Prince William County schools approve bonus plan for instructors at poor schools

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Prince William County School Board approved a new compensation plan Wednesday night that would provide bonuses to teachers and principals who help high-poverty schools succeed.

The plan is contingent on securing federal funds. It would form the basis of a grant request to a federal program that has expanded dramatically in the past few years to fund local efforts that reward effective teachers beyond the traditional pay scale, which is based on seniority and educational attainment.

Prince William's plan, called the Teacher Incentive Performance Award, would reward entire schools, rather than individual teachers, in an effort to encourage collaboration. The school grants would be apportioned to teachers and principals in amounts that likely would range from $2,000 to $10,000.

The criteria for determining awards would include teacher evaluations and student test scores, as well as measures such as student physical fitness, a clear instructional vision for the school, staff stability, parent satisfaction, student attendance and opportunities for teachers to participate in professional development or leadership roles.

Only schools where more than half the students qualify for free or reduced price meals -- 31 of the system's 88 schools -- would be eligible.

With its application, Virginia's second-largest school system is following Prince George's County and the District. The school districts collectively have received more than $15 million in federal funds since 2007 to provide teacher pay raises for top achievers.

Kris Pedersen, a former associate superintendent who led the effort to develop the plan, said he hoped it would slow or reverse "the swinging door" effect of teachers transferring out of the county's toughest schools. "Poor and minority children who have the greatest need for effective teachers are the least likely to get them," he said.

Pedersen worked with a committee of teachers, principals and other administrators to develop the proposal. The 20 criteria were developed with input from 2,000 surveys collected this spring from educators who were asked about the key ingredients of successful schools. Each measure would carry a different weight.

Under the proposal, grants would not be given until the 2011-12 school year after another year of planning and training, and after the school system develops objective ways to evaluate each category.

William J. Slotnik, a technical consultant for Prince William who also helped develop compensation plans in Denver and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, said that for a new system to work, it must spur more sweeping reforms in professional development, curriculum and testing. "It will reach virtually every part of your organization," he said.

Bonnie Klakowicz, president of the Prince William Education Association, said she is heartened that the criteria go beyond test scores and that teachers are helping to develop the plan.

But she is skeptical that it will prompt instructional improvement. The handful of schools that already are succeeding would likely be the ones that receive awards, she said. Showering just a few schools with extra money could spur more competition and inequity.

"Unless that big pot of money is going to cover all 31 of those schools, there will be a lot of ill will," she said.

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