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PET: ‘One Size Fits All’ Legislation Not an Answer to Protecting Schools

Op-Ed from the Professional Educators of Tennessee; January 8, 2012:

By Bill Gemmill

Professional Educators of Tennessee will neither endorse nor reject legislative proposals concerning the arming of teachers in schools. We argue that we do not want the state to mandate educators having to carry arms or for that matter to prohibit them from carrying. It is a decision that should be made at the local level. We believe that large urban districts are likely to oppose, while rural areas will likely support. One size fits all will not work. The subject is very emotional, with good arguments coming from all sides.

We anticipate that the legislature will pass a law that empowers individual school districts to determine for themselves what direction they want to take, including qualified, certified and licensed volunteer school personnel going armed in their building. We plan to offer resources and support to districts as they make their decisions, so that whatever that decision might be it will be implemented properly and safely.

We also believe that if a district decides to allow armed teachers and administrators into the schools, the decision will not be made lightly. Volunteers who go armed in the schools will be well trained and highly qualified. We have heard from teachers around the state who are expressing their willingness to defend children. Several are ex-military and former law enforcement officers who are now classroom teachers.

Professional Educators of Tennessee strongly supports the retention and expansion of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. This is a highly effective program that serves many purposes during the school year and is invaluable where it now exists. Within the walls of schools in Nashville, for instance, SRO’s build relationships with both students and adults, building a sense of trust and security. The Metro Nashville Police Department provides these wonderful officers, and their presence is reminiscent of the popular “beat cops” of yesteryear. As a former principal, I would recommend this program to any administrator.

As Tennessee progresses into the future with improved school security, we also support posting additional guidance counselors to schools and advanced training for all teachers that will help identify problem students before a tragedy like Sandy Hook, Columbine or the Aurora theaters once again rears its ugly head. Any viable option that can lead to a safer environment in our schools and communities needs to be considered.

All schools need upgraded security, whether it is as simple and reasonable as inside locks on classroom doors, or teachers going armed. The legislature’s actions and the decisions that the districts make will impact the lives of all the inhabitants of school buildings across the state. Professional Educators of Tennessee stands ready to help them do it right.

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Bill Gemmill is Professional Educators of Tennessee’s Director of Membership & Media. He retired from Metro Nashville Public Schools as a principal in 2010.

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PET: Rewarding Proficient Teachers with Financial Incentives Will Improve Education

Op-Ed from the Professional Educators of Tennessee; December 11, 2012:

Is Teacher Merit Pay on the Way in Tennessee?

By J.C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

In the immediate future, teacher compensation systems will likely be redirected from an input-driven system to an outcome-based system. Unlike the general labor force, where output is a key salary determinant, the field of education rewards experience and advanced degrees. That is not always bad.

We believe financially rewarding educators for their expertise and their excellence will attract and retain the best and brightest to the teaching profession. However, Professional Educators of Tennessee opposes the use of student test scores as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, as the determining factor for a teacher’s compensation or as the primary rationale for an adverse employment action.

Treating teachers like professionals means rewarding excellence, encouraging the competent to improve, and easing the inept out of the classroom and into some other line of work. For the teachers unions there are no bad teachers, or excellent ones for that matter, there is only adequate. Unions insist upon treating teachers like assembly-line workers who are largely interchangeable, rather than as professionals engaged in a challenging craft. Any meaningful improvement of public education will require that at some point we treat teachers as professionals again, and that will inevitably run into resistance from teachers unions.

Traditionally, it has been argued that blanket increases in teacher salaries would achieve an improved education system. They contend higher teacher salaries across-the-board would compensate for the increased responsibilities shouldered by teachers; bestow the proper respect on the teaching profession; and attract well-prepared candidates to the field. Many have argued that teacher salaries have not been competitive within the job market and, therefore, the profession has not attracted the “best and brightest.”

President Barack Obama has made feelings on the issue clear: Not only is he in favor of paying teachers for their performance, but states that implement policies toward that goal have been rewarded financially. Tying teacher compensation to student growth was one of the key components of the federal Race to the Top competitive grant program. States that passed new laws creating incentive programs for teachers were rewarded with millions in federal grants. The teachers union in Tennessee readily embraced Race to the Top.

Others have challenged that view, questioning the wisdom of providing a blanket increase in compensation without a way to determine returns. If competitive teacher salaries are important, they argue, then an accountable and competitive environment should be part of the package: Market principles must be applied. Concerned about attracting better-qualified teachers and justifying salary increases in the face of falling test scores, some proposals have gone beyond across-the-board pay increases.

We know that in Race to the Top funding and the likely legislative debates in 2013 that Merit Pay/Pay for Performance will be an issue raised by policymakers. Race to the Top encompasses several items, but in general:

  • Superior teachers should earn more than average teachers;
  • Poorly performing teachers should be expeditiously removed from the school system;
  • Across-the-board pay hikes should be resisted and/or discontinued;
  • Teachers performing more difficult tasks should receive higher pay.

Rewarding teachers for their performance has been discussed in education for decades but has been a particularly heated issue of late. PET believes that teachers should be rewarded for a variety of reasons, including rewarding teachers experience and advanced degrees. PET opposes incentive or performance pay programs, unless they are designed in an equitable and fair manner. PET supports a career compensation and benefits package for all certified, licensed and contracted public school employees that mandates competitive salaries that are equal to or greater than the national average and competitive with private industry.

The state should still include a minimum salary schedule that provides for step increases to recognize longevity in the profession. PET supports the creation of a statewide set of evaluation standards for campus administrators that includes a survey of classroom educators and staff regarding the professional performance of the campus administrators.

In addition to experience and degrees, expect to see salary increases targeted at performance (merit), market, equity, or retention. General financial parameters and guidelines should be established each year as part of the budget development process at the state and local level. In addition, below are a few additional talking points on the subject:

  • Merit salary increases may be composed of many differing components, but two components – a base salary percentage increase (specified in budget) and a percentage increase in recognition of above satisfactory (or exceptional) performance. This will be mostly tied to increases in student achievement/performance.
  • Adjustments to salaries may also be made when there is an issue resulting from market or other equity factors
  • Equity factors exist from internal pay disparities and are not related to individual performance
  • Retention bonus should occur in hard to fill positions like foreign language, special education and higher level math and science.

From a labor union perspective merit pay might perhaps lessen their collective influence. They believe if salaries were not strictly based on years of experience and number of college credits earned or additional services provided, the teaching force at any workplace would be more stratified (differentiated) and much less willing to stand together during a conflict with school site management or during a contract struggle. The role of the union would be seriously compromised. That in of itself seems to indicate a motivation that legislative leaders may find appealing. Make no mistake pay-for-performance or merit pay will be on the legislative agenda in 2013.

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PET: Review Process of New Evaluation System ‘Exhaustive’, Provides ‘Invaluable’ Feedback

Press release from Professional Educators of Tennessee; June 11, 2012:

The formal feedback process of the new evaluation system, independent of state government, that the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) undertook statewide, in which we participated, was exhaustive. This report provides an invaluable catalogue of feedback from educators and other stakeholders from across the state on the four approved evaluation models. Despite imperfections, the new system is considered a marked improvement from what previously existed. However, as we move forward we must ensure any evaluation system is fair and effective for all educators.

Professional Educators of Tennessee will take the time to carefully review each of the SCORE recommendations, before suggesting any revisions. In addition, we want to review additional findings from the Tennessee Department of Education, along with student achievement data once it is available before reaching conclusions in determining exactly what needs to be changed and to make it more manageable for teachers going forward. We will be very aggressive in meeting with policymakers to ensure educator voices are heard in this process. We expect that Governor Haslam and his team will put forward his own framework for actions prior to the State Board of Education meeting next month. So, there will be a short time frame in which we can offer input or propose policy considerations to improve the teacher evaluation system.

Organizationally, we recognized that many teachers across the state did not have access to high quality professional learning to assist them. So, we were extremely pleased that among the recommendations by SCORE was a strong call for professional development by education associations. Professional Educators of Tennessee believes it is part of our core business, as well as a key pillar of needed reform, to provide the highest quality of professional learning for the educators of Tennessee to both members and non-members. Through LeaderU, we offer professional development that is designed to promote, advance and build upon the skills of teacher leaders throughout Tennessee. Professional Development allows for educators to create a professional career continuum and lays a solid groundwork for the future of Tennessee classrooms.

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PET’s ‘Christmas Wish List for Educators’

 Press Release from Professional Educators of Tennessee, Dec. 14, 2011:

By J.C. Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

Public schools across the nation are about to embark on that most joyous of holidays: Christmas Break. And many educators across the state of Tennessee are really looking forward to this hiatus in the school year for a multitude of reasons. Tennessee has undergone tremendous changes in public education. In fact, many could argue Tennessee is catching up with Florida as the number one destination for school reform in the nation. The easy road would have been to stay average and go with the flow. But Tennesseans want better for their children and public officials have responded.

Little doubt that Tennessee has made significant progress in education in the last few years. High school graduation rates have increased, and far more Tennessee students are going to college. However, the improvements we have made in our public schools have not always kept up with the transformation in society that requires more students to be more highly educated than ever before. While educating most people to a minimal or moderate level and a few people to a very high level was sufficient 20 to 30 years ago, today’s economy demands that all students receive a high-quality education. The demands on our schools have increased exponentially.

Mike Sheppard, General Counsel of Professional Educators of Tennessee, astutely points out: “Teachers must exercise a higher duty of care than most professionals. Teachers face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen. Nearly every day, teachers must deal with diverse laws related to issues such as child abuse, student discipline, negligence, defamation, student records and copyright infringement. And still they must teach!” And they must teach in uncertain economic times when many states and school districts have stringent budgets, have exhausted reserve funds and are continually looking at further reductions.

We have to be realistic that the demands we place on educators while in transition with reforms. As much as we believe teachers and administrators possess superhuman powers, they face even greater herculean challenges. We have done what the state and many local education agencies have done by transforming ourselves into an invaluable voice across Tennessee for public education by revamping our processes, systems, and culture around the demands of society by supporting students and teachers. It is imperative that we all continue to act with integrity, mutual respect while focusing on accountability and high standards.

As we say goodbye to 2011 and hello to 2012 we must put a few items on our Christmas List and make a few resolutions for the upcoming year. First, we can agree that we must support teachers and administrators as they work to meet the educational challenges that our state encounters. Second, let’s fix the current evaluation system to make sure all school systems have the capacity to evaluate all teachers fairly. This must include more training to become more consistent, as well as an appeal process. Third, many educators face false accusations of varying degrees. Perhaps the state should take a hard look at legislation that prohibits frivolous and clearly false lawsuits against educators. We cannot have an environment where teachers are more focused on trying to avoid litigation than on providing the best educational environment possible for their students. Fourth, it would be invaluable if Tennessee parents make their children’s education a top priority in their homes. Then we will begin to see more success in our schools. Fifth, even in tough economic times, we must ensure that our local school systems are monetarily sound and able to maintain their current level of instruction, but they also need additional revenue to support necessary educational reforms. Along those lines we must also hold down the cost on higher education. Postsecondary education is a key to economic mobility for Tennesseans and economic competitiveness for our state.

Tackling those five items, we should see students leave Tennessee classrooms better prepared academically, socially, and emotionally in 2012, as well as making a lasting impression across the state. As professionals, Tennessee teachers are committed to supporting quality public education and the professional rights and obligations of the education community. As an organization, we are striving to become the provider of the programs and services that enable educators and schoolchildren to achieve their highest potential. Educators must work more intimately in partnership with parents, business, communities and local/state government. In 2012 it is time we all move forward together.

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PET: ‘Collective Bargaining is Monopoly Bargaining’

Press Release from J. C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, March 16, 2011:

As a professional association, Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) believes it takes everyone working together to improve Tennessee public schools. But the teachers’ union only wants their voice heard and is only interested in an agenda that only benefits them. One of PET’s guiding tenets is that educators have the right to work in public schools without being forced to join any particular organization. They can join our organization, they can join the union, they can join one of the other organizations in the state or they can join nothing at all. Tennessee is a “right to work” state. This means by law, employees cannot be forced to join a professional organization as a term of employment.

A key difference between our organization and the teachers union is that PET is a democratically run association, relying on input from our members here in Tennessee. We are not reliant upon a Washington DC teacher union with an out of touch political and social agenda to determine our goals or objectives. That is another key reason that the exclusivity of teachers unions is intrinsically unfair, not only to our members—but to other teachers, taxpayers, parents and policymakers at every level.

Unions make collective bargaining look like a great service they perform for seemingly nothing. Teachers, however, must pay for these services with dues. Dues can total almost $600 per school year. Why do union leaders want exclusive representation in school districts? Because exclusive representation can lead to total control over all teachers in a district, even to determine who will teach and who will be fired. That is too much power to vest in any ONE organization that does not have to be accountable to taxpayers in this state. The better term for collective bargaining is monopoly bargaining.

Collective Bargaining is not going to work if it continues as a monopoly in education, and most people across the state realize this fact. We need to work together in a more collaborative fashion. We understand clearly that public education is dealing with more rapid change than ever before:

  • We are preparing students for jobs that have not yet been created…
  • We are preparing students to use technologies that have not yet been invented…
  • We are preparing students to solve problems that we don’t yet know will arise.

One organization cannot have all the answers. And the teachers’ union is proving that by clinging to an outdated and adversarial system they are failing to help teachers recapture our position as respected professionals on the issue of public education. They are making it clear that they do not understand the financial crisis in many local and state governments and confirming they cannot act for the common good.

Teachers who believe in freedom of association and freedom of choice say they are captive passengers because they are forced to accept representation they do not want. They believe if union officials consider it a burden to represent them, then they should only be allowed to represent their members, and nonmembers should be allowed to speak for themselves. We agree.

Let’s be clear- our organization is not anti-union, and politically we are non-partisan. However, we believe that new realities require new thinking, pragmatic solutions, and fresh ideas. Otherwise, we fear that the voices of teachers will not be heard, and the experiences of teachers not considered.

We also agree, with our union friends, that it is important that the legislature provide a basis for policy dialogue and opportunities for greater collaboration in defining and implementing educational goals, policies and practices. We argue it is time to incorporate trust, problem-solving, and cooperation into the bargaining procedures if it is to continue in the state. The difficult job of the legislature is to provide an effective and professional framework for teachers and school districts to collaborate more efficiently.

We suggest these key principles for collaboration:

  • Framework built on well-structured conceptual understanding of actual teacher needs, student needs, and societal expectations.
  • Coordination across different stakeholder perspectives
    • Systematic integration of insights from students, parents, teachers,principals, system-leaders and other key stakeholders.
  • Productive data-driven feedback, at appropriate levels to drive improvement at multiple levels including the state and local.

Collaboration Not Confrontation

Since teachers are highly educated, well-credentialed professionals with substantial independent, but critical responsibilities, the traditional union monopoly collective bargaining model may or may not work for all teachers across the state going forward. Teachers should debate and consider this model’s benefits and drawbacks as it applies to them today. That is another reason to be more inclusive in the future. It is projected by research that a true estimate of teacher union representation of classroom teachers is much closer to 55% to 60% of teachers statewide.

No matter the actual numbers, we believe that most educators agree that trust and respect for colleagues and stakeholders are the cornerstones in building a cooperative environment. Establishing trust may be difficult. As personal relationships develop and the adversarial aspect is eliminated, a sound foundation for mutual respect and trust can gradually take shape. Then the basis of a cooperative bargaining approach can be built.

Monopoly collective bargaining, on the other hand, is a process by which management and labor (school boards and educators) negotiate to reach an agreement on working conditions such as salaries, hours and benefits. We think some of these issues may actually need to be addressed at the state legislature. And we are willing to work with anyone here in the General Assembly to help teachers and school personnel achieve greater salaries and benefits. We believe that greater collaboration only benefits Tennessee teachers, and surely that should be our goal.

PET also believes that teachers and school boards should not be adversarial to the other, but to the extent possible, work together for the benefit of students, improve performance, attract future teachers, and retain and obtain benefits necessary to keep quality teachers in the classroom. The damage done in many communities by collective bargaining means that teachers must strive to enhance their image in the public’s mind, and be viewed by the public and policy makers as advocates for students. Teachers are the greatest advocates for children, but sadly that image has been lost.

We have known from the onset of this legislation that the teachers’ union would fight for monopoly collective bargaining. The reason the fight has been so bitter is because collective bargaining is where the Tennessee Education Association or their affiliate is granted exclusivity over teachers. By exclusivity it is generally described this way: 1) The Association shall have the exclusive right to post notices of Association activities and matters of Association concern on employee bulletin boards, in an area used exclusively by employees. No other organization seeking to represent employees or soliciting memberships shall be allowed the rights of access described in this article. 2) No other organization claiming to represent educators shall be granted the rights as described in any portion of Article IV. (i.e. use of facilities, faculty meetings, access to members, communications, and board meetings). We have worked hard to get this part of the collective bargaining provision stricken. It is inherently un-American that one organization be given exclusivity over all teachers in a school district to the point that other organizations are discriminated against.

We believe that teachers have a unique voice and should be heard on all matters relating to education, that teachers need to be aware of new political realities in the state, that a teachers’ association should strive to avoid being identified exclusively with any political party, that local classroom teachers need to be the driving force in defining a teacher’s role and responsibilities, that teachers should define a teacher’s association’s goals and objectives.

PET supports inclusive policies in which all employee organizations are allowed to consult with school boards on issues important to the organization’s members. As an educator organization, even if PET was the group designated to represent employees in districts, we believe it takes an entire community to educate Tennessee’s children. This includes parents, faculty, and even employee organizations that have different beliefs than our own. A policy built around inclusion would protect educators against being coerced to join an organization that might not represent their beliefs and being forced to pay exorbitant union dues.

In any negotiating process, lines of communication must be kept open between both parties and within each party. Negotiation, after all, is a process of interacting for the sake of reaching a satisfactory agreement. Members of each side must be informed of developments (or lack of them) at the bargaining table. Keeping such information flowing reduces the possibility of misunderstandings and can help speed up negotiations. When those negotiations are adversarial lines of communication are shut down. Being willing to alter demands, writing trust agreements and memoranda of understanding, and selecting respected, credible members on negotiating teams all contribute to the cooperative spirit that is at the root of collaborative bargaining.

Professional Educators of Tennessee believes that schools are not factories, classrooms are not assembly lines and children are not widgets. We have in the past spoken out against the negative baggage that goes with traditional, industrial-style monopoly collective bargaining. We oppose teacher strikes and work stoppages because they impact the children we teach. We oppose forced unionism and agency shop. Tennessee has more than one teacher group because PET has always defended the right of Tennessee teachers to join the organization that best meets their needs — or to join nothing at all. Your freedom to choose is an essential right.

There is great confidence by many teachers across the state that Tennessee lawmakers will ultimately study the issue and reach a fair and appropriate conclusion. Hopefully all legislators can reach universal agreement that whatever legislation ultimately comes out of Nashville on this matter. The principles we espouse will establish a peaceful, stable employer-employee relationship. We advocate the protection of the rights of ALL teachers to be members of the organization of their choice with equal access; protection of the right of the taxpayer through their elected representatives to control government policy and the cost of government; and, governmental services will be provided in the most efficient and orderly manner possible.

J. C. Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.