Teaching Profession

Denver Looks to Invest $10 Million in Master-Teacher Program

By Emmanuel Felton — October 25, 2016 2 min read
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The Denver school district is asking voters to approve a $572 million bond issue and a $56.6 million tax increase to fund a slew of initiatives, including $10 million to expand the district’s master-teacher program, reports Chalkbeat Colorado.

The district’s “teacher leadership and collaboration” program employs so-called “team leads"—educators who spend part of the day at the helm of their own classrooms and part of the day observing other educators’ lessons. Based on those visits, these mentor teachers give feedback, help tackle content and classroom management struggles, and work with mentee teachers to plan future lessons.

The program, which was started in 40 schools in 2013 with a grant, has expanded to 113 of the district’s campuses. If voters approve the tax hike and bond next month, DPS plans to expand the program to virtually all of the city’s schools next year, accord to Chalkbeat Colo. The new funds would cover the stipends that mentor teachers receive. DPS divides these teachers into two groups: “team leads” receive $3,000 stipends, while “senior team leads” receive an additional $5,000. Senior team leads also act as evaluators for the district’s teacher-evaluation system.

Across the country, districts have hoped that the extra cash and the new leadership roles that let them stay in the classroom would help retain more veteran educators, as well as help spread their expertise. In New York, for example, math and science teachers who take on coaching responsibilities can score an annual $15,000 stipend for four years for working with fellow teachers to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) instruction.

“If we know the teacher is the x factor,” Kate Brenan, Denver’s director of teacher leadership and career pathways told Chalkbeat, “then teacher leadership allows us to provide more consistent opportunities for support, feedback and improvement.”

Denver is still crunching the numbers to determine what effect the program is having on student outcomes. A 2010 study not focused on the Denver initiative found that teacher-mentoring programs did in fact tend to increase student outcomes when the programs provided intensive support and feedback to teachers.

The programs, however, haven’t been without criticism. Some union leaders have found issue with programs that mostly used student test scores to determine which teachers serve as mentors. Andrew Pallotta, the executive vice president of the New York State United Teachers, reasoned that New York’s STEM mentor initiative was just a backdoor merit-pay program.

Currently the Denver program is almost exclusively open to teachers who were rated either effective or distinguished on the district’s teacher-evaluation system in the 2014-15 school year. While student test scores weren’t a factor in evaluations that year, since the state was transitioning to new tests, in later years student performance on standardized tests accounted for 50 percent of educators’ ratings.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.