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March 11th, 2006:

Sen. Gallegos enters treatment for alcoholism

I just want to add my best wishes for a full and swift recovery to those extended by others to State Sen. Mario Gallegos as he begins treatment for alcoholism. PinkDome has his full statement. Get well soon, Senator Gallegos.

Alternative to Afton Oaks

Christof Spieler continues his excellent work on considering the possibilities for the Universities light rail line by proposing a solution to the problem of Afton Oaks. It’s an idea that’s been tossed around before – basically, using the Union Pacific Railroad right of way near Newcastle to swing the line over from Richmond to Westpark – but the case he makes for it is pretty persuasive. There’s also a followup post with some information from a new Metro newsletter. Check it out.

Merit pay

Merit pay for teachers is on its way.

Teachers at 100 Texas schools, nine in the San Antonio area, will earn extra cash this year as part of a merit pay plan created by Gov. Rick Perry last year.

Teachers at the chosen schools will get bonuses ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 for what they’ve achieved in the past.

They’ll then design programs to determine how any future bonuses will be distributed. In the next two years, they’ll qualify for bonuses again if student scores continue to climb.

[…]

Richard Ingersoll, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on merit pay for teachers, raised questions about the requirement that educators, in effect, design their own bonus plans.

“I’m skeptical because it’s not easy to do, and it will be trial and error, and it will be only two years,” he said. “On the one hand, it’s good to engage those it’s going to affect. On the other hand, it’s kind of tossing the burden to them to figure out.”

Teachers often have been wary of linking test scores to teacher salaries, and merit pay has gone nowhere in the Texas Legislature.

Shelley Potter of the San Antonio Alliance said it is open to a fair plan that doesn’t rely on one measurement.

“There’s a lot of concern that there’s an overemphasis on testing,” she said. ” If you tie teacher pay to testing, you ratchet up that emphasis even more.

“There’s a lot of debate about whether that would be a good thing,” Potter said, adding that the Perry plan should give schools more time to design their own plans.

Allen Odden, a University of Wisconsin education professor who has designed performance pay plans, said Kentucky, for example, saw results from merit bonuses for about 10 years.

But Odden questioned whether Perry’s plan could ever go statewide.

“States aren’t going to have programs that pay $10,000 per teacher. Just do the math – it’s going to be a couple billion dollars. They’re not going to spend that kind of money,” he said.

The teachers are happy for now to get access to whatever extra cash they can get, and who can blame them? I’ll be interested to see what kind of system the teachers design for themselves. There are definitely some pitfalls to watch out for, though. This article (PDF) on the potential hazards of using merit pay, written by a business consultant, is aimed at the IT industry – I stumbled across it in Joel Spolsky’s Best Software Writing book – but I think the issues it captures carry across to the education industry. I’m willing to see how this goes, but as with most things that emanate from Governor Perry’s office, I fear it will be half-baked and driven by political motives rather than a desire for a good policy outcome. But we’ll see.

I was alerted to this article by Sherrie Matula, the Democratic candidate for HD129 down in Clear Lake, who also sent me some related materials on the program – see here (PDF), here (PDF), and here (Word doc) for more. One thing to keep in mind is that tying this exclusively to test scores means that some classes of teacher – physical education and fine arts, to name two – can’t really participate in it. Perhaps that will be worked out by the teachers themselves, I don’t know. I do know that making this exclusive in such a way is bound to cause resentment. Like I said, we’ll see.