Incentives Toward Achieving Proficiency in Schools

An Innovative Turnaround Strategy for Chronically Underperforming Boston Public Schools

Boston’s “Incentives Toward Achieving

Proficiency in Schools” Pilot Program

An Innovative Turnaround Strategy for Chronically Underperforming Boston Public Schools.  



Statement of Need

      A chronically underperforming school is “any school that has a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability status of Corrective Action or Restructuring in English language arts and/or mathematics for students in the aggregate or a school1.”  In the 2006-2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Boston Teacher’s Union and the Boston School Committee, as a turnaround strategy for chronically underperforming schools, the contract allowed for the selection of 10 Superintendent Schools.  These 10 Superintendent Schools extended the school day by one hour, provided teachers with 20 additional hours of professional development, and reduced class size, costing the Boston Public School (BPS) district an additional $1.2 million per Superintendent School.  Not only was this turnaround strategy fiscally unsustainable, but the increase in student academic achievement was minimal at best.  As a result, Dr. Carol Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools (BPS), is eliminating the BPS Superintendent Schools at the end of the 2008-2009.  The need to turn around chronically underperforming schools in the BPS, however, continues to grow.  

Proposed Innovation 

The “Incentives Toward Achieving Proficiency in Schools” (ITAPS) Pilot Program provides an innovative turnaround strategy for six chronically underperforming schools in the BPS - two elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools.   The ITAPS Pilot Program uses market incentives to supplement the current single-salary pay structure of teachers in the targeted underperforming ITAPS schools in an effort to incentivize the school turnaround. Successful implementation of the ITAPS Pilot Program in Boston will lead to the program serving as a model turnaround strategy for BPS and other underperforming school districts. 

      In order to ensure that all students achieve academic proficiency, instruction in the BPS is organized around the Seven Essentials of Whole School Improvement2.  The ITAPS Pilot Program aligns with district-wide whole school improvement by embedding itself within the following Seven Essentials of Whole School Improvement: 

    1. Use effective and culturally relevant instructional practices and create a collaborative school climate that improves student learning, promotes student engagement and builds on prior knowledge and experiences.

    School Growth

      The ITAPS Pilot Program seeks to increase school achievement levels in the BPS by linking compensation to overall school growth in a holistic way. The criteria will encompass the school-wide improvement of student academic, physical, and emotional growth. 

      While student academic growth in the ITAPS Pilot Program is measured by various assessments as described in the following indicator, the physical and emotional growth of a school can also be measured by various improvements.  School physical growth can be measured by the overall physical health of the teachers and students, indicated by the number of sick days taken by teachers, student attendance rates, and the number of visits to the school nurse by students and teachers.  The indicators for the emotional growth of a school include parent and student satisfaction towards the teaching/school staff, the collaboration of grade level and content area teacher teams, the number of discipline incidents, and the surveyed satisfaction of teacher teams towards each other and administrators.

      An overall improvement in school growth will give teachers the ability to earn additional pay. As an incentive for collaboration, the ITAPS Pilot Program pay scale weights whole school and grade level performance more than individual student and classroom performance. 

    1. Examine student work and data to drive instruction and professional development.

Student Growth

      The ITAPS Pilot Program seeks to increase student academic achievement levels in BPS by linking compensation to students’ growth at the classroom level, at the grade-level and on school-wide academic assessments.  The ITAPS Pilot Program seeks to inspire and motivate teachers and schools to understand data and use it as an effective tool towards improving instruction.  The goal is to change the way in which teachers utilize data to inform instruction.  The expected outcome of the ITAPS Pilot Program is that teachers will work individually and collaboratively to analyze student data and use it to make informed, data driven instructional decisions.  The ITAPS Pilot Program will encourage teachers to utilize student data in effective and efficient methods; if teachers and schools use student data to make informed improvement to the instructional core, then student achievement levels will increase and teachers will be rewarded financially.

      A performance measurement system drives the design and implementation of the ITAPS Pilot Program.  The ITAPS measurement system will include individual student results, classroom results, grade-level results and results on a school-wide basis. If the ITAPS Pilot Program in Boston is strategically implemented and successful, the ITAPS Pilot Program could be a model for change in pay structure throughout the Boston Public Schools.

      Student Growth ITAPS will be measured by summative assessments, such as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) and/or BPS district developed assessments. Using technology, each individual student will have benchmarks that align with Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and/or district benchmarks that he/she must meet in order for the teacher to receive individual student growth incentive pay.  The median class size for BPS is 25 students per class and the teachers’ incentive pay earning potential will depend both on individual student growth and overall classroom growth.   If an individual student meets his/her benchmark, then the teacher will receive $60 per student for elementary school teachers and $25 per student for middle and high school; the maximum earning potential based upon individual student growth is $1,500.   If a teacher’s classroom meets its benchmark, then the elementary school teacher will receive $2,400 and middle and high school teachers will receive $600 per class with a $2,400 maximum.  If the entire grade meets its benchmark, then the entire grade of teachers will receive $3,000 and if the entire school meets its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmark, then every teacher will receive an additional $5,000.  Therefore, with the student growth essential, teachers will have the maximum earning potential of an additional $11,900 per year.  As an incentive for collaboration, this incentive pay scale weights whole school and grade level performance instead of weighting individual and classroom performance. 

    1. Invest in professional development to improve instruction

      The ITAPS Pilot Program addresses professional development in terms of restructuring school-wide professional development plans as well as providing for the compensation of individual teacher professional development. 

      Teachers in the Boston Public Schools are currently required to participate in contractual after-school professional development hours, with Superintendent Schools receiving an additional twenty hours.  The ITAPS Pilot Program promotes teacher facilitation of these professional development hours.  Teacher leaders, the master and mentor teachers, will use these hours to provide professional development that will assist teachers in making informed, data driven instructional decisions.  Classroom teachers will also be encouraged to lead professional development sessions, through sharing units and lessons and through looking at student work.  Opponents of the ITAPS Pilot Program might argue that the cooperative nature of teaching will be lost through competition to produce student achievement; however providing financial incentives for teacher participation in leading professional development will maintain collaboration and foster habits of sharing best practices.

      In addition to reorganizing on-site professional development to give more ownership and responsibility to teachers, the ITAPS Pilot Program will also compensate teachers who participate in off-site courses and workshops to improve instruction.  Included in this compensation will be salary increases for graduate and in-service credits.

      Collaboration in the ITAPS Pilot Program will continue through teachers leading Collaborative Coaching and Learning cycles and classroom visits.  With these opportunities, teachers will be able to share strategies in the classroom and work together on inquiry projects to enhance content area knowledge and analyze classroom practices.  Teachers will receive incentives for opening classrooms for formal and informal visits from teachers and administrators in order to make classroom practices transparent.  Opportunities will be available for teachers to both host and participate in these visits. 

    1. Share Leadership to Sustain Instructional Improvement:

      The ITAPS Pilot Program will develop clearly identified teacher leadership roles, and utilize these teacher leadership roles to aid the implementation and evaluation of the program in each of the targeted schools.  The current single-salary schedule in Boston does not create a career ladder that values teacher leadership roles within the school.  Although teachers have the opportunity to participate in the school’s instructional leadership team or in small learning communities, the teaching profession lacks upward mobility and career pathways.  By creating a structure in which teachers are able to take clearly defined leadership roles, Boston Public Schools will be able to retain high quality teachers and improve academic performance.

      To create an effective method of developing leadership roles and career pathways for teachers, the ITAPS Pilot Program will utilize mentor teachers and master teachers trained by the district as professional development providers and teacher evaluators.  These master and mentor teachers will still serve as classroom teachers, although they will not carry a full teaching course load.  Their responsibilities will include leading the schools’ professional development and evaluating teachers to determine incentive based rewards.  For their leadership roles, they will have the ability to earn additional $5,000 to $10,000. This development of teacher leadership roles in schools seeks to create a structured and collaborative organic model, one which aligns district efforts, school administrators and teachers.  Teacher leadership roles in the ITAPS Pilot Program signify the value of leadership roles in schools as a key component for improving the instructional core and student academic achievement levels. 

    1. Focus resources to support instructional improvement and improved student learning:

       ITAPS schools will require additional funding for implementation, but financial sustainability for ITAPS is highly feasible if the district prioritizes local and national fundraising efforts for ITAPS, utilizes innovative funding solutions and streamlines existing resources into ITAPS, such as Title One, Literacy and Math Coaches. Boston can utilize these master and mentor teachers to replace current district expenses in the Boston Public Schools and contribute to the financial sustainability of the ITAPS Pilot Program.  For example, master and mentor teachers could provide schools with professional development, replace district funded instructional coaches and lead Collaborative Coaching & Learning cycles.  If the Boston ITAPS Pilot Program is highly successful and it is able to effectively communicate results, then Boston could move toward a fair student funding formula that would allow for the sustainable implementation of ITAPS.  

      If the district leaders and elected officials embrace and prioritize ITAPS, then they could work to adopt the fair student funding formula in BPS.  For example, BPS equally funds each school based-upon per pupil expenditures.  However, if BPS implements a fair student funding formula, such as the New York City’s Department of Education’s, then schools would receive funding based upon its concentration of students with high needs; this would give additional funds to “chronically underperforming” schools and it would allow these schools to sustain the implementation of ITAPS.  By implementing a fair student funding formula, then it would be possible for the district to internally sustain ITAPS.  However, converting to a fair student funding formula would be a long, contentious process and the district could leverage seed funding from federal grants to implement the pilot ITAPS. Once ITAPS proves itself to be a highly effective and innovative turnaround strategy for chronically underperforming schools, then it will attract additional dollars from state and federal grants, local and national foundations and business leaders.

      

    1. Partner with families and community to support student learning.

ITAPS incentivizes partnerships between the school, the family and the community.  Acknowledging that true partnerships are mutually beneficial, ITAPS will reward both teachers and families for engaging in partnerships.   Conducting Family-Teacher Conferences and Family-Teacher Communication (phone calls, emails, etc.) are the two ways in which families and teachers can earn money by participating in ITAPS.  For Family-Teacher Conferences, both the family and the teacher will receive $20 per each 30 minute Family-Teacher Conference that is entered into the Family-Student-Teacher database, with maximum earnings of $3,000 Family-Teacher Conferences. Both teachers and families will receive $5 per 15 minute Family-Teacher Communication that is entered into the Family-Student-Teacher database, with maximum earnings of $2,000.  Lastly, to reward teachers for entrepreneurial management of community partnerships that support student learning, teachers will earn $500 per community partnership that he/she manages throughout the school-year.  The community partnership will need to meet pre-approved guidelines and progress must be tracked by the teacher in the Family-Student-Teacher database.  

    1. Maintain high levels of effectiveness, efficiency, and equity in our operations.

      In order to initiate and sustain the ITAPS Pilot Program in BPS, it is necessary to develop a system of reciprocal accountability between the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union.  The City of Boston must lead the negotiations between the Boston Public Schools and Boston Teachers Union by demonstrating its willingness to provide the funding necessary to implement the ITAPS Pilot Program. The Boston Public Schools must have the capacity and ability to measure, analyze and report student data to the administrators and teachers.  In turn, the Boston Teachers Union must provide the district with the flexibility and show a willingness to participate in negotiations regarding an ITAPS Pilot Program in targeted underperforming schools.  

      Data transparency and effective communication are additional key factors for the sustainability and implementation of the ITAPS Pilot Program.  The ITAPS Pilot Program must be able to provide teachers with professional development that focuses on using student data and applying it to the ITAPS measurement system and instructional practice.  The ITAPS Pilot Program in Boston must have the capability of measuring value-added growth among student gain in the classroom compared from one year to the next.   Not only should the ITAPS Pilot Program be able to communicate value-added measures in the classroom, but it should also be able to effectively measure and communicate value added gains in the whole school improvement.  In order to set up a successful ITAPS Pilot Program, effective communication and transparency with data is necessary in order to achieve the program’s intended goals and results.  

First steps and resources required 

       Achieving financial stability is a key component to the successful implementation of the ITAPS Pilot Program.  ITAPS schools will require additional funding for implementation, but financial sustainability for ITAPS is highly feasible if the district prioritizes local and national fundraising efforts for ITAPS, utilizes innovative funding solutions, such as fair student funding formula and streamlines existing resources into ITAPS, such as Title One, Literacy and Math Coaches.   

      Political, social and economic support is essential for piloting this program at 5 – 10 school sites. The achievement of the expected results will lead to the continued growth of social and political support. Over time, the program will economically sustain itself as  resources are mobilized from other areas to this structure. A task force needs to be created to implement the steps of identifying measurable criteria and then creating the tools to process, measure and track these criteria. This task force will utilize the best practices from other states and communities where similar Pay for Performance programs already exist. The initial pilot will take an estimated 2 years to execute before it can expand to an even larger scale.

Impact

 

There are currently over 50 “chronically underperforming” schools in the BPS and these schools are all subject to restructure in an effort to achieve AYP.  However, the state and district do not have the capacity to restructure and support these 50 “chronically underperforming” and they do not have a concrete recipe for school turnaround.  If ITAPS is implemented successfully in the six pilot schools, then BPS and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will have a model recipe for school turnaround; the ITAPS model can be adapted and expanded in BPS and throughout the Commonwealth. If ITAPS becomes a successful turnaround strategy for chronically underperforming schools, then this will result in the closure of the achievement gap of schools and the closure of the achievement gap of students that exist in Boston and throughout our country. 

Another expected outcome for ITAPS is to attract and retain highly effective teachers in targeted underperforming and hard to staff schools.  The current single-salary pay scale in Boston does nothing to attract and retain highly effective instructors in chronically underperforming schools.  Implementation of ITAPS structure will increase the earning potential for highly effective instructors and this will attract and retain highly effective teachers in chronically underperforming, hard to staff schools.  Teachers will no longer need to leave the classroom and pursue administrative roles or other careers in order to increase their earning potential and effectiveness.