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Tenn. Panel Approves Career-Ladder Plan

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Nashville--Gov. Lamar Alexander's teaching-reform plan, blocked by lawmakers earlier this year after intense lobbying by the Tennessee Education Association, has cleared a major legislative hurdle.

By a vote of eight to six, the Select Committee on Education last month approved a version of the bill that sets up a five-step career ladder with differential pay for teachers; revises the entrance requirements for both teacher-training programs and licensure; and attempts to mandate a higher quality of teacher training both in colleges and on the job.

It also increases students' school year from 175 to 180 days and establishes a teacher-aide program for grades 1-3.

In addition, the committee "recommended" that Tennessee teachers, who received no across-the-board pay hike from the state this year, receive an increase of at least 10 percent next year. Governor Alexander is proposing 7.5 percent. The tea, which opposes his incentive-pay plan for public-school teachers, is lobbying for 20 percent. The select committee was established last spring when the Senate Education Committee, by one vote, deferred Governor Alexander's original master-teacher proposal. Key leaders in the Democrat-controlled legislature privately urged both the tea, a traditional ally of Democratic candidates in the state, and Mr. Alexander, a Republican, to use the select committee as a vehicle for compromise.

Within an hour of the committee's action, Governor Alexander "wholeheartedly" endorsed the draft legislation, saying he would work as hard for its passage as if it were his own.

Proposal Language

tea leaders, however, contended that language in the new proposal--like that in the Governor's original proposal--jeopardized statutes on tenure and professional negotiations.

The association leaders also expressed continuing reservations about recertification as a mechanism to remove teachers who are thought to be incompetent.

tea leaders would not say that they would oppose the bill, but they did say they would work for amendments to satisfy their concerns. Moreover, supporters of the union who sit on the select committee said they might file a minority report and might even draft an alternative bill.

The committee's bill will be considered next by the education committees of the legislature, which reconvenes next month. The new bill bears a strong resemblance to the original Alexander proposal, but it includes some modifications. Among them:

Five-rung career ladder. The "career ladder" in the bill has five "rungs," one more than in Governor Alexander's original proposal. The committee added a "probationary-teacher" rank for teachers in their first year after college. Under this arrangement, school systems would have four years, instead of the current three, to make tenure decisions about new teachers.

The probationary-teacher license is good for one year and cannot be renewed. Similarly, the apprentice-teacher certificate--the next rung--is good for three years and cannot be renewed.

The next step on the ladder is the professional-teacher level, at which point a teacher receives a $1,000 annual pay supplement. After five years, a professional teacher can apply to become a senior teacher and will receive an additional $2,000 or $4,000, depending on whether he or she is on a 10- or 11-month contract.

After five years, a senior teacher is eligible to apply for distinguished senior-teacher status, with a salary increase of $3,000 to $7,000, depending on the length of the contract.

The anticipated cost of the career-ladder program in 1986-87, when it is to be fully implemented, is $122 million annually; the first-year cost is estimated at $50 million.

No quotas on master teachers. The "quotas" in the Governor's proposal were omitted in the committee's bill. The Governor had urged the state to provide enough funding for 15 percent of the teachers to receive the top pay supplement and for 25 percent to receive the next-highest supplement. The new bill includes a provision for legislative oversight to ensure the "fiscal integrity" of the career-ladder program.

Recertification and removal of incompetent teachers. Despite opposition from the tea, the select committee included a requirement that teachers pass a recertification evaluation every five years. Those found to be "incompetent" could appeal the state's decision. If, at the end of the appeal process, a teacher is still judged incompetent, the state money for that teacher's salary and benefits would be withheld. The entire salary would then have to be paid by the local school system if it decides to keep rather than to dismiss the teacher.

Testing and preparation of prospective teachers. Applicants to the state's teacher-training programs would have to pass a writing test and the California Achievement Test (cat); currently, applicants are only required to pass the cat

Beginning with the graduating class of 1986, prospective teachers would have to pass tests in the basic skills and in the subject they planned to teach.

The proposed legislation also calls for an institution to be placed on one year's probation by the state if 30 percent of its students fail the competency test. If its failure rate is 30 percent or more for two consecutive years, its state approval will be revoked and can be subsequently regained only if 70 percent of its graduates pass the test.

Florida and Alabama have enacted similar laws.

Education students would have to spend "a significant portion of three academic quarters in classroom observation and teaching."

Beginning in 1986, students would have to take for their teaching endorsements courses that would be required for an academic major in the field in addition to required education courses.

Requirements for education schools. Another provision in the bill requires that education professors have "direct personal involvement" in a public-school system on a periodic basis. The involvement may take the form of assisting at inservice programs, conducting teacher evaluations called for in the career-ladder proposal, or teaching in public schools.

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