by J.C. Bowman
Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Franklin, Tennessee, comments on pay policy that requires each district to create a merit pay system by the 2014-15 school year. The state board is taking this action to fulfill the requirements of Public Chapter 376 (2007), Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-3-306(h), the State Board of Education has developed guidelines for the establishment of differentiated pay plans by local education agencies (LEAs).
Our experience with differentiated pay/merit pay is that it is never funded appropriately. If the state is the source of funding it will eventually go away. We have watched programs implemented in our state and other states simply be discontinued. The state needs to reassure educators this will not happen. It can be argued that this is more of a political issue and not an education issue. If this is the case, it may serve politicians more than educators. It is imperative that PET works with policymakers and local systems to come up with a system that is fair for teachers. It is our job to make sure that teachers have a seat at the table in working toward an effective and just policy. Therefore, we want to clearly articulate our position as outlined below, and look forward to the discussion.
Professional Educators of Tennessee believes the common ground can be found by financially rewarding educators for their expertise and their excellence. This will attract and retain the best and brightest to the teaching profession. However, Professional Educators of Tennessee opposes the use of student test scores as the primary measure of a teacher's effectiveness, as the determining factor for a teacher's compensation or as the primary rationale for an adverse employment action. Rewarding teachers for their performance has been discussed in education for decades but has been a particularly heated issue of late.
This may well work at the campus level as a campus score as long as the local teachers are involved with development. However, the critical question is can we create a fair system that works at the individual teacher level? There is no valid instrument or value added model that reflects all the outside factors affecting a student's education that a teacher controls. We understand that whoever controls the test literally controls the entire system. There is no stronger tool to defeat the freedom to teach, than by boiling it all down to a test.
PET believes that teachers should be rewarded for a variety of reasons, including rewarding teachers experience and advanced degrees. PET opposes incentive or performance pay programs, unless they are designed in an equitable and fair manner. PET supports a career compensation and benefits package for all certified, licensed and contracted public school employees that mandates competitive salaries that are equal to or greater than the national average and competitive with private industry. The state should still include a minimum salary schedule that provides for step increases to recognize longevity in the profession. PET supports the creation of a statewide set of evaluation standards for campus administrators that includes a survey of classroom educators and staff regarding the professional performance of the campus administrators.
In addition to experience and degrees, we expect to see salary increases targeted at performance (merit), market, equity, or retention. General financial parameters and guidelines should be established each year as part of the budget development process at the state and local level. In addition, below are a few additional talking points on the subject:
- Merit salary increases may be composed of many differing components, but two components – a base salary percentage increase (specified in budget) and a percentage increase in recognition of above satisfactory (or exceptional) performance. This will be mostly tied to increases in student achievement/performance.
- Adjustments to salaries may also be made when there is an issue resulting from market or other equity factors
- Equity factors exist from internal pay disparities and are not related to individual performance
- Retention bonus should occur in hard to fill positions like foreign language, special education and higher level math and science.
J. C. Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Franklin, TN.