James Frank Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom

James Frank Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom

Douglas County, Colorado is once again leading the state in education reform by adopting a teacher compensation plan that has school districts across the nation talking.

Teachers in Douglas County are finally getting a pay system that could reflect their value: one that rewards hard work based on merit, not seniority. A Pay for Performance plan approved by Douglas County School District makes $15.7 million available for teacher pay raises, bonuses, and other forms of compensation for good performance.

For most school districts across the country, teacher compensation is determined by the time spent in the position, certifications, and other measures that are input-based, and fail to reflect performance outcomes. Under the new plan, teachers who work hard and demonstrably improve student outcomes will be rewarded for their success in the classroom.

The plan was implemented in the 2012–2013 school year, right after the collective bargaining agreement between the Douglas County Federation of Teachers union and the school district expired. To fund the plan, the district prohibited collection of union dues and union officer compensation, and provided support from the Great Teachers and Leaders Fund.

The district’s new compensation plan gives all incoming teachers the option to either stick with the former collect-as-you-pass-“go” system, or move to the new market-based compensation system.

The new system will place teachers in the “market range” certified salary band for base pay and allow them to earn additional compensation each year if they meet the targets aligned with the Pay for Performance plan. Pay increases for teachers could be as high as $20,000 the year following a successful evaluation.

Douglas County seems to be on the right track with reforms. Colorado TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning) released a study last month that shows Douglas County teachers have more confidence in school leadership and better relationships with parents and communities than school districts in other parts of the state. Results show that:

A higher proportion of Douglas County teachers than their counterparts said that there was an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect in their school (79 percent), that their school leadership communicates clear expectations to students and parents (87 percent), that the faculty and leadership have a shared vision (77 percent) and that the school leadership communicates with the faculty adequately (82 percent).

The findings contradict union criticisms alleging that the school board offers poor leadership to the detriment of both the teachers and the students. Not only do the teachers appear to appreciate the new system, student achievement is among the highest in the state.

The Douglas County School District is re-writing the rules in public education, compensating teachers based on performance, and empowering parents to send their children to a school of their choice through the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program. The Douglas County School District serves as a great example of locally driven education reform, and illustrates the impressive transformation that can take place when local leaders work toward more student-centered education systems.