Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Teacher Merit Pay, Part II

This story is a continuation of a earlier one titled, "Teacher Merit Pay." In that article I spoke about the merit pay experiment taking place in the Denver city schools, called ProComp. Here is the latest update from Education Week writer Vaishali Honawar, in his story "Denver Teachers and District Reach Tentative Accord":

The bitter tug-of-war over Denver’s performance-pay plan has ended with the teachers’ union and the school district reaching a compromise agreement that includes a 3 percent pay raise for all teachers and higher starting salaries.

The pact also includes increased bonuses for those who teach in hard-to-staff schools and hard-to-fill subjects. Veteran teachers, however, could see their raises shrink sharply after 13 years of service.

Contract negotiations in the 74,000-student district attracted the national spotlight this year because of disagreements between the district and the union over changes proposed by Superintendent Michael Bennet to the pay system called Professional Compensation Plan for Teachers, or ProComp. ("Model Plan of Merit Pay in Ferment," July 30, 2008.)

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, wanted to wait until an external study of the plan is released next year before making major changes, and had threatened a strike if the district continued to push forward with the changes.

This morning, union President Kim Ursetta called the contract “the best deal we could get for our teachers.”

“There were compromises on both sides,” she said.

Boon to Beginners
ProComp is one of the most watched merit-pay plans in the nation because it was jointly devised by the school district and the teachers’ union, leading many to consider it a model plan. Denver’s voters in 2004 agreed to property-tax increases to give it $25 million each year.

But school officials said modifications such as increasing starting salaries were needed to help attract more teachers to the district. Also, each year only part of the funds in ProComp, which add up to $31 million including interest, were paid out. This school year, for instance, less than $7 million will be given out because of the way the program is structured.

School officials and citizens’ groups said instead of building up a surplus, they would like to see all the money targeted toward increasing student achievement.

Under the tentative contract, which teachers are expected to approve by Sept. 9, starting teacher salaries would increase from $35,000 to $42,000, and teachers who agree to teach in hard-to-staff areas and hard-to-fill subjects would see bonuses increase from $1,067 to $2,345.

“This three-year deal will accomplish our mutual goal of rewarding and retaining our current teachers [and] attracting new teachers to DPS,” Superintendent Bennet said in a statement issued jointly with Ms. Ursetta.

Later Bargaining Opportunities
The agreement would include the formation of a work group to study peer-assistance and -review programs and to make recommendations to improve the district’s practices on mentoring, induction, remediation, and dismissal of teachers.

Teachers would also get more planning time and five late-start days dedicated to professional development.

The teachers’ union board planned to meet tonight and recommend the contract to its 3,200 members. Still, Ms. Ursetta said the agreement has changed the original design and intent of ProComp.

She added that there will be an opportunity to reopen negotiations on ProComp when the external evaluation is released next fall.

“[The new contract] changes the way ProComp was implemented, and we’ll be anxious to work with the district and the outside researcher to see what they have found, what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.

One of the ways Denver City Schools is different from us is that they're having trouble hiring teachers, and getting teachers to work in some of their schools. We have no problem recruiting teachers - we have many applicants for every opening - and I assume no HEA member objects to teaching in any school in our District.

But we may have a retention issue. I've heard people say that 50% of all new teachers leave the profession in the first five years. If that statistic applies to HCSD, then perhaps we also need to ask how many of those teachers are leaving because they've discovered teaching isn't for them, versus the number of promising and effective young teachers who leave - despite loving the vocation - because we don't pay enough for them to start a home and family.

In Denver, they decided that the way they would solve this problem was for the more senior teachers to sacrifice a little in order to free the resources needed to recruit and retain the younger members who would follow in their footsteps.

The answer wasn't to raise taxes yet again. The people of Denver had already signed on for substantial tax increases to fund the ProComp program. They've turned the Big Knobs, and now are doing the fine tuning.

We're not going to 'fix' the funding situation in our District until we put our compensation strategy on the table for examination and adjustment.

Meanwhile, we need to pass this 6.9 mill levy to keep the wheels on while we figure things out.


  1. Paul,
    According to a 2002 study sponsored by the Ohio State Board of Education, Ohio's percentage of teachers who leave within the first 5 years of employment (28%) is similar to that of other states and is also comparable with attrition in other fields. It also points out that a certain level of turnover is both inevitable (spouse relocation) and desirable (some learn they do not perform will in the career they have chosen). Also, it reports that 18.5% of teachers who leave teaching later return, with becoming a new parent cited as the most frequent single reason for leaving teaching.

    My pointing out this study doesn't mean that I believe that we pay starting teachers enough money - I don't. But I also don't believe in a system such as the current system where we cannot reward exceptional teachers, teachers in hard to staff schools (probably don't exist in Hilliard) or teachers in hard to fill subjects, and cannot remove teachers whose performance is not what we would like.

    I don't like the insecurity that our system offers to starting teachers. Regardless of how well they perform, they could be laid off or 'bumped' from their position by a more senior teacher whose performance leaves much to be desired.

    I don't like that every teacher receives the same pay increase, regardless of performance. I believe the best teachers should be rewarded with higher wages and the bad teachers should be removed from our system.

    Finally, I do think that by the time you get to the upper end of our pay scale, many, many teachers are overpaid. I found it interesting to read the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research Report referenced by anonymous 12/7/07, which stated "The average public school teacher was paid 36% more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker." Since we know that starting teacher salaries are below average, one must infer from the article that it is the more experienced teachers who are heavily weighting the wage scale.

    Personally, I believe that if we're going to pay teachers salaries comparable to other professions, then perhaps we should re-think the entire position. Why not make teaching a full-time position? We would have staff available for summer tutoring, summer schooling, even year-round classes. If teachers want to attend classes to further their career, we could subsidize their education, provide time off for classes, even provide study time (although time off for classes and study time aren't typical benefits in the private industry world). Teachers would have ample time for planning, team meetings, in-service training - solving that common complaint among teachers of not having enough time for these activities. If a teacher volunteers to coach a team, they could receive comp time for the after hours they put in.

    With a year-round schooling option, buildings could be better utilized, perhaps saving the need to construct additional buildings and the needs of some of our children could be better met (I'm thinking the students for whom English isn't their first language would probably advance further if there weren't a 3 month break in their education.)

    One additional bonus - all of the non-teacher tax payers who complain that teachers only work 9 months of the year would no longer have that to complain about.

    I'm not sure why (although I think it hase something to do with Unions) there haven't been more creative solutions to the educational system in Ohio, but the answer seems to be to throw more money into bureaucracy - either through additional homeowners taxes, or state funding, which many people seem to think will come from "Ohio", missing the point that it will come from increased taxes to the residents.

  2. Interesting for sure, especially in the statement that more experienced teachers are willing to take a minor hit for the overall good of the system. And it is good to see that they are exploring new methods of compensation to fix a "broken" system, although as you mentioned, they face a different problem than the HCSD in that they have a hard time attracting enough teachers, period.
    Something else I found interesting:

    "Under the tentative contract, which teachers are expected to approve by Sept. 9 ..."

    Would I take this to mean that teachers do indeed vote based on the recommendation of the union president? I am assuming no vote has yet been taken, maybe a straw poll but not an actual vote, yet the outcome is "expected". If that is the case with the HEA, and I have posted before that I think it is, then I guess we need to be pressuring Rick Slater to get on board with some of the proposals around here, as well as Dale McVey and the Board.

  3. For what it's worth, the majority of teachers who left when I was in school left not because of pay (though they were getting paid peanuts compared to Hilliard teacher salaries) but because they couldn't maintain classroom discipline/respect.

  4. KK: We think very much alike on this issue, and in particular on your statement: I don't like that every teacher receives the same pay increase, regardless of performance. I believe the best teachers should be rewarded with higher wages and the bad teachers should be removed from our system. Here is what I wrote back in March on this.

    You are correct that the union plays a role in sustaining the current system, but the School Board and the Administration also have equal roles. None of the players are willing to break out of the "we've always done it this way" mentality.

    But most of all, it is the community which needs to wake up and participate in this process. I think that's beginning to happen thanks to all of you.

    Hillirdite: Certainly the opinion of the union presidents (HEA and OAPSE alike) carry a good deal of weight in the negotiations and on the ultimate vote by the membership, but it's hard to imagine one of them coming to a tentative agreement with the School Board unless they have a pretty good idea how the vote is going to come out.

    Remember that in the most recent HEA negotiations, there was no agreement between the Board and the HEA negotiating team when the first union vote was taken. The Board simply said they had made their 'best and final' offer, and asked the HEA leadership to take that offer to the membership.

    Of course the HEA leadership recommended against approval of the Board's 'best and final' offer, and indeed the contract was overwhelmingly voted down.

    So you're right, it's Rick Strater and Mary Kennedy (who Chairs the HEA negotiating team) who have to be sold. I've sent Rick my 3% Rollback proposal, but no response. He needs to hear from more of you

    email: Rick Strater



  5. Paul,
    I just read 2 interesting articles from the Washington Post.

    The first article, Why D.C. Teachers Will Eventually Accept Merit Pay touches on the DC Schools Chancellor's plan to offer huge pay increases and performance bonuses to teachers willing to give up their seniority and tenure rights (which the president of the teachers' union has yet to present to its members for a vote)- and the reality of competing with Charter Schools - it appears that about 1/3 of the DC students are in charter schools - "around 21,000 of our students are in charters and around 45,000 in public schools" and they lost 6,000 students to charter schools last year alone.

    I assume that the reason the students are flocking to the charter schools has more to do with the quality of teachers in the public school (because the union protects the poorly performing teachers) than on the frivolous spending of the district, but it is all inter-related. Continuing to reward long-term, poorly performing teachers at the same level as the best teachers is frivolous spending - which short-changes all of the students.

    I expect the same movement of students from public schools to charter schools to happen in Ohio, in spite of the OEA's ongoing attempts to slow the progress of school choice policies and the growth of charter schools.

    The second article Rhee's 'Plan B' Targets Teacher Quality proposes a backup plan to include a new teacher evaluation process and the linking of teaching licenses to classroom performance.

    I'm quite impressed with Ms. Rhee's determination to overhaul the district's public schools. Where is that kind of leadership here in Ohio?

    I would love to have a teacher merit pay system based on performance and I find it quite revealing that the tenured teachers are the ones who feel most threatened by a system that would actually require them to prove themselves.

    Each time we have to lay off 2 enthousiastic, highly performing first year teachers because the job of a more senior teacher who is underperforming, yet earning more than the 2 first year teachers, combined, it makes me more and more frustrated the we, the public, have ended up with such a mess.

    So, not only do we need to look at the performance of our school board and administration, we also have to look at the performance of our elected state officials!

  6. kk I also read the article, very positive response by a supt willing to put it all on the line and stand up to EVERYONE. It is also called leadership.