U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recently announced the award of $42 million for sixteen grants that will provide financial incentives to teachers and principals who improve student achievement in high-poverty schools. The grants will also be used to recruit effective teachers to those schools, particularly for hard-to-staff subjects such as math and science.
“Nothing helps a child learn as much as a great teacher—and research shows that rewarding teachers for results can improve student performance,” Spellings said. “Great teachers who work in schools where they are badly needed deserve more than our thanks. I am pleased to announce these Teacher Incentive Fund grants, which will encourage and reward more experienced teachers for working at high-poverty schools where they can make a real difference in raising student achievement.”
The grants are a part of President Bush’s new Teacher Incentive Fund, which received $99 million in FY 2006. The program is designed to develop and implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need, disadvantaged schools, where at least 30 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
The remaining $43.1 million in grants is expected to be awarded in spring 2007. According to an article in Education Week, many of the more than 60 applications the U.S. Department of Education received needed improvement. “We thought the best thing to do was hold another competition to make sure all grantees are of the highest quality,” Amanda Farris, a deputy assistant secretary in the office of elementary and secondary education, said in the article. Applicants who were not approved in the first cycle will get technical assistance from the department in putting together their applications for the spring grants.
Around the country, several states, including Texas, Florida, and North Carolina, have implemented programs that tie teacher pay to performance. However, opponents generally believe that merit pay could be divisive and cause animosity between teachers who received bonuses and those who did not. Others stress that more money is needed to lift the salaries of all teachers, not just a select few.
The Teacher Incentive Fund, in particular, has drawn the ire of Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association (NEA), who considers the program “unnecessary and duplicative.” Instead, the NEA would like to see the money diverted to other teacher programs, such as the Title II Teacher Quality State Grants.
“Paying teachers based on the test results of their students has failed for many reasons,” he said. “Students learn best when teachers work as a team, not as free agents competing for a financial reward. These grants will promote unhealthy competition in a profession that thrives on teamwork and collaboration. Real learning is the casualty when teachers shift their focus from quality instruction to boosting test scores.”
While most teacher unions oppose merit pay and other pay-for-performance measures for teachers, pay-for-performance programs in Denver and Minneapolis were adopted with the support and help of local teacher unions.
More information on the Teacher Incentive Program, as well as a complete list of the sixteen grantees, is available athttp://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2006/11/11032006.html.
|Pew Launches Campaign to Strengthen Community-Driven Dropout Prevention
On October 25, the Pew Partnership for Civic Change launched Ready to Learn, a multiyear national initiative to combat America’s high school dropout crisis. The community-focused campaign will initially target two cities and their environs—Shreveport, LA and Jacksonville, FL—before expanding to twenty-three other yet-to-be-determined locations next year.
“Pew’s concept is that this is not only an education problem, [but also] it’s a community problem,” Paula Hickman, executive director of the Community Foundation of Shreveport-Bossier, told the Shreveport Times. “We need to have a broad-based group who can help identify not only the issues but [also] help find solutions.”
The initiative will provide partner communities with tools to measure their local situation and to evaluate schools’ progress and will focus much of its energy on middle-school students’ transition to high school.
Accompanying the launch, the Pew Partnership has released a community discussion guide titled Learning to Finish: The High School Dropout Crisis. The guide’s main audience comprises concerned citizens who might drive communitywide efforts, and it aims to “bridge research and practice” and to identify “key elements in successful community-organized efforts to deal with the dropout problem.”
The guide also diagnoses the dropout crisis’ national consequences in terms of the America’s economic future and the achievement gap. It goes on to advocate for community-driven approaches nationwide and spotlights several success stories; it also defines key elements for community efforts that will drive Learning to Finish.
In addition, as part of the initiative, Pew has launched a best-practices “dropout wiki,” funded by the Knight Foundation’s New Voices program and administered by J-Lab. A wiki is a website that allows registered users to add and edit content, functioning as an open-source encyclopedia of relevant information. Pew hopes the wiki will serve as a hub of information for communities and individuals across the nation.
Articles in the wiki are organized under the rubrics of Program Case Studies, Background Reading, and a compendium of online links. Current content is limited and focused on to the resources and studies which informed the initiative’s development and discussion guide, with consistent encouragement for readers to add materials.
More information about Learning to Finish and instructions for downloading or ordering the discussion guide can be found at http://www.pew-partnership.org/.