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Incentive Plans, Once Controversial, Now Common

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Although teacher-incentive programs adopted over the past decade have often been a subject of controversy, the concept appears to have a foothold in many of those states where experimentation began, a study indicates.

Four of the six states that pioneered career-ladder programs are still funding them today. Moreover, nearly a dozen others have implemented programs that link rewards to school restructuring or improved student achievement, the study by the Southern Regional Education Board found.

The board has charted trends in incentive programs in the states over the last 10 years and released annual surveys on the subject.

In the mid-1980's, there was an explosion of interest in incentive programs in many states. Policymakers were looking for ways to combat teacher shortages in areas such as mathematics and science, the study explains, and moving to professionalize teaching.

Although interest in the programs continued to build, career-ladder and incentive plans often faced political opposition, legal challenges, and a lack of funding.

In addition, teachers have been deeply divided over the concept, the report notes.

By 1991, however, about half of the states were funding some form of incentives, including mentor teachers, career ladders, and projects tied to school improvement.

More states also are adopting programs that hold teachers, administrators, and schools accountable for students' academic success.

Mixed Results

The results were mixed for many state programs, the study acknowledges. But they have revolutionized teacher-evaluation procedures and led to more joint decisionmaking at the school site.

The study also found that:

  • Changes in state leadership often diverted incentive programs from their original intent.
  • Several programs were eliminated because of controversy over teacher-evaluation procedures.
  • Teachers who participated in the programs tended to view them favorably, while those who did not were likely to be skeptical.
  • Arizona, Missouri, Tennessee, and Utah are currently funding career-ladder programs, and Ohio is supporting pilot projects.
  • The pay-for-performance plan in Arizona has increased student achievement, lowered dropout rates, and improved graduation rates for students taught by teachers in the program.

Copies of the report are available for $7.50 each from the S.R.E.B., 592 10th St., N.W., Atlanta, Ga. 30318-5790; (404) 875-9211.

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