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Posted at 6:01 PM ET, 01/28/2011

Many teachers pass on IMPACT bonuses

By Bill Turque

When DCPS built its IMPACT evaluation system, an underlying assumption seemed to be that if you throw enough serious money at teachers, they'll happily relinquish a bit of job security. Judging from the first round of bonuses awarded late last year to the 636 teachers deemed "highly effective" under IMPACT, it has to be really serious money.

According to DCPS figures, first reported by WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza, just 60 percent of the highly effectives (382 out of 636) took the money in exchange for the possibility of losing their jobs to "excessing." That's when teacher slots disappear because of enrollment decline or program changes at a school. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, all excessed teachers were guaranteed other jobs in the system. Not so under the new contract.

To get the $25,000 annual maximum bonus under IMPACT, highly effective teachers have to win what amounts to the urban education triple crown. They must:

  • Work in a school where at least 60 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a federal indicator of poverty ($10,000).
  • Teach in a DC CAS testing grade that uses "value added" growth measurements ($10,000).
  • Teach a "high need" subject such as secondary math or science, ESL, bilingual education or special education ($5,000).

Just two teachers made it to that level, and both took the money.

The data shows that as the awards shrank, so did the acceptance rates. Nine of 12 who hit the $20,000 mark said yes (75 percent); 168 of the 268 eligible for $10,000 or more accepted (63 percent) and 203 of the 354 who won less than $10,000 took the checks (57 percent).

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By Bill Turque  | January 28, 2011; 6:01 PM ET
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Bill, this is not an investigative report or a piece of journalism, you may as well have posted a link to the WAMU's website. There is a story here, report it.

Posted by: mia_101mail | January 28, 2011 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Bill for the numbers. just a few details that need to be posted:

The number 636 is not all teachers. Yes they are ET-15's. So the main story is how many out of the 636 were actual classroom teachers? So when DCPS uses the language ET-15 this includes the following people who don't get observations from the outside:

-counselors, coordinators and coaches who are not rated by ME's were given money also. They are only rated by their administrators so they have job security. As long as they are a friend of the Principal they can be rated highly effective every year. Without anyone from the outside checking on them.

Don't forget the 2009-2010 school year included retired personnel also. We had to retirees to receive the money at my school. So don't forget to include that number

Can you get those numbers Bill and then let us know the actual breakdown of who accepted the money. That will be a story. I'm quite sure you will find that more of the above took the money than actual classroom teachers who are still in DCPS.

Posted by: helluvateacher | January 28, 2011 7:09 PM | Report abuse

At my school some of the Highly Effective teachers were the librarian, a specials teacher (computers) and some of the third grade teachers (whose scores were not tied to testing). No one who was a testing grade teacher (value added) received that distinction despite all of us getting high marks on our observations. Given the "triple crown" aspect of what we need to do in order to get HE status and the bonus this amounts to nothing more than a con-job by DCPS. They don't really want people to take the bonuses, they don't have the money for it. Or, look at it this way: why would they set up a system wherein people who are designated as their best teachers give up the security of a job if their school closes or if there is excessing? Don't you think the system would want to move them to another school where their success could continue? There are so many things about IMPACT that are highly questionable. We keep asking for the journalists to really look into this but no one really does. Valerie Strauss seems to be the only journalist left at the post who questions what is going on.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | January 28, 2011 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Also, don't you want to know why people took the money. If you're going to use IMPACT and financial incentives to build a highly effective teaching force isn't this information helpful. For example, if someone took it because they are about to retire next year, then incentives aren't actually effective. Also, if all those awarded the bonuses are long-term career teachers or at least not new teachers, doesn't that also tell us that experience counts. More research please!

Posted by: mia_101mail | January 28, 2011 7:21 PM | Report abuse

WAMU mentions Eric Bethel, who "was" a teacher.
According to StudentsFirst, he is now out of the classroom.

A breakdown of who received the Incentives should be public record.
Now, a number of organizations and schools have IDed their recipients, so if DCPS isn't forthcoming Bill, you can apply some shoe leather, (or calloused fingers.)

Posted by: edlharris | January 28, 2011 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Bill’s gotten good suggestions here for follow-up. I agree that it would be interesting to know the motivation for taking the money, for instance, a highly effective teacher could be thinking:

If they excess me, at least I’ll have some extra money in the bank before I find a new job and I can still tell my next employer that I received a bonus for being “highly effective” on my last job


Not to worry – they wouldn’t give me a fat bonus one year and then show me the door the next. Certainly they value highly effective teachers more than that!


I have no intention of staying in teaching for long anyhow, so I’ll just take the money and run.


Noww that I've given up job security, maybe I should apply for a higher paying "at will" job at Central Office.

Posted by: efavorite | January 28, 2011 11:12 PM | Report abuse

They also realise that being marked HE, even once, will take them far in the suburban schools.
They won't be blamed for leaving DCPS.

Posted by: edlharris | January 29, 2011 5:07 AM | Report abuse

I am a classroom teacher who received a $10,000 financial incentive. I did so because its likely that there will be another class next year and the year after that and so on. Currently I have a good relationship with the principal and the parents generally like what I am doing. So, 1) the amount boosted my annual income substantially, and 2) I will probably not get excessed anytime soon (knock on wood) because of the job security that classroom teachers receive as long as test scores are at a satisfactory level. I can see how the resource teachers make a totally different calculation and why many turned down the financial incentive.

This year, based on the IMPACT evaluations of the "master" educators (horribly named), I may not be HE because it seems as though there is direction from above that the scores last year were too high, although the percentage of weight given to ME evaluations has dipped slightly from 16% to 14%. This is happening throughout my building and it happened to me. Large range from last year to this year indicating that suddenly I have become less effective. Ironically, based on the interim tests that predict proficiency levels pretty well (but not growth on the DC CAS), my class is doing very well and the vast majority of students are making excellent progress without me excessively teaching to the test.

I've become very hardened to IMPACT this year for many reasons and I think its designers are basically conducting an experiment on us and they really have no clear idea on how its damaging teacher morale. Further, they are disillusioned in that they really think its all up to me and my colleagues to eliminate the achievement gap between poor and well-off kids. This is what happens when you have a quasi-religious fervor complete with internally consistent doctrine (check out the TFA books sometime), charismatic leaders (like those who appear as witches with brooms on a "serious" national publication) and lots of incredulity displayed in its members (people right out of college and their beautiful idealism and energy waiting to be tapped). I'll add a "boogie-man" to the mix: the teachers unions.

I had heard alot about teacher unions before teaching, and I am skeptical to some degree. Their biggest problem is that they protect their weaker members and this does hurt kids. But the attack on teacher unions is overblown. These are a group of people that get hounded most days in most schools by scared or incompetent administrators (they serve on a 1-year contract), sometimes receive the wrath of parents who don't understand the basics of child development and education, and deal with child behaviors that could send one to the looney bin. They are not paid fairly and they are much-maligned. Yes, teachers and their unions have become a convenient scapegoat (coming from someone who is not in a union) for society. Obama gets it, however. Teachers are "nation-builders" and they deserve more respect.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | January 29, 2011 5:09 AM | Report abuse

thetensionmakesitwork - Thanks very much for explaining your thinking about accepting the bonus.

Regarding teacher morale – maybe central office knows the negative effect IMPACT is having and doesn’t care.

“Children first,” you know, and as long as scores are up, adult morale is immaterial.

Posted by: efavorite | January 29, 2011 7:17 AM | Report abuse

The HEs one my building actually did not want to acknowledge their HE status.

One is particular was the "laughing stock" of the school. Everyone was wonder how in the h-ll that happened. I heard his test scores were among the lowest of all the teachers in the building. This person has students begging to be removed from the class and teaches classes in some cases with only one student.

Go figure. Another publicity stunt of Rheeformers being exposed as Bull.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | January 29, 2011 8:28 AM | Report abuse

You can sign up under another name and post the teacher;s name.
It is public record.

Posted by: edlharris | January 29, 2011 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Rhee overstated her points to say the least. It is really important that I and my colleagues are taken care of as well, and that we feel energized and motivated each day. For me, that does not mean having anyone do my thinking for me on pedagogical or content grounds. I, and the vast majority of my colleagues, are pretty capable people if not interfered with. Public education's top-down approach, replete with "chancellors" and people with (and I hate to say it) soft PhDs insisting that they be called doctors, stifles the creativity and thought of the people best positioned to drive student achievement and hopefully make a contribution to bridging the gap between poor and well-off. Public education should not be a field in which people are allowed to create these fiefdoms for themselves that crowd out other citizens from doing the duty they are trying to do.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | January 29, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

It is easy to see why the first year of the IMPACT evaluations would be high, trying to get some buy in, get teachers to vote for this contract, etc. It has been an interesting year at our school. In the beginning, the teachers who were rated HE seems slightly more confidant at staff meetings, sometimes even rude, they assumed HE in DCPSland meant they were awesome teachers period. It create tension between teachers (which may well be Rhee's goal). This year, as they get only effective ratings on the ME observations, they end up in tears and can not understand how their teaching has changed. They feel like failures. So now they pour over books like Teach like a Champion and no longer socialize with other teachers or their students, harming the school. They can only think of themselves, not the students, the school or the community. We need a peer to peer review system now. We need to have teaching staff share the same goal of improving their school, not advancing their own personal marker.

Posted by: WorkingT | January 29, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

WorkingT: interesting comments. There have been tears shed in my school too. Your point is well taken. I'd only add that if IMPACT could be worked out (and its a big if given the problems), I like the idea of individual teachers receiving recognition, even if I'm not one of them. It provides an extra something to work to balance the self-sacrifice that teaching demands.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | January 29, 2011 3:22 PM | Report abuse

tension - if offered it, how would you feel about a higher paying non-teaching job at central office, now that you're essentially "at will" anyhow?

Posted by: efavorite | January 29, 2011 5:09 PM | Report abuse

efavorite: couldn't do it...I want to be where the action is.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | January 29, 2011 6:43 PM | Report abuse

I was highly effective last year and the people who weren't seemed to turn on me. These same people have a system now on how to be highly effective this year. It is called a "lesson in a bag"! The lessons that are pulled out for all 5 of the observations. So now they only teach 5 times out of the year according to Impact so they can get highly effective. I am busting my butt everyday with each lesson that I plan to make sure that my students receive the highest quality of teaching that I can provide. No, I didn't take the money. I'm on my way to being highly effective again. I don't do it for the money. I do it because I love my students. So these teachers are laughing at me now. They see how hard I work and they say I am fool. Because they have the "lesson in a bag" that gets them over. So they will have the same rating as me without the work. So instead of taking more training courses to enhance their teaching. They found 5 lessons that have the components of an Highly Effective lesson and they use them only on observation days. They cruise for the rest of the school year.

Posted by: helluvateacher | January 29, 2011 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Helluvateacher: thanks for that perspective. It doesn't often occur to me that some teachers would actually like the Teach 1-9 framework. I'm curious: are you working so hard to make sure that all nine are present in your classroom each 30 minutes? Do you think its sustainable? Or would you burn out? What grade do you teach?

I've heard the "lesson in a bag" idea in my school too. I don't want to do it because I'm going to be myself in the classroom and it no longer matters to me whether Jason Kamras thinks I'm highly effective or not. I know the kids in my class are getting an excellent education, especially if they are prepared to learn. It is not entirely up to me to ensure they are learning. As the president said again this week, it starts at home.

I differ from you in one key way. I honestly don't think that the framework would provide the students with the highest quality teaching as each school is different and each class is different. Where does your confidence in the instrument come from? If you don't mind me asking, are you a TFA teacher?

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | January 30, 2011 1:52 AM | Report abuse

Tension and Helluva -- good dialogue - please continue it.

I'm familiar with the "lesson in a bag" concept too, but not just in conjunction with IMPACT. It's something that's been going on for a long time in education - with any evaluation system.

When an evaluator shows up, teachers pull out their best lesson, knowing it will wow the evaluator.

I suppose this type of behavior is common in other fields too; that is, consciously putting your best foot forward when you know it will serve you best.

For instance, in a job interview, you might purposely use jargon or raise issues that you think will impress those assessing your appropriateness for the job. You may or may not think the issues are essential to good job performance, but you've been told that your interviewers expect them to be addressed, so you do it.

Posted by: efavorite | January 30, 2011 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Ultimately, a good teacher simply has to do what is best for their students - not what is best for IMPACT or the DC CAS. It is understandable that some teachers will decide to teach-from-a-bag - whether they are effective teachers or not. Fear causes this. The fear that your evaluator will be some kid with maybe 5 years of teaching experience behind them (if that)and no deep understanding of what the classroom is about. I have been fortunate so far that my Master Educators were people who had many years of experience in the classroom and a very grounded teaching philosophy. They understand when everything doesn't go according to the HOLY RUBRIC of IMPACT. A good teacher can tell when a classroom is effective within 10 minutes of being in that room. Unfortunately, people with less imagination need a blueprint that "tells" them what to look for. IMPACT and the demands of testing are stifling the creativity out of our classrooms. If we allow such things to take full command of our schools then we will find ourselves teaching rote lessons designed for two things - one, making the teacher look good according to the rubric, and, two, making sure the kids can pass a low-level-intelligence test. Critical thinking, creative thinking, innovative thinking are all taking a hit in this culture.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | January 30, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Teaching out of a bag still to my mind would not cover the 9 levels of the rubric, things such as a positive learning environment, how do you fake that, create that "out of a bag"? But also you have to see some elements of the rubric do not always mean a great lesson or teacher. Take the first one, having clearly stated the lesson objective on the board (paraphrasing)...I find myself with some lessons where I want the objective to be hidden and then revealed within the course of the lesson but find myself having to dumb down the lesson so I can write the objective on the board in case an observation happens that day. Other times I may be in middle of a unit in which various elements of an objective are spread out over a few class periods. So I get observed on one of those partial lessons and suddenly I am 3.2 teacher instead of a 3.8? No thoughtful person can take this stuff that seriously. To my mind, a HE rating in no way is the final word on teacher quality. In fact, my earlier point of it creating divisions seem to be true in your case. You clearly dislike your fellow teachers and the other way around. It is sad to hear and does not mean good things for your school. One suspects you are less likely to work cooperatively, one of the true pleasures of teaching. We all know who the best teachers are in our school, that is common knowledge to all people who work there regardless of the rating you get or the hours you put it.

Posted by: WorkingT | January 30, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

thetensionmakesitwork: I agree, good teachers should be recognized, but I feel they are. Parents seek their class out, teachers seek their input, students seek their company. The pleasures of successful teaching are so many, a little nod from central office or a chance to answer some cheesy questions for a DCPS email entitled "I am a DCPS teacher" seem small in comparison. And black tie events? Is that why we went into teaching? I don't think so....

Posted by: WorkingT | January 30, 2011 1:13 PM | Report abuse

WorkingT: yes, to some degree, there is alot of appreciation for the work by those impacted directly. I would part with you on the Honors comment. I support that type of event wholeheartedly, not for myself, but for the profession. It is currently seen as small by American society and its image and profile needs to be magnified. People do need to begin to see teachers differently as the president highlighted the other night. "Nationbuilder" fits and its true. Rhee and the others who put that event into motion need to be recognized for a job well done. Now, if they could actually respect Highly Effective teachers by deferring to their judgments and creating more autonomy for them, they would get my respect back and I would cease to be involved in blogging and could get more focused. As it happens, we are in a time of conflict and teachers need to speak up for themselves and stop allowing these oversized interests to dominate what happens in classrooms.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | January 30, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I'm proud to say that I am not a TFA teacher. I teach highschool, and I don't put confidence in Teach1-9. I have always worked hard at preparing my lessons before Impact. I have adjusted somewhat to put somethings in the beginning of the lesson instead of the end. I never set my lessons to the first 30 minutes. I teach according to my students and their needs. What I found out last year just from reading the rubric under what highly effective looks like is that I was doing more than what they were asking for. So this year when impact was revised I was still ahead of what they said highly effective looks like. I won't burn out. I have been doing this for 20 plus years. I feel like I could do 20 more years. I love what I do. I am always looking for new ways to help my students with or without Impact.

When I stated that I provide my students with a high quality education everyday, I was not thanking Impact for that. So I think we agree on that point.

Posted by: helluvateacher | January 30, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse

tension: I am glad you liked the event and want to speak up for teacher rights in the classroom. For me, I found the whole event gross, to be honest. Red Carpet, Kennedy Center, while half my students live in dire poverty and my building can not afford to get paper for the copy machine and mice and rats live comfortably in my school. I mean, nice idea, but my god, a bit out of touch with the reality we are teaching in. Let's first get the classrooms what they need, then, maybe, we can talk about a high end party. I understand the current breed of education reformers like Rhee and many TFA kids come from affluent backgrounds and to them this may seem nice and appropriate, but it struck me as out of touch and revealing.

It is also worth noting about S. Korean teachers that until very recently (the last 6 months), they were allowed to physically beat their students when they thought it would help keep focus. Some districts are now experimenting with stopping this old practice and many worry that by not using physical force, respect for teachers is eroding. So, Nation Building in South Korea? Maybe. But what kind of nation?

Posted by: WorkingT | January 30, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm reading all of this with great interest and have a question, based on Working T's critical comment about the Kennedy Center gala.

It was all sponsored with fat-cat donors funds. What would you think about them giving you an option - for instance, an additional personal bonus of X$ (the cost of one person at the gala) or a gift of the same X$ to your school?

Maybe you can think of other good uses of the Kennedy Center money or other less splashy ways to get the public to realize that teachers are nationbuilders.

Posted by: efavorite | January 30, 2011 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I hear you on the criticism of the event, but I'm sure it didn't cost that much. I'm at odds with some of the perspectives fo the TFAers that have taken over our the administrative side of our city's schools, but raising the profile of the profession trumps the costs. The fact that the city has lots of poverty is not related in my mind. Washington DC is the capital of the country, we have amazing cultural assets like the Kennedy Center, lets put those two positives to work for us. The teaching profession does not have to be seen as smaller compared to others. It is and the implications of that perception limit many teachers financially and in terms of status. For example, why shouldn't teachers be able to buy houses in nice neighborhoods on their own salaries? I enjoy the work and love working with the kids, but I would also like to be able to buy a home in a nice neighborhood like accountants, architects, doctors, lawyers, and others do. The profile of the profession has to rise in order for those things to occur.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | January 30, 2011 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Gee only 60% took the money. That actually sounds pretty good for the first year of teh program.

Posted by: jy151310 | January 30, 2011 5:09 PM | Report abuse


I agree that the teaching profession needs to be respected. Unfortunately, Rhee did a lot to erode the public's perception of DCPS teachers- traveling around the country mocking teachers in interviews and speaking engagements and exaggerating during interviews like when she said she fired TEACHERS who had sex with students.

Also, you said in your last comment that, "The profile of the profession has to rise in order for those things to occur."

How is teaching supposed to be taken as seriously as it should and in my mind equivalent to the respect that doctors or lawyers get when TFA exists? The premise of TFA is that someone who is right out of college with no education experience just needs 5 weeks of training and they can be a great teacher.

This concept in my mind demeans the profession and is just not true.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | January 30, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Letsbereal2: Good points. Although TFA is a fringe force in the classrooms, their influence is rising as their true agenda reveals itself and their alumns gain administrative posts. They mainly want to influence the policy side of public education. Their main issues are the elmination of tenure and the introduction of firm accountability measures through the evaluation system. They have big money on their side, and the national leaders largely agree with their narrative. I agree with them that the old tenure system is broken (2-3 years and you just about have a job for life!), and that the evaluation systems were broken (the PPEP was not rigorous). My disagreements with them are 1) their evaluation system focuses too narrowly on teaching behaviors and not enough on the learning behaviors of children and the supporting behaviors of parents. They are putting way too much emphasis on their ideas of what modern classrooms should look like. They shoved this evaluation down teacher's throats because they had the legal grounds to do so and its got Rhee's bullying fingerprints all over it. Its a confrontation, not a support. I don't like having things shoved down my throat by quasi-religious cult organzations like TFA, even if they have some valid points of criticism of the status quo. I would like to see tenure retained, but after 5-7 years of Effective or Highly Effective Ratings (if the evaluations can be modified with teacher union input). I like the financial incentives, but I can't believe they sabotage their own good idea by putting strings on the "bonuses" (they are anything but bonuses and they reveal the manipulative, overhanded disposition of Rhee and Kamras).

I think all of this could work out in DC if the leadership of the union and central admin would provide a model of collaboration. Instead, it is constant conflict and confrontation. As long as they are fighting, its likely that many union members will continue to resist IMPACT and the management will continue to defend it. I wonder how Mayor Gray is going to settle the conflict?

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | January 30, 2011 5:57 PM | Report abuse

efav: Lovely idea, bring the money into the classroom/school. That would be my first and last choice. Money without strings too, btw. Increasingly foundation money from Gates etc. is coming with heavy and destructive strings.

tension: Excellent take down of the current state of TFA and the role they play as part temp labor and part business model missionaries.

Posted by: WorkingT | January 30, 2011 9:02 PM | Report abuse

On this webpage, there is a link to an article at Education Week, written by Stephen Sawchuk on teacher evaluation. Near the beginning, it contains this nugget:

"One widely cited statistic puts the proportion of those who teach in nontested grades and subjects at about 70 percent, but technical issues can push the figure much higher. Under the District of Columbia’s IMPACT teacher-evaluation system, just 15 percent of teachers have individual value-added data, according to school district officials."

Posted by: edlharris | January 31, 2011 5:38 PM | Report abuse

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