How to Create Cheating Scandals

Again...an apple...

Again...an apple...

As mentioned in a recent post, our Governor gave his combination “State of the State”/budget presentation yesterday. There are many things I could write about his presentation that are symptomatic of the kind of broken thinking on education that the Governor has been evincing since as long as I can remember, but I’m only going to focus on one: Either by design or lack of thought (I’ll be generous and assume the later), the changes to the NYS evaluation system that the Governor is proposing will create the perfect environment for the development of cheating scandals.

Among the many proposals that the Governor made in his speech, the two that are most relevant to this conversation are as follows:

  • The Governor proposes increasing the amount that the “exam score” factor in to a teacher’s evaluation from the current 20% - 40% to 50%. The value of the exam score factor will be further increased in that if a teacher scores below “effective” on the exam score factor, the score on the other 50% (based on observations) can not override the exam score factor. In other words, if I were to rate as “developing” on my standardized test score (and as an AP/Honors teacher, I’ll never have that problem), and “highly effective” on my observation, I could never be globally rated as anything higher than a “developing” teacher.

  • The Governor proposes giving any teacher who rates as “highly effective” an extra $20,000 in merit pay*.

I have to admit that I was puzzled when these two items were rolled out during the presentation. I was particularly surprised, because I am very much aware of the history of what happens when you increase the emphasis of standardized test scores on teacher evaluations, and tie it to “rewards”: You get a cheating scandal. Don’t take my word for it, look at Chicago, or Washington D.C., or Atlanta. Heck, we’ve had local cheating scandals already, sans the increased importance of tests**.

This isn’t some issue just isolated to teachers, or education. It’s a known causal relationship that is pretty fundamental to any rudimentary understanding of incentives. Which is why I am particularly confused that these two items made it in to the Governor’s presentation, and why he thinks that they are good ideas. Seemingly, he’s either clueless on these things, or he is eager to poison the culture of public education in his state. I’m not clear on which one is worse.

*Some folks might read this and say “But David, as a New York State Master Teacher, you already get an extra $15,000 in merit pay every year!” While the amount is true (for the next three years), I am not earning that for test scores, or for my overall APPR rating. The process by which a teacher becomes a Master Teacher pulls from a variety of competencies. The Governor is not advocating for universal expansion of the Master Teacher program (which would have been a great idea). He has proposed a simplistic “you get paid for high test scores” system

**Please don’t take this as a defense of teachers who cheat. It’s not. I’m simply not interested in anything that degrades the environment in which teachers work. I won’t defend a drunk driver either, but I’m certainly opposed to drive-through liquor stores.