Haslam: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday one of his goals is to reduce the amount of partisan rhetoric that can impede progress in the state.

“None of us want Nashville to become what Washington has become, a place that is so partisan you can’t solve problems,” Haslam said.

Haslam made the remarks in an address to the Outlook TN meeting of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Nashville. He picked up on the same theme when answering questions from the media following the speech.

Capitol Hill has become the scene of intense rallies and counter-rallies in the last several days, primarily over proposed bills on education and especially on a legislative effort that would end collective bargaining rights for teachers.

Haslam has stirred reaction himself with a legislative package that includes making it harder for teachers to earn tenure, but those proposals have escaped some of the harshest rhetoric as the lines have been drawn on collective bargaining. Teachers staged a rally Saturday that drew thousands of people, and a tea party rally at the Capitol supported legislation targeting the teachers union.

Haslam wants to tone it down.

“We’re having those conversations with Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “We really don’t want to get to where Washington is, where good people don’t want to go there anymore to serve.

“If you ask me what my concern is of the last two or three weeks, it would be that. There has been more of a partisan divide, which I don’t think is healthy for solving problems.”

The most contentious debate in recent days has involved Democrats criticizing Republicans over the anti-collective bargaining measure, while much of the disgruntlement among Republicans has been the divide within their own ranks. The more conservative members of the GOP are concerned that some in their party will be weak on the collective bargaining issue.

On Saturday Haslam was referred to as “Mister Rogers,” after the milquetoast television personality, at a tea party rally. Democratic Rep. Mike Turner of Nashville, the caucus chair, called on Haslam to end the “terrorism” against teachers.

Haslam referred to the tone of the last few weeks and said, “I want to kind of get past all that.”

“I think the vast majority of Tennesseans want us to fix things. That’s why they sent us here,” Haslam said. “I’m going to try to solve problems and fix things. I think that’s why Tennesseans elected me to be governor.”

But he noted that Tennessee is not alone. Fights over public employee benefits and collective bargaining, in particular for teachers, have erupted in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Florida.

“Some of what’s happening on education is a reflection of what’s happening nationally,” Haslam said. “I think it has kind of exacerbated things.”

Haslam used most of his address to the Chamber of Commerce as a preview of his budget presentation and State of the State address scheduled for Monday. He said he wished he had had more time to work on the budget. Haslam was sworn in on Jan. 15, and he is preparing to offer a budget that will be roughly $30 billion in size.

“People ask, ‘How do you like being governor?’ I say, ‘I love it.’ It’s just that the start date is wrong,” Haslam said.

He said having to establish a budget only six or seven weeks after being sworn in is difficult. He also noted the difficulty when the legislature proposes 2,200 bills and he is expected to have an opinion on all of them. Then there are the 23 commissioners in his own administration that need his attention.

“There’s a lot to learn,” he said.

Haslam emphasized the three themes he has driven home all along — jobs, education and the budget, adding that an education plan ultimately is a jobs plan. While his views on education and tort reform are widely known, many people will be eager to see where Haslam will make cuts in the budget, which he said would be the subject of more specificity on Monday.

“The budget obviously comes really quick,” he said. “No matter how much work you do before you come into office, it’s a little different once you’re there. Once you have the departments, you can actually reach down in and ask questions you can’t ask when you’re out of office.

“The budget is so critical to what we do as a state. While you want to get it there for the Legislature to discuss, you obviously want to get it right. Every day, I learn a little bit more.”

Business and Economy Education News

Haslam ‘Obviously Pleased’ Tenure Reform Bill Starting to Move

Gov. Bill Haslam was walking at a fairly rapid pace as he made his way Wednesday from the Capitol to an event at the War Memorial Auditorium, so it wasn’t surprising he used the word “rapid” in response to a question about his teacher tenure bill.

A quick question was thrown at Haslam about his response to the Senate Education Committee voting Wednesday to approve his bill to change the teacher tenure process.

“I was obviously pleased to see it pass and come out of there,” Haslam said. “We think it’s an important step, and I look forward to its … you know, rapid, uh … to continue to move through the system.”

Things are moving rapidly for Haslam these days — the committee vote just the latest example that the Legislature appears prepared to give the new governor’s proposals approval and priority.

House Speaker Beth Harwell this week said Haslam’s agenda will probably move ahead of the contentious legislative battle over ending collective bargaining for teachers, with the added intrigue that has surfaced that Haslam may step into that issue.

The tenure bill would change the probationary period for tenure from its current three years to a five-year plan, and teachers would have to maintain high standards once tenure is achieved. They would continue to be watched and could fall back into a probationary period.

Haslam was asked about the vote again Wednesday at the downtown Sheraton, where he attended a Farm Bureau event, then met with reporters. And again, a time element became part of the discussion. One of the most recent issues has been whether the evaluation process for teachers will be ready in time to begin moving forward on reforms.

“I actually have had that conversation about evaluation and how far we are in the process, literally this week with everybody from other governors to President Obama’s education secretary to Bill Gates,” said Haslam, who attended the National Governors Association meeting in Washington last weekend.

“The consensus is this: The perfect is the enemy of good when it comes to evaluation systems. We are involved in a process, but that’s a process that the teachers are involved with in coming up with a system that will work. We can work forever to get the perfect one, or we can go ahead and move forward with what everybody agrees we need to start, rewarding excellence in teaching.”

Advocates for the tenure reform have stuck to the “rewarding excellence” line on teacher tenure changes. Democrats have started to hit back at Haslam, holding a press conference Wednesday saying teachers are being attacked.

One of the points Democrats have tried to make in the last week is that there needs to be the same spirit of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans as demonstrated last year in the special session to make changes in education in the state. The Democrats held a press conference last week bemoaning the lack of jobs bills coming from the Republican governor or from Republicans in the Legislature.

Whether the tenure issue is being rushed or whether the process is being ramrodded is open to debate.

“Any time you have a new system, you continuously evaluate it,” Haslam said. “I come back to this: We can wait forever ’til everybody says it’s perfect, or we can go ahead with what everybody knows now. We should reward excellence in teaching.”

Haslam continues to get the support of former Sen. Bill Frist’s group, SCORE, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which has been involved in many of the legislative reforms in the Legislature.

“Tennessee has historically done a poor job of making tenure decisions meaningful,” David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communications for the Frist group, said Wednesday. “The bill passed in the Senate Education Committee today ensures that teachers are rewarded for being effective in the classroom.

“Every student in Tennessee deserves a great teacher, and tenure reform will be a critical part of improving teacher effectiveness.”

Teachers have fought hard against the Republican education agenda, although their most vehement protests have been over the collective bargaining issue.

The teachers have also won the support of other unions, such as area auto workers, who have presented a picture of solidarity on Capitol Hill. And the debate comes against the backdrop of battles in several states about benefits for teachers and other state workers.

For now, Haslam and his Republican supporters in the Legislature appear to have the upper hand. The vote in the Senate Education Committee fell along party lines. Republicans Rusty Crowe, Dolores Gresham, Brian Kelsey, Jim Summerville, Jim Tracy and Jamie Woodson voted to advance the measure. Democrats Andy Berke, Charlotte Burks and Reginald Tate voted against it.

It’s awaiting hearing in the general subcommittee of the House Education Committee.

A recent poll by Middle Tennessee State University showed 54 percent of state residents say tenure makes it difficult to get rid of bad teachers, while 29 percent said tenure protects good teachers.

Press Releases

Democrats Want End to ‘Continuous Attacks’ on Teachers

Press Release from the Senate Democratic Caucus, March 2, 2011:

Democrats Call for an End to Continuous Attacks On Teachers, Students and Working Families

Stewart: ‘A teacher’s work environment is a child’s learning environment’

(Nashville) – Tennessee Democrats united Wednesday to call for an end to the continuous attacks in the state legislature on teachers and children.

“We are asking today that the majority party and the administration listen to the people of Tennessee,” said Rep. Mike McDonald (D-Portland). “It is clear from listening to our constituents that they oppose these attacks on our teachers. Teachers deserve the right to have a say in improving their classrooms and the lives of their students.”

The Senate Education Committee passed Wednesday Senate Bill 1528, which affects teacher tenure. House Subcommittees were scheduled to take up bills regarding teachers’ ability to participate in organizations, and a controversial bill that would post teacher data online.

Another bill that would prohibit teachers from negotiating class size, school safety and fair pay is awaiting a full Senate vote. The legislation is a far cry from last year, when teachers worked with members of both parties to help pass Tennessee’s “First to the Top” legislation that secured $501 million in federal funding to improve Tennessee schools.

“A teacher’s work environment is a child’s learning environment, and these bills hurt both,” said State Sen. Eric Stewart (D-Belvidere). “Teaching is not just a job. It’s a calling. But with every bill that demoralizes teachers, the more likely it is that the next generation of great teachers won’t answer the call.”

Education News

TEA Mulling Haslam’s Tenure Reform Proposal

Tennessee’s largest teachers union is ready to do its homework on Gov. Bill Haslam’s education reform plan.

But regardless of the details of the governor’s legislation, union leadership sees a lot in other bills that it says have nothing to do with teaching children.

Al Mance, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, said Thursday his organization wants to give Haslam’s education proposals a good, close look, then stands ready to talk.

“I think his proposal is going to be complex enough that we’re going to need to get it and analyze it to see exactly what he’s proposing, and then we’d like to talk to them before we take an official organization position on it,” Mance said. “That is particularly true with anything having to do with tenure.”

Haslam delivered his anticipated tenure-adjusting proposal to the legislature Thursday as the highlight of a package that includes lifting current limits on charter schools in the state. Haslam wants to change the probationary time for teacher tenure from three years to five years.

Mance said the TEA will probably have a detailed response by early next week.

Haslam’s tinkering with the tenure system followed the first real shot in Republican lawmakers’ battle with teachers’ union supporters a day earlier, with a Senate committee voting Wednesday to advance a bill wiping away collective bargaining for teachers. The week was a potent one-two punch to the union. The union bargaining issue has stirred the most passion thus far.

“We’ve got 52,000 members across the state who aren’t happy,” Mance said. “This is devastating for some of them. Keep in mind almost 90 percent of all teachers are covered by negotiated contracts. A lot of teachers have lived during the period when we didn’t have them.

“What negotiation does is provide an orderly and structured way for you to sit down with the school system and talk about those problems and issues that may get in the way of actually improving schools.”

Mance has heard some of the information going around that says non-bargaining local educators make an average $130 a year more than teachers who work under collectively bargained contracts. But, he said, that is taking into account only salary, not both salary and benefits.

He said bargaining groups of teachers almost always exceed what nonbargaining local organizations receive in health insurance.

“If they repeal the bargaining law, they have no opportunity to sit down in an orderly way and have input into the education and school system,” Mance said. “They will be back to a time when teachers were expected to be seen and not heard, and I don’t think that’s something teachers are going to be able to tolerate ever again.

“I don’t think most school boards want that.”

The Tennessee School Boards Association says indeed it does not. But that organization rejects the notion that such an outcome is likely or would, for that matter, be tolerated by the voters who elect local citizens to the boards.

“It serves the best interest of everyone in the system, especially the school board and the teachers, to have a collaborative relationship,” said Lee Harrell, a lobbyist for the TSBA, which is pushing the anti-collective bargaining bill. “School board members are elected, and they have to meet certain standards, and they have to have highly qualified teachers — and they have to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. It serves them absolutely no good and no interest to shut the teachers out.”

Harrell, who made his remarks before the Senate Education Committee this week, said the 45 school districts in Tennessee that aren’t mandated to collectively bargain with unions — 91 districts are — have an “open relationship” that results in constructive discussions with teachers on the full range of education-related issues.

“They want to hear directly from teachers in the classrooms,” Harrell said of school board members.

Mance said the existence of mandatory collective bargaining in one system can have an effect on a neighboring system, like the Memphis city schools compared to Shelby County schools.

“Some of the benefits in Shelby County are what they are because Memphis is right next door, and Memphis negotiates,” Mance said. “In order to establish and maintain some kind of parity it means that Shelby County has to improve its benefits but also improve teacher involvement in decision-making.

“That is as important to most teachers as the salaries and benefits.”

Mance expressed concern about a flurry of bills in the Legislature he says don’t directly affect education. They include the mandatory collectively bargaining issue, a bill doing away with TEA’s members selecting people for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System board of trustees and a bill to remove a payroll dues deduction for any employee organization that participates in politics.

“There are a number of bills around, and none of them have anything to do with support of teaching in the classroom or support for education reform that have any possibility of improving the education of Tennessee boys and girls,” he said.


Education Advisory Panel Pondering ‘Race’ Spending

A committee overhauling Tennessee public school teacher-performance standards is weighing whether to recommend the State Board of Education enact expensive reforms it believes will dramatically improve student achievement or stick instead with more modest, affordable plans.

The conundrum is a product of the Race to the Top grant, a $501 million prize the Volunteer State won from the federal government this year for pledging to enact education reforms favored by the Obama administration aimed at turning around underachieving students.

“We want to do things right and worry about the cost later,” said Rep. Mark Maddox, a Dresden Democrat who sits on the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee.

TEAC is a panel of educators, business experts and lawmakers assembled earlier this year to figure out what criteria should be included in job evaluations for teachers and principals.

The General Assembly committed the state to tying teacher job-performance ratings with student achievement data last winter. The rough framework for the new system was passed at the urging of Gov. Phil Bredesen — and over the objections of some teachers and Democratic lawmakers — during a January special legislative session.

Some members of the advisory committee want to “shoot for the stars” and devise what they view are the very best success-measuring, performance-rewarding systems regardless of cost.

But others representing teachers and schools said Thursday that their districts have other plans for their share of Race to the Top money, and “are not going to spend a dime” on some of the far-reaching reforms before the committee.

The 15-member body began meeting in March to iron out details of a new and complicated teacher evaluation process lawmakers OK’d in order to win the Race to the Top competition. Officials at initial meetings barely mentioned the grant, saying the state would still pursue the reforms if it lost the contest.

Now that the money is in state hands, members of TEAC say they’re confused as to whether they should consider possible price tags when recommending reforms.

“We should decide what is best, you figure out how to pay for it,” TEAC member and Nashville businessman Darrell Freeman said to Rep. Maddox at the July 24 committee meeting.

Maddox, who is also technology coordinator for Weakley County Schools, said Capitol Hill lawmakers who agreed to change the teacher evaluation process weren’t concerned about the price tag at the time — and TEAC shouldn’t be, either.

“We want to do things right and worry about the cost later,” he said.

Committee members spent Thursday in a day-long retreat focusing on teacher observation methods used in other school systems.

“It’s not something you do on a Tuesday afternoon every five years. It’s something you do every day,” said Jim McIntyre, Knox County Schools superintendent who was testifying about the TAP System for Student and Teacher Achievement, a program he employs in some of his schools.

The observation method frees up teachers so they have can continuously evaluate each other throughout the year — but in turn creates a teaching hole other educators are hired to fill. The cost, he told the committee, was roughly $400 per student.

We can’t afford that in our district, said Jimmy Bailey, TEAC board member and principal at Arlington International Leadership Magnet in Jackson.

Member Kenny Lou Heaton said her superintendent told her the district was against dedicating additional dollars on the expanded teacher observations.

“There will not be one dollar of our First to the Top money that will be used on any of this,” reported the Family and Consumer Sciences teacher from Cloundland High School in Roan Mountain. “Our system will use the default.”

The committee should still aim high, said Rep. Harry Brooks.

“Ultimately, if we demonstrate a product in the State of Tennessee that’s effective, the money isn’t going to be a problem,” said the Knoxville Republican who chairs the Education Committee in the state House of Representatives.

If anything, said Maddox, “Race to the Top is the opportunity to do things like TAP.”

Members have yet to endorse any methods for implementing the new teacher evaluation law, which includes specifying how non-traditional teachers — like librarians or music teachers — are evaluated, what other test scores are added in and what additional measures should be factored in a total job evaluation.

Final recommendations from the committee are due to the Tennessee Board of Education in November. The Board will ultimately decide how to implement the new law and enact it by the 2011-2012 school year.

News Tax and Budget

HGOP Wants to Restore Career Ladder, Ag Grants

Republicans in the state House of Representatives want to make sure programs like the Career Ladder and and money for farm and ranch subsidies are funded with permanent, recurring dollars in next year’s state budget, according to House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower.

After a caucus meeting Wednesday, the Bristol Republican said members want to take those two issues introduced by the Senate GOP Tuesday off the chopping block.

“With that, I think we’re very, very, very close to where they are,” he said of the Senate proposal.

Senate Republican, led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, revealed their budget plan Tuesday. The pitch included paying for programs like Career Ladder, the $34.5 million merit pay program for teachers, with temporary dollars instead of permanent funds — opening up the possibility of eliminating the program when the money runs out.

The plan also included cutting out $6.3 million worth of agriculture grants.  The funds, which support long-term subsidies in local livestock and farming operations, would drop from $16.3 million to $10 million.

However, members of the House GOP believe both those funds should be restored, Mumpower said.

“The House Republican caucus, I think, is overwhelmingly for a budget that makes some further responsible cuts and doesn’t go too far into the rainy-day fund,” he added. “It’s irresponsible to clean out the rainy-day fund. The situation this time next year is going to be as bad as it is today, if not worse.”

Legislative leadership indicated Thursday that both chambers will conduct Finance, Ways and Means committees next week to hammer out the budget. The House will meet in full session Monday and Thursday, but the Senate will only meet in committee.

Mumpower said he expects the legislature to have a final budget hashed out by the end of the month.

“But hey, ask me again in 15 minutes,” he said.

Press Releases

Haslam Announces Teacher Recruitment Plan

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor, May 11, 2010:

Will lead an aggressive “push for talent” in Tennessee

KNOXVILLE – Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam announced today his plan to address Tennessee’s coming teacher shortage and recruit high quality teachers into every classroom by leveraging innovative programs and strategies.

Mayor Haslam will promote innovative programs that provide alternative routes into teaching and work with the Tennessee Department of Education, State Board of Education, and Tennessee’s teacher colleges to develop strategies for enhanced recruitment efforts.

Programs including Teach For America, The New Teacher Project, the Distinguished Professionals Education Institute, Teach Tennessee, and urban residencies are examples of the types of efforts Mayor Haslam will look to expand across the state. He will also work with Tennessee teacher colleges and state education officials to reach bright students early and recruit them into teaching.

“The next governor must have a strategy for bringing more high quality teachers into the profession,” Haslam said. “We have many outstanding teachers across the state and we’re making strides in the area of teacher evaluation and development. However, the state is facing a serious challenge on the teaching front: At the same time we’re working to improve the quality of teaching we’ve got to increase the quantity of teachers we’re successfully recruiting.”

The University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research estimates that Tennessee could face a teacher shortage that reaches more than 30,000 by the 2013-2014 school year, and a wealth of research has shown that no other in-school factor has a greater impact on the success of a child than the effectiveness of the teacher.

“It’s essential that every classroom in Tennessee is led by a highly effective teacher,” Haslam continued. “My strategy will not be to simply wait and hope they come to us. I will lead an aggressive effort to widen and strengthen the pipeline into teaching and actively recruit the best talent.”

“As I’ve traveled the state visiting schools, meeting with teachers and principals, and talking with local education officials, I’ve seen examples of innovative programs that are popping up all across Tennessee,” Haslam said.

“With major recent outside investments in Tennessee, including the Gates Foundation and Memphis City Schools’ Teacher Effectiveness Initiative and the announcement of Tennessee’s win in the Race to the Top competition, it’s clear that the rest of the country is beginning to notice the momentum that is building around education in Tennessee,” continued Haslam. “As governor, I will capitalize on the opportunity that exists, and a big part of that will be doing whatever it takes to bring the best and brightest into teaching in our great state.”


Still in the ‘Race’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education News Tax and Budget

Charter Schools Could Offer Ideas in Teacher Evaluation Talks

Charter school proponents are hopeful the governor and state lawmakers might take a page or two from their playbook as they discuss education reform in the upcoming special legislative session.

Gov. Phil Bredesen wants lawmakers to tie at least 50 percent of teacher evaluations to student performance, in order to qualify for additional federal stimulus dollars.

“This year we’ve had a couple of unique, unexpected opportunities drop in our lap that I believe will allow us to focus on the entire education pipeline in one fell swoop and hopefully make some changes that will be felt for years to come,” Bredesen said in a press release.

During the Jan. 12 special session, Bredesen wants lawmakers to find a way to tie K-12 teacher tenure to student performance in order to line the state up for a chunk of $4.35 billion in federal “Race to the Top” grant dollars. He also wants to see changes in higher education funding.

The legislation needs to be approved by the time the state files its federal application on Jan. 19.

Charter school principals and teachers already use student performance data, said Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Association of Charter Schools.

But charter schools, which act as experimental teaching labs, use those statistics to drive instruction and improve teacher development, Throckmorton said, which is not always tied to teacher evaluations.

Giving teachers those data tools help them stay on top of student performance. Teachers regularly give frequent but short tests to measure student comprehension and help identify which strategies better reach the class, Throckmorton said.

He said this creative use of student performance data will take education “to the next level.”

Twenty-two of the publicly-funded, privately-run schools are currently operating across the state. Another school will open in Nashville next summer and as many as six more new schools are being founded in Memphis.

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are evaluated based on how well they meet student achievement goals outlined in their charter contract with the local school district. Schools that fall short risk losing their charter.

The schools are filled with students who were attending failing schools, came from poor families or were failing in school them self, said Janel Lacy, spokeswoman for Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. The city announced in early December it would open a charter school incubator, a program that takes a hands-on approach to training future principals how to run a school.

The Tennessee Education Association says strongly tying student performance to teacher evaluations is a bad idea because teachers can’t control all of the factors that go into a successful test score.

Parents have to be held accountable, too, said union president Earl Wiman.

“We understand that student performance may need to be a part of a teacher’s evaluation. But what we’re saying is it doesn’t need to play a major role in the evaluations,” said Wiman.

Press Releases

Statewide Charter School Incubator Announced for Nashville

Davidson County Metro Government Press Release, Dec. 8, 2009:

“Center for Charter School Excellence in Tennessee” to be developed by charter school expert from New Orleans

NASHVILLE – Mayor Karl Dean announced plans today to develop one of the nation’s first charter school incubators to operate statewide.

The incubator, named the Center for Charter School Excellence in Tennessee, will support and help fund the development of high-performing public charter schools in Metro Nashville, and expand to provide charter school incubation support in school districts across the state within three years.

“During the last State General Assembly, I, along with many others, strongly advocated for a state law that is more receptive to public charter schools,” Dean said. “The new law greatly expanded student eligibility for enrollment in charter schools and the number of charter schools allowed in Tennessee. We need to ensure that these schools are of the highest quality.”

Matt Candler, the former CEO of the successful charter school incubator New Schools for New Orleans, will lead the center’s startup as project manager. His work will include finding long-term leadership for the center.

“Matt is recognized as a leader in the field of public charter schools due to his longstanding work in New York City and New Orleans. His initial involvement will ensure the long-term success of the center,” Dean said.

Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education Dr. Tim Webb and Director of Metro Nashville Public Schools Dr. Jesse Register joined the mayor for today’s announcement and discussed the positive impact the center will have on education reform efforts in Nashville and Tennessee.

“Charter schools are an important partner in developing innovative practices and providing opportunities to serve low-performing students,” Webb said. “This incubator will help Nashville and the state deliver best practices to reform partners as we prepare all students to be college and career ready upon graduation.”

“We recognize the value of having high-quality and highly-effective charter schools that can help meet the diverse needs of students,” said Register. “By their very inception, charter schools require innovative and non-traditional instructional strategies and this incubator will help attract and build the very best not only for Nashville, but for districts across Tennessee.”

The center will partner with the national charter school development organization Building Excellent Schools to offer training through a year-long fellowship program for individuals seeking to become founders of high-performing public charter schools.

“Building Excellent Schools has developed a national reputation for creating excellent schools that prepare their kids for success in college,” Candler said. “The leaders they have trained are closing the achievement gap in dozens of schools across the country. We are honored to have them join us in the effort to close the achievement gap in Nashville and across Tennessee.”

The center will continue to provide support services for the new schools during their first year of operation, including interim assessments of student performance in all grades, governance training for board members, and operation and finance reviews.

In addition to supporting the development of public charter schools, the center will support the expansion of existing initiatives to improve teacher recruitment in Nashville.

“Great teachers are the backbone of any great school, so we will support Teach for America and The New Teacher Project as we build new schools, expanding their efforts in both our public charter and traditional schools,” Candler said.

To ensure its long-term viability, the center will be set up as an independent nonprofit organization. It will be initially funded through the Education First Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, which Dean established last year to provide private financial support for new education reform efforts in Nashville.