Best practices presented to task force

The governor’s Education Task Force heard that offering merit pay, closing failing schools and providing mentors to new teachers are some proven ways to increase student achievement. The 31 business and education leaders on the task force also heard that more money doesn’t guarantee success.

Local and national experts in education presented examples of best practices on Friday morning to the Education Task Force. The members were instructed to take what they learned to afternoon working groups.

The members mostly were able to select those working groups from these five topics — professional development, teacher effectiveness, fiscal stability, technology and structure. The groups spent the afternoon brainstorming ideas and writing them on large poster paper. The members then walked around to read what other groups had on their poster paper. The many ideas will be posted next week on the State Board of Education website. Some of the ideas included collaborating services, pushing decisions as close to students as possible, creating a clear plan for accountability, increasing data driven decisions and aiding students with technologyadd access at home.

The task force is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 8. The long-term plans of the task force are to share its ideas on an electronic bulletin board and during public meetings around the state. After all Idahoans have had the opportunity to weigh in, the task force intends to get back together and review the findings, said task force chair Richard Westerberg. This process will not be completed before the 2013 Legislature adjourns. The governor has recommended the state fund the ideas generated by the task force up to $33.9 million. Read more about that request by clicking here.

“I appreciate how everyone was engaged today,” Westerberg said.

Friday morning began with the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation representing a national perspective. Executive director Jamie MacMillan said that instead of serving on the task force, she wanted to be a conduit to data and best practices.

She said that the foundation has donated $500 million to Idaho education in 15 years and has seen little increase in student achievement. “You name it and we’ve funded it,” she said. “We draw the conclusion that money does not guarantee increased student achievement.”

MacMillan encouraged the task force to tackle system-wide change to make real progress in reform. She also emphasized using data, being transparent with that data and encouraging innovation.

Joining MacMillan via Skype was Marguerite Rosa from the Georgetown University and Center for Reinventing Public Education. Her data confirmed the foundation’s findings.

“There is a weak relationship between spending and performance in Idaho,” Rosa said.

Rosa then explained to the task force that to increase student achievement, state leaders should redesign schools instead of “tinkering around the edges.” She recommended:

  1. Funding the students instead of the ingredients — attach the funding formula to the student.
  2. Linking spending to productivity and creating transparency with data.
  3. Incentivising innovation by creating competitive grants.
  4. Augmenting accountability and creating a process for closing failing schools.

“Transparency with data will lead to collaboration,” Rosa said.

Idaho best practices stepped to the podium next. Four educators who are members on the task force gave their examples of bright spots in student achievement.

Paula Conley of the Coeur d’Alene School District credited high performances to a devotion to teacher collaboration, evaluation and technology integration. She was personally passionate about having a strong mentor program for new teachers so they don’t have a “sense of isolation.”

Phyllis Nichols of the New Plymouth School District spoke about how merit pay has been an “incentive for success” in her district. Bonuses are paid across grade levels in this district of 1,000 students.

Meridian’s Linda Clark, superintendent of Idaho’s largest school district, showcased how her high schools offer advanced opportunities for students in both higher and technical education.

“We are preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s challenges,” she said. “I call it preparing them for the reality of life.”

Meridian students earned 10,013 concurrent credits last year and Clark did the math — it saved parents $1.36 million.  Clark also gave an overview of the Treasure Valley Educational Partnership (TVEP) and its mission.

The last presenter was Teresa Jackman. She represents the Idaho Education Association on the task force and she teaches at a charter school in Southeast Idaho. She said that student success comes with emphasizing things like  researched-based instruction, professional learning communities and aligning instruction and assessment.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.



  • Kevin S. Wilson

    New Plymouth School District’s merit-pay system? Again? Seriously?

    Throughout 2012, Superintendent Kerby was trotted out by the Students Come First “reformers” to sing the praises of New Plymouth’s merit-pay system, each time making the unproven claim that the decade-old system was responsible for dramatic increases in student performance on standardized tests and other measures of academic achievement. Writing in the Idaho Statesman on October 13, 2012, Mr. Kerby even went so far as to say that “performance pay” (aka, merit pay) will work in the schools.

    How does he know? “Personal experience.”

    Apparently, Mr. Kerby would prefer to relay on personal experience and anecdotal evidence than on longitudinal controlled studies that dispute his notion that merit pay works. He does a disservice to the members of the Governor’s Task Force by implying that his limited experimentation with merit-pay at one school has relevance to the education issues present in Idaho today.

    The “experiment” at New Plymouth School District fails to account for or isolate variables other than merit pay that may be responsible for some or all of the improvement in test scores. What Mr. Kerby and others describe falls prey to the logical fallacy of “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”– “after this, therefore because of this.” This “experiment” isn’t science. It isn’t even research.

    This is research:

    “The most rigorous trial of merit pay was conducted recently in Nashville by the National Center on Performance Incentives. It offered an extraordinary bonus of $15,000 to teachers if they could get higher scores from their students. Over a three-year period, there was no difference between the scores obtained by the treatment group or the control group. The bonus didn’t matter.

    “Roland Fryer of Harvard University studied New York City’s much-touted (and now abandoned) school-wide merit-pay program. “Fryer says it made no difference in terms of student outcomes and actually depressed performance in some schools and for some groups of students.

    “Even the business guru W. Edwards Deming (aka “The Man Who Discovered Quality”) has concluded that merit pay is bad for organizations, in that it “gets everyone thinking about what is good for himself or herself and leads to forgetting about the goals of the organization. It incentivizes short-term thinking and discourages long-term thinking.”

    These quotes are taken from a letter written by education historian Diane Ravitch, author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” The studies cited, and others, are documented here:

  • Kevin S. Wilson

    I can’t decide whether Jamie MacMillan and Marguerite Rosa (policy analyst in education and former Senior Economic and Data Advisor at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) are fond of stating the obvious or if they are simply setting up straw men here in order to knock them down. To say that ” money does not guarantee increased student achievement” is to say very little, and what little is said is rather obvious. But when both Ms. Macmillan and Ms. Rosa imply that they are rebutting the argument that money guarantees increased student achievement, then the smell of straw and red herring fills the room.

    Who is seriously making the argument that money guarantees increased student achievement? To my knowledge, no one.

    We’ve heard from the Alberston Foundation about “best practices,” and twice now from Ms. Rosa, who most recently made the same points she makes here while speaking at the Ed Sessions, a series of talks funded by the Albertson Foundation. And Ms. Nicholls has repeated what we heard numerous times from Superintend Kerby about New Plymouth’s experiment with merit pay. When will we, and the Governor’s Task Force, hear from anyone who cannot be accurately described as a cheerleader for corporate-driven education “reform” and the privitization of public education?