best friends (diversity)

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. So often we allow people to rob us of our joy, they proclaim with glee the bad things in our world or lives. Don’t you believe them. There is good all around us, look for it and find it. — JC Bowman

JC Julia Lennon (2)
Julia Lennon and JC Bowman at Beatles Tribute

I was too young to really appreciate the British Music Invasion.  However, I became a die-hard Beatles fan in 4th grade, a tradition that I passed down to my children.  Later, I listened and enjoyed the different directions and songs of the individual members of the Beatles.  One of my favorite John Lennon tunes was Mind Games. Lennon nailed it, about how ideologues betray themselves in the clash of competing ideas.

Penny Lane has barbers with photographs, but today trends come with charts and graphs.  Pharisees today would rather stifle debate and only present one side of an issue.  These are people who would sooner ridicule someone, rather than pushing barriers or planting seeds.  In Mind Games, Lennon coined the term mind guerrillas, which was absolutely brilliant.  The mind guerrillas are alive and well. They talk a good game. Unfortunately, a few of them are in our classrooms with captive audience and captive minds.

On both the political right and the left, academic freedom is sometimes erroneously confused with complete autonomy, with thought and speech freed from all constraints. There are definitely limits, and educators have responsibilities.  Students have the freedom to form independent judgments on subjects.  In education, as in life, we must engage differences of opinion, evaluate the evidence, and then form our own individual opinions.  Students have the right to hear and assess diverse views, as long as they are age appropriate and not merely propaganda disguised as information.   American’s have debated the issue historically.  Because of this, in 1840 the Massachusetts Legislature debated the increasing government control over education.

We often see in the media egregious examples of taxpayer dollars being used in ways that seem more in line with indoctrination, rather than mere encouraging independent thought.  We suggest to teachers to be careful in their lessons, unless they are not afraid of it appearing in the local newspaper or nightly news.  In fairness, most educators never have to worry about this issue.  However, let me give you an example of one instance, paraphrased and sent to me by a well-respected classroom teacher:

A local high school was registering students to vote.  This in of itself is a positive step.  It was designed for students to get informed and vote.  However, the person promoting the event didn’t stop there.  She went on a rant about the electoral college system and she said that she thinks it is archaic.  She then proceeded to talk about medical marijuana and said that Tennessee is still Tennessee and that medical pot legalization won’t happen anytime soon. Then, she further highlighted a specific political race between a conservative and a liberal candidate.   Pointing out the virtues of the liberal candidate, and criticizing the conservative.

The teacher closed her email by saying: “I could give many more specific examples, but, again, my goal is not to get anyone in trouble, just to make sure parents aren’t entrusting their children to an institution that is going to push their beliefs in one direction only.”  She then added: “Obviously teachers are going to have diverse political opinions, even strong ones, about all types of issues. My problem is with them pushing those opinions on public school students and the one-sided nature of it.”  That is the heart of the issue, whether it is conservative or liberal.

As educators, it is often hard to keep private personal views out of our public lives—yet we should exercise restraint.  Our education system is not intended for political goals and political purposes, it is intended so that all students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to successfully embark upon their chosen path in life.  We benefit as a society when we develop children with independent critical judgment.  Martin Luther King Jr. poignantly stated: “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”

Chinese leader Mao Zedong wrote:  Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.  When it came to education, Mao stressed that students should have a “correct political point of view.”  That collectivist thought sounds like indoctrination.  John Lennon had a message for that in Revolution, “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.”

Educators are entitled to their own political opinions.  However, when they are performing official duties they should remain politically neutral.  The youngest citizens of our state and nation who walk through our classroom doors each day deserve to develop their own opinions, be taught to discuss issues respectfully, and not be ridiculed for have a different political or religious belief.  There is a fine line between a teacher sharing their view, or forcing their view on students. It is not the job of the educator to force their point of view on anyone in a classroom or school.

##

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Icon

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen soundly responded to Metro Nashville Schools Director Shawn Joseph and Shelby County Superintendent Dorsey Hopson very bluntly in a straightforward letter yesterday.  It is doubtful that either Joseph or Hopkins actually wrote the letter, which called for a “pause” in testing and convene a statewide working group of educators to look at testing.  McQueen stated that neither she or Governor Bill Haslam received the letter that got widespread media coverage.  She also pointed out that “both state and federal law require an annual statewide assessment.”

Some may argue that states have more flexibility, which is true to an extent.  We should take a hard look at Tennessee’s ESSA plan and certainly make necessary adjustments.  But we identified our own measures of progress and agreed to take certain actions in order to receive federal monies.  Like that or not, it is how the game is played.  When Tennessee was touting Race to the Top money, the state certainly jumped through even more hoops to get those dollars.

Dr.  McQueen, who serves at the pleasure of the Governor, must follow state and federal laws.    Joseph and Hopson have their own Boards of Education they must listen to on policy issues.  Policy analysts TC Weber and Andy Spears have both weighed in on the subject, as has Sharon Roberts.  Professional Educators of Tennessee added our opinion on the subject.  All stakeholders want to get testing right.  However, the emphasis on testing misses the bigger issue:  student academic growth measured by flawed testing.  Then the results being used in educator evaluations.  This is certainly more problematic to educators than the actual tests themselves.

Once the Tennessee Department of Education gets testing corrected, then we, as a state, can refocus on discussing what should or shouldn’t be included in teacher evaluations.  It is clear:  flawed testing equals faulty evaluations.  This is no way to measure the success or failure of our students, teachers or schools.  This issue isn’t going away.  Stay tuned.

##

 JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

tnready1

In April, 2018, Professional Educators of Tennessee raised the issue on Testing, with a hard-hitting editorial called the Trouble with Testing. Now the Superintendents of two low performing districts, Shelby County and Metro-Nashville Public Schools are eliciting media attention by challenging testing across the state. Welcome to the club.

Testing has taken a wrong turn in public education. I have always tried to keep it simple: testing is like your school picture; it is what you look like on that particular day. Kids go in to take a test. Teachers show up to make sure kids are taking their own test. Parents encourage their children to do their best. However, like Ozzie & Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and the Lone Ranger, those days are gone.

With an infusion of $501 million federal dollars of Race to the Top money we hurried to increase standards by adopting Common Core, which was soon corrected by moving back to state standards. We then increased testing, changing both format and frequency. Tennessee also adopted new evaluation methods. The teachers’ union supported the incorporation of TVAAS data into the state’s teacher evaluations, which landed Tennessee $501 million from the federal Race to the Top grant in 2010. Professional Educators of Tennessee did NOT support the use of that data on teacher evaluations, nor did they sign a support letter on the original grant submission.

Not everything Tennessee tried was damaging, but it is not debatable that, thus far, the Age of Accountability has failed students, teachers, parents and taxpayers. Since 2012, Tennessee has had one misstep after another in testing. In 2013, our tests were not aligned to our standards. In 2014, the issue was transparency, notably quick scores and test score waivers for final semester grades were the major issue. In 2015, the new TNReady online tests had issues in the post equating formula. In 2016, we fired the vendor, Measurement, Inc. because after the online platform was botched, they were unable to get out a paper version of the test. In 2017, we were again plagued by issues due to scoring discrepancies. This year 2018, had issues related to testing, including the belief by the testing vendor, Questar, that the Questar data center was under attack from an external source, although it is never thought that any student data was compromised.

At no point since 2012 were any of the testing issues the fault of students or educators. However, for educators, they are often the ones who bear the brunt, quite unfairly, of parental anger. Students also suffer, with everything from loss of instruction time to not understanding their educational progress. When we make education decisions on the basis of unreliable or invalid test results, we place students at risk and harm educators professionally. This is especially unfair to the hardworking teachers in our state. To policymakers and stakeholders alike we must ask these questions:

  • Why are we relying so heavily on test scores to make important educational decisions about students, teachers or schools, especially when the process is flawed? For example, when officials thought the Questar data center was under attack from an external source, there should have been no greater priority by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to identify and prosecute those individuals guilty of this activity and confirm that no student data was compromised. Fortunately, there was no attack.

  • Should we question the reliability, validity, and accuracy of testing in Tennessee since 2013? Especially when shifting between online to paper tests? Note: Reliability relates to the accuracy of their data. Reliability problems in education often arise when researchers overstate the importance of data drawn from too small or too restricted a sample. Validity refers to the essential truthfulness of a piece of data. By asserting validity, do the data actually measure or reflect what is claimed?

In Tennessee we appreciate straight talk and candor. We unquestionably detest hypocrisy. We understand mistakes are made by individuals, by companies and even by our government. We are not pointing fingers, just stating a fact. Clearly there is a problem with testing in Tennessee. It isn’t our students or our educators. It is a flawed testing system.

Shawn Joseph and Dorsey Hopkins timed the announcement of their joint press release well. A sitting group of mostly outgoing legislators were at the Capitol at the time to discuss education. It is also political season. Their joint letter will momentarily take the attention away from their own issues. However, we welcome the discussion. Unfortunately, simply offering the much-ballyhooed solution of another “blue ribbon” panel to discuss the testing issue is a mere diversion. For teachers, thank Race to the Top which was supported by the previous Superintendents of Shelby County and Metro-Nashville Public Schools and the teachers’ union. I wish both men had offered a solution. We will help you out- Eliminate TVAAS data from teacher evaluations. That would an enormous leap forward.

##

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

img_20180422_212449-1394880902.jpg

How is it possible to separate organizations’ campaign contributions from their lobbying activities? It may not ever be possible.  Political Action Committee (PAC) is a term for a political committee organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates.  Numerous groups that have a PAC do not have a lobbyist, and many groups that have a lobbyist do not have a PAC.  Perhaps it should be an either/or option and get the political donations completely out of policy issues.

The prevailing opinion is that campaign contributions are integral to lobbying efforts and buying access to elected officials.  Have we really sunk to that level in America?  Nashville?  Lobbying and contributing to political candidates should be completely unrelated activities.  Perhaps the state comptroller should investigate the relationship between PAC donations to specific legislators and the amount of time their lobbyists spent with those legislators. It should reveal interesting findings.  It should also be clear how much lobbying effort was directed at the legislative branch and how much was directed at the executive branch, and those political donations as well.  This would be the only way to measure the extent to which contributions really affect the way that policymakers allocate their time, and whether money as a political resource magnifies and perpetuates political inequalities.

Even though it is an ugly secret, there is little doubt that some organizations obtain votes by making campaign contributions.  Thus, lobbying strategies become dependent upon campaign donation strategies.  What transpires in the meetings between legislators and interest groups with PACs can be a matter of inference and speculation.  However, what is not supposition is that legislation favored by those who contribute political donations succeed on a regular basis. Many politicians also form PACs as a way of raising money to help fund other candidates’ campaigns. A common occurrence is money gets funneled to Candidate A via Candidate B, by other special interests or PACS through this method.   Follow the money.

In reality, groups that command non-monetary resources valued by policymakers —policy expertise, access to voters, and influence may be more important than a campaign check.   As labor unions have seen their influence decline, they could likely discover it to the fact they are spending less on lobbying, and more on political giving.   There are smaller victories, and they are having to write bigger checks to secure even those.  It will only escalate and union dues will increase.  The lesson here is obvious.

Clearly, we believe issue advocacy is good, and it is a First Amendment right to express an opinion to policymakers.  We also have no problem with people making political contributions to the candidates of their choice.  What we would like to see is a clearer separation between these two activities, with better monitoring.  Are political campaigns on behalf of candidates engaging in illegally coordinated activities with PACS?  Nobody can be certain.  Should PACs be forced to immediately disclose their donors and campaign expenditures?  Should people who have PACS be required to register to lobby?  It is essential that citizens know who is financing policymakers’ elections.

Professional Educators of Tennessee will continue to lobby for public education.  However, we will never endorse political parties or candidates as an organization on behalf of our members.  We also do not have a PAC, nor do we plan to ever start one.  It would harm our effectiveness.  We must advance public education without the divisive tribalism of partisan politics, and we will only get involved in education related issues.

##

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

 

The Godfather Logo

When the Janus Decision came out we knew that the unions would pull out all the stops to keep from losing members.  This is very much true.  In Tennessee, the National Education Association (NEA) affiliate is one of their least profitable and losing members the quickest according to this 2016 article.   The latest tally may even bode graver for the union affiliate.  In Tennessee, the union affiliate has lost a self-reported 34.3% of their active members.

The NEA employs more than 500 people at its Washington, D.C., headquarters; the average salary is $123,613 plus benefits.  All told, NEA’s payroll for 2016 was just over $68.6 million for 555 employees — an average of $123,613 per worker.  By comparison, the average 2016 teacher salary of $58,353.  Tennessee teachers earn much less than their national counterparts.  It is unknown what teacher union bosses earn here in Tennessee, or how lucrative are their benefits.

Mike Antonucci, the foremost expert on teacher unions in the United States wrote a detailed article The National Education Association — a $1.6 Billion Enterprise With a Red-Ink Problem.   Antonucci wrote: “NEA and its affiliates are cumulatively in what accountants call balance-sheet insolvency. In consumer terms, it’s as if your mortgage and credit card debts are larger than your net worth, but you can still make your monthly payments because you haven’t lost your job.”  Whether or not that is the case in Tennessee is not known.

Recently, two candidates for Governor, Beth Harwell and Craig Fitzhugh were endorsed by the National Education Association affiliate in their parties primary.  Both lost decisively at the bottom of their primary.  In fact, the union squandered significant dollars in losing efforts across the state.  This is very problematic for all teachers who get painted with the liberal brush of union politics across the state.   The candidates who won will likely not look favorable upon public education after being targeted by the teacher union.  And it makes our jobs even more difficult.

The Tennessee Star correctly pointed out at the time of the Harwell endorsement: “high opposition to TEA money and influence among likely GOP primary voters, Republican candidates who have accept financial support and endorsements from TEA can certainly expect their opponents to use that information in campaign attack ads — if they are considered to be competitive.”  Republicans like Barry Doss and Tim Wirgu who took the teacher union money lost, and Gary Hicks narrowly won.  State Senator, Ken Yager, received $5,000 to his political action committee, Keypac.

However, political donations only tell part of the story.  In Tennessee, high priced strategists and companies also were paid significant dollars from the union PAC:  Counterpoint Messaging, Spry Strategies, Direct Mail Services, DirectFX, Graphic Creations were among them.  The Heartland Accountability Project in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa received $44,000.  Heartland targeted Senator Brian Kelsey, Senator Todd Gardenhire and Senator Reginald Tate in the past.  Heartland Accountability Project is listed as a client of Evolution Strategies, along with the National Education Association and Phil Bredesen.  It is an interesting circle.  Follow the money.  Then draw your own conclusions.

Teachers unions consistently rank among the top spenders on politics. Their goal is not improved public education, but rather power, money, and influence.  Leo Doran a reporter for InsideSources wrote in How Liberal Politics and Teachers’ Unions Got So Entangled: “Experts long active in the upper echelons of education research and policy-making say that the politicization of the teachers’ unions has gotten more intense in recent years.”  Doran then adds about the teacher unions that the structure of the unions “make their lobbying platforms susceptible to mission creep. The end result, however, is a Gordian knot of politics and labor battles that have ensconced the teachers’ unions…”

For groups like Professional Educators of Tennessee, it is simple.  We must advance public education without the divisive tribalism of partisan politics, and we will only get involved in education related issues.  The union never stops in its quest for power and control over public education.  We must keep that from happening.  In the movie, The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone lets someone know that the man is now in the Godfather’s debt.  He tells the man, “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.”  If a candidate for political office takes political donations from the union, assume they are bought and paid for.  The question is:  when will the politician have to pay the debt?

##

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

When you see people make threats, spread rumors, attack someone physically or verbally, and excluding others be that person who stands up for others.

JC's Blurb 22

Race to the Top 2

Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, said in an interview that Republicans like former Senator Bill Frist had contributed a lot to the state’s proposal, but that his own role in persuading the Tennessee Education Association, a teachers’ union, to sign on had been important, too.

I was able to get the T.E.A. to accept some things that probably a Republican wouldn’t have gotten done,” Mr. Bredesen said.

Source New York Times

 

IMG_20180806_094931

School is starting back. That means school zones will be active with children. School buses will be loading and unloading. So please be alert, keep your eyes open for children, flashing school zone and school bus lights. Drive safely and remember the safety of our kids.

Every child should have a dream for their future.   Not knowing who or what we want will lead us to becoming someone and something we never wanted to be.  As parent or as an educator the greatest gift we give children the belief that if they work hard they can be anything they want to be in life.  Of course, we all struggle at times to figure out just what it is we want out of life.

A brighter future starts with a quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life.  America is understood to be the home of possibility.  The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Unfortunately, our school system is built on a model more linked to the industrial age, than the digital/technological age.

Two education entrepreneurs Kanya Balakrishna and Andrew Mangino launched a website called the Future Project to reach 50 million students across the country they say are at risk of never discovering their full potential.   Their focus is to encourage kids to dream.  They believe that dreams inspire learning – “not the sort of rote, superficial learning that will help students pass state standardized tests” but rather “real learning that inspires deep, meaningful, life-changing mastery and purpose.”  This kind of learning, they believe, will inspire “positive change both for the individual and their community.”  It is an intriguing idea that deserves discussion.

Educator Sean Hampton-Cole offered up that he had a “dream that within our lifetimes, personal enrichment, critical analysis, creative output and purposeful problem-solving will be considered at least as important as factual recall in education.”   We need art and music in our culture.  Unfortunately, we are neglecting those subjects in our schools.  President Ronald Reagan struck a similar note in speaking about the humanities in 1987: “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” he said. “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflection of freedom’s light.”

Art and music programs are likely to be among the first victims of budget cuts in financially-stretched school districts already fighting to meet other academic demands, and they are rarely restored.  The College Board, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 95 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1061 among students in arts educations compared to 966 for students without arts education). It is important for policymakers to understand that art, music, and literature improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

This is exactly what the World Economic Forum revealed that business executives were looking for in future employees.   Their number one response? Complex problem solving. Other skills on their top ten list included critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence.  Literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge will always be essential.    Policymakers and stakeholders alike need to understand that arts and music are vital in promoting, educating and developing our youth to excel and reach their dreams.  President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that arts education, under threat all over the world, must be embraced because it supplies the skills needed to nurture true democratic citizens. Education must nurture the whole child, and arts are vital in this endeavor. Nussbaum contends that it is vital for our children to have critical and hands-on engagement with art, music, and literature, all of which help foster our basic humanity — creativity, critical thinking, and empathy for others. Cultivating these values, she argues, are the deeper purposes of education.

Seth Godin takes it a step further in Stop Stealing Dreams when he writes: “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multimillion-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? The century of dream-snuffing has to end. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.”

This generation of educators have to be the ones to restore the dream of our students.  It isn’t just about education reform or public education reimagined.   There is a coming education revolution. We must ensure each child, in every school, in all communities are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.  This will require the kind of teaching to prepare students to become creative problem solvers who can take initiative and responsibility.  To paraphrase Steven Tyler:  When we look in the mirror.  The lines are getting clearer.  The past is gone.  Dream On.

##

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.