The Teacher Exodus in Tennessee

Andy Spears
2 min readDec 8, 2021

Nashville’s NewsChannel5 is reporting that more than 1 in 5 Tennessee teachers want to leave the profession. The teachers in a survey conducted by Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) indicated that low morale caused by low pay and lack of support is driving the exodus from the profession. The story notes that while teachers are leaving the field, there is a serious shortage of new teachers waiting to replace them.

Among the comments in the survey:

“Support isn’t a blue jean day. It’s giving them the time they need to work on the assigned tasks without sacrificing their own families.”

“I feel underpaid and overworked. I spend extra money and time trying to provide a decent education to my students.”

The mood echoes a national trend that is reaching crisis levels.

The PET survey also noted that Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system is overly onerous, and is based on outdated practices no longer in regular use in the business world. Essentially, the Tennessee Educator Evaluation Model (TEAM) is based on the premise that schools can simply fire their way to better performance.

Here’s what educator and blogger Peter Greene has to say about this flawed idea:

A working paper just issued by five researchers concludes that the “massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems,” had essentially no effect on “student achievement.”

The term “student achievement” was thrown around a lot, but all it ever actually meant was “test scores.” Therefore, in the classrooms where these policies lurched to life, “improve student achievement” really meant “raise test scores.” Linking that to teacher evaluation sent a clear message to teachers: we don’t care what else you do, because your job is now defined as “raise test scores on this one test.”

Stack Ranking:

Meanwhile, as is often the case, public education was about a decade behind private industry. The test-linked teacher evaluation system was a form of stack ranking, where employees are rated, stacked in order of rating, and then the bottom chunk are fired. Microsoft jettisoned that system in 2013, saying it blocked teamwork and innovation (don’t take chances that might hurt your ranking, and don’t help someone because that might just move them ahead of you). By the late 2010s, education was one of the few places left where people were still claiming you could fire your way to excellence.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee is supposedly re-working the state’s school funding formula — without committing (yet) to new funding for schools or more money for teacher salaries.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Originally published at http://tnedreport.com on December 8, 2021.

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Andy Spears

Writer and policy advocate living in Nashville, TN —Public Policy Ph.D. — writes on education policy, consumer affairs, and more . . .