Q Comp Success: Interview with Dan Hoverman

A superintendent talks about the early success of an alternative teacher compensation program in his Minnesota district

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Robin Pam, Center for American Progress: Why don’t you start by telling me a little bit about what the Q-Comp program is and how your district is implementing it.

Dan Hoverman, Mounds View Public Schools: There are five components that are required in Minnesota. One is around a career ladder, which means that there are opportunities for teachers to be in non-classroom type positions. The second relates to job-embedded professional development, where really what the state is saying is “are there opportunities for professional development that are offered during the day, not just those that are offered before school, after school, or during the summer?” And a third component is around an evaluation system. The fourth component is around a school—actually a district, school level, grade level, down to the classroom level of achievement. Then the fifth piece is regarding reform of the salary schedules.

So the way we look at this is that going into the Q-Comp program our school improvement efforts that were already in place contained a number of those components. We had a number of teacher-leader positions which were in place. Instructional teams, instructional coaches, some of those sorts of things. That fit in really well with the career ladder piece. We were offering opportunities for our professional development to be not the “one and done” where you’re bringing in speakers and that sort of thing.

What we really wanted to accomplish is that it changes the culture of the school and changes the culture, to some degree, of the district. The focus becomes much more on student learning. So rather than it being all about inputs it becomes a more in-depth discussion about how teaching methods and instructional approaches are actually impacting student learning.

CAP: And have you been seeing a lot of results in student learning?

DH: Yes, I mean, Q-Comp for us has been a very positive complement to many of the things that we already had in place. It isn’t as though there’s this kind of pre and post. But what I would say is that when you look at the template that it takes for school improvement to take place, in our district we’re seeing the results of that playing out. And the Q-Comp program has been a supplement to that, an enhancement to it, but not in itself the causative agent.

CAP: What are the other sorts of initiatives that you’ve been undertaking in your schools to improve student learning?

DH: We use the NWEA Assessment [the Northwest Evaluation Association’s standardized test used in 2700 districts] in our district, because it gives you a really good longitudinal look at how kids are performing. That allows us to be able to disaggregate information on students and their performance and allows our teaching staff to be more adept at designing—not only looking at instructional strategies but also looking at instructional models. How are we going to be grouping kids? How are we going to be putting them into situations in which we can get them the best-quality instruction for the most time, for the largest part of their day as possible?

Now, once we have a sense based on that data what we want to do with the model, the focus becomes much more on what instructional strategies actually work. Currently what we’re doing is putting a lot of emphasis on that, whether around Read 180, or any multitude of different programs and approaches, that’s what our staff is focusing a large part of their time on. And I think the thing that’s exciting to me is that we’re seeing this take place.

The elementary level is probably the level at which some of these steps are more compatible with structure, and maybe with the philosophical mindsets of the staff. It gets progressively more challenging when you go to the middle school level to the high school. I think the part that we’re encouraged by is we’re seeing it across all levels.

CAP: And why do you think it is more challenging at the middle and high school levels?

DH: Well, I think because of the way most schools are structured. The schools become bigger. There tends to be more content area specialization. As there becomes more content area specialization it becomes a little more challenging. I mean, you can deal with reading and math at the elementary level—that’s a big part of their day. When you get to middle school, outside of the core areas, now you’re dealing with career and tech ed, family and consumer science, art—and trying to get everybody to focus on a common purpose or two and say, ok, if you’re teaching family and consumer science, how do you keep those individuals not ignoring the importance of their content, but how do you get them to look at their content in a way that makes it have a contribution to the overall goal of increasing the reading capability of kids in that building. If you don’t have some impact on adjusting the culture of the school, it becomes a little tricky trying to do that.

CAP: And have the Q-Comp program and the teacher incentives in your school been based more on collaborative teacher programs and overall achievement of the student body [rather than individual teacher accomplishment]?

DH: From a collaboration perspective, everybody has to be part of a group. Nobody can work in isolation, so collaboration is very important. We were quite a ways down the road with that, so this is again an added boost and an incentive for why that’s important.

CAP: How has the teacher’s union in your district been involved in structuring the program, and what’s your relationship like, between the administration and the union?

DH: Oh, we have a great relationship. We actually started working on looking at alternative compensation about seven, eight years ago. Then after that time, we continued to have some discussion about it, but it pretty difficult to figure out how to get started in this. We, like many districts, are not flush with resources. So we had basically reached an agreement, sort of a handshake, more of an informal agreement, that let’s continue to stay engaged on this topic, but we really weren’t sure what direction it would go.

Then two and a half years ago, when our legislature finally passed the law regarding alternative compensation, we were poised to be able to move quickly. We spent a lot of time talking about how important professional development had been. They [the union] have been intimately involved, working hand-in-hand. And in my judgment, that’s the only way you can do it. Because it’s really about teacher development.

Our system is designed for everyone to be successful. It isn’t designed in any way shape or form as an “I gotcha,” in a way in which we’re going to try to find people who aren’t measuring up and doing what we want them to do. We approach it from the standpoint that we believe that our staff is interested in student learning, interested in seeing kids make the kind of growth they need to make, and that what this system needs to do is be a complement to that, an incentive and a reinforcement to that quality work.

CAP: Given all this, what do you see as the future of Q-Comp and alternative compensation in your district, and do you think it would be useful in other districts, or what would need to happen to expand it to a larger scale around the state, or even around the country?

DH: Well I think within the five components that I initially went through, it kind of finds its own way in a different manner in each district. Because we had had a number of things in place before Q-Comp came into existence, I think if it went away it would probably affect the scope of our work, our school improvement work, it might impact the pace of our work, but we would continue doing the things that we believe in. The things that we believe are beneficial to kids.

The amount of money that’s going to teachers directly in their checks is not a lifestyle-changing amount of money. The money that they’re receiving, I believe is appreciated by the teachers. I believe that what’s as appreciated by the teachers, though, is the opportunity that they’re having to work together—the peer review process and that sort of thing has been very postiviely received. And I think it’s the change in culture and the benefit that our staff is beginning to see in increased student performance, which says to me that there would be a desire to see it continue, whether the law changed or the money went away.

As I look at other districts—and I’ve had the opportunity as a peer reviewer to visit other districts and to see what they’re doing—you can really see the difference between the systems where this is really starting to get embedded into “this is the way we work,” versus if it’s just an overlay. If it really gets embedded in the day-to-day work, the thinking, the philosophy, the logistics, the approaches, then it’s a great enhancement.

I would hope that it would spread. I would hope that there would be a continuation of it from the legislature’s perspective, because I think that our systems don’t turn on a dime. It takes time, and if there’s some patience with it and some clear understanding about the only way you’re going to get really increased student performance is if you have some patience and continue to work with districts on how this can be implemented, then I think it can be extraordinarily beneficial, across our state and across others.

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