Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Greg Mild's Testimony in Opposition to SB5 - March 14, 2011

[The following testimony was given by Greg Mild of the Columbus Education Association. He granted permission for me to share it here.]

Written Testimony
Ohio House of Representatives
Commerce and Labor Committee, Joseph W. Uecker, Chair

Testimony in Opposition to Senate Bill 5 by:
Gregory P. Mild, Educator, Columbus Education Association

Chair Uecker and members of the committee,

The omnibus amendment of Senate Bill 5 replaced the word merit with performance measures as a means of determining a teacher's salary.  Due to the short timeframe during which the final bill was passed through the committee and the full Senate, I was not permitted to speak to these changes.  Therefore, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss my two main concerns with you today.  First, I intend to share facts about the five performance measures in an effort to convince you to remove them from the bill.  Second, I will explain why the use of merit pay in the context of this bill is misguided and will ultimately require additional funding, not less.

In Senate Bill 5, as passed on March 2, section 3306.01, number three, states Each city, exempted village, local, and joint vocational school district shall pay teachers' salaries based upon performance as required under section 3317.13 of the Revised Code. (p.113)
Section 3317.13 first provides the definition of a teacher, reiterates the requirement of a performance-based salary, and then item C reads as follows: 
For purposes of this section, a board shall measure a teacher's performance by considering all of the following:
(1) The level of license issued under section 3319.22 of the Revised Code that the teacher holds;
(2) Whether the teacher is a "highly qualified teacher" as defined in section 3319.074 of the Revised Code;
(3) The value-added measure the board uses to determine the performance of the students assigned to the teacher's classroom;
(4) The results of the teacher's performance evaluations conducted under section 3319.111 of the Revised Code, any peer review program created by an agreement entered into by a board of education and representatives of teachers employed by that board, or any other system of evaluation used by the board;
(5) Any other criteria established by the board.
(pp. 151-154)

For starters, please note that (C) states "shall measure a teacher's performance by considering all of the following." Not some, not those that apply, but all.

Performance measure number one: “The level of license issued under section 3319.22 of the Revised Code that the teacher holds;”

As of August, 2011, the vast majority of full-time teachers will hold one of seven licenses or certificates: a four-year Resident Educator license, an Alternative Resident Educator license, a five-year Professional license, a five-year Senior Professional Educator license, a five-year Lead Professional Educator license, an eight-year Professional certificate, or a Permanent certificate.  The progression of licenses under updated state law includes limitations that set minimum years of experience. As a result, the inclusion of licensure as a performance measure implicitly places a value on years of experience. A teacher cannot obtain a professional license with fewer than four years of experience (regardless of performance).  A teacher cannot obtain either the Senior Professional or Lead Professional licenses with fewer than 9 years of experience (regardless of performance or credentials).  A teacher holding an 8-year certificate (last issued in 2006) will have at least 17 years of experience, while a teacher who holds a permanent certificate (last issued in 2003) will have at least 20 years of experience.  Therefore, by applying varying values to these licenses, the bill is assigning a value on experience, a specific provision the bill was supposedly intended to remove.
Many teachers hold multiple licenses, but are typically (and technically) only teaching under one at a time (for example, a high school counselor who also has an English license). There are many more iterations that make licensure an extremely complex problem to address.  I spoke with a principal a few weeks ago who was renewing NINE unique licenses.  How will educators who hold multiple licenses be measured if their licenses are assigned different values?
Other licensure components address experience in their own way.  The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards requires a minimum of three years of teaching experience before one can apply for National Board Certification, and to become licensed as a principal in the state of Ohio, one must hold a valid teaching license and have completed three years of teaching experience under that license.  State and federal systems already in place reinforce the idea that experience matters.

Performance measure number two: “Whether the teacher is a ‘highly qualified teacher’ as defined in section 3319.074 of the Revised Code;”
If I didn't know better, I would think this sounded like a reasonable measure.  Unfortunately, it's not what it appears to be.  Being "highly qualified" has an established definition at the federal level.  Teachers are required to report their Highly Qualified Teacher status for the courses they teach.  To clarify this point, only one teacher can be credited for teaching a class.  Immediately, this excludes many educators. In Columbus, nurses, social workers, counselors, resource teachers, some intervention and gifted specialists, and other assorted coordinators do not qualify for reporting purposes. As a result, many of these educators would be unable to meet ALL of the performance requirements. More importantly, consider this text from the Ohio Department of Education's Highly Qualified Teacher Toolkit: "Newly hired and veteran teachers must satisfy the definition of a Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT). Veteran teachers must have been [highly qualified] by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. Federal regulations require that new and newly hired teachers be highly qualified at the time of hire."   Again, it is against FEDERAL REGULATIONS to employ teachers that are not highly qualified. This performance measure is irrelevant.

Performance measure number three: “The value-added measure the board uses to determine the performance of the students assigned to the teacher's classroom.”

I want to state up front that I have few qualms with value-added data as an informational tool for school improvement efforts.  However, value-added measures should not be recommended for use in the evaluation of teacher performance.  In Ohio’s current value-added system, only about 30% of all educators receive value-added data. Three zero - thirty percent.  And this data reports gains at the district, school, and grade levels only, not at the individual teacher classroom level.  This past year, Ohio was forced to basically revamp the entire value-added reporting system because the results over the past several years were highly skewed and inaccurate.  We cannot be assured that this system will accurately and fairly provide results for the educators who would be held accountable.  Even if Ohio tried to expand standardized testing to all grades and subjects, we would still be excluding all non-core educators already mentioned in the Highly Qualified Teacher information. I sincerely doubt that the creation of assessments for all grades and subjects is in the state budget for implementation this year, especially in light of the fact that Ohio will be adopting all new tests when we switch to the Common Core standards in Autumn 2014.  This upcoming change would cause any performance-based salary measures implemented now to be completely revised just three years down the road.
For supporting research, I recommend a report by the Economic Policy Institute released in 2010 titled Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers.  I have a copy of that report that I can leave with you today.
I'd prefer to offer a different look at why the use of standardized testing does not make sense.  My oldest son, Zach, has always struggled in school.  He was diagnosed with dyslexia after fifth grade and, with the help of dedicated teachers, he is now a junior at Olentangy High School and is also in the Delaware Area Career Center's Fire Service Training program with the goal of becoming a firefighter.  Last summer, he passed the Science Ohio Graduation Test on his second attempt, completing his OGT requirements.  I was incredibly proud of him, and I have another point.  Which single teacher receives credit for their performance in Zach’s success on the OGT?  At that point in his educational career, fourteen different teachers had taught him science, including some co-teaching situations and one educator who retired midyear.  And, of course, he could not have read the test without his reading teachers and tutors.  Nor thought critically and creatively without the influence of all of his math teachers and art teachers.  Trying to assign a value to his performance at a single point in time to any single adult does a disservice to every educator who has ever had the opportunity to work with my son.  A standardized test should not be used to calculate salary.

Performance measure number four; “The results of the teacher's performance evaluations conducted under section 3319.111 of the Revised Code"
Dig deeper into this item and you'll find that section 3319.111 only applies to teachers on a limited contract. So, only teachers on limited contracts would need to undergo a performance evaluation as a part of determining their salaries. Considering other provisions throughout this bill, this evaluation could be solely determined by the local board of education. But even if the board works with teachers and implements a peer-review model or principal-review model, we should have reservations about the legitimacy of either in terms of criteria for salary.  If a premise of the bill is that we do not trust teachers or unions to responsibly negotiate salaries, what sense does it make to have teachers evaluating teachers for the purpose of determining salary?  And just imagine the time and exorbitant cost associated with implementation at the present time. And project down the road when Columbus has over 4,000 educators involved in this process (since continuing contracts will no longer be issued). The peer observation method is an outstanding procedure for helping improve practice through collaboration, but it is not something that should in any way be linked to base salary. It begs the system to corrupt itself, and the cost to properly implement it on a district-wide scale is prohibitive.

And performance measure number five: Any Other Criteria Established by the Board.”  As long as this means a salary based on education and experience, I think it's a great idea. Otherwise, this opens the door for any unproven fad to become a significant factor in determining salary. This could also open the door for favoritism, nepotism, and any other bad -ism. With this fifth measure as a part of the bill, there is by default no reason for 1-4 to be included.  When I see a catch-all item like this thrown in at the end of a list, it makes me question how much time was spent creating it.

So if we take these out and we simply revert to merit as the sole basis, then I have not yet accomplished my goal.  Merit is such a nebulous term.  It would place an enormous burden on our local governments as they work to craft pay scales out of thin air.  Our reality is that education and experience matter and instead of attacking that idea, we should be embracing it and using it to improve.
Ask my favorite firefighter, my brother Lieutenant Jim Mild of the Upper Arlington Fire Department if he was better in his 15th year than in his first.  Experience matters.
Ask one of our valued Ohio highway patrol officers if they were better prepared before or after the academy.  Education matters.
Ask Speaker Batchelder if he thinks he's a better congressman now or as a freshman?  Experience matters.
Do you think anyone could just hop on a school bus, pick up 30 energetic children, and navigate through the hordes of rush hour drivers racing to work?  I find it hard to believe, yet it happens over and over again, every single day.  But not without education and experience.  Because education and experience matter.

Ask the firefighters, the police, the teachers.  Ask all the public sector employees if they will somehow give more if we offer them incentive-based merit pay.  Merit pay doesn't work in the public sector because money is not a motivator when committing yourself to a life of helping others, whether it's providing educational opportunities for the 1.9 million public school children in Ohio, or putting your life on the line every day.

Another significant problem with this bill is the use of merit as the only basis for determining pay.   Merit is defined as "excellence; worth; something that deserves or justifies a reward or commendation."  This creates a conundrum for implementation.  How does one create a starting salary for a new employee with no experience?  Is minimum wage our recommendation?  Isn't a starting salary inherently based on  experience?  For new teachers, will we create scales that provide different merit values for different universities?  Will we differentiate between a Teach for America teacher who has only 50 hours with students and no educational courses and a traditional education major who has 460 hours with students and three year's worth of coursework?  In Columbus alone, I counted 207 unique job titles, including teaching and non-teaching positions, that would require merit pay scales to be developed from scratch.

We are also experiencing a unique confluence of events will decrease take home pay and disposable income.  I'll talk about a teacher example, though all public employees will experience their own version of this scenario.

As I talk about dollar amounts, I'll use them as they presently exist -- I'm not going to include changes in tax rates or  any projected increase in the overall cost of medical coverage.

To begin, I already contribute to health benefits and my employer has negotiated wisely, so the change in SB5 to me, the employee, covering 15% will result in a modest decrease of 1% of my take home pay.  This is the explicit SB5 effect.  Layer on the 3% increase coming via House Bill 69 in my STRS contributions, and my take home pay drops by a cumulative total of 4.4%.  Finally, I wanted to factor in the rhetoric of reducing pay through this bill and the projections of a 15% cut in education funding at the state level.  Since Columbus receives only 32% of its funding from the state, a 15% reduction equates to a 5% salary reduction.

The combined effect of these 3 simple changes result in a 9.3% decrease in my take home pay, my "disposable" income.  To put some numbers on this, a person with annual take home pay of $30,000 will experience a decrease of $2,789 per year, or $232 per month.  Annual take home of $40,000 means a loss of disposable income of $3,719 per year and $310 per month.

Of course, if both a husband and a wife are in the public sector, these amounts will be doubled.  What would you cut back on to the tune of $600 per month?  I've had people tell me they are worried about keeping their homes with these numbers.  And this would be considered a conservative estimate.

Since there is a website that publishes the salary for all of us public employees, I thought I'd run a number you might better relate to.  A gross salary of $80,000 would roughly experience a loss in take home pay of $5802 per year or $483 dollars per month.

And if Senate Bill 5 cuts disposable income even deeper for public sector employees, it still does nothing to increase income for other Ohioans.  This bill does not decrease our sales tax, our state income tax or our local property taxes.  The reality is that our private businesses will suffer, too.  If consumer spending decreases, private business income decreases, resulting in a cycle of cuts in that sector, too.

Businesses will have to cut back on perks such as in-office bottled water, individuals and businesses alike will delay purchases on large items such as furniture, and any extra personal income that might exist will be hoarded instead of trying to finance luxury items such as backyard pools.

You don't need a bachelor's degree in economics or finance, nor an MBA from Notre Dame or the Wharton School of Business to understand the effects of a decrease in consumer spending.

And the domino effects of these cuts are not partisan.  We will see decreased donations to community organizations such as the Shelby County United Way, Ohio Right to Life Society, the Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts.  Churches can expect to experience a drop in contributions from parishioners. Churches such as St. Ann's, St. Gertrude's, St. John’s, St. Mary's, Sts. Peter & Paul, St. Stephen's, Church of the Incarnation, Saint Paul Lutheran Church, and LIFEhouse Church will be unable to maintain their present level of outreach and charity for those in need; their local benevolence ministries will suffer, as will the recipients.
We could also reasonably expect to see our fellow Ohioans non-renew their paid memberships in organizations such as the National Rifle Association or the Ohio Farm Bureau.
And as the these public sector workers add second jobs, their participation as volunteers in our communities will decline, too.  Tutors, parishioners who help in food banks, scoutmasters, big brothers and sisters, science fairs, PTAs, marching bands, kids' sporting events, organizers and fundraisers for schools, -- these are all valuable things that will suffer.

I'm very appreciative of all the lawyers and legislators who sort through the language of this bill, but even if you are Legislator of the Year, it doesn't make you an educator any more than an Educator of the Year award makes one an expert legislator.

Specialization exists in this world for a reason.  This quote from the Technical Employment Services, Inc website expresses it well.
"If you have heart problems you look for a good physician specializing in cardiovascular medicine. If you have legal problems dealing with real estate issues you look for a good Title Dispute Attorney. If you need assistance to quickly recruit the best engineers available you look up a good engineering recruiting firm. The right firm can save you huge blocks of time."

Talking about education?  Talk to an educator.  Better yet, find someone with experience in both.  If you have access to someone with a bachelor's degree in education and a Master's of Public Administration degree, very good.  Throw in some special education experience and you've got a winner.

And I do have this one random piece of data about severance that I feel I must share with you.  In Columbus, the current teacher's contract provides for a teacher to receive 20% of their daily rate for any accumulated sick leave upon retirement.  The financial effects of this are as follows:

A teacher with 30 years of experience and a Master's degree has a salary of $86,001 and a per diem of $414.  The severance would then be paid out at $83 per day.  If that teacher has accumulated 195 days, the equivalent of a school year, then they receive a severance for those days of $16,185.

For each sick day the teacher uses, the district incurs a cost of approximately $135 to hire a substitute.  If the teacher was sick for that entire year, the substitute cost would be $26,325, over $10,000 greater than the severance.  But since this teacher would still be employed, you would have to add the salary in, too, making an actual difference of $96,141 over the course of that year.  In practice, severance pay is a significant cost and organizational savings to the district.

I heard claims on Thursday that employees received severance payouts equal to nearly three years' worth of salary.  In order for that to be true in Columbus, a teacher with a PhD would had have to work 130 years and NEVER miss a single day of work to accrue that much severance.  (87 years for 2 years' of severance).

Chair Uecker and members of the committee, our state is not prepared for this bill.  If we think the use of education and experience are outdated compensation models, then we should be working together to research better ways to solve them instead of adopting a method that has been demonstrated to be ineffective.

I have an outstanding union president in Rhonda Johnson of the Columbus Education Association.  Rhonda is not a thug.  She works hard at maintaining the collaborative environment that exists in our district.  Does my union agree with every decision the district makes?  Of course not.  And is the district always happy with the union?  Probably not.  The fact is, we won't always agree on everything, but it is the relationships that make it work.

The Chapel in Akron has a unique Peacemaking Ministry that aims to resolve conflicts.  The ministry's materials state the concept well: "While it is inevitable that conflict will arise, we should not ignore or avoid it, but rather encounter it head-on with biblical tools to aim for peaceful resolution."

So instead of annihilating the relationship between management and unions, we should be embracing it.  We should be recommending marriage counselors, not divorce attorneys.  We should be providing more assistance to those involved in contentious negotiations, not less.  And instead of rebuilding the walls between us, we should be tearing down what few walls exist.

Chair Uecker, I don't want Ohio to be like Wisconsin where the entire state is being ripped apart over partisan politics.  How long is it going to take them to restore any level of trust in one another?  Passing Senate Bill 5 will irreparably divide Ohioans in the same way.

If you are going to pass this bill as has been stated publicly, so be it.  But let's get it fixed in order to truthfully help local governments instead of leaving them drifting in the wind.  I don't support this bill, but know that I am 100% willing to assist in improving its inconsistencies and some of the unmanageable components.  If you're going to hang me, at least let me properly tie the noose.