Cincinnati Vote Obscures Pay Plan's Future

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Teachers in Cincinnati voted overwhelmingly last week for new union leadership, signaling what some observers say may mean a setback for one of the country's most radical experiments in performance pay.

Susan Taylor, a high school social studies teacher with 22 years' experience, won the election for the presidency of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, beating out incumbent Rick Beck, 1,280 to 364. Ms. Taylor, who ran on a platform of creating a more democratic and inclusive union, has advocated slowing down the implementation of the compensation plan.

"I am convinced that the teachers of the Cincinnati public schools don't fear fair evaluation," Ms. Taylor states on her campaign Web site. "However, as the implementation of the Teacher Evaluation System has unfolded this year, it is clear that there are flaws and that major modifications are needed."

The 52,000-student district drew national attention last fall after the union membership ratified the plan, making it the first district to move completely off a traditional salary schedule since 1921. ("Cincinnati Teachers To Be Paid on Performance," Sept. 27, 2000.) The CFT had worked closely with the administration and the school board in drafting the plan. Unlike designs being mulled in other states, the Cincinnati model does not link individual teacher pay to students' test performance. It does, however, increase pay for educators who meet teaching goals set by the district. It could also mean salary cuts for some.

Rigorous Evaluation System

The hallmark of the plan, which is being phased in over five years, 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 put, or slide back into a lower one.

While the evaluation system is already up and running, implementation of the new salary schedule was delayed until next school year as an incentive for teachers' support of the plan. In May 2002, union members will vote on whether to go ahead with the salary changes. In order to overturn the policy, 70 percent of the union's 3,100 members would have to vote to do so. Ms. Taylor wrote in her campaign literature that the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, should not support the compensation plan if the current evaluation system is used.

"There is no question that [the evaluation system] is absolutely grounded in solid research," wrote Ms. Taylor. "Though theoretically sound, in practice [the system] is excessive."

In a press conference after the election, Ms. Taylor said the new executive council had not yet formulated a strategy and would not answer questions until it had done so.

All but one of the other candidates elected to the union's executive council and as representatives ran on Ms. Taylor's slate. About half the union's members mailed in their ballots for the 27 local candidates.

'Teachers Are Frustrated'

School and union officials said it was unclear how the election results might affect implementation of the pay plan. Ms. Taylor was instrumental in devising the district's peer-review program, and she served on the bargaining committee that helped write the compensation plan.

"No one can fully guess what will happen, but clearly [the vote] means that teachers are frustrated with the evaluation model implemented this year," said Tom Mooney, who headed the Cincinnati affiliate for 21 years before taking over as president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers last year. "I don't believe this vote means that Cincinnati teachers are going to abandon their support for professionalism. They are clearly saying, however, that this particular process is flawed and not acceptable as is."

Schools Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski said that despite the problems with implementation and the change in leadership, he is confident the plan will proceed.

"We've learned a lot this year, and after making refinements, I fully expect the new president will be at the forefront of being involved with us and continuing the partnership with the district," Mr. Adamowski said in an interview.

A backlash in Cincinnati could hold a lesson for other districts that are working on similar pay plans, according to Allan Odden, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who helped create the policy and is regarded as a national expert on the subject.

"Teachers could actually have salary reductions [under this plan], and that has created some concern," said Mr. Odden, who expects to complete his initial evaluation of the Cincinnati program this summer. "There's a message here for other places thinking about implementing such plans: You have to expect the worry and concern, and you have to have a strategy for dealing with it."

Vol. 20, Issue 32, Page 3

Published in Print: April 25, 2001, as Cincinnati Vote Obscures Pay Plan's Future
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