- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2011

The National Education Association has responded to a D.C. proposal to give city teachers a bonus to transfer to underachieving schools by saying money is not what motivates great educators.

Association President Dennis van Roekel says his group has conducted focus groups on what gets a teacher to leave one building for another, and “money is not” the determining factor.

“The most common answer is, ‘I want a real good principal, a leader,’ ” Mr. van Roekel told The Washington Times. “A good principal is like a magnet; a bad principal is like same poles.”

Legislation before the D.C. Council would offer a $10,000 bonus and other financial incentives to “highly effective” teachers who agree to transfer to “high-need” schools. Sixteen states offer similar programs with various incentives, including tax breaks and housing assistance.

The bill’s sponsor, council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, says the three-year pilot program for as many as 20 teachers would give four high-need schools — two of which must be middle schools — a boost. It also would reassure instructors who worry that teaching in schools with lower test scores will impact their evaluations, his office said.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said his goal is to help students in underachieving schools, not force teachers to leave their current schools.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is scheduled to testify on the measure Dec. 14 at a hearing before Mr. Brown’s Committee of the Whole.

While Ms. Henderson has not signaled what she will say, she has indicated her desire to work with Mr. Brown on “creative solutions” to getting effective teachers in the neediest classrooms.

“Similar kinds of incentive programs have been attempted across the country, so we should be careful not to make the same assumptions or fall into the same traps as districts who have tried this before, and failed,” Ms. Henderson said. “I am especially concerned about the assumption that teachers are interchangeable. Because someone is successful in one context, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in another context.”

She said teachers must be treated as professionals whose input is critical to forming a plan.

“I believe in asking our high-performing teachers what would make them consider teaching in a low-performing school, and conversely, what’s holding them back,” she said.

Mr. van Roekel said he cannot comment on issues specific to the District, but good schools start with a leader who is part of the community, he said, citing anecdotes about an inner-city principal in Omaha.

“Those kids that come into her class, she knows their auntie, and she knows their grandma,” he said.

Under Mr. Brown’s bill, teachers who commit to the program would still be subject to evaluation under IMPACT — a controversial program that scores teachers based on classroom observations and student achievement. However, the teachers would not risk losing their “highly effective” status during the three-year period.

The legislation defines underachieving schools as “high-need schools” having a proficiency rate in reading and math below 40 percent and with 75 percent or more of its student body eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. Teachers are eligible for homebuyer and other housing assistance, tuition assistance and income-tax credits, in addition to the $10,000 bonus.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the Office of the State Superintendent for Education would select the schools for the project, which could expand to more schools if it’s successful, according to Mr. Brown’s office.

Three to five teachers would be selected for each school, the bill states.

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