Teachers are Being Burned

Adam Jordan and Todd Hawley take on teacher attrition in a recent piece in the Bitter Southerner. Here’s some of what they have to say:


Teachers are not burning out. They’re being burned. Teachers are not quitting the profession because they don’t love teaching. They quit because their profession is being devalued by exploitative public policies and a lack of fundamental investment — both monetary and societal. Teachers are not failing. The public is. We are.


Our problem is not burnout. Our problem is lack of political action. Government’s neglect of education has so soured the soil that newly planted teachers cannot flourish. We act as if teachers are to blame because they do not persist, despite the ridiculously bad conditions. We act as if teachers should just “focus” their way out of situations in which they cannot thrive.


Listen. To. Teachers. Ask them to talk about why they or their colleagues leave the profession. They will tell you. And when you finish listening, act. Write the letters and make the phone calls until those you elect understand that you intend to hold them accountable for what they do — or fail to do — to keep our teachers in the classroom.

Exactly.

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Why Money Matters

As the Sumner County Commission prepares to vote tonight on setting a tax rate that would in part fund a $4000 raise for every teacher in the county, local educator Kyle Craighead explains the importance of taking this step.

My name is Kyle Craighead, and I have lived in Sumner County my entire life except for the four years I attended Lipscomb University. I am a proud graduate of Hendersonville High School and am thankful for the education I received at Lakeside Park, Hawkins, and HHS. I began teaching science at Merrol Hyde Magnet School in 2008, where I also at various points coached basketball, tennis, and served as the athletic director and as a teacher leader. From 2016-2018 I taught biology and served as a teacher leader at Gallatin High School. I am currently in my 2nd year as an assistant principal at White House High school and am in my 12th year overall in education. My wife, brother, and several cousins are educators in Sumner County. Education is a calling, and my family is 100% devoted to doing what is right by our students in Sumner County.

You will likely hear many facts and figures tonight, and I have a few of my own, but I want to first tell a story. This summer in June we were interviewing for an open teaching position, and at the end of the interview we asked the prospective teacher if he had any questions for us. He then asked, “Well I don’t know how to ask this without sounding selfish, but I looked up the pay scale in Sumner County, and it looks like to me that I would take almost a 1200 dollar pay cut if I moved over here. I know that can’t be correct, so can you explain this to me?”

How do you answer that question? Sumner is the 9th wealthiest county in TN out of 95 counties. Robertson is 21st . I’m not talking about Williamson. I’m not talking about Davidson or Rutherford. Robertson is across the street from White House Middle School…literally. White House Heritage is less than 1 mile from White House High School. Let that sink in a minute. This is not a distant competitor.

When finding prospective teachers, we pride ourselves on selling a strong student and faculty culture as well as a supportive community, and it works. Everyone wants to work where they are respected and have growth opportunities. We have accomplished this in Sumner County Schools. But as the Sumner County Community as a whole, how can a brand new teacher looking for a job out of college think that they are supported when Robertson, Davidson, Wilson, Trousdale, and Macon counties all pay first year teachers more? How many teachers overlook Sumner immediately? How many drop out of interview pools when they figure out the pay scale? How many of our top level Sumner County graduates are going to decide to teach in a different county? When you’re talking about a salary of 35,000 dollars, every bit counts.

I want to say this to all parents of Sumner County students: you, like us, want the best education for your child. There are endless studies on the biggest influence on a student’s learning, and every one of them point to the classroom teacher as the most important factor. I am a parent of a future student in our county, and I don’t just merely want good teachers. I expect it. I demand it, just like all of the rest of the parents out there.

In summary, I hope you all see that I am not clamoring for ridiculous teacher pay increases. I’m not even arguing that teachers work way more and are far more devoted that anyone outside of education understands, because although those are very true and valid points, I’m making a simpler point and it is incredibly easy to understand:
Robertson, Trousdale, and Macon have a combined total of 95,000 residents. Sumner has over 160,000. Sumner routinely outperforms those other 3 counties on every measurable piece of student achievement and growth, and that’s because we have amazing teachers.

In terms of wealth, Sumner is 9th, Robertson is 21st, Trousdale is 40th, and Macon is 85th.Based on that evidence, how can Sumner continue to pay the least and expect to have the best teachers in the future?

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

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Like a Dad Out of Hell?

Back in April, conservative commentator Steve Gill, who publishes the Tennessee Star, wrote an attack piece on Knox County teacher Lauren Sorenson. Gill’s beef with Sorenson seems to be that she had the gall to stand up and speak out for her fellow teachers and also advocate on behalf of students across the state. Gill used Sorenson’s affiliation with the “Badass Teachers Association” (BATs) to label her a “BAT out of Hell.”

Like so many in leadership roles in our state, Gill apparently prefers that teachers keep their voices quiet rather than highlight the unpleasant facts about the teaching profession and our state’s chronically under-funded schools.

Gill has been a consistent supporter of using public money to support private schools by way of voucher schemes. More recently, he’s come to the defense of embattled (and soon to be former) House Speaker Glen Casada. He’s even backed admitted sex offender David Byrd.

That’s why it is so shocking to learn that while Lauren Sorenson is busy fighting for all kids and educating young minds in Knox County, Gill is failing to live up to his parental responsibilities.

The Tennessean has more:

Conservative commentator and former political candidate Steve Gill must pay his ex-wife $170,000 in 10 days or go to jail, a Williamson County judge has ruled. 

In a ruling entered into the court on Sunday, Judge James G. Martin sided with Kathryn B. Gill, who was seeking nearly $236,000 for various expenses related to the divorced couple’s sons. 


Kathryn Gill was seeking $86,000 in child support from Steve Gill, in addition to $4,400 in medical expenses, $133,000 in college expenses and another $11,000 for a car she purchased for the children’s use.

Or, maybe it is not at all surprising that a guy who defends Glen Casada and David Byrd would attack a strong woman fighting for a better future for our state.

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Your TVAAS Story

TVAAS is Tennessee’s misguided approach to evaluating teachers.

While some states are moving away from value-added modeling for teacher evaluation, Tennessee remains focused on this flawed method.

I want to tell the story of how TVAAS impacts Tennessee teachers.

Has TVAAS impacted you… Through a merit pay scheme, tenure decision, or transfer? What impact have these scores had on your career?

If you want to share your story, get in touch by emailing me at andy@tnedreport.com

 

 

A Teacher’s View of TDOE

One teacher offers her view of why TDOE can’t seem to make TNReady ready.
The repeated problems with TNReady testing over the last three years have resulted in many calls, especially from legislative leaders, for the resignation of Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen. The fundamental problem with TNReady – and other education issues in Tennessee – is not the Commissioner of Education; it is the Department of Education. The action of replacing the commissioner while ignoring the employees yet expecting the department to perform better is analogous to giving a car a new paint job instead of rebuilding the engine, then expecting the car to run better.

McQueen has been commissioner since January 2015. Many TDOE employees have worked there longer than the commissioner. Some employees have worked through several commissioners. Although the commissioner makes the headlines, the TDOE employees are responsible for the department’s daily activities. Not all of these daily activities are known by the commissioner and not all would be approved by the commissioner if she did know about them. Therefore, while a change of commissioner would certainly get headlines, there is no guarantee the change would result in improved TDOE employee actions with TNReady implementation.

I have experienced several concerning TDOE employee actions over the last few years, and I am only one of the 66,000+ teachers in Tennessee.

About 8-10 years ago, I attended a webinar training session by TDOE for special education teachers whose students were taking the TCAP alternative assessment. During the webinar, special education supervisors and teachers from across the state were able to ask questions of the TDOE presenter. One question that several people brought up was a likely unintended outcome by following a TDOE directive, and suggestions were made for modifying the directive. The presenter cut off the suggestions by stating “That’s just the way it has to be done. Too bad, so sad! Next question?” This employee is still working at TDOE, and the commissioner of education has changed twice since this incident. If other employees share this attitude toward constructive feedback from teachers, it is not a surprise that TNReady has continued to have problems.

In June of 2014 I attended a professional learning session by TDOE at Spring Hill High School in Maury County. Approximately 400 special education teachers from middle Tennessee attended this session. Late in the morning the presenter’s laptop battery died before she had completed her powerpoint presentation. As several TDOE employees in the front of the auditorium were trying to diagnose and fix the problem, she said (with her microphone still on) “Well, how was I supposed to know I needed to bring my power cord.” This TDOE team had been presenting the same session to groups of teachers across the state for several weeks. All of the teachers attending the sessions were under Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system. Not a one of those teachers would have scored well if they had reacted that way to a technology problem during an observation lesson. This employee also still works at TDOE. If other TDOE employees take no responsibility for advance preparation, it is not a surprise that TNReady problems have been repeated over several years.

On January 28, 2016, I made a public records request to TDOE’s Records Custodian, the Director of Communications. I repeated the request on February 23, 2016 because I had received no response. I repeated the request on March 4, 2016, explaining that I needed the information before April 14. On March 14, 2016, I received an email informing me that they would provide the records as soon as they could. On April 27, 2016, I sent an email pointing out that it had been three months since my original request, and that the date I needed the information by had already passed, but that another need-by date of May 6, 2016, was approaching. The following day I received an email that the department was working on my request. On May 3, 2016, I once again requested the records, and was informed that they were working on obtaining them. Finally, on May 10, 2016 at 2:35 pm, I emailed Commissioner McQueen and included all of my previous emails to TDOE. She replied by email at 3:10 pm that the director of communications was working on it and would send me the records shortly. At 3:51pm the director of communications emailed me the records I had requested 13 weeks earlier. The department employees caused the problem; the commissioner solved the problem in 76 minutes when she was made aware of it.

On January 10, 2017, I contacted TDOE stating my concern that a TDOE employee had violated departmental policy, and his actions had caused professional harm to me. I asked for a simple statement clarifying that the employee had violated policy that I could then use to repair the damage to my professional reputation. This request was forwarded to TDOE’s general counsel the same day. I received no response until 3-13-2017 when the General Counsel sent an email that the problem was caused by me because I had used a TDOE resource incorrectly by contacting the vendor instead of contacting my administrator. This contradicts the manual provided during TDOE’s initial training for using this resource that specifically stated to contact the vendor directly. If TDOE employees continue to give conflicting information, it is no surprise that TDOE has experienced problems with two different vendors for TNReady. It is also no surprise that TDOE claims that this summer’s problems with uploading of evaluation portfolios were the teachers’ fault.

On May 26, 2017, I contacted TDOE’s Assistant General Counsel for Special Education with a simple yes/no question about special education law. I received no answer so I contacted Congressman Marsha Blackburn’s office who obtained the information from the US Department of Education within a day. An internet search shows that the Office of the General Counsel plans staff birthday celebrations and matching costume days; an internet search shows that the parent of a student with special needs also couldn’t get timely answers from this office. If TDOE employees ignore the taxpayers who pay their salaries, why would they listen to the legislators or the commissioner or the vendors?

There are good employees at TDOE. The fundamental problem is that the employees seem to have lost sight of their primary purpose which is to support public education in Tennessee. TDOE employees are making decisions and giving directives for an environment with which they are no longer familiar. Although some of the employees have teaching licenses and teaching experience, most of them have not been in the classroom for several years. That situation, however, can have a simple and effective solution: If every TDOE employee had to substitute teach for two days a year, one day each semester, their perspective relative to their decisions and decrees would change drastically. School systems struggle with finding enough substitute teachers, and TDOE employees could be used for planned teacher absences, such as doctor appointments and professional seminars. Since these employees are already being paid, the local school districts could save a little money. Would there be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth in response to this suggestion? Yes, there would. But that leads to the question of why would we want people making decisions for our students who didn’t want to spend a day with our students? Visiting schools by stepping in the door of a classroom for a few minutes does not give you the perspective that spending a day by yourself in a classroom of students would give. No information is as clear as what you see and experience for yourself. When Jim Henry was asked to lead the troubled Department of Children’s Services, he “implemented a new requirement that all staff (including himself) spend a day with a caseworker to ‘see what life is like when you’re not sitting in the ivory tower.’.” [The Tennessean 8-21-2013] This policy helped DCS develop a change of culture within the department and improve employee focus on the department’s core mission. Implementing a similar policy at TDOE would improve not only the issues with TNReady, but would focus employees on their core mission of supporting local school systems in providing the optimum education for students.

Perhaps the governor or the legislators or the commissioner herself could implement this requirement quickly as a first step toward improving the root cause of the TNReady problems – the TDOE employees. Please don’t seek a new paint job when the real need is a rebuilt engine.

Teachers: What’s your story? Share at andy@tnedreport.com

 

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

 

 

Teacher Top Ten List

Meghan Mangrum of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press has a Top Ten Wish List for teachers presented by the head of the Hamilton County Education Association at tonight’s school board meeting. Here it is:

10. Quality instructional materials

9. Real and relevant professional development and learning opportunities

8. Fewer whole system changes at once

7. Adequate resource for all

6. More individual planning time

5. A new Commissioner of Education who listens to practitioners

4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T and having a voice

3. Less time testing

2. Safe learning environment for students

1. Adequate funding of public education

 

 

Teachers, what are your thoughts? What items are on your 2019 wish list? Let me know in the comments or via email at andy@tnedreport.com

 

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


 

What’s Your Story?

Tennessee Education Report is committed to telling the story of K-12 education in Tennessee. Since 2013, this publication has reported on state policy changes and education politics.

Recently, there’s been a focus on issues like portfolio evaluation and TNReady.

While I love digging into an issue and providing analysis I hope readers find insightful, there’s no substitute for the voice of educators. Teachers doing the work every single day know exactly what’s happening in our schools and are uniquely positioned to offer advice to policy makers.

Now is a great time to share that voice. We have a new Governor coming into office in January. Our General Assembly will have many new faces and new leadership.

I want to share your story — to publish your article or commentary on issues like teacher pay, TVAAS, teacher evaluation, portfolios, testing, and whatever else is of interest to you.

I’m also happy to hear from you and use your ideas to investigate and report on a story or issues impacting schools in our state.

If you have a story idea or want to write a commentary, email me at andy@tnedreport.com.

What’s your story?

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


 

 

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A Tennessee Teacher on Karl Dean

Educator and education blogger Mike Stein talks about why he’s supporting Karl Dean for Governor and explains why he believes Dean is the best choice to lead our state. Here’s some of what he says:

He is the best choice to continue the upward trajectory of our public education system. This is exemplified by the Tennessee Education Association Fund for Children & Public Education endorsing him. Additionally, at a recent town hall, Dean said: “When I look at this state, the number one thing that we gotta get right is education. We need to increase teacher pay. We’re losing too many teachers to the private sector. We’re paying below the national average.” On the debacle otherwise known as TNReady, he went on to say: “I don’t believe that testing should be punitive toward teachers at all. We lost teachers’ voices in this whole process. We need to get back to listening to our teachers. There’s way too much testing going on in schools today, and not enough learning.” When it comes to public education, he gets it. He’s also staunchly against school vouchers (sometimes referred to as education savings accounts) because he understands that taking money from public schools and using it to help the wealthy send their children to private schools is completely nonsensical and counterproductive. When polled, 64% of Tennesseans oppose vouchers, and Karl Dean is on the correct side of this issue.

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


 

The Amato Files

Last week, Nashville educator and ProjectLIT founder Jarred Amato posted a Twitter thread about “priority schools” just as the latest round of Tennessee “reward” and “priority” schools were being announced.

The link to the entire thread is above, but here is some of what he had to say:

When policymakers and ed leaders talk about “priority schools,” wish they’d acknowledge how hard those students, families, and educators are working to overcome a system that is designed for them to fail.

 

Wish they’d spend real time in those schools, not to place blame or intimidate everyone with their suits and clipboards. But, to listen, to support, to truly care. To recognize the greatness. To identify where resources are needed.

Wish they wouldn’t wait until schools fall onto some special list to provide them with the resources they deserve.

 

Wish they’d use their power and influence to call out the racist and oppressive systems, instead of working (intentionally or unintentionally) to maintain the status quo.

 

Wish they’d stop looking for quick fixes and shortcuts that may help them get promotions or cute headlines, but ultimately aren’t making any real difference in the lives of students or families.

Wish they’d stop focusing exclusively on test scores (especially from a test that still needs a lot of work) to determine if a school is a good place for kids.

 

Wish they’d stop blaming families for choosing charter schools. Never worked in one (and they’ve got their own flaws), but shoot, there’s got to be a reason, right? Let’s stop with all the politics and talk about why.

 

Wish they’d help us flood our “priority” schools (and all of our schools) with TONS of books and love and support and snacks and books and materials and counselors and teachers and computers and community partners and trust and books.

 

Wish they stopped searching (and paying) for “turnaround” consultants and BS programs that are bandaids at best, educational malpractice at worst. Instead, let’s invest in communities, in people committed to the work.

 

Wish they’d acknowledge that this work is hard, that not everyone in our country (or city) actually wants ALL children to be literate, to be successful. That there are lots of folks benefitting from this system who will do whatever it takes to protect it.

 

Read the entire thread.

 

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


 

Do Not Standardize Art

Camilla Spadafino, an art teacher in Nashville, offers these thoughts on the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio. This portfolio is used in a handful of districts across the state, and an updated version is being piloted by additional districts in the 2018-19 academic year.

Art should never become a standardized process and the TN Fine Arts Portfolio Model is pushing us toward that. When arts teachers are held accountable for checking off boxes, forcing growth, and using standardized measurements in arts classes we are interfering with the creative process. There is a great deal of evidence that despite the effort to standardize and objectify art, the portfolio model scores are wildly subjective making it an invalid, unethical assessment. The TN Arts Portfolio Model seeks to measure and weigh creativity and artistic expression which is counterproductive to the creation of art. The model places an excessive burden of time and energy on teachers that is disproportionate to the complete story of creating and growing a quality arts program.

 

Among the evidence that the scoring system is invalid: Two teachers submitted the same collection for the “create” domain and one received a five and the other a one. Another pair of visual art teachers co-taught and turned in exactly the same portfolio. One teacher received a four and the other a two. Another art teacher turned in the same portfolio two years in a row and received a four one year and a two the other.

 

Many visual art teachers have shared that they are cutting and pasting the same narrative from year to year. Many teachers have found that they can simply repeat the same collections with new pictures. This is encouraging “cookie cutter” teaching at worst and busy work for teachers at best. This does not encourage or promote creativity, experimentation, collaboration or risk taking.

 

Neither the TEAM model nor the Arts Portfolio model is an effective tool for evaluating an arts program. Being a visual art teacher includes managing inventory, advocating for and raising funds, engaging with the community, displaying student work and engaging in collaborations. It’s quite like running a nonprofit organization but without a board or any assistance. Along with all of those responsibilities arts teachers are still planning, assessing, recording, documenting, corresponding and hopefully inspiring and motivating our students. Art will always be subjective and difficult to measure, thank goodness. We need to protect creativity by demanding trust and respect for our field.

 

The TN Fine Arts Portfolio is taking advantage of teachers’ unpaid time and could be breeding unethical work practices. If testing corporations deserve to be paid millions of dollars for their work creating and measuring assessments, at least our teachers should be paid a few more thousand for their work doing the same. Arts teachers are pouring in days of unpaid time to complete the portfolio and days of unpaid time to voluntarily score other teachers. Besides, volunteer scoring practices don’t seem to be very effective based on the evidence of the large number of discrepancies. If the TN Fine Arts Portfolio System is here to stay we must compensate our teachers for the time they spend creating their portfolios. Perhaps MNPS or the State of Tennessee could make participation optional and partner with researchers from Vanderbilt or another university to study the process for several years. We need to insist that the arts not be about checking off boxes, forcing student growth, or standardized processes. We need to advocate for trust and respect in order for creativity to flourish in our students’ lives and educational experiences.

This is a list of my specific concerns about the Tennessee Portfolio Model:

– Teachers teaching the same lesson, to the same students, using similar photos and narratives got completely different scores. One of the teachers received a 1 and the other a 5

– Two art teachers co-taught the same students the same lessons and entered exactly the same portfolios. One of the teachers was scored a 4 and the other a 2. When the teacher who scored the 2 spoke to the school board he was told “don’t worry about it, it’s just a number that pretty much goes in your file.”

– An art teacher submitted the same portfolios two years in a row received a 4 one year and a 2 the next

– Some teachers are using and are being encouraged by others to use art out of order to when it was created to show manipulated growth

– The process is very time consuming taking teachers 18 or more hours to complete the submission portion of the process, there is an untold amount of time devoted to photographing and organizing the student work

– Teachers are expected and encouraged to complete this work at home, on weekends, and breaks

– The deadline was on a Sunday, further encouraging teachers to spend their weekend working off work hours

– The deadline was the day before the federal tax deadline which is disrespectful

– The new online system requires teachers to upload an unmanageable amount of documents

– The new online system requires teachers to enter a redundant amount of information

– No feedback has been given to promote growth

– No other teachers are required to spend this gross amount of extra time compiling their own assessments, using their own photography equipment and their personal time

– The training was weak and misinformation has been given over multiple years

– The first year the evaluators were told to “throw out the rubric” dissolving trust and disrespecting the teacher who had carefully studied and followed the rubric

– A middle school teacher had to wait to upload one of her collections because the site wasn’t ready. When she went to upload that collection the day it was due she saw that all of her collections had been deleted. She was told that there would not be an extension for re-entering her submission even though the error was not her fault

– The system does not offer a “landing place” where you can view and review your collections before submitting

– The process of tagging is confusing and seemingly unnecessary

– The evaluators are merely volunteers and when I was an evaluator I experienced the overwhelming volume of portfolios to review.

– Because teachers share student artwork online and other art teachers are viewing this artwork, it is easy for a peer reviewer to know whose portfolio they are reviewing making this a biased process

– Art standards are purposefully vague to encourage creative and subjective works of art. Evaluating student work is subjective, even when using specific criteria. When using specific criteria we are teaching students to check off boxes rather than to truly be creative. It is important to use criteria and to balance that multiple solution paths to solve artistic problems.

– The portfolio is measuring aesthetic rather than the process of creating art

Have a story about the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio? Email me at andy@tnedreport.com

 

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

Keep the education stories coming!