Some interesting news items out there today:
-According to USA Today, a recent study found that students with recess behaved better in school. They don't describe the research very well, so I'm going to have to track down the actual article to see what it says. That breaks improve attention makes sense to me but, at the same time, when I was teaching the hardest times to get students under control were immediately after lunch and immediately after gym.
-An appeals court ruled that four teachers in Lansing, MI cannot sue their district over their perception that four students were not punished severely enough for major offenses including slapping a teacher and throwing chairs at another. The teachers claim that school-safety law (I think state law, but it's not clear) mandates that students are expelled after such actions, but the students in question were all suspended. I can sympathize with both sides on this one. On the one hand, any signal from above that such behavior is anything other than absolutely unacceptable makes teachers jobs more difficult (and potentially more dangerous). On the other, giving these students long suspensions doesn't exactly send the message that their actions were okay and, furthermore, the intervention of courts in school decisions always has the potential to really mess things up. Besides, if the teachers wanted to grab headlines with a lawsuit over atrocious behavior they should've sued the kids' parents.
-Houston handed out its performance bonuses today. Here are the two things I found most interesting about this:
1.) Bonuses for the 2007-08 school year were handed out sixth months after it finished. From what I've heard, research on extrinsic incentives find that they're much more effective when the time frame behind rewarded is shorter and the bonuses are given in short measure after the performance is completed.
2.) 90% of eligible employees received a bonus. Usually when merit-pay schemes are publicized they aim to reward only the best and brightest. I could see this going either way, though. I'm sure the number of people who receive bonuses makes this plan more acceptable to the union and possibly more popular among teachers, even if the trade off is that some below average performers are receiving bonuses. At the same time, a lot of places in the business world give bonuses to virtually all their employees -- with the size dependent upon both the performance of the business and the performance of the individual. Maybe it makes sense to think of bonuses as a regular part of one's pay that varies rather than something only a few special people receive.