Cincinnati Teachers To Be Paid on Performance

By Julie Blair — September 27, 2000 5 min read
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Cincinnati has become what is believed to be the first public school district in the country to scrap its traditional salary structure and replace it with a schedule that bases pay on classroom performance.

The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers ratified the plan Sept. 15, by a vote of 54 percent to 46 percent, ushering in a setup that will align educators’ compensation with new guidelines for teaching standards, in-depth assessments, and professional development. Seventy-two percent of the 3,200-member union turned out for the vote. The school board had approved the plan unanimously in May.

Rick Beck

“We’re being held accountable to a set of higher standards—those that actually produce results in the classroom,” said Rick Beck, the president of the CFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

To persuade teachers to vote for the initiative, union and district leaders agreed to delay implementing the new salary schedule until the 2002-03 school year, Mr. Beck said.

At that time, union members will decide whether to continue as planned with the salary schedule, he said. Seventy percent of the teachers would have to agree to overturn the policy, an escape clause supported by the school district. The evaluation system would remain in place even if the salary schedule reverted to the previous method. Teachers will continue to be paid on the old salary schedule until that vote is taken.

Mr. Beck said the union and the school board had agreed to the postponement because teachers were divided on whether to lend their support.

Many teachers were worried that an evaluation process wouldn’t be implemented in a meaningful way, Mr. Beck said. Others were convinced that the union should not interfere in management issues, he said.

“We heard loud and clear they didn’t want to have that kind of high- stakes evaluation without knowing how the system worked,” Mr. Beck said.

Veteran teachers with 27 years of experience—the top of the pay scale— will earn $56,230 this year under the current system. Were the new salary schedule in effect, those in the highest category would be earning $62,500. Beginning teachers under both scales earn about $30,000.

Five-Tiered System

The plan represents the first move off a single-salary schedule for an entire school district since 1921 and puts the Ohio district at the leading edge of a growing trend among schools to try out new forms of teacher compensation and accountability, said Allan Odden, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who helped devise the policy and is regarded as a national expert on the subject.

Other variations of pay-for- performance are under discussion in Denver, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, New York City, and Wisconsin. A Los Angeles public charter school has been experimenting with its own alternative-pay scheme for two years. (“Changing the Rules of the Game,” June 14, 2000.)

Unlike plans in some districts and states, however, the Cincinnati model does not link teacher pay to students’ test performance. Instead, it increases pay for educators who meet teaching goals set by the district.

“The route to improving kids’ achievement is to improve instruction,” Mr. Odden said. Pay systems linked to teacher performance “raise the importance of instruction to more than rhetoric. When you start messing with people’s pay systems, they pay attention.”

The Cincinnati initiative was first discussed in 1997 and was piloted in 10 schools last academic year. The system will be phased in districtwide over the next five years, a process that has already begun, Mr. Beck said.

The plan is mandatory for teachers with less than 22 years’ experience—about 2,400 teachers. Those who have been in the district longer—about 700 educators—will be “grandfathered” into the long-standing salary-schedule system. Those teachers can opt into the new system on a voluntary basis.

The hallmark of the plan is the creation of five career categories. Beginning teachers will be labeled “apprentices” and can progress through the system to become “novice,” “career,” “advanced,” and “accomplished” educators, provided they meet specific goals.

Frequent, in- depth evaluations will determine whether teachers advance in the career categories, stay in the same category, or slide back into a lower one.

A principal and a consulting teacher, who will be trained specifically to help with the evaluations, will conduct assessments of each teacher on six occasions at least once every five years. Teachers will be given ratings of 1 to 4 in four areas that reflect 16 standards. They also will be required to submit portfolios that include logs of parent contacts, sample lesson plans and student work, a list of professional-development activities, and a grade book.

Teachers will receive the comprehensive reviews two years after being hired, and three years after moving into the novice level. Educators in the career, advanced, and accomplished categories will receive comprehensive reviews every five years, but can request them annually should they aspire to move to the next achievement level.

Principals will provide one-hour annual reviews in years when comprehensive reviews are not given.

The plan eradicates some of the salary protections that were in place under the old structure, except for those teachers given grandfathered status.

Teachers who slide back in career categories will be given two years to improve before their pay is cut. Educators who return to the novice category for more than one year will be fired. And teachers who do not advance beyond the apprentice category within two years will not have their contracts renewed.

The new evaluation method is significantly different from the current one, in which principals assess teachers for one hour annually and grade them either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

A Better Way?

The plan thrilled Rochelle S. Johnson, a reading specialist who teaches at Winton Montessori School and served on the team that created the pay-for-performance plan.

Evaluations will be far less subjective under the new system and, thus, more fair, she said.

“Now, when evaluators go into the classroom, they’ll know what to look for ... because it is written in black and white,” Ms. Johnson said.

Moreover, she added, both rookie and veteran teachers will be more motivated under the plan to do good work and be better recognized and rewarded for their efforts.

Critics argue, though, that the Cincinnati evaluation system is not the best way to monitor good teaching and learning.

“Student learning can be evaluated by how much they know at the beginning of contact with a teacher and at the end of contact with a teacher,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education during the Reagan administration. “You could use student portfolios to do that, oral exams, student projects, or essay reviews. A classroom visit may or may not get close to student learning.”

Such criticisms don’t faze Superintendent Steven J. Adamowksi. “All research in that area contradicts [Mr. Finn’s] notion,” he said. “All eyes of the nation are on us. We can’t afford not to do this well.”


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