Sunday, September 17, 2000

Educators will watch merit pay closely

Teacher merit-pay plan first in U.S.

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Now that both Cincinnati Public Schools and the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers have agreed that teachers will be paid based on performance, two major questions remain for those still skeptical of the plan.

        Will it actually raise student achievement as intended?

        And will it help pass the levy this November that the district says is crucial to keeping operations at current standards?

        Countless other questions undoubtedly will arise among the 1,046 teachers who voted against the plan this week, such as: Will the system be fair, and will it be properly administered?

        CPS and CFT officials say yes to all, but many teachers and parents are waiting to see how the program works before making any judgments.

        “As a parent, I think it will help in the long run, but there will probably be some bumpy spots as they implement it,” said Dee Fricker, who lives in Columbia-Tusculum and sends her three daughters to two different CPS schools. “And while I will vote for the levy, there are probably still a lot of taxpayers who want to wait to see how it impacts schools first before putting their money up.”

        Friday, the 3,100-member union approved the new plan, which links teacher salaries directly to performance reviews. The CPS board had approved the plan unanimously earlier this year, making the district the first public school system to base teacher pay solely on performance and not seniority.

        The reviews will begin immediately for one-fifth of the district's teachers and all new teachers, although the teachers won't be paid based on their scores for another two years. Another fifth will be added each year.

        In May 2002, the teachers union has the right to call another vote, and if 70 percent vote no, the pay plan would be scrapped.

        The margin of victory for the plan was only 209 votes, meaning CFT and CPS leadership still have a lot of teachers to win over.

        Some of the strongest opposition came from teachers at Mon tessori schools, who use a different teaching theory than most, and at Walnut Hills High, the district's college preparatory magnet high school. CFT president Rick Beck said Montessori teachers were concerned over whether the reviews would take into consideration their teaching style, but could not offer an explanation for the resistance at Walnut Hills.

        “The challenge we have is convincing the 1,000 teachers who didn't vote for it to give it a second look,” Mr. Beck said.

        Another concern for plan advocates is the aging of the CPS teacher population, meaning many experienced teachers could be faced with pay cuts if they don't receive good reviews. According to CFT statistics, the majority of teachers have between 19 and 24 years' experience.

        “But the positive side is that it will allow younger teachers to move up the pay scale more quickly if they meet the requirements,” said CPS board president Rick Williams. “So we can really attract top-notch younger people.”

        Veteran teacher Susan Glass said Saturday she voted for the plan, but knew colleagues who opposed it.

        “I still have a lot of reservations about it as well,” said Ms. Glass, 45, who teaches reading and language arts at Anderson Place and is a 22-year teacher. “It requires a lot of faith and trust on both sides, and sometimes that hasn't been there in the past.”

        Ms. Glass said she and other veteran teachers aren't too afraid of reviews that could result in a pay cut, especially since the system allows for an appeal of the initial score and uses trained peers on the evaluating team.

        But she said some worry about whether the review will be applied fairly to all, whether it will increase paperwork for teachers, and whether administrators already loaded down with bureaucratic red tape will have time to give an adequate review.

        Robert Sturdevant, a 10-year social studies teacher at the Jacobs Center who was on the committee that created the system, said teachers need to be patient.

        “The essence of the American system is consensus and compromise, and the appeal system really needs to be worked out further,” Mr. Sturdevant said. “But the bottom line is that the kids are going to benefit. There is no longer an emphasis toward superficial test scores, and more emphasis on demonstration of research-based teacher skills.”

        As for the levy — CPS is asking for a 5-mill, 4-year levy on the November ballot that would generate $29.8 million annually — officials hope the teacher-pay plan sends the right message to voters.

        “A lot of people criticize CPS for not being accountable,” said Brewster Rhoads, who is leading the campaign for the levy. “This says the administration and teachers alike are not afraid to be held accountable. That is a powerful message for parents and citizens alike.”

        The plan could have national repercussions, and is attracting attention throughout the education community, said Tom Mooney, former CFT president and currently president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.

        “We've gotten a lot of calls for information,” Mr. Mooney said.

        “ ... We're the example.”


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