Tennessee’s Haslam Targets Flexibility in Teacher Salaries

Teachers in Tennessee are set to lose their annual pay raises if Governor Bill Haslam can replace the current system with salaries based on student performance, how tough a teaching position is to fill and other variables.

Gov. Haslam wants to give districts the option of ditching a state-mandated salary scale [PDF] to create a pay plan that is tailored to teachers' needs, while still rewarding high performers. Currently many states across the country tie, or are looking to tie, teacher pay to student performance.

In Tennessee some extra money to fund raises or bonuses would come from removing the mandate on average class sizes, writes Julie Hubbard at the Tennessean.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman believes too many state mandates "suppress district-level innovation".

"We don't think that every single person in our education system should be treated the same."

However, Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford doesn't believe pay-for-performance plans encourage necessary collaboration.

She said:

"There tends to be this movement toward competition between teachers, schools and school systems, and I just don't see that as a way to encourage success."

If Haslam's plan passes in the General Assembly, teachers would be rewarded based on helping students make learning gains – however, school administrators haven't said how they'd rewrite the pay scale, if they would rewrite them at all:

Middle Tennessee school leaders said it's too early to say how they'd use the flexibility, writes Hubbard.

Current legislation requires the Tennessee Board of Education to set a flat minimum dollar amount for teacher salaries, which builds on experience and educational attainment each year. The state pays, on average, about 75 percent of a teacher's salary.

Sumner County Schools Director Del Phillips agrees with Haslam's view that pay plans should be flexible from district to district, saying that local leaders know what's holding each district back and how to address it.

Wilson County Human Resources Supervisor Mary Ann Sparks agreed, adding that implementing a bonus system for teachers in hard-to-recruit subjects like math or science could be useful.

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