DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Paying for performance. When the conversation turns to the teachers, such efforts across the country and in North Texas have been complicated, and controversial. Nevertheless, Dallas ISD has managed to hammer out a plan that they say is helping them keep their better teachers; teachers like Josue Tamarez-Torres.
“If you put an effective teacher in front of students who need them the most: success is possible,” says Tamarez-Torres who teaches at the Cesar Chavez Learning Center. The campus near downtown Dallas, is an ‘ACE’ Campus.
ACE stands for ‘accelerating campus excellence’. District leaders have determined that pouring more resources into academically challenged campuses can help spur turnaround effort — and no resource is more vital than an excellent, motivated teacher.
“I want to show that it is possible,” says Tamarez-Tores, whose mother, he explained, cleaned houses in his native Dominican Republic and his father quit school at 8th grade to help support his family. “I want to show that your zip code, where you come from… it doesn’t determine your future.”
DISD leaders say their merit pay system was put in place to pay such high performing teachers well.
“It’s been a work in progress,” says DISD Supt. Michael Hinojosa, “it’s taken us some time to get here.”
According to Supt. Hinojosa, the district’s merit pay system considers a number a factors, including but, not limited to STAAR tests results. There are also district standards.
“There’s also how the students feel and also how they work with their supervisor,” says Supt. Hinojosa. “So you put those in a formula and then we see how they do with the students, and actually the teachers can earn a lot more money and it’s gotten some attention.”
Governor Greg Abbott recently commented on DISD’s merit pay program as a model for the state, saying in a recent address: “And we must create a pathway for the best teachers to earn a six-figure salary. The teacher pay system used by Dallas ISD shows this strategy works.”
Tamarez-Torres is already on that highly compensated path — still.
“Money’s not everything,” he says. “It helps retain the best teachers when you are rewarding them for the work. It shows that `hey we appreciate you. We know that you are moving students, we know that you are doing things differently, and for that you are being rewarded’.”
In spite of the applause from state leaders, Supt. Hinojosa admits that figuring out a fair pay scale and funding it has been complicated– and at times, controversial.
“So part of it was affordability, part of it was structure, and part of it was the whole complicated nature of it… so we’ve tried to simplify it, we can now fund most of it for 5 years. But, it’s still controversial in some places. And so it’s it’s not easy, but it has helped us improve achievement, because we’re keeping our better teachers, and we’re improving performance.”
Supt. Hinojosa says district leaders are constantly tweaking and adjusting the merit pay system– and that’s both good and bad.
“Merit pay looks good in theory,” wrote Alliance-AFT President Rena Honea, “but, historically, this type of system has never been effective in education. Our concern is that it does not capture nor compensate all of the district’s great teachers. This system does not recognize nor reward advanced degrees nor years of service, and the path to these $80-$90,000 salaries has several layers of requirements that are restrictive for man6y employees.”
Meanwhile, Tamarez-Torres says helping his students succeed, is the best reward of all.
“They see you and they know that it’s possible to overcome all of the challenges that they’re facing now.”