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Governors Throw Their Weight Behind Merit-Pay Movement

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The movement to link public-school teachers' pay to their performance has continued to gain momentum across the country, even though President Reagan has spoken less about it in recent weeks and leaders of the two major teachers' organizations believe it is being overemphasized.

New merit-pay programs have been enacted, or are under consideration, in a number of states and large school districts, and policymakers at both the state and federal levels are calling for new initiatives to strengthen teaching.

The National Governors' Association, meeting in Portland, Maine, last month, endorsed a number of resolutions intended to "express a new and higher regard for teachers." These included a call for states and school systems to create "career ladders" for teachers; improve methods for recruiting, training, and paying teachers; and find "new ways to honor teachers."

The nation's governors also urged that states find ways to make it easier for "qualified outsiders to serve in the schools" as teachers and that states "examine and tighten procedures for deciding which teachers to retain and which to dismiss."

Master Teachers, Merit Pay

At its annual meeting in Denver last month, the Education Commission of the States also focused on merit pay, master teachers, and the development of new methods of rewarding public-school teachers. Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Don Cameron, executive director of the National Education Association (nea), and Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers (aft), took part in a panel discussion on merit pay in general and Governor Alexander's proposed master-teacher plan for Tennessee. (See excerpts on pages 18 and 19.)

Mr. Shanker, suggesting the aft's reason for its qualified support of the Tennessee plan, said: "It may very well be that the only way to get the public in Tennessee or some other state to support a massive infusion of funds in improvement of education is to go with something like this. That does not mean that I agree with the public, and it does not mean that they are right. But we are all practical people, and if the difference is getting nothing because the public feels that you are doing the same old thing or getting a tremendous infusion of new funds by doing something that we don't think is perfect or absolutely right, I think the right strategy is to involve the public and get the additional support."

The aft, using its conciliatory position on the state's proposed master-teacher plan as leverage, will mount a major organizing effort in Tennessee at the end of this month, according to a union spokesman. Currently, an (nea) affiliate, the Tennessee Education Association, represents the overwhelming majority of the state's 46,000 teachers.

Other Actions

Among other significant actions in recent weeks:

The governors of Florida and California signed bills creating state-funded master-teacher programs that will offer the states' best teachers increased salaries and status.

The new Florida law offers all of the teachers in the state an opportunity to apply for the position of "associate master teacher" if they have three or more years of experience, hold, or are working toward, a master's degree, pass a written examination in their subject area, and earn favor-able ratings on an annual evaluation in their schools.

These teachers must also pass an evaluation by a state-trained panel consisting of a subject-area specialist from outside the teacher's school system, a principal, and another teacher. The state will grant teachers master-teacher certificates that will be valid throughout Florida for three years and will, pending final recommendations by a state panel and funding by the legislature, pay associate master teachers an additional $3,000 a year.

After a teacher has been an associate master teacher for three years, he or she may apply to become a master teacher, through a similar review system. Florida is likely to pay these teachers $5,000 annually, according to Garfield W. Wilson, director of teacher education and certification in the state.

The entire program is tentatively scheduled to begin in the fall of 1984 and is expected to cost the state $80 million for the 84-85 school year.

California, under a "mentor-teacher" plan, will pay the top 5 percent of the teachers in each school system a $4,000 bonus in each of the next three school years.

The mentor teachers will be recommended locally by panels of educators (a majority of whom will be teachers) and will be selected by school boards. The law calls for them to work with beginning or less effective colleagues, although the terms of their work will be negotiated locally. The California Teachers Association, which endorsed the plan, is recommending that the mentor teachers continue to spend at least 60 percent of their time teaching.

The program is expected to cost California $10.5 million in the 1983-84 school year.

'Academic Ladder'

The Shawnee, Okla., school board recently approved a master-teacher plan that will create an "academic ladder" for its teachers, much like that used widely in higher education.

Teachers with over eight years of experience could earn up to 30 percent over their regular salary if, after applying to the program, they are selected as "master teachers" by eight-member panels of teachers, parents or community members, and school administrators. Master teachers would perform a variety of extra tasks in addition to their duties as full-time teachers.

The plan was proposed by Superintendent Elam Hertzler. He is former executive assistant to Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, who has begun in recent weeks to promote the concept of an academic ladder. (See Education Week, July 27, 1983.)

Gov. Charles S. Robb of Virginia has proposed a $500,000 pilot project to test performance-based pay for two years in school systems that want to experiment with the idea.

Gov. Bruce E. Babbitt of Arizona recently called for a merit-pay plan in that state that would give up to 20 percent of each school system's elementary-school teachers as much as an 8-percent bonus each year.

The Senate late last month passed a budget for the District of Columbia that included $1.5 million for a study of merit pay for teachers. The district is the among the 20 largest in the country.

The Fairfax, Va., school system, also among the largest in the nation, has hired a consultant to study the possibility of implementing a merit-pay plan for teachers and administrators.

The Alexandria, Va., school board has voted to pay merit bonuses to administrators and is considering doing the same for teachers.

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