WHAT’S THE NUMBER?

“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition”
Timothy Leary

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
Yogi Berra

So let’s talk about teacher compensation. Let’s talk about teacher recruitment and retention. Let’s talk about supply and demand. Let’s hold some committee meetings and discuss culture and climate.

Maybe we should put together a few surveys to “gain a better understanding” of the subject.

“The problem wasn’t created overnight, we can’t expect it to be solved overnight either.”

“We have a lot of other areas that need funding as well, just give the money to us. We’ll make sure teachers get it.”

“Employees received a 3% raise and a step increase during the 2016-2017 school year.”

“We see this as a jumping off point. We would strongly recommend that we figure out a set of tools to support employees, and staff and this board, in having this conversation with a variety of constituents. We all need to be on the same page sharing with people what our budgetary concerns and what the impact on teacher retention is, and ultimately the learning impacts on our students.”

In Nashville, Tennessee that’s what the conversation around teacher compensation sounds like. More talk. More surveys. More task forces. More PowerPoint presentations. And if last year is any indication, less money.

To be honest I am at a loss why. there is a perfect storm brewing this year for substantial teacher raises in Nashville. One that for the most part people are letting go by untapped.

This year Nashville has a mayor supposedly looking for re-election. Several current council members looking for election to an at-large term. We have a director of schools looking for a new contract. A group of Interfaith Ministers looking to help him get that contract. There is a school board in desperate need of a win and a union that needs to show it is still relevant. All of these folks should for all intents be currying favor with teachers, yet there doesn’t seem to be rush to get anything done.

You ever see that episode of Taxi where Jim gives Louie a blank check from his father in order to right a wrong? Louie spends several minutes trying to decide what the perfect number should be in order to get the most bang for the buck. That’s what things should be looking like right now in the offices of elected officials across the city.

Teachers present a not insignificant voting block. You take those directly employed and then add in spouses, parents, friends, church members, civic club members, etc…and you are talking a substantial number of voters. When I was out campaigning for school board, nothing was more effective than a teacher recommendation. You’d be amazed at how much influence teachers have over neighbors. But you only have influence if you use it.

Right now some may be raising the argument that I lost my race, so that shows that teachers don’t have as much influence as you might think. If you are a politician do you really want to play chicken with that supposition? Because if you are right then the same thing that happens every year transpires; teachers go another year without a raise. But if you lose, you lose…your seat. Teachers and their supporters need to remember the old basketball rule, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” It’s time to take a shot.

To be certain, there is a very small window of opportunity here. Next year’s budget season will not have a mayor seeking election. There will be no at-large councilmen looking for greater influence. There will be no superintendent looking for a contract and no motivation for clergy to band behind him. There will be no school board members looking for something to prove and unless something drastic happens, union influence will continue its steady decline.

In short, teachers will be relying solely on the good faith that people will do the right thing and increase salaries. How’s that good faith thing worked out in the past? It’s been my experience that without leverage, good faith is slow to the table.

Here’s an added wrinkle to the compensation conversation. All indications point to state legislators recognizing that teachers need to be better compensated and they are ready to address that issue. The big question for them right now is, how do we make sure that the money gets in the desired hands of teachers. They’ve grown wise to the trick of local education agencies taking the money that the legislators allocate for teachers and using it elsewhere. In their pursuit of ideas on ways to get more money to teachers, they may want to look towards Indiana which is already exploring several options.

One thing that could be a huge help would be if the state set the teacher reimbursement level in the BEP to the actual average salary of a teacher in Tennessee, around 53K. In case you are not familiar, the state pays a set level of reimbursement back to the individual districts for teachers salaries. Here’s some more info per the TNDOE fact sheet,

Many districts pay salaries that average more than the salary unit cost. The first BEP salary unit cost of $34,680 was 79.3 percent of the statewide average instructional salary paid by districts in 2004-05 and 91 percent of the statewide weighted average salary, a figure that adjusts for variances in district salaries due to staff education and experience levels.G Since 2004-05, the General Assembly has passed increases in the salary unit cost eight times; the most recent was in 2016, when it was increased to $44,430.12 In 2015-16, the salary unit cost was 82.4 percent of the state’s estimated average instructional salary and 95.6 percent of the weighted average salary.

So if a teacher is making 46K and the state is reimbursing 44k, then the local LEA is only responsible for 2K. Get it?

Legislators have discussed for several years this idea of making the reimbursement rate the average rate of teacher salaries throughout the state, but at the end of the day, it just never seems to get done. Changing this figure would be a huge help because any money allocated through the BEP based on the teacher reimbursement number has to be dedicated to teacher salaries. Furthermore, there is nothing to prevent districts from applying the savings to teacher salaries, thereby making 5% or even higher entirely feasible. Hopefully, this is something state legislators are considering.

Turning back locally, the compensation committee report at last week’s school board meeting was very informative. It addressed some important areas of need – Veteran’s Day pay, exceptional pay, voluntary workshop, and training pay. Arguably these areas should have been covered by the collaborative conferencing that produced the recent MOU, but I still think those teachers who sacrificed their time should be commended for their work. They shared a ton of great information and I know they’ve been very diligent at keeping the issue on the front burner. Which is where it has to remain.

The problem is that when you are conducting a compensation study and management is steering the conversation, those talks tend to produce more recommendations than action steps. Keep in mind that when it comes to the budget, Chief of Staff Dr. Marcy Singer-Gabella ultimately has loyalty to the Director of Schools.

She may emphasize with teachers. She may recognize the need. She may even think it’s a priority. All that doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day her priorities are Dr. Joseph’s priorities and she has to help craft and pass a budget that reflects those priorities. It’s for that reason that I’ve long felt it best that teachers, be it through MNEA or another entity, have an independent compensation group. One that reflects their priorities and might actually contain action steps. One that will not only study the issue but actively work to improve it.

The lack of action steps offered, in my mind, also speaks to the demographics of the profession. The majority of professional educators are women and as a society, we are very comfortable in preaching patience and affability to women. I wonder how successful that message of patience and sacrifice would be if the profession was dominated by males.

We’ll see where the results of this study go. Maybe they will lead to action. I know the city claims it can’t afford raises. Well, think about your personal life. Could you afford to get married? Could you afford that first house? Could you afford to have children? Or did you just decide it was important and so you found a way to do it? That’s the same strategy that needs to be applied to teacher salaries. This is of a level of importance and a way to bear the cost has to be found because it’s a cost we cannot afford to not bear.

FAREWELL YE OLD TEACHERS

When I was looking at the BEP and the teacher reimbursement number another cylinder dropped into place. Many of us are deeply concerned about the number of veteran teachers leaving the profession. But if you apply a business mentality to the issue, it can be argued that losing veteran teachers is good for the bottom line. The more salaries that you have closer to the reimbursement rate of 44k the more money you have to spend on other needs.

Follow me here for a minute. I arrive at a new district as a superintendent. Surveying the land, I find that I have little excess cash but a fair amount of veteran teachers. Those veteran teachers cost me a whole lot of money and they also could give me a whole lot of headaches. You see veteran teacher know stuff and they have a highly developed bullshit meter. So I think to myself, “Self how do I get more extra money and fewer headaches.” Bingo. Get rid of some veteran teachers.

Now I can’t have my intent obvious, because well, people might not like that. But what if I through my actions subtly send a message that I’m no fan of teachers. I propose a two percent raise and then make them actually fight for an extra 1% to make it 3%. I go ahead and introduce that scripted curriculum while sending a message that most of them wouldn’t no rigor if it bit them in the ass, May I propose some programs – teacher housing, new teacher academies – that only benefit those first-year teachers. Since most teachers are already frustrated, it shouldn’t take long to get the message across.

It may seem like a lot of trouble to go through, but let’s do some math here. Say I’ve got 1500 teachers making 64K a year and I let 500 of those walk out the door. Those teachers are replaced by ones making 44K a year. That saves me…10 million dollars. That doesn’t even include the savings from benefits and health insurance. Not chump change.

Well, I can’t just walk with that money because those younger, less inexperienced teachers aren’t going to be quite as effective unless I get them some help. If there is too much of a dip in quality, some folks might take notice. So I spend a couple million dollars on some scripted curriculum and outside consultants and…walla…instant big savings.

As an added benefit, these new teachers are going to have lower insurance rates, less need for time off, and probably will be even more willing to sacrifice personal time, as they don’t have families yet. Since they don’t have much experience, it’s not likely that they have enough personal data points to question my edicts. Furthermore, they’ll be so busy trying to keep their hair from catching fire, that they’ll be hard pressed to find time to question me, and they’ll be grateful for any support I give them. A lot of wins here.

The challenge will be in finding these young teachers. That’s where Teach for America comes into play. Now, this ain’t the salad days of the last decade when a college graduate was hard pressed to find a job in their chosen field, therefore, making the idea of teaching for a couple of years an attractive one, but don’t think for a moment that TFA has lost the ability to woo a co-ed. I have to look at the current district contract with TFA, but it used to be that the district paid $6500 per teacher. Let’s say that rate is up to 10k as I’ve heard rumored. If TFA has the ability to lure in 200 teachers – I’m skeptical, but let’s suppose – that only costs…2 million. Take  3 in consultants and add the 2 million for TFA to it and I’ve only spent half of my 10 million savings.

Now I still have to come up with another 300 teachers and that’s kind of hard. But what if they didn’t have to go through all that pesky licensing stuff? What if I were able to create an alternative licensing scheme, I mean plan? I bet I could easily run another 200 through that chute and keep my investment rate under a million. I’d be lauded as a visionary and celebrated for my innovative ideas. And I’d still have a savings of around 4 million to do with as I please.

What I just described is not a conspiracy theory, it’s a business plan. One that the business world has utilized for centuries. These days they even have a fancy name for it, disruption theory. You create a perceived crisis and then you turn it to your benefit. Admittedly I’m not a superintendent, nor do I play one on TV. It’s possible that the scenario I just described is nothing but the product of a fanciful imagination. I’ll leave that to you to decide.

The big hole in this disruption plan is that studies overwhelmingly show that experience matters when it comes to teachers. Per a study by the Learning Policy Institute and conducted by Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky

The common refrain that teaching experience does not matter after the first few years in the classroom is no longer supported by the preponderance of the research. Based on an extensive research base, it is clear that teachers’ effectiveness rises sharply in the first few years of their careers, and this upward trajectory continues well into the second and often third decade of teaching. The overwhelming majority of the 30 studies reviewed here (93 percent)—and 100 percent of the 18 studies using the teacher fixed effects methods—reach this conclusion. The effects of teaching experience on student achievement are significant, and the compounded positive effect of having a series of accomplished, experienced teachers for several years in a row offers the opportunity to reduce or close the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color.123 Given this knowledge, policymakers should direct renewed attention to developing a teacher workforce composed of high-ability teachers who enjoy long careers in supportive and collegial schools.

So maybe, just maybe, we need to focus as much attention on retention as we do recruitment. Maybe, just maybe, we should work as hard to hold on to our 10-year veterans as we do our first and second-year teachers. In other words, let’s make it a priority. Again, we can’t afford to not make the required investment.

QUICK HITS

Andrew Jackson Elementary School’s 4th Grade Book Club is beginning a new book called Hidden Figures, the young readers’ edition by Margot Lee Shetterly. This is a story of black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Our fourth-grade students will be meeting during their lunchtime for the next six Wednesdays

McGavock Elementary is looking forward to February with several fun events. Mom, aunts, grandmothers, and others are invited to Moms and Muffins on February 15th from 8:15 – 9:00. Families are invited to dance and enjoy refreshments on February 15th for our Formal Dance from 6:30 – 8:00. Also, McGavock will have Bingo for Books on February 28th at 5:30 where everyone will receive books to take home!

The Croft Campus has been very busy since returning from the winter break. Monday, January 14th Croft hosted the Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Council (PAC). Over 30 parents attended this event and heard from engaging and meaningful speakers. Tuesday the 15th saw the Fall Sports Banquet, and Croft was honored to have Chris Hope as the keynote speaker for the event. Students selected by their home room teacher attended the Second Nine Weeks Bison Bunch field trip to Lipscomb University Thursday, January 17th. The Second Nine Weeks Awards Ceremony on Friday, January 18th honored students at all grade levels.

Tusculum started 2019 with a new routine for the opening of school each day. They are now producing live announcements through SYPE with students serving as news anchors. Tusculum is one of the first schools to use this technology to deliver daily announcements. The Tusculum Family Resource Center (FRC) continues to host multiple classes for families ranging from English classes, nutrition classes, and parenting groups. As the only FRC in the Southwest Quadrant and the Overton Cluster, the staff is grateful to provide this resource for families. The 100th day of school is quickly approaching on January 29. This is a BIG day n the elementary world! This year the entire school will celebrate the learning of the Pre-K and Kindergarten students as they show off their collections of 100 objects in a 100 day parade.

POLL RESPONSES

I tried to have some fun this week with the poll questions and I hope everybody took them in the spirit they were intended. Let’s review.

The first question was born from a conversation I had this past week with a long time administrator that also happened to be African-American, their primary point was that we could argue semantics all day long about Dr. Joseph’s performance and it would never solve anything. But the bottom line is that at this point he has become through his actions, and the actions of others, the most divisive leader in Nashville. To such a level that it was hindering his ability to lead. So I decided to ask the question.

Fifty-seven percent of you felt that Dr. Joseph was the most divisive public figure in Nashville. The number 2 answer surprised me. With nineteen percent, it was the Tennessean’s David Plazas. Interesting note, Plazas heads up the Tennessean’s Civility initiative. Seems to be a bit of a disconnect there, especially when you consider he had double votes as school board member Will Pinkston. Pinkston received nine percent of the votes. It’s good to know freshmen board member Fran Bush is on the case. Here are the write-ins:

TC Weber Phil William Speering Frogge 1
YOU! 1
Joseph 1
carol swain 1
Anyone supporting the defacto APARTHEID that’s afoot in Nashville 1
Carol Swain

Question 2 asked for your opinion on the recent MNPS edict preventing the use of DonorsChoose. Forty-eight percent of you considered a slap in the face of teachers. While an additional twenty-four percent found it to be more policy that hurts kids. Here are the write-ins:

How do you suggest teachers get what they need, Dr. Joseph? 1
Doesn’t make sense 1
I know the way Joseph retaliates against those who offer a voice. 1
Most school systems discourage. This isn’t news 1
I thought they banned it yrs ago 1
Tried at beg of year and was denied. Sad to lose out on materials for teachers. 1
Should be allowed, not micro-managed, reasonable Guidelines, fair audits #easy 1
Just properly fund the district. 1
I can agree IF mnps provides adequate funding 1
Horrible leadership. No communication, just cut off. Incompetent. 1
Sad that teachers need it esp when looking at crazy spending by leadership

Question three came amid reports that both gentleman’s club Deja Vu and MNPS were offering employment options to government workers during the shutdown. It appears you found neither option attractive, as thirty-five percent of you indicated that you would rather starve the pursue either of the other endeavors. Here are those write-ins:

t’s a long, tedious process to officially became a sub. Ridiculous! 1
Wait tables 1
The way the students treat subs? Never in a million years. 1
Stripper Subs Starving? Talk about Dads Gone Wild.. 1
Slurp 1
Or wait tables 4 nights a week and make more than a licensed teacher. 1
Leave Metro for a better place, maybe? 1
my heart hurts that this is even a thing 1
impeach 1
Strike!!! Oh but wait TN teachers aren’t allowed to do that! 1
Be Dr. J’s chauffeur 1
Pay teachers a living wage. 1
Write a blog

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of inspiring pictures from last week. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible.

If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

10 thoughts

    1. I do feel like there has been a conscious effort to lower expectations. I have not heard whispers of not getting steps, but would not surprise me completely. Still, I feel like there miiiight be the chance that the administration has finally learned its lesson they can’t buy ltds+steam+data coaches+younameit and also eat their cake too. Am expecting another year of +3% from the state level trickling down to +1% for MNPS teachers.

  1. Early on I asked for a number in terms of a raise for teachers during collaborative conferencing. The union talked around the number. They still will not name a number. I must be a man in a woman’s body and that does not bother me, but the lack of pay raise does. One does not have to be a man to see that she can’t survive in Nashville on a teacher’s salary even if she does have a M.A. and twenty plus years of teaching experience. I have medical bills I cannot pay. For the first time in about twenty years, I have credit card debt. A leader in the union suggested that I get financial counseling because I must be wasting my big money. Will no one hear and do something? No, not until we go on strike and I can’t get support for that either.

  2. So basically something like nearly 10% of all classrooms in large TN districts are using donorschoose and the average gift is $800 worth o’ stuff to those classrooms that got stuff? And THAT is the windmill the district decides to tilt at right now????? I don’t get it.

  3. TC I think you ascribe malice and poor intent to the drive to reduce average-cost of teachers when mere incompetence will suffice to explain most of what we see. And before anyone says this is racist to claim there is incompetence let me point out that this incompetence has been going on a long time, well before the current administration. I do question what the $*!& the MNEA is even doing if they aren’t interested in seeing the district trend toward more experience/pay rather than less of both. But hey, I never am good at figuring out the motivations of some folks anyway.

    The incompetence at play is not just on the retention end of things, although it is very very very fair to say MNPS has been aware they get more bang for their buck from worrying about the recruitment end than the retention end. Recruitment and teacher development ARE quite important. A few positive things have worked for recruitment and development in the last few years. But worth noting is that efforts to recruit into hard-to-fill spots still haven’t really budged the needle even with noise (that’s all it is, don’t pay any attention) about self-certifying and college-teacher recruitment. TFA doesn’t even fix the hard-to-fill problem, and anyone in HR worth a penny can tell you that. Bottom line, I wouldn’t make out that there’s a grand plan to devalue the teacher pool’s average cost, because the administrations (plural) over the years have done that without trying–by heaping too many responsibilities on teachers… things they cannot possibly satisfy. They leave on their own. Like the gig economy, everything now, including teaching, is just a waystation. That’s not just TFA. This is not what the leaders have dreamt up and unloaded on us, its what they’ve noticed is happening anyway and decided they have to deal with. People leave faster than they come in. Which is why the ed schools are in a bind. Can’t find really smarty people to give it a try. The exit door is more popular than the in-door. This is also why TFA has gone back to worrying mostly about ivy league and not even the state U’s (excepting the public ivies).

    By the way, I reached an epiphany myself concerning the cost of teachers, which is that I feel like I can “explain” why the magic cost of everything comes in units of $7million. Take the average MNPS cost ($68k after putting in all benefits) and there’s about 100 schools. Viola. Anything you are looking to do is 70000 * 100 = 7million. Want another person to do XYZ in each building? Takes 7mil. Want to cut some fat at one person per building. 7 million. That’s the magic unit.

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