The federal Teacher Incentive Fund, introduced in 2010, made sense. It would provide money for school districts to recruit, retain and reward good teachers and administrators.
Only it didn’t work — at least in the Charleston County School District.
And while that is disappointing, it is worth commending Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait for recognizing the problem and asking the school board to discontinue the $23 million grant program. The board wisely agreed.
Too often promising programs get started and get entrenched, regardless of how well they work and without adequate assessment.
And often they end up costing the district money — sometimes lots of it.
Further, failed programs can effectively displace other efforts that might be fruitful for education.
Upon her arrival, Dr. Postlewait said she would analyze the value of programs, positions and people throughout the district. The decision to discontinue the Teacher Incentive Fund locally shows she is delivering on her promise.
Indeed, Dr. Postelwait’s findings should encourage educators elsewhere to review the results of the Teacher Incentive Fund in their own districts. Remember that the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on Earth is a government program.
The money allocated in 2012 for CCSD was to be used to bolster good teaching at 13 hard-to-staff schools. In the last two years, it has been used to pay the salaries of 24 employees whose full-time job is to evaluate teachers under the incentive fund standards.
During the last two years, 439 teachers and 30 administrators deemed deserving received bonuses totaling $662,900.
But of the 13 schools targeted, all but three actually had teacher turnover increases. For example, at Baptist Hill High School the turnover rate was 16.7 percent in 2013, 17.1 percent in 2014 and 31.3 percent in 2015.
The turnover rate at North Charleston High went from 19.2 percent to 28 percent.
That 10 schools follow the same pattern makes the three successful efforts appear to be an anomaly. Midland Park Primary School’s rate dropped from 14.7 percent to 11.4 percent.
And Burns Elementary’s dropped from 20.9 percent to 7.7 percent.
Further, Dr. Postlewait told the board that there is “no evidence at all” that the grant money was attracting top teachers to those schools.
It is fortuitous that the program’s ineffectiveness was discovered before the district executed its plan to expand the Teacher Incentive Fund program to all schools beginning in 2016 — at a cost to the district of $5 million or more.
So while it sounds a pity to miss out on using the $10 million left in the grant, Dr. Postlewait and the school board made the right choice. The district’s efforts are better used on programs that work.