Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Principal Signing Bonuses In Maryland: Incentive without Insurance

Baltimore Mayor and Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Martin O'Malley is proposing to pay signing bonues of $200,000 to get principals for the worst performing schools in Maryland. O'Malley's plan is certainly a bold one, but from the Washington Post story, there is no mention of accountability for the principals nor any other matters that will enable these well paid principals to succeed.

Attracting talented individuals to education has been a problem in the past and keeping them an even greater challenge. But this plan borders on financial and educational insansity without some additional measures. First and foremost the bonus cannot and should not be paid all in advance, but meted out over time as certain performance goals are reached. Those goals should include educational goals, i.e. getting kids an education. Educational goals should include getting teh schools off the needs improvement list, onto and staying on the path of meeting NCLB and other state requirements for learning improvement. Those should be the primary goals.

But there should also be other goals, such as teacher retention, financial improvement, improvements to the physical plant of the school, parental and community involvment schools. In short, if you are going to pay out this kind of money, and I am not saying that it is a bad idea to begin with, you need to have concrete, verifiable and hard goals to reach in all areas that a principal is supposed to do and lead. Othewise it is money down the tubes.

But goals are not the only thing this program will need. Principals hired under this program should demand, and should get, much more control than most principals currently have. But local school boards and teachers unions are unlikely to give up that kind of power. First and foremost, these principals should be fairly autonomous in the key areas of school management, namely the budgetary power and the staffing power.

Principals in these schools, recruited under these terms, would need to be able to spend their budget and contract for services in the manner they see as best, with adequate supervision of course. If a principal could save money on landscaping by contracting with a local business rather than using state services, so be it. The same could go for food and other maintenance services, so that the money saved could be used for more directly educational matters, such as teachers, books, supplies, computers, lab equipment, etc.

Local school administration may be willing to part with budgetary control, so long as there is adequate supervision, but the big ticket control item will be difficult, almost impossible, for O'Malley to obtain--the power of these principals to hire, fire, and incentivize teachers. If these principals are going to be expected to make over a troubled school, they will need to be able to find, hire, retain and pay high quality teachers, with years of experience and proven track records to teach the children. This power would include the ability to pay teachers bonuses, discipline teachers, and if necessary fire ineffective teachers. All of these matters are usually not within the power of a principal in a traditional public school due to union contracts.

Of course, assuming that principals hired under this program seek these features of control, what you will have is something that looks a lot like a charter school, a school in a troubled area, with a great deal of autonomy and accountability. How much you want to bet that it would work? But it probabl won't because few people in policy making circles will conceed the need for these well incentivized and well paid principals to be able to do more.

Teachers unions, traditionally big supporters of Democrats in Maryland, will balk at such control by the principal at the school level. This of course may be why O'Malley has not addressed these issues in his proposal so far. What is also politically interesting is that Baltimore schools, have traditionally been some of the poorest performing schools in Maryland, a fact the GOP Governor Bob Ehrlich will surely point out.

While the incentive of a $200,000 signing bonus for principals to work at the worst schools in Maryland is a bold, even audacious plan, without the insurance of performance goals or the tools for the principals to work with, this plan is simply throwing more money at education with little chance of improvement.

8/31/06 Update: The Quick and the Ed have similar thoughts as I do.

1 comment:

Delegate said...

Speaking of the shared responsibility of education, I have introduced a bill, HB 1122, that would deny the state's child tax credit to parents that fail to ensure two things: 1) school attendance in compliance with state law; and 2) no more than one suspension per year for disrespect insubordination and classroom disruption, the largest category of suspensions in the state and every county, except four. I am trying to identify those who might be interested in this approach. I am trying to spark a conversation about how parent/family and community involvement are key to reaching the achievement and other education goals that have been set.
301-801-6121 (c) 410-841-3101 (o)