Making the Grade

The state's most-improved schools got banners -- but the checks aren't in the mail.

The state did, however, give underachieving schools a helping hand -- without which many of them might not have improved so dramatically. In the first two years of the accountability reports, the state gave money to "unsatisfactory" elementary schools ($75,000), middle schools ($100,000) and high schools ($125,000) to help them boost their scores. West Middle School used the $200,000 it amassed over two years of unsatisfactory scoring to provide more teacher training. "Most teachers spent an extra eight to ten hours a week out of school time; they went to extraordinary lengths to boost these kids' scores, and the pressure was intense," Korczak says.

And the results were promising. West's rating went up a notch last year, to "low." Although the school is grateful for the extra money it got up front, Korczak says the withdrawal of the reward money was "a blow to the teachers."

That's not the only money that's disappeared. In 2001, the state legislature created a program to provide incentives for teachers working in unsatisfactory- and low-scoring schools. The program originally had $12.6 million to disburse in the form of $1,000 bonuses. Last year lawmakers reduced the allocation to $4 million and applied it only to teachers in unsatisfactory schools; now it's been cut entirely.

Banner days: Principal David Hazen used last year's 
incentive money for an after-hours literacy program.
Larry Winter
Banner days: Principal David Hazen used last year's incentive money for an after-hours literacy program.

David Hazen, principal of the Center for Discovery Learning, a kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade charter school in Jefferson County, says the whole system is crazy. "Last year we got $75,000, and frankly, we wouldn't have improved the way we did without those resources," he says, explaining that the elementary portion of his school went from unsatisfactory to low and, as a result, earned a Governor's Distinguished Improvement Award in December. Hazen used that money to extend the school day and create an after-hours literacy program.

But now that booster money is gone, too. The state had only planned to give those grants to the lowest-performing schools for two years.

"I can't believe that unsatisfactory schools won't get that money anymore. The governor is going to hang his hat on schools like mine that have improved, but we got resources. I don't know what's going to happen to those schools now," Hazen says. "I guess they'll be turned into charter schools someday, but who's going to run those?"

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