- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2011


Earlier this school year, D.C. officials released some discomfiting news: Only 52 of 187 city schools met federal Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks in reading or math.

Earlier this month, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown outlined his plan to help turn around those schools by paying teachers more money and offering them several other carrots, including tax credits and help with buying a house and paying for tuition.

But the “presto, change-o” legislative plan, titled the Highly Effective Teacher Incentive Act, contains a glaring, gaping hole: It dilutes the carrot-and-stick approach that then-Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and then-Chief Deputy Kaya Henderson began implementing in 2009.

What Ms. Rhee and Ms. Henderson, the current chancellor, did was establish a taut teacher-evaluation system (IMPACT) that tied teacher performance to student achievement and rewarded so-called “highly effective” teachers with bonuses that could reach as much as $25,000.

The Rhee-Henderson pay-for-performance approach has since drawn the attention of not only the Obama administration, but also state lawmakers and school-district officials nationwide, who are now following in similar fashion.

But the latest D.C. merit-pay plan moves the city backwards.

Instead of raising the bar on teachers, Mr. Brown’s proposal would lower expectations of teachers and students by permitting teachers to retain their “highly effective” status regardless of their students’ achievement or lack thereof.

In sum, really, really good teachers could begin earning $35,000 on top of their base salary for merely walking into a schoolhouse.

Unions and their enablers will love this one.

But let’s be real: If really, really good teachers aren’t subjected to the risk of losing their “highly effective” status, then the Brown plan becomes a mechanism to drive up the costs of public education and still leaves thousands of D.C. kids behind.

In addition to the potential for teachers to pull in $35,000 on top of their base salary, Mr. Brown’s proposal includes other financial incentives for teachers:

• Homebuyer and other housing assistance: Granted, a majority of the D.C. teaching corps lives outside city limits, but how much will these new housing subsidies cost D.C. taxpayers?

• Tuition assistance: Dollar signs need to be attached to this proposal, too. For example, can Mr. Brown ensure that after taxpayers subsidize teachers’ master’s degrees that student academic-achievement levels will rise to new heights or that disciplinary problems will decline?

• Income-tax credits: This is a no-brainer. First, Mr. Brown’s bill burdens taxpayers with new housing subsidies, then it burdens them with new tuition subsidies, and the third angle mandates tax credits.

Here again lies the dunce factor: The annual education costs will steadily rise while academic expectations of students will remain low.

We need to thank our lucky stars for most teachers, especially those who chose to serve in urban and rural school districts. America would be on ground zero without such noble do-gooders.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, deserves credit for trying to begin to turn around those 57 schools that simply don’t measure up.

And he’s right to point out that “teachers often hesitate to teach in low-performing schools because they worry about teaching students whose skills are significantly below grade-level and about challenges with classroom discipline.”

However, he is way off the mark to propose legislation that tags D.C. public education with an incredibly high price minus any guarantees.

Surely Mr. Brown wouldn’t spend money on a major purchase, such as an SUV, without a warranty that guarantees performance.

If the chairman wants buy-in from taxpayers, he should return to his own chalkboard and rewrite the Highly Effective Teacher Incentive Act.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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