Teachers' turn

Tennessee teachers school Haslam on testing, evaluations during first Teachers Cabinet meeting

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen lead the inaugural meeting of the Governor's Teachers Cabinet in Nashville.

Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday convened the first meeting of his Teachers Cabinet by quizzing teachers from across the state about everything from professional development to whether Tennessee students are tested excessively.

“If you were sitting where we are, what would you do?” he asked, gesturing to himself and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who was sitting to his right.

The teachers largely agreed that reforms implemented under Haslam’s administration, like more rigorous teacher evaluations and new standards, are a move in the right direction. But they were quick to point out areas for improvement.

Teachers said they like the new teacher evaluation system in theory, but that it can be inconsistent.

Angie Tisdale, a teacher from Franklin Special School District, said some administrators are hesitant to rate teachers a 5 on the observation rubric, even if they believe the teacher’s performance merits the top evaluation score. She said that’s because administrators want to avoid incongruencies between their own observation score and a teacher’s value-added score, which is based on a formula that measures how much teachers contribute to students’ growth on statewide assessments.

Haslam in June named the 18 Tennessee teachers, who were nominated by their superintendents, to his newly formed Teachers Cabinet. The cabinet is part of the governor’s effort to include more teachers in policy decisions and will meet quarterly in Nashville. The next cabinet meeting is scheduled for Nov. 5.

Karen Vogelsang, a fourth-grade teacher in Shelby County Schools and the 2015 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, said over-testing is a problem in her district.

“There’s just too much. It just seemed our entire month of February was built around testing,” Vogelsang said. “There’s so many assessments, and then each assessment is giving me different data. I don’t have any one thing I can hang my hat on.”

Schwann Logan, a teacher from Barlett Schools, added that, “by the time the real test comes around, (students are) tested out.”

Haslam said he wants to see a report on the number of standardized tests that each district administers, as well as their achievement scores.

“I’m willing to bet that those districts that are testing too much, their results aren’t any better,” the governor said.

McQueen, who is leading a task force on testing, said the state Department of Education can’t mandate the number of tests required by districts, but could share best practices.

“I’ve learned a lot of things today,” Haslam told the teachers. “And I’ve learned a lot of very specific things I’ll be following up on.”

Teachers said afterward that they appreciated the governor’s earnest effort to hear their perspectives and to seek clarification on some of their statements.

“He was even more open than I generally expected,” said Lance Morgan, a teacher from Union County. “He really allowed us to share our thoughts and feelings on things, and tell him what was going on in education.”

During Thursday’s meeting, McQueen also unveiled new programs meant to address Tennessee’s stagnant reading scores. “Ready to Read” will include professional development and instructional materials to bolster literacy instruction in early grades, and “Read to Be Ready” will address older students.

Teacher votes

Memphis teacher groups want annual pay raises and more say in how they teach their students

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Keith Williams (left) and Tikeila Rucker lead the teacher associations representing licensed educators in Shelby County Schools.

Memphis teachers will soon have the opportunity to change compensation, work hours, health benefits, and how they teach if they vote to negotiate a new agreement with Shelby County Schools.

The district’s two organizations, which represent teachers and other licensed educators, say their priorities are restoring automatic pay increases and higher pay for educators with advanced degrees, and giving more flexibility to teachers in the classroom.

United Education Association and Memphis-Shelby County Education Association have been talking with district leaders about making these changes, but amending the employee agreement with the district — through a process known as “collaborative conferencing” in Tennessee law — would ensure the changes will take place with a written agreement.

The United Education Association plans to hold a teacher rally to talk about the process from 4:30 to 6 Tuesday evening at the district’s central office. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is scheduled to be the guest speaker.

Collaborative conferencing replaced union bargaining rights in a 2011 law. The law tossed the requirement that districts and organizations representing employees have to reach an agreement. If there’s an impasse, the school board gets the final word.

The law also narrowed the topics that could be discussed between teacher organizations and the school district. Their agreements cannot address teacher evaluations, district decisions on bonuses and raises based on teacher performance, or requiring districts to base personnel decisions on tenure or seniority.

If educators vote to negotiate, it will be the first negotiation for the Memphis school district since 2015, and the first since the city’s teacher group split into two. Last year, the groups tried to get enough votes for talks, but fell short by about 10 percent. (The current agreement is still in effect.)

Related: Why the Janus Supreme Court case won’t have much impact in Tennessee

Garnering enough support to start talks requires two steps.

First, 15 percent of employees are required by state law to sign a petition requesting a district-wide vote on whether teacher representatives should negotiate a new agreement, also known as a memorandum of understanding. The two teacher organizations, which collectively represent about 4,500 members, have gathered at least 2,600 signatures, well above the number needed.

Next, half of the district’s licensed educators must vote by email to start negotiations. Educators will also be asked in early November to choose which organization will represent them at the negotiating table. The organizations will have a percentage of seats on a committee based on which organization educators voted for.

The resulting agreement would not be sent back for a vote from teachers, but Tikeila Rucker, the president of the United Education Association, said her organization plans to conduct surveys throughout the process “that ensures us that we really have teacher input.”

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

Hopson has tried for several years to switch teacher pay to a merit system based on evaluation scores that include student test scores. That would mean only teachers with high evaluation scores would be eligible for raises. But Hopson did not want to base those decisions on a state test that has experienced a multitude of problems. So, for the last three years, all educators have received 3 percent raises.

Keith Williams, the executive director of Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, said the district should combine merit pay and annual increases in base pay.

“I think we should do step and merit pay,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of issues to work out for teacher compensation, including advanced degree pay and people who are nationally board certified.”

Hopson also has brought back some pay for advanced degrees. But only teachers with high evaluation scores are eligible.

Related: The salary slide: as other professionals see growth, teachers’ pay stagnates, new report finds

Rucker said she also wants to push for more flexibility in how teachers use the district’s new curriculum, which more closely aligns with Tennessee’s new requirements for what students should learn.

“Teachers are mandated to teach based on district-selected curriculum and it’s kind of like a script,” Rucker said. “That takes away from a lot of the creativity for teachers to reach their students for academic success.”

Hopson did allow some flexibility based on feedback from Rucker’s organization, but said teachers had to earn that autonomy based on their evaluation scores.

dollars and cents

New York City teacher salaries to range from $61,070 to $128,657 in new contract

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
The pay increases included in the new contract are marginal. UFT President Michael Mulgrew (right) and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (left) announced the new agreement Thursday along with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Starting salaries for a first-year New York City teacher will increase over the next three years to $61,070, up from $56,711 this year, according to a salary schedule released Friday by the United Federation of Teachers.

Unlike the first contract under Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2014, the pay increases included in the new contract are marginal. In that contract, starting teacher pay jumped by almost 20 percent — nearly $10,000 — because city teachers had gone without an updated contract for five years.

[Related: More money for New York City teachers in contract deal, but is it a raise? Some are pushing back]

The 2019-2022 contract, announced four months before the current one is due to expire, includes annual raises of 2, 2.5, and 3 percent. Teachers have criticized the increases as insufficient to keep up with rising living costs.

“Furious my beloved @UFT wants me to support a contract that doesn’t even include cost of living increases when I teach in one of most expensive housing markets in USA,” tweeted Samantha Rubin.

Under the contract agreement, which still needs to be ratified by the UFT’s members, the maximum salary for teachers will rise from $119,565 to $128,657. The proposed salary schedule details how much teachers earn based on how many years they’ve been working and how many education credits they’ve accrued.

The union posted the schedule as part of a massive document dump aimed at explaining the new contract. Those documents include an outline of the proposed changes and the agreement signed by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, which also made several policy changes that will affect schools and classrooms.

Friday afternoon, the UFT’s 3,400-member delegate assembly will meet and vote to recommend the proposed contract to all 129,000 members.

Some members have complained that the vote feels rushed. The agreement was announced Thursday afternoon and the memorandum was still being finalized in the hours before the delegate vote.

“It strikes me as sort of Republican Senate power play to just ram something through before anyone has a chance to read the contract,” said Will Ehrenfeld, an American history teacher at P-Tech and a union delegate. “I think it’s really unacceptable to not get details.”

Mulgrew defended the process, saying “everyone is going to have a couple of weeks to read the entire memorandum.”

You can read the full memorandum below.

Christina Veiga and Alex Zimmerman contributed.