The CTU strike has renewed a conversation about teacher compensation, and the issue of performance pay (which did not survive the windy city negotiations). Unfortunately most of the discussion lumps all changes to the standard salary ladder of traditional districts together, and under this meme Denver’s ProComp is routinely mentioned as an innovative performance-based plan and a model for other cities.
But ProComp is interesting only in the way that a dog who could talk is interesting. It is not that the dog says anything worth listening too, it’s merely that any canine use of language is considered a revelation. Likewise, the only innovative part of ProComp is that the DCTA signed up for any compensation plan that was not the standard bark bark bark of a union salary schedule. ProComp itself is entirely unremarkable, and has little to do with performance.
ProComp is, in the words of Rick Hess, “powdered doughnut reform” where resistance to any changes is bought off with additional funds. The initial ProComp plan provided roughly 2% of its dollars based on student academic outcomes (and 98% that had nothing to do with student performance); a 2.o version can only be considered successful compared to the original. A rigorous evaluation found (pg. 17) that “results did not indicate a meaningful relationship at the school level between the level of growth in student achievement and the percentage of teachers at that school who met their SGOs [student growth objectives]” and DCTA teachers still receive more money for getting a master’s degree than for academic improvements by their students.
I’m mixed on performance pay. I continue to favor carefully constructed plans, but I increasingly doubt — partly based on the work of Roland Fryer — that they are likely to change teacher behavior at any scale.
But in Chicago, Denver, and other cities beset with real issues of academic quality and a determination to increase academic achievement, the conversations will continue. However the powdered sugar of public funding is running low, and we have to stop lauding watered-down initiatives that don’t do much, and that are utterly unremarkable outside the distortion field of K-12 education. It’s just not worth praising a dog that can talk until it has something worth saying.