On a visit to Bearden Elementary School on Friday, Governor Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman responded to frustrations over the state's teacher evaluation process. Citing teacher surveys and a Vanderbilt report, both men said teacher satisfaction is generally good in the state.
“Overall, the data shows that teachers are more satisfied with their work environment in Tennessee than teachers have been in other places,” Haslam said.
That stands in sharp contrast to statements delivered by dozens of teachers who crowded a Knox County Board of Education meeting Wednesday night. Many of the 25 speakers at that meeting said the current evaluation system needs serious changes. Many also said low morale and the stress of new Common Core education standards are combining to force some teachers out of the profession.
"One of the commitments we've made is to improve teacher pay," Haslam said when asked about teacher retention. Haslam has set a goal of having the nation's fastest-growing teacher salaries, but says the goal may not be achieved until 2018.
Retired educator Teresa Brown tried to confront Huffman as the event ended, but Huffman declined to speak to her.
"I want them [school leaders] to listen," Brown told reporters. "When I hear that teacher morale is fine, and that the evaluation process is fair...it's untrue."
Huffman said state education leaders have been listening to criticism of the teacher evaluation process since it was implemented three years ago, and that changes have been made based on feedback.
"My belief is, this is going to be an ongoing working process. Every year we're going to step back and look at it," Huffman said.
But he said he also thinks the evaluation system helped boost Tennessee's standings in national education rankings. A National Assessment of Educational Progress report released this week found Tennessee's fourth- and eighth-graders showed the fastest improvement of any state in the nation.