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E.D. Makes Grants To Help Develop Merit-Pay Plans

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Reporting that 33 states and the District of Columbia have made "encouraging progress" in the implementation of master-teacher plans, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell last week announced that the Education Department will award more than $1 million to 51 school districts, state education agencies, and other education institutions to help them develop and implement a variety of incentive-pay plans.

The list of grant recipients and the text of Secretary Bell's paper appear on pages 14 and 16.

At a press conference to publicize the grant awards, the Secretary also released a 12-page "peer-review model" for managing master-teacher programs. Apparently written by the Secretary himself, the document is intended, he said, to serve as an example of one approach to evaluating teacher performance and selecting teachers to be awarded.

The "essay" was distributed to education administrators and chief state school officers last week.

Secretary Bell lauded the efforts of the states that are in various stages of establishing master-teacher plans; he pointed to Arizona, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina as states in which proposals are under consideration, and to California, Florida, and Tennessee as states in which legislation enacting plans has been passed.

"Many states have taken a comprehensive reform approach and have considered teacher incentives as one component of an overall reform initiative," he said. "Other states have focused on particular aspects of the educational reform agenda, such as student standards and expectations, or teacher incentives."

The Secretary noted that the Administration's top education goal last year was to make public the findings of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, including the recommendation that "salaries for the teaching profession should be increased and should be professionally competitive, market-sensitive, and performance based" and that ''school boards, administrators, and teachers should cooperate to develop career ladders for teachers that distinguish among the beginning instructor, the experienced teacher, and the master teacher."

This year, he said, the Administration's objective is "to help states and local school districts implement reforms called for" by the commission. Many of the "Teacher Incentives Structures Planning Grants," he said, will lead to the adoption of master-teacher plans that provide career ladders, with appropriate financial incentives, patterned after academic rankings in higher education.

However, money for the grants is currently tied up in federal district court in Chicago, where the Chicago Board of Education has charged that it has a prior claim to the department's discretionary funds to support the city's desegregation program. Until the court lifts the impoundment, Secretary Bell explained, the department is unable to release the funds.

State Funding

Characterizing the types of grants awarded by the Education Department, Secretary Bell mentioned a $20,000 grant to the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach, Calif., that will enable officials to establish a teacher-incentive plan in time to qualify for additional state funds in the 1984-85 school year. Under the state's new mentor-teacher program, California school districts that establish a mentor-teacher plan consistent with state legislation will be given additional state funds.

"In the case of Ocean View, a small federal grant, provided in a timely fashion, sets in motion a process that will bring a career ladder to Huntington Beach next year," Mr. Bell said. "This is a fine example of federal, state, and local cooperation to improve education."

Performance Evaluation

The Secretary acknowledged that a major problem in implementing performance-based pay systems is evaluating teacher performance and selecting those teachers to be awarded.

In his essay, the Secretary reiterates his view that master-teacher programs are needed, explains the career-ladder hierarchy of teaching positions, and outlines a method for selecting master teachers patterned, he writes, after the system used in higher education.

Improving Textbooks

At the press conference, Secretary Bell also reiterated a recommendation made by the excellence commission that, he said, "deserves much more attention than it has been getting: that textbooks and other tools of learning and teaching should be upgraded and updated to assure more rigorous content." (See Education Week, March 7, 1984.)

The Secretary cited a National Institute of Education finding that the typical student reads at least 32,000 textbook pages in grades K through 12, and an excellence commission study that found that 95 percent of classroom instruction is textbook-based. Because of such statistics, he said, schools and education leaders should "give the highest-priority attention to improving the quality of the textbook, since it plays such a vital role in the total curriculum in our schools." Without such efforts, he said, "education reform will falter."

Although he did not cite specific ways in which educators can help improve the quality of instructional materials, Secretary Bell emphasized the need for educators to work on a multi-state basis with publishers to determine how to improve textbooks.

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