Quick rundown on Pittsburgh's new Gates-fueled contract

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The board of ed and the teachers union in Pittsburgh recently negotiated a five-year teacher contract focused on teacher pay in the form of three new initiatives: an individual performance-pay plan, a school-based performance-pay plan and a career ladder.

The contract was negotiated without "bullying" or "fisticuffs," according to the district and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. And the groundwork for it was laid by a $40 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant aimed at focusing Pittsburgh schools on improving teacher quality.

Teachers can now earn bonuses of up to $8,000 per year by demonstrating that they've contributed to the academic growth of their students (as measured by value added) and either teaching afterschool classes or taking on leadership roles.

"Career ladder" positions, for experienced teachers with proven track records of boosting student achievement, offer teachers additional compensation ranging from $9,300 to $13,300 per year, depending on the teacher's specific responsibilities.

The contract also includes school-wide bonuses both for attaining AYP and ranking among the top performing schools in the state of Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh's contract shows commendable progress toward a compensation system that places value on effectiveness rather than experience and the number of degrees a teacher has accumulated. But there's room for improvement. Teacher assignments will still be based on seniority, and principals don't have much of a say in who works in his or her building.

While it doesn't hurt to pay top teachers more, a truly effective change of school culture should include policies that allow principals to select those teachers who are best fits for their staff.