Is D.C. teachers' contract a model?

Washington, D.C. teachers have agreed to a contract that includes pay for performance, reduced seniority protections — and hefty pay increases.  Will this prove to be a model for the nation? National Journal’s Education Experts discuss the issue.

The new contract includes a pay raise of 21.6 percent over five years (retroactive to the expiration of the old contract) that will raise average annual salary from $67,000 to $81,000. Philanthropic support made the generous financial package possible. Under the new regime, principals will use job performance, as opposed to seniority, as the top criterion to make decisions about staff reductions when budget or program changes require it.

Will the new contract lead to improved performance at D.C. schools? Should other cities look for foundation support to supplement teacher pay? What are the national implications?

“Fundamentally, this agreement would allow DCPS to treat its teachers as individual professionals, with their own qualities, successes and failures,” writes Daniel Weisberg of The New Teacher Project.

Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence points to the very high costs:

The financial incentives to enroll in the voluntary performance pay program will have to be significant, since brand-new teachers who don’t enroll will receive a minimum salary of $51,539 in the 2011-12 school year – and those with 21+ years of experience will earn up to $106,540.

Will the new contract lead to improved performance of D.C. schools? Let’s hope so. But its extraordinary cost makes it an unlikely model for other U.S. school districts.

I think Antonucci is right about the money.

Rick Hess has more on the contract’s significance.

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  1. I’ve been teaching for nine years now, and next year will be my first with tenure because I’ve moved many times.

    I would welcome something like what they are doing in DC, assuming my performance were to be evaluated in some reasonable fashion–not just on my students’ test scores. Performance pay CAN make sense if done right.

  2. Miller Smith says:

    If you truly want to increase the performance of the students all one has to do is have strict behavioral discipline with serious consequences, tests in every class at a college prep level, and failing students allowed to drop out and do something useful other than be failures in high school.

    Students have the right to fail. Let them go. Have high STANDARDS that must be met or the student is not advanced one iota. Check often that teachers are presenting good lessons and know their subject and are good to the students. Then let the chips fall where they may.

    Large amounts of failures will occur. That is a GOOD thing. The only students leaving with a diploma from high school are students ready for college. That very first graduating class will not be taking remedial coursework in college and the failures will find something else to do.

  3. Start in kindergarten. Provide serious discipline, phonics, grammar, composition, spelling, real math, science, history, geography and lots of good literature and a demand for mastery before advancement. The problems seen in HS start early in ES and continue through MS.

  4. Other than the Equity Project, the DC teachers contract presents the only teachers salary than can compete with an engineers salary.

    Teachers are exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act, along with other professionals including engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, and architects. It’s about time they get paid accordingly.

  5. Miller Smith may have inadvertently pointed out the high cost of depending on a mediocre teaching force. Teachers who are willing to write off students who are difficult to teach may be cheap to hire, but consider the cost of all the students that they fail to reach. This goes beyond the general cost to society of an uneducated population. Only a small percentage of students receiving special education services are mentally retarded. Many students who are presently referred for these often very expensive special services wouldn’t need them if they had access to high quality classroom teachers.

    Exemplary teaching is extremely demanding. It starts by having high academic standards for all students, not just a select few. Exemplary teaches work relentlessly to help even their most difficult students succeed. Beyond a small number of “martyr teachers”, teachers of this caliber are not going to be attracted by low wages.

    A high quality teaching workforce does not have to be prohibitively expensive. Teacher quality is much more important to student achievement than is class size. Students would be better served if schools placed them in slightly larger classes and used the savings to increase compensation for highly effective teachers. Savings could also come from fewer special education referrals and fewer retentions.

  6. Miller Smith says:

    Don’t write me off Ray. I may just be a mediocre-difficult-to-turn-into-a-high quality” teacher type of teacher. Before I became a teacher, I was a student teacher. If I am a “mediocre” teacher, then I was a “mediocre” student in an M.Ed program.

    I was graduated and turned out into the world. And now I am what you have judged me to be in your post.

    So, Ray…whom do you blame for me?

    Get it, Ray?

    When do you confer moral agency upon a human, Ray?

  7. My predictions for this contracts are:

    1) the pay increases are sacrosanct,
    2) won’t actually have much to do with performance
    3) and the reduction in tenure protection won’t have much to do with the skill of the teachers who are fired.

  8. I am sorry if my comments sounded like I was putting you down. That was not my intent. I am a teacher myself, and I appreciate how difficult it is to work with challenging students. But I have come to realize that when students turn off to school, there is more to the story than a bad kid who is making bad choices and deserves to be written off. The student may have underlying learning disabilities or educational deficits. Sometimes there are language problems. It’s my responsibility to did deeper into the problems these students have and to educate myself about the best response. I don’t want to sugar-coat this. Struggling students are frequently hard to interact with. They can come across as rude, ungrateful, or defiant. I don’t delude myself. There have been many students that I have not been able to reach. While I don’t beat myself up over these failures, I do try to review what I might have done differently. Effective teaching requires a set of skills that are difficult to master as well as a deep knowledge base. Schools are not going to be able to attract a sufficient number of highly effective teachers unless they are willing to offer a competitive salary.


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