Bill Lee

I am excited about the future of public education in Tennessee.  Many critics like to point out some of the shortcomings of our system, and rightly so.  A one size fits all system does not work for everyone.  It never has, and never will.  The system will continue to evolve, albeit slowly, and adjustments will always be needed.  We should welcome debate on public education, which remains our greatest priority.

In order to attract and keep industries and business that we need for a global economy, we must build and develop a quality workforce.  A quality education system ultimately provides economic mobility for all of our citizens.  It is imperative that taxpayers understand that education is an investment for our state’s future, not merely an expense to bear.  It is also a constitutional requirement in our state.

As a businessman, Governor-elect Bill Lee understands that higher salaries will encourage more people to join the teaching profession and hopefully entice current educators to remain in the field, resulting in better outcomes for Tennessee students.  Lee has stated his three major priorities: 1) Getting our students ready to enter the workforce; 2) Strengthening the foundations of a quality system; and 3) Encouraging innovation.  It is a K12 education agenda we should embrace.

Tennessee’s business community has expressed increased concerned about workforce development. In the future, people with solid, transferable skills that are open to continued learning will be critical for our workforce.   To get our students ready for the workforce we must better link state and local efforts for economic development and job creation.  This will also necessitate expanding post-secondary vocational training. Many occupations are developed through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges. That does not always mean expensive, four-year degrees for which many students are not suited.  In high school, Tennessee may want to consider giving students the option to use the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate examination, rather than the ACT/SAT in the 11th grade year.

Strengthening the foundations of our public-school system, begins with support for local control of public education.  It is also critical to look at how we fund our schools.  The methodology we use to fund our schools has constantly been litigated by school districts.  These lawsuits prove we must incorporate and take into consideration the dramatically different cost of living and doing business in different counties across the state. We must update our school funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs.  At the state level we have to improve the teacher pipeline.  This means we must identify and develop a community of well-trained, highly compensated educators who can flourish in the teaching profession.  Any investment we make in education must be high quality, and position our children for success in the classroom, career and life.  We have much work to do.

We need our new Governor, our new Commissioner and our new Tennessee General Assembly to listen to educators and continue to champion innovation in public education. Educators want that chance to be inventive, and they understand the need to challenge the status quo.  The testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators.  Although we need testing to measure the progress of our students, we should recognize these tests are often unreliable in evaluating teachers and schools. We should pursue reliable standardized tests that provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. No single test should be a determinant of a student’s, teacher’s or school’s success. True measurement of progress should instead consist of several benchmarks, not just testing.

We must also break down the bureaucratic barriers that have kept educators and school districts from pursuing solutions to the unique challenges of their communities.  Governor-elect Lee has promised to “pilot innovative approaches that encourage our schools and their communities to work together and design solutions without bureaucratic hurdles.”  That is a wise strategy to pursue.   Lee, like many other business and community leaders, understands that the solutions to many problems we face in our hinge on a quality public education system.   Our future depends on that success. Let’s all work to make that happen.

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.

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

tone-deaf-1

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

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

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

Ripley wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

###

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.