Promising Policies For Improving Teachers' Work

Most of our research at the Project focuses on  teachers' experiences in and responses to their schools. Each of our studies includes specific recommendations for policymakers, administrators, and teachers, themselves. In a few cases, we have closely examined key policies. Two policy studies focus on teacher evaluation and one examines various compensation policies. 

Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)

We first examined Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), as it was being implemented in seven districts: Cincinnati, OH; Minneapolis, MN; Montgomery County, MD: Rochester, NY; San Juan, CA; Syracuse, NY; and Toledo, OH. In PAR, expert consulting teachers (CTs) are selected to leave the classroom for 3 to 5 years in order to mentor, support, and eventually evaluate the performance of peers, including all novice teachers and veteran teachers who are struggling or had been identified as not meeting standards. Our research team included Sarah Fiarman, Mindy Munger, John Papay, and Emily Qazilbash. We were interested in this local labor-management policy because it had been adopted jointly by the local teachers union and district administrators, who also shared responsibility for overseeing its implementation.  We visited each district and interviewed CTs, various new and veteran teachers who received assistance, principals, and members of the PAR Panel, the program's labor-management oversight committee.  Based on all that we learned, we created a website--A User's Guide to Peer Assistance and Review--which includes detailed, practical information about each program as well as comparisons among them.  In adddition, because this program created formal leadership roles for the participating CTs, Sarah Fiarman analyzed those teacher leaders' responses in one district.  She found that in one district teachers widely favored the fact that CTs were truly peers who would returned to classroom teaching.  However, the CTs themselves found it difficult to return to  full-time teaching and a number of them pursued other leadership roles outside the classroom. John Papay and I subsequently analyzed the costs and benefits of PAR and concluded that, despite the substantial initial costs of funding PAR,  the program provides the district financial savings and organizational benefits that offset those costs.

Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation

Like many states, Massachusetts  responded to the incentives in the federal Race to the Top initiative by enacting a new comprehensive, standards-based teacher evaluation system. The policy had recently been implemented in 2014-2015 when we studied practices in six district and charter schools in Walker City School District. Because these schools had been awarded the state's highest level of recognition under its accountability system, we were interested in how they were implementing the requirements of the new law.  Although these schools all were located within the same city, they operated within different policy contexts, created by various combinations of collective bargaininng agreements, district polcies, and state regulations.  Despite these differences,  we found strikingly similar approaches to supervision and evaluation in these schools.  Principals focused first on developing their teachers in a formative evaluation process and subsequently they conducted formal evaluations in a summative process, that could lead to dismissals.  Teachers reported experiencing frequent observations followed by detailed feedback about their instruction, which  they found valuable.      

Performance-Based Pay

Since 2000, many states and districts have experimented with alternative compensation policies that integrate data about teachers' performance with other more traditional measures of teaching experience and academic credentials.  in 2008, John Papay and I studied the design of performance-based pay systems in four large urban districts--Houston,Texas; Minneapolis,Minnesota; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Craolina; and Hillsborough County, Florida. Each district incorporated components from a broader state program of performance-based pay, but interpreted and implemented these elements in conjunction with their local needs.   Based on those programs, we created a framework for analyzing policies for performance-based pay, which highlights how a program measures performance, how it identifies top performers, and whether rewards are provided to individuals or groups of teachers. Different combinations of these design features led to a diverse array of programs.  Many of them were relatively short-lived because the districts encountered difficulty addressing challenges of measurement, politics, and continued funding. 

Recognizing the problems that these districts encountered, we proposed a tiered Pay-and-Career Structure that would replace the current single salary scale that most districts use.  In this new career ladder, expectations and rewards are embedded in four tiers, each requiring teachers to know more and to assume greater  responsibility.  The system offers teachers who advance to the highest teirs expanded professional opportunities and substantially higher pay.