Indiana ‘teacher choice’ initiative raises questions

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wants to provide financial incentives for teachers to transfer to charter schools or underperforming public schools. It’s an interesting idea, but other states have tried it with mixed results. Have we learned from their experience?

Included in Senate Bill 264, Pence’s proposal would give $10,000 a year for up to two years to any teacher who moves to a charter school where at least half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches or any public school that got a grade of D or F.

The proposal raises questions. Here are a few:

  • Why isn’t it targeted to schools that are likely to need help? Fifty percent free-and-reduced-price lunch isn’t exactly high-poverty; the average FRL rate for Indiana public schools is 49 percent. And nearly one in five schools got a D or F last year.
  • Why not limit the program to teachers who are likely to be successful? A similar program in Washington, D.C., for example, requires teachers to have been rated “highly effective” to qualify for incentive payments. Not so the Indiana legislation.
  • Does it really make sense to offer the incentive to anyone who’s currently teaching in a public school? D.C. gives bonuses only for moving from a low-poverty to a high-poverty school. Pence’s proposal would potentially pay teachers to move from a struggling, high-poverty school to a lower-poverty school.
  • Why does SB 264 put the Office of Management and Budget – an agency that has nothing to do with education – in charge? Is it another attempt to marginalize Democrat state superintendent Glenda Ritz and her Department of Education?

Pence suggests he wants to level the playing field between salaries paid by charter schools and traditional public schools. He says teachers in charter schools “on average earn approximately $12,000 less than their public school counterparts.” But that doesn’t tell us much. Teacher pay is based largely on experience, and charter schools employ more than their share of young teachers, so of course they pay less. (Pence’s spokeswoman confirmed the $12,000 figure doesn’t account for experience).

In his State of the State address, Pence said the program will “let our teachers follow their hearts, and go where they think they can make the most difference.” If that’s the goal, he could limit the program to effective teachers and target it to schools where they might hope to make a difference — say those that consistently receive low grades and where 80 percent or more of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

On the other hand, if the point is to reward teachers who abandon public school districts and cast their lot with charter schools … well, maybe this is the bill he wants.

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11 thoughts on “Indiana ‘teacher choice’ initiative raises questions

  1. If he really wanted to help schools at risk, why not add 10,000 to everyone’s salary teaching in schools with the highest amount of poverty. Many of MCCSC teachers could benefit then.

  2. Considering many charters pay a substantially lower salary and offer reduced benefits, the extra $10,000 really isn’t that much, especially if it is only a temporary bump in pay.

    Pence’s ultimate goal may be to bolster charter schools, but he might end up driving down teacher salaries across the board.

    The extra $10,000 has to come from some teacher’s pocket. There isn’t any other money left.
    It’s a shell game.

  3. Also, maybe by not requiring effective or highly effective, Pence is recognizing how flawed the teacher evaluation system is by including SIP data (“objective data”) in the calculation (so if you are at a school that doesn’t meet it’s SIP goals, you are a bad teacher). Either that or he doesn’t trust Glenda Ritz with managing the teacher evaluation requirements.

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