It was 3rd period. Someone reached in from the hallway and switched off the classroom light. A riot of textbooks started flying at the teacher in the dark. I ducked to avoid being hit by the missiles.
I realized that day in my new American high school that most things in my educational journey were NOT fundamental. Noteworthy was the way teachers were treated, especially by students.
I was just as surprised to learn as an adult how vastly different the quality of teaching staff can be from school to school, neighborhood to neighborhood. Teachers with less tenure, who are many times less effective, often end up in schools with more economically disadvantaged students.
Couple that with the struggles of poor communities, and we have the perfect storm for low-performance.
But, Broward County has been doing something to counteract this trend. They have been meaningfully rewarding teachers committed to making a difference in poor schools.
TIF (Teacher Incentive Fund) Program in Broward
Recently, our teachers in 28 low performing schools have had the chance to get pretty impressive bonuses year to year. Some can earn up to an additional $15,500 annually on top of their base salary.
Broward County Public Schools secured a Teacher Incentive Fund grant from the US Department of Education to support this program. Grants like TIF address the unequal talent disbursement we have in schools across our county. Good teachers are rewarded for accepting the challenge of working with the more complicated needs of our kids in poorer neighborhoods.
Pay incentives are based on placement in a low performing schools, mentoring junior teachers, and for the performance of their students. The program has worked for Broward schools, attracting teachers to schools with traditionally high vacancy rates. TIF schools had 2% vacancies at the start of this year compared to 30% pre incentive program. And, about half these schools earned a better letter grade than the year before.
Unfortunately, this TIF grant expires this year. But, Broward has landed another sizable TIF award for $53.8M for another 32 schools; which is a vote of confidence in the outcomes of the first round of TIF dollars.
These is no plan in the works to replace the incentive dollars at initial 28 schools, making sustainability of the progress worrisome.
A Teaching Endorsement in “Populations of Poverty?”
Teachers get endorsements for all kinds of populations: special needs, gifted, ESOL, etc. We have recognized that expert skills are needed to unlock the full potential of kids in those groups. So, why not an endorsement for “poverty?” I think the same logic applies.
Well, that endorsement doesn’t exist. And until it does, grants like TIF are working on behalf of students of poverty.
Obviously, incentives aren’t the magic bullet. Who really expects them to be? Incentives, like quality professional development and resources, should be just one part of the matrix of responses to educating poor kids. Like it or not, these kids show up to learn very differently prepared than their more “resourced” peers.
I don’t know if students are still throwing books in classrooms, or maybe they’ve graduated to some other crazy prank. But, I now recognize this doesn’t happen in all classrooms across America…only some. And, yes, the challenges of every community is different. But when student achievement is a clear victim of those challenges, we have to sound the sirens and do something differently.
So, hurray for TIF! I’m all for anything that rewards good teachers and levels the playing field across our communities.