Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Education policy leaders, teachers at odds on bonuses

Wed, Mar. 07, 2007

Education policy leaders, teachers at odds on bonuses
By Raviya H. Ismail
FRANKFORT - Two bills that would give monetary rewards to physics, chemistry and math teachers have solid support from University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr. and Bob Sexton, executive director for the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. But there's strong opposition from the Kentucky Education Association, whose members say the proposal would give preferential treatment to select teachers.

The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee yesterday listened to testimony from both sides about the bills. The legislation would reward teachers whose students score high on Advanced Placement exams, provide incentives to poor students who score well on those exams, and give bonuses to teachers of those subjects. The Senate previously approved the bills, but the House has not acted on them.

Chairman Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, said House Appropriations and Revenue Committee leaders would decide whether to vote on the bills.

The measures are in response to what many education advocates contend is a critical need to produce more science and math graduates to be competitive in the global economy.

"It's time to take some action," Todd testified. "We need to put the stake in the ground to say we are ready to take on this problem."

Todd is chairman of a task force aimed at finding strategies to improve the state's performance in these subjects. He said India and China each create 400,000 engineers a year, while the United States produces only 70,000 annually, many of them foreigners who return home.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, would create an incentive fund to help schools offer Advanced Placement courses in calculus, chemistry and physics.

The incentive fund would be used for two-year $10,000 grants to individual schools. Money the first year would go toward teacher training and planning. Money in the second year would be used to purchase textbooks and other materials for the courses.

The bill also provides a financial incentive for students who do well on Advanced Placement exams in the subjects. A student scoring well could receive up to $300 a course. The program also would offer teachers up to a total of $10,000 in incentive pay each year, based on how well their students perform in these math and science courses.

SB 2, sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, would offer a $6,000 stipend to any high school chemistry and physics teacher who majored in the subject in college -- or went through the state's certification program -- and achieved a high score on a subject test that all teachers must take. High school and middle school math teachers would receive $3,000 stipends under the same terms.

But KEA President Frances Steenbergen said: "There should not be a differentiation of pay for a few teachers in a few subject areas." She said the proposal is "demoralizing to the vast majority of teachers."

Brent McKim, an Advanced Placement physics teacher at duPont Manual High School in Jefferson County, said that, although he'd benefit from the legislation, he doesn't agree with bonus pay for advanced science and math teachers.

"There is a very important place for AP courses in the high school curriculum, but at the same time, they are not for everyone," McKim testified. "They are not a magic bullet to solve all the problems in math and science."

KEA representatives have three dozen suggestions on ways to address the math and science crisis. They include offering full tuition for teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade acquiring minor degrees in math or science, and paying student fees for Advanced Placement exams.

Although some representatives voiced their concerns on the bills, specifically that teachers hadn't been involved in crafting them, most favored moving the initiatives forward.

"If we don't do something about the crisis that faces us with engineering, in the next couple decades ... we'll become a second-rate nation," said Rep. Jon Draud, R-Edgewood.

"I don't believe in trying to fix things if they're not broken, but when things aren't working it seems to me that you have to try something differently."

Reach Raviya H. Ismail at (859) 231-3342; 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3342; or

© 2007 Lexington Herald-Leader and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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