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CMS's Talent Effectiveness Preserves Much Of Pay For Performance

Kevin Strawn talks with another CMS teacher after recent Value Added Work Group meeting.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools has been working on a plan to pay teachers, in part, on how well their students perform on standardized tests. It's been known as "Pay for Performance" and has come under a lot of fire. CMS is trying to cool things off with a different strategy. The plan now has a different name, but it's essentially the same idea. The district has been talking about Pay for Performance for a couple years now. The idea is to gauge how effective teachers are at getting their kids to learn, in part, through student's performance on standardized tests. The debate hit a fever pitch this spring when kids actually had to take those tests. Angry parents and teachers crowded school board meetings. District officials began to regret how they unrolled the program. In September, Chief Human Resources Officer Dan Habrat told the school board about the district's new approach to the plan. It's now called Talent Effectiveness. The testing remains, but he emphasized it's not the focus of the plan. "We want to make clear today assessments and the work we are doing around informatives, around summatives, etc, is not about our efforts for pay or performance," said Habrat. "It is a nice side product and we'll take it if we can use it, but it's not the reason we are doing the work." Habrat went on to stress Talent Effectiveness is ultimately for providing feedback to teachers about how they can improve and testing is only one of several ways CMS wants to evaluate teachers. Other ways include student surveys and classroom observations. But that's nothing new. And it's still not clear how much each of those will be counted toward pay. Andy Baxter has put a lot of work into the district's evaluation plan. He says he made many teachers unduly nervous last year by talking about how these measures, especially test scores, would affect pay. "By pushing the conversation about compensation off, reassuring people that people's paychecks are not going down, etc., we're going to be able to focus and get people's energy about the ways the measures can help everybody and not feel so punitive about it," explains Baxter. He does say compensation is still part of the plan, not because the district felt changes in compensation would make people work harder. But because he says the plan is more about recruiting and retaining effective teachers, so that ultimately they can earn more earlier in their careers. CMS Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh has said budgets are tight and there's no money at this point to begin paying teachers based on these measures. But the district is still on the same timeline to begin tying teacher pay to evaluations and test scores. That's the 2014-2015 school year. So what's different about Talent Effectiveness? The district has made some new hires. A classroom teacher is now working on the Talent Effectiveness team to help lend what the district calls "a teacher's voice." CMS has also brought on board a new PR person and is trying to get more teachers involved in work groups. Kevin Strawn talks with another CMS teacher after recent Value Added Work Group meeting. The value-added team meets on a recent evening. The value-added measure is the controversial one, since it's primarily based on how students perform on tests. This group has doubled in size since last year. The district has asked every principal to send one teacher from their school to participate in these year-long work groups. The teachers report back to their schools and then take their colleagues concerns back to the group. A few teachers ask about salaries. As the teachers leave, a few new members say they feel better about the plan. Others say they're still skeptical, but that's why they're here. Kevin Strawn, a teacher from East Meck High School was part of the group last year. He's still not so sure about the plan, but he says CMS's new approach really does feel different. "When pay for performance was announced and when the initial presentations were made, last year they were all wrapped around value-added. And that doesn't seem to be the focus this year. That is a small piece," says Strawn. Larry Bosc But Larry Bosc another teacher at East Meck disagrees. "The only thing that changed is their acknowledgement that perhaps they've done a bad job in PR. And I don't think that was the only reason teachers were concerned about pay for performance," says Bosc. He chose not to participate in a work group. Tonight, WFAE will host a forum on this issue as part of our Public Conversation series. We'll talk about how teachers should be evaluated and bring up some questions these work groups are wrestling with. Bosc and a teacher who facilitates a group will be part of the panel. CMS's new communications coordinator offered to prep her. We didn't take him up on that.