When Chalkboard applied for a Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant after funding and implementing the CLASS Project privately for four years, we did so knowing that there would be certain strings that came along with federal funding.
Those strings, while limiting Chalkboard’s autonomy, have also allowed us, and our six partner school districts, to participate in the national conversation about education effectiveness. The ability to influence thinking beyond our state is especially important as the federal government looks to redesign the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind) and prioritizes spending on certain initiatives over others.
Chalkboard’s CLASS program established a solid foundation for our participation in TIF. CLASS is a comprehensive model for supporting the professional growth of educators. TIF adds emphasis to the compensation component of CLASS, but it does not do away with the other three components: educator evaluation systems, career paths, and professional development. We strongly believe that educators need comprehensive supports. Our TIF districts are meeting the federal requirements around incentives for educators while demonstrating the power of systemic, teacher-designed models. TIF does not require that teachers be deeply involved in the design and implementation of the models, but having teachers and administrators at the table together is a foundational component of the CLASS Project.
The TIF grant should be viewed as a multi-year action research project. The US Department of Education wants to see whether providing incentives to great teachers will raise student achievement. In addition to adding to the research on this topic, districts are also putting into place policies and opportunities for educators that will outlast the federal experiment. For example, all of the participating school districts are implementing new educator evaluation systems linked to personalized professional development. These new systems will allow all educators, regardless of where they are in their careers, to reflect on their skills and hone their practice. Opportunities to incubate promising practices, whether related to new compensation models or professional development, are essential to Chalkboard’s work and will inform CLASS and future policy discussions at the state and national level.
In fact, Chalkboard is preparing to send comments to the US Department of Education as the Department prepares to launch a fourth round of TIF grants. Our comments will be based on the experiences of the six participating districts with the hope that their perspectives can help shape the guidelines for this new round of grants. Through this process, classroom teachers have the opportunity to help impact federal education policy.
We have seen how CLASS can impact a school district by increasing collaboration and job satisfaction for teachers and improving outcomes for students. When Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, visited Oregon, he stated, “The CLASS Project is a tremendous example of the successful work that should be taken to scale, because students benefit when teachers work together to share best practices and learn from one another.” The Teacher Incentive Fund provides the means to continue to build on the CLASS work. The federal requirements may be rigorous, but the grant also provides new learning opportunities and will allow a number of Oregon school districts to add their voice and experience to this complex conversation.