Common Core Hearings Thursday and Friday

The Senate Education Committee is holding hearings on the Common Core State Standards this Thursday and Friday — the Thursday hearings begin at 1 PM.

According to Andrea Zelinski of the Nashville Post, 5 of the 14 speakers are having expenses paid by right-wing groups the Tennessee Eagle Forum and the 9.12 Project.  Those five and two additional speakers are identified as being hand-picked by the Tea Party to discuss opposition to the new standards.

Here’s the full story, including the slate of speakers.

 

A Plea for Caution from Russia

A Plea for Caution From Russia

What Putin Has to Say to Tennesseans About Education

By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN

Published: September 12, 2013 

MOSCOW — Recent events surrounding education policy in Tennessee have prompted me to speak directly to the people of Tennessee and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

0912OPEDmunday-popup

Oliver Munday

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The potential rebalancing of the education policy debate — towards more thoughftulness, critique, and effective collaboration — despite strong opposition from many education organizations and major political and education leaders, will result in more innocent victims.

Russia must ask: What about the children?

Any effort to depart from your current reform path, and embrace countervailing viewpoints, would undermine effective, unilateral efforts to resolve the pressing teacher evaluation, pay, and licensure issues, as well as the Charter schools-Traditional schools conflict.  Departing from the current reform path could also destabilize Metro Nashville Public Schools and Memphis City Schools. It could throw the entire emerging system out of balance.

Tennessee, and these school systems, are not witnessing a battle for public education, but the equivalent of an armed conflict between defenders of the status quo and those worried more about the children, rather than adults.  There are few champions of education reform in Tennessee. But there are more than enough defenders of the status quo and extremists of all stripes. The Tennessee Department of Education should consider formally designating certain groups, fighting with the defenders of the status quo, as education terrorists.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue — that is, a positive and collaborative tone — enabling those truly dedicated to public education in Tennessee to develop a plan for their own future.  We do not advocate protecting any particular set of policies, but rather the law itself, as passed by the Tennessee legislature and the Tennessee Board of Education.  Russia believes that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep education policy from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not, even if it sometimes means issuing harsh sanctions.

No one doubts that spurious character attacks, politically-motivated statements, articles, op-eds, blog posts, and tweets, and selective use of research and anecdote have been used during education debates in Tennessee. But there is every reason to believe these were used not by the those truly dedicated to the cause of education, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful patrons.

It is alarming that debate in policy discussions is becoming increasingly commonplace in Tennessee. Is it in Tennessee’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around your country increasingly see Tennessee, not as a state making innovative, cage-busting strides towards high-quality seats under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us,” but rather as a model of collaborative debate and democratic critique and discussion.

But discussion and debate have proved ineffective and pointless. Memphis is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after state oversight withdraws. Metro Nashville Public Schools is divided into tribes and clans, and the civil war continues, with dozens Tweeting at each other, incessantly, each day.

No matter how targeted the discussions or how sophisticated the debate, casualties are inevitable, particularly of students left without high-quality seats, whom the debates are meant to protect.

We must stop using the language of deliberation and collaboration, and return to the path of urgent, rigorous, and innovative educational reform.

A new opportunity to avoid thoughtful debate has emerged in the past few days. Tennessee, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and all members of the educational community must take advantage of both sides’ willingness to destroy any possibility of collaboration on the issues of charters.  Judging by the statements of many in the state, both sides see ramping up the rhetoric as a good alternative to considered and thoughtful debate and policy solutions.

I welcome the any Tennessean’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on education policy. We must work together to keep this hope alive, and enforce the law, as written.  We must keep moving forward.

If we can avoid any slowdown of progress and any deliberative, community- and state-wide discussions, this will improve the education atmosphere in Tennessee and strengthen the respect of others within the United States, and around the world.

My working and personal relationship with education and political leaders in Tennessee is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I have carefully studied their public (and private) statements over the last several years. And I would rather disagree with a recent case made on Tennessee’s deliberative and collaborative spirit, stating that Tennessee’s efforts at honest and thoughtful discussion, and true collaboration is “what makes Tennessee different. It’s what makes Tennessee exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to be thoughtful and deliberative, whatever the motivation. There are big school systems and small school systems, rich and poor, those with long education reform traditions and those still finding their way to true education reform. Their policies differ, too, though Russia is happy to help in fixing this. We are all different, unfortunately, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God wants every child to have a high-quality seat, and does not care how we get there, so long as we do it quickly.

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

Huffman on the Hot Seat?

Is Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman finally feeling the heat?

A group of 60 Directors of Schools from around the state signed a letter calling for a halt to the fast pace of education reform — reform that some critics suggest has little to do with helping students.

Some recent proposals for changing public education have included changes to teacher licensure (that could result in more testing of students) and an unproven teacher merit pay plan that could place an unfunded mandate on local governments.

In addition to the concerns of the Directors, at least one state legislator is complaining about the most recent proposal.

Having a letter signed by 60 Directors suggesting that the pace of reform slow and that the actual reforms be re-evaluated seems unprecedented in the state.

Now, the question is: How will Governor Haslam and the Commissioner respond?

 

 

 

Crowe “Disappointed” by State Board Decision on Teacher Licensing

State Senator Rusty Crowe of Johnson City recently penned a column directly addressing his disappointment in the State Board of Education’s decision to link teacher licensing to student test scores.

Crowe suggests that using value-added data to inform teaching practice and even as a portion of a teacher’s evaluation is appropriate.  But using it to take away a teacher’s license is not acceptable.

Crowe concludes his piece by noting that he expects some level of legislative intervention in the matter.  Hardly an idle threat given that Crowe is a long-time member of the Senate Education Committee — the very committee that oversees State Board of Education action.

A simple, straightforward legislative intervention might be worded in such a way as to prohibit the Tennessee State Board of Education from enacting any policy that would cause a teacher to lose his/her license on the basis of student test scores.  Of course, it may have to repeal any such policy previously enacted, but since the testing proposal doesn’t take effect until 2015, it may be sufficient to prevent its implementation.

While teachers have been under attack by state policymakers for several years now, it seems in this case, the State Board may have gone a step too far.  At the very least, there’s sure to be legislative discussion around this issue in 2014.

 

The Alternative Education Agenda

As the 2013 legislative session got underway, I reported on the “tricks and gimmicks” education agenda being offered this year.

At the time, I was hopeful a more reasonable agenda would emerge. An agenda embracing the Tennessee Constitution’s requirement (Article XI, Section 12) that the General Assembly provide for and support a system of free public schools.

So far, in spite of much (well-deserved) criticism of the gimmicks posing as serious education policy, no alternative agenda has surfaced.

Tennessee ranks near the bottom in both investment in public education and key indicators of student achievement.  A correlation I suspect is no accident.

Certainly, we must do something to improve those numbers.  And those offering vouchers, performance pay schemes, and other unproven policies should not be faulted for at least making an effort to change the numbers.

However, none of the current agenda items results in a new investment in Tennessee’s public schools.  So, I’m proposing here the outlines of a new education agenda for Tennessee.  A true path forward that if fully implemented will get positive results.

PRE-K — Tennessee should expand its high-quality, voluntary Pre-K program so that it serves the entire at-risk (Free and Reduced Lunch) population of four-year-olds in the state.  We currently serve just under half of that population in a program started under Governor Don Sundquist and rapidly scaled-up under Governor Bredesen.  The program works.  Kids who complete the Pre-K program are far less likely to drop out of high school or encounter the criminal justice system than their counterparts who don’t have access.  The kids start school ready to learn and stay on track.  Some have criticized the program for “fade-out” — but even the most negative findings show that kids who have Pre-K end third grade working at grade level.  That means the kids end third grade on-track.  And teachers will tell you that a child who is on-track at the end of third grade has a far better chance of succeeding in school than a child who starts Kindergarten behind.  That said, a number of other studies (Tulsa, Chicago) indicate the effects last well beyond third grade.  We’re in a state with a shamefully low number of college graduates — we can’t change that unless more students graduate from high school college ready.  And Pre-K is a long-term, proven policy solution that will help Tennessee meet that goal.

We should expand the Pre-K program to serve all at-risk four-year-olds by 2017. 

 

Improve the BEP.  The Basic Education Program (BEP) is Tennessee’s funding formula for public education.  It’s how the General Assembly proposes to provide for that system of free public schools the Constitution requires.  Of course, the legislature had to be forced into creating the BEP by the state Supreme Court back in 1992 because the system of school funding at the time was ruled inequitable and thus, unconstitutional.

To put it simply, the current BEP is broken.  Most systems hire a number of teachers well beyond the number generated by the BEP formula.  Ask any parent and they’ll tell you textbooks aren’t free.  There are fees for lockers, classroom supplies, and other basics necessary to operating a school.  Some of this is the fault of local governments unwilling to raise sufficient revenue to fund schools adequately.  But in other cases, a local government could increase taxes all day and still not generate sufficient additional revenue to fund a truly free system of public schools.  This is the system our General Assembly allows to persist.  And it’s not working — just look at the results.

The BEP should be adjusted to allow for a more accurate funding of the number of teachers needed in local school systems.  It should account for the importance of school nurses and physical education.  It should be adjusted so that the funds sent to districts for teacher salaries more accurately reflect the dollar amounts needed to attract and retain excellent teachers.

Governor Bredesen and then-Senator Jamie Woodson made some progress on improving the BEP in 2008.  This effort, dubbed BEP 2.0, resulted in significantly greater dollars flowing into many districts, especially those with surging at-risk and ELL (English Language Learners) populations.  However, that plan was never fully-implemented.  Starting with BEP 2.0, lawmakers should build a NEW BEP.

Tennessee policy-makers should build and launch a new BEP formula in time for the 2015-16 academic year.

Invest in early career teachers. It is absolutely imperative that early career teachers receive adequate support and assistance so they develop into excellent teachers.  It’s also critical that those teachers are encouraged to stay in the field.  High teacher turnover costs districts (and taxpayers) money and deprives students of the valuable benefits of strong, stable teachers.  One proven method of retaining new teachers that also results in improved student learning is early career mentoring.  Research at the New Teacher Center suggests that placing a trained mentor with a new teacher in the first two years of teaching both improves teacher retention and shows a positive impact on student learning.

Tennessee policy-makers should build a new teacher mentoring program and ensure every new teacher has a trained mentor by the 2016-17 academic year.

Improve teacher compensation. Tennessee’s teachers are among the lowest-paid in the Southeast. Attracting strong employees and keeping them in the profession requires an investment in those employees.  Beyond early career mentoring and support, teachers should expect to be well-compensated for the important work they do.  Tennessee has a new, more rigorous evaluation system.  It also now takes five years and consecutive strong evaluation scores before a teacher can receive tenure.  That is, there’s more accountability and more being expected of Tennessee’s teachers.  Attracting and keeping teachers in this environment requires a strong compensation plan.  Adopting a state teacher pay scale that ensures that the starting pay for Tennessee teachers is no less than $40,000 in any district is a critical first step.  By using compression, like Metro Nashville Public Schools did, the cost for such a move can be lessened.  Make no mistake, it will take a commitment to investing in teachers to make this dollar amount happen – but our students are worth it.  Following the improvement of starting pay, teacher pay increases should be designed in a smarter way.  Changing the step increases from every year to every 3 years, for example, could yield savings to the state on the front end while also ensuring higher overall pay for teachers throughout their careers.  Metro Nashville teachers now reach the highest step in year 15 — but they will also see higher lifetime earnings because of raises given by the district over time.  It’s a win-win for teachers and for those managing budgets.  While the initial cost of raising teacher starting pay to $40,000 may be significant, it’s also a matter of budgeting priority.  Making teachers a priority tells our kids that education matters and that Tennessee is going to do what it takes to attract and keep the best teachers right here.

Tennessee policy-makers should raise the starting pay for all teachers to $40,000 and adjust the pay scale to improve overall compensation by the 2015-16 academic year.

 

These four items can and should form an alternative education policy agenda for Tennessee.  One that is smart, progressive, and moves our state forward.  Putting schools first is not about party or geographic region, it’s about doing what’s best for our communities and our entire state.

 

 

 

 

 

Why are Teachers So Unhappy?

The results of the Survey of the American Teacher for 2012 are out and guess what?  Teachers aren’t very happy.  Teacher job satisfaction is at an all-time low and has dropped 23 points over the past five years, including a 5-point drop between 2011 and 2012.

Guess what happens to people who aren’t very satisfied with their work?  1) They don’t do it very well and 2) They end up leaving that job and finding something more satisfying.

But why? What might be making teachers so dissatisfied?

Well, the value-proposition for teachers is not a great one, for starters.  Pay is not great and support is not great and so teachers don’t feel good about their relative value.

Specific to Tennessee, a number of “reforms” have taken shape in recent years that no doubt contribute to the unhappiness of the Tennessee teacher.

First, there was the successful effort to end collective bargaining in Tennessee.  This in spite of the fact that no evidence was shown that this would improve student outcomes.  Collective bargaining in Tennessee was mostly about giving teachers a seat at the table when budgets and salaries and resources were discussed.  Rarely did teachers strike and they certainly never held Boards hostage for huge pay increases.  In fact, many local teacher’s associations bargained for textbooks and other resources for students in place of raises for the teachers.  One middle Tennessee district’s teachers offered to forego a raise for the length of a 3-year contract in exchange for keeping the health insurance match intact.  Instead, the teachers saw their portion of health insurance increase and have so far gone without a local raise for six years.  Now, with no seat at the table at all, teachers across Tennessee have even less input into district operations and resources.  And it’s not like Tennessee’s state or local governments are lavishing high pay and impressive resources on teachers.

The same year that collective bargaining ended for Tennessee teachers, the state implemented a new evaluation system.  Policymakers seemed to think it was more important to get the evaluations in place than to get them right.  And there have been changes in the first two years and more changes coming.  Imagine being told by your boss that there are certain standards you have to meet.  Then being told that all of that will now change.  And then change again next year and the year after that.  How secure would you feel about your job?  That’s what Tennessee teachers are facing.

This year, instead of focusing on boosting teacher pay or increasing support through mentoring or coaching programs or adding more resources to schools, legislators are focused on an unproven (and in the case of one Vanderbilt study — proven NOT to work) performance pay schemes.

And the Governor is focused on adding an even less proven and likely expensive voucher scheme to the mix.

This is a state that truly took a step forward with the BEP back in 1992.  Then stopped fully-funding it when it got too expensive about six years later.  Then, Pre-K was expanded.  And the expansion has stopped because finding the money became too difficult.  And possibly because it became trendy to suggest that we could improve our schools without making new investments in the people in them.  Four classes of 4-year-olds have become kindergarteners since the last expansion of Pre-K.  This in a state with one of the lowest rates of college degree attainment.  That’s four years worth of students who are significantly less likely to graduate from high school.  And for those who do, they are far less ready for college than they would have been if they had enjoyed access to the high-quality Pre-K program Tennessee offers a fraction of its families.

The BEP was reformed as BEP 2.0 around 2007.  That reform, too, proved too expensive.  Many districts around our state would have seen significant increases had the new BEP been fully-funded these last few years.  Instead, budget challenges (and unwillingness to raise revenue) at the local level have meant stagnation in teacher pay and a lack of resources for students.

Tennessee’s education policy history is fraught with examples like these.  Well-meaning reforms and investments thwarted when the going gets tough and finding money for schools gets too difficult.

And now, we’re asking more from our teachers than ever before with less pay, no seat at the table, and few resources.  Is it any wonder they are dissatisfied?

 

 

 

 

State Charter School Authorizer Bill Filed

It’s here.  As many (including myself) have predicted in the wake of the Great Hearts fallout in Nashville, Tennessee Republicans have filed legislation to give the state Board of Education the power to authorize (i.e., create) charter schools in Tennessee.  An amendment that rewrites HB 0702/SB 0830, heretofore an innocuous bill that increased the time to appeal an adverse charter decision from 10 days to 20 days, will be introduced tomorrow.  This caption bill has now been replaced by a bill that does quite a bit more.

The full text of the amendment can be found here.  The pertinent parts are reproduced and discussed below.

(1) The state Board of Education can now directly grant charter schools.

SECTION 1.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-13-104, is amended by deleting subdivision (4) in its entirety and substituting instead:

(4) “Chartering authority” means:

(A) The local board of education or the achievement school district as defined in § 49-1-614 that approves, renews or decides to to revoke a public charter school application or agreement; or

(B) The state board of education, if the state board approves:

(i) A charter school under § 49-13-141 when an LEA is the sponsor of a charter school; or

(ii) A charter school directly under § 49-13-109.

(2) There is no appeal of the State Board’s decision, if application is made directly to the State Board in the first instance.

SECTION 4.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-13-110(b), is amended by deleting the punctuation “.” at the end of the second sentence and substituting instead the following language:

; provided, that if the chartering authority is the state board of education, then no appeal may be made of the state board’s decision to deny a petition to amend the charter

(3) A charter submitting a renewal application can apply either to the LEA that originally authorized it OR to the State Board.  If the application is made to the state Board, there is no appeal.

SECTION 8.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-13-121(b), is amended by designating the existing language as subdivision (1) and by adding the following language as new subdivision (2):

(2) If the state board of education is the chartering authority of a charter school, the school may submit its renewal application to either the LEA or the state board.  If the school submits its renewal application to the state board, then the decision of the state board on the application is final and may not be appealed.

(4) Charters denied renewal or fighting revocation have ten days to appeal the decision to the state Board, except in certain cases.

SECTION 10.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-13-122(c), is amended by deleting the subsection in its entirety and by substituting instead the following:

(c)

(1) If the chartering authority is an LEA, a decision by the LEA not to renew or revoke a charter agreement may be appealed to the state board of education within ten (10) days of the decision, except for revocations or failures to renew based on the violations specified in subdivision (a)(2).  Appeals from revocations or decisions not to renew a charter agreement shall be in accordance with § 49-13-108.

(2) If the chartering authority is not an LEA, a decision by the chartering authority not to renew or revoke a charter agreement is final and may not be appealed.

(5)  This is the big one: This only applies to Nashville (and maybe Memphis*).

SECTION 11.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 13, is amended by adding the following language as a new section:

49-13-109.

(a) If an LEA is located in a county having a population of more than six hundred thousand (600,000) according to the 2010 federal census or any subsequent federal census and if there have been two (2) or more denials of charter school applications remanded to the LEA by the state board of education with instructions for approval pursuant to § 49-13-108, then a charter school sponsor may apply directly to the state board for approval, and, if approved, the state board shall serve as the chartering authority.  The state board’s decision to approve or deny an application under this subsection shall be final and not subject to appeal.

(b) The department of education shall assist the state board with general oversight of any charter school authorized by the state board, including assisting with monitoring compliance with § 49-13-111 and the school’s adherence to the charter agreement.

(c) For accountability purposes under § 49-1-602, except for schools authorized under § 49-13-141, the performance of a charter school authorized by the state board shall not be attributable to the LEA.

(d) Funding for charter schools authorized by the state board shall be in accordance with § 49-13-112, except that the LEA in which the charter school operates shall pay to the department one hundred percent (100%) of the per student share of local funding and any federal funding in the custody of the LEA that is due to the charter school.  The department shall withhold from the LEA the per student share of state funding that is due to the charter school as well as any federal funding in the custody of the department that is due to the charter school.  The department shall then allocate and disburse these funds to the charter school in accordance with procedures developed by the department.

(e) The department shall determine the amount of the state BEP non-classroom component for capital outlay to be distributed to a charter school authorized by the state board according to § 49-13-112(c).  The LEA shall pay to the department the required local match under the BEP for capital outlay as a non-classroom component for distribution to the charter school.

(f) A charter school authorized by the state board may contract with the LEA in which the school operate for school support services or student support services, including, but not limited to, food services and transportation.

A few things to note:

  • This is the political compromise I alluded to before.  There was a potential for a split in the Tennessee Republican Party between rural and urban Republicans, especially over an issue like local control.  This legislation is crafted so that rural Republicans can vote for it, without worrying that it will affect their districts.  Again, most rural Republicans (and urban ones, for that matter), have no problem “putting Nashville (or Memphis) in its place,” when they feel it’s warranted.
  • There’s a bit of a hidden hammer: While Nashville (and Memphis?) are the only places that currently qualify, other large cities (Knoxville, Chattanooga) could potentially qualify if they establish themselves as non-compliant when it comes to authorizing charter schools.  All it takes is the requisite population, and two charter school denials that are overturned by the State Board, and you qualify for state authorization in your city.  (Note: Knox County only stands at about 440,000 residents, and Hamilton County at 340,000 so there’s quite a ways to go for both of them to qualify.  This is pretty squarely aimed at Nashville, but there’s nothing to say the General Assembly couldn’t drop the population threshold either this year or in coming years).  Either way, having one of the qualifications for state chartering authority be that an LEA has twice denied schools, but been overturned by the state, is a none-too-subtle reminder not to deny applications lightly, or at all.
  • This might actually be a better financial deal for charter schools.  Under this legislation, a charter school authorized by the state would get the full state, local, and federal share of per-pupil dollars, plus a “local match” from the LEA for capital outlay.  The latter portion, especially, may be a change from how things currently work when charters are authorized by an LEA.
  • The performance of state-authorized charters will not count for or against the LEA.  This one’s pretty straightforward, and is likely to make it into the final legislation, on pure fairness grounds.
  • There are a fair number of incentives for new charters to go the state route.  Including the possible funding advantage discussed above, state-authorized charters would have a much smaller bureaucracy to contend with, and likely a set of administrators more ideologically inclined to support charter schooling.  The fact that this legislation permits existing charters seeking renewal to switch over to state authorization further confirms that the state appears to be actively seeking to charter schools, not just as a fallback for an inefficient or contentious local process.

* I can’t say for sure that this applies to Memphis, because I don’t know if MCS/SCS has had two charter denials go up on appeal and get reversed.  Memphis certainly qualifies in terms of population.

The Value Proposition for Teachers

I applaud SCORE CEO Jamie Woodson and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman for their column advocating a sharper focus on teacher quality in Tennessee.  They point out that Tennessee’s colleges should be more selective in terms of who enters teacher preparation programs and also that teacher licensure should be a more rigorous process.  These are both laudable goals.

Their basis for making this argument is research suggesting that a child’s teacher is the number one school-based factor influencing student achievement.

Let’s be clear about what this means before we go further.  Most research suggests that school-based factors account for roughly 50% of the impact on student achievement.  Non-school factors (home life, poverty, education level of parents, etc.) account for the other 50%.  Of school-based factors, a child’s teacher can impact up to 50% of student achievement.  That makes it the biggest school-based influencer on student achievement.  But it also means teacher quality accounts for 25% of the impact on student achievement.  75% is beyond the teacher’s control.  At that level, you could have amazing teachers and get the other 75% wrong and the student will still struggle and likely fail.

That said, school systems can only really control school-based factors and of those, teacher quality is the one with the biggest potential for influence.  So, it makes sense to focus attention there.  Of course, it also makes sense to ensure that schools are clean and safe, that class size is optimized, that principals are instructional leaders, and that the overall environment is conducive to learning.  But focusing on teachers from a policy perspective is a sensible approach to impacting student achievement.

So, let’s examine the specific proposals put forth by Huffman and Woodson.  First, they propose a more selective process for admission into teacher preparation programs.  Next, they suggest making licensure a more rigorous process.

Again, both are sensible proposals.

Here’s the challenge in Tennessee.  In order to be more selective about who becomes a candidate for a job or who is admitted to a program, the overall value proposition has to be high.  Fields like law and medicine lure academic high achievers because the outlook for successful completers is positive. Career satisfaction, good pay, prestige.  By contrast, teaching has a low value proposition.  Many teachers in Tennessee will retire never earning what even the average lawyer or doctor makes.  The attrition rate for teaching is high.  Nearly 50% of teachers leave the field in their first five years, according to Richard Ingersoll.  That means teaching is tough and the field weeds out those who can’t or don’t want to do the demanding work involved on the front end.

So, why would a college student choose to submit to a highly selective process for admission to a teacher education program only to enter a field where there’s a good chance they won’t make it past the first five years and if they do, they’ll earn far less than other professionals?  They simply won’t.  Which is why the bar for admission right now is relatively low.

To change this, Tennessee policymakers must stop talking about what they can do TO teachers and start talking about what they can do FOR teachers.

John covered the issue of performance pay in some depth.  However, this plan appears to rely solely on a reallocation or infusion of local dollars to fund a new pay scheme.  There’s no mention of additional state dollars or a revamping of the BEP to allow for the performance pay envisioned in the bill.  Plus, as John points out, a study of performance pay by Vanderbilt of teachers in Tennessee shows such a scheme is not likely to be effective.

What does work, as indicated in this London School of Economics study, is paying teachers more.  The study indicates that raising teacher pay has a clear link to student achievement.  Raise pay 10%, student performance goes up roughly 10%.  Why? Making the field more attractive does two things:  It encourages people to pursue teaching and stay in the field AND it adds to the prestige of the profession (which also helps with retention of high performers).  Metro Nashville Public Schools has some experience with this as when they moved to a new pay scale setting a minimum salary of $40,000 ($6,000 more than it had been) and enabling teachers to reach the top of the scale in 15 years rather than 25, they saw three times as many applicants for teaching jobs than they had in the past.  The value proposition went up and MNPS was able to choose among applicants for the best fits for open positions.

Of course, changing the value proposition is not just about paying teachers more.  It is also about ensuring they have the support they need to succeed.

One area of support is meaningful induction.  That means a focused mentoring program in the first two to three years of a teacher’s career.  Research at the New Teacher Center suggests that a meaningful induction program improves both teacher retention AND student learning.  Tennessee has no comprehensive teacher induction program and no funding on the table to support such a plan.

Yes, we should accelerate our efforts around teacher quality in Tennessee.  But if we focus solely on doing to instead of for teachers, we’ll run out of gas (and teachers) before we get very far down the road.

Pay for Performance Coming to Tennessee?

Sen. Dolores Gresham, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Rep. Glen Casada (somewhat curiously, since he isn’t on the House Education Committee) have filed legislation to create a pay-for-performance system for teacher pay in Tennessee tied closely to the new evaluation system.  The key here?  Compensation would not based directly on value-added scores, but rather on how a teacher does on his/her evaluation (which itself is composed of at least 35%, but up to 50% value-added scores)

Senate Bill 0827/House Bill 0619 establishes a new compensation system based on a “maximum base salary schedule” to be set by a district, plus performance-based “salary adjustments” and “supplements” for various other things (teaching in high-need subjects, teaching in high-needs schools, taking on leadership roles, etc.)  The broad strokes are that this bill would mandate that local Boards create new salary schedules adhering to certain minimum requirements and restrictions (the most important of which is that pay for years of experience or tenure is absolutely barred).

A few important things to get out of the way first:

(1) This applies to licensed teachers.  The new salary schedule would apply to “instructional personnel,” which is defined as “any person with a license to teach in an LEA” under state rules and regulations but excluding substitute teachers. This would include counselors, librarians, etc.

(2) This applies to new hires, rehires, and new teachers.  The new salary schedule would apply to new hires in 2014 and beyond OR personnel “returning to the district after a break in service without an authorized leave of absence” (for example, parents who take a year or two off from teaching to stay home with young kids) OR personnel “appointed for the first time to a position in the district in the capacity of instructional personnel.”

(3) Anyone can opt-in, but there’s no going back if you do.  Any “instructional personnel” can opt-in to the plan, but “any employee who opts into the performance salary schedule may not return to the grandfathered salary schedule.”

With that out of the way, here’s the way the new pay schedule would work:

(1) A Board would establish a base salary schedule with a cap (the “maximum base salary”).  The Board has a certain amount of freedom to do this: (1) for opt-in folks, it will be their salary from the previous year, plus up to a 5% cost of living adjustment and (2) for new folks, it will be whatever the Board wants.

    • It is important to recognize the difference between salary adjustments versus salary supplements.  Salary adjustments ratchet forward — they increase the “base salary” of the employee (see section (c)(2)(B): “The base salary under the performance salary schedule for instructional personnel shall be recalculated each year to include the prior year’s salary plus any salary adjustments earned by the employee.”  Salary supplements are one-time payments that must be earned year-by-year.
    • Here’s the crucial point: Once you reach the “maximum base salary,” you’re no longer eligible for future salary adjustments, only salary supplements.
    • However (and this is a pretty big “however”), a local Board may “recalculate a maximum base salary schedule each school year, as needed.” (section (c)(3)).

(2) The Board then establishes its salary adjustment.  There’s not a lot of specificity as to what these would be, but presumably it’s an across-the-board compensation bump for those who qualify.  The “salary adjustment” comes with requirements designed to get folks to opt-in to the new payment system:

    • Each “salary adjustment” under the performance plan must be greater than the available step-raise under the old plan (section (c)(4)(A)).
    • Each “salary adjustment” can be no less than 10% of the starting salary under the old plan (section (c)(4)(B)).  In Nashville this would be a minimum “salary adjustment” of $4,000 (10% of MNPS’ $40,000 starting salary).
    • Teachers of tested vs. non-tested subjects cannot have different schedules or salary adjustments (section (c)(4)(C).
    • Salary adjustments are only available to teachers who receive a 3, 4, 5 on their evaluation (no teacher who scores “below expectations” or “significantly below expectations”) (section (c)(4)(D)).

(3) Finally, the Board establishes salary supplements.  These also come with requirements designed to entice  teachers into high-need schools, high-need subjects, etc.  (Note: Many systems, including MNPS, already offer some or all of these types of bonuses (sometimes referred to as “combat pay”)).  Salary supplements are to be available for the following reasons, and only to teachers scoring a 3 or above on their evaluation (i.e., “meets” or “exceeds expectations”):

    • Teaching in  a “Title I eligible school” (MNPS has 122 of them)
    • Teaching in a school in “restructuring” or “reconstitution” status (meaning a school hasn’t made “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind for at least 5 consecutive years)
    • Teaching in a “critical teacher shortage area” as defined by the State Board of Education (usually this is Math, Science, and Special Education, among other areas).
    • “Assignment of additional academic responsibilities,” presumably up to the local district.  MNPS has the ASSET program, under which (again, presumably) participating teachers would be eligible for a supplement under this part for taking on leadership responsibilities.

That’s the basic structure: Base salary + salary adjustments (up to a cap) + salary supplements = total salary.  There are some obvious methods to try to entice current teachers to opt-in (e.g., salary adjustments MUST be great than the existing step-raise under the old plan), as well as some efforts to get teachers allocate themselves where they are needed (e.g., supplements for high-need subjects, Title I schools, etc.).

The restrictions:

    1. Low-evaluated teachers aren’t eligible for raises/supplements.  Any teacher who receives a 1 or 2 (below or significantly below expectations) is not eligible for either a salary adjustment OR a salary supplement.  This means that if you go teach at a high-needs or Title I school, you don’t get the salary supplement just for being there.  You still have to get a 3 or above on your evaluation (which, given the way things worked out last year, doesn’t appear to be that difficult).
    2. Low-scoring teachers get reimbursed for professional development for the following year.  Any teacher who receives a 1 or 2 (below or significantly below expectations) “shall be provided professional development reimbursement for the year following the evaluation,” capped at $1,000.  This is in line with the structure of the new evaluations, which are supposed to provide targeted feedback, coaching, and PD to teachers who aren’t doing well.
    3. Cost of living adjustments are permitted, but capped.  These would adjust the base salary.  This provision seems to be a bit redundant given the freedom of the Board to recalculate the base salary yearly, but I suppose it’s supposed to operate in tandem because cost-of -living adjustments are capped at 5% of annual salary AND 25% of the annual salary adjustment available (which means cost-of-living adjustments are capped at whichever is less).
    4. Advanced degrees, except content/certification degrees, cannot be used in setting salary adjustments or supplements.  This appears to be a compromise provision.  In essence, the provision is an effort to get away from raising salary for any advanced degree, whether it relates to teaching or not (i.e., the mythical “underwater basket-weaving” Master’s Degree, earned online solely for the salary bump).  As the State Board and Commissioner argued recently, however, advanced degrees and years of experience are not correlated with increased student achievement as measured by our value-added and evaluation system. This last point is important.  To believe that years of experience and advanced degrees don’t, by themselves, lead to increased student achievement, you must believe that our current value-added model accurately captures whether students are learning, because that’s the data on which the conclusion is based.  There are studies on both sides of this point, but there is generally a consensus that (1) years of experience do increase student achievement early on, and to a point (see the last 1/3 of this post) and (2) some advanced degrees can help; others don’t.
    5. Any pay based on years of experience or tenure is absolutely barred.  No real other way to say this: “A local board may not use the length of service or tenure of any instructional personnel hired on or after May 1, 2014, for the purposes of setting salary, adjustments, or supplements.”
    6. Budget cuts can’t be directed disproportionately at the new salary schedule.  If a Board has to deal with a tight budget, it is not allowed to put the majority of the cuts on the new compensation system.

Some thoughts, though there will be a bit more analysis/discussion later: There are certainly other compensation systems that are even more closely tied to test scores, with the same base salary + adjustment + supplement regime.  In other states (e.g., Colorado), some supplements are explicitly based on a teacher’s value-added scores, a school’s value-added scores, etc.  This kind of direct pay-for-performance was examined by our own Peabody College, and found, experimentally, to be ineffective at raising student achievement.

Rather, this is a pretty tight fit with (and big investment in) our new evaluation system.  Rather than paying strictly for increased value-added scores (as some reform advocates would like), the new compensation system would weigh heavily on the outcome of a teacher’s evaluation.  Given that the State is adjusting the evaluation system as well, to decrease the prevalence of 3, 4, and 5 scores, the success of this new compensation system will depend largely on the success of the underlying evaluation system, for good or ill.

Note: For further reading, the Comptroller has a pretty extensive recent report on alternative salary schedules.  Disclaimer: I haven’t read the whole thing yet.

Edited to include item number 5 under “Restrictions.”  An earlier version of this post included this information, but it was inadvertently deleted in the final version.