A technology proficiency plan drafted by the board of the Northwest Independent School District in Fort Worth, Texas, would make the district’s schools among the first in the country to freeze teacher salaries unless they demonstrate certain technology skills.

The board’s draft mandates that within five years all teachers must complete three levels of technology proficiency, eventually learning advanced skills such as web-page building. At the end of five years, teachers who do not possess the required technology proficiencies would no longer be eligible for annual salary increases.

For the past eight years, the district’s professional development plan has required 24 hours of technology instruction for beginning teachers and 12 more each year for all teachers.

But school officials found that the 12 hours of renewal training did not always target teachers’ true needs.

“We wanted to move forward with integrating technology into the curriculum,” said Eileen Standridge, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Many of the district’s previous professional development courses were stand-alone courses for using business-type applications, but “the piece tying it back to the curriculum was missing,” she said.

“The vision for this proficiency plan is the result of the board and superintendent encouraging principals and administrators to take [professional development] to the next level,” Standridge said, adding that the response from teachers and administrators has been overwhelmingly positive.

The new teacher competency plan outlines four levels of technology proficiency, starting at the most basic and building up to more complex skills as time goes on. Teachers must demonstrate proficiency in the first three levels within five years of the 2001-02 school year or risk losing eligibility for pay increases.

According to Standridge, the proficiency committee—made up of a group of teachers—said educators’ incentive to learn technology skills needed to be based on both rewards and expectations.

Completing at least the third level of professional development is an expectation that will be considered part of the job. Any teacher failing to complete Level Three during the five-year period will have his or her salary frozen until the required proficiency level is achieved.

“At Northwest, we pay well above the state base salary,” said Standridge. “In essence, the salary itself is a reward. This year our beginning teacher salary is $35,500—that’s several thousand dollars more than the state minimum.”

The response from a teacher union representative was pointed.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) spokesman Jamie Horwirz laughed, “Maybe she’d be willing to swap her salary for that starting salary, if it is so great.”

According to Horwitz, the million-member teacher’s union favors rewards over penalties when it comes to professional development for teachers.

“Teachers are still starting out with much lower pay than other professions, and that is who we are competing with,” Horwitz said. “In the private sector, they are not penalizing people in this same way. Maybe more programs featuring rewards over penalties would be one step in helping Texas and other states overcome the massive teacher shortage we are facing.”

District officials say they plan to create some type of reward program for educators who take the extra step and complete the optional Level Four training.

Proficiency will be measured through the submission of a product to a review committee. The teachers on that committee have established rubrics for what a project must contain to receive credit for each level.

The review committee will be made up of teachers “so as to encourage peer acceptance and peer review,” Standridge said.

To get credit for each level, teachers must demonstrate the following technology skills:

Level One:

  • An understanding of operating systems;
  • An understanding of Microsoft Word;
  • An understanding of electronic gradebooks;
  • An understanding of how to use eMail;
  • An understanding of the internet; and
  • Completion of a Level One practicum.

Level Two:

  • The ability to use multimedia and desktop publishing programs;
  • The ability to use one of the following: spreadsheets, Inspiration, or TimeLiner; and
  • A completed lesson plan with a teacher-generated technology product incorporating desktop publishing, multimedia, and one of the following: spreadsheets, Inspiration, or Timeliner.

Level Three:

  • The ability to use and create web pages;
  • An understanding of peripherals, database, and file-management utilities; and
  • A completed unit plan with a teacher-generated and student-generated component.

Level Four (optional):

  • A teacher-created web page for student and parent access, published to the district intranet and the internet;
  • The ability to mail-merge documents;
  • An understanding of photo editing;
  • The advanced use of database, spreadsheet, multimedia, and desktop publishing; and
  • A completed six-week plan for the integration of technology into all aspects of the curriculum for one subject area.

Horwitz said the teacher’s union would be more likely to support the proficiency plan if it contained an incentive instead of threatened a penalty.

“It may be technology proficiency today, but it may be something else tomorrow—do we want to create penalty after penalty for teachers, rather than incentive after incentive?” he asked. “It would create a much more motivated workforce to reward teachers.

“If other districts follow this lead and base continuing education on a series of penalties instead of incentives, the AFT would be a much larger organization if we changed our name to the ‘American Federation of Ex-Teachers,'” he added.

Despite the hubbub over basic technology proficiencies, some educators believe it might not be a problem in the future.

“Pretty soon it will be a moot point,” said Ron Cravey, executive director of the Texas Computer Education Association.

“We do not require teachers to demonstrate proficiency in overhead projectors—we just assume they already know how to work those,” he said. “Pretty soon teachers will all know how to use technology. Then we’ll just have to concentrate on how they can use it to teach effectively.”

Links:

Northwest Independent School District
http://www.northwest.k12.tx.us

Texas Computer Education Association
http://www.tcea.org

American Federation of Teachers
http://www.aft.org