Teacher strike in Colorado school district leads to raises and payment reform

By Liz Hay

Elm Staff Writer

Last week, Denver teachers engaged in a four-day strike for better wages and a more standard payment structure. Teachers from West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, among others, have recently gone on strike for similar reasons. e agreement reached between the Denver teachers’ union and the district will see an additional $23.1 million devoted to teacher wages with a prom- ise of an 11.7 percent base salary raise, on average, for faculty.

Beyond just a wage raise, the district also promised to move back to a more traditional style of payments. The Denver school district currently uses a compensation called ProComp, which gives bonuses to teachers working in hard-to- ll positions and low-income schools. e more controversial aspect of the Denver payment system is that it largely ties teacher salaries to their students’ scores on standardized tests.

The ProComp system was touted as the future of education reform which would make a standardized assessment of teachers’ performances finally possible. While this sounds great in theory, both anecdotal evidence and research have shown that “teaching to the test” undermines many crucial aspects of learning. Any student who has taken the SATs, for example, has experienced the dire results of an attempt to standardize English language skills. Creative, adaptive abilities are not examined on standardized tests despite being the most important aspects of education.

A main concern for the union was the financial instability caused by the ProComp payment structure. The ProComp system gave bonuses for things like teaching in low-income schools, but base salaries for teachers were extremely low. The union complained that these bonuses changed from year to year and created financial instability for teachers already working at lower salaries than educators in other states.

Additionally, Denver teachers with higher levels of education, experience, and training were not paid more than their less-skilled coworkers. Most school districts reward teachers who invest in further training or remain with the district for a long time, but Denver cut those incentives under the ProComp system. The agreement reached between the union and the district stipulates that these aspects will once again be a factor in salaries.

Some aspects of the old pay system will remain as a concession to the district. According to the Denver Public Schools website, “the ProComp incentive for teachers in the highest-poverty schools increases to $3,000, and the incentives for teaching in Title I schools and hard-to-fill positions are $2,000.” The teachers’ union wanted to eliminate these bonuses on claims that they were ineffective uses of budget resources, but compromised in order to achieve their main goals.

The issues faced by both teachers and students in Denver are not endemic to Colorado. School districts across the country struggle to balance standardization with creative education. Tilting too far toward standardization results in conditions that lead to the Denver strike while also compromising crucial aspects of education for students.

Totally ignoring standardized tests, however, would not change the reality that there must be some way to measure the performance of both students and educators. Since every district will express these complications differently, it makes sense for regional groups, like the Denveteachersrs’ union, to be at the vanguard of reform.

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