Thursday, February 7, 2008

WISE Teacher Compensation

Ah yes. 'Tis the season for performance evaluations, everyone's favorite time of the year. So I thought I would weigh in on some of what we at WISE consider best practices in terms of motivating teachers to go the extra mile in motivating and challenging their students to excel in science, math and technology. This is also a post intended to support administrations who ask the important question, "how can we effectively support and motivate change and improvement in our science programs." One very simple supporting answer (though clearly not one that will stand alone) is, "unequivocally tie compensation to the fulfillment of your goals." So since this is the time of the year to make amendments to compensation plans, here are our suggestions.

Let me start this post by admitting that I am a BIG fan of performance-based pay despite die-hard opposition from most teachers' unions. And before you tenured folks get all excited, let me also say that what I am proposing is how merit BONUSES should be applied, and not that some portion of a teacher's regular base salary be variable based on performance (though in the long run, I do think that might also be worth considering).

As we have begun to work with a range of schools, we at WISE have observed that one of the biggest challenges in updating science education practices is that even many of the most capable teachers find themselves operating in an environment of changing goals and motivations. Clear and unambiguous direction is often rare given that school administrations are themselves also struggling with rapid changes in technology practice and what they mean for science and technology education.

So the purpose of this post is to offer some suggestions for updated criteria upon which to base merit bonuses, along with some rationale behind each area of assessment.

What I will offer here is a starting proposal with the fundamental goal of aligning teacher compensation with the WISE mission of extending and enriching science education. In effect, I am proposing that you pay teachers extra compensation for doing extra work outside of their traditional classroom lecture obligations. More work is rewarded with more pay. Pay extra for stuff they are not already doing. They seem like a simple concepts, but we find them out of reach in many schools.

Assessment Criteria:
  1. How effectively does the teacher invest students with interest and joy in scientific discovery?

    This is probably one of the single biggest opportunities for improvement. Subject matter skills and test taking facility pale into insignificance when the students are driven out of science programs and away from life-long science literacy. The goal is to financially motivate faculty to make their classroom and lab activities engaging and compelling. (Note that many teachers will respond that they can do this if they sacrifice efforts to improve test performance, but I would counter that the first requirement doesn't go away and they are already being paid for that one. If they can also accomplish this goal, they can get extra pay.)

    • Student survey answers to the question "did this science class make you more or less inclined to take another science class?"
    • How many of that teacher's students actually signed up for a subsequent science class?
    • Bonus percentages should be granted both for high scores, and year-over-year improvement.

  2. How many hours did the faculty invest in supporting extra-curricular science activities, and how many students did the teacher recruit into said activities?

    Science fairs and Olympiads, robotics contests, regular and long-lasting work in WISE labs, internships, or anything that involves the students in science outside the classroom are fundamental to taking textbook lessons and realizing how they are applied to and relevant in the outside world at large.

    • Count the number of hours invested
    • Count the number of mentored student entries in contests and fairs
    • Bonuses should be offered for both high scores and for year-on-year improvement

  3. How many hours of professional development in improving the teacher's scientific, technical, and research skills were undertaken over the school year?

    The goal here is to improve teachers' scientific literacy and get them to accrue experience in participating in scientific research and technical development such that they can bring these skills and activities back to their home schools. Note that this goal is NOT intended to offer compensation for educational programs or in-services on how to TEACH something. The idea is to breed teachers who are also scientists and role models and mentors in that capacity.

    • Count the number and extent of research or development sabbaticals
    • Offer bonuses for both strong performance and year-over-year improvement.

  4. How effectively and regularly has the teacher collaborated and communicated with other teachers in planning and coordinating classroom and lab activities.

    This goal is probably one of the most important and foundational goals. One of the single biggest barriers to broad improvement is isolated teachers in isolated classrooms. Anything that can get them collaborating and brainstorming to promote honest and non-threatening peer assessment and support is a good thing.

    • This one requires that both peers and supervisors regularly evaluate the effectiveness of each teacher's team contribution.

  5. How effectively have your lesson plans and lab activities been updated to include:
  • the latest computerized data sampling, analysis, and publishing practices, and
  • open-ended activities which offer consistent opportunities for creativity and innovation
  • opportunities for student collaboration and teamwork

    • This one is probably the most difficult to evaluate, and requires that a mentor-class teacher or administrator regularly observe and review class and lab practices. In a way, in order for this assessment to be practical and fair, the communications and collaboration goal needs to be fulfilled first.


How to weight the different criteria:

While all of the above criteria are important, and often new, goals for many teachers, some are more important than others. Some in particular, are foundational for others. The relative weights should also be adjusted to account for particular needs, deficiencies, and strengths of each unique science department at each unique school.

But for programs that are starting this sort of program for the first time, I can recommend a relative weighting:

Let me start by saying that if any one teacher accomplishes all these goals with panache, it should be worth a 20% bonus in salary, because it would take at LEAST 20% more time to pull it off, and in all likelihood, a lot more time than that. Moreover, the impact and benefits to the students would far exceed any expense. I'm also very much a member of the "Aim for the stars, hit the fence-post, aim for the fence-post, hit the mud" school. ASPIRE to do it all, but make it rewarding to do well in even a few of these areas.

If you start with a home-run award of 20%, I would divide the 20% max bonus across each of the above areas weighted something like:

  1. Students interest, joy, ongoing science participation: 4%

  2. Student extra-curricular science participation: 4%

  3. Teacher's scientific professional development: 3%

  4. Teacher collaboration, teamwork, communication: 6%

  5. Technical lesson plans and lab updates: 3%

I would also recommend flexibility in giving extra awards for truly exceptional and noteworthy efforts in any one area, even if other areas come up short.

One other important point is that this proposal is not intended to be a straight-jacket, but rather a template and a starting point for what should be a living document that evolves with the trusting contribution and support of both faculty and staff. It should evolve as a school's needs evolve, and amended where and as necessary to reflect what works and what doesn't.

Finally, I realize that this scheme will raise all sorts of very reasonable questions and concerns from both faculty and administrations. Questions like, "where are we supposed to find the cash to pay science teachers 20% bonuses?" (note that an average bonus is likely to much less than 20%) Or, "how am I supposed to know where to find summer research opportunities for myself or my students," or "How can I best update my lab equipment and practices?"

Just know that WISE exists specifically to answer these questions and support these policies both in practice and financially. Ask away! Challenge us! Let's debate the best processes we can develop!

As always, comments, suggestions, challenges etc... all welcome and encouraged!

How many of you science, math and technology faculty would sign up to undertake some of these challenges with the prospect of a healthy 20% bonus?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Upcoming WISE Conference Recommendations

Hi all,

There are a couple of great science, technology, and math education conferences coming up this month and next that I want to be sure you are all aware of, the February 27-30 NCSSSMST conference in Dallas and the March 27-30 NSTA conference in Boston .

I and a few WISE folks will be attending both shows, and we could likely schedule some fun extra-curricular activities around MIT in Boston that could be good for both faculty and students (the latter get free admittance to the Boston show.) This could also be a fun chance to hook up, broaden the WISE network and get schools actually collaborating. What a concept! Who's in?

Conference details follow:
NCSSSMST 2008 Professional Conference
February 27-30, Dallas, TX

A case study for a great organization that badly needs a better name, the acronym-challenged association for Math Science and Technology specialty schools is a largely under-appreciated convocation of the best practices in those areas of education. With their group's focus on science and technology, you will find the best and most progressive teachers and school administrators talking about what is working for them and what is not. The content quality is very high overall. If you are either looking to hire, or looking for a job at a top-notch secondary educational institution, these are on the cutting edge of future school practices. I would even put in a strong plug for those of you from more mainstream schools to attend, as many of these best practices are universally applicable regardless of overall school focus.

Check out the NCSSSMST 2008 Professional Conference schedule and the final session program.
LOTS of good stuff here. If you like what you see you can register online here.

More info on the organization

National Science Teacher's Association Conference
February 28-30, Boston, MA

The best thing about this show is actually the exhibition, where all the science education vendors hawk their wares (over 500 vendors total). Everything from text books and workbooks to lab equipment, software, and materials, kits, etc... are abundantly displayed. The only challenge is sifting through the self-interested promoters of glossy-but-otherwise-useless stuff and the true gems that can transform your science education experiences. So we're planning some WISE group walk-throughs in order to jointly brainstorm about what we might promote and use.

The second big opportunity is that through our MIT connections, we have been pointed towards a bunch of MIT programs that will be going on in support of the NSTA conference. These MIT research groups are hosting visitors from the NSTA show on the MIT campus for hands-on science and technology education workshops.

Incidentally, these are the groups that have the most active ongoing K-12 outreach programs, and would be the best candidates for summer sabbaticals for any interested WISE faculty. (several of the groups were ones that Chris, Bill, and I met with on our last Boston trip) I can personally recommend the Creating with crickets at the Media Lab, and Open-ended Mechanical Engineering Activities, as being absolute gems applicable from middle school on up.

BLOCK 1 (1:30-2:45 PM)
Workshop Tag and Description Choice
13 of 18 Creating with crickets at the Media Lab
30 of 30 "Highlights for HS" MIT OpenCourseWare ~ Super resource for AP courses
26 of 30 Tour of the Broad Institute biomedical research labs
47 of 50 Scientific breakthroughs ~ Hot topic biology lecture
23 of 25 Investigate the 3-D structure of proteins
99 of 100 MIT Museum: MIT Lemelson InvenTeams and the Cell
21 of 24 Connecting genes to organisms and populations
30 of 30 MIT OpenLabWare for HS ~ Learn in the Lab
22 of 25 Space weather, radio astronomy & cell phones

Long BLOCKS (1:30-4:15 PM)
Workshop Tag and Description
13 of 16 Basic neutron experiments at the reactor
15 of 16 Magnetism, thin-film nanomagnets
7 of 10 Build magnetic induction or "shake" flashlights
23 of 24 Ocean exploration in the classroom
21 of 24 Mystery @MIT: learning through augmented reality
25 of 25 High Energy Astrophysics!

Do let me know via email, blog comment or IM (see the links to the right) if you are planning to attend either show so we can be sure to meet up and plan some joint meals and events!