Teacher Pay

Hopson postpones teacher pay-for-performance proposal

PHOTO: Daarel Burnette II
Hundreds of teachers attend the Shelby County School Board meeting in January to express concern about the district's performance-based pay plan.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has scrapped a proposal to reward teachers next school year based on their performance in the classroom, several sources told Chalkbeat on Monday.

The administration instead may propose that teachers continue to be paid next school year based on years of experience, according to information included in the agenda packet for Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. District leaders also may reintroduce the school system’s earlier policy of rewarding teachers for degrees attained.

In addition, teachers would receive any raises funded through the state legislature – which would be their first pay increases in more than two years, according to Keith Williams, president of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, who has been in negotiations with administrators over a new agreement between the district and the county’s largest teacher union.

The board is expected to discuss the pay plan Tuesday evening in Memphis, along with a separate three-year Memorandum of Understanding with the local teachers union. A vote could come as early as March 31.

Hopson explained Tuesday that he heard teachers’ concerns about the fairness of changing the pay scale based on performance – just as the district is changing its academic standards.

“Our teachers have been through a lot in the last two years between the merger and the de-merger,” Hopson said of the 2013 merger of the former Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools, as well as the subsequent departure of six suburban communities creating their own school systems. “We’re constantly asking them to do more with less. Teachers wanted to be heard. They felt like this process was too fast and we were  forcing something down their throat.”

Board Chairwoman Teresa Jones said she was supportive of the move.

“I support Hopson’s agreement with the teachers at this time,” Jones said Monday. “I had initial apprehensions – not with the concept of merit pay but with the fact that the evaluation tool is so fluid and I didn’t think at this time we were ready to implement merit pay with all the issues surrounding the evaluation. I am supportive of this pay not being based on merit at this time.”

Hopson’s change of heart comes after the district heard protests from teachers who labeled the new compensation plan simplistic, unfair and based on a flawed measuring stick. Board members also expressed reservations about the timing and specifics of such a sweeping change.

Shelby County Schools is the state’s largest public school district. Employing about 7,000 teachers, it is also one of the county’s largest employers.

Hopson proposed in December to tie teacher pay to the state’s Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM) scores, which are based on student test scores, a series of evaluations and student surveys. Under the plan, teachers could earn increases of $1,200, $1,000 or $800 for scoring at the top three levels up to $73,000. Salaries would remain the same for teachers scoring in the bottom two levels.

The pay initiative was designed to attract and retain the state’s best teachers and weed out less effective ones. While the district has the highest pay in Tennessee, it ranks near the bottom academically, with only a third of its third-grader students reading on grade level. Because of chronic academic underperformance, 30 Shelby County schools have been taken over by the state, and several more are at risk.

Most recently, some of the district’s better-performing teachers have left to teach in suburban municipal districts that still reward teachers for degrees attained, or at charter schools that often pay new teachers more.

In January, hundreds of teachers decked in red packed the monthly board meeting to voice their displeasure with the merit pay proposal. They pointed out that the district, which is in the process of cutting millions of dollars from its budget, couldn’t afford to give pay bumps to all teachers if they all performed at the highest level on the TEM scale and that the TEM rubric frequently is changed by the state and the district. They also said the new pay scale didn’t take into account whether a teacher is working in a high-poverty school or participating in professional development programs.

“I think that rewarding teachers based on compensation is an admirable goal and is what teachers deep down want to see,” said Jon Alfuth, a Memphis charter school teacher and blogger who studied the proposed pay scale. “But what Shelby County was proposing, I’d question whether it would make the sort of impact on teacher recruitment and retention I think they want.”

Alfuth reported that the only teachers who would financially benefit from the proposed pay scale were high-performing teachers with a bachelor’s degree. “For everyone else, it’s either a net wash or a net loss,” he said Monday. “This makes me worried that teachers in traditionally low-performing schools are going to leave those schools because they’d be afraid that they won’t get the pay increases they’re getting now.”

Many observers told Chalkbeat that Hopson may reintroduce the merit pay proposal next year.

On Tuesday evening, the board also is expected to discuss a proposed contract between the teachers union and district administrators. The last contract expired in 2012 and, during the last two years, the district has been in negotiations with leaders of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association. During that time, the association has sued the district seven times over issues related to pay and evaluations.

Williams, president of the local teachers union, said the Memorandum of Understanding will guarantee an extra personal day for teachers with 18 years of service, a stable insurance rate, a more defined work day and a set amount of hours teachers would have to stay after school for professional development and faculty meetings.

“We got the best [Memorandum of Understanding] we could’ve gotten,” Williams said Monday. “This is probably the best one in the state.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story UPDATES a previous version to include more details in grafs 2-4 about pay plans under consideration

Contact Daarel Burnette II at dburnette@chalkbeat.org or (901) 260-3705.

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call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”