"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Merit Pay and the Flawed Research That Buys It

A couple of years ago the Walton Foundation was able to buy their own shop at the University of Arkansas to churn out propaganda to support the type of conservative education agenda that would make all of America Walmart employees or Walmart shoppers--or both. As Chair of the new department paid for with $20,000,000 of Walton money, who else--Jay P. Greene, who has manhandled and simmered more statistical data for the Manhattan Institute than you can shake a graphing calculator at.

This is background, then, for this post at the Arkansas Blog, which offers the skinny on a new research products manufactured by Greene and Co. just in time to kick off the big campaign there for merit pay based, of course, on test scores:

The merit pay train leaves the station from the state Capitol at 2 p.m. tomorrow, when faculty members at the University of Arkansas present an evaluation of merit pay experiments in the Little Rock School District. (Noted: The UA is a major recipient of Walton Foundation money. The department doing the evaluation is a major recipient of Walton money. Walton money is promoting merit pay, charter schools and other "reform" all across America. Walton money is supporting the merit pay experiment in the Little Rock School District, with notable aid from Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman.)

The finding: No surprise here. Merit pay holds promise. More experimenting and testing are needed.

Pardon my sarcasm. Suspicion naturally arises from the multiple connections and the fact that the publicly financed UA refused our FOI request for this report since last Thursday. The report was provided to certain insiders -- supporters of the program -- and one of them was kind enough to supply a copy to us today. Secrecy about this project has been a black mark on the effort from the start.

I'll put the verbatim executive summary on the jump. The meat comes later, in test score comparisons between two schools using merit pay projects (Wakefield and Meadowcliff) and three not using them (Base Line, Chicot and Franklin). But I'm unable to post that data at the moment. There is, however, very little in the way of apples-to-apples comparison of student test scores. In the end, because of a number of variables, the only true comparison is how fourth- and fifth-grade students at one school, Wakefield, performed on a math test, compared with an average from three non-merit-pay schools. Another flaw, in my view, is that the two merit pay project schools -- with about 80 percent minority student bodies -- are compared against an average score of three schools with differing demographic makeups, including one, Franklin, a virtually all-black school with very low scores. I don't see group-to-group comparisons of individual student advancement -- among poor students at a merit pay school vs. poor at a single comparable school, black vs. black, non-black vs. non-black These schools happen to fall in an area where an interesting demographic difference may be emerging based on some recent data -- the relatively strong performance of the rising Hispanic population, particularly versus black students -- and I'm not sure any thought has been given to that.

Teacher opinion surveys produced a finding that teachers at merit pay schools didn't think they worked harder or more innovatively than other teachers, but they found a more positive atmosphere. Yes, they liked higher pay.

It is a shame that the presentation won't be rolled out in a true open forum. It should have been peer reviewed and distributed to those with differing viewpoints in time for study and informed questioning. But this is a political and public relations process at work tomorrow, with academic researchers as props.

No comments:

Post a Comment