promotion policy

Few teachers see raises through contract's paid leadership roles, so far

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen FariƱa talked to staff at P.S. 295 on Monday.

Principal Eileen Reiter wishes she could give all of her best teachers the raises she thinks they deserve.

That’s not possible under New York City’s traditional teacher pay system, which is based on experience and education credits. But Reiter’s school, P.S. 112 in East Harlem, did become eligible this summer to boost pay for some teachers by $7,500 as part of a program created by the new city teachers union contract.

Reiter said it’s a good start, but not enough for her school, where all teachers were rated “effective” or better on last year’s evaluations and six teachers applied for three available “model teacher” spots.

“I have so many teachers who could have been model teachers,” said Reiter, who added that it has been challenging to describe the compensation change at her school. “The way I explained it to the staff is that it’s not an award. It’s a lot of extra work. And it’s just for one year.”

P.S. 112 has had more leeway than most, as one of just 24 schools eligible to give the raises to teachers when the school year began. The limited rollout of the paid leadership positions, to less than 2 percent of the school system, initially, is emblematic of how cautious the city is being in implementing a new pay model that departs significantly from the way city teachers have been paid for decades.

When the city and the United Federation of Teachers first announced that three different leadership positions had been created by their contract agreement in May, officials said they would serve as tools to keep top teachers in the classroom by offering bonuses of between $7,500 and $20,000 for work teachers were already largely doing for free.

“How do we make sure that these schools, and people who are doing extraordinary work, are also given some compensation for the work that they’re doing?” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said then.

The program is set to expand over the next few weeks. Earlier this month, the city opened up the applications for two of the positions to teachers in another 175 schools, many of which are already taking part in other new education initiatives like the Learning Partners program and PROSE schools. Also eligible are schools in East Harlem’s District 4 and Brooklyn’s District 23, which officials said were chosen for their concentrations of high-need students and interested superintendents. Race to the Top grant money is simultaneously being used to fund the leadership positions in a small group of Bronx high schools, officials said.

So far, officials said they have received 500 applications from 150 schools, although some teachers applied for more than one job.

All three of the new positions offer more pay for specific additional responsibilities and additional time on the job. Those responsibilities are the major difference between New York’s changes and compensation systems established in recent years in other cities, such as Cleveland, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., where teacher bonuses have been tied directly to performance evaluations or based on student test scores.

For example, the city’s new “model teacher” position requires teachers to use their classrooms to demonstrate lessons and new teaching techniques. They will work an extra two days during the summer and two hours a month during the school year, and be freed from teaching some number of periods each week for that work.

The “ambassador” teacher position, which won’t be offered this year, requires teachers to leave their school for a year and work elsewhere in the same borough in addition to doing extra work during the school year and summer. “Master” teachers, who receive a $20,000 salary increase, will continue to teach in their schools but will be expected to coordinate teacher training, coach other teachers, and serve as a leader on “school teacher teams.”

Academy for Careers in Television and Film Principal Edgar Rodriguez said getting money to promote top teachers at the a small high school in Queens was “a great way to legitimize” jobs that he had been delegating since he took over nearly two years ago.

“Whether or not the roles formally existed, I had a number of teachers who were leaders,” he said.

But the promotions haven’t been universally embraced. After being notified that they were eligible earlier this month, entire staffs at least two schools agreed that they wouldn’t apply.

“This is a highly collaborative and democratic staff and it would be detrimental to our staff culture to elevate a small number of people when everyone is participating,” said Julie Zuckerman, principal of P.S. 513 in Washington Heights. P.S. 321 in Park Slope also declined to participate, Principal Elizabeth Phillips said.

Teachers at some eligible schools argued that pay bumps for one or two teachers aren’t the best way to spend money, since the city has only offered to pick up the tab for the bonuses this year. Rosie Frascella, a teacher at International High School at Prospect Heights, said she did not plan to apply for the model or master teacher positions.

“In my school right now, there’s not a lot of money for after-school programs, and it’s kind of a waste of money to give one teacher an extra $20,000 to be a master teacher,” said Frascella.

In some ways, the new positions are an expansion of similar programs that have been scattered across city schools for years. There is already a federally-funded career ladder program in its second year at 75 middle schools, while the city’s “lead teachers” program extends to 250 teachers in 170 schools who earn an extra $10,000 each to do much of the same work that the new “model teachers” will do.

Supporters of alternative compensation systems say New York City’s contract doesn’t go far enough. To qualify for the raises, teachers need to be rated “effective” or “highly effective,” which TNTP President Tim Daly criticized as too low a bar.

“In the big picture, the contract reflects, from a compensation perspective, a commitment to the existing system,” Daly said.

Union officials say they are betting that the rewards for doing specific extra work won’t damage their long-held position that teacher pay shouldn’t be tied to measures of teacher quality. They also said a careful rollout would ensure the program is successful.

“If it’s done right in an equitable fashion, we have the ability to build capacity within our ranks,” said UFT Vice President Karen Alford, who served on the union’s negotiating committee. “It’s about making sure that people who are clearly leaders within our schools are recognized.”

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led to changes in school improvement strategies. Leaders also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

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 [email protected]

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