Cincinnati’s public schools will pioneer an innovative plan to pay teachers based on their performance rather than on the number of years spent in the classroom, provided that the local union ratifies the change this coming fall.
The school board agreed unanimously last week to a plan that would create a five-tiered system of career levels aligned with 16 new teaching standards, in- depth assessments, and professional development, said Kathleen Ware, the assistant superintendent of the 44,000-student district.
“If this goes through, it will be historic,” said Allan Odden, the University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor who helped design the system. “This is the first move off the single salary schedule for any district in the country since 1921.”
Such an effort is “the last frontier of education reform,” declared Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski. “People who distinguish themselves will be able to rise higher, faster. For those people, it is a great reward. For others, it is a motivator.”
The plan would be phased in over five years, but it must first be approved by a majority of the 3,200 members of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, said Rick Beck, the president of the union and its bargaining chairman. Approval of the plan is likely in September, said Mr. Beck, who was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate last week.
“What this does is evaluate teachers more frequently, but in a context of standards that [teachers] had a major role in developing,” Mr. Beck said.
Pay Rises and Falls
The new career-level approach would label beginning teachers as “apprentices” and give them opportunities to progress to the “novice,” “career,” “advanced,” and “accomplished” levels in sequenced stages at their own pace as they met goals outlined by the district, Ms. Ware said. Pay would be increased accordingly, she added.
Movement along the gradation would be determined through comprehensive assessments, Ms. Ware said. Teachers would complete self-assessments, prepare portfolios of their work, and be observed working in the classroom by the principal and a teacher-evaluator on six occasions, Ms. Ware said. Teachers would be given ratings from 1 to 4 on each of the 16 standards. Depending on the scores, they would move up, slide down, or stay at the same level.
Educators would receive comprehensive evaluations two years after they were hired and three years after advancing to novice. Those who had reached the career, advanced, and accomplished levels would receive comprehensive reviews every five years but could request them as often as annually should they want to move on to the next level of achievement.
Educators whose ratings slipped enough to place them in a lower slot would have one year to improve before their pay was cut, Ms. Ware said. Any teacher who graduated from novice status but later returned to that category and remained there for more than one year would be fired, she said.
In addition, educators who did not move out of the apprentice category within two years or the novice level within five years would not have their contracts renewed, Ms. Ware said.
Principals would provide one-hour annual reviews in years when comprehensive reviews were not given, Ms. Ware said. Teachers would be building their portfolios at that time.
Such changes are markedly different from the current system, in which teachers are observed for one hour each year by principals and graded as either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” Mr. Odden said.
One-time bonuses of up to $1,000 would be paid to educators who demonstrated proficiency in professional- development courses sponsored by the district, Ms. Ware said.
Teachers with dual licenses in academic-content areas, special education degrees, or certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would be able to add $1,250 to their base salaries.
No bonus pay is currently given in the district.
The new plan wouldn’t immediately increase the district’s budget because salaries would be redistributed rather than increased, Ms. Ware said.
As more and more teachers rose to the accomplished category, though, the district would have to pay higher salaries, she said.
The budget for teacher salaries would likely increase by $3.5 million annually within eight to 10 years. The district spent $150 million on salaries this school year.
Under the plan, accomplished teachers with bachelor’s degrees would earn $60,000 to $62,500, Ms. Ware said. Teachers with 26 years in the system now earn $56,200, the highest level of compensation in the district.
Support for the plan is nearly universal because teachers spent so much time helping devise the policy, Mr. Odden said.
The Cincinnati Teacher Evaluation and Compensation System was first discussed in 1997, when union and district leaders formulated a teacher contract mandating that new standards and a salary system be explored, he said.
The teacher-evaluation system was field-tested in 10 schools this academic year with few complaints, Superintendent Adamowski said.
“The comment I’ve heard most frequently is that it is a meaningful evaluation, in contrast with the kind of evaluation we’ve had previously,” he said.
The only difficulty Mr. Beck anticipates is the subjective nature of the teacher evaluations—a problem that would likely be eradicated, he believes, by providing adequate training for evaluators.
A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2000 edition of Education Week as Cincinnati Board Approves Pay-for-Performance Initiative