published Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Tennessee teachers group challenges licensure link to student test scores

Tennessee Education Association CEO Carolyn Crowder, Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford and Hamilton County Education Association President Sandy Hughes, from left, speak Tuesday to reporters and editors of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Tennessee Education Association CEO Carolyn Crowder, Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford and Hamilton County Education Association President Sandy Hughes, from left, speak Tuesday to reporters and editors of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Tennessee's largest teachers group says a new policy aimed at ridding schools of bad teachers doesn't just put teachers' jobs on the line, but puts their whole livelihood at risk.

Last summer, the State Board of Education approved a plan to tie teacher licensure to student test performance, meaning teachers who don't measure up could not only lose their jobs, but even possibly be prevented from finding work in other states.

Officials of the Tennessee Education Association, now touring the state pushing its agenda, are making a reversal of the policy one of its top priorities for this year's legislative session. TEA Executive Director Carolyn Crowder said a license is an educator's most valuable possession.

"It's more important than their house or their car because if you lose your license you've lost your ability to make money and have a job," she said. "And your career is gone for the rest of your life in this state."

On Tuesday, Hamilton County teachers said value-added scores, which measure a teacher's effectiveness on year-over-year growth, are too volatile to be tied to licenses. They want licenses to be based on training like in other professions, not on outcomes.

"The state would never pull the license of a dentist whose patients had many cavities. Nor would it pull the license of a lawyer that lost in court," a TEA poster read.

The state board has already approved the policy shift. But with mounting complaints, board members said they would consider alternative plans to beefing up the state's teacher licensure process. Officials with the state board were not available for comment Tuesday, though the issue appears on the body's Jan. 31 agenda.

Tennessee Department of Education Spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said the state is committed to tying teacher performance to licenses because the lowest performers should not be allowed to keep teaching. Under the current system, some teachers that repeatedly fail automatically receive 10-year licenses. If the policy shift goes through, state officials predict between 100 and 200 of the state's 65,000 teachers will lose their licenses annually because of performance problems.

"The idea is that there needs to be a minimum bar for performance," Gauthier said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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