Teacher Pay

Haslam proposes teacher pay raises, urges ‘full speed ahead’ on education agenda

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his 2015 State of the State address, in which he proposed allocating a 4 percent pay raise for Tennessee teachers.

Resurrecting last year’s promise to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in teacher compensation, Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled a budget plan Monday evening that earmarks almost $98 million for teacher raises, which could amount to up to a 4 percent raise.

In all, he proposes spending $170 million more for K-12 education, including nearly $44 million to account for growth in the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) formula, designed to ensure equitable state funding to local school districts.

“There is nothing more important to our state than getting education right,” Haslam told lawmakers during his State of the State address before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

“While other states are cutting K-12 education, Tennessee continues to be one of the few states in the country to make significant investments,” he said, noting that Tennessee K-12 spending has increased at a rate more than double the national average during the last four years.

If approved by lawmakers, Haslam’s $33.3 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 would more than double what he recommended for teacher raises last year, which ultimately didn’t come to fruition due to a revenue shortfall. The funding increase would equate to a 4 percent increase in the state’s contribution to teacher salaries – an impact that still would vary across the state because teachers are paid through a combination of state and local funding.

“We know that a big part of success is to have a great teacher leading every classroom. Just like with state employees, we want to recruit, retain and reward the best and brightest educators,” said Haslam, who also set aside $5 million to pay for liability insurance for teachers at no cost.

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA), Tennessee’s largest teacher union, welcomed the news, saying in a news release that “this proposed pay increase is a strong first step in treating teachers right.”

J.C. Bowman, who heads the Professional Educators of Tennessee, agreed that the raise was a positive step, but expressed concern that financially strapped districts ultimately could allot the money as they choose. “We are somewhat concerned that it might not reach classroom teachers, if strictly left to districts,” he said.

With state legislative leaders as the backdrop, Haslam talks about his vision for education in Tennessee.
With state legislative leaders as the backdrop, Haslam talks about his vision for education in Tennessee.

In his 27-minute address, Haslam also suggested to lawmakers that Tennessee should stick with the Common Core State Standards – although he never mentioned them by name — at least through the current legislative session. He said he is open to “reasonable” changes to teacher evaluations.

Whether the legislature makes Haslam’s vision a reality remains to be seen. The first bill that directly counters his plan —to repeal the Common Core State Standards before Haslam’s review process is complete — is scheduled for debate Wednesday in a House subcommittee. The conversation about education policy in Tennessee already has been marked by a steady rise in opposition to Common Core and, to a lesser extent, testing and the use of tests in teacher evaluations.

But Haslam urged lawmakers not to go backwards. “I truly believe that getting education right is critical to the well-being of our state – today and in the future. We have to keep going full speed ahead,” he said.

Here’s a breakdown of Haslam’s other proposals:

Drive to 55:  Two years ago, Haslam announced an initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with college degrees from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025. Much of his latest proposals would expand college opportunities for those already out of the K-12 system, including scholarships for adults to attend community college. (As of this year, recent high school graduates can attend two years of community college for free through the Tennessee Promise program.) He also proposed spending $2.5 million on sustaining Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support, or SAILS, an effort by the state Department of Education and community colleges to help high school seniors with low ACT scores better prepare for college math courses, so they don’t have to take remedial courses after completing high school. Haslam said the program, which has served more than 8,000 students since it started two years ago, has saved families $6.5 million in community college tuition.

Standards: Haslam defined academic standards as “foundational skills that students should know at different grade levels” — a nod to confusion about the impact of standards in Tennessee and across the nation. “To me, it doesn’t really matter what we call our standards,” he said, referencing what he’s called Common Core’s “ruined brand”. “What does matter is that we have the highest standards possible.”

In speaking with thousands of educators over the last four years, Haslam said teachers are tired of being treated like a political football. “We have to give our educators more stability and certainty in their classrooms and not change the game on them session after session,” he said. He also urged Tennesseans to visit the 3-month-old standards review website, which already has received nearly 82,000 comments. “I think it is important that we know exactly what the standards are that we’re talking about and possibly voting on,” he said.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen listens to Haslam's agenda for the state.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen listens to Haslam’s agenda for the state.

Teacher evaluations: Haslam didn’t give specifics on changes to teacher evaluations but said he was open to “reasonable changes.” Under his purview, teacher evaluations — which are tied to decisions on payment and employment status — have become contingent on student test scores, prompting criticism from professional educator groups. In December, he proposed decreasing the weight of test scores while the state transitions to a new assessment, which many teachers considered a positive step, but not enough.

Bowman is optimistic that, with the help of Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, Haslam will revamp the evaluation process for teachers of non-tested subjects, many of whom currently are evaluated in part on the performance of students they don’t teach. The TEA recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of teachers of non-tested subjects.

Assessments: Haslam identified assessments, along with teacher evaluations and standards, as one of the three most-discussed K-12 educational issues in Tennessee, but didn’t dwell on tests for long. He repeated a promise that Tennessee’s new assessment, TNReady, will be aligned with the state’s standards. Although he didn’t mention it in his speech, he proposed an $8.5 million bump in spending on assessments this year.

Contact Grace Tatter at gtatter@chalkbeat.org.

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Votes are in

Memphis educators vote to begin negotiations on new contract with district

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
A teacher training last year on Expeditionary Learning, a new curriculum for English language arts introduced in Shelby County Schools in 2017.

Shelby County Schools teachers have decided it’s time to go back to the bargaining table with district officials to hammer out a new agreement.

Sixty percent of the district’s 7,000 educators, or more than 4,300, voted to allow the two teacher groups that represent them to start negotiating with district officials about pay, insurance, and working conditions. That’s well above the 51 percent that was legally required to begin talks.

It will be the first time the groups have negotiated with the Memphis school district since 2015, and the first since the city’s teacher group split into two. Last year’s organizing efforts didn’t get enough votes to begin negotiations, known as “collaborative conferencing” in Tennessee.

The last agreement, or memorandum of understanding, expired in March. The memorandums are legally binding and can cover such things as salaries, grievance procedures, insurance, and working conditions. But under state law, the agreements can’t address evaluations or personnel decisions such as layoffs or tenure.

Tikeila Rucker, president of the United Education Association of Shelby County, said she hopes talks with the district start by February. She says that it could take up to a year to reach an agreement, although she’s hopeful that it will be sooner.

“We’re creating a survey now to share with the teachers throughout the district so we’ll know what things teachers want to see,” Rucker said. They’ll ask teachers for input on items that can be negotiated, including wages, insurance, grievance procedures, and working conditions.

From earlier teacher feedback, Rucker said educators are concerned about rising insurance costs, and classroom conditions such as class size. They also want raises based on years of service restored, as well as extra pay for advanced degrees, she said.

Dorsey Hopson, Shelby County Schools superintendent, has tried for several years to implement a merit pay system for teachers based on evaluations that include student test scores. That would mean only teachers with high evaluation scores would be eligible for raises. But because of numerous testing problems, Hopson hasn’t yet done that. Instead, for the last three years, all educators have received 3 percent raises.

Keith Williams, executive director of Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, said the salary increases that teachers have received in recent years amounted to bonuses and so-called cost-of-living increases that haven’t kept pace with the cost of living.

“We need to have continuity of pay and a way to predict our earnings,” he said in advocating for the return of step pay increases.

Additionally, he said teachers want to restore time for daily planning periods. And they want a “quality curriculum” that they’re trained to teach and is ready to go on the first day of school.

Teachers have complained that the English curriculum, Expeditionary Learning, doesn’t allow them to tailor content for their students. The new math curriculum, Eureka Math, had a bumpy rollout. Some materials arrived late, teacher training was behind schedule, and for some, the program didn’t start until 12 weeks into the school year.

Williams believes negotiations may start in January and is hopeful that a new three-year contract will be in place by April. Meanwhile, he plans regular updates with teachers to allow them to have input.

Union leaders are waiting for the official certified vote numbers that are expected to be released Tuesday. Williams said that almost 60 percent of the teachers supported his group. That means they’ll have more seats at the negotiating table.

But once negotiations begin, Rucker said, “the two associations will work as one team to advocate and collaborate on behalf of teachers.”


Tennessee schools chief Candice McQueen leaving for job at national education nonprofit


Tennessee’s education chief is leaving state government to lead a nonprofit organization focused on attracting, developing, and keeping high-quality educators.

Candice McQueen, 44, will step down in early January to become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

Gov. Bill Haslam, whose administration will end on Jan. 19, announced the impending departure of his education commissioner on Thursday.

He plans to name an interim commissioner, according to an email from McQueen to her staff at the education department.

“While I am excited about this new opportunity, it is hard to leave this team,” she wrote. “You are laser-focused on doing the right thing for Tennessee’s students every single day – and I take heart in knowing you will continue this good work in the months and years to come. I look forward to continuing to support your work even as I move into this new role with NIET.”

A former teacher and university dean, McQueen has been one of Haslam’s highest-profile cabinet members since joining the administration in 2015 to replace Kevin Huffman, a lawyer who was an executive at Teach For America.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy.

But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Haslam, who has consistently praised McQueen’s leadership throughout the rocky testing ride, said Tennessee’s education system has improved under her watch.

“Candice has worked relentlessly since day one for Tennessee’s students and teachers, and under her leadership, Tennessee earned its first ‘A’ rating for the standards and the rigor of the state’s assessment after receiving an ‘F’ rating a decade ago,” Haslam said in a statement. “Candice has raised the bar for both teachers and students across the state, enabling them to rise to their greatest potential. I am grateful for her service.”

McQueen said being education commissioner has been “the honor of a lifetime” and that her new job will allow her to “continue to be an advocate for Tennessee’s teachers and work to make sure every child is in a class led by an excellent teacher every day.”

At the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, she’ll work with states, districts, and schools to improve the effectiveness of teachers and will operate out of the organization’s new office in Nashville. The institute’s work impacts more than 250,000 educators and 2.5 million students.

“Candice McQueen understands that highly effective teachers can truly transform the lives of our children, our classrooms, our communities and our futures,” said Lowell Milken, chairman of the institute, which has existing offices in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Santa Monica, Calif.

In an interview with Chalkbeat, McQueen said numerous organizations had approached her about jobs this year as Tennessee prepared to transition to a new administration under Gov.-elect Bill Lee. She called leading the institute “an extraordinary opportunity that I felt was a great fit” because of its focus on supporting, leading, and compensating teachers.

“It’s work that I believe is the heart and soul of student improvement,” she said.

McQueen’s entire career has focused on strengthening teacher effectiveness and support systems for teachers. Before joining Haslam’s administration, the Tennessee native was an award-winning teacher; then faculty member, department chair, and dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education in Nashville. As dean from 2008 to 2015, Lipscomb became one of the highest-rated teacher preparation programs in Tennessee and the nation. There, McQueen also doubled the size and reach of the college’s graduate programs with new master’s degrees and certificates, the university’s first doctoral program, and additional online and off-campus offerings.

As Haslam’s education commissioner the last four years, McQueen stayed the course on Tennessee’s 2010 overhaul of K-12 education, which was highlighted by raising academic standards; measuring student improvement through testing; and holding students, teachers, schools, and districts accountable for the results.

Candice McQueen has been commissioner of education for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam since 2015.

One of the plan’s most controversial components was teacher evaluations that are tied to student growth on state tests — a strategy that McQueen has stood by and credited in part for Tennessee’s gains on national tests.

Since 2011, Tennessee has seen record-high graduation rates, college-going rates, and ACT scores and steadily moved up in state rankings on the Nation’s Report Card.

Several new studies say Tennessee teachers are getting better under the evaluation system, although other research paints a less encouraging picture.

Her choice to lead the national teaching institute quickly garnered praise from education leaders across the country.

“The students of Tennessee have benefited from Candice McQueen’s leadership, including bold efforts to ensure students have access to advanced career pathways to lead to success in college and careers, and a solid foundation in reading,” said Carissa Moffat Miller, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Louisiana Education Superintendent John White said McQueen brings ideal skills to her new job.

“She is not just a veteran educator who has worked in higher education and K-12 education alike, but she is also a visionary leader with a unique understanding of both quality classroom teaching and the systems necessary to make quality teaching possible for millions of students,” White said.

Read more reaction to the news of McQueen’s planned exit.