In Colorado’s largest school district, serving more than 90,000 students, we find ourselves on the brink of a teacher strike, just days after Los Angeles has ended one of their own.
While many questions remain unanswered, and the community finds itself in limbo, A+ Colorado supports the efforts of both Denver Public Schools (DPS) and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) to provide additional funding for teachers, particularly to support our most vulnerable students. This includes support for the teachers who work with those students, and who are indispensable to ensuring our children are well educated, with ample opportunities for a successful future. Denver’s teachers deserve pay that is more commensurate with their impact on the lives of our kids and the future of our state.
A+ Colorado strongly believes that restructuring teacher pay can create opportunities to attract and retain excellent teachers for Denver’s kids. Conversations about how teachers are paid in Denver are inherently linked to the current pay structure, the Professional Compensation System for Teachers, or ProComp. A Fair Share: A New Model for Teacher Pay in Denver, released by A+ Colorado in 2016, offered an analysis of the impact of ProComp, and several recommendations for improving it. The recommendation most relevant to the current debate focused on a new model of teacher pay A+ Colorado proposed. It prioritizes retention through early salary increases, streamlines experience-driven salary increases to focus on expertise, focuses resources on the district’s highest priority schools, aligns teacher pay and career ladders, and rewards high performance.
Two years later, we find ourselves at an impasse, with a pending strike by teachers. A+ believes neither proposal from DPS or DCTA include incentives large enough to truly attract and retain a high quality teacher workforce.
As DPS and the DCTA continue negotiations, while they await possible intervention from Governor Jared Polis, the question of incentives is critical to the well-being of Denver’s most vulnerable students and schools. In a district with some of the nation’s largest disparities in academic outcomes along lines of race, ethnicity, and family income, prioritizing these students is imperative.
Incentives play a large role in recruiting and retaining teachers to positions and schools that see the highest attrition. There are enormous costs to students and schools when there is high staff turnover, and research in districts across the country has shown that incentives — particularly significant ones — help decrease turnover, stem attrition, and shift culture in positive ways.
According to DPS, in-school retention in Denver’s highest priority schools increased by 6 percentage points since the district implemented incentives for teachers in those schools in 2015, and that, without the incentive, 25% of teachers in high priority schools are extremely unlikely or unlikely to still be working in that school.
The idea of school-based incentives is one that received support from both administrators and teachers when DCTA and DPS convened a collaborative Design Team in 2014 to develop ideas to strengthen the compensation system. During that work, a survey found that 70% the DPS teachers and special service providers, like nurses and speech pathologists, who responded believe that ProComp’s market incentives are important, or very important, to attracting teachers to and retaining them at schools with highest turnover. Almost two-thirds indicated that larger incentives, than currently are offered by ProComp, are necessary to motivate teachers to seek an assignment in a hard-to-serve school.
Denver voters decided in 2006 (and research affirms) that these incentives are critical to supporting teachers and students. DCTA and DPS should keep this in mind as they negotiate toward a solution. As we have seen in districts across the country, incentives can make a positive impact. In a community deeply committed to equity, we must continue to prioritize attracting and retaining excellent teachers to traditionally underserved schools if we hope to close the opportunity gap for this generation of students.
Denver Public Schools and DCTA are not too far apart on negotiations. A+ Colorado is hopeful that DCTA and DPS will focus on our most vulnerable students, schools, and families and take these important findings into consideration as they work towards a final agreement, one that should retain and increase incentives for our high priority schools.
The mission of A+ Colorado is to sharpen public education by building public will and advocating for the changes necessary to dramatically increase student achievement in schools and districts in Colorado. We are an independent, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization working to bring the power of data and research to challenge ourselves, educators and policymakers to rethink public education.