Indiana's "educational achievement" bonuses: teachers in rich schools get 20x more than those in poor districts

Indiana is one of many GOP-led states that assume that the poor performance of schools in poor neighborhoods is the fault of bad teaching -- and not, say, systemic poverty, the absence of funds raised by rich parents, hunger, mass incarceration -- and so teachers are offered bonuses for "improving" their students' outcomes, which generally means their standardized test scores (since presumptively bad teachers can't be trusted to evaluate their students' qualitative improvements).

The state has confiscated $40M of the overall educational budget, and allocated it to bonuses for teachers who preside over high-achieving classes. This year, the biggest payouts will go to schools teaching the richest kids in the state, while schools for poor kids will get little-to-none of the payouts.

The biggest winner in the giveaway are the Carmel Clay Schools, where 9% of kids qualify for free or subsidized lunches, where the teachers will get $2422 each. The Indianapolis district -- the largest in the state -- will give each teacher a $128.40 bonus.

When we lived in London, our daughter went to a school where she was one of two children who didn't qualify for the free school meals. In theory, this school received the same funding as other state schools -- even a little more, thanks to some grants -- but in practice, it was broke. How broke? Her Year One class took a field trip to St Paul's Cathedral: they all rode the London bus system for free to the cathedral, walked a circuit around it, and went home. There was no money to pay for admission -- and no money in the parents' pockets to contribute to such a thing. The annual bake-sale raised £70.

Now we live in a much more homogenous middle-class neighborhood in Burbank, and last year, the school sent us a note thanking us for helping to raise $180,000 in supplemental funds through voluntary donations, tickets to school events, raffle tickets, etc. The parents here aren't rich, but they can afford to chip in -- and it shows. The teachers at both schools are objectively excellent (my parent, both pedagogists who oversee doctoral candidates in Ed.D. programs, confirmed my view on this), but the teachers at the Burbank school preside over classes where the kids get a wide variety of extracurricular enrichment, from music and art programs to maker labs and after-school activities.

Of course teacher quality contributes to student outcomes, but it is one of many factors, and even if you believe that teachers are the most important factor, taking $2250 away from the teachers in the poorest districts and giving it to the teachers in the richest districts is no way to motivate the best and brightest teachers to devote their energies to the kids who need it the most.

Carmel Clay Schools, where just 9 percent of their 16,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, will get the most— $2.4 million or roughly $2,422 per teacher. Another well-off Indianapolis suburban district, Zionsville Community Schools, where fewer than 5 percent of students qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program, will receive about $2,240 per teacher. Meanwhile, Indianapolis, the state's largest district will receive just around $330,875, or $128.40 per educator. So teachers in those wealthy suburban districts will get bonuses nearly 20 times larger than effective and highly effective educators in Indianapolis.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith calls it a "flawed" system.

"While educators at well-resourced schools performed well and received a much-deserved bonus, the educators teaching in some of the most challenging districts where socioeconomic factors can negatively impact student and school performance, were left out," she said in a statement. "We need high-quality educators to teach at our most-challenged schools, and this distribution of bonuses certainly won't compel them to do so."

Teacher Performance Grants [DOE/Indiana]

Teachers in Wealthy Districts Get Bulk of Indiana's Performance Payouts [Emmanuel Felton/Edweek]

(via Naked Capitalism)

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