Sick

A Tennessee teacher writes about the education policies that make her sick.

I’m sick.

Sick of my students being over-tested and our schools being underfunded.

Sick of teachers leaving the profession because they are underpaid and undervalued.

Sick of Tennessee being 45th in the nation in per pupil funding. 

Sick of being disrespected by a Governor who has proposed increasing state funding for unaccountable charter schools by 100% while only increasing funding for teachers by 2%.

And how I feel is only going to get worse if the state government passes voucher legislation, which will further drain the resources our students need from public schools and hand them over to unaccountable private companies.

That’s why there’s a movement of teachers planning on calling in sick on Tuesday, April 9th to travel to Nashville and flood the capitol.

We plan on letting our state’s politicians know just how sick we are. And we plan on making it clear to them: the war on public education in Tennessee ends now.

I’m a member of the Tennessee Education Association, but I know that there are many in the state leadership who think that collective action is too aggressive and premature. They still believe that we can work amicably with state politicians. I disagree.

Anyone still entertaining that idea should have had a rude awakening last week when Betsy DeVos visited our state and held closed door meetings with privatizers and politicians.

Several months back, when Governor Lee announced his unfortunate choice for the TN Commissioner of Education, I publicly stated that he had declared war on public education. Some may have thought that was a bit dramatic. However, the Governor wouldn’t have invited the most vilified Secretary of Education in history to the state if he didn’t plan on dropping an atomic bomb on public education. His voucher and charter bills are just that.

With the backing of ALEC and Betsy DeVos those devastating bills will pass unless teachers wake up and do something drastic. Millions upon millions of dollars will be drained from public education and siphoned away from our students.

How do I know this? Because it was perfectly ok to have an admitted child predator be the chair of the House Education Committee until he voted against the voucher bill. Only then was he no longer fit to be the chair.

Strong arm tactics are running rampant and the writing is on the wall.

The go-along to get-along approach of the state teachers association, which means working with the enemies of public education, has been a pipe dream for almost a decade, and it’s time for teachers to wake up. All the emailing and phone calls in the world won’t stop politicians bankrolled by billionaires like the Koch brothers and DeVos family from pursuing devastating legislation that hurts our schools, students, and communities.

Over the last year, I have watched educators in one state after another rise up, take their power back, and force legislators to actually represent THEM and not privatizers. It didn’t matter that the strikes were illegal or sick-outs were risky. When educators stick together and have the backing of the community, they can make real change possible. Teachers can take on billionaires and win. They already have in other states.

In my opinion, the only thing that will stop this insanity is for teachers to walk out. Shut it down. Take back our schools. Take back our profession. Do our job……. and fight for our kids.

I hope to see you in the capitol on Tuesday, April 9.

Lauren Sorensen is a second grade teacher at Halls Elementary School in Knox County and a former president of the Knox County Education Association.

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



A National Leader


According to a recent report, Tennessee’s education policies have resulted in our state becoming a national leader in at least one category. The Learning Policy Institute notes that Tennessee has the highest percentage of 1st- and 2nd-year teachers of any state in the nation. Nearly 20% of Tennessee’s teacher workforce is very new to the profession. That’s well above the national average of 12.7%. When that number is combined with the percentage of uncertified teachers (4.1%), the outlook is not good: Our schools are not retaining experienced teachers. The national average for classrooms staffed by uncertified teachers is 2.6%.

Check out the data:

 

 

Teacher compensation in Tennessee is certainly one factor playing into this challenge. Our teachers are paid 27.3% less than individuals in similarly trained professions. In fact, we have among the highest teacher wage gaps in the country.

Helpfully, the Learning Policy Institute offers some recommendations for improving this situation:

Service scholarships and student loan forgiveness:
The cost of high-quality teacher preparation is a significant obstacle to those considering entering the teaching profession. To overcome such barriers, at least 40 states have established service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. These programs underwrite the cost of teacher preparation in exchange for a number of years of service in the profession. Research has found that effective service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs leverage greater recruitment into professional fields and locations where individuals are needed, and support retention.

High-retention pathways into teaching:
Teacher turnover is higher for those who enter the profession without adequate preparation. However, teachers often choose alternative certification pathways that omit student teaching and some coursework because, without financial aid, they cannot afford to be without an income for the time it takes to undergo teacher training. High-retention pathways are developed to subsidize the cost of teacher preparation and provide high-quality training for incoming teachers. These pathways include teacher residencies and Grow Your Own programs that recruit and prepare community members to teach in local school districts

Mentoring and induction for new teachers:
Evidence suggests that strong mentoring and induction for novice teachers can be a valuable strategy to retain new teachers and improve their effectiveness. Well-mentored beginning teachers are twice as likely to stay in teaching as those who do not receive mentoring. However, the number of states supporting mentoring and induction programs decreased during the recent recession, and a 2016 review of state policies found that just 16 states provide dedicated funding to support teacher induction. Under ESSA, states can leverage federal Title II, Part A funds to support new teacher induction and mentoring. Indeed, a number of states, including Delaware and Ohio, are taking such an approach. Other states have invested state funds to support new teacher induction, including Connecticut and Iowa.

High-quality school principals:
Principals play a central role in attracting and retaining talented teachers. Teachers cite principal support as one of the most important factors in their decision to stay in a school or in the profession. Therefore, states can benefit from building effective systems of preparation and professional development for school leaders. Title II, Part A of ESSA provides states with new opportunities to invest in and improve school leadership in ways that could increase teacher retention, including by reserving up to 3% of their state Title II, Part A funds for school leader development. Many states—including North Dakota and Tennessee—are seizing this opportunity, with nearly half of states using the optional 3% set aside and 21 states using ESSA funds to invest in principal preparation. The North Carolina Principal Fellows program is an example of a long-standing, successful state effort to support principal development.

Competitive compensation:
Not surprisingly, the lack of competitive compensation is one factor that frequently contributes to teacher shortages, affecting the quality and quantity of people planning to become teachers as well whether people decide to leave the teacher workforce. Even after adjusting for the shorter work year in teaching, beginning teachers nationally earn about 20% less than individuals with college degrees in other fields—a wage gap that widens to 30% by mid-career. Large inequities in teacher salaries among districts within the same labor market leave some high-need, under-resourced districts at a strong disadvantage in both hiring and retaining teachers. More competitive compensation can be a critical strategy to recruit and retain effective educators, although different approaches may be necessary depending on the state, regional, and district context.

Recruitment strategies to expand the pool of qualified educators:
In light of fiscal constraints, many states are also opting for low-cost policy solutions that expand the pool of qualified teachers. Such strategies include recruiting recently retired teachers back into the classroom to fill open positions and strengthening licensure reciprocity to ease undue burdens to cross-state mobility and allow experienced and accomplished educators the opportunity to seamlessly transition into service in a different state. Colorado, for example, is actively pursuing both strategies, and Idaho, Oklahoma, and West Virginia are also recruiting retired teachers to help address teacher shortages.

Tennessee should certainly move forward with a serious effort to improve teacher compensation as well as an early career mentoring/induction program. Coupling these two items with meaningful new investments in our schools could make both coming to and staying in teacher a more attractive proposition in our state.

Until then, it’s likely we’ll continue to see teachers leave the profession at higher than the national rate. We simply haven’t been committed to investing in our teachers and it shows.

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

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User Error


Dear Teachers,

It’s your fault.

It always is.

That’s essentially the sentiment expressed by the Tennessee Department of Education led by Candice McQueen after the latest round of problems, this time with portfolio evaluation of Pre-K/Kindergarten teachers.

The Tennessean has more:

Tennessee’s teacher union is blaming a vendor glitch for issues with some teachers’ low kindergarten and prekindergarten portfolio scores. But the state says the problems are due to user error.

“There was no error by our vendor. The vendor has double-checked all of the peer review scores and everything has been correctly and accurately reported,” according to a statement from Sara Gast, Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman.

But Gast said Monday that portfolios are reviewed and scored by peers through a rubric. In some cases, Gast said, an educator mismatched students or standards, which made it impossible to score. In that case, she said, educators were given a score of 1.

The Department of Education, an entity with a serious allergy to the truth, is blaming teachers instead of accepting responsibility.

This is the same DOE that seemed surprised when May 15th arrived this year and portfolio reviewers hadn’t been provided guidance:

The initial portfolios were to be evaluated by May 15th. Then, the portfolios with score disputes go on to the “experts.”

Here’s the text of an email about that sent on May 15th:

Dear Educator,

Thank you for all your hard work! The portfolio scoring in the general pool concludes at 11:59pm tonight. The consensus review scoring begins tomorrow, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

In the event that you were unable to meet your 10 portfolio review requirement (the same as 40 collections) AND you have demonstrated competence during the certification process and/or general pool scoring, you may receive additional portfolios to score. Reviewers who will receive additional portfolio submissions in this next phase and Expert Reviewers will be provided additional guidance to support the scoring process.

Thanks for all that you do! Please look for our next communication in 24 hours.

Here’s a follow-up email sent on May 16th:

Thanks again for your patience and support. We are still developing the guidance documents for the next phase of peer review. Our goal is to make sure you have the most comprehensive and best information to be successful. We appreciate your understanding and will communicate in the next 24-48 hours with updates.

This is also the same DOE that gave teachers one rubric for preparing their portfolios while providing reviewers with a rubric with significantly more difficult standards by which to assess those same portfolios.

Teachers received:

Reviewers were given:

This is the same DOE that set a June 15th deadline for returning scores, then moved it to June 30th, then released the scores last week — in late July.

By all means, let’s give Commissioner McQueen and her department the benefit of the doubt despite all the mishaps during her tenure at the helm.

In Candice McQueen’s world, it’s blame everyone all the time and it’s NEVER her fault or her responsibility.

Never fear, though, the state is now switching to a new platform for portfolio submissions. This means rolling out new training for teachers well after the academic year has started. For teachers in the few districts using Fine Arts Portfolios, this will be the third platform for submission in the last three years. Yes, each year is spent preparing for the portfolio collection and submission AND learning a new platform well into the school year.

If one wonders what Governor Haslam thinks of Tennessee’s teachers, let’s be clear: He’s been standing steadfastly behind Commissioner McQueen. In short, he doesn’t respect our teachers or the work they do.

Frankly, any lawmaker not demanding McQueen be held to account is complicit in this mistreatment of our teachers. The message is and has been clear: Everyone is accountable and responsible EXCEPT the Commissioner of Education. Teachers will continue to pay the price and must go along because no one with authority will stand up and make this stop.

I’d caution those sitting silently to note the teacher uprisings in places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. We may be inviting just this sort of direct action here.

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


 

Holden: Trust Teachers


Former teacher and current education blogger Mary Holden offers her thoughts on how to address the teacher shortage. Of course, even if there wasn’t a teacher shortage, this is the right way to treat teachers. Here’s some of what she has to say:

Trusting teachers to do their job – BECAUSE THEY ARE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS – should be commonplace practice in every school district. But it’s not.

An article from last year in The Atlantic discussed what happened when some Finnish teachers taught here in the U.S. Guess what they noticed? The lack of autonomy. And that’s a very bad thing: “According to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, teacher autonomy is positively associated with teachers’ job satisfaction and retention. And while most U.S. public-school teachers report a moderate amount of control in the classroom, many say they have little autonomy.”

Let me repeat that in a different way: We have a teacher shortage. Want to retain teachers and attract new ones? Then trust them to do their jobs. Ask them what they need, and then give them the support they need. (Oh, and paying them more would help, too!)

Holden also offers this suggestion:

I wish more districts would recognize what teachers have been saying for years – stop focusing on the data and the test scores and all the punitive measures that have been in place since the dawn of the accountability movement, and instead, focus on what matters: People. Relationships. Community. Developing the joy of learning. And trust our teachers to teach the subjects for which they are trained to teach.

This (and the rest of her article) offer sound advice on how to support and nurture teachers. I hear people say all the time that decisions in education should be made based on what’s good for kids instead of what’s good for adults — as if the two are mutually exclusive. Guess what? Supported teachers who are given autonomy are happy teachers. Which means they are better teachers. Which is GREAT for kids.

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