Missouri vs. Tennessee: An SEC Showdown
A month ago, the Missouri Tigers rolled into Neyland Stadium to face the high-flying Tennessee Volunteers. While the Tigers should definitely be taking notes from Tennessee on how to run an elite offense, there is also helpful policy Missouri should bring back from Knoxville: a comprehensive teacher evaluation system.
The Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM) was implemented in 2012 with the goal of providing educators with a model that helps them continuously improve their practice. By using announced and unannounced in-class observations, academic growth data, and student performance data together, TEAM calculates a teacher score (1–5 scale) and allows teachers and school leaders to have an ongoing dialogue about how what happens in the classroom impacts student performance.
In 2011, student performance in Tennessee was lagging behind Missouri. In 4th grade mathematics and reading, Missouri was 7 points and 5 points ahead of Tennessee on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In 8th grade math and reading, Missouri was 8 points ahead. In 2022, Tennessee is now 4 points and 1 point ahead of Missouri in 4th grade math and reading and tied in the same subjects for 8th grade. While TEAM is certainly not the sole reason for this rapid growth (as a plethora of free-market policies have been implemented), Tennessee education researchers regard this system as beneficial in refining the Tennessee teacher pool.
Show-Me Institute researchers have repeatedly demonstrated how teacher quality is one of the most important factors for improving student performance, and TEAM allows for more informed hiring decisions and growth in teacher’s skillsets. By assisting teachers in developing their full potential, and showcasing high-scoring teachers, TEAM allowed for teacher quality to improve by coaching less-effective teachers and retaining high-quality ones. This is not simply theoretical; lower-performing teachers were more likely to exit Tennessee public schools, and stronger teachers were more likely to be retained.
However, TEAM is not simply a hiring and firing tool for schools, but more importantly, it’s an improvement system that helps coach teachers to enhance their skills and strategies. Through individual observations and one-on-one pre- and post-lesson conferences, an outside observer identifies key strengths from their lessons and asks teachers to self-analyze. Asking questions such as, “When developing lessons, how did you decide on the pacing so sufficient time is allocated to each subject?” allows teachers to reflect on their own strategies and brainstorm areas to improve. These evaluations work; teachers in schools with more robust TEAM evaluation systems (frequency of observation, number of evaluators) improved their students’ math scores faster than those with less robust systems.
Missouri teachers have expressed discomfort with increased accountability programs, but they need have no fear. Tennessee teachers certainly had reservations when TEAM was introduced with only 28 and 38 percent of Tennessee teachers believing that TEAM would improve student performance and teacher performance, respectively. Now those numbers have reached 71 and 76 percent.
It’s understandable that some teachers may have reservations about increased scrutiny on job performance—many may feel the same in their own jobs. In Tennessee, teachers are improving, the best teachers are staying, and teachers believe in the system. This evaluation system is one we should emulate, and we cannot let fear interfere with providing our children with the best education possible. Too much is at stake.