Leveling the Field
In one of the No Child Left Behind Act’s lesser-known provisions, the teacher equity requirement orders states to ensure “poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.” Yet few states have taken substantive action to address the fact that teachers tend to gravitate toward schools that have more resources and fewer challenges. So who’s getting it right? Check out some of the districts that are raising the bar:
Superintendent Terry Grier’s Mission Possible program, implemented this past summer, aims to funnel good teachers into underserved schools and subject areas. At nine high-risk elementary schools, for example, educators willing to teach grades K-2 will receive $2,500 retention bonuses each year and additional bonuses if they produce gains on state achievement tests. Plus, they’re guaranteed a class size of no more than 15 kids. The program also includes staff training and sanctions to ensure weak teachers either shape up or ship out. In middle and high schools, Mission Possible incentives are targeted at math and literature teachers.
In 2000, the Hamilton County school district had nine of the state’s 20 worst-performing elementary schools. So the district teamed up with two education foundations that provided $7.5 million to attract and retain effective teachers in those schools. The program, called the Benwood Initiative, provides on-site professional development and gives teachers the chance to earn a master’s degree in urban education for free—provided they commit to staying in the district for four years. Housing incentives, retention bonuses, and performance-based pay increases also help. In 2005, 77 percent of Benwood students passed state reading tests—up from 57 percent two years earlier.
Fast-growing Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, hires more than 3,000 new educators a year. Principals of at-risk schools get a four- to six-week head start on hiring before other principals are allowed to fill their openings, and $2,000 signing bonuses for new teachers sweeten the pot. To reduce turnover, the district requires teachers to stay in their positions at least two years before transferring to another school. Teachers who aren’t yet designated “highly qualified” receive one-on-one visits from members of a team of retired administrators, who observe their teaching and craft action plans for achieving that designation.
Vol. 18, Issue 03, Page 15