From the Education Law Prof Blog
By Derek Black
January 9, 2017
My recent posts have focused on DeVos and the problems she presents for public education, although I emphasize that without new legislation she does not have power to do too much. Some new information out of Indiana regarding the education system Governor Pence has overseen suggests more trouble on the horizon and give me pause about assuming an incompetent education administration.
Pence actually has a track record of getting things done in Indiana and what he has accomplished should raise red flags for those invested in improving public education.
Most notably is the state's teacher bonus system. By law, the state mandated that $40 million in bonuses be handed out to the state's teachers. I am all in favor of increasing teacher pay in ways that make the profession more attractive to new teachers and encourage others to stay.
Indiana's incentive pay, however, has two major problems. First, it is having a very inequitable effect on teachers, and driving most of the money to school systems that need it the least.
Cory Doctorow offers this summary:
"[The state gives] bonuses for teachers who preside over high-achieving classes. This year, the biggest payouts will go to schools teaching the richest kids in the state, while schools for poor kids will get little-to-none of the payouts.
The biggest winner in the giveaway are the Carmel Clay Schools, where 9% of kids qualify for free or subsidized lunches, where the teachers will get $2422 each. The Indianapolis district -- the largest in the state -- will give each teacher a $128.40 bonus."
Emanuel Felton adds:
"Carmel Clay Schools, where just 9 percent of their 16,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, will get the most— $2.4 million or roughly $2,422 per teacher.
Another well-off Indianapolis suburban district, Zionsville Community Schools, where fewer than 5 percent of students qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program, will receive about $2,240 per teacher.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis, the state's largest district, will receive just around $330,875, or $128.40 per educator. So teachers in those wealthy suburban districts will get bonuses nearly 20 times larger than effective and highly effective educators in Indianapolis."
Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith calls it a "flawed" system.
"While educators at well-resourced schools performed well and received a much-deserved bonus, the educators teaching in some of the most challenging districts where socioeconomic factors can negatively impact student and school performance, were left out," she said in a statement. "We need high-quality educators to teach at our most-challenged schools, and this distribution of bonuses certainly won't compel them to do so."
Even if Indiana fixed this inequity, the performance pay has a second big problem: no evidence shows that these systems actually improve student performance. Instead, they tend to frustrate teachers because the metrics that determine whether teachers receive a bonus are ones over which teachers have little control. The distribution of bonuses appears random or keyed to who gets to teacher certain students.
More on these problems here.
Of course, the more obvious problem in Indiana is a voucher system on steroids that increasingly drives public funding to middle and upper income families in private schools while funding for public schools falls short. Indiana was among the nation's worse offenders on that score in recent years.
More on that here.
All of this spells trouble. While one could hope for an isolated and irrelevant Secretary of Education, this one, should she be confirmed, may have an ally in the White House who knows how to implement new education frameworks.