Teacher Effectiveness

Several Tennessee colleges rank high for teacher prep in national study

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Sharpe Elementary reading interventionist Valencia Ealy works one-on-one with a student on vocabulary words last year in Memphis. Shelby County Schools has started its own program to address lagging literacy scores.

Tennessee was lauded Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) for its concentration of high-quality teacher training programs and a revamped evaluation system.

Tennessee’s legislators in recent years have changed the way teachers are certified and evaluated in an effort to weed out chronically-underperforming teachers.  Many efforts to improve the state’s teaching corps have been targeted toward the state’s teachers’ colleges.

Tennessee was one of just three states (Texas and Ohio were the others) in the country receiving such recognition by the organization which based its rankings on admissions, content preparation and practice teaching.

“Tennessee is one of the highest performing states in the review,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.  “We attribute at least some of that to strong regulation.  The state has passed some high impact regulations and teachers are tested in every subject they’re going to teach.  The state also has a really good state-wide evaluation with TEAM (Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model).”

TEAM is one of the models used in the state to evaluate teacher performance. It’s largely based on data and classroom observations.   Tennessee teachers and their advocacy groups have protested the use of test scores and observations, saying they are an inaccurate and incomplete picture of a teacher’s skillsets.  

Lipscomb University in Nashville was ranked the second top school in the country for educating middle and high school teachers and 14th in the country for educating elementary teachers.  The organization cited, among other things, the school’s “thorough” admissions process for its graduate elementary program.

NCTQ, a non-partisan group that advocates for teacher reform, looks for colleges that are raising their standards for students to get into teacher prep programs.

“It’s too easy to get into a school of education,” Walsh said.

The University of Memphis, where Shelby County Schools gets a large portion of its teaching staff, is doing just that in fall.

Beginning this fall, U of M students entering the school’s teacher education program must have a 3.0 grade point average.  The current requirement is 2.75 grade point average. The school’s program ranked 27th in elementary and 28th in secondary education.

“We’re using testing data to guide instruction to meet the needs of the student (teachers) on the elementary level with struggling readers and on the secondary level to improve assessment and data, which also helps with classroom management,”  said Ernest Rakow, interim dean for college of education, health and human science.

Middle Tennessee State University, Union University, Vanderbilt University, East Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University, University of Tennessee at Martin, Austin Peay State University, Maryville College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga were also given high rankings in the report.

The report also raises concern about alternative certification programs which allow people to teach without a traditional education degree or license.

In the examination of the alternative certification programs, researchers looked at admission requirements, early supports and practices.  Walsh said researchers were concerned that too many programs were making it sound “easy” to become a teacher.

Teach Tennessee, a Tennessee Department of Education program, received a D-minus in the study.

The state’s policy allows alternative certification teachers to forgo testing if they have 24 credits of schedule course hours of relevant coursework on their college transcript.

Walsh added the purpose of the study is to give potential students the information about which colleges and universities are best preparing teachers.  “We need to engage the consumers and give them really good information so they can make better choices on what programs to avoid and consume,” she said. “We want to use the power of the marketplace to force programs to feel the competition to change because it’s incumbent upon them to change.”

Critics of the annual NCTQ study have argued that the organization evaluates how well a school’s offerings adhere to a uniform and maybe questionable set of criteria rather than judging how well teaching methods work in practice.

Read the full study here.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier@chalkbeattn.

Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chalkbeattn.

Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news: http://tn.chalkbeat.org/newsletter/



Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.

story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

More in What's Your Education Story?