Memphis City Schools line up merit-pay PR worth $1.4 million
Donors kick in as MCS eyes Gates
By Jane Roberts
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Memphis City Schools has signed short-term contracts worth $1.4 million with several consultants, including a local public relations agency, as the district moves toward merit pay for teachers and getting rid of those who miss the mark.
Supt. Kriner Cash quickly raised the capital from donors, including the Hyde Family Foundations, so work could begin Oct. 1.
The PR firm CS, on Union Avenue, got a $152,000 contract through June 30. The agency's main job will be communicating with teachers, making sure the district's message is clear and consistent, potentially warding off union strife.
The contracts are a prelude to a seven-year teacher improvement plan the district hopes to accomplish with nearly $100 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates will announce the winners of its national grants in early November. Memphis is one of five finalists.
Cash does not want to wait, saying Tuesday that "a lull in work like this can become the devil's playground.
"We have said we are going to go forward on this whether we receive the funding from the Gates Foundation or not."
The "bridge agreements" the board approved Monday also include $542,000 to The New Teacher Project to start recruiting teachers this fall, and a $720,000, 90-day contract with The Parthenon Group, a Gates-sanctioned consultant the district chose to help it flesh out strategy for winning the Gates prize.
Parthenon, in Boston, will now help Cash with administration details, including meeting early "milestone" goals, such as turning teacher recruitment over to The New Teacher Project and instituting performance-based bonuses for high-quality new teachers who pledge to stay four years.
"The exciting thing is this is not about the Gates money. The district has committed to raising student achievement," said Victoria Van Cleef, executive director of The New Teacher Project in Memphis.
"As their partner in raising student achievement, we're really going to help them ratchet up on the candidates principals get to look at," Van Cleef said.
"They will have much better data on new hires, equipping them to be selective, They will know they don't have to take whoever walks in the door because they will have five to seven candidates for every opening."
The most important piece is the communications contract, said Cato Johnson, senior vice president at Methodist Healthcare and an expert in local education issues.
"Your teachers are your frontline. This is a very important step for the board to hire a consultant and go forward. I would commend them and the staff for their foresight in hiring outside talent."
If Memphis receives the Gates money, the district will eventually outsource all teacher recruiting and staffing to TNTP, paying it $2.8 million a year, according to its 60-page Gates proposal.
By increasing the pool of applicants for every opening, Cash hopes to make better hires, reducing the 40 percent of new teachers who leave the district within three years.
"We lose so many new teachers," he said, "and we're really not clear why. We don't do exit interviews."
Overall, the seven-year improvement strategy will cost $155.9 million, including $99.6 million the district hopes to get from Gates.
The rest, including these donations, are part of $56.3 million the district will contribute itself and raise in the community.
"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Headline: Memphis City Schools line up merit-pay PR worth $1.4 million
This is the kind of headline that you read twice, and then check to make sure it's not April Fools Day. The Memphis superintendent lined up philanthropic funding (not all of it accounted for - only one donor is named, and Mr. Gates has shown his willingness to dip into his own pocket to push his preferred reforms) to push merit-pay. Memphis, of course, is one of the districts Billionaire Bill is targeting with $500 million in funding for merit-pay, only one part of the philanthrocapitalists attempt to radically alter the teaching profession along the lines of market-based logic and anti-union policies. The bigger the PR budget, the bigger the mound of bulls**t - and, in this case, Mr. Gates is shoveling up an elephant-sized pie. Superintendent Cash (oh, such an appropriate name!) is hoping the PR blitz will make the teachers - and the general public - believe the dung they're being served is decadent chocolate. Disgusting.
From the Commercial Appeal:
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