Congratulations and kudos to the leaders and faculty of the Delhi Unified School District, one of the few districts in California willing to modify the way it evaluates teachers in order to qualify for federal funding intended to improve student learning.
The initial reward: An $8.1 million grant that has been used to reinstate furlough days, boost teacher training and that will provide bonuses between $1,500 and $3,000 for teachers and principals, based on student improvement and classroom observation.
The potential long-term payoff: Teaching will be more effective and students will learn more -- not just test higher -- and they will be better prepared for college and the work force and to be productive adults.
Not only was the northern Merced County district willing to do the work to qualify for the grant, the people there are excited about it, as evident in the Dec. 30 story by Bee education reporter Nan Austin.
"I really believe that this is a game changer for our district," Delhi Superintendent Brian Stephens said. "Man, I wish I would have had this 20 years ago."
Most California districts and the state as a whole missed out on the federal dollars because the California Teachers Association has so adamantly opposed incorporating test scores into teacher evaluations. In Delhi, however, the teachers got behind the change.
Liz Rojas, president of the Delhi Teachers Association, told Austin: "At first, a lot of teachers were kind of leery of it," with some fearing the evaluations would be used as a way to get rid of teachers. But remediation is built into the system and is helping teachers improve. "Not everyone's perfect. If there are teachers who need more coaching, they'll have that," Rojas explained.
Delhi is a good demonstration project for this new accountability system because it is a struggling district. Three out of four students come from low-income families and four in 10 still are learning English. Just over half met state standards in English last year. Less than half made the grade in math. The challenge for teachers will be to see that these students all improve sufficiently so that they eventually reach proficiency in English, math and other subjects.
Modesto City Schools is among many districts where the administration and school board have not pursued getting this sort of funding -- ironically in part because they've spent so much time negotiating with unions about how to cut their budgets.
With better funding assured as a result of Proposition 30, districts around our region need to follow the courageous example set by Delhi.