EDUCATORS have too often treated money as water, or so critics charge. Now, however, they seem to be treating money as oil, to help coax a little extra performance out of schools. No one should be displeased about that.
Both the state and Harford County are unveiling programs to funnel money to schools that fare well on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. The tests' incentives to this point have been mostly negative: Perform poorly and be singled out for possible "takeover," as has been the case with 42 schools in Baltimore and one each in Anne Arundel and Somerset counties. The new recognition awards add a positive side to the equation.
The state program is well structured because it considers each school's rate of improvement against itself over a three-year span, not against other schools. If MSPAP results have shown anything, it's that socio-economics and scholastics are linked. Schools in poor neighborhoods have an inherently tougher job than those in well-off communities. There are exceptions to the rule, and educators hope to learn from those. But the state program, totaling $2.75 million, recognizes that some schools won't reach a "passing grade" as quickly as others. A school could earn $25,000 or $35,000 by showing marked progress.
Harford's $500,000 program, unique among local jurisdictions, doesn't do as much to push poor schools to do better, but still seems to be a worthy investment. The 10 lowest-performing schools will each get $10,000. The 39 remaining schools will get $2,500 in "seed money." The bulk of the money, $300,000, will be split according to MSPAP results. A school that does well might pick up $8,000, enough to patch a hole in its supply budget or hire part-time help.
Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann proposed a similar program a year ago, but she ruffled feathers among school officials who thought she was overstepping her bounds. New Superintendent Jeffery N. Grotsky, however, liked the idea and asked if the school system could help shape it.
The public isn't ready for open competition and open enrollment in its school systems -- and rightly so. But these performance grants may inject a little more private-sector incentive into public education.
Pub Date: 10/21/96