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Merit pay for teachers? A closer look at Prop 2

Opinions are divided on Proposition 2, which deals with teacher bonuses.

Idaho State Superintendent Tom Luna said he worked with the Idaho Education Association, the state teacher’s union, for 18 months to hammer out a bonus plan for a grant application. The state didn’t get the grant, but he said he used the same agreement for Prop 2.

“We used the same plan as part of Students Come First,” Luna said. “There’s evidence everyone agreed to this plan because we all signed a document that said we agreed to this plan. This was as we tried for the Race to the Top. So the teacher’s union’s fingerprints are all over this, which is a good thing because they brought some good things to the process. So it’s just not true this was developed in a noncollaborative way.”

Mike Lanza, the chairman of the Vote No on Propositions 1, 2, 3 campaign, said he does not believe teachers ever supported Luna’s pay-for-performance plan.

“I am told by teachers that were in talks with him about this, and they did not reach an agreement about things,” Lanza said. “Then he put this plan into place without the agreement of teachers. The process is flawed. If he’d involved educators in this I think we would have seen something come out of this teachers would be happy with. The fact they’re not happy, if this was a merit pay plan that works, why would teachers not embrace it?”

Lanza said Proposition 2 isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

“It doesn’t reward individual teacher merit at all. It rewards in groups by school,” Lanza said. “What you’ll see is schools get a rating according to this. A couple examples that happened in Boise which illustrate the flaws in this plan. One elementary got a three-star rating, which means no bonus, but was a few days later recognized as one of the distinguished schools in Idaho. Only nine schools are chosen for that. A distinguished school in Idaho, yet the teachers didn’t merit a bonus. … There are other factors, including the fact there’s no funding mechanism in these laws for the plan.”

Lanza says the state is simply taking money out of its left pocket to put in its right. He said teachers see this as a shell game.

But Luna said this builds on the existing system.

“Teachers will continue to get paid based on how many years they’ve taught and the amount of education they have,” he said. “That’s the system we had in place before where it was a grid and wherever you ended up on that grid, that determined how much money you made. So here’s how it worked: If I’m the best teacher in my district and I’ve taught eight years and I have a master’s degree, I make the exact same as the most struggling teacher in my district that has taught eight years and has a master’s degree. That’s no good for children and it’s definitely not fair for teachers. We’ve left the base pay in place, and on top of that teachers have the ability to earn bonuses. Nobody is going to make less money. They just have the opportunity to earn more.”

The Vote No campaign said the pay for performance is based too much on standardized test scores. The superintendent says it’s based on scores, teachers who take the hard-to-fill positions, feedback from parents and other factors.

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