Gov. Bill Haslam Wednesday sought feedback on the state of education in Tennessee, and on his related initiatives, during a morning visit to a Williamson County school.
After reading a story and taking questions from a 3rd grade class at Scales Elementary School in Brentwood, the governor sat down for a round table discussion with teachers and administrators.
Haslam inquired about the group’s reasons for getting into education and asked about challenges they face in the classroom, before shifting to several of his education policy initiatives – among them, his proposal to allow local school districts to opt out of average class size requirements and the relatively new teacher evaluation system, which is now being evaluated itself.
“I’m firmly committed to the idea that the new evaluations process is the right path,” Haslam said. “I also realize we might not have gotten it exactly, 100 percent right the first time out.”
At the urging of the governor, the assembled educators responded with their view of some pros and cons of the new system. Feedback is helpful, they said, and the use of a rubric clarifies expectations. A con though, one teacher said, is the subjectivity inherent in a five-point scale. Another said he’d like to hear from the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents on the matter.
“When I think about education in Tennessee,” he said, “those are the master educators, our superintendents and directors across the state. They’ve put their years in. They have experience and knowledge that a business person can’t bring to evaluating a teacher.”
In October of last year, TOSS approved a resolution supporting the state’s evaluation model.
In response to concerns about increasing class sizes, Haslam tried to assure the teachers that the proposal was aimed at giving more flexibility to local administrators and not a suggestion that his administration took the issue of class size lightly.
“Believe me, our prescription is not ‘let’s just make all the classes bigger’,” he said.
State Democrats have been making hay over the issue as of late. On Wednesday a petition appeared on the state party website’s blog, urging the governor not to allow increased class size.
Speaking to reporters after the round-table, Haslam addressed reaction to the proposal.
“There’s obviously a lot of fear that we’re just trying to increase class size, which is not our objective,” he said. “We’re in the middle of discussion. We’ve said on this, we want to get it right and we’re going to go slow. We’re not pushing anything through committee until we’ve had those conversations with everyone to get it right.”