In Tennessee, lawmakers passed a new law during a special session in January that requires half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student achievement data–a key reform pushed by the Obama administration–as part of an effort to better their chances.

The new law also lifted the state’s cap on the number of charter schools that can open each year and set up a statewide school district specifically for failing schools. The changes were made with input from the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), the teachers’ union.

“This was a unique situation; I think the leadership of the TEA stood up and recognized the importance of what was about to happen, and in these extraordinary times we ought to change the way we do business,” said Tennessee House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner.

The Race to the Top money is part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus law, which provided $100 billion for schools. Obama has asked for $1.35 billion in his proposed budget for fiscal 2011 to continue the Race to the Top program and open it to individual school districts.

Some education observers have criticized the competition, saying the administration is out of touch because it is pushing reform at a time when states can barely afford basic necessities and are laying off teachers by the hundreds. Others argue that reforms such as charter schools and basing teach evaluations on student test scores are unfair and are hurting public education. (See “Critics take on high stakes testing accountability.”)

Links:

Race to the Top

The Education Trust