State Senate Approves Tenure Changes

On March 10, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris
March 10, 2011

State Senate Republicans passed Governor Bill Haslam’s tenure reform bill Thursday, overriding Democratic attempts to delay implementation for a year.

Republican Senate Leader Mark Norris argues overhauling tenure is too important to put off.

“All the delay tactics that were discussed today would have put everything off another year. And, I didn’t say it, but I thought, do you know a third grader who can really afford to wait another year?”

The issue to the Tennessee Education Association, the teachers’ union, is that they will only be eligible for tenure if they score high on an evaluation system they haven’t seen yet.

TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters says some teachers – like foreign language teachers on PE instructors – won’t even be graded on their own students’ work.

Since there’s no form to test student achievement in those areas, those teachers will get a score based on the overall achievement of their school.

“Teachers are not afraid to be accountable for… what they’re responsible for. But to be judged, using students that you might not even teach, really, that’s a very questionable way to judge the performance of any teacher.”

Republicans say the evaluation system will be in place by July first of this year. And that’s when the new tenure system would go into effect.

Nashville Democrat Douglas Henry joined all senate Republicans in voting the measure. The governor’s victory in the Senate focuses attention on the House, where the same bill will be heard in the Education Committee Tuesday.

The bill is SB 1528 Norris/HB 2012 Dunn.

It passed 21-12 in the Senate.

Senator Norris, the elected leader of the Republicans in the Senate, says the new system which requires five years of experience before a teacher may gain tenure is actually an easier system to deal with than the make-or-break three-year cycle they now face.

“There are a number of teachers today, who, because of the extension of the probationary period, sort of get another two-year lease on life. You know, tenure, currently at three years, is now really being extended to five years.”

Norris accused Senate Democrats of fanning the flames of teachers’ indignation.

“My criticism is fabrication, for fabrication’s sake, to say things are being done that are not being done. And understandably that can upset folks in the hinterland, if they think we are depriving them of certain rights, rather than actually enhancing their rights.”

Senator Norris picked out a press release that criticized an earlier bill. That proposal would take away the Tennessee Education Association’s ability to name members to two teacher retirement boards. Instead, the speakers of the two legislative houses would name teachers to those posts – but not necessarily TEA members.

“Well, I just saw a press release by Senator [Lowe] Finney [D], where he took the position on the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System vote that we had yesterday, that teachers would no longer be represented, that we’d taken their right to representation away. In fact what we did was expand their right to representation, whether they’re a member of the TEA or not, they don’t have to pay dues to the TEA to serve on that committee. That kind of thing is what twists their tails, and I don’t blame them.”

Winters, the lobbyist for TEA, says that teachers in the union are concerned about the lack of knowledge of how they will be graded.

“The concern here is that 60 percent of the teachers of this state do not have value-added test scores.”

Some estimates have put that number at more like 45 percent.

A “value-added” score compares the knowledge that the student has at the beginning of a school year with the progress the same student has made by the end of the year.


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