Date – April 14, 2010

Could a Merit-Pay Component be in the Future of TESD Teacher Contracts?

A Community Matters reader sent me an email about the proposed teacher contract in Washington, DC.  which some are saying could become the national model for school districts.  Here’s an article from the Washington Times with the details — an interesting model, don’t you think?  Could this merit-pay component work for future TESD teacher contract negotiations?

DC Teacher Contract Includes Merit Pay . . . Provision to be funded by foundation grants

By Deborah Simmons
Washington Times

After more than two years of talks, officials with D.C. Public Schools and the Washington Teachers Union announced Wednesday a tentative contract deal that includes a merit-pay component – an issue long pushed by conservatives and supported by the Obama administration, but considered a no-no by teachers unions.

The deal, which also breaks ground by funding its merit-pay program with private money, marks the end of the on-again, off-again negotiations between schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who was brought on in June 2007 by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to turn around the troubled school system, and the D.C. teachers union, whose members have been working without a contract since fall 2007.

New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who is in the midst of contract talks, told the Wall Street Journal that the merit-pay plan is a “game-changer” and said he hopes it will become a national model.

The plan still awaits ratification by the unions rank and file, as well as approval from the D.C. Council. It also could be rejected or amended by Congress, though this is not considered likely.

Mrs. Rhee, school-choice advocates and other city leaders have said for years that the career-ladder approach favored by unions hinders reform because it determines teacher pay primarily on the basis of seniority, regardless of their students academic performance. Mrs. Rhee, who has drawn national headlines since she arrived in Washington, also has drawn praise and criticism from parents, teachers and principals as she moves forward with her reform plan.

The union deal calls for school-based professional-development centers and mentoring programs, and a five-year pay package dating retroactively to October 2007, when the last contract expired, and ending in 2012.

The deal gives teachers 3 percent raises in the first, second and fifth years, 5 percent in the third year, and 4 percent in the fourth. The plan also gives Mrs. Rhee additional flexibility to lay off teachers to address budget and enrollment concerns.

The new pact “puts teachers performance with their students at the forefront of all decisions in the [school] district – including compensation and teacher assignment,” Mrs. Rhee said Wednesday.

Both enrollment and money will be at the forefront of D.C. Council members’ minds as they begin 2011 budget hearings next week. The mayor has proposed boosting the school system’s budget for next year even as enrollment steadily declines. The 2008-09 enrollment figure was 45,190, compared with the previous school year, which stood at 49,422. Ten years ago, enrollment was around 67,000, and 20 years ago, the number of pupils was at 80,000.

The agreement unveiled Wednesday calls for a voluntary pay-for-performance plan to reward teachers whose students show academic improvement on standardized tests and other academic measures.

The merit program will be financed with an estimated $65 million in private funding from four institutions that will be gathered by the D.C. Public Education Fund. The four organizations include the Laura and John Arnold Foundation ($10 million) and the Robertson Foundation ($19.5 million).

The Walton Family Foundation, which was established by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton in 1987, made the largest pledge – $25 million. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has promised $10 million. In March of last year, Mrs. Rhee was named a board of director of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, which is funded by the Broad Foundation.

D.C. teachers have two weeks to vote the agreement up or down.


TESD’s Finance Meeting Looms . . . What will be the resolution on the school district’s budget deficit?

The school district’s Finance Meeting was changed from this week to next Monday, April 19.  The timeline for final resolution on the 2010-11 school district budget is counting down.  Where do we stand with the budget discussion?  The TESD 2010-11 budget has a substantial deficit — salaries and escalating pensions and health care benefits are driving the expenses upwards.  The District has some hard decisions to make about these current and future District benefits. 

At the March Budget Meeting, there was EIT vs. PIT (Earned Income Tax vs. Personal Income Tax) discussion.  It was agreed there would be follow-up information provided at the April 19 Finance Committee Meeting.  If I recall correctly, PIT is not a possible solution but Earned Income Tax is under consideration.   Previously, on Community Matters, there was much discussion about the teacher unions and their contracts.  Opening the teacher contracts as part of the budget discussion, is not possible, correct?  Administration salaries are also off-limits, correct?  This upcoming finance meeting could present one of the last opportunities for the community to weigh in; I know that several of the school board members follow this forum and your comments, so I suggest that we get some discussion going . . .

 As an aside to the school budget discussion, I want to include the following Philadelphia Inquirer article. About a month ago, Inquirer writer Dan Hardy called me about the FLES program (foreign language in the elementary schools).  He was writing an article on the program and how school districts reportedly were cutting this program to help reduce budget deficits.  Dan’s article appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week  and I have posted it below.     

Grade schools consider cutting foreign language classes

By Dan Hardy
Inquirer Staff Writer

Students in Madame Maria Wells’ fifth-grade class at Cynwyd Elementary School were having great fun Thursday morning – while learning French at the same time.

Through songs, games, and discussion, mostly in French, Wells taught anatomy vocabulary words to the Lower Merion district children, now in their fourth year of instruction. The class, which meets three days a week, also talked about English words that have their origins in French terms.

“The connections between French and those words helps me remember them and know what they mean,” student Benjamin Nagle said.

“It’s great to be able to speak French,” said classmate Belle LeBow.

Not many public school elementary children in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs get that experience.
Fewer than 10 of the 64 districts teach foreign language in the primary grades. Some programs are very limited, with only a few minutes a week or only a few grades.

Now, more districts are getting ready to say au revoir to those classes. Tredyffrin/Easttown; Springfield, Delaware County; and Great Valley are tentatively planning to drop them next year.

The Unionville Chadds-Ford district had intended to start a full program in its grade schools this year. But the recession forced it to shelve the plan in favor of one that uses teachers and parent volunteers a few times a month. Three districts – Haverford, Wallingford-Swarthmore, and West Chester – eliminated elementary language classes in the last few years.

Few contest the key role elementary education can have in foreign-language proficiency. Classes in lower grades are vital to achieving good pronunciation and fluency by the end of high school, experts say. Studies show that foreign-language instruction correlates with increased English language ability and general academic performance.

But nationally, the percentage of schools with elementary level language programs fell from 24 in 1997 to 15 in 2008, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics, a Washington-based nonprofit. Pennsylvania officials do not have an exact count, but said the number of districts with some kind of elementary language instruction is holding fairly steady at between 150 and 175.

For area high schools, The Inquirer’s Report Card on the Schools, released Sunday, found that nine suburban districts dropped one or more languages and six others added them since 2007-08. In Philadelphia, about half a dozen high schools dropped at least one language and about the same number added one.

New Jersey is one of only 19 states that has a foreign language high school graduation requirement; Pennsylvania does not. New Jersey also requires that every elementary school teach foreign language.

The three Pennsylvania districts proposing to cut their elementary programs all cited the same reasons: time and money. Tredyffrin/Easttown, Springfield, and Great Valley officials said that it was impossible to spend enough time on them to make it worthwhile, and they could realize savings by starting the instruction in the higher grades. In the Tredyffrin/Easttown school district in Chester County, the elementary language program, started in 1998, has been a signature program. “We believe that learning a foreign language in the elementary school is an essential part of a child’s education and development,” the district’s Web site says.

But the program – with 45 minutes of class time for first through fourth graders twice every six days – is likely to be cut. “If we want proficiency, we would have to increase instruction, and we don’t feel we could do that at this time,” said curriculum director Richard Gusick, citing competing demands from other subjects.

The district will beef up its program in grades five to 12, Gusick added, saying that “language proficiency remains a goal.”

Another factor for the proposed cuts is a $9.25 million budget deficit the district faces for next school year. Dropping the program would save $378,000, he said. That proposal brought hundreds of parents out to board meetings; more than 600 signed an online petition asking that the program be spared.

One was Tredyffrin resident Cristina McLachlan, the mother of three elementary schoolchildren and a Spanish teacher at a private school. “Everybody is trying to become more global and countless studies have showed that the earlier children are exposed to a foreign language, the easier it is for them to learn it,” she said. “When you go to Europe or South America, every educated person speaks two languages, or three or four – we’re the exception. . . . It’s a huge step backward in a school district that everyone considers to be so good – it’s absurd . . . it’s a mistake.”

In the Lower Merion District, support for the program remains strong, said Jack Maguire, supervisor of Humanities programs. “The educational benefits and the intellectual benefits for the kids are immense,” he said. “There is no need to justify this to the community – they understand the importance of this to their children’s education. . . . There’s never been a whisper that the program is in trouble.”

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