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The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) celebrated their 10th Anniversary of working to improve the future for Tennessee students on August 12, 2019.  While we have not always agreed with some of the agenda at Professional Educators of Tennessee, we have never doubted their resolve or pursuit in improving public education in our state.  We are glad to partner with them to improve the future for educators and help our students succeed.

As Chairman of SCORE, Senator Bill Frist should be commended and honored for his tireless advocacy and passion for making education a priority in our state.  We are all better in public education because of his commitment to parents, teachers and especially students.

By advocating for many organizations including our own, Governors Phil Bredesen, Bill Haslam and now Bill Lee have all made education a priority in their administrations.  However, SCORE’s insistence of doing what is best for students to achieve excellence for all has made the greatest impact on public policy in the state this decade.  What has been significant has been consistent leadership at the organization, from former CEO and state senator Jamie Woodson to current CEO David Mansouri, who both shared Frist’s relentless drive in educating our students.

To prepare our children for the future, a student-centered education begins with an excellent teacher. SCORE has been pushing that envelope and playing a critical role in advancing student achievement in Tennessee.  That is why our dialogue with SCORE continues to surround how to engage and empower educators to improve public education.  Those who possess the knowledge about students must have input into the decisions.

We can and we must continue to have policy discussions and debates on improving public education.  Marching in complete lockstep has never produced an original thought.  We have to understand that public education must be completely committed to student success.   Continued collaboration and a spirit of unity remain critical in creating a culture that truly values education.

Providing educators with resources and supports seem to be a foolproof means of making sure that student needs are met completely.  In this area, we all can agree on the critical importance of an authentic teacher voice in policy discussions.  One of the greatest weaknesses of public education, is our isolation in classrooms and in schools.  Teachers need more opportunities for reflection and to develop connections beyond their own school walls or even districts.  That is why membership in professional associations can play a critical role.  The amplified voices of educators that are improving outcomes for students through innovative practices must be shared in our state, and we cannot do it alone.

One of SCORE’s strategic priorities is preparing, recruiting, supporting and retaining excellent teachers and leaders.  There is no doubt that is often overlooked by policymakers at the state and local level.  A school system cannot have high expectations for their students, without a high-quality teacher in their classrooms.  This may prove difficult moving forward, as there are not enough qualified teachers applying for teaching jobs to meet the demand in all locations and fields.   It will take forward-thinking for Tennessee to see our potential for the future.  Simply put: better thinking equals better results.

Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.  Thank you to SCORE, Senator Frist and your team for your commitment to public education this last decade.  We have much more work left to do.  Together, educators and students across Tennessee will continue to climb higher and our state will rise to the top.

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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.

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We live in a litigious society.  As an educator or school employee, you should be keenly aware that professional liability insurance is critical because district coverage may not protect you individually.  It is dangerous and potentially career-threatening if you enter a public-school classroom without liability or legal protection.    Professional Educators of Tennessee handles legal issues in a positive, professional and confidential manner, without fanfare or publicity. Our members do not want undue publicity that can damage their case or their reputations. That is why you rarely read or hear about our members’ legal problems in the media.

Due to their unique role, educators face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen and therefore must exercise a higher duty of care than most professionals. 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. Tennessee teachers often cite professional liability insurance as a major reason for becoming a member, and rightly so.  Professional Educators of Tennessee offers educators high-quality legal protection and professional liability insurance, at a fraction of the cost of labor unions.  Our educators’ professional liability insurance is unmatched in Tennessee.

As an educator, you are also a consumer, and you expect and deserve quality services at an affordable price.  Our dues at Professional Educators of Tennessee are currently $189. Contrast that with the roughly $600 or more that you are asked to pay for union dues and you will quickly realize not only cost savings but also more liability protection.  We are less expensive because we are not part of a national organization – money collected is used on organizational goals and stays here in Tennessee.  Politically, we are non-partisan. Your dues will never be utilized as political campaign contributions or to support social issue causes unrelated to education. That alone saves our members money   Teachers’ unions engage in aggressive political partisanship and promote a wide-ranging social agenda on issues unrelated to education, often not reflective of the diverse political views of their broader membership.

Bad things happen to good educators every day. There are certainly increased risks for educators targeted by civil lawsuits.   School districts are spending more on litigation costs and frivolous lawsuits.  Educators need excellent liability coverage to cover inadvertent mistakes that could possibly happen.  It’s is better to be proactive by being a member of Professional Educators of Tennessee, as countless teachers discover during the school year.  In today’s society, false allegations can also occur, and with the prevalence of cell phones and social media, this has made educators even more vulnerable.

There are unnecessary lawsuits filed every year with allegations that have little basis in fact. The American legal system makes it easy to file a lawsuit regardless of the merit of the case. Unfortunately, public schools always will be susceptible to legal challenges, and we will never eliminate all lawsuits.  That is why you need professional liability coverage so that you can focus on your job as an educator, and not matters out of your control. When allegations are made, or worse charges are filed, teachers may not be able to count on the backing of a school system or elected official.  You need an organization to stand behind you, preferably one without a partisan agenda.  Our legal resources, including attorneys who know education law are available to assist members with employment concerns. Our legal services team is a phone call away to answer any school-employment questions.

Only Professional Educators of Tennessee offers the peace of mind of $2 Million per member per occurrence, coverage for coaching, tutoring & private instruction, and up to $35,000 for Criminal Acts—and your coverage is never dependent on the discretion/pre-approval of a union boss,  Access to your legal protection is not dependent upon whether your case is determined to be in the best interest of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

As with many professions requiring a state license, the teaching profession—like law and medicine—is governed by a code of ethics. This code outlines standards of personal and professional conduct that you, a member of the profession, must uphold. Violating a standard can have serious consequences for your teaching license.   In addition, in 2018 the state added new laws regarding Teacher Ethics and Teacher Misconduct.  Districts are now required to offer annual training in ethics.   Our organization has partnered with the state to offer online ethics training to our members and other educators.

Unlike other organizations, where employment protection is discretionary, Professional Educators of Tennessee has no committee or group of people who will decide whether or not you will be represented should you face such an employment situation. This coverage saves our members thousands of dollars in legal fees every year and provides immeasurable peace of mind.

Our counseling philosophy is the best way to avoid having a situation escalate to a legal problem and only requires you to call us before the situation gets out of hand. It is very important to know your legal rights and responsibilities. Your membership with Professional Educators of Tennessee and our working relationship with you ensures your rights are not only realized but protected.

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When you have a job-related legal question or concern that may have legal implications, make your first call to Professional Educators of Tennessee or email legal@proedtn.org.  Speaking to an in-house attorney is the best and most efficient way to avoid having a situation escalate into a legal problem. It is critical that you know your legal rights and responsibilities. Your membership with Professional Educators of Tennessee ensures that you will be informed without delay. We are here to help and support our members.

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Seemingly every year we have to revisit the issue of collaborative conferencing for stakeholders and policymakers.  The initial training in the principles and techniques of interest-based collaborative problem-solving for use in collaborative conferencing pursuant to this part was initially to be developed by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) in conjunction with representative organizations of school leaders and administrators and professional employees’ organizations.  The Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) subsequently conducted the training in 2011.  Representatives of Professional Educators of Tennessee, TOSS, TSBA, and the teacher’s union all participated in this training.  A detailed report was sent to the Tennessee General Assembly on the activities of the training and participants in 2012.

Collaborative Conferencing is the process by which local boards of education and their professional employees meet, either directly or through representatives designated by the respective parties, to confer, consult, and discuss matters relating to certain terms and conditions of professional service as specified by the passing of the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act (PECCA).  The process of collaborative conferencing includes the exchange of information, opinions, and proposals among the conferencing parties, as well as the use of the principles and techniques of interest-based collaborative problem-solving (IBCPS).

The term “interest-based collaborative problem-solving” is not defined by the new law. However, interest-based collaborative problem-solving is an increasingly popular method of multiparty consensus-building negotiation. It is based upon mutual interests and respect among the parties, jointly identifying problems, the open, free exchange of information, nurturing creativity in the generation of options, and a good-faith, non-adversarial approach to solving problems using agreed- to criteria. This is intended to lead to an agreement between the parties based upon consensus and mutual gain.  In the perfect world all parties work together, and all members of the collaborative conferencing teamwork toward a common objective in unity.  In education, that concept may not work, if one side chooses not to engage in consensus building and the other side decides to file unnecessary lawsuits.  Professional Educators of Tennessee fervently supports the right of educators to discuss working conditions and salary with their employers.

In collaborative conferencing local boards are required to address:  Salaries or wages; Grievance procedures; Insurance; Fringe benefits (not to include pensions or retirement programs of the Tennessee consolidated retirement system or locally authorized early retirement incentives); Working conditions, except those working conditions that are prescribed by federal law, state law, private act, municipal charter or rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, the Department of Education or any other department or agency of state or local government; Leave; and, Payroll deductions (except with respect to those funds going to political activities).

Subjects prohibited from conferencing include:  Differentiated pay plans and other incentive compensation programs, including stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations, or that aid in hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas; Expenditure of grants or awards from federal, state or local governments and foundations or other private organizations that are expressly designed for specific purposes; Evaluation of professional employees pursuant to federal or state law or State Board of Education policy; Staffing decisions and State Board of Education or local board of education policies relating to innovative educational programs under § 49-1-207; innovative high school programs under Title 49, chapter 15; virtual education programs under Title 49, chapter 16; and other programs for innovative schools or school districts that may be enacted by the general assembly; All personnel decisions concerning assignment of professional employees, including, but not limited to, filling of vacancies, assignments to specific schools, positions, professional duties, transfers within the system, layoffs, reductions in force, and recall. No agreement shall include provisions that require personnel decisions to be determined on the basis of tenure, seniority or length of service; and, payroll deductions for political activities.

The law was very clear on deadlines and specific dates.  The submission (by fifteen percent (15%) or more of the professional employees) of a written request to conduct collaborative conferencing with the board of education, must be done not before October 1 and no later than November 1.   The selection and appointment of the professional employee and board of education representatives must be done no later than December 1. The transmission to the board of the confidential poll results and the names and positions of the appointed representatives must be done by January 1.  This is the law.  If the law needs to be changed, all groups should work together through the Tennessee General Assembly to make the appropriate changes.

All educators and all professional employee organizations have the same rights under PECCA.  The school board does not have to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and the MOU should be “prepared jointly” according to the law.  We would suggest that putting some of these items into Board Policy might actually lead to more consistent policy and better working conditions than an MOU that would expire on a specific date.  The law also mandates that any items that require funding cannot become effective “until the local funding body has approved such funding in the budget.”

The Tennessee General Assembly was clear in 2011 that they wanted to get politics out of our public schools while supporting teachers’ rights to fight for higher wages and better working conditions.  The PECCA legislation made clear that directors may communicate with teachers on the subjects of collaborative conferencing through any means, medium or format the director chooses.  Legislators had anticipated that increased collaboration would benefit the women and men in our classrooms with better working conditions, improved dialogue and mutual respect thus benefitting all of our students. There is still work left to do to accomplish this challenging objective.

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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 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.

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I had several news organizations call and/or email for a statement on the departure of Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.  I hastily put together my thoughts, and wrote:

“Professional Educators of Tennessee appreciates the contributions of Commissioner Candice McQueen.  Commissioner McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration.   She took over the Department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the Department, particularly in the infrastructure.  Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital.  There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state.  It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction.  The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.  These are incredible legacies to leave as she departs her critical role serving the citizens of Tennessee, and we wish Commissioner McQueen much success in her new role.   We look forward to working with Governor-elect Bill Lee and offering input on a successor.”

That’s what professionals do.  We issue statements and offer public comments about people and issues.  There is a right way and a wrong way to do that task.  In an era where we seemingly delight in lack of civility and negative tone of politics, we must take the high road.   We are polarized as a country, not because we are afraid to discuss issues of substance, but rather we cannot talk to each other in a respectful manner.  It’s easier for some to just be what my mom used to classify as “rude, crude and uncalled for.”  In the end, we merely see who can be the loudest in the room, and end up talking over each other.

What does that have to do with a statement on the Departure of a Haslam Cabinet official?  Simple, it brings out the ugly.  And I have seen some mean-spirited people critical of Commissioner McQueen, as she moves into the next phase of her career.  Most of those being critical are clueless.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, “In a battle of wits, they are unarmed.”

Tupac Shakur said, “Behind every sweet smile, there is a bitter sadness that no one can ever see and feel.” I spent time with Commissioner McQueen as more than a casual observer. Her heart and passion were always for the children and teachers in Tennessee.  She fought battles which nobody knew about and which, despite the lofty title in front of her name, she had little control.  While we didn’t always agree on every issue, it was always a discussion she was willing to have with me, as well as others. She made it a priority to discuss teacher issues with me regularly, and as needed as frequently as possible.  That alone will always endear her to the teachers who were included in those discussions.

Candice McQueen is a woman of faith.  That is an element that we need more of in public service.  She didn’t wield her faith as a sword, but you knew that she was a believer in Jesus Christ.  She had a preference for ideas over politics.  She chose principle over popularity.  She took ownership of a testing debacle, that she had inherited and didn’t even pick the people who oversaw it.  She could have easily laid blame elsewhere.  She chose not to do that.  She wisely fired a failed testing company.   She was not a seasoned politician.  If you recall legislative hearings, she sat there and took valid criticism of a flawed system.  However, that critique often crossed the line personally.

Candice McQueen symbolized the hope for a more decent and gentler public servant, willing to acknowledge faults in a system—and personally owning them.  Whereas Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here,” McQueen also took ownership while at the same time working to correct the issues.  (Much like building an airplane while at the same time trying to fly it.)  She did this while remaining optimistic and energetic.  From first-hand knowledge, I know she frequently started her work day before 6:00 AM and often finished it after 9:00 PM, even though she was a mother and wife.  Commissioner McQueen will be missed.

As far as the next Commissioner of Education goes, I imagine it will be much harder to fill her shoes than most people realize.  The next Commissioner must make sure she/he has direct access to the new Governor, with complete authority to make changes as needed.  The Governor, not the Commissioner of Education, must fight the legislative battles.  We need a true public servant we can also work with, who understands Tennessee and our educators.

The beautiful thing about legacies is that time is a fair-minded judge.  I suspect that Candice McQueen, like Lana Seivers who served years before her, will be seen as a Commissioner who helped build a modern Department of Education which meets the needs of districts, educators, parents and children.  Tennessee is moving forward in education, and we all should be proud of our accomplishments.

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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.

Tennessee is the Volunteer State. It is called the Volunteer State because in the times of crisis that our nation found itself, whether a natural crisis or in defense of our country, our citizens were the first to respond.

Members of my family have fought, and some even died, for the defense of our country. I am proud to have served in the Marine Corps and appreciate my fellow veterans. Anyone who has served will tell you it was an honor to wear the uniform of our nation and take the vows to defend our citizens, our country and our Constitution. Military enlistment has no expiration date.

This Veterans Day, in the year 2018, we must do more than repeat the well-deserved praises of the bravery and patriotism that our veterans embody. That was established the day they put on the uniform. Rather, we should reflect on how we are treating our veterans.

We know that the average number of veterans who commit suicide remains at 20 a day. We know that younger veterans are among that number. Suicide is a complex issue, and veterans are not getting the help they need. Why is this not a national priority? It is good political rhetoric during campaign season.

A lot of veterans end up teaching in Tennessee classrooms across the state. For them teaching is an extension of their service to their state and nation. Our classrooms are full of children who are the sons and daughters of active duty military and veterans. Tennessee has more current and former military among our citizenry than most states. So, on this Veterans Day let us remember the service of our veterans. Let us keep our promises and obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so we can live freely.

Veterans who are in crisis or are having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, should call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/get-help/Chat, or send a text message to 838255.You can learn more about VA’s suicide-prevention resources and programs at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention.

Our veterans have served America with the fervent belief that freedom and democracy are ideals to be upheld around the world. The late Virginia Senator John Warner reminded us: “Tragically, the effort to make America and the world safer and to defend freedom around the world is not without an enormous cost to this Nation in terms primarily of lost lives and those who bear the scars and the wounds of war, and their families who must bear these losses. “It is time we make those who serve our state and nation a higher priority.

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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.

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In October, across the state, educators have an opportunity to decide if they wish to engage in a process called “Collaborative Conferencing.”  In other industries they may refer to it as an “Interest-Based Collaborative Problem Solving,” which is an increasingly popular method of multiparty consensus-building.  In education that concept may not work, if one side chooses not to engage in consensus building and the other side decides to file unnecessary lawsuits.  Professional Educators of Tennessee fervently supports the right of educators to discuss working conditions and salary with their employers.

In 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act (Public Chapter 378). So, it is not surprising that we are frequently asked about our position on Collaborative Conferencing.  Currently Collaborative Conferencing, also known as PECCA, only occurs in about 12 districts around the state.   Only certain subjects can be discussed.  And some subjects are completely prohibited.

Subjects that can be discussed include:  Salaries or wages; Grievance procedures; Insurance; Fringe benefits (not to include pensions or retirement programs of the Tennessee consolidated retirement system or locally authorized early retirement incentives); Working conditions, except those working conditions that are prescribed by federal law, state law, private act, municipal charter or rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, the Department of Education or any other department or agency of state or local government; Leave; and, Payroll deductions (except with respect to those funds going to political activities).

Subjects that are prohibited include:  Differentiated pay plans and other incentive compensation programs, including stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations, or that aid in hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas;   Expenditure of grants or awards from federal, state or local governments and foundations or other private organizations that are expressly designed for specific purposes; Evaluation of professional employees pursuant to federal or state law or State Board of Education policy; Staffing decisions and State Board of Education or local board of education policies relating to innovative educational programs under § 49-1-207; innovative high school programs under Title 49, chapter 15; virtual education programs under Title 49, chapter 16; and other programs for innovative schools or school districts that may be enacted by the general assembly; All personnel decisions concerning assignment of professional employees, including, but not limited to, filling of vacancies, assignments to specific schools, positions, professional duties, transfers within the system, layoffs, reductions in force, and recall. No agreement shall include provisions that require personnel decisions to be determined on the basis of tenure, seniority or length of service; and, Payroll deductions for political activities.

In a modern world, it doesn’t seem that placing limits or prohibitions helps local districts, educators, students or stakeholders on emerging topics.  However, we have been disappointed by PECCA, and think that we may want to discuss items outside the scope of Collaborative Conferencing, such as differentiated pay plans, expenditure of grants or awards, evaluation and staffing decisions or other issues like school safety, curriculum/materials and/or other rapidly emerging issues.  Although we can probably agree that banning payroll deductions for political activities is probably a good thing for public education.

Just as we do, many teachers see the flaw in the system:  you can discuss salary but you cannot discuss, differentiated pay plans and other incentive compensation programs, including stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations, or that aid in hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.  Then why do we even discuss salary at all?  That decision is already set in a formula and largely determined with small room for debate or discussion.   It is probably why so few districts and educators choose to engage in Collaborative Conferencing.

Currently any school board in the state has the authority to address any terms and conditions through board policy. In other words, while the board is required to participate in conferencing if the professional employees vote to participate, nothing in the PECCA requires the board to agree on terms or conditions or enter into a memorandum of understanding if agreement has not been reached.  Which is why we must keep lines of communication open.

Are there other options?  We believe so and toward that end, Professional Educators of Tennessee has begun to establish Education Leaders Councils in some districts to accomplish more for teachers.  It will help us cultivate true consensus building and address more critical issues.

We know that some of our members oppose Collaborative Conferencing, which leads to less than optimal turnout in some districts.  In fact, in many districts those voting for Collaborative Conferencing is barely over 50% and still excludes people from the process.  That is simply not fair.

We hope we can work to address critical issues for educators and our members through our Education Leaders Council.  This may require future legislation, but any district can choose to meet with their employees at any time.   Our desire and intent are simple:  if you vote for Collaborative Conferencing or if you vote against Collaborative Conferencing, always choose Professional Educators of Tennessee as your representative, and we will work with our local leaders to promote the interest of educators in the local district, not an agenda pushed by a national organization.   We must work together, and it is clear that Collaborative Conferencing limits educators.

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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.

 

Eight steps to building an education system that delivers on the promise of excellence and equity

October 20, 2014
Professor Paul Reville

To build the education system that the 21st century demands, says Professor Paul Reville, we have to look at what’s failed in our attempts to reform the 20th-century education system we’re still living with.

Speaking at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Bold Ideas & Critical Conversations event on September 19, Reville summarized the ways in which our current system is failing to meet the promise of excellence and equity in education. Despite more than 20 years of intense reform efforts, there is still “an iron-law correlation between socioeconomic status and educational achievement and attainment.”

Charting a new pathway toward “all means all,” Reville outlined eight broad ideas that both assess and take us beyond today’s shortcomings:

  • There is now a happy coincidence, Reville said, between what we ought to do and what is in our economic interest to do, which is to educate each and every one of our students to a high standard — to educate them for success in employment, citizenship, family life, and as lifelong learners.
  • Schooling alone is insufficient; it is too weak an intervention to overcome the disadvantages of poverty. “We want a society in which demographics are not destiny,” Reville said, noting that the work to meet that ideal has only just begun.
  • Our current system is outmoded, he continued, citing short school days and a one-size-fits-all approach. “We have a batch-processing, mass-production model of education that served us very well if we wanted to achieve a society in which we were sending a lot of people into low-skill, low-knowledge jobs,” Reville said. “But for high-skill, high-knowledge jobs in a post-industrial information age, we need a very different system.”
  • We need a new design — a new way to integrate systems of education and child development that delivers on the goal of preparing each and every student for success.
  • To get there, “we’re going to need to differentiate,” Reville said. We need a system that meets every child where he or she is, and gives them tools to be successful at each stage of their education.
  • We must become more intentional in mitigating the issues in children’s lives outside of school that get in the way of their success in school. He argues that we need to braid systems of health, mental health, and education, taking steps to build social and emotional learning and resiliency.
  • We have to increase access to out-of-school learning for all students. “Affluent families are doing more than ever before in the 80 percent of children’s lives [spent] outside of school to enrich their children’s education. Disadvantaged families can do less and less,” Reville said.
  • All of these needs and priorities are feeding into the creation of the Education Redesign Lab, a new initiative at HGSE that aims to spearhead a national conversation about how we will build a new system of education and child development that finally delivers on the promise of excellence and equity. Reville envisions a national design process that will bring together all of these elements of reform and create “a visionary blueprint for 21st-century education.”

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Credit to Usable Knowledge at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Website:  www.gse.harvard.edu/uk.

dark-leg-plaza

“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical” is a quote usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which surfaced in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. James Madison and George Wythe also championed the statute. Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Madison later played a critical role in drafting the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights. No doubt that concept was prevalent among our founders.

That position has been one of my guiding principles, as both a classroom teacher in public schools here in Tennessee, and now as the CEO of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Our members continually reiterate to us they do not want their dues money going to political candidates or parties, nor do they want us in the endorsement business. We respect that position. We work with legislators regardless of their political affiliation, and that has helped us build bridges in addressing key education issues.

This election cycle we have already seen an influx of unaccountable cash, known as dark money, which pours into our state. The Nashville Scene’s Steve Cavendish did an excellent article on the subject of dark money in politics. Frank Daniels III, formerly of the Tennessean, also did a terrific analysis. Daniel’s conclusion: outside money hurts more than it helps. Daniels wrote: “Tennessee voters were not swayed by big spending outsiders.” It is worth noting the message the outsiders bring is almost always negative. The point raised by Cavendish was: “If you don’t think this is an erosion of democracy, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.” Cavendish referenced Walmart and Microsoft billionaires, as well as unions, as the main culprits. We agree.  The formula is simple:  Dark Money + Union Money = Corrupt Politics

Our commitment to our members is simple. We are completely funded by the dues of our members. Our members are educators from the state of Tennessee. No other teachers’ association in this state is as well-respected in the legislature as Professional Educators of Tennessee for what we stand for, and how we go about our business on our member’s behalf.

When we take our message to policymakers, they understand this: we fight for public schools, because we understand the historical and philosophical basis of why public education exists. If public education is to continue to be successful, it will take all the policymakers and stakeholders working together. And we want to be the educators voice in Tennessee.  We are not a state chapter of a national organization.  We are created by, and for, Tennessee educators.  Our focus is on Tennessee.

We encourage our members to register to vote. We encourage them to vote. We encourage them to campaign for the candidates that reflect their values or beliefs. What we will not do is tell them who to vote for in this or any other election. A strong public education system is a key to our state, a foundation to build our economy, and the means by which we can help all Tennessee children achieve their dreams.

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