State Government Falling Behind in ‘Race to the Top’

The 15-member Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee was supposed to be formed by Feb. 16. It presently has only five of its open spots filled. Gov. Phil Bredesen, who championed the ‘First to the Top’ legislative package during January’s special session, has yet to announce any of the school teachers, principals, district director and stake holders he’ll nominate.

The Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee, which was supposed to be fully formed by Feb. 15 as part of the state’s “First to the Top” legislative package passed in January, currently has only 6 of the required 15 members.

Gov. Phil Bredesen has yet to announce any of the school teachers, administrators and stakeholders he’ll assign to the panel.

The committee will ultimately play a major role in dealing with the teacher-performance reviews that are part of the  legislation Bredesen and the General Assembly approved during a special session last month in order to compete for federal “Race to the Top” grant monies.

Teachers are still fuming at the governor and lawmakers for deciding during last month’s special legislative session that half of an educator’s yearly evaluation should depend on how their students scored on standardized tests.

But all they can do now is wait while a yet-to-be-formed committee figures out what their evaluation and grievance procedures will look like in the 2011-2012 school year, said Earl Wiman, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s enough time,” he said.

Four of the members already in place on the committee are government types — lawmakers who chair legislative education committees or leaders of state-run education departments. All were automatically assigned to the committee. They include Commissioner of Education Dr. Tim Webb, Department of Education Executive Director Dr. Gary Nixon, Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and House Senate Education Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville.

The only non-government appointee so far is Pam East, a fifth-grade Brentwood teacher who has authored a book, called “The Five Step Way to Raise Test Scores,” on using data to improve student performance.

East, who teaches at Scales Elementary, was appointed by Senate Speaker Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey because he and the caucus consider her a national leader in using data to drive instruction.

“She is a shining example of what teachers are doing right in the classroom in Tennessee,” Ramsey said in a news release.

With 24 years working in kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms, she says using student data to drive instruction has dramatically increased the number of proficient and advanced students.

“That’s not because I’m the best teacher in the world, that’s because I use my data to drive my instruction. I look at these charts, I use these charts all the time. Every night this goes home with me. Makes a big difference,” she told members of the Senate Education Committee last month.

On Monday, House Speaker Kent Williams released a letter to TNReport showing he appointed Rep. Mark Maddox, D-Dresden, technology coordinator for Weakley County Schools, to the advisory board. The letter was dated Feb. 16.

Legislators changed the way educators are evaluated in order to better position itself for up to $501.8 million in federal monies through the U.S. Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” program. Beginning in 2011, 35 percent of a teacher’s yearly evaluation will rely on Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scores that chart a student’s growth year after year. Another 15 percent will depend on other student test data the committee will dictate.

One big challenge, according to Wiman, is figuring out how to gauge the effectiveness of teachers who don’t have appropriate standardized test scores to judge because they are gym teachers, guidance counselors, librarians or others who teach difficult-to-track subjects.

Although Ramsey and Williams have announced their choices for the committee, both still missed the deadline. Bredesen has yet to handpick nine education professionals and stakeholders.

According to state statute, the committee was to be formed within 30 days of Bredesen signing the January legislation into law, which happened Jan. 15. Spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said Bredesen will make his appointments “soon.”

“We have a near-final list of candidates developed through a combination of self-nominations, recommendations by business, community and educational organizations and by administration officials,” she said, adding that the appointees will be diverse in geography.

The governor must appoint three licensed teachers, two licensed principals, one school district director and three stake holders with at least one being a parent of a child currently enrolled in public schools.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at

and legislative leaders last week blew off their own deadline for assembling an oversight committee to decide how best to implement the state’s recent teacher-evaluation reforms.

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