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Neediest schools to get helping hand: A $20.5 million U.S. grant will provide incentives for teachers in low-income classes

Ohanian Comment: Do headline writers and reporters ever consider how badly the insult teachers when they recycle press releases announcing "incentives" proposed by the corporatized federal government?

Have the headline writers and reporters ever considered that teachers' "incentives" might not be cold cash? It is utterly degrading to suggest that what is keeping teachers from doing a good job is that extra money, that they walk into school every day figuring they won't give 100% until they get the extra money.

At least this reporter, unlike the Rocky Mountain News scribe, presents the plan as mired in problems.

By Martha Woodall

Some Philadelphia teachers may be able to earn extra money for helping boost student achievement at schools in low-income neighborhoods under a $20.5 million federal grant announced yesterday.

Part of the grant would be used to set up an experimental merit-pay program, which the Bush administration favors but unions generally oppose.

The school district and its teachers' and principals' unions have now agreed to develop a pilot plan that will use the funds to reward educators at 20 struggling elementary schools who help students succeed. The incentive plan likely would begin next fall.

A different merit-pay program was tried in Philadelphia in 2000 and dropped because it didn't work, union officials said.

Philadelphia was awarded the grant over five years to create a program to encourage teachers to work in elementary schools with large numbers of low-income and minority students.

"Philadelphia was able to demonstrate that there was a lot of collaboration between the administrators and the teachers around this pilot and this proposal," David L. Dunn, chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, said yesterday after announcing the grant in Philadelphia. "That is not something you find in every city. We think that's going to be a critical piece of the success moving forward."

But teachers' union officials said a lot of work remained to be done.

While they are willing to discuss the concept of extra pay, they said, they are more in favor of providing it for teachers who complete the rigorous process to become nationally board certified or become mentors or lead teachers at their schools.

"Those are the kinds of things that we'll be looking at," Jerry T. Jordan, vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said yesterday.

He said it was difficult to imagine how the group could develop a fair program to reward teachers for student performance when there was so much inequity among district schools.

Philadelphia was one of 16 recipients awarded $240.6 million over five years by the U.S. Department of Education yesterday. The winners were selected from 66 applications. Philadelphia is the only recipient from the region.

Paul Vallas, chief executive of Philadelphia schools, said the district's program would focus on 20 elementary schools "that are most in need of change."

"The district and our two union partners will oversee the implementation," Vallas said.

The program, which will be implemented at the start of the 2007-08 academic year, would reward teachers based on students' achievement growth over the course of the academic year.

Vallas said the incentive program would allow the district to expand its existing incentive efforts. The district already offers tuition reimbursement for teachers who accept assignments at schools that have a hard time filling vacancies and provides a $1,500 bonus for new teachers who are certified in areas that have critical shortages, including bilingual education and chemistry.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

— Martha Woodall
Philadelphia Inquirer


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