October 24, 2013

Texas A&M and Vanderbilt: Storied Traditions And Shared Dedication To Research

Vanderbilt mascot

"The Commodore," mascot of Vanderbilt University, is named for the school's founder, Cornelius Vanderbilt (photo credit: Vanderbilt University).

While watching the first-ever SEC football game between Texas A&M University and Vanderbilt University, Aggies may be wondering about Vanderbilt’s mascot. He is “the Commodore,” named for the university’s founder Cornelius Vanderbilt, a 19thcentury American industrialist and philanthropist who built a fortune in shipping and railroads and called himself “Commodore.”

And although “the ‘Dores” of Nashville will go against the Aggies at Kyle Field on Saturday, the two schools share much in common, from their Southern roots and long-held traditions, to a fervent dedication to research. In fact, both schools are members of the elite Association of American Universities, an organization made up of the nation’s top research institutions.

This shared dedication to research has resulted in academic collaboration between Texas A&M and Vanderbilt over the years, including one project that demonstrated the effectiveness of teacher incentives.

District Awards for Teacher Excellence (D.A.T.E.) was a state-funded Texas program that gave grants to school districts that designed incentive pay plans for teachers and other district employees. The program was first implemented during the 2008-09 school year.

Researchers at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, along with the University of Missouri-Columbia and several policy research organizations, examined the D.A.T.E. program’s effectiveness and determined that student achievement improved and teacher turnover declined as a result of participation in the program.

Program participation was voluntary, and campuses or districts that designed incentive pay plans were eligible. About half of the teachers at eligible campuses received an award of at least $1,000.

Lori Taylor

Lori Taylor

“Teachers who received a D.A.T.E. award were much less likely to turn over than those who did not, and the size of the award received by a teacher was less important than the fact that the teacher received any award at all,” says Lori Taylor, associate professor at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service and co-author of the report.

In addition to lessening teacher turnover, the researchers found the program had a positive effect on student test scores. “During the first two years of the D.A.T.E. program, students in D.A.T.E. schools had greater TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) gains than those in non-D.A.T.E. schools,” according to the study.

Lead author Matthew Springer of Vanderbilt says, “More often than not, teachers believed the incentive pay plans were fair and the goals targeted by the plans were acceptable.”

The grant provided awards to teachers and principals who effectively improved student achievement as determined by meaningful, objective measures, according to the Texas Education Agency. The grant also provided stipends and awards to other district employees, supported professional development and built data capacity.

Funding for the program decreased substantially since its start at $150.6 million in the first year to FY 2011 when funding dropped to $26.7 million. Taylor notes that the D.A.T.E. program was cut this fall and remaining funds have been converted into a new state grant program that will pay for innovative education in a few dozen poor schools.

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About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents total annual expenditures of more than $776 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.

Media contact: Lesley Henton, Division of Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M University;
979-845-5591, lshenton@tamu.edu

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