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Q Comp: Shouldn't There Be More To Show For It?

February 03, 2009 By John Fitzgerald
The report poses the question: If there's little to show for Q Comp, why is the governor requesting we push the program statewide?

The OLA report found that of almost 500 Minnesota school districts and charter schools, only 72 are participating in Q Comp this year - mostly large school districts in the metro area. Participating districts receive an additional $260 per student. In fiscal year 2009, Q Comp will cost the state about $49 million.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's alternative teacher pay program, called Quality Compensation or "Q Comp," is one of his signature public policies. The program seeks to change the way teachers are paid, going from a system based on experience and education to one based on student test results and other performance reviews.

In 2008, the Legislature asked the OLA to look into how the Minnesota Department of Education is managing Q Comp, and why so few districts have signed up for the program especially since they can receive additional money.

The OLA report found flaws in the Q Comp program.

First, it finds there's no way to test students to see if the program is actually working. Only 11 schools have participated in the program since it was founded, so the data available on student achievement is limited. Also, since the program is voluntary, those districts that choose to implement it are likely different than those that do not, the OLA report said. Therefore, it isn't clear that any changes in student achievement would occur even if Q Comp were implemented or not.

Teachers are cool toward Q Comp, even after four years of exposure. The OLA sent questionnaires to administrators and teachers across the state to learn their opinions of Q Comp. "Superintendents and charter school directors in Q Comp schools expressed positive views about the program. Teachers, in contrast, expressed more mixed opinions," OLA found. "Over 80 percent of administrators in Q Comp settings agreed or strongly agreed that Q Comp had improved classroom teaching and will lead to increases in students' performance on standardized tests at their school. Less than half of teachers in Q Comp settings who responded to our questionnaire felt similarly."

The OLA reported that teachers in Q Comp settings expressed more positive views about the program than teachers in non Q Comp settings. However, teachers who responded to the questionnaire, regardless of whether they were in Q Comp settings, had mixed views regarding the effect on their school of reforming the current Steps and Lanes salary schedule.

Also, the report finds MDE doesn't provide regular oversight. Each year MDE conducts program reviews of Q Comp participants. After a district or charter school has passed two reviews, they can choose whether to participate in the review process again. "None of the five Q Comp participants that had reached this level chose to undergo any part of the program review process in 2008," the OLA observes.

Teachers have long advocated increased peer interaction. They enjoy the emphasis Q Comp puts on peer reviews, training and mentoring. But, they won't be fooled into thinking that merit pay or changing the salary structure is anything that truly benefits them.

Q Comp is a runt program - a few interesting ideas stillborn with bad policy. When state policymakers are ready to strip the merit pay qualifications from the program and focus solely on peer benefits, Q Comp will be better received. Until then, it will be as welcome as a February breeze.

The OLA's report, like its earlier investigation of JOBZ, underscores the high cost and low accountability of ideologically driven, conservative public policy. It's time to stop investing in poor policy and, instead, embrace honest metrics. Moving Minnesota forward requires nothing less.

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