By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday reiterated his support for the state’s education commissioner, who has come under fire for changes to how teachers are paid.
At least two Facebook pages have been created calling for Kevin Huffman’s ouster as well as an online petition that has garnered hundreds of signatures.
The state Board of Education approved the changes last month after supporters and opponents argued for nearly two hours over the matter. The measure changes the minimum teacher salary schedule, reduces steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminates incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master’s training.
Haslam told reporters on Monday that the changes are needed to further education reform in the state, and that if he were to hire an education commissioner again today, it would be Huffman.
“If you look at the states that are making the most progress in education, Tennessee is at the top of that list,” said the Republican governor. “Kevin gets a lot of credit for that.”
New Republic has an interesting, Tennessee-focused article on Michelle Rhee and StudentsFrist’s efforts in the state where her ex-husband is commissioner of education. Lots of attention to Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, who got a big chunk of StudentsFirst money in his re-election campaign.
An excerpt: Nowhere has her influence been felt more acutely than in Tennessee, where campaigns are a bargain and where legislators eager to amend the state’s dismal record on education have made it a mecca for reformers. To Rhee the mission also has a personal angle: Her ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, is commissioner of the state Department of Education and her two daughters attend school in Nashville.
In 2011-2012, her group spent $533,000 on over 60 local politicians, outspending the main teachers’ union by a third and becoming Tennessee’s biggest source of campaign money outside of the party PACs, according to election filings. Added to the $200,000-$300,000 that allied groups like Stand for Children and the Tennessee Federation for Children paid out, the result has been a gush of education-reform money taking over the state’s politics.
“They’ve become like the gun lobby in Tennessee,” a former aide to a top Nashville politician told me. “Everybody is scared of the NRA. It’s the same way with these education reform people.”
…Though the group does not disclose its donors, public filings reveal that much of its money comes from hedge fund titans. On April 30, the Walton Family Foundation announced it would give Rhee $8 million over the next two years. Rhee hinted in her book that leveraged-buyout king Ted Forstmann had pledged tens of millions as well.
In Tennessee, StudentsFirst gave money to more candidates–55 legislative and nine school board candidates–than it did in any other state this past election cycle. Of those 55 candidates, though, only seven were Democrats. StudentsFirst spokesperson Hari Sevugan (who has since quit the organization) told me last year that this was simply a fact of politics in Tennessee, where the GOP controls two-thirds of both houses in the General Assembly. But nationwide, Rhee has had trouble finding Democrats to stand with her. Of the 105 candidates across 12 states that she supported in general elections in 2012, 92 were Republican.
These lopsided numbers bolster the left’s loudest complaint about Rhee of late: Though she claims Democratic values and the bipartisan mantle, Republicans dominate the ranks of StudentsFirst’s donors and of those it donates to. Rhee blames the imbalance on a lack of courage among Democrats, telling newspapers that many had pledged their support privately but refused to go public for fear of reprisals from the teachers’ unions. But those Democrats willing to align themselvse with her cause often find themselves lavishly rewarded.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded three-year school improvement grants totaling more than $27 million in federal funds to 17 schools.
The schools are among the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state, in terms of academic achievement.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says a priority of the administration is to turn around those low-performing schools, and he believes the grant will give them the necessary resources, time and personnel to do that.
Officials say the grant will also give school principals a chance to work together in the state’s Turnaround Principal Cohort, which allows them to facilitate discussions and share ideas and practices on a peer-to-peer level.
Opponents of a new Tennessee teacher pay plan are taking their fight to social media and asking for the ouster of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, reports The Tennessean. Two Facebook pages created just after the State Board of Education approved pay plan changes last week call for Huffman’s firing, and a Change.org petition calling for the same action has more than 800 signatures. The petition appeared to be growing Friday afternoon.
No one stepped up to claim authorship of the Facebook pages after The Tennessean posted interview requests, but one page administrator sent an anonymous message saying he or she did not want to be known.
…The author of the petition is West Tennessee parent Jennifer Proseus, who said she belongs to a group of mothers, fathers and grandparents from across the state who call themselves “Momma Bears.” The petition is addressed to Gov. Bill Haslam and states that he might not get the votes of its signers for a next term.
Haslam, the Republican who appointed Huffman, defended him in a statement, though. It reads, “Kevin has brought an innovative approach to improving education in Tennessee, and we’re seeing results. When you tackle significant change, it isn’t usually easy, but our state has lagged behind in education for far too long. We have to do better than the status quo for our children and our state.”
Some teachers may think they’ve lived through a roller coaster of educational changes in recent years reports Kevin Hardy in a Tennessee education reform review. But they haven’t seen anything yet.
An excerpt: Already, classroom standards are more rigorous. Evaluations are tougher and more regular. And accountability is no longer a catch phrase, but a component of many parts of a teacher’s career.
On Friday, the Tennessee School Board opened the door for teacher pay schemes that link salary to performance. And state officials rolled out plans that will make it tougher to become a teacher and harder to stay in for the long haul.
State officials argue that collectively the changes will aid their quest to get more Tennessee students to meet academic standards and thus help build a more competitive workforce. And to do that, officials say, teachers need to be put under the microscope. Their performance must measure up.
Last week’s action by the state board was just the latest in a host of reforms redefining what Tennessee expects of students and teachers.
The board approved a new minimum pay schedule that de-emphasizes a teacher’s education level and years of experience, and passed a rule requiring every district to develop some kind of differentiated pay plan. Districts could decide to pay more for higher test scores, or give more to teachers in hard-to-staff schools, or even offer more money based on the subjects or grade levels they teach, depending on local plans.
But Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman wants to go even further. In addition to stiffer requirements for first-year teachers, he wants to make license renewal dependent on a teacher’s performance, as determined by an evaluation and student test score data. The board approved a first reading of that policy; another reading is needed for final passage.
While monumental themselves, the changes enacted and unveiled last week are just pieces of a larger reform movement, based on Huffman’s premise that education practices of the past must change to have real improvement in student performance.
The state in recent years has revamped the teacher pension system, quashed collective bargaining rights, made it tougher to achieve tenure and tied teacher evaluations to student test scores.
Altogether, the changes lay out a new vision for Tennessee education, one that eliminates some of the guaranteed stability long enjoyed by teachers and treats them more like private-sector professionals.
And that’s a sea change that states like Tennessee are leading, said Sandi Jacobs, state policy director at the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan research and policy group that advocates for education reform.
The State Board of Education on Friday approved controversial major revisions of the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers that sharply reduces the value of experience and advanced degrees, reports Rick Locker. The board approved the changes sought by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration on a 6-3 vote despite opposition by teachers who packed the meeting room. They said the new plan could freeze their salaries at their 11th year in the profession. The plan proposed by State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman tops out at year 11, while the current plan tops out at year 21.
The current salary schedule lists the minimum annual salaries for teachers for each year of experience through 21 years and for each of five levels of college degrees they hold. The new minimum schedule lists only four pay levels based on years of experience up through the 11th year, and only two levels of college degrees — bachelor’s and any level of advanced degree.
The state’s 135 local school boards are free under the law to pay their teachers more, as all but three rural districts do. But about half the districts pay within 10 percent of the state-required minimums.
The board approved the plan at the urging of Huffman’s Department of Education despite requests to delay a vote by the Tennessee Education Association and the vice chairman of the state legislature’s House Education Committee, Republican Rep. John Forgety of Athens, the former superintendent of his county school district.
Arlington Middle School teacher Barbara Gray, vice president of TEA, told the board that teachers have “serious concern” about the plan. “These changes could seriously damage teaching careers and increase the inequity between the rich and the poor school systems,” she said. “The overall effect of the changes proposed is a substantial lowering of state requirements for teacher salaries.
“While no teacher will see a cut in their current salary, they may also never see another raise, resulting in drastically decreased lifetime earnings.”
Huffman lashed out at critics of the plan and media reports that it advanced under the radar with little public notice or discussion. A
“Tennessee law forbids any district from cutting an individual teachers salary,” Huffman told the board. “Two, there is more state money in the budget for salaries than at any time in Tennessee history. The state has added $130 million in taxpayer money over the last three years to the budget that goes to districts that has to be spent on compensation.
“Three, the proposed minimum salary schedule does not tell districts how to pay teachers. It gives almost complete autonomy to local districts to decide how to pay teachers. So anyone who says that this pay system does this over, that is just not accurate. Local districts are going to develop their own systems on how this gets implemented.”
The former chair of the Williamson County Republican Party was one of half a dozen to testify in Washington about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, reports WPLN.
Kevin Kookogey founded Linchpins of Liberty in 2011. He says wants help children learn about the Founding Fathers and other political philosophers. But the group has been inactive for almost two years.
He says he’s been waiting just as long to receive 501c3 non profit status from the IRS. Like other Tea Party groups, he says he’s been stonewalled. He painted a picture of the invasive questions he’s been asked by the agency. He asked the committee, “can you imagine the reaction the students’ parents were I to turn the names of their children over to the IRS?”
Kookogey says he isn’t mentoring any children right now, because he doesn’t want to run afoul of the federal government.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Education plans to use nearly $4 million in federal education funds to pay for eight leadership development programs.
The grants are part of the $500 million the state won three years ago in the national Race to the Top education grant competition.
Officials say eight recipients received grants, which were awarded to organizations in partnership with one or more school systems.
They are to be used to either develop or replicate programs aimed at increasing leader effectiveness and improving student outcomes.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said one main requirement of the grants was to show evidence that the proposed programs are sustainable.
Note: For a list of the grant recipients and programs forom the Department of Education, click on this link: TNLEAD_Grant_Recipients_Overview.pdf
More Tennessee teachers are heading for the exits. Since 2008 the number is up by more than a thousand – nearly doubling – to a total last year of almost 2,200, reports WPLN. Exactly why is a bit of a mystery. Some teachers see it as a response to a couple years of politically charged upheaval in state education policy. But state officials say it’s not so clear-cut, and even go so far as to argue higher turnover has an upside.
…State education researcher Nate Schwartz agrees many teachers getting bad scores may see it as their cue to leave, in what he calls “self-selection.” He says this isn’t driven by explicit state policy. And because so much has changed in the state over the last few years, Schwartz says it’s hard to pin down a specific cause for the retirement spike.
(Note: The article has a table showing annual teacher retirements from 2008 through 2012. In 2008, there were 1,195 teacher retirements, average age 60.5 years and average experience 26.7 years. In 2012, there were 2,197 retirements, average age 61.4 years, average experience 26.7 years.)
Besides the new evaluations, many teachers were outraged when lawmakers tossed out their collective-bargaining rights in 2011, as well as the old tenure system. But the uptick in retirements might have less to do with shifting policy, says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, and more to do with the economy.
Huffman notes people retired less “across all professions” amid the recession in 2008, “because their retirement accounts had been hit so badly.”
So if a lot of teachers already put off retiring a few years, Huffman says it’s no surprise to see more leaving now. The point he wants to emphasize is that teachers ranked at the bottom are retiring faster:
“Two years ago our best teachers and our lowest performing teachers retired at the same rate. And after last year, those rates completely diverge, so that our lowest performing teachers were retiring at twice the rate of our best-performing teachers.”
That trend points toward improving schools, Huffman says.
But it’s worth comparing more than just rates. In terms of real people, last year more top teachers retired – 129 of them, compared to 96 from the bottom. So even though 5s retired at a lower rate, there were still far more of them gone. State officials argue the rate is a more telling comparison, since in 2012 there were 6,704 teachers with 5s on the 1-to-5 scale, while 1s totaled just 2,644.
State House Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, said Tuesday he is eyeing a possible bid against embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in the 2014 GOP primary, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Brooks, an ordained Church of God minister, said he has “received a number of calls of support and had many conversations encouraging me to run for Congress in the 4th Congressional District.
“While I am firmly committed to serving my constituents in the 24th District, I wanted to publicly say that I am exploring what a solutions-based campaign for Congress would look like and how I can best serve the great State of Tennessee,” Brooks noted in his statement.
The legislator, who is public relations and conference coordinator for the Cleveland-based Church of God, added, “I plan to spend the next few weeks praying about the path forward with my family and talking with friends, neighbors and fellow Tennesseans about the future.”
— Note: Brooks’ statement is reproduced below.