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.”

money matters

After Cuomo calls for belt-tightening, New York’s Board of Regents look to lawmakers for more school aid

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Chancellor Rosa at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School

Less than a week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a modest increase in school spending, the state’s top education policymakers began plotting ways to secure more funding.

Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa rallied her fellow board members at a meeting Monday, urging them to shift their focus onto the state legislature, which must negotiate a final budget with the governor. She said the board should come up with a unified plan for pressuring lawmakers, adding that State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia would continue to make the case for more funding in public and in private conversations with legislators.

Now the question becomes: What else can we do to continue to move that agenda forward?” Rosa said to the group. “I’d like us to do it in a collective kind of way so that it doesn’t become a free-for-all.”

In the 2018 spending plan that Cuomo released last week, he proposed a $769 million increase in education funding — less than half the amount that the Board of Regents had called for. Rosa and Elia issued a statement soon after the budget came out saying they were “concerned.”

They may face an uphill battle as they prepare to urge lawmakers to haggle for more school aid. New York is staring down a projected budget deficit, responding to a federal tax overhaul that could limit the state’s ability to raise revenue, and bracing for the possibility of further federal cuts.

Even as the Regents got set to resist Cuomo’s spending plan, Commissioner Elia pushed back against another one of the governor’s proposals.

In his budget plan, Cuomo suggested that the state education department and his budget office be given final approval of local school-district budgets. The added oversight is meant to ensure that the neediest schools receive their fair share of funding, but Elia raised concerns that it could usurp local officials’ authority.

“I think there’s some concerns, clearly, on someone from [the state education department] and or the division of budget separated from a school and their community saying you can’t do something on your budget,” Elia told reporters Monday outside the Regents meeting.

Now that the governor has submitted his budget, lawmakers in each chamber will craft counteroffers. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, has already signaled that he wants a sizeable increase in school funding this year. But Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, has spoken in general terms about spending restraint.

The board is also pushing for extra funding for specific purposes, such as support for students learning English. The Regents had called for spending an additional $85 million on English learners this year, but this request did not make it into the governor’s budget.

Regent Luis Reyes, a longtime advocate for English learners, asked how the board can ensure that this goal does not get lost in the shuffle.

“How do we spend the rest of January, February, and March publicly and/or privately to get this pillar to be built and not to be dismantled?” he asked.

Investment strategy

Here are the initiatives Memphis’ education philanthropists will focus on in 2018

PHOTO: Matt Detrich/The Indianapolis Star
A charter leader from Indianapolis, Marcus Robinson is now CEO of the Memphis Education Fund, a philanthropic collaborative that invests in education improvement initiatives for Memphis schools.

A Memphis philanthropic group has shed its “Teacher Town” name but still plans to spend this year recruiting new teachers while also investing in growing the city’s single-site charter operators.

Unlike similar organizations in other cities across the country, the Memphis Education Fund plans to center its search locally — by helping local universities and groups prepare teachers for the challenges of urban education.

Originally called Teacher Town, the fund was created in 2014 by Memphis education leaders and local philanthropists with a goal of transforming Memphis into a destination city for talented teachers. That vision built on a major investment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teaching in the city.

In 2016, the group adopted a broader goal of improving all schools; brought in a new leader, Marcus Robinson, from Indianapolis; and joined Education Cities, a national collective of local groups seeking to reshape schools in their cities

In part inspired by changes that have taken place in Indianapolis, where Robinson had worked as a charter leader, Education Cities coordinates local groups advocating for the “portfolio model,” a vision in which cities have more charter schools and let district schools operate more like charters.

Robinson told Education Cities a year ago that his next step for Memphis would be “to unite everyone around a common set of operating principles, expectations, and evaluations to create a level playing field for each operator to perform optimally.” This appears to be in line with the portfolio vision, which aims to give all schools flexibility to operate as they see fit, while holding them equally accountability for results.

But instead of bringing the Shelby County Schools district and local charter operators closer together, 2017 saw them waging open competition for students.

For 2018, Robinson is tackling priorities that are not likely to inflame divisions. The fund will continue to focus on principal training, along with helping single-site charter organizations, boosting reading skills among the city’s youngest students, and recruiting new Memphis teachers.

“We’re hell-bent to fill classrooms with teachers,” said Robinson, pointing to elementary schools as having some of the greatest need.

Memphis will need an estimated 3,600 new teachers by 2020, said Lesley Brown, who directs how the fund invests its money to attract, develop and retain talent for local schools.

Rather than recruiting teachers from outside of Memphis, Teacher Town’s original focus, Robinson said the fund is strengthening partnerships with local universities and teacher preparation programs, such as one launched at Rhodes College in 2016 with the help of a $7 million gift from the fund.

The Memphis Education Fund receives support from several local philanthropies, including The Pyramid Peak Foundation and the Hyde Foundation. (Chalkbeat also receives support from Hyde; read about our funding here.)

Robinson added that the fund also is ramping up its support for single-site charter operators, such as helping teachers implement new literacy curriculum at Memphis Delta Preparatory Charter School and STAR Academy Charter School.

“There’s less of an appetite for national charter organizations to move into Memphis,” he said. ”The next phase isn’t national CMOs (charter management organizations), but how do we encourage single-site schools to evolve.”

The group has doled out such grants to charters as part of a larger effort to boost student reading levels and develop teacher training for Core Knowledge Language Arts and KIPP Wheatley.

“Early literacy is a huge focus,” Robinson told Chalkbeat. “When we look at the test scores, early elementary scores are horrific. What’s the root? Access to quality literacy instruction.”