Education Featured News

‘First to the Top’ Teacher Eval System Approved

The next chapter in Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system will be as much about evaluating the system as evaluating the teachers.

The Tennessee Board of Education has approved the much-discussed teacher evaluation process, a step that provides a yardstick for measuring teacher performance in changing times where tenure has become more difficult to achieve and where the major teachers union’s clout has been significantly diminished.

The teacher evaluations have been the source of considerable angst among those who say there isn’t enough groundwork laid to give accurate readings on teacher performance. Conversely, Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman has repeatedly expressed confidence in the system and the potential benefits it can bring.

Gov. Bill Haslam, who said Friday he planned to read the details of the plan over the weekend, continues to insist that the time for the system is now, even though he readily acknowledges it is not perfect.

“That is in place now. I don’t think any of us would say we’ve reached the magic formula that we like,” Haslam said. “As I’ve said all along, we can’t wait to be perfect, but the evaluation committee has met, their recommendation is in place.”

The teacher evaluation requirement itself is not the current Legislature’s or the governor’s idea. It is the law, part of the the state’s First to the Top Act, a product of the overhaul in education that landed the state $501 million in the Race to the Top competition in 2010. Beginning with the 2011-12 school year, every certified educator will be formally evaluated on an annual basis.

Fifty percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation will be based on broad observation data. Thirty-five percent will be based on student growth as determined by the state’s value-added data system that has been available for years, although that data doesn’t exist in some categories. The other 15 percent will come from other student achievement information.

The overall plan calls for the state to gradually develop additional guidelines. But the basic plan is approved.

Teachers will be observed by principals, assistant principals and others trained under the program. The observers will use a rubric from a system known as TAP (Teacher Advancement Program), which its creators say is based on the premise that teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement.

The TAP system is based on measurements in four key areas: planning, environment, professionalism and instruction. State officials cite TAP’s record on research and resources and its ability to provide expert training for developing observers and evaluators.

However, not every school system has lined up to use TAP. Hamilton County has chosen a system called Project Coach; Memphis City Schools, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have chosen the Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM); and the Association of Independent and Municipal Schools has selected a system known as TIGER, for Teacher Instructional Growth for Effectiveness and Results.

Huffman formally recommended in a memo to the board in May that those three alternatives be approved.

Teachers will be observed four times each year, two times in each semester. At least half of the observations will be unannounced. Apprentice teachers will receive observations six times each year, with three in each semester and at least half of those unannounced.

Observers will be trained in four-day training sessions this summer across the state. The observers will have to pass a certification test, with refresher training throughout the year. The state is expected to explain to districts this summer how to combine the 50-percent observation, 35-percent student growth and the other 15-percent student achievement into a final all-encompassing rating for teachers.

Teachers will be given final scores that put them into one of five grades: significantly below expectations; below expectations; at expectations; above expectations; or significantly above expectations. These categories are where tenure attainment comes into play.

Under new state law on tenure, teachers can attain tenure when they have taught for five years under the same local education agency and have rated in the top two categories — above expectations or significantly above expectations — for two straight years. Teachers who don’t reach those levels may still teach on their current status. A teacher who has tenure now will not lose their tenure as the new system goes into effect.

Under the rubric for TAP, teachers will be scored as “exemplary,” “proficient” or “unsatisfactory” on various qualities, such as motivating students, how well the teacher presents instructional content or the environment in the classroom.

For example, in part of the evaluation on lesson structure and pacing, the score of “exemplary” applies if all lessons start promptly, “proficient” if most lessons start promptly, or “unsatisfactory” if lessons are not started promptly. There can be several items listed in each of the categories that are measured.

The grading works on a points system, with an “exemplary” performance warranting five points, “proficient” warranting three points and “unsatisfactory” one point. But the TAP system allows raters to grant two points or four points in some cases if they choose.

The Department of Education will provide standardized forms for documenting the observation visits. The plan also calls for a detailed system for filing grievances on the evaluations of teachers and principals.

Haslam expressed his desire to fine tune the process, especially for the areas that are not covered by data such as the value-added scores.

“I think the basis being 50 percent observation, 35 percent student achievement as was agreed, I think everybody feels good with that,” Haslam said. “The harder part is on the non-tested subjects. We’re going to have to live with that and keep working to get that better.”

But Haslam did express a level of confidence about the overall direction of the system.

“Again, I don’t know the final answer, and there’s a lot of people who know a lot more about education than I do who have been working on that. But I do think we’re on the right path,” Haslam said.

“I do think we need to have a way we evaluate so we can recognize those teachers who are great and need to be compensated more and those teachers who maybe shouldn’t be in our classroom.” is an independent, not-for-profit news organization supported by generous donors like you!

Education Featured News

Frist: To the Top

Tenure reform for teachers has passed both houses of the Legislature, but in the eyes of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, what’s going at the Capitol is part of a much bigger picture.

On Thursday, Frist and his education reform organization SCORE — the State Collaborative on Reforming Education — released a list of marching orders it sees as vital to the effort to transform education in Tennessee. The report on the state of education in Tennessee keeps the pressure on state officials even as some of the organization’s recommended reforms are already gaining ground in the Legislature.

Frist expressed support for Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to reform teacher tenure in an interview with TNReport, and he described education reform in broad, sweeping terms that lend insight into why the transplant surgeon, also formerly one of the most powerful politicians in America, is so involved in education nowadays.

“Within education, you can do Pre-K and do higher education, but then if I have to ask myself based on these experiences of having done a lot of health care and a lot of policy and a lot of legislation, how can you best spend your time, it comes by K-12 education,” he said.

“If you win there, if you can be productive there, you can literally change the course of the history of the United States of America. That’s why I’m there, and not there for a month, not there for a year, but for many years and as far as the future I can see now.”

Frist served two terms in the Senate. He was at one point considered a potential presidential candidate. Frist contemplated running for governor at a time when he basically needed only to announce his candidacy and otherwise potentially serious contenders would have stood aside.

But he chose instead to focus on curing Tennessee’s education ills. The reason, he said, was because that one issue touches so many others — among them jobs, workforce training, rising health care costs, and U.S. global competitiveness — “big problems that really hit the greatness of America.”

Frist said he contemplated how he could have best have an impact. His conclusion: “It all — all — comes back to education.”

Education & Jobs

The SCORE report said Haslam and other leaders must keep education reform at the top of their agenda by emphasizing the connection between education and jobs (pdf). It said Tennessee should focus on developing a pipeline of district and school leaders, saying research has shown that the quality of the leader has a large impact on how much students learn.

The report said the state must place a “relentless focus” on improving instruction, saying that even with debates in the Legislature over tenure, collective bargaining and teacher evaluations, it’s easy to forget the quality of instruction in the individual classroom.

The report then puts the heat on the Tennessee Department of Education and its incoming commissioner, Kevin Huffman, due to take the job in April. The report said the department must change from a “compliance-oriented” organization to a “service-oriented” operation.

Despite his obvious prominence in the Republican Party, Frist asserts that SCORE is “religiously nonpartisan.”

“Education is a nonpartisan issue,” he said. Frist sees Haslam, a Republican, as picking up where Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen left off.

“What Gov. Bredesen was able to accomplish was getting rid of the hypocrisy of false standards and putting in accurate standards,” said Frist. “What Gov. Haslam is doing is taking the same concept, the same philosophy, to the next step.”

‘Probably Not a Lot’ of Bad Teachers: Frist

The state has been through a lot since the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Tennessee an “F” in education in 2007. It has adopted the Tennessee Diploma Project meant to update standards. It adopted a “First to the Top” reform package in a special legislative session that resulted in, among other things, teacher evaluations being based on student achievement. That package was passed in order to apply for federal “Race to the Top” federal stimulus funds, and Tennessee won $501 million. Half of those funds were allotted to local districts, and half were designated for the state level.

Now, the Legislature is embroiled in an effort to remove the teachers’ union’s collective bargaining power, SB113, an issue Haslam has only recently spoken up on. The governor has sided more with a compromise measure in the House than the hard-line effort in the Senate.

Tenure reform and dramatic changes for charter schools have been high on Haslam’s priorities and have so far seen much smoother sailing in the Legislature.

Frist said he likes the tenure proposal and has made his own video backing the effort. He was asked Thursday if there are too many bad teachers who should be shown the door.

“Probably not a lot,” he said. But if a teacher, year after year, on average leaves students less educated than when they entered the class, the teacher probably should not be teaching, he said.

On collective bargaining, Frist said, “It’s very important for teachers to have an appropriate voice. When that voice becomes so ingrained it hurts students, for example, restricts the number of days a student can be in a classroom — at a time other countries are going in the opposite direction — the system needs to be reformed.”

He said he is “very supportive” of Haslam’s charter school proposals. Haslam has called for lifting the cap on charter schools and allowing a state-run achievement school district to establish charters, rather than just local school boards. A $40 million public/private partnership to expand charter schools was recently announced.

Frist worked on the federal No Child Left Behind law while in Washington and has called for updates in the law, which is up for re-authorization.

“I think it was reasonably successful,” he said. “But what it clearly did is set the stage for what we’re doing in Tennessee today.”

Education News

Haslam Insists Tenure Reform About Improving Education, Not Punishing Teachers

The latest stop of the Republican locomotive on Capitol Hill came Thursday in the form of Gov. Bill Haslam‘s first legislative package, and like the Legislature, Haslam seriously challenged the status quo on teachers.

Haslam proposes changing the probationary time on teacher tenure from three years to five years, a step he said fits in with the overall goal of improving education in the state — which he says is a step toward the broader goal of providing a workforce that will attract jobs.

Haslam said that while the state is making progress on education reform, notably in its First to the Top initiative, it is not where it should be, and he’s convinced changing tenure is one way to improve the system.

His package came only a day after the Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 to advance a bill taking away the mandatory collective bargaining leverage teachers’ unions currently enjoy in 91 of Tennessee’s 136 school districts. That meeting drew a crowd of teachers opposed to the legislation, but it moved nonetheless.

The governor sounded keenly aware of concerns coming from the teachers’ corner but insisted on Thursday his moves are necessary to make Tennessee a more competitive state. In that same vein he has proposed tort reform measures that he says will also help the state compete against neighboring states for jobs.

Haslam addressed the media outside the office of House Speaker Beth Harwell, and the scene at Legislative Plaza gave the clear impression that all the reforms the Republicans are advocating are likely to be approved. Republicans are in charge of the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time since Reconstruction, and there appears to be little the Democrats can do about it.

For his part, Haslam appears to be sticking to the script he articulated in his campaign for office. He has said his first priority is job creation, yet he never suggested a legislative package would be needed for that — only aggressive salesmanship to attract jobs. His second stated priority was education, and his first legislative package proposed removing the limits on charter schools as well as the tenure changes.

He said he hears the question of whether the state is just “picking on teachers.”

“I’d say it’s absolutely not true,” Haslam said. “What we’re doing across the board in education in Tennessee is raising standards.

“Nothing is more important than making certain we have great teachers in every classroom, and we’re going to continue to focus on that.”

Haslam said he wanted to make sure the state doesn’t continue to rank in the 40s nationally in education. He said there has been a lot of conversation with teachers across the state and that the discussions will continue. He said he plans to be with a group of teachers in Upper East Tennessee on Tuesday morning having “specific conversations about what we can do to help them in the classroom.”

Haslam seemed to have immediate support of members of the Legislature.

“I strongly support the governor’s tenure recommendations,” said Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, who is Senate speaker pro tempore and a member of the Senate Education Committee. “Making tenure meaningful is important, and I think it’s important to teachers.”

Woodson said it is helpful to step back and look at the overall education reform process, which began with a special session of the Legislature in 2010 that set the stage for Tennessee’s application for federal Race to the Top funds. Tennessee won $500 million.

“It’s moving student achievement in the right direction. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” Woodson said.

David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communications for SCORE, former Sen. Bill Frist’s education reform group, approved of Haslam’s recommendations.

“Research has shown that teachers are the most important factor in determining how much a student learns. Governor Haslam makes a critical step in addressing teacher effectiveness by focusing on reforming tenure,” Mansouri said. “The governor’s proposed package will make tenure decisions more meaningful by rewarding effective teachers and addressing ineffective ones.”

Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, has sponsored the House measure over teacher bargaining rights.

“I’ve noticed when you talk to the teachers’ union, no matter what you try to do, they don’t like it,” Maggart said. “That’s why I have this bill.”

Haslam’s package called for tort reform, a recurring issue, as Republicans seek to diminish the impact of trial lawyers where courts issue large sums in damages. He calls for a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages and a cap on punitive damages of two times compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.

“My opinion is that the trial lawyers have had a lot of influence for decades in the state of Tennessee and that it would be proper to review all the awards,” Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, the Republican House leader, said.

“I don’t know specifically what changes need to be made. But I think we certainly need to take a look at it, considering how it’s been out of balance for so many decades in this state.”

Press Releases

Gov. Haslam on Future of Memphis, Shelby County Schools

Press Release from Gov. Bill Haslam, Feb. 1, 2011:

Acting Education Commissioner Requests Personnel Plan and Transition Plan from Administrators

NASHVILLE – Governor Bill Haslam today asked Memphis and Shelby County school leaders to ensure that everything is done in the best interest of students as they meet the state’s legal requirements if consolidation is approved by voters.

State law requires a personnel plan for teachers be approved by the Education Commissioner, and Haslam asked acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith to make sure all state requirements are met regardless of the March 8 referendum outcome.

Smith sent a letter to the Memphis and Shelby County superintendents asking for their personnel plan. He also requested an additional plan be submitted outlining how the transition between the school systems would be achieved with minimal disruption.

“This is primarily a local issue as to who votes and when, and as a former mayor, I understand that point, but the state has certain responsibilities to ensure that every child gets a good education and that nothing impairs that opportunity,” Haslam said. “Regardless of where a district consolidation occurs, our responsibility has at least one legal obligation and that is a determination as to how teachers will be impacted by changes in school districts.

“Beyond that we have a common sense responsibility that addresses other areas of school operations such as bus contracts, maintenance and the reform initiatives that are underway in Memphis and Shelby County involving the Gates foundation,” Haslam added. “We also have a moral responsibility that every day is the best day for every child, and we must not slow down the real progress on educational reform that is being made in Memphis and Shelby County.”

Haslam has spoken with Sen. Norris, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and the two mayors of Memphis and Shelby County. Governor Haslam asked Mayor Mark Luttrell and Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. to work with local elected government officials and educators to develop a plan for the future for Memphis and Shelby County schools.

“The bottom line is the state will do everything it can to help ensure nothing stands in the way of students’ educational opportunities,” Smith said. “The state recognizes this as a local issue, but also the necessity to better understand the processes that have been put in motion.”

State statute requires the Education Commissioner to make the determination that teachers’ privileges are not impaired, interrupted or diminished by organizational changes prior to the changes becoming effective. In order to do that the determination must be made before March 8.

The letter is (below).

Mr. John Aitken,
Director of Schools Shelby County Schools,
160 South Hollywood Street
Memphis, TN 38112-4801

Dr. Kriner Cash, Director of Schools
Memphis City Schools
2597 Avery Avenue
Memphis, TN 38112

Re: Referendum on Transfer of Administration of Memphis City Schools

Dear Directors Aitken and Cash:

The Department of Education has been apprised of the pending referendum relating to the proposed transfer of the administration of Memphis City Schools to the Shelby County Board of Education. The Chancery Court of Tennessee for the 30th Judicial District at Memphis ordered that the Shelby County Election Commission schedule the referendum within 45 to 60 days after January 13, 2011. The Commission, in turn, scheduled it for March 8, 2011.

As you know, this is a decision of substantial magnitude that will have a wide ranging effect upon teachers, administrators, and most importantly, students. The Department’s concern is that there be an orderly transition process in place with sufficient time to accomplish as smooth and seamless a transition as possible should the voters approve a transfer.

The purpose of this letter is to advise you of a legal requirement placed upon the Commissioner of Education by Tenn. Code Ann. §49-5-203(d) in the context of a change in any governmental structure or organization. The Commissioner must make a determination that the rights and privileges afforded to teachers by Section 49-5-203 are not impaired, interrupted, or diminished by organizational changes like the one proposed by the referendum.

The statute requires that this determination be made “[p]rior to the change in any governmental structure or organization becoming effective.” It appears that the determination must be made prior to March 8, 2011. The Department is not aware of any other effective date that may have been established by the parties or the Court. To date, the Department of Education has not received any information related to the proposed transfer. Accordingly, I will not be in a position to make a determination that no impairment, interruption, or diminution of such rights has occurred. Based upon the present set of circumstances, just the opposite will occur, that is, I will be compelled to determine that the rights of teachers have been impaired, interrupted and diminished.

The Department is in this position because it has received no information concerning the details of the proposed transition of Memphis City Schools to the administration of the Shelby County Board of Education. In order to make a favorable determination that no impairment, interruption or diminution has occurred, the Department must review a comprehensive plan addressing in detail all of the pertinent aspects related to the transition of teachers.

The state is not required by law to approve other issues related to the transfer, but it seems necessary for the Department to have a better understanding of the processes that have been put in motion to ensure that the best interest of students remains the top priority. Therefore, the Department requests that in addition to the personnel plan for teachers that is required by law to be approved by the Department, a more comprehensive transition plan be submitted outlining other important issues that must be addressed to ensure this transition will be accomplished without negative consequences. While the Shelby County Board of Education and the Memphis City Schools are not required to follow Tenn. Code Ann.§§49-2-1201 through 49-2-1208 in the current situation, the statutes may be helpful in providing detailed guidance on not only the information for which the Department will be looking, but also an orderly procedure for effecting a transaction of the magnitude contemplated in Shelby County. For your convenience, attached is a list of items to be included in the personnel plan for teachers. In addition, we have taken the liberty to include a non-exhaustive list of other items and practical considerations that require attention prior as part of a comprehensive plan.

To provide adequate time for review, the Department requests receipt of the personnel plan for teachers required by law from Shelby County Schools no later than February 15, 2011. Additionally, we respectfully request submission of a comprehensive transition plan developed by both school districts on or before March 1, 2011.

The Department stands ready to assist all parties involved. Our paramount concern is to safeguard the educational interests of all students who may be impacted by a transfer.


Patrick Smith

(Acting Department of Education Commissioner)

Transition Plan Attachment

Items that must be included in the personnel plan for teachers required by Tenn. Code Ann. §49-5-203:

1. Salary;

2. Pension and retirement benefits;

3. Sick leave;

4. Tenure status; and

5. Contract rights;

Other items which may be included in a general transition plan for the transfer of Memphis City Schools (MCS) to Shelby County Schools (SCS):

Staff – While non-certificated staff are not included in the plan required in Tenn. Code Ann. §49-5-203, a plan for staffing by SCS may need to be developed and many of the same issues as stated above for teachers may need to be considered.

Contracts – Leases and contracts in which MCS is a party will need to be inventoried and evaluated.

Student transportation – Buses, routes and drivers to serve students formerly in MCS, and any contracts associated therewith, will have to be evaluated by SCS. Preparation of a transportation plan before consolidation would be suggested.

School Board – Upon transfer, the SCS Board of Education will serve as the board for the newly merged school district. However, the legal issue of equal representation, among others, will need to be addressed.

Student assignment, student transfers and public school choice – If the transfer occurs, new policies related to zoning and student assignment to schools would have to be adopted. Also, a determination of how public school choice (as may be required under applicable accountability laws) would be implemented in the newly merged school system would have to be made prior to the beginning of the next school year.

Student Services – Development of a plan to ensure implementation of required student services (e.g. special education, “Section 504”/individual health care plans, homebound services).

Student discipline – Identification and current status of students under suspension or expulsion and pertinent information related to the expiration of their disciplinary actions should be reviewed.

School facilities and equipment – Compilation of an inventory of real and personal property and a plan for efficient transfer and upkeep.

Debt – Resolution of issues related to incurred debt of MCS.

Charter Schools – Review of charter schools currently operating in MCS or approved for operation and the impact of the transfer.

Press Releases

Bredesen: ‘Raise the Bar for Student Achievement’

“Open Letter to Tennesseans” from Gov. Phil Bredesen, Sept. 22, 2010:

Tennessee is raising the bar for student achievement with higher academic standards in the classroom. These new higher standards will help us make sure students are ready for college or career when they graduate high school. That means not only mastering the basics like reading and math, but also developing skills that colleges and employers value – like communications, problem solving and teamwork.

But higher standards also mean harder tests, and may result in lower test scores and grades for students in the near term. This is where our education reform efforts get hard and where students, parents, educators and communities need our full support to press forward.

In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representing America’s top employers, gave Tennessee a failing grade for a lack of high standards in the classroom. We were giving graduates diplomas that implied they were ready for employment or college when many of them weren’t adequately prepared.

Rather than shy away from this report or contest its findings, we responded with a full-court press to raise the bar so a high school diploma means what it should: that graduates are ready for the job or college they’ll enter and their options aren’t limited because they weren’t provided the tools they need to succeed.

This effort is called the Tennessee Diploma Project. As part of this effort, Tennessee is one of 35 states working together with Achieve, an independent, bipartisan, non-profit organization that I co-chair that helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments and strengthen accountability. Achieve and its national American Diploma Project network are dedicated to not just graduating students, but to ensuring they graduate college- and career-ready.

Early in our process we involved business and community leaders, educators, lawmakers and other stakeholders from across the state to build support for increasing the rigor of standards, graduation requirements, and developing tests that more accurately measure how well prepared students are for life after high school.

Last school year, Tennessee students in grades three through eight completed their first round of learning and testing under the state’s new and higher standards. Parents will begin to see the results of setting the bar higher when they begin to receive Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores based on this new proficiency levels this fall.

Again, this is where our reform efforts get hard, but we must not get discouraged. It’s important that students, parents, teachers and community members understand we must expect more to achieve more. Test scores sometimes dip when schools put in place higher standards. That doesn’t mean your child is going backward in knowledge. Reassure your child they’re capable of doing the hard work that’s needed to succeed.

In July, former U.S. Senator Bill Frist and I launched a campaign called “Expect More, Achieve More” to help prepare parents and communities about what to expect when student test results begin arriving in mailboxes across the state this fall. A project of the First to the Top Coalition, the Expect More, Achieve More coalition is a statewide alliance of more than 30 business, community and education groups committed to reform. Together, we’re working hard to arm parents with the knowledge they need to understand the results and then to engage their child and seek assistance in increasing their academic performance. You can learn more about this effort at

TCAP scores will be sent home in mid-to-late September and early October, notifying parents of their child’s knowledge in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies based on these higher standards. If your child is rated “Basic” or “Below Basic” in any subject, or if you find your child’s test scores or grades appear to be slipping, consider these steps:

• Don’t get discouraged. Remember all our students need the knowledge and skills that will equip them for the future, and we have to focus now to make sure Tennessee students are ready to succeed.

• Ask for help. Call your child’s teacher or school and work together with them to put together a plan for helping your child succeed. Parental involvement is critical to helping a child achieve more. Your child needs your encouragement and support.

• Know the facts. Understand why higher standards are important to your child’s future. Life is no longer about competing with just the people in the same hometown. Today, Tennessee students are competing with their peers across the globe. Thirty-five years ago, just 28 percent of U.S. jobs required training or education after high school. Today, 90 percent of jobs require some sort of training beyond high school.

A dip in test results in the near term may cause some people to question the merits of our efforts to raise the bar, but Tennessee is on the right path and the alternative – telling students that aren’t prepared for the demands of the real world that they are – is not a viable option for a state like Tennessee that is committed to the success of its citizens.

If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other, please email me at