Former teacher: TAP is why we’re leaving
Vail CO, Colorado
I was a teacher in the Eagle County School District who will not be coming back because of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). I am aware that there are differing view points on TAP, and the purpose of my writing this is not to throw anyone under the bus, but rather break the silence and let people know what is really happening in the district. My intent is not malicious, but rather to educate. I also understand that I am setting myself up for criticism and I am preparing myself for that.
I do not pretend to know everything about TAP, but the conversation on what TAP really is doing is long overdue and needs to be addressed. I hope this breaks the silence of many teachers and is the beginning of changes that need to be made in the district. I am aware of a few changes that have been made in TAP for the upcoming school year, but it is too little too late, the damage has been done.
Everything I am saying here, I have brought to the attention of the ex-superintendent and the school board in the past year. There should be no surprises. I was a teacher in this district for three years, but I could no longer, in good conscience, be apart of the destructive nature of TAP. So let the discussion begin, and let the cards fall where they may. This is not about me, it is about treating teachers with respect, letting them keep their dignity and doing what is right for a profession that is so maligned and undervalued.
We are all led to believe that the cost of living is the reason for the high turnover in Eagle County Schools. Although there is some truth to that, is our turnover higher than Roaring Fork School District? How about Summit County? What about Steamboat? Telluride? Jackson Hole, Wyoming? All of these communities have a high cost of living. Is their turnover as high as ours? I am sure they have high turnover, but am very confident it is not higher than in the Eagle County School District. Jackson Hole recently took a step forward to solving the problem of teachers leaving their schools by raising the starting salary for a teacher to $50,000 because of the high cost of living there. The major difference however, between Eagle County Schools and the school districts just mentioned is TAP. Many teachers are leaving the district because of TAP. What the district fails to tell you is that in their exit interviews TAP is not even an option under the reason for leaving category. I know, I filled out the exit survey when I left and had to add it myself. So how can they quantify it? I have had hundreds of conversations with parents and teachers and an overwhelming majority say TAP is the culprit for teacher dissatisfaction in the district. My point of view will be from the high school perspective, but rest assured, the middle and elementary schools have their problems with TAP as well.
TAP has two major components to it and it is important to distinguish those two parts. One part is collaboration, which is integral to the success of any business, not just education. I am tired of reading articles abut how great TAP is because of collaboration. TAP is much more than that and I intend to expose that point. I do not think you will find any teacher who has a problem with collaborating with their colleagues, unless it is under the current system where trust is compromised.
Collaboration is teamwork, and teamwork works, when done correctly. Teamwork is not rewarded in the TAP program, only individuals are. The other part of TAP and the one causing the most grief is the pay for performance component or if you will, lack of pay for performance.
The first part of pay for performance deals with paying teachers for students doing well on standardized tests. Let me try to explain this using a “real world” application. Imagine if we evaluated our dentists or doctors based on the number of cavities or illnesses their school-aged patients had. I am sure many dentists and doctors would say this is not fair. They might say we have no control over what people eat, how much they exercise, how often they brush their teeth, how often they come in to our offices for preventative care, their insurance coverage, their upbringing, their parents beliefs about health, their income levels or many of the other factors that affect a persons health. Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score made on a test of children’s progress with no regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community.
Oh wait, this is exactly what we do in this school district and many others throughout the nation.
The “possible” performance pay out in the Eagle County School District for student achievement, as measured by standardized tests, is $1,300. In 2006, basically all high school teachers made a little under $400 out of a possible $1,300 (or is it really possible?) So does it not stand to reason that the high school teachers must really be bad teachers if they are only making a little over $400 out of a possible $1,300 and that the students are not achieving the TAP goals on the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP)? The school district claims 67 percent of the students showed one year’s growth on another standardized test, the NWEA, but the payout in 2007 was $120 out of $433 at the high school level. According to this pay for performance amount the high school teachers in the district must be bad. Or are there other underlying circumstances? Maybe it’s because TAP is an elementary model? The school district implemented TAP knowing this and has failed to address it for five years.
Under TAP the career teacher is held accountable for these low scores, at least behind the reasoning of TAP’s pay for performance. Under TAP, master and mentor teachers make $11,500 and $5,000 extra per year respectively. This is on top of their teaching salaries, TAP payouts for teaching, and is for their “additional responsibilities” they perform. Let’s us not forget to mention that they are given time during their work days to perform those “additional responsibilities.” If student test scores go down they still get all that extra money. If the teachers they “coach” have evaluations scores that go down or are not very good, they still get all their money.
There is no accountability for their “additional responsibilities.” I take issue with the claim that masters and mentors have additional responsibilities. Career teachers teach 30 kids for 80 percent of their day and have planning for the remaining 20 percent. Master teachers teach 20 percent of their day, have planning for 20 percent of their day and perform master duties for the remaining 60 percent. Mentor teachers teach 60 percent of their day, have planning for 20 percent and perform mentor duties for the remaining 20 percent. Is not having kids in the classroom more responsibility than not having kids in the classroom? At a minimum, it is just as much responsibility, but TAP disagrees.
Let me give this to you from another perspective. Masters make an additional $11,500 a year. They work 200 days a year versus 180 for career teachers. Twenty of those days is TAP training with no kids. Mentors work 190 days a year and make $5,000 extra. So in essence masters make $11,500 for the extra 20 days. That’s $575 a day while not teaching students, versus the standard teacher pay of $378 a day when they have students for 20 percent of their day. Mentor teachers make $500 a day when they have no students and make $378 a day for having students 60 percent of the time. These numbers are based on a teacher making the district maximum of $68,049. If they do not make the district maximum, which I am willing to bet they do not, they make even less per day when students are in their classroom than they do when TAP training. TAP rewards teachers for not being in the classroom, plain and simple. Now I do believe they should be paid for the extra days they work, just not $11,500 for 20 extra days or $5,000 for 10 extra days.
Students, parents, masters, mentors and career teachers all have the responsibility to improve test scores of students, but it is ONLY the career teachers that are being held accountable under TAP. Teacher pay is tied to test scores. Last year, masters, mentors, and the directors of education got stipends or raises not tied to test scores. As a matter of fact, the ex-superintendent just left with $290,000, but I doubt that was tied to test scores. In the 2006-2007 school year the directors of secondary and elementary education received pay raises of around $14,000 each and it was not tied to test scores. I am a parent of child in this school district, but as a parent I am not held accountable if my child does poorly on CSAP or NWEA. My pay is not tied to my child’s score. I do not have to take remedial parenting classes.
Additionally, what accountability does a student in this district have to do well on CSAP or NWEA? Does any parent ground their child or take away privileges if his or her child does poorly on CSAP or NWEA? Students have no buy-in to do well, especially at the high school level. The scores do not have to be good to get into college. The scores do not need to be good to graduate. They could care less, except for the ones who inherently want to do well. I had students say to me, “Why do I care about CSAP or NWEA? You only want me to do well because your pay is tied to my test score.” They are smart kids and see right through the smoke and mirrors. What about the kids who do not want to go to college, or the students who have not mastered the English language, but are still tested in English? If test scores are so darn important why not tie the stipends, raises or bonuses of masters, mentors, directors, and superintendents to test scores? If I had an idea of how to tie test scores to parent’s pay I would and maybe the view on test scores and pay for performance in public education would be a little different.
The second pay for performance component of TAP is teacher evaluations. Teachers were evaluated four times last year and next year they will have two evaluations. A teacher is evaluated on a score of 1 to 5 on an evaluation rubric that is 12 pages long, has more than 25 points of emphasis and each point of emphasis has four to six requirements that must be met to reach a certain score. That’s 100-150 requirements to cover in one observation. Does anyone else think this is crazy or am I just crazy?
One hundred to 150 requirements that must be touched on in one lesson or 45 minutes of an observation! In the “real world” those who evaluate you usually have many contact hours with you, or work directly with you and the observation is over time. That is not the case in schools. A teacher essentially teaches by himself or herself so the evaluations are often just snapshots and not over time. Some will try to argue it is over time, but do not be fooled. The rubric is a good teaching tool, but the expectations that a teacher cover all points of emphasis on the rubric in one lesson is laughable at the least and insulting to most. To make matters worse, most evaluators many times cannot tell a career teacher what a 5 looks like or how to get one. So let’s say a teacher gets a 3.75 out of a 5, which comes out to be a 75 percent score. Not a great score a first glance, but a 5 is next to impossible to come by so evaluators basically have a choice to give a 2, 3 or 4. A score of 1 is probably as rare as a 5, so I left that out, too. A 3.75 score would also put a teacher right at the cut-off for being in the top 20 percent of the bell curve. So a 3.75 is pretty darn good if you look at the whole picture.
Now a 3.75 will get you about a $725 pay raise on the bell curve. So let’s add it all up. $725 for the evaluation, plus a little under $400 for student test scores, works out to be about $1,100, out of a possible $2,600 (or is it really possible?); $1,100 out of $2,600 is 42 percent. So let’s summarize, that is a 42 percent payout for a 75 percent score. I am not a math major, but even I can see that does not add up. This is NOT paying for performance.
To top it all off, if a teacher makes the district average of $45,406 (from the school accountability reports found on the Colorado Department of Education’s Web site) that is a 2.4 percent increase in salary, which does not even match the rate of inflation for most years. A new teacher making $35,932 who gets $1,100 raise, which would be pretty good under TAP for a new teacher, gets a 3 percent increase. This is a 3 percent increase per year, hypothetically, in a valley where housing values increased 50 to 70 percent in two years and is the reason given for high teacher turnover. It does not seem like we are trying to solve that problem through the current payout methods if you ask me.
Now it is true that in theory under TAP, a teacher can make more than they ever could under the traditional system that rewards experience, but that is only in theory.
Essentially only 20 percent will make more because the system is based on a bell curve. It may sound good in theory, but in practice it is extremely flawed, degrading, insulting and divisive. The payout for performance is so complicated and so unrealistic that is accomplishes nothing but the promotion of hard feelings and reduces the trust that will take years to rebuild. Additionally, TAP pay is different depending on the school you work at and the grade level you teach. No one knows really how the pay works and it changes often (last year the ACT was added to the criteria for test score payout for high schools), making it even more complicated. Remember this is five years into TAP, people!
This is not working. This program was implemented by leadership that hoped for the best, but really had no idea. Many warning signs were ignored and teacher buy-in was not important. Many leaders in the district said “well at least we are trying something different.” Change for change sake is not good enough. TAP came about partly because many thought it was unfair to pay a teacher just for years of service. Just because they have been teaching 10 or 20 years does not mean they are a good teacher after all. TAP is drastic reaction in an attempt to solve that issue. TAP is exactly that ” a reaction. We need to be more proactive, rather than reactive. Some of the leadership in this district thinks TAP is so great that our next step is to publish all the great things about it so others can use it. What is the real agenda here?
Under the framework of TAP, our “best” teachers are getting paid with no accountability and for not being in the classroom when it comes to their “additional responsibilities” and additional pay for those responsibilities. The “best” teachers are defined here as mentor and master teachers who are responsible for coaching best practices and teaching methods to career teachers. I do not fault the teachers in these positions, but rather they are part of a system that allows this to happen. Many of them are my friends and are good people. They saw an opportunity and seized it, so how can you blame them? Many even wanted to make a difference and fix the things that were broken in TAP, but quickly learned that was easier said than done because TAP was out of control. Some teachers became mentors just for the extra money, and this system allows that beause there is no accountability for the extra money. This is not accountability. Now district officials will tell you master and mentor teachers have accountability, but as far as performance pay goes they DO NOT.
The cost of TAP in terms of teamwork, teacher turnover and student achievement due to high turnover is enormous. CSAP scores are not going up because of TAP, just look at the data on the Colorado Department of Education We bsite. A reader of the Daily earlier this year did just that and they focused on CSAP scores of only the “white” student population from surrounding mountain towns, as well as Cherry Creek Schools, and compared them to Eagle County. We lag behind all! This does not take in to consideration the wonderful Hispanic kids we are so fortunate to have in this district where many are tested in a language they are just learning, do not even fully comprehend the language yet, and who often receive much of the blame for poor performing schools. Imagine taking a test in a language you did not understand and then being told you are unsatisfactory. Yet we cannot figure out why graduation rates are so low among the Hispanic population?
The CSAP scores in the district are not increasing and this is after five years of TAP. It must be because we have bad teachers right? I digress. Additionally, when a school performs well as a team, such as making adequate yearly progress (AYP) on test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, they are not rewarded for that. As a matter of fact one school was even told by a top district administrator that making (AYP) was statistically insignificant, because the school barely missed it last year. That administrator by the way is still working in this district. Is this the leadership we want in this district?
Teamwork is not rewarded under TAP, only individual achievements, as demonstrated by master and mentor pay, as well as lack of pay for AYP. The school district does not promote teamwork; it pays lip service to it, but does not really support it. You cannot promote teamwork and reward individually in a public school, they work against each other. Teamwork is critical to the success of any school or business, isn’t that right, Captain Obvious? One has to look no further than the article in the Vail Daily on Memorial Day about top administrators from the district leaving.
They are NOT leaving for more pay, they are NOT leaving because of the cost of living, and they are NOT retiring. So why are they leaving? Lack of leadership and teamwork in the school district might be a good place to start. As a matter of fact, the chief financial officer/assistant superintendent who left the district has a husband who is a principal at a school in the district, her son is in his last year of high school in the district, and she is going to work in the Summit County School District. She is driving an hour each way from her home in the western part of the valley, making less money, all while juggling family life. That is a pretty big move and that speaks volumes to me. Oh and by the way, the human resources director is going to Summit as well. Has anyone asked these administrators why they are leaving? It may be a futile attempt as I am sure many Daily writers can attest to. It is hard to get that information and even if they could, those who left are all very professional people, so I am sure they would take the high road anyway and be content knowing that they are moving on to greener pastures.
What taxpaying citizen does not want to hold teachers accountable, right? On the surface it sounds like a reasonable idea as a couple of columnists have suggested in their articles in the Vail Daily. Additionally, what is wrong with getting evaluated ” doesn’t everyone get evaluated at their jobs? Well if one were to take some time to see how it is done in the school district, I am confident you would run, not walk, from teaching in the valley. I have worked in the private sector and I am 100 percent certain no one would work for a company that had this type of evaluation/pay-for-performance system, unless the pay was very, very high to start with. People will do some crazy things for money after all.
I encourage you to talk with a career teacher and ask them what they think about TAP off the record. The reason they do not talk on the record is because teachers would have to call out people they work with and that does not promote teamwork. TAP is negatively affecting the morale of teachers in this district and ultimately is affecting the education of our children.
Now is the time to prepare for the future and make a change for the better in the public education of Eagle County. One way to accomplish this is in the November elections. Four to five school board positions will be up for election this November. Education professionals and the community need to find candidates who will make the tough changes needed in the district. The school district has an interim superintendent and the search is on for a permanent replacement.
This is your chance to help make the changes you want to see, by voting for candidates who support teachers. You cannot stay silent and expect changes to occur. Four or five candidates who support teachers would be a majority on the board and hopefully restore teaching in the district to a celebrated profession once again.
Now I am sure someone is going to try to find something wrong with my facts or math, or nit pick some of my points. Some may even say thank goodness he is not teaching anymore. But I implore you to try and look at the big picture of what I am trying to say. In a nutshell, TAP as we know it must go. We can implement a better system that is truly collaborative and not punitive. We can implement a better system that rewards teamwork and restore the trust and working relationships we must have in our schools in order to make them successful. Even changing the name from TAP would go a long way. My vote would be for a program to be called PAT, “Parents Against TAP”.
Chad Sloniker is a former high school teacher. E-mail comments about this story to email@example.com.