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NCLB Outrages

Mobile Plans to Vacate Schools and Lure in Other Teachers with Bonuses

Ohanian Comment: Vacating a low-performing school of faculty and even cafeteria workers and then bringing in new worker bees is a policy that's been tried in urban districts across the country. One problem with this plan is that when you vacate the building, then you lose everybody who knows anything about the school culture, the neighborhood, and so on.

Mobile is adding a cash incentive to the plan. The offensive part of the plan is this: School officials said the plan would attract higher quality teachers to the underachieving schools, thus improving student learning and test scores. I wish the reporter had the name of one school official who would put his name to these words. The American business claim: teachers aren't doing their best job now, but they will if you pay some of them more money. I'm not necessarily against paying a bonus to teachers who work in difficult cirumstances, but this plan is offensive. Worse, it will do more harm than good.

And take note of who will get to define who's highly qualified.

Highly qualified educators can earn bonuses for working at low-performing schools

In what educators called a "massive reallocation of funding," the Mobile County school board agreed Tuesday to pay highly qualified teachers up to $16,000 in bonuses for voluntarily moving to any of five low performing schools this fall.

The schools, selected because students there scored the lowest in the county on the Stanford Achievement Test last year, are: Brazier and Hall elementary schools and Calloway-Smith, Mae Eanes and Mobile County Training middle schools.

School officials estimate they will spend $1.8 million in federal funds on the bonuses. Another $3.4 million will buy textbooks and other supplies, extra training for teachers and other means of support for the troubled schools.

"We talk about equity. We talk about parity. We talk about what our children need," said Superintendent Harold Dodge. "There are subgroups that need help. What we're doing is pouring our resources that way."

Improving schools:

At least 97 percent of the students at each of the five schools is black and 90 percent is poor, according to information from the State Department of Education.

School officials said the plan would attract higher quality teachers to the underachieving schools, thus improving student learning and test scores.

In accordance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, school systems across the country are trying to eliminate the educational gap that exists between poor minorities and non-poor whites. Mobile County is the first school system in Alabama to offer an incentive program to attract highly qualified teachers to help students in the most need.

The entire faculty -- including principals, hundreds of teachers and even cafeteria workers -- at the five schools will receive notice within the next few weeks that they are being transferred to other schools or that their contract will not be renewed this spring. They will have to reapply for their jobs and compete with other teachers who volunteer to work at these schools, according to Assistant Superintendent Paul Tate.

By April, Tate said, a committee including parents, business leaders and school officials will review the applications and select the most qualified teachers.

Three-year commitment:

Selected teachers, principals and staff would have to commit to the school for three years. Teachers would be paid a $4,000 signing bonus in September and could receive a $4,000 bonus at the end of each year, based on a performance evaluation.

Under the plan, a principal could get $24,000, an assistant principal $18,000, a paraprofessional $8,000 and support personnel $4,000 in bonuses. Like the teachers, participating employees would get signing bonuses and bonuses based on end-of-the-year evaluations.

"I'm going to hold them accountable," said board member Hazel Fournier. "Under this proposal, teachers are being asked to overcome very big obstacles to bring kids to where they need to be."

Board member John Holland, who with Peggy Nikolakis voted against the proposal, said the plan is not fair to teachers who are already doing good jobs at high performing schools. "We've got thousands of teachers doing this every day at the other schools and their pay's going to stay the same," Holland said.

Teachers chosen to work at these schools must be labeled as highly qualified by the state, meaning they have passed a standardized test in their subject area or taken a certain number of college courses on it. They must also have at least one year's teaching experience.

Highly qualified teachers at the schools this year will be eligible for the bonuses.

Union concerns:

Representatives from the local teachers union, the Mobile County Education Association, have cautioned that implementing such an incentive program could be perceived as the school system placing all of its blame for low student performance on teachers. They also said teachers should have been consulted before the board voted on the issue, which was first presented two weeks ago.

A group of teachers at Hall Elementary School in Mobile's Maysville community attended the board meeting and at its conclusion asked questions about the incentive program and whether they would be allowed to keep their jobs.

Several said they would apply for the incentives. Others said they felt insulted by the board's apparent lack of confidence in the school's current staff and that they might want to stay.

— Rena Havner
Teacher incentive program adopted
Mobile Register


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