Future of Teaching

Tennessee educator survey points to happier teachers

More educators across the state believe teachers at their school are satisfied than in years past, according to a 2015 Tennessee Department of Education survey.

Tennessee educators are warming to teacher evaluations, happier in their jobs than they’ve been in years past, and sick and tired of testing.

Those are the preliminary results of the 2015 Teacher and Principal Survey, which the Tennessee Department of Education presented on Thursday to members of the State Board of Education during their quarterly meeting in Johnson City.

More than half of Tennessee’s 64,000 teachers took the voluntary survey this spring, as did 2,000 school administrators.

The state has commissioned the survey each year since 2012 in partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. Department officials plan to release the survey’s final results in August. In the past, the survey was called the First to the Top survey.

Highlights from the preliminary results include:

  • Teachers are happier than ever. This year saw a sharp uptick in the number of teachers who agreed with the statement: “The teachers at this school like being here; I would describe us as a satisfied group.” Seventy-nine percent agreed with the statement, compared with 67 percent in 2013-2014. Twenty percent of surveyed teachers agreed with the statement: “The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t worth it,” down from a quarter of surveyed teachers last year. However, about 150 Tennessee schools still had less than half of their teachers reporting being satisfied, said Nate Schwartz, director of education policy and research for the state, as he emphasized the need for continued improvement.
  • More teachers than ever approve of the state’s teacher evaluations. There was also a rise in the number of respondents who thought teacher evaluations improved their craft and student learning. Those who thought evaluations led to better teaching increased from 54 percent last year to 68 percent this year; those who felt it helped student learning increased from 49 percent to 63 percent.
  • Still, 32 percent of teachers think teacher evaluations are unfair — and state officials say that needs to change. The percentage of teachers who believe teacher evaluations are fair jumped from 58 percent to 68 percent, but Schwartz said that’s not good enough. “There is a decently large percentage of teachers who are saying that they feel evaluation isn’t fair,” he said. “That’s something we need to think about in the process we use to evaluate teachers … and what we can do to make clear to teachers how this process works so they feel more secure about it.”
  • Administrators like evaluations more than teachers. Administrators viewed evaluations far more favorably than teachers, with 82 percent believing that the administrator evaluation process leads to improved student learning, and 87 percent believing their evaluations are fair. Nearly 80 percent of administrators thought that teacher evaluations are fair.
  • Most teachers believe too much classroom time is devoted to test preparation and testing. Just as last year, 62 percent of surveyed teachers thought they spent too much time on standardized test prep, and 69 percent thought they spent too much time on actual tests.
  • Despite other positive trends, teachers are less trusting of administrators. There was a 6 percentage point drop — from 87 percent to 81 percent — in teachers who said staff at their school feel comfortable raising issues and concerns that are important to them with school leaders. Still, there was a slight increase — from 82 percent to 84 percent — in teachers who felt their administrators were protecting much-valued instructional time.
  • Teacher retention remains consistent. The percentage of teachers leaving the profession in Tennessee has only changed from 8.8 percent from the 2011-12 to 2012-13 school years, to 9.2 percent from 2013-14 to 2014-15.
  • Teachers are split on whether they think Response to Instruction and Intervention is benefiting students. Sixty-five percent of elementary school teachers believed RTI, the program the state rolled out for the first time this year to screen students for problem areas in core academic subjects, is helping students learn. Fifty-nine percent of middle school teachers thought RTI benefited their students, and only 44 percent of high school teachers believed it would be beneficial. The program has been implemented in all elementary schools across the state, but not all high schools.

Did you take the survey? Do the results represent your experience? Let us know in the comments.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

Gold standard teachers

Tennessee adds nationally certified teachers but continues to trail in the South

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat

Twenty Tennessee educators have earned a national certification that’s considered the profession’s highest mark of achievement, although the state continues to lag in the South in growing that community.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday released the list of new educators designated as National Board Certified Teachers.

Their addition brings Tennessee’s number of NBCT educators to more than 700, with another 63 pursuing certification. By comparison, Kentucky has 3,600, Virginia 3,400, and Georgia 2,600.

“We know that teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is an honor to celebrate educators who are helping their students grow, while serving as an example of what it means to be a lifelong learner,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Nationally, 5,470 teachers earned the designation in 2016-17, raising the total to more than 118,000 through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The certification takes from one to three years to complete and includes a performance-based peer-review process. Successful candidates must demonstrate a proven impact on student learning and achievement.

In Tennessee, at least 36 school districts offer at least one type of incentive for achieving the certification. The most common is a salary bonus.

North Carolina continues to lead the nation in certification, with 616 more teachers gaining the endorsement last month from the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

Earning their certification in Tennessee were:

  • John Bourn, Franklin Special School District
  • Christy Brawner, Shelby County Schools
  • James Campbell, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Kimberly Coyle, Sumner County Schools
  • Suzanne Edwards, Williamson County Schools
  • Anastasia Fredericksen, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Theresa Fuller, Kingsport City Schools
  • Amber Hartzler, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
  • Jennifer Helm, Williamson County Schools
  • Deborah Higdon, Franklin Special School District
  • Karen Hummer, Franklin Special School District
  • Heather Meston, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Melissa Miller, Franklin Special School District
  • Kelsey Peace, Sumner County Schools
  • Lindsey Pellegrin, Franklin Special School District
  • Andrea Reeder, Williamson County Schools
  • Jordan Sims, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Susanna Singleton, Williamson County Schools
  • Melissa Stugart, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Drew Wilkerson, Franklin Special School District

To learn more, visit the website of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.