PET Releases Testing Survey

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) released a survey this week on teacher attitudes toward standardized testing.

Here’s the release and a link to a detailed report:

In April of 2015, Professional Educators of Tennessee surveyed Tennessee educators regarding their opinion of standardized testing in the state of Tennessee. The survey was distributed via email to all members and on social media, as well as being made available to all educators on the Professional Educators of Tennessee website.

208 educators completed the survey, with 134 being classroom teachers. Eighty-five percent of educators stated that standardized testing takes up “too much” of classroom instructional time. And, as the state moves to online testing, there appear to be numerous glitches in the testing procedure.

Based on the survey results, PET recommends:

Based on these survey results, standardized testing in Tennessee proves to be a major driving force in classroom instruction. This survey indicates that virtually every school has broadband internet, yet 89% indicated there were issues with the online testing provided.   These issues can and will negatively impact tests results. Professional Educators of Tennessee proposes that all testing continue to be done on paper/pencil OR that testing sessions interrupted by technical difficulties be coded in a special way and either discarded or given again, with different test items, OR that schools endure the tests with possible difficulties with technology and be held harmless until the percentage of tests taken without technical interference or interruption reaches a threshold of 95% or higher.  Also, before a teacher’s TVAAS scores are linked to students’ testing performance, these online testing malfunctions (computers/websites freezing, connectivity issues) must be addressed.

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

PET to Host LeaderU

Professional Educators of Tennessee will host a workshop and panel discussions with the theme of “The Future is Now.” The event will be held on June 20th, 2015.

Here are the details from a press release:

Hundreds of educators will gather at LeaderU on Saturday, June
20, 2015 at the Marriott Hotel in Franklin, Tennessee  to discuss the future
of education in Tennessee as well as best practices in teaching and
administration.  This is an event for all educators, public school parents,
business and community leaders, and media who desire a better understanding
of where the state is heading with education.   This year’s theme is “The
Future is NOW.”

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Dr. Candice McQueen will outline the
state’s vision for public education at the event.  Dr. McQueen, a
Clarksville native and former teacher, will share the state’s top education
initiatives and discuss the important role education plays across the state
as well as her story of how she rose through the ranks to become Tennessee’s
chief education official. In the months ahead, Dr. McQueen faces tough
challenges as she strives to earn the trust of educators, superintendents
and lawmakers, revamp more rigorous academic standards, and establish a new
state standardized test called “TNReady
< http://www.tennessee.gov/education/assessment/TNReady.shtml> .”

State Senator Dr. Mark Green will also address attendees, describing ways
educators can become more effective leaders across the state in the
conversation on education. Senator Green draws upon his years of leadership
experience in military service, medical practice, and policymaking to assist
educators in planning their leadership strategies.

 

Other featured presenters:

Dr. Felicia Bates, Instructional Administrator, Lakewood Schools, Henry
County Schools; Adjunct Professor, Freed-Hardeman University; Samantha
Bates, Director of Member Services, Professional Educators of TN; former
middle school teacher; Timothy Carey, Media Arts Instructor, Maxwell
Elementary, Metro-Nashville Public Schools; Tim Childers, Asst. Principal at
the L&N STEM Academy, Knox County Schools; Dr. Timothy Drinkwine, Principal,
Eakin School, Metro-Nashville Public Schools; Dr. April Ebbinger, Director
of Clinical Studies, University of Tennessee – Chattanooga; Leigh Jones,
Director of Aesthetic Education Initiatives for TN Performing Arts Center
(TPAC); Karen Lawson, Social Studies instructor, West Middle School,
Tullahoma City Schools; David Lockett, Instructor, Homer Pittard Campus
School; Adjunct Professor, Middle TN State University; Susan Millican,
Adjunct professor/Professor in Residence, University of TN – Chattanooga;
Dr. Jill Pittman, Principal, Goodlettsville Middle Prep, Metro-Nashville
Public Schools; Tiffany Roan, College Savings Specialist, TN Dept. of
Treasury; Mike Sheppard, Esq., General Counsel for Professional Educators of
Tennessee; Susan Sudberry-, Instructional Technology Specialist, Tullahoma
City Schools

These education professionals will lead a total of 16 sessions such as “Why
Teach Coding?” “Take Charge of Your Professional Learning,” “Your School’s
Social Media Presence: Telling Your Own Story,” and the popular LawTalkC
series. These current issues are tailored to meet the needs of teachers and
administrators at all levels, and multiple classes are available for up to 6
TASL credits. College students and new teachers can also benefit from the
networking opportunity and classes on financial literacy, advice for new
teachers, technology, and project-based learning.

For more information or to register, visit www.leaderutn.com.

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

 

Trust Us and Stop Complaining

That seems to be the over-arching message from the Tennessee General Assembly as they continue to advance legislation designed to prevent those who disagree with the current “ed reform” agenda from having a strong voice.

The latest example is the so-called Educator Protection Act (HB645/SB604) designed to offer liability insurance to teachers at state expense. But, as Jon Alfuth notes over at Bluff City Ed, it seems the legislation has other implications:

 I can only speculate, but this looks like a quiet effort to continue the drive towards making the TEA irrelevant in the state. Pass this and one of the big draws of union membership, legal protection in the case of a law suit, suddenly becomes less important. The TEA does contend that teachers would still have to rely on them for legal fees according to the link cited above, but teachers wouldn’t need the liability coverage under the TEA any more as the state would provide it. It just removes one additional reason for teachers to join the union.

Weakening TEA and also Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) weakens the organized opposition to much of what passes as education reform – evaluations based on suspect statistical methods and vouchers, as just two examples.

This effort comes after just last week, an amendment was added to the state budget that was designed to limit local school boards in their efforts to seek more funding from the state.

The General Assembly seems to be sending a clear message to those who disagree with prevailing education policy: Trust us, and stop complaining.

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

 

Why Vouchers Won’t Work

Samantha Bates, Director of Member Services for Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) offers her take on why vouchers won’t work in Tennessee.

We are living in an age of historic transformation. There is a no doubt that traditional conservative and liberal ideology has undergone a seismic shift. Political labels mean nothing to voters, because it is very obvious that they mean nothing to politicians elected under a political banner of a party. In education the name of the game is race to the top; in politics it is race to the trough.

Calvin Coolidge understood that the power to tax is the power to destroy. He said, “A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent public necessity and sound public policy is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny.” Government at all levels has created problems and then miraculously been seen as the savior to resolve that issue. We understand, however, that top-down reform rarely reaches the grassroots.

Unless we generate improved capacities in our people, organizations, and communities to see the world differently and to utilize new concepts and methods, we will continue to try to advance ideas and approaches that are increasingly out of date. For example, we have made our system of public education adhere to one set of rules and then handcuffed them. Now we want to allow other approaches to operate under different constructs. Should we not focus on means to free our state and local school districts from onerous rules and regulations and give them greater freedom to operate? Instead of charter schools, for example, what about charter districts in Tennessee. Let’s simply block-grant federal and money to the states or districts.

Education is the process by which we infuse knowledge of our culture and our moral values in our children. However, our schools are being changed from essential community institutions into government agencies. Rather than serving as hubs of civic life, our schools are converting into apparatuses of state and national policy more concerned with economic development than with the diffusion of culture; more concerned with issues associated with international competitiveness than with concern about national character. We have lost our vision because we handcuffed public schools with burdensome rules and regulations and outsourced our policymaking to chambers of commerce and wealthy philanthropists and their well-funded think tanks.

Just as good teachers know when to put aside curriculum to do what is right for children, good leaders will support that effort and good policy will embrace it. The move to shift more state and local dollars to vouchers in Tennessee will not work and will further destroy our public schools. Under a recent proposal the attempt is to target the lowest performing five percent. There will always be a bottom five percent. So, if your school is not on the list, rest assured it will eventually get there. The numbers will expand, and local school systems will be required to absorb the cost to educate the students that remain.

If policymakers want to argue that the latest voucher proposal will promote market-driven competition, they are operating under a false assumption. They will need to come to grips with the fact that, as a whole, Tennessee lacks the necessary infrastructure of quality private schools, and that list is further narrowed with ones that operate at a reasonable tuition rate in line with any proposed voucher. There are some Jewish, Christian, and Muslim schools that may meet the criteria. While the U.S. Constitution is silent on how states fund or provide a quality education, and courts around the nation have upheld that providing money to faith-based schools through vouchers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, each community will ultimately debate if this is where they want their tax money to be spent.

It would also stand to reason, if we are concerned about accountability in public schools and with public monies we will need to also need to be concerned with accountability of a voucher school. If the testing and evaluation system are critical for quality in public schools, would they not be as equally critical for private schools? Vouchers could lead private schools to excessive regulation, as well as undermine the quality and independence of private schools. Whoever pays the piper ultimately calls the tune.

A voucher program will also inevitably lead to continued growth and power by the Tennessee Department of Education over local education. Vouchers will not eliminate or substantially reduce the state’s role in education, and it will take significant resources to oversee the program. If you like big government, this will increase the size and scope of the Tennessee Department of Education.

For some, vouchers are a means to eliminate public education. Looking at the argument for a moment, do we really want a massive system of government contractors, albeit private schools, approved by the state, who in turn will themselves lobby and demand larger subsidies? Vouchers will also likely drive up the cost for parents in private schools whose children do not use or qualify for vouchers.

Philosopher George Santayana defined fanaticism as amplifying your efforts when you have forgotten your purpose. While public schools must promote personal development and intellectual growth, education goes beyond preparing students for college or the workforce. We must remind ourselves of the purpose of public education under the Tennessee Constitution: “The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Will vouchers, as proposed, meet that standard?

There are many people working hard to strengthen our system of free public schools. We simply believe that local educators, rather than outside influences, are the people who must transform our schools. We have been there. We are teachers, principals, superintendents and boards of education and we do not believe vouchers will work in our state.

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

 

Teacher Groups Respond to Haslam Raise Proposal

After Governor Bill Haslam addressed education, and specifically, raises for teachers last night, groups representing teachers responded with cautious optimism.

The Tennessee Education Association noted that they have been advocating for a six percent raise in order to restore teacher pay to 2010 levels and provide a slight raise. Four percent moves in the right direction, the group said. TEA also noted that Haslam is addressing revenue issues by proposing a revenue modernization act to create a level playing field between Tennessee businesses and multi-state corporations.

For their part, Professional Educators of Tennessee applauded the efforts on salary and raised concerns about the Governor’s plan to provide liability insurance.

Here’s the statement from TEA:

Just two months after TEA called for a six percent state raise for teachers, Gov. Bill Haslam announced he would propose a four percent increase in the budget. The total earmarked for raises totals approximately $100 million, and would be the largest pay increase in more than a decade.
At four percent, the average Tennessee teacher pay increase would be approximately $2,000 annually, not including step raises.
“The governor’s proposal to putting these funds into teacher salaries is a great first step to fulfilling his promise to make Tennessee the fastest improving in teacher salaries. Now it is our job to make sure this raise stays in the budget,” said TEA president Barbara Gray.
Last year a two percent teacher raise was cut from the budget when corporate excise taxes—a tax on profits—dropped unexpectedly. TEA has been working to find fixes for the holes in the corporate excise tax and other revenue problems in order to increase investment in schools and improve educator salaries. The Haslam administration is now on the same page.
“After presenting our budget last year, there was a sharp decline in revenue collections, and we weren’t able to do some of the things we initially proposed in the budget,” Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly on February 9. “Most of the drop was in our business tax collections. We’ve spent a lot of time working internally and with outside experts to analyze what happened.” Haslam wants the General Assembly to create the “Revenue Modernization Act” that would close some loopholes used by multi-state companies and level the playing field for Tennessee-based businesses.
“In order for us to ensure raises actually get passed this go round, every teacher needs to be ready for the fight on revenue. We never want repeated what happened last year,” said Jim Wrye, TEA Director of Government Relations. “And we should not stop at just four percent. If revenue continues to rebound, we should add more funding to salaries. There is a reason we asked for six percent, and that is the lack of raises most teachers have had in the past two years.”
Last year there was no raise. In 2013-14, most teachers did not receive the 1.5 percent raise passed by the General Assembly due to the gutting of the State Minimum Salary Schedule by the State Board of Education at the request of then commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.
“Increasing salaries in the state budget is our number one priority. Without a state raise, most teachers won’t see an increase. We’ll work on it every day of the session,” said Wrye.
The large figure for teacher salary increases proposed by the governor was a strong first step. There are also critical budget areas TEA is working on, including health insurance costs, classroom supply money, and pay equity funds that need to be added to the state budget. TEA is the only organization in the statehouse working to find revenue for education funding, and is ready to assist the administration in their goal.
“The increase really shows that the governor is listening to teachers and beginning to understand the economic hardships they have been facing. It is an encouraging start to a new legislative session to see the administration working hard to find a way to support our hardworking educators,” said Gray. “To attract and retain the best teachers, it is crucial that Tennessee stay competitive with neighboring states in teacher pay, something we have been unable to do in recent years.”
Here’s the statement from PET:
We always welcome a focus on education by our policymakers, especially when they engage stakeholders in the process.

Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen have started on a good foot this session by reaching out to us.  We must bridge the gap between policy and practice.  This will require bold, sustained leadership and input from classroom educators.

We have worked hard together on teacher salaries, and I am very pleased with the result. We hope the Governor stays the course this year.  Teachers have worked hard and deserve to be recognized and compensated for their efforts. We are somewhat concerned that it might not reach classroom teachers, if strictly left to districts.

We do not support the Governor’s  proposal to provide liability insurance.  While his intentions may be noble, Tennesseans know insurance provided by the private sector is always preferable to government run insurance like InsureTeach. We would prefer that he work to address frivolous lawsuits and protect teachers.

You never want anyone who has any interest in the outcome of a liability claim, whatever that interest may be,to also be the one to administer the program.  We would ask policymakers to save the $5 million and move those dollars into salaries.

We do appreciate his open dialogue and hope we can continue the discussion moving forward.

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

 

 

The Importance of Mentors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commissioner McQueen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Professional Educators of Tennessee statement on McQueen:

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

 

 

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

 

PET Looks to 2015

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PET Talks Parent Engagement

Bethany Bowman, Director of Professional Development at Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), talks about the importance of parent engagement.

Make the 2014-2015 academic year an opportunity to open a door to a healthy dialogue with parents about the day-to-day events in their child’s classroom. Research reveals that when parents are more actively engaged and informed about their children’s education a more positive result can occur for everybody involved in a child’s education.

Parent engagement is an attitude, not just a list of activities, materials or a curriculum. It is interaction that respects parents and treats them as equal partners with the school and teachers. That does not mean conversations about curriculum or subject matter does not matter. They are very important.

Creating a receptive environment and developing constructive relationships with parents, can lead to needed support for your good work in the classroom. Maintaining and sustaining a dialogue on the importance of education with parents is also critical to the success of your classroom, as well as a key to student progress and academic success.

We know that students perform better in school if their parents are more involved in their child’s education. However, out of the almost $600 billion that will be spent on the education of students in the United States, very few dollars are actually spent on teacher-parent communication.

Yet, with today’s technology, being an informed parent has never been easier. Nearly every school has a portal where parents can log in and see what going on in their child’s classroom. Many teachers have their own webpages. Some sites even link directly to your child’s grades in the teacher’s electronic gradebook.  Even if the school doesn’t provide you this access, you can always email the teacher(s) to see exactly what projects are due/when and what is happening at the school.

But don’t forget your physical presence. Just showing up to volunteer once or twice a semester will show your child and your child’s teacher that you care. If you work and absolutely can’t get away in the day, volunteer at after-school events. You can help organize a party or field trip even if you aren’t available to attend.

Regardless of your method, your child can sense your presence. Stay in touch with your child’s school/teachers and there will be few surprises. This will lessen the stress level for the parents, the teachers and the students. It truly is a win/win for everyone.

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

 

PET on Common Core Lessons

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) President Cathy Kolb and Director of Professional Development Bethany Bowman talk about lessons learned from Common Core implementation.
There are several words that are called “fighting words” these days, but “Common Core State Standards” may head the list in public education. The only other item that may come close is standardized testing.

Just the phrase “Common Core” can invoke passions, debate or a heated quarrel. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a battle about standards in the private sector.

Mark Twain popularized the adage that there were “three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Research, design of study, methodologies, sample selection, quality of evidence all determine how the statistics will be shaped. The use of the data will then drive the decision-making. Policymakers can justify any position for or against an issue based on their view of the available information. Toss in a political agenda, add some cash and you have a recipe to be persuaded for or against any issue. A political maxim is: “money changes behavior, lots of money changes lots of behavior.”

We should be weary of many education reforms, and generally opposed to a one-size fits all approach – especially when there is “lots of money” involved. There is always good and bad to most issues, and reasonable people can generally argue either side. A civil debate can serve a practical purpose in public policy. Common Core is an issue that makes sense in theory, and results may show it makes sense in practice. Time will determine that debate. As an organization, we support higher standards.

Who can be opposed to raising the standards in public education? Let’s face it, our economic strength as a state and a country is linked to the performance of our public schools. Yet, not all students are educated in a traditional public school. Traditional schools are wary of being accountable for students’ scores on standardized tests which do not give an accurate picture of teacher performance.

There are a growing array of education choice options available in America such as controlled open enrollment, charter schools, charter districts, online schools, lab schools, schools-within-schools, year-round schools, charter technical career centers, magnet schools, alternative schools, vouchers, special programs, advanced placement, dual enrollment, International Baccalaureate, early admissions, and credit by examination or demonstration of competency. If you can conceive it, more than likely some school, district or state will probably try it. But will all of these options include the use of Common Core State Standards, and if not, why not?

In Tennessee, for example, any cursory review demonstrates that Common Core State Standards were superior to the standards previously employed. But it is debatable whether recommending a common set of standards for all 50 states was necessary. In fact, Common Core could be properly viewed as a disruptor. In that regard, Common Core served a useful purpose of blowing up the status quo.

In education circles people are now discussing standards, curriculum and testing. Don’t believe for one minute that Common Core State Standards are a “be all, end all.” They were not an insidious plot by the Obama Administration, but they were not exactly crafted by real public educators either. Many of the elements of Common Core were a response that has been kicked around for a quarter-century. In fact, one could pinpoint the genesis of the national curriculum debate at the feet of Chester Finn, who proposed it in an Education Week article in 1989.     Nobody should be thrilled with watered down standards. Yet we must critically scrutinize the curriculum, textbook, and testing clique that have turned into profit centers for a few corporations that seem to have garnered an inside advantage. Bluntly, there may be too many education lobbyists and corporate interests driving manufactured problems in the name of education reform. It is definite that we have tilted the debate too far to the side of the federal government in harming state sovereignty and local control of public education.

The implementation of Common Core went better in Tennessee than in many other places in the country. The real problem was the failure of many policymakers to address the legitimate concerns of stakeholders on other peripheral issues. Organizations that were engaged to take the lead in addressing criticisms were viewed as impertinent and disrespectful and operated as if they themselves were the policymakers. In fact, it bordered on arrogance.

It is accurate that those for and against Common Core have taken liberties with the truth. However, if the debate exasperates people enough perhaps it will spark needed changes such as a real review of standardized testing and a focus back on student-centered instruction. The lesson learned is that the federal government is often too prescriptive in their participation in public education, and most decisions should be left to states, districts, schools and educators.

F0r more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport