Ensuring Growth and Mastery for All Students

By Vladimir Dinolov, a 4th grade teacher at Dan D. Rogers Elementary in Dallas ISD and a Teach Plus DFW Policy Fellow

Three years ago, I heard about an innovative compensation plan in Texas that was growing student outcomes and paying teachers like true professionals. Soon after, my life changed for the better when I moved from California to take a job in Dallas ISD.

Teaching in Texas has drastically changed my career and my status as a professional educator. I owe it all to the innovation of Dallas ISD and its willingness to pay its best teachers competitive salaries.

As a Distinguished Teacher in Dallas ISD, I am able to earn a livable wage that buffers the rising cost of living and be rewarded for the impact I have on my students’ lives.

I say livable, because in California my salary was half of what it is now. I was on government assistance while working full-time, paying for my teaching credential courses, and tutoring on the weekends so I could pay rent and bills. When I moved to Dallas, all that changed.

My quality of life has improved exponentially, and my earning potential has almost doubled within three years of employment. I credit the district’s multi-measure evaluation and compensation system that pays me based on my performance, teacher-student relationships, and my ability to push all children to meet state-aligned academic standards.

Dallas ISD’s flagship programs, the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI), which rewards teachers for great teaching and provides individualized feedback to improve teaching and student outcomes, and the Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) program, which incentivizes great teachers to teach at the highest need schools, made all of this possible. The multi-measure evaluation system that provides the underpinning for TEI has allowed for me to stay in the classroom and continue my passion while changing student lives one day at a time. TEI has increased my salary and motivated me to seek out more leadership opportunities while ACE has improved my salary by incentivizing high-performing teachers, like me, to serve in the lowest performing schools.

I appreciate DISD’s commitment to innovation and, even more, to classroom teachers who have the most direct impact on students.

Programs like TEI don’t only change trajectories for teachers, they also change students’ lives. The 40 or more students I serve every year continue to grow or score significantly better than the average teacher’s students, with 75 percent or more becoming eligible for magnet schools. As my students grow and achieve, my district-wide rating rises and I am more motivated to be the best teacher I can be. My students are the reason for my Exemplary II ranking and Distinguished Teacher status, a ranking that places me in the top one percent of DISD’s 10,000 teachers.

Dallas ISD’s Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE), was created with one goal in mind: improve Dallas ISD’s lowest-performing schools by incentivizing Dallas ISD’s best teachers to teach in them. The ACE program provides roughly $10,000 in bonus pay for Distinguished Teachers, like me, to join school turnaround efforts. In the first three years of Dallas ISD’s implementation of ACE, the District went from 43 “Improvement Required” schools to four. While many of those campuses were ACE campuses, others benefitted from improved teaching under TEI and its multiple-measure evaluation. In the span of three years, we were able to turn around campuses using strategic compensation and investing in professional talent, similar to other professions.

Students in Dallas ISD are reading, writing, and performing in math at higher levels than ever before.

Students like Jasmine, who doesn’t know where she’ll be sleeping after school, or like Trey, who has transitioned from a special education class for students with disabilities and is now performing on par with his classmates in my general education classroom, deserve the best teachers.

We nurture their interests and teach them how to maintain their emotions to find control in their world – a world that sometimes seems as if it’s spinning off its axis. Jasmine and Trey, despite their struggles, were both recognized for growth and mastery in their assessment data. They can now apply for any magnet school in Dallas. Now they have control to end the cycle of poverty and apply themselves in a context they never imagined. That’s why the best teachers are needed, and that’s why we need to retain them.

I urge legislators to support effective educators around the state who are able to help students like Jasmine and Trey.

It is important to recognize our best teachers for the work they do to help the students who need them the most. Passage of an effective educator allotment as part of comprehensive education finance will allow effective teachers to be compensated as such, and their students will be the ultimate beneficiaries of our efforts.

With all this in mind, I ask you to approve funding for interested districts to implement a multiple measure evaluation and provide strategic compensation for high performing teachers across the state and fund school turnaround programs like ACE in order to reduce the number of failing schools statewide. I have seen the results with my own eyes. Texas families and students deserve the best education we can offer. Our future depends on it.

Joshua Kumler