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Stimulus Questions Answered, Round 2: On Teachers


Schools and the Stimulus

Here's our second installment of answers to your stimulus questions. Read Round 1 here.

1. How will teacher salary be linked to student academic performance under this package? How will this impact "highly qualified" teacher criteria?

There's no explicit language in the stimulus package linking salary to student performance. However, the stimulus does provide an additional $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund under the U.S. Department of Education. This now-larger pot of money will be used, as it was before, to fund pay-for-performance programs in school districts. Read more about the program here. As to the second part of your question, one of the "assurances" that governors have to make to receive their chunk of the state stabilization money is to take steps to address equitable distribution of “highly qualified,” experienced, and in-field teachers across all schools, including in very poor schools. This has been a provision under the No Child Left Behind Act that hasn't been very well enforced, so it will be interesting to see what education secretary Arne Duncan does about this. I did ask Duncan specifically about the equitable teacher distribution provision during C-SPAN's Newsmakers show, and he seemed more inclined toward incentives than enforcement. Finally, the equitable-distribution requirement also asks states to “improve teacher effectiveness.” Although there are no details on how states should address teacher effectiveness; this is potentially a new direction for the federal government, which has not referenced the issue before. (Thanks to my colleague Stephen Sawchuk, who blogs over at Teacher Beat.)

2. My school district, like many, is interested in getting training in some continuous improvement initiatives to help advance student performance and hold down costs. The problem, of course, is getting the money for the training. The question is, will the new stimulus package provide monies for grants for schools to get innovative training to better their operations? If so, who would we contact, what would that type of grant be called, what is the range of the grant award, and when will it be available?

Your question illustrates that there will be a lot of money out there that can be used for a lot of different things. Ultimately, once the money trickles down to the district level, school districts will have a lot of discretion to decide how to spend the money. Some may choose to hire or re-hire teachers, some may purchase technology, or others may do the kind of professional development you're talking about. More specifically, your district may be able to tap the new Innovation Fund, which I explained more in depth here, in Questions 2 and 3.

3. Title II is referenced in the "School Improvement Programs" section. I would appreciate any explanation.

This part of the stimulus bill sets aside $650 million for Title II D, which is the EdTech program that helps districts train teachers on technology. The money will be distributed through the existing formula, which uses Title I to distribute grants to states, which then must distribute at least 95 percent of it to local districts. Please note that this is not the $3 billion teacher quality formula state grant program.

4. How much will go to keeping jobs (since it is stimulus) and how much will go toward No Child Left Behind?

I'm guessing you're talking about education-related jobs, such as teachers. It's really difficult to separate the two since teachers, administrators and instructional staff all are working to meet the goals and requirements under NCLB. Even though there are set formulas that determine how much of the money will go to states, and how the money will be distributed to districts, the districts will ultimately have a lot of discretion in determining how they spend their money. A lot of districts facing tough budget cuts will probably decide to re-hire teachers, but I've also heard from several districts that since this is one-time money, they might decide to use it on a one-time expense (such as buying computers.) After all, hiring or re-hiring a teacher is a long-term investment.


Unfortunately, conventional wisdom that is seldom wise guides public education in the United States. Truth and fact in
these circumstances is not what can be supported by controlled study and research, but by what both boards and school staff want to believe.

Improvement of public education will come about by supporting two efforts:

1. Attetnion to school size; and

2. Peer evaluations by teachers
that serve as extended
practicums for beginning
teachers and in-service
seminars for experienced

Northwest Regional Education Laboratoy (NWREL) published a review of research on school size that is both conclusive and compelling. We need school environments that allow students to develop personally, and the academic capability and skills will follow. This has been well studeied and documented. We have to avoid the notions that bigger is better and that competition is a proper student motivator.

I have seen peer evaluations improve teachers' instructional and motivating skills. How much more of scarce resources will be wasted on ill-conceived, politically inspired programs such as No Child Left Behind. In pursuit of this wastefulness, we lose sight of the purpose of mandated public education that is the creation of people, not preparation for tests.

One last suggestion: pay attention to the thoughts of the late Eda LeShan, the New York City child psychologist, who was initially trained in early childhood education. One quotation attributed to her tells us much about the shallowness of public education in the United States:

"Education is in danger of becoming a religion based on fear; its doctrine is to compete. [O]ur children are being led to believe that they are doomed to failure in a world that has room only for those at the top."

Basing teacher incentive pay or any other incentive on inconclusive student achievement data is bot foolish and wasteful. Output based data may only hint at, or even diguise the input that created such data. Discovering what does actually work requires close study of what is attempted or used to bring about learning. Education reformers are too busy collecting output data to study the causes for the percieved achievemnet

This is my third year as a special education teacher in a low income urban elementary school. We spend the majority of our time drilling the students on how to answer multiple choice, short answer and essay questions. Daily, we make decisions that disgust us as teachers. All that we have learned academically about how to teach students, good teaching practices, has been thrown out the window. I don't blame myself, my fellow teachers, my principal or even the district. The pressure that state testing has put on districts to meet these outrageous goals is indescribable.

I believe in my students; they can learn, progress and succeed. But I don't think they're enjoying themselves. Where is the fun and creativity? It has been lost. My students don't have gym, music or art class. They get 5 minutes to play outside at recess, that's it, for the whole day.

I have asked experienced teachers (20+yrs. of experience) what it was like to teach "in the olden days." They smile and actually recall enjoying their jobs. They tell me that it was fun, and then they follow that up with saying that they probably wouldn't do it again if they were just starting out right now.

Maybe in more affluent districts the teachers have more flexibility and aren't drilling their students with test prep, but here in a low income, urban community with 80+% ELL students we are becoming little more than robots.

Something has to be done, we are desperately hanging on and hoping for a miracle. Remember they're children, they aren't just a bunch of numbers.

This is my third year in an alternative school for boys and girls from grades 1-12. We spend most our day dealing with discipline and motivation. Some of our students are residents and others come on a daily basis, it does not mattter though, they can and do refuse to come to school, when they do come they are unruly and have little hope or passion to learn, not just academics, but how to become a better person. Hopefully we will not be judged by our students performance but rather what we have invested in them by time, patience, and understanding.

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