The Indianapolis Public School Board is considering undertaking a two-year process to overhaul how it evaluates, pays and promotes teachers.
The broad concepts of how it might work were presented to the board at a retreat this morning at Cold Spring School by board member Caitlin Hannon and Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand. The plan, called Project Elevate, is still being developed but initial estimates suggested it could involve up to three consultants and cost $2.5 million.
The hope is that IPS will get philanthropic help to cover some, if not most, of that cost, however. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he would recommend the board pay for the $274,000 first phase, which would be undertaken this summer.
The name Project Elevate is meant to suggest it will “elevate” teaching in the district. That money would pay for outside support on two immediate needs: reworking a broken teacher evaluation system that Ferebee described as “convoluted” and preparing to negotiate at least the first steps in a new pay model for teachers.
“I feel strongly about this,” Ferebee said. “If you don’t develop teachers they won’t get better.”
Ferebee has been critical of IPS’s evaluation results — more than 93 percent of teachers who were rated were certified as effective — saying the process did a poor job identifying where teachers need to improve. That has made it difficult to determine what sorts of training to offer and to identify which teachers need what training, he said.
“We can’t plan effective professional development because (evaluations said) everybody doesn’t have a need to grow,” he said.
Hannon and Legrand proposed hiring IUPUI to help redesign the evaluation system. Among the goals would be more teacher input in how the process works.
“Teachers felt it was something that was done to them instead of with them,” Ferebee said of the process IPS followed this year.
On teacher pay, Ferebee and several board members have said in recent months they want to restructure the district’s compensation system so that teachers receive raises more regularly, perhaps with additional performance-based rewards.
But those desires come with challenges.
Even a modest 2 percent pay raise for all teachers, Ferebee said, would add as much as $4 million in annual spending for IPS, a figure that could be difficult to sustain, even before the idea of extra incentive pay is considered.
To make raises and incentives more affordable, IPS will face a bigger challenge: redesigning the pay system and reallocating funds to support the new approach. The board also can’t go it alone. Negotiations on a new labor contract with the teachers union, which will make its own proposals for how teachers should be evaluated and paid, begin in August.
To prepare for those talks, Project Elevate proposes IPS bring in a consultant Hannon worked with in March in her role as execute director of TeachPlus, an organization that aims to get teachers involved in policy making.
Nearly 150 IPS educators came to a Teach Plus-sponsored event run by Education Resource Strategies, a Boston-based non-profit that consults with school districts to help them better utilize their resources, that was something of a crash course in budget making.
For that exercise, teachers in small groups were given cards with a series of policy choices — such as maintaining the union-backed “step” system of annual raises based on experience or new ideas like paying bonuses to the highest rated teachers — with price tags attached. Each group had to mix and match the policy options to assemble a compensation plan that fit within the fictional district’s budget over 10 years.
It proved an eye-opening challenge for many of the groups. ERS would reprise elements of that activity with the board to help them think through ways they might propose to restructure teacher pay.
“I want us to be well equipped when we enter the bargaining table this summer,” Ferebee said.
The long term goal would be to refine the compensation plan in the 2015-16 school year and bring in a third consultant, North Carolina-based Public Impact, to plan for better use of technology in the classroom and to craft new roles for teachers, including teacher leader positions with higher pay. Its program is called Opportunity Culture.
Public Impact is the group that worked with The Mind Trust to craft its controversial 2011 report that recommended radical changes in IPS to reduce administrative spending and redirect money and decision-making authority to schools.
Simultaneously, IPS would work toward a new, student-based approach to budgeting, under which schools would get more per-pupil aid for students with greater challenges and more autonomy for how to use those funds.
“We would put ourselves in a place, in 2016-17, to have 18 to 24 schools that have explicit teacher leadership opportunities or autonomy,” Hannon said. “I’m hopeful that the district is willing to make the initial investment.”
If so, Hannon said she would lead an effort to seek foundation grants to pay for as much of the cost of the second and third phases of process as possible.
“I think there is a huge opportunity for fundraising,” she said.
The combination of better evaluation, performance incentives, changes in the budgeting process and new teacher advancement opportunities could help IPS better compete for talent, Ferebee said.
Right now, he said, the district is handicapped by its starting pay of $35,600, which is below the county average of about $38,000 and even further behind the $40,000 and above that some districts pay new teachers.
“We’re in the same city competing with those school corporations,” he said.
Board members Sam Odle and Diane Arnold were among those who said they would be inclined to support the process Legrand and Hannon described.
“I see it as an investment,” Arnold said. “We are not going to get better if we don’t do these things.”
Hannon said discussion of Project Elevate will continue at the board’s education subcommittee meeting on June 17.
Chalkbeat Indiana is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.