Will the media report on the problems with Dallas ISD’s turnaround model and a dangerous bill up for a hearing in a Texas House committee?

Watch the video of three Dallas ISD teachers testifying against pay for test scores.

Tomorrow the House Public Education Committee will hear a Senate bill (SB 1412) that initially sought to expand the Dallas ISD programs of pay-for-test scores and extra pay to work at struggling campuses. A committee substitute struck language referring to struggling schools and would now allow the commissioner to choose any school, to create the rules for the program, choose a vendor to implement the program, and none of these decisions could be appealed. Many lawmakers have been sold on these programs and want to make them a statewide model.

Most news stories have had to simplify coverage of this issue down to the basics: The Texas Senate wants to include provisions for merit pay to give top-ranked teachers more money, and even more money for teaching at struggling campuses.

More details will give you a better understanding of the danger of these proposals. Dallas ISD uses two programs — the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI) and Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE). TEI ranks teachers with a combination of more traditional evaluations coupled with a significant portion of the rankings based on student achievement on assessments — up to 35% — mainly the students’ STAAR scores. The highest-ranking teachers receive additional compensation (although the pool of money is capped, so you can meet a mark and still not get the raise.) The district then uses those rankings to recruit the supposed best teachers to serve on struggling ACE campuses, where those teachers receive even higher compensation.

Here’s the rub. For some lawmakers, TEI and ACE are joined at the hip. They can’t envision more resources to struggling campuses without some kind of pay for test score scheme required. So if you want to expand one program, you expand the other. Indeed, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa is quoted in a D Magazine article today declaring how he feels the two have to be linked.

….people conflate two things, strategic compensation with ACE. Those are two different things. We couldn’t do ACE if we didn’t have strategic compensation, cause there are a lot of superintendents that come up to the capitol and they’re bobbleheads. The chairman asked, do you know what your best teachers are, and they’re doing this [nodding]. And if the question was, I want the list of your 20 percent highest-performing teachers, could they provide that list? I don’t think they could. So I think the issue gets conflated

When Hinojosa says “strategic compensation” he means pay for test scores in TEI. (The article contains a lot more garbage on why the state should only pay “effective” teachers more and not give pay raises to the rest, which you can read here.)

SB 1412 is even more problematic in that it puts all the power behind this expansion of pay for test scores in the hands of one man — Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The bill gives the commissioner, who is a huge fan of pay for test scores and all things data driven, the ability to write the rules for what districts are required to do to implement their ACE programs. It even goes so far as to add a phrase ensuring that even if the law doesn’t require something, Morath is free to add it in: “any other requirements adopted by the commissioner by rule.” Thus, Morath will be unchecked in his ability to put more and more emphasis on the STAAR test for teacher compensation.

The media have been consistently publishing stories outlining problems with the STAAR test and the widespread objections to its misuse. But will reporters also cover this dangerous expansion of pay for STAAR scores? We’ll see.

We’ll be sure to keep highlighting the problems with TEI and ACE. For instance, in addition to TEI often being unfair to many teachers, it also inflates the problems of excessive assessments, test prep, and teaching to the test. To hear it first hand, watch the previous testimony from three Dallas ISD teachers who actually made more money from TEI but object to the model.

by Rob D’Amico, Texas AFT Communications Director
(Follow on Twitter @damicoaustin and @TexasAFT)