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Teacher pay plan detailed

My colleague Michael Birnbaum reports:

D.C. school officials detailed for the first time Friday how teachers can qualify for the performance-based pay bonuses that could vault them to the ranks of the country's best-paid public school educators.

The bonuses, which are up to $25,000 a year per teacher, come on top of a contract signed in June that raised average teacher pay to $81,000 a year.

All teachers received the pay raise under the contract; the performance bonuses are targeted toward the highest-evaluated among them. If a teacher received highly-effective evaluations for two years in a row, his or her base pay could rise by as much as $26,000 a year in addition to the bonus pay.

Sixteen percent of the city's teachers were ranked highly effective last school year.

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced earlier this year that she had lined up $64.5 million in private foundation support to help pay for the performance bonuses.

"Our teachers, individually and collectively, are the most powerful and important resource in this school district," Rhee said in a statement.

The size of the performance bonuses will depend on a number of factors. The best way to maximize the money?

First, qualify by ranking in the top tier on the school system's new evaluation system. Working at a school where 60 percent or more of students qualify for free- and reduced-price meals earns $10,000 extra right off the bat. (Teachers at lower-poverty schools receive half the money.) Be a math teacher: a hard to staff subject garners $5,000. Teach in grades four through eight: students in those grades take the standardized exams in math and reading that are used to calculate growth data, which can earn up to another $10,000.

Teachers who receive high evaluations two years in a row will also be paid as though they had masters degrees, and will be bumped up to five years up the pay ladder depending on poverty levels at their school.

School systems across the country have adopted performance-based bonuses in the last few years, but Washington's bonuses are among the biggest. Teachers in Prince George's County can receive up to $10,000 in annual performance bonuses.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has encouraged school systems and states to adopt performance pay, and he made them a factor in decisions for Race to the Top, a $4 billion competitive grant program.

Both D.C. and Maryland won grants. The District's share was $75 million.

By Washington Post editors  |  September 10, 2010; 5:08 PM ET
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I am glad Miss Rhee made this announcement before next Tuesday's primary.

Will the names of bonus recipients be made public?

And I am too young to remember the heyday of urban Catholic schools, but did the nuns receive bonus pay?

Posted by: edlharris | September 10, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Education should never be a for-profit business. By putting merit pay in the mix, you are attracting the wrong kinds of people into the profession, at least in my opinion.

Posted by: thebandit | September 10, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

What happens if your students' scores go up for two years in a row and then go down the next year? Is your merit pay taken away?

Posted by: efavorite | September 10, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

What about teachers who teach in schools with a low poverty rate? Do they receive less than those who work in high poverty schools?

Posted by: apsunshine | September 10, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Personally, the possibility of a bonus doesn't make a difference in how hard I work. At the same time, I hesitate to judge those who are motivated to work a little harder by extra cash. It also doesn't mean I won't be cashing the bonus check when it comes.

Posted by: p-man | September 10, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Why do people balk at the thought of teachers receiving bonuses for improving student performance? Honestly, if you put in the extra work for students to improve their performance- i.e. making your lessons more relevant and engaging, tutoring students on your own time, and using data to target student growth areas- you deserve the bonus if students improve!! Only a teacher who puts in the minimum, who is average or below average at his/her job, has no desire to grow or improve would ever speak out against this plan- and frankly, if this is you- you should never have the privilege to teach one student, not one student!

This is America- only in education can we actually engage in a conversation around paying less effective educators the same or more as highly effective educators and it not be considered ridiculous! If you suck at teaching go do something else and let those of us who put in the hard work, the extra time, the strategies to target our individual students' needs do what needs to be done. Hell- I'm fine with teaching 37 in the classroom and doing the extra work if the people who always moan about it just leave! Kids would be better off!

I'm so tired of working with teachers who don't show up to collaboration time, who don't analyze their student data, who make negative comments every time the principal conducts professional development, who spend countless hours arguing about whether or not there are enough teacher lounges and time off--Good God--why won't these people leave?!

Every day during collaboration time there are teachers who come in late, without student data and lesson plans, without one strategy to work on to improve their craft--and they're always the first idiot to scream about merit pay and seniority and union stuff--frankly, they're losers and it's about time we put a system in place where teachers who do the extra work to move student learning are's just unfortunate that it's going to come to an abrupt end on Sept. 14!

You win! The system will soon be returning to the mired state it once was where the longest serving, biggest complaining and worst teachers have the hold on the system again...I'm too irritated to comment further...

Posted by: teacher6402 | September 10, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Teacher6402: Think it through, stop making sweeping generalizations about all teachers who oppose merit pay and pause for a moment. Money is nice, but it ultimately is not what motivates really compassionate people. Many hard working teachers, excellent teachers, thoughtful teachers, are opposed to merit pay for serious reasons. Consider a few of them for a moment: equity, the problems associated with greed (lack of collegiality/resentment), and of course budget issues (taxes). What happens when Rhee gets her goal and finds herself with 60-70% of highly effective teachers? Can the city afford to pay them? No. So what will happen? The assessments will get harder and more subjective and ultimately more and more meaningless. These things are easily observed and are inevitable. Just because you have some bad co-workers is not an argument in favor of Rhee's reforms.

Posted by: WorkingT | September 10, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

First of all, these bonus checks--which they are NOT--have strings attached to them. That's why they are technically NOT bonus checks.

If a teacher accepts the check, then you give up tenure. Before everyone thinks that's a job for life, it ISN'T. If you accept the check and then are "excessed," you will not be able to take advantage of holding your job for a year while looking for a job in the system. You can be fired on the spot. You also will not be able to retire early with full benefits if you have 20 years in the system.

Teachers gave up A LOT of basic protections--nothing which directly affects student achievement--with this contract. They all saw the $$--the few who voted. Let's remember that barely half the teachers voted at all so it was hardly an overwhelming mandate. I read the contract thoroughly and read between the lines. That's why I voted "No."

I was one of the 16% rated highly effective this past year. I went to the reception held in our "honor" at Union Station. For about 500 teachers, there were few seats, fewer tables, we had to stand for 2 hours, there were no plates for the "heavy hors d'oeuvres." It was impossible to stand and balance a drink in one hand and food on a napkin in the other without a table. I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth as the saying goes, but if you're going to throw a reception in honor then at least do it right. To top it all off, we had to stomach a speech from both Rhee and Fenty.

In addition, why are the "bonuses" more if you teach in a school with a high population of students from poor homes, i.e, schools with more than 60% students receiving free or reduced price lunches? Is the system FINALLY acknowledging that student from poor homes are harder to teach? Are they finally admitting that the home environment has an impact on student achievement? That's what we teachers have been saying all along: the problem isn't the teachers, it's the students who come to us unprepared, unwilling to learn and who don't care about education.

Here's a basic and easy test: take the staff from one of those "fantastic" schools west of the park like Key Elementary or Lafayette Elementary where they always seem to make AYP and are always touted as excellent schools. Put them in one of the lowest performing schools in northeast or southeast and then let's see what happens. I doubt those teachers will be as stellar as they were west of the park. I'm not criticizing those teachers, they do a great job, but so do the teachers at poor performing schools. They can only teach those who are ready and willing to learn. That's why once a teacher gets west of the park, they never come back to the other side and who could blame them?

Posted by: UrbanDweller | September 10, 2010 10:56 PM | Report abuse

I asked a question of Miss Rhee along the lines you suggested:
Do you have plans to move Highly effective teachers to replace ineffective teachers, particularly at poor performing schools?
She said No.

Posted by: edlharris | September 10, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

UD, as you know, I think the teacher assignment idea has merit, but would you do it, yourself? Do you think it would actually work, or is another way that some bad actors seize on to play race-based politics and risk destruction of public ed. in yet another creative way from the outside?
Here's a flash, with an echo of something you and efavorite complain about: why not have a pilot at small scale to see if it works before unleashing on kids--in both places--who might find it does not work. And the union would never support it. How you gonna mollify the unionistas, eh?

Posted by: axolotl | September 10, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

$25,000 to vote for Fenty. Wow! The campaign is more desperate than we imagined.

Posted by: natturner | September 10, 2010 11:51 PM | Report abuse

teacher6402 wrote: "Why do people balk at the thought of teachers receiving bonuses for improving student performance? Honestly, if you put in the extra work for students to improve their performance- i.e. making your lessons more relevant and engaging, tutoring students on your own time, and using data to target student growth areas- you deserve the bonus if students improve!! Only a teacher who puts in the minimum, who is average or below average at his/her job, has no desire to grow or improve would ever speak out against this plan- and frankly, if this is you- you should never have the privilege to teach one student, not one student!"

Money should not be what motivates a teacher to teach. Good teachers do their jobs because they genuinely want to make a difference in a child's life, not because they want a fat check. If you are motivated by big money and bonuses, go work for IBM!

In addition, merit pay creates a revolving door workforce similar to corporate America. Under this new system Rhee has created, teachers who struggle are IMMEDIATELY shown the door without being given any kind of support or chance to develop and improve their performance. Teachers are hard enough to find as it is, especially in low-income neighborhoods. Constantly firing teachers does not help the matter.

Posted by: thebandit | September 11, 2010 3:57 AM | Report abuse

to ax: I already do it. I teach in Anacostia. I don't think it would work with respect to raising student scores. What I think it would do is show the public that the home environment DOES affect student achievement. We teachers already know that--those who teach in great schools like those west of the park and in places like Fairfax Co./Mont. Co. and those of us who teach in tough neighborhoods like Anacostia and the Bronx.

I don't know why the unions would object to it. The unions and ed. reformers have also said the same thing: home environment and lack of parental support are the problems. That's why we've begged for more wrap-around services for students so that students can actually learn.

It has nothing to do with race. Same problems exist in poor, rural areas which are all White. It's about poverty, not race.

As for a pilot, I'm all for that. Piloting programs is what effective program management and implementation is all about. That's why I objected the way IMPACT was rolled out: no piloting and no data to show it actually does what it's designed to do.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | September 11, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

I teach biology to college students, and the primary emphasis in learning in my classes is on concepts and building a grasp of the material. I find that the students have become so accustomed to standardized multiple-choice exams, that they have difficulty with material that requires them to develop a comprehensive overview.

Providing merit pay for raising performance on standardized multiple choice exams will create more difficulties that I have to overcome, as I seek to help my students develop a comprehensive synthesis of the principles of biological systems.

Posted by: BiologyProf | September 11, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Urbandweller asks: "Is the system FINALLY acknowledging that student from poor homes are harder to teach?"

Unfortunately, no. The system is acknowledging its willingness to pay for miracle worker teachers who can get these students to learn despite the adverse conditions of their lives.

Posted by: efavorite | September 11, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

efav: The real question is: Are they really learning or are they learning how to pass a standardized test? With all the "drill and kill" I say the latter.

I still find students to be woefully inadequate in critical thinking skills and reading comprehension and writing skills. There's no engagement at home from parents which makes acquiring and further developing those skills all the more difficult.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | September 11, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I wish teachers would get off of the "parent at home". The reality is that in a large number of cases there is no "parent" at home and in many cases the adults at home can not be considered as parents.

Time for the poverty public schools in urban areas to simply as early as possible remove from normal classrooms the children that destroy any possibility of creating an environment for learning.

There then would be no need for bonuses.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 11, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

UrbanDweller: I am disappointed to hear that you actually attended this event for "highly-effective" teachers. What in the world was in it for you? Did you actually think that Michelle Rhee would NOT speak? These kinds of events are useless and wasteful (in addition to setting up an "us" vs. "them" atmosphere). The money spent for food and drinks could have been used for copy paper and ink for printers (to name just a couple of things always in short supply). I would also like to add that teacher evaluations should be private. How many people do you think were involved in planning this event? I can only guess that numerous people were working with the invitation list of "highly-effective" teachers.

Posted by: ocisab | September 11, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

UD: we are in violent agreement on almost everything. You are in the union and I am not, but everything I know about it suggests it would resist its members' forced reassignments from purportedly "good" schools to purportedly "difficult" schools. A few dedicated, highly effective individuals not already there, if they were like you (would that all were), would make the switch willingly, but I sense mostwould not. Do I have this right?

Posted by: axolotl | September 11, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Sexual Misconduct Suit Filed Against D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Former Teacher

Alleged long-term sexual relationship with teenage plaintiff resulted in pregnancy

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A law suit filed this week in the District Court for the District of Columbia alleges that former District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) teacher, Robert Weismiller engaged in a sexual relationship for several months during the 2008 to 2009 school year with Ayanna Blue, a student at Shadd Transition Academy, a school for students who have been diagnosed as "emotionally disturbed."

The suit alleges DCPS officials and staff, including Chancellor Michelle Rhee, acknowledged being aware of the 58-year-old teacher having sex with the then-18 year-old student but did nothing to protect Blue at the time. Weismiller was not even reprimanded or terminated for his actions after school officials conducted an internal investigation.

The suit also documents the plaintiff's struggle to maintain her emotional stability and her inability to financially care for the child. DCPS conducted an investigation months after allegations surfaced and still did not find Weismiller liable for any misconduct despite concrete evidence showing his culpability.

According to the school system, he was eventually terminated in October of 2009 as part of a system-wide reduction in force. Additionally, Rhee didn't bring attention to this tragedy until there was media scrutiny earlier this year over her comments about having to fire irresponsible teachers, including ones "who had sex with students" in a Fast Company profile.

Posted by: natturner | September 11, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Teacher6402 is correct. Get the S&@*bums out of the classroom.

bsallamack is also right. The lack of appropriate parenting for too many of these kids is at the heart of the problem, which of course, creates the achievement (parenting) gap.

Posted by: phoss1 | September 11, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

to ax: I don't believe in forcing people to do anything. I think it should be a voluntary pilot program where teachers could return to their former schools after a year if they so chose.

I think the data gathered would be fascinating. I don't see why a union would object.
to ocisab: I went out of curiosity. I didn't need praise from Rhee and certainly not Fenty. I am honored each summer when I receive my students' scores and I'm honored almost every day when I watch a student learn something s/he didn't know before s/he came to school that day.

It's disappointing that yet once again Michelle Rhee has misled and duped her own teachers. We were promised bonuses. A bonus comes with no strings attached except taxes owed to Uncle Sam and DC Govt. To offer money to your hardest working, best teachers (her words) and then say if you accept the money, you will give up some basic protections, is ludicrous. People I've spoken to in the federal government and private industry about this have completely disagreed with her tactics.

This is the "red & green tier pay system" she wanted a couple years ago. She's been able to insert it through the back door.

I'll say again, this is exactly why I voted "No" on this bogus contract.

I will enjoy the much needed and much deserved pay raise however, I agree with you that I'd love working copiers which are stocked on a daily basis with copy paper, a climate controlled room--not one that's 95 degress in January and 40 degrees in June, an adult male bathroom which locks and that has paper towels, running water and soap, a curriculum (yes, I teach without a curriculum--I have to make my own and spend A LOT of $$ out of my own pocket--that's why the raise is nice), etc., etc.

Oh, and now that the test scores fell in the spring, will Rhee get her bonus or will she decline again? Based on the performance of the system as a whole, I think she should decline. She hasn't worked the miracle she claimed she would.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | September 11, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

UD -- the union would object because it objects to almost all change and anything mgt. does. And this would make life harder for some teachers and give others a windfall, or so the union would claim, not without foundation. I think most nonteachers, observing the utterly screwed up union, would agree with this. The teachers are, many if not most, just too teacher-centric. They forgot or never new why they got the job, and it shows.

Posted by: axolotl | September 11, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

ax: I'm in total disagreement with you. I hope you never need the union one day because of an abusive or unethical principal. They're out there, be careful and watch your back. Good luck!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | September 11, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

What you fail to mention (as you always seem to leave important things out) is that this is not a bonus but quid pro quo. Teachers who accept the bonus give up their rights to both being allowed a year to find another school if they are excessed and to early retirement if they are 20+ veterans. This is an important provision. Under the new evaluation system and the contract Rhee crafted with George Parker every teacher who is deemed highly effective and is excessed is guaranteed one year to find another job before they are officially fired. For the same teacher if they have a low year in terms of scores, they are also given a year to find another school and improve their performance. But if you take the "bonus" money you have forfeit that right. Bonus means free without strings. This simply is not so. Listen to Chris Bergfalk's interview on Pacifica to hear more about this:

Posted by: adcteacher1 | September 12, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

So what about the teacher's that don't fall into any of the extra pay, music, band, p.e., etc?

Posted by: ilcn | September 12, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

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