Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to overhaul Tennessee's teacher tenure system cleared its first legislative committee on Wednesday and is now headed for a full Senate vote.
Video: Teachers Say Tenure Change Risks Jobs
The Senate Education Committee approved the Republican governor's proposal on a 6-3 party-line vote after a 40-minute hearing, with Democrats lining up against the measure.
Haslam has said the current system that grants tenure to almost all teachers after three years is too easy. Under his proposal, teachers would become eligible for tenure after five years, and they could also lose that status if they rank poorly for two consecutive years.
Democrats and the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, raised concerns that the state's evaluation system has not yet been put into effect, meaning that teachers don't know yet how they will be evaluated under he proposed law change.
"My questions is, what's magical about doing this right now?" said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga. "As opposed to ensuring that we get our evaluations straight?"
Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith responded that state requires the teacher evaluation system to go into effect in July, and that there is time to work out any problems since the new rules wouldn't affect teachers who already have tenure.
"We will have two years under our belt with the new evaluation system in which to make an assessment of its integrity," Smith said.
But the evaluation system has not yet been tested in any school district and hasn't been "proven to be valid, reliable, credible or even manageable at this point," said Gera Summerford, a Gatlinburg math teacher and president of the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union.
Summerford argued the new evaluation system could also be unfair to the 60 percent of educators who teach subjects that don't fall under the state's value-added test score system, including those specializing in arts, world languages, computer technology, special education or English language learners.
Alternate measures are being developed for those educators they will be evaluated based on school-wide scores, which Summerford argued would mean those teacher's ability to gain tenure would be based "on the scores of many students they did not teach and in subjects they do not teach."
The audience was warned by Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, that they would be removed if there were any outbursts. Ashlee Bullington, a physical education teacher in New Johnsonville, was among the educators who crowded into the haring room.
"I'm a good teacher, I do a good job, and teachers aren't afraid of accountability," said Bullington, 35. "Teachers are afraid of being accountable for things we have not control over."
Bullington said teachers are being unfairly portrayed.
"Teachers get into this because we love kids, and now I feel like we are absolutely a target," she said. "We're made into the bad guy, a villain."
The findings of a new statewide poll just came out. Middle Tennessee State University asked people in Tennessee what they thought about tenure.
The poll finds that most think it makes getting rid of bad teachers hard. But there is no consensus on whether to end collective bargaining for teachers unions in the state.
Read more results from the MTSU spring poll in the Daily News Journal