Monday, January 16, 2006

Murkowski: Pay teachers for results --

This is from the Juneau Empire from January 12, 2006. Two other related artices can be found in the Anchorage Daily News and here in the Fairbanks News Miner, and an earlier mention here.

It seems our governor in his wisdom, along with his commissioner of education,
Roger Sampson, have proposed to give bonuses of up to $5,000 to all members of a school staff if they show that they have raised student achievement. The plans are still sketchy, but fom these articles we learn:

from the earlier News Miner Article:

Ann Shortt, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District superintendent says:

"There would be three levels of compensation...The money would not come from the state education budget, she said. The education department would have to ask the legislature for extra money to fund the plan.

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks and co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said the plan would cost millions. Sampson (the ed. commisioner) told him and other legislators about the idea in the spring.

The bonuses wouldn't be based entirely on test scores, he said.

"It's based on all sorts of criteria," he said. "I liked what I saw, but it was very sketchy."

Wilken said he hasn't heard from Sampson since the April discussion, but the plan would have to be approved by the Legislature.

But in the Daily News piece another legislator weighs in differently:

Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said the Department of Education could use the governor's proposed $90 million increase for education to fund the program.

This is exactly the kind of thinking that scares me. I'm not sure I like the plan at all but if legislature does not find more money for the program the funds will come out of the classrooms. This cannnot be allowed to happen.

from News Miner 2:

Bill Bjork, president of NEA-Alaska, said giving educators additional pay is a good idea, but it depends where the money comes from.

The governor has proposed a $90 million increase to education funding and some legislators have suggested using that pot of money to pay for the new program. But the teachers' union argues that school districts need a $140 million increase just to maintain current programs.

"The proposal has merit as long as it doesn't come out of the base school funding formula," Bjork said.

Wilken said he would support adding money to the education budget to fund the program if it turns out to be viable.

It's good news that Wilkens will support the extra money, but I won't hold my breath. It must be said that the $90 million figure just keeps us at status quo. The $140 milliuon number would allow reduced class sizes and programs that really could make a difference. We must remember that raising fuel costs in Alaska and especially in rural Alaska are taking a big chunk of those funds.

from the Daily News:

The program's cost would be difficult to gauge at the outset, (Sampson) said, and would depend on how successful the program is. For example, Sampson said it could cost $15 million if a quarter of the state's school staff members qualify for the highest bonus, but only about $3 million if 5 percent of the staff qualifies.

He figures that as little as 5% of the schools might qualify and a top figure of 25%!?!? Doesn't sound like a very effective plan to me.

From News Miner 1:

Ross Bolding, the superintendent of the Alaska Gateway School District, isn't too sure the plan is a good idea. The seven schools in Alaska's Upper Tanana school district are suffering from budget shortfalls. He'd rather have more money for a music program or better library services for the students in Northway, Tok, Tanacross and other Gateway district communities.

He thinks teachers will be discouraged by a performance based-pay system, making it even harder for rural Alaska school districts to hire and maintain teachers.

"I'm all for incentives, but we're not turning out widgets," Bolding said. "I certainly applaud the commissioner for trying to be truly innovative, but we're in a terrible fix right now."

Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, questions paying for extra programs when some school districts struggle with meeting basic needs.

"We need to be funding not only at an adequate level but a little bit extra," he said.

Susan Stitham, a former member of the state Board of Education and University of Alaska Board of Regents, questioned whether such a plan would work in Alaska. She's never heard of a successful performance for pay plan from the many that have been tried across the U.S., she said. That's because measuring a child's development is difficult because students are diversely influenced.

"It's virtually impossible to identify with any objectivity who is responsible for student success," she said. "It's pretty darn hard to measure."

Stitham criticized Sampson's method of drawing up the bonus plan. Those who will be affected by the plan haven't been asked for testimony or input, she said. A successful bonus system has to have the cooperation of the stakeholders.

"Process is the key," she said. "The community needs to have an opportunity to say we need to do this, because they never got to say we need a graduation exam."

from the News:

Sampson said the incentives would attract the best and brightest teachers to Alaska. But Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, asked what would happen if the best teachers look for the best chances for reward.

"If they are motivated by money, they will look at schools that have achieved the most (in bonuses) and leave the others behind," he said.

from News Miner 2

Educators were also concerned how the program would measure achievement among students with special needs and those who speak English as a second language--some of the most difficult children to educate.

"It's a fairness issue," Bjork (state teacher's union president) said. "Are there going to be some schools, based on the kids they serve, that will never be able to meet the benchmarks to earn a bonus?"

Bjork said his organization is waiting to see the fiscal details of the program before making a decision.

"In a perfect world, this money would just go directly to the local school districts because we think the schools have a much better idea about what will help students," he said.

And according to the articles both Sampson and Wilkens are in favor of a pilot program or programs. At least we might have a chance to see if it is even possible to pull this off.

But this from the News is perhaps the most troubling issue for me as a teacher of young children:

...the Alaska program would track and award points for each student's progress on the state's standards-based assessments from year to year. Points would be totaled and divided by the number of students in the school to gauge the school's overall progress.

and from Miner 2:

Sampson said the state would compare individual student performance with the previous year in six categories and award a school points based on whether a student moved up or down in the categories.

The points would be compiled and divided by the number of students in a particular school to determine the school's overall progress.

Does this mean we will be testing every child every year, And How many times per year? Do Alaska's parents really want their children to feel the stress of these tests every year beginning in kindergarten? Look at other schools in other places and you will see what can happen. The arts are gone, gym is gone, real critical thinking has been forsaken. There isn't time we must prepare for the test. We must teach to the test. We must teach how to take the test. We must prepare the kids to succeed on the test. Is this what we want for all of our kids, every year? I do not think so.

When we talk about costs let us not forget the costs of the test themselves, and the costs of the oversite and administration of all these tests.

There are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered. I just hope that we can ask the right quetions so that we can properly consider the real costs of this proposal.

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