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Alabama Officials Disagreeing on Career Ladder

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Educators and politicians in Alabama are preparing for a heated debate over a career-ladder proposal introduced in the legislature last week.

The plan would cost $213.6 million over the next five years and would completely revamp the state's standards and salary schedule for teachers, according to Rex G. Cheatham, education liaison for Gov. George C. Wallace.

The proposal would provide initial pay raises of between 5 percent and 15 percent for all teachers. It would also require a minimum of two evaluations per year, beginning in 1986-87, of a teacher's knowledge and performance on the job.

Championed by Governor

Governor Wallace has termed the bill, which was developed by his Education Reform Commission, his top priority for this legislative session. According to Mr. Cheatham, the bill is "a long-range plan for the teachers of Alabama, which will not only attract prospective teachers to the profession but also retain those teachers who have been leaving for private industry."

Governor Wallace has promised that the bill can be financed without any increase in taxes. His staff estimates that economic growth will provide $588.4 million in new revenue for the state's education trust fund between 1985 and 1990.

Groups Divided

The Alabama Education Association, which represents some 96 percent of the state's public-school teachers, is supporting the "Alabama Performance-Based Career Incentive Program Act." But the Alabama Association of School Boards says it will oppose the current bill, primarily because it would give too much control to teachers in developing the plan.

Representatives of the state's department of education last week refused to comment on the plan. According to Michael Hamilton, a spokesman for the agency, the department is engaged in negotiations regarding the bill.

Wayne Teague, the state superintendent, said only that there is a "very good possibility that the career-ladder program can be worked out." Mr. Teague has been meeting with local school administrators around the state to garner support for the changes he wants in the plan, such as granting local school systems the authority to raise teacher standards above any statewide minimum.

Five Levels Proposed

The two-phase plan, to be put into effect over the next three school years, would create five levels of teachers: interns, or new teachers; probationary teachers, who would be untenured; and professional-I, professional-II, and master teachers.

In 1985-86 and 1986-87, the bill would classify all teachers as probationary or professional-I teachers, depending on whether they had tenure. Effective next Oct. 1, it would raise untenured teachers' salaries by 5 percent, to an estimated beginning salary of $18,000, and tenured teachers' salaries by 15 percent, to an estimated average of $23,260.

The salary increase would cost approximately $91.5 million, Mr. Cheatham said, and would bring beginning teachers' salaries in Alabama up to the national average. Approximately 19 percent of Alabama's 34,928 teachers are untenured.

The three additional teaching levels--intern, professional II, and master teacher--would not go into effect until the 1987-88 school year, he said.

Although salaries for the various levels have not yet been determined, the bill recommends an increase of no less than $5,000 between professional-I and professional-II status (which teachers could not reach until 1987-88), and no less than $6,000 between professional-II and master-teacher status (which teachers could not reach until 1989-90). That could mean an annual salary for some master teachers of as much as $36,000, Mr. Cheatham said.

Powerful Committee

One of the bill's most controversial aspects is the composition of a 35-member working committee that would be created to develop the job descriptions for the five levels of teachers, the performance standards, and the evaluation instrument.

Fifteen of those members would be public-school teachers appointed by the aea; five would be individuals appointed by the Governor, including three more classroom teachers; and 15 would be appointed by the state superintendent and would include local superintendents and board members, principals, parents, and business representatives.

The proposal calls for the evaluation instrument developed by the committee to measure a teacher's planning and instructional methods, classroom-management practices, competence in his or her subject, human-relations skills, professional growth and development, knowledge of learning and learners, and communication skills.

The bill also requires that the committee develop a way to assess teachers' effectiveness through the use of student-achievement scores and other measures of student progress.

According to Randy Quinn, executive director of the aasb, the committee "for all practical purposes" would leave the essential decisions about the career-ladder plan and control of the teaching profession in the hands of classroom teachers.

However, Gerald W. Waldrop, president of the aea, accused the aasb of wanting to maintain a "do-nothing posture." He claimed that a statewide evaluation system is needed because local school boards have "willingly abdicated" their responsibility to conduct evaluations of teachers. Only 59 of Alabama's 128 school systems now have any form of evaluation, Mr. Cheatham said.

In addition to "satisfactory" or "excellent" ratings on the evaluations--which would be conducted a minimum of three times a year for intern and probationary teachers and twice a year for all other teachers--advancement on the career ladder would require a minimum amount of teaching experience at the preceding classification level and a minimum amount of service in the school system.

For example, an individual would have to teach 13 years in Alabama's public schools before applying to become a master teacher. A master teacher would also have to hold a master's degree or its equivalent and must have demonstrated the ability to assist novice teachers, work with parents, and perform such tasks as curriculum development, inservice training, and textbook selection.

Teachers would have the right to appeal career-ladder decisions in certain instances, first at the local level and then before a new state-level performance-review board.

Health Insurance

The bill would also provide full medical and health insurance for all education personnel employed in Alabama's public schools. At present, state employees receive full medical and health insurance; teachers do not. That proposal would cost $50 million in 1985-86, of which $15 million would be recurring costs.

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