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A Note from the Senate office – 10.25.11

A Note from the Senate office – 10.25.11

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 7:01 pm
By: Sen. Lamar Alexander

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has this week been meeting to improve a bill that would reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law. I voted to move the bill out of the committee so that the full Senate could debate, amend and improve it, because it is an encouraging step forward although right now it’s not legislation I could support sending to the president to sign into law.
I believe the best place to fix it is before the full Senate, and I will offer several amendments that would do just that.
One aspect of this bill is of particular importance to me—its provisions dealing with teacher evaluations. I know something about this.  In 1983 and 1984, when I was governor of Tennessee, we became the first state in the country to create a statewide system for rewarding outstanding teaching and paying those teachers based upon that. At that time, not one teacher in the nation made one penny more for being a good teacher.  
So, at my suggestion, and that of others, the bill to fix No Child Left Behind does not include an order from Washington that all 15,000 school districts have a teacher and principal evaluation system.  
It does not include a definition of what it should be, and it doesn’t include the opportunity for the education secretary, whoever it may be, to then issue a number of regulations defining what a teacher and principal evaluation system would be in Maryville or Nashville or Denver.
What it does include is the following: for the first time it would allow a state to spend its Title II money—that is the $2.5 billion of federal funds that go to states—on designing and implementing its own principal-teacher evaluation system that is related to student achievement.
In my view, that is the holy grail of public education.
If we could ever figure out how to relate teacher and principal pay to student achievement, I think it would do more than any other single thing to help our children learn what they need to know and be able to do.
In Tennessee, for example, that would mean there would be about $41 million this year that could be spent coming up with a way to pay teachers better for teaching well. There are about 63,000 teachers in Tennessee, so that is about $660 per teacher, per year of federal funds, that could be used to design and implement a teacher and principal evaluation system related to student achievement. This would be the first time that has been allowed.
Secondly, the bill includes a provision for the Teacher Incentive Fund.  We know this program in Tennessee because of the work in Memphis.  
This program recognizes the difficulty of figuring out how to reward and evaluate teachers in a fair way, especially if you are going to base compensation on that, and says that if you want to do it, we will give you some money to help you try to do it.  
The third thing that is available for helping develop teacher evaluation systems is a program called Race to the Top.  Last year, the state of Tennessee won that competition and received $500 million to spend on developing and implementing an evaluation program for all the teachers in Tennessee.
Tennessee is now in the process of doing just that.  But their work is still front page news with headlines such as,  “Evaluation of Teachers Contentious,” and they are having a tough time in Maryville and Nashville  implementing their own proposal. State officials are traveling across the state to meet with stakeholders.
Now, do we really want our Tennessee officials to have to come to Washington after they get through with that and say:  ‘You tell us what to do.  And may we please have your permission to do things this way instead of that way?’  I think not.  That would be the kiss of death for any movement for teacher-principal evaluation.

WCP 10.25.11

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