Saturday, April 20, 2002

Union tells teachers to reject pay plan

2-year-old experiment now in doubt

By Jennifer Mrozowski,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The leadership of Cincinnati's teachers union said Friday it will recommend rejection of a plan that ties rigorous performance evaluations to pay.

        If approved by teachers in a May vote, the pay plan would create one of the first pay-for-performance systems in the nation. Teachers are already being evaluated under the 2-year-old system, but the evaluations are not yet linked to pay.

        The decision by the union's 28-member executive council comes after discussion with hundreds of teachers.

        One of the main reasons for the recommendation: Most teachers have not undergone the in-depth evaluations, said Sue Taylor, president of the 3,300-member Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

        The union commissioned a phone poll in March in which only 9 percent of the more than 300 teachers surveyed said they solidly favored tying their pay to the evaluation system. Sixty-five percent were opposed, while others were undecided.

        For the pay plan to fail in the May vote, teachers would have to oppose it by a “super majority” of 70 percent of union members voting.

        “The (federation's) lack of support for this specific plan does not mean that Cincinnati's teachers or CFT's officers oppose the concept of performance-based pay — only the current flawed compensation component of the Teacher Evaluation System,” Ms. Taylor said.

        The union said it will work with the school district's administration and union members to modify the system so it's acceptable to a majority of teachers.

   Teachers in Cincinnati are evaluated on 17 standards under a 2-year-old evaluation system. In May, teachers will vote on whether to tie that evaluation system to their pay in one of the nation's first pay-for-performance plans for public school teachers.
   Among the standards, teachers are assessed on how they:
   • Create an inclusive and caring environment in which each individual is respected and valued.
   • Manage and monitor student behavior to maintain a safe and orderly environment.
   • Select or design clearly defined assessments that align with performance standards.
   • Demonstrate content knowledge, use content-specific instructional strategies, and correct student errors and misconceptions.
   • Engage students in discourse, use thought-provoking questions, and create problem-solving situations to explore and extend content knowledge.
        District spokeswoman Jan Leslie touted the evaluation system as being nationally recognized.

        The system's “impact on student achievement has been documented,” she said. “It was jointly developed with teachers, so of course we are disappointed that the current executive council is recommending not to tie teacher evaluations to compensation this May.”

        The scientific phone poll of teachers was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, a Washington D.C.-based national polling firm. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

Evaluations to stay

        Regardless of the May vote, the evaluations will continue. Only the pay part of the system depends on the teachers' vote. But Ms. Taylor said the evaluations and the pay part of the plan may need modifications, and teacher training on the system may need refining.

        Elizabeth Thole, a Western Hills High School English teacher in her 15th year with the district, said she went through one observation last year and completed “quite a bit of paperwork” as part of the comprehensive evaluation. But she was removed from the system before completing it because the demand was too great on the evaluators, she said.

        “I was shocked, I was angry and I feel like I wasted a lot of time,” she said.

        Ms. Thole said she agrees teachers should be evaluated but has concerns over this system's implementation. She said some colleagues this year did not receive material and requirements on the evaluations until mid- to late October.

        “Some teachers in my building had to undergo the first observation without having the necessary information,” she said.

        Ms. Thole, who said her evaluation was very good, plans to vote “no” on the pay portion of the system.

        “The implementation was rocky,” she said. “I don't feel I've gotten enough training.”

System started slowly

        Only 350 of the district's teachers have completed the “comprehensive evaluation,” the most in-depth part of the assessment, which is conducted in intervals.

        That piece includes announced and unannounced classroom visits, written reflections and the assembly of a portfolio. The portfolio is made up of records on calls teachers have made to parents, conferences they've had, lesson plans they've created and other forms on training they've received and students' progress.

        “There needs to be more widespread discussions,” Ms. Taylor said. “Teachers still have lots of questions. Because those questions still exist, we can't go beyond what our membership is comfortable with.”

5-year cycle

        During a four-year phase-in, the comprehensive evaluation is required for newly-hired teachers, most fourth-year teachers and teachers who have been identified as having instructional deficiencies. Others can opt to take part.

        After this phase-in, every teacher will be on five-year cycle for the comprehensive evaluation. All teachers also undergo an annual, less rigorous assessment.

        Many teachers say they don't oppose a fair evaluation; but they have have some problems with the current system.

        Some called the comprehensive assessment bulky or confusing. Many said the bugs need to be worked out before they would tie it to their pay.

        Ms. Taylor said the union's leadership also believe the system might have a “devastating effect” on the district's ability to recruit and retain teachers.

        The board of education could also vote to oppose the pay plan.

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