TEA-backed bills that focus on students and educators - not high-stakes tests - moving in Legislature
PE bill fixes problems with 2016 law, returns control to districts
Every elementary school teacher knows that physical activity is a good thing for students.
A new proposal this session could restructure physical activity requirements for Tennessee students after legislation passed in 2016 created more problems than it solved.
Sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) in the House and Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) in the Senate, HB45/SB662 would change physical activity requirements to 130 minutes a week in elementary schools and 90 minutes a week for middle and high school grades.
The 2016 bill prescribed specific periods of physical activity, some as short as 15 minutes, that proved difficult to schedule. Teachers across the state also struggled with the definitions of “structured” versus “unstructured” physical activity prescribed in last year’s bill.
Many elementary school teachers reported that 15 minutes was not enough time to get their students ready for activities outdoors, especially during winter months, and then actually complete any meaningful amount of activity.
Emily Mitchell, a Rutherford County elementary teacher, said she welcomes the proposed changes that will give schools the ability to decide how to best schedule the required physical activity time.
“Any increase in physical activity is a real asset to teachers and students,” Mitchell said. “You cannot teach standards and curriculum all day without some sort of a physical outlet. When students are given time to exercise, behavior problems go down and learning is improved.”
Mitchell said teachers notice the difference in learning and discipline especially on the days without scheduled physical activity.
Several bills were filed this year to address physical activity, with Rep. Dunn’s bill emerging as consensus legislation.
Mitchell said her teaching experience has taught her that physical activity should only be expanded, not reduced, especially in elementary schools. She noted that last year’s legislation was too disruptive to school schedule, while the proposed changes offer greater flexibility.
“We need it for everyone’s sanity,” Mitchell said. “We should be having PE every day.”
Increase in substitute pay for retired teachers
School districts across Tennessee report struggling to find substitute teachers. At the same time, many retired teachers would like to sub, but are paid a lower rate when their license expires. Legislation advancing at the Tennessee General Assembly would require that school districts pay retired teachers who serve as substitute teachers the same rate as subs with active teaching licenses.
This is a solution that just makes sense. Retired teachers have proven classroom experience and can provide excellent service as subs. Increasing their pay rate makes subbing a more attractive option, which can help districts find more qualified subs.
As in current law, retired teachers without an active license will not be able to substitute for extended periods.
Sometimes, with just a little push, common sense can prevail at the legislature. TEA supports this common- sense proposal that will mean both more pay for retired teachers who sub and a stronger pool of substitute teachers to serve our students.
Tennessee Reconnect puts college degrees within reach for ESPs
In his State of the State in January, Gov. Bill Haslam announced a new higher education initiative, Tennessee Reconnect, which would extend the Tennessee Promise scholarship model to adults.
The program is designed to help adults without a college degree either attend college for the first time or to go back to school to complete an unfinished degree.
“As I listened to Gov. Haslam describe this scholarship opportunity for adults to go back and finish their college degrees, I immediately thought of our education support professionals,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “Many ESPs already have a college degree, but there are also so many who do not and have expressed a desire to earn a college degree. If passed, the Tennessee Reconnect scholarship will eliminate or greatly ease the financial burden of going back to school for our ESP members.”
The bill, HB 531/SB 1218, would make Tennessee the first state in the country to extend the offer of free community college classes to adults. Like the state’s Tennessee Promise scholarship, Tennessee Reconnect is a “last-dollar program,” which means that state dollars would be used to cover tuition only after all available federal aid is applied.
“We need to reach the working mother that went to college but didn’t complete, or the son with sons of his own who like his dad never went to college but knows that he needs to upgrade his skills,” Haslam said in his State of the State remarks. “We don’t want cost to be an obstacle anyone has to overcome as they pursue their own generational change for themselves and their families.”
The proposal would be funded through state lottery proceeds and is expected to help the state’s 13 community colleges increase full- and part-time adult enrollment.
Improving evals for teachers in non-tested subjects
More than half of all Tennessee teachers teach in subjects or grade levels that do not generate TVAAS scores. Unfortunately, current state policy means that most of those teachers are evaluated based on TVAAS data from students or subjects they do not teach.
“TEA believes TVAAS is an invalid evaluation tool for all teachers,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “TEA has been working to reduce and ultimately eliminate its use in teacher evaluations. Teachers must be fairly evaluated based on students they teach and factors that measure a teacher’s true impact on student achievement.”
House Bill 67/Senate Bill 250 seeks to ensure that teachers have the opportunity to be evaluated based on students in their classrooms. The bill requires school districts to adopt an alternative growth model developed by the state for teachers in non-tested subjects and grades. It also requires the state to finish the work of developing alternative growth models for additional subjects. While the state has done some work on developing portfolio models, particularly in related arts, there is more work to be done.
The state is currently developing models for grades K-2, for example. This bill requires that the state deliver on the promise of alternative models available for all teachers in non-tested subjects. Once this work is complete, districts will have a complete set of options to use for teacher evaluation.
“It is simply unacceptable to evaluate a teacher on students or subjects they do not teach,” Gray said. “This legislation is an important step toward a fair evaluation system.”
The alternative growth model bill moved quickly through the House and now awaits action from the Senate Education committee. TEA supports holding districts accountable for adopting fair models of evaluation and holding the state accountable to develop appropriate, valid models for evaluating teachers.
Computer science bill creates opportunity for increased pay
Tennessee is moving toward online testing by way of the new TNReady tests. Our schools require more and more technology, which means we need teachers who can teach these skills. A proposal to address the issue is moving through the legislature. The bill requires the State Board of Education to create a certification in Computer Science, incentivizing teachers.
TEA supports the new certification in Computer Science. This proposal creates an opportunity for those with the skill and ability to teach computer courses to earn better pay. The new certification will open more options for teachers. Additionally, this certification will allow school districts to better identify those with computer science teaching ability and get them in front of students.
House Bill 918, creating this certification, is about enhancing flexibility and expanding options for teachers.
The bill has already unanimously passed the Senate and is expected to be heard on the House floor this week.
School counselors free to help students without fear of liability
School counselors often fill one of the most important roles in schools – supporting students and ensuring they are mentally and emotionally prepared to learn in the classroom.
This can sometimes be as simple as listening when a child needs someone to talk to and offering advice. Counselors also guide students in decision-making and working out differences with their peers. Sometimes, though, it may be necessary to refer a child to an outside professional for specialized assistance with more complex issues.
In the past, those referrals were tricky, potentially creating liability issues for the school counselor and/or the school district. There was uncertainty across the state about the financial liability of recommending a student to an outside professional for additional help.
“Doing the job of a school counselor requires having every tool at your disposal to help kids,” said Carolyn Crowder, TEA executive director. “This bill that just passed the Tennessee General Assembly will clear up policy around referrals and empower counselors to better assist students in need.”
House Bill 720/Senate Bill 341 explicitly protects both school counselors and their school districts from financial liability if a student is referred by a school counselor to an outside professional for services.
“School counselors will now have the freedom and flexibility to do their jobs effectively. They’ll have the tools available to meet the needs of their students,” Crowder said.
A school counselor from Middle Tennessee put it this way, “When this bill becomes law, counselors will have greater clarity. That’s what we want. The ability to do the job we’re trained to do, even if that means helping a family by referring them to an outside professional. This bill is good for counselors because it is good for kids.”
TEA supported this bill, which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. The bill now awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature.