- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2012

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson broadly supports a bill that would entice high-performing teachers to the schools that need them the most, citing human capital as the “cornerstone” of her reform efforts.

Legislation by D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown proposes a three-year pilot program that offers a $10,000 bonus and other incentives to teachers who demonstrate excellence and are willing to relocate to “high-need” schools.

Ms. Henderson said the package of incentives would include efforts to retain and reward good principals, a key part of any pitch to teachers who are willing to transfer schools.

“We were woefully underpaying our principals compared to our surrounding jurisdictions,” Ms. Henderson said.

Testifying before the council’s Committee of the Whole on Monday, parents and education advocates warned that a teacher’s success in one school does not always translate to effective performance in another.

Besides monetary incentives, witnesses said the city also should consider preparation and collaboration as equally important to teacher success.

Mr. Brown’s bill “is a step in the right direction, but ensuring a highly effective teacher in every classroom in the city is not simply a matter of moving bodies from one school to another,” said Cosby Hunt, manager of teaching and learning at the Center for Inspired Teaching.

David Pickens, executive director of D.C. School Reform NOW, said that “on the surface” he supports most of the bill.

“However, the devil is always in the details,” he said, adding that highly effective teachers who already work at high-need schools should be eligible for bonuses and benefits, too, and not just newcomers.

Mr. Pickens also noted there should be protections for teachers who want to return to their initial school.

Under the bill, teachers are eligible for homebuyer and other housing assistance, tuition assistance and income tax credits in addition to the $10,000 bonus. Teachers risk losing their incentives if they break their three-year commitment to work at a high-need school.

The 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 or reduced-price lunch.

Sixteen states offer similar incentives to teachers who take jobs in underserved areas.

Ward 7 resident Alicia Rucker said she finds it “insulting” that hard-working teachers in lower-performing schools must make way for teachers who were pulled in by financial incentives.

Hosanna Mahaley, the District’s state superintendent of education, said the city should try to increase the number of highly effective teachers in the city — there is only one for every 77 students in D.C. Public Schools — and require schools to apply for the proposed pilot program.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said he will delete from the bill any references to the controversial teacher-evaluation tool known as IMPACT because it is expected to be “tweaked” in the near future.

The initial draft of the bill said teachers would still be evaluated under IMPACT but would not be at risk of losing their “highly effective” status during the three-year period.

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

“We’re going to create parity, and parity should be OK,” he said.

He also tried to correct misconceptions that the bill is about money alone.

“This is a package deal,” Mr. Brown said. “This is not just about $10,000.”

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

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