School pay formula mess that needs fix

(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

Teachers in Indiana’s wealthiest school districts will receive the largest performance-pay bonuses. Those in urban corporations will get a smaller fraction of those rewards, or perhaps nothing, according to state data released recently.

In the best-case scenario, that revelation will inspire the Indiana General Assembly to overhaul or gut the concept.

Otherwise, Hoosiers living outside the affluent communities surrounding Indianapolis can rightly shake their heads in disgust and mutter, “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

The Legislature’s formula will send bonuses totaling $2.4 million ($2,422 per teacher) to Carmel Clay Schools and $2.2 million ($1,988 per teacher) to Hamilton Southeastern Schools. Both school districts are located in Hamilton County, where median household incomes stand at $81,947, which is $13,353 higher than any other county in Indiana. In Boone County, with the second highest incomes, bonuses for Zionsville Community Schools teachers total $2,239.

Meanwhile, the dollar amounts of bonuses going to 24 of the 38 corporations in the Indiana Urban Schools Association rank in the bottom third. Vigo County Schools’ bonuses average $277 per teacher. Wayne Township teachers in Indianapolis will get $42 apiece, and those in Kokomo get $39. Larger percentages of students in those urban districts come from families struggling with poverty, which complicates those kids’ learning processes. More than half of those districts’ students receive free or reduced lunches.

By contrast, 10 percent of Carmel Clay students rely on free or reduced lunches. In Zionsville, 5 percent do so.

Oddly enough, Indiana lawmakers based the bonus formula on the state’s dysfunctional ISTEP standardized test, which is about to be replaced. ISTEP pass rates and graduation rates for each eligible school go into the formula, which rewards teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective.” The extra performance pay was harder to receive this year, because students needed to show a 5 percent improvement at schools with low 2015 performances, up from the previous standard of 1 percent, StateImpact Indiana reported.

Yet, just 52 percent of kids taking a toughened ISTEP last spring passed both the English-Language Arts and math segments, down from 54 percent in 2015.

Thus, the men and women teaching youngsters in the urban districts faced a taller task, in terms of the bonuses.

Given the socioeconomic hurdles facing kids from families in low-income situations, the state’s formula is clearly unfair. It is akin to the NFL awarding its top draft pick to the Super Bowl championship team, rather the team with the fewest victories.

Creative, resourceful, caring teachers do great work with students of a variety of backgrounds at districts across the state. All deserve paychecks that reflect their effort and talent. Yet, the existing performance pay formula more highly rewards those in more favorable situations.

Fortunately, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick acknowledged in comments to The Indianapolis Star that the formula is messed up.

McCormick urged lawmakers to review the law, emphasizing that it is not a sufficient incentive to attract and keep new teachers. Her idea is to better compensate teachers for their years of experience and advanced degrees, The Star reported. That seems more feasible and sensible.

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