Offering teacher bonuses not viable solution

The trouble with education reform is finding that elusive mix of what works.

It’s clear that parenting matters, good teaching matters and an effective principal matters. It’s also true that smart curriculum is necessary.

Since being elected governor, Susana Martinez has directed much effort at improving the state’s public schools. Programs, though, do not always translate into effective policy, and ideas that sound good in sound bites don’t necessarily work in practice.

Take what sounds like a great idea — offer teachers a $5,000 bonus to leave excellent schools to work at schools that are not as successful.

The idea, of course, is that teachers make the difference in whether students succeed. A compliment, finally, to teachers.

(The governor’s stipend program also is offering $5,000 to teachers who get more students to pass Advanced Placement tests. That one makes more sense.)

We have concerns, however, about the first program — and we’re pleased to hear teachers don’t appear to be falling for it.

For one thing, the teaching transfers would take effect this school year. As Santa Fe school board member Steve Carrillo rightly pointed out last week, the program upsets classrooms. One teacher will leave and another will show up.

The underlying premise of this bonus program is wrong, too.

Excellence is accorded to schools that earn an A under the state Public Education Department’s complex formula (which no one, not even bureaucrats, understands). “Failing” are those schools that receive a D or an F from the state report card.

As one Albuquerque teacher told reporter Robert Nott: “It’s based on the idea that the state’s school grades are valid and that they actually show the effectiveness of a teacher. They don’t.”

Teachers at D-F schools often are the most dedicated, hard-working and talented. They just are dealing with children who have further to go.

A bonus more properly would focus on where a child starts and finishes, rewarding teachers for how far they take students.

What’s more, the notion that a letter grade can capture all the nuances of what happens at a school is ridiculous. We said, when Martinez and her Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera unveiled the school grades, that at least a letter grade is easy to understand. However, we also have said that the way these grades are figured — how the A or F is reached — is so complicated and unwieldy as to render the grades meaningless.

Because what isn’t said enough, but remains true, is that the A schools generally comprise students from affluent families. F schools generally have poorer children. Schools don’t succeed, children from educated families succeed, and that is true all over the country.

Paying a teacher $5,000 to switch schools will not change that reality, reducing this policy to a sound bite, not a solution.

 

— The Santa Fe New Mexican

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