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Kingsport school board split on performance pay for teachers

Rick Wagner • Jan 19, 2020 at 3:00 PM

KINGSPORT — What does the Kingsport Board of Education think of the tentative proposal to abandon or scale back performance-based pay for the system’s teachers?

The five BOE members have a variety of opinions on the matter.

Vice President Eric Hyche said he supports keeping some of the performance-based pay scale and not removing it entirely.

On the other hand, Jim Welch, a retired Kingsport City Schools teacher, said performance-based pay scales have failed miserably throughout the years in public education nationwide.

Discussion of the matter came during a report Chief Human Resources Officer Jennifer Guthrie recently presented on a compensation committee’s tentative recommendation on altering the single-lane, performance-based pay scale for teachers and going back to a multi-lane system rewarding higher education levels and longevity.

WHAT ARE BOARD MEMBERS SAYING?

Hyche asked how the current scale has affected advanced degrees, and Guthrie said most of the advanced degrees held by KCS teachers are at the master’s level.

“Obviously, we wanted people to obtain those higher degrees,” Hyche said.

However, Guthrie said the current system doesn’t reward longevity and/or higher degrees as strongly as high test scores for starting teachers.

She said another issue is administrators want teachers to think outside the box, and that almost inevitably involves the risk of failure. Pay for performance discourages this.

Welch said the culture of education and educators is unique and that teachers don’t teach or go into education to become wealthy, although they don’t go into it to become broke, either. That’s why performance-based pay scales “don’t work” — because money’s “not what motivates teachers.”

President Carrie Upshaw said a book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” by David Pink, makes a compelling argument that money is not a motivator for teaching.

Ironically, however, Welch said the business community that supports public education through taxes relies on profit motivation, something most taxpayers also understand from their own private sector jobs.

“They (performance-based pay scales for teachers) don’t work. That’s not to say it will never work,” Welch said.

He added that education levels and years of service “worked, for whatever reason” because “that’s the way educators think.” He said teachers don’t stay awake at night worrying that a fellow teacher who doesn’t work as hard is getting the same or similar financial reward.

WHAT’S A DEGREE WORTH?

Todd Golden said a higher teacher education level doesn’t necessarily mean higher student performance and that he once worked for a multi-million-dollar company but got no raise for three years.

“There is no good pay scale anywhere. I don’t care where you go,” Golden said.

He said accountability is necessary but that “teaching to the test” and only to the test is not the right answer. He said his father was an educator and he saw his father work very hard some years and not so much during others.

“At some level, we’re funded that way (for student performance),” Golden said of Tennessee school financing and public rewards and rankings.

Upshaw said she knows a teacher at Roosevelt Elementary who advances student learning tremendously for children who will never have high academic performance, while at Dobyns-Bennett High School some math students have scores through the roof because their parents pay for intensive math tutoring that advances their scores in addition to, or in spite of, teachers’ work.

CAN CAUSE AND EFFECT BE PROVEN?

In answering a statement from Hyche, who said he doesn’t see the current system has hurt student performance, Welch said teacher pay doesn’t necessarily affect student learning directly.

After the meeting, Hyche said teacher groups such as the Tennessee Education Association and National Education Association say improved teacher pay is needed to improve public education.

Welch said test score improvements may not be in a direct cause-and-effect relationship with performance pay. He noted instead that academic leadership of superintendents and principals inspires staff to inspire students. He said that’s why Johnson Elementary School getting the Leader in Me program’s Lighthouse designation is so important — not because it will improve test scores of students but because it helps make Johnson students better adults and human beings.

He said teachers simply want to impact students’ current and future lives, with test performance only a part of that. He also said he has advised those seeking a career in teaching to be sure they have a spouse who makes more money to help support them.

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