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

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

Of Poverty and Education

Mike Sheppard serves as General Counsel for Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee. This article originally appeared in TREND, a publication of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Many Americans believe that the major problem within public education is the lack of focus within the administration of a school. They even go so far as to blame the teachers for not providing the adequate time and skills needed for their child to grow and learn on a day-to-day basis. This type of mentality is wrong. As much as we can over analyze the various policies and red tape that go on behind the scenes in these schools, it is imperative that we become more aware and cognizant of the overarching problem that has plagued our schools for years, poverty.

Poverty, in itself, is a very uncomfortable topic. It is a dark cloud that looms in the backyard. It is a whisper that passes by individuals who, rather than confront it, tiptoe around the idea whenever they hear it brought up. But, like it or not, it is a conversation that we need to start having. For many of our schools, especially those that are failing, poverty is right behind it. Many of these well deserving students are held back from incredible opportunities to grow because of lack of funding or lack of resources. This should not happen.

But why is it happening? Why is this a problem?

More than 16 million children are growing up in poverty, meaning that 22% of all children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level of $23,550 a year. Research has shown that children living in poverty have a higher number of absenteeism and dropout rates than those coming from middle class or higher.

Now how does this affect the classroom, and how can we address it as educators?

Lacking a Strong Foundation
For our students, children who grow up in low socioeconomic conditions typically have a smaller vocabulary than middle or higher-class children do, which increases the risk for academic failure. Much of this attributes to lack of exposure. Whether the words are spoken or read, low socioeconomic households will in most cases not be able to provide their child with that elementary foundation. In the classroom, this lack of exposure can impact various lesson plans and achievement for both the teacher and the student. To resolve this type of problem, educators should try and incorporate vocabulary practice on a daily basis. More exposure to new and unique words can enrich the student in successful ways.

Student-Teacher Relationships
Many teachers, especially new teachers to the field, find many students in low-income areas to be behaviorally difficult and inattentive to the work. It is easy to blame the student, but we need to understand their background and their stories. One reason why many students seem unmotivated toward schoolwork is a lack of hope or optimism related to their outside problems. Low socioeconomic students often deal with problems bigger than themselves. Whether they are financial hardships or absent guardians, these types of negative problems can take a toll on the mentality of the student, causing them to act in a very brash and hasty way.

Disruptive home relationships often create mistrust in students. Feelings toward parent or guardian figures that have often failed students at home can be projected onto adults at the school. Classroom misbehaviors are likely to increase because of these at-home instabilities. One thing a teacher can do to aid the situation is to build a relationship with the student. Establishing a relationship with the student can benefit you as well as the overall classroom. In addition, providing positive reinforcement can give the child the necessary confidence to perform on an academic basis. Understanding, listening, and talking with a child can provide you a strong advantage, especially later down the line.

Performance on Assessments
Studies have shown that children from lower socioeconomic background often perform below those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds on state exams. Many students coming from specific communities are found to struggle with core subjects such as reading, math, science, etc. In addition, many of the schools that the students attend lack the necessary resources and teachers to provide them the foundation to develop these core skills. A school can help nullify this problem by strategically analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each of their students. By having this type of data, a teacher is able to break down lessons so that their students can be successful.

There are no easy solutions. We must be willing to admit there is a problem and openly discuss the issue. Government cannot solve all of our problems. Poverty must be challenged community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, classroom by classroom and home by home. Together we can inspire, and we can identify needs and marshal resources to meet the challenge. Together we can defeat the issue of poverty.

For more on education and poverty:

Tennessee’s Poverty Test

TCAP, Poverty, and Investment in Schools

Pre-K as a Piece of the Puzzle for Overcoming Poverty

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.

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

Merit Pay Fails

That’s not exactly what JC Bowman and PET had to say when the Tennessee Board of Education gutted the state minimum salary schedule at the recommendation of Kevin Huffman back in 2013, but it comes pretty close. Here’s what PET said back then:

Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Franklin, Tn., comments on pay policy that requires each district to create a merit pay system by the 2014-15 school year. The state board is taking this action to fulfill the requirements of Public Chapter 376 (2007), Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-3-306(h), the State Board of Education has developed guidelines for the establishment of differentiated pay plans by local education agencies.

J.C. Bowman, executive director of PET, said, “Our experience with differentiated pay/merit pay is that it is never funded appropriately. If the state is the source of funding it will eventually go away.  We have watched programs implemented in our state and other states simply be discontinued.  The state needs to reassure educators this will not happen.  It can be argued that this is more of a political issue and not an education issue. If this is the case, it may serve politicians more than educators.  It is imperative that PET works with policymakers and local systems to come up with a system that is fair for teachers.  It is our job to make sure that teachers have a seat at the table in working toward an effective and just policy. Therefore, we want to clearly articulate our position as outlined below, and look forward to the discussion.

“Professional Educators of Tennessee believes the common ground can be found by financially rewarding educators for their expertise and their excellence.  This will attract and retain the best and brightest to the teaching profession.  However, Professional Educators of Tennessee opposes the use of student test scores as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, as the determining factor for a teacher’s compensation or as the primary rationale for an adverse employment action.  Rewarding teachers for their performance has been discussed in education for decades but has been a particularly heated issue of late.

“This may well work at the campus level as a campus score as long as the local teachers are involved with development. However, the critical question is can we create a fair system that works at the individual teacher level? There is no valid instrument or value added model that reflects all the outside factors affecting a student’s education that a teacher controls.  We understand that whoever controls the test literally controls the entire system.  There is no stronger tool to defeat the freedom to teach, than by boiling it all down to a test.

“PET believes that teachers should be rewarded for a variety of reasons, including rewarding teachers experience and advanced degrees.  PET opposes incentive or performance pay programs, unless they are designed in an equitable and fair manner.   PET supports a career compensation and benefits package for all certified, licensed and contracted public school employees that mandates competitive salaries that are equal to or greater than the national average and competitive with private industry.  The state should still include a minimum salary schedule that provides for step increases to recognize longevity in the profession.  PET supports the creation of a statewide set of evaluation standards for campus administrators that includes a survey of classroom educators and staff regarding the professional performance of the campus administrators.

“In addition to experience and degrees, we expect to see salary increases targeted at performance (merit), market, equity, or retention.  General financial parameters and guidelines should be established each year as part of the budget development process at the state and local level.   In addition, below are a few additional talking points on the subject:

• Merit salary increases may be composed of many  differing components, but two components – a base salary percentage increase (specified in budget) and a percentage increase in recognition of above satisfactory (or exceptional) performance.  This will be mostly tied to increases in student achievement/performance.
• Adjustments to salaries may also be made when there is an issue resulting from market or other equity factors
• Equity factors exist from internal pay disparities and are not related to individual performance

• Retention bonus should occur in hard to fill positions like foreign language, special education and higher level math and science.”

 

This is particularly relevant given the State Department of Education’s recommendation to the State Board of Education regarding the state salary schedule.

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