Media coverage of the Denver teachers’ strike has actually gotten the story wrong due to the fact that it proceeds from a faulty premise.
On Monday, the Denver Class Educators Association (DCTA) went on strike, the newest in a series of teacher strikes that have erupted throughout the country over the past year. While Denver instructors have voiced concerns about class sizes, assistance staff, and starting salaries, the agreement is that the concern at the heart of the strike is teacher frustration with Denver’s once-celebrated ProComp pay system, which was collectively established by the DCTA and Denver Public Schools in 2005.
Back then, ProComp was declared as a pioneering step forward on pay-for-performance/merit pay, and that framing has colored protection of the strike. Even previously the strike started, education outlet Chalkbeat ran an explainer headlined, “How a once-promising merit pay system led Denver teachers to the edge of a strike.” This week, the Washington Post reported “Denver teachers strike in bid to take apart pay-for-performance system.” The New York Times account was headlined, “Denver Teachers’ 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 nearly completely devoid of any links in between pay and instructor efficiency.
As Denver Public Schools’ payment chart illustrates, ProComp allows instructors to earn an annual $3,851 pay bump for acquiring an advanced degree or license; a $2,738 boost for working in a “hard to personnel” field or a “hard to serve” school; $1,540 for working in a “ProComp Title I” school, which is various than a “hard to serve” school; $855 for finishing the requisite “professional development units”; and between $800 and $5,000 for filling designated leadership functions. There is likewise a annual reward for instructors based on trainees’ state-wide-exam outcomes.
None of these perks, save maybe for the last one, are performance-based. The only other element of ProComp resembling anything even from another location close to a performance-based incentive for individual teachers is the $855 they can get for a satisfactory examination on a paper-driven efficiency rubric — and that figure falls by half for longtime educators. (Just how modest is such a sum in context? Average instructor pay in Denver prior to incentives is about $51,000, and the district has already offered instructors a 10 percent raise.)
A couple points here benefit note. First, contra the coverage of the strike, the Denver pay system which has stimulated so much backlash is not actually fulfilling performance. Rather, ProComp is primarily developed to benefit the typical credentialism and to guide instructors to work in particular schools or fields. That’s all great, and some of it makes good sense, however it’s a misnomer to characterize it as constituting a “pay-for-performance” plan.
Second, to the level that ProComp looks for to reward efficiency in any fashion, it has decided for school-wide bonus offers to schools that make large gains on math and reading scores (what the district euphemistically terms “top performing-high development” schools). Reading and mathematics scores matter, a lot. But education reform’s fascination with paying for test points is uncomfortable on numerous counts. It is bizarrely removed from the instruction that most teachers (including those who teach science, foreign languages, music, or history) are asked to focus on and has encouraged corner-cutting and straight-out cheating. It likewise has parents worried about narrow curricula and soulless instruction, and teachers feeling like insurance salesmen.
Performance pay is constantly tricky, however a raft of for-profit and non-profit organizers have actually muddled through in pretty practical methods — tapping human judgment, seeking to examine the complete contribution that an employee makes, and relying more upon promos and raises than one-time rewards.
Denver’s situation is so noteworthy due to the fact that Denver is no laggard. Indeed, for lots of years, it has been commemorated as a “model” district by reformers. So it’s disheartening how little development the city has in fact made. Reformers wound up being so focused on finding ways to pay instructors to switch schools or raise test scores that they missed out on what may have actually been a bigger chance to improve the mentor occupation by reimagining how teachers’ job descriptions, pay structures, and obligations could work. Indeed, provided the limited dollar amounts included (a 1–2 percent perk if a instructor aces his personal assessment), it’s difficult to think of why anyone ever expected ProComp to be a game-changer.
As teacher strikes continue apace and efforts to enhance schooling relocation on from the interest of the Bush and Obama years, there might emerge new chances to reconsider teacher pay. If they do, reformers must seize them by focusing more intently on how well instructors do their jobs, and less on where they work or how many boxes they check.
Frederick M. Hess is the director of education-policy research studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Brendan Bell is the education-program supervisor at AEI.