Education Featured

Haslam Defends Teacher Evaluation System

Gov. Bill Haslam again Monday defended the use of the state’s new teacher evaluation system and reminded everyone that the whole idea didn’t start with his administration.

Haslam made the point during a press availability on Capitol Hill after a ceremony for veterans. He told the Rotary Club of Nashville later Monday that change is “painful,” and he said after the speech he was making a particular reference to the evaluations with that remark.

Haslam also said Monday he will not state a position on school vouchers until later this year, although he told the Rotary audience the voucher issue is “probably going to be one of the most contentious” when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

The issue of teacher evaluations has been on the front burner in the Legislature with lengthy hearings on the process last week. The system has prompted many complaints among teachers and principals. The Haslam administration has basically stayed the course on the system, which is in its first year, even though Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman gained approval to tweak the system with some changes meant to make evaluations less time-consuming.

Tennessee’s success in the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” competition included a plan to evaluate teachers every year. Tenured teachers will be evaluated with four observations, and those without tenure will be evaluated six times. Haslam pointed out that the process goes back to the application for the federal funds won by the administration of his predecessor, Phil Bredesen.

“Remember how we got here. This was part of the Race to the Top application,” Haslam said. “Everybody agreed evaluations were really at the heart of that. The evaluation process was a work in progress for a year before this.

“It spanned administrations.”

He said it’s still early.

“This is November. We started it in September. It’s not like we have a really long track record,” Haslam said. “It takes a little bit of adjusting to get used to the evaluation. The first evaluation, because it is the one with lesson plans, does have the most paperwork involved in it. When we get past that, the evaluations after that will look a little different.”

Legislators are hearing from their constituents about the impact the evaluation system is having on schools.

“I understand. Before, if you got evaluated twice every 10 years and now you’re looking at this new process, that’s not something necessarily, ‘Oh boy, I’m really excited about that,'” Haslam said.

“But I do think, again, back to what’s at the heart of the change we need, why we won Race to the Top, was this idea of making certain we’re doing everything we can to encourage great teachers to be in the classroom. And the evaluation piece is a key part of that.”

Disgruntlement over the evaluation system has been so pronounced some observers have suggested that the state should hold off on actually acknowledging the findings in this first year, but Haslam remains steadfast. At the same time he dismissed any notion that changes in the basic concept might jeopardize the $500 million the state won in the Race to the Top competition in 2010.

“I don’t want to cast the political argument, ‘If you all change it we’re going to lose our funds.’ I don’t think that’s a fair argument for us to be making,” Haslam said. “I think it’s more about putting in jeopardy the pace that we need to change.”

The Haslam administration has stayed in the background thus far on the school voucher issue. The Legislature is considering a proposal that would allow children in the state’s largest counties — Davidson, Shelby, Knox and Hamilton — to apply for funds to attend a public school elsewhere in the district, a public charter school or a private school.

The issue has pitted those who favor school choice against those who are protective of the public school system.

Haslam was asked Monday why he has not taken a stand on vouchers yet.

“It’s incumbent upon us to do our homework to see: Do we know enough to make that call?” he said.

Haslam pointed to the need to study the experiences of other states who have tried vouchers in order to make the right decision. A voucher bill passed the Senate in the last legislative session and is expected to be considered in the House next year. The House version, HB388, is sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.

Press Releases

Changes Sought to State’s Teacher Evaluation System

Press Release from the State of Tennessee , Oct 31, 2011:

Commissioner Huffman Proposes Timeline Flexibility for Evaluation System

NASHVILLE — Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced today he will ask the state board to modify the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

The adjustment allows principals to conduct two of the required observations in succession, and thereby hold only one pre- and post-conference meeting for the combined observation. This will streamline the process and give greater scheduling flexibility to both teachers and principals.

“We have said from the beginning that we will listen and respond to feedback from educators on this evaluation model, and that is exactly what we’re doing. This adjustment made sense, and, if approved, our evaluation system will be stronger because of it,” Huffman said.

Huffman said he anticipates making additional modifications to the evaluation system next summer after reviewing data from this year’s results.

The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents recently approved a resolution supporting the state’s teacher evaluation model.

“As directors of schools, we recognize that TEAM is an effective way to improve instruction among all teachers,” said Keith Brewer, TOSS executive director. “We appreciate the commissioner’s proposal to allow our principals greater discretion and flexibility in how they implement this evaluation system.”

Huffman will present the proposed revision during a state board meeting Friday.

Board Chairman Fielding Rolston said he looked forward to discussing the proposal.

“I am glad to see the department is listening to teachers and principals regarding the implementation of this system, and making adjustments when appropriate,” Rolston said. “Our current system is much better than what we had before, and I know Commissioner Huffman is committed to continuous improvement.”


Still in the ‘Race’

Tennessee made the grade Thursday and was named a finalist in the “Race to the Top” grant competition, positioning itself to possibly take home millions of federal education dollars.

Seen as a front runner in some education circles for the U.S. Department of Education grants, Tennessee is one of 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, to make the first cut in Phase 1.

“I’m very pleased we’ve been named a finalist for the first round of funding, and believe that’s due to our shared commitment to making significant and meaningful improvements to K-12 education,” said Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Tennessee’s application asked for $501.8 million of the $4.35 billion pool of federal grant money.

In January, the governor called lawmakers back to the capitol to focus entirely on cleaning up the state’s education laws in order to pass specific reforms he felt would liven up its “Race to the Top” application.

The Legislature spent a full week passing new education laws that change the way teachers are evaluated and make use of mountains of student assessment data.

“I have no doubt this was a significant part of our success,” Bredesen said.

Some of those reforms were unpopular with the Tennessee Education Association, particularly changes that require half of a teacher’s evaluation to depend on student test scores.

The new law will require 35 percent of a teacher’s review to rely solely on how students performed on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System exams that measure learning from year to year. Details on the remaining 15 percent could depend on other types of test scores, but those details have yet to be determined by a team of legislators, policy directors, educators and other stakeholders assembled this month. The changes are scheduled to kick in for the 2011-2012 school year.

Members of that commission were supposed to be appointed by chamber leaders and the governor by mid-February. Speakers of the House and Senate made their appointments around that time but the deadline passed without Bredesen announcing his selections, which he made public earlier this week.

The competition isn’t over. Each remaining state can defend their application to officials in Washington later this month in hopes of winning a pile of federal grant money meant to reward them for improving education.

After meeting with state officials, a federal panel will rank each state based on the strength of its application and judge whether officials there have understanding, knowlege, strength, capability and will to follow through on the reforms detailed in their application.

“We are setting a high bar and we anticipate very few winners in phase 1,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary. “But this isn’t just about the money. It’s about collaboration among all stakeholders, building a shared agenda, and challenging ourselves to improve the way our students learn.” Duncan said.

The department will announce winners in April. Eliminated states can reapply for the one-time education grants again in June in Phase 2.

Prior to the announcement, Gov. Phil Bredesen said he wouldn’t be surprised if Tennessee ends up getting rejected and having to reapply.

“I think it’s entirely possible we miss something this first pass and get something in June on the second pass. I don’t know,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Education experts say Tennessee is one of the front runners for the education grants, along with Florida and Louisiana.

However, because they’re all Southern states, Bredesen said the federal government might want to spread the first wave of grant money out to states from different regions.

Other states Tennessee will now compete against are Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and the District of Columbia.

The rest of the states are not completely out of the running. They can reapply for the education grant money in June.

Press Releases

Bredesen Names ‘First to the Top’ Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, March 3, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen has appointed nine men and women to serve on the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee established by the recently enacted Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010.

“I am grateful to the individuals willing to serve in this capacity to help move Tennessee public education forward in bold, new ways,” said Bredesen. “I am confident that with the level of experience each of these Tennesseans brings to the table, we can accomplish this goal for teachers and their students across the state.”

The 15-member committee will develop and recommend to the State Board of Education guidelines and criteria for the annual evaluation of teachers and principals, including a local-level evaluation grievance procedure. The committee consists of the Commissioner of Education as chair, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, the Chairperson of the Education Committees of each house, a K-12 public school teacher appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a K-12 public school teacher appointed by the Speaker of the Senate, and nine members appointed by the Governor. Appointments made by the Governor include three public school teachers, two public school principals, one director of a school district and three members representing other stakeholder interests.

The appointments announced by Bredesen today include:

Public School Teachers

Kenny Lou Heaton, Carter County School System

Patty T. Kiddy, McNairy County School System

Judy Stewart, Franklin County School System

Public School Principals

Jimmy Bailey, Jackson-Madison County School System

Jill Levine, Hamilton County School System

Director of a School District

Jesse Register, Metro-Nashville School System

Other Members

Mike Edwards, Knox County

Darrell S. Freeman, Sr., Davidson County

Tomeka R. Hart, Shelby County