The "Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010" made changes in law as part of the state's effort to develop a competitive application for the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top grant program.
The legislation made numerous changes in state law, including:
- Establishing an "Achievement School District" that allows the Commissioner of Education to intervene in low-performing schools and school districts
- Requiring annual evaluations of teachers and principals that are based in "significant" measure on student performance
- Creating a 15-member teacher evaluation advisory committee to recommend guidelines and criteria for a streamlined teacher and principal evaluation system to the State Board of Education
- Allowing local school systems to create local salary schedules for teachers and principals, subject to bargaining in bargaining locals, with state approval
- Removing some limitations on use of TVAAS data so the data can be used in making decisions on teacher tenure prior to three years of data and in evaluating teacher preparation programs
Why TEA Supported the Proposal
The TEA President and staff met frequently with the staff in the Governor's office beginning in December 2009 as the proposed legislation was being developed to ensure that the rights of educators would be protected. Some notable achievements include:
- Limiting the degree to which teacher-effect data, if available, may be used in a teacher's or principal's evaluation to 35 percent (51 percent for teachers and 67 percent for principals had been proposed)
- Guaranteeing practitioners representation on the Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee
- Requiring a local-level appeals procedure for teacher and principal evaluations which provides the ability to challenge the accuracy of the data used in the evaluation and adherence to the adopted evaluation policies
- Authorizing impartial hearing officers statewide for tenured teacher dismissal hearings, as has been authorized in Nashville and Memphis, to make tenure hearings fairer and more impartial
- Ensuring that teachers who do not choose to work in a low-performing school that becomes part of the Achievement School District have the option of remaining an employee of the regular school district - and that "any teacher who accepts [the option of working in the Achievement School District] has the right to return to the employ of the [regular district] should the managing entity later determine not to continue to employ such teacher."
- Mandating that any approved locally developed salary schedule be bargained, where available, and not result in the reduction of the salary of any teacher employed by the district at the time of adoption of the salary schedule
- Maintaining the teacher probationary period at three years (rather than extending it by one or two additional years as some had suggested)
The goal of the special session was achieved when, on March 29, Tennessee became one of only two states to win Race to the Top funding in Round One. TEA continues its advocacy for Tennessee's teachers as the many programs in the state's Race to the Top application are implemented.