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Teachers upset about merit pay program
Teachers in Central Kitsap are putting pressure on the district administration to pull the plug on a possible new high school program.
The program, called the National Math and Science Initiative, would be administered in the form of a grant to the Central Kitsap School District if it goes forward. Its goal is to increase the number of students participating in and passing Advanced Placement classes in English, Math and Science.
NMSI would provide additional training and resources for teachers in these AP subjects, as well as additional resources for students, such as one-on-one tutoring and open weekend study sessions.
Along with these resources and development programs, NMSI would provide students, teachers and administrators with a financial incentive based on student success — what teachers have dubbed “merit pay.”
Students would have either half or all of their test expenses ($87 per test) covered and would earn $100 for passing an AP test in one of the select subjects. Teachers could earn $1,000 for reaching their class goal and $100 for each individual student who passes the AP test. School administrators would qualify for $3,000 if the entire school meets its goal, and the school itself would qualify for $5,000 and $25 for every student enrolled in one of the three AP subjects.
It’s these incentives that have caused the uproar among teachers. Scott Speck, an AP teacher at Central Kitsap High School, is firmly against NMSI.
“There is a resentment felt on the part of the staff towards this process,” he said.
Speck drafted a letter to the school board and around 60 other Central Kitsap teachers signed it, expressing a number of complaints toward the NMSI grant.
“We think it’s a morally corrupt process to start giving kids money,” Speck said.
While NMSI could be implemented at Olympic High School and Klahowya, Central Kitsap would actually not be eligible to participate in the grant program.
“When we first started exploring it, all the schools were eligible (based on their number of students in military families),” said Franklyn MacKenzie, the district’s director of secondary teaching and learning.
After applying, MacKenzie said, the district found out Central Kitsap High School wouldn’t be eligible because it already had so many students passing AP tests and the cost would be too great to the grant donors.
However, MacKenzie said, they didn’t want to fully eliminate CK from the discussion, so they approached NMSI with the hope that CK could benefit from the resources that would already be brought in for Olympic and Klahowya.
Representatives from NMSI visited with staff at Klahowya Wednesday, observing AP classes and discussing the school’s future plans.
Superintendent Greg Lynch stressed that NMSI is still in an exploratory phase to see if the program would be beneficial. He said the choice to implement NMSI will be made separately by staff at each school.
Despite the district’s attempts to calm the fears of some of its teachers, NMSI will likely continue to face opposition.
Central Kitsap Education Association — the teacher’s union — and the teachers who stand with Speck said they felt NMSI created inequity within the district.
Speck, who teaches social studies, said in his letter to the school board, “The NMSI grant only funds the Advanced Placement academic subjects of Math, Science and English. This is an explicit expression of the lesser value of the non-targeted NMSI Advanced Placement classes.”
CKEA President Kirsten Nicholson said she felt the grant creates inequity “by rewarding some and not others.”
The teacher’s union is officially on record against NMSI with a Feb. 13 vote of its school representatives.
“CKEA insists that the CKSD administration and CKSD school board abandon the NMSI Grant Process,” the union said in a written statement.
While the vote was overwhelming, Nicholson said, a handful of school representatives did not vote against NMSI. Nicholson also said that Klahowya, at least, is open to the idea of the NMSI grant.
While opposition from Olympic and Klahowya was not as strong as at Central Kitsap, Speck wished to dispel any idea that Central Kitsap teachers just felt they had been left out.
“The CK staff is not just disapproving of the NMSI grant because we are cut out of it,” he said.
MacKenzie hoped to address concerns of inequity by working with NMSI regarding the monetary incentives. The district worked with NMSI to offer different options for teacher and administrator incentives.
MacKenzie said if NMSI is implemented and a teacher qualified for an incentive she could choose to not apply for the incentive, or could even donate the entire incentive to a non-NMSI program.
On top of this, NMSI allows participating schools the opportunity to help non-NMSI subjects by shifting district-provided money to those areas, according to MacKenzie.
Dale Fleury, the NMSI representative sent to Klahowya, said NMSI has not seen a decline in non-NMSI subject participation. In fact, he said, they’ve seen the opposite — that students take more AP classes across the board, including courses such as social studies and languages.
Nicholson admitted that, despite the monetary incentives, she did not feel everything about NMSI is bad. In fact, without the merit pay, much of the program she considered positive.
However, Nicholson said, the merit pay aspect is so problematic it outweighs the positives. Nicholson, Speck and the teacher’s union continue to oppose the possibility of implementing NMSI in Central Kitsap School District.
“It’s a discriminatory practice that we’d rather not let through the front door,” Speck said, “but our district leadership seems to think it’s a good idea.”