Home » Branches » DFER Tennessee

DFER Tennessee

From Our Blog

DFER Supports Tennessee Licensure Reform
August 16, 2013

DFER Supports Tennessee Licensure Reform

Democrats for Education Reform supports Commissioner Kevin Huffman as the Tennessee Board of Education votes on licensure reform today

Nashville - Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) congratulates education leaders and the State Board of Education on the vote to replace the current complicated and out-of-date teacher licensure system with a stronger, streamlined program. The changes reduce the amount of paperwork required in the renewal process, make it easier for effective teachers to renew their licenses, and ensure that only excellent teachers are licensed to teach in Tennessee’s classrooms.

Today’s vote is the right decision for kids in Tennessee. Licensure reform ensures that teachers, like professionals in other fields such as medicine and law, are held to the highest standards by automatically renewing the licenses of effective teachers while keeping consistently low-performing teachers from receiving new teaching licenses.

It will also streamlines more than 20 different practitioner licenses into one license, cutting down on paperwork and making it easier for Tennessee’s teachers to renew their license. We applaud the Board of Education for putting the needs of students first and ensuring the quality of Tennessee’s teachers.

One Hundred Thousand Students
July 23, 2013

By Mac LeBuhn, DFER Policy Analyst

This Friday, the State Board of Education will vote on a proposal to change Tennessee’s teacher licensure policies. The new proposal would reduce the length of a teacher license from ten years to six, introduce automatic license renewal for effective teachers and stop the renewal of licenses for teachers who receive the lowest evaluation scores, which are informed in part by student performance on standardized tests.

We have already heard many different voices in the discussion about the proposed reform: some voices support the automatic renewal of licenses for effective teachers, some voices disagree with the use of standardized test data to make choices about granting and renewing teacher licenses and other voices defend the current, quality-blind system. I would like to introduce another set of voices to this debate.

Specifically, 100,000 voices. That is the number of students the Tennessee Department of Education estimates will be placed in a classroom with one of the lowest-performing teachers in the state over the next ten years, unless we reform our current teacher licensing system. If licensure reform passes on Friday, these same students will likely be led by a more effective teacher. As the discussion over teacher licensing continues, we must ask ourselves what we would say to these 100,000 students if we decided to stay with the current system.

Could we tell these students that test score information, one part of the new system, is not reliable enough to be used? That line might work well in partisan attacks on the new proposal, but it does not fit with many researchers’ analysis of these systems. After all, value-added measures that assess a teacher's impact on student achievement correlate with other measures of teacher effectiveness, such as observations and student surveys. Not only that, a study by the RAND Corporation found that value-added measures “might actually provide less-biased and more-precise assessments of teacher effects” than other measures of teacher effectiveness. Like any measurement, value-added measures vary, but they are one of the best tools we have to determine teacher effectiveness.

Could we tell these students that it is okay that they were saddled with an ineffective teacher? That probably won’t work either: a recent study by Raj Chetty, John Friedman and Jonah Rockoff found that students with high-performing teachers go on to attend college and earn higher salaries than the students with low-performing teachers protected by the current licensure system.

If we continue to protect low-performing teachers with a quality-blind licensure system, we also defend the outcomes that go along with it: lower rates of college attendance and completion, lower eventual salaries and fewer options for the students consigned to these low-performing teachers.

If we do not pass licensure reform in Tennessee, could we just tell all 100,000 students that the state of education is not all that bad? At a time when Tennessee’s fourth graders perform below the national average in math and reading and just one in four is proficient in reading, there is little room for such an argument. Despite years of effort poured into improving our state’s education system, the hard truth is that we remain miles away from the schools we want for our children. Licensure reform is an important part of the process of strengthening the quality of our schools.

Could we tell the 100,000 students that licensure reform “bashed” teachers and should not have been passed? Certainly not. Currently, our educator license only tells students and parents that a teacher completed a checklist, not that he or she is actually effective in the classroom. It is this low bar that is insulting to the idea of teacher professionalism, not the higher standards contained in the licensure reform proposal. It speaks to our confidence in the teaching profession that effective educators should be able to meet this standard in order to receive a license to teach in our state.

In fact, there is not much at all we could tell these 100,000 students if we decide not to pass licensure reform. This proposal is right for students and it is right for teachers. If we deny reform, we can ensure that low-performing teachers have a place in Tennessee’s schools and force 100,000 students to spend a year with one of these teachers. If we embrace reform, we can insist on quality in our schools and offer a better option for our students.

100,000 students are listening. What will Tennessee’s Board of Education tell them?

Mac LeBuhn is an assistant policy analyst at Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Before joining DFER, Mac was a fourth grade teacher at Rocketship Si Se Puede, a charter school in San Jose, CA. He became interested in education policy through internships at the offices of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston. Read more about Mac here.

DFER Supports TN Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman's Reforms
June 26, 2013

Democrats for Education Reform Supports TN Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman's Reforms

Democrats for Education Reform commends the Tennessee Board of Education for providing school districts with much-needed flexibility to set educator salaries and encourages it to pass a crucial reform of the state's educator licensure system. The reform to the State Minimum Salary Schedule, proposed by Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, passed last Friday. The Board of Education also heard a proposal from Commissioner Huffman to reform Tennessee's educator licensure system.

The salary schedule reforms approved by the Board of Education will grant school districts much more discretion in setting salary levels that meet the needs of schools. While Tennessee is one of only 15 states with a teacher salary schedule set by statute, the reformed program will grant principals the ability to set salaries in a way that reflects local needs.

The Board of Education also heard Commissioner Huffman's proposal to revise educator licensing. Currently, Tennessee grants teachers one of 20 different licenses in a complex process that does not consider teacher effectiveness. The reformed system would streamline the types of licenses and tie licensure decisions to teacher effectiveness. DFER looks forward to the upcoming vote on the licensure proposals and encourages the Board of Education to pass these reforms.

CO State Senator Discusses School Finance and Reform in Nashville
June 5, 2013


By Natasha Kamrani, DFER Tennessee State Director

DFER Tennessee (DFER-TN) welcomed CO State Senator Michael Johnston for its second installment of DFER Tennessee’s Speaker Series in Nashville.

Senator Johnston spoke to a large audience about the groundbreaking school finance work being done in Colorado. His message really struck a chord among Nashvillians eager to learn more about education reform and how Democrats around the country are leading the charge to ensure all children have an opportunity to receive a high-quality education.

You can watch the video of the event here.

DFER | 'Michael Johnston' from DFER on Vimeo.

DFER-TN's speaker series will take a break for the summer, but will kick up in full-force in the fall with Eva Moskowitz. In September, we will launch DFER's Speaker Series in Memphis, which will be hosted by Dr. Howard Fuller.

DFER-TN Hosts First Installment of Speaker Series
April 30, 2013


By Natasha Kamrani, DFER Tennessee State Director

DFER-TN is dedicating a good deal of its first year of operation to educating communities on the leadership role Democrats are playing in education reform around our nation.

As part of our efforts, we launched the DFER-TN Speaker Series this spring. The series will bring together thought leaders from around the country to provide their experiences working in ed reform and ideas for how to improve education in Tennessee.

Dr. Howard Fuller, founder and former chair of BAEO (Black Alliance for Educational Options), led our first session in April.

While on stage, Dr. Fuller expressed the importance of focusing our attention toward helping kids. He emphasized that we must love our children more than we love the system that so desperately needs reforming.

Nashville’s Mayor Karl Dean, TN State Representative Harold Love, and DFER Chief Joe Williams joined Dr. Fuller on stage. Audience members included representatives from the Nashville chapters of the NAACP and 100 Black Men, a group of local pastors, leaders from Nashville's Kurdish and Islamic community, and other community members seeking to learn more about education reform.

You can watch Dr. Fuller's speech in full here.

Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston will be speaking at our next installment of the DFER-TN Speaker Series on the evening of May 23rd. He’ll discuss the topic of "The 21st Century School System."

Folks interested in attending should contact Natasha Kamrani at Natasha@dfer.org.

Natasha has been engaged in the pursuit of excellence in public education her entire professional career. Upon graduation from Miami University of Ohio, Natasha went on to work for Teach For America (TFA). She later became the executive director of Teach For America’s Houston office. In 2000, she received a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the University of Houston Law Center and was later elected to the Houston Independent School District Board of Education. Read Natasha's full bio here.

More from Our Blog