93% of Denver teachers vote to strike. Remember when merit pay was the reform de jour?

The teachers union in Denver has voted to approve a strike that could begin as soon as Jan. 28.

It would be the first time the city has seen a teacher strike in almost 25 years.

The Denver teachers’ vote comes a few days after the successful strike by teacher members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association finished voting late Tuesday after more than a year of negotiations between the union and the district.

“Denver teachers overwhelmingly agreed to strike,” said Rob Gould, the union’s lead negotiator, at a press conference Tuesday. Gould reported that 93 percent of members had voted to go ahead with strike plans.

A central issue is Denver’s merit pay plan known a ProComp.

Back in 2005 merit pay was the reform de jour and Denver school leaders jumped on it early.

The theory was simple for those who thought of teachers and teaching only in terms of a transactional model.

The thinking was that if you pay successful teachers more you will have more successful teachers. Except these geniuses had no clue about all the factors that go into teaching success and learning achievement that are not impacted by a financial exchange.

Instead, in Denver they created a system of winners and losers, with some teachers paid more and some paid less without a clear explanation of how this was determined.

From a 2016 story in Chalkbeat:

Researchers gathered feedback about the system, called ProComp, from 300 teachers and special service providers such as school psychologists, nurses and counselors.

The system was groundbreaking when it first went into effect after voters agreed in 2005 to fund it through a minimum additional $25 million in taxes per year.

Denver teachers get a base salary based on their years of experience and level of education. They can increase it by completing training, meeting student learning goals or earning an advanced degree. ProComp also pays them incentives on top of that base.

For instance, teachers can earn a monthly bonus for working in a hard-to-staff position — such as high school special education — or at a hard-to-serve school with a high percentage of low-income students. Some teachers get one-time bonuses if their students do well on state tests or if their school is considered “top performing.”

The more than 4,800 teachers and other professionals who participate in ProComp make an average of $53,022 in base pay this year and an average of $5,262 in bonuses, according to the district.

But the difference between incentives that grow teachers’ base salaries and those that don’t — and the fact that the dollar amounts vary — is confusing, teachers said.

“I have no idea what my paycheck means,” one teacher told researchers.

If Denver teachers are successful, one more failed corporate education reform will be discarded.

Educators in Oakland, California are also weighing a strike. In Virginia, thousands of teachers plan to demonstrate at the state Capitol, calling for an increase to teacher pay as the legislature considers tax breaks for Amazon, which is building a new headquarters in Arlington.

4 thoughts on “93% of Denver teachers vote to strike. Remember when merit pay was the reform de jour?

  1. As a teacher in #63, I was privy to the happenings in #64 (your district)–my mentor was Vern Hamilton, principal of Emerson–around ’62–the district had instigated merit pay. The net result was that the administrators had determined that ALL the teachers were master teachers, otherwise they wouldn’t have been hired. Thus merit pay was killed and salaries were temporarily elevated.

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