Published: 7-10-2011, 14:39

Rochester Plan - American Education

A much-heralded but largely unsuccessful 1987 program to reform public school education in Rochester, New York. The scheme began by giving teachers a 40% pay increase over three years and raising top salaries after 11 years of service, to $45,000 a year. Special veteran teacher positions paying $70,000 a year were established as part of a broad plan to establish school-based management, with faculty and administrators in full charge of the program for their school and its students, unhindered by the city’s central school-board bureaucracy. The high pay, however, was accompanied by a new system of teacher accountability.

At the time, most of the system’s 33,000 students were from poor families, and half were from single-parent homes. The city’s black and Hispanic students were far worse off economically than their white classmates. Each teacher, however, was to counsel 20 students and get to know each student’s family and become as involved as possible in personally assuring the student’s progress. After parents, the school board and teachers agreed to the program, major corporations, such as Eastman Kodak, agreed to fund innovative programs and provide schools with teacher support and individual students with mentors. Initially, the program produced some impressive results, especially for learningdisabled students, who received individual attention to a degree never seen before. Similarly, gifted students profited from the company mentorship programs that helped raise math scores. But on the whole, the program proved a dismal example of how and why educational reform programs have historically been doomed to failure in U.S. public school systems.

Parents resented teacher-mentors intruding in family life. Teachers, too, balked at their new counseling roles. Many feared they would lose merit pay raises when one of their students dropped out of school. Others claimed they lacked proper training as counselors and refused to be accountable for the actions of recalcitrant adolescents. Teachers also refused to take on additional responsibilities or invest the time and research to develop new, imaginative curricula. Parents and school board members, in turn, grew concerned that they had no adequate system of accountability with proof positive that each teacher earning a merit pay increase actually deserved it. Moreover, they could not agree on whether to base teacher assessments on how well the students did or how much they tried.

The results of the Rochester Plan were decidedly mixed. After three years, the number of graduating high school seniors applying to college climbed from 41% to 48%, while the number of students taking regents exams climbed from 4,100 to 6,000. But the percentage of third and sixth graders achieving mastery of reading and math tests fell from 60% to 46%, and Rochester’s high school dropout rate actually climbed during the first three years, from about 13% in the first year, to 14.1% the second, before settling at 13.8% in 1990. Educational researchers who studied the Rochester Plan’s successes and failures agreed that its overall failure stemmed from the faulty assumption that four varied groups with sharply diverging interests—parents, teachers, administrators and school board officials and bureaucrats— could work in harmony.