ProComp findings positive, tough to prove

Student achievement is up and teacher turnover is down since Denver Public Schools implemented its merit pay plan for teachers in 2006, but it’s tough to prove a direct link between the two.

CU-Denver researcher Robert Reichardt at Tuesday's press conference on ProComp.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Denver and the University of Washington on Tuesday released their report on the plan known as ProComp, or the Professional Compensation system for teachers.

The external evaluation was required as part of the $25 million tax increase approved by Denver voters in November 2005 to fund the innovative pay plan, which rewards teachers based on ten different components and now covers nearly 80 percent of DPS teachers.

“Six years into ProComp, as we release the study … we show the Denver Public Schools in a dramatically different place than when the voters of Denver chose to make that investment in 2005,” DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said at a morning news conference at Skinner Middle School.

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He ticked off gains in student achievement, in teacher retention and in student enrollment, which surpassed the 80,000-mark this year for the first time since 1974.

“Many factors go into that … but clearly ProComp is a very important part,” Boasberg said, noting, “One example, for every open teaching position, we see five times more applicants than we saw when Denver voters made the investment in ProComp six years ago.”

Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, was an early advocate of ProComp who fought changes to the plan in 2008 that shifted some permanent increases to annual bonuses.

“I know we don’t have definitive answers for many things,” he said at the press conference, “but it’s certainly a trend, it’s trending up, and it’s heading in the right direction and that’s highly encouraging for all of us.”

Difficult to isolate effects of ProComp, among other reforms

ProComp was implemented in DPS along with a number of other changes, including the district strategic reform plan called the Denver Plan. Between 2006 and today, the district also joined the statewide Public Employees Retirement Association, which may have made DPS more attractive to other Colorado teachers.

Skinner Middle School social worker Joe Waldon spoke at Tuesday's press conference.

Robert Reichardt, the research team director with CU-Denver, said it’s difficult to isolate the effects of ProComp from other DPS reform measures.

“I would never recommend that districts stop all reforms so you can study one reform,” he said. “I think DPS has followed the model of, ‘Do whatever it takes’ and implemented a lot of things that may be making a difference.”

Still, “ProComp appears to make a difference,” Reichardt said. “Clearly, ProComp helped build system capacity around data systems and professional development and HR that we think led to other reforms within DPS. Clearly, during ProComp implementation, recruitment and retention improved and there’s some evidence ProComp was a factor in improving retention.”

For example, between 2004-05 and 2008-09, teacher attrition in DPS declined from 17 percent to 13 percent. Attrition also dipped elsewhere in Colorado but not quite as much – it declined from 14 percent to 11 percent for the remaining Denver metro region and from 14 percent to 12 percent for the rest of the state.

“We estimate, at most, DPS was able to retain 160 teachers more per year due to ProComp,” Reichardt said.

In achievement, the numbers of students scoring proficient or advanced on state exams has grown in both reading and math over the past six years. In 2005, 40 percent of DPS students were reading at grade level compared to 49 percent in 2011. Math proficiency during that time rose from 29 percent to 41 percent.

“How much of that was due to ProComp, our design doesn’t allow us to say,” Reichardt said. “We think there is some evidence that some of it is due to ProComp.”

Two ProComp components – rewards for achieving student growth objectives set at the beginning of the school year and for exceeding expectations on CSAP exams in the spring – strongly correlated with teacher effectiveness, he said. Researchers defined teacher effectiveness by using “value-added models” to estimate teacher contributions to student achievement on state tests.

Other components, including the attainment of advanced degrees, did not appear to have any correlation with teacher effectiveness, Reichardt said.

ProComp agreement up for negotiation, expires August 2013

Results of the external evaluation, which mesh with earlier results of internal studies by CU-Boulder researchers, will be used as the teachers’ union and the district begin to negotiate the ProComp agreement, which expires in August 2013. The external study costs $360,000.

Skinner staff on ProComp

“The thing I like about ProComp is that it rewards me for my hard work when we see results with the kiddos.”
Joe Waldon, social worker

“In a time when we’re asked more as teachers, we are rewarding teachers equitably for the work they put in.”
Mathew Dennis, teacher

Roman, the DCTA president, said negotiators may look at reducing the number of ProComp components. He agreed with the finding that many teachers and principals still do not understand the complex system, which he described as having “too many moving parts.”

He also expressed concerns about the finding that there’s “limited evidence” of a link between advanced degrees and improved student achievement.

“Just like when you’re trying to jump start the economy, you don’t see results in three months or six months,” Roman said. “Sometimes you see the results a year later or two years later.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, Boasberg presented a symbolic paper check for $233,711.58 to a Skinner teacher and social worker. The amount represents ProComp incentive payments earned by 21 Skinner teachers in 2010-11 – an average of $11,000 per teacher.

Joe Waldon, the school social worker, said he joined ProComp when it launched six years ago.

“ProComp wasn’t going to make me work harder – my work ethic demands that – but the thing I like about ProComp is that it rewards me for my hard work when we see results with the kiddos,” Waldon said. “So it’s really nice to know when I’m here late in the evening or on a Saturday or on a Sunday … that there will be some financial compensation for that.”

At Skinner, in northwest Denver, the numbers of students reading proficiently has increased from 33 percent in 2005 to 50 percent in 2011.

Matthew Dennis, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at the school, said Skinner teachers “push one another” and that ProComp “motivates teachers to work collaboratively to raise the bar for all of our students.”

“In a time when we’re asked more as teachers, we are rewarding teachers equitably for the work they put in,” Dennis said, adding, “It doesn’t necessarily translate to me working harder. The people here at Skinner are hard workers already. But what it does is it shines a light on the good work that we’re doing and it incentivizes others to follow suit with what we’re doing here.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”