The Most Important Reform Right Now in DISD Isn’t Home Rule, It’s TEI

The DISD board meeting a week ago Thursday was momentous, and not because trustees discussed how to proceed in naming a home-rule commission. It was because, in a 7-2 vote, the board approved Mike Miles’ Teacher Excellence Initiative (aka, TEI). It’s the crucial part of his reform plan called Destination 2020. (The primary goal of which is to greatly increase the college readiness of DISD graduates.) It is, as one administration official told me, “the biggest reform DISD has seen in 20 years. It’s huge.”

You may forgiven if you haven’t realized just how big it is. Perhaps you didn’t read Jim Schutze’s recap of the meeting, where he outlined TEI’s bottom line as it affects teachers:

Tonight’s plan will pay top teachers twice the salary paid to teachers at the bottom of the merit tree, $90,000 versus $45,000, and will also obviously try to off-load the really bad teachers, the bottom 12 percent who actively harm the achievement levels of their students.

Even if you don’t know much about the years-long debate around merit pay for teachers, it’s easy to see why this is a big deal on the levels Schutze identifies: great teachers can make very good salaries of $90k, and it will help ID the very worst teachers, who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of damage done to kids, in terms of their education.

More than that, the program will be watched by educators around the country because it’s designed very differently from similar (often failed) merit-pay plans across the country. (For details on this TEI plan, go here, but bottom line is that a teacher’s performance grade is based 50 percent on classroom performance, 35 percent on student achievement/tests, and 15 percent on student surveys.) Bottom line: this is incredibly important change in the way the district compensates teachers, and I plan on writing about it often and in detail in the coming months.

Some of the board members themselves knew how huge the passing of this plan is, and they almost couldn’t believe it went through with such minimal political bickering. (Thanks largely to the home rule debate having overshadowed the TEI vote.) Even though the meeting lasted into the wee hours, some members still called each other after it was over for a reality check: “Did that really just happen? Did we really pass the most advanced merit-pay experiment in the country?”

Yes, they did. If you want to get some context for what we’ll talk about in the coming months, the video above is long but can be digested in small bites. It does a good job of explaining just how carefully thought out the initiative is, and on the flip side it gives you an idea of the many places it could be undone without careful implementation.