Below is an interview with incoming TEA President Barbara Gray who will take over from Gera Summerford on July 1st.
What are your goals for TEA during your term?
My goal as TEA president is to continue advancing the association’s mission to promote, advance, and protect public education by:
- Educating the public about the good things happening in public schools;
- Continuing to build positive relationships with legislators, the state board of education and other key policy makers whose decisions impact students, public educators (this include ESPs, teachers, administrators) and our profession; and
- Organizing our members to work together to reverse decisions made by elected officials that have been detrimental to public education and the teaching profession.
TEA membership has been declining since the loss of collective bargaining. What are your plans to reverse this trend?
In recent months, TEA has begun a shift to more of an organizing culture. This move, prompted by the hiring of a new executive director at the end of 2013, will help us engage our members in a new way. We will be placing more emphasis on organizing members around issues which affect our profession at both the local and statewide levels.
TEA will continue to be a vocal advocate and provide the high quality legal and professional development services that helped us become the largest professional association for educators in the state.
Do you foresee TEA fighting to restore collective bargaining rights for teachers in the near future?
Collective bargaining is an important tool in protecting students’ learning environment and the rights of our teachers. I do believe TEA will fight to restore bargaining rights for Tennessee’s educators in the future, but it is not a top priority right now. TEA was advocating for teachers’ rights long before collective bargaining was implemented and will continue to do so.
Outgoing TEA President Gera Summerford has talked about de-emphasizing the importance of standardized tests. Do you support that stand? Do you believe Tennessee should explore deployment of alternative models of assessment?
Yes, I share President Summerford’s belief that there is too much emphasis on standardized tests in Tennessee. The state continues to tie more and more high-stakes decisions to these tests, and it is simply inappropriate. We need to take a serious look at alternative models of assessments and how multiple measures can be implemented to ensure fair, reliable results.
I do not believe, and I know many educators share this belief, that a one-time test at the end of the school year accurately tells me how much a student learned in my classroom. Teachers assess students throughout the year in many different ways – common formative assessments (CFA), projects, teacher-made assessments, student portfolios and more. These methods are far better indicators of student achievement and teacher effectiveness than standardized tests.
TEA has taken a strong stand against the use of TVAAS data in teacher evaluation. What do you propose as an alternative method of teacher evaluation?
TVAAS is a flawed, unreliable and inaccurate way to measure teacher effectiveness. TEA is leading the fight against the inappropriate use of TVAAS in our state, but we are hardly its only critic. It seems every week there is a new study coming out about the inaccuracies of value-added measures nationwide.
TEA proposes basing teacher evaluation on a system that includes multiple measures of student achievement, instead of relying only on the unreliable TVAAS estimates. I believe a pre-test/post-test assessment would be a more accurate indicator of the effectiveness of a teacher. Measuring how much a student learned during the school year by testing the student’s knowledge at the beginning of the year and then again at the end of the school year would show the true impact of a teacher.
As I mentioned above, teachers evaluate their students in many different ways to determine academic achievement. Teacher evaluation should be approached in the same way.
Could you foresee TEA supporting an evaluation system along the lines of Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) which has had some success in Ohio and Maryland?
I am not very familiar with the Peer Assistance and Review program. From what I have read, it does sound like an evaluation model worth exploring. TEA supports learning from other states’ best practices. The ultimate goal is to get an evaluation system in place that is fair and clearly understood by educators. A solid evaluation system will support teachers and provide quality professional development to help those who are struggling, which is not being accomplished by what Tennessee currently has in place.
What would you say will be TEA’s top 3 legislative priorities in 2015?
TEA’s number one priority will be pay raises for teachers. The governor promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in teacher salary and we plan to hold him to it. To recruit and retain the best teachers, we must make sure that promise becomes a reality and our teachers receive a well-deserved raise.
Another priority for the association will be to increase per-student funding from the state. It is unacceptable to be below Mississippi in what the state invests per child. Tennessee educators are performing miracles in their classrooms every day. In order to sustain and improve on that success, the state must properly fund our schools.
The third legislative priority will be to continue the fight against privatization. Vouchers, for-profit charters and less restrictive parent trigger laws are all schemes that threaten the livelihood of public education in Tennessee. Out-of-state organizations are funneling millions of dollars into Tennessee because they mistakenly believe there is an opportunity to make a profit off of our students. TEA, along with the help of some new parent and teacher grassroots groups, had great success last year in defeating these bills and will continue the fight in the upcoming session.
What’s your view of the education landscape in Tennessee? What would you do differently?
The education landscape in Tennessee is constantly changing. First, let me say that there are a lot of things going right in Tennessee schools. Our students are graduating in record numbers. Our classrooms are filled with qualified, committed educators who work tirelessly for their students. Parents and teachers are uniting in the fight against over-testing and privatization.
It feels now like we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel after years of negative changes. This legislative session we saw groups of angry, engaged educators, parents, students and even legislators standing together to say, “Enough!” Enough with the unproven reform initiatives, enough with placing the weight of the world on our students and teachers, and enough with making a one-time test the center of the public education universe.
We pushed back together and we won on numerous issues.
Part of the landscape that I would love to see change is the public perception of Tennessee schools and teachers. TEA research has shown that people think their local public schools are doing great. However, when asked about the performance of public schools statewide, the response is often negative.
I want to change that perception. Commissioner Huffman is so often in the news saying negative things about our students, teachers and schools. I want to do everything in my power to combat the image he paints of public education in our state by educating Tennesseans about the many great things happening inside our schools.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport
It is with great pride that I look forward to working with our President Elect. A women with a proven track record of dedication and commitment to our members across the state. Barbara Gray has always been on the front line advocating for the rights our our members. I pray God continue to be our President Elect as she forge ahead.