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A new year is a time for reflection and more importantly a time for hope.  We will see a momentous change in state and federal government.  If anything is certain, it is that leadership matters, now more than ever.  When we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives.

We know that leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.  However, that caveat comes with this admonishment: “In order to lead, you have to know what you believe,” according to my mother, Linda Bowman-Lawhorn. 

The federal government is likely to remain as divisive as ever.  In Tennessee, we have some exceptional leaders representing our state in Washington, DC.   However, our federal government is dysfunctional, and has been for a number of years.   Partisanship has become an extreme contact sport in our nation’s capital.  That is why states best serve as the laboratories of democracy for our nation.          

Limited government, individual freedom, traditional values are likely to remain priorities in state government during the Lee Administration and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly which convenes on January 8th, 2019.  The challenge for leaders will be practical and innovative approaches to complex problems.   That may require we change the way people think about issues, and promote policies that allow and encourage individuals and institutions to succeed. The state has probably never had this much turnover in leadership and some people are justifiably concerned.  However, I see that as an opportunity for leaders to thrive and make the greatest difference on behalf of our citizens.  

In education we will need leaders from the Tennessee Department of Education, every local education agency and in each classroom that are tenacious in creating a world of opportunities for every learner. We must remember that our individual actions can positively (or negatively) impact the life of children in this state.  The success or failure of the next generation of education leaders will mean real changes in the lives of students and their families.  We must make the world better than the one we inherited.

Policymakers and stakeholders must collaborate to the greatest extent possible to ensure that our students succeed, and that our educators get the resources they need with the compensation and respect they deserve.  Today’s children are tomorrow’s future, and education is a proven path to upward mobility for all students. 

Embrace 2019 with zeal and enthusiasm.  It can be a year full of potential.  We have an opportunity to renew our belief in our fellow citizens and set a new course in Tennessee that our fellow Americans can seek to emulate.  It will require ethical leadership and tireless advocacy for issues that you care about, but the promise of a new year brings the best hope for mankind.  The future is yet to be written.  Let freedom ring across our state and 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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Perhaps the foremost expert on changing school culture in Tennessee is Dr. Ryan Jackson. People from across the country have taken notice of the amazing turn around he has done at Mt. Pleasant PreK-12 School in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. Ryan Jackson is beginning his 3rd year at Mt. Pleasant School in Maury County, and the culture shift that he has instigated is nothing short of amazing. We wanted a deeper probe of what he was doing, so his methods could be replicated.

In 2016, when Ryan Jackson first came to Mt. Pleasant School, it had a negative stigma attached to it. He immediately realized that the school lacked an identity. Being a firm believer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he realized he needed to create a sense of belonging. The first thing he did was create ‘The Mount.’ More specifically, #TheMount which was strategic for a couple of reasons. Jackson relays, “One, it side-stepped the stigma. This was new. Some people thought it was like putting lipstick on a pig. But it did create a psychological shift. ‘We are The Mount’, not the old Mt. Pleasant and everything you thought about Mt. Pleasant before July 2016 has just changed including how we identify ourselves.” He continued, “It was more than just a rally cry; it was the beginning of this new identity and getting people to see Mt. Pleasant differently so we could one by one, person by person, student by student, teacher by teacher, community member by community member get them to come on board and feel like they belong.” It was not an overnight process but through repetition, constant branding, constant messaging, it was successful.

We have learned, as educators, that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you. Ryan Jackson made social media an integral part of the culture shift. He stated, “Social media is a high yield strategy that costs absolutely nothing financially, just a time investment. It gives everyone, but specifically the immediate community, the windows of insight into what’s going on at the school. It gives them a proud thing to hang their hat on that they didn’t have in the past. I wanted them to see the fact that we had seven different CTE programs. We had multiple forms of art being represented. I wanted the community to see some of the cool project-based learning experiences that we had for kids…things that they would not know if they weren’t here on a day to day basis. I wanted the community members to have access into the school day via the social media platform. By doing so, we are getting the attention of more than just the community, but also the state and the nation as well.”

Jackson sees the social media posts as sort of a mini-commercial for his school. The community now sees them as a positive influence and thinks, “Wow, things really are changing [at Mt. Pleasant].” He reiterates, “Not only that, social media gives you the opportunity to highlight teachers, students and programs while reinforcing the belonging. When people have emotional connections to something, they will share it with others. You are literally evangelizing your message, your school.”

The rebranding, done primarily via social media, has also led to grants/partnerships from the community. Jackson attributes the Theater Renovation Grant for $67,000 that they got from Lowe’s to social media branding. These organizations vet the recipients of their grants, and when they google Mt. Pleasant High School, they start to see everything that they’ve done. Jackson reminds us, “No school is perfect, but you want to make sure that daily you are putting in enough credit that when something bad does happen, your credit is so high that there isn’t a negative impact.” They also got a $500,000 grant from Parker Hannifin Corporation with which they built an Innovation Lab. “Any school that is not leveraging social media power is missing an incredible opportunity,” Jackson emphasized.

Jackson admits that grants have assisted in the cultural turn-around by being financial affirmations. “Organizations see their money going to a school as investment which they believe they will see a return on. Those grants help to foster a shift from momentum to inertia. And now we are a school that cannot be stopped.”

Working with educators, we know there are a few who are resistant to change. When asking Jackson how he dealt with those who did not buy into his vision, he stated, “In any organization, there is always going to be the ‘toxic 2%.’ Annually, you’ve got to get rid of the toxic 2% because if you don’t, it can be like cancer and it will spread. Teachers/staff must grow or go. You will have that core group of people who will buy into your vision immediately.”

Ryan describes himself as a strength-finder leader. “We focus on our strengths and talents while managing our weaknesses. We devoted the first year entirely to changing the culture. We didn’t start on changing the curriculum until year two. We lifted people up, building capacity, building, supporting the teacher leaders. Then they took their network and influence to bring over the early majority. We showed wins in grants, school discipline, attendance etc. When you see your school logo on T-shirts at Walmart and RiteAid, the late majority is starting to look at it like ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this thing.’ Now we have buy-in from the early and late majority.”

Changing the school culture has not just changed the school, but it has transformed the community. Mt. Pleasant is a community of about 5200 people. Mt. Pleasant School is sort of a mini school system. Jackson explains, “[The school] has been a catalyst for everything. We have been positioned as the lighthouse for rural development and that starts with education. People are only going to move back to Main Street, America if they think their children have a great shot at an excellent education.”

Jackson continues, “We understood that fundamentally and made sure the city had something they were proud to hang their hat on in terms of their schools. Once we gave them a taste that this could turn out to be something incredible, we saw parental involvement go up. We started to see the community come out for football games and other events. Every 30 days we are showcasing something new and different such as the ‘Tiny House’ project we are working on or a mid-town barbeque festival with the community. Now we have the cooperation with the city government to raise $155,000 to build a Splash Pad for the community. It’s a multitude of things such as building an authentic partnership with city government and its schools so we can do things together that will improve the quality of life. It’s showcasing the programs in such a way that you can get parents and business owners excited about their local schools.”

Not only that, when you create a high-profile buzz with the rest of the country looking at you, it becomes infectious. Jackson proudly brags, “When the folks in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee hear that people from Palm Beach County, Florida, the 11th largest school district in the nation, are coming to visit to see what we are doing, they can’t argue with success. That is the attitude you have to adopt. The city is starting to feel like a winner again and it is long overdue.” He reiterates, “After you feel like you belong, then you will start feeling efficacious and capable. Then and only then can you transfer to self-actualization, just being your best. Mt. Pleasant’s new business owners are feeling capable. Now let’s give this thing a go because we all feel like we belong.”

When Ryan Jackson was asked what advice he would give to struggling administrators, he said, “First and foremost, be a leader, not a figure-head. You have to be present. People want to see their shepherd – ten toes down leadership. You are in the halls, in the classrooms. You’re engaging the students with fist-bumps, high-fives, ‘how you doing?’ You need to have mini conversations with kids and identify their passions. Get to know your staff on a personal level. For far too long leadership programs have emphasized that being a good manager is where you draw a firm line. I think things have just changed. [As administrators], we have to be smart, we have to be savvy and we have to be professional, but most importantly, we have to be present.”

With all that being said, part of partaking in a cultural shift is to change things. Jackson declares, “Sometimes, you’ve got to disrupt the norm. Be comfortable in being a stimulus for change. Great leaders are comfortable with dissent. You have got to understand that not everybody is going to see things as they should right away. But it is our job as a leader to influence them. Leadership is the art of influencing and you cannot influence people from behind a computer screen. If you are sending emails that are fear-based, that may last for a little bit, but everything is built on relationships. You have to establish those kinds of ground level relationships first.”

Jackson concludes, “It is your job as an administrator to become your biggest evangelist. Share your story. Highlight your success. Don’t be afraid to share some of your struggles or setbacks, because we are all human and fallible. We are looking to learn from our networks. So, you share within your networks- ideas, struggles and celebrations- in an effort to get better together.”

His biggest piece of advice is to “get out of the office, get in the hallways, in the classrooms, in the community. Be present at games and events. Get to know your students on a first name basis. Kids get excited when they know you know who they are and what they are passionate about. That stuff is life-changing; it’s psychological solutions. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.” No school in Tennessee has changed its culture more than ‘The Mount’. This school culture is an example of a strategy that other schools and districts can duplicate.

Bethany Bowman is the Director of Professional Learning for 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.

Dr. Ryan Jackson from Mt. Pleasant High School in Maury County, TN, “The Mount,” shares real life examples as he talks about educators being advocates for the “underdog.”
   

 

2018 Suicide Prevention Poster

Every day we lose three people to suicide in the state of Tennessee. Here are a few more facts for the Volunteer state:

  • We lose one person aged 45-54 every two days
  • We lose one person over the age of 65 every three days
  • We lose one person between the ages 10-24 every four days
  • Suicide is the 2nd Leading cause of death of Tennessee youth aged 10-24.
  • There were 1,110 reported suicide deaths in Tennessee in 2016
  • Tennessee suicide rate = 16.2 per 100,000 (National suicide rate in 2015 = 13.3 per 100,000)

What can you do?

1) Be aware of the warning signs:

  • Threats of suicide or statements revealing a desire to die.
  • Previous suicide attempts or self-harm.
  • Depression (crying, changes in sleeping/eating patterns, hopelessness, loss of interest in hobbies/activities).
  • Final arrangements (e.g. giving away prized possessions).
  • Drastic changes in personality or behavior.

2) Take the following steps if someone you know is contemplating suicide.

  • Keep calm and take it seriously. Do not minimize the threat or assume it is a joke or a way of getting attention.
  • Discuss suicide openly and directly.
  • Listen. Show your support and concern.
  • If possible, remove objects such as guns or pills that could be used to inflict self-harm.
  • Get professional help.

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.

donovan thinking

The future doesn’t belong to the brilliant, but rather to the resilient.  Resilience is the ability that allows people that have a setback in the goals to comeback stronger than ever in their life.  Psychologists have identified a few of the factors that make somebody resilient, among them:  a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to control emotions, and the capacity to see failure as temporary.

Peter Buffett wrote: “Our journey in life rarely follows a straight line but is often met with false starts, crises, and blunders. How we push through and persevere in these challenging moments is where we begin to create the life of our dreams.” Sometimes failure and pain are our life’s greatest teachers. The toughest people are the ones who love despite personal shortcomings, cry to themselves behind closed doors and fight battles that nobody may even know about.

 

 

Life is about transcending your circumstances, taking control of your destiny, and living your life to the fullest.  Educators must embrace that mantra in the classroom, and out of it.  As Jake Owen’s recent summer tour “Life’s Whatcha Make It,” he describes it like this:  “[If] you wake up in the morning and you’re happy and you go forward with a smile on your face and want to make it great, most likely, it’s gonna be a great day,” he says. “If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed with negativity in your mind, that’s pretty much how your day’s gonna go.”

It was the movie character, Ferris Bueller, who reminded us that: “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  One of the things that’s people fail to do is appreciate the good things in life.  For most of us, we enjoy a roof over ou

r heads, food on our table, good health, a family that loves us, friends who care, and the opportunity to work a job we like for money.  So, the first step to making the most out of life is deciding what you want to achieve.  What are your goals in life? Do you appreciate what you have?  If you cannot answer that affirmatively, chances are you will never be happy.

Much has been made of what motivates people to teach. A career in public education is one of the most altruistic and generous career choices.  It will never be for the money.  And if you have been deceitfully convinced that it is a paycheck for what draws people into public education then you have lost the vision and purpose of education.   Teachers don’t teach for the income.  They teach for the outcome.   It truly is about your students’ success.  And that is not measurable on a test score, and their success might not be visible until those children reach adulthood.

Teachers are some of the most resilient people I know.  Good teachers know how to bring out the best in students. Still they do not have the ability to control their work environment, their salary, or how those around them respond to changes—from supervisors, to colleagues to students.  When you study great teachers, it is likely you will realize it is the immeasurable things like their caring and hard work, rather than their technique or test scores that set them apart. Teachers who take an actual interest in their students’ lives are the ones students become inspired by, and learn the most from in a classroom.

I was taught first at home, then reinforced later by my time in the Marine Corps to “adapt, improvise and overcome.”  In my career in the military, and later as a classroom teacher, I learned the meaning of Semper Flexibilis, which translates to “always flexible.”  It is true that sometimes the best things in life come out of change, even if the changes are unwanted. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

As adults we reflect on the lessons we learned growing up.  We always remember and cherish the those who encouraged and supported us through difficult times.  Nobody wants to be left out, or made to feel like they do not fit in.   We all want to be seen, felt, and understood.  Those adults who give us emotional support are as important as those who give us academic validation.   Call it empathy, or seemingly being attuned to the needs of others.  We never forget that adult who cared for us as children. As an educator how would students describe you to others?  How do your neighbors describe you?  How does your family describe you? 

Joshua J. Marine wrote: “Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”  The ability to overcome obstacles is critical whether you are a student, classroom teacher, administrator or CEO of a company.  Learn to chase your dreams, develop your own uniqueness and ability.  Understand there will be disappointments along the way.  Your ability to bounce back is essential to your success in life.   We must also teach our children to be resilient.

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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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Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen soundly responded to Metro Nashville Schools Director Shawn Joseph and Shelby County Superintendent Dorsey Hopson very bluntly in a straightforward letter yesterday.  It is doubtful that either Joseph or Hopkins actually wrote the letter, which called for a “pause” in testing and convene a statewide working group of educators to look at testing.  McQueen stated that neither she or Governor Bill Haslam received the letter that got widespread media coverage.  She also pointed out that “both state and federal law require an annual statewide assessment.”

Some may argue that states have more flexibility, which is true to an extent.  We should take a hard look at Tennessee’s ESSA plan and certainly make necessary adjustments.  But we identified our own measures of progress and agreed to take certain actions in order to receive federal monies.  Like that or not, it is how the game is played.  When Tennessee was touting Race to the Top money, the state certainly jumped through even more hoops to get those dollars.

Dr.  McQueen, who serves at the pleasure of the Governor, must follow state and federal laws.    Joseph and Hopson have their own Boards of Education they must listen to on policy issues.  Policy analysts TC Weber and Andy Spears have both weighed in on the subject, as has Sharon Roberts.  Professional Educators of Tennessee added our opinion on the subject.  All stakeholders want to get testing right.  However, the emphasis on testing misses the bigger issue:  student academic growth measured by flawed testing.  Then the results being used in educator evaluations.  This is certainly more problematic to educators than the actual tests themselves.

Once the Tennessee Department of Education gets testing corrected, then we, as a state, can refocus on discussing what should or shouldn’t be included in teacher evaluations.  It is clear:  flawed testing equals faulty evaluations.  This is no way to measure the success or failure of our students, teachers or schools.  This issue isn’t going away.  Stay tuned.

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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.