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Lawmakers start work on teacher merit pay bill

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Indiana lawmakers have started work on one of the more controversial aspects of Gov. Mitch Daniels' sweeping education agenda: a plan to tie teacher pay to student performance.

A Republican-controlled Senate committee began debating the bill Wednesday and plans to vote on it next Wednesday. Lawmakers may tweak some specifics, but the idea is that Indiana teachers would be evaluated each year and ranked into one of four categories: highly effective, effective, improvement necessary or ineffective. Local districts would create their own evaluations systems but would have to include objective measures of student achievement.

Teachers who fall into the lowest two categories wouldn't receive any automatic pay raises. Those in the top two categories could get pay raises, but the salary increases would be based primarily on student academic performance and not on years of experience.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said the goal is to recognize and reward great teachers.

"This is a huge pillar of comprehensive education reform," Bennett said.

Some teachers and teacher union leaders say they support the idea of annual evaluations but don't think test scores should play a heavy role in them.

"Test scores are an easy, quick and — I think — lazy way to evaluate," said Nancy Papas, a lobbyist for the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, noted that other factors could be included as local districts set up their individual systems.

"This bill goes so much farther than test scores in evaluating teachers," he said.

Bennett said it's important for local districts to come up with their own evaluation systems and their own ways to tie teacher pay to evaluations — but that the state would create "guidelines and guardrails." The state Board of Education, for example, would establish measures used to determine student academic growth and would set criteria to define the four rating categories.

Some at Wednesday's four-hour committee meeting raised practical concerns about how principals in large districts would handle evaluations for so many teachers, and some objected to a provision of the bill that allows teachers to evaluate other teachers under certain circumstances.

Sen. Tim Skinner, a Democrat from Terre Haute who is a teacher, said a provision in the bill allowing charter schools to hire teachers who aren't certified would be a bad idea. Up to half of charter school staffs could teach without being certified, under the proposal.

Skinner said the provision was another example of Daniels and Bennett going out of their way to relax rules for charter schools — which are public schools that are free of certain state regulations — while tightening rules for traditional public schools. He said teachers feel under attack despite Bennett's assertion that good teachers have nothing to worry about.

"That's the case whether you admit it or not," Skinner said.

Wednesday's debate came a day after about 1,000 teachers descended on the Indiana Statehouse to protest Daniels' education agenda, including the merit pay bill. But major planks of the platform — including expanding charter schools and restricting collective bargaining — are moving through the General Assembly, where Republicans control both the House and Senate.

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  • state pressures teachers
    My wife is a special education teacher in a township school after seven years of working at the same middle school she is now being asked to find time to fill out weekly lesson plans by 8;30 am each Monday, other forms on what she will do to improve each student who has a D or F on a test, in addition to state I E P.to determine the overall student goals. It takes so much time to do this paperwork along with actually "teaching". that she works every weekend at least 10 hours and about 12 hours each weekday. Also this year she got an e-mail saying "teachers should spend all class time actively working with the students, any calls to parents or paperwork must be done after school or before.And then the little things, if lesson plans are 10 minutes late or attendance records are turned in late it goes on the teachers permanent record, for that matter any mistake on state forms such as grading ,IEP,progress on goals etc. puts her out of compliance with regulations,a serious Sin.Many times after planning a parent conference the parent never shows up.Almost every morning she has to attend an irrelevant meeting that takes time away from the students,so I strongly agree with Kristen, Marty and Mike that this new legislation is worthless and will lower teacher quality in the long term, and possibly force some current teachers to quit or be fired.Many are now being put on a watch list and being told
    "if your students I STEP scores don't improve you'll be let go".It also seems their targeting older teachers, pressuring them to quit or retire.
  • Illogical
    Although I do not think merit pay in itself is a horrible concept I think the bill itself is a half baked way to pretend like we are trying to revamp the education system while saving money. In all honesty even that does not make sense to me because if you look at how much a teacher makes in comparison to say, a politician or pro-athlete, it isn't much to begin with. Maybe I am crazy but I feel like a teacher is going to be dedicated to their students whether they are on merit pay or not because if they aren't there because they hold the desire to teach then they probably wont last long in the profession one way or the other anyway. I am a university student and I have seen a multitude of my peers shy away from their teaching tracks because of all the challenges one faces and I am not referring to the challenges faced in the classroom but rather with the red tape and bad ideas on how to approach teachers lately. If you want the best and the brightest to teach the future generations you may want to stop and think about the impact of the decisions you are making now because even if someone does love to teach and inspire they are going to get a degree for a profession that they enjoy less so they can afford to make ends meet. Yes, education takes up half of this state's budget but is it not a fair assumption that the money being spent on education is a worth while investment?
  • teacher in the real world
    I do know what it takes to work in the real world--Before becoming a teacher I was a soldier on active duty. Then, I was a Loan Officer at a prestigious mortgage company. I decided I wanted to educate the morons coming in to get loans they didn't qualify for and went back to school for my degree. And you know what Rob, many of my colleagues come from similar backgrounds and hold other jobs to boot. I have a student that has missed 42 of the 95 days so far this year. Is it my fault she isn't understanding the material? Is it my fault her parents don't make her come to school? I'm not totally against merit pay despite being a public school teacher. However, if you are going to grade me on how the students do, maybe we should start grading parents on their child, or requiring a parent to prove they are capable prior to handing out those welfare checks some are so desperate for, like another of my students that has a brand new jaguar for a car, but receives free/reduced lunch.
  • That's Easy
    Rob,
    What kind of work do you do. I would challenge you to come and do my job! I go to work most mornings between 6:30 and 7:00. Most days, I don't leave until after 4:00. After I pick up my children at their after school program, take them home, fix dinner and clean up, make sure homework gets done and help with bed time, I do my homework. Grading, planning,modifying, evaluating, etc. My wife works very hard too, maybe harder than me, in the non- real world. College professor) Peolple that don't teach, do not really have any idea how much there is to teaching. Just in case you wondered ( I teach middle school Special Education) Why don't you give it a try??
  • NO sense at all
    Tieing teachers' pay to student performance makes as much sense as tieing phyisians' pay to the performance of their patients. A doctor has no control on what "condition" a patient is in when he see him/her for the first time nor how he/she will respond to treatment. Likewise, a teacher has no control on the "condition" a student is in (with his previous education or his personal/family life) when the teacher sees him/her for the first time, nor how he/she will respond to instruction.

    Furthermore, ISTEP scores have already led to rampant "teaching to a the test." Tieing teachers' pay to student performance will only serve to increase this trend. At some point in time, there will be NO REAL TEACHING DONE, and our educational system can continue to slide downwards.
  • No Idea How to Work in the Real World?
    I beg your pardon? How many teachers do you know? A great deal of public school teachers have to work extra jobs in the summer just to make ends meet. They are some of the hardest working people in our society--often spending hours before and after the school day planning instruction and evaluating student performance. How dare you suggest they don't know what it takes to work in the real world?
  • Dumbing Down Teachers
    I'm the product of public schools. I've an undergraduate degree from one of the best universities in the country; likewise for a Master's Degree. I was a Dean's list student when I went to law school. I'm not a teacher.

    When I see how Indiana's present governor and his followers are treating teachers and tearing down something that makes our country great--public schools, instead of doing all they can to attract the best and brightest into teaching and listening to teachers on what needs to be done to make our schools even better, I am glad I am not a teacher.

    To wit (I don't know what that means, but I learned it in law school and it seems appropriate here),...The more we continue to beat on teachers, fewer and fewer of our best and brightest high school graduates will be interested in becoming teachers. After all, they're pretty good readers and can readily deduce from what they're reading how unattractive a teaching career is about to be.

    Think about it. If I graduate from high school at the top of my class, am recruited by numerous colleges, and keep up on what it's like to work in different professions, why would I ever go into teaching?

    On the other hand. if I didn't do that good in high school, maybe could barely earn a college degree in twiddle stick playing but could get a few more bucks teaching in a charter school than working at a Stop n Go, I will want to be a teacher.

    Today it's we won't require half the teachers in charter schools to have teachers' licenses. Tomorrow?...We'll do the same for traditional public schools.

    Expanding this concept that teachers don't need to be professionals will surely save tax payers tons of dollars two ways: 1) Schools will hire non-professionals at much lower pay than they would have to offer to attract professionals; and 2) the non-professionals will not be highly effective and with this so called merit or performance based pay scheme, they'll never get raises saving tax payers even more dollars.

    This is one of the best devised shell games I've seen in a long time. Let's not call it a merit pay bill; let's call it a dumbing down teachers plan.

    If we think our public schools are failing now, which I don't, wait until this bill passes! It won't be long before our traditional public schools will be failing at the same rate charter schools are already failing--8% of charter school buildings are in the bottom 50 worse performing schools in this state while only 2% of traditional public schools are in the bottom 50. The answer...let's take money from the traditioanl schools and dump it into charter schools so they can hire more non-professionals. You've got to be kidding!

  • Merit Pay
    What about the other professionals working in the public schools besides the highly qualified teachers? School Counselors? Speech Therapists? Music teachers? Art teachers? Physical Education Teachers? School Nurses?How will pay and pay raises be tied to student performance? Will there be a breakdown in each specific profession as to what qualifies as "improvement" in student performance? What about other factors that teachers have no control over (i.e., home life, student motivation/cooperation, student absences, etc.) Will these outside factors be taken into consideration at all?
  • Teacher Pay
    Who will teach special education if their pay is tied to student performance?
  • Not quite
    I agree that more people with recent working knowledge of specific industries should be helping instruct kids in college where people are trying to narrow their educational focus towards a specific career. But, charter schools have nothing to do with college so it's a moot point. Charter schools are for primary and secondary education which is more about building a fundamental knowledge base that doesn't require as much industry specific teaching. We need highly qualified, well educated people delivering this type of education. If anything standards should be raised not drastically reduced as is the case here. Of course, 'ol Mitch will need to reduce qualifications to become a teacher out of necessity because a lot of existing qualified instructors are going to drop out of the system if he continues his war on public education.
  • Thats Easy
    While I agree with you on the elementary level and probably a majority of the middle school. It is painfully obvious why we need this in the high school and college realms. So that our kids are being taught by someone with a working knowledge of their industry.

    Right now they are being taught largely by people with a degree, who have no idea what it takes to work in the real world.
    • Can someone explain?
      I would like to hear one reasonable explanation why charter schools are going to be allowed to have up to 50% of their teaching staff consist of people without college degrees or teaching licenses. Makes zero sense, along with a great deal of the rest of this administration's education proposals.

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