Arne Duncan on Tennessee on HuffPo

Arne Duncan writes:

More teachers today are treated as true professionals, instead of as interchangeable cogs in an educational assembly line. Exhibit A: Tennessee.

Tennessee — one of the first two states to win a federal Race to the Top grant — recently released an important report on the first year of implementing its new teacher evaluation system. The report found that after one year, Tennessee’s students made their biggest single-year jump in achievement ever recorded in the state. That is a remarkable accomplishment.

…it’s true that there is no perfect system of teacher evaluation, but Tennessee did not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. They insisted on asking the compared-to-what question — how do the strengths and weaknesses of the new system compare to the old system?

Some numbers

35% of eval is test gains

15% is other measures of student achievement “chosen through mutual agreement”

50% is observations, conferences, review of prior evaluations

5,000 evaluators trained, needed to pass inter-rater reliability exam

On a 5 point scale, more than 75% of teachers score 4 or 5.  Less than 2.5% score 1 or 2.  The report flags as a concern.

The whole 43-page report is worth reading.

4 Replies to “Arne Duncan on Tennessee on HuffPo”

  1. From that report:

    there is enormous differentiation in performance between districts, even when controlling for demographic and other variables.


    Most teachers in Tennessee are performing at a high level as measured by their impact on student achievement. The majority of teachers in the state are not simply adequate, but exceed expectations against high standards.


    There is no perfect teacher evaluation system. However, as a state, we simply cannot afford to continue the status quo or let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    Yet the status quo was that “Most teachers in Tennessee are performing at a high level “

  2. Yes, the WHOLE 43-page report is worth reading. The Tennessee Department of Education even has a tagline now: “First to the Top.” Uh-huh. Because, that’s all that matters anymore.

    The report uses three years of data. Three. Anyway, if you look closely, you may see what I see and if not, take me to task. What I see is that in the year before Tennessee groveled for fed money for teacher torture, it was already making gains some, significant. At some point, sadly, for our TN teachers, the joy ride will come to screeching halt as the scale only goes up to 100% Once they reach that, there will be no way to improve. Unless of course, the goalposts are moved–not that anything like that has ever happened before… But really, three years of data?

    And while we’re at it, let’s get a more complete picture of Tennessee’s ‘First to the Top’ record of accomplishment: “Tennessee students showed gains in math and science, but reading scores essentially were flat in the first year of testing under reforms that have tied test scores to teacher pay.” From The Tennessean, 27 June 2012. Also, “Before the change, the state of Tennessee consistently reported that 80 percent to 90 percent of its students were reading and working math at grade level. At current rates of improvement, it will take the state a generation to return to those performance levels.” Oh well.

  3. No one who cares about children and their education would ever describe a teacher as an interchangeable cog in the educational assembly line. That statement alone tells us so much. That and the fact that almost no “reformers” are teachers. Do we need to be rocket scientists to know where that attitude will take us?

    For 42 years I entered my classroom in the morning and made almost all decisions regarding the education of my students. Because I met all state qualifications as a teacher, I was trusted to do the job. In the fall I sat with each child to gauge his instructional level. Throughout the year, I carefully taught, tested and retaught in the manner of most experienced teachers. When I described a child as “very capable” or “might having a learning problem” both parents and administrators respected my opinion. That’s what professionals do: They become qualified and then they are trusted to do the job.

    Good principals were very much aware of the progress of my students and that’s how they judged my work. Other professionals are judged by the people in their field and that’s how it was with me.

    It’s great to know that teachers in Tennessee are fully professional. Are they now in charge of their schools? Do they make most decisions about curriculum and instruction? Do they decide who will enter the profession? Do they have peer review and professional salaries? If so, good for them and let’s hope other states follow this wonderful example.

    Teachers are not “cogs” to those who know and value the work that they do.

    (P.S. I wonder if President Obama realizes how much Dumb Duncan is hurting his reelection campaign.)

  4. I am a Tennessee teacher, and I feel quite ready to say that the new eval system is mostly bogus. Assessment “criteria” vary so greatly from evaluator to evaluator that some districts are easy 4’s and 5’s while some districts artificially limit the 4’s to no more than 20% of the faculty and 5’s to less than 5%. During a lesson, a teacher may often have to demonstrate a dozen different teaching metrics at once–impossible to do in a week-long unit, much less a 60-minute observation.

    If you don’t have three years of data, only one year is used. If you don’t have a testable subject, the school average is your 35%. If only one of your six classes has a state test, only those test scores count; the other classes are not evaluated. There is a lot of angst over this evaluation system in this state; yes, it is somewhat better than the old system, but the defects are glaring, and they are large enough that it may injure a perfectly good teacher’s career. Nor is this a personal rant over my score; I got a 4, but the system will only encourage good teachers to transfer out of schools with a large number of high-needs kids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.