A Job Nobody Wants


“We are making progress in education in Tennessee according to every data point, but we also have challenges,” acknowledged Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen. Dr. McQueen has been at the forefront of public education the last four years, since she replaced the unpopular and non-communicative Kevin Huffman.

Huffman, the proverbial outsider from Washington DC, was his own worst enemy. A known Democrat, he was never embraced by the newly elected Republican majority that governed the Tennessee General Assembly. His popularity and likability never extended outside the recruits he brought into the state with him, the Governor’s Office or the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE). Huffman perfected the art of rubbing people the wrong way. After Governor Bill Haslam won a second term, he must have decided it was time for one of the most divisive figures in Tennessee politics to exit the stage. Enter McQueen.

In order to reverse public education’s disdain, Haslam needed the antithesis of Mr. Huffman, and Candice McQueen clearly provided that to the Commissioner of Education position. McQueen was a senior vice president and dean of the college of education at Lipscomb University. McQueen had an intricate task ahead of her. She inherited many personnel who were ill-fitted to the state. Many lacked requisite experience in leadership, in the state, or in the field in which they were being relied on to provide expertise. She had to restore relationships with Legislators, Superintendents, School Boards, Educators and parents. She understood the nuances of working with the scores of special interest groups that populate the K-12 landscape. She became one of the best communicators in state government. She had to do this while providing management to arguably the most important agency in state government. It was truly an example of flying the plane while they attempt to build it.

However, the Achilles heal of her term in office has been standardized test administration. This failure is well-documented. Whether or not that is a fair accusation is debatable. She inherited some of the baggage. Nonetheless, Commissioner McQueen concedes the problems with standardized testing, including online implementation and delivery challenges. She apologized, on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Education, for the challenges and frustrations of the test administration. In addition, the state has taken specific steps to address the concerns as the state moves into the 2018-19 testing cycle. Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen recently engaged in a statewide listening tour to get educator input. It is yet to be determined if that effort will have any bearing on the next Governor.

Here is what is certain, the next Governor of Tennessee will either be Republican Bill Lee or Democrat Karl Dean. Both men, for better or worse, will inherit the responsibility of building on Haslam’s record in public education. The choice of Commissioner of Education will assume the overwhelming burden of ensuring that every child in Tennessee graduates from high school prepared for college or the workforce. The success or failure, of the next Commissioner of Education will largely determine the success or failure of the next Governor. It will be a difficult job to fill and it may be a job that nobody wants.

The next Governor will want to select someone who understands public education, understands the state of Tennessee, and is capable of running the most visible agency in the state. For all the local school superintendents who wake up thinking they are up to the task, they should be reminded that the lights of Nashville burn bright and they will be living in a fishbowl. The next Governor cannot afford to go outside the state to recruit a Commissioner of Education as Haslam did, after the Huffman fiasco.

The next Commissioner of Education must have a vision that aligns with the new Governor. They must understand the commitment they will be asked to make. Their evaluation will occur every single day by policymakers and stakeholders across the state, and often in the media. Their success only occurs when every person at a bureaucracy is working in the same direction, understanding and buying into the mission. The obstacles may seem insurmountable, and may keep you from reaching your objectives and not even be under your control. Items like contracts with vendors may be impediments to success, or a bureaucracy which stymies your objectives.

For a Commissioner, the risk is having a Governor who does not support your vision, which will hinder support for your management. Your resources will certainly be limited. Failure will almost certainly be associated with you personally. Financially, many school superintendents are already paid more than the Commissioner of Education, and their headaches are much smaller. Those people who have the skills to perform the task are more limited than the short list of people who think they are up to the challenge.

A disruption in January for 70,000 educators and 1,000,000 students, created by a new agenda for the state, might generate many unexpected issues and unnecessary anxiety during a transition. It is something that a candidate running for office cannot readily discuss, but something that a candidate elected to office must rapidly address. It must be someone who understands our unique language in public education, our stakeholders and policymakers in K-12, and the challenges facing our state.

The question asked by many educators, would either Bill Lee or Karl Dean consider retaining Commissioner McQueen? That has to be a consideration, if she would stay. What happens when you have a job that nobody wants and few are qualified for? We are about to find out.


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.

Ethics Training for Educators

Christy Ballard is the long time General Counsel of Tennessee Department of Education.   Nobody in the state knows Education Law better than Christy Ballard.  And  she shares her vast knowledge.   She regularly assists in the implementation and enforcement of Tennessee’s education laws and regulations by providing legal technical assistance to local school board attorneys, other state agency staff, legislators, LEA officials, teachers and the general public by providing the TDOE’s position on school related laws and regulations.

Legislators: One Last Thing Before You Go!


The 110th Tennessee General Assembly is nearing the end, and for many, the end cannot come soon enough.  There are political races waiting and they are ready to hit the campaign trail as election season is about to launch in earnest. But before they exit Nashville, there is one last thing left for them to do: finish protecting our educators.  Unfortunately, these flawed test scores can, and will, impact teacher evaluations.

The Tennessee General prudently and quickly stepped in after the latest testing failure.  Let’s make clear, this was the result of concerned stakeholders to make sure students, educators and districts are held harmless for this year’s TNReady invalid results.  Our legislators deserve the recognition and the acclaim for their effort.  Senate Bill 1623 was sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham, along with Senators Bowling, Massey, and Pody.  House Bill 1981 was sponsored by Representative Eddie Smith, along with Representatives Hardaway, Daniel, and Parkinson.

Educators wanted to ensure that school districts could not base employment termination and compensation decisions for teachers on data generated by these statewide assessments.  This was accentuated in SB 1623/HB1981.  It must be noted that local districts have always had complete discretion in how they choose to factor test data into employment decisions like promotion, retention, termination, and compensation.  Local school districts have considerable flexibility to pause any policies or programs that emphasize the use of TNReady results in these types of personnel decisions.

Previous legislation, now law:  The Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act (T.C.A. § 49-1-302) adjusted the weighting of student growth data in an educator’s evaluation to lessen impact of TNReady on evaluation scores. TNReady factored into evaluation scores at 10 percent for the 2016-17 school year and will factor into evaluation scores at 20 percent for the 2017-18 school year and 35 percent for the 2018-19 school year and thereafter. Additionally, growth data from year one of TNReady will only be used if it benefits the educator. If it does not, the qualitative component of the evaluation composite will increase.

So, despite the incredible work of Tennessee Legislators, they needed to make sure the excluded test scores from this year does not impact teacher evaluations.  It seems clear that the intent of the legislature was to ensure that the scores couldn’t harm teachers or students in any way, so we think this is an important part. However, they just missed a critical component.  Even if employment decisions shouldn’t be based on them, the test results from this year still affect their scores and 3-year averages.

We first raised these concerns on passage of the SB 1623/HB1981 Conference Committee report with a few policymakers.  One teacher who contacted us really does want to be able to use her scores – her students are taking the paper and pencil science test next week, so they haven’t been affected by any of the issues this week. And they have worked really hard to be ready for the test. Others who may be affected negatively certainly would not want the test scores to be used.

To solve the issue, it would be beneficial to teachers to replicate what was done in 2016 with the Evaluation Flexibility Act – SB2508/HB1419 (PC No. 172) – which stated that student growth composites would be excluded unless they resulted in higher evaluation scores, with the qualitative portion of the evaluation score increased in its place. Section 3 describes a similar provision for teachers without access to individual growth data.

“For the 2015-2016 through 2017-2018 school years, student growth evaluation composites generated by assessments administered in the 2015-2016 school year shall be excluded from the student growth measure as specified in subdivision (d)(2)(B)(ii) if such exclusion results in a higher evaluation score for the teacher or principal. The qualitative portion of the evaluation shall be increased to account for any necessary reduction to the student growth measure.”

All the legislature would have to do is take the previous language from Sections 1 & 3 and change 2015-2016 to 2017-2018, and 2017-2018 to 2019-2020. Section 2 doesn’t need to be changed unless the phased in percentage schedule of (d)(2)(E)(i) – (d)(2)(E)(iii) is being updated.  We don’t think that 49-1-302(d)(2)(E)(ii) needs to be adjusted or referenced, since it’s essentially just a circular reference to (d)(2)(B)(ii). Although we think this would make (d)(2)(E)(ii) obsolete, since if the test results would help they would probably just want to go ahead and use it for the full 35% as provided in (d)(2)(E)(iv).

The continued feasibility of using a complicated statistical method as an evaluation tool for teachers will certainly be further debated by stakeholders and policymakers in the foreseeable future.  However, the issue that members of the 110th Tennessee General Assembly must address before leaving for home is making sure our teachers are not penalized by flawed test results and scores from this year on a teacher’s 3-year average.   We know legislators can take action when they focus.  The goal of the legislature is to ensure these flawed scores don’t harm our educators.  We need legislators to finish the job and end what they started.


Audrey Shores is the Chief Operating Officer of Professional Educators of Tennessee.   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 Changing Face of Advocacy


According to the Greek Mythology, the god, Helios, would put the Sun in a chariot and drive it through the sky each day.  That is how the Sun would rise and set.  Today, we would scoff at such a notion and understand that such a feat would be impossible.  We would think that people who would believe such a notion probably were not very intelligent and extremely gullible.  Such is the story of modern day lobbyists and advocates.

Frank R. Baumgartner, a Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says there is no consistent correlation between money spent on lobbying and outcomes.  In his book, Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why, Baumgartner effectively proves that lobbyists are far less influential than political rhetoric suggests and that they fail to change policy despite millions of dollars spent trying. As to the why?  He points to an “entrenched system” with an enormous “bias in favor of the status quo.”

I have been on the forefront of policy change for over a quarter of a century, advocating for education.  It means that I have witnessed much the last three decades in Tennessee. I have seen policymakers come and go.  I have seen lobbyists come and go.  Next year, in 2019, we will see a new US Senator, a new Governor and perhaps as many as 35 new state legislators.  Campaign contributions, as important as those may be to the candidate, mean very little in the current system.  Money no longer “buys” votes, and it should never have done so in the first place.  Politicians now often receive contributions from interests on both sides of any issue.

It is amazing with the vast array of people lobbying on an issue that anyone or any group should take credit for the passage of any legislation.  The truth is that it is always a coalition of stakeholders building a compelling case on a political issue.  In the end, only the legislator votes.  So, any person or group who claims credit for a passage of legislation needs to be reminded of that truth.

In the end, we build coalitions work together, educate legislators on issues and count votes.  The legislator is the decisionmaker.  Advocates have three numbers you have to reach – 50, 17 and one:  50 votes in the House of Representatives, 17 in the Senate, and one from the Governor.  Only the Tennessee General Assembly deserves credit or blame for the passage of legislation.  In all the years that I have worked with legislators, I truthfully have found most to be honest, hard working people who want to do the right thing for their constituents.  I have also seen some who really do not listen, and these usually do not last long in the political arena.

The key to effective advocacy is relationships, which must be developed and also sustained.  Building relationships with lawmakers and other stakeholders means getting to know them, their personal interests and histories, and even their families. Having a relationship never guarantees support, but it does help to ensure that others will listen to you.  We must build networks and coalitions, around the objective of helping those you serve.  Stakeholders know what is likely to be taken serious by policymakers, sometimes just by whom introduces it, or who carries the legislation for the lobbyists.  We must also know how to correctly draft legislation to assist lawmakers who are overwhelmed during session.  We frequently see people try to put things in the wrong part of the code or use the wrong terminology. Advocates must identify people who support changing a policy and are willing to testify.  Those who advocate or lobby have to be taken seriously at the Capitol.  Then there is media coverage, which is a whole separate issue.  The media will cover an issue if they think voters or their audience are interested in the subject.

In advocacy, we have to be honest and transparent.  We have to tell the truth.  People can spot a snake-oil salesman a mile away.  A Cheshire cat grin and a fake tan will only take you so far.  Legislators do not like being lectured to when you testify.  The biggest mistake I see is when a know-it-all goes before a committee arrogantly and moralizes and lectures legislators.  People talk.  Just answer the question when asked, and don’t pontificate to hear your own voice by expounding on unrelated issues.  Conceit, excessive pride, combined with arrogance is called hubris.

When we engage in grassroots and direct advocacy with policymakers and key influencers around the state on behalf of public education policies, it reminds us that we live for a far greater purpose than just ourselves. Our impact is immeasurable and transforming.  It not only matters to the profession and our educators, it also matters to children and families across Tennessee.

Our experience here in Tennessee ensures our members’ concerns are heard at the Tennessee General Assembly and by other stakeholder groups. It also means we work with other groups on goals we want to achieve: some long-term, some short-term.  By doing this, we witness and help facilitate minor and major shifts in education policies and observe and work with changing political leaders.  And we must remember, these new education policies can have a positive or negative impact on educators or children.  We work the entire year focused on the priorities of our organization and our members.  However, we do not do it alone.  We accomplish our goals by working with others and through elected officials.

Leaders also need mountains to climb.  We and they also realize that they cannot solve every problem on our own. Leadership is about giving.  Great leaders understand that leading others means serving others.  The one question leaders must ask themselves: are you interested in finding solutions for today’s challenges? Then learn to work with others to benefit those you serve, without worrying about who gets credit.  It is a hard lesson to learn for some.  The sun will still come up, even if you don’t get the recognition.


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.