During an emotional board of education meeting on Monday, a dozen current and former teachers in Jonathan Alder Local Schools protested a plan to pay administrators extra cash when their students perform well on state tests.
School board members approved a “Student Growth Initiative” in June that rewards building principals, assistant principals and other district administrators with $1,000 to $2,000 in bonuses when high numbers of their students score “proficient” or better on achievement tests. The initiative follows a trend toward merit pay for educators and paves the way for the new Ohio Principal Evaluation System (OPES).
“My third-grade students are reduced to data points,” said Plain City Elementary teacher Elizabeth MacDowell, choking back tears. “They are people with feelings and emotions.”
MacDowell said the increasing number of tests leaves some students physically ill.
She also fears the bonus system will lead to competition and eventual animosity between buildings in the Alder district.
Hilary Frambes, an art volunteer at Canaan Middle School, said she’s not opposed to merit raises for teachers and administrators. However, she fears the initiative over-emphasizes testing in core subjects like math and reading. She said art and music are being “pushed aside” to the detriment of students who are gifted in those fields.
Frambes predicted productivity by teachers and administrators will decline under a merit pay system based strictly on numbers and percentages.
“This is based on a business model, not an educational model,” Frambes said.
Alder alumni Mark Syx also choked back tears in describing the late John W. DesJardins as his “favorite teacher.” DesJardins, a 30-year Alder educator who was known for unconventional teaching methods, died Saturday.
“Where would John DesJardins fit into today’s evaluations?” Syx asked. “Some things you can’t measure on a test.”
Special education teacher Megan Dowdell said teachers are already under stress by new accountability requirements and the number of state-required tests.
“This (initiative) will have a negative effect on morale,” Dowdell predicted.
Board members listened politely, but appeared unmoved by pleas to cancel the “Student Growth Initiative.”
“We believe student success is an indicator,” said president Steve Votaw. “We like the idea of giving a bonus instead of a regular raise.”
Votaw noted the whole world, not just education, is moving toward competition. He also said the board will evaluate success of the initiative next year before deciding to make it permanent.
“We’re trying it for a year — not the next 10 years. It’s a model,” Votaw said.
Member Shannon Foust said financial compensation is always a difficult issue to determine.
“There’s no perfect way,” Foust said.
Member Tom Bichsel was sympathetic, but said the district, like other Ohio schools, has little choice in the merit pay controversy.
“That’s what the state wants,” Bichsel said.
Superintendent Gary Chapman noted federal grant money can pay the administrative bonuses.
Chapman said he consulted other district administrators before recommending the new initiative to the school board.
Jane Beathard can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 1616 or via Twitter @JaneBeathard.