Q- Comp

What is Q-Comp? It is an interesting question and on one level, an excellent example of how laws and initiatives are made at State Government. I know it is often described by the metaphor of making sausage, a process most don’t want to watch. But in another way it is like those powerful forces of nature that through the added elements of time and circumstance can transform substances into things no one ever dreamed they might become. The way a warm calm day in the tropics might turn in to a hurricane.

Governor Pawlenty who has his eyes set on higher office has a notion that he needs an initiative that will win him the attention of national conservatives. Education is a popular whipping horse for politicians. Pawlenty is not alone in his attempts at this kind of initiative. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California have both tried in their states. Never having spent a day in a classroom other than as an observer they of course know better than any one else what is the key to improving education. In Pawlenty’s mind and others the key is to tie the success that students have with teacher pay. He and his supporters might even add this is how the rest of the world works. Their belief is quality equals prosperity and survival. If you’re good at something, then people buy what you sell and you prosper. In my mind, this assessment of how the rest of the world works ignores some very important economic factors, but that is too much to enter into at this moment.

On the other hand you have teachers who want to be paid a fair wage so they can have some job security and continue to do what is their chosen profession. Over the years they have realized that being assured of equity (equal pay for equal work) means you don’t have to think about money so much and you can go on with the work of teaching. But it would be nice not to be so isolated. Some support from other teachers would be good, and also having the sense that there were some career ladders in the profession so that you could continue teaching (not become a principal) and yet take on different responsibility and grow in skills and accomplishments. This is what might create quality. Teachers say, “I would do a better job if I were supported in my profession and if I had the opportunity to better myself by mentoring other teachers or providing guidance and leadership to others.”

Late in the night, with economic forces clamoring for resolution to hostilities, a deal was made: two ideas from different sets of worldviews were forced into the same bill and the result is Q-Comp. Both sides now are spinning the law so it more closely reflects what they want it to say. The Governor through his administration (MDE) are trying to push for an interpretation that will get what he wanted, that is elimination of steps and lanes (a pay system that was developed to do away with pay discrimination) to be replaced by pay for performance. Pay for performance makes sense on the assembly line where you are paid for the number of boxes you are able to assemble. Educating children is far different from that. A high pressure system is not only unfair to teachers who do not have control over all variables effecting learning but it is unfair to children as well as it puts them in a pressure cooker environment where they must perform or be discarded.

On top of the spin we have folks coming out of the woodwork, even legislators saying the bill will accomplish things it was never intended to do, such as eliminate bad teachers and get rid of tenure. Another problem as I see it is that these plans are being implemented with no evidence that they will work at the same time that districts are being told they must abandon old ways of doing things even though their results are known.

So back to the question what is Q- Comp? It is a ‘pay for performance’ system of pay combined with a professional development program involving teacher mentors and master teachers. Districts that adopt it could receive up to an additional $206 per pupil in revenue. For districts that have been starved for funding for 10 years, it looks like a golden nest egg. But there are several problems, one being the fact that there is not enough money for every district to do this. Funding was allocated for only about 48% of the state’s students. The money is allocated into three pools: one for seven county metro schools, one for out state districts and one for charter schools. To further complicate things there is a limited time frame for submitting a plan to the Minnesota Department of Education. A letter of intent must be sent by Sept. 30th, and then the full proposal must be submitted for approval by no later than December 31st. If approval is denied, a district has 30 days to rectify the proposal.

Why is this change needed? Several reasons are given. Among them are the predictin that 40% of teachers will retire in the next five years, and there must be ways to attract teachers to the profession. The ‘steps and lanes’ method of compensation and advancement is viewed by some as outmoded and stagnating. Teachers who left the profession in the first five years site lack of support as a major reason for leaving. Finally, it is believed by some that tying performance results to teacher bonuses will increase teacher efforts and success.

School districts that have been involved in this kind of experiment have spent years preparing it. The Governor’s plan allows for three months to develop a plan that must meet the approval of administration and staff in order to move forward and be submitted for state approval. This is a massive undertaking involving risk, politics and the future of teacher livelihood and the well being of students. At the very least we must proceed cautiously and thoughtfully toward an end result. It is worth exploring because it has the potential of bringing much needed funds to the table.

An alternate view:
Skimping on teacher pay has little merit (StarTribune)

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