How to change teacher pay systems

William Taylor earns a hefty bonus for being a highly effective teacher in a high-poverty Washington, D.C. school.

William Taylor, 29, teaches math and coaches colleagues at a Washington, D.C. elementary school. Only 40 percent of his students start at grade level, but 90 percent end the year at or above grade level, reported Amanda Ripley in a 2010 Atlantic story on “what makes a great teacher.”

Before District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) revamped teacher compensation in 2009, Taylor was paid $42,000 a year.

In 2013, after seven straight years of extraordinary performance reviews Taylor received a base salary of $96,000, a $25,000 bonus for being a highly effective teacher in a high-poverty school, and a $10,000 award for outstanding teaching and dedication to his work.

Taylor no longer plans to leave the profession, according to Do More, Add More, Earn More. The report by Education Resource Strategies and the Center for American Progress looks at 10 school districts that have redesigned their teacher compensation systems to reward effectiveness and additional responsibilities.

The transition is challenging, writes Fawn Johnson on National Journal.

 The authors recommend, for example, that teachers be offered extra incentive pay for taking jobs in hard-to-staff schools or for taking on leadership roles such as department heads, curriculum writers, or principal interns. They suggest speeding up the salary growth for new, high-performing teachers such that they can reach the district maximum in 10 years or fewer. New hires will more likely be attracted to the job if they know they won’t be on subsistence wages well into middle age.

. . . Teachers on the old salary structure need to be transitioned into a new one that doesn’t automatically increase their pay for time on the job or for extraneous things like advanced degrees. The lowest-performing teachers need to stop getting raises. Period. These changes can be incredibly disruptive, especially in districts that need to cull a lot of “dead weight” teachers. (Yes, that happens.)

Teacher evaluation is the trickiest part.

What teachers earn over time

How much do teachers make? Don’t just look at starting and peak salaries, advises Smart Money, a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. What counts is how quickly teachers climb the salary ladder. For example, Boston teachers take seven years to reach $75,000 compared to 30 years in Wichita.

The report analyzes 2013-2014 teacher salary schedules in 113 mostly large school districts employing about 20 percent of the nation’s public school teachers.

The top five districts on lifetime earnings include Pittsburgh and the District of Columbia, for highly effective teachers in those two districts, as well as all teachers in Columbus (OH), Atlanta and Jefferson County (KY), which don’t have performance pay.

Adjusting for a high cost of living depressed pay in New York City, Hawaii, San Francisco, Newark and Oakland. Columbus (OH) pays teachers the most when cost of living is factored in.

The maximum salary a teacher can earn over a 30-year career ranges from $52,325 in Oklahoma City to $106,540 for an exemplary teacher in the District of Columbia.

Starting and ending salaries can be highly misleading. For example, Rochester posts relatively high starting and ending salaries ($42,917 and $120,582 respectively), but, over a 30-year career, teachers accrue $1.92 million in lifetime earnings. Conversely, Milwaukee teachers start at $41,070 but accrue $2.04 million over their careers because it only takes 15 years to get to their lower max salary of $78,143.

. . .  All performance pay systems are not created equal. Some districts like D.C. and Pittsburgh make it possible for exemplary teachers to earn the maximum pay in relatively short order, while others like Jefferson Parish and Caddo Parish in Louisiana do not.

There’s an interactive map of the 113 districts here.

Districts drop extra pay for master’s

Teachers with master’s degrees aren’t any more effective than their non-degreed colleagues, say researchers. Now North Carolina, Dallas and Houston are cutting extra pay for advanced degrees.

“Effectiveness is more based on results rather than any checklist of things,” said Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles, who implemented a pay-for-performance system in the district, as he did at his previous district in Colorado. “So years of service and the advance degrees are checklist-type things.”

Yet the backlash in North Carolina grew so intense that the state is now looking at reinstating the extra pay for those teaching classes related to the subject in which they have an advanced degree.

Teacher turnover is up sharply in the state’s largest school district, Wake County.

Teachers should be paid based on how hard their jobs are and how well they’re doing them, argues The New Teachers Project in Shortchanged: The Hidden Cost of Lockstep Teacher Pay

Effective teachers should be able to move quickly up the pay scale in the first five years and earn raises for strong classroom performance, the report recommends. In addition, compensation systems should reward “great teachers in high-need schools.”

How a charter network evaluates teachers

Evaluating teachers’ effectiveness is a priority for the Aspire network of 37 charter schools, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s not just about test scores.

When Eva Kellogg’s bosses evaluated her performance as a teacher, they observed her classes. They reviewed her lesson plans. They polled her students, their parents and other teachers. And then they took a look at her students’ standardized test scores.

When the lengthy process was over, the eighth-grade English teacher at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland had received the highest rank possible.

She was a master teacher.

And based on her job performance, she got a $3,000 bonus as well as a metaphorical front-row seat at one of the biggest battles in public education: how to evaluate teachers and whether to give good ones a bigger paycheck.

Forty percent of a teacher’s score is based on observation by the principal, 30 percent on students’ standardized test scores and the rest on student, colleague and family feedback, as well as the school’s overall test scores.

Teachers are ranked as emerging, effective, highly effective or master. Bonuses range from $500 to $3,000.

Study: Evaluation works in DC

The District of Columbia’s teacher evaluation system — with rewards for the best and firing for the worst — is working, according to a a new study.  “Teachers on the cusp of dismissal under D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation system improved their performance by statistically significant margins, as did those on the cusp of winning a large financial bonus,” reports Ed Week.

 D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation system relies on a complex mix of factors to score each teacher, including both multiple observations and measures of student achievement. Teachers deemed ineffective under the system can be dismissed, while those scoring at the “minimally effective” level, the second lowest, get one year to improve. Those teachers who earn the “highly effective” rating are eligible for bonuses of up to $25,000. Earning successive “highly effective” ratings also permits teachers to skip ahead several steps on the salary scale.

Since its rollout, IMPACT has led to the dismissal of several hundred teachers.

The much-reviled Michelle Rhee started IMPACT when she was chancellor, jump-starting the evaluation program with foundation grants.

Are D.C. students learning more? The study didn’t look at student achievement.

Teachers valued most in China

Teachers aren’t valued highly in 21 countries in the Varkey GEMS Foundation’s Global Teacher Status Index. China ranks first in respect for teachers. The U.S. is about average. Israel is last. Except for China, high status for teachers doesn’t correlate with high academic performance. Greece and Turkey respect their teachers, but post low scores on international tests. The Japanese are low on teacher status, high in test scores.

Status isn’t linked to salaries. In Greece the status of teachers is high, but their compensation is low. In Germany and Switzerland, teacher earnings are relatively high, respect is low.

The Chinese compare teachers to doctors. Americans see teachers as similar to librarians. In most countries surveyed, teachers are equated with social workers. However, in France and Turkey, they’re seen as most like nurses.

teacher status findings

Pay-for-performance is supported strongly just about everywhere, notes John Merrow of Learning Matters TV. In the U.S., 80 percent said teachers should be “rewarded in pay according to their pupils’ results.”

While most people said teachers should be paid more, they didn’t know how much teachers earn. Americans think “teachers make about $36,000 a year but believe they should paid about $40,000,” writes Merrow. “However, the true average salary, the study says, is $46,000.”

Would you want your child to be a public school teacher? A third of Americans would “probably” or “definitely” encourage their child to become a teacher. That’s higher than in 14 other countries. Half of Chinese, but only 8 percent of Israelis, would urge their children to consider teaching. I always thought Finns were high on their teachers, but only 20 percent said they’d want their own kids to be one in this survey.

If there are any Finns — and Israelis — reading, does this ring true?

Teachers unions aren’t to blame

Once hostile to teachers’ unions, Education Realist now thinks unions are blamed unfairly for many education problems. She starts with teachers’ cognitive ability.

. . .  high school teachers have always been pretty smart, and drawn from the top half of the college grad pool. . . .  testing and knowledge standards for elementary teachers was once low, is now much higher and more than reasonable since the states dramatically increased the credentialing test difficulty as part of their adherence to NCLB.

However, “this dramatic increase did not result in either improved outcomes or evidence that new teachers who qualified with tougher tests were superior to teachers who didn’t,” she writes. “The research at best shows that smarter teachers give a teeny tiny boost to outcomes.”

States — not unions — set knowledge requirements for teacher credentialing, she writes. They struggle with disparate impact. “Set credentialing standards high, and you lose your black and Hispanic teachers.”

Reformers “unions promote pay scales that give all teachers the same raise, regardless of quality” and oppose performance pay.

Okay. So the very notion of a union is antithetical to getting competitive, performance-driven people who want rewards for their hard work.

But “there’s no point to performance pay if the objectives are delusions, she argues. If competitive, high-performance people became teachers, they’d be unable to raise outcomes and they’d quit.

The “big Kahuna of teacher union beefs” is that it’s hard to fire bad teachers.

If government unions ceased to exist tomorrow, teachers would still have Loudermill, the relatively recent Supreme Court decision that says that employment is a property right, and states can’t deprive their employees of property rights without due process. And most states have tenure written into their laws, independent of union contracts. So the changes necessary to undo teacher rights are far more than just dumping unions.

Oregon dropped tenure in favor of renewable two-year teaching contracts, but nothing changed. Oregon is below average in teacher dismissal rates, reports the Center for American Progress. While some states without tenure laws have high dismissal rates (Alabama, Alaska), others have low ones (Mississippi, Texas). The “bulk of the apparently onerous dismissal laws are encoded in state law, not in union contracts.

Teacher unions to blame for big pensions and “a compensation structure that repels competitive, performance-driven workers,” Education Realist concedes. However, “many of the teacher protections and all of the standards lie at the state level, entirely out of the union’s purview.”

Of course, teachers’ unions have a great deal of influence on state law.

The education election

The status quo was a big winner, writes Rick Hess in his election wrap-up.

Those edu-advocates who’ve been telling themselves that an Obama win would mean a big infusion of dollars are going to be disappointed– the size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell, the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act, and the rest mean that there won’t be big new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the President says nice things about edu-investment and workforce initiatives.

. . . The next few years may be something of a slog for folks at ED, as they have to do the tedious work of trying to monitor Race to the Top and waiver commitments, while figuring out how to be impactful when they don’t have much new money to spend . . .

It will be interesting to see who quits the Education Department, Hess writes.

If Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign was “a referendum on reform,”  as Fordham’s Mike Petrilli put it, reform lost. Bennett, a Republican who championed tougher teacher evaluations and school accountability, was upset by teacher Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Bennett was a reform “stud,” writes Hess. Teachers’ union opposition wouldn’t have been enough to defeat Bennett in “deep red” Indiana. He also faced opposition from Tea Party conservatives over his support for Common Core State Standards, which they call “Obamacore.”

Intentionally or not, the Obama administration has politicized the Common Core and, in so doing, is making it dangerous for elected Republicans in red states to support it. And, trust me, a lot of GOP state school board members, education committee members, and state chiefs are aware of what happened to Bennett.

Ed Week looks at Arne Duncan’s five big challenges in the next term. “Duncan will have to walk a fine line between supporting states as they implement common standards and tests, and, in the words of Checker Finn, not “loving them to death.”

The Obama-Duncan education reforms are at risk, writes Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. No ChIld Left Behind waivers are letting traditionalists and suburban districts gut accountability. He hopes Obama and Duncan will work with congressional leaders on both sides to revise No Child and expand accountability. But he’s not holding his breath.

School choice lost in Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have let parents use school vouchers at religious schools.

However, Georgia approved a special commission to authorize new charters.

After turning down charter schools three times, voters in Washington state narrowly passed a charter school measure which will let 40 charters open statewide in the next five years. A majority of parents or teachers could “trigger” the conversion of a traditional public school into a charter.

In Idaho, where Romney won in a landslide, voters repealed the “Students Come First” laws, agreeing with teachers’ unions. It was “a stunning rebuke” to Republican Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna, writes the Idaho Statesman.

– 57 percent opposed to restrictions on teachers unions in Prop 1.

— 58 percent voted no on Prop 2, which paid teacher bonuses based on student test scores and other measures.

— 67 percent rejected a mandate for laptops and online credits for every Idaho high school student.

In red-hot South Dakota, two-thirds of voters rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to “give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs,” reports KSFY-ABC.

Michigan voters rejected a union-sponsored measure protecting collective-bargaining rights.

Maryland voters approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

To my surprise, California voters approved a tax increase billed as the only way to keep schools open. A political contributions initiative aimed at unions failed.

In Arizona, a sales tax extension to fund schools went down to defeat.

Chicago faculty union OKs performance pay

Unionized professors and staff at City Colleges of Chicago have agreed to performance pay. Instead of annual pay hikes for seniority, faculty members could earn bonuses based on student outcomes, such as graduation, transfer and employment rates. The bonuses won’t be linked to individual performance. If the district reaches it goals, all faculty members will receive more money.

Obama: $1 billion for master teacher corps

President Obama wants to create a “master teacher corps,” starting with 50 math and science teachers who’d earn an additional $20,000 a year to act as mentors, plan curriculum and lead school turnarounds. The administration proposes spending $100 million this year and $1 billion next year to increase the corps to 10,000 teachers, reports National Journal.

The idea embodies some of the Obama administration’s most cherished concepts — pay for performance, competitions among local jurisdictions, and asking Congress for money.

And complaining when Congress says “no.”

.Republicans are more interested in creating flexible block grant programs that consolidate the current federal teacher programs and allow states and school districts to use the money for their own teacher improvement programs.

Checker Finn likes “paying excellent teachers more” and “distinguishing between those who are really good and those who are aren’t.” And he admires the politics.