“How One School Found a Way to Spell Success” by columnist Daniel Henninger is an article in the WSJ dated 10/14/05 Henniger writes about Meadowcliff Elementary School located in Little Rock, Ark. He writes, “About 90% of the K-5 school is black. It sits in a neighborhood of neat, very modest homes. About 92 % of the K-5 students are definable as living at or below the poverty level. Principal Karen Carter abhors the term, poverty level, because most of the parents work at one or two jobs. This refusal to bend to stereotypes likely explains what happened last year at Meadowcliff.”
Henniger writes “The school’s scores on the Stanford achievement course rose by an average of 17% in one year. Against the National norm, the school’s 246 students rose to the 35th percentile from the 25th. For math in the 2nd grade and higher 177 students rose to the 32nd percentile from the 32nd. What happened in nine months?
Meadowcliff has two of the elements well established as necessary to a schools success-a strong and gifted principal, and a motivated teaching staff. Both are difficult to find in urban school systems. Last year this public school added a third element; individual teacher bonuses, sometimes known as “pay for performance.”
Paying teacher on merit is one of the most popular ideas in education. It is also arguably the most opposed idea in public education, anathema to the unions and their supporters. Meadowcliff’s program arrived through a back door. No money was available so they went to the Public Education Foundation of Little Rock but the Foundation had no money for her. So the Foundation produced a private, anonymous, which made union approval unnecessary.
Details were worked out using the Stanford test results to determine the bonus pay. For each student in a teacher’s charge whose score rose up to 4% over the year, the teacher gets $100; 5% to 9%--$200; 10% to 14%--$300; and more than 15%--$400. This straight-line pay-for-performance formula awarded teachers objectively in a way that squares with popular notions of fairness and skirts fears of subjective judgment. In most merit-based lines of work, like baseball, it’s called getting paid for “putting numbers on the board.”
Twelve teacher received performance bonuses ranging from $1800 to $8600. The rest of the school’s staff shared in the bonus pool; that included the cafeteria employees, who started eating with the she students instead of eating in a nearby lounge, and the custodian who the student’s saw taking books out of the library to read.
Total cost: 134,000. The test cost $10,000.
The Meadowcliff bonus program is now in its 2nd year, amid more phenomena rarely witnessed in “school reform.” Last years bonuses were paid by an anonymous donor; this year the school board voted to put he pay for performance bonuses on the district’s budget. The teacher union insisted that Meadowcliff’s teacher vote for a contract waiver: 100% voted for the waiver. Another grade school, with private funding, will now try the Meadowcliff model.
The Meadowcliff program has the support of both Little Rock’s superintendent and Arkansas director of education. 100 administrative positions from the central bureaucracy were cut and the dollars saved, 3.8 million dollars, were rerouted back to the schools.
Financial incentives of some sort are needed to stop math and science teachers from jumping to private industry. School districts have to innovate fast because jobs and populations are migrating internally. The district hired 180 new teachers this year and Little Rock has to find a way to hold its best teachers. The teachers seen at Meadowbrook Elementary seemed pretty happy there.”
As I watched and listened to a presentation by District #150 officials to the League of Women’s Voters, I am a member of LWV, on the closing and building of school, I hope that the Board and Administration is looking for ways to raise student performance and keep and attract competent principals and teachers. I know they are but this district cannot afford to wait another day to implement programs that will keep good teachers and attract better principals and administrators.
Where and when and how much money can be raised is a question on most every bodies mind these days. No one wants a property tax rise unless they can see a direct benefit to the community now, because this community is becoming harder to convince that so many projects deemed to be in everybody’s best interest having not worked out to well.
Promising those fleeing the city that help is on the way without raising our already too high property taxes will not hold them unless they see improvement in this school year of 2005-2006. That is where the communities’ interest lies right now and has lain for the past number of year.
Too many projects in this community are dependent on a cash strapped state and federal government. Maybe more wealth people will step forward and finance more of these local projects starting with the #1 priority in the City of Peoria, the public school systems. A good place to start is with a model of Meadowcliff’s financial performance incentives and a Vo-Tech Center staffed with certified teachers and skilled volunteers. We have stalled these projects way too long and the negative results are becoming more visible each day.
P.S. Anyone wanting to read this complete Henninger copy can retrieve it from the libraries or I will fax you a copy. Let me know on this site or send me an email.