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Extra Help On The Way For Teacher Eval Committee

After winning the highly coveted “Race to the Top” education grant, state officials say they’ll probably hire an outside firm to lend a hand to a committee shaping teacher evaluation reforms.

With much of the country watching to see how Tennessee performs after winning a high-profile federal grant competition, the state Department of Education says it plans to hire an outside firm to guide a committee developing new teacher evaluations.

The firm would be assigned to keep the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee on-task as it attempts to develop new criteria for developing educators’ yearly job reviews.

“Very frankly, to do this well, it’s going to take a bit of money,” Erin O’Hara, policy adviser for the governor’s office of State Policy and Planning — who authored the winning “Race to the Top” application — told members of the committee last week.

State education officials plan to hire a firm this month.

The fifteen-member committee will spend several months devising strategies and developing criteria for a new method of grading teachers, an aspect of reform that officials say was critical to winning the $500 million in education funding.

Establishing new policies from the committee will be the first step toward implementing a slew of reform promised to the federal government to improve educational outcomes.

Dr. Tim Webb, education commissioner, called the new teacher evaluations the “cornerstone” of other reforms outlined in the state’s Race to the Top application. He declined to reveal which companies the state is considering to hire.

Officials say they plan to spend $200,000 to $250,000 for the firm to help with what promises to be complicated process over the next several months.

“We would be able to do the work anyway, but this just empowers us and makes the process more streamlined and more efficient,” he said.

He said an outside facilitator will be able to zero in on teacher evaluations without being distracted by the other pieces of the state’s Race to the Top application.

The firm would take over the committee’s scheduling, set deadlines, ensure subcommittees get the information they need and keep the board working toward the endpoint goal. Unlike state employees, who may have other responsibilities to juggle, Webb said a hired facilitator would only focus on the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee.

The committee expects to deliver its recommendations for the new yearly teacher evaluations to the state Board of Education by August. The plan — which gives student test scores a 50-percent weight on an educator’s evaluation — will be tested during the 2010-11 school year and fully implemented the next fall in all Tennessee public schools.

Tennessee was one of two states to win the Race to the Top federal grant competition that rewarded states that promised to deliver on innovative methods to improving education. Thirty-nine states were rejected but can reapply this spring for a second shot at a chunk of $4.35 billion in bonus federal funds.

The winners are expected to provide a model other states can copy to improve eduction locally.

That’s a tall order, said said Alice Johnson Cain, director of education for Hope Street Group, a bipartisan non-profit group focused on developing solutions to national problems to build a stronger national economy.

“No pressure, but the world is watching you guys and the stakes are really, really high,” she told members of the committee last Thursday.

The committee next meets April 29.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at andreazelinski@tnreport.com.

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