In the “quality assurance” role, the university ensures that the Teacher Incentive Allotment, a special fund to reward the state’s best-performing teachers, runs smoothly and fairly.
In June 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature passed landmark legislation creating the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), a special fund administered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to reward the state's best-performing teachers.
A year and a half later, the TIA program has been a success, with hundreds of school districts applying for funding and more than 3,600 teachers generating an additional $40 million for their school districts, most of which is used to boost teacher compensation. School districts have thrown parties to celebrate and one superintendent in North Texas even presented teachers with massive Publishers Clearing House-style checks.
Along the way, Texas Tech University has been playing a key, behind-the-scenes role to ensure that the new program runs smoothly and fairly. In fact, lawmakers gave this important job to Texas Tech when they wrote the legislation that established TIA.
"Being selected for this role was a huge honor for Texas Tech and our College of Education," said Dean Jesse Perez Mendez. "It's affirmation that our trailblazing work at the college is being recognized. But, most importantly, it is an opportunity to use our expertise to help raise the profession of teaching and support our children."
Districts participating in TIA locally develop a system for designating high-performing teachers as recognized, exemplary or master. The designations last five years, and districts that employ these teachers receive special TIA funds to boost teacher compensation. House Bill 3, the legislation that created TIA, explicitly calls for Texas Tech to "monitor the quality and fairness" of these district-created designation systems.
"It's a sort of 'quality assurance' role," said Doug Hamman, chair of the Teacher Education Department at Texas Tech and the coordinator of the university's involvement in TIA. "Texas Tech is analyzing data provided through these district-created systems to provide a 'check' that they really are working in the way they were intended, which is to identify the most effective teachers in the state."
The process involves coordination and collaboration with a large team of TEA program specialists along with several external partners. Through more than 10 different "data checks," Texas Tech analysts look for evidence of reliability and validity of the districts' designation decisions.
One check, for example, examines the relationship between teacher appraisal scores and student growth. Another check ensures teachers designated at a specific level are evaluated consistently across the district. Others confirm district designations based on teacher appraisals and student growth are consistent with statewide performance standards.
"If the designation system is working, then one would expect to see the evidence that districts are choosing teachers who are among the highest performing in the state," Hamman said.
More than 820 school districts – about two-thirds of all the school districts in Texas – expressed initial interest in participating in TIA. After an intensive multi-step application process with TEA, 26 were selected for the first cohort, including Lubbock Independent School District (ISD).
Lubbock ISD held a virtual celebration for its designated teachers, some of whom received more than $20,000 in additional compensation for each of the next five years, said Lane Sobehrad, a development coordinator at Lubbock ISD who helps coordinate the district's TIA program.
"Lubbock ISD has been thrilled at the reaction of our teachers and administrators to TIA," Sobehrad said. "TIA has offered continued support for one of our district goals to attract, develop and retain highly effective teachers in Lubbock ISD."
Also among the selected districts was the much smaller, 500-student La Pryor ISD, located southwest of San Antonio and about an hour from the U.S.-Mexico border.
"This is a game changer for us as a rural community," said La Pryor ISD Superintendent Matthew McHazlett. "While a long process, it has been incredibly rewarding to see our teachers receive this recognition.
"For our teachers to possibly get an additional $30,000 per year that they didn't expect over the next five years is potentially life-changing. It is huge for our kids to be in a classroom where the state of Texas has recognized a master teacher. It makes everyone have more pride in themselves and it makes people feel good about our community."
Drawing on experience and expertise
Texas Tech was selected for its role with TIA largely because of its innovative work with its TechTeach educator preparation program. The clinically intensive, competency-based program focuses on improving the achievement of the students in classrooms where Texas Tech student teachers are working.
The program is built on an extensive network of partnerships with districts around Texas. Aspiring teachers in the program receive a unique, full-year practicum experience at a partner school district. The partner districts share student data and video observations with Texas Tech's Teacher Education Department so it can evaluate the student teachers.
TIA involves a similar data-sharing, partnership model, which made Texas Tech a natural fit.
"In many ways, the lessons we've learned from building up our teacher preparation program have helped us make significant and quick contributions to this project," Hamman said. "We know what it takes to work with districts. We know where the pitfalls are. We have personnel in the college who have done this work, and we know how to design systems that accomplish these new goals."
In addition to the verification process, Texas Tech also maintains the official TIA website. The website features an interactive map where users can compare TIA funding amounts across different districts. The map shows that TIA places a specific emphasis on rural and high-needs districts. Designated teachers who work in these areas generate the greatest amount of TIA funding for their districts, up to $32,000 each.
Ultimately, TEA and Texas Tech hope the program helps recruit and retain the best teachers while encouraging them to teach at schools where high-quality educators are most needed.
"The Teacher Incentive Allotment is designed to recognize and reward teacher excellence in Texas," Hamman said. "Although the designated teachers benefit greatly, the end-game is to improve student learning and growth for their futures and the future of the state."