published Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Haslam: Teacher quality trumps numbers

NASHVILLE — As Tennessee school districts continue to wrestle with budget cuts, Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday downplayed concerns about the impact on class size, telling student leaders that teacher quality ultimately matters more.

“Most studies have shown that class size is not as direct a relationship to achievement as people have thought in the past, that having a great teacher with 25 students is better than having a mediocre teacher with 18 students,” Haslam said.

He told the hundreds of rising high-school seniors attending the Volunteer Girls State leadership program that he is “trying to push our education [system] toward making sure we have a great teacher in front of every classroom regardless of the classroom size.”

“That being said,” the governor added, “we can’t deny the fact that larger classes mean less individual attention.”

East Ridge High School student Ja’Keena Dillard told the governor that a “lot of teacher cuts” in Hamilton County schools already are causing rising ratios of teachers to students and the situation will likely worsen.

“We see that as a problem,” she said. “Teachers aren’t able to spend quality time with us.”

For a few years, federal stimulus funds have helped stave off major cuts for local education systems, including Hamilton County Schools, but the money runs out July 1. Hamilton County officials say they face a $14.3 million shortfall in the 2011-2012 budget.

Efforts to reach Hamilton County Schools spokeswoman Danielle Clark were unsuccessful on Tuesday.

Haslam’s comment came during a question-and-answer session with students attending the leadership event. He explained the recession has hit all levels of government, including local ones and some local school systems, but not all are “having to make those hard decisions.”

In response to reporters’ questions later, Haslam said he by no means believes teacher layoffs don’t matter, but he reiterated the point that great teachers can overcome larger class sizes.

That is why his administration has emphasized initiatives such as toughening standards for teachers to win and retain tenure protections, the governor said.

Public Education Foundation President Dan Challener, whose group works to strengthen Hamilton County’s public schools, said “teacher quality is the single most powerful force for improving student achievement. Great teachers make a great difference.”

But Challener noted that “it’s also true that every time we increase class size, we make it harder and harder for all teachers, even the great ones, to get the results we need. And I think that’s especially true for teachers working in high poverty schools.”

Tennessee School Board Association Executive Director Tammy Grissom said Tuesday she was in the dark about the financial challenges her members face and referred questions to the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. That group’s executive director, Keith Brewer, did not return telephone calls.

State Education Department spokeswoman Amanda Morris had no immediate figures on local schools’ situations across the state.

Attempts to reach Tennessee Education Association spokeswoman Tanya Ruder, whose organization represents teachers, also were unsuccessful.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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bapman1 said...

The governor is right - teacher quality, specifically teacher effectiveness, is far more important than class size. And Tennessee has one of the longest-running and arguably most sophisticated tools for identifying teacher performance: TVAAS (the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System). There's more information on assessing teacher quality at and plenty on value-added assessment at

June 1, 2011 at 9:46 a.m.
Leaf said...

Well, unless you can magically make every teacher better overnight, increasing class size will obviously lead to worse education in the interim. And I have yet to see a real plan to increase teacher skill or recruit better ones. Quite the opposite, in fact. Who would want to be a teacher now that Haslam and his cronies are blaming them for every failing of education in Tennessee?

Sorry to let the real world intrude on this little fantasy Haslam is trying to construct. Haslam's war on education is the most mean-spirited and unwise thing I've seen in a long time.

June 8, 2011 at 12:12 p.m.
JoeHill said...

How many teachers could we hire, keep, and train for our children's benefit with the amount of money we used to lure Volkswagen with tax breaks and other financial incentives? Our kids need a quality education to attract another manufacturer into town if Volkswagen ever packs up to go shopping for another incentive package.

June 8, 2011 at 12:44 p.m.
Elliott904 said...

The Governor is a union busting lier. He does not care about students because students don't vote. This man cares about one thing the money that goes in his pocket.

June 14, 2011 at 12:42 a.m.
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