Why Should Teachers Work for Free?

Former teacher Kat Tipton writes in Education Week that free work is expected of teachers, and suggests it’s likely because a vast majority of educators are women.

When I was hired to be a 1st grade teacher, I was given absolutely no curriculum for reading or science. While my school did have a math curriculum, it was out of date from the brand new, controversial Common Core State Standards and did not match our assessments. Instead, I was told to plan with my colleagues.

This often led to me scouring the internet for good resources. While some coworkers were willing to share, they rarely sat down and explained what they were giving me, and I certainly never had the opportunity to observe them using it. I was in over my head and had no idea what I was doing.

However, there is a growing number of disdainful educators who are downright angry that teachers are daring to sell their materials on Teachers Pay Teachers. At a technology conference last summer, I heard a presenter loudly talking in the vendor expo center. I listened as he laughed and called TPT sellers the “whores of education.” In a session later that day, I learned about a website where teachers can upload their work for free for others to use.

Why are teachers expected to give away their hard work for free? The presenters in charge of the website explained that they were there to “help kids” and not themselves. I have seen this same sentiment on Twitter often. If you really cared about kids, you would just let people have the things you make rather than sell them!

But, is that fair? Do doctors who work with children give their medical advice away for free? Does Google look around, as it makes new technology for teachers, and say, “You know what? Let’s share all this with Microsoft. After all, it’s for kids!”? Can you think of a single other profession in which those in it are not given what they need to complete their job, are expected to make their own materials, and are then expected to just give those materials away to others?

No, the real problem here is that so many teachers aren’t given what they need in order to do their job—for kids—that they have to pay other teachers to get what they need. The lack of funding in our schools is shocking, and it’s no surprise that schools can’t afford up-to-date curriculum when many can’t even afford basic furniture or actual teachers.

More than three-quarters of public school teachers are women. Would we value the work done by teachers and sold online—and would we be less likely to call those who participate “whores”—if more teachers were men? The average public school teacher makes about $55,000 a year, and the majority have at least two degrees. If a teacher had a side job at American Eagle, would she still be a “whore”? Why is selling something related to teaching as a side job considered to be the worst thing a teacher can do?


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Amy Frogge and Nashville Schools

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge recently talked with “The Vue,” a community newspaper in her home community of Bellevue. Here are some highlights.

Author Diane Ravitch, who has written several books on the plight of U.S. public school systems, chronicled Frogge’s efforts in her new book, “Slaying Goliath,” writing that Frogge “emerged as an articulate critic of privatization… who courageously stood up to the right-wing governor, the legislature, the state (education) commissioner, and then-Mayor (Karl) Dean, who were all pushing for more charters in Nashville.” (An excerpt recently appeared in The Washington Post. You can read it here: https://wapo.st/2uQtsSJ )

According to Frogge:

“All of the tentacles of the reform movement are still active here and trolling the legislature, but when I first got on the board and I talked about it, and impact of poverty on learning, and topics like that, I was crucified. Charter schools were supposed to be miracles – if you just put your child in charter schools, they are going to do better.”

Frogge won her seat against great odds:

“I raised about $24,000, but my opponent raised $120,000 (and still lost). She was at the time on the board of the Public Education Foundation, which was very pro-charter, so I don’t think anyone was aware of how contentious the school board would come to be. At that time, it was still a regular local school board.”

Great Hearts:

“My first meeting on the school board was the fourth Great Hearts vote, and all the power players (in Nashville) were backing it. I didn’t know anything about education policy. I was educating myself on every issue that came up. I looked at charters, and research was saying that they don’t perform any better than traditional schools on average, so that was kind of my answer during the campaign. 

“Kevin Huffman (the state Department of Education commissioner) was really upset that the board on the previous three votes did not approve (Great Hearts). He demanded that the minute we got sworn in, we had to vote on it.

“Great Hearts had nine schools in Arizona. They were very segregated. They were wanting to charge $1,500 a student, and high-priced lunches – ways to weed out low-income kids. It was clearly a school that was being set up to ‘cherry pick’ the better performing kids and leave everyone else behind.

“I felt something was wrong, especially with my legal background, with the advice we were given. I still thought we were going to vote and be done with it. But right after we voted (against it), all these power players marched out on television and said we broke the law, which wasn’t true. But it led to a year of controversy.”

The article notes that Frogge is now more hopeful about where education is headed in Nashville, though the fight against so-called “education reformers” has been long and unrelenting.

READ MORE about Amy Frogge’s journey in public education advocacy.

Diane Ravitch and Amy Frogge
Nashville’s Amy Frogge with Diane Ravitch in 2014

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All About Portfolios

Portfolios as a tool for teacher evaluation in Tennessee have received increased scrutiny in recent years. Kindergarten teachers told a legislative committee that implementation had been nothing short of a fiasco while the number of districts utilizing related-arts portfolios is dwindling.

Now, the Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office of Research and Education Accountability is out with a comprehensive study of the use of portfolios for teacher evaluation in Tennessee. Key findings include problems with validity and reliability as a measure of student growth as well as an increased time commitment for teachers and administrators. One policy suggestion is to move from attaching high-stakes (use in evaluation) to the portfolios and instead using some version of a portfolio as a tool for professional development. Below, I’ll post highlights from key areas of the report.

Platform Problems

Educopia 2017-18

After the General Assembly began requiring all districts accepting VPK funds to adopt the pre-k/kindergarten portfolio model, the department sought a new platform vendor that could serve a significant increase in portfolio submissions and ensure consistency statewide in the submission process as well as the scoring process. For the 2017-18 school year, the department contracted with Educopia, a vendor that the state had already worked with to test a new scoring process.

Multiple issues with the Educopia platform and scoring process resulted in the department allowing teachers affected by uploading and scoring problems to have their portfolio scores removed from their overall evaluation (LOE) scores. These issues with Educopia contributed to the state choosing a different portfolio platform vendor, though TDOE had already planned to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for the following year’s (2018-19) portfolio platform in order to seek a platform that could align with a related TDOE system.

Portfolium 2018-current

In 2018-19, the state entered into a five-year contract with Portfolium. Like previous platforms, Portfolium also experienced capacity-related problems. On the last day to submit portfolios for the 2018-19 school year, Portfolium experienced a blackout and teachers were unable to access the platform. Additionally, at a meeting for peer reviewers to work on the first round of scoring, the heavy site activity overwhelmed the platform.

Program Costs

In the early years of the portfolio process, the Department of Education used the GLADiS Project platform and paid for the service through subscription fees. During the four-year period of 2013-14 through 2016-17, the department paid a total of $153,000 for the total 7,424 portfolios submitted during that period.B The department did not pay reviewers prior to 2017-2018; instead, districts recruited teachers to be reviewers and any compensation received by reviewers was determined at the local level.

For the 2017-18 school year, the state approved a sole source contract with Educopia, a vendor that the state had already worked with to test a new scoring process. The initial contract with Educopia was amended twice to increase the state’s financial liability, plus a subsequent short-term contract was approved. Increases to the state’s contract costs resulted from higher district and teacher participation than expected, as well as from additional vendor support required to address several problems with the platform’s implementation.

State payments to Educopia ultimately totaled $706,051 for work on the portfolio process for the 2017-18 school year, the same year that saw the number of teachers submitting portfolios rise from 2,170 to over 5,750.11 Adopting a new platform administered by a new vendor the same year as this large-scale increase in portfolio submissions likely increased the amount and complexity of the problems encountered and, by extension, the amount paid by the state. When the $677,000 in stipends paid to portfolio reviewers is added to the platform contract costs, the resulting total of $1.38 million makes 2017-18 the most expensive year for portfolio implementation to date.

The department released a request for proposal (RFP) for the 2018-19 school year, as it had planned, and awarded a contract to Portfolium, the only vendor other than Educopia that submitted a bid. The state signed a five-year, $2.1 million contract with Portfolium. In 2018-19, $216,496 was charged to the contract for the online platform, and $607, 282 was spent on portfolio review costs, primarily reviewer stipends. One additional cost of $26,100 was paid in 2018-19 for stipends for portfolio consultants, teachers, and other educators contracted to provide feedback on revisions made to scoring rubrics for clarity.

With 6,059 teachers submitting portfolios, the 2018-19 average state cost per portfolio was $140, not including compensation paid to three full-time department staff. This figure also does not capture local district costs. Some districts, for example, pay for classroom substitutes so that teachers have time to complete their portfolios during the school day.

Time Issues

Teachers report that the portfolio model takes time away from classroom practice and requires time spent after hours. State-required teacher assessments, whether based on standardized tests or on student growth portfolios, require time spent on preparation and administration.

A department survey of teachers using portfolios in 2017-18 found that 81 percent of all responding teachers (3,404) spent more than eight hours on portfolio preparation (e.g., uploading student work, adding explanatory comments, and completing self-scoring). Teachers using the world languages portfolio (24) reported spending the least amount of time on portfolio preparation, with 46 percent reporting they spent more than eight hours.

The portfolio process places demands on district administrators’ time as well, and these demands appear to be increasing based on changes in districts’ portfolio responsibilities outlined in state policy. As the statewide use of portfolio models expanded and the department understood the level of administrative support needed for successful portfolio implementation, the state’s requirements of districts grew.

Another concern of early grades teachers, in particular, relates more to the logistics of managing a classroom while also documenting the task performance of a selected student for a portfolio collection, such as recording audio of video of a student. For example, one pre-k supervisor indicated that portfolio collections were easier for pre-k teachers to put together than kindergarten teachers because pre-k teachers have a full-time teacher’s aide in their classrooms.


The above items reflect a portion of the OREA report on the use of student growth portfolios for teacher evaluations. The evidence indicates that these portfolios are expensive, incredibly time-consuming, and problematic to implement. The portfolios are also of questionable value when it comes to actually evaluating teachers. They MAY be of some use in professional development, if scaled-down and properly supported.

Image of Portfolio

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Library Censorship Bill in Subcommittee TODAY

The Cities and Counties Subcommittee of the House Local Government Committee will hear HB2721 today at 3:30 PM. The bill is opposed by the American Library Association, as they explain the press release below.

Today the American Library Association (ALA) released the following statement regarding Tennessee HB 2721, which would require a parental oversight board to replace policies and library experts in the development of library collections and services.  Libraries that fail to comply with the proposed law may lose local funding, incur fines, and librarians and library workers may face jail time. 

The ALA stated the following:  

“Tennessee HB 2721 threatens library users’ freedom to read and violates our professional values and ethics expressed in the ALA’sLibrary Bill of Rights. If adopted, the bill would establish ‘parental oversight boards’ whose decisions about what others can read, view, and access in the library would be final. The bill would add layers of bureaucracy that compete with elected or appointed library boards and existing library policies that govern library collection development, programming, and meeting room use. The law jeopardizes library funding and imposes fines and jail time for librarians who violate the edicts of these untrained boards.

“The belief that a small group of parents know what is best for every family in their community denies the very real fact that each community is made up of families and individuals with diverse beliefs, identities and values. ALA supports the right of families and individuals to choose materials from a diverse spectrum of ideas and beliefs. Public libraries and their professional staff members already have in place the tools and procedures that will assist parents in selecting materials that fit their family’s information needs, while not censoring materials or infringing upon the rights of other families or patrons to choose and access the resources and programs  they want and need.

“ALA vigorously opposes HB2721 and other bills like it that advance censorship under the guise of parental control.”

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Demanding Charter Transparency

There’s now federal legislation (COAT Act) that would foster transparency among charter schools. Here’s more on what that means from the Network for Public Education.

In February of 2017, Betsy DeVos was sworn in as the U.S. Secretary of Education after 20 years of pushing for charter school expansion in her home state of Michigan – which now leads the nation in the number of schools operated for-profit, has more low-performance charter schools than any other state, and lacks any mechanism for oversight of failing charters. Michigan’s experiment with charters has led to a system of poor schools run by for-profit companies failing thousands of students, and millions of dollars lost to fraud and waste.

Over those same 20 years, the Department of Education gave more than $4 billion to states to increase the number of charter schools without requiring strong oversight systems. As a result, it is estimated that over $1 billion of taxpayer money has been lost to charter school waste, fraud, and abuse. Without the necessary oversight for charter schools, our children will continue to suffer while taxpayers will be caught holding the bill for charter school waste and abuse.

That’s why three years after Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education, Rep. Tlaib is introducing the Charter Oversight, Accountability, and Transparency (COAT) Act.

Charter schools are publicly funded but are managed privately by Private Charter Management Organization (PCMOs). The PCMOs essentially act as the school district, running the daily operations, employing teachers, and freely deviating from most state guidelines, including testing and curriculum.

Under this legislation, States are ineligible for federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act funds unless their school districts’ contracts with PCMOs include basic transparency requirements. These transparency measures will require PCMOs to disclose to the Department of Education:

  • The dollar amount and percentage breakdown of money being used by the PCMO on the operations of the school.
  • The dollar amounts and percentage breakdown of money being used on the operations of the PCMO.
  • The dollar amounts every executive is earning in salary from the PCMO.
  • The identity of any company or organization the PCMO has financial interest in.
  • Whether the PCMO is for-profit or non-profit.

In addition, school districts contracting with PCMOs will require the PCMOs to:

  • Hold board meetings that are publicly disclosed and accessible to the public.
  • Annually disclose the members of the board of directors.

Since charter schools are privately-run but funded by our tax dollars, it is imperative that they are subject to basic transparency measures. The COAT Act is commonsense legislation that will increase transparency and accountability to ensure that charter schools provide necessary information to local, state, and federal agencies to detect and prevent fraud. Our children deserve better.

To urge your Tennessee Member of Congress to support the COAT Act, click here.

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The Impact of a Broken School Funding System

Tennessee’s school funding formula, the BEP, is broken. It fails to adequately fund teaching positions. It fails to account for actual salaries paid to teachers. It fails to provide the money necessary to adequately equip schools. There’s simply not enough funding for nurses or counselors or other key support staff. Here’s one teacher talking about what a broken school funding system looks like.

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Alan Levine and the School Privatization Commission

Gloria Johnson highlights some of the facts surrounding one of the proposed appointees to the school privatization commission.

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What Matters? Money!

While some Tennessee lawmakers are pushing for a significant new investment in our state’s schools, new evidence suggests that a cash infusion is just what schools need to retain teachers and improve student outcomes.

Here’s the breakdown from Matt Barnum:

This tracks with a post I shared recently from We Are Teachers noting that a boost to teacher pay has a long-term impact on student achievement:

When teachers get paid more, students do better. In one study, a 10% increase in teacher pay was estimated to produce a 5 to 10% increase in student performance. Teacher pay also has long-term benefits for students. A 10% increase in per-pupil spending for each of the 12 years of education results in students completing more education, having 7% higher wages, and having a reduced rate of adult poverty. These benefits are even greater for families who are in poverty.

Tennessee needs $500 million just to properly staff schools — and that’s just teachers. We need more to add the proper number of counselors, nurses, and other key support staff.

Our teachers need a raise — Tennessee teachers earn about $2400 less than they did back in 2009 when salaries are adjusted for inflation.

This new round of research backs up what those on the front lines of public education will tell you: Money matters. It matters a lot.

While Gov. Lee and his legislative allies push failed charter solutions and sketchy voucher plans, our public schools are starving for support.

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We’ll Fix it Later

Despite significant concerns regarding a no-bid contract awarded to a vendor who will administer the state’s voucher program, legislative leaders have no plans to take action to stop ClassWallet or the Department of Education from circumventing the legislative process. That’s according to a report from the Associated Press.

Late last year, the education agency selected ClassWallet to help administer the applications and funds once the state’s voucher program begins in the summer. However, due to the department using a noncompetitive grant process to select ClassWallet, the agreement never was submitted to the Legislature for review.

This sparked alarm among some lawmakers unhappy the education agency’s decision to select ClassWallet skirted legislative scrutiny, as well as uneasiness the contract resulted in a higher dollar amount than was budgeted the year before.

After calls for further investigation were made by Democratic lawmakers, McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton asked Lee to provide proof the department acted legally.

“When we asked the governor’s office for how they were able to use this as a grant, they were able to provide some legal authority that they believe gave them that power,” McNally, a Republican, told reporters Thursday. “We still have reservations about that.”

But when asked about revisiting the education department’s decision surrounding ClassWallet, McNally said no.

To be clear: The legislature mandates various accountability measures for teachers and schools — TVAAS, Priority Schools Lists, School Improvement Plans, etc. — but, when the Department of Education fails to follow the legislative process designed to foster accountability, they get a free pass.

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Hamilton County Teachers Win 2.5% Raise

Teachers in Hamilton County won approval of a 2.5% pay hike, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.

The Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of the 2.5% raise proposed earlier this month by Superintendent Bryan Johnson at its meeting Thursday night — the same night the board approved a new contract and a raise for Johnson.

The mid-year raise, which is effective retroactively as of Feb. 8, is possible thanks to $3 million in savings during the first half of the fiscal year, according to district officials.

The move comes even as some lawmakers are focusing on ways to improve Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed 4% increase to the state’s share of BEP money dedicated to teachers.

Meanwhile, Nashville school board members are calling on the state to dramatically increase investment in schools.

For the second year in a row, Lee has proposed doubling a state slush fund for charter schools while offering only a small increase in teacher compensation. In fact, one study indicates teachers in Tennessee are paid at a lower rate (when accounting for inflation) than they were back in 2009.

After adjusting for inflation, however, teachers’ average pay during the 2018-2019 school year was still about 4.4% lower than a decade earlier.

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