By Ben Velderman
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Memphis teacher union leaders are singing the blues as school leaders consider doing away with the antiquated pay practices that determine a teacher’s worth by the number of years spent in the classroom and the attainment of advanced college degrees.
In place of the old pay practices, Memphis school leaders are expected to pass a “compensation system that by 2015 will usher in a merit pay system, based on student test scores and other signs of teacher productivity,” reports The Commercial Appeal.
In other words, the days of paying teachers like they are interchangeable factory laborers – a hallmark of teacher unionism – are almost over in Memphis, as well as many other districts throughout Tennessee.
“I know that the prior policies have been in place for a long time, but we must rethink what we do to provide every student with an effective teacher,” board member Betty Mallot told The Commercial Appeal. “We cannot continue to focus scarce resources on management practices for which research does not show any effect.”
Mallot was referring to district research which found “there is little or no correlation between having a teacher with a master’s degree and high test scores in history or reading, for example,” the paper reports.
The only exceptions are in math and science. Teachers with advanced degrees in those subjects do improve student learning, which is why Memphis leaders are expected to preserve the practice of giving those teachers a pay increase for furthering their education, reports the Appeal.
District research also found that a teacher’s seniority has little connection to how well students learn. Memphis school leaders say their best teachers – as determined by student test scores – “show up in years 4, 8, 9 and 17,” while 20-year veterans “have among the highest percentage (of) students with low scores,” the paper reports.
Board members are expected to approve the change in pay practices later this month. The changes will only affect teachers who join the district after July 1.
“It’s the right discussion to have” said board member David Reaves. “This is the ‘teacher effectiveness’ model versus the ‘seniority and advanced degree’ model.”
A 2009 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the major factor behind the district’s culture shift from outdated union-based practices to research-backed plans.
“We made this commitment back when we proposed this to Gates,” Mallot said. “For that reason, I have not relented. We said then that we would address this problem.”
Memphis school leaders aren’t alone in making such changes.
The Appeal notes that “as funding for education becomes tighter, many districts are moving to eliminate seniority and pay for advanced degrees. Gov. Bill Haslam introduced the legislation last year, leaving it up to school boards to adopt the new pay schedule.”