Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Merit Pay for Teachers -- Not Invented Here

The teachers’ union, the school district, and city hall spent seven years collaborating on a public school teachers’ merit pay program, building from a task force consisting of five teachers, five administrators, and (good heavens!) two citizens. Under the resulting plan, a teacher can receive merit bonus payments if his/her school meets its annual goals, if his/her students exceed expectations on state exams, if he/she teaches in a high-needs school, if he/she exceeds personal goals he/she participated in setting at the beginning of the school year, if he/she receives a good evaluation from the school’s principal, and if his/her school is rated distinguished based on parent satisfaction and various other criteria. Veteran teachers can choose to opt in or out, while new teachers will automatically enter the program.

The city’s residents were so supportive of the program, they agreed to a nine-year, $25 million tax increase just to pay for it. And, as Time Magazine points out in its February 13 article (“How to Make Great Teachers”), half of the city’s teachers agreed to join this merit pay plan in just its first year.

Is it Utopia? Oz? Neverland? An alternate New York City in some parallel dimension?

None of the above – it’s Denver, it’s called ProComp, and it’s an object lesson par excellence in sensibility, cooperation, and responsible engagement with the citizenry who pay the bills and send their children to the public schools. No secret plans, no hubristic pronouncements handed down by lawyers who think they are educators, no private financing from a billionaire’s corporate and hedge fund friends as a way to end run public discussion and debate.

A 2004 editorial (02/15/04) in the Denver Post noted, “The system also wisely avoids tying salary increases to CSAP [Colorado Student Assessment Program] scores – which would be a sure death knell with teachers. Instead, teachers can work with their supervisors to create different measurements of student growth.” (Emphasis mine. For a 2008 update, see NPR story from All Things Considered.)

Open process, union and citizen buy-in, flexibility, use of multiple performance measures – is anyone at 52 Chambers Street listening?

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