D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown got a generally positive
reception at a Monday hearing for his proposed pilot program of bonuses, income tax credits and housing benefits to lure good teachers to low-performing schools. But educators cautioned that while the measure was a good start, it would take more that financial incentives to move effective instructors into challenging schools.
Supportive principals, better training and a chance for teachers themselves to lead education reform efforts are more important than cash, said one veteran teacher.
“Moving highly effective teachers from one school to another alone will not immediately ensure that high needs schools see dramatic changes in their classrooms,” said Cosby Hunt, a former DCPS teacher and manager of teaching and learning at the Center for Inspired Teaching, a training program for D.C. educators.
Brown’s bill, “The Highly Effective Teacher Incentive Act of 2011”
would place a total of 20 teachers into four high-needs schools. In exchange for making the move, the teachers would receive:
— A $10,000 annual bonus (over and above any IMPACT bonuses).
— Homebuyer and housing assistance, including access to subsidized rental housing units; forgivable loans for a downpayment of up to 10 percent of the median home price in the District, and access to low-interest mortgage loans.
--Tuition assistance, including reimbursement for specific courses that lead to certification in high-demand subjects such as math and science.
— Loan repayment assistance for existing education loans.
— Income tax credits.
Like many urban school systems, the District’s best teachers are concentrated in schools where students need them the least. Of the 663 teachers deemed “highly effective”on the most recent round of IMPACT evaluations, just 71 work in the 41 schools in Wards 7 and 8, while 135 teach in the 10 schools in Ward 3.
Both public and public charter schools would be eligible for the program, with interested schools applying to OSSE. D.C. Chancellor Kaya Henderson pushed back at the measure a few months ago when an early version included a provision that would waive annual IMPACT evaluations for highly effective teachers willing to make the jump. Brown has pulled that section, and Henderson said at the hearing she was on board.
“We are thankful that the chairman’s office consulted with us to remove the barriers that would have precluded DCPS from applying to participate,” she said.
Other educators said the program needed to be on a larger scale to make a real difference. Candace Crawford, executive director of Teach Plus D.C., a non-profit that helps develop and retain effective teachers in urban schools, said effective educators must enter struggling schools in large cohorts and with heavy support. She said the Teach Plus effort in Boston, which involved groups of teachers equal to about 25 percent of a school’s staff, has improved some academic outcomes.
“It has dispelled the adage that effective teachers won’t teach in troubled schools,” Crawford said.
While such incentive programs are fine, the real issue, Hunt said, is not how to distribute a limited corps of effective teachers, but how to grow their number.
“The question is not how can we look to a few superstar teachers to serve as our fix-it crew, but rather, how do we raise the effectiveness of all our teachers?”