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Charleston Merit Pay: Documentation of Claims Made by EdFirstSC

on Mon, 12/16/2013 - 02:56

In explicit response to recent public criticism of their BRIDGE teacher evaluation program, (including a 12/13 op-ed in The Post & Courier by EdFirstSC Director Patrick Hayes), Charleston County School District has posted documents that make four key claims:

1. We are not withholding promised salaries,

2. We are continuing to reward advanced degrees,

3. Educators will absolutely not be terminated based on unsubstantiated data, and finally

4. We continue to believe, as I have always stated, the victory is in the classroom. I am committed to elevating the profession, and honoring and maximizing teachers’ ability to transform students’ lives.

Each of these claims is true in the limited sense in which it is stated.

  • CCSD is currently giving teachers small raises for each year of service, as promised at hire.  These raises are below those offered in comparable districts, but they are still being paid.
  • CCSD is currently paying teachers more when they earn advanced degrees.
  • CCSD educators are not currently being terminated based on unsubstantiated data.
  • CCSD leaders speak frequently and eloquently about the esteem in which they hold their educators.

The concerns being raised are about CCSD’s clearly and repeatedly stated plans to make radical changes to Points 1, 2, and 3, and about survey data that undermines sentiments expressed in Point 4.

Extensive documentation of these plans appears below.

If the district is willing to commit publicly to abandoning these plans, that would be very welcome news for Charleston teachers.

Based on information provided by BRIDGE leaders, such a decision would necessitate withdrawal from the federal TIF Grant program that funds BRIDGE.

Given the numerous flaws and proven record of failure of the methods mandated by the TIF grant (merit pay based on value-added modeling of student test scores), withdrawal would be entirely appropriate.


Point 1 & 2 – CCSD is planning to withhold annual increases currently given for years of experience and attainment of advanced degrees. 

These salaries were promised at hire under the district’s existing salary schedule, and are currently mandated by state law.

CCSD plans to request a waiver from this requirement. 

Such a waiver is not necessary during the current pilot year, because CCSD is merely awarding bonus payments above mandated salaries.

Documentation can be found on p. 7, 13, 14, 52, & 57 of the TIF Narrative submitted with CCSD’s grant application to the federal government, as well as a Post & Courier article published on 8/25/13

This screenshot is from p. 57 of the TIF Narrative (ECHO was an acronym that has since been replaced by “BRIDGE: Grow”):

This one, concerning the plan to apply for a waiver is from p. 52.  It clearly distinguishes between Bonus phase and Salary Restructure phase:


In addition, CCSD's Administration & Board of Trustees discussed this vision (and the resistance expected from teachers) at a Board Workshop held in March 21st, 2013. 


CCSD maintains that “No educator will lose money,” under the new system, an apparent reference to the fact that state law prohibits reducing an educator’s salary. 

The waiver would be for permission to avoid having to award future salary credit for years of service and advanced degrees, as promised at hire.

This was confirmed by former TIF Director Melissa Matarazzo in a Jan. 28th meeting.

A reporter for the Post & Courier was given the same information for this 8/25/13 piece on BRIDGE:



Point 3- CCSD is planning to fire educators based on unreliable data.

CCSD’s TIF Narrative repeatedly spells out a plan to use its new evaluation system to make termination decisions (“contract nonrenewal”) for both induction and continuing contract teachers.

This documentation appears on p. 6, 7, 8, & 9.

Here’s a screenshot from p. 7 & 8:


Here’s a more recent document, a BRIDGE: Grow FAQ dated 11/7/13:


Here’s a screenshot from p. 9 of the TIF Grant Narrative:


The “Value-Added Student Achievement Growth” specified here is the type of unreliable data referred to in the quotes below (VAM = Value Added Modeling):

National Academy of Sciences:
    …VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable.

RAND Corporation:
The research base is currently insufficient to support the use of VAM for high-stakes decisions.

Educational Testing Serviceand the Economic Policy Institute reached similar conclusions.

Dr. Edward Haertel, former president of the National Council on Measurement in Education, Chair of the National Research Council’s Board on Testing and Assessment, and former chair of the committee on methodology of the National Assessment Governing Board:

"Teacher VAM scores should emphatically not be included as a substantial factor with a fixed weight in consequential teacher personnel decisions.

The information they provide is simply not good enough to use in that way."


CCSD’s lead BRIDGE consultant, Mathematica, reported VAM to have a 36% error rate.


Point 4- CCSD central administrators expressed serious misgivings about the quality of CCSD teachers in an anonymous survey given as part of the BRIDGE development process.

These opinions cannot be supported with any data, and are far out of line with actual research from other areas.

On behalf of CCSD, Mathematica Research Group asked BRIDGE stakeholders to complete a survey on their opinions about distributions of teacher effectiveness in the district. 

Results were shared only with CCSD’s Senior Leadership Team, were obtained under a FOIA request, and are available for review upon request.

Central administrators believe that 25% of CCSD teachers are either Ineffective or Minimally Effective.

Principals’ estimates of Ineffective/Minimally Effective teachers were substantially lower (17%).  These are the people who actually know the teachers in question and their work.

Evidence will soon be presented to suggest that even this figure is wildly inflated.

In comparison, consider that NY’s value-added model ranked only 5% of teachers that low.