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Schools might decline AP grant

Thu., March 13, 2008

A grant that would pour millions of dollars into three Spokane-area high schools to boost participation in Advanced Placement courses may not be awarded because of opposition from local teachers unions.

The unions for Spokane and Central Valley school district educators say the privately funded grants violate collective bargaining agreements by paying teachers stipends for students’ passing grades on the College Board’s AP exams.

Students could also receive up to $100 for each test passed.

“One of the tenets of collective bargaining is that salary and benefits are negotiated. Pay for performance is not one of the tenets,” said Maureen Ramos, president of the Spokane Education Association.

Seven states were selected for the grant through the National Math and Science Initiative, which is funded by ExxonMobil.

In Washington, $13.2 million will be awarded to seven schools selected by a Vancouver-based nonprofit called Mentoring Advanced Placement for Students, or MAPS. Local schools selected were Spokane’s North Central and Ferris high schools, and University High School in Spokane Valley.

Each school would receive roughly $800,000 over five years, which includes the monetary incentives. The money helps pay for teachers working with students after hours, and it helps pay the fees for middle- and low-income students. The exams cost as much as $80 each. The grant would also provide some funding for pre-AP courses or honors courses.

And it would pay for some teacher training.

The program is modeled on one created in Texas to expand AP classes and participation in science, math and English classes.

“There’s such a need,” said Sharon Johnston, who works with MAPS and was previously the director of Spokane Public Schools’ online programs. “It really is a grant that will help with the mission of Spokane Public Schools, which is to increase rigor in the classroom.”

Already, more students than ever are taking AP courses. In Spokane, 970 students took AP exams in 21 subjects in the spring quarter of 2007. That was 239 more than in 2006. And the number of AP courses offered in Spokane’s five high schools – and its online program – have increased from 82 three years ago to 141 last school year.

School districts across the nation are beefing up AP course offerings, recognizing that many colleges now require students to take more high-level courses in high school. Research also suggests that students who take AP courses – especially low-income and minority students – are more likely to go to college. Students who score high enough on AP tests can receive college credit.

But Ramos argued that the grant funding would only affect two of Spokane’s five high schools, creating an equity issue. And the union opposes “pitting one teacher against another,” she said.

The way the funding would be allocated to staff “keeps professional growth from happening in the entire school,” Ramos said.

Central Valley School District officials said the funding allocation model suggested by MAPS is the same as what’s used in other states.

“If they change it, they may not be able to compare the research with other school districts that have done this in places other than Washington state,” said Melanie Rose, CV spokeswoman.

But “the teachers union and the district have issues with generally how the grant money is to be allocated,” Rose said. “We would like to look at a different model.”

Although talks are under way, the school districts will be expected to sign a letter of agreement by Friday. If they don’t, MAPS may offer the grants to other schools, likely in Western Washington, Johnston said.

The executive director of MAPS declined to comment.

Ramos said the performance-pay concerns also came up in a Seattle school selected for grant money.

“Is the intent of having more AP classes and more access to those classes not good? Of course that’s good,” Ramos said. “But the pay-for-performance issue, it’s something that is nationwide and not where we want to go.”


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