Jill Frye: Changes to salary schedule for teachers bad news for schools

Jul. 13, 2013 @ 11:47 PM

As an education reporter and former public school teacher, I am disheartened by Legislature’s continual attack on the teaching profession and the detrimental effects those attacks could have on our schools. These changes should be an outrage to every resident.

The Sevier County Board of Education is supportive of its teachers, and I commend them for that. The local board’s decision to continue recognizing advanced degrees is significant in showing their commitment to keeping and recruiting quality teachers.

The problems, however, arise from the state Board of Education’s decision to change the state’s minimum salary schedule schedule. These changes result in an overall lowering of the state requirements for teacher salaries.

The most appalling of these changes are the attacks on teacher education and experience, both of which should be highly valued. Under the state plan, teacher pay will freeze aft11er  years in the profession. Additionally, only two levels of college degrees will be recognized: bachelor’s and master’s.  

While it is true that local education agencies can develop different plans, as Sevier County has done, there is no guarantee that local governments will fund these plans.

The changes to the current salary schedule should concern not only Tennessee teachers, it should also be alarming to the community. As the demands placed upon teachers continue to grow, how can anyone think cutting teachers’ salaries is a good idea? Given the present situation for our state’s teachers, how many future leaders will consider teaching as a profession?

As a parent, I wonder how our state will continue to attract quality teachers. As my children get older, will they continue to receive a quality public education? As a Tennessee resident, I wonder what kind of public education our future doctors, lawyers, mechanics, and office managers will receive? If not given a quality education early on, what kind of service can any of us expect?

I fear these changes will have a  more far reaching impact than the general public realizes, but those who work in education are aware of the implications.

While the Tennessee Board of Education maintains that the plan will allow local boards to measure teacher performance and “better reward” high performing teachers, these high-performing teachers, as part of the current evaluation rubric, will be partially graded according to state test scores.

While I understand the need to measure student learning through assessment, hinging a teacher’s salary, and possibly even their career, on test scores is a terrible idea.  

Glenn Bogart, who will enter into his 25th year as principal at Pi Beta Phi Elementary, concludes every email with this quote: “We don’t blame dentists when we don’t brush properly and we get a cavity ... so why do we blame teachers when kids don’t pass because they don’t study?” Amen. 

As Tennessee Education President Gera Summerford of Sevier County pointed out in a recent op-ed, educators recognize room for improvement, yet so called “reforms” have yet to solve our problems. She writes, “The fact that Tennessee is 44th in the nation in spending per student, yet our graduation rate is in the top 10 nationwide, tells us there are a lot of things going well in education.”

Most teachers are hard workers who have each student’s best interest at heart. If they didn’t, they would find something else to do. I never heard a colleague say, “I went into teaching for the money.” Teaching is a richly rewarding profession, but it is also demanding and exhausting.

Teachers must commit themselves to becoming lifelong educators, and adapt to national and state reforms. Educators barely have time to become proficient in the latest reform effort before having a new one thrust upon them.

Unless we stop the attack on public education, it is going to become increasingly difficult to find quality teachers, and teacher turnover will rise, which will be another blow to students. 

Public education is a privilege supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, yet I fear if we do not speak out, it will one day become a thing of the past. Most would not want to see the dismantling of public schools; they only want them to work better.

Yet the attack on public education could pave the way for its privatization, thus destroying the American tradition of a free public education accessible to all. We cannot allow that to happen. 

— Jill Frye is a reporter for The Mountain Press. Call 428-0748, ext. 214, or e-mail to jfrye@themountainpress.com.