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Teacher incentive watch: why Prince George's County matters

I'm not used to seeing good ideas coming out of Prince George's County, Md., the most troublesome of the Washington area's suburban school districts. When superintendent John Deasy, a very creative educator, left Prince George's last year for the big bucks and power of the Gates Foundation, the district's reputation took another blow. But my colleague Nelson Hernandez reveals that Deasy left behind him a remarkably clever plan for teacher and principal bonuses, something those of us uncertain about this latest hot fad should be watching carefully for the next few years.

Deasy's chosen successor, Bill Hite, has preserved the FIRST (Financial Incentive Rewards for Supervisors and Teachers) plan and announced the initial round of $1.1 million in bonuses. The money went to 279 employees in 12 schools, the teacher bonuses averaging around $5,000 each.
What I find most appealing about FIRST is that it is voluntary---only teachers who want to participate have to. (For principals, the choice part is trickier, since they have to do the special evaluations for their participating teachers even if they don't want to try for the money themselves.) Also, for those of us who don't like the idea of bonuses based on an individual teacher's success in raising test scores, FIRST puts more emphasis on other factors.
I like plans that reward everyone in the school for the school's success, and in this case teachers and principals are rewarded if their campus meets test-score targets. Teachers also get more money for teaching subjects that are hard to staff, for doing well on evaluations of their classroom skills and for engaging in professional development and activities outside the classroom, Hernandez reveals.
The program has a good looking Web site that identifies the 12 schools involved in the program last year and the 12 that have joined this year. It does not appear to reveal (I am old and sometime miss the key link) how well those first dozen did on the Maryland tests, and other measures, but that is something that they can add, and one year results aren't that important anyway.
Hite is a very smart and engaging educator whom many people, including me, are rooting for. He had a rough school opening, with a class scheduling computer system that went haywire, but this sensible attempt to address the incentive issue looks good to me. Let me know what you think of it, and let's keep an eye on it to see where it goes.

By Jay Mathews  | December 2, 2009; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Bill Hite, FIRST program, John Deasy, Prince George's County, principal incentives, teacher incentives  
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Comments

See where it goes? That's the real trick in the public education sphere.

It's not that there aren't good teacher, principals, superintendents or ideas. It's getting them multiply that's the trick.

Like seeds fallen on barren ground when the good idea or teacher or whatever exhausts whatever allowed the the idea to be tried out or the teacher to spark students the brief interlude of excellence is extinguished.

Posted by: allenm1 | December 2, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

"It does not appear to reveal (I am old and sometime miss the key link) how well those first dozen did on the Maryland tests, and other measures, but that is something that they can add, and one year results aren't that important anyway. "

Oh, good grief Jay.
Here's the test scores link you want:
http://msp.msde.state.md.us/rcounty.aspx?K=16AAAA

I'll let you know where to send my cheque for the research work.

Posted by: edlharris | December 2, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

While one can only admire Dr. Hite in his effort to raise test scores, it still doesn't not seem to fix the underlying problem or identify permanent solutions to "fix the problem" of hard to staff schools. I'm presumming that Prince Georges County budget is second largest to MoCo. Teacher salaries are comparable. When comparing test scores, MoCo students are doing much better then PGCPS.

It's pretty sad that the reward of students improving academically isn't good enough anymore.

Social Promotion, parents not being involved or supportive at home, bad teachers rotating from school to school that has occurred in PGCPS is now blatantly apparant and the school system doesn't really know what to do with this terrible situation, except issue incentive awards?

Bonuses are wonderful if teachers are volunteering to "go beyond the call of duty" in an effort to expensive rewards instead of their desire to do the same increase student achievement (and that being reward enough). This does not address the real problem within these troubled schools nor truly bridge the achievement gaps.

Posted by: TwoSons | December 2, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I never could understand why poeple whose job it is to motivate students need bonuses to motivate themselves for doing what they already do.

Bonuses seem to be had by those who are only motivated by money, and where it should be really going is to the entire school since we do not teach a single class in a vacuum but wok with other teachers who can claim equal success in advancing students.

Posted by: ericpollock | December 2, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

The bonus program is tied with the State of MD's requirement to attempt to obtain "Race to the Top" financial allocation.

Nevertheless, it is still disturbing that teachers are now being motivated to teach effectively by financial rewards instead of student achievement increasing.

What is the difference in stimulus $$ being allocated to failing banks and CEO receiving bonuses within the current financial crisis?

There is something very wrong with this protocol because eventually the grant money will be not be an option the school system to volunteer as to teachers. When the money is gone, then what? Teachers return to not providing effective education because bonus incentives have vanished?

Deasy left the PGCPS school system during a very difficult time. Understandibly it was his choice, but whatever plans he believed in he walked away from. Deasy was tempted away by high dollars...this plan is part of his true feelings about the PGCPS educational system.

It's all about the money...and that's wrong because it should be about student success.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | December 2, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

"I'm not used to seeing good ideas coming out of Prince George's County, Md., the most troublesome of the Washington area's suburban school districts. When superintendent John Deasy, a very creative educator, left Prince George's last year for the big bucks and power of the Gates Foundation, the district's reputation took another blow."

This is exactly why I so infrequently read your column/blog - why the unnecessary diss of PGCPS and in turn of the parents such as myself who have affirmatively decided to educate our children there? Clearly, it's not needed to make your point.

Posted by: RGMSMom | December 3, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Jay you hit a new low with your narrowly focused, ill-informed comments about PGCPS Schools. Since you appear to have the time and resources to focus on PGCPS, let me offer you some challenges:
- How many teachers, adminstrators and supertindents began their careers and received much of their training in PGCPS schools now work in MCPS, other Maryland School Districts, Universities and/or MDSE? or
- Where did the 2nd most powerful person in Congress and the most powerful person in the Maryland General Assembly attend school?
- What school system and magnet school did the founders of Google go to and did their schools have the outside financial support of charter schools discussed by you?

I could go on, but at minimum, I think you owe an apology to the thousands of PGCPS students including my two daughters, who went on very successful post-secondary careers, as well as the administrators, teachers, support staff and communities who have supported them while doing more with less - hundreds of millions less than you place of residence.

Posted by: arteerick | December 3, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

arteerick: I have written upbeat stories about some great PG schools, and have often reported on great PG teachers, like the Bowie High social studies teacher with a law degree in a column this year. I have also been very supportive of those county high schools that have decided to bring in AP in a big way, even though their passing rates aren't good. That is a smart move, and I have said so. But I think we would both agree that those fine teachers have been poorly served for many years by leaders and systems who did not have the proper focus on raising achievement. I also think the system's (and the state's) failure to give charter schools much of a chance is also a problem. As I said, good ideas have not had much luck there, but maybe that is changing.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 3, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Did you know that students that come from other countries and speak a language other than English have to take the MSA? You should try taking a test like the SAT that is written in Spanish, and see how well you do on it. Many of the schools in Northern PG County face this with dozens of students in the same situation. Now, is it fair to deny the teachers of those schools a bonus? I bet you teachers in that school are working a lot harder than the teachers in a wealthy neighboring school. It's just like playing poker. If you are dealt a bad hand, then you are in trouble.

Posted by: MDTeacher | December 4, 2009 6:11 AM | Report abuse

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