DC Public Schools is creating a "career ladder" that will enable teachers to earn year-to-year salary increases upward of $24,000, while providing teachers with more leadership opportunities within the school system.

The idea behind the Leadership Initiative for Teachers is to retain more high-quality teachers who would otherwise look to administrative positions to advance their careers. Based on evaluations, teachers are sorted into five categories, earning higher salaries and the right to fewer professional observations as they advance through the rungs.

Teachers' maximum annual take-home pay of about $130,000, including annual bonuses for high evaluation scores, will remain the same. But teachers in the middle will see opportunities for more money more quickly. A teacher with a bachelor's degree jumping stages in his or her sixth year could earn the salary of an 11th-year teacher with a master's degree -- or, from $56,655 annually to $81,335.

How LIFT works
Under the Leadership Initiative for Teachers, classroom teachers are sorted into five stages: "teacher," "established teacher," "advanced teacher," "distinguished teacher" and "expert teacher."
Once they reach the top three tiers, they're eligible for service credits, or, in other words, are paid as if they've worked in the school system for longer.
These levels are defined by a teachers' rating on the evaluation tool Impact, which sorts teachers as "ineffective," "minimally effective," "effective" or "highly effective."
A teacher can move up the ladder's rungs to become established or advanced by receiving an Impact score of "highly effective" or two consecutive years of "effective."
To become a distinguished or expert teacher, an educator must receive two consecutive "highly effective" ratings.
Because Impact was introduced in 2009, no teachers have attained the "expert" status.

"Add to that the bonus, and we're out of control," said Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who says the changes will stave off the loss of teachers to neighboring districts -- systems that are higher-performing and less challenging than the District's. "They get good, and then they go to Montgomery County. That's not going to happen anymore."

The ladder for the first time rewards teachers who do not receive the top evaluation rating of "highly effective" with salary increases; in certain cases, teachers who score "effective" can move up the ladder toward higher paychecks.

Only teachers in schools where 60 percent of students are living in poverty -- about 75 percent of DCPS schools -- will qualify. These schools have been a target as DCPS tries to turn the 43 percent of students proficient in math and reading into 70 percent by 2017. Before, teachers in high-poverty schools were only eligible for higher bonuses.

Officials could not say Tuesday how expensive the program was, but the typical budgeted cost per teacher increased from $90,681 last school year to $95,574 this year.

"Folks are going to come far and near to get these jobs," said Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers' Union.

Teachers who advance on the ladder are eligible for fewer classroom observations for their evaluations, which are also often based on students' test scores.

Teachers also gain access to more leadership opportunities without leaving the classroom. For example, teachers can become one of 30 curriculum writers, working with central administrators to define the system's instruction. They also can mentor newer teachers, manage interventions for young students and gain access to fellowships, including one run by the U.S. Department of Education.

Andrew Smith, a teacher at Tubman Elementary School in Columbia Heights, said he met with his principal last year to discuss advancing his career into administration, and was glad when he heard about the new teaching career ladder: "Truthfully, I didn't want to leave the classroom."