Money talks | Arkansas Blog

Friday, August 25, 2006

Money talks

Posted By on Fri, Aug 25, 2006 at 8:01 AM

Surprise. The Little Rock School District voted yesterday to expand its merit pay experiments. There's no evidence so far that test score increases at schools where the pay plan has been used produced the reported test score rises. We know scores rose also at schools without merit pay. We know that schools with merit pay, despite some increases in  scores, lag behind many schools without merit pay and remain in some cases on the school improvement list. But to the moneybags that are pushing this idea  it is an article of faith that public schools suck and that if you'll only dangle some money in front of slacker teachers, they'll work harder. Some teachers don't detect the insult.

Maybe the Good Suit Club is right about all this. But could we at least get an honest assessment?

The Walton/Hussman faction is footing most of the early bill for the merit pay experiments -- though Superintendent Roy Brooks notes ominously that the logical end of a successful test of this would be a new way of figuring teacher pay. (No more pay based on experience and no more general pay scale for all, in other words. Which is the idea.)

The Walton/Hussman faction has a paid lobbyist who's been attending this debate throughout and their money has paid for PR efforts to propagandize teachers as well. The faction bought off the local education foundation to use as a cutout for their money, untl we blew the whistle on the subterfuge. It bought off the school board, which allowed the initial experments to occur  in secret, without a board vote. It touted the program through the conservative Wall Street Journal, whose readers learned of an expansion of the program before Little Rock taxpayers did.

Now the School Board proposes to have the UA's Education "Reform" department evaluate the program. No need to wait for that report. You can guess its assessment today. The Waltons underwrite the Education Reform outfit. Its leader is a long-time critic of teacher unions and advocate of school choice and charter schools (though recent evidence continues to confirm that charter schools do no better as a whole with students of all sorts than public schools). The Waltons are underwriting a new effort at UA to encourage more charter schools. All of this is being cheerled by Hussman's newspaper, of course.

This is not what you call a neutral assessment process. Not to worry, though. The school district says its planning department will also evaluate results. Oh, good. People who owe their jobs to Roy Brooks will decide whether the plan he enthusiastically endorses is a good idea. Wake me when it's over. Or, please, hire an expert with clean hands to assess this whole experiment. Don't take a Walton-owned university's word for it.

This, by the way, is why the current school board elections are so important. We need to elect some independent members to the board, people who are not direct players in the Good Suit cabal.

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