Stuck in the Middle

Nashville teacher and education blogger Mary Holden talks about her transition from teaching high school to teaching middle school — and about being the middle of her teaching career.

Here are some highlights:

There are many weird things that happen in middle school that I never experienced as a high school teacher. Boogers. Penises drawn in weird places. Bad smells, especially after PE on a hot day. Excessive bottle flipping. Weird dance moves that kids break into constantly and at the most random times.

One thing that helped me maintain my spark was the amazing group of teachers I worked with this year. In high school, of course I worked with other teachers, and some are still great friends of mine. But generally speaking, teachers don’t have the chance to really bond like they do when teaching middle school.

In middle school, my grade level team worked together all year long. We ate lunch together every day. We bitched, we gossip, we laughed, we shared joys, sorrows, and hard times. We wore matching Sixth Grade Squad t-shirts. We wore #RedforEd on Tuesdays. We celebrated each other’s successes, birthdays, weddings, and a retirement with potlucks and parties during lunch time. And we had Chick-fil-A Fridays on paydays. We still have an ongoing text thread that will live on in infamy! We were there for each other in a way I have never experienced in my career. I have never felt that level of support.

Check out her post (and all of her blog). It’s a great firsthand account of teaching.

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

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You’ve Written 1000 Stories

Tennessee Education Report has been around since January of 2013. Before Chalkbeat found Tennessee. After most local newspapers stopped focusing so much on education issues.

As of this week, I’ve written 1000 stories that have appeared on this blog. More precisely, YOU have written those stories. I’ve heard from teachers and parents and policymakers over this time. I’ve conducted interviews and taken phone calls and read emails.

YOU make Tennessee Education Report possible.

When it started in 2013, it was not clear there’d be an audience. Sure, there were issue to be covered, but who would read stories day after day about education issues in Tennessee?

Turns out, lots of you.

So, thank you!

Thank you for reading about an education agenda for our state that STILL has yet to be realized.

Thank you for reading analysis about NAEP scores. And about TNReady quick scores.

Thank you for reading about hackers and dump trucks impacting state testing.

Thank you for reading about a failed portfolio evaluation process in both Kindergarten and Related Arts.

And of course, this year has been all about Bill Lee and his dangerous voucher scheme.

YOU make it possible to report education news day after day, week after week, year after year.

Thank you!

Your support — your monthly donation or one-time contribution — makes it possible for me to generate 1000 stories about education policy in our state. YOU write the stories!

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

Success in Education

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers thoughts on how to “keep public education a success.”

I struck up a conversation with a graduating senior. “What do you want in life?” I asked. “To be successful,” he replied. To which I asked the question: “What is success?” “I don’t know,” he said as he walked away. We all want to be successful. But how can you be successful if you cannot even define it?

The World Economic Forum estimates 65 percent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Let that sink in for a minute: the vast majority of children in school will end up in careers that do not even exist today.

One of the organizations I like to keep up with is The Future Project. They argue that “the future is not fixed—and that people, working together, can shape it for the better.” I share their optimism. I think the same is true of the teaching profession: people working together, can shape it for the better.

Too often I see the education community put up walls. Walls between school systems and communities. Walls between school administration and teachers. Walls between teachers and other teachers. Walls between teachers and students. It is time to tear the walls down. It is time that we create the change that our schools, teachers, and students need. I recommend three steps for policymakers to consider at the state level that can create success for our schools in the future:

  1. Embrace Innovation. Governor Bill Lee said: “In order to improve, you have to be willing to innovate and challenge the status quo. That’s true whether it is in business or education.” This means at the state level the focus must be on providing the flexibility and freedom for educators and education leaders at all levels to try new things that will help improve student achievement and success. Our goal as a state should be to give every child the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, in order to build a skilled workforce for the 21st Century global economy.
  2. Update the Funding Formula. At the state level, the Basic Education Program (BEP), is how Tennessee funds our K-12 public schools. The BEP provides over $4.7 billion of state funding for education. We must update our K12 funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. It is time for the state to push for a new funding plan and formula that reflects our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies. Yes, there are lawsuits under the current system, and it will be a challenge to make everyone happy, but it is past time to address the funding issue. We must also make sure dollars that are earmarked for salary increases end up in the pockets of teachers, and that all state mandates are fully funded.
  3. End Social Promotion. We must ensure that all students will be able to read proficiently by the end of the third-grade. Children who do not read on grade level are more likely to drop out, use drugs or end up in prison. Research shows that reading abilities in the third-grade act as a tell-tale barometer for later school success. We cannot keep sending Tennessee students onto the next grade if they lack basic reading skills. Social promotion does more harm than good. We can no longer ignore the issue of social promotion. We must eliminate the practice of advancing students because of their age rather than their knowledge. The decision to have a student to repeat a grade should not be made lightly or without considering a student’s unique situation. The evidence for focused retention strategies points toward real benefits for those students who arrive at school lacking some of the building blocks of literacy. These students need some extra time to catch up. We cannot give up on teaching our children how to read. The best solution, of course, is to remediate struggling readers during the school year, to get them the extra help they need to stay on track. However, we cannot simply to continue to move these students through the system. Social promotion hurts our kids, kills our workforce, and fills up our prisons.

We can change the path we are on, and give every child a better chance of success—even if they don’t know what it looks like at this point in their life. Success is not left to chance, it’s a matter of choice. We have tough choices to make in public education, and that will include changes. We must make the choices that benefit our state, our communities, our schools, our educators and especially our children.

We must make sure public education is viewed as a significant part of the choice that parents will make for their children moving forward. The best and brightest students in our communities should know that our public education system will work for them. The underserved and poor in our communities should know that our public education system can work for them. Every parent in our communities should know that they have a role in making sure our public education system works for their children. Part of our role has to be keeping K12 education at the forefront of every discussion in public policy across Tennessee. That is the success we should seek.

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

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JC Bowman on Leadership

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers thoughts on district leadership as the “summer of change” approaches.

It’s that time of year when we see changes in leadership across the state in our schools.  Superintendents will leave and be replaced.  It matters to all of us whomever a school board places in leadership.  In some cases, you will see districts go outside their district and pick new leadership while others will promote from within.  There are good choices and there are bad choices out there.  So, to all school boards we say: choose wisely.  In my circle we call this time of the year the Dance of the Lemons and/or the Parade of Favorites.  

A school district must have competent leadership managing the daily operations of the school district. A good superintendent leads the districts educational, financial and administrative performance; facilitates the performance of all personnel; and responds to and informs stakeholders and policymakers about the performance and leadership of the district.  Probably one of the most important duties of the superintendent is to make sure district students are learning and achieving at the highest level possible.

A superintendent must understand effective academic practices and be supportive of the teachers and administrators in the district. Leadership, vision, and strategic thinking are critical skills for every superintendent. A successful superintendent should also be an effective and excellent communicator. If the only voice a superintendent will listen to is his/her own, or a few members of the school board, public education will eventually lose community support. Does that mean that we simply accept decisions from superintendents, without challenging them? Of course not!

Stakeholders and policymakers must particularly hold Superintendents accountable in regard to educational, financial and administrative performance. However, we should provide them latitude in regards to leadership, vision and strategic thinking on how to address the performance in those areas. And we must expect them to communicate effectively to ALL stakeholders.  

Superintendent, like principals, must also demonstrate a keen understanding of teaching, learning and what works for students. As a change leader, a successful superintendent should emphasize the efficient use of resources, personnel, and data to break down resistance and drive systemic change; empower board and personnel to set goals, measure results, develop accountability, and support planning, evaluation, and resource allocation.

As far as degrees and experience go, that really depends on the person.  Practical knowledge is likely more important than theoretical knowledge.  We have all seen people with advanced degrees who were unable to apply that knowledge to the real world.  I think executive experience might be critical in a larger district.  Keep in mind that education is a business, as much as it is a service.  In most districts, the school system is one of the largest employers in the community.  Teaching experience and some building-level administrative experience is strongly suggested, because it gives the person in charge at least a background in what the educators in the schools face on a daily basis.       

In my own experience, I am never concerned with the WHO in a position.  I would look at the philosophy of the person, their background and their vision.  A smart school board would not focus on what an applicant would do similar to continue the work of the exiting predecessor, but rather how he or she would differentiate from the previous occupant. You must have a plan to build on the work of the previous administration, not merely maintain the status quo.    

Probably the greatest weakness by some superintendents, in my opinion, has been the lack of empathy toward educators.  It is one thing to be relentless in support of excellence for children, it is another to manage completely by fear.  Personnel drives policy.  How you treat your employees is also a reflection of character.   Several districts are well-known for unnecessarily treating educators harshly.  These districts must understand that schools are not factories, students are not widgets, and personnel are not simply interchangeable on a whim. 

Certainly, some educators have been forced to leave their school system for subjective reasons, rather than objective reasons.  Actions speak louder than words.  In some cases, dismissal may have been warranted, but in many cases, it appears circumstances were little more than personality conflicts and people not fitting into a certain educational or political environment.  We have lost some good educators in our state because of this subjectivity, and I would argue many of these educators deserve another chance to keep their career going.  

No matter who your district hires—whether from within or bringing in an experienced educator from outside—give that new leader a chance.  Don’t be afraid to hold them accountable.  Make sure that your local school board has fully vetted the candidate, and takes the time to select the best person for the children, educators, parents, and taxpayers in your community. 

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

Your support makes reporting education news possible.

Teacher Appreciation

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s a time to provide lunches and gift cards to teachers in lieu of the salaries and support they deserve. Sure, gratitude is nice, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage.

Here’s what else happened in Tennessee this week: We learned that the Speaker of the House gave a $130,000 raise to an individual who had used cocaine while on the job and who had also exchanged sexually-explicit messages with the Speaker. He also has a history of racist text messages and social media posts.

Before his nearly $200,000 year a job as Speaker Casada’s Chief of Staff, Cade Cothren earned around $61,000 a year as a legislative employee.

It’s worth noting that many of Tennessee’s more than 70,000 teachers will NEVER see a salary of $61,000 a year in the course of their career.

For full disclosure, I’m married to a Tennessee teacher. She’s been teaching for nearly 20 years now. She’s been at the same school in the same job since 2003. She STILL doesn’t make $60,000 a year despite assurances from district leadership year after year that “we *wish* we could do more.”

My wife doesn’t do cocaine at her desk. She’s not in the habit of sending sexually explicit messages about who she f***d in the bathroom at a hot chicken restaurant. She shows up every single day and takes care of other people’s children.

Let’s be clear: If the text exchange between Cade Cothren and Glen Casada had been between a Tennessee teacher and her principal, there would be no question, both would be fired.

So, let’s be honest: Tennessee teachers are NOT appreciated. White men of any age at the highest levels of state government engage in abhorrent behavior and earn promotions and high salaries. Tennessee teachers, mostly women, take on the responsibility of caring for our state’s children and educating them every single day and receive little more than a “thank you” during a designated week of the year.

This year, instead of a larger raise for teachers, Governor Bill Lee proposed and the General Assembly passed legislation creating a new school voucher program. Instead of a minimum of a four percent increase in teacher raises, teachers will see 2.5%. When white men in Tennessee ask for something, they get it — whether it is school privatization or sex with a lobbyist in a Nashville restaurant. Meanwhile, the women who toil tirelessly in under-funded schools are told to “keep going” for the sake of “the kids.”

When teachers in Tennessee threaten to “strike” or engage in a “sick out” they are told it’s “against the law” and that they should “think of the kids.” At the same time, white men prey upon female interns and lobbyists at the Capitol and our supposedly Christian Governor can’t be bothered to comment. Even an admitted sex offender earns a top post on education policy while teachers remain short-changed when it comes to pay and respect.

It’s no accident that a profession dominated by women receives so little respect from our legislature and Governor. These are white men who have demonstrated time and again they care little for the women around them. Even those not directly involved are complicit by way of their silence. Both in policy and in personal practice, Tennessee’s elected leaders demonstrate they don’t care about teachers, about women, or about a truly better future for ALL of our state.

When you see Governor Lee trot out a resolution appreciating teachers — when Glen Casada or Randy McNally issue a proclamation about the importance of educators — it’s time to call BS. They don’t believe it. The evidence is clear.

Today, teachers across our state are showing up, teaching kids, and NOT doing cocaine or soliciting sex. They’re not asking for a reward, they’re just doing what’s right. It’s time our lawmakers looked to our teachers for leadership.

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

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Elizabethton Students Win NPR Podcast Challenge

A group of students from Elizabethton High School won the high school division of NPR’s student podcast challenge. More from NPR:

In 1916, people hanged a circus elephant from a crane in Erwin. The students of nearby Elizabethton High School, in their winning podcast, told the bizarre story — and how people there today want to make things right.

“Through researching and talking to some of Erwin’s people, we have learned how they are determined to change how people think about Erwin and its tragic history,” the podcast concludes.

“This podcast took me on a journey,” says Lee Hale, one of our judges and a reporter at member station KUER in Utah. “Halfway in, I forgot I was judging a student competition because I got so wrapped up in the story. The voices, the pacing, the arc — everything worked.”

The work was submitted by English teacher Tim Wasem and social studies teacher Alex Campbell. When we broke the good news to Wasem, he said, “They really had a story they wanted to tell, and they wanted to tell it right.”

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Got an education news story you think I should cover? Email me at andy@tnedreport.com

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April 15th

A group of parents gathered at the Tennessee General Assembly today to express opposition to the use of public funds to pay for unaccountable private schools. The move comes as Governor Bill Lee’s privatization plans — through both a state charter school authorizer and so-called education savings accounts — advance in the legislature.

The assembled parents called for a statewide action on April 15th — the first day of the TNReady testing window. Frustration about the state’s failed testing and persistent underfunding of schools was expressed.

Here’s more from Tennessee Strong, the umbrella group of parent advocates coordinating the action:

TN PTA on Trauma Informed Communities

Below is the official position statement of the Tennessee PTA on Trauma Informed Communities:

As the momentum grows for Tennessee to be a trauma informed state and build awareness within our communities about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Tennessee PTA is supportive of the efforts our state government, business world, advocates, insurers, and academia and nonprofit foundations for the initiative of our state to be a national model of how a state can promote culture change.

Tennessee PTA board of managers believes that any substantiated or admitted allegations of sexual misconduct, spouse abuse, or habitual drug abuser of any member of a decision-making body in educational affairs cannot participate and are not allowed to be a part of the process that contributes to the welfare, health, safety and education of children. This perspective aids in focusing on the root causes of the systemic issues that run rampant through individuals, families and communities when the issues go unaddressed.

Tennessee PTA board of managers believes the exploitation of youth degrades humans and damages the cognitive, social and emotional development of the individual and has adverse consequences for the individual, family and community in which citizens live.

As a state who is working toward leading a National Model of being trauma informed about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) we must be mindful of the collective affects the community has on individual situations that lead to Adverse Community Environments.

Tennessee PTA board of managers advocates for policies and programs to help meet the basic needs of children and families. We promote research, training and public education to strengthen proactive and responsive factors that buffer indicators for sexual abuse while also directly addressing the root causes of individual situations.

As a major advocacy agent for youth, parents and educators we applaud the state in the progressive strides of raising awareness and implementing strategies that support appropriate responses to ACEs.

We continue to encourage our state government and all individuals in the educational arena to reflect the ideals of the true nature of appropriately responding to the root causes and publicly mirroring those behaviors in order to model the desired behaviors this state is aiming to provide for the Nation.

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

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Loser Teachers


Tennessee Teachers:

Just wanted to be sure you knew that Team Trump thinks you are all losers and socialists. Don’t take my word for it, listen to Donald Trump, Jr. explain:

 

 

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Sorry


Chalkbeat has the story of Nashville school board member Will Pinkston’s essay on Tennessee’s Race to the Top experience and his role in the application process.

I’ll dig into the essay and provide thoughts and analysis soon, but here’s a key part of the introduction Chalkbeat highlighted:

I see in retrospect the mistake that I made while working on Race to the Top. I feel equal parts guilty and sad about it. In my view, the problem isn’t that Race to the Top’s fundamentals were flawed. No one can argue with the need for rigorous K-12 academic standards and aligned tests, effective school turnaround strategies and a focus on great teachers and school leaders. But Race to the Top jumped the rails when a cast of radical reformers hijacked the agenda during political transitions. Bad actors began working overtime to dismantle public schools. Here in Tennessee, our largest school systems — in Memphis and Nashville — became part of ground zero in the country’s civil war over public education, joining embattled school systems in cities like Los Angeles, Milwaukee and New Orleans.

Pinkston is highly critical of the Haslam Administration and failed education commissioners Kevin Huffman (who couldn’t resist attacking teachers) and Candice McQueen (who couldn’t get a handle on the state’s testing system).

 

 

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