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

What do I expect the Governor to say about education?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am 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 third Monday of February is recognized as Presidents’ Day in the United States. Established in 1885, the day was originally intended to celebrate the birthday of the first president of our country, George Washington. Today we use it to commemorate all 45 Presidents of the United States. However, no American president has ever enjoyed unanimous support from our citizens. So, the holiday is celebrated, but not universally beloved by all people.

George Washington warned his countrymen of “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” in his Farewell Address as President of the United States. That advice fell on deaf ears, and as much as Washington was held in high esteem, it was neglected. It is worth noting that political parties in the United States stem partly from a political feud between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists, led by Secretary of Treasury Hamilton, wanted a strong central government, while the Anti-Federalists, led by Secretary of State Jefferson, advocated for states’ rights instead of centralized power. The growth of political parties was an American response to political conflict. That explains a lot about where we are today, as Hank Williams Jr. might remind us, “it’s a family tradition.”

Many presidents have had their race, ethnicity and even sexual orientation debated. And religion is almost universally questioned when the faith issue is brought up. Our former leaders, or at least their very being, are no longer even accepted at face value. Lyndon Johnson made an astute observation by pointing out that the “presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.” Nobody is born to be President of the United States and the on-the-job-training is unlike any other endeavor the office holder is likely to face.

The 45 individuals who served as Presidents of the United States have shaped our country. Their stories are really only a part of the American story as each individual reflects on the times in which they lived. The National Portrait Gallery is the only public collection to feature portraits of all of the U.S. presidents on display. The White House collection is not always accessible to the public and not all of the presidents have portraits on continual display.

The presidency has its own song, Hail to the Chief, traditionally played by the U.S. Marine Band. It is played to announce the arrival of the President, who is America’s Commander in Chief. It was first played to honor an American president as early as 1815, when a Boston celebration marking the end of the War of 1812 fell on Washington’s birthday. However, the tradition was really established in 1829 when the song was played for President Andrew Jackson. It was only haphazardly used. First Lady Julia Polk ordered it played for President James K. Polk and has been used pretty much since his time in office.

Honoring those who occupy or occupied the White House does not mean you agree with the office holder on every issue. It is a day we, as Americans, set aside annually to reflect on ourselves and the great accomplishments of our nation. We remember the Presidents of our country. Is it an antiquated holiday? Perhaps. However, despite our admitted shortcomings, we should reflect often on our heritage as the greatest nation in the world and those who helped lead us to that esteemed position. So, on this President’s Day, with refrains of Hail to the Chief in the air, let us hope that the best is yet to come for our nation.

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

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.

In 2016, Tennessee made a major breakthrough in helping dyslexic students in our state.  State Senator Dolores Gresham and State Representative Joe Pitts led the effort to require school districts to screen students in kindergarten through second grade for dyslexia with a program provided by the Department of Education.  Students who present with symptoms of dyslexia clearly benefited from the passage of the original legislation, however we need to strengthen the law. In 2019, we need to revisit and refine legislation to ensure districts are in compliance in helping dyslexic children and teachers have access to training.    

State Representative Bob Freeman of Nashville, a strong advocate on this issue, has filed House Bill 253.  It is worth noting that the 2016 Legislation, which we called the “Say Dyslexia” Bill, passed both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly unanimously, with broad bipartisan support.  Data shows that one in five students, or more than 200,000 in the state have characteristics of dyslexia. This legislation will further help children to receive proper intervention.

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) is highly regarded across the nation for its efforts and research on helping dyslexic children.   One of the key items missing across the state has been identifying teachers who are trained in dyslexia intervention.  So, many students are still not getting the assistance they need to address the issue.  Professional Educators of Tennessee offers its members access to professional development on the subject through their online portal.  The organization leaders believe the statistics are so overwhelming regarding the consequences of not dealing with dyslexia.

Research indicates that dyslexia has no relationship to intelligence. Many people with dyslexia have gone on to accomplish great things. Among the many dyslexia success stories are Thomas Edison, Stephen Spielberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Schwab.  Keira Knightley, Salma Hayak, Joss Stone, and Alyssa Milano are successful women diagnosed with dyslexia.  Dyslexia affects you regardless of race, gender, or political affiliation.

The International Dyslexia Association points out, “Research demonstrates that additional direct instruction provided appropriately, beginning in kindergarten through third grade, can help all but the most severely impaired students catch up to grade-level literacy skills and close the gap for most poor readers.  Assessment is the first step in identifying these students early to make sure they receive the effective instruction they need to succeed.”  Louisa C. Moats, Ed.D., and Karen E. Dakin, M.Ed add: “Dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services.”

Tennessee is recognized nationally for its willingness to change education strategies to reach all of our students, and make a high-quality education available to all students.  It is time to help our dyslexic children realize the dream of All Means All, and our commitment is truly to all children.  We will be supporting additional legislation to help our dyslexic students in the state.  For more information on dyslexia visit the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity website at http://dyslexia.yale.edu/

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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 read a very length piece by a former Governor Phil Bredesen staffer on Race to the Top.  There was nothing really new in the piece and I was unsure why it needed 16,000 words.  I would have summed it up briefly like this if I wrote it: “The state needed money, so we took a bunch of federal dollars, now we are unhappy.”  

It is worth the reminder that both Race to the Top, and the subsequent First to the Top legislation began under former Governor Bredesen.  “When the planets line up is when you jump for it,” Gov. Bredesen told Education Week.  Everything that has transpired since those events were clearly defined in that proposal and legislation necessitated for the proposal.   So, it should not have been a “surprise” to anyone.  The journey was clearly mapped in the federal grant application.  Read it for yourself

Bredesen proposed lifting the TVAAS prohibition for the state. Rachel Woods, the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Education in 2010, clearly identified state objectives at the time to the media, such as redesign of the “evaluation system,” “pay-for-performance,” “national standards,” and a “recovery district, that would be a real takeover of the school.”  The federal proposal itself, submitted by Governor Bredesen, says: “we have created an ―Achievement School District allowing the commissioner of the state Department of Education to intervene in consistently failing schools.”  In addition, it stated clearly the intent was to create “new charter schools” to maximize the impact of the Achievement School District (ASD). 

Earlier this year I described the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone (iZone) stating 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.  It is a clear reminder that government closest to the people has the best chance of success when enacted properly.  It wasn’t the failure of personnel to enact the policy for the state, it was that the proposal itself was flawed from the onset.  There is no dispute that the teacher’s union was deeply involved in Race to the Top process at the time. 

The marriage between education practitioner and education policymaker is not easy.  It is why I spend a great deal of time with educators nearly every day, and it helps that it is my actual background.  While I have certainly been critical of various education policies, and at times some policymakers, it serves us little to go back and criticize previous leaders, or failed policies. However, sometimes we must go back for historical purposes to prove a point.  Let’s read the actual Race to the Top document, which really laid the groundwork for changes the last decade.    

Whether you believe that Race to the Top is good or bad, depends upon your individual perspective.  We must think both short-term and long-term in education policy.  In 2009 and 2010, our state leaders were strictly focused on $501 million dollars. It is sometimes easier in public policy to create these short-term fixes to problems.   Do not let revisionist history tell you otherwise.   As President John Adams once said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

So, it is clear that some people have buyer’s remorse with their involvement with Race to the Top.  However, that guilt should not be because of other people in other administrations involved in completing what was outlined in the proposal, but rather the content of the proposal itself.   States could have also accomplished turning around low achieving schools, adopting high-quality standards and assessments, promoting conditions that allow for more successful charter schools, and improving teacher and principal performance, stated goals of Race to the Top, without the federal government according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).  Future policymakers should view Race to the Top as a cautionary tale of the federal role in education.  That’s my takeaway. 

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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.

I have no idea if this is truth or fiction (I’m guessing fiction), but it’s an interesting metaphor for the dangers of groupthink:

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all the other monkeys with cold water. After a while another monkey makes the attempt with same result, all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put the cold water away. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not?

Because as far as they know that is the way it has always been done around here.