Under a new D.C. Public Schools “career ladder” initiative, high-performing teachers in low-income schools will see a streamlined process to salary raises and more leadership opportunities, the Washington Post reports.

According to Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, the goal of the Leadership Initiative for Teachers (LIFT) is to attract educators to the District and encourage them to remain in the city’s classrooms.

The career ladder features five rungs, with the “teacher” designation at the bottom denoting someone who receives normal pay and is subject to four formal classroom observations annually, the Post reports. To climb the ladder, an educator must earn “effective” and “highly effective” ratings on yearly evaluations. Reaching the top rung -- labeled “expert teacher” -- requires at least six years’ experience.

WAMU reports that teachers who receive "highly effective" ratings will be eligible for significant salary increases faster than was previously possible. This is particularly true for mid-career teachers in the District, who can earn almost one-third more than a five-year veteran educator with a master’s degree teaching in a neighboring city.

According to the Washington Examiner, for the first time, teachers who score an “effective” rating can also be rewarded with higher paychecks.

The pay ceiling will still remain at $131,540, the Post reports, but the largest increases will now be reserved for teachers in schools where more than 60 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. This represents 75 percent of DCPS schools, according to the Examiner. Previously, only teachers in high-poverty schools were eligible for higher bonuses, which will continue to be the case for educators in wealthier schools.

Teachers who work their way up the five-step career ladder will also be eligible to fill various leadership roles, including curriculum specialist, teacher recruiter and master educator, WAMU reports.

All of the city’s teachers have been assigned places on the ladder based on their evaluation scores over the last three years. No one has been awarded the “expert” designation for lack of sufficient evaluation data. According to the Post, the earliest anyone will be able to reach the top rung is the 2014-15 school year.

In an effort to increasable stability, teachers cannot move downward on the ladder, but can still lose their jobs if they post a year or two of weak evaluations.

DCPS evaluates teachers and staff using a system called IMPACT, which gauges teacher performance based on student achievement, instructional expertise, collaboration and professionalism. The system was put in place under former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who was also a proponent of merit pay and believed it was the key to attracting higher-achieving applicants to the teaching profession.

DCPS has offered merit pay since 2009. According to the Post, it was funded by outside donors for the first three years, but the school district has since absorbed the costs and has budgeted $6 million for the next fiscal year.

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