Futrell Urges Tenn. Governor To Work With Union
Nashville, Tenn--Mary H. Futrell, president of the National Education Association has told Gov. Lamar Alexander--whose proposal last spring for a statewide "master-teacher" program helped catalyze the national debate on school reform--that by working with the Tennessee Education Association he can develop a "model reform package."
Ms. Futrell made her proposal for "working together" at the Tennessee Forum on Educational Excellence, a meeting held at Vanderbilt University late last month. The tea opposed Governor Alexander's incentive-pay plan, which would promote teachers to the rank of master teacher through a four-step process, during the 1982 Tennessee General Assembly.
Leaning over the podium and looking directly at Mr. Alexander, who sat in the front row, Ms. Futrell said, "I believe teachers in Tennessee want reform, educationally sound reform. It pleases me to see the Governor and tea working together. He has great resources at 598 James Robertson Parkway."
That is the address of the tea's state headquarters here, which sits at the foot of the capitol.
Differences Still Substantial
Both tea officials and the Governor have sought in recent weeks to portray their differences as smaller than before. But those differences appeared still to be substantial in Ms. Futrell's speech and the comments of tea representatives at the symposium, which was sponsored by Vanderbilt's Institute for Public Policy Studies and The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper.
Ms. Futrell struck a note of conciliation in her opening comments.
"For the last six months, education has been the number one topic," she said. Noting that nea and tea members have served on the national and state task forces studying public education, she said that "we believe there is a crisis and only by working together will we resolve it."
She went on, however, to repeat the objections that the tea has raised against Mr. Alexander's incentive-pay plan from the beginning. Any teacher-evaluation process, she said, "should be designed to improve performance in the classroom," and she restated the position that improved salaries across the board for teachers are a top priority.
"Good teachers must be paid a professional salary," she said, adding that "we must begin talking about starting salaries of $20,000 to $25,000."
She also noted that many merit-pay plans had failed in the past because they were "ill conceived" and received "too little" funding.
The nea president also commented on the issue of "quotas" for the reward system, which is one of the biggest remaining differences between Governor Alexander and the tea.
The Governor proposes that all teachers who earn senior- and master-teacher designations--the two highest rankings in his four-step career ladder--would receive the ti-tles. But the state would provide funding for up to 15 percent only of the state's teachers to receive the $7,000 annual master-teacher supplement and for and additional 25 percent of the teachers to receive the $4,000 senior-teacher supplement.
Ms. Futrell, in her speech, said the objective of any reform effort should be to put "a meritorious teacher in each classroom."
Asked later if the nea can accept an incentive-pay plan with such quotas, she said, "If our affiliate agrees with that concept, we will support them, but there must be language to expand."
Marjorie Pike, the tea president, said her organization would not support any legislation with "arbitrary quotas" in it.
Governor Alexander admitted that there is a "substantial" difference of opinion on this issue but insisted that it could be worked out.
"Quotas have gotten to be a significant obstacle among the teachers," the Governor said. "How to maintain the integrity of the plan and resolve that question is difficult. Most people expect a system with some on the top rung, more on the next, and most on the basic."
Status of U.S. Schools
The nearly 400 participants in the Vanderbilt meeting--ranging from two dozen Tennessee legislators to teachers from across the state--also heard a number of speakers on the various recent reports on the status of U.S. public schools.
Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and Ms. Futrell "debated" the question of competency testing for teachers in their session on the teachers' view of educational excellence. Both said that they favored the use of the tests for beginning teachers, but both opposed their use for the recertification of teachers already in the classroom.
Other speakers discussed the reform efforts in Florida, Houston, and Charlotte, N.C.