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.

Unite, teachers, to get rid of ‘stinkers’

Teachers should unite to get rid of the “stinkers,” writes Larry Sand of the California Teacher Empowerment Network in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Sand was a middle-school teacher in Los Angeles for 15 years. Most of his colleagues were competent to good, he writes. A few were “exceptional.”  But there were a handful who “shouldn’t have been allowed near children.”

Once they’d received tenure, after two years, they couldn’t fired.

He remembers a P.E. teacher who kept “hooch” in the trunk of his car. “By the end of the day — every day — this teacher was obviously pickled. . . . He finally retired after 37 years.

Another, who had no control over her classes, was referred to the “peer assistance review” program. It didn’t help. She’s still teaching.

An eighth-grade English teacher was sent to “teacher jail” at the district office for touching a female student.

Since firing him was not a viable option, he was transferred to another school, where he apparently fondled another student. So back to the district office, where he whittled away his paid vacation ogling porn. Busted, he was transferred to yet another school, where he got caught sharing his smut with some of his female students. He was then returned to the district office, where the last I heard, he was waiting for his next assignment, courtesy of his union lawyer.

On average, just 10 “permanent” teachers a year in California are fired, writes Sand.

“Union members . . . are not going to give up their industrial union rights to enjoy the benefits of being treated like real professionals until they are treated as real professionals,” said Dennis Van Roekel, the former  National Education Association president.

“He has it exactly wrong,” writes Sand. “Teachers will never be considered professionals until they take charge and . . . purge the field of the stinkers and pedophiles.”

Rated “unsatisfactory” for six years in a row, a New York City teacher is still collecting her $84,500 a year salary, reports the New York Post.

Hearing officer Eugene Ginsberg upheld charges of (Ann) Legra’s “inability to supervise students,” excessive lateness and absence and poor lesson planning in the 2012-2013 school year.
But Ginsberg dismissed evidence that Legra was a lousy instructor, saying she didn’t get enough coaching.

Legra was suspended for 45 days without pay and reassigned from teaching first grade to a pool of substitute teachers. She’s “filed a federal lawsuit . . . charging discrimination based on her race, gender, national origin and medical disability” (asthma).

All teachers are not the same

All Teachers Are Not the Same, writes Erika Sanzi in Education Post.

Upset about Time‘s “rotten apple” cover, Nancy F. Chewning, an assistant principal in Virginia, described the dedication and hard work of teachers.

“The Rotten Apples come into work between 6:30-7:30 A.M.” and  “teach all day even during their planning periods,” writes Chewning. “After a full day they go home and grade papers, prepare lesson plans for the following day, maintain an online classroom and gradebook, and answer emails. Most don’t stop until at least 10:00 P.M.”

Valerie Strauss excerpted the letter in the Washington Post.

Sanzi, an educator, school board member and mother of three, recalls a former colleague who works from 6:30 am to 10 pm, “spends summers on professional development, coaches softball and does whatever it takes for children to learn.”

But not all 3 million U.S. teachers are the same, writes Sanzi.

She lives in Rhode Island. Twenty-three percent of Providence’s teachers are chronically absent. Her son’s kindergarten teacher missed 27 days, including the day before Thanksgiving and the two days before the start of February vacation.  He told the class he was going to “Disney.”

The next year, her son had a wonderful first-grade teacher.

All teachers are not the same.

All teachers do not come in at 6:30 or 7 in the morning. Some do.

All teachers do not stay after school and then work until 10 p.m. at home. Some do.

All teachers do not spend their summers taking classes and attending conferences. Some do.

All teachers do not maintain online gradebooks and respond to emails. Some do.

All teachers do not provide their students with breakfast, medicine and clothes. Special ones do.

To imply that all teachers are alike “devalues the extraordinary teaching and generosity of spirit of our best and most dedicated teachers,” writes Sanzi.

“My belief that current tenure laws protect bad teachers doesn’t mean that I think all teachers are bad,” she concludes. “On the contrary, it means that I can easily recognize the ones who aren’t pulling their weight because they are so unlike all the great ones I’ve had the privilege of knowing.”

A little tenure, but not too much

Tenure is “a problem” but also “a necessity,” writes Esther Wojcicki, a long-time teacher, in the Huffington Post.

Teachers need some protection from arbitrary firing, but on the other hand, the school district and the community needs a way to get rid of poorly performing teachers. One solution would be be to keep tenure but make it much easier to eliminate a tenured teacher.

. . . Too many states grant tenure after two years including California. How about tenure after three years? Perhaps there could be steps … limited tenure after three years, tenure after five years.

Or teachers could reapply for tenure every 10 years or so, suggests Wojcicki, teaches journalism at Palo Alto High School. She’s built an incredible program there: My daughter was one of her students.

Status quo wins in California

Triumph of the Status Quo is Ben Boychuk’s look at the California superintendent’s race.

. . . reformers had high hopes for Marshall Tuck’s insurgent campaign against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The 41-year-old former investment banker and charter school president tried to paint the 65-year-old incumbent, former legislator, and fellow Democrat as a creature of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. . . . the race did expose a growing fissure between traditional union-aligned Democrats and an emerging faction of pro-business, pro-reform Democrats. But the biggest difference between Torlakson and Tuck—their respective plans for reforming the state’s tenure and dismissal statutes—didn’t galvanize voters.

The California Teachers Association spent $11 million “touting Torlakson and denouncing Tuck,” while the challenger raised nearly $10 million from “well-heeled education reformers, including Los Angeles real estate developer Eli Broad and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg,” writes Boychuk in City Journal.

Tuck attacked Torlakson for supporting the state’s appeal of Vergara v.California, the class-action lawsuit that threw out California’s tenure, seniority, and dismissal rules.

Surveys after the ruling showed strong support for dumping “last hired, first fired” rules, writes Boychuk. But “nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.”

Tuck also touted his experience as president of the Green Dot chain of charter schools. He voiced his support for California’s landmark parent-trigger law, which lets parents at failing schools petition to force their school district to implement certain reforms, including charter school conversion. Here again, though, voters don’t completely understand charter school reforms.

. . . The teachers’ unions and their surrogates, such as Diane Ravitch, used Tuck’s charter school ties to paint him as a racist, a bigot, and a tool of “the power elite.”

Their attacks worked, concludes Boychuk.

Bad apples — or bad press?

Teacher Tenure Time Magazine CoverPhotograph by Kenji Aoki for Time

Time‘s “Rotten Apples” cover on firing bad teachers is “a slap in the face to every teacher who has dedicated his or her life to bettering the lives of children,” opines Democratic operative Donna Brazile.

Taking years to fire a bad teacher is the slap in the face to the rest of us, responds Darren on Right on the Left Coast.  “I’m against what I call undue process, wherein it really does take years to fire a bad teacher.  And if unions were any more than parasites they’d want to get rid of the bad teachers, but instead teachers unions defend them and help them try to keep their jobs.  That, too, is a slap in the face to the rest of us.”

Gov. Brown appeals Vergara ruling

California Gov. Jerry Brown has filed an appeal of the Vergara ruling that struck down traditional job protections for teachers.

The state’s two largest teacher unions also will appeal.

The decision, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu, threw out the state’s tenure process for elementary teachers, reports the Los Angeles Times. “It also stripped instructors of rules that made dismissing them more difficult and expensive than firing other state employees. And he eliminated regulations that made seniority the primary factor in deciding which teachers to lay off.”

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, a Democrat and teachers union ally, issued a statement backing the appeal.

“We do not fault doctors when the emergency room is full. We do not criticize the firefighter whose supply of water runs dry. Yet while we crowd our classrooms and fail to properly equip them with adequate resources, those who filed and support this case shamelessly seek to blame teachers who step forward every day to make a difference for our children.”

Torlakson faces a strong challenger, education reformer Marshall Tuck, in the November election.

Judge confirms Vergara ruling

The judge in Vergara vs. California has finalized his June ruling that state laws on teacher employment — including seniority-based layoffs and tenure — deny disadvantaged students access to a quality public education.

In his final ruling, filed yesterday, Judge Rolf Treu, said, “plaintiffs have met their burden of proof on all issues presented.”

The state and its two largest teachers unions have 60 days to appeal. The unions will file, but the state of California may not.

California Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't taken a stand yet on the Vergara ruling overthrowing teacher protection laws.

California Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t taken a stand yet on the Vergara ruling overthrowing teacher protection laws.

California Democrats have avoided comment while awaiting Treu’s final decision, writes Chris Reed on Fox & Hounds.

Gov. Jerry Brown is cruising to re-election against a little-known opponent. He could go for a place in history by admitting that “teachers unions are bad for minorities,” writes Reed.

State Superintendent Tom Torklakson — a named defendant in the suit — is facing a tough fight against reformer Marshall Tuck, who’s been endorsed by all the major newspapers in the state.  Tuck has called on Torlakson not to appeal the ruling.

Torlakson will stick with his “greatest patron during his political rise — the California Teachers Association,” predicts Reed.

Public: 21% of teachers deserve D or F

Americans think half of teachers in their local schools deserve a grade of A or B, while more than a fifth are doing D or F work, reports Education Next‘s 2014 poll. ednext_XV_1_poll_fig03-small

Teachers say 69 percent of their colleagues deserve an A or B, while 8 percent perform at the D level and 5 percent merit an F.

Half of the non-teachers opposed teacher tenure, while one third favored it. “Even 65 percent of respondents who favor tenure say it should be based on student performance,” reports Ed Next.

Teachers endorse tenure by a two-to-one margin and only a third of teachers support basing tenure on student test performance.

Fifty-seven percent of the public supports “basing part of the salaries of teachers on how much their students learn.” Only 21 percent of teachers back merit pay.

More than one-fourth of all families with school-age children have educated a child in a setting other than a traditional public school.


Teachers are as likely to use private, charter or homeschooling.

Public support for Common Core State Standards has eroded in the last year, the survey found.

People like Common Core’s goals, but the “brand” has been damaged, writes Mike Petrilli.

While 39 of voters say the economy is the number one issue that will influence their vote in November, education is the second most important issue, cited by 16 percent of voters according to the new Reason-Rupe poll.

Twenty-five percent of Democrats, but only 12 percent of Republicans, say education will have the most influence on their vote in the midterm elections. African Americans (36 percent) and Hispanics (25 percent) are more likely than whites (14 percent) to rank education as their top issue.

Once a lunch lady, García will run NEA

Lily Eskelsen García will become president of the National Education Association. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Her first job after high school was “salad girl” in a school cafeteria. She worked her way through college playing the guitar in coffeehouses and became Utah’s teacher of the year. On Sept. 1, Lily Eskelsen García, 59, will take over as head of the National Education Association, reports the Washington Post.

The NEA is the nation’s largest labor union, representing one in 100 Americans. But it’s been losing membership and political support.

She is already fighting back with blunt talk, urging teachers nationwide to revolt against “stupid” education reforms and telling politicians to leave teaching to the professionals.

Her first priority: Putting the brakes on standardized testing, an issue she says she believes will resonate not only with her members but also with parents — important potential allies for the political clashes she sees ahead. García says that the country is in the grip of testing mania, the quest for high scores killing joy, narrowing curriculums and perverting the learning process.

“I’ll be damned if I will sit quietly and play nice and say diplomatic things about something that has corrupted the profession I love,” García said.

The union has clashed with the Obama administration on testing and teacher evaluations, notes the Post. In July, the NEA demanded Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s resignation.

Duncan and Rep. George Miller, a liberal Democrat, “shocked teachers in June when they applauded a Los Angeles judge’s ruling that California’s teacher tenure laws were unconstitutional,” reports the Post.

The movement to weaken teachers’ job protections has gone national.

García, an elementary teacher, got into union politics after being chosen “teacher of the year.” At a union conference, she played her guitar and sang an original composition: “I’m-a-Teacher-and-I-Got-To-Work-In-Utah Blues.”

The daughter of a Panamanian immigrant, Garcia was the first in her family to go to college.

Her husband of 38 years committed suicide three years ago after struggling with depression for years.

“Both her sons have struggled with drug addiction,” reports the Post. The younger son, has spent time in prison for theft and burglary. García, who adopted Jared when he was 4, rescuing him from an early childhood of abuse, said, “I thought: ‘I’m a great teacher. I’ve got all this love.’ But that’s not how it works.”