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Teachers At Low-Income Schools May Fare Worse As Idaho Distributes Bonus Pay

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Boise's Frank Church High School is one of seven in the district that will not receive merit pay.

The Idaho Department of Education this week released the final list of schools that will receive performance bonuses under the merit pay system rejected by voters on Election Day.

Now, that list is itself producing consternation.  As The Spokesman-Review’s Scott Maben writes of the bonuses that will be distributed in the Coeur d’Alene School District:

Teachers will receive bonuses of up to $4,142 in the coming weeks, though some who teach at underperforming schools will receive nothing, even if they’re among the best educators in a school district. — The Spokesman-Review

Critics of the three defeated education laws known as Students Come First have been quick to make this observation: that the bonuses appear to reward well-off schools. 

“Studies consistently show that students from poorer households struggle more in school, highlighting a key criticism of merit pay based on test scores: It unfairly penalizes teachers who choose to work with underprivileged children,” writes The Spokesman-Review‘s Maben.

The Department of Education allocated bonus money to districts based entirely on students’ performance on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

This morning we looked at the seven schools in the Boise School District that will receive no pay-for-performance money.  All of those schools have high percentages of low-income students relative to the median for the district.  (The “low-income” characterization is based on the number of students who received free or reduced lunch in the 2011-2012 school year.)  Take a look:

[spreadsheet key=”0AtNHLtezDs_XdE96aDVOMGJYRzRXdXNlRGVaNV8zNmc” source=”Idaho Department of Education” sheet=0 filter=0 paginate=0 sortable=0]

To be clear: these aren’t the Boise schools with the highest overall percentages of low-income students.  Whittier Elementary School tops that list, with just over 87 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch.  It will receive $30,660 in bonus money.

In a meeting with media on Monday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said he believed that pay for performance is one aspect of the Students Come First laws that could be revisited in the upcoming legislative session.  If that doesn’t happen, he warned, the Legislature could shift the funding currently allocated to merit pay, and use it for a purpose other than education.

“I think that there’s an opportunity to move forward with some sort of pay for performance, and I’m concerned that if we don’t, that the $38 million that is a part of our ongoing funding is at risk of being lost,” Luna said.  “The best thing we can do is get adults to the table and see if there’s some way we can go forward with a form of pay for performance that will keep that funding secure.”

Mike Lanza, co-founder of Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, said Luna should not try to resurrect parts of the laws in a piecemeal fashion during the session that begins in January.  “Clearly, by a landslide margin, voters rejected pay for performance,” Lanza said.


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