- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2011

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown has proposed legislation that offers a $10,000 bonus and other incentives to top-rated city teachers who agree to work in public schools that need their expertise.

Mr. 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 needed 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.

“For too long in this city, we haven’t addressed this issue,” he said.

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 intent is, you’re not going to get fired in the first year after you go to one of the most-troubled schools,” Mr. Brown said in an interview.

The chairman said he supports the IMPACT system, which public schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson has continued to use after it was instituted by her predecessor and former boss, Michelle Rhee.

Critics of the program say lower student achievement in needier areas of the city skew the results.

Public school officials could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Brown said he has spoken to Ms. Henderson about the proposal.

Mr. Brown’s legislation defines “high-need schools” as those with 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 lunch.

Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union, said the legislation recognizes a disparity in the school system and is part of reform that “gets away from penalizing teachers.”

“In that context, it’s to be commended,” he said.

Mr. Saunders also said the program likely would benefit most the students and parents of Wards 5, 7 and 8, but associating the bill with one part of the city would be a “misnomer.”

He said highly effective teachers are already in those eastern wards and he looks forward to a “healthy debate” on making sure those teachers also are rewarded.

In addition to needing to be rated highly effective at a D.C. public school or charter school, teachers risk losing their incentives if they break their three-year commitment under the program.

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 is successful, according to Mr. Brown’s office.

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

Mr. Brown’s office provided a list of legislation from 16 states that offer similar incentives to teachers who take jobs in underserved areas. Included is a Louisiana bill that provides income tax credits to those who take jobs in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Brown said he recognizes that not everyone will be fully on board when debate starts on the D.C. bill, but “to create real change, not everyone’s going to be happy.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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