Stay The Course? Not Likely

Friday, March 14, 2014

The fiery news burning through the Tennessee General Assembly revolves around House Bill 1129, which was amended by lawmakers on Thursday to delay final implementation of Common Core, as well as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing.  A partnership of Democrats and Conservative/Libertarian-Leaning Republicans joined forces to address education issues of mutual concern.  

How this eventually plays out will become evident over the next few days and perhaps weeks. Politics are politics.  While other groups may revel with delight over legislative events, our concern is what message is sent to educators and subsequent what impact will occur in the classroom.  We expect the House, the Senate, and the Governor's office will shape a final version of this legislation. Chances are the reverberation will be felt across the state and nation. But simply staying the course is an unlikely option.

Several times in the summer of 2013, we sat down with the leadership of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) to discuss some of the critical issues facing Tennessee educators, as well as what we were hearing at the time from across our state from teachers, parents and other groups.  We pointed out several issues and concerns.  These reservations largely fell on deaf ears.  This does not make SCORE a bad organization nor am I trying to be disparaging. SCORE has a focus; just like any other educational organizations has their specific focus.  Sometimes our interests will intertwine, other times they will be dynamically in opposition to one another.    

In this case, it was clear they felt all was going well from their perspective on education reform.  I concurred with their assessment about the standards.  I do not believe the real debate and subsequent criticism was ever really about the standards themselves, but rather the surrounding periphery issues. But we differed in other issues and approach.  I believe in fully discussing issues, as well as solving problems in a collaborative approach and in an open and transparent manner.   

For SCORE, staying the course as designed was the prudent path of action.  However, we understood, as an organization, that we had to strengthen our own advocacy efforts and give a more effective voice on behalf of educators to stakeholders and policymakers.  We represent the actual practitioners in the classroom. It is true that the president of the teacher’s union serves on SCORE’s steering committee. However, we would argue that alone does not give classroom teachers a voice in an organization that has such an impact over Tennessee education policy.  Professional Educators of Tennessee has no obligation to embrace an agenda when it marginalizes the views of public educators.   

Educators know a great deal about “what works,” but they alone cannot institute or sustain improvement without greater stakeholder involvement and informed policymaker advocacy.  Education leaders must learn to think differently about what it will require for our profession to thrive, not just survive, and in order to remain relevant in today’s rapidly changing political climate.  We must realize our proper role in educational leadership and student learning collectively and individually.  

As far as online testing is concerned, we know from our own members, that many school districts are still not prepared, and it is estimated that 40% of the technology needed is still not in place statewide. Local school systems still face challenges to infrastructure and need to build network connectivity.  There have been notable problems and substantial costs that local education agencies have had to absorb due to the move toward PARCC.  The most common issues that the state has not addressed is ongoing or increasing costs, technical concerns and fears that the test could limit flexibility in crafting future curriculum.  

The use of high-stakes testing as the sole measure of student achievement is justly under increased scrutiny.  Transitioning Tennessee’s value-added data from TCAP to PARCC will take some time and adjustment.  For example, we do not believe that the state has adequately made clear how TVAAS will handle the transition from all bubble-in tests to constructed response tests.  Until some questions are better explained, we strongly support a delay in using student test results for Teacher Evaluations, at least until 2016-2017 at the earliest. 

Tennessee children live in a dynamic world and their skills have to constantly be upgraded. We have to communicate effectively the needs of educators to policymakers on how to best accomplish this task in the K-16 community. Our position is easy to explain:  Any standards that our state adopts must help our students achieve at a higher level.  By doing this ultimately we will get more students to and through post-secondary work and help our students become productive citizens.  As educators, our focus should be on how to accomplish that task. 

When personalities and control issues can be kept in check—significant progress can be achieved in Tennessee classrooms.   In a nutshell, educators are supportive of the more rigorous standards, but very few have confidence that new assessments will not be used as an indictment against their efforts, professionalism and competence.

JC Bowman

Executive Director 

Professional Educators of Tennessee


Please Step Forward - And Response

Will a truthful, honest, law-abiding, trustworthy, high-profile, well-known, experienced, political figure from Congress who is not awaiting settlement by authorities or the courts for unlawful activities please step up and prostrate themselves at the feet of the voters and volunteer their services to fill the position of leader of the free world before election day?  I know ... (click for more)

Why I Served In The Military

I was in the first grade when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. When we lived in California, while my dad worked at Mare Island shipyard, I remember stories that some coastal towns could hear the bombs as they exploded.  My family, like others, had a number of members that served in the military. My brother was in the Army and served in Europe and during the Battle of the ... (click for more)

2 Shot On Glass Street In Drive-By Shooting Tuesday Night

Two people were shot Tuesday night in a drive-by shooting. Chattanooga Police responded at 10:34 p.m. to the 2400 block of Glass Street on the report of a shooting. They located two victims suffering from gun shot wounds. Chattanooga Police established a crime scene and facilitated first aid to the victims.  The victims were standing outside of a business when an unknown assailant ... (click for more)

Jury Chosen For Hawk Murder Trial

Twelve jurors and two alternates have been chosen for the trial of Billy Hawk.  Hawk is charged with a cold case murder from 1981 involving victim Johnny Mack Salyer, who was found in a locked steel drum in the Tennessee River. At the time of the murder, Salyer and Hawk were co-defendants in a cocaine distribution case.  Seventy-two jurors appeared for jury duty ... (click for more)

Lookouts Outlast Barons Tuesday In 10-6 Win

BIRMINGHAM, AL --  The Birmingham Barons came close to clawing back before dropping the series' opener, 10-6, to the Chattanooga Lookouts in front of 4,861 fans at Regions Field. The Lookouts found themselves in the midst of back-and-forth contest where either squad could have come out on top. Winning pitcher  D.J. Baxendale (5-5) started and allowed five runs ... (click for more)

Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Football Classic Set For Saturday at CCS

The 13th Annual Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Football Classic, presented by Great Clips, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday June 4 at Chattanooga Christian School in Chattanooga. Tennessee defeated Georgia 38-14 last June at McCallie School in Chattanooga. It was Tennessee's fourth consecutive victory in the series that dates back to the first game held at Ridgeland High in ... (click for more)