Pay for performance in public ed is here- for education mercenaries

by David Esrati on June 7, 2013

in Dayton Public Schools

Much is being debated about the metrics for “pay for performance” in public education. How much of the weight should be given to classroom evaluation and skills vs. performance of students.

But there is a new brand of education professional these days- the “education mercenary” – who promises to do a turnaround and may or may not stick around as the next carrot gets dangled.

David White falls into that category. After success at a charter, he was brought in to “settle down” Belmont High school 4 years ago. He was allowed to hand pick his lieutenants, and brought discipline issues to a halt in a building that some had called a “jungle.” Other Dayton Public Schools principals weren’t too pleased knowing that he was getting a $15K premium just to walk in the door. He moved to Ponitz Career School, last year, ostensibly as a reward for his performance at Belmont, but one year later, he’s heading to Trotwood, where supposedly he was offered a better compensation package.

There are also mercenary superintendents available as hired guns for hire. Dr. Kurt Stanic came to Dayton as a mercenary, and while he was generally merciful in his compensation requirements (which were all gravy since he was already drawing his pension) he had total control of the School Board because he was there on his terms- and he never let them forget it. (This is how his buddy Bill Burgess got the no-bid marketing contract without a peep from the board.)

With the new common core standards scaring the hell out of administrators and school boards, the value of these hired guns with promises of progress but zero commitment to stay, are going up. Falling performance indicators will make it increasingly harder to pass school levies and justify superintendents’ pay packages. White told me that he believed common core standards will cause a wave of superintendent retirements as old dogs realize that their old tricks are about to be revealed for what they are.

One thing that truly reeks about the mercenary model, is that superb, loyal, high performers like Erin Dooley at Stivers, aren’t paid what they deserve unless they leave what they’ve built or threaten to leave. At some point, superstars need to be granted bonuses based on their steady performance, to stop them from following in the footsteps of Mr. White.

Every one of us knows that all teachers aren’t equal. As a student, I knew who was great and who wasn’t, although it wasn’t always instantly recognizable. There are teachers, principals and even custodians who are exceptional at setting the example for students, it’s time for all of us to realize it. If there is one thing I’ve never understood about unions it’s their willingness to fight for members who their peers know don’t cut it. I understand that eliminating biases of all types from the workplace is admirable, but I’d also like to eliminate mediocrity and the idea that a teacher’s value is somehow related to years on the job. The real superstars, won’t stick around long enough to get longevity pay if we don’t recognize their value.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

truddick June 7, 2013 at 12:27 pm

David, the problem with unions is that they are legally required to defend their members’ employment status.  They must do whatever they can to maintain employment for even teachers who everyone knows are bad or unqualified.  The problem is made worse by administrators who do not do their jobs diligently; recall how Loretta Cephus could not be dismissed efficiently by DPS even though she lacked required credentials–because administrators bungled her dismissal.
If you want to solve the union problems, turn them into professional associations like the Bar Association or the Medical Boards.  Put them in charge of education curriculum and certification standards and hold them accountable for professional standards of conduct.  It doesn’t work perfectly for doctors or lawyers (now, auto mechanics and the Automotive Service Excellence people seem quite reliablr, for comparison) but the end result would be superior.
Your complaint about short-term administrators is spot-on.  I recall looking at the photos of prior DPS superintendents back at the old board office, and the further back you went, the longer their tenure.  Recent ones, as you note, remain for less than a decade.  I was at a Fordham program a number of years back where an education researcher documented how harmful such turnover can be; the superintendent comes on, shuffles everything around, and then leaves before we know if it worked–and the new person shuffles everything around again.
And I guess I should say, I used to think that spending more money on education would improve quality.   Gordon Gee and his $5 million per year compensation package has inspired me to re-think.
We could perhaps resolve the problems of administrative bloat and administrative over-expenses by changing to county-wide school districts, each with a single superintendent and a limited administrative staff.  Centralizing functions such as curriculum and text selection in Columbus and creating a true state-wide system would help students, especially inner-city ones who suffer from having to change schools frequently; it would save money; it would improve the pool of local school board members (think: would a state science curriculum be subjected to the  kinds of creationist manipulation that Springboro goes through again and again?  Maybe, but not so often.)
 
I know, I know, it ain’t gunna happen.  But I can dream…

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Joe Lacey June 7, 2013 at 1:52 pm

“(This is how his buddy Bill Burgess got the no-bid marketing contract without a peep from the board)”
I not only voted against that contract, I spoke out at our meeting about how that contract was an unnecessary payment for nothing and an illegal use of taxpayer dollars.

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David Esrati June 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm

And Joe, I was at the second renewal of it- where you did vote for it. And you spent 20 minutes discussing if or not I should be able to talk and present my proposal. So don’t get on your high horse. I’ve still not seen anyone held accountable for the Burgess contract and its severe lack of “deliverables.”

As to Truddick- one huge problem that people aren’t aware of is that we can’t even track students effectively in this state- with a single ID for a student from birth to graduation. It makes “graduation rates” really hard to calculate.

We have too many counties- and too many school districts in Ohio- and the overhead is budget defying. If we condensed them- maybe we’d have more money for teachers and technology. But, no- we have to reinvent the wheel 600+ times…

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Joe Lacey June 7, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I spent 20 minutes trying to get the board to allow you to speak to the board and this is the thanks I get, a misrepresentation of my position.

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David Esrati June 7, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I should have looked up my own post: http://esrati.com/please-define-the-word-public-dps-spends-20-minutes-to-decide-on-5/1582/

I stand corrected- Joe did vote against it. I apologize.

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Dave C. June 9, 2013 at 11:14 am

There are school systems that work fairly well, and there are school systems that are a complete disaster. Yet they all have the same basic structure – a board, administration, teachers and staff. 
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In situations where it is working, leave it alone. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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If it is not working, try something else. The structural model that works for Oakwood might not work for DPS. 
 

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joe_momma June 10, 2013 at 12:58 pm

One thing that truly reeks about the mercenary model, is that superb, loyal, high performers like Erin Dooley at Stivers, aren’t paid what they deserve unless they leave what they’ve built or threaten to leave. At some point, superstars need to be granted bonuses based on their steady performance, to stop them from following in the footsteps of Mr. White.” -  DE
 
This type of stuff doesn’t bother me.  Salary negotiations like this is  just two parties mutually agreeing on a price….which is the way it should be.  They can each weigh the proposals and make the decision themselves as to the merits of the offer.  No need for a third party to stick their nose in there and muck things up.  Good people, who drive a lot of value should be able to demand more.
 
“David, the problem with unions is that they are legally required to defend their members’ employment status.  They must do whatever they can to maintain employment for even teachers who everyone knows are bad or unqualified.” –truddick
 
Very true.  Another problem of equal or even greater importance:  there is no link between the value a teacher delivers and their pay.  A Home-Ec teacher with x number of years and education is paid as much as an equally accredited Psychics teacher.  A great teacher is paid the same as a cellar dweller as long as they have the same education and experience.  That’s nonsense.
 
“The problem is made worse by administrators who do not do their jobs diligently; recall how Loretta Cephus could not be dismissed efficiently by DPS even though she lacked required credentials–because administrators bungled her dismissal.” – truddick
 
Very true.  Water follows the path  of least resistance….so do employees for the most part.  Most administrators would rather just “deal” with a poor teacher than actually work through bureaucratic gobbledegoo of dismissing a teacher covered by a union contract.   A poor performer should be put on a PIP and then dismissed in 3-6 months if there is no improvement.
 
  We could perhaps resolve the problems of administrative bloat and administrative over-expenses by changing to county-wide school districts, each with a single superintendent and a limited administrative staff.  Centralizing functions such as curriculum and text selection in Columbus and creating a true state-wide system would help students, especially inner-city ones who suffer from having to change schools frequently; it would save money; it would improve the pool of local school board members – truddick
 
Our local schools are barely accountable to the community now.  Centralization would do nothing but decrease accountability.
 
(think: would a state science curriculum be subjected to the  kinds of creationist manipulation that Springboro goes through again and again?  Maybe, but not so often.) – truddick
 
I would rather have the crap that goes on in Springboro than have everything determined by a no-name non-accountable bureaucrat (You’ll call him an “expert”) in Columbus.   At least they will be held accountable by their neighbors.

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