CMS' performance pay plan: 'Sucking hind tit and proud of it'

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The School Board should tell CMS Supt. Gorman to ditch the “performance pay” plan for teachers. It’s being introduced at the wrong time, it costs too much, particularly in these budget-slashing days, and there’s very good evidence that it won’t work anyway.

Let me back up a minute. In a recent column mentioning the ridiculous Garden Parkway toll road plan, I wrote, “Just try stopping any big government project once the plans are in place.” Now we can add, “and if the project’s paid staff has already been hired.” Like the Parkway plan, CMS’ performance pay plan (PPP) is something that sounds good at first, but whose promise fades quickly upon closer examination.

In yesterday’s Charlotte Observer, Ann Doss Helms did an excellent job of covering all the angles of the PPP, which would link teacher pay to student achievement. You’ll find all the information you need about the plan in Helms' story, so I won’t go into all the details here. But a few things about PPP stand out like sore thumbs, and beg the question why Gorman & Co. are still gung-ho and planning to go forward with it.

Item 1: CMS has immense budget problems, and is laying off teachers and teacher assistants left and right.

Item 2: A strong general consensus has developed nationwide that schoolkids have to take entirely too many officially mandated tests.

Item 3: The federal government grant for introducing PPP requires CMS to come up with $2.9 million, in a year when our schools are expecting around $100 million dollars in budget cuts. According to the Observer’s report, “CMS is spending more than $300,000 a year in county money — the equivalent of about six teacher salaries — to pay administrators overseeing performance pay.”  That's on top of the $300,000 per year it will cost to administer the tests.

Item 4: Please consider Items 1 and 2, and then try to explain how Item 3 makes any sense at all.

Item 5: A scientific Vanderbilt University study of performance pay in Nashville public schools found that after three years, there was no significant difference in student performance.

So here is CMS — after the most authoritative study of PPP showed poor results — laying off teachers while spending millions of dollars to change the way it pays the teachers they have left. I guess this sounds like reasonable thinking to someone, most likely CMS administrators downtown. But to this writer, the fact that CMS is following up on Nashville’s failed experiment by getting all puffed up and then doing the exact same thing, brings to mind something I heard rural folks in my hometown say: “They’re sucking hind tit, and they’re proud of it.”

Speaking of being proud, the Observer story notes that Gorman — now get this — "notes proudly that when the new tests debut, CMS will apparently lead the nation's largest districts in testing.” Like that’s something to be proud of.

Now I know that the PPP experiment at CMS isn’t going to be canceled. All the pieces have been bought and are being moved around the chessboard as we speak. Again, just try stopping a big government project once the plans are in place, and the project’s paid staff has been hired.  The only bright spot in this drama is that, eventually, the majority of participating teachers will have to approve of the PPP changes before the state will allow the plan to be fully implemented. In the meantime, teachers are being laid off, essentially to free up money to study a project that is already a proven failure elsewhere.

If you’re interested, a petition campaign against PPP in Mecklenburg County schools has been launched. You can access it here.

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