Eighty-thousand Tennessee teachers can do everything right at their school and in their classes, and one teacher can do something horrendous and give the other 79,999 a bad name. It takes just one teacher to cause irreparable damage.  In 2018 we saw legislative changes directed at helping curb inappropriate student-teacher activity. One teacher can create problems for the family of the student, his own family, his community, his school, and his peers.

Unfortunately, we know that sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a growing problem in our society. We should not be shocked when sex offenders seek employment in jobs where they have contact with children such as churches, schools, youth groups, hospitals, and social services. We have to do a better job of screening applicants in those fields. Jennifer Fraser, an abuse survivor herself wrote: “If adults can’t recognize abusers, children are even less likely to realize that what’s happening is abuse and that it is doing damage of a kind they can’t see.”

We must carefully make sure that we are protecting all of our minor children in public education. However, we have seen many false claims made against a teacher, and once an accusation is made it is nearly impossible to restore a teacher’s reputation. It is a difficult balancing act. There will never be a perfect system.

ABC News reported that the “FBI and the Justice Department do not keep statistics on the frequency of sex-related assaults involving teachers and students.” However, the “most recent statistics from the Bureau of Justice on school violence show that students are more likely to be sexually assaulted outside school grounds.”

It is atypical for victims, especially children, to disclose sexual abuse at the time it is happening. They fear being blamed for their supposed consent to the abuse. In addition, they fear losing the “approval” of their abuser. They also do not want to disappoint their parents. Many victims wait years, if they report the abuse at all, to talk about what happened to them.

Dr. Kit Richert identified physical indicators of sexual abuse such as pain, itching, bleeding, swelling, or bruising in the genital or anal area; blood in the child’s underwear; frequent bladder infections; STDs; pregnancy in pre-teen girls; and complaints about headaches and sickness. The behavioral indicators of sexual abuse are: sudden change in the child’s normal behavior, starts acting differently; depression or suicidality; running away; regression to more childlike behavior; changes in relationships to adults, such as becoming more clingy or more avoidant; lower school engagement and lower achievement; exhibits sexually provocative behavior or becomes promiscuous; the child has or talks about friends that are unusually older; the child talks about having sex or being touched; and the child is extremely avoidant of undressing or physical contact at school.

The good news is that there are a number of resources available to empower stakeholders to prevent sexual misconduct and abuse in schools. One organization, Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME) is the national voice for the prevention of sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment of students by teachers and other school staff. Their 5-point strategy includes:

  1. Increasing public awareness of educator sexual abuse by breaking the silence in a strong and united voice.
  2. Fostering recovery of survivors through mutual support and access to information.
  3. Encouraging survivors of educator sexual abuse to report their offenders to local law enforcement officials and state education department credentialing offices.
  4. Insisting upon implementation of and adherence to child-centered educator sexual abuse policies, regulations, and laws.
  5. Directing attention to the maintenance of proper boundaries between school staff and students by promoting annual training, the adoption of professional standards, and codes of ethics.

It takes one teacher to give all teachers a bad name, especially if it involves an adult sexually abusing a child. We all are victims when one teacher betrays the trust bestowed upon them by a community to educate our children. There are many survivors in our midst. We simply have to do a better job of protecting our children.

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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. 

Christy Ballard is the long time General Counsel of Tennessee Department of Education.   Nobody in the state knows Education Law better than Christy Ballard.  And  she shares her vast knowledge.   She regularly assists in the implementation and enforcement of Tennessee’s education laws and regulations by providing legal technical assistance to local school board attorneys, other state agency staff, legislators, LEA officials, teachers and the general public by providing the TDOE’s position on school related laws and regulations.

“If you don’t understand  — from the school district to the superintendents — that we want our teachers held harmless, then I’m sorry, you’re tone-deaf.” ~State Representative Eddie Smith (Knoxville)

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That message was heard and understood statewide, right?  Apparently not.  We are receiving reports from across the state that some districts are denying their teachers their justified and earned bonuses, which harms the educator.  The language from the Public Chapter Number 881 reads “LEAs shall not base compensation decisions for teachers on data generated by statewide assessments administered in the 2017-18 school year” Public Chapter Number 1026 adds: “no adverse action may be taken against any student, teacher, school, or LEA based, in whole or in part, on student achievement data generated from the 2017-2018 TNReady assessment.” (emphasis added)

The Tennessee Department of Education, anticipating this problem, understood this could negatively impact teachers that did well on TNReady in the 2017-18 school year so they provided this guidance to school districts across the state: “All currently approved alternative salary schedules and differentiated pay plans are based on 2016-2017 school year data and may remain in effect because they are not impacted by the Legislation. Districts should consult closely with their board attorneys to ensure that any other strategic compensation policies do not result in an action being taken concerning a teacher in the 2017-18 school year based on 2017-18 data. As always, teachers may not earn less than they did the previous year unless there is a change in the teacher’s duties or position.” (emphasis added)

However, at least one school district, Greene County Schools, sent an email to all principals.  The message to all Greene County Administrators was from Bill Ripley, the Assistant Director of Academics.

Ripley wrote:

This message is in response to questions we have received.  Several months ago the state legislature passed an act preventing districts from affecting any teacher’s pay based on 2017-18 test results.  Therefore, the Greene County Schools district plan to pay a bonus for level 4 or 5 TVAAS cannot be implemented this year.  We realize this is disappointing to the 105 teachers who attained a level 4 or 5 last year, however, this is an action of lawmakers in Nashville, not your local Board of Education.

A first-year law student could probably make the case that any school district that withholds paying a bonus based on actions taken by the Tennessee General Assembly are not understanding the law or the intent of the state law.  Denying educators their rightful bonus based on positive student achievement or student growth is indeed having an adverse action on educators, especially their compensation.  It can be argued that the legislation that passed is vague and that districts should work closely with their board attorney when making these types of decisions. However, discussion on the floor on the legislation, as well as comments from the Bill Sponsor Rep. Eddie Smith, was clear:  that districts could not take adverse actions.

The state issued two very important guidance documents that make clear that message, which was released by the Tennessee Department of Education.   Professional Educators of Tennessee, along with many others worked with the Department of Education and added our input.  The guidance that the Department developed was a result of thoughtful and collaborative efforts to ensure that our state follows all state and federal laws.  The new legislation that states that no adverse actions for students, teachers or schools will result from the 2017-18 TNReady administration.   These two key documents, which were shared with districts and schools are posted on the state website, along with a list of initial improvements the state is making to the state assessment program:

  • Detailed Evaluation Guidance (here)
  • FAQ that provides an overview of the various areas the new laws impact, including student, education, school, and district accountability (here)

If educators feel that their district is withholding a bonus in which they are entitled, it would be helpful for those educators to write their school district and ask them for a written explanation on why the bonus is being denied.  If a school district wants to be tone deaf, I know several state legislators and folks at the Department of Education who would be very interested in why an adverse action is being taken against you.  I know that Professional Educators of Tennessee wants to hear if compensation decisions for teachers on data generated by statewide assessments administered in the 2017-18 school year have kept you from receiving compensation, or your bonus.  Just drop us an email at advocacy@proedtn.org.

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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.

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I have grown fatigued with blue ribbon panels or listening tours.  I have never found either strategy very useful in formulating public policy.  Especially when that policy is agenda-driven, with pre-determined outcomes.  I am also not a gambler (sorry Kenny Rogers).  I understand that the house always comes out the winner in the end. A casino has a business model premeditated to ensure its success.  Much like a blue-ribbon panel, or a listening tour.

From a political standpoint, why would the state of Tennessee try to conduct a listening tour at this time?  We are in the middle of election season and the Governor is in his final days.  What more can he add to the education debate after 8 years, that he hasn’t already tried?  All stakeholders want to get testing right. We have already had an Assessment Task Force, which has done a pretty good job of collecting input and holding serious discussions.  The state has already been engaged in an open conversation about assessment and ways to improve administration of tests.  We have already gathered feedback on the delivery of state assessments.  We simply have not executed the plan.  There are just a few vendors across the nation who have the resources and ability to be selected as the state’s next assessment partner.  We have been through several of those vendors already—and were disappointed by those results.

If the state wants to discuss how to better provide schools, educators, parents and students with meaningful and timely results from assessments, then we better figure out how to get the results back to those in the classrooms capable of making better academic decisions for students. We will want to provide baseline assessments of learning/study skills, identify areas of potential academic concerns, highlight learning strengths/weaknesses, and provide effective and efficient strategies in getting academic intervention when needed by students.  This is something unlikely to occur on a listening tour and is already known by the K-12 Community.

We can and should discuss the value that assessments can provide.  We must also discuss how the emphasis on testing is missing 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.   It should be problematic to parents as well.  When two superintendents raised the testing issue and requested a pause in testing, Commissioner McQueen correctly pointed out that as a condition of receiving federal funds, the feds through Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires state education agencies to implement statewide assessments.  Many states exceed federal requirements.

McQueen pointed out that “both state and federal law require an annual statewide assessment.” So, if we want a discussion on testing perhaps we should be directing at the Federal Branch as well?  Should we not also look at our ESSA Plan while doing this pointless tour?  The initial ESSA plan was based on feedback from thousands of Tennesseans over the course of a year.

How did we get here?  With an infusion of $501 million federal dollars of Race to the Top money our state 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.

Former Governor, Phil Bredesen, said that 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.  

So, how do we get out of this mess?  It probably won’t be the result of a listening tour.  And our next Governor had better put forth policy ideas pretty quickly, or he will be saddled with an unworkable plan right out of the gate—just like Governor Bredesen and Governor Haslam.  The people who got us into this mess, probably aren’t the people to get us out of it.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

President Donald Trump’s latest idea is to merge the U.S. Department of Education with the Department of Labor. This reflects his administration’s priority on workforce readiness and career development. Taxpayers understand the need to reduce federal spending, merge duplicate programs, and improve support for retraining and employment. The United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce is an example of the government already combining the two functions under one entity. So, the concept is not that far-fetched.

In their book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa studied twenty-four hundred college students at twenty-four different universities over a four-year period. They reported that critical thinking and other skills such as writing were no longer progressing during college as compared to previous generations of students. This is really no surprise. However, America’s educational competitiveness is still unparalleled. We tend to focus on our weaknesses, rather than leveraging our inimitable strengths.

Society has long cherished the ability to think beyond the ordinary, according to Samuel Greengard. What happens when we lose that ability? Organizational stupidity is a phrase that comes to my mind. Adrian West added: “Developing our abilities to think more clearly, richly, fully—individually and collectively—is absolutely crucial [to solving world problems].”

It is important to note that creativity is a unique talent that cannot be taught straight out of a textbook. We are rapidly losing our ability to think creatively; in addition, music and art are often no longer valued. Grace Fearon of the The Independent suggests: “our society seems capable of praising and glorifying our child intellects, aspiring doctors and academics, yet the value of a student possessing a gift for writing, or music, or art appears demoted in comparison.” In a state like Tennessee, with a cultural legacy like Memphis and Nashville and other places, Music and Art are the business. We cannot lose that edge.

The real question to ask then: Do we think the well-meaning bureaucrats at the Department of Labor, will be more or less inclined to educate the whole child, or would they focus more on developing a productive workforce? There is a vital need for apprenticeship programs, job training programs, and a united focus on keeping the American workforce employed.

Bringing businesses and educators together to ensure high-quality classroom instruction and on-the-job training is a win for everyone, right? Except we are not creating widgets for factories. Many of the jobs our children will have may not even exist now. We cannot possibly provide the training for all the jobs that may exist in the future, we have to teach kids to think, to create, to make. Do you really think the Department of Labor is the vehicle we need spearheading this type of education? We must make sure that those who understand educating the whole child benefits all of us in the long term.

President Trump’s concept lacks significant details and will be difficult to maneuver through a deeply divided Congress. Our guess is that a merger between the U.S. Department of Education with the Department of Labor will not happen. Let’s hope we are correct.

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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.

img_20180422_212449-1394880902.jpgAs professionals, our members are committed to supporting quality public education and the professional rights and obligations of the education community. Our members set the policy and priorities of  our association to meet the needs of Tennessee educators. Working in partnership with parents, business, community and government, we provide the programs and services that enable educators and schoolchildren to achieve their highest potential.  Professional Educators of Tennessee was created by Tennessee educators for Tennessee educators.  Our focus is the state of Tennessee.      

From professional development to information on the latest education trends, we offer a myriad of resources to help you in and out of the classroom. For over 39 years, Professional Educators of Tennessee has been serving great teachers across the state of Tennessee.  Our members have often been  at the forefront of education in the state.

As the fastest growing teacher association in the state, we know that our members can be catalysts for innovative solutions to the many challenges facing education.  We look forward to creating mutually beneficial partnerships to rethink curriculum, offer professional development, develop sound policy and improve educational environments and outcomes for students across Tennessee.  We have great legal services and member benefits as well!

Protecting your career is just as important as protecting any other life investment. That’s why we provide eligible members a superior protection package to protect you in the classroom with $2 million worth of liability insurance with access to our attorney’s that are available by phone, e-mail or fax during normal business hours.  In fact, we will gladly compare liability policies with any education organization serving teachers in the state. You can join for $189 a year, not over $600 like a union, with a national agenda.  Keep in mind we do not endorse or contribute to political parties or candidates with your dues. We are not a union.  

We work year-round as a professional, positive voice focused on uniting educators in support of an exemplary public education for every student in Tennessee.  We know vitriol and anger only hurts public education and never solves problems.  We understand in order to create a more effective system that provides the basic academic skills necessary for success in life for our students, that we must all work together. Education is a parental right, a state and local responsibility, and a national strategic interest.

It would be our honor to serve you.  Check Professional Educators of Tennessee out at www.proedtn.org

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We know without a doubt that teachers are the number one in-school influence on student achievement. Data indicates that in the last 20 years, teacher attrition has nearly doubled. In fact, 16–30% of teachers leave the teaching profession each year. It is estimated by some that school districts now spend $1B to $2.2B per year nationally replacing teachers. The average cost to replace a teacher is about $20,000 each in many districts. One-third of today’s teachers will retire in the next five years.

In Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It by Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond the authors maintain: “When students return to school this year, many will enter one of the more than 100,000 classrooms across the country staffed by an instructor who is not fully qualified to teach. This is because many districts, facing ongoing teacher shortages, are hiring underqualified candidates to fill vacancies.

When discussing why they leave, 18% of teachers see leadership as a key factor in whether or not they stay on the job. Leadership at the district level and building level is critical. Lack of collaboration time and sporadic Professional Development were other factors influencing teacher departure. An astounding statistic is that 90% of open teaching positions are created by teachers who left the profession. Other key influences Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond identified on turnover include “a lack of administrative support, working in districts with lower salaries, dissatisfactions with testing and accountability pressures, lack of opportunities for advancement, and dissatisfaction with working conditions.”

Experience in the classroom matters. Effectiveness increases substantially for the first 12 years a teacher is on the job. As teachers gain experience, their student absenteeism rates decline. Students with a highly effective teacher three years in a row can score 50 percentile points higher on achievement tests than students who have a less effective teacher three years in a row. “Turnover rates are highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast, where states tend to offer higher pay, support smaller class sizes, and make greater investments in education. Shortages also persist in specific areas: mathematics, science, special education, English language development, and foreign languages. Turnover rates are 50% higher in Title I schools, which serve more low-income students. Turnover rates are also 70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color” added Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond.

Teacher turnover will eventually lead to a teacher shortage if the supply of new teachers via traditional or alternative routes cannot keep up with the demand. It appears we are heading in that direction. If we continue down that path, nationally and across the state, many underqualified candidates will eventually fill those vacancies. Research indicates that high rates of turnover harm student achievement in schools and districts. “In high-turnover schools, the inexperienced and underqualified teachers often hired to fill empty spots also have a negative impact on student learning” according to Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond.

To improve teacher retention, districts and schools must build strong leadership teams aligned to common goals. Schools should provide teachers with common planning time each week. Schools and districts should create a teacher mentorship program, partnering new teachers with veteran teachers. Districts must give teachers and administrators a choice in their professional development’s content and delivery method. There cannot be a one size fits all approach to PD, which too many districts try to mandate. For example, Professional Educators of Tennessee offers their members access to a state-of-the-art online learning portal so educators can get credits to renew their Tennessee Teacher’s License and learn about new and innovative teaching strategies. Educators are able to take the courses when and where it is convenient for them. Many of their offerings are TASL accredited classes as well. In addition, districts should focus on compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions.

We need to keep our most effective educators in the classroom and in public education. Our federal, state, and district policymakers must take this issue serious. We are losing too many good educators, and it is time we address the issue.

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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.

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The Tennessee Department of Education announced at a noon press conference on Thursday some necessary changes to the state TNReady test that teachers, administrators and superintendents have been asking the state to make. Among the changes include rebidding the testing contract, refining the current Questar contract, revising timeline for online testing, and engaging more teachers. These steps complement additional actions already in the works, including eliminating two TNReady end-of-course exams, eliminating the March stand-alone field test for the next two years, simplifying and streamlining test administration, bringing in a third party to perform an independent review of Questar’s technological capabilities, improving customer service, and engaging dozens of additional Tennessee teachers, content experts, and testing coordinators to look at every part of our state testing program.

Dale Lynch from the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and JC Bowman from Professional Educators of Tennessee were in attendance at the announcement. Both praised the Tennessee Department of Education for taking proactive steps to address the issue. Bowman added: “Leadership collects input from those on the ground, makes the process better for all, and then tweaks the product as needed. We firmly believe that changes needed to be made, and we are pleased that Commissioner McQueen and her team heard our message and made the necessary changes to improve student assessment in Tennessee.”

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said at the press conference: “improvements are being made after ongoing conversations with teachers, parents, education leaders, and policymakers over the past several weeks and are aimed at addressing a number of areas of concern.” She added: “Teachers, students and families deserve a testing process they can have confidence in, and we are doing everything possible to meet that responsibility,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are always committed to listening and improving, and we’ll continue to do just that.”

The multi-faceted changes announced today will immediately improve the state assessment—TNReady—and establish a longer-term framework for success. The steps being taken to improve TNReady include:

  • Releasing a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify the assessment vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state test in 2019-20 and beyond.  The RFP process will better ensure that students can take TNReady seamlessly and without disruption.
  • Amending the state’s current contract and relationship with Questar to improve the assessment experience in 2018-19
  • Adjusting the pace of the state’s transition to online testing

In May, a national study recognized Tennessee as the No. 1 state in the country for improvement in the quality of its academic standards, going from an “F” rating in 2007 to an “A” in 2017. TNReady is designed to measure those standards, and it has a variety of different types of questions to look for the depth of students’ knowledge.

Tennessee is one of less than 10 states that still has a paper test in middle school—and both state and district leaders recognize that the workforce of the 21st century is increasingly online. We also want every student to have a positive testing experience, and we want to maximize the ability to have a seamless online administration. Accordingly, the state is adjusting the timeline to continue the transition to online but at a modified pace. For 2018-19:

  • Students in grades 3-8 will take TNReady on paper for math, English, and social studies.
  • Students in grades 3-4 will take their TNReady science test on paper, and students in grades 5-8 will take their science test online. Science is a field test in 2018-19 because the state is transitioning to new academic standards; therefore, the results will not count for students, teachers, or schools, nor will any public scores be released. This provides an option for all students to experience the online platform and do so in an environment that is low-risk for them.
  • Students in high school and those taking end-of-course exams will continue to test online.

Further, the department will improve paper administration, as well. In addition to having Tennessee teachers review all test questions, scripts, and test forms, the department is streamlining test logistics to have fewer versions of the test distributed across the state. This makes it much easier on testing coordinators and proctors to administer. The state has also combined the answer document and test questions into one test booklet in lower grades so it is easier for students to take the test.

For more information on the additional TNReady improvements  you can visit the Tennessee Department of Education website.