TEXAS VIEW: Plano ISD to offer teachers incentive pay to take on tough classroomsTHE POINT: Dallas’ innovative Accelerated Campus Excellence program can be applied to districts with different needs to improve education for disadvantaged students.

The trickle-down effect of the Dallas Independent School District’s successful ACE program to improve education in low-income, struggling schools continues. Or maybe we should say trickle-up.
Plano ISD plans to borrow ideas from Dallas ISD to improve education for disadvantaged students, including offering its best teachers incentive pay to take on challenging classrooms and offering more services to kids in need. Next school year, the district plans to use some of the strategies that Dallas ISD has implemented with the ACE program, but as a high-performing district Plano has determined it does not need full Accelerated Campus Excellence campuses.
Plano is an example of how the lessons of Dallas’ innovative program can be applied to districts with very different needs. Expect six more districts across the state to announce in coming weeks they will also implement aspects of the ACE program, districts with very different histories and challenges.
We’ve come a long way from 2015, when then-Superintendent Mike Miles introduced ACE as a critical element of a reform plan that opponents of any pay-for-performance effort worked to kill. Since then, Richardson and Garland ISDs have shown that ACE can work in first-ring suburban districts that share some urban challenges. High-performing Plano’s decision to implement a similar plan shows just how effective such reforms have proven to be.
“Plano is kind of a different case for us because Plano is a high-performing district. But they do have certain inequities that the superintendent and her team have been committed to addressing,” said Garrett Landry, a senior adviser with Commit, which is working with Plano and other districts on improvement plans. “As we’ve seen with a lot of our suburban districts, we have rapidly changing demographics.”
Like many North Texas suburbs, Plano, once a high-income bedroom community with a reputation for excellent schools, has grown to become a city itself. According to the U.S. Census, the city’s population has grown 10% since 2010 to 286,000 last year.
Growth represents wealth and jobs, but it also saddles the school district with some urban problems. Around 29% of Plano ISD students are economically disadvantaged. That’s better than the state average of 59%, but higher than the portion of disadvantaged students in neighboring Frisco, at 11%.
In districts with more needy students, the ACE program has proven successful. Dallas now lists 17 schools in various levels of its ACE program, and the district points to strong academic improvement in core subjects. Richardson launched an ACE school program last year at four elementary campuses and has already seen academic improvement, and the district has plans to implement some of the strategies at other schools.
Landry said Plano doesn’t need full ACE treatment, with a total revamp in teaching staff at some campuses. Instead, the district will selectively offer incentive pay for top teachers to take on challenging jobs, and Plano will add more social services to needy campuses, such as an extended school day and afterschool enrichment.
He said a grant from the Texas Education Agency will help pay for the changes. The grant doesn’t pay for Commit’s help, as Commit is a nonprofit supported by donors and other education grants. He added that the ultimate plan depends on the desires of the school board after the May elections.
“We want to be able to provide an incentive for folks to go into the toughest of situations and be turn-around agents, be change agents,” said PISD board trustee David Stolle, who is running for reelection.
We are pleased to see districts trying new strategies to help impoverished kids. It’s especially hopeful to see a district like Plano take charge of the challenges of urbanism before they begin to erode the city’s growth. The not-my-kid, not-my-problem mentality often on display elsewhere isn’t just morally wrong, it will kill the Texas economy. Texas is going to need all of those children to grow up with the education and mental flexibility to do the jobs of the future that we can’t even yet envision.