We are so foolish.  As we waited to find out the fate of teacher merit pay in the Conference Committee, we assumed it was an all-or-nothing proposition.  A change of this magnitude should only be attempted if it is going to provide a significant benefit for our schools.  Terry Ryan, Vice President for Ohio Programs and Policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, made his argument in early June:

Moving toward a fairer and more modern system of gauging teacher effectiveness and using that information to inform personnel decisions will give districts the flexibility their leaders crave -and need even more when budgets are shrinking.

It will help them retain their very best instructors while providing all teachers with the support and professional development they need to get better.

We could continue to argue with him and request that he produce the research he is relying on to substantiate his claims, but since it doesn’t exist, and since the outcome of merit pay in the budget is now known, we will move on.

It seems that the Republicans in Ohio believe the rhetoric about teacher merit pay:

Kathy Christie, chief of staff for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, tells the Associated Press why she sees the law as essential:
“If you are not pulling your weight, if you are not getting performance, if you are not tenacious and really trying to learn and all those sorts of things you want to see teachers doing, then you don’t move up at all.”

C’mon, preach it again, Terry Ryan:

The evaluation model in this bill resembles those developed in bipartisan fashion in other states that prohibit teacher layoffs based solely on seniority and require teacher performance ratings and/or evaluations to be considered in making such decisions.

What’s more, rigorous performance evaluations in these states also help identify and reward highly effective teachers and tailor professional development in ways that help all teachers improve instruction.

Even if you readily admit this may be a case of premature implementation, as the Dispatch Editorial staff does, you must either go all-in or fold.

Such a system clearly isn’t complete yet, with no data on teachers of early grades or high school.

But implementing performance evaluation as the basis for employment and pay needn’t wait for some perfect system of measurement.

Don’t let those small details get in the way when it’s only jobs, families, children, and the future of society you’re talking about!  Play the hand!  All-in or fold!?!?

And with that, the Conference Committee blinked.  And as far as we can tell, they decided to screw up the whole damn thing.

The final result is this (edited for readability):

If the school is the recipient of moneys from a grant awarded under the federal race to the top program . . . the school will pay teachers based upon performance . . .”

To clarify, only the 479 school/districts that have received money through the federal Race to the Top program will be required to implement a merit pay program.  For the other 441 schools/districts, it will remain business as usual.

We have been INUNDATED with information that claims that business as usual is THE problem with our schools and that merit pay is a key to fixing them (research refutes this), but in the final solution the Committee decides to go 50/50?

If merit pay is such an effective method of reform that the legislature included it in Ohio’s budget bill, mandating it for 479 schools/districts (negating any RttT work they have engaged in), then why not mandate it for everyone?

And if merit pay is so good for everyone, then those remaining 441 school/districts who are not required to implement it were just stiffly backhanded by our state Republicans.  “Look,” they said.  “We don’t really care about the performance of your teachers, your current economic situation, and least of all, your student achievement, so we’re not going to provide you with the necessary tools to get ahead.”

Republicans can’t have it both ways on this issue.  Merit pay is either a proven and effective method for improving schools and should be implemented statewide to the positive benefit of every child, teacher, school, and district, or it is an unproven and ineffective method that should be either dismissed outright or laid on the table for further study.  The fact that the Committee could not agree on this matter demonstrates their lack of belief in a merit pay system as being an educational solution for Ohioans.

And before you think those 479 RttT schools/districts are pleased with the attention, think again.  Those districts signed off on the RttT agreement that allocated resources to allow each district to research and develop an effective method of evaluation.

To clarify what this means in terms of work, here is an excerpt from the Ohio Department of Education’s Race to the Top: Myths vs. Facts document:

FACT: Each participating LEA will develop its own teacher and principal evaluation systems that are rigorous, transparent and fair.

Therefore, as we reported before, this budget violates the RttT contract that was signed in good faith by those schools/districts.

Additionally, the Committee further demonstrated their ignorance by continuing to hang on to absurd criteria such as whether the teacher is a “highly qualified teacher” and requiring that 50% of the teacher’s evaluation be based upon value-added progress measures that do not yet exist for over 70% of Ohio’s educators! And to create these measures will cost over $300 million.

And finally, to cement the fact that they don’t believe it will have a measurable effect on student achievement, the Republican-led Conference Committee did not allocate any additional funding to schools to cover merit pay.  If, in fact, this is intended to improve teacher performance, and teacher performance is tied to compensation, then the amount paid to teachers will also increase.  That is, IF you believe merit pay is an effective school improvement tool.

But since we know how to read and research, since that’s what educated individuals do, we know that merit pay is NOT an effective tool.

The Republicans in the Statehouse continue to produce only ineffective tools.