5-to-1 return on taxpayer dollars is encouraging news for Minnesota schools

Nathan-on-Education-newHere are two pieces of encouraging news about Minnesota’s public schools.

First, the state teachers union has agreed on the potential value of yearly teacher evaluations.

Second, a just-released report, “Quality Compensation,” encourages Minnesotans to build on success from a formerly controversial reform called Q Comp, which provided extra funds to districts and charters that agreed to provide additional salary to teachers who participated in new training and showed some evidence of improving student achievement.

Let’s begin with the report about Q Comp. A 2013 university study found, as lead author University of Minnesota professor Aaron Sojourner told me, “We estimate that Q Comp has produced a $5 gain to society for every $1 that has been invested in it.”

Sojourner and co-authors Elton Mykerezi, of the University of Minnesota, and Kristine L. West, from St. Catherine University, found that Q Comp’s combination of strategies produced “statistically significant” gains in reading: “Gains appear to be driven especially by productivity increases among less-experienced teachers.” (Download the study as a PDF file at http://bit.ly/1vGZclZ.)

The study also found that: “This process of setting goals, when taken seriously by all sides, may harness teachers’ local information about the most productive strategies for success better than a centrally defined standard. Also, evidence is emerging from other states that attaching stakes to a process with regular feedback from classroom observers can produce achievement gains.”

The study examined only districts serving grades three through eight. Charters were not included because some included pay for performance before Q Comp.

Because of these results, a group of Minnesota district and charter teachers called Educators 4 Excellence-Minnesota (http://mn.educators4excellence.org) has encouraged expansion of Q Comp.

E4E’s new report, “Quality Compensation: Supporting and Rewarding Excellence in Teaching” encourages legislators to increase funding so that more districts and charters can participate. Based on the research mentioned above, this seems wise.

E4E’s new report also recommends using a variety of ways to evaluate teachers, not just standardized tests. I strongly agree.

Parents and other taxpayers want schools to do more than raise test scores. But yearly evaluations of teachers and encouraging teachers to set and work toward goals that include, but are not limited to, increasing test scores seems to be valuable.

Holly Kragthorpe, a Minneapolis district teacher and union steward who helped write the new E4E report, believes that the “best way forward” includes having “honest conversations that include everyone, especially teachers themselves.” Denise Specht, Education Minnesota’s president, made conversations throughout Minnesota with educators, parents and community members one of her first priorities.

Equally important, Education Minnesota did not try to eliminate a law mandating yearly evaluations. This was passed when Republicans controlled the Legislature.

This year, the governor was a DFLer. His party controlled both Minnesota House and Senate. Education Minnesota could have urged elimination of yearly evaluations. Instead, the union’s attitude this year was essentially, “Let’s work together to make the evaluation process a good one for educators and ultimately for students.”

That’s a wise, constructive approach. Annual evaluations in any field, if done well, can be useful. Given the $5-to-$1 return, Q Comp should be expanded. It can be a part of helping teachers improve and be part of annual evaluations.


Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected] change.org.