You hear a lot about the idea that teachers should be rewarded with higher pay for agreeing to work in the most challenging school districts, the ones with the highest percentages of poor children.
We do things differently in Indiana. Under the state’s Teacher Performance Grant program, created by the legislature and included in state law, we are rewarding teachers in low-poverty schools.
It probably wasn’t intentional, but it’s worked out that way. The grants are awarded to school corporations according to a formula that includes the passing rate on ISTEP exams, high school graduation rates and year-to-year improvement on both.
In practice, the more affluent schools – which tend to have higher test scores and graduation rates – get the bigger grants. The school corporations decide how to divvy up the money among teachers who are rated highly effective or effective.
The Indiana Department of Education informed schools of this year’s calculated performance grants in February. Based on a little sorting, here are some trends:
- By far the biggest amounts went to two large, affluent districts: Hamilton Southeastern schools got $1.17 million and Carmel Clay got $1.04 million. No other district got more than $620,000.
- Comparing the awards to enrollment, the average was $28.85 per student, but there was a lot of variation. District averages ranged from $73.57 to $2.50 per student.
- Most of the districts that got the biggest per-pupil grants are low-poverty districts, including suburban districts like Carmel Clay, Zionsville, Plainfield and Brownsburg. Only one of the top 20 has a higher percentage of students qualifying for lunch subsidies than the state average.
- Most of the lowest-poverty districts got sizeable grants. Of the 20 districts with the lowest percentage of students receiving subsidized lunches, all received more than the state average.
- At the other end, some of the lowest per-pupil grants went to high-poverty districts, including Gary, East Chicago and Indianapolis Public Schools. Of the 20 districts receiving the smallest grants, per pupil, only one had free and reduced-price lunch numbers below the state average.
- Of the 20 highest-poverty school districts, only three received performance grants that were larger, per pupil, than the state average.
Twenty school districts didn’t receive any Performance Based Grants. Samantha Hart, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said those districts hadn’t yet implemented a teacher evaluation plan that met state requirements in 2014-15, the year for which the grants were calculated.
The bonuses aren’t huge – maybe $1,000 per teacher, on average, at the upper end and around $150 per teacher at the low end. But they send a message about what the state values. And, as the program is currently playing out, it’s not a good one.