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.
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.
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.