published Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Haslam signs teacher tenure bill

  • photo
    Gov. Bill Haslam signs a teacher tenure bill into law in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, April 12, 2011, while his wife, Crissy, and Republican lawmakers look on. The measure will make it more difficult for teachers to obtain tenure, and create a mechanism for them to lose that job protection status for consecutive years of poor performance. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam signed his teacher tenure, bill into law Tuesday, predicting that the effect of his first major piece of legislation “will be felt for many, many years.”

The bill makes it harder for new teachers to win and keep tenure protections, lengthening the time it takes a teacher to qualify for tenure from three years to five.

“Three years is too short a time to grant something that’s such a great privilege like tenure,” he said. “I think the bar had been set too low in terms of as having objective criteria ... [on] who got tenure and this bill addresses that.”

Meanwhile, Haslam also saw movement Tuesday on his other education initiative when the House Education Committee approved his bill eliminating a current cap on the number of charter schools and allowing students from all income groups to attend the schools.

During his bill-signing ceremony on tenure changes, Haslam, a Republican, was flanked solely by GOP legislative leaders. He said the law, which goes into effect July 1, continues the efforts of education reform initiated last year by his predecessor, Democrat Phil Bredesen, and the General Assembly.

But unlike last year’s reforms, which led to Tennessee’s winning a $500 million federal Race to the Top grant, Haslam’s teacher tenure bill had little bipartisan support. Only one Democratic House member and one Democratic senator crossed party lines to vote for it.

And while Tennessee Education Association officials said they did not oppose it, the 52,000-member teachers’ group never embraced the bill, either.

“One of the reasons this is so important is because so much is at stake,” Haslam said

Along with making tenure more time-consuming, the bill also requires new teachers to be granted tenure only if they fall within the top two ranks of a five-tiered evaluation system built in large part on student test scores.

Even after being granted tenure, teachers can fall back into probationary status if they fall into the two bottom rankings for two consecutive years.

Tennessee Education Association members and most Democrats argued that development of objective tests for as many 60 percent of teachers has not been completed. Instead, many teachers face being judged not on the performance of students they teach but on the performance of the entire school, which teachers say is unfair.

Last month, Salina Jeckel, who works at Alpine Crest Elementary School in Hamilton County, noted that in areas such as special education there are no measures of achievement to use.

“I don’t know if it’s really a realistic evaluation of an individual’s performance when it’s based on the performance of students they hadn’t had an opportunity to work with,” Jeckel said.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Haslam said he has told teachers and administrators across the state that “this is too important just to keep pushing off until it we get it perfect.”

“I think we have an evaluation committee that’s worked hard to get this right, and we will continue to evaluate the evaluations,” he said.

Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said that so far as he knows, the teachers’ union got no invitation to attend the bill signing.

“It would have been nice,” said Winters, who noted that, while “we raised questions about that bill all the way through the process, we didn’t adamantly oppose it.”

Earlier in the day, the House Education Committee voted 12-5 vote to move the charter school expansion bill to the Finance Committee. The Senate version is in the that chamber’s Finance Committee.

Currently, Tennessee has a 90-school cap on charter schools, which are publicly funded schools governed by a private board. The schools are exempt from many requirements on traditional public schools.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said that while he supports the concept of charter schools, Haslam’s bill is too far-reaching and would drain resources from public schools. It would also allow charter schools to “cherry pick” good students at good public schools, he said.

Current law restricts charter schools to only taking students who are failing, attend failing schools or come from lower-income families. The bill does away with those requirements.

Haslam policy director Will Cromer later said local school boards still “have say over what charter schools they authorize and what focus a charter school has.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
enufisenuf said...

Too bad Georgia doesn't pass a similar law, then schools like ridgeland might be able to find teachers who can teach instead of being a band of lying bullies under the thumb of commandant smith.

April 13, 2011 at 5:35 a.m.
bpqd said...

These ignorant people of the Republican Party need to learn that the most illiterate and selfish solution is not the acceptable answer to everything. This Big Oil Governor has got to go.

Support teachers. Reject these selfish politicians who destroyed our country's economy with their selfishness.

Perhaps Governor Haslam was too busy evading taxes by not enforcing the law as it applies to his own business to realize that teacher tenure, in a state filled with illiterate people, is important.

Poor performance from the Governor, pandering to the ignorant and selfish while the people suffer from self-imposed stupidity. Reject Republican businessmen from office, as a direct result of their self-serving, disgusting and unethical conduct.

Support education. Reject self-serving Republican sycophants.

April 13, 2011 at 6:54 a.m.
PMac said...

Is it really the teachers at Ridgeland or it is the students that do not want to learn because of parents that do not make them? Parents need to step up and take responsiblity of their children and spend the time teaching them respect and morales instead Parents complain about everything but do not get involved.

April 13, 2011 at 9:39 a.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

Wow bpqd, you are whipped into a rage by a tenure requirement of 5 years? I don't even understand why teachers get tenure at all!

Please explain to me what is so special about teachers that they should get this unusual protection called tenure. Why should they not have to perform or face dismissal right up to the day they retire, like the rest of us?

April 13, 2011 at 1:18 p.m.
Leaf said...

No systemic problem can be fixed overnight, but small improvements over time can add up to have a big effect. I think we all agree that our schools have a problem. That's a problem for us all, because the children in school today are the ones who will be working - or in prison - tomorrow. What is one thing we could do to help fix our schools?

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins said that the first thing is to get the right people on the bus. The current climate of blaming teachers for every problem will only exacerbate the situation we have now, where the best ones get disillusioned and quit after a couple of years. How do we stop driving the good ones away, and get more good ones on the bus?

If we want better teachers, we could start by give new recruits greater pay based on college rank and test scores (just like the real world), so that the people who could choose to go into other fields consider teaching as an option. Over time, these superior recruits will work within the system to improve it.

Higher pay for more qualified teachers would be a small expense for a great return. If each teacher inspired just one extra student per year to graduate, get a good job, contribute to the economy and stay out of trouble that would more than justify higher pay.

April 13, 2011 at 2 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

Leaf, I think you could get better performance from teachers just by eliminating tenure all together! The real possibility that you could be out of a job tomorrow if you do not give your best today is a great motivator. I’ve heard stories from many teachers and students that make me believe some teachers get burnt out. When that happens, they should just move on and find something else to do. Sticking around under the protection of tenure hurts both the person teaching and their students.

We already spend more per student than all but two other nations in the world. Why would we think that spending more money is the answer when we have other obvious problems?

April 13, 2011 at 5:01 p.m.
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