Any Given Weekday


JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers his thoughts on the need for flexibility and support for teachers.

I am an unabashed Tennessee Vols fan. I own at least fifteen orange shirts, as well as other Tennessee paraphernalia throughout my home and office. It has been a long and sometimes painful journey from the glory years of the late 1990’s until now, but it hasn’t stopped me from rooting for the home team.

College Football is a microcosm of life. We see young men with hope and excitement start every season with the belief that this is their year. And after a few losses they either keep fighting or they just give up. As fans, we have to also keep our belief in those young adults playing that game. These are young men & women who, for the most part, will not move into the professional ranks. Most of their football (or whatever sport they play) careers end when they graduate from college. A lucky few get to move up and play on Sunday. But very few of them will ever get that chance.

Life is also like that. We all compete at various levels. Maybe it is against a co-worker for a promotion. Perhaps it is your company against another for a contract. If you lose, you have a choice to either quit or keep going. Those that keep going usually end of more successful. Think of Peyton Manning. He had a serious neck injury, several surgeries and loss of arm strength. He could have quit. Who would have blamed him? He had a Hall of Fame career at that point. Yet he continues to defy the odds and play at an incredible level. His team is currently 4-0, and still he hasn’t played his best. But he doesn’t need me to tell him that; his own intrinsic drive will motivate him.

Educators are the same way. They understand their “team.” They don’t need scores to motivate them. They do not need fans to cheer for them. All of this helps, of course. However, what they most need is the freedom to teach. A teacher and education blogger from Georgia, Vicki Davis, wrote: “In our rush to make teachers accountable, we have made them accountable for the wrong things. We are pushing them to turn kids into memorizing automatons who remember a lot of facts only to forget them right after the test.” In fact, it is important to recognize that children are not widgets, so education reforms aimed at making better widgets is (not surprisingly) a failure.

There is an unforgettable line in a Suffern Middle School video “No Future Left Behind,” ( that says: “You can’t create my future with the tools of your past.” These students are deadly accurate. Ms. Davis adds: “We’re using a 20th-century measuring stick to measure a 21st-century learner.”

We need to give our local districts and schools much more flexibility. Thomas Askey, a teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts, added: “Teaching should be approached as an art form that respects autonomy, individuality and critical engagement on the part of teachers.” Askey added that we need to “completely reorient the national narrative about the teaching profession.” Noah Berlatsky wrote in Reason: “Complete professional autonomy is dangerous -but so is obsessive micromanagement by distant politicians or nearby bureaucrats. If we don’t want our kids taught by slavish, debased drones, then we need to stop treating teachers like slavish, debased drones.”

As a Tennessee Vols supporter, I think that may be the same problem with our football team. We want what we had last century. Unfortunately, we have moved on to another century, with a new coach and new players. Perhaps the brick-by-brick philosophy espoused by Coach Butch Jones is not well-received in the “win now” world in which we live. However, I would argue it is the correct approach. I would also contend that giving schools greater flexibility and empowering our teachers to teach would be a more powerful strategy to make public education a success than many of the so-called education reforms. Go Vols!


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

Rolston Named to National Board


Tennessee State School Board Chair Fielding Rolston has been named to the National Assessment Governing Board by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Here’s the press release:

Tennessee State Board of Education Chair B. Fielding Rolston has been
reappointed to serve a second four-year term on the National Assessment Governing Board, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced today. Six other Board members — two of them also repeat appointees — were announced as well, and their terms began Oct. 1.
Rolston, who heads the governing and policymaking body for the Tennessee system of public elementary and secondary education, will continue work with a Board that includes governors, state legislators, school officials, educators, researchers, business representatives and members of the general public. The Governing Board sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card. NAEP is the country’s largest nationally representative assessment of student achievement in various subjects, including mathematics, reading, writing and science. Rolston currently serves as vice chair of the Governing Board’s
Committee on Standards, Design and Methodology, and is a member of its executive and nominations committees.
“We are delighted Fielding has been reappointed to continue his invaluable service on our Board,” Governing Board Chair Terry Mazany said. “He has been a very effective leader in education and policy, and also has a background in a variety of other fields that contribute to his knowledge and insight. The dedication he has shown as a state leader and a Board member will be a major asset in our oversight of The Nation’s Report Card — the most valuable benchmark we have for monitoring student progress across the nation, in every state and in 21 large urban districts.”
Rolston was first appointed to the Tennessee education board in 1996. With a professional background in engineering, he also has served as board chair for several other organizations in the field of higher education, health and industry, including the Wellmont Health System, Emory & Henry College, and Eastman Credit Union. In 2003, he retired from Eastman Chemical Company with more than 38 years of service that included work as an industrial engineer. He held a series of management posts in industrial engineering,
strategic planning, supply and distribution, and human resources and communications.
As Rolston enters his second term, the Board is overseeing several major developments. They include the first-ever Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment, with results to be released in spring 2016; a move to computer-based NAEP assessments; and a comprehensive plan to expand outreach efforts and partnerships to better inform audiences nationwide about NAEP resources and data. Congress established the 26-member Governing Board in 1988 to oversee NAEP, which makes objective information on student performance available to policymakers and the public at the national, state and local levels. NAEP has played an important role in evaluating the condition and progress of American education since 1969.
Among many other duties, the Governing Board determines subjects to be tested and the content and achievement levels for each test, and works to inform the public about NAEP results.
Rolston will serve in the category of “state school board member.” Others appointed this year are listed below along with their hometown, category of appointment and official title. The term for each member will extend to Sept. 30, 2019.

* Alberto Carvalho, Miami;  local school superintendent; superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools
* Carol Jago, Oak Park,  Illinois; curriculum specialist; associate director
for the California Reading and Literature Project at the University of California, Los Angeles
* Dale Nowlin, Columbus, Indiana; 12th-grade      teacher; teacher and mathematics department chair of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation; Board member since 2011
* Linda Rosen, District of Columbia; business representative;  CEO of Change
the Equation
* Cary Sneider, Portland, Oregon; curriculum specialist; associate research
professor at Portland State University; Board member since 2011
* Joe Willhoft, Tacoma, Washington; testing and measurement expert; consultant and former executive director of the Smarter Balanced      Assessment Consortium
# # #
The National Assessment Governing Board is an independent, nonpartisan board whose members include governors, state legislators, local and state school officials, educators, business representatives and members of the general public. Congress created the 26-member Governing Board in 1988 to oversee and set policy for NAEP.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only nationally representative, continuing evaluation of the condition of education in the United States. It has served as a national yardstick of student achievement since 1969. Through The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP informs the public about what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas, and compares achievement among states, large urban
districts, and various student demographic groups.


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


Of Poverty and Education


Mike Sheppard serves as General Counsel for Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee. This article originally appeared in TREND, a publication of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Many Americans believe that the major problem within public education is the lack of focus within the administration of a school. They even go so far as to blame the teachers for not providing the adequate time and skills needed for their child to grow and learn on a day-to-day basis. This type of mentality is wrong. As much as we can over analyze the various policies and red tape that go on behind the scenes in these schools, it is imperative that we become more aware and cognizant of the overarching problem that has plagued our schools for years, poverty.

Poverty, in itself, is a very uncomfortable topic. It is a dark cloud that looms in the backyard. It is a whisper that passes by individuals who, rather than confront it, tiptoe around the idea whenever they hear it brought up. But, like it or not, it is a conversation that we need to start having. For many of our schools, especially those that are failing, poverty is right behind it. Many of these well deserving students are held back from incredible opportunities to grow because of lack of funding or lack of resources. This should not happen.

But why is it happening? Why is this a problem?

More than 16 million children are growing up in poverty, meaning that 22% of all children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level of $23,550 a year. Research has shown that children living in poverty have a higher number of absenteeism and dropout rates than those coming from middle class or higher.

Now how does this affect the classroom, and how can we address it as educators?

Lacking a Strong Foundation
For our students, children who grow up in low socioeconomic conditions typically have a smaller vocabulary than middle or higher-class children do, which increases the risk for academic failure. Much of this attributes to lack of exposure. Whether the words are spoken or read, low socioeconomic households will in most cases not be able to provide their child with that elementary foundation. In the classroom, this lack of exposure can impact various lesson plans and achievement for both the teacher and the student. To resolve this type of problem, educators should try and incorporate vocabulary practice on a daily basis. More exposure to new and unique words can enrich the student in successful ways.

Student-Teacher Relationships
Many teachers, especially new teachers to the field, find many students in low-income areas to be behaviorally difficult and inattentive to the work. It is easy to blame the student, but we need to understand their background and their stories. One reason why many students seem unmotivated toward schoolwork is a lack of hope or optimism related to their outside problems. Low socioeconomic students often deal with problems bigger than themselves. Whether they are financial hardships or absent guardians, these types of negative problems can take a toll on the mentality of the student, causing them to act in a very brash and hasty way.

Disruptive home relationships often create mistrust in students. Feelings toward parent or guardian figures that have often failed students at home can be projected onto adults at the school. Classroom misbehaviors are likely to increase because of these at-home instabilities. One thing a teacher can do to aid the situation is to build a relationship with the student. Establishing a relationship with the student can benefit you as well as the overall classroom. In addition, providing positive reinforcement can give the child the necessary confidence to perform on an academic basis. Understanding, listening, and talking with a child can provide you a strong advantage, especially later down the line.

Performance on Assessments
Studies have shown that children from lower socioeconomic background often perform below those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds on state exams. Many students coming from specific communities are found to struggle with core subjects such as reading, math, science, etc. In addition, many of the schools that the students attend lack the necessary resources and teachers to provide them the foundation to develop these core skills. A school can help nullify this problem by strategically analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each of their students. By having this type of data, a teacher is able to break down lessons so that their students can be successful.

There are no easy solutions. We must be willing to admit there is a problem and openly discuss the issue. Government cannot solve all of our problems. Poverty must be challenged community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, classroom by classroom and home by home. Together we can inspire, and we can identify needs and marshal resources to meet the challenge. Together we can defeat the issue of poverty.

For more on education and poverty:

Tennessee’s Poverty Test

TCAP, Poverty, and Investment in Schools

Pre-K as a Piece of the Puzzle for Overcoming Poverty

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


TREE Takes on Charter Expansion


As the State Board of Education considers overruling the MNPS School Board and possibly approving charter schools for Nashville originally denied at the local level, grassroots advocacy group TREE is calling on citizens to take action.

From the inbox:

Attention Nashville and Tennessee Education Advocates! We need you to write the Tennessee State Board of Education TODAY! Be a voice for local control. Metro Schools recently approved two of fourteen charter applications.  Among the ten who were denied were KIPP, Rocketship and The International Academy of Excellence.

The International Academy of Excellence filled out an incorrect form and should have not been considered at all but was for legal reasons. These three charter companies are asking the State Board of Education to overrule the Nashville school board and divert funds from the Metro Schools budget to pay for opening their six proposed charter schools.

If you would like to see the local school board retain the ability to decide how to spend local tax dollars, and what schools should operate in Nashville, you must speak up NOW. Public comments are being received until October 7. Please copy this email list into your email recipient box:
Fielding Rolston <>
Mike Edwards <>
Allison Chancey <>
Lonnie Roberts <>
Carolyn Pearre <>
Lillian Hartgrove <>

It is fine to be brief. A few points you might to make:

1. Note if you are a Nashville taxpayer and/or public school parent.
2. Nashville currently has 8,112 charter school seats and will open another 8,157 over the next few years, under current approved charter contracts, effectively doubling the amount of charter school seats without ever approving another charter.
3. There is no evidence of demand for more charters and in fact there are currently many empty seats in Nashville charter schools.
4. If the state board of education overrules the local school board, it will force our city to fund a privatized public school.  A school that can not be shut down by our locally elected board if problems arise.
5. Nashville must be free to put its schools budget to the best use to improve education for ALL students. Under the law MNPS must adhere to their contract with approved charters and fully fund them.  Whatever amount is left gets divvied up among the remaining schools in the district continuing the trend of systematic underfunding which means not meeting the needs of our schools.

Thank you for your time and quick attention. Your voice is needed TODAY!

For more on the charter debate in Nashville:

The True Cost of Charters

Mary Pierce on Closing Charters

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


Quickly Dropped?


Some members of the Knox County School Board are considering action that would result in removing standardized testing “quick scores” from a student’s final grades.

This follows a year of changes to quick score calculations that created confusion for school districts across the state.

Discussing the matter, board member Karen Carson said:

“I think it’s one of those laws that generally you do it to hold students accountable and motivate them to do their best, but frankly it only increases the stakes for students,” she said.

“I don’t see that it benefits our students in any way. I don’t think student test scores, this test, should impact a student’s grade.”

Because of the transition to TNReady, scores will not be ready in time to be included in student grades this year. This prompted the Knox County Board to ponder asking the General Assembly to remove the requirement altogether.

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

Should TN Abandon Pre-K?


The recently released results of a study of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt has some Tennessee policymakers suggesting the state back off support for or expansion of the early education program.

The results of this study are similar to those of a study on Pre-K commissioned by the Comptroller’s office.

And here’s the secret: Both studies come to the same conclusion — Pre-K works.

That is, the state’s voluntary Pre-K program sends students to Kindergarten better prepared. And the effects of the program last through first grade. That’s right, one year of intervention yields two years of results as demonstrated by two different Tennessee-specific, longitudinal studies.

Here’s another secret: There are no silver bullets in education. Pre-K is one specific, targeted intervention. But Pre-K alone can’t solve the challenges faced by Tennessee’s low income students.

In fact, Jim Shelton in Education Week notes:

Second, there is no single moment or intervention in the life of a child that guarantees success. But research has identified several milestones on the path to adulthood that especially determine success at later stages. This is where evidence-based programs can have the greatest impact.

We know that a healthy and secure start in life is critical to the development of social and cognitive skills and other indicators of well-being. Entering school ready to learn is another vital marker. Parental education and access to high-quality preschool have been shown to improve a range of life outcomes, from earnings to crime. And kids who aren’t reading proficiently by 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19. Kids living in poor neighborhoods and not reading proficiently by 3rd grade are around nine times less likely to graduate on time.

Entering school ready to learn is one vital marker on the path toward closing achievement gaps and giving children from low income families a shot at succeeding in school and life. But it’s just ONE of the several ingredients in a system that would actually put kids first and move the needle on educational attainment.

Mark Lipsy, one of the researchers in the Vanderbilt study, says:

This study was meant to monitor the effectiveness of Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program. But co-investigator Mark Lipsy says it really raises questions about early elementary grades.

“The biggest mystery here is what in the world is going on as these kids hit kindergarten, first, second, third grade, that is not building on what they seem to have come out of pre-K with?”

Raj Chetty, in a study of early grades education in Tennessee, offers some suggestions:

Chetty specifically points to improved teacher training, early career mentoring, and reducing class sizes as policies that could work to improve the overall quality of early (K-3) classrooms.

That is, it’s not enough to simply provide an intervention that sends kids to Kindergarten ready to learn and that has positive benefits through first grade, our state must also invest in the supports and resources necessary to allow early grade learning to build on the foundation established by Pre-K.

We know what works for our students.  We know how to close the achievement gap. We know that quality Pre-K is one piece of the puzzle. And we know that two different longitudinal studies have shown that Tennessee’s Pre-K program is effective. The question is: Will we invest in expanding Pre-K and also providing the resources necessary to make not only the early grades, but all of school an environment where all children can thrive?

Are Tennessee policymakers looking for the elusive silver bullet, or do they really want to find comprehensive policy solutions that help break barriers and close achievement gaps? More importantly, are Tennessee policymakers willing to invest in educational excellence from Pre-K through college in ways that are proven to have the most significant impact?

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

Schools Can Wait, We Need More Tax Breaks


That seems to be the message from state Senator Brian Kelsey of Memphis, who is suggesting using the state’s revenue surplus to eliminate the Hall Tax on investment income.

Kelsey’s plan would eliminate nearly $200 million a year in revenue. This at a time when school systems are suing the state due to grossly inadequate funding.

The push to provide tax breaks to the investor class comes as revenue is soaring above projections, as Rick Locker notes:

The state ended its fiscal year 2014-15 on June 30 with nearly $606 million more revenue overall than was projected and budgeted for the year, including $553 million more revenue in the government’s general fund than was projected. The general fund pays for most of state government’s non-transportation programs.

In addition to putting a call for tax breaks ahead of the need for improved investment in schools, Kelsey has also been a chief proponent of voucher schemes that would take millions of dollars from local school coffers. Not to mention there is scant evidence an expansive voucher plan like Kelsey’s would actually improve student outcomes.

Kelsey is not the only lawmaker whose priorities don’t include investing surplus dollars into public education. Earlier this year, House Speaker Beth Harwell suggested investing the surplus dollars into roads in order to avoid raising the gas tax.

What the General Assembly needs is a plan that would invest a significant portion of the surplus into schools and save the rest for future investment. Building a long-term, sustainable plan for improving the BEP (the state funding formula for schools) is critical, not just to avoid losing a lawsuit but also to support the excellent schools Tennessee families and communities deserve.

MORE on school funding in Tennessee:

Why is TN 40th?

Why Fix the BEP?

Why is he so angry?


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

For the First Time


The State Board of Education met today and per legislative mandate, appointed the members of the 2015-16 BEP Review Committee.

The BEP Review Committee is a group of education stakeholders who meet each year to review the state’s education funding formula and make recommendations for improvements in order to ensure that the formula continues to provide adequate, equitable education funding.

The 2014 report recommended $478 million in improvements. The legislature took a baby step in 2015, funding just under $30 million in new money to cover 11 months of health insurance for teachers (who are insured, it turns out, for a full 12 months).

Here’s the interesting thing, the Board approved appointments for the 2015-16 edition of the BEP Review Committee and for the first time, those appointments did not include a representative from the Tennessee Education Association — the oldest and largest organization representing teachers in Tennessee.

The group includes representatives of School Boards, Superintendents, city government, county government, county commissioners, state legislative committees and others.

Here’s the list:

2015-2016 BEP Review Committee Members
Lyle Ailshie
Director of Schools
Kingsport City Schools
Harry Brooks
Chair, House Education Administration and
Planning Committee
Tennessee General Assembly
David Connor
Executive Director
Tennessee County Services Association
Dolores Gresham
Chair, Senate Education Committee
Tennessee General Assembly
Lee Harrell
Director of Government Relations
Tennessee Schools Board Association
Vincent Harvell
Director of Business Operations
Haywood County Schools
Chris Henson
Interim Director of Schools
Metro Nashville Public Schools
Sara Heyburn
Executive Director
Tennessee State Board of Education
Dorsey Hopson
Director of Schools
Shelby County Schools
Karen King
Assistant Superintendent
Sevier County Schools
Larry Martin
Department of Finance and Administration
Wayne Miller
Executive Director
Tennessee Organization of School
Mitchell Moore
City Manager, City of Athens
Tennessee Municipal League
Rick Nicholson
Senate Budget Director
Office of Legislative Budget Analysis
Don Odom
Director of Schools
Rutherford County Schools
Lynnisse Roehrich-Patrick
Executive Director
Tennessee Advisory Commission on
Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR)
Larry Ridings
Tennessee School Systems for Equity
Fielding Rolston
Tennessee State Board of Education
Mary Ann Sparks
Deputy Director of Schools
Wilson County Schools
Justin P. Wilson
Comptroller of the Treasury
Hunter Zanardi
Instructional Specialist
Putnam County Schools


The appointments are recommended by State Board staff and then presented to and approved by the Board. Following today’s meeting, the committee will meet with a legislative directive to complete their report by November 1st. And, for the first time, that report won’t include the input of the Tennessee Education Association.

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

An Interview with Allison Chancey


Allison Chancey is the 3rd District Representative on the Tennessee State Board of Education (SBE). She is the only member on the state board who also is a classroom teacher. Mrs. Chancey is a 2nd grade teacher in Bradley County, and is a member of Professional Educators of Tennessee. This article originally appeared in TREND (, a publication of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Q: On behalf of our members, we thank you for taking time to share with our educators today. Tennessee’s SBOE develops policy and regulation on a wide variety of education topics. How does that work?

A: The State Board of Education meets at least four times a year. Often, we meet more than that as the need arises. We have a well-qualified staff that works hard and presents us with research they have done on current policies and educational topics on our agenda. Their findings are sent to us a week or two before each meeting for us to study and review. Before each board meeting we have a workshop where given items are discussed and questioned as needed. We are very fortunate to have the hardworking staff that we have. The nine board members bring different fields of experience that gives us a broad spectrum of educational needs. As a teacher, I get to present how things are from the front lines of the classroom.

Q: You are currently the only member of the state board of education that has actual classroom teaching experience – how has that experience helped you on the state board?

A: I believe our vice chair, Ms. Carolyn Pearre, at one time was also a classroom teacher. Currently I am the only board member to be teaching in the classroom. As a classroom teacher, I am able to tell how policies and regulations are affecting not only the teachers, but the administrations, students and parents. There are times when an item looks great on paper, although in reality it isn’t in the best interest to those directly involved. An example would be having TVASS scores tie in with teacher licenses. While in theory this looks great, in reality it is not fair to any teacher. I also know how our new standards are affecting our students as well as the parents involved. I basically am able to report firsthand how decisions we make are affecting the classroom.

Q: We made quite a few changes in public education in Tennessee the last decade. Some needed. Some debatable. What are we doing right?

A: We are raising standards and doing a better job of preparing students to be college and career ready. Job expectations are at an all time high, and it is our responsibility to prepare Tennessee students to meet the challenges facing them after high school. Tennessee education is meeting this challenge through the hard work of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. We have done this by adopting higher academic standards, holding teachers more accountable, and requiring students to meet academic gains. I am proud to be a part of the Tennessee team that is raising the bar and showing the nation that Tennessee students are second to none.

Q: In your opinion, what is the top 3 challenges still facing education in Tennessee?

A: The top three challenges still facing education in Tennessee? This is hard to narrow down. I could write a research paper on this! To narrow it down to three I would say time, money, and teacher morale. 1) Time. With all the wonderful updates going on in today’s education, a teacher is finding himself/herself working longer hours than ever to teach in the most effective manner possible. You will find teachers at school early, late in the evenings, and even on the weekends. Those not there you will find working crazy hours at home. We do this because we love our kids. But this has taken away from personal and family time. I don’t believe the average person has any idea how much time most teachers put into their jobs. Also, there is not a moment to spare while the students are with us in the classroom. To get the standards taught takes every second of every day for instruction. This means that time that use to be used to develop relationships with students is often lost
because of the ridged schedule. 2) Money. There never seems to be enough! How does this affect education? You find teachers that are trying to teach 21st century standards in a classroom built in the 1950’s. Technology is a key for student learning, but often is not funded adequately. Teachers who are working harder than ever may not see a pay increase for years. Schools need updating and replacing. 3) Teacher morale. As teachers, we love our jobs. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. But we are seeing more and more students that are coming from broken homes, poverty, and abuse. They come to school hungry, tired, and worried. These children desperately need us to be not only their teachers, but someone they can trust and look up to. These kids are held at the same standard as the ones that come from nurturing homes, where parents meet their emotional and physical needs. Trying to teach these kids, worrying about test scores, evaluations, and new material creates much stress.
There is little to no support given in many cases.

Q: What are the steps the state and local districts need to take to address the challenges you identified? And what impact will that have on classroom teachers?

A: What steps need to be taken? Funding education should be the goal of every American. Our children are the future. Every city and district should make every effort to fund education as much as needed. That being said, we need to use the money wisely and be accountable for money spent. As far as time goes, districts need to recognize how hard their teachers are working. No one expects overtime pay, but a thank you could go a long way. Perhaps helping hands to aid the teacher, such as volunteers. 3. Teacher morale. Just to be respected and appreciated would go a long way. Teachers need encouragement just like everyone else. Again, a thank you could go a long way. It should also be addressed that teachers are not the only one responsible for educating a child. Parents need to be responsible in getting their children to school on time, being sure they are fed and have the adequate tools for learning, and backing a teacher up with discipline and homework assignments. The goal is
to work together for the betterment of the child.

Q: Any final thoughts you would like to share with your fellow educators across Tennessee?

A: Final thoughts? Tennessee is a great state to be in as an educator. To continue with our success, we need to work hard and never give up. Never compromise. We need to put students first and have them ready to face the challenges that await them after graduation. As the wise Alex Haley once said, “Find the good and praise it.” There is much good going on in Tennessee currently. I am proud to be a part of it.

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

The Simple, Painless ASD Conversion Process


Well, ok, the Achievement School District’s (ASD) conversion process is neither simple nor painless. But, you wouldn’t know that if you watched the ASD’s latest video promoting the process of conversion taking place right now.

I’m going to break the two-minute video down into four claims it makes and then analyze each. The four key claims are: The ASD is an intervention designed to provide the best for kids in persistently low-performing schools, the community gets a school back after an ASD charter conversion, the conversion is good for kids, and those who are skeptical should give charter operators a chance.

1) Intervention provides an improved opportunity for kids

It might be more accurate to say that the intervention provides a different opportunity for kids. As analysis noted here suggests, the schools under ASD control the longest still rank among the lowest-performing of all schools in the state.

Earlier this year, I wondered what might have happened if the ASD had stuck to its original design and focused on short-term, intensive support and intervention at the most persistently struggling schools.

Instead, the ASD can now say it provides a different name on the building, that’s the opportunity they offer kids.

2) Following a Charter Conversion, the community gets a school back

Except they don’t. Originally, the ASD plan was to intervene in schools, manage them in cooperation with the local district, and then turn them back over to the district within five years. By using the state’s charter law, the ASD now turns schools over to charter operators, who have a 10-year charter. Then, the district decides after 10 years whether or not to renew the charter. At that point, the schools is not the same — it’s now a charter school, likely with a new name and new management, and quite possibly, with frustrating results for kids. Ask the community at Neely’s Bend in Nashville if they feel like the result of the Thunderdome-style school matching process is a school that belongs to them. How will they feel in 10 years, when three groups of 5th-graders have completed their journey through 8th grade at a school changing to a charter grade-by-grade?

And how do they feel knowing that before the conversion happened, Neely’s Bend was already outperforming ASD schools?

3) ASD Conversions are Good for Kids

This may be true … if you believe that adding additional disruption to the lives of children who already face disruption on a regular basis is a good thing. As a charter conversion proceeds, the teachers at the school being converted are “invited” to reapply for their jobs. At ASD charter conversions, less than one in five teachers remain through the conversion process. No matter the reason, this initial turnover damages the stability of a school and the community that calls it home. Building names change. School leaders change. Approaches to learning change. And, while these schools were struggling before, as noted above, it is difficult to see new forward progress post-conversion.

4) Give Charter Conversions a Chance

The data about lack of improvement notwithstanding, outgoing ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic’s own words may be the best counter to this claim:

“As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” he wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Admittedly, the mission of the ASD is inspiring. Work diligently with the most persistently struggling schools and get them on track. By contrast, the ASD, as currently operating, isn’t doing much of that. Instead, building names change, conversions take place, and schools and lives are disrupted. The shiny, happy video makes some strong claims amid little substance. Digging deeper reveals a reality that is much different.

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