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Tennessee Legislature Passes Master-Teacher Bill

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Nashville--The Tennessee General Assembly last week approved a bill establishing the nation's most ambitious statewide teacher career-ladder and incentive-pay program and sent it to Gov. Lamar Alexander for signing.

The career-teacher legislation and the one-cent hike in Tennessee's sales tax, which will raise more than $1 billion over the next three years for the incentive-pay plan and other education measures, went to Governor Alexander almost 13 months after he first proposed a master-teacher plan.

In its final version, the legislation sets up a five-step career ladder with annual salary incentives ranging from $500 to $7,000 for Tennessee's 46,000 teachers. The five steps are:

Probationary teachers. These are first-year teachers, who will receive state certification after a positive evaluation and a recommendation from their local board.

Apprentice teachers. After completing probation, teachers will serve a three-year apprenticeship and receive an annual supplement of $500. They will be evaluated each year by their local school boards. At the end of the third year, they must receive tenure and move to the next level or lose their jobs.

Career Level One teachers. Certification at this level is good for five years; teachers receive an annual supplement of $1,000. In addition to normal duties, these teachers will supervise student interns and probationary teachers.

Career Level Two teachers. Certification is good for five years; these teachers are eligible for $2,000 and $4,000 annual salary supplements with 10-month and 11-month contracts, respectively. In addition to normal duties, these teachers will work with remedial and gifted students, as well as supervise apprentice teachers.

Career Level Three teachers. Certification is good for five years; the annual supplements are $3,000 for a 10-month contract, $5,000 for an 11-month contract, and $7,000 for a 12-month contract. In addition to being eligible for assignments similar to those for career level two, these teachers will conduct evaluations of career-level teachers.

At the first career level, evaluations will be carried out by local school boards, which will follow state minimum standards. The state will have the right to spot-check these evaluations and conduct full evaluations of its own. Any disagreement between the local and state evaluations will be settled by a nine-member regional certification board, with appeal to the courts possible.

Eight of the nine members of the regional board will be teachers; the board will be selected by a state certification board that is also created by the legislation.

Following a negative evaluation, teachers will have six months to demonstrate their attainment of the minimum standards. If they fail to do so, local school boards must dismiss them under tenure-law provisions or face the loss of state funds for each teacher's salary.

The evaluations for career-levels two and three will be conducted by the state, using career-level-three teachers who are not employed in the school system of the teacher being evaluated.

Current teachers have the option of entering the career ladder or staying under the present system, with its 10-year recertification procedures. New teachers hired after July 1, 1984, will be required to enter the career-teacher program. Under a "fast-track" provision in the legislation, an estimated 32,000 of the state's current 46,000 teachers could qualify during the next year for career-level-one status and its $1,000 bonus.

Current teachers have a number of ways to qualify for the ladder, including passing the National Teachers Examination and receiving a recommendation from their local school board or successfully completing a local staff-development program that meets minimum state standards. If the 32,000 teachers do take advantage of the fast track, first-year costs for the program will be an estimated $50 million. In 1986-87, when the plan is expected to be fully in place, the annual cost of the incentive-pay program is estimated at $122 million.

Approximately 33,000 of the state's teachers now have enough years of experience to be eligible for the top two steps of the program. In the 1984-85 school year, an estimated 11,000 teachers can be evaluated for stepping up to career levels two and three. (State officials say they don't expect all eligible teachers will seek evaluation.)

Opposition Reversed

The Tennessee Education Associ-ation, an affiliate of the National Education Association, opposed the legislation from the time the Governor first proposed it until late January.

After the bill was approved by the legislature's two education committees despite tea opposition, the association held series of negotiating sessions with House sponsors of the measure. Following those negotiations, tea leaders endorsed the career-teacher program.

For the teachers, the negotiations achieved the protection of their current tenure and negotiating rights, according to Marjorie Pike, the tea president.

The main provision in this regard is the so-called "toe-in-the-water" amendment.

Under that amendment, a current teacher entering the career ladder could withdraw at any time and go back under the regular recertification system. In addition, a probationary teacher who was not given tenure and did not move up to career level one in one school district could start over in another district.

Ms. Pike has promised to "get out on the road" to sell the new career-ladder program to local school boards and tea affiliates.

While legislative sponsors of the measure were divided on how much tea's backing helped in the final passage of the bill, they have been unanimous in saying that the union's support is crucial to successful implementation.

Field testing of the state's evaluation criteria is to begin within six weeks.

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