Tennessee lawmakers have enacted some needed education reforms, including a more rigorous system of evaluating teachers.
Among other things, the new system calls for an expanded number of teacher evaluations, based in part on student test scores and other achievement measures and in part on more frequent classroom observations.
Under the old rules, tenured teachers had to be evaluated only twice every 10 years. That was plainly inadequate and risked allowing mediocre or even poor teachers to remain in the classroom, to the detriment of students.
So we applaud the recent defense of the more thorough evaluation system by Gov. Bill Haslam and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.
Both rejected calls by some critics to postpone the impact of the new evaluation system.
Haslam pointed out that the assessment effort started only a couple of months ago, so it makes no sense to short-circuit it.
"It takes a little bit of adjusting to get used to evaluations," he said.
The reform-minded Huffman, a former teacher himself, acknowledged that the system may require "tweaks." But, he said, it "is better than what we had before. Why would we not be excited to use something that is better?"
As if to validate the concerns about education in Tennessee, a recent report showed no statistically significant improvement from 2009 to 2011 in Tennessee students' math and reading performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In fact, Tennessee saw a drop compared with other states.
Our state fell:
* From 45th to 46th nationwide in fourth-grade math.
* From 39th to 41st in fourth-grade reading.
* From 43rd to 45th in eighth-grade math.
* And from 34th all the way down to 41st in eighth-grade reading.
These numbers clearly do not suggest that Tennessee should be backing down from more thorough teacher performance evaluations, but rather that it should be embracing them.
It is true that even the best teachers cannot solve many of the achievement problems of children from unstable or otherwise broken family backgrounds where education is not valued. But Tennesseans should nonetheless insist that our teachers be the best they can be.
There are many outstanding teachers in our schools. They deserve commendation and compensation that reflect their fine performance.
But nothing is gained by maintaining inadequate measures of accountability that protect teachers who do not perform well.