Thursday, December 10, 2009

LFT following Race to the Top revisions

As the January, 2010 deadline approaches, education leaders are scrambling to fine-tune the state's application process for federal Race to the Top funds. As Advocate reporter Will Sentell writes here, a major sticking point has been over how teachers will be evaluated and compensated in the future.

While the state could receive as much as $300 million from the fund, a much larger issue will be the permanent structural changes that public education will undergo in order to apply for the money. Initially, only school districts that accept the federal money will be required to make what Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek calls "sea changes" in operating procedures, but it is clear that those changes will be the model for all of public education in years to come.

R2T, as it is called, requires participating districts to "use student performance growth data to inform decisions regarding compensation, retention and release." That could mean many different things. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

LFT has been meeting with Pastorek and his staff, and we believe that important concessions are being made in order to answer some of our concerns. Chief among these is the inclusion of a learning environment index in measuring the success of teachers and schools.

This learning environment index includes language suggested by LFT, and was a part of our legislative agenda last year. It means that conditions which may not be under the teacher’s control must be included in the evaluation – issues ranging from the physical condition of the school to discipline issues, to adequate resources such as textbooks and educational materials.

“Performance-based compensation” is clearly part of the federal mandate for R2T, but what form it will take has not been determined. Broadly speaking, we know that some portion of teacher salaries will be based on the evaluation process described above.

LFT believes that the current teacher salary schedule, including lanes and steps, should be retained, and that any performance-based compensation should be a supplement to that salary. This is one of the issues that may be determined in negotiations between stakeholders and school districts. These deliberations are crucial because the result will be the model for teacher evaluation and compensation in the future.

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