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Phila. Plan Links Student Achievement, Teacher Pay

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The Philadelphia school board approved a program last week that will hold teachers more accountable for student performance and give cash awards to successful schools.

The so-called professional-responsibility program will hold teachers more accountable for student test scores, attendance, and graduation rates. The program will link teacher pay raises and performance reviews directly to student achievement, and even allows a teacher with chronically low-performing students to be fired.

High-achieving schools, on the other hand, could receive bonuses of up to $1,500 per teacher and $500 per paraprofessional staff member, to be spent on school programs and services.

Though several states, notably Kentucky, have similar accountability programs, experts said last week that Philadelphia's is rare in the degree to which it will hold teachers responsible.

Superintendent David W. Hornbeck hailed the board's 6-1 vote as "a move from talk to action."

But the city's teachers' union quickly denounced the plan as "school bashing" and "vindictive."

Meanwhile, the 215,000-student district's latest plea for additional state funds met with a quick and forceful rejection from Harrisburg.

The district said last week that it was running a $10.7 million deficit in its annual operating budget of $1.4 billion. About $840 million, or 60 percent, of that budget comes from the state.

William Epstein, a district spokesman, said that without additional state money, "we would have to cut programs and administrative positions."

Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, has repeatedly said that the district can expect little in the way of further help from the state, and state officials echoed those sentiments last week.

Greater Scrutiny

Under the new accountability program, which took effect immediately, schools that do not improve or meet target goals could be subjected to more scrutiny from district officials. Schools that fail to meet performance targets could be forced to replace up to three-quarters of their staffs.

The action is the latest step in the 10-point reform plan, Children Achieving, that Mr. Hornbeck introduced soon after he was named superintendent in 1994.

Though the program has generated much criticism, a recent report from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, based at the University of Pennsylvania, concluded that it is making genuine, though uneven, progress. ("Despite Obstacles, Phila. Seen Making Headway on Reforms," Sept. 25, 1996.)

Mr. Hornbeck pointed to some troubling statistics to emphasize the need to hold teachers and schools more accountable. Fewer than 20 percent of the city's students are proficient in reading, math, and science, the superintendent noted, and fewer than 53 percent graduate from high school on time.

But Jerry Jordan, the staff director for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the plan was just another way to "blame teachers for things over which they have no control." He said that measuring student performance based on standardized-test scores is not an accurate measure of a teacher's track record.

The plan is modeled after a similar program that Mr. Hornbeck helped develop in Kentucky, although the Philadelphia version places more individual responsibility on teachers in the city's 257 schools.

Jacques Lurie, the only board member who voted against the plan, said it was unwise to enforce teacher-accountability measures without holding parents responsible as well. "There needs to be an understanding that you can't have teacher accountability without parent accountability," he said.

Mr. Hornbeck says that holding parents, students, and citizens accountable for school success is part of the larger reform package that has yet to be approved. "The problem is that everybody wants to wait to accept responsibility until everyone else has done their thing," he said in an interview last week.

Mr. Hornbeck himself has undergone similar scrutiny. The board issued a report card on his performance last month and gave him a grade of 2.7 out of a possible 4.0, saying he had only partially met expectations. The grade failed to qualify him for a pay increase.

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