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Posted at 03:00 PM ET, 10/21/2011

Brown looks at multiple incentives to steer highly effective teachers to weak schools

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown called this afternoon to say that the bill he is drafting to steer good teachers to struggling schools involves more than possibly waiving annual evaluations.

Brown says he is looking closely at incentives other states have established, including homebuying assistance, tax credits and loan repayments. He wants to pilot the effort in the city’s middle schools.

“That’s the gist of the legislation,” Brown said.

Illinois, for example, offers low-interest loans for down payments in the school districts where teachers work. California assumes portions of student loan payments for educators willing to go into low-income or rural schools. Maryland takes on as much as $11,000 in debt for four years of service. New York reimburses tuition for instructors seeking certification to teach science or math in a low-performing school.

I haven’t had a chance yet to look for evidence that these measures actually work. Some seem relatively new, so it may be hard to tell.

There are some significant hurdles facing District legislation. Housing incentives would have to be significant to lure some of the many teachers who live in Maryland or Virginia across state lines. Temporarily exempting teachers from evaluations may also be problematic. Public charter schools don’t use a uniform evaluation system such as IMPACT, so some equivalent measure of teacher quality would have to be developed.

Changes in IMPACT might be the most politically problematic. Private donors who have committed tens of millions of dollars to DCPS might not look favorably on any move that appeared to weaken IMPACT’s reach. Any modifications would also require the agreement of Chancellor Kaya Henderson, which is far from a sure thing. Brown said Henderson sent positive signals in their discussion, but she offered a more nuanced reaction in a lengthy e-mail this morning.

While Henderson said she’s willing to explore the issue, she remains strongly committed to the idea of “mutual consent” in dealings with teachers, meaning that any job assignment should be contingent on agreement by both the teacher and school principal.

“I strongly believe in treating teachers as professional adults, not widgets that we move around at will,” she said. “I think we need to ASK our high performing teachers what would make them consider teaching in a low-performing school, and what’s holding them back. Only after considering their input should we develop a plan to address this issue.”

Henderson said evaluations are “a critical component” to helping teachers succeed in the classroom. “Without them, teachers don’t always get the critical feedback that they need to improve and refine their practice to ensure that they are doing their very best for our students. Even highly effective teachers want and need feedback,” Henderson said.

“These are complex issues, which require sophisticated solutions,” she said, adding that it will be important to look carefully at other incentive programs “so we don’t make the same assumptions or fall into the same traps as districts who have tried this before, and failed.”

By  |  03:00 PM ET, 10/21/2011

 
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