JC Bowman Commentary: Better Thinking Equals Better Results


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 at Professional Educators of Tennessee have not always agreed with some of the agenda, 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 on 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 have 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 support seems 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 schools. Teachers need more opportunities for reflection and to develop connections beyond their school walls or even districts. That is how 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 this 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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One Thought to “JC Bowman Commentary: Better Thinking Equals Better Results”

  1. Ralph

    Facts are stubborn things. Read the SCORE report for 2018-2019, and do so with discernment. It paints a different picture than the self-serving assertions in this article.

    According to the SCORE Report for 2018-2019, while 80% of Tennessee’s teachers were rated “above expectation”, only 35% of students were rated as being proficient or “on track” for third grade reading level.

    While the SCORE report likes to tout its performance since 2011, by the report’s own admission, performance since 2013 has actually declined year over year, not improved.

    From page 8 of the report:

    “the pace of Tennessee’s student achievement progress has been slower since 2013. On the National Assessment of Education Progress
    (NAEP), fourth-grade math performance was significantly lower in 2017 than 2015, displacing Tennessee from the top half of states and lowering the state’s ranking to 34th. The 2017 results in fourth and
    eighth-grade reading and eighth-grade math were about the same as 2015. Compared to the state’s 2017 TNReady scores, achievement on the 2018 TNReady assessments dropped in all middle grades subjects and high school English and science.”

    More students are enrolling in college, but fewer are graduating. So now you may have the burden of student debt, but no degree – not good. The road to serfdom indeed.

    Page 10 of the SCORE report:

    “In 2018, the percentage of high schools on track to graduate college
    and career ready was 29 percent in English and 23 percent in math.”

    Moreover, on page 13 of the SCORE report, you have this:

    “Tennessee remains in the bottom 10 states nationally in postsecondary attainment.”

    Page 18 of the report indicated that of 700 lessons that were observed in TN, only 10% met the grade-appropriate level of academic rigor.

    Page 9 has this gem:

    “Current levels of education among working age adults
    in Tennessee do not meet job-market demands,
    nor do they allow many Tennesseans to earn a living
    Choice is the answer. Give ALL parents the option of receiving a voucher that they can use for homeschooling or private school. Hold the public school system accountable via market performance, not self-serving disinformation and shifting baselines.

    How does Tennessee propose to attract high technology ventures into the state when barely one-third of the students are able to achieve third-grade reading level? It’s not just a matter of the existing workforce, but a responsible parent would not want to move here if it means that their children will not receive a first rate education. That’s the reality and it’s a reality that I, as a technology entrepreneur, cannot ignore.

    Teachers public sector unions are a big part of the problem. As the most recent annual conference for the NEA, they voted down a resolution to improve educational performance, and voted for more programs espousing the politically correct doggerel. You see the same pointless, counterproductive pearl-clutching in the SCORE report.

    Another big problem, the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, is this notion of “inclusiveness” where students are all lumped together in one class and therefore performance slews to the lowest common denominator, frustrating and demoralizing the best and the brightest. Instead, the priority is placed on the lowest performers, at the expense of the highest performers. This is a gross disservice to the lowest performers as well since it does not build self-esteem to be put in a situation where you cannot succeed.

    Organize instead according to the level of your peer group. If you can’t speak English, you cannot be expected to read an English text as well as a native speaker. So put ESL students in their own class so they can focus on developing core English language skills. Page 13 of the report has this to say:

    “…fewer than 0.5 percent of the state’s English learners scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level in eighth-grade reading,”

    Let that sink in for a moment, .5 percent, so only one in 200 ESL students achieve proficiency. 199 of 200 cannot read at the 8th grade level.

    Indeed, while the SCORE report declares a victory by eliminating the K-5 performance gap by race, it does not indicate how that was achieved. Are those lowest performers doing better, or has the baseline been redefined such that even the lowest performers meet expectations?

    No, you are not succeeding. In fact you are getting worse.