Teacher-Advancement Plan Percolates in Iowa

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As part of a far-reaching effort to create a statewide teacher-advancement model, the Iowa Department of Education this week released an extensive proposal to create new career paths and differentiated compensation for educators. The proposal is expected to be the centerpiece of Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s 2013 education agenda.

Last fall, Gov. Branstad's administration offered a similar but less detailed blueprint that was ultimately rejected by the state’s House of Representatives. Gov. Branstad subsequently appointed a Teacher Leadership and Compensation Taskforce—made up of Iowa education association directors, school administrators, university directors, education experts, and teachers—to look more closely at the issues involved and to lay out specific responsibilities and pay increases for teacher-leadership roles. The task force’s recommendations make up the proposal issued this week.

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"We want to make sure we are making the best use of talented teachers to increase teacher leadership in schools and improve student learning," Linda Fandel, the governor’s special assistant for education, said about the new proposal.

International Models

In crafting the new recommendations, the task force researched a variety of teacher-staffing and development models, including those used in Singapore, Ontario, and Shanghai. Jason Glass, the director of the Iowa Department of Education, said that these school systems have all improved their education systems through the creation of teacher-leadership roles, the distribution of power and responsibility among teachers, and strong teacher-collaboration structures.

The task force also examined innovative models within the state. In the Cedar Rapids school district, for example, teachers receive pay hikes when they obtain outside education credits, and when they serve as "facilitators," or mentors, to other teachers. The district also has a teacher-induction specialist who works with new teachers.

The committee’s new proposal recommends increasing starting pay for teachers from $28,000 to $35,000, and creating a career-pathway plan for teachers comprised of six roles—initial, career, model, mentor, master, and emeritus. Teachers would be promoted "based on their experience and ability to effectively improve student achievement," Glass said.

Glass noted the proposed career-pathways structure was expanded from the four teacher roles included in the first blueprint based on the task force's international and domestic research. The use of six roles "emerged from our analysis as the best model for Iowa," said Glass.

Not a 'Career Ladder'

Ryan Wise, a policy fellow at the department of education who served as facilitator of the task force, explained that while the proposal calls for an increase in salary as teachers move through each level, the new structure is not to be confused with a career ladder. "A ladder implies a hierarchy. We see these roles as pathways with permeable boundaries," he said.

Glass estimated that the cost of implementing the task force’s proposal could be as high as $150 million. The proposal recommends that the legislature "appropriate new money" to support the teacher-advancement model. The report also calls for the Iowa Department of Education, the governor, the legislature, and local school districts to "further review all existing allocations" to determine if those sources could be used "more strategically to enhance teacher compensation and create leadership opportunities." Further, Glass said, by phasing in the new roles and pay increases, "the state may not have to bite all that off at once."

While the taskforce's recommendations present a comprehensive new vision for educators’ professional growth, Iowa has been wrestling with the implementation of a teacher-advancement program for a number of years. In 2001, the Iowa legislature passed the Student Achievement and Teacher Quality Act, which outlined career paths for teachers tied to increased compensation, but the initiative never got off the ground, mainly due to financing issues. In 2007, the state passed a law calling for pilot testing of career-ladder and performance-pay systems. However, after testing in three districts, none of the programs were scaled up to the state level.

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