Killing Public Education

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Bill O’Reilly has gone on quite a killing spree. He has written books such as Killing the Rising Sun, Killing Reagan, Killing Patton, Killing Jesus, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. I think he should also write one called Killing Public Education.

Here is what is killing public education:

  1. A Culture of Disrespect is rampant in our schools. This can be created by a variety of reasons. Lack of respect for a profession, which is roughly 80% female. Too many people incorrectly believing that anybody can be a teacher. The very structure of our public education system, as well as the state of our society, often means educators are the major authority figure in many children’s lives. This necessitates that educators are on the frontlines of the culture wars. This result in an ugly fact: teachers provide the only correction or discipline some children ever receive. This leads to a negative perception of teachers and public education in general.
  2. The struggles that most educators face are daunting. Poverty is systemic in our nation and it is particularly obvious in our Southern states. One high school principal told me: “My school has very high poverty and mobility rates. We can’t continue to blame failure on teachers and principals. Families are failing and the evidence of that damage is clear. We love our students and are dedicated to them. Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is anymore. Eradicate poverty seems to be the obvious solution.” However, government has been trying to address this issue for well over 50 years. And it really hasn’t improved the situation. Family structures are being redefined and crumbling.
  3. We have become so driven by standards, testing and accountability that we have lost sight of what truly matters: children and those who educate our children. Testing has become big business; it is no longer merely a snapshot on a child’s progress. Data is the gold standard. We care more about what data tells us, than what a teacher tells us. And what do we know about the people creating the tests and interpreting the data? Data is not more important than children, or those that teach them. British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Perhaps we are not looking at the right statistics.

Educators know what needs to be done to improve education. Unfortunately, their voices have too often been replaced by philanthropists, business leaders and outside organizations. Often these “outside influencers” are driven by poor understanding of the issues, self-serving interests or in some cases greed.

The argument often used to counter the power of educators is that public education needs to be run more like a business and be more efficient. These arguments often fail to consider the “inside influencers” of district policy, state policy, and federal rules, laws and controls which often end up essentially micro-managing our local schools.

If we do not want to kill public education, the teaching profession must be elevated in stature. Educators must be seen as community leaders both inside and outside of the classroom. Far too often the voices of classroom teachers are not included in the decisions that impact their livelihood or their students. Few occupations are given so little say in their chosen field.

Let’s not wait until the autopsy or until Bill O’Reilly writes another book to explain that educators must be given a more active role in determining the policies that concern their students and the teaching profession. It is imperative that that we accept and nurture the teacher-leaders we already have and look to them for the guidance we need to improve education.

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


 

JC Bowman on Literacy

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

Government spending is often portrayed as a freight train “quickly running out of track.” And there is some truth to that statement. There is not an endless supply of money to fund every good idea that comes along, and we must acknowledge that problem. Fiscal responsibility is a must.

That is why spending on priority issues like public education is important. You can spend $9,000 a year for a child to receive a quality education, or you can spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate an adult in some communities.

That is a harsh reality. You have read the statistics enough to know that there is an undeniable connection between literacy skills and incarceration rates. Children who do not read on grade level are more likely to dropout, use drugs or end up in prison. Research shows that reading abilities in third grade act as a tell-tale barometer for later school success.

Governor Haslam has wisely invested Tennessee dollars into literacy initiatives in 2016 because he knows poor reading skills are connected with unfavorable life outcomes. Low literacy is strongly related to crime. Low literacy is strongly related to unemployment. Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.”

We need to come together as a society and work to address the real issues facing our children. We need to have community conversations about what we expect from our local schools, but we need to recognize that the problems are much larger than what a school can address and are likely to be different in each community. A “one size fits all” approach simply does not work.

You probably know the line, which comes from Jim Collins’ bestselling business book, Good to Great: “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” It is important that we start prioritizing our spending, and over the long run it will save money that we can use to create a stronger public school system. And we have to get the right people into our classrooms and retain them.

When educated and intelligent citizens make informed decisions about what they want from their government and society, the outcome is far more likely to be positive. Similarly, if a good education system is in place for the next generation of children, the likelihood of societal stability is greatly increased. So it is important we get this right. Literacy is critical. And public education is a wise investment.

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


 

Mary Pierce on the ASD Resolution

Nashville School Board Member Mary Pierce took to Facebook to discuss the passage of a resolution calling for a moratorium on school takeovers from the ASD. Her comments are below.

After getting a few confused questions about the ASD Resolution passed on Tuesday night, I’m posting the YouTube link of the meeting & this discussion begins around 1:53 mark. The initial stated purpose of the proposed resolution called for a moratorium of ASD takeovers based on the first year of TN Ready Scores. Given that the state has acknowledged TN Ready issues and excluded use of scores in teacher evaluations, this type of resolution made sense to me.

However, when I received our agenda packet, I read the resolution presented as one that went well beyond this call for a one-year moratorium. It is my opinion that it made subjective allegations against the ASD, referenced that MNPS *might* implement the same type of IZone as Shelby County Schools and asked for funding to do just that (yet our board has never discussed this), and generally was written with a tone of which I did not agree. And, as I stated Tuesday night, it must be owned that there was nothing preventing Shelby County from implementing an iZone prior to the external pressure applied by the presence of the ASD. I also find it ironic that the gains heralded by many about the SCS iZone are based on the very same TCAP/TVAAS scores deemed flawed by those same people when used on district schools that are not performing as well. But that’s a whole other topic.

I amended the resolution (below with the original and my tracked changes) which still requested a one year reprieve from ASD takeovers based on the first year TN Ready scores, and also asked for local education agencies (LEAs) to be included in the legislative committee summer study the TN DOE has announced for “ASD Clean-Up,” including plans to return the takeover schools back to the LEAs as soon as practicable. (Edit: Click here to see original post with picture)

This amended version failed in a 4:4 vote (Dr. Gentry had left for a community meeting) and then Mr. Pinkston’s original resolution passed 5:3 with Elissa Kim, Tyese Hunter and I voting against.

By the way, resolutions are simply statements of resolve and often a request–like this one–but they have no binding authority.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfq6F4Q8d6k


 

Phil Roe: Replacing No Child Left Behind

Editor’s Note: We welcome Tennessee Congressman Phil Roe to the blog to discuss the Every Student Succeeds Act. Congressman Roe serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

This week, the House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, bicameral, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This is the first reauthorization of ESEA since No Child Left Behind was signed into law by President George W. Bush and took effect in 2002. Unfortunately, though well-intentioned, NCLB has created a maze of government bureaucracy for students, their families, educators and school administrators. ESSA includes important reforms to return control to the local level, prevent the Secretary of Education from coercing states to adopt Common Core and pave the way for educators and school administrators to get back to what they do best by eliminating bureaucracy in the education system.

I’ve served on the House Education and Workforce Committee since coming to Congress in 2009, and have visited with hundreds of educators in and around the First Congressional District. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak with students and their families and a there’s a common theme in our conversations: stop Common Core and get Washington bureaucrats out of our schools. I’m proud to say that the Every Students Succeeds Act will do those important things, all while preserving conservative education principles. In November, I was pleased to see Chairmen Kline and Alexander and Ranking Members Scott and Murray announce the framework for a compromise to reauthorize ESEA had been developed. I was asked to serve on the Conference Committee, and worked with my colleagues to find a path forward to bring this bill to the floor.

The Every Student Succeeds Act repeals the one-size-fits-all “adequate yearly progress” accountability system, a standard set by the federal government, and replaces it with a statewide accountability program. This gives each state the ability to set their own standards, and, most importantly, to identify and assist struggling schools and districts. It also preserves our commitment to student performance by ensuring we’re regularly tracking student progress, but without requiring states to opt-in to a rigorous testing system by allowing them the flexibility to offer nationally recognized local assessments as long as those assessments meet reliability, validity and comparability standards.

To ensure states have control of their education system, this bill explicitly prevents the Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting academic standards, such as Common Core. While Common Core began as a state-led initiative, it has morphed into a quasi-federal set of standards as the Secretary has used his authority to issue waivers from certain federal mandates in exchange for the adoption of Common Core. This provision is a huge win for our students and educators. Additionally, the Every Student Succeeds Act provides greater funding flexibility to states and school districts so they can better target their resources to areas with the most needs. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for health care, and it certainly won’t work for our students. Each and every student has their own unique needs, and this bill allows education leaders to set their own priorities, ensuring students have the resources they need to be successful.

The most important thing we can do in education is to return control to the states and local school districts, and this bill does that. It’s the product of the hard work of Chairmen Kline and Alexander and Ranking Members Scott and Murray, and was done through regular order. This is how Congress is supposed to get things done for the American people, and I’m proud of this bill and what it will do for the future of this country. Our students are our future, and they deserve access to a quality education.

Rep. Roe represents Tennessee’s First Congressional District. He serves on the House Committees on Education and Workforce and Veterans Affairs, and served on the conference committee for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Pierce: Closing All Charters Would Cost More

MNPS Board Member Mary Pierce tried to reframe the charter debate in a recent editorial in the Tennessean. While many people believe closing all charter schools would save the district millions, it would actually cost the district millions.

Here’s what Pierce had to say:

As a new school board member, I sought to understand this claim and thus asked Metro Nashville Public Schools leadership, “What would happen to the budget if all charter schools closed and these students returned to their zoned schools?”

This hypothetical exercise, completed by the MNPS Finance Office this summer, showed that if every student attending a charter school in 2014-15 had attended his or her zoned school, MNPS would have spent roughly $3.5 million more to educate them in district-managed schools.

Hold up! If you are calling to close charters because it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do, I guess you need to stop that call. Let’s not waste millions of MNPS dollars by closing all the charter schools.

Charter schools actually get fewer dollars per pupil than a traditional school. Fiscally responsible!

On average MNPS spends $9,436 per pupil — $5,666 for direct classroom costs plus an additional $3,770 for indirect expenses such as transportation, central office and technology.

Each student enrolled in a charter school is allocated roughly $9,200, which often includes rent payments back to the district for building use.

Oh, look below! Mary Pierce puts it on the record that she does not want to charterize the district. MNPS rejects a huge majority of charter applicants, anyways.

We should not “charterize” the district, but should insist on the highest quality from all of our schools. Our charter review committees and our board have done an excellent job in recommending and approving charter schools. Anyone claiming that the MNPS Charter School Office is promoting unabated charter growth is not paying attention. This summer, the charter review committees recommended that the board deny 86 percent of the applications.

And finally, it’s not just charter schools that are taking students away from their zoned schools.

We should not ignore the realities of fixed costs. When students leave any school the result can be buildings operating under capacity, and that adds to indirect expenses. But, we won’t address the bulk of this fiscal challenge unless we include all our choice schools in the analysis. For example, Hillwood High School operates under 70 percent capacity while over 200 students zoned for Hillwood choose to attend another district school like Hume-Fogg or Hillsboro.

Go ahead and read the rest of the editorial here.

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


 

We Need Long Term Planning for Charters

The Tennessean has an op-ed by Harry Allen, an executive with Avenue Bank and board president of Purpose Preparatory charter school. He calls for a long-term plan for the future of our district in regards to charters. I think we sometimes get lost in the details about being pro/anti charter and forget to plan for the long term.

Charter schools are here to stay in Nashville. Thousands of students are served in charter schools throughout Nashville, and if you think that all of them are magically going to disappear, you need to rethink that notion.

Mr. Allen starts out with a great opening sentence:

The most successful organizations adapt to the changing environment around them in order to overcome challenges and remain effective.

Mr. Allen goes on to discuss findings of a study that was recently released in partnership with the Tennessee Charter School Association.

The study’s key findings include:

Charter schools in 2013-14 academically outperformed district-managed schools and are funded at similar levels, which means charters yielded a higher return on investment for taxpayers and families.

Though MNPS today is a choice-based system, the MNPS infrastructure — buildings, services and associated cost structure — reflects the past for which it was designed, one with limited parental choice.

It recommends an updated system that accounts for a future that includes a mix of district- and charter-managed public schools.

The majority of district financial expenses are variable in the long term and should be adjusted to reflect anticipated shifts in enrollment.

(Yes, commenters, how dare the Tennessee Charter School Association commission a study about charter schools. I know, it’s crazy that an organization would research a topic that they work in. While I am on the topic of studies, let’s not accept with open arms the Comptroller study on the ASD while saying the Comptroller study on MNPS was conducted by biased individuals. Hint: the same people did both studies. They are both flawed or both acceptable.)

Anyways, Mr. Allen goes on to quote Dr. Register as his conclusion.

“It is clear that shifts in student enrollment will require adjustments to our budgets that can only be made over multiple years,” he (Register) recently said. “Planning for these adjustments requires a long-term and collaborative approach that is responsive to parent demand and student enrollment decisions. We should take the time and make the effort to formulate the long-range impact.”

Dr. Register is spot-on — it’s imperative that MNPS adjust to the changing times. All organizations, whether for-profit or nonprofits, must occasionally adjust their planning to remain competitive. In this case, our city’s future depends on it.

Check out the oped, and let’s do some meaningful work in this area. We can spend hours every week in a doomsday scenario, or we can spend hours every week trying to come to a solution that will help lead our district into a prosperous future.

I would rather help lead our district into a prosperous future.

Wouldn’t you?


 

Can We Retire the Bad Teacher Narrative Already?

This article was submitted by Becca Leech, a Tennessee teacher with more than 20 years of experience. Read more about her here.

There’s an old story that goes something like this: American schools are in trouble. Our students lag so horribly behind the rest of the world academically that soon we won’t be able to keep pace. And why? Because our schools are full of bad teachers: lazy, mean, stupid teachers who don’t care about students and just want a cushy job where they have summers off. Unions protect these bad teachers so that schools can’t fire them and replace them with better ones, so our schools have become permeated with useless teachers who ruin the whole system and hold our students down.

I’ve taught special education in public schools since 1993, from inner-city Nashville to suburban Murfreesboro to rural McMinnville and, while every school has a few ineffective teachers, most of the teachers I have worked with have been smart, dedicated, and hard-working. These teachers continue to work every day to improve our schools, despite the demoralizing wounds of repeated volleys of the “bad teacher” narrative, so easily lobbed at us by the media, parents, students, and administrators. Last week, I even read it repeated by (of all people) a fellow special educator, in (of all places) this blog that I believed to be pro education – the Tennessee Education Report. Here is what Zack Barnes wrote:

“I am a special education teacher at a North Nashville middle school. Our fifth graders come into fifth grade already behind. It’s our job to catch them up during the middle school years before we send them off to high school. That shows me that we have dropped the ball along the way to middle school. We have come to a point where it’s okay that students come in to middle school behind. That shouldn’t be okay.

There are bad teachers and they should not be in the classroom. There isn’t more I can say about this. Every career field has bad workers, and the teaching profession is no different.”

This from a teacher who has been hired for the sole purpose of helping students with disabilities. When he accepted his position, was he unaware that students are only referred for our special education services when they have academic delays that cannot be addressed by the general curriculum? Was he unaware that student achievement, like all other human characteristics, spans a broad spectrum?

Our job as special education teachers is to accept the students referred to us – all of them, as they are – to assess their strengths and weaknesses, and to develop and implement appropriate educational plans to help them all learn. It’s not our job, and is counterproductive for our schools, to look for someone to blame for student delays. We don’t blame the persistence of illness in our communities on the bad doctors (although we know that some exist), so how do we find it so easy to blame all academic delays on bad teachers?

 

The Origins of the Narrative

Most of us were once students, and teachers were the face of the educational system to us. We experienced schools and teachers through immature eyes and often developed misperceptions of the roles and motivations of the teachers who taught us. Students who didn’t have good school experiences often caricaturized teachers as mean task-masters who didn’t like kids and just wanted to make them work hard or get them into trouble. Although it was often the structural problems with our educational system that we found frustrating or unfair as students – problems that were at least equally frustrating for our teachers – it was the teachers we saw as the cause. It’s easy for those who want to undermine public education for political or personal gain to play on these unconscious prejudices and transfer the problems with our educational structure directly into the laps of teachers as individuals.

 

In recent years, there has been a growing effort underway to undermine public education for just such purposes, and it is taking the form of a direct attack on teachers. The documentary Waiting for Superman brought the “bad teacher” narrative into our public consciousness. Politicians and news commentators have repeated the story as fact, ignoring all evidence offered against it. I have only recently begun to hear a backlash – teachers, parents, and students stepping forward to question the truth and usefulness of the tale.

 

How the “Bad Teacher” Narrative is Harming Education

The narrative of the bad teacher diminishes respect for the profession of teaching and gives ammunition to those working to decrease job security and protections for teachers. With less respect and job security, our schools have even more difficulty attracting and retaining qualified teachers. We have recently seen an increase in the number of experienced teachers leaving the profession and a decrease in applicants to new teacher education programs. In fact, many of these teachers and would-be teachers cite the lack of respect and poor job security as reasons for staying away from the classroom. When schools don’t have a pool of strong applicants to fill teaching vacancies, they must resort to hiring unqualified or less qualified candidates. This situation creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where students are more likely to fall behind, and critics find even more examples of “bad teachers” to further blame and diminish teaching.

 

Our Responsibility as a Community

It is true that there are some ineffective teachers among us and some teacher training programs that are not adequately preparing teachers for the classroom, but blame, judgement, and punitive accountability measures are not the answers. Most of the ineffective teachers I have taught with were either new teachers who needed more on-the-job guidance and mentoring from experienced teachers, or were teachers who had once been dedicated to their craft, but were now exhausted and weakened by the difficult environments they taught in and felt powerless to change.

 

There is no time in our school schedules to provide the support, mentoring, and quality training to help teachers in these situations to improve. Our school systems must find ways to make more non-teaching time in our school day for teachers to collaborate and support one another. Opportunities for teacher creativity, growth, and leadership will also raise teacher quality and improve working conditions.

 

To make real change, we must recognize that the problems with education are much broader than simply problems of teacher quality. We have to address poverty and inequality as the greatest challenges to education. We have to reorganize our funding structures to provide environments that attract and retain teachers. Most importantly, though, our communities must recognize teachers as the experts who can provide solutions for our schools – not the problems to be solved. If we are to improve the overall quality of education, we, as individuals and as a community, have a responsibility to support and defend the profession of teaching.

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

We welcome submissions from educators — if you have a story idea, send it to andy@spearsstrategy.com