State's teacher incentive pay plan ready to reward
Hundreds of campuses, including 78 in Dallas school district, invited to participate
11:40 PM CDT on Wednesday, August 9, 2006
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – Let the classroom competition begin.
Texas' first full-fledged attempt to reward teachers for students' performance is under way this school year, with 1,162 public schools – 15 percent of all campuses – invited to participate in the state's new incentive pay plan.
Schools must let the state know today if they want a piece of the merit pay pie, and few are expected to turn down an offer that could fatten teachers' paychecks by $3,000 to $10,000 a year – if their students perform well on next spring's state assessment.
Proposed state grants for individual schools have already been posted by the Texas Education Agency, with amounts ranging from $40,000 at many elementary schools to $295,000 for one of the largest high schools in the state.
The Dallas school district has 78 schools on the list for grants, the largest a $230,000 grant to W.T. White High School. Other local districts – Arlington, Richardson, Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Plano, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Mesquite, McKinney, Irving, Grand Prairie, Garland, Fort Worth and Duncanville – all had anywhere from one to a handful of campuses on the list.
Statewide, more than 33,000 teachers could get incentive pay from the $100 million Educator Excellence Fund if most districts opt to spread the money around and award the minimum bonus of $3,000.
"It will be a nice back-to-school present for a lot of teachers," said Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the state agency.
Complete list of schools selected for the merit pay program (.pdf)
In Texas, the average teacher salary is just under $42,000.
The program is limited this year to schools that have a large proportion of low-income students. To be eligible, a school must be in the top half of campuses in the state with the highest percentages of "educationally disadvantaged" children.
Those schools were then evaluated based on their state performance ratings from last year. Schools qualified if they were rated "exemplary" or "recognized" – the top two grades in the accountability system – or if they were in the top quartile in math or reading improvements on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
Once school districts agree to participate in the program, educational teams on each campus will devise the specifics for doling out the money with an eye toward rewarding teachers who have the greatest impact on student achievement, as measured by this year's TAKS scores.
Dallas Independent School District spokesman Celso Martinez said the district is working on a plan to award the grant money.
"It's not going to be a complicated formula," Mr. Martinez said of the distribution. "It will be unique to each campus."
Mr. Martinez said performance would play a role in how the money is divvied up on some campuses.
"We're definitely working ... to ensure there's some equality," he said. "But at the same time, there has to be some performance-rated faction built in."
State Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley and her staff, who are drafting guidelines for the program, also will review and approve each of the plans submitted by schools that participate.
While state teacher groups opposed the merit pay scheme when it was approved by the Legislature in a special session in May, proponents of the idea said it was time for Texas to start rewarding its best teachers and thereby encourage them to remain in the classroom.
"This is the best way I know to show gratitude to those who do excellent work in the classroom," said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who authored the legislation that created one of the nation's largest incentive pay programs for educators.
"This will really make a difference for kids in high-poverty schools."
Brock Gregg of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, on the other hand, said it "makes no sense" to single out campuses with large numbers of poor students, and then give money only to those with higher performance ratings from the state.
"It seems like schools that are struggling more with their students ought to get some of that money," he said.
Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association said another problem is that the performance ratings are from 2005, nearly a year before the incentive plan was passed by the Legislature.
"Not only is this program heavily dependent on a single standardized test, but it is also based on work done by people who had no knowledge of the incentive pay plan at the time they performed their work," he said. "That defies the definition of an incentive."
Although the education agency originally proposed a minimum $60,000 grant for schools that qualify for merit pay, Ms. Ratcliffe said some smaller schools felt it would be difficult to distribute such a large sum in the coming school year.
So the minimum grant was dropped to $40,000, freeing up some of the funding and allowing an additional 200 campuses to participate.
At least 75 percent of the $100 million in incentive funds this year must be spent on teachers who teach core subjects measured by the TAKS. Schools will have discretion in distributing the other 25 percent, which could go to teachers in other subjects or school administrators.
Schools could not issue bonuses to employees whose primary responsibilities are in the athletic department.
The merit pay program will be expanded to other schools in the 2007-08 school year when total annual funding will reach $260 million. Bonuses in the second program will also be based primarily on student test scores. All districts will be eligible.
A $10 million pilot program was launched last year at the direction of Gov. Rick Perry, who has long advocated incentive pay for teachers. A total of 98 districts participated in the pilot program, which will continue this year.
Staff writer Tawnell D. Hobbs contributed to this report.
ELIGIBLE SCHOOLS IN DISD
Dallas public schools invited by the state to participate in the Texas Educator Excellence Grant program:
W.T. White High
Casa View Elementary
Urban Park Elementary
Preston Hollow Elementary
Walker Vanguard Elementary
Mount Auburn Elementary
San Jacinto Elementary
Arcadia Park Elementary
Edison Learning Center Middle
Highland Meadows Elementary
Business and Management High
Health Professions High
Government/Law/Law Enforcement High
Science and Engineering High
City Park Elementary
Jill Stone Elementary
De Zavala Elementary
Arlington Park Elementary
Environmental Science Academy Middle School
James Learning Center Elementary
Education and Social Service High
SOURCE: Texas Education Agency
Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/081006dntexmeritpay.20b40a7.html