Friday, November 16, 2012

Idaho Voters Reject Merit Pay, Super Intends to Bring it Back

On November 5, voters rejected free market education initiatives in several states in what many have called a referendum on corporate education reform. These “reforms” are not going away any time soon, however. Their backers are plowing ahead with plans to expand the reforms or reinstate them in places where they lost ground.

In Idaho, for example, voters overturned their “Students Come First” laws, which had imposed merit pay on the state’s teachers for the past year. Immediately after the election, state superintendent Tom Luna jumped into the fray saying he intended to bring back part of his Students Come First package, including merit pay, during the 2013 legislative session.

Regardless of what happens in 2013, teachers who earned merit pay during the previous school year will still receive their merit paychecks by Dec. 15, according to Magic Valley News. Close to 80% of the state’s teachers earned merit bonuses, amounting to $38 million in bonuses.

While this might seem like a high percentage, there were many schools that saw gains in state test scores whose teachers still did not earn bonuses. Twin Falls Superintendent Wiley Dobbs said he wasn’t aware of any teachers at any of the state’s alternative schools who received merit bonuses, despite the many fine teachers who work at these schools.

One of the problems with the rejected law was that it required teachers to meet both state and local goals in order to receive a bonus. The state goals were based on student performance on the Idaho Standards Achievement Tests. Local benchmarks would have varied from district to district and could include factors like graduation rates and attendance. This created an inequitable system that varied widely across the state and relied heavily on factors influenced far more by students’ socioeconomic backgrounds than their teachers’ skill in the classroom.

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