Tenn. Governor Urges Merit Pay For Teachers

By Peggy Caldwell — February 09, 1983 8 min read
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Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander travelled the state last week, devoting full time to promoting major changes in public-school curricula and the career pay patterns of teachers.

Of his 10 proposals, which range from a mandatory kindergarten to stricter requirements in mathematics and science, Governor Alexander considers his so-called “master-teacher program” the most important. And, observers said last week, it is certain to be the most controversial as well.

Based on a four-stage professional path, the plan is a radical departure from the two-tiered certification system used in most states, and represents the first statewide attempt at an incentive-pay system.

The proposal, Governor Alexander said, would attract better teachers and reward the best by substantially increasing the salaries and responsibilities of up to 60 percent of the teacher workforce, bringing salaries in line with and in many cases above the national average. (Tennessee now ranks 44th in the nation in average teachers’ salaries.)

The Governor contended that his initiative would not affect the tenure or contractual rights of any teachers now working in the state, and that only new teachers would be required to participate in the new system.

The Governor presented his plan, which would cost $210 million annually by 1986-87, in his state-of-education address to the Tennessee Press Association on Jan. 28.

The four stages in the master-teacher program are:

Apprentice. Beginning teachers would receive an apprentice certificate from the state based on a degree from an approved teacher-education program, student-teaching experience, and the successful completion of the National Teacher Examination. Apprentices would be closely observed and counseled by experienced teachers, principals, and other supervisors, and would be paid on essentially the current salary scale.

Within three to five years, the apprentice would be required to"trade up” to a “professional” license or seek another career.

Professional. The professional license would be granted by the state board of education on the basis of a successful apprenticeship, evaluation by supervisors and master teachers from the districts, pupil performance, and, in some cases, a test in the subject to be taught.

Salaries would be calculated basically as they now are, and professional licenses would have to be renewed every five years. Teachers could choose to remain at the professional level.

Senior. After at least three years’ experience as a professional, a teacher could apply for a senior teacher’s license, which would be granted by a state master-teacher certification commission based on “evidence that the applicant is a successful classroom practitioner who is capable of assuming additional duties and responsibilities.”

Senior teachers’ contracts would be extended by one month per year and the state-funded portion of their salaries would be increased by 30 percent. For example, Governor Alexander said, a teacher with 10 years’ experience and a master’s degree now earns $13,810 from the state, plus any supplement provided by the local district--on average, about $2,900. If the same teacher attained senior status, the state portion would increase by $4,143. If the local supplement remains the same, the teacher would earn nearly $21,000 per year--slightly above the national average.

Senior teachers’ additional duties would include instruction of special-needs students, curriculum planning, and helping less-experienced teachers. The license would have to be renewed every five years. The state, Governor Alexander said, would pay the extra salary for up to 11,500 senior teachers.

Master. After five years as senior teacher, an instructor would be eligible to seek master-teacher status with its accompanying 12-month contract and 60-percent increase in the state’s base salary. Master teachers could earn $32,000 or more, depending on experience, training, and local supplements. The state would pay the extra salary for about 4,650 master teachers.

The state Master Teacher Certification Commission would award such licenses on the basis of effective teaching and demonstrated skills in supervising, evaluating, and helping other teachers. Additional duties would include responsibility for inservice training, supervision and coordination of the efforts of other teachers, and increased after-school activities. At least 65 percent of the master teachers’ time would, however, be spent in the classroom.

State-Appointed Commissions

Teachers’ licenses at all levels would be granted by state-appointed commissions consisting of master teachers, university teacher-educators, lay people, a master principal or other administrator and an official of the state department of education. An interim commission, representative of various interests, would grant the first master-teacher licenses so that the permanent commissions could be established.

To underscore his commitment to the proposal, the Governor met last week with teachers, administrators, school-board members, legislators, and parents around the state.

His office has established two toll-free hotlines to provide information on the program to callers from all over the state. And he vowed to veto any general tax increase, which some legislators believe is necessary to balance the budget, unless it provides money earmarked for his school-improvement plans.

The other nine components of the plan, some of which are already being phased in, are:

“Basic Skills First,” an elementary-school curriculum encompassing 1,300 discrete skills in reading and mathematics. By 1990, all 8th graders must pass a basic-skills test before entering high school.

“Computer Skills Next,” a program to introduce all students to computers before the 9th grade.

Mandatory kindergarten.

Two years each of high-school mathematics and science instead of the one year of each now required.

Residential summer schools for gifted juniors and seniors.

Alternative schools for disruptive students.

State-paid liability insurance for teachers and school employees.

Unified management, under the state Board of Regents, for 40 community colleges, technical institutes, and area vocational schools.

Increased support for teaching and research at state universities.

Although the initial reaction to the overall plan has been favorable, according to the Governor’s aides, the Tennessee Education Association (tea) has raised questions and objections to parts of it, particularly the master-teacher program.

Some teacher representatives see the program as “a hyped-up merit-pay plan,” said Tony Hayes, a spokesman for the tea, “and we know that merit-pay plans don’t work.”

Impartial Evaluations

Teachers’ associations have often taken the position that incentivehemes might be acceptable if there were a way to ensure impartial evaluations, but Governor Alexander’s proposal to have evaluations performed by teachers from other districts may not satisify that requirement, Mr. Hayes said.

“We get the feeling from teachers that they don’t want to be evaluated by outside sources,” he said. The more common system of evaluation by the principal, he added, is imper-fect, but may be superior to the outside review the Governor suggests.

The tea, which had not yet taken an official position on the initiative, is also concerned about the requirement that the license be renewed every five years and about the limit on the number of master and senior teachers who would be paid the higher state salary.

“Everybody thinks they’re a master teacher,” Mr. Hayes said. “Everybody would like to be a master teacher. They have to realize that two-thirds of them can’t be.”

And the association has raised questions about the distribution of master and senior teachers among districts and individual schools. “Teachers would become free agents,” Mr. Hayes said. “They’ll start going where the money is. The current salary base, on which the new pay plan would be built, is already inadequate,” he added.

Affiliates of the Tennessee School Boards Association, while also expressing some reservations, have been more enthusiastic about the ideas, according to Daniel J. Tollett, executive director.

‘Bold Plan’

“It’s a bold plan,” Mr. Tollett said. “It would help remedy something we’ve complained about for years. It would enable a superior teacher who’s the head of a household to stay in teaching and not have to go into another field to support a family.”

The school-boards association also wants some questions answered before taking a formal position on the Governor’s plan, Mr. Tollett said. For example, board members, like the tea, are concerned about the limits on state funds for the salaries of master and senior teachers.

“We would want to know if a school would be limited and how much flexibility a district would have in assigning teachers. And there are some districts, like Oak Ridge, where you just don’t get employed unless you have a master’s and really strong recommendations. The salaries are already high there. We wonder how much the locals would have to pick up in a case like that.”

Governor Alexander intends to have answers to such questions before presenting legislation during the current session of the General Assembly, said Deborah J. Patterson, his deputy press secretary.

Matter of Speculation

Whether the Republican governor has the political muscle to press his package through a legislature dominated by Democrats and during a severe economic slump is a matter of much speculation in Nashville.

The politically active tea, which may oppose the master-teacher program while supporting other elements of the Governor’s plan, has strong ties to some key Democratic legislators, observers point out.

On the other hand, one point in Mr. Alexander’s favor, observers note, is his popularity: he was re-elected by a wide margin last fall despite the fact that Tennessee remains a heavily Democratic state.

Furthermore, he was careful to point out in his speech that many of the ideas in his plan grew out of the Tennessee Comprehensive Education Study, a document not stemming from the executive branch, but ordered and carried out largely by legislators themselves.

A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 1983 edition of Education Week as Tenn. Governor Urges Merit Pay For Teachers


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