Children are the victims in ‘reading wars’ of educators

I tend to avoid the debates among people discussing reading. I think there is some truth in all sides of a debate. I learned to read early and easily. I am also unabashedly an advocate for children with dyslexia, as it has been an issue identified and championed by the members of Professional Educators of Tennessee. I am encouraged by the research being conducted at the Center for Dyslexia at Middle Tennessee State University. I believe the work they do there will affect thousands of children across the state who learn to read because of their research and efforts.

‘The reading wars’

For the better part of the last five decades, what has been described as “the reading wars” has pitted “phonics-based” instruction against “whole language” instruction. Another approach in the reading wars, a hybrid of phonics-based and whole language instruction called balanced literacy, has emerged in the last decade. However, the debate over reading instruction itself is centuries old. The debate will continue as long as educators are free to hold differing opinions.

All sides of the reading debate have proponents, often found in the ivory towers of academia. The dispute is a genuine political issue, and the opinions of policymakers drive our education policy. You may not notice the debate, but it is occurring when states approve and purchase textbooks and other materials for instruction, how we teach in our teacher preparation programs, and what is offered in our professional development for teachers.

Emily Hanford, an advocate of phonics-based reading instruction, points out that according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, “more than six in 10 fourth-graders aren’t proficient readers. It has been this way since testing began. A third of kids can’t read at a basic level.” In her New York Times editorial, she states that the faculties of colleges of education simply do not teach the science of reading.

What about phonics?

Stacy Reeves, an associate professor of literacy at the University of Southern Mississippi, says, “Phonics for me is not that answer.” Her former colleague Mary Ariail, past chair of the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education at the University of Southern Mississippi, remains opposed to explicit phonics instruction. Arial states: “One of the ideas behind whole language is that when [reading] is meaningful, it’s easy,” she said. “And when it’s broken down into little parts, it makes it harder.”

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Ariail left her position in 2018 because of her disappointment in changing reading instruction in Mississippi. She said she sees it “as an example of lawmakers telling educators what to do,” and she doesn’t like it. She now resides in North Carolina working as an independent consultant. Mississippi did an exhaustive evaluation of its early literacy programs in a recent study.

Whole language? Balanced literacy?

Mark Seidenberg, a University of Wisconsin cognitive neuroscientist and author of the book “Language at the Speed of Sight,” argues that “Balanced literacy was a way to defuse the wars over reading. … If the whole language/balanced literacy approach is as flawed as described, many children will struggle to learn,” Seidenberg insists. For those students, in thousands of U.S. schools, there is Reading Recovery, “an expensive remediation program based on the same principles. Fewer children would need Reading Recovery if they had received appropriate instruction in the first place,” he writes. As for teachers, they are “left to discover effective classroom practices [on their own] because they haven’t been taught them.

Educators have argued about multiple approaches to reading instruction since public education began. The politics over literacy will continue to be contentious and debated. Perhaps we as educators know less about how children actually learn to read or how they should be taught than we care to admit. Perhaps it is different for every child. The more we honestly look at the issues surrounding the reading wars, it is clear that a one-sized solution does not work for everyone.

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

As featured in The Tennessean on 12/31/2019:  https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/2019/12/31/children-victims-reading-wars-educators/2777698001/

Who’s Naughty or Nice?

We have all sung the line in the Christmas song Santa Claus is Coming to Town, “He’s making a list; he’s checking it twice. He’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice.” In fact, some of us believe that a list might actually exist, and a few of us keep our own.

We also remember the offensive and bad-tempered Burgermeister Meisterburger, the villain who outlawed toys in Sombertown, in the Santa Claus is Coming to Town television show. Dick Allington, a former professor at the University of Tennessee bears an uncanny resemblance to the fictional mayor. His recent disparaging comments at the Literacy Association of Tennessee Conference in Murfreesboro are enough to get Allington on the naughty list of many educators and parents across the state of Tennessee. He made my naughty list.

Let’s look at some similarities:

  • Burgermeister Meisterburger hates toys. He passes a law declaring toys “illegal, immoral, unlawful, and anyone found with a toy in his possession will be placed under arrest and thrown in the dungeon. The children of Sombertown are forced to do chores instead of playing.
  • Dick Allington “denounced dyslexia, questioning its existence and slamming advocates of the learning disorder.” Allington added that former Governor Bill Haslam was going to hell for signing the bill and said dyslexia advocates were on drugs according to the audio and media reports.  (Note:  Governor Haslam and his family are major donors to the University of Tennessee).
  • Burgermeister Meisterburger arrests Kris Kringle and others for bringing toys to the children of Sombertown. 
  • Dick Allington said “If only [Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam] had called me, I would have said, ‘Just veto it and shoot whoever made this bill,'” Allington said, of the Say Dyslexia law, which passed in 2016.

In his presentation at the Literacy Association of Tennessee Conference, Dick Allington states his son “only learned to read because he experienced his first male teacher.” That particular comment has not garnered as much attention. In fact, roughly 82% of the teachers in Tennessee are female. Whether his son learned to read because of a male or female teacher is irrelevant, that particular comment was degrading and very unnecessary. Why would he consider the sex of a teacher relevant in a speech about literacy? Educators are more interested in figuring out what’s best for their students, not the ideological bent and insults of a retired professor in upstate New York.

Functional illiteracy has become a serious deterrent to economic development, in our communities, state, and nation. Reading is a serious issue, and Dyslexia is a scientific fact. But don’t take my word for it, look at the research being conducted at Yale University and Middle Tennessee State University. Commissioner Penny Schwinn added: “At TDOE we are proud to support the whole child and focus on the science of reading for all students.” Zack Barnes, an assistant professor of education at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, says that “the research is clear that dyslexic students need systematic, explicit phonics instruction.”

Reading is one of the most critical skills in education. The National Reading Panel’s analysis that the best approach to reading instruction is one that incorporates: instruction in phonemic awareness, systematic phonics instruction, fluency, and comprehension. Improving reading instruction at the classroom level includes providing our teachers with relevant professional development to assist them; assessing children’s reading skills in kindergarten through third grade; and, offering assistance to schools in which kids are falling behind.

Policymakers and stakeholders now know that children who cannot read on grade level by the end of 3rd grade are more likely to be poor readers their whole lives. These children are less likely to graduate or gain meaningful employment. Children who lack these necessary prerequisite reading skills are at greater risk for drug-use and other criminal behaviors.

At the end of Santa Claus is Coming to Town we find out that the Meisterburgers eventually die out and lose their power over Sombertown. The citizens recognized that the silly law outlawing toys was unnecessary, much like Dick Allington’s insults at the Literacy Association of Tennessee.

Perhaps at one point in time, Dick Allington had significance in education and literacy. However, it is time for the University of Tennessee to remove him from their website, remove the word “Emeritus” from his title and send a letter asking him to cease and desist identifying with the University of Tennessee. Any organization that invites Allington to speak in the future needs to reconsider the invitation. Dick Allington has earned a well-deserved place on my naughty list. I hope he likes coal in his stocking.

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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 Reading Wars Continue

Kids doing homework isolated on white background

I tend to avoid the debates among people discussing reading. I think there is some truth in all sides of a debate. I learned to read early and easily. I am also unabashedly an advocate for children with dyslexia, as it has been an issue identified and championed by our members. I am encouraged by the research being conducted at the Center for Dyslexia at Middle Tennessee State University. I believe the work they do there will impact thousands of children across the state who learn to read because of their research and efforts.

For the better part of the last five decades, what has been described as “Reading Wars” has pitted “phonics-based” instruction against “whole language” instruction. Another approach in the reading wars, a hybrid of phonics-based and whole language instruction called balanced literacy has emerged in the last decade. However, the debate over reading instruction itself is centuries old. The debate will continue as long as educators are free to hold differing opinions.

All sides of the reading debate have proponents, often found in the Ivory Towers of academia.  The dispute is a genuine political issue, and the opinions of policymakers drive our education policy. You may not notice the debate, but it is occurring when states approve and purchase textbooks and other materials for instruction, how we teach in our teacher preparation programs, and what is offered in our current professional development for teachers.

Emily Hanford, an advocate of phonics-based reading instruction points out, “the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than six in 10 fourth-graders aren’t proficient readers. It has been this way since testing began. A third of kids can’t read at a basic level.” In her New York Times editorial, she states that Colleges of Education faculties simply do not teach the science of reading.

Stacy Reeves, an associate professor of literacy at the University of Southern Mississippi says “Phonics for me is not that answer.” Her former colleague Mary Ariail, past chair of the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education at the University of Southern Mississippi, remains opposed to explicit phonics instruction. Ariail states: “One of the ideas behind whole language is that when [reading] is meaningful, it’s easy,” she said. “And when it’s broken down into little parts, it makes it harder.”

Ariail left her position in 2018, because of her disappointment in changing reading instruction in Mississippi. She said she sees it as an example of lawmakers telling educators what to do, and she doesn’t like it. She now resides in North Carolina working as an independent consultant. Mississippi did an exhaustive evaluation of its early literacy programs in a recent study.

Mark Seidenberg, a University of Wisconsin cognitive neuroscientist and author of the book “Language at the Speed of Sight” argues “Balanced literacy was a way to defuse the wars over reading.” “If the whole language/balanced literacy approach is as flawed as described, many children will struggle to learn,” Seidenberg insists. For those students, in thousands of U.S. schools, there is Reading Recovery, “an expensive remediation program based on the same principles. Fewer children would need Reading Recovery if they had received appropriate instruction in the first place,” he writes. As for teachers, they are “left to discover effective classroom practices [on their own] because they haven’t been taught them.

Educators have argued about multiple approaches to reading instruction since public education began. The politics over literacy will continue to be contentious and debated.  Perhaps we, as educators know less about how children actually learn to read or how they should be taught than we care to admit. Perhaps it is different for every child. The more we honestly look at the issues surrounding the reading wars, it is clear that a one-sized solution does not work for everyone.

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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.

Critics Should Offer Solutions

save the earth

Need a quick headline in the media?  Attack public education.  Want to gripe about something in government?   Attack public education.  Have a business venture that needs cash influx?  Attack public education.  Attacking public education is becoming a hobby to some, and a profession to several others.

I have been critical over the years of many things in public education.  From lack of focus or poorly defined goals, disagreement with curriculum, to self-serving unions.  However, I have always tried to do what my mother always advised, “If you are going to criticize, offer a solution.”  Teddy Roosevelt blatantly made it clear, “It is not the critic who counts,” but rather “the man who is actually in the arena.”

Too many people want to simply condemn ideas, people, or society and offer nothing realistic in return.   Let’s be clear, there will never be a one size fits all model for public education and no single academic model can work in a diversified population in a state or nation.  That is why it is critical to have collaboration among educators, parents, citizens, and businesses to transform education at local levels based on the needs of each community.  That is real local control.

Students will always need to learn basic skills such as reading and writing, and education stakeholders and policymakers must help students understand the changing world around them.  That will mean many different things from the community to community, and state to state.  There is no debate that evolving technology is changing how we teach and learn.

No single method can accommodate all student learning needs.  Through technology, we can enable educators to provide to the unique needs of individual learners based on their readiness levels and student ability, which simply expands direct instruction to a more flexible and personalized approach to content delivery.  All instruction, including differentiated instruction, must be structured, sequenced, and led by teachers “directing” the instructional process.

A broader student-centered strategy built around personalization should increase the learning growth of all students.  The one-size-fits-all or teach-to-the-middle approach, expecting all students to do the same activity, work at the same pace, do the same homework, and take the same test hurts a significant portion of our students, especially when students lack the prerequisite skills.  In addition, personalization better serves the best and brightest students in our classrooms.  Technology must be an ally for modern educators in classroom instruction.

A degree in education should never be the basis for deliberating public education or offering an opinion.  However, common sense must prevail.  Too many critics of public education are focusing on the wrong things, using faulty information or do not have complete information.  More importantly, many critics are treading into areas in which they know little to nothing about, except by hearsay. This is dangerous.

That does not mean that public education is free from faults, or should not continue to transform and change. We must avoid the condition described by Alexander Pope about being “too vain to mend.”  All citizens should root for the success of public education if for no other reason than 90% of the children in our nation are educated by public schools.  We want our children to succeed and our economy to flourish in this changing world.  That message would make for much better headlines.

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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.

State of the State Expectations 2019

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.

I Am The Walrus

I Am the Walrus” is a song by the Beatles released in November 1967. The walrus refers to Lewis Carroll‘s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (from the book Through the Looking-Glass).  

I wrote this in 2004…..

I  really liked the line in the Beatles song “I Am the Walrus”:  “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”  The song was inspired by the nonsensical Lewis Carroll poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

Described by Ian MacDonald as “the most idiosyncratic protest song ever written.”  “I Am the Walrus” highlights some of John Lennon’s brilliant verbal efforts.  Some critics believe it may also have served as the Beatles’ greatest moment of musical triumph.  In one sense, “I Am the Walrus” seems completely devoid of meaning.  The angry outburst unapologetically tackles the prevailing social structures and creates the need for further contemplation.

The song, indisputably a rage against forces outside John Lennon’s control, took root after he read a letter from a student at his old school.  The same institution of learning whose headmaster commented: “This boy is bound to fail.”  Following the usual expressions of adulation, this young man revealed in the letter that his teacher was playing Beatles songs in class. After the students had their turns analyzing the lyrics, the teacher would weigh in with his own interpretation of what the Beatles were really talking about.

JC Julia Lennon (2)

A masterful stroke of finality concludes the song with a scene from a BBC radio production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s most depressing works. The reference to death, which the protagonist has feared along with his madness throughout the song turns into the inevitable nothingness, the last piece of pandemonium. After he wrote, “I Am the Walrus,” Lennon challenged the authority figures that he felt had tormented him to figure out the meaning.

Another great Beatles song “A Day in the Life” was another dramatic climax on an album where the Beatles practically changed the world and themselves.

Overflowing with vivid hues and an assortment of fascinating sound effects, the Beatles contrasted deceivingly upbeat insert with the effects of the workaday world with expressionless stories of disillusion and regret.  A Day in the Life’s radiant, open-ended refrain, “I’d love to turn you on,” represents the possibility of escape.  Yet the song suggests a hint of guilt and that our emotional release will always remain an unrealized dream. Sound familiar?  Like intellectual refuse, written by a perturbed woman with paranoiac anxiety aimed at an aging, political frustrated audience.  Someone you cannot turn off, and would never turn on.

Writers, actors and singers seem captivated by everything from the grotesque to the merely banal.  While film director and actor Mel Gibson gets brutalized for portraying the crucifixion of Christ in a vicious manner, Lennon took the existential harshness and emotional spectrum and placed it in a psychedelic prism carefully separating forms of anxiety, sadness and fatalism.

So, what can we discover in a meaningless morass of musings?  The boy did not fail.

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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.

Making Professional Development Meaningful

Bethany 2018
Bethany Bowman

As we talked with teachers across the state and continue to talk to them, one of the issues they mention is the need for high-quality professional development and learning opportunities. Therefore, in 2012 Professional Educators of Tennessee launched Leader U. It is strictly about gathering the best presenters in the state to address key topics that teachers have identified and skipping all the political shenanigans that other organizations try to pass off as professional development. It is real learning for real educators by their peers.

If you are a Tennessee educator or a supporter of Tennessee education, you need to attend a day of exceptional professional learning, Leader U at Trevecca University’s Boone Center in Nashville on Friday, June 1. The conference’s theme is Champions for Children where speakers will provide insight on providing a more engaging classroom and school to its students.

The conference will begin Friday morning with a keynote address from Champion for Children advocate, Dr. Ronald Woodard as he illuminates “Developing a Champion Mindset for Children.”Respected teacher-leaders and presenters from across the state will lead professional development classes on important topics that include Student EngagementOrganized ChaosProject-Based LearningTeam EvaluationBullying and much more. The 2018 Tennessee Teacher of The Year, Cicely Woodard, will do a 90-minute session on The Engaging Classroom while TSIN 2018 Excellence in STEM Teaching Award winner and Edmodo Educator, Sharon Clark, will complete a session on Bridging Gaps/Cultivating Curiosity.

In addition to the keynote, there will be other breakout sessions with a choice of 12 presenters from which teachers and administrators can choose the classes which best fit their needs. The event is TASL accredited for administrators and all educators will receive a certificate for 6 hours professional development credit. The cost to attend is $40 for members of Professional Educators of Tennessee and $60 for non-members. Breakfast and lunch are included.

But wait there is more! We have always understood how busy educators are, so in 2013 we also launched the Leader U On-Demand Professional Learning Portal where you can complete your credits when and where it is convenient for you and receive a certificate as soon as it is completed. Keep track of all the classes you have completed and print your records at any time. Classes include TASL accredited sessions from the annual conference along with webinars from throughout the year and even relevant content from other organizations nationwide. We do our best to provide a one stop-shop for your professional learning needs.

To register for Leader U 2018, visit www.leaderutn.com. Questions? Please email learning@leaderutn.com.

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Professional Educators of Tennessee is 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.

Dad Gone Wild

Icon

If you are not a regular reader of the education blog Dad Gone Wild written by TC Weber, add it to your list.  He will make you laugh, he will make you mad, and he will make you cry…sometimes in the same article.  His latest column, So Here We Are, goes where few writers dare to go by pointing out: “Nashville has long been over due for a conversation on race and how it plays out in our public institutions.” Weber is right.

In the growing debate over Metro Schools Superintendent Shawn Joseph, Mr. Weber asks the million-dollar question:  How much of the criticism directed toward the Director of Schools is rooted in the color of his skin as opposed to his performance?  Answer that question than proceed to the debate.  If you are judging him because of the color of his skin, you need to exercise your constitutional right and remain silent.  If it is based on performance, then take Weber’s advice and “evaluate with the same rigor we demand of others.”

At times the Dad Gone Wild columns go on for too long, but some of it is so brilliant one wonders if the education students at Lipscomb, Trevecca, Belmont, or Vanderbilt shouldn’t be required to read his columns prior to graduating.  It is where reality and policy intersect, along with a healthy dose of investigative journalism.  A local newspaper should certainly pick up Dad Gone Wild or Mr. Weber should expand his reach beyond Music City and go statewide or national.

Weber states that he wants to “continually push the conversation forward and to expand my boundaries and knowledge base.”  He adds, “I personally don’t believe race is an issue that we can ignore or a conversation we can shy away from. Too many of our important decisions, especially in education, are rooted in race. Funding, programing, and attendance are just some of the areas where race influences our decisions.”  He is correct.  And we all have “skin” in that game.   Then he states: “my goal is to support policy that is best for kids, families, and teachers.”  That point is lost on far too many people, from the bureaucrat to the politician.

Weber emphasizes that “this conversation suffers, as Nashville is currently suffering, from a lack of leadership.”  He believes there “is currently a leadership vacuum in Nashville that starts at the mayoral level and descends downward.”  It would be hard to disagree with this statement, although I might suggest that the grassroots cannot be afraid to lead, and, if needed, push the so called “leaders” out of the way.

I have no problem with the Superintendent rapping along with a song, no matter how vulgar it may be or not be.  That’s his prerogative.  He will ultimately answer to the community if he crosses the professional line.  My opinion of Shawn Joseph will be based strictly on his performance, or lack thereof.  My question is: How do you think he is doing? 

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

Breast Feeding 101 for Educators

Blackberry 2014 656

“People are more opinionated about parenting issues than political issues,” according to writer, Jennifer Martin.   Admittedly this is an unusual subject for me to address, but it has become a frequently asked question by our female educators.  Hopefully this clears up the issue for school boards, administrators, teachers and school staff.

Health professionals and public health officials promote breastfeeding to improve infant health. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding exclusively for about six months, “followed by continued breast-feeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breast-feeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”

Tennessee has one of the lowest rates of breast-feeding in the nation, according to the government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Fewer than 16 percent of Tennessee infants are being breast-fed exclusively at six months old, according to the most recent statistics. Surrounding states are much higher, and in some states – mainly in the Pacific Northwest – the rate is extremely high.

It is important to note that 82% of public school teachers are female in Tennessee. Women are the predominate sex in our profession. More importantly, most of these women are of child bearing age.  So this is an important topic for all stakeholders. Breastfeeding also provides long-term preventative effects for the mother, including an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and a reduced risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis.

Here are the appropriate state laws.

  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-58-101 et seq. (2006, 2011) permits a mother to breastfeed in any location, public or private, that the mother is authorized to be, and prohibits local governments from criminalizing or restricting breastfeeding.
  • Specifies that the act of breastfeeding shall not be considered public indecency as defined by § 39-13-511; or nudity, obscene, or sexual conduct as defined in § 39-17-901.
  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-58-101 et seq. and § 39-13-511(d) were amended in 2011 by Tenn. Pub. Acts, Chap. 91 (SB 83) to remove a provision permitting mothers to breastfeed only infants 12 months or younger in any location. (2006 Tenn. Law, Chap. 617; HB 3582)
  • Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-305 (1999) requires employers to provide daily unpaid break time for a mother to express breast milk for her infant child.
  • Employers are also required to make a reasonable effort to provide a private location, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the workplace for this activity. (1999 Tenn. Law, Chap. 161; SB 1856).

President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on March 30, 2010. (See the combined full text of Public Laws 111-148 and 111-152 here.)  Among many provisions, Section 4207 of the law amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (29 U.S. Code 207) to require an employer to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk. The employer is not required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time for any work time spent for such purpose.

The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk.  If these requirements impose undue hardship, an employer that employs fewer than 50 employees is not subject to these requirements. The federal requirements shall not preempt a state law that provides greater protections to employees.

For more information:

In addition, many health insurance plans provide coverage for specified women’s preventive health services with no cost sharing (e.g., copayment, coinsurance, or deductible). Breastfeeding support, supplies and lactation counseling are one of these specified preventive services.

As a member, if you believe your school district is not following the law on this issue, feel free to contact our offices at 615-778-0803 extension 104 to speak to an attorney or simply email legal@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. Follow him on social media via Twitter at @jcbowman.