you think: Whew, glad I'm not that principal
I'm personally skeptical that good teachers can be transplanted into classrooms where the kids don't behave and don't want to learn while retaining their efficacy - achieving and maintaining classroom order, particularly in a difficult school environment, is a separate skill from being a great, inspirational teacher. But other than through high compensation, I'm not sure how else D.C. even has a shot at attracting quality teachers.
On the other hand, this anecdote about Rhee gives me pause:
Recently, she recounted at the Aspen Institute forum, a man approached her, spitting mad about her experiment to pay some middle school students for good behavior and good grades. "It is a sad day," he said, "when we are paying kids to be doing something they should be doing anyway."This reminds me of the arguments I have heard for cutting music and art programs while maintaining football - despite its very high cost, it's "necessary" to have football teams because otherwise a body of marginal students would lose their principal incentive to go to school and pass tests. Now they get "paid" as well, to do what every other student is expected to do for free? While the services and amenities that make school a nicer place for diligent and well-behaved students continue to get cut? And what's the lesson? That the only way Rhee wants to throw money at you is if you're a good teacher or a crappy student?
"No," Rhee replied, "yesterday was a sad day, when only 8 percent of our eighth-graders were at grade level for math, and we weren't really doing anything about it."
No, really, the idea of throwing money at mediocrity isn't what bothers me. Nor is the funding of school programs for marginal or disinterested students at the expense of the diligent and gifted. Even in a school district that's supposed to be reinventing itself as an example of excellence, what else can you really expect? But dare I ask, is there any evidence that paying students does more than inspire a few more kids to show up in class, if that? Is that truly the best use of the money? And what after the money runs out or a student receives the maximum payment? Even a child can tell you that - literally.
Betts is talking about kids like Daamantae Brown, 14, a tall and lanky eighth grader. He's also a borderline C student and star athlete with a temper that can get him into trouble.The evidence that this works? Let's ask the principal advocate of this idea, Harvard economist Roland Fryer:
Brown is more afraid of being banned from playing football because of bad behavior or grades than missing out on the cash incentives for good academic and social performance.
Still, the boy says most students will behave as long as the money lasts.
"If the bad students, if they was acting up before this, then after it's done [the program], they're going to act the same," Brown says.
"We don't have any data yet," says Fryer.To me, "pay for performance" sounds like a gimmick. But you know, I'm willing to wait to see the data. The program is underway, so we'll have a pretty good idea of whether or not it works at the end of the school year. But here's a thought - what if it doesn't work? Will this experiment leave its subjects less motivated to show up in class when they're no longer being paid?