State Considers Incentives for High-Poverty Schools

State Considers Incentives for High-Poverty Schools

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- As state education officials face federal pressure to raise student achievement in high-poverty schools, they fear teachers may flee from those schools to avoid being labeled failures.

The officials are considering pay incentives for teachers willing to take on the extra challenges of teaching disadvantaged children and also willing to bear the stigma associated with schools labeled as needing improvement.

"That's something we'll have to look at ... to (encourage) them to go into these schools, knowing that it's going to be a lot more difficult to keep moving toward adequate yearly progress," said state schools Superintendent Steven Laing.

Under President Bush's No Child Left Behind program, high-poverty schools face stiff sanctions if they fail to make annual standardized test score gains in reading and math and don't meet attendance and graduation standards for all racial and demographic groups.

If any group does not make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years in those areas, the school is labeled as low-performing and must allow students to transfer to other schools. Sanctions increase in severity for every year thereafter until the groups make sufficient progress.

The yearly progress requirements apply to all schools, but the sanctions apply only to "Title I schools," those that receive federal funding for disadvantaged students.

"Because Title I schools are going to have this increased scrutiny and in all likelihood be designated in need of improvement, there will be a very real possibility that it would be difficult to find teachers with seniority and expertise and experience willing to go into those schools and then be marked as not meeting standards," Laing said.

Minority and low-income students, especially those in inner city schools, already are often taught by the least experienced teachers, according to the Education Trust, a Washington think tank focused on education reform and equity.

Midvale Middle School Principal Susan Malone has a strong, stable staff dedicated to teaching challenging students, some of whom enter the school with little or no formal education, move five and six times a year or have little support at home.

She, too, worries the threat of the federal label will drive her teachers away.

"Yeah, I do worry about whether teachers will say, 'I want to teach the ones who come in on grade level, the ones with the high test scores. That will be the safe way to go to make me look like I'm doing my job and get the publicity that says I'm doing my job,"' she said.

She's not sure financial incentives are the answer.

"I hate when we start getting division. Who starts drawing the line between 'toughest kids' and 'not toughest kids?' As a principal, you want a whole staff working to help all kids," she said.

A nationwide poll by the Public Agenda public-policy research organization found that of 1,345 public school teachers surveyed, 63 percent favored financial incentives for "teachers who teach difficult classes with hard-to-reach students."

Sue Dickey, president of the Granite Education Association, said whether teachers stay or go could depend on how state and district administrators deal with schools deemed in need of improvement, "When a teacher gets four, five or six years of experience and they move, it's because of the environment," she said. "If we can

make the environment more teacher-friendly, it's not just going to help teachers. It's going to help kids."

For example, restoring full-time librarians to elementary schools would allow teachers to focus all their time and energy on reading and math instead of parceling out time to teach library skills, she said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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