Should it be Easier to Become a Teacher in Tennessee

The Tennessee State Board of Education is looking at ways to smooth the pathway into teaching, including by eliminating a key hurdle faced by some candidates – a test of teaching aptitude.

NewsChannel9 in Chattanooga has more:

Currently, all teachers in Tennessee must pass the education teacher performance assessment, whether they have a degree in another field or they’re in the process of student teaching.

But some are looking to drop the requirement for this assessment.

If adopted, the exemption would only apply to about 800-900 teacher certification applicants a year – those who are already “job-embedded” candidates doing teaching under the supervision of a mentor teacher.

The idea, according to officials at the State Board of Education, is to eliminate a barrier to teacher certification for those with a high level of training.

However, as the story notes, schools of education and even recent teacher applicants say the certification process, including the testing, is a key element of preparation for the classroom.

It was about a decade ago when then-Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman pushed the State Board to increase the rigor of requirements to become a certified teacher.

This was supposed to dramatically improve education quality in Tennessee.

Now, facing both a teacher shortage AND a reluctance by policymakers to significantly improve teacher compensation, the State Board is seeking to lower requirements so more people will be eligible for these positions.

It’s noteworthy that in each case, the reform in question did NOT result in any increase in compensation or improvement in working conditions for teachers.

It’s as if investing in teachers is a bridge too far – instead, so-called education “reformers” will continue to try everything possible EXCEPT dramatically raising pay in order to address the issue at hand.

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Nashville Voters Say Schools are Underfunded, Teachers Underpaid

Amid a global pandemic that is seeing an already troubling teacher shortage exacerbated, voters in Nashville are expressing concern that schools are underfunded and teachers are underpaid. These findings come as the result of a poll of registered voters conducted on behalf of the Nashville Public Education Foundation.

The poll found that voters (72%) believe teachers are underpaid – this in spite of a recent pay plan raising pay in Nashville some $7000 or more for most teachers. The pollster noted that previous results showed 80% of voters thought teachers were underpaid.

The findings on funding are not surprising in a state that had a $2 billion surplus in the past fiscal year and is underfunding schools by at least $1.7 billion.

According to the poll, 66% of Nashville voters feel public schools in the city are underfunded.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee is attempting to divert attention from his party’s dismal track record on school funding by pushing a statewide “review” of the school funding formula, known as the BEP.

What Lee and legislative leaders are not (yet) talking about is a dramatic increase in state funding for schools. Of course, there’s a February court date that may result in the Tennessee Supreme Court ordering policymakers to properly invest in schools.

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The Teacher Pay Penalty

Economic Policy Institute is out with its annual look at the teacher pay penalty. Here’s more:

As we have shown in our more than a decade and a half of work on the topic, there has been a long-trending erosion of teacher wages and compensation relative to other college graduates.1 Simply put, teachers are paid less (in wages and compensation) than other college-educated workers with similar experience and other characteristics, and this financial penalty discourages college students from entering the teaching profession and makes it difficult for school districts to keep current teachers in the classroom.

Key findings

  • The teacher wage penalty has grown substantially since the mid-1990s. The teacher wage penalty is how much less, in percentage terms, public school teachers are paid in weekly wages relative to other college-educated workers (after accounting for factors known to affect earnings such as education, experience, and state residence). The regression-adjusted teaching wage penalty was 6.0% in 1996. In 2019, the penalty was 19.2%, reflecting a 2.8 percentage-point improvement compared with a penalty of 22.0% a year earlier.
  • The teacher wage penalty declined in the wake of recent teacher strikes but only time and more data will reveal whether teachers’ actions led to a decline and a turning point. The lessening of the teaching penalty from 22.0% in 2018 to 19.2% in 2019 may reflect pay raises enacted in the wake of widespread strikes and other actions by teachers in 2018 and 2019, particularly in some of the states where teacher pay lagged the most. Unfortunately, the data we have to date are not sufficient to allow us to identify the geographic locus of the improvements in teacher wages and benefits and any association with the recent wave of teacher protests and strikes. Only time will tell if this single data point marks a turning point in teacher pay.
  • The wage premium that women teachers experienced in the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced by a significant wage penalty. As noted in our previous research, women teachers enjoyed a 14.7% wage premium in 1960, meaning they were paid 14.7% more than comparably educated and experienced women in other occupations. In 2019, women teachers were earning 13.2% less in weekly wages than their nonteaching counterparts were—a 27.9 percentage-point swing over the last six decades.
  • The wage penalty for men in teaching is much larger than it is for women in the profession, and it too has worsened considerably. The teacher wage penalty for men was 16.6% in 1979. In 2019, male teachers earned 30.2% less than similar male college graduates who chose a different profession. This explains, to a large degree, why only one in four teachers are men.
  • While teacher wage penalties have worsened over time, some of the increase may be attributable to a tradeoff school districts make between pay and benefits. In other words, school districts may not be giving teachers raises but are instead offering stable or slightly better benefits, such that benefits make up a larger share of the overall compensation package for teachers than for other professionals. In 2019, nonwage benefits made up a greater share of total compensation for teachers (29.3%) than for other professionals (21.4%). In 2004, nonwage benefits share of compensation was 20.7% for teachers and 18.7% for other professionals.
  • The benefits advantage of teachers has not been enough to offset the growing wage penalty. The teacher total compensation penalty was 10.2% in 2019 (composed of a 19.2% wage penalty offset by a 9.0% benefits advantage). The bottom line is that the teacher total compensation penalty grew by 7.5 percentage points from 1993 to 2019.
  • The teacher wage penalty exceeds 20% in 21 states and in the District of Columbia. Teacher weekly wage penalties for each state, computed using pooled 2014–2019 data, range from 2.0% in Wyoming to 32.7% in Virginia. In 21 states and the District of Columbia teachers are paid less than 80 cents on the dollar earned by similar college-educated workers.

In Tennessee, the teacher wage penalty is 21.4%

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Why Should Teachers Work for Free?

Former teacher Kat Tipton writes in Education Week that free work is expected of teachers, and suggests it’s likely because a vast majority of educators are women.

When I was hired to be a 1st grade teacher, I was given absolutely no curriculum for reading or science. While my school did have a math curriculum, it was out of date from the brand new, controversial Common Core State Standards and did not match our assessments. Instead, I was told to plan with my colleagues.

This often led to me scouring the internet for good resources. While some coworkers were willing to share, they rarely sat down and explained what they were giving me, and I certainly never had the opportunity to observe them using it. I was in over my head and had no idea what I was doing.

However, there is a growing number of disdainful educators who are downright angry that teachers are daring to sell their materials on Teachers Pay Teachers. At a technology conference last summer, I heard a presenter loudly talking in the vendor expo center. I listened as he laughed and called TPT sellers the “whores of education.” In a session later that day, I learned about a website where teachers can upload their work for free for others to use.

Why are teachers expected to give away their hard work for free? The presenters in charge of the website explained that they were there to “help kids” and not themselves. I have seen this same sentiment on Twitter often. If you really cared about kids, you would just let people have the things you make rather than sell them!

But, is that fair? Do doctors who work with children give their medical advice away for free? Does Google look around, as it makes new technology for teachers, and say, “You know what? Let’s share all this with Microsoft. After all, it’s for kids!”? Can you think of a single other profession in which those in it are not given what they need to complete their job, are expected to make their own materials, and are then expected to just give those materials away to others?

No, the real problem here is that so many teachers aren’t given what they need in order to do their job—for kids—that they have to pay other teachers to get what they need. The lack of funding in our schools is shocking, and it’s no surprise that schools can’t afford up-to-date curriculum when many can’t even afford basic furniture or actual teachers.

More than three-quarters of public school teachers are women. Would we value the work done by teachers and sold online—and would we be less likely to call those who participate “whores”—if more teachers were men? The average public school teacher makes about $55,000 a year, and the majority have at least two degrees. If a teacher had a side job at American Eagle, would she still be a “whore”? Why is selling something related to teaching as a side job considered to be the worst thing a teacher can do?

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Math Problem

Hamilton County has a problem. It’s a problem that plagues school districts across Tennessee. It’s simple: Teacher compensation isn’t what it should be. NewsChannel9 has the story of a group of teachers collecting data to demonstrate the dollar value of uncompensated time and expenses:

Dozens of Hamilton County teachers say they’ve done the math, and what they’re making versus what they’re spending on school doesn’t add up.


“If those averages apply to the entire county, we’ve got about $2.5 million in uncompensated time and expenses that we’ve given,” said Brock.

This shortfall is occuring in a state where teachers earn about 30% less than similarly-trained professionals:

This year’s results indicate a national average teacher pay gap of 23.8%. Tennessee’s gap is 27.3%. That’s an improvement of two points for Tennessee, which had a gap of 29.3% two years ago.


Of 12 Southeastern states, Tennessee ranks 8th in teacher pay gap — that’s up one place from 9th two years ago.

The teacher compensation crisis in Hamilton County is similar to what’s playing out all across a state that has historically not invested in teachers. In fact, this year, Governor Lee made a big investment in charter schools and a relatively small boost to teacher compensation through the BEP. Additionally, Lee is fast-tracking his expensive voucher scheme, using funds that could be used to invest in public schools and teacher pay.

Will the Hamilton County legislative delegation continue to support a Governor whose policies are leaving teachers and public schools behind?

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Necessary

It looks like Nashville is finally getting serious about addressing their woefully inadequate teacher pay. Or, at least they are talking about it. The Tennessean reports that the Metro Nashville school board is taking up the issue of pay for teachers and all system staff.

Boosting the salaries of Nashville teachers to match the city’s median income would cost more than $100 million a year. 

Although just an example detailed in a pay study released by Metro Nashville Public Schools on Friday, it represents the high figure the district would need to fix a pay system educators say is flawed and causing teachers to leave.


For example, Majors presented a possible scenario in which the district would pay mid-career teachers about $64,000 a year — comparable to Nashville’s median income. The increase in salary for all teachers of all experience levels would mean an annual infusion of $100 million to fix the district’s pay schedule.

The discussion on teacher pay in MNPS is long overdue. Also long overdue: Actual action by the School Board and Metro Council to increase pay.

It’s been clear for some time now that teacher pay in Nashville is a crisis:

Attracting and retaining teachers will become increasingly more difficult if MNPS doesn’t do more to address the inadequacy of it’s salaries. The system was not paying competitively relative to its peers two years ago, and Nashville’s rapid growth has come with a rising cost of living. Does Nashville value it’s teachers enough to pay them a comfortable salary? Or, will Nashville let cities like Louisville continue to best them in teacher compensation?

That was written in 2017. The story notes a 2015 analysis of teacher pay in Nashville. That analysis found Nashville significantly behind similar urban districts in pay. The MNPS board and Metro Council did basically nothing with that information. We’ve seen Mayors Dean, Barry, and Briley barely touch the issue. We’ve yet to see Mayor Cooper talk about a plan to boost pay in a meaningful way.

IF the issue gets addressed in the upcoming budget cycle, it will be August of 2020 before Nashville teachers see a meaningful boost in their paychecks. That’s five years after teacher pay in Nashville was reported to be at near crisis levels. It’s after allowing things like this to happen:

Hundreds of parents with children in Metro Nashville Public Schools had letters sent home this week telling them that their kids were having to take online courses in the classroom due to a teacher shortage.

It’s after school districts like Williamson County have made consistent improvements to salary and districts like Sumner County have approved a big pay bump.

It’s great to see the district finally take a look at a problem they’ve known about for years. It’s absolutely necessary that instead of just talking about it, the School Board, Council, and Mayor actually do something.

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Still Waiting

In March of 2013, I wrote about a possible education agenda for Tennessee. It was a plan based on issues I felt were not receiving adequate attention at the time. Each was chosen for the potential to have a measurable impact on outcomes.

Now, with a new governor and General Assembly, it seems a good time to check-in on these proposals and see where Tennessee stands.

The items I included were: Pre-K, new teacher mentoring, BEP funding improvements, and a significant increase in teacher pay.

Specifically:

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

Ok, it’s 2019 and we’re still not there. This despite clear evidence (especially in Nashville) that quality early education works. Instead, the previous Lt. Governor worked hard to keep the Pre-K program from expanding.

 

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

This hasn’t happened. In fact, Governor Haslam froze BEP 2.0 and created a system where per pupil spending was essentially flat during his time in office. You can’t move forward by standing in place. We need an investment of between $500 million and $1 billion to adequately fund our state’s schools.

 

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.

No, this hasn’t been done. Hasn’t been seriously talked about. Not on the horizon. Investing in early career support and development for teachers is not yet a priority of our state’s policymakers.

 

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.

It is 2019 and we are still not there. Many teachers in our state start teaching at salaries below $40,000 and many will teach a full career and never see a salary above $60,000. This is an unsustainable model and is already having an impact in districts across the state.

 

So, I still think these four items make up a solid education policy agenda for our state. What do you think? Teachers, what are your policy goals?

 

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A Failed Business Plan

Nashville teacher JH Rogen offers a Twitter thread on the entirely predictable teacher pay crisis facing Nashville (and, frankly, the rest of Tennessee). It starts like this:

I’m starting a business and looking for workers. The work is intense, so the workers should be highly skilled. Experience preferred. Starting salary is 40k with the opportunity to get all the way to 65k after 25 years of staying in the same position. See how dumb that sounds?

 

He adds:

You say: talking about salary shows an ignorance towards the economic situation many of our kids come from. I say: offering salaries so low that kids have classrooms run by computers instead of functional adults shows an ignorance towards what it takes to create great schools.

 

Read it all. Think about it.

Nashville offers relatively low salaries to teachers in a state that trails the region and the nation in teacher pay. The value proposition for teachers in our state is low. We offer bargain basement salaries to educators and then demand more and more from them.

Is that a recipe for success? Does it demonstrate that we put our children first?

Think about it.

We hear all the time that “kids matter” and we should worry about the concerns of the students in the room rather than the adults. But the adults are sending a clear message: Schools don’t matter. The teachers don’t matter. It’s not important to pay those who are entrusted with the care and education of our children a reasonable salary.

Do you think the kids haven’t noticed?

They have and they do.

Will anything change?

Maybe if there’s a strike. At least for a little while. But how long would a strike go on until teachers were told to get back to class “for the kids?” Meanwhile, the policymakers sit back in comfort and refuse to make so-called “tough decisions” that should be easy.

It should be easy to pay teachers a living wage and to invest in and support schools. But instead, our policy leaders play games and hope we don’t notice.

It WOULD be easy to pay teachers a living wage if our leaders — our policymakers really wanted to do that. But they don’t. Because the adults who elect them haven’t insisted on it. Because it doesn’t matter.

Yes, the kids in the schools are watching. They see what’s happening.

The message is clear.

 

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


 

 

 

On Teacher Morale

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers his thoughts on boosting teacher morale

We know psychologically that there is a connection between feeling of self-worth and actions. When teachers lose hope in their career, eventually they change the direction of their own future and in turn it impacts the future of our children. If you are an educator or have friends who are educators, you have undoubtedly discussed teacher morale in public education and thoughts on the future of education. Sadly, those thoughts were most likely negative. Educators who enter the field are often bright-eyed, confident, and enthusiastic. Teacher turnover is continuing to climb higher, yet those entering the field is going lower. What happened? That is the problem we must solve.

Teacher turnover holds back our schools and our students. How do you improve morale? It will take multiple strategies, which differ from community to community, district to district, school to school. Let’s look at four of the most prominent issues: educator compensation, lack of respect for educators, testing and out of control students.

Educator Compensation. Compensation is everything that is provided to the educator for their services. Compensation alone will not impact teacher morale. Governor Bill Haslam made teacher salaries a priority, and should be recognized for his efforts. It is debatable if dollars allocated for salary increases reached all classroom teachers. This may be attributed to district implemented pay plans. Educators should be involved in the development of those plans. Governor-elect Bill Lee indicated he intends to develop a pipeline of well-trained, highly compensated educators who can flourish in the teaching profession. This will likely include incentive compensation programs, together with stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations. Compensation can also be used to aid in hiring, and/or retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.

Lack of Respect for Educators. Teaching, a profession once held in high esteem, is being de-valued both by stakeholders and policymakers for a variety of reasons. Teachers, who are on the frontlines of parental dissatisfaction with the system, are often made scapegoats by people who have lost trust in the system. This lack of respect is reflected by lack of parental support and engagement. In fairness, some parents are supportive and work with educators to help ensure their children get the best possible education. Yet more often than not, parents simply blame the teacher for the problems at school. But even more than that, teachers often lack the support of their administrators, district, and even the state. Bureaucrats keep piling on more requirements of educators with barely a nod of appreciation. Teachers, above all other professions, deserve the recognition and gratitude of a job well-done. Doing so on a regular basis will be a small step toward improving the teacher turnover rate.

Testing. The testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators. Nobody would object to testing that benefits the teaching and learning process of students. As it stands currently, the data is not received in a timely manner and the results yield little or no benefit to the students. Educators would welcome a robust, practical solution to current assessment issues. A portfolio-based assessment model is also problematic. However, it may be a preferred model of student evaluation if it is not too time-consuming. It is based on a wide range of student work done over a long period of time, rather than on a single, paper-and-pencil test taken over a few hours. We must work to ensure that our assessments and the subsequent results are empowering and informing without being a time drain. Assessments should not inhibit quality instruction but provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. Most importantly, assessments should be not used a punitive measure against teachers.

Out of Control Students. Effective educators consider the root causes of misbehavior and develop appropriate solutions on a consistent, ongoing basis. However, some students need attention and intervention beyond the scope of what a classroom teacher can provide. It is imperative that a school and district adopt policies that support effective classroom management, as well as student instruction for all students. One possible policy has to be a better tracking of the time an educator has to spend on discipline issues. Do parents have the right to know, for example, if one student disrupts their own child’s education so frequently, they lose instruction time? School districts must balance their responsibilities toward the community with the responsibility to nurture students. Without discipline, students cannot learn. Students themselves must respect rules and authority regardless of underlying disabilities/issues. Districts must have policies in place that protect all students’ right to learn.

There is no one size fits all strategy that will work in every school or district. This is a recurring theme among those who believe in local control in public education. Together, we can work to address teacher morale issues. Once a plan is in place, it is very important to examine, evaluate, and adjust as necessary.

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


 

Bargain Prices on Teachers in Tennessee

Two years ago, I wrote about the teacher wage gap in Tennessee — the fact that teachers in Tennessee earned nearly 30% less than similarly prepared professionals. Now, the Economic Policy Institute has updated their study of teacher pay relative to other professions.

Guess what?

Tennessee teachers still come at bargain basement prices!

While there is some (slightly) encouraging news, the bottom line: Teacher pay in Tennessee is still not really improving relative to other professions.

This year’s results indicate a national average teacher pay gap of 23.8%. Tennessee’s gap is 27.3%. That’s an improvement of two points for Tennessee, which had a gap of 29.3% two years ago.

That said, Tennessee’s gap is still worse than the national average and among the worst in the Southeast.

Of 12 Southeastern states, Tennessee ranks 8th in teacher pay gap — that’s up one place from 9th two years ago.

Here are the numbers:

Mississippi                   18.9%

South Carolina            20.5%

West Virginia              21.2%

Louisiana                     23.5%

Arkansas                      24.3%

Kentucky                     24.6%

Florida                         25.7%

Tennessee              27.3%

Georgia                       29%

Alabama                     29.4%

Virginia                      33.6%

North Carolina         35.5%

 

Yes, the authors acknowledge that teacher benefit packages tend to be more generous than those offered other professionals. By their analysis, teachers have a benefits package that is a bit more than 7% more generous than similar professionals. The most expensive of these benefits is healthcare, followed by defined-benefit pensions.

Tennessee teacher healthcare benefits vary by district, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll assume that Tennessee teachers receive the national average benefits advantage.

Doing so means Tennessee teachers are still paid 20% less than similarly-trained professionals.

While some progress on this front is better than none at all, continuing down this road is not sustainable. Investing in teachers by providing compensation on par with other professions requiring similar education and training is essential to recruitment and retention.

Tennessee’s next Governor and the General Assembly sworn-in in January of 2019 should move past studying the issue and get to work finding long-term solutions to close this gap and pay our teachers the salaries they deserve.

 

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