Wednesday, August 05, 2009

AYP: Show My Students the Money (and not some test-prep consultant)

Mr. Klein attributed the city’s gains in large part to its efforts to hold teachers and principals accountable for improving scores, including paying students $50, teachers $3,000 and principals up to $25,000 for significant progress.
--from "Gains on Tests in New York Schools Don't Silence Critics", Elisa Gootman & Robert Gebeloff, New York Times, 8.3.09
Fifty bucks, huh? Let's make that one hundred, and leave the teachers and principals out of it (we get paid already). How much would it cost to pay every APS student who scored proficient or better? I tried to find out what the bill could possibly be (100% proficiency), but damn if the District Report link is dead at the NM Public Education Department. Can't find the total number of APS students tested in 2009 there. Btw, could somebody fix that link?

Edit: Proving once again that Burque Babble is the most powerful force in the Universe, the dead link noted above now works. Coincidence? Yeah, almost certainly. Anyway, as the suddenly resurrected report shows, APS tested right at 41,500 "Full Academic Year" students. For purposes of the little riff below, we'll disregard the district figures and proceed as if the link stayed dead.

Okay, let's just use last year's instead. Damn, can't find a link for 2008 either. No link exists at all.

Let's try the APS website.

Of course you know I'm joking when I say that. Saying "Let's try the APS website" is like saying "Let's try to obtain information by slamming our heads into a concrete wall over and over". It's like saying "Let's try to learn more about my school district by sticking a screwdriver in a 220-volt washing machine electrical outlet".

Alright. Let's count school by school from the NM PED website. Okay, let's not. That would take like six hours. Okay, why not just look at my school and say we're running a "Pilot Program"! Whoo-hoo! Pilot Program!

Last year my little middle school tested 883 kids. Remember middle schools usually test relatively large numbers not only because they are typically bigger than elementary schools, but because they test all three grades, unlike high schools which just test 11th graders.

Okay, 883 kids. But in terms of kids that really count, only 794 students were considered to have attended my school for the "Full Academic Year". So we're only paying up to 794 students. I mean, we're generous, but we're not crazy.

794 x $100 = $79,400

Sounds like a ton of money, right? Well, that's the max remember. 100% proficiency. Also, keep in mind that my school is spending somewhere around $25,000 paying for this curriculum-in-a-box program designed by "consultants" to teach struggling kids in Math. Not to mention the fact my school has had to radically change our entire "master" schedule for all students because this curriculum-in-a-box supposedly cannot be taught properly unless a whole separate period is created to do so.

Now you can't put a dollar value on pain in the ass aggravation, but I gotta think creation of this new schedule, all the stupid meetings we had about it, will have about it and assorted pain and suffering for both the kids who have to take this curriculum-in-a-box crap, and those who have to take something else while these other kids have the curriculum-in-a-box crap has to add up to some sort of equivalent to monetary compensatory damages. Not to mention the punitive damages I'd like to monetarily impale these teach-to-the-test consultant hyenas with.

I'm saying it's at least worth the equivalent of $50,000. At least. And combined with the $25,000 already mentioned we're just about at $79,400.

And here's the $79,400 question. Which do you think would lead to a better proficiency rate: The offer of $100 to every kid reaching proficiency (we could make it $50 for proficiency in Math and $50 in Reading) or this curriculum-in-a-box and radically revised "master" schedule?

The Times story doesn't get into any sort of definitive answers on anything, and doesn't touch much on the student pay specifics at all. Yet, New York City isn't the only school system trying things like this. Chicago schools pay students for good grades, but I haven't seen any data at present from the researchers at Harvard who were funding the Chicago program to study the results. Some research is coming in regarding a Texas program to pay students who score well on Advanced Placement tests, and the findings by Cornell University's Kirabo Jackson seem to show a benefit.

Of course there are moral/ethical/educational questions here beyond the simple pragmatics of "will paying students work?" For me, the bottom line is this: I'd rather see students paid than consultants and curriculum-in-a-box makers who don't see kids on a daily basis, have zero accountability themselves and are simply opportunistic scavengers of the testing mania we currently suffer under.

Just as is the case with college athletics, all the players in the standardized testing game get paid, except the actual players. No teacher, administrator, test creator or test publisher expects to work without getting paid here. And I'm betting pretty much all those who scream about how horrible paying students is expect to get paid for doing their job as well.

Oh, and to answer the $79,400 question above: I'd bet 79,400 dollars to doughnuts more kids would become proficient at my school using $100 cash incentives than some curriculum-in-a-box. Take me to the Pilot Program, folks, and let's gamble. Uh, not gamble...uh, no it's not's research. We would be conducting very, very serious research.

P.S.: I truly understand and appreciate the "knowledge for knowledge sake" argument. After all, I'm a guy who got a Master's Degree in Political Science in a mad attempt to do the absolute most studying possible while being guaranteed of making the absolute least amount of money possible. I'm a big proponent of "lifelong learning" and all that. Knowledge might be Power, but I know for a fact it's Fun, and that's way more important than Power to me. Still...let's be honest here and realize that for many the intrinsic rewards of learning stuff might not be as important as they are/were for us, and as they will, hopefully, eventually be for them.

P.P.S.: I know paying for proficiency might be unfair to certain students like Special Education kids. Trust me, I've got a plan, a 47,000 word plan I'd love to lay on ya, but let's face it, this has gone on long enough. Email me if you want even an executive summary of "Leveling the Playing Field: A Monetary Manifesto". See, that Master's in Poly Sci did pay off for me. I can use grammatical colons in titles like nobody's business.

1 comment:

Lucky said...

I just spent THREE WHOLE days of my precious summer vacation learning to implement a reading curriculum-in-a-box (actually several boxes and a few binders). It's scripted, so it tells you what to say and do for every lesson, and is broken down into 5 minute increments. Seriously, I think it could have been summed up in about 20 minutes. An hour, tops. I summed it up for my wife in about twenty minutes, and that included gales of slightly hysterical laughter.

So, let's see. APS paid me, and about 45 other teachers, $18/hr for 3 days. That's nearly $15,000. God knows how much they paid for materials - we each got an entire set, workbooks and everything. Conservatively, I'd say at least $1000 a set. That's another $45,000. They had to pay the consultant who taught it to us, they have to continue to pay district liaisons who will come around every nine weeks (at a minimum) to make sure we're actually doing it.

Anyway, my point is, if you want a co-author on that manifesto, let me know. I got my degree in English, I can at least proofread.