Our office is located outside of Denver, Colorado. The Jefferson County School District is in our backyard. Teacher sickouts and student protests recently made national news when one of the school board members proposed creating an advisory counsel to review curriculum in AP History classes.
Those protests and frustration aimed at the majority board members is only a small part of tensions between the board and the teachers, students, parents and community it serves.
Salary Increases Based on Changing Criteria
The teachers are also unhappy with salary negations with the union. The board majority recently approved salary increases but changed the criteria for how teachers receive the raises. This was without listening to input from the teachers’ union, the teachers and administrators or anyone else.
The board majority of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk even rejected the findings of an independent fact-finding report that recommended the teachers’ union and district work on a new evaluation system.
Witt said he wants to only reward highly effective teachers - “This is increased compensation. That’s what this discussion is about. It’s not about moving anyone back,” Witt said. “Our experienced teachers, their salary is what it is. We’re talking recognizing effective and highly effective teachers and increasing compensation for those teachers.”
However, the system that currently ranks teachers is unable to clearly evaluate teachers in the way Witt wants.
Jefferson County Education Association President John Ford has expressed concern over this plan.
“Having an evaluation system that does not accurately rate teachers does not help reach our goal of every student being taught by a quality teacher,” explained Ford.
The old step system awarded pay increases based on a scale of years of experience and education. The new criteria awards increases based on last school year’s performance evaluations.
Increases that don’t even restore the teachers’ salaries to where they were five years ago. Budget cuts slashed salaries by 3% in 2009/2010. Those salaries were partially restored, but teachers have not seen an increase since 2010/2011.
Even with this brand new increase, many teachers are still making less in 2014 than they did in 2009.
Changing Expectations for Raises
Agree or disagree about teacher salaries based on experience or performance, changing HOW a teacher receives their increase without consulting or even informing them to criteria changes until after the fact is wrong.
What would happen in the business world if a company decided to base this year’s pay increases on last year’s performance when expectations were already set that raises would follow a different scale?
What if your entire job performance and raise was based on one evaluation for 30 minutes of the entire year? Would that be a fair and accurate snapshot of your abilities?
That is primarily what the teachers are upset about. The way in which they are reviewed and base their income changed after the fact.
Teacher Evaluation Rubric
The current teacher performance rating is not based on anything concrete. Yes, they have a rubric and yes they have an understanding of where they need to be, but the performance criteria is only based on “Highly Effective,” “Effective,” “Partially Effective,” and “Ineffective” rankings. In the past, this was set only as a guideline to help show teachers where they were at in their classroom.
How a principal or other administrator decides to rank that teacher on the rubric is very subjective. Clear definitions of what a highly effective teacher vs an effective teacher looks like do not exist.
The rubric is several pages long and contains a summary of what each performance level could be, but does not give clear directions for what each level actually looks like. How these definitions are interpreted is up to each individual administrator.
How and when teachers are evaluated also varies from school to school and from administrator to administrator. Some teachers are evaluated one time over the course of the entire school year, with the potential to not even receive the feedback until the end of the school year.
Other teachers are evaluated several times over the course of a year with short drop-ins and visits.
Many teachers also know when an administrator will be visiting their class, so they have time to prepare their best lesson for their evaluation.
In any of these scenarios, an administrator will have a difficult time getting a strong sense of what happens in that classroom every day, not just on evaluation day. They may miss teachers who are missing the mark or need additional support. The possibility of misinterpreting a great teacher for a satisfactory teacher is high depending on what’s happening in the classroom when they observe.
Administrators may also miss several of the rubric criteria, because they must grade that teacher in a very limited time frame.
The administrator may never actually see the real teacher in the day to day classroom to gain an accurate view of teaching abilities.
Keep in mind a principal doesn’t just do evaluations and doesn’t have one teacher to evaluate – one school may have 30 teachers or more. The principal and administration must run the school in addition to finding time to evaluate that many employees.
Are Teachers Afraid of Feedback?
The review system is flawed and must be fixed before salaries are fully linked to performance evaluations.
The teachers I’ve spoken with are not afraid or against pay being tied to performance. They just want a voice, an accurate rating system and an evaluation that encourages their growth as teachers, not a retroactive iron fist.
Great teachers want to be evaluated and given feedback so that they can improve their skills and abilities: they want to give their students the best education possible.
If we as a community or society agree that it is important to base teacher pay on performance and not a pay scale, then we must -
1. Allow teachers and administrators to participate in defining the performance rubric and set up clear and defined criteria.
2. Give teachers and administrators the information on how pay will be decided BEFORE it is changed, not after the fact.
3. Give administrators quality time to evaluate their teachers, give them feedback in a timely manner and opportunity to improve where needed.
4. Most importantly – Stop portraying teachers as greedy, manipulative people. Teachers only want what everyone else wants – to be able to support their family with their career, make a difference and live a happy life.
Sure there are incompetent teachers, every profession has bad apples, but the majority of teachers are incredible human beings who dedicate their lives to teaching the young people of our community and preparing them for a successful life. Teachers give back a portion of their own salary to their classroom, work tireless hours, solve childhood dramas on a daily basis, offer emotional support, work in a germ factory, educate and stimulate young minds and so much more. It takes a very special person to become a teacher. Let’s give them the respect and honor they deserve.
What are your thoughts on teacher salaries? Should they be based on scale or performance or both?
What is the salary situation in your school district? How are increases determined?