bonus points

City, union agree to performance pay deal for struggling schools

The city and the teachers union have struck a performance pay deal that will tie some teachers’ salaries to a range of measures of their effectiveness, including their students’ test scores.

The deal is part of a federal grant program to “turn around” the city’s most struggling schools. It also builds on a teacher evaluation agreement reached between the union and state education officials last month. According to the deal, 34 schools that have been designated as persistently lowest achieving will be able to pay model teachers significantly more money to take on greater responsibilities. Deemed the best-of-the-best, these teachers will mentor their colleagues, write curriculum, and open their classrooms to teachers who want to watch a lesson.

City officials have decided that 11 of these 34 schools will undergo the transformation model beginning next September. This means they can get support services, have an extended school day or an entirely new schedule, and can keep the teachers they have. In some cases, the city may decide to replace these schools’ principals.

The other 23 schools will experience one of three other plans offered by the federal government: turnaround (in which all teachers are excessed and only half can be re-hired and the principal is replaced); restart (in which a charter school replaces the district school); or closure. Department of Education officials have yet to decide which of these schools will go through which models.

Deputy Chancellor John White said the city would inform the 34 schools whether they will go through the transformation model or not in the next 24 hours.

Under the new performance pay agreement, teachers will apply to be “turnaround teachers” or “master teachers,” at both turnaround and transformation schools. With these new titles, and accompanying bonuses, city officials believe they can draw great teachers to these schools and make sure the good ones who are there, stay put.

Turnaround teachers will teach a full course load — in high schools that’s five classes — while spending at least 30 hours a year helping their colleagues in the school. That could mean helping another teacher plan his lessons, or demonstrating a model lesson. As a reward, these teachers will receive bonuses of 15 percent of their salaries.

One step up from that is the master teacher position, for which a person must teach at least four classes a day. An additional two periods must be used to train other teachers either through one-on-one mentoring or by running professional development seminars. Master teachers’ bonuses will be 30 percent of their salaries.

“It’s groundbreaking because 30 percent is meaningful, 15 percent is meaningful,” White said. “A 1,000 or 2,000 dollar bonus will have some effect on people’s lives, but it won’t compel the kind of transformation that will 15 and 30 percent increases.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the deal to create the bonus program doesn’t mean the union had agreed to a merit pay system for individual teachers (the current program is school-wide).

“It’s a career ladder,” he said. “Merit pay is based entirely on test scores. If you’re doing more work, you should be compensated. It’s not a shiny new merit pay system.”

Teachers who apply to be turnaround or master teachers next year will be vetted by a committee composed of four teachers union representatives and two Department of Education employees. Piloting the new teacher evaluation system, the committee will rate teachers, with 40 percent of the evaluation based on their students’ test scores and 60 percent on performance reviews, attendance, and other factors.

Principals will hire master and turnaround teachers from this pool of vetted candidates. By 2011, the city expects to do way with the committee screening process and rely on the teacher evaluation system to separate teachers into four categories: highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective.

How long the city will be able to offer these bonuses is uncertain. Over the course of the next three years, each of the 34 schools will receive $6 million in federal stimulus money — $2 million per year — that will pay for the bonuses. At the end of that time period, the bonuses could become part of the teachers contract and be paid by the city.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”

D.C.

What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said