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TAP: Educating for success

John Brendza

Eagle County Schools has a bold mission: Educating Every Student for Success.But for too long public education has been a bastion of mediocrity. Evidence of failing students, poor schools and a lack of academic rigor is evident throughout the country. It has gotten to the point that federal legislation has been passed to address this national crisis. However, we strive for excellence in Eagle County schools and we have chosen to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.Our journey began four years ago when the voters of Eagle County approved a ballot measure that increased funding (by $3.1 million annually) for our schools. As part of that election campaign we made a promise: The Board of Education pledged that one-third of the additional money would be allocated to a performance pay plan for teachers and administrators. The voters supported that vision in November of 2001. At that point we began an extensive research effort to find an effective performance pay model. A special task force – which included teachers, administrators, parents and school board members – was formed to find the best plan for Eagle County schools.The task force learned that there were few effective performance pay models in school systems across the nation. Some had instituted performance pay programs that frankly threw small sums to teachers based on subjective criteria. For the most part, the plans did not hold educators accountable for student achievement and were not sustained over time. Unlike our business and professional counterparts, public education continues to pay employees for longevity verses excellence. We were committed to finding a program that represented meaningful financial bonuses for teachers who are making a difference in the lives of their students. Our continued research led us to the Teacher Advancement Program.Developed by the Milken Family Foundation, a California-based non-profit dedicated to improving education nationally, the Teacher Advancement Program has four key elements:– Multiple career paths.– Ongoing applied professional growth.– Instructionally focused accountability.– Pay for performance awards.Through the multiple career paths element, teachers who have demonstrated the ability and desire to serve as coaches for their peers have assumed the role as instructional leaders in our schools. Who is in a better position to serve in this capacity but teachers themselves? They have the expertise, experience and ability to have the greatest influence to help colleagues become better teachers. This is common in most professional businesses, where the best of the best serve in similar capacities to contribute to the success of the organization.The ongoing applied professional growth aspect ensures that our teachers are provided with time scheduled (often referred to as cluster group) during the regular work week to meet, discuss and address why we hopefully entered this profession in the first place – how to best teach students and help them to reach their learning potential. Instructionally focused accountability simply means that every one is held accountable for student achievement. When students aren’t reaching the level of achievement expected, teachers are provided the support and resources to try to change their teaching strategies to improve student performance. It has been consistently shown that teachers who continue to do the same thing continue to get the same results. Could this be why the institution of public education is under siege? Finally, the pay for performance award system is clearly the most progressive and contentious portion of the process. In school systems across the country, teachers are paid annual increases based on the amount of time they have worked for the district. In reality, the system has been designed to pay them for getting older, not getting better. Once they become tenured, teachers are assured of a raise regardless of their skills, self motivation and performance. An elementary reading teacher whose dedicated efforts have consistently improved the reading skills of her students is assured the same raise as the middle school science teacher whose students’ achievement hasn’t improved, and who walks out of the school every day with his kids. We recognize that some teachers are better than others at getting results. They should be rewarded for their performance, and in Eagle County they are.In reality, TAP is a process rather than a program. It is not a “prefabricated” program that has been implemented, but a process that has taken the four elements and developed and refined them into a systematic reform effort for our schools. It addresses the fact that our community and student population are changing. We need to do things differently in order to improve performance. There are those in our community who have a negative perception of our schools, and we need to do something to address and change what they see as reality. The initiative is not intended to punish teachers, but rather to reward them for improving student achievement. As parents, don’t we want to see our children reach their best potential in school in order to help them in their life’s journey? In the end, that is the reality of Educating Every Student for Success.John Brendza is the superintendent of the Eagle County School District.Vail, Colorado


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