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Unions Scoff at Dallas Proposal for $50,000 'Superteachers'

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Linus Wright, superintendent of schools in Dallas, has pledged to find remedial-reading teachers who can raise the basic-skills test scores of students at several of the city's predominantly black high schools. And he has said he is prepared to pay these so-called "superteachers" $50,000 per year.

The proposal has outraged the city's teachers' groups, and some observers question whether Mr. Wright really intends to pay such high salaries, which would be two and a half times the average wage of a Dallas teacher last year.

"The idea that you could pay someone $50,000 and expect them to do a better job than a $20,000 teacher, without improving teaching conditions--reducing class sizes, doing something about disruption and the lack of supplies--is a joke," said Aimee S. Bolender, executive vice-president of the Dallas Federation of Teachers.

"The superintendent's proposal is ridiculous," said Marjorie A. Wall of the Classroom Teachers of Dallas. "It's made our teachers feel they are worth nothing."

John J. Santillo, assistant superintendent for personnel, said that Mr. Wright has not discussed the proposal with him. "It's my impression that he was just philo-sophizing, that he was only saying that [effective remedial teachers] are worth that much," he said.

Mr. Wright, who first mentioned his proposal in an interview with a local newspaper reporter, insists that he is willing to pay such salaries if he can find top teachers.

"I'm not going to waste any more of our money on remedial programs that don't work," he said, referring to a million-dollar project begun in the 1979-80 but discontinued last year because it failed to raise student test scores significantly.

"We have to find an immediate way of dealing with underachievers at the high-school level," he continued. "The existing program hasn't worked. We need an entirely different approach. We've got $1.2 million that we are under court order to use on this problem, so I'm willing to spend the money for highly trained specialists who get results."

Forfeiting High Pay

Mr. Wright said, however, that any teacher hired at the $50,000 salary would be required to forfeit the high pay if his or her students' test scores did not improve by at least two grade levels within one year.

He has not yet formally presented the concept to the Dallas school board. Nor, he said, has anyone so far agreed to take the job under such an arrangement.

Mr. Wright said that he supports the superteacher idea because he has seen it work in Dallas. Last year, he said, highly trained remedial specialists--some of them college faculty members--hired by a private California group called "Project Seed," took a class of Dallas fourth graders who were two years below their grade level in arithmetic and had them doing algebra in six weeks.

"Some teachers are arguing that to get results we have to reduce class sizes," Mr. Wright added. "Well, under our Title I program we had a student/teacher ratio of 12 to 1. Student test scores only improved one to seven months. Under Project Seed, they improved two years, with 30 students in a class. Unfortunately, Project Seed does not have enough people to staff our program."

Mr. Wright said public pressure to improve test scores and a "need to make sure that we aren't graduating students who are reading at the fourth-grade level" have prompted him to find remedial teachers "who can get results fast."

The test scores of the city's elementary-school students are nearing national norms, but at the high-school level the district's scores rank in the bottom third of such scores nationally.

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