Governor Bill Lee will give his first State of the State address on Monday, March 4, 2019. The speech is highly anticipated, as it will signal to the state the administration’s priorities for the immediate future. It is where campaign promises, either become realities or go to die. He will undoubtedly address issues across the board, from roads to mental health to criminal justice, and all things in between. My interest will be squarely on public education.

What do I expect the Governor to say about education?

  1. His administration will focus on getting students ready for work.
  2. He will work to strengthen the public education system.
  3. He will look for innovative and student-centered strategies for public education.

How will he do that? Here is what I suggest he might say on Monday night:

He will stress the need to build better connections between labor and education. This will mean facilitating improved linkage between school districts, community and technical colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and local industry. Meaning the state must assess our progress towards the Drive to 55 Goal. Which may include outreach to middle school students about their goals and aspirations. This is likely why one of the first assignments given to the new Education Commissioner, Penny Schwinn, has been to meet with students. Likewise, we will want secondary students to start thinking about their career. Governor Lee will probably push toward greater access to high-quality dual enrollment and dual credit opportunities in technical fields across our state. Work-based learning may be referenced. Governor Lee sees this as an opportunity to help students develop the practical abilities that help them perform in project-based environments, learn to work with others, and grow the discipline needed for success in a competitive workplace. This will require new partnerships between industry and our schools, and may facilitate a more concrete connection between labor and education, which is a direction that the federal government has taken the past few years. The state will also need to expand and improve offerings in STEM.

Governor Lee will likely continue to highlight the work of his predecessors, namely Governor Bredesen and Governor Haslam, in looking at ways to strengthen the foundations of our public education system. It is uncertain if Pre-K will be included. I would argue that he will look at some of the efforts underway and consult with State Representative Bill Dunn on this matter. All success in public education hinges on quality instruction, so it begins with our educators. We all agree that every student deserves highly effective teachers and administrators. So, it would be no surprise to hear the Governor talk about his plan to better develop a pipeline to secure educators here in Tennessee. Compensation is the key to recruitment and retention. Our teacher compensation model needs to be competitive nationally. I expect the Governor to send a message to educators that he recognizes and appreciates their efforts, and he will work to see they are paid for their efforts. I also expect that the Governor will stress the need to build upon Governor Haslam’s efforts in literacy. We know that school safety will also be a priority, as well as the need for additional school counselors. It is important that focus in counseling goes beyond mere college and career, but also into helping students with mental health issues—-especially children who have experienced physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Governor Lee must address the testing issue. Too many policymakers and stakeholders have been waiting on a message from the governor about how he plans to improve our assessment system, to ensure that our metrics are empowering and informing, not inhibiting quality instruction, while providing accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students.

On the innovation front, the question is, will he or won’t he bring up parental choice, specifically regarding school vouchers and/or education savings accounts? The administration has signaled more of a wait and see approach thus far. If he plans to bring up school choice, it is more likely to be done in his first term. There has been some indication that the votes are simply not there for a proposal in the Tennessee General Assembly. The Governor is more likely to discuss changes he envisions in creating a modern high school. He is correct that for the last 50 years the way high school has educated students has largely remained unchanged. He may suggest that it is time to embrace new, flexible school models in our high schools. This means he must also discuss supporting locally-driven flexibility and innovation. On the campaign trail, he argued for the need to break down the barriers that have held our teachers, school leaders, and school districts back from creative solutions to the unique challenges of their communities. I would not be surprised to see something like innovation grants from the state for our districts. The question is whether he is willing to make some adjustments to testing, like a pilot project that allows some districts to use the ACT, ACT Aspire, or SAT Suites as a means of assessment in high performing districts. Lee understands when we empower school leaders to bring new solutions to the table and hold them accountable for results, we all win. By piloting innovative approaches that encourage our schools and their communities to work together and design solutions without bureaucratic hurdles, he could send a huge message across the state. Hopefully, Governor Lee will grab the bull by the horns on school finance and discuss the possibilities of a school funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. Because of our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies, businessman Governor Lee understands better than most policymakers the required formula that will support teachers, fund facilities, and facilitate innovation and technology, while looking to better connect K-12 education with workforce needs.

I expect the speech of a lifetime from Governor Lee on Monday night. The State of the State is his one opportunity to lay out for all Tennesseans why we are the best state in the nation for education and in turn, the best place to raise a family. Tennessee continues to be a state that is moving forward.

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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.

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.

There is a growing focus on education choice across the United States, especially here in Tennessee. When you discuss parent choice, everybody immediately thinks of vouchers. Vouchers are only one form of choice. When you discuss school choice, the debate is unfairly focused between public and private. Terminology is constantly changing and evolving, and the words themselves create unnecessary conflict. Before we step further into the debate, I think there is one choice that is being ignored as an option: open enrollment or voluntary public school choice.

We must expand open enrollment policies in our public school districts. There are two primary types of open enrollment policies: 1) Intra-district enrollment policies, where students may transfer to schools within their home districts. 2) Inter-district enrollment policies, where students may transfer to schools outside of their home districts. Both are forms of choice.

Currently, Tennessee has voluntary intra-district and inter-district open enrollment policies. That may need to change, if districts do not get more aggressive in championing parental options in public education. Hopefully, that will be led by district leaders or school boards across the state. We need to make open enrollment a high priority.

Today, our workforce is highly mobile. Many adults no longer work in the community they reside. This is very clear in Middle Tennessee, which is exploding with population growth with more on the way. If we want parents involved in their child’s education, it would only make sense that public school options become more convenient for the adult who then often provides the transportation.

Currently, open enrollment policies may be either mandatory or voluntary. Under mandatory programs, districts must allow for open enrollment. Under voluntary programs, districts may choose whether to allow for open enrollment. It is easy to see that the direction by the state will be to move from voluntary to mandatory, if districts do not adopt open enrollment policies or do a better job of highlighting voluntary public school choice.

Questions that policymakers and the media should ask: 1) What districts in Tennessee allow students to transfer to schools within their home districts? 2) What districts in Tennessee do not allow students to transfer to schools within their home districts? 3) What districts in Tennessee accept students transferring to schools outside of their home district?

As the focus on education choice is elevated by Governor-elect Bill Lee, maybe the easiest place to find initial consensus is with open enrollment. Mandatory open enrollment policies will likely be promoted by the state. This could either be accomplished by funding, new legislation, or districts adopting new policies. Intra-district and Inter-district open enrollment policies must be on the table, when the subject of education choice is discussed. The message is that public schools are the best option for parents. Parents should be able to trust public schools to educate all children to the best of their ability.

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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.

We know psychologically that there is a connection between feeling of self-worth and actions.  When teachers lose hope in their career, eventually they change the direction of their own future and in turn it impacts the future of our children.  If you are an educator or have friends who are educators, you have undoubtedly discussed teacher morale in public education and thoughts on the future of education.  Sadly, those thoughts were most likely negative.  Educators who enter the field are often bright-eyed, confident, and enthusiastic.  Teacher turnover is continuing to climb higher, yet those entering the field is going lower. What happened?  That is the problem we must solve.

Teacher turnover holds back our schools and our students.  How do you improve morale?  It will take multiple strategies, which differ from community to community, district to district, school to school.  Let’s look at four of the most prominent issues:  educator compensation, lack of respect for educators, testing and out of control students.

Educator Compensation.  Compensation is everything that is provided to the educator for their services. Compensation alone will not impact teacher morale.   Governor Bill Haslam made teacher salaries a priority, and should be recognized for his efforts.  It is debatable if dollars allocated for salary increases reached all classroom teachers.  This may be attributed to district implemented pay plans. Educators should be involved in the development of those plans. Governor-elect Bill Lee indicated he intends to develop a pipeline of well-trained, highly compensated educators who can flourish in the teaching profession. This will likely include incentive compensation programs, together with stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations.  Compensation can also be used to aid in hiring, and/or retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.

Lack of Respect for Educators.  Teaching, a profession once held in high esteem, is being de-valued both by stakeholders and policymakers for a variety of reasons. Teachers, who are on the frontlines of parental dissatisfaction with the system, are often made scapegoats by people who have lost trust in the system. This lack of respect is reflected by lack of parental support and engagement.  In fairness, some parents are supportive and work with educators to help ensure their children get the best possible education.  Yet more often than not, parents simply blame the teacher for the problems at school.  But even more than that, teachers often lack the support of their administrators, district, and even the state.  Bureaucrats keep piling on more requirements of educators with barely a nod of appreciation.  Teachers, above all other professions, deserve the recognition and gratitude of a job well-done.  Doing so on a regular basis will be a small step toward improving the teacher turnover rate.

Testing.  The testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators.  Nobody would object to testing that benefits the teaching and learning process of students.  As it stands currently, the data is not received in a timely manner and the results yield little or no benefit to the students.  Educators would welcome a robust, practical solution to current assessment issues. A portfolio-based assessment model is also problematic.  However, it may be a preferred model of student evaluation if it is not too time-consuming.  It is based on a wide range of student work done over a long period of time, rather than on a single, paper-and-pencil test taken over a few hours.  We must work to ensure that our assessments and the subsequent results are empowering and informing without being a time drain.  Assessments should not inhibit quality instruction but provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. Most importantly, assessments should be not used a punitive measure against teachers.

Out of Control Students.  Effective educators consider the root causes of misbehavior and develop appropriate solutions on a consistent, ongoing basis.  However, some students need attention and intervention beyond the scope of what a classroom teacher can provide.  It is imperative that a school and district adopt policies that support effective classroom management, as well as student instruction for all students.  One possible policy has to be a better tracking of the time an educator has to spend on discipline issues.  Do parents have the right to know, for example, if one student disrupts their own child’s education so frequently, they lose instruction time?  School districts must balance their responsibilities toward the community with the responsibility to nurture students.  Without discipline, students cannot learn.  Students themselves must respect rules and authority regardless of underlying disabilities/issues.  Districts must have policies in place that protect all students’ right to learn.

There is no one size fits all strategy that will work in every school or district.  This is a recurring theme among those who believe in local control in public education.  Together, we can work to address teacher morale issues.  Once a plan is in place, it is very important to examine, evaluate, and adjust as necessary.

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

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.