Tennessee PTA Opposes DeVos

The Tennessee PTA released a statement today expressing opposition to Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. The statement comes ahead of a scheduled Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) vote on DeVos’s confirmation.

Here is the statement:

Tennessee PTA is the oldest all-volunteer child advocacy association in Tennessee. As an association, Tennessee PTA annually presents legislative priorities, position statements, and resolutions identifying advocacy positions. Here are a few of our positions that are threatened by the nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education:

·         Tennessee PTA supports public education – The foundation of our American society is to provide free public education so that every child may achieve their dreams. We need a strong leader in the U.S. Department of Education that has experience in the public school system and is aware of the concerns of parents, teachers, and students within the system.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers does not feel Ms. DeVos has the needed awareness for public education. We support the availability of education for all children.

·         Tennessee PTA supports higher education as priority in the State – The ‘Drive for 55’ highlights the gap between high school and post-secondary education within the state. It was the use of federal funding that started the reforming of public education in Tennessee and the improvements in student access to information. Obtaining a higher education often requires an awareness of grants, scholarships, loans.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers stresses the importance of post-secondary education to our students.  We do not feel Ms. DeVos has the needed preparation to take over higher education opportunities.

·         Tennessee PTA has long supported our exceptional children –  The Individual with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and 504 plans are well established federal laws that have assisted parents and schools to partner on educating exceptional children. Ms. DeVos’s response about IDEA and the lack of understanding of a federal law within disability education runs counter to Tennessee PTA’s long standing commitment in this area.

·         Tennessee PTA each year stands against vouchers – Parents should be empowered with real choices, if the integrity of public schools remains intact. We acknowledge charter schools as one avenue to school reform and support them when designed in accordance with the National PTA’s resolutions and position statements. We oppose diverting public funds to private and parochial schools through vouchers or similar efforts such as school choice.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers believes that all schools receiving public funds should be held accountable to the same standards and requirements. We do not feel that Ms. DeVos shares these same beliefs.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers opposes the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Please take our concerns into consideration and make the best choice for the children of the United States and for their education.

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


 

Knox County to Consider Resolution on A-F School Report Card

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports that the Knox County School Board will consider a resolution in opposition to the state’s proposed A-F school report card. The A-F grading system has come under fire from educators and district leaders across the state.

The newspaper reports that Knox County’s Interim Director of Schools, Buzz Thomas, sent a letter to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen outlining his concerns:

“Branding a school with a single grade, on the other hand, could be both misleading and demoralizing,” Thomas wrote. “I can only imagine how it’s going to play in the African-American community when we place an F on several of their beloved, neighborhood schools.

“Yes, we need to be accountable. But a failing grade here is really a failing grade of the community – not the school. High poverty and high crime ravage people, and the schools those people attend will reflect those community realities.”

A vote on the resolution, sponsored by Board Vice Chair Amber Rountree, is expected to come this week.

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


 

 

Edu Profs Speak Out Against DeVos

While Senator Lamar Alexander is focused on presenting alternative facts about why opposition to Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos is growing, a group of education professors is actually outlining reasons DeVos’s nomination should be rejected.

The group, called the Teacher Education Collective, published an article explaining why they oppose DeVos. The members of the group include Ilana Horn and Elizabeth Self of Vanderbilt.

Here’s some of what they said:

During the three-hour hearing, she refused to pledge to maintain public funding for public schools; evaded commitments to the educational rights of students with disabilities in schools receiving public funds; muddled the distinction between measures of student learning (which are commonly understood and very consequential in the lives of teachers and students); and casually overestimated by 800 percent the increase in student debt over the last eight years.

Because they believe she is unqualified, the professors felt a need to express clearly and directly their opposition:

We believe unequivocally that DeVos’s confirmation would further threaten the democratic ideals of public education, the future of the teaching profession, and the fundamental right of U.S. children to a free and fair education.

In light of this, we recognize the collective responsibility to register our dissent publicly, to call upon elected officials and demand that they oppose her appointment, and to encourage others to do so as well.

These individuals are educators who educate future educators. They train the teachers who take jobs in our nation’s schools. They are strong and certain in their view the Betsy DeVos is not the right choice to lead the US Department of Education.

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


 

#MakeEducationGreat

Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow Amanda Arnold penned this letter to President Donald Trump. The letter was originally published on TNTeacherTalk.com

Dear Mr.  President:

As you begin this journey, please take to heart that education is critical to the success and future of this great nation. “Making America Great Again” is a goal rooted in the future, and that future lies within the students of this nation. Education is one of the most versatile and powerful tools that government possesses. History has relentlessly proven that nations can be built and destroyed by how a government educates its people. Appropriate and effective education empowers the people, but education without clearly defined purposes, ethics, and goals can destroy the same people. Please act upon a vision of education that recognizes the following:

  1. Education can break the cycle of poverty.
  2. Impoverished communities need equal access to quality education, resources, and opportunities.  
  3. Students deserve safe, clean, and well maintained schools. Many of our impoverished communities have schools in a state of crisis.  
  4. Educational policy should be a problem-solving model based on demonstrated needs and research based results.  
  5. Every student is capable of growth, but all students do not academically grow at the same pace.
  6. All students do not reach proficiency at the same rate. Some students need more than four years to achieve high school proficiency. Some students need more challenges within that four years. Schools should not be punished for meeting a student’s needs.
  7. College and career readiness has two parts. Students need career and technical training. Educational policy has abandoned training and educating students for blue collar jobs. Our country needs blue and white collar jobs.
  8. College is not appropriate for every student, but every student who has a desire and the academic ability to pursue that route should have equitable preparedness and the opportunity to do so.
  9. Equitable does not mean equal education. Different students have different needs.  Different school districts have different needs. Want to make them great? Meet their demonstrated needs.
  10. Parents want success for students. No parent wants to see his or her student struggle or fail. Strengthen the parents to empower the students.  
  11. Hold educators accountable, but give educators the proper support, resources, guidelines, and tools to meet the needs of the students.  

Education must prepare a  diverse group of talented, well-educated students. The nation needs electricians, business professionals, mechanics, blue and white collar workers. Diversity in talent and developing the skills to meet the needs of those talents can make students successful contributors to society. Successful contributors make a successful society.

Making any country great begins with expectations: the expectation that every student can be successful, the expectation that poverty does not have to be a cycle, the expectation that the right tools in the right hands can change lives. Greatness does not manifest itself the same in every person; it is unique—just like our students. If you want to make America great, make educational opportunity great.

Amanda has taught English at Dobyns­ Bennett High School for the past five years. In that time, Amanda has served as the English 9 Co­Taught Team Leader, English 10 Co­Taught Team Leader, Co­President of the Alpha Zeta Chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa International Honor Society for Women Educators and on the Tennessee Digital Learning Team. Throughout her career she has served as a school­-wide Title I coordinator, school-­level testing coordinator and 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant coordinator. She holds a Bachelors and Masters degree from East Tennessee State University. In 2010, she earned an Educational Specialist degree in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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


 

Knox Parents, Teachers Speak Out Against DeVos

Despite a factually inaccurate defense of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos from Senator Lamar Alexander, parents and teachers from Knox County spoke out in opposition to DeVos yesterday.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

Knox County teachers, parents and community members railed against President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, at a Tuesday evening meeting, lambasting her as “categorically unqualified” and attacking her policy positions.

Attendees took issue with DeVos’s lackluster defense of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

Attendees also excoriated DeVos for asserting at her confirmation hearing that states should have the right to choose whether to enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a piece of legislation that allows students with disabilities to receive an education tailored to their needs.

DeVos is scheduled for a committee vote before the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Tuesday, January 31st. That committee is chaired by Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander.

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


 

Lamar’s Alternative Facts

Senator Lamar Alexander is an avid supporter of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. He released a statement today blaming Democrats for attempting to derail the DeVos nomination. I’ll post the statement below and then address the glaring use of “alternative facts.”

Here’s the statement:

Democrats desperately are searching for a valid reason to oppose Betsy DeVos for U.S. Education Secretary because they don’t want Americans to know the real reason for their opposition.

That real reason? She has spent more than three decades helping children from low-income families choose a better school. Specifically, Democrats resent her support for allowing tax dollars to follow children to schools their low-income parents’ choose — although wealthy families choose their children’s schools every day.

Tax dollars supporting school choice is hardly subversive or new. In 2016, $121 billion in federal Pell Grants and new student loans followed 11 million college students to accredited public, private or religious schools of their choice, whether Notre Dame, Yeshiva, the University of Tennessee or Nashville’s auto diesel college. These aid payments are, according to Webster’s — “vouchers”-exactly the same form of payments that Mrs. DeVos supports for schools.
America’s experience with education vouchers began in 1944 with the GI Bill. As veterans returned from World War II, federal tax dollars followed them to the college of their choice.
Why, then, is an idea that helped produce the Greatest Generation and the world’s best colleges such a dangerous idea for our children?

Mrs. DeVos testified that she opposes Washington, D.C., requiring states to adopt vouchers, unlike her critics who delight in a National School Board imposing their mandates on states, for example, Common Core academic standards.
So, who is in the mainstream here? The GI Bill, Pell Grants, student loans, both Presidents Bush, President Trump, the 25 states that allow parents to choose among public and private schools, Congress with its passage of the Washington, D.C. voucher program, 45 U.S. senators who voted in 2015 to allow states to use existing federal dollars for vouchers, Betsy DeVos — or her senate critics?

The second reason Democrats oppose Mrs. DeVos is that she supports charter schools — public schools with fewer government and union rules so that teachers have more freedom to teach and parents have more freedom to choose the schools. In 1992, Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor party created a dozen charter schools. Today there are 6,800 in 43 states and the District of Columbia. President Obama’s last Education Secretary was a charter school founder. Again, who is in the mainstream? Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, Presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama; the last six U.S. Education Secretaries, the U.S. Congress, 43 states and the District of Columbia, Betsy DeVos — or her senate critics?

Her critics dislike that she is wealthy. Would they be happier if she had spent her money denying children from low-income families choices of schools?

Mrs. DeVos’ senate opponents are grasping for straws. We didn’t have time to question her, they say, even though she met with each one of them in their offices, and her hearing lasted nearly an hour and a half longer than either of President Obama’s education secretaries.

Now she is answering 837 written follow up questions from Democratic committee members — 1,397 if you include all the questions within a question. By comparison, Republicans asked President Obama’s first education secretary 53 written follow-up questions and his second education secretary 56 written follow-up questions, including questions within a question. In other words, Democrats have asked Mrs. DeVos 25 times as many follow-up questions as Republicans asked of either of President Obama’s education secretaries.

Finally, Democrats are throwing around conflict of interest accusations. But Betsy DeVos has signed an agreement with the independent Office of Government Ethics to divest, within 90 days of her confirmation, possible conflicts of interest identified by the ethics office, as every cabinet secretary is required to do. That agreement is on the internet.

Tax returns? Federal law does not require disclosure of tax returns for cabinet members, or for U.S. Senators. Both cabinet members and senators are already required to publish extensive disclosures of their holdings, income and debts. Cabinet members must also sign an agreement with the Office of Government Ethics to eliminate potential conflicts of interest.

One year ago, because I believe presidents should have their cabinet in place in order to govern, I worked to confirm promptly President Obama’s nomination of John King to be Education Secretary, even though I disagreed with him.

Even though they disagree with her, Democrats should also promptly confirm Betsy DeVos. Few Americans have done as much to help low-income students have a choice of better schools. She is on the side of our children. Her critics may resent that, but this says more about them than it does about her.

Analysis:

Alexander claims that Democrats are opposing DeVos because she supports choices and options for parents of schoolchildren. That’s demonstrably false. As one example, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey has said he opposes DeVos. Booker was a champion of charter-based education reform as Mayor of Newark and is seen as a Democrat who is friendly with the education reform crowd. His concerns, he says, are about her qualifications for the job.

Likewise, Democrats for Education Reform, a national group of education advocates that support a range of education options including charter schools and who have often opposed teachers’ unions, has expressed concerns about DeVos. Specifically, DFER notes:

In particular, Mrs. DeVos’ testimony was non-committal on whether public schools should be de-funded or privatized. She left confusion as to whether the decades-long federal commitment to serving children with disabilities—the Individuals with Disabilities Enforcement Act (IDEA)—should be a matter left to the states. She said that she would re-assess implementation programs under the Every Student Succeeds Act that require states to set uniform accountability standards consistent with federal guardrails. Her expressed lack of commitment to strong federal accountability, unfortunately, also extended to higher education, as she called for a reassessment of federal mandates requiring post-secondary career and technical schools to show effectiveness in preparing graduates for the workforce.

And it’s not just Democrats expressing concerns. JC Bowman, of Professional Educators of Tennessee also penned a letter indicating some reservations about DeVos. Bowman formerly worked on education policy for Florida Governor Jeb Bush — hardly a foe of school choice. Bush initiated a voucher program in Florida and was a proponent of charters.

Here’s what Bowman had to say:

Ms. DeVos has no direct experience with public education as a student, employee, parent, or school board member, of which we are aware. In your case, when you served as Secretary of Education, you had the prerequisite background, having grown up as a child of public school educators and an advocate of public schools as Governor of Tennessee. Ms. DeVos lacks that background and may not fully understand the historical and philosophical basis for public education. Out of the roughly 55.5 million K-12 students in America, 49.5 million of them are in our public schools, which is a little over 89%.

Alexander’s claims simply don’t hold up to close scrutiny. Those opposing DeVos are not just Democrats and they are not all opponents of school choice efforts.

Listening to her confirmation hearing, one heard DeVos advocate for an end to “gun-free school zones” because schools may face threats from Grizzly bears. DeVos also refused to say she would defend or support the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Her lack of support for basic school safety and for children with disabilities are the two most disqualifying elements of her candidacy.

It’s also worth noting that President Obama’s Education Secretaries both supported school choice in the form of charter schools and expressed support for some of today’s most popular education reforms — that is to say, Democrats don’t unilaterally oppose school choice or the education reform agenda. But Democrats AND Republicans want a Secretary of Education who will stand and fight for all children.

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


 

Middle TN Group to Push for BRIDGE Act Today

A group known as Equal Chance for Education will hold an event in Lebanon tonight in support of the BRIDGE Act. Here’s more on the event from the group:

A group of more than 40 young people will assemble tonight to celebrate the future — hours after Donald Trump becomes President. Every one one them could already be illegal when their celebration starts. They are beneficiaries of the DACA program for young people who were brought into this country illegally as children. Unless the BRIDGE Act passes, they will have to drop out of college and face the very real possibility of deportation.

Tonight’s event will celebrate a local organization that has assisted them in getting into and succeeding at college. Four of these “Dreamers” will speak, all preparing to graduate this year from Lipscomb, Fisk, and Trevecca. We also will have information available from FWD.US, an organization founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, which is advocating for the BRIDGE Act.

The event will be held at 4:40 PM today at Baird Chapel on the campus of Cumberland University in Lebanon.

For more information, contact Terry Quillen at 615.305.5062

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


 

More Low Marks for A-F Report Card for Schools

Lincoln County has joined those giving low marks to the state’s A-F Report Card for schools.

Here’s the resolution the Lincoln County School Board adopted opposing the proposed school report card:

Heath-Lincoln

 

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


 

 

Collierville Takes a Stand Against A-F Report Card for Schools

Collierville’s School Board recently joined the chorus of those expressing concerns over the state’s new A-F Report Card for schools. Interestingly, the legislative sponsor of the idea is also now calling for a delay in the plan.

The Commercial Appeal reports:

Collierville’s school district voted Tuesday evening to lobby against a new state accountability system that assigns schools a letter grade from A through F, and leaders of some other Memphis-area school systems are likewise raising concerns.

The article notes that district leaders in Millington and Germantown are also concerned about the new system.

For its part, the Department of Education says:

“We are currently gathering feedback on the framework and will not finalize the individual measures or weighting of these measures until April, when we submit our plan to the U.S. Department of Education as part of a new federal process.”

Based on the initial feedback, it looks like the plan is headed for a grade of “F” from educators.

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


 

A-F Grading System for Schools to be Delayed?

That’s what House Majority Leader Glen Casada, who sponsored the legislation, is saying. Under his proposal, which mirrors A-F school grading systems in other states (Texas, Florida, Indiana), the Tennessee Department of Education’s annual school report card would assign a letter grade from A-F to each school in the state.

The legislation mandated the creation of the A-F scale, and the Department has designed a plan. Now, after seeing the proposed plan, Casada says it may need some work and a one year delay could give the state time to improve the proposal.

Emily West reports:

“We have been working with the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and delayed the A-F grading one year,” Casada said. “It gives heartache to many systems. We called all parties. We said there are problems with the way you want to implement it.”

As written and passed by the legislature in 2016, new accountability standards that give letter grades to each school across the state should go into effect for 2017.

The news of the possible delay comes as some education leaders are calling for the proposal to be scrapped altogether.

Legislative action is required to delay the implementation and it seems likely there will also be legislation that aims to eliminate the system entirely.

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