Haslam on K-12 Education

Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual budget address tonight. Here are his remarks on K-12 education as prepared for delivery:

Right now, the spotlight is on Tennessee. Who would have thought a decade ago that Tennessee would have significant positive attention around education? Strategic investments, increased accountability, and higher standards have changed the game.

We’ve always known that post-secondary education was not just about access. It’s really about success. And we knew that our students couldn’t succeed if they weren’t prepared when they left our high schools. It’s why we’ve worked so hard to improve student outcomes in our K-12 schools. And why it’s important that Tennessee students are still the fastest improving students in the country since 2011.

In Tennessee our public schools have roughly 1 million students. Since 2011, 131,000 more students are on grade-level in math and nearly 60,000 more are on grade-level in science. For the third straight year, Tennessee public high school students improved on their ACT. Our graduation rate has increased for the third year in a row and now stands at 88 percent.

We need to stop and take a moment – not to pat ourselves on the back – but to let all of that sink in.

A lot of you in this chamber remember when this state continually ranked near the bottom in national rankings, and you understand the progress Tennessee has made in just a few short years. Think about the teachers who continually rise to the challenges their students might bring through the door every day. Teachers and students are doing more than ever before, and their achievements must be recognized. We’ve raised our expectations and our standards. Through the process approved by the General Assembly last year we are well on the way to having in place our new Tennessee Standards that we spent so much time discussing over the last two years. Teams of educators have been working to review each standard, and their work is being reviewed by other professional educators with input from thousands of Tennesseans. The new standards should be voted on by the Board of Education this April.

While much of the rest of the country is still arguing about what to do on Common Core standards, Tennessee went to work developing our standards that continue to raise the bar of expectations. This is what we do. We respond to a changing world and make sure our students are prepared for tomorrow.

I personally believe that investing in education is the smartest thing we can do for economic development. But I also believe it’s a smart long-term investment. One of the things I want to make certain that we do with this budget is invest money that will save us money down the road. The facts are clear: a more educated population will spend less money on health care. Less money on incarceration. If we’re going to be about anything, it has to be about opportunity for all Tennessee students.

One of the things I think we should be the most proud of is that Tennessee – working together – has been a national leader in investing in K-12 during this administration. Tennessee is in the top 10 for elementary and secondary state education expenditures in the nation. We are also outpacing the national average increase in teacher salaries, and that’s before this year’s investment.

Hear me now, our commitment to education continues in a big way tonight. This budget proposal includes the largest investment in K-12 education in Tennessee’s history without a tax increase. We’re funding the Basic Education Program (BEP) portion of teacher salaries with $105 million. Between the current fiscal year’s $153 million and this year’s proposed $261 million investment in K-12 education, Tennessee state government will invest more than $414 million new dollars in our schools, more than $200 million of those additional dollars for teacher salaries.

We’re also including nearly $30 million for the 12th month of health insurance so teachers are offered year-round insurance through the state. And we’re doubling the state investment for a total of $30 million in recurring state dollars going to technology needs at our schools.

Our TCAP tests this year showed that we are making great progress in math and English in our high schools and that proficiency in math and science is increasing in all grades. However, those same tests showed that we are not making the kind of progress that we would like to see in third through eighth grade reading. Because of that, we’re investing $9 million to create a network of literacy coaches and regional coordinators supporting literacy efforts all across the state. Our students have shown incredible growth, but reading remains a challenging area that we have to get right.

What’s important in all of this is that we’re not investing in the same old public education system in Tennessee. We’ve raised our standards. We’ve linked teacher evaluations to student performance. And we’ve expanded education options for children. We are showing historic progress, and we can’t back up. We are a system that is committed to the basic premise that all children should have access to a quality public education regardless of zip code, and we are shrinking the achievement gap for historically underserved and low-income students. None of us should want to go back to ranking in the 40’s. This state will continue to do what has brought our students success: investing more in education while raising our standards and making certain that how well students are learning is reflected in teacher evaluations. I’m grateful to no longer be in the 40’s, but I’m not satisfied to be in the 30’s.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

Trade Your Pension for Better Pay?

That’s one proposal made by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce in its Report Card on Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).

The idea is that if new teachers forego their pension, they could take the savings in higher pay. The Chamber believes that higher pay would help the district attract teachers and encourage them to stay in the district once hired.

An analysis of teacher pay across similar districts found Nashville to lag behind its peers in terms of both starting pay and lifetime earnings.

While raising teacher pay certainly has merit in terms of both attracting talent and keeping teachers in the system, it’s important to look at the tradeoff between pensions and salaries.

Under the current pension system (recently revised) Tennessee teachers are eligible to retire with full pension benefits after they reach a combined number of 90 in years of service and age. That means a teacher who starts at 22 would need to teach until they are 56 in order to retire with full pension benefits.

At current salary levels, a teacher would sacrifice a pension benefit of around $25,000 per year. Factoring an average life expectancy, a teacher who decided to give up her pension would lose benefits totaling $625,000.

That means to make up the actual dollar value of the pension benefit, teachers would need to make about $18,000 more per year than they do now. Again, this assumes retirement after 34 years.

At current levels, this would move starting pay in MNPS to around $59,000 per year.

Alternatively, the district could make starting pay a bit lower and build in larger raises later. That may have the benefit of encouraging teachers to stay. To be competitive, starting pay should probably be raised to around $50,000. Again, though, if teachers are foregoing a $625,000 potential benefit, raises should be built-in to ensure they can earn that benefit over the course of their service.

While the Chamber may be correct that younger teachers are not necessarily as concerned with pensions as those in the past, it should be made clear that giving up a pension is a big financial sacrifice in the long-term. If such an idea is pursued, teachers should certainly be compensated at a level that makes up for that sacrifice over time.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

It’s Raining Money, But Not on Schools

Tom Humphrey reports on the most recent budget projections which predict a surplus of between $300-$400 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016.

This money, combined with the $600 million surplus from the fiscal year which ended on June 30, 2015, means the state will have about $1 billion in unanticipated, uncommitted revenue.

On top of that, economists are projecting growth in the $400-$500 million range for the upcoming budget year.

As Humphrey notes, proposals are floating so spend the surplus on road projects or tax cuts or both.

What’s not being mentioned?

Schools.

Despite a pair of lawsuits contending the state’s school funding formula, the BEP, is inadequate, lawmakers and the Governor are not rushing to suggest significant new investments in Tennessee schools.

This in spite of the fact that after a one year bounce on NAEP results, our state is now holding flat. Maybe that’s because Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham is suggesting our state aspire toward “mediocrity” while holding a forum on disastrous (and expensive) school voucher schemes.

If the state invested half of the available surplus on the BEP formula, that would be a $500 million injection of funds to local schools. That would be a sure way to hold down local property tax increases while also beefing up the resources school systems have to provide an education. The revenue projections for the 2016-17 fiscal year indicate an investment of this magnitude is sustainable. And, by holding a portion of the surplus in reserve, the state could ensure against any unanticipated shortfalls.

All of that would still leave $200-$300 million available to spend on one-time costs like road projects.

Will Tennessee put its foot on the accelerator and invest in schools so our students have the resources they need to compete with the rest of the country? Will Bill Haslam use the surplus and projected new revenue to truly make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay?

The General Assembly will have answers to these questions starting in January.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Pay For Test Scores: The Price of my Humanity

MNPS Teacher Molly Handler offers her thoughts on merit pay:

 

When I first began teaching 9 years ago in MNPS, Vanderbilt was beginning a pay for performance study in Nashville middle school mathematics classrooms. This was the first scientific study of its kind in the US, and it sought to answer if merit pay alone, independent of other resources and support, increased student achievement as measured by test scores. Teachers in my middle school were eligible to be part of this study; I declined to participate, and explained extensively in the questionnaire the ideological reasons for this. The results of this study suggest that performance pay alone did not improve student outcomes.

 

A few years later, the same school in which I was working was eligible for the TIF grant which, “supports efforts to develop and implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need schools.” Eligibility for performance awards is based on student achievement growth, educator effectiveness and professional growth. If you examine the matrix used by my district to determine these performance awards, there is one lone area in which a teacher may earn incentive pay that is not directly tied to standardized test scores. This was not something I could opt out of, as I had the Vanderbilt study so I vowed that if I ever received money from this grant that I would not be able to keep it.

 

My third year of working at a TIF eligible school (2013-2014) I received $1,000 via the grant. When I first found out I would receive this money I began to think about the organizations to which I would donate it, and was excited that I could represent an ideology in which I had strongly believed since my first year of teaching. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my thought process strayed from this for a while, and I strongly considered keeping the money. It’s no secret that teachers don’t make great money, and I had some bills I could put it toward. I told myself I deserved this money that it would be a small token for the overwork and underpay scenario in which I had been living for my entire teaching career. While it did not incentivize me to do anything differently than I would otherwise, it was a small portion of the money I was owed. During this time I also heard Diane Ravitch speak at Vanderbilt, and one thing she discussed was how merit-based pay systems have never worked in the teaching profession. She called them a ‘zombie idea,’ something that fails over and over yet just won’t die. This made me realize I could not abandon this ideology that I held before I ever even began teaching, before I knew significantly less than I do now about the realities of this profession. I decided to give this money (which ended up being about $600 after taxes and other deductions) to the Metropolitan Nashville Education Fund (affiliated with Metro Nashville Education Association) and the Johnella H Martin Scholarship fund. This scholarship is awarded to an MNPS graduate who plans to study teaching and learning, and is awarded for all 4 years of college. The following outlines my ideologies of why I oppose merit-based pay, and why the cause to which I gave this money represents the complete opposite of what merit-based pay (and privatization of public schools) suggest.

 

  1. Our profession deserves to be compensated, not individuals within the profession whose students score well on tests. Money should support increasing pay for all teachers, rather than only given to some. I’m not suggesting that every teacher should make the exact same money; I believe that differences in pay should be reflected by experience, commitment to the profession, and education. When merit pay is given only to some and based on a flawed accountability system we are being forced into the competitive free market mentality on which privatization is dependent. Differences in pay should not be inconsistent and retroactive as they are when based on test scores, and they should represent equitable choices that all professionals in the field may access if they desire rather than based on the whim of a single score. The field of teaching is the most successful and best advanced when teachers work in collaboration not competition.

 

  1. Rather than awarding some people extra money for test scores, that money would be better spent on services that actually serve the needs of students and families. Schools need resources…not always physical resources, but resources to help support the failures of our society that seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of our public schools (health care, a living wage, affordable housing, hunger, etc.). Receiving the actual social services that are needed in schools and classrooms is more valuable, useful, and rewarding to teachers than possible incentive pay. It is certainly more valuable to the neediest students and families. I believe all teachers would choose support services for their students and classrooms as a job ‘incentive’ rather than merit-based pay.

 

  1. The field of teaching is being de-professionalized, and merit-based pay is one of many vehicles for such de-professionalization. Giving this money in support of MNEA suggests that the teacher voice should be the one guiding the field of education, not the bureaucratic one. Decision makers in our field have become people with little to no teaching experience, and this dynamic has run rampant. Returning decision-making (not to be confused with power and authority) to the collective teacher voice is vital.

 

  1. The Johnella H Martin Scholarship fund supports students of the school system in which I work who want to make a commitment to become career teachers. We need young people to study and commit to this field and profession, rather than filling our classrooms with teachers from programs like Teach For America.

 

  1. The testing and accountability movement is the foundation on which the privatization movement is based. Its use to credit or discredit individual students, teachers, schools, or school systems, is ill willed, and flawed. Tests are important and useful, but they are simply indicators that should be used as such. Teachers should use them in the classroom to guide specific aspects and topics of instruction, and systemically they might provide the ability to generalize information over a longer period of time. Interpreting and using them narrowly and then attaching a high stakes institutionalized practice to them, which is used to make sweeping generalizations and important decisions that affect peoples’ lives, for example, how much income they bring home is misuse, ill informed, and morally reprehensible.

 

  1. What I witnessed on the ground level, during the implementation of these various plans, at various schools, amongst various staff, is that they did nothing to change the actual practices of teacher pedagogy and student learning for better or worse. Despite the fact that matrices laid out the desired input a teacher must achieve in order to earn merit-based pay, such understanding of teaching practice is problematic and ignorant both pedagogically and logistically. I watched as extra money was awarded or not awarded to people who taught subjects never tested, to people who far exceeded the number of absences within the matrix, to teachers who actively improved their practice, to people who did not intend to be career teachers, to people who showed strong compassion for students, to teachers who worked in isolation or collaboration, and to teachers who did or did not focus exclusively on teaching to the test. My point is, that if the goal of such a system is to change the practice of teaching and learning in a consistent way for the better, there seemed to be no correlation between earning merit-based pay with such an outcome. The idea that matrices will somehow allow teachers to understand exactly what they need to do in order to get higher test scores amazes me to this day, as if teaching and learning is like a function table, and all we must do is understand the right input in order to get the desired output. Then, we must be rewarded for such output because otherwise we aren’t incentivized to implement the input in the first place. The over simplicity of such a system is linear in thought and organization, as compared to the cyclical complexities of classroom teaching. This juxtaposition speaks strongly to the alienation and true motives of those trying to implement merit-based pay in the first place.

 

It seems we, as teachers, are powerless over many of these changes that seek to devalue our profession both monetarily and pedagogically. Even if law imposes TIF-like plans on us, it is our money and we may do with it what we like. Much in the same way that sick banks are established in large group health insurance plans, teachers might find a way to establish group plans that seek to redistribute merit-based pay that recognizes the entirety of the profession rather than the narrow measures of the few. Such a system could interpret this redistribution in any way deemed fit, as it could be divided up equally amongst its members, donated to a valuable cause, or used to purchase additional supports and services that go unfunded but that its members felt were vital to their work and for their students. Most importantly, however, it might empower us to reclaim that the true nature of our profession is to work collaboratively in service of our students and our field, rather than to compete with one another for individualized monetary benefit that is awarded via a single measure.

 

Allowing our field to be stratified and quantified based on attaching payment to test scores dehumanizes the realities of our day-to-day work. This alienation robs us of our humanity. I feel this dehumanization seeping into my profession and the lives of my students and myself more and more each day, as data and test scores supersede true learning, service, and compassion. We accept practices and ideologies with which we do not agree, that our training and experience contradict, as we are fearful for our livelihoods and our profession. As a teacher, I needed something to reassert myself and the humanity of my career. For me, accepting this money would have further forfeited my ability to define the relationships, actions, and knowledge that have become part of my identity and the profession of teaching. Teaching is an art, talent, service, belief, career, and skill set, and I cannot trade those things for a practice that suggests otherwise, even if such a practice involves a thousand dollars.

 

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Don’t They Want to Teach?

A recent article in the New York Times detailing a nationwide struggle to find and hire qualified teachers mentions Nashville as one of the large, urban districts “having trouble finding teachers.”

Data from the Appalachian Regional Comprehensive Center suggests the problem, in Tennessee at least, is not just limited to Nashville:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

But, looking specifically at Nashville, a review of teacher salaries in similar urban districts reveals that Nashville teachers don’t fare so well compared to their counterparts.

Just a few hours away, in Louisville, KY, teachers make significantly more money than their Nashville peers. While MNPS offers competitive starting pay, there’s a gap that widens as teachers gain more experience.

While in Nashville, mayoral candidates lamented the growing difficulty teachers face affording housing, in Louisville, teachers make a solid middle class income from the start to the end of their career.

Money isn’t the only factor behind the teacher shortage, but it certainly plays a role. Tennessee should take steps to improve the overall compensation of its teachers and begin building the supports and providing the resources teachers need to succeed.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

The Worst Teachers?

“There is a decently large percentage of teachers who are saying that they feel evaluation isn’t fair,” he (state data guru Nate Schwartz) said. “That’s something we need to think about in the process we use to evaluate teachers … and what we can do to make clear to teachers how this process works so they feel more secure about it.”

This from a story about the recently released 2015 Educator Survey regarding teacher attitudes in Tennessee.

One reason teachers might feel the evaluation is unfair is the continued push to align observation scores with TVAAS (Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System) data – data that purportedly captures student growth and thereby represents an indicator of teacher performance.

From WPLN:

Classroom observation scores calculated by principals should roughly line up with how a teacher’s students do on standardized tests. That’s what state education officials believe. But the numbers on the state’s five point scale don’t match up well.

“The gap between observation and individual growth largely exists because we see so few evaluators giving 1s or 2s on observation,” the report states.

“The goal is not perfect alignment,” Department of Education assistant commissioner Paul Fleming says, acknowledging that a teacher could be doing many of the right things at the front of the class and still not get the test results to show for it. But the two figures should be close.

In order to be better at aligning observation scores with TVAAS scores, principals could start by assigning lower scores to sixth and seventh grade teachers. At least, that’s what the findings of a study by Jessica Holloway-Libell published in June in the Teachers College Record suggest.

Holloway-Libell studied value-added scores assigned to individual schools in 10 Tennessee districts — Urban and suburban — and found:

In ELA in 2013, schools were, across the board, much more likely to receive positive value-added scores for ELA in fourth and eighth grades than in other grades (see Table 1). Simultaneously, districts struggled to yield positive value-added scores for their sixth and seventh grades in the same subject-areas. Fifth grade scores fell consistently in the middle range, while the third-grade scores varied across districts

Table 1. Percent of Schools that had Positive Value-Added Scores in English/language arts by Grade and District (2013) (Districts which had less than 25% of schools indicate positive growth are in bold)
District      Third      Fourth    Fifth     Sixth     Seventh      Eighth
Memphis      41%       43%        45%      19%        14%           76%
Nashville      NA        43%        28%      16%        15%           74%
Knox             72%       79%        47%      14%         7%            73%
Hamilton     38%      64%        48%      33%      29%            81%
Shelby           97%     76%         61%       6%        50%            69%
Sumner         77%     85%         42%       17%      33%            83%
Montgomery NA      71%         62%       0%        0%              71%
Rutherford     83%   92%         63%      15%     23%             85%
Williamson    NA      88%        58%      11%      33%           100%
Murfreesboro NA     90%        50%     30%     NA              NA

SOURCE: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 08, 2015
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17987, Date Accessed: 7/27/2015

In examining three-year averages, Holloway-Libell found:

The three-year composite scores were similar except even more schools received positive value-added scores for the fifth and eighth grades. In fact, in each of the nine districts that had a composite score for eighth grade, at least 86% of their schools received positive value-added scores at the eighth-grade level.

By contrast, results in math were consistently positive across grade level and district type:

In particular, the fourth and seventh grade-level scores were consistently higher than those of the third, fifth, sixth, and eighth grades, which illustrated much greater variation across districts. The three-year composite scores were similar. In fact, a majority of schools across the state received positive value-added scores in mathematics across all grade levels.

So, what does this mean?

Well, it could mean that Tennessee’s 6th and 7th grade ELA teachers are the worst in the state. Or, it could mean that math teachers in Tennessee are better teachers than ELA teachers. Or, it could mean that 8th grade ELA teachers are rock stars.

Alternatively, one might suspect that the results of Holloway-Libell’s analysis suggest both grade level and subject matter bias in TVAAS.

In short, TVAAS is an unreliable predictor of teacher performance. Or, teaching 6th and 7th grade students reading is really hard.

Holloway-Libell’s findings are consistent with those of Lockwood and McCaffrey (2007) published in the Journal of Educational Measurement:

The researchers tested various VAM models and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured.

That is, it’s totally consistent with VAM to have different estimates for math and ELA teachers, for example. Math questions are often asked in a different manner than ELA questions and the assessment is covering different subject matter.

So, TVAAS is like other VAM models in this respect. Which means, as Lockwood and McCaffrey suggest, “caution is needed when interpreting estimated teacher effects” when using VAM models (like TVAAS).

In other words: TVAAS is not a reliable predictor of teacher performance.

Which begs the question: Why is the Tennessee Department of Education attempting to force correlation between observed teacher behavior and a flawed, unreliable measure of teacher performance? More importantly, why is such an unreliable measure being used to evaluate (and in some districts, reward with salary increases) teachers?

Don’t Tennessee’s students and parents deserve a teacher evaluation system that actually reveals strong teaching and provides support for teachers who need improvement?

Aren’t Tennessee’s teachers deserving of meaningful evaluation based on sound evidence instead of a system that is consistent only in its unreliability?

The American Statistical Association has said value-added models generally are unreliable as predictors of teacher performance. Now, there’s Tennessee-specific evidence that suggests strongly that TVAAS is biased, unreliable, and not effective as a predictor of teacher performance.

Unless, that is, you believe that 6th and 7th grade ELA teachers are our state’s worst.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

 

Reform is Working

That’s the message from the Tennessee Department of Education based on recently released TCAP results and an analysis of the data over time.

You can see for yourself here and here.

The one area of concern is reading, but overall, students are performing better than they were when new TCAP tests were started and standards were raised.

Here’s the interesting thing: This is true across school districts and demographic subgroups. The trend is positive.

Here’s something else: A similar trend could be seen in results before the change in the test in 2009.

Tennessee students were steadily making gains. Teachers and schools were hitting the mark set for them by policymakers. This in an age of collective bargaining for teachers and no TVAAS-based evaluation or pay schemes.

When the standards were made higher — certainly a welcome change — teachers again hit the mark.

Of course, since the standards change, lots of other reforms have taken place. Most of these have centered around teachers and the incorporation of TVAAS in teacher evaluation and even pay schemes. The State Board of Education even gutted the old state salary schedule to promote pay differentiation, ostensibly based on TVAAS scores.

But does pay for TVAAS actually lead to improved student outcomes as measured by TVAAS?

Consider this comparison of Putnam County and Cumberland County. Putnam was one of the original TIF recipients and among the first to develop a pay scheme based on teacher evaluations and TVAAS.

Putnam’s 2014 TVAAS results are positive, to be sure. But neighboring Cumberland County (a district that is demographically similar and has a similar assortment of schools) also shows positive TVAAS results.  Cumberland relies on the traditional teacher pay scale. From 2012-13 to 2013-14, Putnam saw a 50% increase in the number of categories (all schools included) in which they earned TVAAS scores of 5. So did Cumberland County.

Likewise, from 2012-13 to 2013-14, Putnam saw a 13% decline in the number of categories in which they earned TVAAS scores below a 3. In Cumberland County, the number was cut by 11%.

This is one example over a two-year cycle. New district level results for 2015 will soon be available and will warrant an update. But, it’s also worth noting that these results track results seen in Denver in analysis of their ProComp pay system. Specifially, University of Colorado’s Denver ProComp Evaluation Report (2010-2012) finds little impact of ProComp on student achievement, or on teachers’ professional practices, including their teaching practices or retention.

The Putnam-Cumberland initial analysis tracks with that of the ProComp studies: Teacher performance pay, even if devised in conjunction with teacher groups, cannot be said to have a significant impact on student performance over time.

So, prior to 2008, student academic achievement as measured by Tennessee standardized tests showed steady improvement over time. This occurred in an environment with no performance pay. Again from 2009-2015, across districts and demographic groups, student achievement is improving. Only a small number of Tennessee districts have performance pay schemes — so, that alone would indicate that performance pay is not driving improved student outcomes.  Then, a preliminary comparison of two districts suggests that both performance pay and non-performance pay districts see significant (and similar) TVAAS gains.

Reform may be working — but it may not be the reform the reformers want to push.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Since You Asked

 

In a recent article outlining a list of priorities for the next Director of MNPS, Board Member Will Pinkston said:

We also need a top-to-bottom review of our teacher compensation system to understand how we stack up against competing and similarly situated U.S. school systems, such as Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Denver and Louisville.

Here is some information on how the MNPS pay scale compares to pay scales in the cities Pinkston mentions. I used the salary paid to a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and looked at starting salary, salary at year 10, salary at year 20, and the top salary paid on the current schedule.

Here’s what it looks like:

Start                    10                          20                      TOP

MNPS                     $42,082                $44,536                 $54,800              $55,757

Louisville              $41,756                $53,759                 $69,514                $70,636

Charlotte               $37,946               $46,008                $53,954                $58,525

Austin                     $46,401               $48,837                $55,477                 $70,751

Atlanta                   $44,312               $54,167                 $62,075                 $66,467

Denver                   $38,765              $47,136                 $53,838*

*Denver has a teacher compensation system known as ProComp and the highest step is 13. Teachers in Denver earn the base pay indicated plus are eligible for incentives and base pay increases based on professional development, advanced degrees, and measures of student outcomes.

Here are a few takeaways from the raw information:

1) Starting pay in MNPS is on par with the cities Pinkston identifies as similar to/competitive with Nashville.

2) Long-term pay increases in MNPS don’t keep pace with those in other, similar districts. Taking Denver as an example, a teacher who received NO ProComp incentives and maintained only a bachelor’s degree would make at Step 13 very close to what an MNPS teacher with similar education makes at Step 20. In all other cities examined, the top step is higher (from $3000 to $15,000) than it is in MNPS.

3) Just three hours north of Nashville in a city with similar demographics and cost of living, a teacher can earn significantly better pay over a career. While a teacher in Louisville starts out making slightly less than a new Nashville teacher, by year 10, the Louisville teacher makes $9,000 more than her Nashville counterpart and by year 20, that difference stretches to $15,000. The lifetime earnings of a teacher in Louisville significantly outpace those of a teacher in Nashville.

4) Nashville’s teacher pay is higher than most of the surrounding districts — making it a competitive choice for teachers seeking to teach in middle Tennessee. However, for Nashville to become a destination for teachers wanting to build a career (or continue one) in urban education, Nashville may need to do more to improve its overall compensation package.

5) This analysis is a starting point — it’s raw data from district websites about base compensation plans. It does not take into account relative cost of living (except as noted in the comparison with Louisville) and other factors that may make teaching in Nashville an attractive proposition.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Merit Pay Fails

That’s not exactly what JC Bowman and PET had to say when the Tennessee Board of Education gutted the state minimum salary schedule at the recommendation of Kevin Huffman back in 2013, but it comes pretty close. Here’s what PET said back then:

Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Franklin, Tn., comments on pay policy that requires each district to create a merit pay system by the 2014-15 school year. The state board is taking this action to fulfill the requirements of Public Chapter 376 (2007), Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-3-306(h), the State Board of Education has developed guidelines for the establishment of differentiated pay plans by local education agencies.

J.C. Bowman, executive director of PET, said, “Our experience with differentiated pay/merit pay is that it is never funded appropriately. If the state is the source of funding it will eventually go away.  We have watched programs implemented in our state and other states simply be discontinued.  The state needs to reassure educators this will not happen.  It can be argued that this is more of a political issue and not an education issue. If this is the case, it may serve politicians more than educators.  It is imperative that PET works with policymakers and local systems to come up with a system that is fair for teachers.  It is our job to make sure that teachers have a seat at the table in working toward an effective and just policy. Therefore, we want to clearly articulate our position as outlined below, and look forward to the discussion.

“Professional Educators of Tennessee believes the common ground can be found by financially rewarding educators for their expertise and their excellence.  This will attract and retain the best and brightest to the teaching profession.  However, Professional Educators of Tennessee opposes the use of student test scores as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, as the determining factor for a teacher’s compensation or as the primary rationale for an adverse employment action.  Rewarding teachers for their performance has been discussed in education for decades but has been a particularly heated issue of late.

“This may well work at the campus level as a campus score as long as the local teachers are involved with development. However, the critical question is can we create a fair system that works at the individual teacher level? There is no valid instrument or value added model that reflects all the outside factors affecting a student’s education that a teacher controls.  We understand that whoever controls the test literally controls the entire system.  There is no stronger tool to defeat the freedom to teach, than by boiling it all down to a test.

“PET believes that teachers should be rewarded for a variety of reasons, including rewarding teachers experience and advanced degrees.  PET opposes incentive or performance pay programs, unless they are designed in an equitable and fair manner.   PET supports a career compensation and benefits package for all certified, licensed and contracted public school employees that mandates competitive salaries that are equal to or greater than the national average and competitive with private industry.  The state should still include a minimum salary schedule that provides for step increases to recognize longevity in the profession.  PET supports the creation of a statewide set of evaluation standards for campus administrators that includes a survey of classroom educators and staff regarding the professional performance of the campus administrators.

“In addition to experience and degrees, we expect to see salary increases targeted at performance (merit), market, equity, or retention.  General financial parameters and guidelines should be established each year as part of the budget development process at the state and local level.   In addition, below are a few additional talking points on the subject:

• Merit salary increases may be composed of many  differing components, but two components – a base salary percentage increase (specified in budget) and a percentage increase in recognition of above satisfactory (or exceptional) performance.  This will be mostly tied to increases in student achievement/performance.
• Adjustments to salaries may also be made when there is an issue resulting from market or other equity factors
• Equity factors exist from internal pay disparities and are not related to individual performance

• Retention bonus should occur in hard to fill positions like foreign language, special education and higher level math and science.”

 

This is particularly relevant given the State Department of Education’s recommendation to the State Board of Education regarding the state salary schedule.

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When 4=2

In preparation for next year’s TNReady exams, it seems the Department of Education is already using some new math. While the General Assembly appropriated a $100 million increase in teacher compensation, an amount equivalent to a 4% raise, the Department is recommending that the State Board of Education adjust the state’s minimum salary schedule by only 2%.

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen revealed the proposed recommendation in an email to Directors of Schools:

Directors,

Tennessee law requires the commissioner of education to present annually to the State Board of Education a state minimum salary schedule for the upcoming school year. Historically, the board has adopted the schedule at its regular July meeting after the conclusion of the legislative session and the adoption of the state budget. This year, in response to district communication and feedback, the board will consider the issue at a specially called meeting set for June 9.

The FY 16 state budget includes more than $100 million in improvements for teacher salaries and represents a four percent improvement to the salary component of the Basic Education Program (BEP). Because the BEP is a funding plan and not a spending plan, the $100 million represents a pool of resources from which each district will utilize its portion to meet its unique needs. The structural change in the state salary schedule in July 2013 recognized this inherent flexibility in the BEP by lessening the rigid and strict emphasis on years of experience and degrees and providing more opportunity for districts to design compensation plans based on a number of factors. At the same time, while recognizing the value, appeal and need for maximum flexibility, the state board has stressed the desire to improve teacher compensation, particularly minimum salaries, and Gov. Haslam has outlined his goal for Tennessee to be the fastest improving state in teacher compensation.

Considering this background information as well as feedback from districts and in an effort to provide districts with as much information as possible as early as possible, we want to inform you today that the department will propose increasing the base salary identified in the state minimum salary schedule from $30,876 to $31,500. This represents a two percent adjustment and will impact the other six cells on the state schedule accordingly. For example, the current minimum for a Bachelor’s Degree and 6-10 years of experience is the BASE SALARY + $3,190 or $34,066 (BASE of $30,876 + $3,190). The proposed minimum for the 2014-15 school year for this same cell will be $34,690, which represents the new recommended BASE SALARY of $31,500 + $3,190.

We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between maximum flexibility for school districts and the recognized need to improve minimum salaries in the state. For the large majority of districts, the proposal does not result in any mandatory impact as most local salary schedules already exceed the proposed minimums. For these districts, the salary funds must still be used for compensation but no mandatory adjustments to local schedules exist.

The current state salary schedule can be viewed here for a determination as to how your particular district may be impacted.

Two years ago, the state adopted a new salary schedule at the recommendation of then-Commissioner Kevin Huffman. This schedule gutted the previous 20 step schedule that rewarded teachers for their years of experience and acknowledged the work of earning advanced degrees. Historically, when the General Assembly appropriated funds for a raise, the Commissioner of Education recommended the state minimum salary schedule be adjusted by the percentage represented by the appropriation. So, if the General Assembly increased BEP salary appropriations by 2%, the State Board would raise the state minimum salary schedule by 2%.

This adjustment did not necessarily mean a 2% raise on teacher’s total compensation, because many local districts supplemented teacher salaries beyond the state required minimum. The 2% increase, then, was on the state portion of salaries. Some districts would add funds in some years to ensure their teachers got a full 2%, for example. And in other cases, they’d only get the increase on the state portion. Still, under the old pay scale, teacher salary increases roughly tracked the appropriation by the General Assembly.

Here’s a breakdown of average teacher salary increases compared with BEP increases in years prior to the new salary schedule:

FY                     BEP Salary Increase                     Actual Avg. Pay Increase

2011                  1.6%                                                 1.4%

2012                 2.0%                                                2.0%

2013                2.5%                                                 2.2%

These numbers indicate a trend of average teacher pay increases tracking the state’s BEP increase. In FY 2014, however, immediately after the state adopted a new pay scale designed to build in flexibility and promote merit pay, the General Assembly appropriated funds for a 1.5% salary increase and average teacher pay increased 0.5% — teachers saw 1/3 of the raise, on average, that was intended by the General Assembly.

Why did this happen?

First, nearly every district in the state hires more teachers than the BEP formula generates. This is because students don’t arrive in neatly packaged groups of 20 or 25, and because districts choose to enhance their curriculum with AP courses, foreign language, physical education, and other programs. These add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP. And, under the old pay scale, the local district was responsible for meeting the obligation of the pay raise for these teachers on their own. The BEP funds sent to the district only covered the BEP generated teachers. And then, only at 70% of the salary. Now, the district was free to use BEP salary funds to cover compensation expenses previously picked up by local funds.

Instead of addressing the underlying problem and either 1) increasing the base salary used to calculate BEP teacher salary funds or 2) increasing the state match from 70% to 75% or 3) doing both, the state decided to add local “flexibility.”

To be clear, increasing the base salary for BEP funds to the state average would cost $500 million and increasing the state BEP salary match would cost $150 million — neither is a cheap option.

But because every single system operates at a funding level beyond the BEP generated dollar amount, it seems clear that an improvement to the BEP is needed. Changing the BEP allocation to more accurately reflect the number of teachers systems need to operate would improve the financial position of districts, allowing them to direct salary increase monies to salaries.

An additional challenge can be found in Response to Intervention and Instruction — RTI2. While the state mandates that districts provide this enrichment service to students, the state provides no funds for RTI2’s implementation. Done well, RTI2 can have positive impacts on students and on the overall educational environment in a school. Because there is no state funding dedicated to RTI2, however, districts are using their new BEP funds for salary to hire specialists focused on this program.

Here’s the deal: 19 Tennessee school districts pay teachers at levels that mean they’ll have to raise teacher pay if the State Board makes the recommended 2% adjustment. To be clear, the minimum salary a first year teacher can make anywhere in Tennessee is currently $30,876. That will increase to $31,500 if the Board adopts McQueen’s recommendation. Because the 2% only applies to the base number and the other steps increase by a flat amount, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years of experience will go from a mandated minimum of $37,461 to $38,085.  That’s only 1.67%.

And let’s look at that again: The minimum mandated salary for a teacher in Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years experience will now be $38,085.

That’s unacceptable.

Instead, policymakers should:

  • Set the minimum salary for a first-year teacher at $40,000 and create a pay scale with significant raises at 5 years (first year a TN teacher is tenure eligible), 10 years, and 20 years along with reasonable step increases in between
  • Fund the BEP salary component at 75%
  • Adjust the BEP to more accurately account for the number of teachers a district needs
  • Fully fund RTI2 including adding a BEP component for Intervention Specialists
  • Adopt the BEP Review Committee’s recommendations on professional development and mentoring so teachers get the early support and ongoing growth they need

The policy reality is those districts at or near the state minimum are the poorest and least able to stretch beyond state funds. Following the proposed recommendation may well serve to exacerbate an already inequitable funding situation.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport