Voluntary Vouchers?

Gary Houchens writes about an interesting approach to vouchers in Kentucky. I’m not sure this proposal will go very far, but here’s a summary of the proposal:

HB 384 would allow private citizens or corporations to make donations to tuition assistance programs that would provide subsidies for children who cannot afford private school tuition, and then receive a credit on their state tax bill for half the amount of their donation.  These tuition assistance programs would provide help to poor and middle class families with annual household incomes up to $60,000, with $10,000 added to that threshold for each additional school-aged child in the family.

Also, HB 384 would allow citizens and companies to make similar donations to the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund (CSIF), which was established by the state legislature several years ago to support struggling public schools in their improvement efforts.  These donations would also be subject to the 50% state tax credit.  In this way, HB 384 is a great mechanism for supporting both public and non-public schools.

Gary explains his reasons for supporting the legislation in his post.

Here are some thoughts I have on the pros and cons of this approach:

PROS

Donations to the fund are strictly voluntary. No tax dollars go directly to supporting schools accepting the tuition assistance (voucher).

Because the program is a tax credit, per pupil dollars are not directly taken from school systems in the way they are in traditional voucher programs.

The bill also encourages funding for a school improvement program designed to help struggling schools – I find the approach of offering more support/assistance to struggling schools preferable to punishing those schools.

CONS

The funding may vary from year to year, so it is not clear what happens if donations aren’t enough to cover commitments as the voucher program expands.

Ultimately, there would be an adjustment to funds public school systems receive as the SEEK formula is calculated in years following a student leaving via a voucher

The uncertainty of the funding may discourage some families from accepting the voucher, thus limiting any positive impact it may have

School improvement funding should not be contingent on voluntary funds

I think the idea of providing tax credits to individuals and corporations who support a school improvement fund is a novel approach to a particularly tricky problem. Likewise, because the donations are voluntary and the ultimate cost in terms of public dollars, even with tax credits, is likely minimal – this voucher scheme seems less onerous than others around the country.

It will be interesting to see how the program evolves if it receives sufficient support to become law.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

Professional Development: Accepted and Expected

This article was submitted by Hope Street Group Fellows Kip Hottman and Angela Baker. Baker teaches English/Language Arts and Journalism in Berea Community Schools. Read her full bio. Hottman is a Spanish teacher at Oldham County High School. Read his full bio.

Kentucky Education Report continues to seek submissions from teachers who wish to comment on education policy in Kentucky.

This year Kentucky joined many states throughout the U.S. in implementing a more comprehensive teacher evaluation program. Kentucky teachers have been piloting the new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) for the last two years, but this year full implementation is occurring, with full accountability being postponed until the 2015-2016 school year.

Across the nation many teachers are taking part in initiatives that integrate and embed professional learning within the teacher evaluation. While professional development has been part of teachers’ ongoing training throughout schools for years, school administrators and local decision making councils are currently looking at how to improve individual teacher’s skills. PGES will allow individual teachers to tailor their professional learning to their needs rather than enduring school-wide professional development that most likely does not match their individual areas of improvement. At the heart of the decision making about a teacher’s effectiveness is data; data about his or her students (such as summative test scores and daily, formative academic gains), classroom observations and teacher reflection. With information from multiple measures, teachers, through collaboration with the administrator, are able to create student-centered goals and increasingly intentional plans to improve their effectiveness.

In October of 2013 Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, visited Williamsburg, Kentucky to encourage and acknowledge the state’s efforts within Early Childhood Development. At the town hall convening, Secretary Duncan was asked to provide a specific example of a teacher evaluation system in the United States that is successful. He immediately responded with Montgomery County, Maryland, and their use of a program called Peer Assistance and Review (PAR – http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/par/)

The purpose of the PAR program is to assist all teachers to meet standards for proficient teaching. It is a program that has been instituted to truly help teachers be as successful as possible, continue to learn and continue to grow as an educator. The system was instituted in the early 2000’s and uses multiple measures to determine a teacher’s professional development (PD) needs. The multiple measures are as follows:

  • Formal and informal observations by school administration or a consulting teacher
  • Student achievement data
  • Non-evaluative observations by a staff development teacher, reading specialist, math specialist or math content coach
  • Student learning objective data
  • Peer walk-throughs
  • Formative assessment data and marking period data

When Assistant Principal Greg Mullenholz of Maryvale Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland was asked about strengths and weaknesses of the PAR program, he said, “The evaluation has an outcome that is rooted in Professional Development. Meaning, the observation of the teacher is used to analyze the effectiveness of their practice. A problem that could arise if the observation isn’t solid because the goal will be misaligned to the actual need of the teacher. The support structure also has to be in place so the Professional Development will be available once a goal is defined.”

In the past, growth was viewed as a common thread amongst departments in schools, and most teachers focused on the same goal as their peers. The PAR program is groundbreaking because it is teacher-centered as they have the opportunity to create their own professional growth goal. The teacher is held accountable for his or her goal and provides evidence of change in student achievement through their adopted changes in practice.

Mr. Mullenholz also discussed his personal opinion of PAR and its effect on growing teachers professionally through collaboration: “Since its implementation over a decade ago, PAR has been a strong model. I love that it was collaboratively developed and that the school system and the union are both architects. The “peer” part is critical as the evaluation or observation must have an expectation for improvement in the teacher’s practice, or there is no set-up for success.”

While Montgomery County School district implemented an evaluation system with an eye toward teacher development, others took this one step further and created incentives for improved performance. One example of this is the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in San Fernando, California.

The Vaughn Next Century Learning Center has a history of offering high quality professional development integrated with teacher evaluation for performance pay over an interval of several years. They also use the PAR program and, like other teacher evaluation systems, professional development needs are determined by a combination of test scores and areas of need identified through observations by both lead teachers and administrators. As an independent charter school, the curriculum committee looks at the needs of the entire school and plans professional development based on numerous local factors.

Nicole Mohr, teacher and Curriculum committee Chair to the Board of Directors at the Vaughn Center stated, “It is an ever growing, ever changing process. Teachers who are on the performance assistance and review team meet regularly, several times a year and each summer to discuss how the program is meeting the needs of the school.” Most schools meet regularly to desegregate data from state tests, other assessments and even non-cognitive data to make plans to improve the school.

Teachers receive pay incentives based on numerous areas: their skills/knowledge base (Designing Coherent Instruction, Managing Classroom Procedures, Managing Student Behavior, Engaging Students in Learning, Reflecting on Teaching, and Showing Professionalism) evaluated during observations, contingency base (student attendance), outcomes base (graduation rate and Average Percentage Increased), expertise base (department chair, coach, mentor, tutor, etc) and measurable student growth.

Ms. Mohr cautioned that the downside of incentives or merit pay is “[teachers] may look for ways to prove [they] are meeting the requirements rather than looking for ways to improve [instructional practices]”. Authentically excellent teachers usually do have the evidence to prove they are meeting expectations, which shows the overall importance and benefit of accountability.” While accountability may mean merit pay for some, for most schools evaluation is used to make decisions about retention.

Mella Baxter, English and reading teacher in Flagler County Schools in Florida is at a school that does not use PAR but is integrating professional development with teacher evaluation. Ms. Baxter stated, “[Professional Development] is not differentiated by individual teacher needs, but rather each Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting focuses on how to get highly effective in one of the indicators on the evaluation tool. Then the rest of the PLC teachers work together to create lessons, assessment, etc. based on student data designed to get students to the level they need to be for teachers to get a highly effective rating.”

Aligning the professional development to the evaluation tool that is then linked to best practices seems to be a simple and effective idea. Ms. Baxter, who is also a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, is designing a space on the Virtual Engagement Platform for Hope Street Group that will list indicators for Florida’s teacher evaluation tool and link each one to resources that will help teachers achieve a highly effective rating in that category. Her plan is to allow teachers to “further individually tailor their PD.” Once completed it will allow features such as uploading videos of teachers as exemplars or to attain feedback.

Teachers are more than capable of designing evaluative tools that encompass the complexity of the teaching profession. The most effective teachers are life-long learners. Professional development ought not to be a matter of compliance; it ought to be a tool for satisfying a teacher’s quest for daily improvement of practice. Being treated like a professional is a first step toward redesigning a career ladder that will keep the best teachers in the classroom and proud to be there helping American students.

More on Career Pathways for Teachers

More on Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport