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Teacher group: Reward top-rated teachers with more pay, duties

Teachers should be paid more — but they should have to prove their value before getting big raises or better positions.

That’s a central idea of a paper about teacher pay released today by the teacher advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence. The group convened a 16-teacher policy team last fall to study past and current experiments in teacher pay, survey city teachers about their views, and come up with recommendations about how to change the way city teachers are paid.

Currently, city teachers earn a starting salary of $45,530 and see their pay rise in small increments each year and as they accumulate additional credentials such as a master’s degree. Large salary jumps come late in teachers’ careers or when they move into administrative positions.

The group’s recommendations include increasing the starting salary by a third; creating a “career ladder” so teachers can be rewarded for strong performance without leaving the classroom; introducing bonuses for teachers who receive top ratings on new teacher evaluations; and paying more to draw teachers to hard-to-staff subjects, such as science or special education.

Educators 4 Excellence is aligned with school reform groups that have battled the teachers union in the past, and some of the group’s previous reports have influenced city and state policy proposals. But the teacher pay report does not side neatly with either Mayor Bloomberg or the UFT. It does not call for merit pay tied to student test scores, which Bloomberg has supported and the city teachers union has said it would never accept, nor does it support Bloomberg’s recent proposal to offer permanent pay raises to teachers who earn top ratings on new evaluations. But it also does not call for union-backed school-wide bonuses of the type distributed under a city program that was aborted after it did not lead to increases in student performance.

“We are not interested in replicating failed experiments. As teachers, we already work hard, and we know that more pay will not make us work harder,” reads the report. “But we do want to be recognized for our successes. We want to build up our supply of excellent teachers by recruiting and retaining professionals who might otherwise choose other fields.”

Under the group’s proposal, first-year teachers would be known as “novices” and subject to extra training and observations. After a successful first year, they would become regular classroom teachers. Then, after three years with “effective” evaluations, the teachers could become “lead teachers” and take on additional responsibilities in their schools. Teachers at any level who receive a rating of “highly effective,” putting them in the top tier of teachers citywide, could become “master teachers,” who mentor newer teachers in exchange for extra pay.

Most of the positions are not associated directly with higher salaries: A teacher wouldn’t earn more just because he is a “lead teacher.” But the proposal also builds in a series of bonuses so that teachers would take home extra pay as they accumulated credits toward a promotion. For example, the group suggests that teachers should receive a $2,000 annual bonus for earning an “effective” rating and a $3,000 bonuses for earning “highly effective” — ratings that would be required to move up the career ladder. The ratings are aligned to an evaluation system that the state has mandated but New York City has not yet adopted.

Under the group’s proposal, the bonuses would double for teachers in struggling schools — the report suggests using the 33 schools eligible for federal School Improvement Grants — but they wouldn’t generate changes in base salary increases unless the teachers maintained the same rating for three straight years.

Exactly how the city would pay for substantial base salary increases and annual bonuses is not explained in the report. Eliminating regular salary steps, as the proposal suggests, would free up some funds that are currently doled out annually. Such a change would require the support of the United Federation of Teachers, and the report suggests that the city try to negotiate the changes in the next round of contract negotiations. (The union’s current contract expired in 2009 and negotiations toward a new contract are not currently underway.)

It is difficult to imagine the union accepting many of the recommendations. While the UFT has backed some experiments with bonuses before and has said that teachers should be able to advance without having to abandon the classroom, it has steadfastly opposed any efforts toward merit pay. In January, when Bloomberg proposed permanently increasing the pay of teachers who earn high scores on new evaluations, union officials quickly rejected the idea.

Educators 4 Excellence’s complete report about teacher pay is below. The group is hosting a panel discussion about teacher pay tonight.