School & District Management

Pittsburgh Details Plans for Gates Teacher-Effectiveness Grant

November 10, 2009 3 min read

As most of you know, Pittsburgh is one of five four finalists in line to get big dough from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its plans to upgrade teacher quality in the district. (Omaha ducked out of the competition last week after learning the most it would receive from Gates would be $50 million for a plan that the district says will cost $65 million).

Last week at the Strategic Management of Human Capital conference here in Washington, I sat in on part of a presentation by Pittsburgh’s deputy superintendent, Linda Lane, and John Tarka, the president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, as the pair explained their $85 million, multifaceted strategy. (Gates is expected to announce how the $500 million will be parceled out to the three school districts and coalition of Los Angeles charter schools later this month).

Pittsburgh has set a districtwide goal of improving students’ college readiness to 50 percent by 2014, up from 29 percent this year. The district defined college readiness by looking at the number of students who scored at the advanced level on state math exams in 2008. Getting students to college undergirds Pittsburgh’s entire proposal because of the city’s “Pittsburgh Promise,” a scholarship program that guarantees $5,000 a year for four years of college to students who maintain a 2.5 grade point average and an 85 percent attendance rate.

To get there, the district and the PFT have developed a menu of strategies to increase teacher effectiveness. At the center of it all is a new evaluation system that the district and union created jointly and have put in place in nearly half of the schools this fall. Teachers will be judged on multiple factors and by multiple people, though principals will remain the primary evaluators. In high schools, for example, some evaluations will include feedback from experts in a teacher’s content area.

Labor and management have also committed to craft a performance-pay program that will be bargained.

“It’s got to take more than a test score into account,” Tarka said. “We’ve got to design something valid, equitable, and transparent, and [that] makes teachers feel like they can influence their own pay.”

Other pieces of Pittsburgh’s plan include a differentiation of roles for teachers and additional pay for those who take on those roles. For example, Lane said, the district will develop a 9th and 10th grade “teacher excellence corps” that aims to change the culture in the city’s high schools by putting the best teachers in front of the youngest high school kids, who are the most vulnerable to dropping out. Those teachers would stay with the students through their freshman and sophomore years.

“We want the prestige to be attached to working with the most vulnerable kids,” Lane said.

The district and union have also agreed to create an intensive approach to grooming new teachers who are hired to teach mathematics, English, science, and special education. Those novices will go through a year-long induction process that will include pairing them with experienced educators in high-needs schools for several months before they are assigned to their own classrooms.

Tenure, Lane said, will no longer be automatically granted at a teacher’s three-year anniversary. “We are going to make it a milestone.”

One audience member asked Tarka and Lane how they’ve been able to strike such a collegial, collaborative tone between labor and management over what are usually combative issues.

“Never surprise your union,” Lane said. And Tarka, who said there’s still plenty of tension to work through, particularly over a pay-for-performance program, gave props to Lane’s trustworthiness before issuing a warning to the audience of officials from other school districts whom he surmised might be eyeing her.

“You all stay away from her,” Tarka said.

ADDENDUM: Word is starting to spread about Pittsburgh’s Board Watch, a good governance program that has been up and running in the city since January. I profiled their work recently in our Leading for Learning report. Board Watch is comprised of trained volunteers who attend all school board meetings and grade the members on how they adhere to the district’s goals and stay focused on policy. If you’d like to see a Board Watch-like group emerge in your school district, you can learn how the folks in Pittsburgh did it in a free Webinar on Nov. 18 at 4 p.m. Eastern. Here’s a link to register for the event.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
Teaching Live Online Discussion How to Develop Powerful Project-Based Learning
How do you prepare students to be engaged, active, and empowered young adults? Creating a classroom atmosphere that encourages students to pursue critical inquiry and the many skills it requires demands artful planning on the
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Sponsor
Drive Improvement in Your School With Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership
Aubree Mills had two dilemmas she needed to address: One was recruiting and retaining good teachers at the Ira A. Murphy Elementary School
Content provided by Harvard Graduate School of Education
School & District Management Opinion Are Your Leadership Practices Good Enough for Racial Justice?
Scratch being a hero. Instead, build trust and reach beyond school walls, write Jennifer Cheatham and John B. Diamond.
Jennifer Cheatham & John B. Diamond
5 min read
Illustration of leadership.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: DigitalVision Vectors, iStock, Getty)
School & District Management We Pay Superintendents Big Bucks and Expect Them to Succeed. But We Hardly Know Them
National data is skimpy, making it hard to know what influences superintendents' decisions to move on, retire, or how long they stay. Why?
8 min read
Conceptual image of tracking with data.
marcoventuriniautieri/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Data For the First Time in the Pandemic, a Majority of 4th Graders Learn in Person Full Time
The latest monthly federal data still show big racial and socioeconomic differences in who has access to full-time in-person instruction.
3 min read
Student with backpack.
surasaki/iStock/Getty