EdNews Parent Backgrounder: ProComp

Q. Is ProComp improving teacher quality in Denver?

A. That is the $64,000 question, according to one education policy expert.

ProComp stands for Professional Compensation Plan for teachers, and when Denver switched to the incentive-based teacher pay program five years ago, thanks to a $25 million annual tax hike, experts and regular folks alike took notice. That’s because Denver became one of the first big-district teacher pay plans in the country not based entirely on years of experience and education course credits.

Under ProComp, a teacher can boost her salary by doing things such as earning a master’s degree, working in a high poverty school or showing that her students exceeded expectations on state exams. In 2008-2009, DPS distributed $19.2 million in ProComp incentives to 3,143 teachers. The average payout per teacher was $6,120.

Is it working? Yes and no.

Initial findings of an evaluation prepared by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that:

  • Student growth on state reading and math exams was higher after the implementation of ProComp in 2005-2006.
  • Teachers hired after ProComp appear to outperform those hired before ProComp.
  • High-poverty schools with high levels of ProComp participation are seeing fewer teachers leave.

If there’s a problem, it’s that there are other factors that also influence the results. Also, teachers surveyed ProComp indicate that the pay plan is more likely to reward than to motivate. Fewer than 20 percent of teacher respondents in a 2009 survey said ProComp had led them to change the content they teach. Only about 30 percent agreed it has changed the way they teach. More respondents, though still less than half, agreed ProComp has focused their teaching around raising student achievement. Finally, only 42 percent agreed that the financial incentives in ProComp will lead to improved instructional practice.

Two-thirds of Denver’s 4,500 teachers are part of ProComp – a third joined voluntarily and a third were required to join when hired. The final third include about 400 teachers not eligible to join ProComp, such as those in charter schools, and about 1,000 teachers who are eligible to join but who have yet to do so.

ProComp is up for revision in 2011, as talks between the union and district re-open every three years. So, we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, if you want to dig more intensely into the issue, click here.