An initiative introduced earlier this fall by District of Columbia Public Schools [DCPS] Chancellor Kaya Henderson that recognizes the best teachers, has received mixed reviews surrounding its effectiveness.
The program, for which more than 300 DCPS teachers participated during its development last year, is known as the Leadership Initiative for Teachers [LIFT], and involves an aggressive career plan that provides high-performing instructors with opportunities for advancement. LIFT's five-step career plan focuses on progression from beginner to expert teacher and enables them to become eligible to earn more than $100,000 in just five years, and more than $130,000 in just seven years.
LIFT also distinguishes DCPS as the first urban public school system to implement the comprehensive teacher career ladder.
"Our teachers shape the future for our children," said Henderson. "At DCPS, we demand excellence from our educators and we work hard to honor and recognize them as the professionals they are."
But the program contradicts actions undertaken four years ago under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who fired hundreds of teachers in her hard-nosed school reform and budget reduction plan. Among those terminated were veteran educators who'd dedicated their lives to ensuring the academic success of their students.
Former Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kathy Henderson [no relation to Kaya Henderson] said she applauds incentives directed at keeping exceptional teachers, but that DCPS officials need to "stick with the basics" by focusing their attention on "research-based efforts" rather than touting acronyms that sound good.
"That's what gives us a foundation for what works and we need to stay away from fads [such as the acronym LIFT], said Henderson, 58. "We don't need a lot of meaningless acronyms to make the school system work. We need teachers who are committed and who like children."
Responding to reporters' inquiries, Kaya Henderson, 42, did not address specific questions about LIFT but her spokesperson said the program is the system's next step in developing struggling teachers and moving out those who are ineffective.
"She's never going to admit that it's a contradiction," Ward 8 activist Phil Pannell said of the chancellor's round-about response. "But it's a contradiction. I was at a function recently where a former Anacostia Academy principal mentioned how good teachers and administrators have been routinely weeded out of the system. And, now they come up with a program to try to keep good educators. It doesn't make sense."
Cet Parks, 42, whose child doesn't attend a District school, however, he supports efforts to improve education. He also said LIFT appears to be redundant.
"It's always a good thing to reward teachers for their hard work and to try to keep them," Parks said. "However, my thing is that they should recall all the well-qualified teachers who were laid off [under Rhee]. They should be re-hired or still have the opportunity to have their terminations addressed."
Former National Education Association President Reginald Weaver said incentives can come in various forms and some can be questionable.
"But people should be asking if it's a fair program, if it's a program based on student performance, has it been sanctioned by the teachers' union – and how will it be perfected," said Weaver, 73.
Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders, 47, said Kaya Henderson, is not Michelle Rhee. "The DCPS system is light years ahead of where it used to be, with much more emphasis on staff development," Saunders said. "I'm not going to be critical of a program like LIFT that offers opportunities for teachers. If you look at the current numbers, we're getting fewer teachers terminated at the end of the year and more teachers who are achieving the designation of highly-effective."
Saunders added that while the teachers' union endeavors to "respect, support and commend good teachers" it also offers support to teachers who aren't performing as well.
"You can't fire your way to success, and it's not surprising that in order to keep good people, you have to offer new products and programs," he said.