Arizona is buzzing with news about the latest state school report cards — district and charter schools get letter grades based on kids’ performance on AzMERIT and other factors.
The grades effect school enrollment, real estate values — and teacher pay.
The fact that teacher pay is based on student performance is not discussed much outside of school lunch rooms. But it’s true. Whether or not students perform well on one state standardized test can figure in to whether that teacher will have a nice San Diego beach vacation — or stay home to roast hot dogs on the family grill over summer break.
It sounds unjust. And it is.
The teacher rating system that takes school performance into account has been around for about five years. Many think it is unfair and there have been arguments in the legislature about whether it should be scrapped.
A few years ago, when I was still a newspaper reporter, I sat in a meeting on education salaries and listened to outstanding teachers from a Title 1 high school complain that their bonuses would be half the amount of those going to teachers at a wealthier school just a few miles away.
Their hard work in the past year had earned their school a B on its state report card, up from a C the year before. But the A school remained an A school and those teachers would be putting down payments on new cars and going on vacation. The others would not.
I didn’t think much about school letter grades when I took a job at a high-performing school in a wealthy area my first year of teaching. But come summer break, I was glad I did. One payday last summer I discovered more than $2,000 extra in my checking account My bonus was based on my school’s letter grade, whether or not I participated in district training programs and my principal’s evaluation of my work.
Teachers are not given letter grades but most often are rated “effective,” “highly effective,” “developing” or “ineffective.” They usually need an “effective” rating to get a bonus.
Relieved that my school held on to its A
My pay this year will be based on similar criteria. I just learned that the school where I teach this year was among the 18 percent of Arizona schools that hung on to its A this year. The criteria for getting a good grade is tougher this year so many schools dropped a grade or so. Staff at my school were elated by the good news.
But the Saturday after the grades were announced, I attended an education conference and saw the worry and stress other teachers were experiencing. Many of these professionals have dedicated themselves to teaching world languages to some of the state’s poorest children.
Is it fair that the state should downgrade their schools just because children arrive with fewer advantages? And should these teachers receive smaller bonuses?
Why should advantaged teachers and schools get higher ratings?
I have taught at a district middle school in one of the wealthiest parts of the Valley. Now I teach at a district magnet school that enrolls students whose parents have the means to drive them to and from school and stack the supply room high with paper, pens and anything else a classroom might need.
Sure teachers work hard at those schools and the As — and teacher bonuses — are well deserved. But shouldn’t our peers at schools in poorer communities get the same support?