One second Governor Bill Haslam applauds Tennessee teachers. The next moment Mr. Haslam subtly paints Tennessee teachers as broadly ineffective.
Recently Mr. Haslam gave us more of the later.
Addressing a group of young women, the governor said that class size doesn’t matter. He followed it up by saying, “having a great teacher with 25 students is better than having a mediocre teacher with 18 students.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 6/1/11]
Doubling down on this thinking, Mr. Haslam said his goal is “to push our education [system] toward making sure we have a great teacher in front of every classroom regardless of the classroom size.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 6/1/11]
Is the hunt for “great teachers” an implication that the majority of Tennessee teachers are not “great teachers” — regardless of classroom size?
And he says there’s no morale problem.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press chastised Haslam for his plan to increase classroom size:
In fact, relying on the myth that “quality teachers” are all that matters will only add to teachers’ burdens.
Gov. Haslam’s comments came in an address in Nashville to hundreds of rising seniors attending the Volunteer Girls State leadership program. He also used the “quality teachers” theme to justify the authority he successfully secured from the Legislature this spring to tighten teacher tenure standards.
He said those standards, which both extended the time needed for teachers to receive tenure from three to five years, and made tenure more conditional, were key to his efforts to “push our education (system) toward making sure we have a great teachers in front of every classroom regardless of the classroom size.”
That’s gimmickry baloney. In reality, his tenure bill, like his charter school initiative and the Legislature’s new ban on teachers’ bargaining rights and political action committees, are political ploys, not education improvements. As a practical matter, it will take much more to pull Tennessee’s public education ranking out of the cellar.
While no one denies that a great teacher can do wonders in a child’s education, lower class sizes can have an across the board positive impact on student achievement.
The amount of research done on the effects of class size is extensive, and all of it comes to the same conclusion. Smaller class size is a concrete, measurable, and replicable way to increase student achievement.
Mr. Haslam’s comments open the door for many questions about his education agenda for next legislative session:
» Do you plan on increasing class size limits or eliminating the caps?
» Do you plan on extending the school year?
» Do you plan on pay raises for “great” teachers?
» Who decides which teachers are “great”?
» How would you entice more of these “great teachers” to Tennessee? Pay? Benefits? Job security?
» Larger classrooms means fewer teachers. What is the plan for firing teachers who are not “great”? Should mass layoffs be on the table?
» Is the relentless “reforming” of education an effort to solve a problem that could be caused, indirectly, by other factors you’re not addressing, i.e. 300,000 jobless Tennesseans, poverty, etc.?