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


 

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


 

JC Bowman on Literacy

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

Government spending is often portrayed as a freight train “quickly running out of track.” And there is some truth to that statement. There is not an endless supply of money to fund every good idea that comes along, and we must acknowledge that problem. Fiscal responsibility is a must.

That is why spending on priority issues like public education is important. You can spend $9,000 a year for a child to receive a quality education, or you can spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate an adult in some communities.

That is a harsh reality. You have read the statistics enough to know that there is an undeniable connection between literacy skills and incarceration rates. Children who do not read on grade level are more likely to dropout, use drugs or end up in prison. Research shows that reading abilities in third grade act as a tell-tale barometer for later school success.

Governor Haslam has wisely invested Tennessee dollars into literacy initiatives in 2016 because he knows poor reading skills are connected with unfavorable life outcomes. Low literacy is strongly related to crime. Low literacy is strongly related to unemployment. Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.”

We need to come together as a society and work to address the real issues facing our children. We need to have community conversations about what we expect from our local schools, but we need to recognize that the problems are much larger than what a school can address and are likely to be different in each community. A “one size fits all” approach simply does not work.

You probably know the line, which comes from Jim Collins’ bestselling business book, Good to Great: “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” It is important that we start prioritizing our spending, and over the long run it will save money that we can use to create a stronger public school system. And we have to get the right people into our classrooms and retain them.

When educated and intelligent citizens make informed decisions about what they want from their government and society, the outcome is far more likely to be positive. Similarly, if a good education system is in place for the next generation of children, the likelihood of societal stability is greatly increased. So it is important we get this right. Literacy is critical. And public education is a wise investment.

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


 

JC Bowman on Hunger and Poverty

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

“Public Education” is on the lips of every politician, during every election cycle. Yet, the debate continues. It is doing well, it is doing poorly, it needs reform, whatever the narrative needs to be that day or what the audience wants to hear.

Well, there are three sides to every story: “Yours, mine, and the cold, hard truth,” like the old Don Henley song reminds us. 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%. If you visit a public education classroom today, you would be amazed at what our educators do on a daily basis.

We must remind ourselves we are not producing components for an industrial and societal machine. We are educating children. We can all agree that an engaging and challenging education is the proven path to prosperity and a life-long love of learning. Teachers consistently tell us that “testing” and “preparing students for a test” are among their top concerns in our internal surveys.

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.

Educators, themselves, must exercise a higher duty of care than most professionals. Teachers face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen. Nearly every day, teachers must deal with diverse laws related to issues such as child abuse, student discipline, negligence, defamation, student records and copyright infringement. And many politicians are more concerned with a test score that their children produce than the immeasurable impact that teachers may make on a child’s life.
Often educators must contend with the fact that students do not have a consistent source of high-quality, nutritious food, if they have food at all at home. Issues like hunger and poverty, like it or not, are not imagined and they are prevalent in classrooms and schools across the nation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), and Ohio (16.0%). More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3 according to the USDA.

It is hard to focus on education when you are hungry. Poverty and hunger also lead to other health issues, which also go untreated. What other profession besides public education teacher is evaluated on their students’ test scores, when students lack the basic necessities of life?

Steve Turner in his brilliant satirical poem “Creed” referenced the state of our culture, when he wrote prevailing illogical thought processes: “This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.” Seemingly educators bear the brunt of the outcomes of children, and society is a given a pass. The problems we confront are larger than the children walking through the school house door.

The solutions are more than a score on a test. So, when the next politician speaks about education when seeking your vote, ask them what their plans are to alleviate poverty and hunger in your community. That is much more important than test scores to a whole lot of families.

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

 


 

The Attacks on PET

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

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

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

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


 

 

Teachers Deserve Thanks, Not Blame

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

The NAEP Spin Room

Yesterday, I wrote about the very rosy interpretation of NAEP data being advanced by Tennessee leaders. Governor Haslam said:

“Today, we’re very excited to say that based on 2015 NAEP results, we’re still the fastest improving state in the nation since 2011. What this means is a new set of fourth- and eighth-graders proved that the gains that we made in 2013 were real.”

After analyzing the Tennessee results and putting them in context with national results (both of which essentially remained steady from 2013) , I noted:

It’s also worth noting that states that have adopted aggressive reforms and states that haven’t both remained flat. The general trend was “holding steady,” and it didn’t seem to matter whether your state was using a reform agenda (charters, vouchers, value-added teacher scores in teacher evaluations) or not.

Again, this makes it difficult to suggest that any one or even a package of educational practices drives change.

Then, I read the statement issued by SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) Executive Director Jamie Woodson. Here’s what she had to say:

Since 2011, Tennessee has made record-setting gains, held them, and progressed in state rankings because of a multi-faceted strategy of high standards, great teaching, accountability, and common-sense adjustments based on the feedback of educators and citizens.

Note that she assigns causality based on these results. I wonder, then, what to make of the states that didn’t adopt the multi-faceted strategy she references? Last year, a number of states showed significant gains on NAEP. Some, like DC and Tennessee were reform-oriented states, others were not.

Additionally, in a post about the NAEP results two years ago, I noted:

Kentucky and Tennessee have posted gains over time on NAEP — in most categories, Kentucky started out tied or very slightly ahead of Tennessee and today, Kentucky remains ahead.  Kentucky posted some pretty big gains in the mid-90s and again from 2003-2009.  Since then, they’ve held fairly steady.  That’s an expected result, by the way — a big gain followed by steady maintenance of the new level.  For Tennessee, that won’t be enough, but celebrating the big gain is certainly warranted.  It’s also important to take care in assigning causality.

Note here that what I suggested then was an expected result (big gain, followed by holding steady) is exactly what happened in Tennessee this year. That’s good news — it means we’re not declining. But it also means we can’t really say that 2013 was something special.  As I noted last year, Kentucky had a series of big gains in the 1990s and then again in the early 2000s. It wasn’t just a big bump one time. So far, Tennessee has had one banner year (2013) and this year, returned to normal performance.

However, the narrative of “fastest-improving” keeps being repeated. In fact, Bethany Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) released a statement that said in part:
Tennessee students are still the fastest improving in the nation since 2011 according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. “This year’s results from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that Tennessee has maintained the positive gains that we achieved in 2013.

We had one year in which we made a big splash and then, as I noted in 2013:

As the data shows, Kentucky and Tennessee in many cases posted similar net gains over time, with Kentucky seeing big jumps in the mid-90s and again in the early part of the last decade.

That is to say, over a 20-year period, both states saw similar net gains. This year’s scores, in which Tennessee remained steady relative to the 2013 scores suggest, if anything, that the 2013 jump was likely an outlier. Had the 2013 gains been followed by gains in 2015 and again in 2017, more could be suggested. And frankly, it is my hope that we see gains (especially in reading) in 2017. But, it’s problematic to suggest that any specific reform or set of reforms caused the one-time jump we saw in 2013. Saying we are the fastest improving state in the nation over the last 4 years when we only saw a jump in 2013 is like saying we started the first quarter of a football game way behind, scored a bunch in the second quarter, (so we’re not as far behind), and then scored the same number of points in the third quarter. The result is we’re still behind and still have a long way to go.

So, yes, let’s celebrate that we made a big jump and held it steady. But, let’s also put those results in context and focus on how we can move forward instead of using these results to advance our favorite plays. For example, I’m not a huge fan of vouchers, but NAEP data doesn’t really help me make the case for or against. Likewise, states with and without strong collective bargaining posted gains in 2013 and held steady in 2015 — that is, the presence or absence of bargaining has no impact on NAEP scores.

NAEP can be an important source of information — but, too often, the results are subjected to spin that benefits a political agenda. As that narrative gets reinforced, focus on progress can be lost.

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

 

 

 

Any Given Weekday

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers his thoughts on the need for flexibility and support for teachers.

I am an unabashed Tennessee Vols fan. I own at least fifteen orange shirts, as well as other Tennessee paraphernalia throughout my home and office. It has been a long and sometimes painful journey from the glory years of the late 1990’s until now, but it hasn’t stopped me from rooting for the home team.

College Football is a microcosm of life. We see young men with hope and excitement start every season with the belief that this is their year. And after a few losses they either keep fighting or they just give up. As fans, we have to also keep our belief in those young adults playing that game. These are young men & women who, for the most part, will not move into the professional ranks. Most of their football (or whatever sport they play) careers end when they graduate from college. A lucky few get to move up and play on Sunday. But very few of them will ever get that chance.

Life is also like that. We all compete at various levels. Maybe it is against a co-worker for a promotion. Perhaps it is your company against another for a contract. If you lose, you have a choice to either quit or keep going. Those that keep going usually end of more successful. Think of Peyton Manning. He had a serious neck injury, several surgeries and loss of arm strength. He could have quit. Who would have blamed him? He had a Hall of Fame career at that point. Yet he continues to defy the odds and play at an incredible level. His team is currently 4-0, and still he hasn’t played his best. But he doesn’t need me to tell him that; his own intrinsic drive will motivate him.

Educators are the same way. They understand their “team.” They don’t need scores to motivate them. They do not need fans to cheer for them. All of this helps, of course. However, what they most need is the freedom to teach. A teacher and education blogger from Georgia, Vicki Davis, wrote: “In our rush to make teachers accountable, we have made them accountable for the wrong things. We are pushing them to turn kids into memorizing automatons who remember a lot of facts only to forget them right after the test.” In fact, it is important to recognize that children are not widgets, so education reforms aimed at making better widgets is (not surprisingly) a failure.

There is an unforgettable line in a Suffern Middle School video “No Future Left Behind,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kra_z9vMnHo) that says: “You can’t create my future with the tools of your past.” These students are deadly accurate. Ms. Davis adds: “We’re using a 20th-century measuring stick to measure a 21st-century learner.”

We need to give our local districts and schools much more flexibility. Thomas Askey, a teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts, added: “Teaching should be approached as an art form that respects autonomy, individuality and critical engagement on the part of teachers.” Askey added that we need to “completely reorient the national narrative about the teaching profession.” Noah Berlatsky wrote in Reason: “Complete professional autonomy is dangerous -but so is obsessive micromanagement by distant politicians or nearby bureaucrats. If we don’t want our kids taught by slavish, debased drones, then we need to stop treating teachers like slavish, debased drones.”

As a Tennessee Vols supporter, I think that may be the same problem with our football team. We want what we had last century. Unfortunately, we have moved on to another century, with a new coach and new players. Perhaps the brick-by-brick philosophy espoused by Coach Butch Jones is not well-received in the “win now” world in which we live. However, I would argue it is the correct approach. I would also contend that giving schools greater flexibility and empowering our teachers to teach would be a more powerful strategy to make public education a success than many of the so-called education reforms. Go Vols!

 

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

An Interview with Allison Chancey

Allison Chancey is the 3rd District Representative on the Tennessee State Board of Education (SBE). She is the only member on the state board who also is a classroom teacher. Mrs. Chancey is a 2nd grade teacher in Bradley County, and is a member of Professional Educators of Tennessee. This article originally appeared in TREND (http://www.trendtn.com), a publication of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

LEADERS IN EDUCATION: ALLISON CHANCEY
Q: On behalf of our members, we thank you for taking time to share with our educators today. Tennessee’s SBOE develops policy and regulation on a wide variety of education topics. How does that work?

A: The State Board of Education meets at least four times a year. Often, we meet more than that as the need arises. We have a well-qualified staff that works hard and presents us with research they have done on current policies and educational topics on our agenda. Their findings are sent to us a week or two before each meeting for us to study and review. Before each board meeting we have a workshop where given items are discussed and questioned as needed. We are very fortunate to have the hardworking staff that we have. The nine board members bring different fields of experience that gives us a broad spectrum of educational needs. As a teacher, I get to present how things are from the front lines of the classroom.

Q: You are currently the only member of the state board of education that has actual classroom teaching experience – how has that experience helped you on the state board?

A: I believe our vice chair, Ms. Carolyn Pearre, at one time was also a classroom teacher. Currently I am the only board member to be teaching in the classroom. As a classroom teacher, I am able to tell how policies and regulations are affecting not only the teachers, but the administrations, students and parents. There are times when an item looks great on paper, although in reality it isn’t in the best interest to those directly involved. An example would be having TVASS scores tie in with teacher licenses. While in theory this looks great, in reality it is not fair to any teacher. I also know how our new standards are affecting our students as well as the parents involved. I basically am able to report firsthand how decisions we make are affecting the classroom.

Q: We made quite a few changes in public education in Tennessee the last decade. Some needed. Some debatable. What are we doing right?

A: We are raising standards and doing a better job of preparing students to be college and career ready. Job expectations are at an all time high, and it is our responsibility to prepare Tennessee students to meet the challenges facing them after high school. Tennessee education is meeting this challenge through the hard work of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. We have done this by adopting higher academic standards, holding teachers more accountable, and requiring students to meet academic gains. I am proud to be a part of the Tennessee team that is raising the bar and showing the nation that Tennessee students are second to none.

Q: In your opinion, what is the top 3 challenges still facing education in Tennessee?

A: The top three challenges still facing education in Tennessee? This is hard to narrow down. I could write a research paper on this! To narrow it down to three I would say time, money, and teacher morale. 1) Time. With all the wonderful updates going on in today’s education, a teacher is finding himself/herself working longer hours than ever to teach in the most effective manner possible. You will find teachers at school early, late in the evenings, and even on the weekends. Those not there you will find working crazy hours at home. We do this because we love our kids. But this has taken away from personal and family time. I don’t believe the average person has any idea how much time most teachers put into their jobs. Also, there is not a moment to spare while the students are with us in the classroom. To get the standards taught takes every second of every day for instruction. This means that time that use to be used to develop relationships with students is often lost
because of the ridged schedule. 2) Money. There never seems to be enough! How does this affect education? You find teachers that are trying to teach 21st century standards in a classroom built in the 1950’s. Technology is a key for student learning, but often is not funded adequately. Teachers who are working harder than ever may not see a pay increase for years. Schools need updating and replacing. 3) Teacher morale. As teachers, we love our jobs. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. But we are seeing more and more students that are coming from broken homes, poverty, and abuse. They come to school hungry, tired, and worried. These children desperately need us to be not only their teachers, but someone they can trust and look up to. These kids are held at the same standard as the ones that come from nurturing homes, where parents meet their emotional and physical needs. Trying to teach these kids, worrying about test scores, evaluations, and new material creates much stress.
There is little to no support given in many cases.

Q: What are the steps the state and local districts need to take to address the challenges you identified? And what impact will that have on classroom teachers?

A: What steps need to be taken? Funding education should be the goal of every American. Our children are the future. Every city and district should make every effort to fund education as much as needed. That being said, we need to use the money wisely and be accountable for money spent. As far as time goes, districts need to recognize how hard their teachers are working. No one expects overtime pay, but a thank you could go a long way. Perhaps helping hands to aid the teacher, such as volunteers. 3. Teacher morale. Just to be respected and appreciated would go a long way. Teachers need encouragement just like everyone else. Again, a thank you could go a long way. It should also be addressed that teachers are not the only one responsible for educating a child. Parents need to be responsible in getting their children to school on time, being sure they are fed and have the adequate tools for learning, and backing a teacher up with discipline and homework assignments. The goal is
to work together for the betterment of the child.

Q: Any final thoughts you would like to share with your fellow educators across Tennessee?

A: Final thoughts? Tennessee is a great state to be in as an educator. To continue with our success, we need to work hard and never give up. Never compromise. We need to put students first and have them ready to face the challenges that await them after graduation. As the wise Alex Haley once said, “Find the good and praise it.” There is much good going on in Tennessee currently. I am proud to be a part of it.

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

PET Talks Testing

Audrey Shores, Director of Communications and Technology for Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) offers some thoughts on standardized testing in Tennessee.
The 2015-2016 school year ushers in some big changes to assessments that have been developed as the state has reacted to changing standards and legislation. Professional Educators of Tennessee Board President Cathy Kolb and Director of Technology & Communications Audrey Shores participated in the Assessment Practices Task Force that convened in April and continued meeting each month throughout the summer. A final report from the TN Department of Education on the findings and recommendations of the task force was released today.

The task force was established by the Department of Education to gather and analyze information regarding opinions about the assessment landscape in Tennessee form a variety of stakeholders including classroom teachers, district leaders, legislators and parents. The goal was to establish a set of principles and recommendations to guide decision-making around assessments, particularly in regard to the new TNReady assessments that will be implemented this year for ELA and Math.

While a university degree is not appropriate for everyone, studies show wide income gaps for those who do not go on to some type of post-secondary training. This is why standards are developed with “college and career readiness” in mind, and TNReady is designed to assess student’s proficiency in relation to the standards. One feature of the new tests is the more varied and interactive nature of the questions. Designed to be administered online, TNReady will utilize a variety of question types in addition to multiple choice. Some math questions will allow the use of a calculator instead of banning them outright, and ELA questions will involve activities such as highlighting passages. Sample questions are available online through MICA, a platform designed to be available to students and the public accessible through any browser. This also gives students who would like more practice with the system the ability to access it outside of the classroom. The MIST system will be
available to teachers for creating practice tests for students in the classroom. There is a waiver option for districts who are not ready for online test-taking, but overall the online system will reduce costs, and after the first year should reduce the time it takes the department to provide results.

A series of surveys this past year,including a statewide survey we conducted last spring (https://proedtn.site-ym.com/news/249809/) , uncovered a pattern of concerns regarding the culture of testing. Disruptions to regular instruction that affect the entire school and the amount of testing are two of the key concerns expressed, and that the Department says they are working hard to address.

Scheduling and Class Disruption
One of the biggest complaints that surfaced from teachers and district leaders was how disruptive assessments are, leading to a loss of valuable instruction. Past assessments were not designed with the variety of schedules utilized by different districts, which often led to a virtual shutdown of the entire school during testing. First, the new TNReady assessments are designed to fit within a regular 45-60 minute class period. Rules regarding the surrounding environment have also been relaxed, so teachers will no longer have to paper their entire rooms to cover walls or move the class to another location. Testing windows have also been developed to provide more flexibility on both the school and district level. Districts can choose their own windows within those provided by the state, and not all school within a district have to test on the same day. The Scheduling and Logistics Task Force began meeting over the summer to develop exemplary schedules based on a variety of scheduling models. It will continue to meet throughout the next year to provide feedback and guidance.

Too Much Testing!
The message has been clear – kids are getting too many tests, and not enough learning. Parents are upset by the stress they see their children coping with as they are pressured to perform well on tests throughout the year. Teachers are frustrated that they lose opportunities to teach more freely because they are constantly preparing the students to perform well on tests. Superintendents are stressed by trying to meet accountability requirements while responding to the concerns of educators and the community.

The amount of tests must be addressed at the summative, interim and formative levels. The state-required assessments are summative tests, of which there are only a few. Interim assessments are often required at the district level to address potential gaps that will affect student performance on the summative tests, and formative assessments include a wide array of test typically administered at the classroom level. Many feel that the high-stakes nature of testing at the state level drives a large quantity of tests at other levels, and leads to a disproportionately large amount of instructional time being devoted to test prep. While studies have found that most people believe that assessments and accountability are importance pieces of the education puzzle, they also feel that too much importance is placed on these aspects to the detriment of overall student learning.

Better Feedback
Relevance was a recurring topic that came up during the task force. Assessments need to provide feedback that is useful to students, teachers and parents. The Department of Education will be designing new reports this year to be both more aesthetically pleasing and easier to read in order to provide relevant information more clearly to parents and students. Clear, specific recommendations based on areas of weakness to help students improve is one of the primary goals of the new reports in order to provide more actionable information.

Being the first year of implementation for TNReady means that results will likely be delayed relative to previous years. One of the proposed benefits of the online system is that results will be available sooner in subsequent years. Criticism from teachers remains, however, because there is little they can do with this information once the child has left their classroom.

Testing and Evaluation
This spring, the 109th Tennessee General Assembly passed the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act (http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB0108) to lessen the effect that implementation of a new assessment will have on accountability measures for educators. The key portion of this legislation is the adjustment of the weighting of student growth data in teacher evaluations. This applies to the new TNReady ELA and Math assessments as well as the social studies and science TCAP tests. New assessments will only represent 10% of the evaluation for the 2015-2016 school year, 20% in the following year, and returning to 35% for the 2017-2018 school year. Only the most recent year’s data will be used if it results in a higher rating for the teacher. The act also decreases the weighting of growth data for teachers in non-tested subjects from 25% to 10% in for the 20-15-2016 school year, rising to a maximum 15% thereafter. For graphs showing growth score weighting for test v. non-tested subjects and more view the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act page on the TEAMTN website.

Developing a plan for the new assessments has involved having conversations with and gathering feedback from a variety of stakeholders across the state. Legislators have taken steps to ease the transition and a variety of resources (see Resources, right) have been developed to assist everyone involved in understanding the changes that are being implemented this year. The process of gathering feedback and developing various components will continue throughout the year as the new tests are put to the test themselves.

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