Teachers are some of the most admired people in our world. Teachers are role models. They inspire us and are admired for the skills they possess in helping others learn. Teachers are also normal people, who often get held to higher standards than politicians or even ministers. Like all of us, teachers make mistakes. However, no other group of professionals is as quick to give up on its members as public education administration when effective counseling would probably take care of the problem.

We know there is no magic fairy dust that is sprinkled on someone to make them an effective teacher. There is no genetic marker that an educator is born with that gives him or her a special skill. There is no Branch of Military Service equivalent that someone can join, like the Marine Corps, for example, that gives an individual training in moral, mental and physical strength needed to be successful in the education field. I would argue it is a lot of trial by error, support from colleagues and the prerequisite leadership in our schools that can shape the success or failure of an individual teacher.

I was blessed to have some extraordinary school leaders like Doyle Harmon in Meigs County, Tennessee and Ed Howard in Bradley County, Tennessee to really help guide me. However, one administrator, Ron Chastain, at Trewhitt Junior High School, really became a mentor, whether that was his goal or not. From him, I learned much about student discipline. I learned consistency mattered. I also learned that we needed to be empathetic, but also willing to be tough. He brought the right balance to the job.

Chastain, who still remains a friend, understood adolescent behavior better than anyone I have ever met. He understood that in order to teach, a classroom had to be orderly. In order to create a safe school for all students, discipline was required. I learned much more from Ron than I ever learned in my coursework in my undergrad and/or graduate work.

My question to policymakers: where can we find high-quality mentors for teachers and administrators? We take our new teachers and often toss them into the most difficult assignments like lambs to a slaughter. Then we wonder why discipline suffers and our teachers experience burnout and fatigue, ultimately leaving the profession. Administrators are often in the same boat. Sadly, we are missing that ingredient of mentorship in our schools today.

Our suggestion is to ensure that money is included in the future Basic Education Program (BEP) to allow for mentorship to occur, either by utilizing highly effective retired educators or granting stipends to experienced classroom teachers with a proven track record in classroom management. This strategy will likely impact teacher retention efforts in a positive fashion and create a better school environment with more consistent discipline and student behavior. 

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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.

I have never been an advocate of strikes, particularly in the public sector. Beginning last year, and in recent days, several media outlets have contacted our organization about “teacher strikes” in Tennessee. Members of our organization have always believed that educators have the right to teach without being forced to join any particular organization, and that strikes or work stoppages are detrimental to children, parents, the community and the profession. 

Strikes are rooted in the erroneous, Machiavellian belief that the end justifies the means and is also emphasized in the works by Saul Alinsky. 

Most educators understand the important role that our public schools play in society.  In many cases, public schools offer the critical support necessary to maintain student health, nutrition and safety, including students with severe intellectual disabilities and serious health conditions. This includes many children living in poverty, and those who are homeless. Professional activists and agitators that urge educators in our state to strike do not care about these children, and truth be told, have little concern for the professionals in our classrooms. 

A strike is a throwback to an archaic factory model of governance. More importantly, public servants usually have a higher expectation associated with their trusted role. 

Governing magazine’s Heather Kerrigan points out: “Teachers, firefighters and police are the public workers who people feel a lot of empathy for because of the challenges of their job.” She adds: “I think that public opinion and tolerance level for public-employee strikes is probably fairly low.”    

So, as you read or hear buzzwords like “collective action,” “sickout” or “strike,” remember that it is critical we avoid alienating the public. The old expression rings true:  don’t bite the hand that feeds you. 

However, we can and must inform citizens through a more positive means about significant issues impacting our public schools and the children we serve. Educators do need to be more vocal about spending priorities at the federal, state and local levels.  It is why educator associations like ours are vital and why we have been engaged in the debate. 

Tennessee has made tremendous investments in public education in the last decade.   Not including new investments projected by Gov. Bill Lee’s budget, Tennessee added $1.5 billion in new dollars to public education from 2011 to 2019 under former Gov. Bill Haslam. There is still much more work to do. 

We must continue to invest in our educators and teacher assistants, and critical school staff, making sure those dollars reach their pockets. We must work to reduce testing and give districts other options to measure student achievement. We still need to work to create a simpler and more fair evaluation system. We must address student discipline issues that are spiraling out of control. 

We survey our members on a regular basis and these are issues of importance across the state. 

However, it really does not matter our opinion about strikes. Teacher strikes have been unlawful in our state since 1978. 

Public education in Tennessee wins when we all work together through civil discourse to address our considerable issues. Education is the great equalizer for all children in the state. Passionate and effective teachers, principals and superintendents must lead with creative solutions to problems and not with outworn strategies from the industrial age.

In the 21st century, we must be policy driven, mindful of economic concerns, providing realistic answers to difficult challenges. Adversarial tactics spurred on by outside groups with dubious agendas simply will not benefit Tennessee educators or children.       

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

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.

It is easy to argue that student discipline in public education is out of control.  And in many districts across the state, it clearly is a huge problem.  A recent headline in The Tennessee Star stated:  Metro Nashville Students So Out of Control Teachers Fear for Their Lives, SROs Fleeing from Alternative Schools, Educators, Officials Say.  The article was written after a shocking Teacher Town Hall, hosted by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville.

Lack of student discipline, inadequate administrative support, and lack of respect are frequently cited why teachers leave the teaching profession, almost as much as salary and working conditions.  The situation is clearly getting worse, despite all the feel-good policies enacted by some school boards.  Old fashioned discipline is gone, replaced with fads and trends.  In Tennessee, some legislators are pushing for legislation that is likely to make matters even worse.

The exodus of many veteran Tennessee teachers may have eliminated part of the solution and acerbated the problem, along with an influx of new administrators.  However, that is a simple explanation and a somewhat faulty logic. Worse, it lays the blame for continued societal problems at the feet of public education yet again.

It is true, public education has its issues, from design to execution, but every problem faced by society gets manifested in our schools. Educators work incredible hours, doing thankless tasks that other professionals do not have to do.  Many people have jobs with specific skills and also have a lack of acknowledgment and a shortage of appreciation.  But educators may just win the prize for wearing a multitude of hats. We need more community support.

Teaching is not an eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week job. There are many duties that educators tackle that do not require pedagogical skills or experience in the classroom but are necessary for the profession. Teachers need a strong immune system to protect them from exposure to every possible illness in a classroom. Not only that, teachers must comfort and guide those students with little to no support at home.  Teachers spend their evenings and weekends making lesson plans, grading papers, and other extracurricular activities. Teachers often spend their own money on classroom supplies, decorations, and food for their students.

It would be awesome if every educator had a positive and supportive working environment where they could thrive personally and professionally, and where they were free to exercise their expertise and explore the full limits of their talents. Alas, that is not the world we live in.  Every day across Tennessee, our educators work with children who have experienced physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.

Policymakers and stakeholders at all levels should make it a priority to work together in order to reduce excessive educator workload, at the same time providing salary increases that will actually go into the teachers’ paychecks and not just to the district coffers. However, getting student discipline under control may be a bigger challenge.

News Channel 5 revealed a confidential report where a Nashville law firm warns the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) that it would become “difficult, if not impossible, for the district to retain qualified and exemplary employees.”  If Nashville is an example, other districts around the state should enact totally different policies.  If MNPS is a model district for any other system, then other districts may soon find themselves in a similar predicament. Administrators, teachers, parents, and students deserve better leadership there.

Student discipline needs the attention of policymakers across the state.  Failure to act quickly and responsibly will only continue to erode support for public education and see quality educators flee the profession.  It is time to address student discipline in a more comprehensive fashion.

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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 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.

The Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.