bonus points

City, union agree to performance pay deal for struggling schools

The city and the teachers union have struck a performance pay deal that will tie some teachers’ salaries to a range of measures of their effectiveness, including their students’ test scores.

The deal is part of a federal grant program to “turn around” the city’s most struggling schools. It also builds on a teacher evaluation agreement reached between the union and state education officials last month. According to the deal, 34 schools that have been designated as persistently lowest achieving will be able to pay model teachers significantly more money to take on greater responsibilities. Deemed the best-of-the-best, these teachers will mentor their colleagues, write curriculum, and open their classrooms to teachers who want to watch a lesson.

City officials have decided that 11 of these 34 schools will undergo the transformation model beginning next September. This means they can get support services, have an extended school day or an entirely new schedule, and can keep the teachers they have. In some cases, the city may decide to replace these schools’ principals.

The other 23 schools will experience one of three other plans offered by the federal government: turnaround (in which all teachers are excessed and only half can be re-hired and the principal is replaced); restart (in which a charter school replaces the district school); or closure. Department of Education officials have yet to decide which of these schools will go through which models.

Deputy Chancellor John White said the city would inform the 34 schools whether they will go through the transformation model or not in the next 24 hours.

Under the new performance pay agreement, teachers will apply to be “turnaround teachers” or “master teachers,” at both turnaround and transformation schools. With these new titles, and accompanying bonuses, city officials believe they can draw great teachers to these schools and make sure the good ones who are there, stay put.

Turnaround teachers will teach a full course load — in high schools that’s five classes — while spending at least 30 hours a year helping their colleagues in the school. That could mean helping another teacher plan his lessons, or demonstrating a model lesson. As a reward, these teachers will receive bonuses of 15 percent of their salaries.

One step up from that is the master teacher position, for which a person must teach at least four classes a day. An additional two periods must be used to train other teachers either through one-on-one mentoring or by running professional development seminars. Master teachers’ bonuses will be 30 percent of their salaries.

“It’s groundbreaking because 30 percent is meaningful, 15 percent is meaningful,” White said. “A 1,000 or 2,000 dollar bonus will have some effect on people’s lives, but it won’t compel the kind of transformation that will 15 and 30 percent increases.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the deal to create the bonus program doesn’t mean the union had agreed to a merit pay system for individual teachers (the current program is school-wide).

“It’s a career ladder,” he said. “Merit pay is based entirely on test scores. If you’re doing more work, you should be compensated. It’s not a shiny new merit pay system.”

Teachers who apply to be turnaround or master teachers next year will be vetted by a committee composed of four teachers union representatives and two Department of Education employees. Piloting the new teacher evaluation system, the committee will rate teachers, with 40 percent of the evaluation based on their students’ test scores and 60 percent on performance reviews, attendance, and other factors.

Principals will hire master and turnaround teachers from this pool of vetted candidates. By 2011, the city expects to do way with the committee screening process and rely on the teacher evaluation system to separate teachers into four categories: highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective.

How long the city will be able to offer these bonuses is uncertain. Over the course of the next three years, each of the 34 schools will receive $6 million in federal stimulus money — $2 million per year — that will pay for the bonuses. At the end of that time period, the bonuses could become part of the teachers contract and be paid by the city.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”