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Governor's Q-Comp Whitewash

February 10, 2009 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

While the state faces a revenue shortfall of up to $5.5 billion and school districts are laying off teachers to make ends meet, the Department of Education spent $181,000 on a rosy report on Governor Pawlenty's pet education project. The report's timing was suspect, released less than 12 hours before an independent review from Minnesota's Office of the Legislative Auditor.

The two reports were attempts to evaluate the value of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Q Comp program. Q Comp, short for "Quality Compensation for Teachers", seeks to move the teacher pay schedule from the traditional setup that values experience and continuing education to one based on performance reviews and student test scores. Q Comp also provides some money to teachers if they participate in peer collaboration, mentorship and reviews.

The state gives districts that agree to use Q Comp about $260 extra per student and allows the district to levy taxes from local property taxpayers without a vote. Only about 10 percent of school districts have agreed to join Q Comp since its inception in 2005.

The MDE report, prepared at a cost of $181,000 by Hezel Associates, a New York education research and evaluation firm, was released Monday, Feb. 2. It found that teachers liked Q Comp's peer collaboration provisions, and they liked being paid more if they take on extra responsibilities such as mentoring or organizing curriculum workshops.

Teachers thoroughly panned the use of student test scores to determine base or supplementary salary schedules. The survey found that nearly every teacher thinks the base pay schedule should be rooted in teachers' years of experience and degree of education.

While this is good information to have, it tells Minnesotans nothing they didn't already know: Teachers are suspicious of Q Comp; they welcome peer collaboration but are wary of placing too much emphasis on student tests to determine their pay schedules.

The first tipoff that Q Comp wasn't everything the governor promised came when, despite financial benefits dangled in front of cash-starved schools, only about 10 percent would sign up over the program's first three years. That's why lawmakers last year asked the non-partisan Office of the Legislative Auditor to examine Q Comp. On Tuesday, Feb. 3, the OLA released a report that found, teachers in Q Comp school districts have mixed opinions about the program.

In other words, the report told us what we already know. The difference between the OLA report and the MDE report is the $181,000 the MDE wasted on preparing a report that it knew would echo the other.

What can we take away from these reports?

Q Comp is a flawed program with a very limited horizon. It has only been accepted by 10 percent of state school districts and will not be accepted by the other 90 despite the honeyed words of the governor or MDE. The $49 million slated to go to Q Comp participants in the 2009-2010 school year is money better spent elsewhere.

Education and experience are widely agreed to be the most significant factors in determining base pay. Peer collaboration is widely seen as the best measure of supplemental pay. Test scores and other measures are not sophisticated enough measurements to determine pay.

Finally, while $181,000 may seem like a drop in the bucket when the state is staring down a deficit of billions of dollars, virtually every school district in the state will be cutting back on services and staff. A check for $181,000 -- or roughly the average salary of four teachers - would surely be welcome.

The time has come to call Q Comp what it is: A failed program that needs to be strongly reevaluated. While the peer collaboration aspects of Q Comp are to be recommended, the rest of the program is highly suspicious and certainly doesn't deserve consideration without extreme revisions.

Minnesotans are tired of smoke and mirrors. When schools have the proper investments, Minnesota students will succeed. It's time state policymakers recognize the obvious.

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