The Importance of Mentors

Bethany Bowman, Director of Professional Development at Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), writes on the importance of mentoring.

January has been proclaimed National Mentoring Month. Mentoring can strengthen families, schools, businesses and communities.

Despite the obvious benefits of mentoring throughout a career, the type of guidance or skills required will likely change over time. For example, at the beginning of a career, a more job-specific mentor may be appropriate. Longtime employees also might benefit from what Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, called “reverse mentoring” – partnering with someone from a younger generation to share expertise, update skills, and gain a different perspective.

When I was hired for my first teaching job several days before school actually started, I was supposed to be part of a team. However, the team I was assigned consisted of veteran teachers who didn’t need or want help from anyone. They were also not very helpful to a rookie educator. So basically I was going at it alone facing all the challenges that most first year teachers face without support.

In my second year teaching, I moved to a new school where the teams actually planned and worked together as a team. I was given plenty of sage advice and had a successful career at that school. Working together, we helped each other grow as colleagues and teachers.

Today it appears that many school districts are paying attention and seeing the positive results that come from teachers mentoring each other and planning as a team. However, with the many changes in technology, it is not just the young new teachers that need mentoring. There are plenty of experienced teachers that need assistance with the new technology that is be thrust their way. Teachers are expected to be the expert on all aspects in their field of study.

Everyone’s skill levels are different and varied. You may be an expert in classroom management and can provide advice to struggling teachers. I may have a different set of skills that I can share expertise with you. We all need to mentor each other. This will significantly improve not only our own lives, but more importantly, teachers mentoring other teachers will impact the lives of the children they serve.

Professional Educators of Tennessee encourages all people to accept the challenges and rewards of mentoring someone knowing that both the mentor and mentee will experience benefits that will last each of you a lifetime. Together we can all reach our goals.

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

Virtually Unchecked

The Virtual Public Schools Act, which authorized the creation of the Tennessee Virtual Academy run by K12, Inc. is set to expire this year.

Already, legislation (HB 4) has been filed to extend the Act until 2019. No Senate companion yet exists, but it seems likely that K12, Inc.’s top legislative champion, Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, will carry the bill in the Senate.

The Tennessee Virtual Academy has come under fire the last several years as its students have posted the lowest scores in academic achievement in the state. The situation is so bad that this year, former Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman recommended the school not be allowed to enroll additional students.

The Union County School Board (the system that hosts TNVA) denied that request and collected a check from K12, Inc.

I’d anticipate significant pushback this year against any unchecked continuation of K12, Inc.’s operation in Tennessee. That said, both legislators and Governor Haslam have expressed concerns in the past only to see K12, Inc. continue with business as usual.

Will K12’s lobbyists be successful this year, or will this legislative session finally put a cap on the unchecked growth of TNVA?

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

Tipton County vs. Common Core

The Tipton County Board of Education passed a resolution last week calling on the Tennessee General Assembly to repeal the Common Core State Standards and replace them with Tennessee Standards that ensure students are prepared for college, career, and/or the military.

The resolution notes that the Common Core Standards, currently guiding Tennessee schools, were developed without input from Tennessee educators.

The Board is asking the state to develop its own standards and include Tennessee educators in the process. Governor Haslam has essentially promised the same thing, calling for a review of the Common Core and the development and implementation of Tennessee standards developed with input from a group of Tennessee educators.

Here’s the resolution:

Tipton Resolution

 

 

 

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

Will Haslam Raise Teacher Pay?

He’s not saying.

Yet.

Blake Farmer over at WPLN has the story.

Basically, both Haslam and incoming Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen say they are committed to improving teacher pay, but make no commitment about a specific raise this year.

Haslam does think he should be given credit for giving teachers raises early in his term, though.

Here’s what he said:

“What gets lost in there is we were one of the few states, in our first three budgets, who actually did give teachers raises,” Haslam said in an interview with WPLN.

What he failed to mention is that Tennessee ranks near the bottom in the nation in rate of improvement of teacher pay as well as total teacher compensation. And the disparity among districts in terms of teacher pay is reaching proportions previously rule unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

In short, a failure to address both the level of teacher pay and the resources provided to schools could result in more than just angry teachers. Some are even beginning to suggest a school funding lawsuit is in order.

Will 2015 be the year Bill Haslam makes a serious attempt to both improve teacher pay and provide needed resources to Tennessee schools?

He just won’t say.

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

RTI Rollout Rushed?

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has a story about Tennessee’s RTI2 program implementation in which she notes that the program’s mandates have come largely unfunded by the State of Tennessee.

The Response to Intervention and Instruction program is designed to identify students who are struggling and get them extra assistance before they fall too far behind.

In practice, the program means many students miss related arts or even social studies and science in order to spend extra time in remediation for math and reading, the two subjects tested on the state’s TCAP test.

Additionally, many districts report they lack the funding to provide subject-matter teachers and so individuals not certified in math or reading may be in charge of certain remediation classrooms.

Tatter notes:

Districts have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on assessments, and don’t have the money to hire educators with the expertise required to work with the highest needs students. Some schools are using their general education teachers, already stretched thin, and others are using computer programs.

The state’s RTI2 policy identifies the intervention levels for students:

According to the state RTI2 policy, students should be divided into three groups: the majority, on grade level, are in Tier 1, students in the bottom 25th percentile of students across the country  are in Tier 2, and students in the bottom 10th percentile are in Tier 3.

All students, regardless of tier, get an hour of intervention time a day. For Tier 2 and Tier 3, intervention time is spent in small groups, ideally of fewer than five students, working on specific skills, while for kids in Tier 1 it might be enrichment activities.

Tatter notes that Metro Nashville Public Schools is among the districts taking advantage of the flexibility offered by the state to serve a smaller pool of students.

Essentially, if a district feels it lacks adequate resources to provide services to the bottom 25 perfcent of students, it can shift down to a smaller number, 16% in Tier 2 in MNPS for example, and the bottom 7% in Tier 3.

The shift at MNPS means they can focus on a smaller pool, but it also highlights the challenge faced by districts across the state. That is, those districts with higher concentrations of poverty (and likely to have higher numbers of students needing intervention) also have the least resources available to assist students.  The poorest districts, then, are left further behind as a result of a well-intentioned unfunded state mandate.

Tatter notes that education researchers and practitioners believe RTI2 can work and work well, but without proper support, many districts are struggling to make that happen.

More on RTI2 from our friends over at Bluff City Ed

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

 

 

Message from McQueen

New Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent a message to teachers today. In it, she noted that she is a Tennessean (from Clarksville) and that she has years of classroom teaching experience, including teaching in Tennessee. These two items differentiate her from her predecessor.

Here’s her message:

I wanted to send you a brief note during this holiday season to express how much I look forward to working with you in the months ahead.

 

I am honored Governor Haslam has asked me to serve as Commissioner of Education, and I am pleased I will have the opportunity to listen, learn, and work with you in support of the children and families of Tennessee.

 

This is a very exciting time in our state.  We know we are headed in the right direction.  We are the fastest improving state in the nation in student achievement.  Most importantly, thanks to you, we are making a real difference in the lives of our children and the future of our state.  I also know you share my belief that we have more work to do.

 

We want every child in our state to have access to a great school and to great teaching in every classroom.  We want every graduate to be college and career-ready so they can succeed in the future.  We want Tennessee to continue to set the pace and lead the nation in the reforms and innovations that are making a real difference in the lives of our students. We will do that by supporting strong school leaders and great teachers, like you, in every school in our state and by staying focused on high standards and assessments that align with and work with those standards.

 

I grew up in Clarksville, and like you have served as a classroom teacher – in both public and private schools – at the elementary and middle school levels — in Tennessee and outside our state – and I have spent most of my career focused on developing and supporting educators to help our students succeed. We both know that’s where the magic and hard work takes place – in classrooms – between great teachers and eager children.

 

Now I look forward to traveling our state to listen and learn from you and other teachers, principals, parents, and other school leaders who are working so hard every day to help our children succeed.

 

I can commit to you that I will always put children first in making decisions about policy or practice.  Every decision we will make at the department will be made through the lens of what is best for our students.  We know this work is hard, but if we continue to put students at the center of the conversation I am confident we can build on our progress.

 

The future of our state – and of our children – depends on the work we will do together in the coming months and years.  I’m excited to get started, and I look forward to working closely with you.

 

Thank you for your leadership, and best wishes during this holiday season.

 

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

Commissioner McQueen

Though she didn’t make it to the Final Four in Education Commissioner Madness, Lipscomb University Senior Vice President Candice McQueen looks to be Governor Haslam’s choice to serve as Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education. This according to Joey Garrison at the The Tennessean.

In addition to serving as Senior Vice President at Lipscomb, McQueen is the Dean of the College of Education at the school.

Here’s more on McQueen from her bio at Lipscomb:

Dr. Candice McQueen was appointed as a Senior Vice President at Lipscomb University in January 2014 where she also serves as the Dean of the College of Education.  In her new senior role, McQueen serves on the executive leadership team of the university and oversees both her college and the 1,300 Pre-K-12th grade students in three schools at Lipscomb Academy – the largest private school in middle Tennessee.

McQueen’s college and teacher preparation programs have been highlighted at both the state and national levels for excellence in both teacher preparation design and teacher candidate outcomes.  The programs in McQueen’s college have been consistently highlighted as one of the top teacher training programs in the state of Tennessee for quality and effectiveness based on the Tennessee Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs and was most recently pointed out as the second highest ranking program in the nation by the National Council on Teacher Quality.  In addition, in her six years as dean, the college has grown by 54% with 72% growth at the graduate level while adding 15 new graduate programs, including a doctorate, and creating innovative partnerships that focus on collaborative design and delivery for coursework and programming.

In 2012, McQueen and the College of Education partnered with the Ayers Foundation to initiate The Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation.  The institute has a focus on supporting higher academic standards, embedded professional learning and new approaches to leadership training and support.  The institute initially partnered with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to create pre-service teacher resources and web-based videos on teachers modeling the usage of college and career readiness standards.  Tennessee’s higher education institutions and alternative preparation programs are currently utilizing the resources to prepare new teachers and leaders.  Also, many Tennessee school districts and other states are using the resources for professional development.  In addition, the institute’s innovative MOOCs (massive open online courses) in teacher preparation were recently released.  The first three MOOCs released in September and October 2014 already have almost 10,000 users.

Before coming to Lipscomb and serving as a department chair, Dr. McQueen taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools where she was awarded multiple awards for both her teaching and the curriculum design of a new magnet school. Dr. McQueen has a bachelor’s degree from Lipscomb, a master’s degree from Vanderbilt, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas.

 

McQueen has been a strong supporter of Common Core, testifying before state legislators on the issue. She also spoke about the standards and their importance at Governor Haslam’s Education Summit held earlier this year.

Tennessee Education Association statement on McQueen:
“TEA looks forward to working with Dr. McQueen to provide a quality public education to every student in Tennessee,” said Barbara Gray, Shelby County administrator and TEA president. “We hope she will listen to veteran educators in the state when making important policy decisions. The people who work with children in the classroom every day are the real experts and should have a significant voice in decision-making at the state level.”

“TEA is hopeful she will use this new position to forcefully advocate within the administration to improve per student investment in Tennessee,” the TEA president continued. “As a former educator herself, I’m sure she agrees that it is unacceptable for our state to rank below Mississippi in what we invest in our children.”

Professional Educators of Tennessee statement on McQueen:

We look forward to working with Dr. McQueen on critical education issues facing Tennessee Educators. Dr. Candice McQueen is well versed in the hard work teachers’ face every day as she has taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools. She is familiar with Tennessee, one of our major concerns. “We have admired Dr. McQueen’s work from afar, and are looking forward to working with her more closely,” said Executive Director J. C. Bowman. Priorities for a new commissioner must first be student-centered. Our students must have the resources and innovative instruction to compete in a world-class economy right here in Tennessee. We are reminded that the working conditions of our educators become the learning environment of our students, therefore teachers must also be a high priority in the new commissioner’s agenda. Finally, Tennessee will need to continue to allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have maintained, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators. In this season of hope, we truly look forward to working with Dr. McQueen to move our state forward.

 

 

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

 

Report Card on MNPS

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its annual Report Card on Metro Schools yesterday. The group made 5 policy recommendations, including asking the MNPS School Board to wait until after the new Mayor is elected in August of 2015 before finalizing a Director of Schools.

Here are the recommendations from the Chamber press release:

  • The Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card Committee should annually monitor the implementation of MNPS’ strategic plan through 2018.
  • MNPS’ pay supplement system should be reformed to financially reward teachers who assume a leadership position at their school.
  • MNPS should highlight issues which impede school-level autonomy to identify needed policy or statute changes.
  • The Metro Nashville Board of Education should take action to recommit itself to policy governance and professional development in order to establish steps toward developing consensus moving forward.
  • The school board should hire a new director of schools after the election of a new mayor in 2015.

Here’s how Report Card committee members explained the suggested delay on a Director choice until after the Mayor’s election:

“The director of schools reports to the Metro Nashville Board of Education,” said Committee Co-chair Brian Shaw. “But our committee felt it will be critically important for both the educational leadership and the political leadership of our community have strong working relationships, and the upcoming election for mayor and Metro Council is critical to that.”

“The school board has a tremendous amount of work to do to get to the point where they are ready to hire a new director, so we understand the need to go ahead and begin the search process soon,” said committee Co-chair Jackson Miller. “We believe knowing who our next mayor is before the finalists are identified eliminates a big question mark in the minds of the quality candidates we are trying to recruit.”

The Metro Nashville Education Association weighed-in on the Report Card, essentially agreeing with the core recommendations but adding that teacher input is needed going forward and that funding for teacher pay must be a priority. The MNEA agrees that a new Director should not be hired until the new mayor has been elected.

Here’s what MNEA had to say, from their press release:

  • In addition to the annual monitoring by the Chamber’s Report Card committee, the success of MNPS’ strategic plan, Education 2018, a plan to become the highest performing urban school district in the United States, will be dependent on the support of all of Nashville, especially its students, teachers, and leaders.
  • MNEA has long supported more pay for teachers who assume leadership responsibilities. However, its implementation will be contingent upon the district making it a funding priority.
  • Both nationally and internationally, highly success schools exist where there is teacher autonomy. Yet experience tells us that in the absence of an accountability structure and/or the will to create one, school-level, or principal autonomy, will lead to chaos and injustice.
  • In 2002 the MNPS Board of Education adopted policy governance. No member of the current board served during 2002, nor did any member vote to adopt this form of governance. The current elected board should either recommit to policy governance or choose a form of governance that best serves their needs, and most importantly, best serves the needs of Nashville’s students.
  • The hiring of the next MNPS Director of Schools should not occur without input from Nashville’s students, parents, teachers, and new mayor.

 

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

 

Interview with Beacon Center’s Justin Owen

Below is an interview with Justin Owen, President and CEO of Beacon Center of Tennessee. The Beacon Center is helping push voucher legislation in Tennessee.

 

Some of our readers may not know much about the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Can you tell us about your organization?

Most people refer to the Beacon Center as a “free market think tank,” but what that really means is that we come up with ideas to empower Tennessee to reclaim control of their lives, and we put those ideas into action so that those Tennesseans can freely pursue their version of the American Dream.

During the past legislative session, your organization helped push a measure to create a voucher program in Tennessee. Are you bringing about the same legislation this year? Can you tell us about it?

Beacon supported legislation last year that would provide a voucher, or opportunity scholarship, to low-income children zoned for districts containing failing schools. We believe that parents, not ZIP codes, should decide what school their child attends. We owe it to Tennessee families to ensure that each child in our state gets the best education, tailored to his or her unique needs, and we will support similar legislation to do just that in 2015.

Many of our readers are public school teachers. Why should teachers be in favor of sending money away from public schools to private schools?

Teachers consistently point to the need for higher per-pupil funding and smaller class sizes. Opportunity scholarships will give them both. As a recent Beacon study [http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/fiscal-impacts_web.pdf] shows, only a portion of the amount we already spend would follow a child via a scholarship. The rest would remain with that public school to be reinvested in those children. Some districts – like Memphis and Nashville – would not only cover the fixed costs, but save an additional $1,300 to $1,500 for every child that leaves. And while there will be no mass exodus of children from the system (as most families will continue to choose the public school option for their children), those who do leave with a scholarship will reduce classroom sizes, allowing teacher to increase their focus on those who choose to stay in the school.

Is using a voucher system been proven effective?

Yes, studies show that both children who use vouchers and those who choose to remain in their public school benefit. Nine of 10 random assignment studies show gains among opportunity scholarship students. And of 23 studies conducted on vouchers’ impact of public school students, 22 found positive gains in their performance as well. Not one single study has ever found a negative impact on voucher students or those who remain in public schools. Thus, these programs represent a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Besides vouchers, what other education initiations does the Beacon Center promote?

Beacon sees opportunity scholarships as another tool in the education toolbox, and part of a broader movement to empower parents with more choice in education. Our focus is on advancing the various options parents have at their fingertips.

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


 

 

PET Looks to 2015

A response to Governor Haslam’s recently announced teacher support initiatives by JC Bowman and Samantha Bates of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

 

The announcement by Governor Bill Haslam addressing testing, evaluations, local control and teacher input was a much needed statement, as Tennessee is heading into the 2015 legislative session. Keeping in mind that each branch of government has a distinct and separate role, it is appropriate for Governor Haslam to identify changing priorities. As always, the key is in implementation of policies. Many policies sound good. They simply have to be executed correctly.

It is always good to step back and put some political philosophy behind the policy. However, the real message educators need to hear from elected leaders is that they are trusted. We need to start a fresh conversation on evaluating how we assess our educators, which may mean a change in the way we measure engagement.

When did test results became the be-all and end-all of our education experience? Is standardized testing so reliable that it has ended the search for something better to determine the quality of our education experience? And while numbers may help us understand our world, we recognize that they do not tell us the entire story.

Most local school districts understand that ability of their instructional personnel is the only real differentiator between them and other local districts. Therefore, it is imperative that we start treating our educators like one of our most important assets. And it is only common sense that one of the key items policymakers need to address in 2015 will be teacher salaries.

However, educators do not enter this field of public education for the income; they are there for the outcomes. If the perception within Tennessee is that teaching is not a celebrated profession, we certainly will not get the young talented people to pursue a career in public education as a profession.

We have steadfastly maintained that requiring school districts to simultaneously implement new standards, new teacher evaluations and perhaps a new curriculum, as well as new testing demands, will continue to place enormous pressure at the local level. More information and feedback on state assessments to help teachers improve student achievement is a welcome addition to the discussion. The use and/or overuse of testing remain a conversation worthy of public debate.

Tennessee will need to continue allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have argued, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators.

The key item we took away from Governor Haslam’s latest proposal is his willingness to hear teacher concerns. It has taken us a long time to get to that point. However, it was a welcome relief to many educators, as we are now positioned to reset the dialogue. The area of improved teacher communication and collaboration has long been needed. We hope a new commissioner of education will truly embrace this concept.

If the right people are brought together for the right purpose, we believe anything is possible for Tennessee children and those who choose to educate our students. Dreaming big should not be just for the children in our classrooms, it should be for the stakeholders and policymakers in our state as well.

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