Education NewsTracker

Big Apple-Bound Again

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will do double duty in New York early this week, working on job creation while also appearing at the NBC event called the Education Nation Summit.

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and a small team from ECD will be along for the trip in an effort much like the jobs trek the governor made to California in early September.

“We’ve asked our ECD folks — Commissioner Hagerty and others — to put together three or four different groups of both site selection people and some existing businesses, so again we can continue to sell Tennessee,” Haslam said.

Hagerty said the New York trip will run Monday-Wednesday. Haslam is scheduled to appear at a Tennessee Downtown Partnership event Wednesday in Nashville at noon. First Lady Crissy Haslam is scheduled to join her husband at the education summit.

The NBC education event kicks off with a teachers’ town hall on Sunday and concludes with a session with former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday. Haslam said he would be part of two panels at the summit, one on K-12 education and another on completing college.

Hagerty said the Tennessee contingent got a positive reception when it traveled to California and that the group will meet in New York with companies that have private equity investments in Tennessee as well as companies that have not made investments in the state yet.

Haslam and Hagerty have repeatedly said the state is interested in growing businesses that already exist in the state as well as those they would like to attract to Tennessee.

The education summit is expected to include governors Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island; Nathan Deal of Georgia; Mary Fallin of Oklahoma; John Hickenlooper of Colorado; Paul LePage of Maine; Jack Markell of Delaware; Bob McDonnell of Virginia; Sean Parnell of Arkansas; and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Haslam is expected on Monday to participate in a discussion called “The State of Education: The Governor’s Perspective.” That session is expected to cover a variety of educational issues and include questions from teachers, principals, parents and students.

Haslam was invited to introduce President Barack Obama last Friday at the White House for the president’s announcement of a new approach to the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Obama is scheduled to give his third annual “Back To School” speech on Wednesday at a high school in Washington.

Education News

Tennessee Favored In No Child Left Behind Announcement

Gov. Bill Haslam got the first real sign that Tennessee will get what it wants on the No Child Left Behind law when U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called him last Friday about attending an event in Washington.

The event, it turns out, was a White House ceremony Friday where Haslam introduced President Barack Obama, who announced changes on NCLB. Tennessee requested a waiver from the law in July.

Deciding whether to accept an invitation to the White House would normally be a no-brainer for a governor, but Haslam had a little scheduling conflict. His daughter, Annie, is getting married. The wedding was planned for Saturday in the front yard of the Tennessee Residence — with the governor himself performing the ceremony.

“I said, ‘I’ve got a little issue. I’ve got a wedding going on that week, and I’ve got to make sure my boss says it’s OK,'” Haslam said Friday in Nashville. He didn’t say exactly who the boss was he was referring to, although presumably it is First Lady Crissy Haslam. The rehearsal dinner was scheduled Friday night.

“Once I knew I could do it logistically, I said I would be glad to, because I think they’re doing the right thing,” Haslam said of the trip.

The governor wasn’t allowing many details about the wedding, but he was happy Friday to talk about his visit to Washington, the return from which delayed him from his appointment to speak in Nashville at the Governor’s Conference on Economic and Community Development. A luncheon crowd of hundreds of people waited for him in the ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel.

Haslam, who usually keeps a full but tight schedule, apologized repeatedly for being late when he finally got to the podium. Weather had delayed his return. He didn’t speak long. But the journey to Washington spoke volumes about Tennessee’s place in education reform in the Obama administration’s eyes.

Obama announced a new flexibility plan on NCLB for states engaged in education reform. The criteria to receive that flexibility fall in line with the reform effort going on in Tennessee, begun under former Gov. Phil Bredesen. Duncan gave high praise to Tennessee’s efforts when he appeared in Nashville in August at West End Middle School and at the offices of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

Obama is seeking reforms that still include standards that will make students college-ready and career-ready, accountability in the education system and evaluating teachers and principals on their effectiveness. But the White House move appears to be an agreement that expectations in NCLB have proved to be simply impossible to reach.

So on Friday morning, Haslam stood in the East Room of the White House, thanking Duncan, saying while he doesn’t always agree with Obama there should be action when Republicans and Democrats do agree, and introducing the president. No one guaranteed Haslam would get what he wants on NCLB, but the sight of the East Room appeared to say he would.

“When they said, ‘Do you want to come?’ I said, ‘Well, please don’t ask us up there if you’re going to embarrass us down the road,'” Haslam said. “I think the message was: ‘We like the path that you’re on.'”

States across the country have complained about the standards required in the law as being unrealistic and not achievable. The Obama administration seems to agree. Tennessee has been involved in education reform that won $501 million in the first round of the federal Race to the Top competition, showing the Obama administration likes what the state is doing.

The Obama administration issued criteria Friday that will give states that are working on reform the flexibility they seek. The White House noted that many states have adopted college- and career-ready standards and are implementing reforms in teacher and principal evaluations.

Obama said Friday a fresh approach will give states the opportunity to improve but will not serve as a reprieve from the spirit of the No Child Left Behind Law, which was adopted under former President George W. Bush.

Haslam said in his remarks at the White House that Tennessee is most qualified to make its own decisions about how to make progress in education. Tennessee’s efforts and the federal government’s position seem to match.

“We have talked with Secretary Duncan several times over the last five or six days,” Haslam said in Nashville Friday. “We talked about what their criteria are and where Tennessee stacks up.

“I think they feel really good about what we’ve submitted to them and what we’re doing in Tennessee, so I don’t have any final word, but I feel good about our position.”

Haslam was asked if the federal step to give more authority to the states is a weakening of standards.

“Here’s why it’s not weakening the standards,” he said. “No Child Left Behind, while it was about raising standards, it let every state set their own. Until last year, Tennessee set the standard really low. Then it just measured by whether you met your own bar. Tennessee did the right thing and set the bar higher.

“Now all of a sudden we’re on a path (with the original NCLB expectations) where 100 percent of our schools weren’t going to meet the standards. It’s much better to measure improvement.”

Haslam used one of his frequent analogies by comparing the situation to a workout exercise.

“If somebody said, ‘Bill Haslam, you should get in better shape, and I want you to run a four-minute mile next week,’ no way,” he said. “I can get in better shape, but if the goal is to run a four-minute mile, it’s not going to happen. If they measure my improvement, I can do that.

“We basically are going to use the accountability standards that are set out in Race to the Top in our winning application there. It’s one of the reasons we feel good about our application for a waiver. They’re asking states to do the same thing they asked in Race to the Top.”

Haslam viewed the invitation to the White House as acknowledgement of what the state is doing, but he spoke openly of the obvious political consideration in choosing a Republican governor to join the Democratic president in the ceremony.

“The things they are asking us to do, we are doing, in terms of focusing on the achievement gap, in terms of linking student performance to teacher evaluation,” Haslam said. “All the key things that the president talked about are the things we are doing in Tennessee, and I think are the right things to do as well. That’s one of the reasons I decided to go do that.

“I think they do want some states that they can give waivers to, and hopefully quickly, and say this is a state that’s on the right path. Obviously, politically, it doesn’t hurt to have a Republican governor up there with him, just to be truthful about it.”

Obama thanked Duncan, then thanked Haslam for being at the announcement and for “the great work that he’s doing in Tennessee.

“I’m especially appreciative because I found out that his daughter is getting married, and he is doing the ceremony tomorrow, so we’ve got to get him back on time.”

Press Releases

Obama Thanks Haslam; President Also Congratulates TN Governor on Daughter’s Wedding

President Barack Obama on No Child Left Behind Flexibility; Remarks Distributed by the White House Press Office, Sept. 23, 2011:

East Room, 10:24 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House, everybody. I see a whole bunch of people who are interested in education, and we are grateful for all the work that you do each and every day.

I want to recognize the person to my right, somebody who I think will end up being considered one of the finest Secretaries of Education we’ve ever had — Arne Duncan. (Applause.) In addition to his passion, probably the finest basketball player ever in the Cabinet. (Laughter.)

I also want to thank Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee for taking the time to be here today, and the great work that he’s doing in Tennessee. I’m especially appreciative because I found that his daughter is getting married, and he is doing the ceremony tomorrow, so we’ve got to get him back on time. (Laughter and applause.) But we really appreciate his presence. Thank you.

And a good friend, somebody who I had the pleasure of serving with during the time that I was in the United States Senate, he is now the Governor of Rhode Island — Lincoln Chafee. It’s wonderful to see Lincoln. (Applause.)

Thank you all for coming. And I do want to acknowledge two guys who’ve just worked tirelessly on behalf of education issues who happen to be in the front row here — from the House, outstanding Congressman, George Miller. (Applause.) And from the Senate, the pride of Iowa, Tom Harkin. (Applause.)

Now, it is an undeniable fact that countries who out-educate us today are going to out-compete us tomorrow. But today, our students are sliding against their peers around the globe. Today, our kids trail too many other countries in math, in science, in reading. And that’s true, by the way, not just in inner-city schools, not just among poor kids; even among what are considered our better-off suburban schools we’re lagging behind where we need to be. Today, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t finishing high school. We have fallen to 16th in the proportion of young people with a college degree, even though we know that 60 percent of new jobs in the coming decade will require more than a high school diploma.

And what this means is if we’re serious about building an economy that lasts –- an economy in which hard work pays off with the opportunity for solid middle-class jobs -– we’ve got to get serious about education. We are going to have to pick up our games and raise our standards.

We’re in the midst of an ongoing enormous economic challenge. And I spend a lot of my time thinking immediately about how we can put folks back to work and how we can stabilize the world financial markets. And those things are all important. But the economic challenges we face now are economic challenges that have been building for decades now, and the most important thing we can do is to make sure that our kids are prepared for this new economy. That’s the single-most important thing we can do. (Applause.) So even as we focus on the near term and what we’ve got to do to put folks back to work, we’ve got to be thinking a little bit ahead and start making the tough decisions now to make sure that our schools are working the way they need to work.

Now, we all now that schools can’t do it alone. As parents, the task begins at home. It begins by turning off the TV and helping with homework, and encouraging a love of learning from the very start of our children’s lives. And I’m speaking from experience now. (Laughter.) Malia and Sasha would often rather be watching American Idol or Sponge Bob, but Michelle and I know that our first job, our first responsibility, is instilling a sense of learning, a sense of a love of learning in our kids. And so there are no shortcuts there; we have to do that job. And we can’t just blame teachers and schools if we’re not instilling that commitment, that dedication to learning, in our kids.

But as a nation, we also have an obligation to make sure that all of our children have the resources they need to learn, because they’re spending a lot of time outside of the household. They’re spending the bulk of their waking hours in school. And that means that we’ve got to make sure we’ve got quality schools, good teachers, the latest textbooks, the right technology. And that, by the way, is something we can do something about right away. That’s why I sent the jobs bill to Congress that would put thousands of teachers back to work all across the country and modernize at least 35,000 schools. (Applause.)

Congress should pass that bill right now. We’ve got too many schools that are under-resourced, too many teachers who want to be in the classroom who aren’t because of budget constraints, not because they can’t do the job.

So parents have a role and schools need more resources. But money alone won’t solve our education problems. I’ve said this before, I will repeat it: Money alone is not enough. We also need reform. We’ve got to make sure that every classroom is a place of high expectations and high performance. And that’s been our vision since taking office. That’s why instead of just pouring money into the system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. And to all 50 states — to governors, to schools districts — we said, show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement; we’ll show you the money. We want to provide you more resources, but there’s also got to be a commitment on your part to make the changes that are necessary so that we can see actual results.

And for less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, Race to the Top, under Arne’s leadership, has led states across the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning. And, by the way, these standards that we’re talking about — these high standards that we’re talking about were not developed here in Washington. They were developed by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country — essentially as a peer group, a peer review system where everybody traded best practices and said, here’s what seems to work, and let’s hold all of our schools to these high standards. And since that Race to the Top has been launched, we’ve seen what’s possible when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate but the work of local teachers and principals and school boards and communities working together to develop better standards.

This is why, in my State of the Union address this year, I said that Congress should reform the No Child Left Behind law based on the principles that have guided Race to the Top.

And I want to say the goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that. Higher standards are the right goal. Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal. And we’ve got to stay focused on those goals. But experience has taught us that, in it’s implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them. Teachers too often are being forced to teach to the test. Subjects like history and science have been squeezed out. And in order to avoid having their schools labeled as failures, some states, perversely, have actually had to lower their standards in a race to the bottom instead of a Race to the Top. They don’t want to get penalized? Let’s make sure that the standards are so low that we’re not going to be seen failing to meet them. That makes no sense.

And these problems have been obvious to parents and educators all over the country for years now. Despite the good intentions of some — two of them are sitting right here, Tom and George — Congress has not been able to fix these flaws so far. I’ve urged Congress for a while now, let’s get a bipartisan effort, let’s fix this. Congress hasn’t been able to do it. So I will. Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting. (Applause.)

So starting today, we’ll be giving states more flexibility to meet high standards. Keep in mind, the change we’re making is not lowering standards; we’re saying we’re going to give you more flexibility to meet high standards. We’re going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give our children the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future. Because what works in Rhode Island may not be the same thing that works in Tennessee -– but every student should have the same opportunity to learn and grow, no matter what state they live in.

Let me repeat: This does not mean that states will be able to lower their standards or escape accountability. In fact, the way we’ve structured this, if states want more flexibility, they’re going to have to set higher standards, more honest standards, that prove they’re serious about meeting them.

And already, 44 states –- led by some of the people on this stage –- have set higher standards and proposed new ways to get there — because that’s what’s critical. They know what’s at stake here.

Ricky Hall is the principal of a charter school in Worcester, Massachusetts. Where’s Ricky? Oh, Ricky’s not here. (Laughter.) He was — there he is. Ricky — I wasn’t sure if he was behind me. Good. Thank you. (Applause.) Every single student who graduated from Ricky’s school in the last three years went on to college. Every single one. (Applause.) His school ranks in the top quarter of all schools in Massachusetts — and as you know, Massachusetts’ schools rank very high among the 50 states. But because Ricky’s school did not meet all the technical standards of No Child Left Behind, his school was labeled a failure last year. That’s not right. That needs to change. What we’re doing today will encourage the progress at schools like Ricky’s.

Is John Becker here? He is? All right, here’s John. (Laughter.) I didn’t think you were John. (Laughter.) John teaches at one of the highest-performing middle schools in D.C., and now with these changes we’re making he’s going to be able to focus on teaching his 4th-graders math in a way that improves their performance instead of just teaching to a test. (Applause.)

We have superintendents like David Estrop from Springfield, Ohio — right here. (Applause.) Dave will be able to focus on improving teaching and learning in his district instead of spending all his time on bureaucratic mandates from Washington that don’t actually produce results.

So this isn’t just the right thing to do for our kids -– it’s the right thing to do for our country. We can’t afford to wait for an education system that is not doing everything it needs to do for our kids. We can’t let another generation of young people fall behind because we didn’t have the courage to recognize what doesn’t work, admit it, and replace it with something that does. We’ve got to act now. (Applause.) We’ve got to act now and harness all the good ideas coming out of our states, out of our schools. We can’t be tied up with ideology. We can’t be worrying about partisanship. We just have to make sure that we figure out what works, and we hold ourselves to those high standards. Because now is the time to give our children the skills that they need to compete in this global economy.

We’ve got a couple of students up on stage who are doing outstanding work because somebody in their schools is dedicated and committed every single day to making sure that they’ve got a chance to succeed. But I don’t want them to be the exception. I want them to be the rule. Now is the time to make our education system the best in the world, the envy of the world. (Applause.) It used to be. It is going to be again, thanks to the people in this room.

God bless you. God bless the United States of America.

Thank you. (Applause.)

Education NewsTracker

Who Wants to be an ‘Education Governor’?

Gov. Bill Haslam gives bipartisan high marks to Phil Bredesen and Lamar Alexander for their records as governors on education.

Haslam, a history buff, has been telling audiences recently that he has been reading about Tennessee’s past governors. He has made the point of how, going back to Austin Peay, who served from 1923-27, every governor has said he wanted to be the education governor.

But that puzzles Haslam because after all those education governors, the state still ranks in the 40s nationally in education.

Haslam hasn’t let on exactly what he has been reading, nor has he told audiences which governors he thought did a better job on education than others.

So Haslam was asked what he’s been reading and who stands out.

He didn’t say what he has read, but he offered up the names of Bredesen, a Democrat, and Alexander, a Republican, as achievers. Bredesen immediately preceded Haslam as governor, serving from 2003-2011. Alexander served as governor from 1979-87.

Haslam said this week he is impressed with governors who push standards the most, and that gives points to Bredesen.

“I think that’s one of the great things about Race to the Top. It was about raising standards,” Haslam said.

Bredesen used the special session on education in 2010 to nail down the state’s bid for federal Race to the Top funding for education reform. The state won $501 million, which is being put to work now in the state’s ongoing education reform plans.

Then there is Alexander.

“I think Lamar did a really good job of trying to tie teachers’ performance to student achievement,” Haslam said.

Alexander initiated a five-step career-ladder program for teachers that included merit pay.

Putting the choices in perspective, the reasoning lines up with Haslam’s own ideas in education reform.

“Those are kind of the two basics of what we’re doing now, raising the level of expectation and tying students’ performance to how we evaluate teachers,” Haslam said. “And those are ideas that have been out there awhile. Hopefully, they’re now fully incorporated in the mainstream.”

Haslam said he will continue to focus on education.

“I’ve looked and tried to figure out what has worked and what hasn’t. If you go back, you’ll see the governors who focus on how their legislation or initiatives impacted the classroom made the biggest difference,” Haslam said.

“The question is how do we get the very best people standing in front of the class, and how do we make it so more students raise their attainment level and their expectation level?”

Although elected on a platform that emphasized job growth, when Haslam spoke to a dinner breakfast last week, he said his time as governor would probably be evaluated most by whether he “moved the needle” on education in the state.

Education Featured

U.S. Education Secretary Praises Tennessee’s Reform Efforts

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did everything Wednesday but come out and say Tennessee will get the waiver it seeks from the No Child Left Behind law, and he had glowing things to say about the state’s education reform efforts.

“I just love what I see here,” Duncan said. “What I see here is courageous leadership at the top.

“I see a governor who is walking the walk. I see he is building a fantastic leadership team. I think he’s uniting the state behind this effort.”

Duncan appeared with Gov. Bill Haslam at a panel discussion at West End Middle School in Nashville and again at a roundtable discussion with rural educators and business leaders hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also in Nashville. Both men met with reporters following each event.

Tennessee, pointing to unreachable expectations in the federal No Child Left Behind law, has publicly sought a waiver from current demands in the law, and Duncan is revamping the system to accommodate waivers. The waiver framework, expected to help many states, is not expected to be finalized until September, but Duncan left little doubt at each stop Wednesday that Tennessee will get what it wants.

When Dr. James Jones, director of schools in Polk County, asked Haslam at the roundtable, “How do you think your request regarding No Child Left Behind has been received?” it was Duncan who gave the answer.

“Very well,” Duncan said, which drew laughter.

The secretary’s visit blended in with what has been a sustained momentum of attention to education changes in the state. Haslam readily acknowledged Wednesday he took the baton of education reform from the previous administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen, who guided the state to its $501 million victory last year in the federal Race to the Top competition.

The state has enacted reforms that include raising standards to get a more accurate read on student progress and making for a more seamless transition from community colleges to four-year schools in higher education. The state is implementing a new teacher evaluation process, based largely on student performance, and has opened the door for more charter schools. The reform movement sprang from a special session of the Legislature in 2010, a key effort in the Race to the Top victory, but continued this year with controversial changes in teacher tenure and in the collective bargaining status of the teachers’ union.

When a question was raised at the panel discussion about the role of the teachers union, Duncan said teachers should be at the table.

“We cannot have a great education system in Tennessee or anyplace else if we don’t have everyone at the table working hard on this, whether it’s unions, whether it’s the business community, the philanthropic community, this has to be a statewide effort — parents, teachers, everyone at the table,” Duncan said. “I think the voice of teachers, the voice of unions, is critical to where we need to go.

“If we’re talking about long-term systemic change, I don’t see how you get there without having teachers at the table helping to shape that.”

Tennessee went to a “collaborative conferencing” system of teacher negotiations this year that legislators say will give all teachers equal access and not be dominated by the state’s large teachers union.

Duncan has seen the state’s efforts across two administrations. It was Duncan who announced the big victory for Bredesen and his team in the first round of Race to the Top. But he commended Tennessee’s leadership at every turn on Wednesday.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the collective commitment to transforming education than here in Tennessee,” Duncan told the audience at West End Middle School. “The investments we made in Race to the Top and other things, those are not gifts. Those are investments.”

But Duncan warned about how far the state has to go to improve. He noted that the state has about 16,000 fewer 12th graders than 9th graders, a sign of a high school drop-out rate and a reminder that the state needs a well-educated workforce if it is to compete for jobs and boost its economy.

“My challenge to you, and my hope is, that Tennessee can be the fastest improving state in the country,” Duncan said. “There are lots of reasons why that’s possible. It might not be the highest performing state, but it can be the fastest improving state.”

Haslam pointed to the need to maintain recent efforts.

“I’m the beneficiary of a lot of work done by people before I came to office,” Haslam said. “I fully intend not just to keep that momentum going but to pick up the pace.”

Duncan would not say outright that Tennessee will get its waiver, but he told reporters, “I have every reason to be hopeful about Tennessee’s submission.”

Duncan called the No Child Left Behind law, enacted under President George W. Bush, “very, very punitive.” A national trend has developed where states are saying the expectations have become so unrealistic that changes must be made, and Congress has been slow to revamp the statute.

Duncan recently said teachers should be paid $60,000-$150,000 a year. Haslam and Duncan talked about that concept in the car as they made their way from West End Middle School to the SCORE headquarters at the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center several blocks away.

The governor, facing heavy budgetary issues like all governors, didn’t dismiss the item and used it as a way to say the system may need fundamental changes.

“The issue is how do we attract the best and brightest to teach,” Haslam said. “While most teachers say pay is not the most significant factor in deciding whether to teach or not, let’s don’t kid ourselves. Obviously, how we get compensated impacts how attracted we are to a profession.

“I have no clue in our current budget situation how we do that. But I think it probably involves a fundamental restructuring, everything from looking at class size to how long we go to school. My guess is that 20 years from now the equation of how we do education will look very different.”

Duncan also mentioned the concept of public boarding schools as a possibility, saying he saw one in Washington D.C. a few years ago.

“What works for the wealthy probably works for poor folks as well,” he said. “We’ve had private boarding schools in this country. The elite, who can afford it, their children seem to do pretty well, and it’s just something to think about.

“If we’re serious about ending cycles of poverty and social failure, I think our school days have to be a lot longer — 10, 12, 14-hour days. Maybe some children you need 24/7.”

The roundtable discussion at SCORE focusing on challenges facing rural schools followed a rural summit by SCORE a few weeks ago. SCORE is the reform group formed by Dr. Bill Frist, the former U.S. Senate majority leader. Frist was not at Wednesday’s event. He is abroad in Somalia, where there is a famine.

SCORE’s president, Jamie Woodson, appeared on the panel at West End Middle School, with state Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, superintendent Chris Barbic of the state’s Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state’s lowest performing schools, and Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford. is an independent, nonprofit news organization supported by generous donors like you!


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 News

Haslam Not Convinced Pre-K Effectiveness a ‘Hoax,’ Calls for More Study

Gov. Bill Haslam does not see the state’s pre-kindergarten program as potentially “the largest hoax ever perpetrated on the people of Tennessee,” as one lawmaker put it this week, and the governor says the state should simply stay the course on its Pre-K program.

Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, this week seized on a recent report from the state comptroller’s office assessing the merits of pre-kindergarten education.

Dunn drew from language in the study, performed by Strategic Research Group, based in Columbus, Ohio, that said data on student performance in grades 3-5 show no significant effect from a student having attended a pre-kindergarten program.

According to the Strategic Research Group’s Pre-K report summary:

No overall differences were found between Pre-K and non-Pre-K students in First Grade, although again, Pre-K students who experience economic disadvantage tend to perform better than their non-Pre-K counterparts. However, this same pattern is not consistently observed for students who do not experience economic disadvantage, and the initial advantage attenuates and is largely diminished by the Second Grade. Among students who do not experience economic disadvantage, the initial advantage of Pre-K is less evident, and the models suggest that they may experience slower academic growth over time.

The report concluded, however, that students who attend Pre-K have better outcomes in kindergarten assessments than students who don’t and that “the objective of Tennessee’s Pre-K program — school readiness — is being met.”

Haslam seems unconvinced that the matter is resolved. He called for more information and noted that the state won’t have more money to expand Pre-K soon, anyway.

“I think the comptroller states a little bit more of a mixed message,” Haslam said Wednesday in Murfreesboro, where he signed a bill allowing Hope college scholarships to be awarded in the summer.

Vanderbilt had a study out earlier in the year that showed a more positive spin on it. I think it’s all the more reason we should keep doing what we’re doing now — keep Pre-K in place, let’s do the homework.”

The value of Pre-K in educating the state’s children has been hotly debated in recent years. Many advocates for Pre-K say the state should be offering universal Pre-K classes. Others are not convinced and point to studies that show some at-risk students see some improvement in the short term but that there is little long-term advantage to Pre-K education.

“My suggestion would be that about a year from now when we have a little more data, let’s get a great survey, track that, and then make some decisions off of it,” Haslam said.

The state currently has a voluntary Pre-K program where communities and school leaders can decide at the local level if they want Pre-K classrooms. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen spearheaded the Voluntary Pre-K Act in 2005 and wanted to expand Pre-K instruction to a universal program. But economic factors limited the scope of the plan. Haslam campaigned for the status quo on Pre-K when running for governor, while his Democratic opponent, Mike McWherter, proposed universal Pre-K.

Haslam held an official bill signing ceremony Wednesday at Middle Tennessee State University on his bill to allow college students to apply Hope scholarships to summer classes, which had previously not been allowed. It was one of a handful of education reform measures on his agenda, along with teacher tenure changes and lifting the cap on charter schools. All three were approved by the Legislature.

“If you’re a student who currently is having to take out a loan or work an extra job to pay for your summer school courses, like several students I talked to this morning here at Middle, this is significant,” Haslam said.

“I know a lot of people have been working on it for a while.”

Haslam and other education leaders said the extension of the scholarships to summer classes are a natural step in line with the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, which emphasized the need to keep students moving toward college graduation.

“We think it’s important for this reason: When any institution starts to do something, whether it’s a college, a state, a hospital, a business, you need to make certain your financial incentives are in line with what you’re trying to do,” Haslam said.

“Last year, when the Complete College Tennessee Act was passed, it encouraged students to be about the business of graduating. There was a recognition there was a cost to the student, a cost to the family, a cost to the state when their focus wasn’t on how we complete what we came here to do.”

Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, spoke at the signing ceremony.

The lottery move will presumably keep students on track for graduating as quickly as possible. The step comes with the decision, however, to limit the use of the Hope scholarships to 120 credit hours. Haslam said the cap is necessary because the scholarship fund, which comes from the Tennessee Lottery, is being stretched thin.

The ceremony included several state lawmakers, who were welcomed by MTSU President Sidney McPhee. The event was held at the school’s new education building.

Education NewsTracker

Bredesen on Watered-Down Achievement Standards

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen said Tennessee’s lax testing standards had misled students into believing they had mastered subjects, speaking about how he tried to address the problem in a CNN series on America’s schools.

For example, the state at one point reported that 83 percent or 84 percent of students were proficient in 8th-grade math, when in reality only 22 percent were, Bredesen said in the report that aired Sunday.

“You may feel good for a minute if you think that, but you’re not doing these kids any favor by lying to them like that,” Bredesen said. The former Democratic governor said he believed a lot of states had watered down achievement standards in response to the rigorous reporting requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush almost a decade ago.

The CNN report spotlights Bredesen initiatives to beef up the state’s math and science curriculum and toughen graduation requirements. The series follows three students from around the country preparing for a national robotics competition, including a teen from Seymour, Tenn. The students are among the few who are excelling in math and science, while overall the country is not turning out enough workers prepared to enter those high-skilled fields, the report says.

Check out the CNN series, “Don’t Fail Me: Education in America,” at the links below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Education News

Collective Bargaining Bill Clears Senate

Democrats on Monday accused Republicans of “muzzling teachers” and creating a new “unfunded mandate,” but that didn’t stop the GOP-led Senate from voting to repeal an existing state mandate that school boards collectively bargain with local teachers’ unions.

Sen. Jack Johnson, who has spearheaded a Republican-led push to roll back the 197os-era requirement that local districts obtain approval for their workplace policies and contract offers from teachers’ unions, said he is happy with the latest version of a bill to eliminate collective bargaining.

His plan, Senate Bill 113, would require that school boards consult a policy manual and solicit input and “collaboration” from individual teachers and their associations. Locally elected school boards would no longer be bound by law to formally hash out binding labor contracts with a single union representing all the district’s teachers.

“I think where we are now codifying that school boards be statutorily required to accept teacher input, I think that’s a good thing. It’s arguable whether that’s necessary. In my view, if the school board is not listening to teachers, they’re either going to be beaten in their next election or they’re not going to be able to hire very many good teachers,” he told reporters after the hour-long debate in the Senate.

Whether to eliminate collective bargaining, and thus weaken the power of the Tennessee Education Association to negotiate teachers’ labor contracts, has dominated this legislative session and sparked rallies attracting thousands to rally on Capitol Hill.

Indeed, Democrats argued that Republicans have become obsessed with the collective bargaining issue, to the detriment and neglect of other pressing education issues.

“Senate Bill 113 represents the U-turn that we have done on education policy in this state,” said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga. “Last year we had Race to the Top, this year we have ‘Dive to the Bottom.'”

Berke said the bill “divides and polarizes our communities.”

“2011 will be known as the session about the collective bargaining ban — not jobs, not education reform, not infrastructure,” said Berke. “This bill unfortunately moves us backward, not forward.”

In its newest form, the bill would allow the local board of education to “collaborate” or debate with teachers or representatives from the teachers’ union on salaries and wages, grievance procedures, insurance, fringe benefits, working conditions, leave and payroll deductions — but all decisions would be entirely up to the school board.

“Collaboration” is a term added from the House version of the bill which was structured to allow collective bargaining but restrict the topics teachers unions could negotiate. Architects of that version, including House Speaker Beth Harwell and Rep. Debra Maggart have since embraced the Senate version of the bill and expect to add their language to their version of the plan this week.

According to the bill:

“Collaboration” means the process by which the chair of a board of education and the board’s professional employees or such representatives as either party or parties may designate, meet at reasonable times and in good faith confer, consult, discuss, exchange information, opinions, and proposals on matters within the scope of this part relating to the terms and conditions of professional employee service.

A bundle of topics are completely off the table for discussion, including merit and differentiated pay, how government grants and awards are spent, teacher evaluations, staffing decisions and personnel decisions on issues like filing vacancies, school assignments, positions, professional duties, transfers within the system, layoffs, reductions in force and recall.

The teacher’s union steadfastly opposes the bill, saying the state shouldn’t replace collective bargaining with a policy manual.

”That manual is your collective bargaining agreement,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, the top-ranking Democrat and a chief opponent to the bill. “The biggest difference between this amendment and the law today is… they have to meet but they don’t have to consider their opinion.”

House Republicans have yet to take the new version of the bill out for a spin but expect to put it before the Finance, Ways and Means committee Tuesday, which will likely be packed at the TEA has asked teachers to sit in on the hearing.

Press Releases

Haslam Posts His Own Facebook Note

Statement Published on Facebook and in the Editorial Sections of the Tennessean and the Memphis Commercial Appeal by Gov. Bill Haslam; Mar. 21, 2011:

It is Time for a Conversation About the Future

The people of Tennessee expect us – Republicans and Democrat – to make the tough decisions when times are difficult and the choices are hard.

We are in those times.

I said in the State of the State address Monday night that we are reevaluating the role of government, and in these times of limited financial resources, governments at every level are forced to make hard decisions when setting budgets.

We have to make equally difficult decisions about setting our priorities. My main goal is to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs. That means our primary objective must be providing a quality education to every student.

The key to developing our state’s long-term economic potential lies in continuing to raise our education standards. The foundation built in the classrooms across our state from kindergarten through college will determine whether we are ready to compete and win in the race to provide high quality jobs.

Students, parents, teachers and those elected to serve in state and local government must realize what is at stake and provide the best for our children.

Those of us in elected office typically run in partisan races, and after the election we are asked to work together. That does not mean abandoning the principles that we hold. I was elected Governor as a Republican, and those principles are what guide me as I lead the state.

There are, however, also times when partisan barriers should be lowered, and that time is now in Tennessee as we shape our education reform agenda.

The one-year anniversary of Race to the Top, the federally funded program that will provide millions of dollars for school reform in Tennessee, is at the end of this month.

Nearly 14 months ago, bipartisan votes in the House and Senate quickly moved an education reform bill through the General Assembly and ushered in changes as to how teachers are evaluated and how the state addresses failing schools. That legislation put Tennessee in position to win the Race to the Top award.

Somewhere along the way since then, a partisan tone emerged. There will be disagreements as the details are worked out, but the issues that divide us cannot be allowed to sidetrack the education reform path that we are on.

Every discussion we have about education should always begin and end with what is best for the child in the classroom.

There is nothing that makes as much difference in a child’s academic progress as the teacher in the classroom, and we make sure the best are in the classroom by recognizing and rewarding them, implementing the right measuring tools and having the flexibility to award merit pay and grants for those who meet the assessment standards.

At the same time, I believe in local control. Our local school boards are in the best position to determine how to work with teachers in setting base pay and benefits.

Earlier this week, I hosted a roundtable discussion about education at the LEAD Academy in Nashville, a charter school. A student’s mother grabbed me by the arm after the event and said, “I don’t understand the politics of any of this. I’m just really glad my child gets to go to school here.”

It is time for a conversation about the future – our children and their education – and to set aside political misgivings and mistrust. That is what the people of Tennessee elected us to do.