PET Talks Parent Engagement

Bethany Bowman, Director of Professional Development at Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), talks about the importance of parent engagement.

Make the 2014-2015 academic year an opportunity to open a door to a healthy dialogue with parents about the day-to-day events in their child’s classroom. Research reveals that when parents are more actively engaged and informed about their children’s education a more positive result can occur for everybody involved in a child’s education.

Parent engagement is an attitude, not just a list of activities, materials or a curriculum. It is interaction that respects parents and treats them as equal partners with the school and teachers. That does not mean conversations about curriculum or subject matter does not matter. They are very important.

Creating a receptive environment and developing constructive relationships with parents, can lead to needed support for your good work in the classroom. Maintaining and sustaining a dialogue on the importance of education with parents is also critical to the success of your classroom, as well as a key to student progress and academic success.

We know that students perform better in school if their parents are more involved in their child’s education. However, out of the almost $600 billion that will be spent on the education of students in the United States, very few dollars are actually spent on teacher-parent communication.

Yet, with today’s technology, being an informed parent has never been easier. Nearly every school has a portal where parents can log in and see what going on in their child’s classroom. Many teachers have their own webpages. Some sites even link directly to your child’s grades in the teacher’s electronic gradebook.  Even if the school doesn’t provide you this access, you can always email the teacher(s) to see exactly what projects are due/when and what is happening at the school.

But don’t forget your physical presence. Just showing up to volunteer once or twice a semester will show your child and your child’s teacher that you care. If you work and absolutely can’t get away in the day, volunteer at after-school events. You can help organize a party or field trip even if you aren’t available to attend.

Regardless of your method, your child can sense your presence. Stay in touch with your child’s school/teachers and there will be few surprises. This will lessen the stress level for the parents, the teachers and the students. It truly is a win/win for everyone.

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

 

Tennessee BATs Attend DC Rally

The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) is a nationwide group of teachers who aggressively argue against the status quo in education — that is, the current education reform agenda. Recently, the BATs held a national rally in Washington, DC and even had a chance to meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. A group of BATs from Tennessee joined the national event and TN Ed Report interviewed two of them about the experience.

Lauren Hopson is a teacher in Knox County and Lucianna Sanson is a teacher in Franklin County.  Here’s what they had to say:

1)      Why do you choose to affiliate with the BATs?

Hopson: I discovered the BATS purely by accident when I was checking to see who was posting the video of my October 2013 school board speech. I have always been a bit of a rebel, so the name fit me. At the time, I had no idea how seriously BATs took advocating for our students. Realizing that only solidifies my desire to be part of this group.

Sanson: BATs is a grassroots organization that is a support network for public schools across the nation. In TN, teachers from all areas of the state are able to network and communicate with each other about reforms that are taking place in the state of TN. This is a difficult time for public schools, teachers and students. BATs not only discuss the injustices taking place on the state level, BATs also address these issues and actively seek for positive ways to problem solve and make our public schools better for all students.

 

2)      What was the purpose of the DC BAT Rally?

Hopson: There were several purposes for the rally. Of course, the main purpose was to get the attention of the Department of Education and draw national attention to the destructive nature of current educational reform efforts. However, it also set up a place and time for educators across the country to network and share the experiences with ed reform in their own states.

Sanson: The purpose was multi-faceted. The National BATs Association wrote and delivered specific demands to the DOE and Secretary Arne Duncan- chief among them were demands to stop the over-use of Standardized testing and to halt the privatization and spread of Charter Schools across the United States.

3)      What did you learn from other BATs around the country while you were in DC?

Hopson: Surprisingly, I learned what an appreciation and admiration teachers in other states have for the TN BATs. Along with the Washington, Chicago and New York groups, we have been some of the most vocal and active BATs in the entire country during the last year. I think our own Secretary of Education’s close relationship with Arne Duncan has caused us to feel the effects of education reform more immediately than other states. However, I also think we just have a strong group of vocal teachers who have the Southern backbone to fight these destructive policies.

Sanson:  I learned that TN is not the only state that is going through these same types of reforms. I also learned that racism and socioeconomics play a large role in the take-over of our urban school systems. Basically, the suspicion that re-segregation is happening via Charter school take-overs, “parent trigger laws,” “school choice,” and “Vouchers,” was confirmed by speaking with other BATs across the country. Memphis, and the takeover of their schools by the Achievement School District (ASD), is especially troubling since it is patterned after the New Orleans Recovery School District. I learned that there are only five Public Schools left in the city of New Orleans, and, according to the Fordham Institute, Memphis is directly patterned after New Orleans.

 

4) What were the highlights of your trip to the rally?

Hopson: Singing “Lean on Me” with hundreds of teachers arm in arm in the DOE courtyard was an emotional experience. However, getting to watch my friend and our own legislator, Representative Gloria Johnson, speak during the rally about the positive effects of the “community schools” initiative was a seminal moment. She was able to share the details of a bill she is sponsoring dealing with this concept with educators from across the country who were excited to take this idea back to their home states. It even received interest during the meeting our delegation had with DOE officials at the end of the day.

Sanson: The highlight, for me, was finally meeting all of the people I have been collaborating with on a daily basis for over a year and watching our plans unfold. The Rally on Monday was a true celebration of our students and our public schools, complete with music and dancing, student performance, and spoken word. It was a visual representation of what BATs symbolizes: a holistic approach to learning and the assertion that school should be student-centered and FUN, not testing-centered and a CHORE.

 

5) Do you feel the rally and associated events accomplished anything for teachers? If so, what?

Hopson:  We did get to send in a small delegation to meet with officials in the DOE, and even briefly with Arne Duncan himself. It remains to be seen whether the ideas shared in that meeting will be taken seriously, although TN Teacher Larry Proffitt who was a part of the delegation, seemed optimistic. I do think we drew attention to the plight of students and teachers in America, and at least in my community, I heard from lots of teachers who wish they had been a part of it. Hopefully, this will lead to greater numbers at the next rally. For those of us that did go, we got to feel a sense of connection to a larger power which instilled a new sense of commitment and determination in us all.

Sanson: Yes. On Monday, the all-day celebration for public education ended with a committee meeting inside the U.S. DOE with Secretary Arne Duncan and his team. Our BATs team- which consisted of six members- one of them Larry Proffitt from TN, outlined our concerns and were heard by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and his team. The BATs have another meeting at the U.S. DOE scheduled for later this fall. We look forward to continued dialogue and discourse with the U.S.DOE.

 

6) What do you see as the future for BATs in Tennessee and nationally?

Hopson:  I hope to see BATs become a driving force in changing the direction of education reform. I want to be part of a group that politicians have to take seriously if they want to get elected. BATs should also be a group they will go to for information. With TN being in the Bible Belt, I know it will be hard for the public to get past the name Badass Teachers. Hopefully, however, they will come to see the mission behind the name and realize these Brave Activist Teachers are fighting to protect their children.

Sanson: TNBATs will continue to be the state branch of the National Group. We will continue to network and align ourselves with other parent and citizen groups across the state and nation. We will continue to work with local legislators and policy makers to bring about change. We will continue to work with the Tennessee Education Association to support equality for our teachers, support staff and students.  We will continue to educate and speak truth to power about the reality of Ed Reform and the Privatization movement; we will continue to take a stand for our students and public schools. After all, BATs exists to fight for our students and public schools.

7) How would you describe the current education climate in TN?

Hopson: Toxic. We have toxic levels of testing. We have toxic levels of stress on our students and teachers. Students and teachers have been dehumanized and reduced to nothing more than numbers and data points. There is a complete lack of trust between teachers, administrators, and politicians. Using our students as pawns to further the interests of big money, big power groups is NOT the way to improve our schools.

Sanson: Current ed climate in TN: war zone

Teachers in TN are, in the words of Lauren Hopson, “tired” of not being heard and taken seriously. We are tired of being told how to do our jobs by people who have never taught and who know nothing about teaching. We are tired of seeing our students over-tested. We are tired of teaching to a test. We are tired of being treated like second-class citizens instead of highly trained professionals. We are tired of being “excessed” and replaced by inexperienced TFA green recruits who are ill-equipped with only five weeks of training. We are tired of groups like Micheel Rhee’s Students First giving money to people running for office. We are tired of Governor Haslam and his Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, who have done nothing to help our public schools, but who have done much to sell them to the highest bidder. Most of all, we are tired of being afraid and being bullied into compliance by people threatening our livelihoods. Tired we may be, but being on the front lines and in the trenches means that you get up and go to battle every day. That is what we will continue to do for our Public Schools and our Students: Fight for Them.

 

8) Why should other teachers affiliate with BATs?

Hopson: BATs will provide a sense of community for them and a structure around which they can organize and regain their power.

While I was touring the Civil Rights section of the American History Museum in DC, I saw a quote from A. Phillip Randolph which said, “Nobody expects ten thousand Negroes to get together and march anywhere for anything at any time….In common parlance, they are supposed to be just scared and unorganizable. Is this true? I contend it is not.”

Nobody expects that of teachers either, but I think BATs will change that!

Sanson: TNBATs is a group that helps and supports teachers, parents, and public schools so that we can be better teachers for our students. We are invested in our students and schools and we are determined to bring positive change back into the TN public school systems. BATs are tough, resilient, trustworthy, caring, and willing to go the distance for our students and our profession. I think the better question should be “Why wouldn’t other teachers affiliate with BATs?”

 

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

MNPS Committee Recommends Charter Transparency

The Governance Committee of the Metro Nashville School Board met on Saturday and made recommendations for policy changes that will result in more financial transparency for all schools, including publicly-funded, privately run charter schools.

The changes require that private funds used to support a school be disclosed and that complaints about charter school operating procedures be handled in the same way as complaints about traditional schools are handled.

Board members who supported the change suggest that the new policy would lead to more transparency system-wide.

Board member Amy Frogge noted that the policy will allow for fiscal transparency and prevent potential financial mishaps.

For more, read Joey Garrison’s full story here.

 

DC Voucher Advocates OR Local School Boards?

State Representative Dawn White is receiving political support from the Washington, D.C.-based Tennessee Federation for Children in part because of her support for legislation that would have silenced some of the most vocal critics of school voucher programs.

The Tennessee Federation for children supports voucher programs and has been involved in primary campaigns this year in support of candidates who share that view.

The Murfreesboro Post reports that TFC sent a mailer in support of White and also donate $1500 to her re-election campaign.

The legislation TFC supported would have allowed County Commissions to veto school board budget funds used to hire lobbyists.  School Board lobbying organizations, such as the Tennessee School Boards Association, have been some of the most vocal and successful opponents of voucher programs.

Further, the legislation White supported would have given County Commissions unprecedented control over School Board budgets.

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

 

EduShyster Visits Tennessee

Noted education blogger EduShyster has a post up today regarding the fun and excitement that is Tennessee education policy.

The post talks about data-driven results… the TCAP score release delay, the competing petitions regarding Commissioner Huffman and his continued employment.  And much more.

She notes that voters will be pleased to learn that if they re-elect Governor Bill Haslam, they’ll get more Kevin Huffman.  Or, maybe not.  Haslam is saying he’ll decide more about Huffman AFTER the election.

Also discussed: Secret meetings and the Koch Brothers.

Read it all!

 

 

 

Cash vs. Kids?

The Union County School Board voted unanimously last night to allow 626 students to remain enrolled in the Tennessee Virtual Academy, a joint project between Union County Schools and K12, Inc.

The decision comes in the wake of a recommendation by Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman that the students be un-enrolled due to the poor performance of the TNVA.

Following that recommendation, parents and some state legislators appealed to the Governor’s office to ask that Huffman’s recommendation be reversed.

It’s worth noting that Union County Schools receives a 4% administrative fee for their part in the program.  Based on numbers in this article, that would mean a total of $132,000+ for Union County Schools if the students remain enrolled.

So, instead of giving the Virtual Academy time to improve its processes so that it may better serve future students, Union County took the money (from state taxpayers) and allowed the students to enroll in one of the worst-performing schools in the state.

What happens to those 626 students if they are served as poorly as the students enrolled in TNVA in previous years? Will any of the $132,000+ Union County collected for this decision be used to help them catch up?

This is definitely a situation to watch going forward.  One would hope that K12 will improve and provide a better service. But there’s certainly legitimate concern based on their track record.

 

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

K12, Inc. Faces More Tennessee Trouble

The Tennessee Virtual Academy, operated by K12, Inc. and Union County Schools, is facing trouble as it seeks to allow 626 students who have enrolled to begin classes there.

The problem is that Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman issued an order preventing TNVA from enrolling new students pending additional monitoring of the school. For the past two years, students at TNVA have been performing at among the lowest levels of any students in the state.

State education officials and legislators have expressed concerns about this performance and TNVA and K12 have indicated they are working to improve.

Until the school shows improvement, though, Huffman wants to prevent further enrollment.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has the full story on a group of parents and legislators who made an appeal to officials with the Governor’s office to reverse Huffman’s decision and allow the students to continue in the school this year.

If the decision by Huffman is not reversed, the students who signed up for TNVA may enroll in schools in their home districts or seek other educational options.

 

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

Koch Brothers, AFP Bring Voucher Debate to TN Campaigns

Koch-brothers-funded out-of-state group Americans for Prosperity hosted a forum this week featuring voucher advocate Steve Perry.

As WPLN reported, the forum comes after the second consecutive legislative session in which lawmakers rejected a voucher proposal.

Americans for Prosperity is also supporting candidates it believes will help advance its pro-voucher agenda.

This includes 45th District State Representative Courtney Rogers.

Rogers is no stranger to out of state special interests supporting her campaigns. In 2012, she unseated State Rep. Debra Maggart in a Republican primary with the help of thousands of dollars in out-of-state special interest money, most of it from the NRA and other gun rights groups.

The AFP sent out this flyer in support of Rogers:

 

Courtney Rogers AFP

 

The flyer awards Rogers an A+ rating for her unwavering support of vouchers.

It will be interesting to see if the AFP’s involvement in this year’s campaigns changes the outcome of future voucher debates.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TREE Talks School Board

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE), a statewide, grassroots group that formed in part in response to a push for a statewide charter authorizer, is talking School Board races. Specifically, they take a look at the races shaping up in Nashville.

From their email:

While much of education policy comes from the state level, local school board elections are critically important to the direction of your local public schools. School board elections will be held all over the state this summer. What do you know about the candidates running in your county?

In Nashville, special interests pushing unlimited charter school growth have invested lots of money in four particular candidates.

 From the Nashville Scene  “Those with the biggest war chests have something in common: a friendly, if not embracing, attitude toward charter schools. In the four races — touching the Antioch, Hillsboro, McGavock and Overton clusters — each features… challengers who want charters to play a bigger role in Nashville’s education system…

While people with deep pockets and a desire to see more charter schools have cut meaty checks in this race, they’ve done so individually. Two years ago, a trio of pro-charter activists created a political action committee called Great Public Schools that handed out some $20,000 to their candidates. But that strategy is a no-go this year, said Bill DeLoache, a leading charter advocate and member of the threesome. He declined to comment on why.

But his wife, Mary DeLoache, has spread $6,000 evenly among this year’s four charter favorites. Other former organizers of the PAC have given too, including Townes Duncan (who gave the maximum contribution of $1,500 to Pierce and $500 to Dixon) and John Eason (who split $1,000 between the same two). Both Duncan and Eason work for investment companies… Others in the business community have also spread their wealth, giving maximum or near max donations to all or most charter-friendly candidates.”

Be sure to look closely at your school board candidates, their financial supporters, and whose agenda they will carry. Will the candidate you vote for represent you, or special interests?

Local pro-public education groups that are covering local races include the following:

Williamson Strong http://williamsonstrong.org/candidates/

SPEAK: Students Parents Educators Across Knox County http://speaktn.com/school-board-candidates/

Strong Schools PAC (Sumner County) http://strongschools.org/candidates/

You can look at the full election calendar here.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

PET on Common Core Lessons

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) President Cathy Kolb and Director of Professional Development Bethany Bowman talk about lessons learned from Common Core implementation.
There are several words that are called “fighting words” these days, but “Common Core State Standards” may head the list in public education. The only other item that may come close is standardized testing.

Just the phrase “Common Core” can invoke passions, debate or a heated quarrel. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a battle about standards in the private sector.

Mark Twain popularized the adage that there were “three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Research, design of study, methodologies, sample selection, quality of evidence all determine how the statistics will be shaped. The use of the data will then drive the decision-making. Policymakers can justify any position for or against an issue based on their view of the available information. Toss in a political agenda, add some cash and you have a recipe to be persuaded for or against any issue. A political maxim is: “money changes behavior, lots of money changes lots of behavior.”

We should be weary of many education reforms, and generally opposed to a one-size fits all approach – especially when there is “lots of money” involved. There is always good and bad to most issues, and reasonable people can generally argue either side. A civil debate can serve a practical purpose in public policy. Common Core is an issue that makes sense in theory, and results may show it makes sense in practice. Time will determine that debate. As an organization, we support higher standards.

Who can be opposed to raising the standards in public education? Let’s face it, our economic strength as a state and a country is linked to the performance of our public schools. Yet, not all students are educated in a traditional public school. Traditional schools are wary of being accountable for students’ scores on standardized tests which do not give an accurate picture of teacher performance.

There are a growing array of education choice options available in America such as controlled open enrollment, charter schools, charter districts, online schools, lab schools, schools-within-schools, year-round schools, charter technical career centers, magnet schools, alternative schools, vouchers, special programs, advanced placement, dual enrollment, International Baccalaureate, early admissions, and credit by examination or demonstration of competency. If you can conceive it, more than likely some school, district or state will probably try it. But will all of these options include the use of Common Core State Standards, and if not, why not?

In Tennessee, for example, any cursory review demonstrates that Common Core State Standards were superior to the standards previously employed. But it is debatable whether recommending a common set of standards for all 50 states was necessary. In fact, Common Core could be properly viewed as a disruptor. In that regard, Common Core served a useful purpose of blowing up the status quo.

In education circles people are now discussing standards, curriculum and testing. Don’t believe for one minute that Common Core State Standards are a “be all, end all.” They were not an insidious plot by the Obama Administration, but they were not exactly crafted by real public educators either. Many of the elements of Common Core were a response that has been kicked around for a quarter-century. In fact, one could pinpoint the genesis of the national curriculum debate at the feet of Chester Finn, who proposed it in an Education Week article in 1989.     Nobody should be thrilled with watered down standards. Yet we must critically scrutinize the curriculum, textbook, and testing clique that have turned into profit centers for a few corporations that seem to have garnered an inside advantage. Bluntly, there may be too many education lobbyists and corporate interests driving manufactured problems in the name of education reform. It is definite that we have tilted the debate too far to the side of the federal government in harming state sovereignty and local control of public education.

The implementation of Common Core went better in Tennessee than in many other places in the country. The real problem was the failure of many policymakers to address the legitimate concerns of stakeholders on other peripheral issues. Organizations that were engaged to take the lead in addressing criticisms were viewed as impertinent and disrespectful and operated as if they themselves were the policymakers. In fact, it bordered on arrogance.

It is accurate that those for and against Common Core have taken liberties with the truth. However, if the debate exasperates people enough perhaps it will spark needed changes such as a real review of standardized testing and a focus back on student-centered instruction. The lesson learned is that the federal government is often too prescriptive in their participation in public education, and most decisions should be left to states, districts, schools and educators.

F0r more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport