Teacher Pay

Most Memphis teachers are due a 3 percent raise this year, but who and when?

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat
Allison Graybeal teaches her Algebra I class at Middle College High School in Memphis.

Like many educators in Tennessee’s largest school district, Comeshia Williams was a little confused about her first paycheck of the new school year.

A 17-year veteran of Memphis schools, Williams and her colleagues at Northaven Elementary School got their first check in mid-August. But their salaries didn’t reflect the 3 percent raise allotted for top teachers under Shelby County Schools’ 2016-17 budget.

“The whole pay scale for the district has changed over the past few years,” Williams said. “There hasn’t been a lot of conversation. That’s led to a lot of confusion among teachers.”

Details about the new compensation plan emerged last week when Superintendent Dorsey Hopson emailed teachers with an update.

Educators will get the raise if they rank a 3, 4 and 5 on a scale of 1 to 5 on their last evaluations, he wrote. That includes not only teachers but librarians, counselors, instructional facilitators, coaches, social workers and psychologists. (Last year, 89 percent of district educators scored a 3, 4 or 5 on their evaluations.)

Hopson said the increases will show up in teachers’ paychecks beginning in October after the district receives teacher performance data from the State Department of Education. The raises will be retroactive.

In Tennessee, teacher evaluations are tied to student scores on the state’s standardized tests. But due to the cancellation of TNReady tests for grades 3-8 last spring, Shelby County Schools will rely on guidance from the State Department of Education’s evaluation model for rating teachers of those grades, said district spokeswoman Kristin Tallent.

Evaluations for high school teachers will still include student test scores, since TNReady wasn’t canceled for those grades. But those scores are a source of anxiety for secondary teachers, said Josalyn Tresvant, an instructional facilitator at Kate Bond Elementary School and a former teaching fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.

“We’re not confident the data will truly reflect the hard work put into students. There was so much stress surrounding the rollout of the test,” Tresvant said.

Tikeila Rucker, a district teacher and president of the United Educators Association, was surprised to learn that the district will plug TNReady data into evaluations for high school teachers.

“We were petitioning that all teachers receive a raise this year,” Rucker said. “I don’t really understand waiting to factor in results from a test that wasn’t ready. … But the fact remains that cost of living keeps increasing and our pay hasn’t, so this raise will be a very good thing for most of our teachers.”

Shelby County’s raise is being funded using new state money for teacher pay increases, according to Tallent.

This spring, the legislature approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan for a 4 percent increase for Tennessee’s K-12 educators. However, not all teachers will see that increase in their paychecks because of a provision that gives spending leeway to districts that already match or better the state’s weighted average salary of $43,216. Shelby County Schools has the highest average weighted salaries in the state at $54,187. (Read Chalkbeat’s explainer on why the disbursement of Tennessee’s two-year investment in teacher raises can vary from district to district.)

This year’s raise by Shelby County Schools will be the second significant increase for teachers since the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and legacy Shelby County Schools. The district awarded raises in 2015 based on seniority. This year’s raises are the first awarded based on performance.

Tresvant said the change in how the district awards raises is all the more reason to clearly communicate the process.

“They need to be even more transparent in their messaging around raises,” Tresvant said. “It would have been awesome to know at the beginning of the year what was going on, so teachers weren’t questioning or confused. Teachers don’t want to feel like this is coming on the backend.”

Teacher Pay

Every Tennessee teacher will make at least $33,745 under new salary schedule

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Some teachers in 46 Tennessee districts will see a pay boost next year after the State Board of Education voted Wednesday to raise the minimum salary for educators across the state.

The unanimous vote raises the minimum pay from $32,445 to $33,745, or an increase of 4 percent. The minimum salary is the lowest that a district can pay its teachers, and usually applies to new educators.

The boost under the new schedule won’t affect most Tennessee districts, including the largest ones in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga — where teacher salaries already exceed the state minimum. (You can see the list of districts impacted here.)

The state’s largest teachers union lauded the increase, which will be funded under the state’s 2017-18 budget under Gov. Bill Haslam.

“Teachers statewide are increasingly struggling to support their own families on the stagnant wages of a public school teacher,” said Barbara Gray, president of the Tennessee Education Association. “It is unacceptable for teachers to have to choose between the profession they love and their ability to keep the lights on at home or send their own children to college.”

Tennessee is one of 17 states that use salary schedules to dictate minimum teacher pay, according to a 2016 analysis by the Education Commission of the States. In that analysis, Tennessee ranked 10th out of 17 on starting pay.

The 4 percent raise is a step toward addressing a nationwide issue: the widening gap in teacher wages. On average, teachers earn just 77 percent of what other college graduates earn, according to a 2016 study from the Economic Policy Institute. Tennessee ranks 40th in that study, with its teachers earning 70 percent in comparison to other graduates.

View the Economic Policy Institute’s data in full: 

vying for vouchers

Grilled by lawmakers, Betsy DeVos says voucher rules should be set locally — even if some kids are shut out

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifying Wednesday.

Betsy DeVos faced tough questions Wednesday from lawmakers on whether private schools in voucher programs would be allowed to exclude students, including LGBT students and students with disabilities.

The budget plan the Trump administration released this week asks for $250 million to fund pilot programs that would use public funds to pay tuition for students at private schools. Those voucher programs are a focus of U.S. Education Secretary DeVos, who has said they are critical for helping low-income families who need more good choices for educating their children.

The budget is unlikely to be enacted by Congress, but it’s put more attention on a key aspect of how these voucher programs work: outside of the public school system and without the same rules for accountability and access.

Rep. Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked DeVos about a Christian school in Indiana that participates in that state’s voucher program and whose handbook says students may be denied admission if they have a gay family member.

“If Indiana applies for this federal funding, would you stand up that this school be open to all students?” Clark asked. “Is there a line for you on state flexibility?”

“For states that have programs that allow parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that,” DeVos responded.

“So that’s a no,” Clark said.

DeVos noted that the education department’s Office of Civil Rights would continue its work. All private schools are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin, but they can discriminate based on sexual orientation — in fact, no voucher program in the country prohibits participating schools from discriminating against LGBT students.

Private schools may also be able to deny admission to students with disabilities. DeVos herself visited Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis on Tuesday, a Catholic school that participates in Indiana’s voucher program and whose admissions website warns that it has “limited ability to offer services” for students with disabilities.

Some voucher programs are designed specifically for those students. In turn, those students typically give up some or all of their rights under IDEA.

Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, challenged DeVos on whether new voucher programs would actually help needy students with few options. In Milwaukee, home to the country’s longest-running voucher program, Pocan noted that many voucher recipients already attended a private school and came from wealthy families.

“The 28,000 students that are attending school by the choice of their parents in Milwaukee — that is a success for those students,” DeVos responded. “Those parents have decided that’s the right place for their children to be.”

Pocan mentioned recent studies out of Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. showing that students using vouchers lose ground on standardized tests after attending private schools. (“I think you were asked recently about this and I know you were on your way out and didn’t have a chance to answer, so I’m glad that today we’ve got a chance to ask some of these questions,” he said.)

Pocan said his experience had led him to conclude that Wisconsin’s school voucher programs had failed. However, research on Milwaukee’s voucher program found it has had a positive effect on students’ likelihood of attending and staying in college.

Pocan also asked DeVos about how any new voucher programs that used federal dollars would be held accountable for their success. DeVos responded by discussing the responsibility of each state to craft accountability rules under ESSA, the new federal education law, which private schools are generally not subject to.