JCTA to Picket Today

From the Courier-Journal:

The Jefferson County Teachers Association is urging its members to wear red and picket outside school district headquarters Tuesday afternoon ahead of a special meeting the school board is holding to discuss union negotiations.

The Jefferson County Board of Education is meeting at 4 p.m. at the Van Hoose Education Center, 3332 Newburg Road, to “discuss contract negotiation strategies.” Portions of the meeting will be in closed session, as union negotiation strategies are allowed to be discussed behind closed doors. Such meetings are not unusual during union negotiations.

“We’re asking members to attend the special-called meeting to show their concern about getting a fair contract with salaries and benefits,” said JCTA President Brent McKim.

Union leaders are concerned as teacher salary step increases have been frozen pending new contract negotiations.

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JCPS and Teacher Compensation

An analysis of teacher compensation I did for Nashville included Louisville and four other districts. The districts were chosen because they were demographically similar to Nashville.

So, how does Louisville’s teacher compensation stack up to 5 other urban districts with a similar profile?

Here are the numbers:

                                  Start                    10                          20                      TOP

MNPS                     $42,082                $44,536                 $54,800              $55,757

Louisville              $41,756                $53,759                 $69,514                $70,636

Charlotte               $37,946               $46,008                $53,954                $58,525

Austin                     $46,401               $48,837                $55,477                 $70,751

Atlanta                   $44,312               $54,167                 $62,075                 $66,467

Denver                   $38,765              $47,136                 $53,838*

*Denver has a teacher compensation system known as ProComp and the highest step is 13. Teachers in Denver earn the base pay indicated plus are eligible for incentives and base pay increases based on professional development, advanced degrees, and measures of student outcomes.

Based on these numbers, Louisville offers competitive starting pay and long-term earnings there are among the best — outpacing even the much-larger city of Atlanta.

A more comprehensive analysis might include additional cities and factors such as cost of living. Of course, the cost to live in Louisville is less than Atlanta or Denver — but including cities such as Memphis, Indianapolis, and Columbus might yield even more useful information.

That said, JCPS appears to be doing well by its teachers in terms of pay.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

Professional Development: Accepted and Expected

This article was submitted by Hope Street Group Fellows Kip Hottman and Angela Baker. Baker teaches English/Language Arts and Journalism in Berea Community Schools. Read her full bio. Hottman is a Spanish teacher at Oldham County High School. Read his full bio.

Kentucky Education Report continues to seek submissions from teachers who wish to comment on education policy in Kentucky.

This year Kentucky joined many states throughout the U.S. in implementing a more comprehensive teacher evaluation program. Kentucky teachers have been piloting the new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) for the last two years, but this year full implementation is occurring, with full accountability being postponed until the 2015-2016 school year.

Across the nation many teachers are taking part in initiatives that integrate and embed professional learning within the teacher evaluation. While professional development has been part of teachers’ ongoing training throughout schools for years, school administrators and local decision making councils are currently looking at how to improve individual teacher’s skills. PGES will allow individual teachers to tailor their professional learning to their needs rather than enduring school-wide professional development that most likely does not match their individual areas of improvement. At the heart of the decision making about a teacher’s effectiveness is data; data about his or her students (such as summative test scores and daily, formative academic gains), classroom observations and teacher reflection. With information from multiple measures, teachers, through collaboration with the administrator, are able to create student-centered goals and increasingly intentional plans to improve their effectiveness.

In October of 2013 Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, visited Williamsburg, Kentucky to encourage and acknowledge the state’s efforts within Early Childhood Development. At the town hall convening, Secretary Duncan was asked to provide a specific example of a teacher evaluation system in the United States that is successful. He immediately responded with Montgomery County, Maryland, and their use of a program called Peer Assistance and Review (PAR – http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/par/)

The purpose of the PAR program is to assist all teachers to meet standards for proficient teaching. It is a program that has been instituted to truly help teachers be as successful as possible, continue to learn and continue to grow as an educator. The system was instituted in the early 2000’s and uses multiple measures to determine a teacher’s professional development (PD) needs. The multiple measures are as follows:

  • Formal and informal observations by school administration or a consulting teacher
  • Student achievement data
  • Non-evaluative observations by a staff development teacher, reading specialist, math specialist or math content coach
  • Student learning objective data
  • Peer walk-throughs
  • Formative assessment data and marking period data

When Assistant Principal Greg Mullenholz of Maryvale Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland was asked about strengths and weaknesses of the PAR program, he said, “The evaluation has an outcome that is rooted in Professional Development. Meaning, the observation of the teacher is used to analyze the effectiveness of their practice. A problem that could arise if the observation isn’t solid because the goal will be misaligned to the actual need of the teacher. The support structure also has to be in place so the Professional Development will be available once a goal is defined.”

In the past, growth was viewed as a common thread amongst departments in schools, and most teachers focused on the same goal as their peers. The PAR program is groundbreaking because it is teacher-centered as they have the opportunity to create their own professional growth goal. The teacher is held accountable for his or her goal and provides evidence of change in student achievement through their adopted changes in practice.

Mr. Mullenholz also discussed his personal opinion of PAR and its effect on growing teachers professionally through collaboration: “Since its implementation over a decade ago, PAR has been a strong model. I love that it was collaboratively developed and that the school system and the union are both architects. The “peer” part is critical as the evaluation or observation must have an expectation for improvement in the teacher’s practice, or there is no set-up for success.”

While Montgomery County School district implemented an evaluation system with an eye toward teacher development, others took this one step further and created incentives for improved performance. One example of this is the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in San Fernando, California.

The Vaughn Next Century Learning Center has a history of offering high quality professional development integrated with teacher evaluation for performance pay over an interval of several years. They also use the PAR program and, like other teacher evaluation systems, professional development needs are determined by a combination of test scores and areas of need identified through observations by both lead teachers and administrators. As an independent charter school, the curriculum committee looks at the needs of the entire school and plans professional development based on numerous local factors.

Nicole Mohr, teacher and Curriculum committee Chair to the Board of Directors at the Vaughn Center stated, “It is an ever growing, ever changing process. Teachers who are on the performance assistance and review team meet regularly, several times a year and each summer to discuss how the program is meeting the needs of the school.” Most schools meet regularly to desegregate data from state tests, other assessments and even non-cognitive data to make plans to improve the school.

Teachers receive pay incentives based on numerous areas: their skills/knowledge base (Designing Coherent Instruction, Managing Classroom Procedures, Managing Student Behavior, Engaging Students in Learning, Reflecting on Teaching, and Showing Professionalism) evaluated during observations, contingency base (student attendance), outcomes base (graduation rate and Average Percentage Increased), expertise base (department chair, coach, mentor, tutor, etc) and measurable student growth.

Ms. Mohr cautioned that the downside of incentives or merit pay is “[teachers] may look for ways to prove [they] are meeting the requirements rather than looking for ways to improve [instructional practices]”. Authentically excellent teachers usually do have the evidence to prove they are meeting expectations, which shows the overall importance and benefit of accountability.” While accountability may mean merit pay for some, for most schools evaluation is used to make decisions about retention.

Mella Baxter, English and reading teacher in Flagler County Schools in Florida is at a school that does not use PAR but is integrating professional development with teacher evaluation. Ms. Baxter stated, “[Professional Development] is not differentiated by individual teacher needs, but rather each Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting focuses on how to get highly effective in one of the indicators on the evaluation tool. Then the rest of the PLC teachers work together to create lessons, assessment, etc. based on student data designed to get students to the level they need to be for teachers to get a highly effective rating.”

Aligning the professional development to the evaluation tool that is then linked to best practices seems to be a simple and effective idea. Ms. Baxter, who is also a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, is designing a space on the Virtual Engagement Platform for Hope Street Group that will list indicators for Florida’s teacher evaluation tool and link each one to resources that will help teachers achieve a highly effective rating in that category. Her plan is to allow teachers to “further individually tailor their PD.” Once completed it will allow features such as uploading videos of teachers as exemplars or to attain feedback.

Teachers are more than capable of designing evaluative tools that encompass the complexity of the teaching profession. The most effective teachers are life-long learners. Professional development ought not to be a matter of compliance; it ought to be a tool for satisfying a teacher’s quest for daily improvement of practice. Being treated like a professional is a first step toward redesigning a career ladder that will keep the best teachers in the classroom and proud to be there helping American students.

More on Career Pathways for Teachers

More on Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

Pension Reform in 2015?

Kentucky legislators will consider a number of plans designed to reform the state’s pension plan for teachers, the Courier-Journal reports.

The Kentucky General Assembly has been tinkering with the pension plan in recent years in an attempt to shore up unfunded liabilities.

Proposals this year would seek to adjust future benefit payments and decrease cost-of-living increases.

The shortfall is a result of lack of proper funding over time by the General Assembly.

Some proposals would continue the practice of using borrowing through bonds to fund pension obligations, but it is likely that changes to benefits will also be required.

According to the report, a number of lawmakers oppose additional bonds to fund the system and are looking at more significant reform.

From the story:

So far, legislators have pre-filed at least four bills that would alter some aspect of teacher pensions, and leaders from both the House and Senate say any bonding needs to be paired with reforms.

“There is not a lot of enthusiasm for borrowing more money to pay off the KTRS debt without structural changes accompanying that effort,” said Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Jeff Hoover on Teacher Pensions

House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover attempts to use teacher pension reform as an argument in favor of electing a GOP majority to the Kentucky House.

In an article for the Courier-Journal, he points out:

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report issued by KTRS this past December shows the system had approximately 75,000 active and 47,000 retired members. The report states the funding level this past year was 51.9 percent, with $13.85 billion in unfunded liabilities. According to data released by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce this past week, a key reason for this underfunding is actual employer contributions to the system have been significantly less than the amount required to sustain financial obligations.

Hoover is right to note that the teacher pension system may soon face problems. Not being able to pay benefits promised and owed would be devastating.

And, in his article, he’s simply calling for the creation of a task force to examine the issue and make recommendations.

That, too, seems reasonable.

Fixing the pension problem won’t be easy and it will take political courage.

But, let’s be clear: Teachers are not the ones who failed to properly fund the pension system for years and years. Teachers did not make promises they couldn’t meet. Teachers should not bear the brunt of any proposed pension reform. The budget in Kentucky should not be balanced on the backs of Kentucky’s teachers.

Comprehensive reform that ensures the teacher pension fund is able to meet future obligations must include proper funding of those obligations. That will mean that new revenue must go to the fund OR that other programs are cut to make room in the budget for teacher pensions.

Kentucky made a promise to its teachers. Kentucky’s political leadership should keep that promise.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

 

 

The “War” for Teaching Talent

Stu Silberman from the Prichard Committee turns over his blog at EdWeek to Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt who discussed the need for a War for Talent in Teaching.

Sheratt argues that baby-boomer retirements and a growing focus on the importance of teacher quality mean states and districts must do more to improve the teaching field, including improving HR practices.

Here are a few key takeaways:

Teaching must    both be and be perceived to be an exciting career for college students with many other options – including in law, business, and other    high-paying fields that are aggressively recruiting the next generation of talent.

How to do this? Better pay, paid professional development, targeted marketing that highlights the strengths of the profession.

I’ve written before about the importance of improving teacher pay.

And that is very important.  Governor Beshear has made a commitment to at least giving Kentucky teachers a well-deserved raise.

It’s also important to increase the respect afforded teachers.  Paid professional development is a part of that.  A marketing campaign highlighting the amazing things teachers do every day can help, too.

But, it’s frustrating to hear again and again about how important teacher quality is and not to hear about realistic, focused plans to improve compensation and the professional environment for teachers.

States can make investments in improving pay and support for teachers, but they choose not to. While many states have changed teacher evaluation and added some use of test scores to evaluate teachers, those same states have not placed a similar focus on improving pay.

While 2% for Kentucky teachers this year is a good start, it’s not the move toward winning the “talent war” Kentucky or other states need.

Choosing investments in schools, including better pay and support for teachers, is critical to improving education outcomes.  It requires difficult choices and the prioritization of education over other budget items.  That means leadership.  The lack of which will mean we’ll continue reading stories about America’s struggling education system for years to come.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport