Performance Based Funding at Oregon’s community colleges: Let’s stop this!

LCC Faculty Colleagues,

As I’ve reported previously, “the state” is considering fundamentally altering how state funds are distributed to community colleges, changing our system which currently divides the Community College Support Fund (CCSF) almost solely on levels of student enrollment to one based upon supposed “performance.” Such performance-based funding (PBF) schemes were popular across the U.S. in the 1990s, then mostly went away, and are now coming back again. A proposal is currently being developed that if passed would bring this scheme to Oregon’s community colleges (and only community colleges; for whatever reason, the Governor is proposing that we have our funds tied to this scheme, but not K-12 or the OUS, although one might assume if they get away with doing it to us that the other public education branches might not be far behind). The scheme would shift 30% of the CCSF to ‘performance’ on completion, progress, and credentialing measures, giving more money to those schools that do better, and taking from those that do worse.

Contrary to claims last spring by President Spilde that only LCC’s Achievement Compact Taskforce was talking about (and concerned about) anyone trying to bring PBF to Oregon’s CCs, a group coming out of Learn Works with representation from the Oregon Community College Presidents Council (OPC [sic]), was already working with the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development (CCWD) and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) to develop just such a model. As you’ll see in Table 1 below, Lane would lose around $600,000 under the current model (still under revision) because we don’t happen to match up well with the measures.

But more importantly, whether a college is a winner or loser under the model, all colleges would lose by having our funding tied to such an irrational system and forced to compete with each other to “succeed” as measured by a “system” that badly measures “success” and that completely ignores the makeup of college’s students and programs, thus in reality shifting money to schools with better students and with programs that happen to produce higher numbers on the measures chosen. As you’ll see in Table 1, this means that schools with higher proportions of career technical programs lose money, not because they aren’t providing excellent career tech education, but simply because they happen to provide more career tech education relative to other colleges, and because the measures happen to favor transfer education. You’ll also see that the effects of the model correlate with the percentages of minorities and women at schools, taking money away from schools that have higher percentages of African American and Native American and female students. Currently, schools’ support from the state treats all students equally; the new scheme would replace that, resulting in disparate racial and gender effects.

Perhaps the worst effect would be that the irrational distribution of effects would lead all schools to try to protect their “numbers” as much as possible, with administrators pushing faculty to reduce standards, inflate grades, pass students regardless of satisfactory performance, create questionable “certificates,” etc., all in order to “demonstrate our success.” Proponents of PBF have already been instructed how to respond to concerns about the erosion of standards and “quality”: NCHEMS, a private organization that gets paid by states to champion and lead their efforts to develop PBF systems, provides specific advice on how to develop PBF schemes and how to defeat opposition, including telling them how to respond to concerns about the threat to quality. As you’ll see in the NCHEMS Playbook on PBF, they advise PBF proponents to provide hollow, patronizing assurances that “Faculty are the guardians of quality, we have faith in them” and “We will put into place a rigorous outcomes-based approach to assessing quality and will monitor results.” This is exactly how Cam Preus, CCWD director, responded to these concerns, stating the latter in a SBE Outcome Funding Model document she provided to the State Board of Education which clearly comes right out of the NCHEMS playbook, and the former to the OEA Community College Council at its meeting in January. She is simply following the script of how to get this proposal passed; there is no plan to protect the quality of education from PBF. When she asked us what we would advise to protect quality, my response was that there isn’t anything we can do, PBF would simply lower the quality of education at Oregon’s community colleges; any system that ties money to measures of “quality” and puts colleges in competition for funding, especially in such poorly funded times, WILL see quality go down as schools try to hold onto funding. Just as the current funding system is gamed with L#s collected at any meeting that can be claimed to be “educational” so that we can claim state funding for it, imagine what will happen if our funding is tied to the nine (current) measures of “success” in the PBF proposal. We’ve already had administrators (in violation of our contract and college policy) tell faculty that they “can’t fail students,” and to create new questionable “certificates” to “better measure outcomes” because “performance funding is coming.” And this is before the new system is even approved!

The good news is that we can stop this. While some are saying “it’s coming, there’s nothing we can do but start padding our numbers,” the truth is that it takes a vote, either by the State Board of Education or the legislature, to make this happen. The current plan is to have the State Board vote on a proposal to modify the CCSF distribution formula to incorporate this scheme. There is also legislation on the table currently that would similarly push this forward, but it’s not clear if that is getting any traction. With “the action there,” several OEA Community College Council representatives and local members attended last Friday’s State Board of Education meeting to express our opposition and to point out the irrationality and destructive effects of the proposal. Representative Chris Gorsek (District 49 – Troutdale), OEA Vice President Hanna Vaandering, Mt. Hood Community College Faculty Association President Sara Williams and members Chrissy Bloome and Jerry Lyons, and I used the Board’s “Public Comment” period to state our objections to the erstwhile plan to move our community colleges into PBF. (See State Board of Education Remarks.) The Board clearly was not used to such “attention” and responded with some indication of concern. Cam Preus responded saying that “clearly I have not been communicating with everyone as I need to” and that “clearly we’re not ready to move this forward at this time.” However, she also said she expects to return to the Board with a report and likely a proposal for them to vote on, perhaps in June, and that she hopes to have it approved as a model for next year (Fiscal Year 2014), but with effects on shares of the CCSF implemented in July 2014.

My sense is that our opposition at the State Board meeting has bought us some time, but only that. The Governor wants this to happen, a few presidents want it to happen, and NCHEMS (like “Professor” Harold Hill in The Music Man) get paid (by the CCWD) to promote this as a wonderful thing and to help them strategize how to make it happen despite the opposition. As such, we need to raise our opposition to the proposal, making it more public, and challenging proponents’ misrepresentation of the likely effects of the proposal. Toward that end, the OEA Community College Council will be helping lead an effort to protect Oregon’s community colleges from this scheme.

What you can do:

  • The OEA CCC will post a webpage with information on PBF and how to stop it, including a place for faculty and others from around the state to post reports on ways that the PBF is already threatening the quality of instruction, standards, and our educational programs and credentials. We’ll announce the webpage and provide instructions on how to post your reports very soon; please get them ready. We have to alert each other and the public to the real threat this orchestrated attack on our schools constitutes.
  • LCC’s Faculty Council passed a resolution against PBF (as LCC’s Learning Council did last fall, and LCC’s College Council did similarly two weeks ago). Faculty Council reps (likely working with Faculty Association department reps) will be collecting faculty and staff signatures on a petition against this scheme. Look for communications from a colleague in your department regarding the petition very soon.
  • Tomorrow’s “Budget Forum” (3:00 p.m. Building 17, Room 309; see Monday’s emailed “Invitation”) may be an opportunity to ask President Spilde about the proposal, her position on it, and what can be done to stop it.
  • Ask President Spilde and the LCC’s Board of Education to demand that the Oregon President’s Council oppose this plan before it ever gets back to the State Board of Education. Even if Lane were a “winner” in the new competition for dollars, we’d all be losers under performance funding schemes.
  • There will be a legislative hearing on such plans, likely on April 3rd; we hope to bring opponents of this plan from across the state; while it’s a work day, please let me know if you’ll be able to get away from class that Wednesday morning to do something even more important: protecting the integrity of our colleges from nonsensical and destructive schemes of politicians, bureaucrats, “professional reformers” and (some) college presidents.

More to come,
Jim Salt, LCCEA President

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