HARRISBURG - Gov. Tom Corbett's administration is working to develop two important elements of his public education agenda - a new A-to-F grading system for public schools and merit pay for teachers, officials said.
Acting Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis, whose appointment to full-time status is awaiting Senate confirmation, said the school grading system could take into account various factors - including student performance on tests, dropout rates and how much school districts are spending per-pupil - so parents and taxpayers can more easily compare school performance.
"This is a way to build confidence back into the system that we're getting our money's worth," Tomalis said.
Corbett touted the school-grading plan during his campaign, but neither it nor merit pay got any attention in his 40-minute budget speech to the Legislature last week. Instead, Corbett said during the speech that school employees should agree to a one-year pay freeze, that voters should have more authority to veto local tax increases and that it should be easier for school districts to lay off teachers.
A number of other states have school-grading systems, including Florida.
Establishing a pay-for-performance system for teachers is complicated by conflicting viewpoints on how teacher's effectiveness should be measured.
Currently, a school district could engage its local school employees' union and negotiate the terms of a merit-based pay system, Tomalis said. The Pittsburgh school district is working out the details of pay-for-performance pilot program with the teachers' union there, while other large school districts around the country have adopted similar programs.
Tomalis said he wants to work with school districts and education officials to come up with a blueprint that could be used in each district in Pennsylvania.
"We strongly do not believe that teachers should be just compensated for the number of years they've been in the classroom," he said.
Spokesmen for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the state's largest teachers' union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said they could not comment on the ideas because they had not seen any details about either.
John Tarka, the president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said he hopes the Corbett administration does not try to impose a single, statewide pay-for-performance model on each of the state's 500 school districts. Rather, he said, any system should be negotiated with teachers and should still take into account a teachers' longevity.