In today’s Des Moines Register, Superintendent Tom Ahart and Board chair Dick Murphy respond to a recent editorial in the newspaper that failed to tell the full story about the school district’s alternative contract for new teachers. Below is a copy of their guest editorial, as submitted, discussing how the district’s innovative new approach supports the education profession in order to help teachers succeed in their careers and students succeed in the classroom:
NEW TEACHER CONTRACT SUPPORTS PROFESSION, STUDENTS, TAXPAYERS
In a recent editorial, the Register raised concerns regarding the nationwide century- old teacher pay scale, which compensates teachers based on experience and education. This scale emerged from the collective bargaining process, which has generally served teachers and taxpayers well.
Clearly a win-win situation emerged from the bargaining process in Des Moines, Iowa in 2012. A ground-breaking Alternative Contract for beginning teachers is being introduced. We view this new contract to be a positive response to the question of whether a Master’s degree can make a meaningful difference in the achievements of their students. Des Moines can be proud of what is emerging in this contract. The rest of the state and the nation are certainly optimistic about it.
Unfortunately, the Register omitted or simply failed to consider that the Alternative Contract is designed to attract and retain the brightest educational talent at both the teaching and administrative levels—at no additional cost to taxpayers!
Instead of the traditional step-and-lane system, new teachers on our alternative contract agree to the following:
Teachers start out at Step 4 on the salary schedule;
They receive pre-set raises of 1.5% in each of the next three years;
In each of their first four years, teachers work an extra two days and 90 additional minutes per week. All of the extra time is devoted to district-provided professional development;
During their first four years teachers are evaluated annually by a team comprised of their principal and two colleagues;
Teachers may not transfer buildings during the first four years;
If successful during their first four years, contracts are renewed and awarded one percent raises in each of the next four with student achievement incentives that carry the potential to earn an additional half percent in each of those years. The affected teachers will participate in setting those achievement benchmarks.
Those who opt into the plan will achieve a Master’s Degree in Effective Teaching after six years of service in the district and be incentivized to stay for at least an additional two and hopefully beyond.
While some graduate programs in education have been criticized for not providing authentic, relevant experiences and/or coursework that truly enhance instructional skill, those features will be fundamental to our customized master’s degree. Instructors will include DMPS employees. Coursework and experiences will be purposefully geared toward the needs of diverse student populations. Class assignments and projects will directly align with the day-to-day roles of teachers in urban, diverse settings. This curriculum will focus on enhancing instructional skills and strategies in teaching, differentiation, technology integration, assessment and classroom management. Teachers will also receive continuous support and guidance from professional colleagues as they progress toward their advanced degree.
Instead of a single mentor, new teachers will have a support team and the professional development and graduate degree aspects of the contract will be targeted exactly to the needs of DMPS.
DMPS is committed to hiring the most talented teachers available, and this innovative approach to hiring and training instructional staff will make ours a destination district for new teachers. It will attract teachers that want to stay and equip them with a unique skill set for moving into key leadership spots if they choose to later on in their careers, a feature that aligns very well with the governor’s education reform initiative.
This offspring of cordial collaboration between a school district and its teachers is something to be celebrated by a community with a public school tradition as distinguished as the one Des Moines boasts, not decried while still in its infancy by the local newspaper.
Dick Murphy is President of the Des Moines School Board
Thomas Ahart is Superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools