Merit pay expansion? 

Merit pay

We apparently haven’t heard the last of “merit pay,” or compensating school teachers based on performance measures, in the Little Rock School District.

It was recently disclosed, after complaints about secrecy from this newspaper, that Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman underwrote a $145,000 bonus plan for teachers at Meadowcliff primary school last year, the money distributed according to how their students did on national standardized tests. The school district is paying to continue the program this year and Hussman has offered to pay to expand the experiment to Wakefield school as well.

The teachers union has been resistant to such pay plans. Such bonus plans have resulted in cheating in some districts; some experts question the wisdom of tying pay to standardized tests, and teachers fear administrators’ favoritism in bonus pay schemes. Also, as it stands, teachers administer tests whose results help determine their pay.

A rumor circulated last week that a donor associated with the Walton fortune was prepared to under

Something is up

Little Rock School Superintendent Roy Brooks says “there is no existing proposal for any broad merit pay proposal” in his district. But, he added, “We would like to talk to anyone who’d like to help provide financial support.”

We pressed. Has he talked to anyone? “We have had a conversation with someone regarding exploring it as a possibility.” He said the talk didn’t narrow the focus, at this point, to strictly elementary schools.

Who has he talked with? “I can’t say.”

If the plan goes forward, would the school board make the decision? (It had no official role in the Hussman experiments, which weren’t publicly announced and which were implemented in violation of a union work contract that specified a school vote before a bonus pay plan could begin.)

“This is something we would not do without board authority,” he said.

Brooks made it clear that he’s working hard on bonus pay. “We have to look at determining alternate ways to compensate teachers. Businesses do it all the time. There’s nothing wrong with looking at it.”

Something in the air

This can only be described as second-hand, though from a reliable source. A report is circulating that Gov. Mike Huckabee has told legislators that he might add so-called clean air legislation to the agenda if and when a special legislative session is held on public education. Previously, Huckabee, though an advocate of healthier lifestyles, has refused to throw his diminished weight behind measures to restrict smoking in restaurants and the workplace. Legislation that died last session would do that. Polls show the idea enjoys wide public support. Huckabee’s switch to this position, though courageous in the face of the powerful tobacco and restaurant lobbies, would be popular with the public (voters) and not considered harmful to a health-advocating presidential candidate.


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