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Stimulus dollars don't force judging teachers based on tests

In his interview with Chancellor Joel Klein this morning, Brian Lehrer of WNYC repeatedly described the $115 billion federal stimulus package for education as being available to states only if they met a steep demand: evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores.

Klein agreed, calling the evaluations “a general requirement for states to get the stimulus money.” Pressed for specifics on how that would affect the city schools, the chancellor hedged, saying he’s waiting for more details from the Obama administration.

In fact, a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Education told me that states will receive the stimulus funds regardless of their willingness to evaluate teachers using student test scores. “We’re encouraging states to do merit pay,” he said. “But to get all of the stimulus money you don’t have to do merit pay.”

The notion that there are strings in the main pot of the stimulus money is not entirely off base. The federal DOE is asking states to pledge to do a list of four things with the money before they get it (an occurrence that’s scheduled to happen next month, a spokesman told me). Two points on that list also seem to add up to merit pay, or at least provide the ingredients to make it possible — one asking states to improve “teacher effectiveness” and another asking them to create data systems to track students’ progress. And President Obama did, just this week, signal his interest in seeing federally funded merit-pay programs expand to 150 districts from a measly 34.

Finally, there’s another $5 billion pot of money in the stimulus, the “race to the top” fund, that states will have to apply for the use of — and which is dedicated to “innovative” programs that could include performance-based pay.

Here are the four criteria states will have to promise their stimulus funds will meet, cribbed from these federal DOE stimulus guidelines:

  1. Making progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities;
  2. Establishing pre-K-to college and career data systems that track progress and foster continuous improvement;
  3. Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all students, particularly students who are most in need;
  4. Providing intensive support and effective interventions for the lowest-performing schools.

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