Friday, May 20, 2011

When the "product" becomes more important than the "customer"

This past week, teachers were given an overview of the new Teacher Evaluation system.  Without getting into specifics, the new system evaluates teachers using a 50 – 50 formula.  Fifty percent of a teacher’s performance will be based on the same type of “accomplished practices” and teacher performance measurements that have been in place for the past 20 years.  These practices include:  establishing classroom routines, identifying critical information, engaging students in “cognitively complex tasks” and my favorite – demonstrating “with-it-ness”.  What is different about the “new” evaluation, and what has received mention in this blog and in other media outlets, is the other 50 percent - student performance.
To many, this “overhaul” in the teacher evaluation process is both long overdue and a step in the right direction.  My brother, a lawyer and business owner, is one of those.  He posits that teachers, like other professionals, should be evaluated based on “job performance” and since student performance is the most tangible piece of data, it makes sense to use it when evaluating teacher performance. 
It’s a valid argument.  He’s a good lawyer.  His approach, however, is flawed.  While student performance can be influenced by good (or bad) teacher performance, there are so many other “tangible” and intangible factors at play.  Furthermore, the idea that “other professionals” (a phrase that has been bandied about a lot in the media – and cited in this blog) are paid based on the tangible results they produced is even more fundamentally flawed.  Humor me, while I apply the “tangible” results model to other professions.
I will start with the health care field.  More specifically, I’ll apply the tangible results theorem to dentists.  Are dentists paid based on the number of cavities their patients don’t get?  No.  Why not?  Because the amount of time patients spend brushing and flossing is a factor.  The number of times a patient see a dentist is a factor.  More important, the amount of emphasis parents place (and impart on their children) to care for their teeth is a factor.
How about personal trainers, dieticians, or weight loss counselors?  Are they paid based on the amount of weight their clients lose or how much muscle mass they gain?  Of course they aren’t.  Why not?  Because these professionals cannot control whether or not their clients follow the prescribed diets.  They cannot control whether or not their clients workout or exercise at home, and they cannot control the role genetics or body type play in weight gain and retention.
For the sake of time and space (and for dramatic effect), I will cut out some of the verbiage.  Are ministers paid based on the number of souls they save?  Are accountants paid base on the amount of money their clients save?  Are drug counselors and social workers paid based on the number of drug addicts who kick the habit?  The answer in each scenario is a resounding, “NO”!
Even if you examine those professionals who are paid based on client or personal performance, you’ll discover that their pay is based more on quality and value than quantity or actual performance.  Real estate agents aren’t paid on the number of houses they sell but on the value of the houses they sell.  Lawyers aren’t paid based on the number of cases they win (Most are paid regardless of whether or not their clients win their cases.).  Lawyers are paid more when their clients win, and they are paid even more when the case involves a lot of money – quality and value.
If Congress were to enact laws resulting in a “pay for performance” model for all professions, I’d dare say we’d see a sudden and dramatic decrease in both performance and the number of people willing to work these jobs.  How many lawyers would we have if all lawyers had to argue every case brought to them?  How many oncologists would there be if they were paid based on the number of patients whose cancer they cured?  Better yet, how many reality stars-turned-politicians would we have if they were paid based on the following:  shrinking the national debt, having a balanced budget, raising personal income, cutting unemployment, reducing crime and improving our military?
The pay for performance scenarios I’ve presented would seem ludicrous to lawyers, doctors, accountants and real estate agents.  The current system that bases 50% of a teacher’s job performance on one aspect of teaching, and in many cases one test, is equally ludicrous to teachers and administrators.
In the city in which I live, there is a doughnut shop.  I hate going there.  The service is slow, the employees are rude and the store is often out of certain products.  (I once jokingly asked, “Do you have doughnuts today?” after I was told, “We’re out of that” three times).  Despite its poor service and lack of proper management, this store always has a line at the drive-through, and there are customers in the store at all hours of the day.  How is that possible?  The answer is simple:  It’s the only doughnut and bagel place in town. From a financial perspective, it is a success.  From a customer perspective, it’s a complete failure.  We cannot apply the same business model to our schools.  We cannot allow the “product” to become more important than the “customers”. 
Allow me to drive my point home by describing two schools – one that focuses on the customer and the other that focuses (or doesn’t) on the product.
The first school has highly-motivated teachers and staff.  The principal has researched and implemented new, more advanced teaching techniques.  He has applied for grants to bring more technology to his school.  He offers “incentives” to students who have good attendance and who perform well on local assessments.  He brings parents and local businesses together to fundraise, conduct “family nights” and to create a positive, safe and nurturing environment.  At the end of the school year, when state test scores are released, the school earns a C.  Student test scores in math and reading – although dramatically improved from the previous year – did not meet the state and federal achievement levels, especially for its minority students and its lower socio-economic “sub groups” which make up 65% of the student population. 
Our second school has an older, more traditional teaching staff.  Most of the faculty does not attend a teacher workshop unless forced to do so.  The principal is in his last year of DROP and is counting down the days until retirement.  Technology at the school is outdated.  The curriculum used is the same one that the parents of the kids at this school used nearly 20 years ago. At the end of the school year, when state test scores are released, the school earns an A.  Student scores in math and reading – while no better than the previous four or five years – are above the local and state averages.  Since the school is in a predominately white, affluent part of town, the school does not have any “sub groups” and therefore its test scores are based on the performance students from a mid to high socio-economic group or more than 95% of the students.
Which schools’ administrators, faculty and staff worked harder?  Which group of teachers deserves recognition?  Which staff deserves more pay?  Which group of students worked harder or achieved more?  Which group had more learning gains?  Sadly, we will soon find out.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent blog post. Your arguments and analogies are thoughtful and spot on. One of your colleagues shared this with me and I posted it on facebook. I've seen several of my friends re-post it. Let's hope it gets some good attention!