Merit pay for teachers will be in proposed Alabama education budget next year, Gov. Riley says ( November 2, 2008) B'ham News

Share This

News staff writer

Gov. Bob Riley plans to put $6 million into the proposed education budget next year to fund a pilot program for teacher merit pay in the state's neediest school systems.
The governor said the idea is worth pushing even though a 2007 attempt to get legislative approval for such a program failed.
"There is not another segment of society that doesn't reward its workers for a job well done," Riley said in an interview last week. "I think merit pay works, and I think it's something teachers want."

The controversial idea has been tossed around in states and school districts for decades. But since the federal No Child Left Behind law was enacted in 2001, the push to implement merit-pay policies has been reborn and moved to the center of the political arena.
Both presidential candidates have said they would like some form of merit pay for teachers. In 2006, President Bush created the Teacher Incentive Fund, which supports school districts in rewarding teachers and principals who have increased student performance. It also helps to recruit and retain teachers and principals in the neediest schools.
But the concept has many opponents, including the National Education Association. They say merit pay for teachers would be unfair because judging teacher performance is subjective.
In Alabama, Riley wants to start a pilot program using merit pay as an incentive for strong teachers to work in underserved areas of the state. He is recommending that $6 million be distributed through a competitive grant process for five-year pilot programs in hard-to-staff school districts.
To qualify, a district would have to have at least 50 percent of its students on the free and reduced lunch program.
The pilot program was the idea of the Governor's Commission on Quality Teaching, a group of teachers, principals, superintendents, higher education representatives and others who proposed several policies to improve teacher effectiveness.
The merit pay policy was one of the first the commission proposed, but the Alabama Education Association fought the idea last year and says it will fight it again if it appears in the budget.
"Personally I don't know how he's going to get the money, unless he's got a pot of gold hidden somewhere," said Paul Hubbert, executive secretary for the AEA.
The state is short on money at the moment. On Tuesday, superintendents found out the state would be sending them only 75 percent of the money allotted to them for October payroll, and they would have to use local money to make up the difference. State officials said they hope to pay the other 25 percent to school districts by the end of this week.
State officials said there was no money to carry forward from last fiscal year to this one, which started Oct. 1, and tax receipts were not enough to meet 100 percent of the state's obligations. And financial forecasters say the economy is going to get worse before it gets better.

But state Superintendent Joe Morton said with merit pay being such a hot-button issue right now, the commission's idea may not be a lost cause.
"The Republican candidate is totally for it, and the Democratic candidate is, too," Morton said. "So either way, potentially there may be federal money in the president's budget for this, and that might be the best way for Alabama to get the seed money."
Subjective standards:
Those who oppose the idea of merit pay say it's unfair because it's often tied to standardized test scores, which they say are a poor gauge of student performance.
"The idea of merit pay starts with excitement and enthusiasm, but quickly begins to deteriorate into subjectivity," Hubbert said. "To me, merit pay is based on one teacher being better than another, and that is very, very difficult to measure. It's like a cure for the common cold. If there was one true remedy that worked, then it would be the only one on the market."
Gwen Childs, a teacher at Vestavia Hills Elementary School East, was on the Governor's Commission for Quality Teaching and said she fully supports the merit pay proposal, even though she wouldn't benefit from it.
"One of the greatest premises of this merit-pay program is that it is targeted to the high-needs schools," she said. "I'm probably part of the problem, because I, like most teachers, tend to gravitate toward the higher-income schools. But this program is a very effective way to get motivation for teachers to go into these areas."
Input from teachers:
Riley said this merit pay program is different from others proposed across the country because teachers were involved in the process.
"This is a program designed for teachers by teachers," Riley said. "And we aren't dictating who gets the merit pay and who does not. We are not telling them how to decide who gets the merit pay. It would be up to the individual districts."
Mary Paramore, a retired teacher who lives in New Brockton, said that concept is offensive. During her teaching tenure at Enterprise High School, merit pay was discussed many times. She fought it every time.
"Good teachers teach, not because of some carrot in the form of merit pay dangled before their eyes, but because they are driven to teach by an inherent love for their job, for their subject and for children," she said. "No amount of merit pay will make a good teacher better; and by corollary, no amount of merit pay can make a bad teacher good."
News staff writer