Endless Summer

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers insight into “summer break.”

It is said that sunshine is the best medicine and the best sunshine is found during the summer. The concept of an Endless Summer was based on a 1964 Bruce Brown movie built on the idea that if someone had enough time and money would it be possible to chase summer across the world. In both the Northern and Southern hemisphere making it endless. Alas, teachers neither have enough time nor money, and it is almost back to school time here in Tennessee. For students, it means summer is coming to an end. For parents, advertisers tell us, it is the most wonderful time of the year.


Teaching has a calendar unlike that of most other vocations. Some mistakenly believe that teachers only have annual instructional time for 180 or so days. The romanticized summer off for teachers is as likely as an endless summer for most of us. Educators have responsibilities beyond their days with students. Others often fail to take in after school hours, lesson prep, weekends, professional learning, parent-teacher conferences, and, “in-service” days to name a few. In urban communities, they have to factor in travel time as teachers, often cannot afford to live in communities where they teach. The same is true of police, fire and hospital personnel.

The argument can be made that teachers knew the task was tough when they took the job assignment. This is true. However, few jobs are as demanding as teaching. Certainly, summers off are a thing of the past. Most educators are paid for 10 months and have money withheld from their check, so they can get paid for 12 months. USA Today points out that across the country, “teachers often trade their summer vacation for other work opportunities to make ends meet. Recent data from the National Survey of Teachers and Principals showed nearly one in five teachers hold a second job during the school year.”

Many parents legitimately worry about the “summer brain drain,” also known as the “summer slide” that children experience. This concept refers to the loss of skills and knowledge that happens in the summer months. David Quinn and Morgan Polikoff review of academic literature summarized several findings regarding summer loss, and concluded that: (1) on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning, (2) declines were sharper for math than for reading, and (3) the extent of loss was larger at higher grade levels. None of this attributable to teachers.

Parents who combat this academic issue understand that learning occurs beyond the classroom. They help their children find opportunities to grow and learn. You must engage children in both mental and physical activity, not strictly tied to formal education. If you missed out on these opportunities, it is never too late to supplement a child’s learning. The key is to be actively engaged in your child’s education throughout the year. Parents and students can no longer take summer off either.

Therein lies the problem, absent the concept of year-round school, summer breaks are not equal for all students. The range of activities, including summer camps, family vacations, and home learning activities are different. Access to summer activities may vary for children from different socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. Child care arrangements are also a factor, as well as the education level of parents. Communities need a plan for enrichment activities for these students with increased access for children of low socioeconomic status.

Some children return to school ready to learn, others come back needing to catch back-up, and some even missing necessary prerequisite skills. That should create some valid concerns for annual tests. Writer Seth Godin suggests that “Better decisions, emotional labor and the confidence that comes from education are the future of work. Either you’re on that path or you’re falling behind.”

I would add that Godin’s quote is applicable here as well, and we should acknowledge we are indeed falling behind because we are not addressing the summer loss of learning adequately. We need more parent engagement. Endless summer has to become endless learning for all of us; educators, parents, and students. Surf’s up, and sadly Summer is nearly over.

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

The Case for New Teacher Mentors

JC Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee makes the case for providing funds in the BEP for mentors for new teachers:

Teachers are some of the most admired people in our world. Teachers are role models. They inspire us and are admired for the skills they possess in helping others learn. Teachers are also normal people, who often get held to higher standards than politicians or even ministers. Like all of us, teachers make mistakes. However, no other group of professionals is as quick to give up on its members as public education administration when effective counseling would probably take care of the problem.

We know there is no magic fairy dust that is sprinkled on someone to make them an effective teacher. There is no genetic marker that an educator is born with that gives him or her a special skill. There is no Branch of Military Service equivalent that someone can join, like the Marine Corps, for example, that gives an individual training in moral, mental and physical strength needed to be successful in the education field. I would argue it is a lot of trial by error, support from colleagues and the prerequisite leadership in our schools that can shape the success or failure of an individual teacher.

I was blessed to have some extraordinary school leaders like Doyle Harmon in Meigs County, Tennessee and Ed Howard in Bradley County, Tennessee to really help guide me. However, one administrator, Ron Chastain, at Trewhitt Junior High School, really became a mentor, whether that was his goal or not. From him, I learned much about student discipline. I learned consistency mattered. I also learned that we needed to be empathetic, but also willing to be tough. He brought the right balance to the job.

Chastain, who still remains a friend, understood adolescent behavior better than anyone I have ever met. He understood that in order to teach, a classroom had to be orderly. In order to create a safe school for all students, discipline was required. I learned much more from Ron than I ever learned in my coursework in my undergrad and/or graduate work.

My question to policymakers: where can we find high-quality mentors for teachers and administrators? We take our new teachers and often toss them into the most difficult assignments like lambs to a slaughter. Then we wonder why discipline suffers and our teachers experience burnout and fatigue, ultimately leaving the profession. Administrators are often in the same boat. Sadly, we are missing that ingredient of mentorship in our schools today.

Our suggestion is to ensure that money is included in the future Basic Education Program (BEP) to allow for mentorship to occur, either by utilizing highly effective retired educators or granting stipends to experienced classroom teachers with a proven track record in classroom management. This strategy will likely impact teacher retention efforts in a positive fashion and create a better school environment with more consistent discipline and student behavior.

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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.

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PET on Teacher Pay

The Tennessee Comptroller recently released a report on teacher pay in Tennessee, noting that the salary funding increases approved by the legislature in recent years don’t seem to be making it into teacher paychecks. JC Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee offers some thoughts on this analysis.

The Basic Education Program (BEP), how Tennessee funds K-12 public schools, provides over $4.7 billion of state funding for education. The state of Tennessee invested more than $300 million dollars for teacher salaries. As Tennessee teachers knew, and the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) proved through recent research, most of those dollars did not actually end up in teacher pockets. It does not inspire confidence for current or future educators. This is the challenge the Tennessee General Assembly must meet in order to recruit and retain effective educators in our classrooms.

The legislative intent was to increase teacher salaries across the state. In fact, there was slightly more than 6 percent increase total in average classroom salaries in fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018 through the Instructional Salaries and Wages category of the Basic Education Program (BEP). OREA reports that this increase of 6.2 percent (just under $3,000), made Tennessee the third fastest-growing state in the Southeast for teacher salaries during fiscal years 2015 through 2018. However, as evidenced, nobody can be certain those dollars actually reached the pockets of educators.

Many districts used increased state salary funding to add instructional positions and staff, in addition to providing pay raises, as allowed by the state statutes concerning the BEP. It was not clear to researchers how many districts added instructional staff, as opposed to increasing salaries of existing staff. That data would have been extremely useful to policymakers. The increased local funding spent on instructional salaries is also unknown according to researchers. When districts prepare their budgets, BEP funding from the state and local matching dollars are commingled and the dollars “lose their identity” in terms of where the revenue originates.

Districts were most likely to give raises by increasing the district salary schedule, which, in most districts, sets base pay for all teachers at specified education and experience levels. Onetime bonuses and across-the-board raises outside of the salary schedule was also used by districts to increase teacher pay. The state should take more interest in the pay plans submitted by districts and work to ensure that legislative intent to increase teacher salaries occurs, versus merely adding instructional staff.

OREA did not find any indicators of noncompliance but concluded that the available financial data for districts does not permit tracking salary expenditures back to their revenue sources. District budgets do not identify what portion of expenditures are paid for with state funds versus local funds. That certainly needs to be corrected.

Most school districts employ more staff than are covered by BEP funding, the available state and local dollars earmarked for salaries must stretch over more teachers than the staff positions generated by the BEP. Yet, some of these positions were mandated by the state for Response to Instruction and Intervention, which were not funded in the BEP until recently, and then only minimally.

It is also noted in the report that several districts allude to the need to stay competitive with the benefits they offer – like health insurance – to attract and retain employees. The analysis from OREA found “that most districts pay more than the state minimum requirement of 45 percent for licensed instructional employees’ premiums, with over half of districts paying at least 75 percent of the premium cost over the time period. Eight districts covered 100 percent of the cost.”

The Comptroller’s report includes policy considerations and identifies the need by the state to develop a more complete overview and understanding of salary trends by local districts. I would add, it would be helpful for the state to understand its role in this process. We must update our K12 funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. As a former businessman, Governor Lee is well positioned to push for a new funding plan and formula that reflects our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies. We must support our teachers and make sure the dollars allocated to their salaries actually reach them, as policymakers intended.

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Opposition to ESAs

JC Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee released the following statement today as Governor Lee’s voucher legislation received approval from the House Education Committee:


Professional Educators of Tennessee remain opposed to Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). We know litigation awaits on the constitutionality of the legislation, should it ultimately pass into law. However, it is an opportunity for us to reaffirm our commitment to public education. We believe that the historic accomplishments of public schools in Tennessee demonstrate the incredible job our educators are doing across the state. We acknowledge there are small pockets where success has not been as fully realized. That makes us even more determined to prove Tennessee public schools can meet any challenge and help prepare the necessary workforce to keep up with Tennessee’s growing economy. Professional Educators of Tennessee believes public education will continue to be the best choice for parents and students in our state.

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Testing Flexibility

Tennessee state representative Terry Lynn Weaver (R-40) and Professional Educators of Tennessee Executive Director JC Bowman offer thoughts on the need for testing flexibility.

In Tennessee, we appreciate straight talk and candor. So, to the point: statewide testing has taken a wrong turn in public education, not to mention Tennessee has failed in our statewide testing administration since 2012. Now we are about to start over, possibly with a new vendor. There is no guarantee this will work any better than previous attempts.

At no point were any of the previous testing problems the fault of students or educators in Tennessee. The state has simply failed students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers. We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies, and even by our government. Clearly, there is a problem with testing in Tennessee. It is a flawed testing system, which could be addressed if we were to pilot innovative approaches that encourage our schools and their communities to work together and design solutions without bureaucratic hurdles. That would be a sensible strategy to pursue.

This is why some legislators have argued for allowing LEAs to use the ACT, ACT Aspire, or SAT Suites as a means of assessment. This request continues to be asked for by several high-performing districts across the state frustrated by state failures. We must also break down the bureaucratic barriers that have kept educators and school districts from pursuing solutions to the unique challenges of their communities. We should pursue reliable tests that provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students, or perhaps allow districts the opportunities to use these alternative assessments.

The current testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators. No single test should be a determinant of a student’s, teacher’s or school’s success. Although we need testing to measure the progress of our students, we should recognize that these tests are often unreliable in evaluating teachers and schools. True measurement of progress should instead consist of several benchmarks, not just testing. However, testing goes beyond the purposes of entrance or placement into courses in postsecondary education or training programs.

With each testing failure, educators and districts have unfairly been the ones who bear the brunt, quite unfairly, of parental anger. Students also suffer, with everything from loss of instruction time to not understanding their educational progress. When we make education decisions on the basis of unreliable or invalid test results, we place students at risk and harm educators professionally. This is especially unfair to the hardworking teachers in our state.

We must listen to educators on the ground, and continue to champion innovation in public education. Educators want that chance to be inventive, and they understand the need to challenge the status quo to get results for the students in their community. Therefore, the state should not stand in the way of any LEA that wishes to use an alternative that is comparable to state-mandated assessment. The LEA should be required to notify parents or guardians of students that the LEA is using an approved testing alternative. In addition, the LEA, before using an approved testing alternative, should be required to notify the Tennessee Department of Education, in writing, of the grade level and subject matter in which the LEA intends to use an approved testing alternative. Senator Mark Pody and Representative Clark Boyd have proposed legislation (SB1307/HB1180) to allow districts this testing flexibility. It is similar to legislation that Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Terri Lynn Weaver have introduced previously (SB488/HB383).

High-quality assessments convey critical information for educators, families, the public, and students themselves and create the basis for improving outcomes for all learners. However, when testing is done badly or excessively, it takes important time away from teaching and learning and limits creativity from our classrooms. It is important that Tennessee improves postsecondary and career readiness for all Tennessee students. Flawed testing does not move us toward that goal. It is time we allow our districts the flexibility that they have requested.

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

On Teacher Morale


JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers his thoughts on boosting teacher morale

We know psychologically that there is a connection between feeling of self-worth and actions. When teachers lose hope in their career, eventually they change the direction of their own future and in turn it impacts the future of our children. If you are an educator or have friends who are educators, you have undoubtedly discussed teacher morale in public education and thoughts on the future of education. Sadly, those thoughts were most likely negative. Educators who enter the field are often bright-eyed, confident, and enthusiastic. Teacher turnover is continuing to climb higher, yet those entering the field is going lower. What happened? That is the problem we must solve.

Teacher turnover holds back our schools and our students. How do you improve morale? It will take multiple strategies, which differ from community to community, district to district, school to school. Let’s look at four of the most prominent issues: educator compensation, lack of respect for educators, testing and out of control students.

Educator Compensation. Compensation is everything that is provided to the educator for their services. Compensation alone will not impact teacher morale. Governor Bill Haslam made teacher salaries a priority, and should be recognized for his efforts. It is debatable if dollars allocated for salary increases reached all classroom teachers. This may be attributed to district implemented pay plans. Educators should be involved in the development of those plans. Governor-elect Bill Lee indicated he intends to develop a pipeline of well-trained, highly compensated educators who can flourish in the teaching profession. This will likely include incentive compensation programs, together with stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations. Compensation can also be used to aid in hiring, and/or retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.

Lack of Respect for Educators. Teaching, a profession once held in high esteem, is being de-valued both by stakeholders and policymakers for a variety of reasons. Teachers, who are on the frontlines of parental dissatisfaction with the system, are often made scapegoats by people who have lost trust in the system. This lack of respect is reflected by lack of parental support and engagement. In fairness, some parents are supportive and work with educators to help ensure their children get the best possible education. Yet more often than not, parents simply blame the teacher for the problems at school. But even more than that, teachers often lack the support of their administrators, district, and even the state. Bureaucrats keep piling on more requirements of educators with barely a nod of appreciation. Teachers, above all other professions, deserve the recognition and gratitude of a job well-done. Doing so on a regular basis will be a small step toward improving the teacher turnover rate.

Testing. The testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators. Nobody would object to testing that benefits the teaching and learning process of students. As it stands currently, the data is not received in a timely manner and the results yield little or no benefit to the students. Educators would welcome a robust, practical solution to current assessment issues. A portfolio-based assessment model is also problematic. However, it may be a preferred model of student evaluation if it is not too time-consuming. It is based on a wide range of student work done over a long period of time, rather than on a single, paper-and-pencil test taken over a few hours. We must work to ensure that our assessments and the subsequent results are empowering and informing without being a time drain. Assessments should not inhibit quality instruction but provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. Most importantly, assessments should be not used a punitive measure against teachers.

Out of Control Students. Effective educators consider the root causes of misbehavior and develop appropriate solutions on a consistent, ongoing basis. However, some students need attention and intervention beyond the scope of what a classroom teacher can provide. It is imperative that a school and district adopt policies that support effective classroom management, as well as student instruction for all students. One possible policy has to be a better tracking of the time an educator has to spend on discipline issues. Do parents have the right to know, for example, if one student disrupts their own child’s education so frequently, they lose instruction time? School districts must balance their responsibilities toward the community with the responsibility to nurture students. Without discipline, students cannot learn. Students themselves must respect rules and authority regardless of underlying disabilities/issues. Districts must have policies in place that protect all students’ right to learn.

There is no one size fits all strategy that will work in every school or district. This is a recurring theme among those who believe in local control in public education. Together, we can work to address teacher morale issues. Once a plan is in place, it is very important to examine, evaluate, and adjust as necessary.

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


 

Killing Public Education


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

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

Here is what is killing public education:

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

A Letter of Reservation


JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, sent a letter to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander expressing his organization’s concerns about President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos to be the next Secretary of Education.

Here’s the press release from PET:

Today, Professional Educators of Tennessee sent a letter to Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander who serves as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in the US Senate expressing reservations regarding the nomination of Ms. Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education.

There are two issues of immediate concern for our members. The first is that 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%.

The second issue, her advocacy of vouchers funded through the use of public tax dollars, may well cloud her desired support of public schools. Vouchers are not a magic bullet, and may do little to improve the quality of public schools. Vouchers are also not a solution to problems in urban cities. These cities face societal challenges well beyond the classroom door. Most communities lack the number of high quality private schools to meet any real demand created by vouchers. It is clear that for now and the foreseeable future, a vast majority of children will be educated by public schools. We must focus on making our public schools successful. Therefore, choosing an education secretary that is so pro-voucher sends a negative message to the hard working educators in our public schools.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Senator Alexander,

Thank you for your continued leadership as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, as well as the recently-passed Every Student Succeeds Act. A strong public education system is a key to our democracy, a foundation to build our economy, and the means by which we can help all Tennessee children achieve their dreams.

Professional Educators of Tennessee is the fastest growing teacher association in our state. We are non-partisan and our organization is unaffiliated with the national teacher unions. Not all educators are members of the NEA or AFT. In fact, there are more educators that are members of independent education associations than the AFT. We are completely funded by the dues of our members. Our members are educators from the state of Tennessee. We do not endorse political candidates, or use their members’ dues to fund political candidates.

I have worked with you previously on numerous occasions from American Legion Boy’s State as a teenager, to various political endeavors, and to address numerous public education challenges within the state of Tennessee. Today, I am writing to share our organization’s reservations in regards to the nomination of Ms. Betsy DeVos for the position as Secretary of Education.

There are two issues of immediate concern for our members. The first is that 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%.

The second issue, her advocacy of vouchers funded through the use of public tax dollars, may well cloud her desired support of public schools. Vouchers are not a magic bullet, and may do little to improve the quality of public schools. Vouchers are also not a solution to problems in urban cities. These cities face societal challenges well beyond the classroom door. Most communities lack the number of high quality private schools to meet any real demand created by vouchers. It is clear that for now and the foreseeable future, a vast majority of children will be educated by public schools. We must focus on making our public schools successful. Therefore, choosing an education secretary that is so pro-voucher sends a negative message to the hard working educators in our public schools.

I appreciate your strong support of students, educators, and public education in Tennessee, especially your commitment to local control of public education. We encourage Ms. DeVos to go out and visit our public schools and see the incredible things that educators are doing every day across our state and nation. We think she would be amazed. We welcome a dialogue with Ms. DeVos and yourself to address our concerns and invite you both to talk directly to our members to assure them that as Secretary of Education she will support the mission of public schools and has the necessary experience in improving them.

More on DeVos

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


 

 

PET Talks TNReady


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee 

Tennessee has made a decade long effort to raise ours standards in public education, with mixed results and contentious debate among stakeholders and policymakers. We have high expectations for our students and our schools, which is a point all can agree upon. The appropriate role of assessment is still being debated. Getting it right is important. We need an accurate measure of student achievement and we must treat LEA’s and our educators fairly in this process.

We agree with the Tennessee Department of Education’s opinion that in previous transitions to more rigorous expectations, while scores dropped initially, they rose over the long term. We believe policymakers should continue to see Tennessee students perform better on national assessments.

One thing is certain: “This year’s scores cannot be compared to last year’s TCAP. And it is not practical to judge schools, students or educators by these results as we establish a new baseline with first year TNReady results” according to JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Professional Educators of Tennessee would caution policymakers to be less concerned with these test scores, especially with the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience. We should put more emphasis on the immeasurable impact that teachers may make on a child’s life. To that end we continue to work with the department to reduce the amount of standardized testing in our classrooms. And we are pleased that they have been proactive in that arena with us. TNReady is apparently on track to run smoothly this school year, and a lot of work is currently underway to ensure success. It is also important to know that the new testing vendor Questar, as well as the TNDOE, is making a genuine effort to work with classroom educators across the state to provide responsive customer service and high quality assessments.

In Tennessee, Questar is responsible for developing, administering, scoring and providing reports for the TNReady assessment program, including grades 3 through 8 State Summative Assessment in ELA and Math as well as State End-of-Course Assessments in ELA I, II, III; Algebra I and II; Geometry; and Integrated Math I, II, and III.

It has long been acknowledged that a strong public educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. That system must provide all children with an equitable and exceptional education that prepares them for college, career and life.

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