Q&A: What Tenure Reform Means for HR

April 05, 2011 5 min read
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On March 31, the Tennessee Senate gave final approval for a bill, backed by Governor Bill Haslam, lengthening the time period needed for teachers to receive tenure. Tennessee school districts will now require a teacher to work for five years, rather than the previous three, before reviewing them for tenure. The state, a winner of the federal Race to the Top competition, is currently designing an evaluation system to rate teacher performance for both granting tenure and removing ineffective teachers. That system will draw heavily on student achievement data.

The bill is one of the many nationwide initiatives aiming to more closely tie teacher career growth to student achievement data . Florida, another Race to the Top winner, recently passed a far-reaching legislation abolishing tenure altogether for newly hired teachers. The new law also implements a merit- pay system based on student testing and performance-evaluation scores. Such initiatives will obviously pose numerous administrative and operational challenges for district human resource departments.

To find out more about the HR issues involved, we recently exchanged emails with Judith Looney, the Human Resources Director for Tennessee’s Williamson County Schools.

What, specifically, has been HR’s role during the legislative process? How will this legislation impact the HR department?

In Tennessee, much of the reform has been driven by the governor’s office, the legislators, the State Board of Education, the Department of Education and the taxpayers. Tennessee was fortunate enough to receive Race to the Top funds, but with those federal funds came mandates for reform and greater accountability.

Our Human Resources Department has served as a conduit for information as we are receiving it.

Once the evaluation process is completely determined by the state and is defined, the HR Department will work with our administrators and school board to re-write local policy to conform to the state’s new requirements.

How does your school district plan to accommodate teachers whose subject matters are not applicable to the state’s current system of value-added testing in the assessment of tenure?

We are waiting to see what comes out of the committees at the state level comprised of teachers and administrators in terms of recommendations for these groups. One alternative is to use school wide data for educators, including administrators, who do not have value-added data.

How much will the new teacher evaluations reflect value-added testing versus classroom observation?

Fifty percent will be data driven by student achievement, of that 35 percent will come from student growth measures, such as TVASS [Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System ]or end–of-course exams, while 15 percent will come from other student achievement data. The other 50 percent will come from classroom or position observations, a review of prior evaluations and other components.

What aspects, if any, of the teacher evaluation process need to be improved upon for this initiative to succeed?

Here it is almost April and we are still waiting to see the final evaluation document and guidelines. We have been informed that our administrators will be trained by the state Department of Education this summer. Ideally, I wish we had more time to plan, reflect, discuss, and prepare our educators. The State will absolutely have to be on target with returning value-added data to the districts in real time next year.

How will the district and/or HR office measure the success of changes made due to this legislation?

Our district is very driven by student success and achievement. We are a high-performing district in terms of student achievement, but sometimes struggle with value-added scores. To strike a cliché, the proof will be in the pudding for us. We want to see student growth for all students, not just high achievement. We are very hopeful that the new evaluation process will aid our district in improving instruction, in communicating and collaborating more effectively on what comprises great instruction, to provide assistance to those who need it and to give recognition to those who deserve it.

Success will also be measured in HR offices, and certainly this one, by our ability to attract, recruit, and retain highly effective teachers who have the ability to help students achieve growth.

Will the new legislation expedite the identification and removal of ineffective tenured teachers? How will this impact the HR office?

We believe that the new legislation will make it easier to identify and remove ineffective teachers. This district has not been afraid to help ineffective teachers make other career decisions, but we have not always had to remove them, they have chosen to leave. Once a district and its administrators turn up the heat, in terms of performance monitoring, documenting, counseling, providing constructive feedback, and providing meaningful professional development opportunities, those who can’t or won’t change will generally choose to leave. Our goal has always been to help all teachers improve. We do believe that effective teachers will thrive in an environment where authentic discussions about teaching strategies are held on a frequent basis.

What insights could you share with other school HR executives preparing for the passage of similar tenure reforms?

HR executives need to ensure that instructional leaders have the training and tools they need to document performance. Coaching administrators on how to properly document and have difficult conversations with educators about performance has become a big part of the job.

What key levers or supports have your district and the HR office relied on during this transitional stage? What key levers or supports will come into play as the bill is implemented?

The HR office has to be the champion for these changes; we need to help sell the new evaluation instrument and tenure reform. We also need to help employees see that this is not a “gotcha,” but about what is best for students. Districts need to ensure that instructional leaders have the supports in place that they need to be in the classroom observing, modeling, and coaching. I do not believe that principals can complete the four observations required for tenured teachers and six observations for non-tenured teachers each year, without the aid of additional assistant principals and/or department heads.

—Peter Prokesch


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