Tennessee struggles with teacher evals. Is Georgia going to make same mistakes?

over (Medium)Since we are talking about teacher evaluations today on the Get Schooled blog, here is a good New York Times piece highlighting the challenges in Tennessee, one of the first Race to the Top winners, in creating a fair system that doesn’t demoralize teachers, tie up principals and generally wreak havoc on a school.

Given the serious problems in our neighboring state in creating performance evaluations, I wonder if Georgia and other second-round RTTT winners ought to convene a meeting with the feds. It seems to me that the challenges are not unique to Tennessee and that we will encounter the same struggles with evaluating non core teachers.

This was a point that Kristin Bernhard, education adviser to Gov. Nathan Deal, brought up during the panel we did together Friday night at Mercer.

She told the audience that Georgia was still trying to figure out a fair way to evaluate music, art and other teachers in subjects for which there are no state exams. (Never mind the question of whether state exams are a fair way to evaluate teachers in core subjects. I think it is a foregone conclusion that teachers in tested subjects will be assessed in part on student scores, although the barometer will be how much growth the student showed.)

I was asked by the panel moderator how I thought teachers would react. In short, I said teachers in Georgia were wary of state efforts to link their performance to student performance and DOE would have a tough time winning converts to its plan, whatever it ended up being. This piece shows why.

Try to read the whole NYT piece on the new evaluation rules put in place in Tennessee. This is a short excerpt.

From the Times:

The new rules, enacted at the start of the school year, require {principal} Shelton to do as many observations for his strongest teachers — four a year — as for his weakest. “It’s an insult to my best teachers,” he said, “but it’s also a terrible waste of time.”

Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.

If ever proof were needed for the notion that it’s a good idea to look before you leap, it’s the implementation of Race to the Top in Tennessee. “I don’t know why they felt they had to rush,” said Tim Tackett, a member of the school board here who was a teacher and principal for 32 years. “Clearly this wasn’t well thought out.”

The state is micromanaging principals to a degree never seen before here, and perhaps anywhere. For example, Mr. Shelton is required to have a pre-observation conference with each teacher (which takes 20 minutes), observe the teacher for a period (50 minutes), conduct a post-observation conference (20 minutes), and fill out a rubric with 19 variables and give teachers a score from 1 to 5 (40 minutes).

He must have copies of his evaluations ready for any visit by a county evaluator, who evaluates whether Mr. Shelton has properly evaluated the teachers. He is required to do at least four observations a year for the 65 teachers at his school, although the changes suggested last week would save paperwork by allowing two of the observations to be done back to back.

Teachers have it worse. Half of their assessment is based on their students’ results on state test scores, a serious problem for those who teach subjects with no state test. For 15 percent of their testing evaluation, teachers without scores are permitted to choose which subject test they want to be judged on. Few pick something related to their expertise; instead, they try to anticipate the subject that their school is likely to score well on in the state exams next spring.

Several teachers without scores at Oakland Middle School conferred. “The P. E. teacher got information that the writing score was the best to pick,” said Jeff Jennings, the art teacher. “He informed the home ec teacher, who passed it on to me, and I told the career development teacher.”

It’s a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation. While this may have nothing to do with academic performance, it does measure a teacher’s ability to play the odds. There’s also the question of how a principal can do a classroom observation of someone who doesn’t teach a classroom subject.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

46 comments Add your comment


November 8th, 2011
9:43 am

I think it is a fair bet that GA will screw it up much worse than Tennessee. Our DOE is in a mess.

Atlanta mom

November 8th, 2011
10:00 am

As much as I believe teachers should be evaluated, this is nuts.


November 8th, 2011
10:09 am

The biggest concern that the public should have is that most teachers are not grade level or content area teacher teaching core subjects. When most of your teachers are not grade level teachers or content area teachers teaching the core subjects of math, science, language arts and social studies, then that is a problem with the delivery of basic skills in an educational setting. And let’s not forget that out of all school employees, teachers only makeup around 50% of the employees (DeKalb has a lesser percentage since so many teaching positions have been cut in the past 2 years).

If your entire accountability rests on the backs of 25% of your employees, wouldn’t you think those employes would receive the highest pay, most respect and most support? Yet classroom teachers are considered “low man on the totem pole” by the educational system. This is the reality that regular ed teachers and the students live with evey day. This needs to change. That’s what these figures really say to us.

Jerry Eads

November 8th, 2011
10:11 am

I spent a good part of my last several years doing my level best to bring these issues to, if you’ll pardon the phrase from my post for Peter’s piece, “incisive and thoughtful discourse.” My efforts fell on totally deaf ears. Let us hope that there will be those here who will now heed the indications from the Tennessee catastrophe.


November 8th, 2011
10:36 am

There are some beautiful things in this world, that if you even touch them, or shine too bright a light on them, you kill them. ‘Great teaching’ might be one of those things. Thus, the Greek irony characterizing this entire effort.


November 8th, 2011
10:40 am

Have a friend who is librarian in the media center in a Tennessee school, and she says it’s all true. Teachers are looking to quit, she’s afraid her principal is going to have a heart attack because he is working so many hours filling our forms, and the hoops she had to jump through as a librarian to get an evaluation were unbelievable.

It’s pure insanity. Unbelievable.


November 8th, 2011
10:54 am

Once again, Dr NO shows us just how difficult it is to have an intelligent discussion regarding education.


November 8th, 2011
11:03 am

After three years teaching in TN…I will say the process was way more complicated than GA to begin with. It took me hours and hours to perpare for my evaluations and more time after. I was out of field, so when I decided at the beginingk of kthe third year I would go back into retirement..I did not have to be evaluated…In July I was offered another year…but we were returning to GA.


November 8th, 2011
11:13 am

Here is a wild idea for attracting good teachers and for filtering our bad ones. From grades 3 through 12, we eliminate homerooms. We will let parents decide which teacher their children should get their education from. It’s much like the process of choosing an elective in high school or college except that there should be several teachers on the same grade teaching the same subject. As a result, imcompetent teachers get few students – they are the ones who should be fired or paid less. Competent teachers get more students and will have to teach more classes; and they are the ones who will be paid more. I don’t think a teacher should be paid more (or be doubled in salary) just because s/he is good. They should work more as well to benefit more students for a higher pay.

Our K-12 education will not improve much unless we introduce a clear competition to weed off incompetent teachers. Of course, parents are a problem, too.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 8th, 2011
11:15 am

“Once again, Dr NO shows us just how difficult it is to have an intelligent discussion regarding education.”

Fact is when dealing with Govt its darn near impossible to have any productive conversation etc, therefore, your above statement rings true. Im glad to be able to show you the way. And thanks!!

Jerry Eads

November 8th, 2011
11:16 am

@irisheyes, just think of it as static on the fone line. Very soon, like the rest of us, you’ll just see the moniker and move on to the next post without even noticing.


November 8th, 2011
11:26 am

Jerry, worse than static. More like the sound you get when you mistakenly call a FAX line!


November 8th, 2011
11:27 am

Family planning should include being able to afford private schools.

long time educator

November 8th, 2011
11:28 am

@Dekabite” The biggest concern that the public should have is that most teachers are not grade level or content area teacher teaching core subjects.” Very good points!


November 8th, 2011
11:29 am

It may be helpful, however, that principals are inundated with stupid paperwork all to accomplish nothing (like the RTI process, for example). Perhaps they will rise up and lead us out of this morass.


November 8th, 2011
11:36 am

how do you best evaluate teachers to get the best more money and the worst out of the system? What are the best approaches other than a quick observation by an administrator?

Tad Jackson

November 8th, 2011
11:54 am

Come sit and watch and enjoy the thrill of education in my classroom anytime. Mischief makers will be comfortable.


Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 8th, 2011
11:57 am

“how do you best evaluate teachers to get the best more money and the worst out of the system?”

LOL…the govt wont allow a fair evaluation of the best teachers because the worst teachers are the worst thru no fault of their own and/or it wouldnt be fair. In fact it would be “mean-spirited.”

And as terminating the “bad” teachers? Not gonna happen.

Ya see the democrats have wanted everything, for years to be fair and now you have it. Once again the squeaky wheels have gotten what they screamed and yelped about and also gotten their kids in a world of hurt, failing classes and lined up to enter prison.

Hope you, you know who you are, are happy!! ENJOY!!

V for Vendetta

November 8th, 2011
11:58 am

I agree with First. Nothing more to say here.

John S

November 8th, 2011
12:01 pm

Fortunately my wife probably only has 2 years to go after this one and it will take them that long to change the evaluation process.. She spends way too much time on paperwork and BS already. Why anyone would become a teacher nowadays is beyond me.

Mike Honcho

November 8th, 2011
12:07 pm

The same concerns were raised when Georgia adopted a similar math curriculum that was already deemed a failure in New York and other states. Look how beneficial and cost effect that was. I’m sure it will work out just as well.

old dude

November 8th, 2011
12:10 pm

Race To The Top is about as poorly conceived and implemented a government program as there has ever been from my point of view with the only sure conclusion one can reach about it being that it will serve to make public education more ensnared by federal rules and regulations than ever before; it is, as many of the social observers in my circle say, the end of Western Civilization as we know it. How gloomy the future looks from behind the teacher’s desk. Is it too late to avoid the trainwreck? Is a generation of plague and pestilence, famine or …heaven forbid…war what it will take to set us back on our collective heels and force us to open our eyes to an over-arching truth – that the human condition is not perfectable and no matter how much science is thrown at education – in – practice, really good teaching is as much art as it is science and it MUST be a combination of both. The “one size fits all” evaluation processes being tried in response to RTTT have about as much chance of defining good teaching as scraping a fragment of paint from Mona Lisa, dissolving it in mineral spirits, popping it in the microwave for nine months and givng birth to a 550 year – old Leonardo da Vinci. Okay, okay. I will get myself under control here in just a moment. Alright. Maybe it is not the end of Western Civilization as we know. But, it surely is one more of those straws on the camel’s back.


November 8th, 2011
12:11 pm

A few random thoughts/ideas:

1. I have read a little about TFA in the past few days and, apparently, one of their strengths is the feedback/support process they have for their teachers. It seems to me that studying their methods and incorporating them into evaluation methods for “regular” teachers might be a good idea.
2. More broadly, “evaluations” for teachers should be paired with ongoing “coaching” for those teachers in areas in which the teachers are deemed to be deficient, so the teachers have an opportunity to correct the perceived deficiencies. Whether or not they correct (or improve) such deficiencies should then be part of their next evaluation.
2a. Whether or not they correct such deficiencies should also be part of their administrators’ next evaluation.
3. There has been a lot written (and said) recently about the need for strong administrators. (I recall the comments at the forum by the Georgia Teacher of the Year.) So administrators should be evaluated as well. One factor in those evaluations is how well they “coach up” their teachers.
4. At the forum, the Dekalb Asst. Superintendent talked about their evaluation system, which includes teachers (including from outside the school) as well as administrators. This multiple-source method of evaluation seems like a good idea to me, as opposed to just one evaluation from the principal or asst. principal per year.
5. I wonder if evaluations for teachers and administrators should not be transparent to the public.
6. In terms of pay for performance, maybe you could have (say) 5 teachers per school per year who get a bonus based on their evaluations, maybe $5000 each.

Like I said, just a few random thoughts. Ideally, IMO, an evaluation program should help and support our teachers and administrators, instead of being purely a “negative” program designed to “weed out” teachers and administrators.


November 8th, 2011
12:12 pm

LOL old dude. :-)

Dr. John Trotter

November 8th, 2011
12:20 pm

RTTT is another educational disaster. Ha! They learn dumber.

Inman Park Boy

November 8th, 2011
1:23 pm

Asking politicians to devise a good teacher assessment system is like asking a plumber to manage a baseball team. As a school administrator of more than twenty-five years (public, private, and college administation) I am rarely asked to define a “good teacher” by anyone. No house or senate committees come to me; no one seeks out my opinion. Still, I have worked at some of the most successful high schools in our state, so I think I know what a good teacher does. High school graduates from my schools have gone to Harvard and to Perimeter, to Columbia and Gwinnett Tech. Too bad no one asks me how its done. Maybe I should write a book.

former middle school teacher

November 8th, 2011
1:24 pm

If core teachers are to be held to a higher standard than other subjects they should also be paid more. Secondly even in core subjects it is possible to not teach a class that is tested.

Beverly Fraud

November 8th, 2011
1:49 pm

Maureen thinks teachers will be “wary”. She’s probably right.

But why teachers WHY? Why would you be wary of an evaluation instrument, just because educrats who are using it can’t give you a CLEAR and CONCISE description of what you will be evaluated on?

Do you think, for example a professional football player is told BEFORE the game how many points a field goal is worth, and how many points a touchdown is worth?

Seriously, we ALL know the referees come up with a scoring rubric AFTER the game, right?

And with the track record of success when it comes to education, from (from Barnes trying to whip up anti-teacher sentiment to parlay it into a possible spot on the Gore ticket, to Purdue cutting billions) why would teachers MISTRUST the process?

Befuddling, simply befuddling.


November 8th, 2011
2:38 pm

@V: I wonder how much the Tennessee plan mirrors GA’s plan? Since the Gates Foundation “graciously” helped states with their applications….I suspect the GA teacher evaluation plan looks very similar to Tennessee’s.

Of course, having input from folks with less than five years of classroom experience never hurts…


November 8th, 2011
2:51 pm

Let’s all just evaluate each other ad nauseum! How ridiculous that education and teachers should suddenly have to take all this on!

HS Public Teacher

November 8th, 2011
3:46 pm

Will Georgia repeat Tennessee’s mistakes. No.

Georgia will have many more mistakes. After all, Georgia is #1 !!!

HS Math Teacher

November 8th, 2011
5:39 pm

In the last few years:

1. Class sizes have increased.
2. Our pay has been cut.
3. Paperwork has increased.
4. The Math curriculum was radically changed.
5. The vocational track was eliminated, forcing ill-prepared, socially promoted kids to learn college prep math.
6. RTI storm troopers roam the building, creating more work.
8. Right-wing Republican education budget cuts, even when economic times were good.
9. Sensation-seeking, meddlesome politicians under the dome trying to make a name for themselves by proposing ill-conceived plans that put teachers on the hot plate, such as this “teacher evaluation” crap.
10. A public perception that teachers don’t work hard enough, aren’t smart enough, and get paid too much.

As long as I teach, I will do the best I can do; however, retirement can’t come soon enough. After I retire, I will not even consider being a substitute for extra cash. I’m getting the hell out!


November 8th, 2011
6:31 pm

Teachers, you are wonderful beings, and I am so sorry for what you are having to go through. You are doing important work and I hope you can just ignore all of this claptrap and keep on somehow. I am surprised there are not ‘underground schools’ forming, made up of teachers who have fled the madness and students with parents who reject the system.


November 8th, 2011
9:17 pm

Is Georgia going to make the same mistakes? If past experience is any indication, YOU BETCHA! and then some!

Veteran teacher, 2

November 8th, 2011
10:33 pm

@Woody, more people are talking about doing exactly that than you think. I believe there is a market there, and many parents would go along with it.

If everyone wants to “make sure that teachers are accountable”, why don’t we install cameras in every classroom and stream live video of every classroom in the state. Anyone could tell what is going on in the classroom. Absent students have no excuse for not keeping up, and every discipline situation would be documented. No more “misunderstandings.”

I have been told that this could be done for $50,000 for an average sized school. Far less than testing and what the RTTT teacher evaluations will cost!!!!

Mikey D

November 8th, 2011
11:10 pm

Non-tested area teachers have to choose a tested subject that they don’t teach, and that becomes part of their evaluation??? This is quite possibly the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard of. Just when you think the beast of Duncan can’t get any worse, it proves you wrong. We are rapidly approaching the point of no return in education.

Agree with Mikey D

November 9th, 2011
5:00 am

As a high school teacher of a non-tested subject, I can’t wait to see if GA is going to have 50% of my evaluation (like TN does) be determined by a tested subject of my choice (English, Math, Science or Social Studies) THAT I DON’T TEACH!!!! Ridiculous! I am out of here if this happens! IS 50% of an accountant’s job evaluation determined by how well the custodian cleans his office? Is 50% of an ER trauma doctor’s performance evaluation determined by the quality of food served in the hospital cafeteria? NO and NO! Teachers should be evaluated based on what they are certified to teach and how well they teach their certified subject-Period!

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 9th, 2011
8:06 am

Most everyones has been cut.


November 9th, 2011
12:17 pm

I feel so sorry for teachers. This is complete insanity and can’t believe anyone in their right mind would think this plan is a good idea.

Having not my my research on this topic, how were teachers evaluated in the “old” days? What prompted such radical changes like NCLB and this plans like this one?

Good Mother

November 9th, 2011
3:39 pm

It is apparent that teachers don’t like to be evaluated at all. There are so many complaints from teachers that say this or that criteria is unfair.

I would sincerely like to know what criteria teachers think is a fair evaluation.

I do not believe that teaching is so profound and different that teaching cannot be measured. We all have vivid memories of a teacher we considered “really good.” Surely we can fairly measure what is a “really good” teacher.

Another Teacher

November 9th, 2011
4:00 pm

@ Good Mother. Do you honestly think then that there’s nothing really wrong with Tennessee’s method of teacher evaluation, and that Tennessee’s teachers should quit whining?


November 9th, 2011
9:51 pm

Regarding the “mess” in Tennessee.

My nephew has an MBA and left a string of successes in the business world at 35 to become a middle school math teacher (also coaches the baseball team – hundreds of hours for the “huge” supplement of $1,500 a year – hey – went to state last year!). He has taught for 5 years in a very rural Title 1 school in East Tennessee. He loves teaching and agonizes over every student. They come to his 8th grade math class not understanding multiplication and division, and he’s supposed to ensure they know the basics of algebra before they leave his classroom. He runs math tutorials on his own, embraces technology (loves his ActivBoard), contacts parents, uses hands-on activities, etc. He has become increasingly frustrated over the last 5 up years, but this year under the Tennessee RTT, he has finally decided to look outside his low income school system to higher income school systems. He’s had many solicitations – who doesn’t want a math teacher who is also a winning coach? My sister and I have been telling him for some time to leave this Title 1 school since it’s very stressful to teach in a low income school when your students are expected to perform at the level of high income students with involved parents. This new evaluation system has finally done it for him. This new system is not a bad thing if it finally pushes him to seek a less stressful position. There are some very nice middle class school systems within driving distance. Once he begins teaching in one of those systems, he’ll see why we’ve been pushing so hard for him to leave the low performing school.


November 9th, 2011
9:59 pm

I suspect that this will exacerbate the shortage of good math and science teachers. Why put up with all this mess if you don’t have to?


November 9th, 2011
10:25 pm

Thank you. That’s what my sister and I have been telling my nephew. He’s a great math teacher and a winning coach. And he would also be paid thousands more in one of the middle class systems. His system has a very poor tax base so their pay is also much less than the wealthier systems. He’s been very stubborn about even considering leaving up until now with this new system. We’re glad this is pushing him over the edge.

N. GA Teacher

November 11th, 2011
12:31 am

A response to Janet and others: in the “old days” which to me means 1970s or early 1980s, teachers were evaluated by qualified administrators on things that were the most important! Let me elaborate. In those days principals did not have to have the “masters in administration” but were generally veteran teachers of 20-30 years who had any kind of a masters degree. The key here is that they had a LOT of classroom experience and KNEW what good teaching was! In addition, since many were promoted from the ranks of faculty at the same school, they also knew the existing faculty, and could assist with improving strengths and weaknesses. These guys evaluated the teachers in a non-threatening, supportive manner (although there were a few little Hitlers, as there are now) that recognized the REALLY IMPORTANT aspects of teaching: organization, planning, informative and interesting lessons, student involvement, teacher rapport with students, classroom management, teacher dedication and passion for teaching. These are the kind of things that all the veteran teachers and administrators know to be true about the “good” teachers at any school. I remember evaluations where the principal would mention things like “hey, those kids really get along with you, and “that lesson on factoring was fun”. Nobody mentioned a word wall, or a rubric, etc. If standardized test scores were EVER mentioned, it was in relation to the ACT or SAT being important for our college-bound kids, so be demanding and send any troublemakers to the office.

C. Moragne

November 14th, 2011
10:45 pm

I am a Tennessee teacher. The new evaluation system is a joke. The state is holding teachers accountable for everything. When are we going to hold the students and their parents accountable? Students have told us that they are going to be passed on even if they fail. So, why should they take any test – especially a standardized state test serious? When we pass students regardless of teacher recommendations, we are setting them up for failure. This is why the United States is behind other countries educationally.