By Jeff Woods, Nashville City Paper
March 10, 2011

Gov. Bill Haslam’s key education reform proposal — making tenure more difficult for teachers to earn and to keep — advanced in the state legislature Thursday.

With Republicans unified in support, the Senate voted 21-12 for Haslam’s changes in the state’s 60-year-old tenure law. Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville was the only Democrat to vote for the bill. In the House, it won approval in an education subcommittee Wednesday.

“This is the administration’s effort to make tenure meaningful for teachers. And we believe it provides more flexibility and better accountability of our teachers and their performance,” Senate Republican leader Mark Norris said.

The measure lengthens probation for new teachers from three years to five years. To qualify for tenure, teachers must score in the top two of five evaluation categories in the two years immediately proceeding eligibility. If teachers then drop into the bottom two categories for two straight years, they lose tenure and return to probation.

Democrats tried to delay the vote, arguing that it should wait until the teacher evaluation system is developed. State Education Department committees are working on that.

“I think we’re getting in a little bit of a hurry,” Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, said. “The evaluation part is the thing that’s scaring them to death. If I were a teacher, I’d be scared too. We’re not listening to a majority of the teachers saying we want to know what our future holds.”

But Republicans pointed out teachers are helping develop the evaluation system. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said education reform cannot wait.

“For that third-grader who finds herself struggling to read in a classroom with an underperforming teacher, we can’t afford to wait another year to enact this bill,” Kelsey said.


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