USA Today; Arlington; October 22, 1998; Section D, p. 10
Taking stock in schools appeals to many
by Tamara Henry
HEALTH AND EDUCATION
The education community is cautiously watching what some see as a bold move by the for-profit Edison Project to offer a stock options plan for teachers at the 51 schools it manages.
The Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the United Teachers of Dade support the plan, which makes its first offer to the 90 teachers and staff at the Henry S. Reeves Elementary School in Miami.
Pat Tornillo, vice president of the Miami union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), says history is made when teachers become "direct economic stakeholders in the public schools where they work."
Michael Moe , a managing director at Merrill Lynch, says the program "has the potential to be the most significant increase in educator compensation ever."
Edison's CEO Benno C. Schmidt Jr. says the plan creates a "constructive partnership with local unions, school districts and charter boards that we are committed to. Since the success of Edison depends to a great extent on our partners, we want to make sure to share our success with them."
However, AFT President Sandra Feldman is withholding judgment: "This is such a brand-new thing. We are going to wait and see."
Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, is concerned that the principal would have nearly twice the level of potential return as lead teachers, with regular teachers' level of return close to half that of lead teachers. Chase says the differentiation could weaken the "real collaboration and joint ownership" of schools.
Also, Chase says that while the program is "an unusual step, it is a limited step."
Christopher Cross, president of the Council of Basic Education, admits "we need to look at new ways to compensate teachers in schools. If it results in better teaching and learning, I'm all for it."
But, he adds, the "evaluation must be based on student achievement, not on factors that relate to how much money is saved." For-profit companies often boost profits by cutting costs, he says. "There needs to be a balance with the quality of the product."
Edison CEO Chris Whittle says increased compensation will simply be tied to the performance of the company's stock, which will go up only if teachers prove they can boost academic achievement.
"Until now, education has been one of the few sectors in the U.S. economy where the people doing the front-line work were not in a position to reap rewards from the enterprise's success, which in the case of schools is improved student performance," Whittle says. "We want to help change that."
Edison invested nearly $40 million in research and development before it opened its first four schools in 1991 with the goal of blending capitalism with a quality, cost-effective education. Since then, the company has raised $161 million in private capital.
To date, efforts by states and school districts to use financial rewards to boost public school achievement have been limited. Among them:
* The Baltimore mayor's office tries to lure good teachers and other city employees by offering low-interest loans to buy homes.
* The Georgia Board of Education offers teachers in a record 155 schools $2,000 merit bonuses for helping their students meet academic goals.
* Columbus, Ohio, offers a "gains-sharing program" in which teachers and staff at each school building work to meet both academic and non-academic goals. All the efforts are evaluated against prescribed standards, with successful teachers getting up to a $500 bonus.
Reeves principal Diane Paschal describes the "incredible ownership in this program already" and stressed the entire school community benefits. "We're motivated. We've been working day and night to make a difference for children. We're already seeing results in the classroom. This adds a financial reward to the people who are most responsible for raising student performance -- our teachers and staff."
In the two years since it has opened, Reeves Elementary has grown from a little more than 1,000 to nearly 1,200 students, with most of them low-income blacks or Hispanics.
Paschal attributes the enrollment growth to a transfer of students from private schools to Edison's "ambitious and wide-ranging curriculum, pervasive use of technology -- including a computer on every teacher's desk and in the home of every student in grades three and up, an extended school day and school year, and an organization that allows teams of teachers to work with the same students over several years."
The staff recently voted on whether to participate in the program after months of intense negotiations.
Barbara Raeburn, a reading coordinator who played a key role in the negotiations, says the biggest hurdle was "educating the teachers about what stock options were all about."
"I was terribly excited at the prospect of the entire field of education going into this realm," Raeburn says. "It really professionalizes Edison's pursuit for the teachers. It's really something very, very special that's being offered to us."
"The key benefit would be a better product," she adds.
"None of it's going to matter unless you succeed in getting students to achieve at a higher level." ------------------------------------------ PHOTO, B/W, Alan Diaz, AP; Caption: Exercising her options: Barbara Raeburn reads a story to second-grade pupils at Reeves Elementary School in Miami, where teachers have been reading the fine print about stock options. ******************************************************** Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU