SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Archive for the ‘Performance-based pay’ Category

Test scores do not identify the strong from the weak

Commentary by Robert Bartron
Candidate for District 6 representative to the SCUSD School Board

The key to improving students’ performance is to empower and improve teacher performance. But what is the best way to measure teacher effectiveness?

Student standardized test scores are totally insufficient in measuring teacher performance. Despite what some individuals profess, not every student has the same intelligence, organized study habits, parental support, conceptualization abilities, maturity, and academic orientation as every other student. Teachers do not select their own students, so the best teacher in the world could have a class with lower standardized test scores than a poor teacher who happened to be assigned a class with students who have great test taking abilities.

The value of standardized tests is in establishing expectations of student performance. There is a certain set of facts and abilities that every student must master to be successful in society. Opportunities for success are not going to be different for the poor student than they are for the successful student. We cannot graduate students merely because “they tried hard.” They must meet standards by mastering the reading, writing, math and social skills necessary to be successful in society. No graduate can keep a job because he/she “tries hard” at work. Standards of performance must be met to be successful in our global economy. Standardized test results are a good tool in advising students on their progress in attaining the skill set necessary for success. There are other indicators as well, but testing is a prime resource in advising an individual student on his/her progress.

However, standardized tests, in and of themselves, are not good measures of the quality of instruction provided by teachers. A proper evaluation of a teacher’s performance examines the following areas:

1. Preparation. Has a teacher an annual plan for what the students will master? Is this plan evidenced by daily, detailed lesson plans that comply with basic state standards? Or does the teacher, no matter how many times they have taught the subject, just “wing it” on many days? Does the teacher weekly evaluate the progress on this plan and alter it accordingly after reviewing results to date? Has the students’ previous homework been carefully and promptly graded and is it ready to be given back?

2. Subject expertise. Has the teacher mastered the subject matter to such a degree that he/she can identify the important from the trivial? Does the teacher have a passion for the subject that is reflected in the creativity and completeness in the manner in which it is shared with the students?

3. Presentation. Is the teacher organized and logical in the presentation of material? Does the teacher involve students in the learning process? Does the teacher use different techniques in teaching that recognizes that not every student learns the same way?

4. Classroom environment. Are students energized when they enter the classroom? Do they anticipate another opportunity to excel and receive positive feedback for their efforts? Is the classroom orderly, or does the teacher fail to command the respect of the students?

5. Professional development. Is the teacher excited about sharing knowledge and helping students grow individually? Or is the teacher going through the motions, having lost the passion for teaching? Does the teacher seek to continually improve his/her professionalism in teaching? Does he/she seek better ways to improve the learning by the students? Or is the teacher happy to accept the status quo? Is the teacher inspired or burnt out?

Test scores do not identify the strong teachers from the weak. The only way to answer the teacher quality questions posed above is to observe the teacher in action. Principals are not there to be administrators. Principals need to be leaders. Leaders know their people so well they can help find ways for them to continually improve. Leaders inspire their team to do more in order to achieve more. Leaders are closely involved in the development of individuals under their direction. Regular classroom evaluations—scheduled and unannounced—is the only true way to help teachers improve. The purpose of the visits is to encourage those doing it right and offer training options for those that need improvement. Bad administrators use evaluations as the first step of due process to fire a teacher. Leaders use evaluations as the first step in giving one-on-one assistance to teachers who need it. Any principal who cannot motivate, inspire and positively direct a teacher to success has failed in his/her leadership assignment. Any time a principal moves to terminate a teacher, it is clear reflection of the principal’s failure as a leader to help his/her teachers achieve excellence.

Tests don’t take the measure of good teachers. Leaders do this through supportive accountability of classroom performance by teachers. This is only possible if the principal knows what is going on in the classroom and has a plan to improve outcomes.


Written by scusdobserver

August 14, 2010 at 7:46 am

The hinge the door swings on in education is the teacher

Commentary by Robert Bartron
Candidate for District 6 representative to the SCUSD School Board


The United States Marine Corps is known worldwide as a superior and ultra-effective force for good. When right must be defended or those in need must be quickly helped or a tough fight is thrown on us, our first reply is, “Send in the Marines!”

The Marine Corps is different from the other services because it has never been and never will be built around the newest weapon systems or high-tech gadgetry. The Marines have always been built around the Marine on the ground. All equipment, air power, armor, organization and supplies all have only one rationale for their existence. They exist to support the Marine carrying the rifle. Give a Marine a bayonet and a pistol and we expect him to win wars. We expect this because they are Marines. The Corps has always been successful because everything in it is there to support the grunt on the ground.

The Marine Corps organizational attitude is a good model for education. Everything in education should be built around the needs of the teachers. Teachers are the only persons in the education establishment that are in the classroom working with individual students. All supplies, equipment, technology, administrators, staff, bureaucrats, policies and programs should have only one rationale for their existence. They are there to support the one person in the whole system who does the job of daily defeating ignorance and inspiring success—the teacher. Give full support to teachers and students learn more and succeed. Weak support for what teachers need yields weakly prepared students. The hinge the door swings on in education is the teacher. Let me repeat that important concept: education should not be student focused; it should be teacher focused. Give the teacher support and basic tools and they can change the world. Deny the teacher the tools he/she needs and burden them with duties and bureaucracy not directly related to teaching and we will continue to lose the war against ignorance.

There are three connected words that are used in successful organizational models, whether it is in business or the military or education: Responsibilities, Authority, and Accountability. A person is given responsibilities to meet; plus the authority to meet those responsibilities; and then he/she is held accountable to properly use that authority to meet the responsibilities. Currently we give teachers great responsibilities, but then we undermine their authority to meet these. We also fail to understand how to properly hold teachers accountable for their performance. (Notice I said their performance and not the students’ achievements. Please see my discussion below about techniques on how to hold teachers accountable.) The purpose of the school board, superintendent and the school principal is to approach every situation with the understanding that they must support the teacher—to include the teacher’s authority. Of course, it is also the School Board’s, superintendent’s and school principal’s job to hold teachers accountable to use the authority correctly and consequently meet their responsibilities.

To restate the above paragraph in blunt terms: the Board, Superintendent, and principal should always support the teacher when students, parents or politicians are on the other side of an issue. Of course, if the teacher is wrong, then the teacher must be held accountable. But the automatic first attitude should always be to back-up the teacher. Only if investigation reveals the teacher is in the wrong should the attitude switch to correction or, if need be, just and quick punishment for the teacher. In too many instances, administrators are intimidated by the threat of lawsuits and/or bad publicity and first assume the teacher is guilty until proven innocent. This is no way to fulfill the primary responsibility to support the teachers.

In summary, center education on supporting effective teachers in daily classroom teaching and great student success will be achieved. The teacher is there to teach and everything and everyone else in education is there to support the teacher meet this mission.

Written by scusdobserver

July 31, 2010 at 7:33 am

Take no prisoners, er…teachers

By Leo Bennett-Cauchon

Let’s pledge that children come first at Sac City Unified.
Let’s promise to put a child’s best interest at the heart of every decision we make.
Let’s stand up together.
What would happen?

Dear Board Members:

For your consideration tonight and this coming school year I would like to offer an alternative vision from my home town. I have many nieces and nephews in San Diego so I continue to follow education where I began public school teaching. This was during the Alan Bersin era of top down change.

This era is featured by Diane Ravitch in her recent book which I hope you are pondering. Here are some excerpts from an interview with her on SDUSD’s experience with the pilot project of the change model that SCUSD is adopting in many ways, even if it is dressed in a gentler style.

Why San Diego? What is it about the battles here that proved important for you in illustrating a larger point about school reform?
San Diego was a very important district in the current reform narrative because it was the first big district to apply the top-down approach. The leadership knew exactly what teachers should be doing, and they required compliance. Its “take-no-prisoners” approach was subsequently copied by Joel Klein in New York City and Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C.

Conflict is a sign of failed leadership in education. When one is running a prison system, it is important to have a tough, top-down style, because you can’t take chances. But in education, the leadership must rely on the teachers to do the daily work. If the leadership does not win their willing, even enthusiastic, support, then the reforms will stall. Teachers are educated adults; they have experience with students. They don’t like to be treated like children. They need to feel respected.

There are plenty of problems in San Diego but I do think that the board majority there (which also operates with a policy governance model) can provide examples that are worth your consideration.

Below is an excerpt from the March annual State of the District speech by the board president. I urge you to consider placing the vision of community-driven change ahead of chief-driven change:

“The competing vision for reform comes from what I would characterize as the community model. This vision sees change as fundamentally coming from those closest to kids – teachers, parents, principals, support staff at the school such as paraeducators, counselors, librarians and office staff, community volunteers and even students themselves. The community model puts its faith in strong relationships built between people within a school community, striving for what University of Chicago professors Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider term ‘Trust in Schools.’ ” (SDUSD President)

Corporate restructuring

The news that Superintendent Jonathan Raymond is seeking permission from trustees to hire a chief accountability officer for SCUSD does not allay very real fears that Raymond is accelerating a push to develop a corporate education culture in Sacramento.

Consider these job titles: Chief Talent Officer, Chief Knowledge Officer, Chief Portfolio Officer…all with annual salary ranges between $125,000-175,000. New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, a strong proponent of privatization, devised this idea of “administrative restructuring.”

These executives (most who have never taught in a classroom or been a principal) make the rounds throughout the countries’ school systems while changing job titles and descriptions. It’s a smorgasboard of CEO’s. Raymond was a chief accountability officer before he was hired in Sacramento.

The ultimate goal is to run the school system like a corporation –SCUSD teachers will have continued pressure to “teach the test” and improve API scores — data will be relentlessly tracked and tied to performance by the chief accountability officer.

This reform leads to what education historian Diane Ravitch calls a huge mistake:

Teachers — not just union leaders — are unhappy, frustrated, and demoralized. So are parents, because they don’t like the high-stakes testing regime either. They don’t like that their children are losing time for the arts, science, history, geography, physical education, foreign languages, and everything that is not tested. They may not be well-informed, yet they know that their children are missing out on a good education.

One big cluster structure

Yesterday Michelle Rhee came to town to enlighten us on how to fix our school systems by building political capital and partnering with business interests.

Perhaps Rhee likes to dabble and pontificate in Sacramento to temporarily escape the mess she’s created and continues to perpetuate as the superintendent of D. C. public schools.

Recently Rhee added 13 senior managers to her staff. These instructional superintendents or “cluster leaders,” will earn annual salaries of $120,000 to $150,000, and will cost D.C. taxpayers about $2 million in salary and benefits.

Rhee asserts that the hires will be budget neutral.

Simultaneously, Rhee’s recent and highly-touted “pay for performance” contract with teachers reveals itself to be just a fascinating idea funded by imaginary money.

Well, that’s one way to take care of staffing at the Priority Schools…

The following email went out to selected staff at SCUSD on Friday April 9, 2010:

Congratulations! On behalf of SCUSD, we are pleased to inform you that you are one of a select few outstanding teachers eligible for an exciting new district program – the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI).
The Talent Transfer Initiative is a highly selective, federally funded initiative that recognizes current SCUSD teachers who have a track record of contributing to student achievement gains by offering them the opportunity to take on a new challenge by using their skills in high-needs schools – where they are needed most and can have the most profound impact. If you choose to transfer to a participating SCUSD school, you will be eligible to receive $20,000 over a two-year period in recognition of the adjustment that comes with taking on a new position, as well as for the potential tremendous impact you can take at your new school. This research study is funded by the U.S. Department of Education; participation requires no expenditure whatsoever of district funds.
For more information about the Talent Transfer Initiative, including an overview of the program, benefits, and frequently asked question, visit To access available information about SCUSD, use this password information:
Username: xxxxxx
Password: xxxxx
Coral A. Jenrette, Program Manager for the Talent Transfer Initiative, will contact you directly to invite you to the reception being held in your honor on April 19. She will also send you the unique username and password you will need to complete the online application (deadline is April 27). Please feel free to reach out to her with any questions at or (800) 688-6983 ext 3.
SCUSD is looking forward to working with you to help our students succeed.

Mary Shelton
Acting Chief Academic Officer
Sacramento City Unified School District

Written by scusdobserver

April 12, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Listening or lecturing?

This evening, SCUSD Superintendent Jonathan Raymond will visit the Pocket area as part of a continuing campaign of outreach to district stakeholders. Councilman Robbie Waters, Board President Ray Grimes and Raymond will partner to present the “listening and learning tour of the district” tonight at John F. Kennedy High School from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

An opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee
yesterday urged local communities to assert a “count us in” approach by informing state legislators of the “barriers that need to be removed in order to achieve dramatic turnaround of the lowest performing schools.” The feel-good ideas of reconstitution, transformation, and culture change are bandied about, yet the crux of the matter centers on a very ugly couple of words — school closures.

Today, the Bee’s editorial page is touting the “reconstitution” of Jonas Salk Middle School (San Juan Unified) as a dramatic fix to that particular school’s problems of low API scores and chronic underperformance. The editorial, in no small way, credits the miraculous and swift turnaround to performance-based pay for teachers and a corporate partnership with Apple Computer, Inc.

Do teachers really want the performance-based pay incentive?
Do parents ultimately want corporations in their public school systems?

Given the recent pressure for Race to The Top federal funding, the local competition for economic resources, and the opinion trend on the Bee’s editorial page, the question stakeholders really need to ask is:

Should we buy what you’re selling?