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Summary of recent Tennessee newspaper editorials


Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

March 17

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tennessee, on teacher evaluations:

Should student achievement have any bearing at all on the licensing of teachers?

Almost everyone agrees that student test scores shouldn't be the deciding factor in a school board's decision whether to revoke a license. Test scores can too easily be influenced by matters like geography, the family income of students and the effectiveness of teachers in lower grades.

Bottom line: family background tends to have a whole lot to do with how much students are able to achieve.

But it doesn't seem just to declare that student performance should have nothing at all to do with deciding what kind of job a teacher is doing.

That's the approach of a bill that has gained momentum in the state legislature, passing by large majorities in education committees of both houses.

Originally, the state Board of Education had proposed to use student scores as the sole measure of judging a teacher's job performance. But it backed off that stance in January.

Now this new proposal is going just as far in the other direction, calling for test scores to have no bearing at all on the assessment of teacher job performance.

"If a teacher license is based in total or in part (emphasis added) on standardized test scores, then a teacher at a struggling school has a higher chance to lose his or her license simply by teaching there," the sponsor of the proposal said.

Surely lawmakers and educators are capable of forming a policy that protects teachers in such schools while at the same time acknowledging the fact that we want our students to make learning gains.

The problem with this proposal is its all-or-nothing approach. Let's have a sensible compromise.


March 18

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on a federal judge's same-sex marriage ruling:

Recognizing a gay marriage is not the same as allowing a same-gender marriage to take place in the state. That point should not be lost as supporters and nonsupporters of same-gender unions debate what a federal judge's ruling last week on the issue means to Tennessee.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger of Nashville on Friday ordered the state of Tennessee to recognize the marriages of three same-sex couples, including one from Memphis, while their lawsuit against the state works its way through the court system.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction barring Tennessee from enforcing laws prohibiting recognition of their marriages. She made it clear that her order is only temporary and only applies to the three couples. None of the marriages occurred in Tennessee.

Those on both sides of the issue are either painting this "temporary" injunction as a road toward victory for same-gender couples or a federal judge usurping state law and the wishes of Tennessee voters. Both sides, we think, should hold their joy or anger until Trauger issues a final ruling.

In Tennessee, marriages between partners of the same gender are prohibited by state law and by a constitutional amendment approved in 2006. The three couples' lawsuit is only challenging laws that prohibit recognizing such marriages performed in other states.

A preliminary injunction can only be granted in cases the judge believes the plaintiff will likely win. If that is the case, then Trauger would be following in the footsteps of multiple judges who have overturned voter-approved bans on same-gender marriages in other states.

In this case, if the judge adheres strictly to the plaintiffs' plea, banning same-gender marriage in the state still would remain in place, and that would not be a total usurping of state law.


March 18

Knoxville (Tenn.) Sentinel on the governor and Common Core standards:

Gov. Bill Haslam is facing a leadership crisis over the implementation of Common Core State Standards, one of the pillars of the state's education reform effort.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted last week to freeze the implementation of the standards and delay for two years the use of the assessment designed to test students on their progress. The Senate is to take up the matter later this week.

The move to block Common Core is bad education policy, and postponing its companion assessment will cost the state at least $14 million more than continuing to move forward, according to the General Assembly's Fiscal Review Committee.

Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman need to scramble to address concerns — some more valid than others — that have galvanized legislators' opposition.

Common Core consists of standards in math and language arts more rigorous than Tennessee's previous educational benchmarks. Setting higher standards for students and giving teachers the means to help them meet those standards is essential if Tennessee graduates are to remain competitive in the job market and in college admissions offices.

Some conservatives in the Legislature mistakenly claim Common Core is a federal mandate. Other lawmakers have been convinced by teachers' understandable concerns about the use of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers evaluation in job reviews and licensing to oppose the test.

The administration needs to persuade lawmakers that Common Core is not a federal mandate. True, to be eligible for federal Race to the Top funding, states had to develop tougher standards. But the standards themselves were developed at the direction of state governments, not the federal government.

The administration also should emphasize that postponing PARCC would be poor financial management.

In the absence of PARCC, the state would be forced to reinvent the wheel by developing its own assessment at a cost estimated by the Fiscal Review Committee to be $10.1 million. A newly designed test would cost an estimated $3.9 million more than PARCC to administer in the 2015-16 school year, the first year it could be ready. Local school boards would face higher costs, too.

And the federal government could determine that Tennessee is not living up to its commitments under Race to the Top, allowing it to withhold any undistributed Race to the Top money and require Tennessee pay back money it has already received.

The 82-11 vote in the House should have roused the Haslam administration out of complacency. Even good policy initiatives have to be sold to skeptical legislators and the general public. Haslam and Huffman need to clear the air about the origins of Common Core, address the legitimate concerns about PARCC's effects on teachers and make the argument for sound financial stewardship.

Without the governor's energetic advocacy, education reform will stall. That would be a disservice to Tennessee students. To stand still is to fall further behind.


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