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.

16 thoughts on “Pay for Performance Coming to Tennessee?

  1. Dear Sirs:

    You do not know what you are doing!!!! Having retired after 38 years of teaching in the same school and grade, I can assure you that I became a better teacher as I taught longer. There are many challenges to teaching that are really out of the teacher’s control. Are you going to pay doctors based on their surgery performance, dentists, lawyers, etc.???? Children are not cans of food! You do not pour the knowledge in! They learn like they physically, emotionally and mentally develop. One year they may gain two years of growth intellectually, and the next year, they may grow only half of one year. This is not because of poor teacher performance!!! It has to do with variables, such as: class size, the make-up of the class, the students attention to task, discipline and support from the home, discipline and support in the school, a safe and warm home environment, –the list can go on for a long time. No other country is doing what is being done in the US! Education is not valued by our society as it once was. Respect is nonexsistent for teachers and school support staff. Walk in a teacher’s footsteps for a week! It is one of the most difficult jobs in the country at this point–mainly because of people who aren’t in the trenches making all of these ridiculous decisions. No teacher goes into teaching with dreams of making a wonderful income. But teachers do have the dream of contributing to society and making a difference for a child. You are destroying everything good about teaching. I am so grateful that I no longer teach, and it took me two years to adjust to not being in the classroom. I loved the children with all my heart and strived to help them succeed. Most did: some didn’t, But it wasn’t because I didn’t give my all!!! I figured that I spent at least sixty hours a week on my job. You are so wrong!!!! Talk to teachers!!!

    • My sentiments exactly! Our Republican lead legislature will use every weapon at their disposal to destroy public education and the educators who have dedicated their lives to the education of our young people. I left after 38 years for the same reasons as you. It was a difficult decision, but I was thankful that I had the time in and the age to be able to do so. I am deeply concerned about those who still want to be in the profession and/or have too many years to leave.

  2. This bill is an out-and-out attempt to please an ill-informed, right-wing-nut electorate. It will cause Tennessee to end up with schools staffed by the least able teachers, as anyone with a grain of sense or talent will go somewhere else. There is so much wrong with this bill that it is clear it could only have been done by politicians who have never taught a day in their lives…or monkeys recently sent into space by Iran!!!

  3. Is anything mentioned about those of us on the teacher salary schedule that are required to have a higher level degree to get our job? Counselors have to have a Master’s. I think it’s only fair that we receive higher compensation for a higher starting education requirement.

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  5. The proposal above will be a nightmare to manage. It is exceedingly complicated and very time consuming for an administrator.

    It is an insult to teachers and to students. It implies that students are inanimate objects who can be manipulated to perform as we want them to perform. It obviously has been cooked up by people who have never taught a day in their lives.

    Rather than obsessing on how teachers are evaluated, I wish the legislature would concentrate on how to support teachers in their efforts to improve their teaching skills and learn more about their content.

    Suellen Alfred

  6. With all due respect to the administrators that are carrying out the observations, it is absurd to believe that any one individual can have the level of expertise needed to fairly evaluate ALL content areas, particularly to the degree required to support salary decisions. We have schools in this state that go from Pre-K to 12th grades in the same physical plant. Can an administrator honestly be well-informed enough to know how to accurately score a pre-K teacher and a high school Latin teacher on “Teacher Content Knowledge”? How accurate can those evaluations be when an administrator has to do multiple evaluations for 20 teachers? 30? More?

  7. I have taught school twenty-three years and hold a Bachleor’s, Master’s and Education Specialist Degree. I do believe that I am a wonderful teacher with much gained knowledge on how to teach from schooling and experience. It is a shame that you are not rewarding teacher’s for wanting to better themselves and their students, but putting so much belief on an evaluator who might or might not have enough knowledge to give the correct score. Evaluations are very subjective and giving people the power to make that mark on a person’s life is disheartening and unfair. What about attendance and devotion to students? Please think hard about these decisions.

    • This is not a plan to reward teachers but to cut salary costs and churn the profession. Haslam &Huffman, have nothing but contempt for educators. THey place no value on colleges of education, no value on advanced degrees (except in Law & Business, and STEM.) Hence, cutting the cost of Human Capital is good for future investors (e.g., teacher salaries & retirement)

      So this is what they (private investors) envision for public education, they are poised to kick the dying dinosaur (their view) of public education to the curb and take over. The old public ed system
      will, like Ma Bell, be killed. And then–private educational management companies will be positioned to take over.

      This is about overthrow, not about sucking on the teats of public ed money.

      ALEC advances this vision on the political side by blurring the lines between public and private. So the state legislatures would make it easier flip money for public education into private ed. And of course, vouchers would be a huge step in that direction.
      Most of the TN legislature and the Education Committees in the house & senate are owned by ALEC.

      Any educator who votes for a republican is voting to end their profession and public education.

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  9. Why is the teaching profession the only one exempt from being evaluated and compensated based on good or poor performance? Every job has variables outside one’s control that can influence performance, so that excuse is has not been well thought out. All teachers thinks they do a great job. The one’s who actually do should be extremely well compensated. Why is that so scary? Is no one qualified to assess how well a teacher and their students perform other than the teacher themselves? That is the same mentality as a police officer taking the mind-set tthey are the enforcement, judge and jury. Are there countless issues in education outside of the classroom? Without a doubt. Bloated salaried administration is crowded with previously poor performing teachers. This would be my biggest concern when it comes to performance evaluations. Yet, at the end of the day, isn’t this how almost all career fields function. Get excited! Top performers will finally start getting bigger pay bumps more often. Good teachers making more money are not going anywhere… just the bad ones will be leaving the schools.

    • You, sir, have apparently never been a teacher. Would you envision these same standards being applied to any other state-licensed profession? Perhaps if you were facing brain surgery or a murder charge, you’d seek out the least experienced surgeon or attorney. I think not. If that were the case, it would appear that you think experience is only valuable in medicine and law. Experience and additional education/training is valuable in every job/profession from cleaning houses to opening your skull. However, every surgery is not successful nor does every attorney win every case. Innocent people go to jail and seemingly healthy people die on operating tables. When will the state begin lifting the licenses of other professions based on outcomes beyond their control?

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