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Education Featured NewsTracker

Governor: Teacher Evals ‘Not Perfect’ But Headed in Right Direction

Gov. Bill Haslam is anything but surprised the state has to hammer out kinks in its teacher evaluation system — even as President Obama’s education secretary said this week Tennessee is actually at the top of the class nationally.

Haslam says he expects the Legislature to fairly easily accept the state Department of Education’s recommendations next spring to recalculate how certain teachers are graded, such as by reducing emphasis on how students perform school-wide. The move follows a year of consternation from educators that new, more rigorous evaluations would be too hard on them.

“We said all along, ‘Hey, we realize it’s not perfect,’” Haslam told reporters after announcing a $620,000 transportation grant in Dickson Wednesday.

“But we also thought it was important to go ahead and implement it so we wouldn’t just be having a practice game, if you will. My sense is that the Legislature will get that and understand why it’s important to make that change.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauded Tennessee’s education reforms this week, giving special kudos in a Huffington Post column for re-examining the reforms and vowing to improve upon the system.

“More teachers today are treated as true professionals, instead of as interchangeable cogs in an educational assembly line. Exhibit A: Tennessee,” Duncan wrote, attributing the success in part to the federal Race to the Top grant program rewarding education reform, which Tennessee was one of the first to win.

State officials now have two studies examining teacher evaluation reforms. One came from the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which concluded the state needs to adjust how teachers are evaluated in untested subjects like gym and music.

The other, released this month by the state Department of Education, echoed that call but added that high teacher evaluation scores many times clashed with the low academic gains from students in those classrooms.

“In implementation, observers systematically failed to identify the lowest performing teachers, leaving these teachers without access to meaningful professional development and leaving their students and parents without a reasonable expectation of improved instruction in the future,” read the report.

If anything, Haslam says the findings are “ironic” after a year of education-reform opponents complaining that the opposite would happen — that principals would be stingy about granting teachers anything above an “average” grade.

“Our kind of hunch was it would play out the way it did. The tendency of people is to grade folks high because you work with them and you go to church with them, et cetera,” he said, adding the state needs to focus energy on better training principals to grade teachers.

“When a deep percentage of teachers aren’t showing real gains in value added, that’s not fair to kids,” he said. “And so our role is to help those teachers to that next year they will show that growth.”

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Press Releases

SCORE: TN Teacher Evaluation System Already Improving Quality of Teaching

Statement from the State Collaborative on Reforming Education; July 16, 2012:  

(Nashville) – Jamie Woodson, President and CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), issued the following statement today on the release of the Tennessee Department of Education’s teacher evaluation report:

“The teacher evaluation system that Tennessee is implementing is already improving the quality of teaching in the classroom and is supporting inspired, high-quality instruction in many school districts. As with any new important policy, adjustments will continue to be made to ensure that the evaluation system is truly identifying and fostering great teaching, with the ultimate goal of improved student achievement. We applaud the Tennessee Department of Education for listening and gathering feedback through numerous channels, and for making important and thoughtful recommendations moving forward.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) collaboratively supports Tennessee’s work to prepare students for college and the workforce. We are an independent, non-profit, and non-partisan advocacy and research institution, founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

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Press Releases

PET: Professional Development Makes Great Leaders of Good Teachers

Opinion by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee; June 12, 2012: 

Educators are leaders who should be valued and respected. In an era of transformational change across Tennessee, there is a well-timed debate over how we define achievement and success both in and out of school, as well as the proper role of federal, state and local policy. Nobody disputes that the path forward is the presence of quality teachers in Tennessee classrooms. However, quietly unnoticed is a startling fact: there are 3.2 million teachers in the United States according to the U.S. Department of Education. By 2020, it is estimated that 1.6 million will either retire or leave the profession. This pending impact will be felt across many Tennessee classrooms.

Of even more concern is that the data reveals 46% of public school educators leave the profession within their first five years. The attrition rate is highest among science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers, who can command higher salaries in the private sector. The book (and now movie) “Teachers Have It Easy” by Dave Eggers, Nínive Clements Calegari and Daniel Moulthrop has produced a compelling discourse that accumulates data to give readers a blunt and unforgiving portrait of American education which raises questions about the sustainability and desirability of the teaching profession in the 21st Century.

As an education association, Professional Educators of Tennessee understands that the debate over what essential preparation and skills individuals should possess before entering a public school classroom has largely been decided before educators join any professional organization. The additional skills that are necessary, and how they are acquired, can also be debated. Historically, the body of knowledge and skills needed to be an effective teacher has been too unstructured, unclear, and not backed up by the necessary research. That is changing across the state, as well as the nation.

That we are failing as a state and nation to encourage recruitment of the teachers we need is also concerning. For example, 90% of high-minority districts report difficulty attracting teachers prepared to teach math and science. Education organizations can fill a critical role in assisting school districts and teachers to come together and meet their different needs. This includes not only addressing students from assorted cultural backgrounds in the state, but also students with disabilities or with limited English proficiency. The war drums for compulsory unionism and collective bargaining are growing silent in the face of the urgent need to recruit, retain and support effective educators who can meet these difficult challenges.

The discussion over teacher quality and preparation often neglects to address the issue of professional development. Professional Development (PD) has traditionally been connected to, and included in, the initial attainment of permanent certification; for school improvement plans, especially to low performing schools; tying specific topic-professional development to funding (often math, science, and reading); and, improving results as related to teacher evaluation. Professional development opportunities provided on both the state and local level are where leadership begins to take root for most educators. Professional Development allows for educators to create a professional career continuum and lays a solid groundwork for the future of Tennessee classrooms.

By engaging in collaborative networks we are building the capacity for all educators to make a positive influence in the classroom, become leaders in their schools and school district. In 2012 education associations must take the lead in providing high quality, relevant professional learning for pre-service, and novice and career educators. Professional Educators of Tennessee provides Professional Development for all Tennessee educators, both members and non-members, so we can improve classroom instruction, strengthen leadership capacity, recharge our batteries and empower educators to be more effective leaders in Tennessee schools and communities.

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Press Releases

Haslam Appreciates SCORE’s Eval Review

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; June 11, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today released a statement about the comprehensive report on the state’s teacher evaluation system issued by independent non-profit State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

In December 2011, Haslam asked SCORE to collect input and feedback on Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system, a key piece of the First to the Top legislation that positioned Tennessee to be one of the first two states awarded Race to the Top funding.

“I appreciate SCORE’s work in traveling the state and listening to feedback from educators on teacher evaluations,” Haslam said. “We will review these recommendations along with the state Department of Education’s internal review of the process, which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

“If we want to improve education in Tennessee, that starts with an effective teacher leading each Tennessee classroom,” Haslam said. “This report is part of a comprehensive review of the teacher evaluation process. We want to support and reward effective teachers and are committed to making the evaluation system as strong as it can be.”

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Press Releases

PET: Review Process of New Evaluation System ‘Exhaustive’, Provides ‘Invaluable’ Feedback

Press release from Professional Educators of Tennessee; June 11, 2012:

The formal feedback process of the new evaluation system, independent of state government, that the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) undertook statewide, in which we participated, was exhaustive. This report provides an invaluable catalogue of feedback from educators and other stakeholders from across the state on the four approved evaluation models. Despite imperfections, the new system is considered a marked improvement from what previously existed. However, as we move forward we must ensure any evaluation system is fair and effective for all educators.

Professional Educators of Tennessee will take the time to carefully review each of the SCORE recommendations, before suggesting any revisions. In addition, we want to review additional findings from the Tennessee Department of Education, along with student achievement data once it is available before reaching conclusions in determining exactly what needs to be changed and to make it more manageable for teachers going forward. We will be very aggressive in meeting with policymakers to ensure educator voices are heard in this process. We expect that Governor Haslam and his team will put forward his own framework for actions prior to the State Board of Education meeting next month. So, there will be a short time frame in which we can offer input or propose policy considerations to improve the teacher evaluation system.

Organizationally, we recognized that many teachers across the state did not have access to high quality professional learning to assist them. So, we were extremely pleased that among the recommendations by SCORE was a strong call for professional development by education associations. Professional Educators of Tennessee believes it is part of our core business, as well as a key pillar of needed reform, to provide the highest quality of professional learning for the educators of Tennessee to both members and non-members. Through LeaderU, we offer professional development that is designed to promote, advance and build upon the skills of teacher leaders throughout Tennessee. Professional Development allows for educators to create a professional career continuum and lays a solid groundwork for the future of Tennessee classrooms.

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Education News NewsTracker

SCORE Tardy Turning in Teacher Evaluations System Review

The education reform group charged with grading the state’s new teacher evaluation process is turning in its homework late.

No, the dog didn’t eat their research paper. But the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, SCORE, wanted to take more time collecting data, officials said.

“Frankly, it’s that we had some additional inputs from people across the state over the last few weeks,” said David Mansouri, SCORE’s spokesman. “We feel like this is a really important document, and we wanted to make sure all those inputs were included.”

The report was originally due out June 1, but Mansouri and the governor’s administration say to expect it June 11.

The report is the result of feedback from some 27,000 educators, parents and experts from the business community along with state and national education groups through online questionnaires, roundtable discussions and sit-down interviews, said Mansouri.

The results of the study touch the future of job evaluations for some 64,000 teachers and thousands of principals and education staff as state officials expect the report will drive revisions to the system going into the 2012-13 school year.

House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, met with SCORE CEO Jamie Woodson on Capitol Hill Monday but declined to comment on what might be in the report, saying there could still be changes before the recommendations go public next week.

Gov. Bill Haslam asked the group and the state Department of Education in December to start evaluating the teacher grading system. DOE’s report is due out June 15.

Although SCORE was commissioned as a third party to study the system, the organization played a key role in adding the new requirements to state law books in 2010. It was one of a handful of groups that developed ideas that helped the state win a $500 million grant rewarding education reform.

Haslam told reporters last week his administration plans to take the recommendations seriously, adding that asking SCORE to evaluate the system “wasn’t just a charade.”

“I’m firmly committed to the evaluation process. And for it to work, we need to make certain that it’s the best that it can be,” he said.

Teachers and administrators have complained the evaluations are time-consuming and said there’s not a good method to grade teachers in subjects not tested by the state, like music or early education. Teachers ratcheted up their concerns after the Republican-led Legislature last year required that teachers receive above-average evaluations to earn tenure, which offers job protection.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has said he doesn’t expect any surprises in his department’s review of the evaluation system.

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Education Featured News

Huffman: Teacher Feedback On Evaluations Sought

Tennessee’s education commissioner says it’s unjustified for critics of the new teacher evaluation system to suggest the department is favoring principals’ feedback over teachers’.

“I actually don’t think that’s fair. We’ve actually talked to thousands of teachers across the state,” Commissioner Kevin Huffman said Wednesday after speaking before a legislative committee about the evaluations.

“Just in the last two months, people on my staff have talked to nearly 2,000 teachers in different forums where they’ve had feedback from lots and lots of teachers,” he told TNReport.

The department began using a new evaluation system this school year that requires school officials to observe and grade teachers four times a year. The system also factors in student scores on standardized tests, which accounts for 35 percent of the teacher’s rating. This has frustrated some teachers in subjects like history and music, which are not tested, because they will be evaluated on scores they have no control over.

Teachers are rated on a scale from 1 to 5, and persistently low scores can mean no tenure or be cause for dismissal.

Some teachers say they’ve been told it’s nearly impossible to score a 4 or 5 on their evaluation.

Huffman told lawmakers on Capitol Hill the department is likely to continue to tweak the system, but has so far decided that administrators should be able to lump two of those observations together in one sitting to save time.

The evaluations are based on a formula lawmakers approved in 2010 to qualify for $500 million in education funds from the federal Race to the Top grant.

“Often times, very good ideas in theory don’t work out in their execution and implementation,” Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, said.

“It appears to me that we’ve addressed some of the concerns the principals had, and you said you’re going to tweak this, but if we can make it a better system, and not so burdensome on teachers and let teachers teach, I think we’ll be better off in the long run,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, told the committee.

Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said in a news release Wednesday work on other fronts, such as asking the state to let Tennessee opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind standards, prove the DOE is “actively listening to advice and working to find solutions to ensure fairness in how our education system is evaluated under the federal law.”

“There never will be a perfect evaluation system,” Huffman countered to lawmakers. “If we try to aspire to have a perfect evaluation system, we will never get there.”