Voters in Denver, Colo., in 2005 overwhelmingly approved a $25 million tax increase to fund a new, nine-year performance-based pay system for the city’s teachers. Brad Jupp taught in Denver’s public schools for 20 years, and was the lead DCTA negotiator on the team that negotiated the pilot project in 1999, and for the next 5 years he worked on the team that implemented the ProComp pilot.
ES: Why were you able to develop a pay-for-performance model in Denver when other places haven’t been?
BJ: Denver had a combination of the right opportunities and people who were willing, once they saw the opportunities, to put aside their fears of losing and work with other people to try to take advantage of those opportunities. The people included a school board president willing to say, “If the teachers accept this, we’ll figure out how to pay for it. They included the teacher building reps who said, “This is too good to refuse outright; let’s study it.” They included a local foundation that, once we negotiated the pay for performance pilot, realized we might actually be serious and offered us a million dollars to help put it in place. They included the Community Training and Assistance Center, the group that provided us with technical support and a research study of our work. They were willing to take on the enormous and risky task of measuring the impact of the pilot. And they included 16 principals in Denver who were able to see that this was going to be an opportunity for their faculties to build esprit de corps, to make a little extra money, to do some professional development around measuring results. I don’t really think there was a secret ingredient other than people being able to move past their doubts and seize an opportunity. It was a chance to create opportunities where the rewards outweighed the risks. I don’t think we do that much in public education.
But public schools have a harder time making changes, especially in the way people are paid, for a number of reasons. First, we don’t have a history of measuring results, and we don’t have a results-oriented attitude in our industry. Furthermore, we have configured the debate about teacher pay so that it’s a conflict between heavyweight policy contenders like unions and school boards. Finally, we do not have direct control over our revenue. It is easier to change a pay system when there is a rapid change in revenue that can be oriented to new outcomes. Most school finance systems provide nothing but routine cost of living adjustments. If that is all a district and union have to work with, they’re not going to have money to redistribute and make a new pay system.