McQueen: We Are Listening

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen published a letter to parents and families about the TNReady roll out. The letter discusses how the Department of Education is also disappointed in the roll out. I’m going to break down her letter with my thoughts. The letter was posted with the attached bolded sentences.

You have probably heard a lot about testing recently as schools have started the annual TCAP assessments, including the new TNReady in math and English. I want to thank you for your patience and support during this transition. As we always see in education, parents and teachers have gone the extra mile to put students first.

As you know, our goal was to administer TNReady online this year. However, due to unexpected issues with our test vendor, students are instead taking the exam on paper. While this is not how we had hoped students would first take TNReady, the paper version of TNReady was created alongside the online version, so it is reliable with questions that have been reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers. 

As you can see, Commissioner McQueen is using this letter to literally highlight the talking points on TNReady. It is a good reminder that all TNReady questions were reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers.

We know the shift has brought challenges for our schools. We too are frustrated and disappointed by our inability to provide students with an online test this year and by the logistical difficulties. We have been working tirelessly to provide a positive testing experience as much as is within our control and to reduce anxiety. Districts already have the option to exclude TNReady and TCAP scores from students’ grades. In addition, the governor proposed to give teachers the flexibility to only include scores from this year’s TNReady and TCAP tests within their evaluation if it benefits them. If you want to learn more about the paper test transition, please visit our website and our blog.

We fully believe that our students are more than test scores. TNReady provides one – but just one – way to help parents and teachers make sure students are ready for the next step by showing how they are progressing. It will give you better information about what your student is learning and retaining because it includes more complex questions that look for how students think and analyze problems.

Yes, the rollout of TNReady has caused a lot of challenges. It was a nightmare for many schools to have to keep updating their testing schedule to prepare for TNReady (plus everything the schools did up until that point to get ready for a computer assessment). Our school had to change the schedule multiple times before testing began. While our testing went very smoothly, there were times when we did not have enough answer sheets for our students. We also had to postpone one grade level’s test because we lacked testing materials.

I know teachers across the state cheered when they heard that Governor Haslam is offering flexibility in regards to using scores in our evaluations. MNPS has already emailed all teachers about this proposed changed to keep the teachers updated. TNEdReport will keep you updated on this proposed legislation.

As we all know and agree with, students are not just data points. But the data provided can be helpful.

Parents should be able to clearly understand what their students know, how they are meeting grade-level expectations, and how they are performing compared to their peers. In the past, parent reports were often difficult to interpret and offered little guidance on how you could support your child, but TNReady allows us to provide parents with more specific and thorough information.

To assure we are creating parent reports that will best inform you, we ask for your feedback as we finalize the design of these reports. You can provide your thoughts on specific pieces of the proposed parent reports through this online form.

While we have not see the scores for TNReady, I am excited to hear from parents once they receive this information. I am cautiously optimistic that the state will provide better information for our parents and teachers. We have been let down before, and I hope it doesn’t happen with the scores.

We are fortunate to have incredible leaders in our communities: parents, principals, and teachers who face challenges every day while leading remarkable work on behalf of kids. Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed firsthand the character, focus, and teamwork in so many communities across the state. Thank you again for leading the team in your own household and working in partnership with our schools to seek continuous improvement even in the midst of challenges.

I think the best thing Commissioner McQueen can do is to communicate with teachers, parents, and the public as often as she can. Teachers need to know that the state cares about what is happening in schools across the state. I like how the state has provided a way for citizens to ask questions of the state. I have submitted a question to the state, and I hope there is follow through from the state.

What are your thoughts on McQueen’s letter? Have you submitted a question to the state? If so, have you heard back? Tell us below in the comments.


 

The Attacks on PET

Since September of last year, an anti-Professional Educators of Tennessee website has been up and running. The website, PETExposed.com, was started by Chattanooga activist Chris Brooks. I found this website after the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus shared a post from PETExposed.

Chris Brooks is a former Tennessee Education Association employee. When reached by TNEdReport, TEA responded that PETExposed “is not a TEA product. Chris Brooks no longer works at TEA, nor is he affiliated with the association.” I contacted TEA because I found Chris Brooks still listed on their website as an employee. I asked TEA when he was last affiliated with TEA because the PETExposed site was created six months ago, but they did not respond back.

The website largely attacks PET as a fake union and explicitly goes after the record of J.C. Bowman.

Bluff City Education ran a post from Bowman’s daughter to respond to the attacks from Chris Brooks.


 

 

Hope Street Group Seeks Next Round of TN Fellows

Hope Street Group is seeking its second class of Tennessee Teacher Fellows and applications are open through March 11th.

Hope Street Group seeks to engage Tennessee teachers in the education policymaking process. Fellows have opportunities to broaden their understanding of state reform efforts; learn media skills; and receive continuous support in writing blog posts, op-eds, and letters to the editor.

Hope Street is specifically seeking fellows from the following regions of the state:

Read articles from current HSG TN Fellows:

TNReady Made Students Tech Ready

Of Hope and TNReady

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

Corra vs. Butt

Tennessee education blogging newcomer Charles Corra takes on anti-Islamic hysteria and State Rep. Sheila Butt in his latest post on Rocky Top Ed Talk:

I recently wrote about an implicitly anti-Islamic bill floating around the Tennessee legislature that sought to ban the teaching of “religious doctrine” until 10th grade.  While the bill does not explicitly mention Islam in its text, it was filed in wake of parental complaints regarding students learning about the five pillars of Islam and effectively seeks to prevent “religious indoctrination” in Tennessee public schools.

While some of us may have hoped this silly bill would simply wither away and die, it unfortunately has not.  Instead, it will be see some light of day in the Senate Education committee.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), is no stranger to asserting her religious beliefs. Rep. Butt has called for a Council on Christian Relations, Rep. Butt is a published Christian author, with such notable works as “Does God Love Michael’s Two Daddies?” and “Everyday Princess: Daughter of the King,” which contains some…questionable comments regarding interracial dating.

Corra correctly notes the bill will soon receive a hearing in a legislative committee.

Here’s more on efforts to stir anti-Muslim sentiment in Tennessee:

Financed by Fear

Sharing the Wealth

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

McIntyre to Step Down

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre announced today he will step down from his current role in July of this year.

His tenure in Knox County has been controversial, with teachers speaking out about his leadership and emphasis on TVAAS scores to evaluate and pay teachers.

The decision comes as recent votes by the School Board and County Commission indicate a lack of strong support for McIntyre.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported:

McIntyre’s contract recently was extended on a 5-4 vote of the school board, but McIntyre acknowledged that the 2016 election will shift the balance in favor of opponents of the superintendent.

He said that he decided to step down over the weekend, after conversations with Knox County Schools Board of Education Chairman Doug Harris.

McIntyre mentioned efforts by Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong to discredit his recent contract, and a vote by Knox County Commission to not support that contract. The 9-2 vote had no impact on his contract, which was between McIntyre and the Board of Education, but symbolic in showing a groundswell of dissent for the schools administrator.

More on McIntyre:

Knox County Turmoil

Dear Jim

A Matter of Fairness

Big Monday for McIntyre

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

 

 

 

TSBA Leader Named to Education Commission of the States

The Tennessee School Boards Association has announced that its Executive Director, Dr. Tammy Grissom, has been named to the Education Commission of the States:

TSBA is pleased to announce that Governor Bill Haslam has appointed Dr. Tammy Grissom, TSBA Executive Director, to the Education Commission of the States (ECS) as a Representative of state education policymaking.  ECS supports all 50 states and four territories – the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Puerto Rico andthe Virgin Islands. Each state appoints seven commissioners who help guide the work of ECS and their own state’s education agendas. Commissioners also have the authority to approve amendments to bylaws and provide strategic information to ECS staff regarding state education policy issues.  Governor Haslam’s comments about Dr. Grissom were, “ your individual characteristics and professional qualifications were exceptional among the number of nominees who expressed interest and your participation is certain to leave a positive impact on this board and the work it does.”

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

Lunchtime Lecture on Chamber Education Initiatives

The Tennessee Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration (TN-ASPA) will host a lunchtime lecture tomorrow on the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s K-12 Education initiatives. The event is free and open to the public.

Here’s the press release:

TN-ASPA hosts the third lunchtime lecture in our Fall series on Education in Tennessee and Nashville. Rita McDonald will speak on the Nashville Chamber’s K-12 education initiatives.

  • Who: Rita McDonald, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Topic: Nashville Chamber of Commerce K-12 Education Initiatives
  • When: Thursday, November 19, 2015, 12noon1pm
  • Where: UT Center for Industrial Services
    2nd Floor Training Room
    193 Polk Avenue, Nashville, TN
    (Parking available on-site, please park in the front of building and enter through the middle entrance under the “T”)
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has set improvement of public education as its number one priority. The Chamber focuses on helping metro public school students succeed and on getting the community and business leaders involved in public education. The Chamber has several K-12 education programs and initiatives, including the Education Report Card, Freshman Career Exploration Fairs, speaker series, and awards.
Rita McDonald, the Director of Community and Business Engagement in Education with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, will speak on:

  • Why public education is the Chamber’s #1 priority
  • the Chamber’s major initiatives to improve public education
  • the major challenges and opportunities in public education in Nashville
  • the Chamber’s positions on key local and state public policy issues related to education
Lecture is FREE and open to the public.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

If Education Is Really About the Kids, We Have to Be Open to Self-Reflection

Editor’s note: This was originally posted on Education Post. I believe we need to admit when we are wrong, instead of diving deeper into our flawed beliefs. It’s okay to be wrong, even when it’s about education. As we teach our students that it’s okay to be wrong, we must also live by that virtue.

Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island.

It is often said that the political battles in education are the nastiest of all, with ideology and special interests on all sides digging in and the actual education of children less of a priority than the egos and demands of a bunch of squabbling grown-ups.

Perhaps the tide is turning just a bit.

Self-help authors, therapists, and perhaps even Pope Francis might just be clicking their heels over what appears to be a wave of self-reflection that has invaded the education wars. Yes, that’s right. The K-12 education space of late is rife with “mea culpas” and they’re coming from some highly respected and powerful people.

Let’s start with the White House. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who have pointed the finger at themselves, in part, over what they concede has become excessive and ineffectual testing in America’s schools.

In too many schools, there is unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of purpose applied to the task of assessing students, consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students. The Administration bears some of the responsibility for this, and we are committed to being part of the solution.

Just over the weekend, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, issued her own mea culpa in the New York Daily News over her past support for zero-tolerance policies in schools.

These policies were promoted by people, including me, who hoped they would create safe learning environments for students by freeing them from disruptions by misbehaving peers. It was analogous to the broken-windows theory of policing. We were wrong.

Sure, she also used it as a platform to take a shot at charters but hey, it’s something. And as far as zero-tolerance policies go with their lack of efficacy and disproportionate impact on low-income students of color, I’m with Randi.

Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute is also riding the wave of self-reflection. In Hechinger Report, he writes about the wrongheadedness of seeing yourself as being on the good side, and by default, painting those on the other side as nefarious:

But if this is really to be about “the kids,” and not just our own search for meaning, we need to be careful of lapsing into morality plays. We need to be particularly mindful of not villainizing our opponents. And we need to be humble enough to acknowledge the technical challenges in what we’re trying to achieve.

It’s hard to know if this is just a blip or if there is genuine movement towards more introspection and a better understanding of what unites us. Today’s launch of Teach Strong, a coalition of 40 organizations including American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Teach For America and Education Post, bodes well for collaborative efforts around a common mission:

We believe that all students, especially those from low-income families, deserve to be taught by great teachers. To accomplish this goal, we must modernize and elevate the teaching profession. This effort will require transforming the systems and policies that support teachers throughout all stages of their careers.

Whether this recent spate of mea culpas proves to be consequential or just a phase remains to be seen. But in a space that feels so highly polarized much of the time, self-reflection with a dash of humility can only be a good thing.

Teachers Deserve Thanks, Not Blame

This article originally appeared in TREND, the online journal of the Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET).

 

Our schools reflect society, and society has undergone a dramatic shift from previous generations. A typical classroom today consists of many students with severe behavioral problems, limited knowledge of English usage, emotional and psychological difficulties, learning disabilities and attention-deficit disorders. And many suffer from abuse and other adverse home and socioeconomic conditions.

 

Unlike previous generations, many parents today send their kids to school unfed, unprepared and with little or no neither basic skills nor social skills. In many neighborhoods, it’s the school building, not the child’s home that provides a safe, secure and predictable haven. Despite these societal problems, we need to focus on the success stories of what’s right with our schools rather than what’s wrong with our schools.

 

In my previous work as a motivational speaker and professional development trainer, I have personally worked with thousands of teachers nationwide. I have found them to be caring, hardworking, dedicated, industrious and sincerely committed to the success of their students.

 

Teachers’ duties have now grown to the added dimensions of counselor, mentor, coach, resource person, mediator, motivator, enforcer and adviser. Instead of acknowledging that teaching is a demanding profession, critics will often focus on the supposedly shortened workday of teachers. Still others claim, “Yes, teachers are busy, but at least they get a planning period each day to help get things done.” In reality, the so-called planning period is really a misnomer. A typical teacher is so involved with the day’s activities that usually there is no time to stop and plan. Those minutes that are supposed to be devoted to planning are often filled with endless amounts of paperwork, meetings, interruptions, schedule changes, extra assigned duties, phone calls, conferences, gathering missed work for absent students, completing forms, submitting required data and on and on. Maybe they call it a planning period, because there’s NO time left for planning…period!

 

Most teachers leave the building long after the students’ dismissal time and usually with plenty of paperwork and tests to correct. Evenings are spent reviewing homework assignments and planning for the next day of teaching.

 

In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate/license, once teachers begin to work in the classroom, they need to immediately continue their own education. During summertime, they are constantly updating their education, earning a graduate degree or two and making sure their teaching certificates are active and valid.

 

Too many people have the mistaken notion that anyone can teach. They think that they could teach because they have seen other people teach. Yet, when looking at other professions and occupations, these same people understand that they can’t perform those jobs. They may have briefly seen the cockpit of an airplane, but they don’t assume they can fly it. They may have spent an hour in a courtroom but don’t believe that they can practice law. They certainly don’t think they are able to perform surgery.

 

Every day, teachers are making a significant difference. At any given moment, teachers are influencing children in positive and meaningful ways. Many societal problems exist, such as violence, drugs, broken homes, poverty, economic crises and a variety of other woes. Teachers struggle with the turmoil of society while trying to offset the negative influences outside of school. As they roll up their sleeves and take strides to improve the lives of their students, teachers are the real heroes.

 

Today’s teacher is more than a transmitter of knowledge; the demands of the profession are ever-increasing. Many parents and taxpayers have an expectation that a school system should be the do all and be all in their children’s lives. Some parents have a notion that they can drop off their child at the schoolhouse door, and behold, 12 years later, they will be able to pick up a perfect specimen of a human being — well-rounded, academically proficient, emotionally sound, physically fit and ready to meet the next phase of life.

 

But we know that teachers cannot do it alone. A sound, safe and secure home life is essential. An effort on the parent’s part to prepare the child for school is vital. And parental involvement that results in a partnership in the child’s development is necessary. When that doesn’t occur, then it’s easy to scapegoat the classroom teacher.

 

As the school year begins, our public schools welcome everyone. The individual classroom teacher is faced with dozens and dozens of human beings who come to school in varying degrees of ability, potential, maturity, motivation levels, and readiness to learn. Students arrive with a tremendous amount of baggage, with various health and nutrition factors, family issues, neighborhood influences and differing socioeconomic levels.

 

In today’s climate of high stakes testing, business leaders and politicians continue to demand better results with data driven assessments and test scores. It is important to realize that the classroom is not a factory floor where uniformity and precise precision can be molded into just one final finished product. Unlike the manufacturing arena, teachers don’t select the raw materials (students).   All are welcome as teachers strive to meet and serve all levels and all kinds of students. Test results will always vary from low to high ranges because schools are dealing with human beings with varying degrees of potential.   The school is not an assembly line that can mass-produce exact templates of finished products meeting the same exact predetermined standard.

 

Instead of bashing our teachers, we should be conveying recognition, accolades, tributes and positive acknowledgments. Teachers deserve a sincere thank-you for the tremendous benefits they provide society. And that’s why my all-time favorite bumper sticker offers a profound and important declaration: “If you can read this … thank a teacher!”

 

In our schools today, there are thousands of success stories waiting to be told and there’s a need to proclaim those successes proudly and boldly. Teachers should stand tall and be proud of their chosen profession. Critics should not judge them unfairly. Together, let’s become teacher advocates and show admiration for the inspiring and important life-changing work they do

Dr. Tom Staszewski, a former middle school teacher, lives in Erie with his wife, Linda. He recently retired after a 35-year career in higher education administration. He is the author of “Total Teaching: Your Passion Makes it Happen” His email is tomstasz@neo.rr.com

Sharing the Wealth

Last month, I wrote about ACLJ leader Jay Sekulow and his quest for financial gain based on the fear of Islam as one of the world religions covered in 6th and 7th grade social studies classes.

Now, it seems that Tennessee-based blogger and former radio host Steve Gill is getting in on the money grab.

Gill sent out a press release yesterday about an event in White County directed at removing textbooks that cover Islam. Gill is also listed as the media contact (and registered owner) of this website designed to keep the “controversy” going.  WPLN has this story which refers to the standards as new.

However, while the standards have been updated, the teaching of Islam as part of social studies in 6th and 7th grade is not a new practice in Tennessee. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen notes in a memo:

The content of religion in our social studies standards is not new in Tennessee, but the sequence has been revised. The content of the current Islamic World standards has been included in the state’s social studies standards for many years and what students are expected to know about the Islamic World is also consistent with years prior. The new standards have simply moved what was previously spread throughout the social studies standards prior to 2013 (those standards can be found here: http://tn.gov/education/article/academic-standards-archive) to one section in the seventh-grade World History course. Most of the current seventh-grade World History standards were previously contained in sixth-grade and can be found here: http://tn.gov/…/education/attachments/std_arch_ss_gr_6.pdf


The State Board of Education adopted the current social studies standards in July 2013. The standards were developed by a committee of Tennessee teachers and were available for the public and all Tennessee educators to review and provide feedback.

To be clear: The standards were developed and adopted more than two years ago. That process included Tennessee teachers developing the standards, a public feedback period, and the State Board of Education adopting the standards in a public meeting.

While updated, the standards continued the practice of covering the Islamic World in middle school social studies courses.

Where was Steve Gill in 2013 when the State Board adopted these standards that he now claims are responsible for “Islamic indoctrination?”

Why didn’t the ACLJ’s Sekulow cry out in 2013 when the State Board adopted standards he suspected would cause mass conversion of 7th graders to Islam?

And what about all the years prior to 2013 when the Islamic World was ALSO covered in middle school social studies? Was there mass indoctrination then? What about a slew of middle school students converting?

Gill and Sekulow don’t have answers to those questions … or, they haven’t been asked, it seems.

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