A few weeks back, I dove into the Dallas ISD Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI), explored the connections to the STAAR test to drive pay, and the targeted distribution of ratings, which controls how many teachers can achieve each ratings (and hence pay). If you’d like to read it, you can here.

I recently read a great article from Educatorship that dove into how the Dallas ISD Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) program seems to drive positive results for some campuses, but doesn’t seem to be sustainable. And then I ran across the exhibits from the Texas Commission On Public School Finance meeting on December 19, 2018. Between the image below, on the number of teachers at each level of TEI, and the Educatorship article, I decided I needed to do a real comparison of what the model says will happen and what is actually happening. And at the end, talk about another program that helps increase teacher pay for those who go above and beyond in the school district where I used to be a board trustee, Granbury ISD.

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The graphic above is from the Commission On Public School Finance and is designed to try and convince you that teachers in TEI are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better off than teachers in other districts. If you are only looking at the percentages and what they have boxed in the table, it’s easy to miss what I think is the most important element. Look how few teachers there are at the top levels:

  • 3 at Master, paid $90,000 per year
  • 110 at Exemplary II, paid $82,000 per year
  • 133 at Exemplary I, paid $74,000 per year

When you look at how the 9,824 teachers are broken out by rating, it’s pretty stark. And, realize that the “Novice” teacher, who is someone with no experience and paid $50,000, is excluded from this teacher count.

The table above puts the average pay at $58,309 for the district. That must be including something beyond simply base pay. If you leverage the DISD salary scale from their website, you land on an average pay for the 9,824 non-novice teachers of $56,403.

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Now, let’s take a quick peek at the ACE program. How many teachers are actually getting the stipend? How much are they getting? And is it really the best of the best going to ACE campuses?

An associate, Greg Hart, filed a freedom of information act request, asking for all teachers at an ACE campus in 2016/17, 2017/18, and 2018/19. It includes the salary and stipend information for everyone, so it’s fairly easy to answer our questions about ACE.

For the 2018/19 school year, there are 355 total teachers at an ACE campus, but only 291 receiving a stipend. Across a district that includes 9,824 teachers (again, not counting novice teachers), 3.0% of teachers are getting a stipend at an ACE campus, with the average stipend amount across the 291 at $4,928.

Here is where is gets interesting. The Dallas ISD page on the ACE program pretty clearly calls out who is eligible for the stipend: Proficient I and above

But the reality looks to be that teachers at Progressing I and above are receiving the stipend. I will admit, I’m backing into that conclusion. Looking at each individual teacher in the data from the FOIA request, and based on the salary scale, any teacher who is making up to $52,999, I’m counting as Progressing I, any teacher between $53,000 and 55,999 is Progressing II, etc. Here are the counts, comparing total teachers by rating and those receiving a stipend at an ACE campus.

Another way to look at it is to look at the percentages of teacher distribution. Yes, 9.8% of your total district Exemplary I teachers are at an ACE campus, but that’s just 13. And yes, 8.2% of your Exemplary II teachers are at an ACE campus, but that is just 9. The reality is 57% of the teachers receiving the stipend are Proficient I or below. I’m POSITIVE these are all really great teachers and they are making a real difference at these campuses. I’m not trying to downplay how good they are at their jobs. But, the way this program has been sold doesn’t seem to match the actual.

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So, if from a pure financial standpoint the data says the Dallas ISD TEI and ACE model don’t seem to be sustainable, plus the problematic linkage to an assessment (STAAR) with it’s own questionable outcomes, what else could we do to differentiate for our best teachers? I’m glad you asked, because just like Mike Morath, I was a school board trustee at a district that worked on finding a better outcome, for students and educators. What I’ll walk you through next is what we did in Granbury ISD.

Granbury Teacher Excellence Initiative

Just like Dallas ISD, Granbury has their own TEI. This one was structured differently. The idea is that teachers who go above and beyond will capture specifics in a portfolio, striving to reach targets in three specific areas, as well as achieving attendance thresholds. If you are successful, you can earn up to an additional $1,000 in salary, on top of any district wide pay increases. This isn’t a one time payment. It’s every year you are with the district. If you achieve the incentive once, and stay with GISD for 10 more years, it was worth $10,000. Stay for 15 and it was worth $15,000. Below is an illustration showing a teacher who achieves the GTEI award 5 times in 10 years. For this teacher, they will have earned an additional $32,000 in extra salary.

This program is available to EVERY classroom teacher in at least their 2nd consecutive year teaching at GISD. There isn’t a targeted distribution.

Here is another way to look at it. Two teachers, both newly hired teachers, being paid $45,000 their first year. They both get the same base increases year over year, but one qualifies for the GTEI 5 times in 10 years.

Achieving GTEI

Attendance is the first qualifier.

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It’s a steep hill. Miss three days or less and you qualify for 100%. Four days, and it drops to 75%, five days and it goes to 50%. Miss more than five days and you are not eligible for the incentive. You may not be able to hit that in this year, but the same incentive will be available to you the next year. Why was attedence the first hurdle? Because study after study shows that kids do best when they have their teacher.

Now, let’s get to the portfolio assembled by teachers trying to achieve the GTEI incentive. The bulk of this is pulled straight from Granbury’s website. The portfolio focuses on three areas:

  • Professional Development/Collaboration
  • Student Experience/Campus Culture
  • Student Achievement/Enrichment

Professional development and collaboration is achieved with a minimum of 30 documented hours of additional training or professional development, pre-approved by the campus principal, not be part of the teacher’s normal teaching requirements, and any costs shall be paid for by the teacher. This could come from professional development in teacher’s subject or grade level, voluntary PLC meetings, Region 11, etc., as well as a whole list of other development areas.

The student experience and campus culture is achieved with the same requirement of at least 30 documented hours, and a maximum of 12 in any one of these areas:

  • Committee involvement (voluntary campus or district committees)
  • Student and/or parent survey results showing positive feedback
  • Grade level department creations, new initiatives, etc.
  • Apply for and receive an outside grant that benefits your classroom and school.
  • Attendance at school activities, games, concerts, family nights, etc. (not required as part of job)

And the final element is student achievement and enrichment. Teachers will present data and artifacts to show student progress, growth, and success in their classrooms. There are many ways to show this. Here are a few that teachers can choose to leverage:

  • DRA, TELPAS, I-station, STAAR (results come in so late in the year, I’ve been told NO ONE leverages STAAR data), EOC, Common Assessments, universal screenings, AP exams, BOY, EOY, SAT/ACT success or other data showing student progress throughout the year.
  • Success in contests such as UIL choir, band, or academic contests could also be used if a majority of students in the classroom participate in such contests or external evaluations.
  • Other classroom activities and data such as jump rope club, miler’s club, Fitnessgram, Crossfit club, campus-wide musicals, science and history fair success, etc. could be used as artifacts for this section.

If a teacher is doing the development work, they are more valuable to the district, getting better as a teacher. If a teacher is achieving grants for their classroom, connecting with their students and families, and are involved in helping shape our district, that teacher is deeply integrating themselves into the district and community, which is invaluable. And finally, if a teacher is doing the first two elements really well, the student achievement will almost certainly follow. Nail all the pieces and you are a teacher GISD wants to see stick around.

How many of the approximately 450 teachers in Granbury ISD have taken advantage of the program in the three full years it has been in place?

  • 2015/2016 saw 33% of eligible teachers achieve the incentive
  • 2016/2017 saw 16% of eligible teachers
  • 2017/2018 saw 20% of eligible teachers

That is pretty solid and it’s making a difference. Those great teachers are staying with the district, continuing to do great things.

Should we be looking at ways to reward the best educators in our school districts, those who go above and beyond, creating truly meaningful connections with students and community? 1,000x YES! Is the Dallas ISD model one way? Yes, but it certainly isn’t the only way, and there are a multitude of questions that go with it that Greg Abbott and Mike Morath just seem to want to wallpaper over. The Dallas model is not only tied to an assessment tool that has drawn scrutiny, it doesn’t appear to be financially sustainable, and it could create a mercenary outlook, where once a district completes it’s three year ACE run and the stipends disappear, do all the teachers move on to the next ACE campus? On top of all of that, feedback from sources all over the state say there is no way something like that would work in smaller school districts. Outcomes based funding for public schools, tied to standardized tests, where the best get more money and the worst get less, is the wrong way to approach something as unique as our kids.

We should be looking what makes a great educator and then rewarding it when we see it. Will that impact outcomes? Yep, but maybe not the ones on a standardized test. Will great educators make a difference for our kids, helping them become lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and productive members of our communities? Yep, and our state will be better for it.

I chart Texas Politics at christackettnow.com and write about things that matter (to me at least) whenever the muse hits.

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