NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam signed his teacher tenure bill into law today, predicting the effect of his first major piece of legislation "will be felt for many, many years."
A short while earlier, the House Education Committee approved Haslam's other major education bill, which would expand charter schools in Tennessee.
Surrounded solely by GOP legislative leaders, Haslam, also a Republican, said the teacher tenure law continues the efforts of education reform initiated last year by his predecessor, Democrat Phil Bredesen, and the General Assembly.
"One of the reasons this is so important because so much is at stake," Haslam said, later noting that "three years is too short a time to grant something that's such a great privilege like tenure. I think the bar had been set too low in term of as having objective criteria ... [on] who got tenure and this bill addresses that."
The bill increases from three years to five years the time it takes for a teacher to qualify for tenure. It 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.
No teachers nor Democrats were at the signing of the bill, held in the state Capitol. Most Democrats opposed the measure, which goes into effect July 1.
The 52,000-member Tennessee Education Association repeatedly raised unsuccessful objections to the tenure bill. They 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.
Speaking to reporters later, 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."