Published Online: January 5, 2010

Tenn. Gov. 'Surprised' Teachers Balking Over Data

Gov. Phil Bredesen said Monday he's confident lawmakers will approve sweeping education changes in a special session that begins next week, but he's surprised that Tennessee's main teachers' union has balked at some of the proposals.

The Democratic governor wants performance evaluations and tenure decisions for teachers and principals to be based on student testing data. He also wants mandatory annual teacher assessments.

Bredesen has said the changes would give the state a better shot at a share of more than $4 billion in federal "Race to the Top" money.

"How well their students do — when we've got good data on that — certainly ought to be a point on which (teachers) are evaluated," Bredesen said in an interview with The Associated Press. The governor said he was "a little surprised" at how quickly the Tennessee Education Association opposed the proposal.

"With the number of things I've done that they've been happy with over the years, I thought it was a little quick off the mark on the criticism of it," he said. "It may be that they're just constitutionally unable to accept anything that goes anywhere near tenure or those kinds of things."

TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters said the group has agreed to annual assessments, but disagrees with the governor's position on student testing data. He said they could not let "50 percent of a teacher's evaluation be based on a snapshot test score on one day."

"That is not something we can sell to our members," Winters said.

Winters said negotiations have nevertheless been progressing.

In a speech to the Rotary Club of Nashville earlier in the day, Bredesen said he expects bipartisan support for his proposals to "improve the culture in our schools."

Bredesen said lawmakers need to approve those changes by Jan. 19 so they can be included as part of Tennessee's application for the federal money.

Bredesen said Tennessee's chances for "hundreds of millions of dollars" from the federal government will depend on getting the changes approved by the application deadline.

"They made it very clear that what will count is the status of things on the 19th of January," he said. "They want to know if you have the legal authority in the state of Tennessee do these things when you file that application."

Winters said the TEA also wants the state to earn the federal education dollars, but not at any cost.

"A lot of the Race to Top movement has been viewed by many teachers as all stick and no carrot," he said.

Meanwhile, Bredesen wants to change the higher education funding formula to emphasize graduation rates rather than enrollment. He also said he wants the state's community colleges to work together as more of a network than they do now.

The higher education element of the session could take several weeks longer than the K-12 segment.

The Legislature last met in a special session in 2006 to take up sweeping changes in state ethics laws in the aftermath of the FBI's Tennessee Waltz bribery sting that led to the convictions of five former lawmakers.

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