School & District Management

Education Groups Set Forth Principles for TIF

By Stephen Sawchuk — May 20, 2010 4 min read
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On the heels of the opening-up of $437 million in competitive federal dollars to support performance-based compensation systems, three national groups representing teachers, district administrators, and school boards have put forward a set of guidelines to aid members who choose to seek the funding.

The National Education Association, the American Association of School Administrators, and the National School Boards Association put together 11 principles, which stress cooperation among the parties in the development and implementation of the plans.

“We knew from the few past examples that if you don’t collaborate with administration, teachers, and the board, you end up with a product that isn’t going to work,” said Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the NSBA. “We knew that collaboration was king. So we thought, ‘Why not model it at the top?’ ”

In announcing the new funding through the Teacher Incentive Fund grant program May 20, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also called on potential applicants to overcome fears about new ways of thinking about and measuring educators’ performance.

“There’s no secret that historically there’s been some apprehension about doing this kind of stuff,” Mr. Duncan said during a conference call with reporters about the announcement. “You have to expose yourself a bit and put things on the line, but where folks are willing to do that and do it together, we see the benefits for students. It’s remarkable.”

The funding, provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the fiscal 2010 appropriations cycle, comes as the first scaling-up of the TIF program. Created in 2006, TIF supports districts, states, and nonprofit organizations to set up performance-based compensation systems for principals, teachers, and following a recent congressional change, other school personnel.

U.S. Department of Education officials have made only minor changes to the proposed grant criteria released earlier this year. They expect to award between 40 and 80 grants of $5 million to $10 million apiece under the new competition.

Union Shift

Among other items, the principles crafted by the AASA, the NEA, and the NSBA include developing performance-based evaluation systems based on multiple measures, providing adequate funding for the programs, and using collective bargaining, where it exists, as a vehicle for designing the plans.

The joint document also calls on applicants to base the plans on a foundation of “professional base-level salaries.” That term isn’t defined in the guidelines. Ms. Bryant said it is meant to underscore that the plans should be self-sustaining, rather than financed by cutting current salaries.

For the NEA, the document comes as the latest sign of a small but significant shift in its approach to alternative-compensation systems. The union has historically opposed such systems, especially those that include consideration of student test scores—one of several possible ways of measuring student-achievement growth under TIF.

But in recent months, the 3.2 million-member union’s president, Dennis Van Roekel, has said that the NEA at the national level will support its local affiliates that negotiate alternative-pay programs, even though the union does not endorse such plans as a matter of general policy.

The union’s executive director, John I. Wilson, acknowledged that the NEA was “pretty harsh initially” about TIF, but said that it has seen benefits in those plans that emphasize professional development to improve teacher practice, as well as evaluation.

“We have an obligation to create the opportunities for our members to participate in this program, so we can learn from it,” he said. “To me, it’s still at a trial stage, and the experimentation part deserves our support.”

The union could even include providing assistance through UniServ, its network of regional specialists who advise local affiliates on collective bargaining matters, Mr. Wilson added.

The education groups’ principles, for the most part, align with the final shape of the TIF program. TIF lacks an official congressional authorization, and its contours are largely defined by the Education Department.

Fine-Tuning

The final rules look very similar to those released early in February. (“Rules Proposed for Revamping Teacher Pay,” March 10, 2010.)

In response to several comments expressing concern that existing TIF grantees would be barred from applying for the new funds, the final guidelines now permit existing programs to expand the scope of their plans to new personnel not covered under their initial grants.

The guidelines also include a new competitive preference for states and districts that have never received TIF grants before and for nonprofit organizations that propose working with a new slate of applicants.

The department also altered details of a random-assignment evaluation component.

But it did not alter language to say that the grants must be bargained collectively or adopted through another buy-in mechanism, something both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers had urged.

The proposed guidelines fail “to make meaningful collaboration between labor and management a central requirement,” wrote Randi Weingarten, the president of the AFT, in her union’s comments. “The AFT believes it is imperative that the final TIF regulations include language that the collective bargaining process, where applicable, must be used to negotiate TIF programs and ... may not be overridden by TIF grants.”

The AFT provided input into the statement of principles, but it did not participate in the release.

Mr. Wilson of the NEA asserted, nevertheless, that any additional teacher pay would fall under the scope of bargaining in most states and districts.

The Obama administration has proposed increasing funding for the TIF program to $900 million in the upcoming appropriations cycle if lawmakers cannot complete an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act before then.

A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2010 edition of Education Week as Education Groups Set Forth TIF Grant Program Principles

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