Tennessee has Played a Seminal Role in Civil Rights

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Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, almost 52 years ago. Few know of the significance that Tennessee has played in Civil Rights. First, Tennessee played a pivotal role in the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920.  This year marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.  Second, Tennessee was at the forefront of Civil Rights and integrating America.  We should remind ourselves of this history on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2020.

The groundbreaking 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was the case in which the Supreme Court Justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. It signaled the rightful end of the “separate but equal” principle outlined in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case. The Ferguson case constitutionally allowed laws barring African Americans from sharing the same buses, schools, and other public facilities as whites — known as “Jim Crow” laws — and established the separate but equal doctrine that would stand for the next six decades.

Linda Brown, then a nine-year-old girl, became the face of the issue. Ms. Brown died at age 75 on March 25, 2018. Her national legacy in Civil Rights went far beyond public education. Brown said in a 1985 interview: “I feel that after thirty years, looking back on Brown v. The Board of Education has made an impact on all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second-class citizenship. I think it has made the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of our young people greater, today.”

Few people know the role Tennessee played in Civil Rights and public education. Avon Williams, Jr., a Knoxville, Tennessee native, became a cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1949 and began a long career in civil rights activism. In 1950, four years before the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, Williams filed Tennessee’s first public school desegregation suit such case when he sued to integrate the public schools in Anderson County, Tennessee. (McSwain v. Board of Anderson County).

Williams’ first cousin, Thurgood Marshall, was the chief lawyer for the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP. Marshall later became the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Williams and Marshall worked closely on racial discrimination cases. Williams went before the Supreme Court seven times to argue cases involving discrimination in public schools, public housing or other public accommodations. In 1955, Williams, Marshall and Z. Alexander Looby, a fellow African American lawyer focused on civil rights, filed suit Kelley v. Board of Education against the Nashville city schools on behalf of African American children.

Looby and Williams were without a doubt the most prominent civil rights attorneys in Tennessee during their lifetime.

The Journal of African American History stated that “Looby and Williams’s work in school desegregation cases alone encompassed every major case in the state (with the exception of Northcross v. Board of Education) and entered the highest realms of legal activity. Federal judges at the circuit, appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court levels cited and considered many of their cases as the post-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) litigation world unfolded.”

In 1968, Avon Williams, Jr. was elected to the Tennessee State Senate. He was one of the first African-Americans to serve in that body since the Civil War. As a senator, he worked to put guidance counselors in elementary schools and to establish kindergarten classes in Tennessee. The state has a proud, but often untold history in Civil Rights, which greatly enhanced education in our state.

Racism, bigotry, and vitriol hate have no place in modern culture. All children are created in the image of God. Martin Luther King, Jr. poignantly stated: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Does character still matter? Of course, it does.

For centuries, our country has attracted people in search of a share of “the American dream” from all corners of the world. E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One) remains the national motto, yet it appears that there is no longer a consensus about what that should mean. If you step into our public schools today, the many different cultures are on full display.

Americans like Martin Luther King Jr., Linda Brown, Avon Williams, Alexander Looby, and Thurgood Marshall helped integrate America, and move the nation past the old paradigms and backward thinking that dominated our society. We need to remember and reflect on that history. More importantly, we need to fulfill our destiny as a nation where all citizens can realize the benefits of integration and equality of opportunity regardless of the color of their skin. The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. did not die in Memphis in 1968, it is still alive in 2020.

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

Successful Education Leaders Communicate Effectively

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I am very sympathetic to parents who make claims that the school district in their community is tone-deaf, and will not listen. I have called and emailed school superintendents myself across the state and, on occasion, failed to receive a courtesy response.

I will often just pick up a phone and call them or their Board Chair when they failed to respond. I think persistence is key in some cases. However, some superintendents fail to understand their lack of response is harmful to the image of a district.

Parents are in a different position. Many are young parents, and do not know how government works, or is supposed to work. In many cases, this leads to a lack of parent engagement.  In public education, we must solicit more, not less, community involvement.

We must all work to hold our superintendents accountable in regard to educational, financial, and administrative performance. There is a growing debate on whether districts should return to electing these school management leaders; we have generally opposed such legislation, believing school boards can make good choices and hold superintendents accountable. We acknowledge that many school districts do a better job of this than other school districts. Notably, urban districts have consistently had much turnover in their leadership versus rural districts across the state. Constant turnover also hurts the elected versus appointed superintendent debate. School boards must elect good candidates with community input.

School boards must embody the beliefs and values of their community. School board members should be as diverse as the citizens they serve. We should thank the men and women who are serving our communities as school board members more often. They are too often unappreciated, and it is often a thankless but needed job. We need more people with management and education backgrounds to consider running for the school board in their community. The pay isn’t great, but the rewards are immeasurable. The Tennessee School Boards Association has some great information on their website for those interested in this critical role.

School boards should provide superintendents latitude in regards to leadership, vision, and strategic thinking on how to address the performance in those areas. And we must expect them to communicate effectively to all stakeholders. There is no doubt we have some excellent leaders across our state. Superintendents like Melanie Miller, Jerry Boyd, Linda Cash, Johnny McDaniel, Bill Heath, Cathy Beck, Freddy Curtis, Richard Rawlings, and Mark Winningham just to name a few.

These exceptional leaders share many characteristics. Perhaps the most important duty of a superintendent is to make sure district students are learning and achieving at the highest level possible. A superintendent must understand effective academic practices and be supportive of the teachers and administrators in the district. Leadership, vision, and strategic thinking are critical skills for every superintendent. A successful superintendent will also be an effective and excellent communicator. The communication part starts with returning emails and phone calls.

I have been critical over the years of many things in public education. From lack of focus or poorly defined goals to disagreement with curriculum or self-serving unions. However, I have always tried to do what my mother 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.”

For education leaders to be successful they must communicate effectively.  As a practitioner of my craft, I love reading what is going on in other schools and districts across the state.  Every Monday in my email inbox appears a weekly Marczak Monday Memo from Chris Marczak, the superintendent of Maury County Schools.  It is a great example of effective communication and a model that some districts should adopt.  However, school updates are not a substitute for responding to direct emails or telephone calls.  Something I am sure Dr.  Marczak would agree, as he also excels in returning calls and emails.

At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln stated that our government was “for the people.” Cynics take that a step further and tell us government is for those who make themselves effectively heard. That is why it is most critical for elected and appointed officials to communicate clearly, concisely, timely, and effectively. For school leaders, it is even more critical.

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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.

2020 Vision for Education Policy

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Educator opinions differ on numerous issues and vary from year to year. Professional Educators of Tennessee recently surveyed its teachers and solicited educator input across the state. Nearly 750 educators took the survey sent out from Professional Educators of Tennessee in October of 2019 to our members. While the majority of respondents were classroom teachers, several administrators also took part in the survey.

Salary, school climate, and student behavior have been a constant issue during the last four years. Researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders can gain useful insight into the opinions of those on the frontlines educating children. The majority of educators are satisfied with their jobs and believe their job makes a positive difference in the lives of students. However, two-thirds (67%) of teachers stated that teacher morale was a critical issue in their district.

Student behavior remains a significant issue across the state. While there is a myriad issue that concerns educators, they consistently rank discipline issues near the top. The problem appears to be rooted in the student’s home environment and the school’s culture/climate; both must be considered when addressing the problem.

 

A school and district must adopt policies that support effective classroom management, as well as instruction for all students. One possible policy needs to be better tracking of time that 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 that instruction time is lost? School districts must balance responsibilities toward the community with the responsibility to nurture students. Without discipline, students cannot learn.

Testing is an issue where educators offered some valuable insight. Not only is the amount of testing done by the district a concern, but also tying teacher evaluation scores to the testing data also remains controversial.

Salary issues provide an invaluable perception of how educators view the financial reward for their profession. Educators believe that salary compensation should be equal to other fields with the same degree. It is clear that educators either reject or do not understand what policymakers mean by a “differentiated pay system.”

Well over two thirds (70%) of teacher’s support across the board salary increases. We feel that addressing salary issues should be a primary concern for policymakers. Overall, 92% indicated that salary was an issue which concerned them, followed by retirement and healthcare. Educators were very interested in student loan forgiveness incentives.

If the teacher shortages continue to be an issue state-wide and nationwide, there must be more incentives to go into the teaching field and remain there. Obviously higher pay is the biggest enticement, but also consider giving educators the opportunity to job-share and provide more appealing benefits especially when it comes to health care and retirement. And most importantly, treat educators as professionals and trust them to do their jobs without micromanaging that is currently the norm.

Certainly, some educators have been forced to leave their school system for subjective reasons, rather than objective reasons. Actions speak louder than words. In some cases, dismissal may have been warranted, but in many cases, it appears circumstances were little more than personality conflicts and people not fitting into a certain educational or political environment. We have lost some good educators in our state because of this subjectivity, and we would argue many of these educators deserve another chance to keep their careers going. This will require policymakers to make teacher retention and recruitment a top priority.

The consistency of the same issues in the last few years means that much work remains as educators are not seeing the needed changes. Policymakers and stakeholders must continue to work to make improvements in policies that impact salary, school climate, and student behavior. Education policy must remain a high priority across the state.

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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. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

The Problem with Restorative Justice

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I grew up in the idyllic town of Cleveland, Tennessee. Nestled on the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. I was fortunate to be from a town that valued faith, family, and education. It was a quintessential life for an American boy.

I lived on Sycamore Drive growing up. I look back and see the kids I grew up with are all successful and thriving adults. It is an amazing story. It didn’t happen by luck.

I know most of the kids I grew up with had two-parent homes, both their parents worked jobs, and all of us lived in modest homes. Most went to church somewhere on Sunday. We were very much a blue-collar community. If there drugs and alcohol, we never saw it. (Although some of us had the occasional beer in high school.) The drinking age was 18 at that time. We listened to rock music. The go-to radio station early on was WFLI until KZ106 came along. The disc jockey we all listened to was Tommy Jett, who is now in the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame.

Education was a large part of our lives. The big question was: would you choose to go to high school in the city or the county. It was Cleveland or Bradley. That was the choice. No matter the choice, you were going to get a quality education. There was a high school in Charleston, on the northern end of the county. But that was not a choice for us. Besides, who would want to be a Panther, when you could be a Blue Raider or a Bear.

The teachers in our community schools shared the values of our community. You would see teachers at the grocery store or church on the weekends. The last thing you would want would be for Mrs. Miller or Mrs. Painter to see you at the grocery store with your mom and give a behavior report that was less than flattering.

That didn’t mean we didn’t get in trouble. We just knew that somewhere there was a line you didn’t cross, and if you did then your teacher and your parent would meet at the school or in public and the outcome would not be pleasant for you when you got home. Parents supported teachers. Teachers reinforced the values that we learned at home.  It was a tag-team effort.

When we look today, we see so many teachers, parents and children disconnected. Society is being torn apart. Our culture is changing before our eyes. Children are raising themselves. Parents are out of the picture. Parents do not trust schools, and teachers are not supported by parents. Children do not listen to parents. Children do not listen to teachers. It is a problem.

The latest trend to tackle the issue in schools is Restorative Justice. If you listen to “experts” the objective is to reduce the number of suspensions. However, in these efforts to reduce suspensions, other students and teachers are left suffering. Often, Restorative Justice is not concerned with rehabilitating offending students, the objective is to merely reduce suspensions and avoid punitive consequences for student actions.

A frequent pattern of disruptive children being endlessly returned to the classroom without any actual change in their behavior is emerging. Schools have to be able to remove continually disruptive students from classes. Ideally, chronically disruptive students should be placed in high-quality alternative education settings where they can receive long-term, intensive interventions. We especially need to strengthen the authority of teachers who manage defiant students. The concept of Restorative Justice may be noble, but the implementation is often flawed and harmful.

Some of the other problems for this form of discipline to work include that all participants have to buy into the process. That is never going to happen. Schools, parents, and students are never going to be on the same page regarding student discipline. The concept is not supposed to be an alternative to punishment, which it has become. The objective should be behavior change, not just a reduction in student suspensions.

Student discipline should be designed to improve behavior. In that regard, there is not just one victim. It is not a student versus a teacher scenario, but rather a chronically disruptive student interrupting an entire class of fellow students. Should parents be made aware when their child’s class is constantly interrupted?  Many educators think so.  These other students are victims, as is their education. Restorative Justice proponents are seeking to make educators take even more time away from instruction to put in effort and time to deal with a chronic behavior problem. The modeled misbehavior could have a negative impact on other students who are deprived of instruction time. They may emulate this negative behavior for attention.

Perhaps I look at life in the simplest of terms. Where I grew up, misbehavior and defiant conduct would not be acceptable. Parents and teachers would work together to address any behavior problem. My parents would not be as concerned with my opinion of my behavior as they would be of a teacher’s opinion. There would be unpleasant consequences for continual misbehavior. I suspect all the children on Sycamore Drive in Cleveland, Tennessee all had similar experiences. We all turned out alright. That is real justice.

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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.

 

Critics Should Offer Solutions

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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.

Next Steps for Tennessee Education

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Traveling across the state in my role as Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee I talk with a lot of people interested in public education.  One of the most common complaints is a lack of response from Governor Bill Lee or his team on specific education issues.  It is problematic and quite honestly has always been problematic in our state.  Better communication is always needed.  I should know, I used to work for Governor Jeb Bush years ago, and communication is always a struggle for the executive branch despite best intentions.

I would still remind people to be patient with Governor Lee and his staff as we are still in year one.  However, staff should now be settled into place, and processes and systems clearly established.   We should expect better communication in year two.

Governor Lee laid out a fairly ambitious education agenda, and while we disagreed with some parts of it, he clearly offered more specifics than his opponent in the election last November.  He was clear in his support of vouchers from the day he announced his candidacy.  It should have been no surprise to policymakers or stakeholders.  When surveyed, our members did not support vouchers.

His legislative victory with vouchers has yet to be implemented.  This may prove challenging, as the program must be proven successful before any other future voucher program is considered.  Members of the Tennessee General Assembly will demand proof of unmitigated success before any expansion or similar program enacted.  Cameron Sexton, a voucher critic, has now ascended to Speaker of the House.  His track record would indicate that he is a strong supporter of public schools. This actually helps the Governor moving forward on education policy changes needed in public education.

Other parts of the Lee campaign agenda likely won him most of his statewide support, but also gives voters more specifics in which to hold him accountable.  Candidate Lee suggested it was time to change the way our high schools look.  It was a bold policy suggestion, and as Governor, Bill Lee should move forward on that front.

For the last 50 years, the way high school has educated students has largely remained unchanged. There are many business and community leaders that also believe the traditional high school is disconnected from the demands of the modern economy.  They emphasize that graduates need additional skills to be successful in today’s workforce. The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) added: “Across Tennessee, students are learning in high schools using models developed for the needs of the 20th century rather than the workforce opportunities of the future. As a result, most Tennessee students do not graduate fully prepared to succeed in college, career, and life.”

Governor Lee stated, “It is time to embrace new, 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.”  We agree.  Some of that is already in the works, through recent legislation.  It is time we break down barriers that have held our teachers, school leaders, and school districts back from creative solutions necessary for the unique challenges of their communities. Increasing flexibility at the local level could lead to incredible innovations in our state.

State grants that allow local districts to fund high school redesign would be one manner to create change and address challenges schools would face as they transition from traditional models to a more flexible school model.  Another suggestion would be for the state to establish a pilot program for high performing districts by authorizing the State Board of Education to enter into a performance contract with school districts for the purpose of granting them more flexibility.  These high performing districts would be a school district in which a local school board agrees to comply with certain performance goals contained in a performance contract that is approved by the State Board of Education. In return for performance accountability, the district would be granted greater autonomy with both statutory and rule exemptions.  This is an idea Governor Lee and his team should explore.

It is past time for the state to make good on its commitment to teachers.  The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) proved that the state of Tennessee invested more than $300 million dollars for teacher salaries in 2015-2018. Most of those dollars did not actually end up in pockets of classroom teachers. Generally, school districts employ more staff than are covered by the funding system utilized in Tennessee, known as the Basic Education Program (BEP).  State and local dollars earmarked for salaries during those years were often spread over more teachers than the staff positions generated by the BEP.

The Tennessee General Assembly did address that school districts in the future must now report in where salary increases are spent.  Governor Lee included a $71 million increase for a “2.5 percent pay raise for teachers” for fiscal year 2020. It is time to guarantee that teacher salaries, at the very least, match the cost of living increases faced by educators across the state.

Finally, we must update our school funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs.  We need a plan and a funding formula that reflects our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies. The plan should support teachers, fund facilities, and facilitate innovation and technology, while striving to better connect K-12 education with workforce needs.  Governor Lee has proven he will fight for what he believes in.  It is time to come together and focus on the other education ideas that were discussed on the campaign trail.  It is time to move forward on these issues to help all children, teachers, schools, and communities.  Let the policy discussion begin.  Communication is critical.

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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.

 

 

 

Culture, Discipline, and Salaries

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Bureaucrats keep piling on more requirements of educators with barely a nod of appreciation. Fewer occupations have undergone more changes than those in public education. Three critical issues often cited by our educators for leaving our profession are school culture, student discipline, and teacher salaries.

The National School Climate Center notes that “empirical research has shown that when school members feel safe, valued, cared for, engaged, and respected, learning measurably increases, and staff satisfaction and retention are enhanced.” Bad school culture is a barrier to student learning and quality teaching.

Business leaders have long recognized the connection between employee working conditions and productivity. Establishing positive working conditions for school staff improves the learning conditions for students. Quality instruction cannot be provided if staff morale is low, the staff does not feel supported by school administration and/or the staff turnover is high. Teacher recruitment and retention is a critical role in any school or district. Factors such as teacher-administrator relationships, collegiality, job expectations, and participation in decision-making, are among the most important reasons in whether or not teachers choose to stay at their school or in the profession.

Lack of student discipline, inadequate administrative support, and lack of respect are all frequently cited reasons as to why teachers leave the profession, almost as much as salary and working conditions. We continue to place children with serious and chronic behavior issues into regular classrooms, where the teacher is already overwhelmed with other students also with behavior problems. Instruction time is lost every time a teacher has to deal with discipline issues. 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 instruction for all students. Districts must have policies in place that protect all students’ right to learn.

To be clear, student discipline is a serious issue and it must be addressed, both at the state and local level. Any assault that causes an injury to students or teachers should be a police matter. One possible policy is better tracking of time an educator spends on discipline issues. For example, do parents have the right to know if one student disrupts their own child’s education so frequently their child loses instruction time? We need to document all discipline incidents so corrective courses of action can be taken at the building level, district level, and state level. We should work to reduce unnecessary suspensions and expulsions in our schools, by looking at this data on a regular basis and providing better training for all staff.

In California, schools will no longer be allowed to suspend elementary and middle school students from school for disrupting classroom activities or defying school authorities. The state of California undermined local control of schools and made it harder for teachers to manage their classroom. Their one-size-fits-all disciplinary requirement will likely have a chilling effect on teacher recruitment and retention. Let’s hope policymakers in other states have more forethought and common sense than their counterparts in California. Without discipline, students cannot learn. Students themselves must respect rules and authority.

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) proved through research that there was a slightly more than 6 percent increase total in average classroom salaries in fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018 through the Instructional Salaries and Wages category of the Basic Education Program (BEP). More than $300 million in new, recurring state dollars was appropriated. Unfortunately, as most Tennessee teachers recognized, those dollars did not actually end up in teacher pockets. We must support our teachers and make sure the dollars allocated to their salaries reach them as policymakers intended. This was addressed in Tennessee through subsequent legislation in 2019. We know that many teachers still struggle to support their own families, particularly in places where the cost of living is higher. Salaries must be a priority.

Increasing student achievement takes adequate resources, as well as focus and collaboration to address school culture, student discipline, and teacher salaries. Teachers need the support of their administrators, their district, and the state. If we want to see increased student achievement and student learning, it is paramount that the state and districts work to address issues together. Immediate teacher recruitment and retention efforts will be largely determined by the success or failure on these issues, particularly in chronically hard-to-staff schools.

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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.

Union Politics Hurts Public Education

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Against the wishes of their own membership, teachers’ unions often embody hyper-partisanship. Reiss Becker detailing research on teachers’ unions at the California Policy Center reports that, “in the 2016 election cycle over 93% of union campaign spending went to Democrats.”  Many union members are unaware that political spending by their union tends to support liberal political candidates and left-wing causes, when 60% of their membership has identified as Republicans or independents

Writing in a USA Today editorial, Jessica Anderson and Lindsey Burke gave a more detailed historical analysis:  “Since 1990, the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have made over $140 million in direct political contributions. Over 97% of that went to liberals. That kind of political bias isn’t at all representative of the unions’ membership.”

Education Week pointed out that the National Education Association passed “several measures that seemed to move the union in an even more progressive direction.” This was in reference to “social issues as abortion and reparations, protested immigration policies, and, above all, pledged to defeat President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.”

Factor in that quite a few of these “issues” they espouse are typically classified as non-education issues. Members are rightfully being lambasted over the actions of their own delegates to the 2019 National Education Association Representative Assembly due to the passage of Business Item 56, which stated: “The NEA vigorously opposes all attacks on the right to choose and stands on the fundamental right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.”

Anderson and Burke then added: Why would the NEA go out of its way to stake out extreme stances on hot-button issues so far removed from the very real problems facing our nation’s schools? It appears as though the union is more concerned with promoting the political objectives of the left than serving the nation’s teachers and students. The answer may be as simple as federal law does not require union leaders to get their members’ authorization before spending their members’ money on non-educational, social issues.

Members of the union must ask themselves questions about their direct campaign contributions and independent spending at the national, state and local level.  Journalist Leah Mishkin blatantly asked union officialsWhy are some members unaware that part of their membership dues are helping to foot the bill?  Many educators simply do not want their dues used for endorsing or supporting political candidates, or social issues.

For too long union members at the state and local level have stated they disagree with their national union and their agenda, while sending in their hard-earned money in support.  Writer and researcher Mike Antonucci has correctly pointed out when state and local union members try to hide behind semantics: “All of its members are NEA members. They all send dues to NEA. You can’t wash your hands of your affiliation when it’s convenient.”   

That is a critical point, and one that their own members must understand; if you join the local union you are also supporting the national union.  NEA Executive Director John Stocks resigned in June 2019 to chair the Democracy Alliance.  Antonucci gives us the rest of the story about the musical chairs involving Stocks, his replacement, and the Democracy Alliance:

He (Stocks) concurrently serves as chairman of the board of the Democracy Alliance, a network of wealthy progressive political donors. He will continue in that role while acting as a senior adviser at NEA until after the 2020 elections. His successor as NEA executive director is Kim Anderson, a longtime senior staffer at the union who for the past three years has been executive vice president of the Democracy Alliance.

The assumption of many educators is that teachers’ unions are choosing ideology over their own members. That is why state-based professional associations who offer liability and legal protection, professional development, and member benefits are growing nationally.  Most teachers, either on the left or the right, do not choose education as a career choice because they enjoy politics.  They just want to teach while leaving political pursuits to their personal lives, not their professional ones.  Unlike a recent NEA delegate vote, most educators—including union members—actually value student learning as a priority.

Alexandra DeSanctis, a staff writer for National Review, suggests in a recent article that the National Education Association must think that as an “influential left-wing organization, the group must necessarily champion the entire progressive agenda.” She then submits that there is “a growing tendency on the Left, as ‘intersectional’ thinking takes hold — the idea that each interest group within the broader progressive movement has a responsibility to embrace and advocate the particular interests of the rest.”

Union politics often hurt public education and educators with an agenda that many parents and taxpayers are baffled by, and members are left to explain.  Marching in lockstep in any political direction is always a mistake.   As former classroom teacher Larry Sand, currently president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, writes about teachers’ unions: “the choice between unions becoming more ecumenical or more radical has been made.”   At this point, there is no turning back, as some union leaders merely seek to build a militant minority to revive the labor movement.  Sadly, teachers have become pawns in this game.  They are pawns in the union political agenda.

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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.

Legislation that Hurts School Discipline

I am a very positive person.  I am “that person” who jumps out of bed in the morning excited to just be awake.  That can be annoying to my wife.  Especially if she hasn’t had her coffee.

I rarely feel the need to be blatantly critical of bad legislation.  I will normally talk with the bill sponsor about how we can support their legislation, and/or suggest subsequent changes.  However, there are two pieces of legislation, which will be heard in the K-12 Subcommittee on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, that I think folks need to be aware.  We can all agree that teachers are underpaid, overworked and underappreciated.  However, I simply cannot reconcile the continued barrage of top-down legislation by the Tennessee General Assembly with the needs of educators, which merely add to the workload.  Especially, given the likelihood, it will not help students.  Here are two bills just this week:

HB 0405/SB 0107.  Adverse Childhood Experiences Assessment.We can all hope that no child is ever suspended or expelled from public schools. Every day across Tennessee, our educators work with children who have experienced physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.  However, this proposed legislation does little to prevent and address the consequences of adverse childhood experiences or promote healthy development and well-being among children, youth, and families.  This legislation places greater responsibility in addressing societal issues squarely upon the school, teachers, and administrators by limiting the ability to discipline misbehavior.  Research is needed to understand the variable effect of adverse childhood experiences across children and move toward evidence to guide recommended prevention and treatment approaches in public education, as well as in the wide range of community-based contexts in which adverse childhood experiences assessment, education, and interventions might take place.  Legislators should take note that a great deal of variability exists within risk groups, further assessment of positive and negative deviance in outcomes and effects for otherwise similar groups of children might prove especially valuable, and would ideally occur in the context of longitudinal studies. Existing longitudinal studies should consider including adverse childhood experiences and related variables for this purpose.  This should be done before a kid ever gets in trouble if this is a concern.  Transparency is the key to any disciplinary issue, and the process must be explained and understood.  However, the cause and effect of not disciplining certain children may create more problems in schools.  Jody Stallings, a nationally renowned teacher recently wrote: “The best way to keep students in school is to increase the number of suspensions.” He added: “In many schools, kids can bully peers, assault teachers, sexually harass classmates and create major disruptions; yet nothing is ever done about it. Then we worry about test scores and achievement gaps while the biggest obstacle to fixing those things is right there in the classroom every day: disruptive students. There is a solution. Put them out.”  That is a harsh assessment, but probably has more of a chance of success than this suggested legislation.  While there may be valid reasons to study the consequences of adverse childhood experiences a child is dealing with, and we must show compassion to all children, this legislation is like asking a fireman to analyze the cause of a fire before extinguishing the blaze.  When you have a fire, you want the firefighter, not the arson investigator.  We think the legislation is worth a discussion, nothing more.  In the end, it does little to address chronic misbehavior issues.  We oppose the legislation that mandates and requires ALL LEA’s to create a policy requiring schools to perform an Adverse Childhood Experiences Assessment before a disciplinary issue involving suspension, including in-school suspension or alternative school, and expulsion.  If a district chooses to adopt this policy, they can do it now without further legislation.  A better message for legislators to send would be that students must realize that their actions have consequences.   And for parents to help re-enforce that position.

HB 0767/SB 0820 Required Training in Restorative Justice.  On the left, Restorative Justice represents a perceived fight against racism.  On the right, the guidance represents a bungled top-down government intervention that allows misbehavior to go unpunished.  Rather than engaging in political rhetoric, we examined the comprehensive study by the RAND Corporation on this subject.  The RAND Corporation is considered the gold standard in social science research.  The findings: restorative justice led to safer schools, but also hurt black students’ test scores.  We can all agree that disciplinary processes must become more transparent.  The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education on December 21, 2018, withdrew their statements of policy and guidance on Restorative Justice.   In light of this action, we OPPOSE mandatory training for ALL employees in an LEA.  Any district that wishes to engage in such training should be free to engage in training.  The results should be studied and shared with the state.   The state has a responsibility to vigorously enforcing civil rights protections on behalf of all students. The robust protections against race, color, and national origin discrimination guaranteed by the Constitution, Title IV, and Title VI remain unchanged and continue to be vital for educational institutions in the United States.  This legislation, if rejected will not change those policies.

Julie Marburger, a sixth-grade teacher at Cedar Creek Intermediate School in Texas describes what many educators are experiencing when she posted: “People absolutely HAVE to stop coddling and enabling their children. It’s a problem that’s going to spread through our society like wildfire. It’s not fair to society, and more importantly, is not fair to the children to teach them this is okay. It will not serve them towards a successful and happy life.”

One teacher in Florida was even fired for giving students zeroes who didn’t hand in work. Teacher Diane Tirado stated: “I’m so upset because we have a nation of kids that are expecting to get paid and live their life just for showing up and it’s not real,”

K-12 Chairman John Ragan, Representatives Curt Haston, Iris Rudder, Teri Lynn Weaver, Mark White, and John Mark Windle understand I hope, that a top-down approach simply does not work in education.  We need discipline policies that districts and schools themselves choose.  Our teachers need more support, not more unproven fads that require more work by educators for unproven results.   Lack of student discipline, inadequate administrative support, and lack of respect are frequently cited why teachers leave the profession.   This legislation does not help.  Let your legislators know your opinion.

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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.

Dream On

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, multi-million-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 re-imagined.   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.

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.