I serve educators as the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

The third Monday of February is recognized as Presidents’ Day in the United States. Established in 1885, the day was originally intended to celebrate the birthday of the first president of our country, George Washington. Today we use it to commemorate all 45 Presidents of the United States. However, no American president has ever enjoyed unanimous support from our citizens. So, the holiday is celebrated, but not universally beloved by all people.

George Washington warned his countrymen of “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” in his Farewell Address as President of the United States. That advice fell on deaf ears, and as much as Washington was held in high esteem, it was neglected. It is worth noting that political parties in the United States stem partly from a political feud between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists, led by Secretary of Treasury Hamilton, wanted a strong central government, while the Anti-Federalists, led by Secretary of State Jefferson, advocated for states’ rights instead of centralized power. The growth of political parties was an American response to political conflict. That explains a lot about where we are today, as Hank Williams Jr. might remind us, “it’s a family tradition.”

Many presidents have had their race, ethnicity and even sexual orientation debated. And religion is almost universally questioned when the faith issue is brought up. Our former leaders, or at least their very being, are no longer even accepted at face value. Lyndon Johnson made an astute observation by pointing out that the “presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.” Nobody is born to be President of the United States and the on-the-job-training is unlike any other endeavor the office holder is likely to face.

The 45 individuals who served as Presidents of the United States have shaped our country. Their stories are really only a part of the American story as each individual reflects on the times in which they lived. The National Portrait Gallery is the only public collection to feature portraits of all of the U.S. presidents on display. The White House collection is not always accessible to the public and not all of the presidents have portraits on continual display.

The presidency has its own song, Hail to the Chief, traditionally played by the U.S. Marine Band. It is played to announce the arrival of the President, who is America’s Commander in Chief. It was first played to honor an American president as early as 1815, when a Boston celebration marking the end of the War of 1812 fell on Washington’s birthday. However, the tradition was really established in 1829 when the song was played for President Andrew Jackson. It was only haphazardly used. First Lady Julia Polk ordered it played for President James K. Polk and has been used pretty much since his time in office.

Honoring those who occupy or occupied the White House does not mean you agree with the office holder on every issue. It is a day we, as Americans, set aside annually to reflect on ourselves and the great accomplishments of our nation. We remember the Presidents of our country. Is it an antiquated holiday? Perhaps. However, despite our admitted shortcomings, we should reflect often on our heritage as the greatest nation in the world and those who helped lead us to that esteemed position. So, on this President’s Day, with refrains of Hail to the Chief in the air, let us hope that the best is yet to come for our nation.

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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.

The Committee

Face it, we are all sick of government committees appointed by elected officials.  I think it is always wise to seek input from all constituent groups on issues; but in the end, the people elected individuals to make tough decisions for the benefit of all.  That’s why our Founders designed our government as a representative democracy.  If we do not like the decisions of elected officials enough times, we get to vote those individuals out of office.  Building consensus is a good strategy; abdicating to mob rule is a bad strategy.  Forming a posse is also ill-advised, unless you are planning a remake of Tombstone.        

Passing the buck is never the solution to tough issues.    There are times when getting stakeholders from a cross-section of opinions together is helpful in understanding the issue and finding solutions to problems you may not know exists makes a lot of sense.  In fact, a lack of proper knowledge of an issue results in the passage of bad policy and terrible legislation.   Unfortunately, the objective seems to be for many politicians to punt the issue away for a period of time, so they can stay focused on other issues that interest them.  The lack of a long-term agenda makes committee work a short-term solution.  Rarely do we analyze for effectiveness and evaluate this committee process.         

I had to laugh when I saw a Twitter post from Nashville Mayor David Briley when he said: “Together, we can build a focused, research-informed strategy to ensure all Nashville students, regardless of race or income, receive a great education” talking about his informal education advisors.  You know, those “unelected people you didn’t vote into office.”  What makes it worse, Mayor Briley hasn’t really stepped in to offer a strategy to ensure more efficient use of tax dollars in light of recent reports in local media involving Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).  This does not include a recent sexual harassment settlement.   Perhaps Mayor David Briley, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph, School Board Member Amy Frogge,  Investigative Reporter Phil Williams and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury  Justin Wilson should form a committee to ensure financial integrity in regards to MNPS’s financial operations and compliance with applicable statutes, rules and regulations, and/or its record of efficiency and effectiveness.  Just a suggestion for Mayor Briley.   

I tend to be agnostic when it comes to personalities or personnel.  My time in the United States Marine Corps taught me the value of teamwork and working together for the collective good, with whomever is there.   The objective is to educate children.   Period.  End of Discussion.   If the Mayor of Nashville feels that the trained professionals at the Metro Nashville Public Schools and the elected School Board cannot address the issues of the lowest-performing schools in the district, why does he think the unelected “Kitchen Cabinet” he selected can do a better job?  What can these nonprofit leaders and community advocates accomplish that professional educators in the MNPS system are not already doing?  And why are those “leaders and advocates” not already doing it?   Honestly, I think it is insulting. 

Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, asked the multi-million-dollar question: “How did a system designed to provide government of, by, and for the people devolve into a system in which bureaucrats unaccountable to voters (though exquisitely accountable to political players and special interests) produce masses of law that was never voted on by an elected official?”  It’s time to ask David Briley that question.   We have witnessed enough suggestions by experts and committees.  Maybe we should start listening to parents, teachers, and taxpayers?  They are a pretty formidable committee when they get a voice. And then in the immortal words of Elvis Presley it will be time for “a little less conversation, a little more action.”

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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.

In 2016, Tennessee made a major breakthrough in helping dyslexic students in our state.  State Senator Dolores Gresham and State Representative Joe Pitts led the effort to require school districts to screen students in kindergarten through second grade for dyslexia with a program provided by the Department of Education.  Students who present with symptoms of dyslexia clearly benefited from the passage of the original legislation, however we need to strengthen the law. In 2019, we need to revisit and refine legislation to ensure districts are in compliance in helping dyslexic children and teachers have access to training.    

State Representative Bob Freeman of Nashville, a strong advocate on this issue, has filed House Bill 253.  It is worth noting that the 2016 Legislation, which we called the “Say Dyslexia” Bill, passed both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly unanimously, with broad bipartisan support.  Data shows that one in five students, or more than 200,000 in the state have characteristics of dyslexia. This legislation will further help children to receive proper intervention.

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) is highly regarded across the nation for its efforts and research on helping dyslexic children.   One of the key items missing across the state has been identifying teachers who are trained in dyslexia intervention.  So, many students are still not getting the assistance they need to address the issue.  Professional Educators of Tennessee offers its members access to professional development on the subject through their online portal.  The organization leaders believe the statistics are so overwhelming regarding the consequences of not dealing with dyslexia.

Research indicates that dyslexia has no relationship to intelligence. Many people with dyslexia have gone on to accomplish great things. Among the many dyslexia success stories are Thomas Edison, Stephen Spielberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Schwab.  Keira Knightley, Salma Hayak, Joss Stone, and Alyssa Milano are successful women diagnosed with dyslexia.  Dyslexia affects you regardless of race, gender, or political affiliation.

The International Dyslexia Association points out, “Research demonstrates that additional direct instruction provided appropriately, beginning in kindergarten through third grade, can help all but the most severely impaired students catch up to grade-level literacy skills and close the gap for most poor readers.  Assessment is the first step in identifying these students early to make sure they receive the effective instruction they need to succeed.”  Louisa C. Moats, Ed.D., and Karen E. Dakin, M.Ed add: “Dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services.”

Tennessee is recognized nationally for its willingness to change education strategies to reach all of our students, and make a high-quality education available to all students.  It is time to help our dyslexic children realize the dream of All Means All, and our commitment is truly to all children.  We will be supporting additional legislation to help our dyslexic students in the state.  For more information on dyslexia visit the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity website at http://dyslexia.yale.edu/

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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.

I read a very length piece by a former Governor Phil Bredesen staffer on Race to the Top.  There was nothing really new in the piece and I was unsure why it needed 16,000 words.  I would have summed it up briefly like this if I wrote it: “The state needed money, so we took a bunch of federal dollars, now we are unhappy.”  

It is worth the reminder that both Race to the Top, and the subsequent First to the Top legislation began under former Governor Bredesen.  “When the planets line up is when you jump for it,” Gov. Bredesen told Education Week.  Everything that has transpired since those events were clearly defined in that proposal and legislation necessitated for the proposal.   So, it should not have been a “surprise” to anyone.  The journey was clearly mapped in the federal grant application.  Read it for yourself

Bredesen proposed lifting the TVAAS prohibition for the state. Rachel Woods, the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Education in 2010, clearly identified state objectives at the time to the media, such as redesign of the “evaluation system,” “pay-for-performance,” “national standards,” and a “recovery district, that would be a real takeover of the school.”  The federal proposal itself, submitted by Governor Bredesen, says: “we have created an ―Achievement School District allowing the commissioner of the state Department of Education to intervene in consistently failing schools.”  In addition, it stated clearly the intent was to create “new charter schools” to maximize the impact of the Achievement School District (ASD). 

Earlier this year I described the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone (iZone) stating the “results are somewhat promising, in comparison to the state’s own Achievement School District.”  Test scores in the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone have increased faster than other school improvement efforts.  It is a clear reminder that government closest to the people has the best chance of success when enacted properly.  It wasn’t the failure of personnel to enact the policy for the state, it was that the proposal itself was flawed from the onset.  There is no dispute that the teacher’s union was deeply involved in Race to the Top process at the time. 

The marriage between education practitioner and education policymaker is not easy.  It is why I spend a great deal of time with educators nearly every day, and it helps that it is my actual background.  While I have certainly been critical of various education policies, and at times some policymakers, it serves us little to go back and criticize previous leaders, or failed policies. However, sometimes we must go back for historical purposes to prove a point.  Let’s read the actual Race to the Top document, which really laid the groundwork for changes the last decade.    

Whether you believe that Race to the Top is good or bad, depends upon your individual perspective.  We must think both short-term and long-term in education policy.  In 2009 and 2010, our state leaders were strictly focused on $501 million dollars. It is sometimes easier in public policy to create these short-term fixes to problems.   Do not let revisionist history tell you otherwise.   As President John Adams once said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

So, it is clear that some people have buyer’s remorse with their involvement with Race to the Top.  However, that guilt should not be because of other people in other administrations involved in completing what was outlined in the proposal, but rather the content of the proposal itself.   States could have also accomplished turning around low achieving schools, adopting high-quality standards and assessments, promoting conditions that allow for more successful charter schools, and improving teacher and principal performance, stated goals of Race to the Top, without the federal government according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).  Future policymakers should view Race to the Top as a cautionary tale of the federal role in education.  That’s my takeaway. 

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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.

Nobody can dispute the fact we must increase the achievement levels of minority and low-income students.  However, if that is our focus, the question we now must consider is:  have we pushed some of our best and brightest students, including students of color, aside in the name of equity? What of our gifted low-income students?  It is a discussion worth having, if we believe the answer is “yes.” 

I go back to one of the first papers I ever wrote on this subject in college.  My premise was, while we could not guarantee all children begin and end their formal education at the same level, we could guarantee all children have the same access to opportunities.  Not all children have the luxury of having a nurturing home to grow up in, a proper diet, access to learning materials and a support network to help them.  Unfortunately, that is the world we live in, and if truth be told it has been this way for a while.  Intrinsically, motivation is a factor.  Why do some children, even in the same family, excel and others not succeed?  Do peer groups matter?  What of external environments?  Do the conditions of society impact our children?   I think those answers are fairly common sense.       

In a 2012 study, The Missing “One Offs”: The Hidden Supply of High Achieving, Low Income Students, economists Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery highlight the importance of the K-12 education years. It is critical that talented students from all backgrounds be identified and given support at this time in their K12 education.  For example, China and India produce eight times more engineering students each year than the United States.  Talented students cannot reach their full potential if we do not identify and develop them early.  That is one advantage some countries do educationally better than we do here in America.   On the other hand, most of these countries do accept or educate all of their children to levels that our students are afforded, due to limits they place on access to education.  The question, I have always asked:  why can we not do both?   Let’s educate ALL children to their highest potential. 

According to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation research study Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities: A Report Card on State Support for Academically Talented Low-Income Students: “ Year after year, in every state and community in our nation, students from low-income families are less likely than other students to reach advanced levels of academic performance, even when demonstrating the potential to do so.”  In this study, Tennessee received a D+ from the Foundation.  I am usually skeptical of groups and grades, and do not put much stock on groups offering external critiques of our education performance, but this study caught my attention, as it reinforced my belief, we are losing generations of children that fall through cracks in the system.  Tennessee would likely fare better in an updated study, but it highlights the point:  we must have the structure in place to identify and address talent development more effectively. 

Bureaucratic challenges often hinder our educators from getting our students what they need.  Some of the recommendations in the research included:  1) When releasing state data on student outcomes, ensure that the performance of high-achieving students is highlighted.  2) Remove barriers that prevent high-ability students from moving through coursework at a pace that matches their achievement level.  This includes a range of academic acceleration options, such as early entrance to kindergarten, acceleration between grades, dual enrollment in middle school and high school (with middle school students able to earn high school credit), and early graduation from high school.  3) Ensure that all high-ability students have access to advanced educational services, including increased opportunities for dual enrollment and AP courses.  We must track our best and brightest students better, and conduct professional development for educators in this area to help them identify and develop these students.  Teachers and principals must have the freedom and flexibility to act on their best instincts to help all students.   A new 2019 research brief from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance finds high-quality Tennessee principals less likely to serve poor and low-achieving students, which seems counter-intuitive to creating better schools. 

There is no opposition to closing the achievement gap of minority and low-income students.  We all understand that should and must occur.  Perhaps we need an equal push for equality of opportunity, where we put ALL our children first. The statistics are telling us we are losing some of our very best and brightest students.  Heidi Grant points out that “smart, talented people rarely realize that one of the toughest hurdles they’ll have to overcome lies within.”   I would add that we do not make it easy for high achievers in public education, and it is time we start looking at that issue very carefully as well. 

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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.

Consistently in polling, educators refer to the heavy workload as being a major factor to why they leave the education profession.  Today educators must also exercise a higher duty of care than most other professionals. Teachers face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen.  Teacher burnout is actually an international epidemic.

Nearly every day, teachers must deal with diverse laws related to issues such as child abuse, student discipline, negligence, defamation, student records and copyright infringement.  And still they must teach. So, every time we see legislation that adds to the teacher workload, we look very cautiously at it.  

If we created a parent dress code, it will only add more work to our already overburdened educators, as well as increase their liability. That does not mean adults should not dress appropriately on school grounds.  However, educators should not be the enforcement part of any proposed law.  Do we expect teachers to issue speeding tickets in school zones?  Should they enforce seatbelt laws or arrest those who violate cell phone usage in a school zone?  Of course not.  So why is this issue more important or any different?      

As Professional Educators of Tennessee has pointed out, most of what Representative Parkinson seeks to address is already in state law.  It happens to be in a different code than laws that strictly are on education.  Adults should dress properly.  And of course, adults should conduct themselves properly in public.  Previous legislators understood that indecency laws and behavior problems, which impacts all of society, are criminal offenses.  It has simply been unenforced in most cases.    

Now because of a few isolated instances that were never reported to police who have proper jurisdiction, we are rushing to pass legislation and add to the burden of our public schools.  Are educators now to act as law enforcement agents on matters of dress by adults?   We should discuss the issue and perhaps study the issue further.  But changes should be made in Title 39 of the Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A.): general offenses, offenses against the person, offenses against property, offenses against the family, offenses against the administration of government, and offenses against the public health, safety and welfare not Title 49 Education. 

The problem that legislation like this seeks to solve with student dress code policies alone have resulted in many court cases over the years.  This type of legislation will compound the problem for teachers, schools, and districts.  In general, public schools are allowed to have student dress codes and uniform policies which cannot be discriminatory or censor expression.  And most of the policies are targeted at females.  In St. Louis area, the Mehlville School District dealt with multiple complaints in August 2018.  This will prove extremely problematic when enforcing policies with adults.  So, if legislation is to be passed on this matter, include immunity for teachers, schools and districts.  And prepare for the litigation that is sure to follow. 

The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.  It is common sense that adults should dress appropriately in public.  However, to make this cultural matter one that places public education as the gatekeepers of public indecency for adults makes little sense.  We hope this matter can be resolved without increasing, unnecessarily, the workload of our educators.   The intended and unintended consequences of any legislation of this matter might not be what you want. 

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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.

I have no idea if this is truth or fiction (I’m guessing fiction), but it’s an interesting metaphor for the dangers of groupthink:

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all the other monkeys with cold water. After a while another monkey makes the attempt with same result, all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put the cold water away. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not?

Because as far as they know that is the way it has always been done around here.

I have been fascinated by a piece of legislation being suggested by Tennessee Representative Antonio Parkinson on a parental dress code. We should welcome the discussion. The legislation is probably not necessary. It offers nothing that law enforcement could not already do.
 
Apparently, in Memphis-Shelby County parents are going on school grounds dressed in inappropriate attire, or as Rep. Parkinson describes one case: “a parent coming in with lingerie on and body parts still visible to everyone.” We can all agree that is inappropriate. Here is the problem: we already have laws on the books designed to address public indecency for adults. In Tennessee, individuals commit “indecent exposure” when he or she, in a public place or on the private premises of another, intentionally exposes his or her genitals or buttocks or engages in sexual acts and reasonably expects the acts to be viewed by others. The acts offend an ordinary viewer, and are for the arousal and gratification of the individual.   (Tennessee Code Annotated §39-13-511).

The punishment for public indecency or indecent exposure includes fines and/or jail time. For the first or second offense, public indecency is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500. If you are convicted of three or more indecent exposure charges, you will have to register as a sex offender. If you are a school employee or an adult on school grounds and witness another adult engaged in indecent exposure please notify school administration, the appropriate law enforcement agency, including the school resource officer, immediately. Passing legislation is probably not necessary if we simply enforce the indecent exposure laws already on the books.
 
Engaged parents are critical partners in student success. But we must expect adults to follow local, state and federal laws. This would also include appropriate behavior. Tennessee law already prohibits a variety of behaviors that annoy or disrupt other people in public. These categories of offenses found in Title 39 of the Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A.): general offenses, offenses against the person, offenses against property, offenses against the family, offenses against the administration of government, and offenses against the public health, safety and welfare were revised and modernized in 1989. Perhaps they should be updated?
 
Violations of public peace and safety in Tennessee include: 1) Public intoxication: Appearing under the influence of alcohol or drugs, causing unreasonable annoyance or endangerment; 2) Disorderly conduct: Threatening behavior, creating hazardous conditions, being unreasonably noisy or fighting; 3) Civil rights intimidation: Threatening or injuring someone to prevent him or her from exercising rights or privileges; and, 4) Obstructing a passageway: Obstructing a sidewalk, highway, hallway or elevator. If parents are engaged in any of these behaviors, then it is a matter for law enforcement. Our schools have a difficult enough time managing the behavior issues of students. Managing the criminal behavior of adults is the primary role and responsibility of law enforcement, not educators.
 
The 111th General Assembly must address real issues facing all of our public schools. We should focus on three major priorities: 1) Strengthening the foundations of a quality system; 2) Getting our students ready to enter the workforce; and 3) Embracing innovation. I applaud Representative Parkinson for speaking up on an issue that is impacting the schools in his district. I hope he will encourage school officials in his district to work with law enforcement and address criminal behavior. We must have high moral standards in our schools. So, let’s simply enforce the law that already exists. On that we can all agree.

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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.

CBS news reported that Memphis has one of the worst unemployment rates for any major American city. The 2015 report also points out Memphis has a shrinking tax base, urban blight and a high violent crime rate, which has created the economic problems in Memphis. CBS listed Memphis as the fourth poorest city in America. This is not the recognition Tennessee wants for our communities and municipalities.
 
However, rather than simply focusing on the negative we have to look for the talents, skills, ideas, and creativity of our citizens in places of such despair. It is there in Memphis in abundance, just as it is found across our entire state. We just do not hear about the ingenuity or success of our entrepreneurial spirt or see it highlighted like we should. In the state where the greatest civil rights warrior in American history, Martin Luther King Jr., was murdered for his beliefs, we should never surrender to despair.
 
Make no mistake, our educators face unbelievable challenges across the state, especially with low-social economic students. We take all students. This includes students who have a lack of preparation, limited vocabulary, poor nutrition, lack of medical care, high mobility, dysfunctional families, lack of English, and lack of enrichment. This does not even factor in mental, physical and health challenges. That is not an excuse, nor should we accept diminished expectations because of race or economic conditions. The idiom “soft bigotry of low expectations” is still alive and well in some circles, but we must reject it once and for all. As Danielle Belton, Editor-in-Chief of The Root said, “If you go into the game expecting to lose, you are most certain to find failure.”
 
In Memphis, there is hope being realized in the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone (iZone). In Chattanooga, Hamilton County is launching a similar vehicle to address the challenge of chronically under-performing schools. Leaders are working together to design different schedules, as well as oversight models, implementing creative content coaching, and empowering their principals with autonomy to be creative. They are hiring new teachers in hard to staff schools with better compensation. We are meeting children where they are.
 
In Memphis, the results are somewhat promising, in comparison to the state’s own Achievement School District. Test scores in the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone have increased faster than other school improvement efforts. Some of the chronically under-performing schools have now moved off of the state’s Priority list. The model can be replicated, with the right leadership and support. We must enhance and sustain student engagement and transform school culture. They are finding beauty in broken places in Memphis.
 
Test scores are not the most important measure in our schools. It is the intangible factor of the human will to succeed despite obstacles. As Hanna Skandera, former Commissioner of Education of New Mexico wrote: “we cannot ignore the need for our system to be agile and adaptable, and proactively develop new ways to prepare the next generation in an ever-changing world.” This means that as educators we must build a system that gives students the educational foundation to succeed, despite whatever dire circumstances our students may come out of personally. Martin Luther King Jr reminded us, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” Let’s strive to educate all of our kids to their highest potential, no matter where they live.

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.

nOne of the challenges we face in Tennessee moving forward is the need to further develop and align the education-to-career pipeline.  Governor-elect Bill Lee probably expressed this better than any candidate on the campaign trail, and his potential as governor in this arena offers great hope for a brighter future for Tennessee.   The objective is clear:  we must prepare students for the demands of the modern workforce.  This will require targeted strategies in our schools to help ensure every child has an opportunity for success.

The Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) did a good analysis of Postsecondary and Career Readiness in Tennessee with their study:  Educating the Workforce of Tomorrow.  As they point out a “rapidly changing economy requires urgent focus on student postsecondary and career readiness, with greater intensity than ever before.”  This is where Governor Lee can make his greatest impact in education and future economic growth of the state.   He has pledged to “establish a seamless path between our school districts, community and technical colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and local industry to empower students with the real-world skills they need to get a great job once they graduate.” 

Lee has stated that “Coding, mechatronics, logistics, and computer science will become fundamental skills for the modern workforce and I will ensure every student has access to coursework in these areas by investing in the technology, materials, and instruction to get our students the opportunity they deserve.”   This means that we must continually reimagine what education looks like for our students.  And as Governor, Bill Lee will work to make that a high priority.  This is exciting news for educators, who have seen constant change yet understand that we are transforming our schools to the next generation. 

The state has started trending this way, especially in some communities in the state.  Lyle Ailshie, the current acting Commissioner of Education, began his work on high school redesign as a Superintendent in Kingsport.  He received national recognition for his effort.   In Maury County, Dr. Ryan Jackson, principal of Mount Pleasant High School, is also garnering much national attention for his work with STEAM initiatives, dual enrollment and dual credit opportunities and is a champion for the school’s and the district’s Project-Based Learning curriculum.

It is likely that many communities in the state will move toward these flexible school models to support new opportunities for career and technical education, work-based learning and apprenticeships, and dual-enrollment courses for students preparing for their career.  The future is bright in Tennessee.  Let’s make our state the envy of the nation. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.