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Governor's New Plan for Education Criticized

January 13, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Sharp criticism is meeting Gov. Bill Haslam's new plan to reform education in Tennessee – a plan that calls for eliminating average class-size mandates, as well as state and local salary schedules that are based strictly on teachers' seniority and training.

Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), says scrapping maximum class size mandates is not a good move for Tennessee.

"We just don't think it's a good idea to do anything that would increase class sizes. I mean, there are some places where they are already at the maximum, and I think – when you look at what's best for students and for teachers in helping students improve – raising class sizes is a big issue."

If the proposal becomes law, says Summerford, it won't matter how long teachers have been teaching or the types of degrees they have. Rather, she says, pay will be based on test scores and their evaluation, if a district so chooses. In December, the governor requested an independent review of the state's new teacher evaluation process under pressure from lawmakers.

Gov. Haslam says the reform will help districts make better decisions on how to address hard-to-staff schools, as well as rewarding teacher performance. However, putting teacher compensation in the hands of local districts will put their salaries at risk, warns Summerford.

"It would essentially allow the local school districts to freeze teacher salaries and then, maybe introduce something that's some kind of incentive or merit-pay plan. Without collective bargaining, they can do that without the teachers' agreement. That's just not something we consider acceptable."

She says many teachers believe the governor's agenda is a direct attack on Tennessee public schools. The TEA says the proposal ties teacher pay to an evaluation system that has not been proven reliable.

Bo Bradshaw, Public News Service - TN