The Pittsburgh Public Schools has asked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to contribute $50 million toward an $85 million-plus campaign to produce better teachers.
The effort would include pay-for-performance, extra money for teachers taking on high-need assignments and creation of an "academy" to provide intensive training to new hires.
In its proposal to the Gates Foundation, the district also said it would seek an overhaul of the tenure system; begin to systematically push out ineffective teachers; take new steps to ensure order in classrooms; train nonteachers to fill key math and science teaching jobs; and recruit men and minorities to better diversify the teaching corps.
The district's 60-page proposal is one of five teacher-effectiveness plans nationwide that the Seattle-based foundation has put on track for significant funding. In total, it portends sweeping changes for how Pittsburgh recruits, hires, inducts, trains, evaluates, honors and compensates about 2,000 classroom teachers.
"Improving everyone's craft is at the center of this," district Superintendent Mark Roosevelt said.
The district has proposed supplementing Gates Foundation funding with $35 million from local foundations and competitive federal programs.
Until now, details of the proposal, including the amount of money sought from the Gates Foundation, had been known only by a handful of district and Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers officials.
The district provided a copy to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The union explained the highlights to building representatives yesterday morning and earlier in the week sent members a letter saying the proposal would be posted on its Web site by 3 p.m. yesterday. (Click here to see it.)
The district's overarching goals are to:
• Increase its percentage of "highly effective" teachers -- those who "produce student gains that are significantly above the state average," according to the proposal-- from the current 28 percent to 41 percent in five years.
With help from SAS Institute Inc., an international business analysis firm, the district estimated the current percentage by analyzing a sample of elementary- and middle-grade students' math and reading scores from the state standardized test.
• Systematically place highly effective teachers in classrooms with high-need students.
• Increase the percentage of high school students who are ready for college when they graduate from the current 29 percent to 80 percent in 11 years. For its proposal, the district classified students college-ready if they scored in the "advanced" category on the 2008 state math test.
• Increase the district's graduation rate from the current 65 percent to 76 percent in five years.
The proposal would create a district Office of Teacher Effectiveness to oversee the new initiatives and focus special attention on the district's struggling high schools.
District and union officials jointly developed the proposal. Performance pay and other key provisions are subject to collective bargaining, however, and securing union members' approval will be a big task for union President John Tarka.
"I think the membership will view this as a document that has real challenges but also provides tremendous opportunities," Mr. Tarka said.
Last spring, the Gates Foundation, one of the nation's leading forces in education, singled out Pittsburgh, eight other districts and a group of Los Angeles charter schools for possible inclusion in a half-billion-dollar initiative on teacher effectiveness.
The 10 presented their final proposals Aug. 5 in Seattle.
The foundation about two weeks ago announced that Pittsburgh and four others -- the charter schools; Hillsborough County, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Omaha, Neb. -- would receive significant funding for their plans provided remaining administrative and legal issues, such as negotiation of contracts, are resolved.
It said the other candidates -- Atlanta; Denver; Palm Beach County, Fla.; Prince George's County, Md.; and Tulsa, Okla. -- were in line to receive more modest investments.
The timing of the opportunity is near-perfect, Mr. Roosevelt said, calling teacher effectiveness the next logical step in the district's four-year improvement campaign.
The district has opened several new schools, implemented new curricula and enhanced principal training, while the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program has cast new attention on the need for high school students to graduate ready for college, he said.
While the district asked for $50 million, the foundation hasn't yet said how much it would give Pittsburgh or anybody else. In part, the Gates money and $35 million to be requested from other sources would enable the district and union to:
• Finance improvements to the human resources and technology departments that are needed to support the initiatives.
• Establish new positions giving teachers extra money for taking on especially challenging assignments.
Examples would be behavioral specialists and turnaround specialists in low-performing schools and a corps of teachers committed to working with ninth- and 10th-graders. The district plans to better monitor ninth-and 10th-graders to make sure they're positioned to graduate and take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise.
Now, many union members prefer to teach high-level courses at high-performing schools. The proposal says the district wants to make grittier assignments a "badge of distinction" and financially rewarding.
• Organize new recruitment, interviewing and hiring practices under a "Teach for Pittsburgh" banner.
Bonuses or salary-scale boosts would be offered to new hires with previous teaching experience who agree to work in high-need schools. Similar incentives could be offered to novice hires in high-demand fields, such as math and science. Because of the need for more diversity, the district would make special efforts to recruit male and minority candidates with expertise in science and other fields, even if they didn't major in education and lack teaching certificates.
• Establish a PPS/PFT Promise Academy, to be housed at one secondary and two elementary schools.
Novice teachers in certain fields -- English, math, science and special education -- would complete eight months of academy instruction before receiving a "field placement" in a veteran's classroom. In all, most would face a 13-month induction process before they're assigned their own classrooms, a dramatic change from current orientation practices.
New hires in other disciplines would receive briefer induction at the academy, and all veteran teachers would cycle through for continuing education. The academy would employ 48 highly effective teachers to be called "clinical resident instructors."
With the state's permission and help from The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit teacher-training group, the academy would provide certification to new hires from industry or other non-education circles.
• Design a pay-for-performance system, with help from the American Federation of Teachers and New Jersey-based Mathematica Policy Research Inc.
The $85 million would not be used to finance the performance-pay system itself; funding would have to be identified later. The district and union would have to decide whether to dismantle the current compensation system, based largely on length of service, or make more modest changes.
Undergirding many of the proposed initiatives is a new teacher evaluation system that the district began working on last year, before the Gates Foundation opportunity arose.
Set to debut next month in about 30 of the district's 66 schools, the system is designed to offer a more objective, detailed look at teacher performance. The new evaluations potentially will affect decisions about tenure, influence decisions about who gets extra money for special assignments and support efforts to remove ineffective teachers.
Under the current evaluation system, more than 99 percent of tenured teachers receive satisfactory evaluations each year.
"Today, we do not systematically identify and exit ineffective teachers," the proposal says. "We are prepared to address this need."
By state law, teachers receive tenure after three years of satisfactory service, though the method of evaluation differs from district to district. Pittsburgh has proposed a new approach.
For new hires with teaching certificates, the tenure clock would begin running after they're assigned to their own classrooms -- for most, about a year after they join the district. For those brought on board without certificates, the clock would begin running two years after they're hired.
Under the district's proposal, receiving tenure would become a more meaningful experience, perhaps to be celebrated at a "tenure-granting ceremony." For the first time, principals districtwide would be held accountable for decisions to grant tenure.
Implementation of the initiatives would be staggered.
In 2009-10, besides introducing the new teacher evaluations, the district would appoint the first round of behaviorial specialists and fill other new positions. The academy would be launched in June 2010.
The definition of key terms, such as highly effective teachers and college-readiness, may change over time as the initiatives produce data for evaluation. The district said it crafted the initial definitions specifically for the grant-writing process.
Even if it lands $85 million in start-up money from the Gates Foundation and other sources, the district estimates it will have to find an additional $19 million to $33 million a year internally to sustain the initiatives by 2014. The district, which closed 22 schools in June 2006, said it would achieve the savings in part by closing more buildings.
Topping a list of risks and challenges is the union's possible refusal to accept performance pay and other key provisions.
"This works as a cumulative whole, and it is designed to work as a cumulative whole," Mr. Roosevelt said.
Joe Smydo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.