JC Bowman: We Can’t Hide from the Tough Education Issues

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by JC Bowman and Audrey Shores

 

Problems are seemingly growing more and more complex, or are they?  In yesterday’s commentary,  Legislators – One Last Thing Before You Go!, we wanted to make sure our teachers are not going to be penalized by flawed test results and scores from this year on a teacher’s 3-year average.  It seems like it should be a simple fix, but actually is a little more complex.  That is what legislators must regularly balance in decision-making in the Tennessee General Assembly.  In public policy it isn’t always a struggle between right and wrong.  There is rarely a perfect solution.

We are very pleased that the Tennessee General Assembly wanted to hold students, educators and school districts harmless.  It really is a hold harmless, provided school districts in fact do not use test data into employment decisions like promotion, retention, termination, compensation—or even an improvement plan. 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 emphasized in SB 1623/HB1981.  However, we argued that they just missed a critical component, which is true.  Test results from this year still affect their scores and 3-year averages.

Here is the dilemma:  if we do not use this year’s TVAAS for teachers it would also likely hurt some teachers from gaining tenure.   And that too, is unacceptable and unfair.   So accordingly, this year’s data only counts as 10%, last year at 10% and the previous year at 15% to make up the 35% of the evaluation.   Teachers can use last year or this year as the full 35% if it helps the teacher.   They must have that data as part of their evaluation or the results can’t be used.  So, to be clear, a school district cannot use that flawed data, but a teacher can.  School districts cannot base employment termination and compensation decisions for teachers on data generated by these statewide assessments.  So, do legislators change the law they just passed, try to modify, or leave it be for now?  That is the discussion that they must have this week.

Legislators would be negligent if they do not further discuss the issue. They may choose to just take the fleas with the dog.  They have done excellent work on this issue to protect teachers, and they deserve the credit.  In the end the lesser of disappointing options is to leave in place what was passed.  We understand that choice.  In a perfect world we would have had perfect execution of the TNReady Test by our vendor Questar.  Then we would not be talking about flawed data, impact on 3-year averages or tenure. However, three things are almost certain on the campaign trail in 2018, especially in state races:

  • 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. Do we continue using The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS)? Move to another more reliable statistical method?  Or do we abandon these complicated formulas altogether?
  • States are allowed to use federal funds, but no longer required, to continue teacher evaluations linked to test scores. Only a handful of states took advantage of the testing flexibility Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows.  In fact, the US Secretary of Education is explicitly prohibited from mandating any aspect of a teacher evaluation system.  So, will our state continue linkage of test scores to evaluation moving forward? Or will we end the practice?
  • Do we continue moving toward an online test, or do we yet again revert strictly to paper and pencil or some combination of the two?

Sometimes issues are complex, and the simple solution is not possible.  Simon Sinek, wrote: “There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.”  This may be a case where the right solution is based on flawed data may be a right solution.  Then again, we may be all be wrong.  Let the debate continue.

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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.

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5 Thoughts to “JC Bowman: We Can’t Hide from the Tough Education Issues”

  1. Horatio Bunce

    If the government schools did not have a monopoly on the public purse, then those bonehead administrators would be losing their good employees to competitors. I tire of hearing “stakeholders” mentioned by the education department, but that rarely seems to include parents, let alone the taxpayers who fund this venture.

    TN Republicans are fond of “user fees” when it comes to raising motor fuel and vehicle registration taxes. Let’s try that for “free” public education. How many will be willing to pay $10k per year per child? If that is unreasonable, then why should I expect my neighbors to pay that instead of me?

  2. I understand that position. And indeed historically it has been abused by some. It offers protection against abuse, and offers a due process right. It is no longer true that tenure protects from disciplinary actions or even tenure. I work with this every day and see veteran teachers leaving the profession. Educators are fearful of challenging Superintendent of Schools or even Principals for fear of being placed on an “Improvement Plan.” I want to give you an example of a recent issue: a principal and assistant principal were placed on leave for notifying an agency on a matter. It took them over 100 days to get back to the school, and they did absolutely nothing wrong. It was punitive, because they reported something that may embarrass the district. This matter could have been resolved in 1 day. So, as long as you have bullies in management positions, you are going to need a way to protect people, Tenure is just a layer of protection. I would rather everyone follow the law. I have suggested an IG to be able to resolve these type issues. Remember this article? http://tennesseestar.com/2018/04/05/jc-bowman-commentary-just-follow-the-law/

    As always I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

  3. 83ragtop50

    An honest question – Why is there such a thing as tenure for teachers? I do not believe that I have ever heard of tenure for workers in the private sector. It seems to this interest observer that tenure provides unmerited protection from disciplinary actions – including termination – for those who manage to do their job for a few years. That just does not make any sense to me.

    The TNunReady vendor needs to be fired and those within the government educational bureaucracy that has let this go on for years need to be sent packing.

    1. I understand that position. And indeed historically it has been abused by some. It offers protection against abuse, and offers a due process right. It is no longer true that tenure protects from disciplinary actions or even tenure. I work with this every day and see veteran teachers leaving the profession. Educators are fearful of challenging Superintendent of Schools or even Principals for fear of being placed on an “Improvement Plan.” I want to give you an example of a recent issue: a principal and assistant principal were placed on leave for notifying an agency on a matter. It took them over 100 days to get back to the school, and they did absolutely nothing wrong. It was punitive, because they reported something that may embarrass the district. This matter could have been resolved in 1 day. So, as long as you have bullies in management positions, you are going to need a way to protect people, Tenure is just a layer of protection. I would rather everyone follow the law. I have suggested an IG to be able to resolve these type issues. Remember this article? http://tennesseestar.com/2018/04/05/jc-bowman-commentary-just-follow-the-law/

      As always I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

      1. 83ragtop50

        Mr. Bowman. I have mulled over your thoughtful response for a couple of days. I understand your argument for keeping tenure in place in order to provide possible protection for the falsely accused or abused teacher. But I am concerned that the continued existence of tenure is not a desirable solution to this problem. The real solution is to either remove the abuser and/or the legal smoke screen used to perpetrate said abuses. It may be an oversimplification for me to call this a case of where two wrongs do not make a right. But it sure appears to be the case. Is it possible that cure creates for destruction than the disease? One incompetent teacher affects a large number of students and gives their peers a black eye.

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