The Houston Independent School District will continue to overhaul the way teachers are paid in the 2025-26 school year, when the current compensation model — where salaries rise over time as educators gain experience — will be entirely replaced with a "pay-for-performance" system based largely on standardized test scores.
The plans are outlined in an expansive document marked as a "confidential draft," obtained by Houston Public Media through a public records request.
"We value high achievement, we value strong instructional practice," state-appointed superintendent Mike Miles said in an interview on Tuesday, when he confirmed the document still reflects his plans. "People should be compensated for that for the value that they bring."
Union president Jackie Anderson, with the Houston Federation of Teachers, called the plan "very demeaning."
"Children come into schools with different backgrounds, different experiences, different levels of understanding, different levels of motivation, and pay-for-performance doesn’t take that into consideration," Anderson said. "It takes away from the heart and soul of learning for children, and that’s not fair."
28 Houston ISD schools are already shifting their educator compensation next school year to what Miles calls the "hospital model," with teachers' performance evaluations and salaries based largely on students' standardized test scores, as well as other metrics like "instructional quality." Those schools, along with 57 additional campuses that opted in to the reforms, are also losing significant autonomy as they shift to the New Education System (NES).
NES schools will have more instructional time, premade lesson plans, a shakeup to the staffing model and cameras in classrooms to assist with discipline. Miles has said he intends to expand the system to 150 campuses — more than half the district. The changes in those schools have prompted parent protests and turnover in campus staff, although some educators have voiced support for parts of the plan.
According to the document, the plan for the rest of the district includes a complete phasing out of the traditional salary schedule by the 2025-26 school year. Instead of being paid based on years of experience, educators in non-NES schools will fall into seven "effectiveness" tiers.
The draft plan describes a range from $65,000 for "unsatisfactory" teachers to $104,000 for "exemplary" teachers. Starting in 2025, returning teachers would be paid based on their "effectiveness" rating from the 2024-25 school year. First-year teachers would start at $72,500, and experienced teachers who are new to the district could negotiate a starting salary between $75,000 and $80,000.
Miles noted that the document is "very much a draft," and that the salary figures are preliminary.
Overall, the proposed compensation model is similar to the one being implemented in NES schools.
"It's exactly the same," Miles said. "The only difference on compensation is that NES schools use a hospital model" with higher base pay and more support staff for teachers.
For teachers, it won’t be easy to earn a top-tier rating. In fact, administrators will attempt to implement the system in a way that avoids too many teachers being ranked on the highest levels.
The plan suggests a "target distribution" where 20% of teachers fall into the top tiers, 40% are marked as "proficient," and the other 40% of teachers are evaluated as less than "proficient."
Houston Public Media obtained a separate document outlining the principal compensation and evaluation system, which is also based largely on standardized test results.
"It’s going to create a powerful incentive to not work in a school serving kids who need us the most," argued educator Ruth Kravetz, cofounder of Community Voices for Public Education, adding that the forced distribution of ratings could create an atmosphere of competition, dampening collaboration between teachers.
"If everything’s on a bell curve, it incentivizes people to hoard their skills," she said. "That’s totally inappropriate."
Steve Amstutz is a former Houston ISD teacher and principal. He's now with the Institute for Research & Reform in Education.
"To create a structure that says, ‘We can only have a limited percentage of our people who are successful,' is very odd messaging to me," Amstutz said.
Miles argued that any large-scale evaluation should place people "into some sort of bell curve."
"What we have in education today is a situation where almost 97% of all teachers in America are ‘proficient,'" he said. "We know that’s not actually the case."
Under the district-wide plan, the administration will also claw back autonomy from many schools that have long been controlled more by campus principals than by Central Office. The plan calls for the creation of an "earned autonomy" system, with four levels of local campus control based largely on standardized test performance, as well as other metrics like staff attendance. Only 10% of schools are expected to fall into the top two autonomy brackets in the 2024-25 school year, when the district will remove autonomy from other campuses while also adding "supports," like "TEA-recommended material," additional training, "a culture of instructional feedback" and a tweaked staffing model.
"To me, it makes sense," said Judith Cruz, one of the elected Houston ISD board members who lost policy-making power after the Texas Education Agency installed Miles and a Board of Managers. "Education is one of the few places that we don’t evaluate or pay based on performance. In most industries, most places that you work, it’s based on performance."
Cruz said that the elected board "probably would have been probably pretty split" on district-wide, performance-based pay.
Mike Miles represents a longstanding, reform-minded movement in education that seeks to reshape the entire system with an emphasis on teacher accountability and high-stakes testing. He believes the public education system in the United States has failed, he blames the achievement gap between working class and affluent communities on a lack of quality instruction, and he asserts that too many educators are evaluated as "proficient" when more improvement is needed. He implemented similar performance-based pay reforms in Dallas ISD when he was superintendent there.
Duncan Klussmann, former Spring Branch ISD superintendent and current clinical assistant professor with the University of Houston's College of Education, compared the compensation plan to a "business model" where performance can be measured by "earnings per share."
"The basis of the policy does go back over many decades of conversation about how to compensate teachers," Klussmann said. "I don’t think anyone’s ever hit it exactly correct on how to do that in an education setting because our setting is so unique ... it’s easy to do (performance-based pay) in a business setting, but very hard in a social science setting, like education."
Opponents of the reforms come to the table from multiple angles — questioning whether teachers should be evaluated and compensated based on students' test results, debating the very premise that test scores measure the most important outcomes of a school, and calling for an expansion of public social support policies, both inside and outside the classroom.
The masterplan document reveals that the plan has been in the works for more than three months. It's dated June 14, with Mike Miles listed as the sole author. Revisions to certain Houston ISD-specific sections go as far back as March 31 — the same month the Texas Education Agency announced it would replace the district's previous superintendent and elected school board, and two months before the agency confirmed to the public that Miles would run the state's largest public school system. Throughout those months, the TEA maintained that a superintendent had not yet been selected. The agency did not respond to a request for comment on the document.
"I prepare well for interviews," Miles said, adding that some of the concepts go back more than three years, when the TEA first tried to take over the district.
"The first time I met the Board of Managers was May 27, and I was not told I was the sole candidate until just after that," he continued.
Miles has attended four "family events" in recent weeks, starting on June 27. Houston ISD said the meetings were intended to "share more information about his vision for HISD." He has not yet mentioned the planned expansion of performance-based pay. There are six more meetings over the next three weeks, including one Tuesday night at Houston ISD's Hattie Mae headquarters.