Future of Teaching

Changes to teacher pay and promotion on the table for IPS

In March, more than 150 IPS teachers assembled teacher compensation plans for a fictional school district from a variety of policy options as part of a TeachPlus event. (Scott Elliott)

The Indianapolis Public School Board is considering undertaking a two-year process to overhaul how it evaluates, pays and promotes teachers.

The broad concepts of how it might work were presented to the board at a retreat this morning at Cold Spring School by board member Caitlin Hannon and Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand. The plan, called Project Elevate, is still being developed but initial estimates suggested it could involve up to three consultants and cost $2.5 million.

The hope is that IPS will get philanthropic help to cover some, if not most, of that cost, however. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he would recommend the board pay for the $274,000 first phase, which would be undertaken this summer.

The name Project Elevate is meant to suggest it will “elevate” teaching in the district. That money would pay for outside support on two immediate needs: reworking a broken teacher evaluation system that Ferebee described as “convoluted” and preparing to negotiate at least the first steps in a new pay model for teachers.

“I feel strongly about this,” Ferebee said. “If you don’t develop teachers they won’t get better.”

Ferebee has been critical of IPS’s evaluation results — more than 93 percent of teachers who were rated were certified as effective — saying the process did a poor job identifying where teachers need to improve. That has made it difficult to determine what sorts of training to offer and to identify which teachers need what training, he said.

“We can’t plan effective professional development because (evaluations said) everybody doesn’t have a need to grow,” he said.

Hannon and Legrand proposed hiring IUPUI to help redesign the evaluation system. Among the goals would be more teacher input in how the process works.

“Teachers felt it was something that was done to them instead of with them,” Ferebee said of the process IPS followed this year.

On teacher pay, Ferebee and several board members have said in recent months they want to restructure the district’s compensation system so that teachers receive raises more regularly, perhaps with additional performance-based rewards.

But those desires come with challenges.

Even a modest 2 percent pay raise for all teachers, Ferebee said, would add as much as $4 million in annual spending for IPS, a figure that could be difficult to sustain, even before the idea of extra incentive pay is considered.

To make raises and incentives more affordable, IPS will face a bigger challenge: redesigning the pay system and reallocating funds to support the new approach. The board also can’t go it alone. Negotiations on a new labor contract with the teachers union, which will make its own proposals for how teachers should be evaluated and paid, begin in August.

To prepare for those talks, Project Elevate proposes IPS bring in a consultant Hannon worked with in March in her role as execute director of TeachPlus, an organization that aims to get teachers involved in policy making.

Nearly 150 IPS educators came to a Teach Plus-sponsored event run by Education Resource Strategies, a Boston-based non-profit that consults with school districts to help them better utilize their resources, that was something of a crash course in budget making.

For that exercise, teachers in small groups were given cards with a series of policy choices — such as maintaining the union-backed “step” system of annual raises based on experience or new ideas like paying bonuses to the highest rated teachers — with price tags attached. Each group had to mix and match the policy options to assemble a compensation plan that fit within the fictional district’s budget over 10 years.

It proved an eye-opening challenge for many of the groups. ERS would reprise elements of that activity with the board to help them think through ways they might propose to restructure teacher pay.

“I want us to be well equipped when we enter the bargaining table this summer,” Ferebee said.

The long term goal would be to refine the compensation plan in the 2015-16 school year and bring in a third consultant, North Carolina-based Public Impact, to plan for better use of technology in the classroom and to craft new roles for teachers, including teacher leader positions with higher pay. Its program is called Opportunity Culture.

Public Impact is the group that worked with The Mind Trust to craft its controversial 2011 report that recommended radical changes in IPS to reduce administrative spending and redirect money and decision-making authority to schools.

Simultaneously, IPS would work toward a new, student-based approach to budgeting, under which schools would get more per-pupil aid for students with greater challenges and more autonomy for how to use those funds.

“We would put ourselves in a place, in 2016-17, to have 18 to 24 schools that have explicit teacher leadership opportunities or autonomy,” Hannon said. “I’m hopeful that the district is willing to make the initial investment.”

If so, Hannon said she would lead an effort to seek foundation grants to pay for as much of the cost of the second and third phases of process as possible.

“I think there is a huge opportunity for fundraising,” she said.

The combination of better evaluation, performance incentives, changes in the budgeting process and new teacher advancement opportunities could help IPS better compete for talent, Ferebee said.

Right now, he said, the district is handicapped by its starting pay of $35,600, which is below the county average of about $38,000 and even further behind the $40,000 and above that some districts pay new teachers.

“We’re in the same city competing with those school corporations,” he said.

Board members Sam Odle and Diane Arnold were among those who said they would be inclined to support the process Legrand and Hannon described.

“I see it as an investment,” Arnold said. “We are not going to get better if we don’t do these things.”

Hannon said discussion of Project Elevate will continue at the board’s education subcommittee meeting on June 17.

survey says

We asked Indiana teachers why they’re leaving the classroom: ‘Death by a thousand cuts’

PHOTO: Getty Images

In her first classroom at Indianapolis Public School 79 in 1977, art teacher Teresa Kendall had five whole potter’s wheels to herself. Plus clay. And a kiln.

She was under orders from her principal, she remembers, to make sure her students “have all the art they can have.”

Nearly 39 years, five layoffs, and four school districts later, she returned to Indianapolis Public Schools, where she was told there were just a handful of potter’s wheels in the entire district. She managed to get her hands on one, rescuing it from an unused classroom at Arlington High School.

Chalkbeat asks Indiana teachers: Why did you leave the classroom?

“It’s a huge difference,” Kendall said, comparing her situation to other schools she’s seen. “It just puts a knot in my stomach when I think about it … I think about what my kids at [School] 105 have to do without.”

Kendall said she spent hundreds of dollars on supplies, and she was overwhelmed by having to configure her 28-seat classroom to accommodate 62 students. At the end of last year, she decided to leave teaching altogether.

“It was the most solid community school I’ve ever been in, in all of my career,” Kendall said. “I miss it tremendously. But I couldn’t stay there.”

Carrie Black, an Indianapolis Public Schools spokeswoman, said classes might have been large at one point when the district was working to hire a substitute for a teacher on family leave, but the principal at School 105 said there were enough tables and chairs for the whole class. The principal also said teachers were told they could be reimbursed for supplies.

“Under no circumstances was she required to supply her art room in any way, shape, or form,” Black said. “So if she did, those were decisions she made on her own.”

More than 60 former Indiana teachers responded to a Chalkbeat survey about why they decided to leave teaching, a problem that policymakers and state lawmakers have said is part of the reason behind this year’s efforts to raise teacher salaries — which some educators and advocates say don’t go nearly far enough. Across the country, teachers have gone on strike and protested to demand better pay and working conditions, stirring up national conversation about the challenges they face.

Kendall, who has two master’s degrees, made $48,000 when she left IPS. The most she’d made, she said, was close to $62,000 when she taught in Lebanon. Now, she’s a paralegal.

The former teachers, from schools all over the state, reported a wide range of salaries over the years — from as low as $26,000 to more than $66,000. Now out of the classroom, they have found jobs as nurses, bus drivers, engineers, insurance agents, and seasonal park rangers. Some are unemployed, stay-at-home-parents, or graduate students.

While many former teachers said low pay or stagnant salaries contributed to their decisions to find other careers, more cited increasing responsibilities for reporting and testing, dwindling support and coaching from administrators, and “punitive” teacher evaluations.

Here is a selection of their reasons for leaving, lightly edited for clarity and length.

Too little pay

  • I had a third child and my entire paycheck was going toward insurance and childcare. I couldn’t afford to work.
  • State laws were being introduced that would make it next to impossible to ever increase my salary, or even to bargain to try to keep pace with the cost of living.
  • I was 20 years into teaching and felt undervalued, overworked, and underpaid for my education, training, and role as a teacher. I had reached the top of the pay scale and there was not room to advance. I didn’t want to become an administrator. Our insurance was steadily rising and with no pay raises, we were making less than what I had started with 20 years ago. My wife and I were both teachers and we both had to take part-time jobs to help pay the bills.
  • The level of stress, the constant demand on more and more of my time and energy with no compensation, and the low wages! Also the constant micromanaging!
  • In my 12th year I was making less than I did in year one. Health insurance was too costly, parents were overbearing, and the amount of accommodations needed for students was out of hand.

Too much testing, politics, and red tape

  • I couldn’t take any more of the state legislature’s disrespect of teachers. The loss of school funding, punitive evaluation methods, and absolute lack of willingness to truly listen to educators about our needs and what goes on in a classroom made me realize it wasn’t worth it anymore.
  • The constant change in state testing.
  • I had had it with ISTEP and school accountability practices demanding measurable outcomes and driving learning away from what we all know are best practices.
  • There was constant assessing without allowing kids to be kids and grow socially and mentally. Spent more hours assessing than teaching.
  • The time required to be spent on more red tape and paperwork instead of just doing what I knew was best for kids was too much.
  • I was working 10-12-hour days just to get state-mandated paperwork done AND papers graded. I loved my kids, I loved my school, I loved my principals, but I hated meetings every morning to appease legislators who are clueless, and I hated having to prove what a great teacher I was.
  • The time the job required meant my son and I were at school until 8 or 9 every night. All that time and dedication with no guarantee of a job? No thanks.
  • Teachers were treated as if we were entry level employees who could not make any decisions for themselves.
  • My afternoon classes had 39, 38, and 40 students. The Rise rubric [for teacher evaluations] made everyone feel like they were failures before even being evaluated.
  • I was dealing with burnout, and I was tired of working as many hours as I did and being as undervalued as I was. It felt like I constantly had administrators, parents and community members telling me what was wrong with how I did things.
  • I was expected to assign at least 10 math problems to every student every night. Since I had about 100 students, that’s about 1,000 math problems every night. Bottom line, time with my family is more important.
  • I felt overwhelmed by what the legislators were inflicting on us, the lack of true support from administrators, and just the stress that is teaching even in the best of times. Most of all — I was exhausted, I guess. Death by a thousand cuts, more or less.

negotiations

Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.