San Jose Unified, teachers reach breakthrough evaluation, pay plan

The superintendent of San Jose Unified and leaders of the district’s teachers union have agreed on an innovative evaluation and compensation system that, if implemented, would be significantly different from any in California. With education groups in Sacramento and legislators still bruised over a grueling, failed effort to revise the state’s teacher evaluation law last summer, the San Jose plan offers hope that a progressive compromise on divisive issues is possible.

Among the significant features in the San Jose agreement:

  • Pay and performance would be linked; teachers who receive an unsatisfactory review, triggering an improvement plan, would miss a raise on the scheduled salary scale for that year.
  • Consulting teachers – a newly created position – would participate with the principals on all evaluations of probationary teachers and on evaluations of experienced teachers if requested after a principal’s initial review; Teacher Quality Panels, made up of teachers and administrators, would review decisions at key junctures along the way.
  • An evaluation would include multiple perspectives of a teacher’s work, as measured by informal classroom walkthroughs, formal observations, interactions with the principal, feedback from peers, a student/parent survey, and personal reflections. Measures of student growth would be an integral part for all teachers, not just those in grades and subjects given standardized tests. California Standards Tests, which are to be phased out in two years, won’t be used; district tests that establish growth over the course of a year might be. Assessments for Common Core standards, which will be rolled out nationally two years from now, will be studied to see if they’re appropriate for evaluations.
  • There would be new career positions offering pay that’s about 10 percent higher for a model teacher and 30 percent higher for a master teacher than the new maximum for a veteran teacher; the new career opportunities would be renewable three-year assignments for about the top 20 percent of teachers who’d be selected through a rigorous application process.
  • Teachers could opt into a new, compressed salary scale in which they would reach a salary level in 13 years ($79,500) that they now reach in 21 years, but they also would max out at that salary level. Teachers with 30 years experience now earn $87,228. The only way to make more money under the new scale would be to become a model or master teacher.
San Jose Unified Superintendent Vincent Matthews, left, and San Jose Teachers Association President Stephen McMahon and staffs worked nearly two years on the evaluation and pay proposal. Click to enlarge (photo by John Fensterwald).

San Jose Unified Superintendent Vincent Matthews, left, and San Jose Teachers Association President Stephen McMahon and staffs worked nearly two years on the evaluation and pay proposal. Click to enlarge (photo by John Fensterwald).

A team of administrators and teachers spent two years hashing out the details of this plan, and details still have to be worked out. Both Superintendent Vincent Matthews and San Jose Teachers Association president Stephen McMahon say they’re enthusiastic about it.

From Matthews’ perspective, the pay and evaluation package are important to “ensure that teachers are looked at as professionals.”

For McMahon, the new compensation system is what teachers have said they want – a way to earn more without leaving the classroom to become an administrator and a system that reflects the effort they put in. “Teachers say to me, ‘I work hard but am paid $20,000 less than my neighbor who doesn’t work as hard,’” McMahon said.

Challenges ahead

Moving ahead with the system is contingent on approval by the San Jose school board and the union membership next spring, and the Legislature will have to give its OK to several components that don’t conform with state law (formal reviews every three years, instead of five; perhaps the role of consulting teachers to evaluate peers; and the pay freeze for unsatisfactory reviews). Whether or not the alternative salary scale is cost-neutral will depend on how many teachers opt in. The district is also counting on foundations or the federal government’s Teacher Incentive Fund initially to fund the model and master teacher positions. (San Jose Unified applied but didn’t get the latest round of TIF funding. Los Angeles Unified did, receiving $49 million.)

But the big potential wrench in the works would be the failure of San Jose voters to fund a bond measure that would save several million dollars in yearly utility bills, and the defeat of either Proposition 30 or 38, tax initiatives yielding billions of dollars for K-12 schools over the next six to 12 years. Without new money, the reforms will be off the table and instead there will be “a whole different conversation” – hard negotiations over how many furlough days teachers must take in the next school year, Matthews said.

San Jose incorporates elements of what’s working or in the works elsewhere. The Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs in San Juan Unified and Poway Unified employ a panel of teachers and administrators who recommend tenure decisions for probationary teachers and employment actions for teachers with unsatisfactory reviews, then assign mentor teachers to work with struggling teachers. The proposed Teacher Quality Panels, which will serve as judge and jury over the evaluation process, are based on a model in Montgomery County, MD, McMahon said.

The proposed rubrics for evaluations are similar to the six domains of the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, which are used in evaluations in Long Beach Unified; AB 5, the teacher evaluation bill that died in the Legislature in August, also highlighted these standards. Los Angeles Unified is trying a voluntary pilot of an evaluation system that also will combine student test scores with classroom observations and parent surveys. However, negotiations with United Teachers Los Angeles have hit a snag over how much weight should be given to standardized test results.

With funding from a seven-year grant from the Gates Foundation, called The College-Ready Promise, several charter school organizations (including one unionized charter organization, Green Dot Public Schools) are also tying pay raises to evaluations, but they are weighted heavily to CST results (40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation) – an approach that the San Jose Teachers Association and the California Teachers Association oppose. San Jose Unified would be the first to link decisions affecting pay to a union salary scale.

The evaluations would essentially be pass-fail; either teachers would receive the full 10 points qualifying for the next pay level or, zero points followed by a plan for improvement. That way, McMahon and Matthews said, the bigger goal – promoting more effective teaching – wouldn’t get sidetracked over arguments about whether a teacher deserved six or seven points or a partial or full raise. Teachers who corrected their weaknesses would be back on track for a raise the following year. Those who didn’t could face dismissal.

Although experienced teachers would be scheduled for reviews every three years, it’s possible, said McMahon, for another full-blown review before then. As an example, a principal could request one if peer feedback indicated that a teacher didn’t collaborate well or surveys revealed a teacher alienated most parents. The Teacher Quality Panel would have to agree that another review was justified.

Matthews predicated that between 100 and 200 – 6 to 12 percent – of the district’s 1,700 teachers would initially receive unsatisfactory reviews; McMahon estimated it would be closer to 75. Both agreed the number would decrease as teachers addressed areas of concern or were forced out of a job.

At the same time, approximately 15 percent of teachers could become model teachers and 5 percent or so could be hired as master teachers at the maximum salary. Because many of the slots for model teachers would be allotted to low-performing schools, the district would be sending some of its best teachers to work with kids with the greatest needs. Model teachers, who exemplify best teaching practices, would be a resource to other teachers in their school. Master teachers would have leadership roles and responsibilities beyond the classroom.

A compressed schedule for new teachers could make San Jose Unified attractive to college graduates and those seeking mid-career changes, who don’t necessarily view teaching as a 30-year career, as previous generations did, but also add value to career employees, McMahon said. It would also give the district a competitive advantage in the regional marketplace.

One of the arguments of opponents of Props 30 and 38 is that major education reforms won’t happen until school districts are squeezed to the point of making change happen. San Jose Unified represents the opposite: More cuts to schools will kill significant  compensation and evaluation reforms before they’re given a chance.


Filed under: Evaluations, Parent Involvement, Pay and Tenure, Teaching



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6 Responses to “San Jose Unified, teachers reach breakthrough evaluation, pay plan”

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  1. Gary Ravani on Oct 31, 2012 at 4:41 pm10/31/2012 4:41 pm

    • 000

    CA not only trails the nation in administrators, but also in teachers per student, librarians, psychologists, counselors and nurses.

    As to teachers’ salaries, yes, in “unadjusted dollars” they are near the top, but that un-nuanced view doesn’t tell you much. The RAND Corp. did a study in 2005 (CA’s Public Schools: How are they doing?) that found teachers’ “real dollar” salaries had remained flat over time since the 1970s. And:

    “If the dollars are adjusted to reflect purchasing power, however, CA’s teachers’ salaries are actually lower than the national average.”

    Adjusted average annual salaries place CA last among the five most populous states. That put salaries about 32nd in the nation.

    Ed Week, in its annual Quality Counts publication (1/12/12) puts CA’s spending per child on K-12 education–in dollars adjusted for regional cost differences–at a rank of 47th in the nation. That amounts to $8,667 per student with the national average being $11,665 resulting in about a $3K deficit compared to the national average and an almost $10K difference with the highest spending state (Wyoming).

    The “adjusted for regional cost differences” makes sense when the fact that CA’s cost of living ranks 2nd in the nation behind only Hawaii.

    With the “furlough” day situation in the state many, if not most, teachers have taken a 5% hit on their compensation, already low by national standards.

    What is perhaps even more disturbing about CA s a fact noted by the NEA in its nationwide analysis of school spending, the RAND study, and the Ed Week study is that CA’s spending as a percentage of personal income has declined over time. NEA ranks CA as 47th in that category and RAND notes a decline between 1970 and 2000 from around 4.5% to 3.5%.

    CA’s overall tax burden per capita ranks around #12 to #15 of the 50 states and, as some will point out, we have high personal income and sales taxes but very low (or nonexistent) relative taxes in other areas. Oil extraction might be one example.

    The CA Budget Project’s analysis demonstrates that those with the lowest incomes in the state pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes and fees than do the highest income earners. Adjustments need to be made to the tax structure to insure everyone pays their fair share.

    All of this puts CA’s tax base closer to the national average while the cost of living and providing public services (including schools) are closer to the nation’s highest. This would be another way of explaining the “structural budget deficit.”

    All of the above points out why it is so vital that everyone concerned about the schools and providing a quality education to the state’s children vote to support Props 30 and 38.

  2. Ze'ev Wurman on Oct 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm10/31/2012 12:15 pm

    • 000

    David Cohen is correct that California has some of the worst staffing ratios. Both for administrators *and* for teachers. Yet this is a matter of our own choice, not written in the stars. California has the highest teacher salaries in the nation and I suspect the same is true for administrators. An alternative model could easily reduce staffing ratios if those salaries could be somewhat reduced. That teacher and administrator unions are vehemently opposed to any salary reductions clearly says that they worry more about their existing members than about staffing ratios, or about the impact on students. They simply expect the taxpayers to keep pumping additional money to our leaky system. Props 30 & 38 are just the most recent exemplars.

    In any case, congrats & good luck to San Jose Unified!

  3. Brian Stephens on Oct 31, 2012 at 11:37 am10/31/2012 11:37 am

    • 000

    The Delhi Unified School District was chosen to receive the Teacher Incentive Fund grant which uses multiple measures including state testing scores in a teacher or principal’s evaluation. The new evaluation will then be used for a performance based compensation system that will allow teachers and administrators to be paid different amounts based on the academic growth of their students. In a recent vote this was supported by 93% of the teaching staff.

  4. David B. Cohen on Oct 31, 2012 at 11:28 am10/31/2012 11:28 am

    • 000

    Navigio asks a fair question, but in their defense, California has some of the worst staffing ratios in the nation for administrators per pupil.

    This is an interesting development overall. At first glance, there’s much to like in the plan, though I wonder about this line on test results in evaluation: “district tests that establish growth over the course of a year might be [used]” – still ambiguous on which tests those would be, and how they might be used. There seems to be a good tenor in the agreement and the discussions as presented here, which leaves room for optimism about the way they’ll handle these issues in the future. Congratulations to all involved, and good luck.

  5. navigio on Oct 31, 2012 at 7:33 am10/31/2012 7:33 am

    • 000

    “An evaluation would include multiple perspectives of a teacher’s work, as measured by informal classroom walkthroughs, formal observations, interactions with the principal, feedback from peers, a student/parent survey, and personal reflections.”

    Do you mean to say that these things are not already happening? What are administrators doing if that’s the case?

  6. Paul Muench on Oct 31, 2012 at 6:26 am10/31/2012 6:26 am

    • 000

    What precautions can be taken for lawsuits over fairness? I can imagine parents will ask why their child didn’t get the model or master teacher.

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