A Better Idea

In my post below I took a rather heated position against what I feel is outright bullying by the Delaware Department of Education in its continued attempts to shove teacher attraction and retention bonuses down our throats without providing evidence to prove effectiveness. Truth is, there’s very little — if any — evidence to show that throwing more cash at the most “effective” teachers will get them to back up and move to a high-needs, “low-performing” schools and then work their “magic” there.

So yesterday was my complaint post.

Today is my solutions and ideas post. I’ve heard Sec. Murphy say over and over — rightfully so — that he doesn’t just want complaints. He wants good ideas to combat the weaknesses in our schools today. Here’s one: For high-needs schools that are showing progress and are achieving certain levels of growth, how about turning those bonus funds over to the schools instead of to a very limited group of potential bonus-recipient teachers?

This idea has been floated by DoE several times, but they have not bitten. Why, you ask? Well you’re answer is as good as mine. Why would the DoE continue to stand by this flawed bonus ideology when they’ve been given another, far superior, idea that could help bring a school community together as opposed to tearing it apart? Perhaps that’s a topic for another post…

Here’s how I envision such a plan rolling out. Race to the Top monies that were pegged for teacher bonuses would instead be turned over to schools if that school meets certain criterion. Identified schools would have a certain time after being notified of the reward to form a committee of staff and come up with ideas that would best meet the needs of that school’s community. Of course, the way the funds are spent would have to be approved by the DoE, which is fine by me.

However, imagine if a school was awarded $50,000 in a one-year period. What could a school do with those funds? I can only imagine what my school would do with an additional $50,000 per year. Some ideas:

  • Increase the number of parent-engagement nights: FOOD. Yes, it’s true. If you feed them, they will come. And I’m not simply talking about the neediest schools. Promise anyone food at ANY TYPE of school and a crowd will be drawn. But that food costs money. Aside from the food, there are ways schools can effectively partner with outside non-profit agencies to come in for informational nights with these parents. At our highest-needs schools we often find many of the parents need a good dose of education. Bring them out. Feed them. Teach them. That’s what it’s about.
  • More Literacy Nights and Math Nights: We’ve had some great successes at my school with these kinds of activities. But we only have one each per year. Title I funding pays for these events, but those funds are quite limited. It would have been great had Race to the Top funds been pegged to more community engagement activities like this.
  • Professional Development: There are so many amazing professional development opportunities out there for educators. The PD we receive from the District isn’t always the best quality. Worse, it isn’t always relevant to the assignments we undertake. Just like the instruction in our classrooms, PD must be differentiated for educators. Allowing schools to use funds for innovative and outside-the-box PD would truly be empowering.
  • After-school activities: For the most part, teachers REALLY want to do the things that will help their students. Teacher bonuses may help a single teacher, but that won’t necessarily trickle down to his or her students. If a school were awarded funds, then the school could decide to implement more after-school activities, something that is DESPERATELY needed at some of our high-needs, Title I elementary schools.
  • One-time technology upgrades: Technology is a never-ending issue in so many of our schools. Not enough computers. Computers that don’t work. Poor access to computers due to wild testing schedules. If a school received $50,000 then that would be great cash to put into a new computer lab. That is…provided there’s enough space IN your school for a new lab. 🙂

So, Sec. Murphy. You’ve asked for constructive ideas in the past. I’ve provided you five above. I’ve only scratched the surface and haven’t given the topic the true amount of time it deserves. Will you consider any of what I’ve written above as opposed to the ill-conceived and ultimately divisive teacher bonuses the Department is looking to implement in the coming months and years?

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