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Denver’s ProComp and Teacher Compensation Reform in Colorado

IP-5-2007 (June 2007)
Author: Benjamin DeGrow

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Executive Summary

In its first year of full operation, Denver’s Professional Compensation System for Teachers (ProComp) has attracted national attention as an innovative model for school districts to change how instructors are paid. The system grew out of a four-year pilot program that tested various elements of compensation reform in select Denver schools. In 2004, both the Denver Public Schools Board of Education and Denver Classroom Teachers Association approved ProComp. In 2005, Denver citizens voted to approve a $25 million tax increase to implement the full plan.

Teachers hired before 2006 can decide whether or not to join ProComp. Roughly 28 percent of veteran instructors had enrolled through the opt-in window that ended in June 2006. Every Denver teacher hired in 2006 and thereafter automatically is paid according to the new plan. In all, ProComp determines the salaries of nearly half of the district’s teaching workforce. Denver’s pay system divides rewards among four major components:

  • Market incentives consist of bonuses to qualified teachers who work in challenging schools or hard-to-fill job specialties.
  • Student growth includes individual and group incentives to teachers who measurably help students improve their classroom performance.
  • The knowledge and skills component features pay raises to instructors who complete relevant academic degrees, national certification, or professional development projects.
  • The professional evaluations component attaches a marginal salary increase to a teacher’s satisfactory evaluation from a principal or other building administrator.

By adopting ProComp, Denver Public Schools has acknowledged that the traditional salary schedule is not the best way to achieve its educational goals. The district deserves praise for its genuine reform efforts. Yet Denver can do more to tie teacher compensation to student achievement, while filling important personnel needs. Thus ProComp falls short in several areas:

  • The teacher salary increases for meeting student growth objectives ($342) and for exceeding state assessment expectations ($1,026) are too small next to other payouts. New research strongly suggests merit pay based on student growth brings significant learning gains, without negative effects to a school’s work environment.
  • The largest pay increase ($3,078) rewards National Board certification, but research is mixed at best on what difference the certification makes in measurable student learning.
  • The continuing inflexibility of entry-level salary offerings limits the district’s ability to attract the highest-quality teaching workforce.
  • Poorly-performing instructors remain protected by Colorado statute, which makes dismissal from their jobs a very costly and difficult process.

Even so, ProComp has broken important ground in teacher compensation from which Colorado education leaders can expand and advance reform:

  • Denver and other school district leaders should work to adopt merit pay programs that offer the greatest rewards for student results.
  • The state should provide financial grants and technical assistance that move local boards of education to implement the best possible performance pay systems.