Press Releases

Alexander: ‘Enormous Backlash’ from Washington Dictating State Teacher Evaluation Policies

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; January 27, 2015:

At Hearing on Teacher and Principal Evaluation, Says States Must Own Evaluation Systems — Washington Overreach “Makes a Hard Thing Even Harder”

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 27 –U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate education committee, today said Washington must encourage—but not mandate—teacher and principal evaluation systems if they want to improve the nation’s 100,000 public schools.

“My experience is that finding a way to fairly reward better teaching is the holy grail of K-12 education—but Washington will get the best long-term result by creating an environment in which states and communities are encouraged, not ordered, to evaluate teachers. Let’s not mandate it from Washington if we want them to own it and make it work.”

The chairman’s remarks follow:

Today’s hearing is all about better teaching—how we can create an environment so teachers, principals, and other leaders can succeed.

Governors around the country are focused on one issue: better jobs for the citizens in their states. And it doesn’t take very long for a governor, which I once was, to come to the conclusion that better schools mean better jobs and a better life.

Since no one has figured out how to pass a better parents law, it doesn’t take long to realize how important a great teacher is.

I certainly came to that conclusion quickly in 1984, when I was governor of Tennessee and I considered the holy grail of K-12 education to be finding a fair way to encourage and reward outstanding teaching.

I spent a year and a half, devoting 70 percent of my time, persuading the legislature to establish a career ladder—a master teacher program that 10,000 teachers voluntarily climbed. They were paid more and had the opportunity for 10- and 11-month contracts.

Tennessee became the first state in the nation to pay teachers more for teaching well. Rarely a week goes by that a teacher doesn’t stop me and say, “Thank you for the master teacher program.”

It was not easy. A year before I’d been in a meeting of southern governors and one of them said, “Who’s gonna be brave enough to take on the teachers union?”

I had a year and a half brawl with the National Education Association before I could pass our teacher evaluation program.

Since then, there’s been an explosion of efforts to answer these questions a great number of states and school districts are tackling: How do we determine who is an effective teacher? How do we relate student achievement to teacher effectiveness? And, having decided that, how do we reward and support outstanding teaching so we don’t lose our best teachers?

In 1987, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards began to strengthen standards in teaching and professionalize the teaching workforce. To date, more than 110,000 teachers in all 50 states and DC have achieved National Board Certification.

In 2006, the Teacher Incentive Fund was created to help states and districts create performance-based compensation system for teachers based on evaluation results.

According to the National Center on Teacher Quality, in 2014:

  • 27 states required annual evaluations for all teachers
  • 44 states required annual evaluations for new teachers
  • 35 states required student achievement and/or student growth to be a significant or the most significant measure of teacher performance.

So when I came to Washington as a United States Senator in 2003, everyone expected—since I thought rewarding outstanding teaching was the Holy Grail—that I would make everyone do it. To the surprise of some, my answer was no—you can’t do it from Washington. Nevertheless, over the last 10 years, Washington has tried.

Here is how: No Child Left Behind told states that all teachers of core academic subjects needed to be “Highly Qualified” by 2006, and it prescribed that definition in a very bureaucratic manner. That hasn’t worked. I don’t know of many people who really want to keep that outdated definition—even Secretary Duncan waived the requirements related to highly qualified teachers when he granted waivers to 43 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, the Secretary replaced those requirements with a new mandate requiring teacher evaluation systems—first in Race to the Top, which gave nearly $4.4 billion to states, and second, in the waivers.

To get a waiver from No Child Left Behind, a state and each local school district must develop a teacher and principal evaluation system with seven required elements—such as that it will use at least three performance levels; and will use multiple measures, including student growth; and will include guidelines and supports for implementation—and each element must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

The problem is that, after 30 years, we are still figuring out how to do this.

Our research work on measuring growth in student achievement and relating it fairly to teacher effectiveness was started in 1984, but former Institute of Education Science Director Russ Whitehurst told the New York Times in 2012 that states “are racing ahead based on promises made to Washington or local political imperatives that prioritize an unwavering commitment to unproven approaches. There’s a lot we don’t know about how to evaluate teachers reliably and how to use that information to improve instruction and learning.”

The second problem is that some states haven’t been willing or able to implement the systems the way the U.S. Department of Education wants them to.

California, Iowa, and Washington state had their waiver requests denied or revoked over the issue of teacher evaluations.

In Iowa’s case, it was because the state legislature wouldn’t pass a law that satisfied the requirement that allowed for teachers and principals to be placed into at least three performance levels – not effective, effective, and highly effective.

California simply ignored the Administration’s conditions when they applied for a waiver, particularly the requirement that teacher evaluation systems be based significantly on the results of state standardized tests.

In April, Washington state’s waiver was revoked by Secretary Duncan because their state legislature would not pass legislation requiring standardized test results to be used in teacher and principal evaluation systems—instead the law in Washington allows local school districts to decide which tests they use.

Whether or not this federal interference with state education law offends your sense of federalism, like it does mine, it has proved impractical.

The federal government in its well-intentioned way, trying to say, “We want better teachers, and we’re going to tell you exactly how to do it, and you must do it now” has created an enormous backlash. It’s made even harder something that was already hard.

Even in Tennessee, despite 30 years of experience and nearly $500 million in Race to the Top funding, the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system has been described in an article in my hometown newspaper as “contentious.”

Given all of the great progress that states and local school districts have made on standards, accountability, tests, and teacher evaluation over the last 30 years—you’ll get a lot more progress with a lot less opposition if you leave those decisions there.

I think we should return to states and local school districts decisions for measuring the progress of our schools and for evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of teachers.

I know it is tempting to try to improve teachers from Washington. I also hear from governors and school superintendents who say that if “Washington doesn’t make us do it, the teachers unions and opponents from the right will make it impossible to have good evaluation systems and better teachers.”

And I understand what they’re saying. After I left office, the NEA watered down Tennessee’s Master Teacher program.

Nevertheless, the Chairman’s Staff Discussion draft eliminates the Highly Qualified Teacher requirements and definition, and allows states to decide the licenses and credentials that they are going to require their teachers to have.

And despite my personal support for teacher evaluation, the draft doesn’t mandate teacher and principal evaluations.

Rather, it enables States to use the more than $2.5 billion under Title II to develop, implement, or improve these evaluation systems.

In a state like Tennessee, that would mean $39 million potentially available for continuing the work Tennessee has well underway for evaluating teachers, including linking performance and student achievement.

In addition, it would expand one of the provisions in No Child Left behind – the Teacher Incentive Fund that Secretary Spellings recommended putting into law and that Secretary Duncan said, in testimony before the HELP Committee in January 2009, was “One of the best things I think Secretary Spellings’ has done…the more we can reward excellence, the more we can incentivize excellence, the more we can get our best teachers to work in those hard-to-staff schools and communities, the better our students are going to do.”

And third, it would emphasize the idea of a Secretary’s report card—calling considerable attention to the bully pulpit a secretary or president has to call attention to states that are succeeding or failing.

For example, I remember President Reagan visited Farragut High School in Knoxville in 1984 to call attention to our Master Teacher program. It caused the Democratic speaker of our House of Representatives to say, “This is the American way,” and come up with an amendment to my proposal that was critical to its passage. President Reagan didn’t order every other state to do what Tennessee was doing, but the president’s bully pulpit made a real difference.

Thomas Friedman recently told a group of senators that one of his two rules of life is that he’s never met anyone who washed a rented car.

In other words, people take care of what they own.

My experience is that finding a way to fairly reward better teaching is the holy grail of K-12 education—but Washington will get the best long-term result by creating an environment in which states and communities are encouraged, not ordered, to evaluate teachers.

Let’s not mandate it from Washington if we want them to own it and make it work.


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Press Releases

State Releases Report on Year 2 of the Teacher Evaluation System

Press release from the Tennessee Dept. of Education; December 9, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Education released a report today on the second year of the teacher evaluation system across the state as part of the process of continuous improvement.

The report details measurable improvements during the 2012-13 school year, including improved teacher perception of the evaluation system, a strong correlation between observation scores and student achievement indicators, and an increase of teachers who received individual growth metrics.

“Developing an effective model for evaluating educators is part of our system-wide effort to develop better conditions for teaching and learning in Tennessee,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “We are encouraged by the results we’ve seen so far, and the department will continue to use feedback from stakeholders and measurable outcomes in classrooms to improve evaluations year after year.”

While implementation of the teacher evaluation system in Year 2 was significantly improved from Year 1, the department recognizes opportunities to further refine and advance the evaluation system. As a result of feedback from the second year of implementation, the report details additional changes for the 2013–14 school year. These changes include a more comprehensive and rigorous certification exam for all evaluators, an increased number of evaluation coaches working in regional offices, and a new model for assessing growth for World Language teachers.

Much like the report the department issued in July 2012 on the first year of implementation, this report is part of a commitment to ensure that the evaluation system is studied and modified based on stakeholder input, external and internal study, and detailed data analyses.

The department is committed to continuing to study and improve the system each year to ensure teachers receive high-quality, timely feedback that supports excellent instruction and improved student outcomes.

Education Featured NewsTracker

Teachers Warming to In-Class Observations

Tennessee teachers view the state’s new evaluation procedure more favorably now than when implemented, a recent survey from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College suggests.

The study found teachers are more receptive to classroom evaluations when they see them as a tool for improving teaching, not as just a way to judge performance.

“Teachers who viewed the evaluation process as focused on teaching improvement tended to engage with the system to a far greater extent than teachers who saw the process as one aimed only at judging their performance,” said Nate Schwartz, director of the Tennessee Department of Education’s Office of Research and Policy.

The new evaluation system was implemented in 2010 after Tennessee was awarded more than $501 million from the federal government to reform its public education system. Among the reforms adopted as part of the grant were: adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments for students; building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and turning around the lowest-performing schools.

The main reform that concerned teachers was a change to teacher tenure laws that ties student performance to classroom evaluations. Since the change to tenure laws, the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development has contracted with the TDOE’s Office of Research and Policy to study teacher opinion on the reforms.

And those opinions look to be changing, according to state education officials.

“Through multiple survey measures (First to the Top being one of them), we have seen that teachers in Tennessee feel that the evaluation system has been implemented with fidelity,” said Kelli Gauthier, communications director of the Tennessee Department of Education.

That faith has translated to a better perception of the state’s teacher evaluation system from both teachers and observers. The most recent study, which asked 26,000 teachers about the First to the Top reforms, suggests both teachers and observers like the teacher evaluation system better in 2013 than in previous years, but half of the teachers surveyed are still unconvinced of the evaluation’s overall value.

But when teachers do find value in the process, they respond more favorably to the current observation system. The value is found in feedback and instructions for improving teaching methods, rather than observers judging their classroom performance, according to the study.

Dan Lawson, the superintendent of Tullahoma City Schools, said most teachers welcome a chance to improve and hope teacher observations are part and parcel of improving learning, rather than quantifying teacher performance.

“Teaching is a complex process integrating relationship building, content knowledge, the craft of instructional delivery and the art of interacting with children. As much as some love the idea of quantifying everything, I fear that such a practice tends to diminish the complexity of my profession,” said Lawson, who has long been critical of Tennessee’s education reform initiatives.

Lawson said the evaluation process was developed as a way to improve teaching quality, but that observations are not “sufficient to identify a quality teacher.” He is also concerned the reforms encourage teaching to the test.

“Teachers may be led to better ‘scores’ on the rubric, but those scores may be negated by a single (student) test score. This challenge leads many to ask a pertinent, but in my mind misplaced question: ‘How do I get my kids to earn higher TCAP scores?’,” he said.

Regardless of how administrators and teachers feel about the evaluation process, Tennessee students have seen growth on state assessments.

“While we attribute that growth to a variety of things, we absolutely believe that Race to the Top initiatives, such as our teacher evaluation system and the extensive professional development we have given to teachers through the grant, played a part,” Gauthier said.

Tennessee has seen three years of growth on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, Gauthier said. She cited more than 20,000 more students are performing at grade-level in math now than in 2010 and “nearly 52,000 additional students are at or above grade level in all science subjects, as compared to 2010.”

Add improving teacher attitudes toward the evaluation to growing TCAP scores and Tennessee’s education system is moving in the right direction, she said.

“Tennessee has been recognized nationally as a leader in improving public education, and in many ways, Race to the Top created the environment for us to accomplish this work, with broad support from a variety of stakeholders,” Gauthier said. “I believe that our results speak for themselves.”

Education Featured NewsTracker

Obama Edu. Chief Praises TN Teacher Eval Reforms

Tennessee’s effort to revamp the way public school teachers are graded on classroom performance earned a high-profile national testimonial Monday.

In a column for The Huffington Post, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote that the “Tennessee Story” and the Volunteer State’s improvements in student test-scores represents “Exhibit A” in the Obama administration’s defense of the Race to the Top reforms launched in 2009.

Duncan wrote:

During the first two years of the Race to the Top grant, from 2010 to 2012, an additional 55,000 students in Tennessee were at or above grade level in math and 38,000 additional students were at or above grade level in science. But Tennessee’s story also shows that reforming antiquated practices for evaluating teachers is hard, ongoing work — work that is far from finished.

Indeed, student achievement rose virtually across the board this year based on scores on the TCAP, or Tennessee Comprehensive Achievement Program, test given to students in 3rd through 8th grade, a result that, as the Chattanooga Times Free Press noted, prompted much “celebratory back slapping” by Gov. Bill Haslam and his education team.

Duncan acknowledged “initial blowback” to the Tennessee system, which puts more emphasis on test scores, requires more frequent evaluations and was first used in the 2011-12 school year. Continued poor performance, judged on a five-point scale, can lead to dismissal, and the evaluations are used in deciding whether to award tenure.

The state’s response to that criticism is another reason for accolades, added Duncan, a former Chicago Public Schools chief executive, who devoted fully one-third of his HuffPo column to recent efforts by state officials to adapt and evolve the evaluation system based on feedback.

“It is vital that school leaders and administrators continue to solicit feedback, learn from their mistakes, and make improvements,” he wrote.

Press Releases

SCORE Hands State 7 Tips for Improving Teacher Evaluation System

Press release from State Collaborative on Reforming Education; June 11, 2012: 

(Nashville) – The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) today released a report, Supporting Effective Instruction in Tennessee, regarding Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system. The report follows a five-month listening and feedback process SCORE led on the evaluation system to identify what is working well, gather input on challenges and concerns, and report back with a range of recommendations to the Tennessee Department of Education and State Board of Education.

“SCORE’s role in this process has been to listen,” SCORE President and CEO Jamie Woodson said. “It is our hope that this report and its recommendations will build on key successes of the new teacher evaluation system and support improvements moving forward, while always keeping the focus on what it takes to improve student achievement in our state.”

Research shows that effective teaching is the most important school-based factor in improving student achievement. Tennessee is now completing the first year of implementing a new teacher evaluation system, designed to identify and support effective teaching.

In December 2011, Governor Bill Haslam asked SCORE to lead a statewide listening and feedback process, independent of state government, regarding the evaluation system. Since January, SCORE gathered more than 27,000 inputs from educators and other stakeholders across Tennessee. This input was collected through nine regional roundtables, an online questionnaire for educators, a work team of educators throughout the state, in-depth interviews on teacher evaluation with leaders in and outside of Tennessee, and existing networks of teachers, principals, and district leaders. SCORE’s work supplements additional ongoing feedback collected by the Tennessee Department of Education and by the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development (TNCRED).

SCORE heard consistent and positive feedback on many aspects of the evaluation, including that the system is improving both the quality of instruction and student results. SCORE also heard challenges related to the implementation of the new system, including perceptions that the evaluation is overly focused on accountability and not enough on improving and supporting effective teaching.

SCORE gathered this feedback and has provided seven specific recommendations to continue improving the evaluation system moving forward:

  • Recommendation 1: Ensure current and prospective teachers and leaders receive sufficient training in the evaluation system.
  • Recommendation 2: Link the feedback that teachers receive with high-quality, collaborative, and individualized professional learning opportunities so that they can improve their instruction. Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system needs to balance accountability for results with a focus on improving instruction, which is the key to improving student outcomes. To do so, the Department of Education and districts must provide meaningful professional learning opportunities and support to help teachers improve.
  • Recommendation 3: Address challenges with the current quantitative and qualitative measures of teacher effectiveness. Many of the issues that have arisen are not due to problems with the First to the Top plan for teacher evaluation, but rather from the remaining gaps in the development and implementation of measures of the evaluation system. We recommend these gaps in the quantitative measure and some missing elements in the qualitative measure be addressed as soon as possible. For example, we recommend the state offer teachers in non-tested grades and subjects (who do not yet have individual student growth, or value-added, data) the option of temporarily increasing the weighting of the qualitative portion of the evaluation.
  • Recommendation 4: Support school and district leaders in becoming strong instructional leaders capable of assessing and developing effective teaching – and hold them accountable for doing so.
  • Recommendation 5: Re-engage educators in those districts where implementation of the teacher evaluation system has faltered during the first year of work.
  • Recommendation 6: Integrate the ongoing implementation of the teacher evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards so that they work together to improve student outcomes. All of the approved evaluation models should reflect the shifts in instruction that will be required as Tennessee implements higher, more rigorous academic standards through the Common Core State Standards.
  • Recommendation 7: Drive continuous improvement of the teacher evaluation system at the state, district, and school levels. Leaders and educators must commit to improving the teacher evaluation system on an ongoing basis to maximize its impact on student achievement. For example, school districts should apply for flexibility from the Department of Education (an option currently available) to address their unique issues and concerns.

“We appreciate the tremendous support of our partners who assisted SCORE in gathering valuable feedback from educators and citizens across the state,” Woodson said. “The 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 districts. As needed refinements are made, the system will realize its full potential as a powerful platform for supporting effective instruction across the state and, therefore, gains in student achievement and growth.”

The following organizations partnered with SCORE to gather feedback from educators and other stakeholders: the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), Tennessee Business Roundtable, Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA), Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS), Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tennessee PTA, Tennessee Principals Association, and Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET).

The executive summary of the report can be downloaded here.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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.

Education NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Legislation Preventing Public Disclosure of Teacher Eval Scoring Headed to Governor

Parents and taxpayers would not have access to teacher scoring data under a bill that has passed both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature.

The Senate gave its unanimous support to SB3024 Monday, requiring that estimates of teacher effectiveness gleaned from student’s TCAP tests, be kept confidential. The House version of the bill passed that chamber last week by a vote of 95-0.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Education Committee chairwoman Dolores Gresham, said that schools and state government will be able to use the information to “hone the curriculum such that it serves students better.”

Gresham said it’s “too early to tell” if disclosing that information to the public would have a negative effect.

“Perhaps once teachers are confident in the evaluation process,” she said. “It’s too new, right now, for some folks, although I think we’re going in the right direction. I think perhaps, later on, when teachers have more confidence, that they’ll be able to support that.”

The state’s new evaluation system has been met with mixed reviews from the education community and the public and is currently being evaluated by the State Collaborative for Reforming Education (SCORE) at the request of Gov. Bill Haslam. A report from the group is due June 1.

The Department of Education’s evaluation team has met with over 6,200 educators across Tennessee, gathering feedback on the new system, according to a report given earlier Monday to a joint subcommittee. The feedback will be included in the department’s own report, which will be submitted to the legislature by July 15.

Teachers appreciate the feedback and knowing where they can improve, said Emily Barton, the department’s assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction, but they also want to be sure the evaluation model is fair.

Under the scoring system, teachers are rated 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. Fifty percent of the score is based on observations, 35 percent is based on a measure called value-added of how much students learn year over year, and 15 percent comes from student achievement information. The teacher rating system is being used for the first time this school year and stems from the state’s winning $501 million in the federal Race to the Top competition two years ago.

As for whether or not the evaluations should be made public, Barton said there are educators on both sides of the issue but declined to venture a guess as to which way the majority leans.

“Teachers have strong opinions about this, on both fronts, actually,” she said. “We and the governor support the legislation to maintain privacy with that information at this time.”

Though some educators may differ, the Tennessee Education Association is unwavering in its position.

“We generally support transparency, the public’s right to know. But the problem with this situation is, that would be putting a great deal more credibility on these teacher evaluations than we think it deserves,” said Jerry Winters, the chief lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers’ union.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions about it. What you’re doing is ranking teachers 1 to 5 with a system that has a lack of confidence by the vast majority of teachers in the state. So that’s our problem with putting it out on the front page of newspapers, when we think it’s not accurate information.”

Open government advocates and media outlets have come out for disclosure, arguing that concealing the scores defeats the purpose of evaluating employees paid with taxpayer dollars.


Education Featured News NewsTracker

TN Teacher Evals Discussed in WSJ

Two Memphis music teachers and Tennessee’s top education official are featured in a Wall Street Journal story today tracking teacher evaluation efforts across the country.

The story looks at the challenge of using tests in evaluating educators when standardized tests don’t generally cover social studies or science, focusing instead on reading and math. There’s also the potential for parent revolt, as in the case of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ failed attempt to test every single kindergartner one at a time.

Here’s the Tennessee connection:

Memphis music teacher Jeff Chipman is part of a small group of teachers piloting the new assessment based on student portfolios, and he acknowledges the district’s challenges.

“We are about teaching kids to perform and experience art, and that cannot be measured with a pencil-and-paper test,” he said. “We want to be evaluated on how we help kids grow, but we don’t want to turn the arts program into a testing machine.”

The story carries a photo of another Memphis music teacher, Anthony Q. Richardson, at the piano against the backdrop of instructional posters on rhythm, and Tennessee’s education commissioner chimes in to put a positive spin on the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

“No system is perfect, but the question is whether the one we have now is better and more fair than the previous one,” Commissioner Kevin Huffman tells the Journal. “And the answer is, indisputably, yes.”

Last year Tennessee adopted a plan for more frequent evaluations of teachers tied to student test scores along with a lengthier process to attain tenure. The policies stem directly from the state’s winning $501 million in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition.

The state’s major teachers union – winded after a serious blow to its power last year – has continued to push back against the new system. Tennesseans, meanwhile, are withholding judgment.

Education Featured News

Polls Give Mixed Scores to Teacher Evaluation Reforms

As education experts dig through piles of feedback from teachers and administrators on the state’s teacher evaluation system, the public is split on whether it is good for education, according to a recent survey.

Roughly half of Tennesseans surveyed said they don’t know whether the new evaluations are helping or hurting education, according to a poll Middle Tennessee State University released last week.

“The number one factor of a student’s success is effective teaching in the classroom,” said Jamie Woodson, CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education and one of the original drivers behind mandatory teacher evaluations. “The impact won’t be seen overnight.”

The MTSU poll found 18 percent of the 512 people surveyed thought the new evaluation requirements increase the quality of education.

Another 16 percent said the evaluations decrease education quality, and 19 percent said it makes no difference. But almost half — 48 percent — said they didn’t know what they thought.

“It’s brand new. We’ve gone through one year of it,” said House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville. “A lot of people were very nervous, very apprehensive because it is something brand new. It’s totally different from what they’ve experienced before.”

Leading House Democrat Craig Fitzhugh says the fact that most are uncertain about the new evaluation system is evidence the state threw it into play too quickly.

“I think we got a little ahead of ourselves. We got in too big a hurry, and we threw this evaluation system together and made it … effective to use, before we looked through it all. And now after the fact, we’re taking time to look at it,” said the Ripley lawmaker.

Gov. Bill Haslam asked SCORE to analyze the new teacher evaluation system and report back to him by June 1 with recommendations for whether or how to improve it.

Since then, the collaborative has assembled two of eight regional roundtable discussions with educators across the state, started soliciting feedback online and reached out to various education associations looking for suggestions.

Woodson, a former state senator from Knoxville, declined to detail exactly what she’s hearing from teachers and administrators and what aspects of the evaluations educators are most concerned about, adding “we’re trying diligently to be listeners to the process.”

Another poll found different results. A survey commissioned by the national nonprofit StudentsFirst found that 73 percent of Tennessee voters surveyed were “totally positive” toward evaluating teachers four times a year and basing half the evaluation on whether test scores improved.

StudentsFirst was founded by national education reformer Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools. The organization has emerged as a significant player in contributing to Tennessee political campaigns, according to the the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Press Releases

TEA Recommends Corrections to Teacher Evaluation System

Press Release from Tennessee Education Association; Jan. 18, 2012:


NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Education Association released its recommendations to correct the state’s flawed annual teacher evaluation system at a news conference today. The agenda was developed as a result of feedback from teachers and administrators through TEA-sponsored regional meetings, online surveys, email and face-to-face communications among TEA staff, leaders, teachers and administrators.

“Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system and supporting data system are so flawed that they diminish the education program for Tennessee students,” said Gera Summerford, Sevier County high school math teacher and TEA president. “As a result, students suffer as teachers and administrators are distracted from focusing on student learning in order to meet the demands of the evaluation system.”

TEA’s list of recommendations includes:

1. Designate the 2011-2012 initial implementation year as a pilot/practice year for the new evaluation system so that no educator will be negatively affected by this year’s evaluation rating.

2. Prohibit the use of school-wide data as a substitute for individual growth data for non-TVAAS teachers. Rather, where TVAAS data does not exist, student growth shall be determined by appropriate criterion-referenced pre- and post-tests or comparable assessments.

3. Provide that teachers who achieve an evaluation rating of “Meets Expectations” (a three on the five-point rating scale) shall be eligible for tenure.

4. Streamline and strengthen the observation process:

· Reduce the number of required observations for accomplished teachers. For example, professionally licensed teachers with a rating of three or better (on a five-point scale) would receive one observation each year and a full evaluation cycle comprising multiple observations completed every five years.

· Utilize observation instruments which appropriately reflect how students learn and teachers teach across the range of teaching assignments.

· Simplify and streamline the observation instrument so criteria to be observed in a single lesson are realistic in both number and scope.

· Provide constructive feedback to teachers from one observation before the next one occurs.

· Base evaluation ratings on actual observations of teaching practice; prohibit manipulation of such ratings to fit a bell curve or expected student growth data.

· Provide administrators and teachers with access to a scripting system so teachers can review and respond to observation data immediately. Require that rating forms be provided to teachers after each observation.

5. Expand the 15 percent options and allow teacher choice as contemplated in the law.

6. Ensure accuracy of all data used in evaluations by providing a process for correcting erroneous data.

7. Deliver teachers’ final evaluation ratings no later than the last work day of the school year. Ensure that evaluation ratings are accompanied by recommendations for improvement and indications of the support to be provided to help teachers improve.

“We have heard time and time again that the current system forces principals to focus fulltime on teacher evaluation at the expense of running an effective school,” Summerford said. “Based on what we’ve learned during the first year of implementation, the evaluation system must be fine-tuned —for the sake of our students, our schools, our teachers and our administrators.”

Summerford continued, “While I am pleased that Governor Haslam recognizes the need for a review of the evaluation system, teachers and administrators need relief from this flawed system sooner rather than later. We don’t need to wait until after the legislature has adjourned for the year to begin to fix the system. We have now experienced a semester of full-scale implementation statewide. It’s time to build on what we’ve learned.”

“Sometimes it’s important to go slow with new programs in order to ensure they’re implemented well initially so they survive in the long term. TEA is eager to be part of the process to ensure we have a fair, valid, reliable and sustainable evaluation process for educators, not just during the term of our Race to the Top grant but for years to come,” said the TEA president.

“It is our hope that TEA’s evaluation recommendations, along with a coordinated effort among legislators, the department of education, the state board of education, SCORE and TEA, will begin to move us immediately toward a fairer, sustainable evaluation model for Tennessee,” Summerford concluded.

Business and Economy

Reagan Administration Economist Arthur Laffer Speaks at GOP Retreat

Economist Arthur Laffer, widely known as the “father of supply-side economics,” spoke to House Republicans during their retreat this week at Tims Ford State Park.

Laffer, a member of President Ronald Reagan’s economic policy team, talked to the group about Tennessee’s economic assets, said Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, the House Republican Caucus chair.

“Dr. Laffer has a wealth of data, research, knowledge and experience about how the different states compare with one another,” she said.

“One of the focuses he worked on with us was how Tennessee ranks with other states and what makes Tennessee so attractive to people to live here. We’re in a central location, we don’t have a state income tax, we are a right-to-work state, and states like that tend to have favorable economic outcomes.”

In addition to listening to Laffer and other guests, Republicans discussed ways to improve communications with their constituents and various items constituents are concerned about, including reaction from teachers about the state’s new teacher evaluation process, Maggart said.

The retreat, which is held every two years, was paid for with caucus funds, Maggart said.

Maggart didn’t have an exact number of lawmakers who attended the retreat Monday and Tuesday, but she said she had 55 RSVPs committed to attend at least part of the event and that it looked like most of those showed up, including Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.

The Republicans have a 64-34-1 majority in the House.

Maggart, who was guarded about sharing what legislators discussed, said the lawmakers did not formally talk about redistricting, a subject of much political speculation. The discussions did include attempts to dramatically reduce the number of bills filed in the Legislature, she said.

“We talked about next year (an election year). I’m not going to unveil what we’re doing,” Maggart said.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney has said the state GOP’s goal is to produce a “walkout-proof” majority in the Legislature, meaning enough of a majority that Republicans would have a quorum even without the presence of Democrats in meetings. Republicans have a Senate majority of 20-13. Two more Republican seats in each chamber would be needed to meet Devaney’s goal.

Maggart said the Republicans have been working on their legislative package for next year, although she said she was not ready to unveil that now.

“We’ll be giving that information out when we get it ready,” she said.

Republicans have already been public about at least visiting issues such as changing workers’ compensation laws, oversight of the Court of the Judiciary, halting the extension of unemployment benefits, further monitoring regulations that may hamper business and enacting more tort reform measures next year. But Maggart made clear the party still believes jobs cannot be legislated, a position that puts Republicans at odds with Democrats, who presented a list of jobs bills this year with complaints that they were not seriously considered. Unemployment in the state is 9.8 percent.

Democrats have also scheduled a Jobs Tour for Sept. 19-24, and the state Democratic Party took exception Wednesday to the rosy picture painted by Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey about their presentation to the major bond rating agencies in New York.

A release from the Tennessee Democratic Party quoted Chairman Chip Forrester as saying, “This bond rating dog and pony show for Wall Street executives looks obnoxious to the 300,000 Tennesseans who are struggling to find work and provide for their families.”

Maggart maintains that jobs cannot be legislated.

“We’re going to continue to concentrate on paving the way for job creation. The Legislature does not create a single job,” she said. “We want to do what we can to make Tennessee the most attractive state for small businesses to thrive. We want to decrease regulation on small business people.”

Maggart gave the handling of the new photo ID law, requiring photographic identification in order to vote, as an example of how the number of bills filed in the Legislature can be decreased.

“Freshmen didn’t know I was working on it for five or six years, so we can cut down on the number of people filing the same bill,” she said.

Republicans have drawn up a process, spearheaded by Harwell, where lawmakers can consult freely about their bills in a process that normally holds even the filing of legislation as a matter of attorney/client privilege. McCormick has also spoken publicly about reducing the number of bills.

On the teacher evaluations issue, Maggart said members are hearing about it from their districts.

“Teachers are concerned about it. They have questions,” Maggart said. “That was pretty much across the board. I shouldn’t say everyone, but a lot of people had heard from teachers concerned about the process.

“You know it’s going to be a concern because it’s new. It has never been done before. Certainly you’re going to have people who have questions.”

The state adopted a system where teachers will be evaluated based on a formula that relies heavily on classroom observation and student growth under the state’s value-added assessment scores.

Laffer is one of the authors of Rich States, Poor States, released by the American Legislative Exchange Council and issued in its fourth edition this June. Other authors of the book are Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal, and Jonathan Williams, director of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force for ALEC.

“He (Laffer) uses IRS data. That’s such a great data resource, because the IRS knows so much about you. They’ve got your address, know how much you make, how much your deductions are. He has been analyzing people who move, like him, and what the state’s economic status is. Ours is good. People move here from other states,” Maggart said.

“He contrasted all the good things about Tennessee and how we keep moving forward on those things.”

Laffer Associates, an economic research and consulting firm, is in Nashville. An effort Wednesday seeking comment by Laffer on the Republican retreat was unsuccessful.

Other speakers at the retreat included Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner for communications for the Department of Economic and Community Development; a presentation on communications for lawmakers by a consulting firm; and a presentation by Public Opinion Strategies, which handles polling.