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The Most Important Reform Right Now in DISD Isn’t Home Rule, It’s TEI

The DISD board meeting a week ago Thursday was momentous, and not because trustees discussed how to proceed in naming a home-rule commission. It was because, in a 7-2 vote, the board approved Mike Miles’ Teacher Excellence Initiative (aka, TEI). It’s the crucial part of his reform plan called Destination 2020. (The primary goal of which is to greatly increase the college readiness of DISD graduates.) It is, as one administration official told me, “the biggest reform DISD has seen in 20 years. It’s huge.”

You may forgiven if you haven’t realized just how big it is. Perhaps you didn’t read Jim Schutze’s recap of the meeting, where he outlined TEI’s bottom line as it affects teachers:

Tonight’s plan will pay top teachers twice the salary paid to teachers at the bottom of the merit tree, $90,000 versus $45,000, and will also obviously try to off-load the really bad teachers, the bottom 12 percent who actively harm the achievement levels of their students.

Even if you don’t know much about the years-long debate around merit pay for teachers, it’s easy to see why this is a big deal on the levels Schutze identifies: great teachers can make very good salaries of $90k, and it will help ID the very worst teachers, who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of damage done to kids, in terms of their education.

More than that, the program will be watched by educators around the country because it’s designed very differently from similar (often failed) merit-pay plans across the country. (For details on this TEI plan, go here, but bottom line is that a teacher’s performance grade is based 50 percent on classroom performance, 35 percent on student achievement/tests, and 15 percent on student surveys.) Bottom line: this is incredibly important change in the way the district compensates teachers, and I plan on writing about it often and in detail in the coming months.

Some of the board members themselves knew how huge the passing of this plan is, and they almost couldn’t believe it went through with such minimal political bickering. (Thanks largely to the home rule debate having overshadowed the TEI vote.) Even though the meeting lasted into the wee hours, some members still called each other after it was over for a reality check: “Did that really just happen? Did we really pass the most advanced merit-pay experiment in the country?”

Yes, they did. If you want to get some context for what we’ll talk about in the coming months, the video above is long but can be digested in small bites. It does a good job of explaining just how carefully thought out the initiative is, and on the flip side it gives you an idea of the many places it could be undone without careful implementation.

  • billholston

    one question: Will the evaluations consider improvement of test scores as opposed to simply whether students pass tests. What if a student improves 400% in the course of the year but still fails tests?

  • Mike Dryden

    The issue is not incentives to pay good teachers. It is not even a merit pay system. The issue is no research backs the plan and research from the top researchers in the U.S. question the stability of value-added models TEI will use, the lack of confirmation of classroom observations related to performance, the bias against teachers of high poverty students, and the absurd notion that student surveys are valid for judging teachers. I can tell you that over the years I have evaluated DISD data and it is not sensitive for ranking teachers into 9 tiers for the purpose of career salaries. The lack of data to support TEI is not even arguable.

  • Mike Dryden

    There is nothing wrong with P4P if someone could figure out a fair methodology. The TEI takes three very weak measures and then assumes accuracy emerges. Kind of like measuring someone doing a 100 yard dash with a pendulum, hour glass,and sun dial and expecting the composite score to be highly accurate measure of speed.
    It is quite obvious that this will only result in high teacher turnover in the schools that need stable teachers the most. BTW it cannot be pay for performance when it is based on a fixed distribution.

  • http://learningcurve.dmagazine.com Eric Celeste

    Mike, I appreciate your stance, and there’s no question that the failure of many merit-pay systems around the country has led to a lot of backlash. This may experience the same thing. But I think two points are arguable: One, that the idea itself is without merit (again, I point to the wide range of intelligent discussion about this in the Freakonomics forum on the matter (note the former Dallas-area scholar in the mix); and two that this isn’t substantively different from many of the ones that have failed. In other words, I choose to believe at this point that DISD MAY have learned from the mistakes of others. I do like your 100-yard dash analogy, though. I’m going to use it when I talk to Miles directly about this issue and get his reply.

  • Eric Celeste

    Mike, I appreciate your stance, and there’s no question that the failure of many merit-pay systems around the country has led to a lot of backlash. This may experience the same thing. But I think two points are arguable: One, that the idea itself is without merit (again, I point to the wide range of intelligent discussion about this in the Freakonomics forum on the matter http://freakonomics.com/2011/09/20/the-debate-over-teacher-merit-pay-a-freakonomics-quorum/ (note the former Dallas-area scholar in the mix); and two that this isn’t substantively different from many of the ones that have failed. In other words, I choose to believe at this point that DISD MAY have learned from the mistakes of others. I do like your 100-yard dash analogy, though. I’m going to use it when I talk to Miles directly about this issue and get his reply.

  • Eric Celeste

    BTW: Forgive me for comments taking so long to show up. I didn’t realize I couldn’t just approve them on the WordPress dashboard, there’s this other place on the Interwebs where I have to go, and it’s all so confusing. But I hope I’ve got figured out-ish.

  • Eric Celeste

    Bill, a DISD spokesman says the answer to your question is yes, it will consider improvement as opposed to simply whether a student passes.

  • billholston

    thanks Eric. That’s critical. I know a public school teacher who each year gets the hardest case students. She is a gifted teacher and makes tremendous progress with her kids, but some of them start the year extremely behind.

  • Mike Dryden

    Think about your logic. Just because it never worked anywhere else does not mean it will not work in Dallas. True but the Dallas data does not support it either.
    I am actually for rewarding good teachers but not at the expense of falsely driving out the best. The BoT should have commissioned an independent review in 2014-15 to vet the process and not rely on DISD’s interpretation.

  • Mike Dryden

    Yes they take into account growth and not just absolute scores and the CEI scores are an attempt to do this but these scores are not stable over time. Here is a file with real DISD CEI data over time. It does not support placing teachers in 9 tiers. The Colorado growth model they are developing is less accurate than the CEI and highly dependent upon the quality of teacher made ACP tests. http://dfpe.org/documents/CEI_Math_Simulation.zip

  • Israel Contreras

    Mmmm….how does it account for children who make progress through half the year and then half way through start dropping for all sorts of reasons. Ive seen this happen alot…in fact kids often peak in April then drop the last month of school. This system will make me leave the classroom.

  • Israel Contreras

    The simple problem with this system is this system doesnt correctly identify the problem. The problem is this…in our school system there is absolutely no accountability for students and parents. Overseas the testing that happens in upper levels like high school and middle school determine the direction a student’s entire life will take. So guess what students take it seriously. Not so here in Texas. Heck when it was that way…parents got the pass the test for graduation rule turned around quickly. The eoc tests required in high school now only require a student to do 40 percent of the questions correctly…sad sad.