In the Classroom

Bill to loosen union control of teacher pay moves ahead

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
House Bill 1004 would allow districts the freedom to determine where on the pay scale teachers in hard-to-fill positions should fall.

Lawmakers moved ahead with a bill today that would weaken teachers unions’ control over where teachers are placed on salary scales they negotiate for all teachers.

The bill, House Bill 1004, would allow districts to decide where teachers up for hard-to-fill positions would fall on the district’s pay scale without going through their unions.

Bill author Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the bill, which passed the House Education Committee today in a 9-3 vote, would let districts use higher salaries or benefits to recruit teachers for shortage areas like math, science and special education. The effort would notably help schools in rural and high-poverty urban areas that have the hardest time finding qualified teachers.

“I want to make sure this is as flexible as possible,” Behning said.

But the state’s largest teachers union, the Indiana State Teachers Association, strongly opposed the bill because it circumvents unions and could pit teachers against each other.

“The heart of the teacher shortage in terms of retention is a professional wage, and these bills don’t address that,” said Gail Zeheralis, the union’s lobbyist. “The consequences of House Bill 1004 will be to foster ill will in districts and buildings.”

Indiana’s teacher unions have already seen their power diminished in the state. When Republicans took control of the Indiana General Assembly in 2011, they enacted limits on teacher collective bargaining, restricting negotiations to issues of salaries and benefits. Educational issues that used to be negotiated, like class size or school calendars, are now off the table.

This bill would take even more authority from unions. Currently, the union chapters in each school can agree to let schools pay some teachers more to address a shortage, but districts are not allowed to make that decision on their own. The bill would let superintendents or school leaders declare that a position is difficult to fill. They could then decide the pay rate for a candidate without consulting the union. The bill would not allow individual teachers to contract with the district, Behning said.

Teachers unions have been a regular target for Republican lawmakers in recent years. Other bills introduced in the last two years would allow all teachers to individually negotiate their contracts

Those efforts led to a testy exchange today between Zeheralis and Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland.

Burton said he has received 4,000 emails from ISTA members on various legislative issues that he described as “cyber bullying” because of the burden they imposed on him and his staff to read and answer.

“You are using a computer technique … to try to intimidate us, and it’s not going to work,” Burton said.

Zeheralis said that advances in technology, like email, make it easier for teachers to engage with lawmakers, especially during a process where bills move very quickly.

“We’re not doing our job if we aren’t using every means within our power to let those that agree with us and care about those issues act,” she said.

Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, said he supported that extra power for administrators to attract teachers to their schools. IPS already has a provision in its union-negotiated contracts that pays teachers more to work in hard-to-fill areas.

“Administrators should have the authority, need be, to have great flexibility when it comes to filling these positions,” Ferebee said.

The bill would also let teachers with licenses from other states transfer their licenses to Indiana if they have bachelor’s degrees in the subject area they teach and a college GPA of 3.0 or higher. Transferring teachers would also have  to pass Indiana’s teacher license subject exams.

John Barnes, a lobbyist with the Indiana Department of Education, didn’t say whether the department supported or opposed the bill, just that the licensure section would bring “unintended consequences.” Barnes said the state already allows teachers from other states to take up to a year to pass the subject exams. In the meantime, the state offers  an “emergency license” that allows teachers to work while preparing for the exam and awaiting a full review of their qualifications.

“(Teachers) already have the one-year period where they can go through and teach if they meet other requirements,” Barnes said.

Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said she worried the new pay structure and out-of-state teaching requirements could send the wrong message to existing classroom teachers.

“I appreciate the fact that districts are having a difficult time (recruiting),” Austin said. “But I think we are really opening up a path to diminish the quality of teachers.”

The committee also considered four other bills today:

  • Teacher career pathways. House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor peers. The bill would also let teachers in their first two years of work receive salary raises even if they receive a poor rating on their evaluations.. The bill passed committee 11-2. Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, and Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, voted against the bill.
  • High school diplomas. House Bill 1219, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would require public high schools to offer students the opportunity to earn any diploma the state offers. Currently, some  schools do not offer the less-rigorous General Diploma, which advocates say is be a better fit for some students, such as those with special needs. The bill passed committee 9-0.
  • Innovation Network Schools. House Bill 1394, authored by Behning, would require the Indiana Department of Education to reset the accountability clock for schools that convert to Innovation Network schools, autonomous schools run in partnership with an outside organization or charter school that are still under the umbrella of a school district. Currently, schools with six consecutive years of F-grades can be taken over the state. In 2017, the timeline will be shortened to four years. The bill passed committee 13-0.
  • Minority student teaching stipend. House Bill 1179, authored by Rep. Donna Harris, D-East Chicago, would let students from underrepresented ethnic groups that are pursuing degrees to become school administrators receive a stipend from the minority student teaching fund. The bill passed the committee 10-0.

around the world

VIDEO: Second-graders take their Memphis school on a global tour

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
A second-grader teaches younger students about India, a country she studied this year at John P. Freeman Optional School.

Dressed in garments representing 30 countries, students at one Memphis school threw a world-class celebration to mark the last week of the school year for Shelby County Schools.

Second-graders at John P. Freeman Optional School created displays about countries they’ve been studying and invited their families and other students to take a tour.

Called Global Fest, the annual event was organized by teacher Melissa Collins, who has traveled to India and Brazil through several global teaching programs. Her teaching style aims to bring those experiences to life for her students.

“Global Fest is important to me because it gives the students a different perspective of other people around the world,” Collins said.

Watch what we saw and heard Thursday during this year’s Global Fest.

Global Fest at John P. Freeman Optional School, Memphis from Chalkbeat Tennessee on Vimeo.

First Person

I’m a black man raised on the mistaken idea that education could keep me safe. Here’s what I teach my students in the age of Jordan Edwards

The author, Fredrick Scott Salyers.

This piece is presented in partnership with The Marshall Project

I worry a lot about the students in the high school where I teach. One, in particular, is bright but struggles in class. He rarely ever smiles and he acts out, going so far recently as to threaten another teacher. As a black, male teacher — one of too few in the profession — I feel especially compelled to help this young black man reach his potential. Part of that work is teaching him the dangers that might exist for him, including the police.

The killing of Texas teenager Jordan Edwards proves, though, that it’s not just black boys with behavior issues who are in danger. Jordan — a high school freshman, star athlete and honor student — was shot dead by a police officer last month while leaving a house party. As he rode away from the party in a car driven by his older brother, officers who’d been called to the scene fired multiple rifle rounds at the car. One bullet went through the passenger window, striking Jordan in the head. Murder charges have since been filed against the officer who fired the fatal shot.

It’s a near impossible task to educate black children in a society that constantly interrupts that work with such violence. Still, it’s incumbent on educators like me to guide our students through the moment we’re living in — even when we can’t answer all their questions, and even if we’re sometimes confused ourselves.

I began teaching in 2014, the year the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice dominated headlines. The tragedies have piled on, a new one seeming to occur every month since I first stepped into a classroom. I currently teach ninth-graders at a predominantly black charter school in Brooklyn, and I often find myself struggling to make sense of the events for my students.

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them.

I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It’s instruction and advice that can feel pointless when a “good kid” like Jordan Edwards can have his life cut short by those sworn to serve and protect him. Still, I try in hopes that good grades and polite behavior will insulate my students from some of society’s dangers, if not all of them.

The Monday after police killed Edwards, I asked the students in my college readiness class to watch a news clip about the shooting and write out their feelings, or sit in silence and reflect. Many of them were already aware of what happened. I was proud that so many of them were abreast of the news but saddened by their reflections. At just 14 and 15 years old, many of them have already come to accept deaths like Jordan’s as the norm, and readily expect that any one of them could be next. “Will this police officer even be fired?” one asked. “Was the cop white?”

The young man I worry about the most was more talkative than usual that day. During the class discussion, he shared his guilt of being the only one of his friends who “made it” — making it meaning being alive, still, and free. The guilt sometimes cripples him, he said, and high-profile police killings like Jordan’s compound that guilt with a feeling of hopelessness. They make him think he will die in the streets one way or another.

I didn’t know what to say then, and I still don’t have a response for him. I’ve always taught students that earning an education might exempt them from the perils of being black in America, or at least give them a chance at something more. I was raised on that notion and believed it so much that I became an educator. But deaths like Jordan’s leave me choking on the reality that nothing I can teach will shield my students from becoming the next hashtag.

In lieu of protection, I offer what I can. I provide a space for my students to express their feelings. I offer love and consideration in our day-to-day interactions and do my best to make them feel seen and, hopefully, safe for a few hours each day.

Fredrick Scott Salyers teaches at a charter high school in Brooklyn. He began his career in education as a resident director at Morehouse College. Find more of his work here.