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Cleveland School District One Step Closer to Performance Pay

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The Cleveland School Board approved the tentative agreement last night. The teachers union is expected to vote later this month. StateImpact Ohio's Ida Lieszkovszky reports.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Last night the Cleveland school board unanimously agreed to what city and union officials are hailing as a groundbreaking teacher contract for Ohio. Union members will vote later this month.

The contract spells out a new basis for teacher pay hikes. Raises merely for lasting another year in the job are out; so are automatic bumps for an extra degree. Instead, “pay for performance” is in.

Currently, only three-dozen of the state’s 600 school districts have any sort of pay-for-performance system in place.

Cleveland schools’ CEO Eric Gordon insists this version goes a lot further than any of those.

"We’re the only school system in the state of Ohio that actually has a true differentiated compensation system," he says. "We’re one of the few in the nation, frankly."

Other Ohio districts use performance to give teachers raises but those come on top of seniority based pay hikes they get anyway. The radical move in Cleveland would be the abandonment of what are known as “step increases” where the longer you teach the more money you make – regardless of how much students are learning.

Cleveland teachers would have to earn so-called “achievement credits.” Fifteen achievement credits gets you a pay bump.

“It is not years of experience and masters," Gordon says. "That’s exactly what we’ve set aside.”

Instead, Gordon says teachers will be rewarded for doing things that improve teaching. For example, a physics teacher could get an achievement credit for taking a college physics course, but not for history classes that don't directly apply to their physics class.

Cleveland’s not completely abandoning the old ways. The new contract would still give all teachers an automatic five percent hike over three years, plus a one-time payment of $1500 dollars. Gordon says the extra pay is an exception to the new rules and warranted because teachers will have to work 40 minutes a day more, and they'll have to undergo training to make the switch to the new evaluation system.

Some key details in the contract are yet to be worked out – what, exactly, counts toward an achievement credit, for example. That’ll be written by a committee by early next year.

“It’ll be an interesting piece to watch," says David Dolph, chair of the educational leadership department at the University of Dayton. He says it makes sense that not everything is figured out yet, and that teachers will still get some pay raises regardless of performance. It’s a way to ease into the new system.

“When you think of organizational changes such as that to go from A to Z in a heartbeat can be a bit of a challenge," Dolph says. "Having a transition period where people begin to understand the entire system can make some sense.”

Performance pay for teachers is gaining popularity across the state and country. It’s also something the Obama Administration incentivized with hundreds of millions of dollars to states in “Tace to the Top” grants.

Performance pay “makes some intuitive sense to folks," Dolph says. "American values, they value hard work, they always have and it seems to be something that’s accepted in a lot of other ways of doing business.”

Union President David Quolke says it’s a good deal, and he’s working to convince his members of that

“Like with any agreement, you know, any sort of uncertainty causes concern and raises questions," Quolke says. "What we are doing is we are out there in the buildings educating our members."

Cleveland looked to Baltimore to develop their performance pay model. Now, if the contract is approved, other districts may look to Cleveland to see what works – and what doesn’t.

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