Wanted: Teachers who make the grade

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School districts in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina and Baldwin County, Alabama have begun keeping A-lists of their best teachers. In Charlotte, the idea is to lure these teaching stars to the district's lower-performing schools, while in Baldwin, it is to merely keep them from leaving the system.

As part of a new plan to resurrect seven failing schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg has identified those teachers in the district who produced more than one year's worth of academic gain on their students' 2007 test scores (we will only parenthetically note that one year does not provide sufficient data to reliably identify effective teachers.) The district is giving these teachers a $20,000 signing bonus to work in the seven schools. In conjunction with this incentive, Superintendent Peter Gorman is replacing the leadership at the seven schools and giving the new principals the authority to hire up to five teachers who made it on to the list, as well new administrators.

Charlotte's bold moves offer lessons for all performance pay aficionados. Last year, Gorman's attempt to recruit teachers to low-performing high schools with a hefty $10,000 bonus and 15 percent pay raise was a bust. According to teachers and administrators, there was no assurance that they would be placed in a good working environment, surrounded by other talented colleagues. Gorman since revised his approach to ensure that the environment at these new schools would be a big draw. This is getting to be a running theme as we reported about Chattanooga's Benwood Initiative, which implemented performance pay while also changing some of the players.

A few states away in Baldwin County, Alabama, they are using an A-list to avoid permanently losing those teachers whom the district was forced to lay off in a budget crunch last spring. The short-listed teachers, most young and relatively new, had to be laid off under the teacher contract's "last-hired, first-fired" rule, despite being rated "excellent" or "outstanding" by their principals. Determined not to lose this pool of talent, the district is giving these teachers top priority for vacancies. Commented the HR Director, Lester Smith, "You already have a great teacher who the principal would have kept . ? The board felt, and rightfully so, that it's better to keep them, rather than finding somebody from outside the system."