L.A. Proposes Linking Teacher Pay to Tests

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The Los Angeles school district wants to pay teachers based on how much they improve their students' scores on standardized tests, an idea that has provoked a negative reaction from the teachers' union.

Interim Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines last week formally proposed to the school board a plan that would tie individual teachers' compensation to their students' scores on the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition and on Advanced Placement exams.

The board had 30 days to gather public comment on the idea before voting April 11 on whether to make it part of the upcoming contract negotiations with United Teachers Los Angeles.

The preliminary contract proposal comes as Mr. Cortines and Howard Miller, the chief operating officer of the 700,000-student district, work to reorganize schools into 11 minidistricts and cut hundreds of administrative positions. The teacher-pay proposal calls for establishing a one-time bonus program that would pay up to $2,000 to teachers in schools that exceed improvement targets set by the state's accountability index. It would pay an additional bonus of up to $3,000 to teachers in low-performing schools that meet their goals.

The pay scheme means that teachers in low-performing schools that meet academic performance targets could earn as much as $5,000 extra. The district has about 300 such schools.

Overall, the district is proposing to give teachers and administrators 6 percent raises in pay and benefits in the first year of a two-year agreement. Pay increases in the second year have not been specified. The plan is estimated to cost $180 million a year.

'Practical Joke'

Although the district's contract proposal calls for the details of the pay plan to be developed collaboratively with the union as part of the collective bargaining process, the prospect for such cooperation appears unlikely.

The union, whose contract expires at the end of June, has denounced the idea of linking pay to test scores. Day Higuchi, the president of the 43,000-member UTLA, called it a "diving for dollars" scheme.

The union, an affiliate of both national teachers' unions, is seeking a 6 percent pay raise retroactive to July 1, 1999, and an additional 15 percent hike for the 2000-01 school year.

"The district's initial bargaining proposal is so bad that at first I thought it was a practical joke," writes Mr. Higuchi, who could not be reached last week for comment. "But, sadly, it is no joke. There's blatant disrespect for teachers as hard-working professionals in every element of the proposal."

The union is also upset about the district's intention to take away teachers' rights, based upon seniority, to select the classes they want to teach. The proposal would also give administrators, not teachers, the authority to select department and grade-level chairmen in schools.

Mr. Higuchi called such changes a return to the 1950s attitude of "put on the chains and leg irons at the schoolhouse door, then go to your room and do what you're told."

It was unclear last week how receptive the system's seven-member school board would be to Mr. Cortines' proposal. Board members did not return calls.

Allan Odden, a professor of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an expert on teacher compensation, has promoted paying teachers for the development of knowledge and skills.

Kentucky, Maryland, and North Carolina have created plans that pay group incentives for teachers in schools that meet performance goals. Denver is creating a performance-pay plan, while teachers in Rochester, N.Y., are paid for certain knowledge and skills.

Mr. Odden, who had not seen the Los Angeles plan, cautioned that individual pay incentives could "squander the opportunity to do something bold."

"When you put individual stuff on the agenda, you're going to get divisiveness, opposition, and fragmentation—a real fight," he said. "And L.A. doesn't need that right now."

Staff Writer Jeff Archer contributed to this report.

Vol. 19, Issue 28, Page 3

Published in Print: March 22, 2000, as L.A. Proposes Linking Teacher Pay to Tests
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