Issue back on table with school reform
Debbie Pfeiffer Trunnell, Staff Writer
Created: 05/01/2010 10:03:17 PM PDT

In early March, California missed out on Race to the Top funding because many teachers unions declined to sign an agreement requiring them to accept drastic reforms linked to the funding.

Among the list of changes low-achieving schools were asked to make was linking teachers’ pay to student performance, an issue unions representing teachers have long opposed.

Now, the matter is again in the forefront as an Inland Valley school district is negotiating with its unions on what the new, state-ordered school transformation plans mean for teachers.

The intervention, which the Fontana Unified school board recently decided to put in place for the next school year, includes the option of providing financial incentives for teachers to improve student achievement.

In July 2009, President Barack Obama and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced requirements for states to compete for $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds, the single largest pool of discretionary funding for education reform in U.S. history.

California could have secured up to $700 million in funding for the state’s schools, but unions’ concerns about reforms, including pay for performance, played a part in the state not getting funding.

Mikki Cichocki, a California Teachers Association board member, said much of the concern stems from the feeling the reforms are turning education into a competition.

“For example, I have an 11-year-old daughter who is crying because she believes the weight of the test scores is on her shoulders,” she said. “And if she knew her teacher was going to get paid based on those test scores, it would be even worse.”

Comments on Race to the Top on the association’s website state strong leadership from a supportive principal, smaller class sizes and a collaborative school culture in which teachers and administrators work together with a clear vision for student success work much better, especially at lower-performing schools.

The transformation model is in negotiations after the Fontana Unified board decided to go with the intervention last week.

It is one of four interventions that school districts with schools on the list of the state’s worst are being asked to put in place.

The models must be instituted by the start of the next school year in order for the campuses to get School Improvement Grant funds.

A.B. Miller High School, the only Fontana campus in the group, is also slated for the intervention.

Fontana Unified Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks said that although the district and union signed off on the agreement for Race to the Top funding, merit-based pay is worrying.

“I think it’s very difficult to apply blanket statements to things when you are dealing with individual students,” she said.

Anne Jones, director of teacher education at UC Riverside, agreed that equating standardized test scores with student achievement is inappropriate.

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