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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Town Hall

Hopson promises more flexibility as Memphis school leaders clear the air with teachers on new curriculum

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson answers questions from Memphis teachers at a town hall hosted by United Education Association of Shelby County on Monday.

The Shelby County Schools superintendent told passionate teachers at a union town hall Monday that they can expect more flexibility in how they teach the district’s newest curriculums.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the teachers who score highest on their evaluations should not feel like they need to read from a script to meet district requirements, although he didn’t have an immediate answer to how that would work.

Teacher frustrations were reaching a boiling point on district curriculums introduced this school year. Although the state requirements have changed several times over the last eight years, this change was particularly bothersome to teachers because they feel they are teaching to a “script.”

“Teachers have to be given the autonomy,” Hopson said. Although he cited the need for the district to have some control as teachers are learning, “at the end of the day, if you’re a level 4 or level 5 teacher, and you know your students, there needs to be some flexibility.”

Vocal teachers at the meeting cited check-ins from central office staff as evidence of the overreach.

“I keep hearing people say it’s supplemental but we have people coming into my room making sure we’re following it to a T,” said Amy Dixon a teacher at Snowden School. “We’re expected to follow it … like a script.”

The 90-minute meeting sponsored by the United Education Association of Shelby County drew a crowd of about 100 people to talk about curriculum and what Hopson called “a culture of fear” throughout the district of making a mistake.

Hopson said his team is still working on how to strike the right balance between creativity and continuity across nearly 150 district-run schools because so many students move during the school year.

He reassured despondent teachers he would come up with a plan to meet the needs of teachers and keep curriculums consistent. He said some continuity is needed across schools because many students move a lot during the school year.

“We know we got to make sure that I’m coming from Binghampton and going over to Whitehaven it’s got to be at least somewhat aligned,” he said. “I wish we were a stable, middle-class, not the poorest city in the country, then we wouldn’t have a lot of these issues.”

Ever since Tennessee’s largest district began phasing in parts of an English curriculum called Expeditionary Learning, teachers have complained of being micromanaged, instead of being able to tailor content for their students. The same goes for the new math curriculum Eureka Math.

The district’s changes are meant to line it up with the state. Tennessee’s new language arts and math standards replaced the Common Core curriculum, but in fact, did not deviate much when the final version was released last fall. This is the third change in eight years to state education requirements.

Still, Shelby County Schools cannot fully switch to the new curriculums until they are approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. District leaders hope both curriculums, which received high marks from a national group that measures curriculum alignment to Common Core, will be added when textbooks are vetted for the 2019-20 school year.

Some urged educators to not think of the new curriculums as “scripts,” and admitted to poorly communicating the changes to teachers.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Pam Harris-Giles

“It’s not an expectation that we stand in front of our children and read off a piece of paper,” said Pam Harris-Giles, one of the district’s instructional support directors, who helps coordinate curriculum training and professional development.

Fredricka Vaughn, a teacher at Kirby High School, said that won’t be easy without clear communication of what flexibility will look like for high-performing teachers.

“If you don’t want us to use the word script, then bring back the autonomy,” she said.

Hopson stressed that the state’s largest school district could be a model for public education if everyone can work together to make the new curriculums work.

“It’s going to take work, hard work, everyone aligned from the top, everyone rowing in the same direction.”

Price of entry

Becoming a Colorado teacher could soon require fewer transcripts, more training on English learners

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The rules for becoming a teacher in Colorado are about to change — and officials hope the moves will help attract more math teachers and better prepare educators to work with students learning English.

The changes, which the Colorado Department of Education proposed this week, would also cut down on the paperwork needed to enter the profession and make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to re-enter the classroom after they move to Colorado.

The package of changes also includes a slimmed-down teacher evaluation rubric, the first major revision to the rules under Colorado’s 2010 teacher effectiveness law.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Less paperwork for new teachers. Applicants for a teaching license would no longer have to provide transcripts for every school they attended, only the transcripts for the school that granted them their highest degree. (Many colleges hold transcripts hostage for unpaid debt, even minor ones like unpaid parking tickets.
  • Less paperwork for teachers coming from other states. Experienced, licensed teachers from outside Colorado would no longer need to provide transcripts or prove that their teacher preparation program met Colorado standards.
  • More flexibility about previous teaching experience. Licensed teachers from other states would no longer need to have previously worked under a full-time contract to qualify for a Colorado license.
  • A new credential limited to middle-school math. Right now, Colorado only has a secondary math endorsement, which requires competency in trigonometry and calculus. That’s a barrier for teachers moving from other states with a math endorsement limited to middle school, and some see it as a roadblock for those who feel comfortable with algebra but not higher-level math.
  • Additional pathways for counselors and nurses to get licensed to work in schools.

Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session would remove another barrier for out-of-state teachers. To qualify for a Colorado license today, teachers must have had three years of continuous teaching experience. If those bills are signed into law, applicants would only need three years of experience in the previous seven years.

Together, the proposals indicate how Colorado officials are working to make it a little easier to become a teacher in the state, which is facing a shortage in math teachers, counselors, and school nurses, among other specialties, as well as a shortage in many rural districts.

Colleen O’Neil, executive director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education, said many of the proposed changes came out of listening sessions focused on the state’s teacher shortage held around the state.  

The changes still don’t mean that if you’re a teacher anywhere in the country, you can easily become a teacher in Colorado. Just six states have full reciprocity, meaning anyone with a license from another state can teach with no additional requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States. Teachers whose licenses and endorsements don’t have a direct equivalent in Colorado would still need to apply for an interim license and then work to meet the standards of the appropriate Colorado license or endorsement.

The rule changes also add some requirements. Among those changes:

  • Prospective teachers will need more training on how to work with students learning English. Most significantly, all educator preparation programs would have to include six semester hours or 90 clock hours of training.
  • So will teachers renewing their licenses. They will need 45 clock hours, though the requirement wouldn’t kick in until the first full five-year cycle after the teacher’s most recent renewal. A teacher who just got her license renewed this year would have nine years to complete that additional training, as the requirement wouldn’t apply until the next renewal cycle. Superintendents in districts where less than 2 percent of the students are English language learners could apply for a waiver.

Colorado’s educator preparation rules already call for specialized training for teaching English language learners, but the rule change makes the requirements more explicit.

“We’re the sixth-largest state for English language learners,” O’Neil said. “We want to make sure our educators are equipped to teach all our learners.”

The rule changes would also “streamline,” in O’Neil’s words, the teacher evaluation process. Here’s what would change:

  • The five teacher quality standards would become four. “Reflection” and “leadership” are combined into “professionalism.”
  • The underlying elements of those standards would be reduced, too. Twenty-seven elements would become 17.

Fifty school districts and one charter collaborative have been testing the new evaluation system this year in a pilot program. O’Neil said most of the feedback has been positive, and the rest of the feedback has been to urge officials to winnow down the standards even further. That’s not a change she would support, O’Neil said.

“The reality is that teaching actually is rocket science,” she said. “There are a lot of practices and elements that go into good teaching.”

The state is accepting additional public comment on the rules until April 20, and a public hearing will be held in May. The new rules are expected to be adopted this summer.

Submit written feedback online or send an email to the State Board of Education at state.board@cde.state.co.us.