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Charleston Merit Pay: "A Model for Our State"?

on Mon, 12/16/2013 - 03:32

Editor's Note 1/15:  SC Dept of Ed has denied Charleston's request to withhold promised salaries.  The program limps on as an embarassing punchline, but now offers only tiny bonuses on top of salaries.

Starting in 2015, Charleston's BRIDGE plan will withhold promised salaries.

  • Teachers & principals will be forced to win them back by hitting test score targets (with a 36% error rate)
  • Advanced degrees will no longer be rewarded
  • Unreliable data will be used to FIRE educators

Naturally, Mick Zais is in on the play.

Hopes are high for this to become "A Model for the State"

"Good teachers will be lining up to get in here!" - Bd. Members

  Salaries are lower than most comparable districts.

Teachers are promised tiny annual raises: $320 the first year and $763 the tenth.

District leaders complain that this is wasteful, and that merit pay would be a better use of your money.

  Will this plan attract and keep strong teachers?

Tell Charleston leaders if this plan would make you More or LESS likely to work here.

The following list of facts about BRIDGE, merit pay, and value-added measurement is fully linked for your background research:

Charleston is paying Mathematica research group $2.9 million to develop our Value-Added Model (VAM). 

In 2010, Mathematica reported that VAM systems have a 36% error rate in identifying teachers as effective or ineffective.

  • Using three years of data? 26% error rate.
  • Want to get the error rate down to 12%?  You’ll need ten years of data for that teacher.

They really don't like to talk about that now.

Federal grants like ours have made VAM-based merit pay a major cash cow ($800 million and counting).


They’re not the only ones with concerns about VAM…

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.

American Institutes for Research
We cannot at this time encourage anyone to use VAM in a high stakes endeavor.

Educational Testing Service and 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."

  Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?


In 1986, researchers Richard Murman and David Cohen, in the Harvard Educational Review, surveyed merit pay plans going back to the 19th century.

“We found no urban districts with long-lived merit pay plans.  In fact, we could not find even one documented case of a large, once-troubled school district that had successfully used merit pay to improve its performance.”

Texas, Chicago, NY, DC, and Denver squandered hundreds of millions on merit pay bonuses with nothing to show for it but cheating scandals.

Nashville offered teachers $15,000 bonuses: No impact on student achievement.

New York City’s heralded $75 million experiment in teacher incentive pay...did not increase student achievement at all

“If anything student achievement declined.” -lead researcher & merit pay advocate

Charleston’s plan to withhold promised salaries is a novel approach, but there’s no evidence to suggest it will work any better...

...unless the goal is to drive teachers to districts that honor their promises and already pay higher salaries.

A VAM study of five large urban districts found that only 1/3 of top-ranked teachers kept that standing in the second year. 

A larger group plummeted
down to the bottom 40%.

Teachers at the bottom of the rankings showed the exact same pattern in reverse, with 1/3 rising to the top 40%.

None of this has stopped newspapers (including The Post & Courier) from publishing VAM ratings. 

Recent court rulings deem them public information, even when used for evaluation. 

One Los Angeles teacher committed suicide after a poor VAM rating was published.


NY officials pointed out that 75% of their teachers saw their category ratings go up or stay the same in the second year of their VAM scheme.

  Um…that means 25% of their ratings went down.

Are one-fourth of their teachers really worse this year than they were last year?

In other news, twenty-percent of all NC teachers flunked their VAM rating this year as Common Core curriculum was phased in.

Somehow their students scored above national averages on NAEP. 

Don't worry: Mathematica says Common Core won't be a problem here.


Want to know more about VAM?

Here’s a comprehensive report from some of the most prominent names in education research, and a definitive technical one by Dr. Edward Haertel of Stanford that is truly devastating.

Among other things, it slices and dices the oft-cited MET Study that cost Bill Gates $50 million and "proved" that, "Value-added really works!".  You know, like Windows 8.

Turns out, the main thing MET proved is that the customer is always right.

Heck, Mathematica could have told him that for $2.9 million.  Want more? it’s ALL here.


With this year’s $8 million BRIDGE budget, Charleston is using just $1.9 million to pay bonuses to teachers in their pilot program. 

  • Amount budgeted for travel expenses: $442,000
  • Amount budgeted to pay teachers for spending 30 hours in workgroups to develop the pilot: $0

What goes on in these workgroups?

  • Charleston originally wanted individual VAM scores to count for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation.
  • They were also eager to include schoolwide VAM scores, as well as parent and student surveys with response rates as low as 10% (all of these are still being used for principals).

We nipped it in the bud, in sessions where teachers were outnumbered 3-to-1 and resistance was strong.
Charleston leaders claim that “no teacher will lose money” under BRIDGE.

It’s true that state law prohibits reducing a teacher’s salary, and there's little hope of changing that.

CCSD plans to seek a waiver from its requirement to give annual step-increases and salary credit for degrees, both of which were promised at hire.

It's in the sidebar of the link above, and has been discussed publicly at Board meetings & workshops.