Expanding the NCTQ Teacher Contract Database: Charter Management Organizations

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From time to time we update the NCTQ Teacher Contract Database and today we bring you an addition that takes a new turn. We've added two charter management organizations, Green Dot Public Schools and Aspire Public Schools, so that users can look at their policies side-by-side with those of the 114 districts included in the database.

We know what you're thinking: "this is the NCTQ Teacher Contract Database; why add charter schools?" Well, as charter schools proliferate, some charter management organizations (CMOs) are looking a lot like districts. As charters continue to grow and educate more students, we thought it would be beneficial to see how different or similar teacher policies are in a couple of growing CMOs to the districts in our database.

First, a little background on the two CMOs added to our database.

Green Dot Public Schools was founded in 1999 in the Los Angeles area where it serves middle and high school students in some of the highest needs areas of LA. It recently expanded its network beyond California; in August 2014, Green Dot plans to open its first school in Memphis under Tennessee's Achievement School District. Green Dot teachers are among very few charter school teachers who work under a union contract.

Founded in 1998, Aspire Public Schools operates 37 small charter schools in low-income neighborhoods throughout California and in Memphis, Tennessee. Aspire's Memphis schools work in partnership with the Tennessee Achievement School District, as well. It serves students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Unlike their Green Dot cohorts, Aspire teachers do not work under a contract.

Green Dot and Aspire are but two charter school systems among an ever-growing number in the United States. There is as much variety in charter systems as there is across and within school districts, and we do not attempt to represent the variety of charter policies with these two organizations. However, these charter management organizations provide insight as to how these two organizations approach teacher policies. Below we've highlighted a few of the policies that stand out.

Green Dot 2013-2016 contract:

  • Salary: Green Dot currently follows a traditional step and lane salary schedule with annual bonuses offered for performance ranging from $500 to $2,000.  However, Green Dot is in negotiations with its teachers union, the Asociacion de Maestros Unidos (an NEA affiliate), to move to a performance-based salary schedule. All the same, there are some differences that distinguish the Green Dot salary schedules from others in the database. A teacher with a BA reaches the maximum step after just four years, much earlier than we see in traditional step and lane salary schedules, and the approximate $13,000 difference between salaries for BA's and MA's is unusually high. A comparison between Green Dot and Los Angeles Unified School District salaries shows that while a Green Dot teacher with a BA might begin at a slightly higher salary ($47,127 vs. $45,637), his maximum potential salary with the same degree is slightly less ($48,078 vs. $52,406) though Green Dot teachers reach the top of the pay scale five years before LAUSD teachers.
  • Layoffs and recall rights: Charter school laws in almost every state offer charter schools a waiver from state and district laws and regulations. Here we see such a case. Layoffs at Green Dot schools are not carried out by seniority as is the case elsewhere under California law. Green Dot uses a weighted system which gives the greatest weight to credentials and performance; teachers with the lowest scores are laid off first. Seniority represents just 15 percent of the total. Also contrary to California law, a laid-off teacher maintains recall rights for just 12 months, not the 24 months required by the state for non-tenured teachers and 39 months for tenured teachers.
  • Tenure:  Tenure and seniority preferences do not exist in Green Dot schools. That said, it seems that even Green Dot is having trouble letting go of the concept. While it doesn't exist in any tangible way, the contract continues to refer to ways to earn "tenure credit". You know what they say about old habits. This seemingly contradictory language looks to us like the ghost of contracts' past.
  • Dismissals: The provisions of the California Education Code regarding suspension and dismissal do not apply to Green Dot teachers. Therefore, dismissal appeals do not go through a court of law. A teacher's final recourse should she appeal a dismissal is arbitration through the State Mediation and Conciliation Service based on the collective bargaining agreement.
  • Calendar: The student school year in Green Dot is 181 days, not too different from most districts in California. However, the teacher school year is longer than most, 192 days. Of the other California districts in our database, Oakland comes the closest with 186 teacher days. The district awards teachers with perfect attendance records a monetary bonus equal to 40 percent of their 10 unused leave days based on the substitute teacher daily rate. Teachers who are absent three or fewer days receive a 20 percent bonus.
  • School day: Once a week, students in Green Dot schools are dismissed early to allow teachers collaborative planning time. While working a "professional work day", the specific number of hours in the teacher day is not mandated by the central administration. Teachers and administrators determine the daily schedule, including time devoted to collaborative planning, on a school-by-school basis.
  • Evaluations: All Green Dot teachers are observed twice formally and four times informally, a requirement not unlike that of many newer district evaluation systems. The informal observations do not count towards a teacher's rating; they are designed to provide feedback to the teacher. Observations count 40 percent of the evaluation for teachers of tested subjects, 55 percent for teachers of non-tested subjects.

Notably, Green Dot's evaluation system places a tremendous level of importance to stakeholder feedback. Peer, family and student input all count towards a teacher's final rating, representing 20 percent of the evaluation. For peer feedback, five randomly selected teachers from the teacher's grade level and department complete a survey of the teacher's performance. For the student input portion, approximately 30 of the teacher's students are randomly selected to complete the survey. Families are invited to complete a survey as well. A response rate of at least 20 percent of the families is required in order for it to be used.

Student achievement and growth represent 40 percent of the evaluation for teachers of tested subjects, but, only 25 percent for teachers of non-tested subjects and that 25 percent is derived from school-wide data -- no Student Learning Objectives, or other local assessments.

Green Dot assigns an effectiveness rating to each teacher which determines where they are placed on the Green Dot Career Path.

Aspire Public Schools

  • Salary: Aspire does not use a traditional salary schedule and they declined to provide a range of salaries for our database. Salaries for their teachers are based on effectiveness ratings, experience, assignment, academic level and the principal's discretion. Aspire allows principals' flexibility in setting salaries for individual teachers in order to meet the needs of the school and the teacher.
  • Benefits: Aspire offers a "cafeteria" benefit plan whereby teachers choose a plan that best meets their individual needs. For example, rather than offering a healthy young teacher who is burdened with college loans a hefty health benefits package, the teacher can opt for a less costly health plan in addition to a tuition reimbursement plan.
  • Calendar: Each school sets its own calendar. Generally, the school year is around 185-192 days, longer than average.
  • School Day: Not only do Aspire students have fewer vacation days, they also experience a longer school day. Like the school year, the school day varies from school to school, but, on average children are in school for 7 ½ hours, longer than most children in California and across the country.
  • Induction/Mentoring: Aspire boasts of its Teacher Residency Program, somewhat reminiscent of a medical residency program. Aspire partners with the University of the Pacific which offers teachers-in-training an initial year of coursework. After that first year, student teachers spend the following year in the classroom of a master teacher. During the next two years, they have their own classroom but work with an instructional coach who meets with them once a week. During the fourth year, the teacher may pursue new careers roles such as lead or master teacher or administrator. At the end of the fourth year, the participants are awarded their master's degrees and are fully credentialed.
  • Tenure: There is no tenure in Aspire Public Schools.
  • Layoffs: Teachers are laid off based on performance. The lowest performing teachers are laid of first.
  • Evaluations: Like Green Dot, Aspire gives a great deal of weight to stakeholder feedback. Parents' feedback counts for 5 percent of the evaluation and peer and student feedback count for 5 and 10 percent respectively.

    Teachers are observed four times a year, once formally and three times informally. Observations are both announced and unannounced.

  • Connection between evaluations and dismissals: There is no explicit connection between the evaluation and dismissals. There are five evaluation rating levels: master, highly effective, effective, emerging and entering. Take note, there is no unsatisfactory rating. Evaluations in Aspire schools are seen as a means to develop professionally. Whereas, an unsatisfactory rating in most districts normally jump starts a clearly defined improvement process, eventually leading to a probationary period and possible dismissal if a teacher fails to improve, this formal process does not exist in Aspire schools. Dismissals are handled on a case by case basis at the principal's and superintendent's discretion.

As always, keep up with the new additions to the Teacher Contract Database like these, as we continue to track trends in key contract policies across the country.