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Rochester, N.Y., Contract Links Accountability, Resources

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After years of debate in Rochester, N.Y., over how to incorporate the concept of accountability in teachers' contracts, union and school officials there have reached an unprecedented agreement that will set aside more classroom resources for high-achieving schools.

The four-year, $2.5 million pact, approved this month by the school board and the Rochester Teachers' Association, also expands on a previous contract that established a four-level career ladder for teachers and provisions for individual-teacher accountability.

Although the city has adopted several widely publicized school-reform initiatives, the issue of accountability has been a stumbling block since the first attempts to refine a landmark 1987 agreement that restructured the district's teaching force. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1990, and Feb. 6, 1991.)

Other school systems around the country have also explored ways to link teachers' pay to performance or develop school-achievement incentives. Nearly a dozen Colorado districts, for example, are working on such plans. (See Education Week, Dec. 8, 1993.)

But the Rochester pact, which includes annual 3.5 percent pay raises for teachers and a pledge to crack down on school violence, appears to have broken new ground.

"The most tangible difference between this [contract] and others in the country is the emphasis on group accountability and individual accountability,'' said MutiuFagbayi, the chief operating officer of the National Center on Education and the Economy, an education-policy group in Rochester that has worked closely with the district. "It's in the forefront.''

'A Pivotal Change'

When the negotiations for a new contract began early last year, there was a push by some school officials and the larger community to adopt a merit-pay system for teachers, said Adam Urbanski, the president of the R.T.A.

But both the union and the district fought for an alternative, citing evidence that such systems had not been successful in other districts.

"We did not want to make the mistakes of some merit-pay systems that have existed'' or rely on standardized tests as a measure of success, Superintendent Manuel J. Rivera added.

Both Mr. Rivera and Mr. Urbanski said they believe such systems pit schools and teachers against each other and are punitive in nature.

"The fact that [merit pay] is not in the contract is a pivotal change,'' Mr. Urbanski said. "This contract has a more sensible definition of accountability.''

Observers describe the schoolwide incentives as the centerpiece of the accountability contract.

Under the new agreement, a $1 million classroom-resource fund will be carved out of the general school budget for rewarding teachers and schools that meet the district's new "principles for achieving schools.''

The principles include providing knowledge-based teaching that is responsive to students' needs and empowering children to take greater responsibility for their learning.

Teachers on the schools' site-based-decisionmaking teams would distribute the money to their colleagues for new classroom supplies or professional-development activities, Mr. Urbanski said.

"It's budget authority in the classroom,'' added Jewell Gould, the director of research for the American Federation of Teachers, the R.T.A.'s national organization.

The pact is one of the first bargaining agreements to draw on the national movement to develop higher standards for students and create incentives to reach those standards, Mr. Gould said.

Mr. Fagbayi said the seed money not only will make teachers and schools more accountable for student achievement, but also will multiply teachers' opportunities to collaborate.

"In education, there is generally a very isolated, solitary way of operating,'' he noted. "This really engenders peer mentoring.''

'Take Their Practice Public'

While teachers already undergo rigorous evaluations under the career ladder created several years ago, the new pact stipulates that teachers take part in more comprehensive evaluations, Mr. Urbanski said.

In addition to their annual portfolio reviews and self-assessments, teachers every three years will be required "to take their practice public,'' undergoing reviews by students and parents and observations by their colleagues, he explained.

The model is similar to that used by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which is launching a voluntary national system to certify expert teachers. (See Education Week, Nov. 24, 1993.)

If a teacher is not found to be meeting professional standards, no pay raise will be granted, Mr. Urbanski noted, adding, though, that teachers and supervisors can appeal the outcome.

"The fact that you don't get raises does not mean this is merit pay,'' he added. "That's common sense.''

While any kinks in the new contract will probably not be apparent for months, the spirit of labor-management cooperation has already made its way around the district.

The administrators' union this month also approved a contract that incorporates group and school accountability and creates an $85,000 resource fund for leadership development or general school use, Mr. Rivera said.

The next step in the reform process, asserted Mr. Fagbayi, is to make administrators, teachers, and students in the school accountable as a unit.

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