On Monday, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) went on strike, the newest in a series of instructor strikes that have erupted throughout the nation over the past year. While Denver teachers have voiced concerns about class sizes, assistance personnel, and starting wages, the consensus is that the issue at the heart of the strike is instructor disappointment with Denver’s once-celebrated ProComp pay system, which was jointly developed by the DCTA and Denver Public Schools in 2005.
Back then, ProComp was heralded as a pioneering step forward on pay-for-performance/merit pay, and that framing has colored protection of the strike. Even in the past the strike started, education outlet Chalkbeat ran an explainer headlined, “How a once-promising merit pay system led Denver teachers to the brink of a strike.” This week, the Washington Post reported “Denver teachers strike in bid to dismantle pay-for-performance system.” The New York Times account was headlined, “Denver Educators’ Strike Puts Performance-Based Pay to the Test.”
The only issue? This narrative is bunk. For all the talk about “merit” and “performance,” ProComp is almost entirely devoid of any links in between pay and instructor performance.
As Denver Public Schools’ payment chart shows, ProComp enables teachers to earn an annual $3,851 pay bump for acquiring an advanced degree or license; a $2,738 increase for working in a “hard to staff” field or a “hard to serve” school; $1,540 for working in a “ProComp Title I” school, which is different than a “hard to serve” school; $855 for finishing the requisite “professional development units”; and in between $800 and $5,000 for filling designated leadership roles. There is also a annual perk for teachers based on trainees’ state-wide-exam outcomes.
None of these perks, save possibly for the last one, are performance-based. The only other component of ProComp looking like anything even remotely close to a performance-based incentive for individual teachers is the $855 they can get for a acceptable examination on a paper-driven performance rubric — and that figure falls by half for longtime teachers. (Just how modest is such a sum in context? Typical teacher pay in Denver before rewards is about $51,000, and the district has currently used instructors a 10 percent raise.)
A couple points here benefit note. First, contra the coverage of the strike, the Denver pay system which has sparked so much reaction is not in fact satisfying performance. Rather, ProComp is mainly developed to reward the usual credentialism and to guide instructors to work in specific schools or fields. That’s all fine, and some of it makes excellent sense, however it’s a misnomer to define it as making up a “pay-for-performance” scheme.
Second, to the extent that ProComp looks for to benefit performance in any fashion, it has decided for school-wide benefits to schools that make big gains on mathematics and reading scores (what the district euphemistically terms “top performing-high development” schools). Reading and mathematics ratings matter, a lot. But education reform’s fascination with paying for test points is troubling on a number of counts. It is bizarrely detached from the guideline that most instructors (including those who teach science, foreign languages, music, or history) are asked to focus on and has urged corner-cutting and straight-out unfaithful. It also has parents worried about narrow curricula and soulless direction, and teachers feeling like insurance salesmen.
Performance pay is always challenging, however a raft of for-profit and non-profit organizers have actually muddled through in quite reasonable methods — tapping human judgment, looking for to evaluate the complete contribution that an staff member makes, and relying more upon promos and raises than one-time perks.
Denver’s circumstance is so notable due to the fact that Denver is no laggard. Undoubtedly, for lots of years, it has actually been commemorated as a “model” district by reformers. So it’s discouraging how little development the city has really made. Reformers wound up being so focused on finding ways to pay instructors to switch schools or raise test scores that they missed what might have been a larger opportunity to reshape the teaching profession by reimagining how teachers’ task descriptions, pay structures, and duties might work. Certainly, offered the restricted dollar amounts involved (a 1–2 percent bonus if a instructor aces his personal evaluation), it’s tough to envision why anybody ever expected ProComp to be a game-changer.
As teacher strikes continue apace and efforts to improve schooling relocation on from the enthusiasm of the Bush and Obama years, there might emerge brand-new opportunities to reconsider instructor pay. If they do, reformers must seize them by focusing more intently on how well teachers do their tasks, and less on where they work or how numerous boxes they check.