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Pay for Performance Vote in Denver

If the suspense isn’t exactly killing you on our mayoral election next week, you might find a more interesting election in the Rockies, where Denver residents are voting tomorrow on a $25 million tax increase that would fund a new pay plan for teachers.

If the measure passes, Denver teachers will be entitled to additional pay for student achievement, as well as for adding skills and knowledge, receiving good evaluations and/or for working in shortage areas. The pay would be over and above annual contractual COLAs. A teacher could ultimately increase her/his salary by $33,000 annually.

The Denver plan, Professional Compensation System for Teachers (“ProComp”) was devised by the Denver Teachers Association and the Denver school district, and has been piloted for four years. Current teachers can opt in, or remain on the existing salary scale. New teachers would be enrolled automatically. Denver teachers voted to adopt the plan 59-41 last December. Tomorrow’s vote will tell if residents are willing to increase their property taxes to pay for it. If it passes, it goes into effect in January.

Denver teachers are plagued by some of the same ills as here, including larger classes, heavy emphasis on state test scores and a history of less-than-decent district leadership. This plan, years in the negotiating, is being pushed hard by the Denver district and closely watched as a possible model of the new merit pay for other cities. Residents were sold this deal as a way to raise teacher pay with assurances of better student outcomes. Teachers seem cautious about it so far.

Could it work here? Comments welcome. The Denver plan has parallels with a career ladder study by the UFT and retention recommendations by the AFT, and it certainly puts the lie to the simplistic, top-down kinds of merit pay plans that Chancellor Klein talks about. The enormous amount of thought and effort that Denver teachers put into their plan should get our attention and respect, if not our vote. If any “merit pay” plan could fly, this one may be close to it.

UPDATE: It passed!



  • 1 msfrizzle
    · Oct 31, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    I feel like part of the problem with a lot of merit pay proposals is that the merit pay offered is so small. People aren’t going to risk a new incentive system for $1000, but they might for $5000 or more. It sounds like this system in Denver could mean real money for some people. I also think it is a like-able plan because there are more than one way for teachers to earn extra money, so it decreases the chance that a bad political situation in one’s school will hurt one’s chances of increasing pay.

    I read an article in a teacher magazine – maybe American Educator? – about 2 years ago that argued that if you walk into a school and ask around for names of the best teachers in the school, you are likely to get a short list of pretty similar names no matter who you ask, yet teachers are reluctant to sign on to pay systems based on effective teaching because they are unsure if the method of identifying the good teachers will be fair. So, we know who the good teachers are, but we haven’t developed a trustworthy system for identifying & rewarding them….. Surely there must be a way.

    If I felt it were reasonably fair & the stakes were meaningful, I would absolutely sign up.

  • 2 redhog
    · Oct 31, 2005 at 6:04 pm

    Teachers should refuse to compete against each other. It is a trick by management to divide and conquor. At the end of the day, it will always be principals and their toadies who judge teachers, and because of the inherent folly of such a system, it deserves to be stillborn.

  • 3 northbrooklyn
    · Oct 31, 2005 at 8:56 pm

    Maybe I’m just tired after a long day of arguement about the new contract which the principal has decided is already passed and has all kinds of fu-ca-ca plans
    for the 37 minutes. But, I tried to read the Denver plan and none of it makes any sense…starting with the 33 thou beginning salary. I hope someone else can explain this to me.

  • 4 TeachMePlease
    · Oct 31, 2005 at 9:33 pm

    Anyone elses school force them to “adopt” four kids from each of their classes to move up this year?

    I think parents should know we are professionalizing favoritism. This is the start to merit pay. We had to fill out a form of where the student was last year on their scores and say we would bring them up and spend extra time on them.

    This website should have a concern section! This is a major problem that the union should review. This is the start to merit pay.

  • 5 Chaz
    · Oct 31, 2005 at 10:05 pm

    I agree with msfrizzle that I have not seen a merit pay system that works. All merit pay systems starts and ends with the principal and their subjective criteria.

  • 6 NYC Educator
    · Oct 31, 2005 at 10:07 pm


    It’s easy. Just imagine you’re getting a tip instead of a salary. For example, if you worked in a diner, you’d get two dollars an hour, and then you could keep all the tips you made.

    Or you could just go out to the Island and make over 100K. That’s where a good portion of our young teacher corps will end up.

    Tom Suozzi should really send Mayor Bloomberg a thank you card.

  • 7 shouldhavegonetomeds
    · Nov 1, 2005 at 12:20 am

    I can only speak for myself. I am a 1972 graduate of a high quality Catholic men’s college. I had 1200 SAT’s. I liked books, words, reading, children and social justice. I quickly procured a Master’s in the teaching of Reading from a respectable private university, as I realized I had quite a bit of academics and not enough pedagogy from my undergraduate alma mater. Teaching seemed like a good fit for me at the time,

    Frankly one of the things I liked about it was that the raises would come if not copiously but decently in lock step manner without a lot of politics, back stabbing, etc. Frankly, if one is going to go through all that why not go to medicine or law where the money really is, otherwise you really just end up with much ado about do do in education.

    By the way, if lock step is so bad how is that school districts like Scarsdale are perfectly OK with that approach?

  • 8 Persam1197
    · Nov 1, 2005 at 4:52 am

    Do doctors get merit pay or do they just get paid as professionals?

    This scheme also lends itself to another problem: the value of a teacher versus another. Is a math teacher more valuable than a music teacher? Is a science teacher worth more than a health teacher?If you’re not teaching a course with a standardized exam, how are you supposedly measured?

    What happens if a teacher works a student to a breakthrough year in an English or Math class that does not terminate in a Regents exam and I get lucky enough to get that kid next year when the Regents is given? How do you “tip” the previous teacher?

    The powers that be continue to look for quick fixes instead of investing real resources to our schools and kids. I personally do not need a carrot on a stick to make me work harder. I give 200% every day and would appreciate respectable compensation for my dedication to feed my family. Is that too much to ask for?

  • 9 Maisie
    · Nov 1, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Northbrooklyn and whoever:
    Go to the ProComp site (use the link in the post) and go to the salary calculator on the left toolbar. It’s pretty easy to use. I just made up stuff, but I got a pretty specific idea of what my salary would be going forward, depending on what kinds of PD, evaluations, and choices I’d make through my teaching career.

    It’s important to note that this is not merit pay in the way we think of that (toxic) system. The principal does not decide who gets extra pay. It’s done by a combination of skills and knowledge and incentives. However, we’ll see. Denver will be a good test.

  • 10 R. Skibins
    · Nov 1, 2005 at 2:17 pm


    I agree with you 100%. All of the kiss-a$$ toadies will be the ones selected by the administrators for this form of merit pay. What would stop a principal from stacking your class with the lowest functioning students in the western hemisphere, while stacking his/her toady with the cream of the crop? Nobody can deny that this happens already.

  • 11 redhog
    · Nov 1, 2005 at 8:09 pm

    There is absolutely no correspondence at present between the merit of teachers’performance and the recognition and advancement granted them. If anything, there is an inverse relationship ( or is it “reverse”?)
    Not 5% of the administrators in the school system are worth a can of Dash dogfood, in my estimation and dispassionate recollection.

  • 12 NYC Educator
    · Nov 1, 2005 at 9:31 pm

    It’s interesting to hear Unity writers explain how they plan to use merit pay in the future–their merit pay is not merit pay, just as the new sixth class is not actually a sixth class, and how they’ve reinstituted lunchroom duty but somehow no one will be actually doing lunchroom duty…

    In a few years, the same people will be explaining why the new pay cut isn’t a pay cut.

  • 13 Maisie
    · Nov 2, 2005 at 10:10 am

    The measure passed yesterday (Tuesday), part of a package of other taxes. Thanks to Peter Goodman for keeping his eagle eye on this issue and forwarding the news update. A link to the story in the Rocky Mountain News is appended to the end of the original post.

  • 14 Peter Goodman
    · Nov 2, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    There was an “active debate” within the Denver Teachers Association around the Procomp plan. The Denver school district has a large number of new immigrants, mostly Hispanic, and the city is surrounded by upscale suburbs. Sound familiar? After lengthy, and at times, loud debate the members approved the plan, and developed a coalition to place the issue on the ballot and conducted a vigorous campaign. Check out the Plan yourself… it’s quite interesting. A number of issues in the plan already exist in NYC … the DOE currently give teachers who agree to teach in “hard to staff” schools tuition remission, they pay tuition for graduate studies in a number of “shortage areas,” and, teachers in the Chancellor’s District received additional compensation for working a longer school day and year. I don’t support or oppose the Denver ProComp Plan … however … we should closely monitor it …

  • 15 Edwize » Eva flames out on teacher quality
    · Dec 8, 2005 at 4:53 pm

    […] Maybe Eva and other proponents would say the teachers’ unions blocked these bills. But in fact the only place that is trying performance pay on any scale at all is Denver, Colorado, and there it was the teachers union that wrote and championed the measure, taking a full five years to pilot and develop it. Performance pay may be a good idea in the abstract but in the implementation it’s a real bear. Klein thinks announcing things makes them so, but he’s mistaken. […]