By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Prince George's County education and labor leaders unveiled a much-anticipated pilot program yesterday that will offer teachers and administrators at 12 schools incentive pay for good performance.
The voluntary program, called Financial Incentive Rewards for Supervisors and Teachers, or FIRST, will allow teachers to make as much as $10,000 above base salary for improving the performance of their students, teaching in hard-to-staff schools and subjects, and participating in evaluations and professional development. Principals and assistant principals will be able to make up to $12,500 and $11,000, respectively.
County education leaders hope the offer of extra pay will help Prince George's recruit talented teachers and attract the best teachers and administrators to academically struggling schools. The extra pay would represent a sizable bump for a starting teacher salary of about $41,000.
Although labor organizations across the country have often opposed pay-for-performance programs, saying they can be imposed unfairly by management, union leaders at yesterday's news conference said that they like the voluntary nature of the county's program and that they had been invited to help design it from the beginning.
The program, in the works for more than a year, is funded by a $17.1 million grant from the federal government. It begins next school year at 12 elementary, middle and high schools, and Superintendent John E. Deasy said he hopes to expand the program to the entire system in succeeding years.
The schools in the pilot program are: Largo and Crossland high schools; Oxon Hill, G. Gardner Shugart, William Wirt and Nicholas Orem middle schools; and Bladensburg, Bradbury Heights, Clinton Grove, Morningside, Arrowhead and James H. Harrison elementary schools.
Teachers will receive up to 50 percent of the $10,000 reward if their school and students meet targets for growth in academic achievement. They get 15 percent if they work in a hard-to-staff subject area such as math or science, another 15 percent if they complete an evaluation, and 20 percent for engaging in professional development and assuming positions of leadership.
Pat Fletcher, a Board of Education member and former union representative who had fought against a pay-for-performance program for government workers in Takoma Park, said the school system has gone about the program in the right way.
"The uniqueness of this is that management and unions are working in partnership," Fletcher (District 3) said. "Too often that doesn't happen."
Acceptance of such programs seems to be increasing as the federal No Child Left Behind law pressures school systems to improve performance on tests or face sanctions.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has said she supports financial rewards for high-performing educators. In December, Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) gave $500,000 in awards to the principals, teachers and staffs of three schools where students' test scores rose by more than 20 percent.
In Prince George's, labor leaders were optimistic that the plan would improve student performance and teacher compensation.
"We definitely believe that it could work," said Donald Briscoe, president of the Prince George's Educators' Association, which represents 10,000 teachers. "We're trying to do everything possible collaboratively to make it work."
"We absolutely expect ourselves to be a model for other school districts around the country," Deasy said. "A program done well benefits all."