Teacher compensation reform is possible...

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Imagine a district teacher compensation system without steps and lanes, without supplemental payments for extra-duties such as chairing a department, where a new teacher can receive tens of thousands of dollars in increases in her first few years, where teacher performance and student achievement are the only measures, and where teachers are more highly compensated than in the neighboring systems.

Now imagine that this doesn't break the budget, that it is implemented in two years, and that it was developed in cooperation with the teachers union.

Mike Miles, superintendent of the Harrison School District in Colorado (and a recent addition to NCTQ's board of directors), did not just imagine such a system: he has been carefully developing and implementing it over the past several years. And he's now written a guide to Harrison's system published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The Harrison plan places all teachers into nine effectiveness levels annually, starting with new teachers, labeled "novices", who make $35,000 per year, and culminating with "master" teachers, who make $90,000. Teachers can move up or down levels annually, based on the most recent evaluation results. Those who move down a level receive the lower salary only after two consecutive years at that level. There are no automatic cost-of-living adjustments - a committee consisting of district personnel and teachers and leaders from every school reviews the entire compensation scale every three years and proposes adjustments.

These placements depend on two equally weighted components: performance and achievement.

Performance is measured by a combination of brief and longer principal observations (ranging from 9 to 18 observations per year per teacher) using a simple, common rubric.  Achievement is measured for all classroom teachers using eight "weights" consisting of combinations - specific to grade-level and subject - of measures like state tests; district semester and quarterly assessments; district performance tasks; and a variety of college-level assessments (AP examinations, ACT, etc.).  There are 88 different achievement templates covering all classroom teachers in elementary, middle, and high school grade-levels.

There's lots more good thinking (and extraordinary leadership) behind the plan. For example, the Harrison Plan Focus Group, which consists of an administrator and two teachers from every school meets monthly to raise concerns and make decisions regarding the plan. This group eliminated the original two-tier design, which differentiated between core and non-core subject teachers and decided that elementary ESL teachers are accountable for only reading and writing on state and district assessments (not math or science).

In short, Harrison has demonstrated a sustainable path towards district compensation reform that others can emulate.  We're hoping Mike is already at work on part 2: a behind the scenes look at how he was able to get—and keep—everyone on the same page.

Rob Rickenbrode