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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The New Yorker Comes to Tennessee

Some Words on NAEP

$4000 Less

That’s the impact of inflation on starting teacher pay in Metro Nashville.

Teachers in Nashville have seen significant pay bumps in recent years, but as inflation takes a toll, those increases effectively mean a starting teacher today makes less than a starting teacher did back in 2015.

Adam Mintzer at WKRN has more:

According to data from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree made $42,082 during the 2015-2016 school year.

This year, a new teacher will make $48,121.

But when you take into account inflation and run the 2015 and 2022 salaries through the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, $42,082 has the same buying power as $52,242 now.

Therefore, a new teacher is making $4,121 less now compared to what they would’ve made in 2015.

That’s a number that hits particularly hard in one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities – where housing costs have been steadily on the rise.

As Mintzer notes:

There are more than 120 teacher positions still open as of a couple of weeks ago in Metro Nashville Public Schools, according to a spokesperson for the district.

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A Consistent Gap

Despite all the rhetoric from Tennessee policymakers about funds for schools and teacher salaries, Tennessee teachers continue to experience a “wage gap.” That is, teachers in Tennessee earn nearly 24% less than similarly educated peers.

The Economic Policy Institute has once again published its analysis of teacher pay relative to the pay of similar professionals and found that at a national level, the wage gap is 23.5%. In Tennessee, that gap is 23.8%. As EPI notes, in 28 states, the gap is greater than 20%. Yes, even when you add the benefits package (typically more generous than in other jobs), the penalty is still well above 10%.

What does this mean, though?

Well, all those stories about a teacher shortage start to make sense. Whether there are more actual vacancies this year than in years past (as seems to be the case in some districts), the issue is being talked about more seriously this year.

The numbers from EPI indicate that the value proposition for teachers just isn’t that great. Combine that with heated political rhetoric about “groomer teachers” and book banning, and you may begin to understand why there aren’t as many qualified educators available and eager to fill all the vacancies.

Here’s more from EPI on how they conducted the study:

First, we use Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Groups (CPS-ORG) data for the wage analyses. We focus on weekly wages, which avoids comparisons of weekly hours worked or length of the work year (i.e., the “summers off” issue for teachers) between teachers and other college graduates.3 The sample is restricted to full-time workers (working at least 35 hours per week), 18 to 64 years old, with at least a bachelor’s degree. The education restriction is made because teachers today need at least a bachelor’s degree to teach. The sample is further limited to those who reported their wage information directly (i.e., nonresponders whose wage data was imputed by BLS are excluded).

Trends Over Time

In 1979, teachers earned $1,052 per week (in 2021 dollars), which is 22.9% less than the $1,364 earned by other college graduates. The difference in wages between teachers and other college graduates decreased slightly into the mid-1990s, falling to 15.7% in 1996, but then increased considerably during the tight labor markets of the late 1990s into the early 2000s. The wages of nonteacher college graduates jumped by 13.5% from 1996 to 2002 during an unusual time of exceptional wage growth among low-, middle-, and high-wage earners. But inflation-adjusted wages of teachers did not grow strongly during this period, in part because teacher pay is often set by long-term contracts, and public-sector wages are not as volatile (they do not rise and fall as much) as private-sector wages. Teacher weekly wages remained flat in inflation-adjusted terms from 1996 to 2002, increasing just 0.3%, leaving the real average weekly wage of teachers 25.5% less than their college graduate counterparts.

This difference remained fairly consistent, with some ups and downs, throughout the 2000s. But, a significant widening of the wage gap has occurred since 2010 as teacher wages remained relatively flat while wages of other college graduates took off. The difference increased by 7.6 percentage points between 2010 and 2021—leaving the average weekly wages of teachers 32.9% behind that of other college graduates by 2021, the largest difference recorded in our series. 

Now, though, we’re still looking at wage gaps of around 24% – in part due to a tight labor market in other professions increasing overall salaries. Of course, available federal stimulus funds and states with budget surpluses have meant some increases in teacher compensation – still, it is not enough to achieve anything like parity with other professions.

As EPI notes:

Generally, the teacher wage penalty has been on a worsening trajectory since the mid-1990s. A slight shrinking of the gap in 2019 was short lived. It widened again in 2020, to 21.6%, and in 2021, the penalty reached a record 23.5%. That means that, on average, teachers earned just 76.5 cents on the dollar compared with what similar college graduates earned working in other professions—and much less than the relative 93.9 cents on the dollar that teachers earned in 1996.

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Wilson County Teacher Shortage

A teacher shortage crisis is hitting districts in Tennessee, and districts are struggling to hire teachers with only weeks before school starts.

One example is Wilson County, where WKRN reports there are still 75 teaching vacancies just two weeks before students are slated to return.

Although the shortage is in all departments, the biggest discrepancy is in the teaching department where they are 75 teachers short across all 24 Wilson County schools.

“Some schools are experiencing a shortage, maybe more than another school, but across the board when you have a 75 teacher shortage going into the school year as of today, yeah, it raises a lot of concern,” said Barker.

In a state that continues to lag behind the rest of the nation in teacher pay and school funding, it’s no wonder there’s a shortage of teachers.

In fact, this result has been predicted for more than a decade now:

But the report points to a more pressing problem: A teacher shortage. Specifically, the report states:

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

So, we face a teacher shortage in key areas at the same time we are 40th in both average teacher pay and in improvement in salaries over time.

Besides the issue of pay, there’s the issue of respect. Rather, there’s the lack of respect teachers get from policymakers, including Gov. Bill Lee who sat idly by while a key education advisor disparaged teachers.

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Teacher Pay Raises in Dickson County

While the Dickson County School Board has submitted a proposed budget featuring $1500 raises for teachers, at least one County Commissioner has floated the idea of $5000 raises – at an additional cost of $3.5 million in a $70 million budget.

The Tennessean has more:

Dickson County teachers are already getting a $1,500 raise in the proposed school district budget, which was presented by Schools Director Dr. Danny Weeks in budget committee meetings this month.

During the review, County Commissioner Jeff Eby suggested moving the teacher raises to $5000.

Eby then suggested $5,000 raises for all teachers, which he estimated to cost about $3.5 million. 

It was pointed out the County Commission cannot make line-item adjustments to the school system’s budget. They can, however, send the budget back to the School Board with suggested revisions.

Mayor Bob Rial said the budget increase for a $5,000 raise would equate to a 25-cent property tax increase in Dickson County. 

The move in Dickson County comes during budget season and at a time when other middle Tennessee districts are raising teacher pay.

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Is That All?

Memphis-Shelby County Schools has a new budget proposal that offers teachers a 2% raise plus a $1500 retention bonus.

While this sounds nice – it IS more money, it really begs the question: Is that all?

Chalkbeat has more on the details of the nearly $2 billion budget proposal:

Memphis-Shelby County Schools teachers would receive a 2% pay raise and $1,500 retention bonuses as part of the $1.93 billion proposed budget approved by school board members Tuesday.

Fulfilling Superintendent Joris Ray’s promises earlier this year to invest in educators, the 2022-23 budget would also funnel nearly $12 million into educators’ tiered pay scale and add a new step on the scale for principals.

The budget, passed on a 5-0 vote, also directs $3.5 million to bump up the district’s contribution to employee health insurance premiums to 70% from 66%, and $3 million to raises for substitute teachers. 

While a 2% raise and a $1500 salary increase are nice moves, that’s simply not enough.

It’s unfortunate that Bill Lee’s TISA plan and current funding scheme aren’t dedicating more to public schools We currently have a surplus in excess of $3 billion at the state level and yet still struggle to fund public schools.

It’s a matter of priorities.

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Wilson County Proposes New Pay Scale

The Wilson County School Board approved a proposed budget that includes a move away from teacher pay based on test scores. According to the plan, all teachers will receive at least a $500 raise in the upcoming school year.

The Wilson Post has more on the story:

“We took the plans we’re competing with, laid them down and came out with something we can have in our budget,” he (Director of Schools Jeff Luttrell) said, noting that the district has budgeted $3.4 million in employee raises, with the majority going to classroom teachers.

He said, “one of the things I’ve heard and believe is that pay does not need to be tied to one day of testing. This takes us off that plan.”

The current Wilson County pay scale is based on teacher “level of effectiveness” (LOE) as determined by evaluations and state test scores.

Yes, THOSE scores – the ones based on TNReady.

It’s interesting that the projected pay increase is relatively small ($500) and that the overall funding for salary improvement is just over $3 million.

By contrast, neighboring Sumner County seems likely to commit $18 million this year to a pay increase that will mean a $4000+ raise for all teachers.

It’s also noteworthy that Gov. Bill Lee’s school funding plan (TISA) is unlikely to actually provide significant new state funds to boost teacher pay across the board.

It is definitely positive that Wilson County is moving away from a pay for test score model – that is a step in the right direction.

It’s likely frustrating to educators (and the one School Board member who opposed the move – a former educator) that the plan is not a more significant move in the direction of raising pay.

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Hamblen County School Board Hears Proposal for 2% Raise for Teachers

The Hamblen County School Board heard a proposal from that district’s Director of Schools that would provide teachers with a 2% raise next year. If approved, the budget with the raises would mean a deficit of nearly $1 million – leaving the County Commission to find revenue to make up the difference.

The Morristown Citizen-Tribune has the full story:

The Hamblen County Board of Education unveiled a first draft Tuesday of a budget that has a nearly $1 million shortfall and a 2% raise for staff amidst inflation that is hovering around 8%.

The budget comes after a year that saw a commitment by the governor’s office to put an extra billion dollars into education across the state and record tax revenue generated in Hamblen County.

Perry said he hopes future years might be easier to manage as a new statewide funding formula is implemented to replace the current BEP formula that is considered overly-complicated by many education administrators across the state.

“But we don’t build budgets from hope,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re responsible this year- it does look like we might be able to take care of folks a little bit better that following year.”

Unfortunately, the reality of TISA is that it does little to address the state’s funding shortfall when it comes to teacher compensation.

After hearing the budget presentation, members of the school board indicated a desire to see a 4% raise. The discussion led to conversations about future budget meetings/workshops in order to explore options for raising teacher pay beyond the recommended 2%.

It’s not clear whether there is an appetite on the County Commission to provide the $1 million+ needed to fund the proposed raises.

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Sumner County Proposes Big Raises for Teachers, Staff

At a budget workshop last night, the Sumner County School Board heard a proposal from Director of Schools Dr. Del Phillips that would result in significant pay raises for the system’s teachers and support staff.

The move comes as Sumner County is attempting to be competitive in the Middle Tennessee market. It marks the second time in the past four years that the district’s teachers have seen a raise of at least $4000 to their base pay.

This year’s proposed raises, to be voted on by the School Board next week (May 17th) and the County Commission in June, include:

Step raises for all teachers plus a $4000 increase to the base for each step. Step raises range from 1-2% of pay.

Step raises (2%) plus $1 an hour for all hourly employees.

An average increase of $7/hour for bus drivers and an increase in bus driver starting pay from $12.12 an hour to $18/hour.

An increase in pay for substitute teachers from $51 to $75/day for non-degreed subs, from $75 to $100 for degreed subs, and from $100 to $125 for certified subs.

Sumner’s proposed pay increase comes a year after Metro Nashville significantly increased teacher pay and just months after Williamson County implemented a mid-year pay raise.

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The Teacher Wage Gap Persists

Economic Policy Institute is out with a survey of teacher compensation relative to other, similarly educated professionals. The news continues to be bad for teachers nationally. Teachers earn roughly 20% less than comparably educated professionals on average. In Tennessee, that number is 21.4%.

Notes: Figure reports state-specific regression-adjusted teacher weekly wage penalties: how much less, in percentage terms, elementary, middle, and secondary public school teachers earn in weekly wages than their college-educated, nonteaching peers.
See Allegretto and Mishel 2019, especially Appendix A, for more details.
Source: Authors’ analysis of pooled 2014–2019 Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group data accessed via EPI Current Population Survey Extracts, Version 1.0.2 (EPI 2020).

That’s not good news. Especially in light of a worsening teacher shortage crisis.

It’s especially bad news in light of TISA – Gov. Bill Lee’s new school funding formula. While Lee and his allies would have you believe otherwise, TISA does nothing to significantly invest in teachers. There’s no significant adjustment to teacher minimum salaries and nothing in TISA directly results in hiring more teachers. This is disappointing since a state review suggests districts hire a total of 7000+ more teachers than the state funds.

Here’s more on the TISA reality:

Here’s more from EPI on what the teacher wage gap means in states across the country:

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 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 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.

It’s interesting that this problem is not getting significantly better, even as districts across Tennessee and around the country are dealing with both a teacher exodus and a lack of candidates to replace them.

It’s also interesting that even with a relatively stable, secure benefits package, the teacher wage gap continues to expand over time. It should be noted that in Tennessee, teacher pensions were “reformed” in 2014 and teachers hired since then now have a significantly smaller retirement package.

It’s also worth noting here that Tennessee teachers have the lowest pension benefit of any of our neighboring states.

As the study by SREB notes, Tennessee teachers earn about $10,000 less per year in retirement than their neighbors in other Southern states.

TISA could have been a way to change all of that – to vastly improve teacher compensation and make Tennessee a national leader in both pay and support for teachers.

Instead, the one-time raise offered by the plan will amount to about a 2.5% increase this year. Teacher pay in Tennessee will continue to lag behind other states in our region. Teachers here will continue to earn 21% less than their comparably educated peers.

Year after year, policymakers look at a growing problem and then just look away. Even in a year with a massive budget surplus, Tennessee leaders have made a clear statement that investing in teachers is not a priority.

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