Thursday, April 18, 2019

Coffee County Teachers Stage “Walk In” to Raise Awareness about Vouchers




On the morning of April 17th, a group of teachers gathered at Coffee County Central High School and Coffee County Middle School for a “Walk In” to raise awareness about the current Educational Savings Account (also known as voucher) bill that is working its way through the Tennessee Legislature. A “Walk In” is when teachers gather in front of the school building while they are off-duty before school starts and hold up signs for parents to see while dropping their children off at school. This event was organized by Mike Stein, the President of the Coffee County Education Association.

House Bill 939/Senate Bill 795, if passed, would rob over $110 million from public education while causing local property taxes to rise. Eligibility for the ESA program initially is limited in counties with at least three schools in the bottom 10% — but zoning in a bottom 10% school is not required. Due to state law, there will always be a list generated of the bottom 10% of schools. That will play a role in vouchers expanding to other counties across Tennessee. This has happened in other states.

In Arizona, 75 percent of all ESAs are used by the affluent families zoned for A or B rated schools. Most vouchers in Indiana now go to affluent families who never intended to send children to public schools. The ESA program is designed for families who already send children to private school or homeschool and does nothing to improve struggling schools across the state. In fact, those schools will be weakened under this current legislation.

Currently, taxpayers do not currently subsidize private school tuition, but as more families take ESAs for their incoming kindergartners who they never planned to send to a public school, a new ongoing cost will shift to local taxpayers. The Senate version of this bill will allow funds to be used for homeschooling, which has great potential for abuse. ESAs in other states have experienced a significant amount of fraud and abuse. These states believed they had proper safeguards in place to prevent fraud and abuse, but still lost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Additionally, students who use ESAs for private and homeschool are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools, putting those students at risk for falling behind their peers in traditional public schools. Private schools do not have the same certification and expertise requirements as public schools. In the House version, voucher students do not have to take state tests in Social Studies and Science, and in the Senate version students will not have to take any type of state test, which can be substituted for any nationally-normed test. ESAs and vouchers don’t work and actually harm student learning. Research clearly shows voucher students fall behind their peers who attend to private schools or homeschooling.

When Mike Stein e-mailed Rep. Rush Bricken stating his concerns about this bill, Mr. Bricken sent this reply: “I appreciate you taking the time to let me know how you feel about HB 939. I support and believe in public education. I am not fully for this legislation but want to wait to see what comes out of committees before I finally decide.” Despite all of the pitfalls of this legislation, Rep. Bricken is hesitant to do what many other lawmakers have done and stand on the side of public education and against this bill. He will vote on this bill within the next few days and can be reached at (615) 741-7448 and rep.rush.bricken@capitol.tn.gov. If you don’t live in Coffee County, you can quickly contact your representative by going to  https://actionnetwork.org/letters/no-to-vouchers.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

3 Reasons Why Tennesseans Need Karl Dean


I am a high school teacher who works with over a hundred teenagers every day. I deeply care about them, about their futures, and about our local community. I am also a father of two young girls and a husband to an amazingly supportive wife. Whom Tennesseans elect as our next governor is crucially important to me. In fact, for many Tennesseans, this election is a matter of life and death--and no, I’m not exaggerating. There are three main reasons why this teacher is supporting Karl Dean to be Tennessee’s next governor.

Reason #1: He will save lives by pushing for Medicaid expansion. This won’t cost taxpayers any additional money because we’re already paying for it. Every single day, this state sends almost $4 million of our tax dollars to the federal government to pay for Medicaid expansion for other states. That money could come back home, to us, if only we’d allow it. This state leads the country in the number of hospital closures, leaving Tennesseans with literally no where to go in the case of an emergency. Additionally, we have about 300,000 people across the state who are in a coverage gap--they cannot qualify for TennCare and they make too much money to qualify for the Affordable Care Act. From a teacher’s perspective, it’s nearly impossible to educate children unless their basic needs are met. Health care is a basic human right, and expanding Medicaid in Tennessee is the right thing to do.

Reason #2: He is the best choice to continue the upward trajectory of our public education system. This is exemplified by the Tennessee Education Association Fund for Children & Public Education endorsing him. Additionally, at a recent town hall, Dean said: "When I look at this state, the number one thing that we gotta get right is education. We need to increase teacher pay. We're losing too many teachers to the private sector. We're paying below the national average." On the debacle otherwise known as TNReady, he went on to say: "I don't believe that testing should be punitive toward teachers at all. We lost teachers' voices in this whole process. We need to get back to listening to our teachers. There's way too much testing going on in schools today, and not enough learning." When it comes to public education, he gets it. He’s also staunchly against school vouchers (sometimes referred to as education savings accounts) because he understands that taking money from public schools and using it to help the wealthy send their children to private schools is completely nonsensical and counterproductive. When polled, 64% of Tennesseans oppose vouchers, and Karl Dean is on the correct side of this issue. 

Reason #3: He is very pro-business. While he was the mayor of Nashville, more than 70,000 gross new jobs were created and more than 350 companies expanded or relocated to the area. Karl Dean believes that creating jobs is the most effective way to decrease the need for social welfare programs. He will work to bring jobs to Tennessee, which isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s an issue that impacts all of our communities. As a teacher who lives in a rural community, I want my students and their parents to find well-paying jobs. Again, it helps their basic needs be met which will help them do better in school. It’s one thing to run a successful company, and another thing entirely to create jobs from the public sector. Running a government is not like running a business. Its purpose is not to make profit, but to provide for the safety and well-being of the people. Karl Dean, and his two predecessors, Bill Haslam and Phil Bredesen, all have the necessary experience of running a major metropolitan government before becoming governor. He’s clearly the most qualified candidate for the job.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I'm Moving

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for following my posts on this blog. I have recently decided to partner with another teacher on a different blog, and my future posts will be on there. Please take some time and check it out! The new web address is https://www.unpackedu.com/.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Gutting of America's Public Schools


The following article was co-written by Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow Debbie Hickerson. She is a fifth grade teacher at Cason Lane Academy in Murfreesboro, TN.

Keep your eye on what is being proposed at the federal government for our public school system. Have no illusions. The school voucher system will gut public school funding across the country. A voucher does not provide enough money for full tuition. Those who want to use vouchers to put their children in private school will need to supplement the tuition cost out of pocket. This means those in poverty and the working poor will not be able to access private schools. That leaves those in the public school system who cannot afford private school. Public schools will lose a majority of their funding to the vouchers, leaving underfunded public schools with a high proportion of children in poverty. Statistically, high poverty schools don’t do well on standardized tests. Universally low test scores, because of the vouchers, will feed into the false narrative that public schools are failing the students that they serve. This is not equitable education for all. Don't we want ALL of our children in America to have a good education?

To those of you not in the education field, you may not understand that having a school voucher system doesn't just mean you can choose any school you want your kid to go to. It also means the public education program will be dismantled. Let me explain.

House Resolution 610, introduced by Rep. Steve King of Iowa (yes, the same person who tweeted something so racist that people cancelled their vacations to Iowa), will effectively start the school voucher system to be used by children ages 5-17 and starts the defunding process of public schools. It will eliminate the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which is the nation's educational law that provides equal opportunity in education. The ESEA established what are known as title programs and, because these are so important to maintaining free and equitable public education, Congress has reauthorized ESEA every five years since 1965. Under President George W. Bush, ESEA became known as No Child Left Behind; under President Barack Obama, it was rebranded the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and passed Congress with rare bipartisan support.

ESSA is a comprehensive law that covers programs for struggling learners, advanced and gifted kids in AP classes, ESL classes, classes for minorities, rural education, education for the homeless, school safety (Gun-Free schools), monitoring and compliance, and federal accountability programs. Yes, there are all of these programs happening in our education system, in addition to academics, and they will disappear if this bill becomes law. Some things ESSA does for children with disabilities include ensuring access to the general education curriculum, and accommodations on assessments. It also requires local education agencies (i.e. the school systems) to provide evidence-based interventions in schools with consistently under-performing subgroups.

House Resolution 610 also abolishes the Nutritional Act of 2012 (No Hungry Kids Act) which provides nutritional standards in school breakfast and lunch. It dangerously has no wording whatsoever protecting kids with special needs, no mention of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) nor the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) act.

Please call your representative and ask him/her to vote NO on House Resolution 610. If you don’t know who your house representative is, go to http://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep and type in your zip code. Please call all local offices and the D.C. office. E-mails are okay, too, but phone calls are much more effective and really will not take much of your time at all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

5 Reasons Why You Should Support Tuition Equality


Being a college basketball fanatic, this is by far my favorite time of year. It’s amazing watching these teams--each one composed of players from around the country, or even from around the world--come together as one unit and work together for a common purpose. The fans of each of the sixteen remaining NCAA tournament teams come from different backgrounds and have a plethora of life outlooks, yet they solidify as one unified group, proudly wearing their respective team’s colors showing their support.

While the United States continues to transform into an increasingly divided nation, Americans are becoming more proud to wear the colors red or blue. Like sports, most things in life transcend identifying with one color or the other. One of these issues that needlessly divides Americans is immigration. It’s easy to forget that we are a nation that is founded by immigrants; sadly, in this country’s relatively short history, there has always been an “evil” immigrant group who was forced to wear the opposing team’s jersey through no fault of their own--whether it was the Native Americans, the Irish Catholics, the Jews, the Japanese, the Hispanics, or the Muslims.

Being a public school teacher, it’s my job to teach the students in front of me, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, or immigration status. The bottom line is that I teach people. I teach people with hopes and dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. I teach people who have no earthly idea what they want to be when they grow up.

Rep. Mark White of Memphis and Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga have co-sponsored a bill that absolutely needs to pass. HB0863/SB1014, which is up for a vote in the Senate on Wednesday, March 22nd, exempts an individual from paying out-of-state tuition if that individual: attended school in this state for two years prior to graduation from high school, graduated from high school or a home school program or obtained a GED, and is registered at a state institution of higher education. Here are my top five reasons why everyone needs to support this bill.
  1. It’s the right thing to do. This bill will allow my immigrant students to follow their dreams and pursue a college degree. The Bible is very clear about helping immigrants. One of my favorite scriptures regarding immigrants is from Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
  2. This is a bi-partisan bill. Staunchly conservative Texas was the first state to pass a tuition equality bill. In total, 27 states have passed a bill similar to the one that is proposed in Tennessee. Both blue states and red states support it. Why? That leads me to number 3.
  3. It’s good for our economy. Workers with a college degree make $1.3 million more in their lifetimes. More productivity means the state can collect more in taxes. Demand for educated workers is rising while supply is lagging behind.
  4. It’s great for our universities. An increase in admissions will provide income to universities that isn’t already there. Allowing undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition will most certainly increase university graduation rates.
  5. Governor Haslam supports it and will sign it if it passes the legislature. In 2013, the governor launched Drive to 55, a campaign to increase the number of college graduates to 55% by 2025. Tuition Opportunity supports the governor's goal of reducing barriers to higher education and creating a more educated workforce.
Update: This bill passed the Senate Education Committee and has moved on to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee. In the House, this bill is up for a vote on Tuesday, March 28th in the Education Administration & Planning Committee.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Room for the Human Element


This piece was originally posted on tnteachertalk.com and is from a colleague of mine from the Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellows, which is a teacher fellowship organization dedicated to amplifying teacher voice. Kim Pringle is a recipient of the ETS Recognition of Excellence award for Principles of Learning and Teaching and has recently been appointed as an assistant principal at Snow Hill Elementary School in Chattanooga. Before becoming an assistant principal, she worked as a music teacher, a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), and a RTI Coordinator.

The great struggle of educational change is not lack of initiative, or innovation, or standards, or motivation. It is a diversity of resources and cultures. What works in one environment is doomed to fail in another. There is no one-size–fits-all anything when it comes to the very human act of educating the children of a community.

There are many different types of schools. Some are productive and innovative and some crush the spirit of innovation before it can grow and flourish. Some are tech-centered and engineering-minded, while others are pitifully technology poor. Some embrace best practices and collaboration, while others are seemingly stuck in the past with doors and minds closed to one another.

If I could communicate one thing to educational policy-makers, it would be to find room for the human element. So often it seems that educational policy only focuses on data and test scores. I believe this human element is the thing which teachers see so intimately and bemoan as the un-testable variables. It comes in the form of heartbreaking stories: Mom and dad were fighting last night...again...The electricity was turned off three days ago. I hate cold showers...My baby sister screamed all night. Will she ever stop?...We've been living out of a tent, but we lost our campsite today...I wanted to come to school, but mom didn't wake up...My dad died last week, but no one will talk about it...My shoes don't fit, but I don't want to tell my mom, because we don't have any money...And the day-to-day speedbumps in the road of the educator: We're a sub short today, so we had to divide Mr. Allen's class...You're getting 5 extra kids...Fire drill today at 9:30 am!...Cookie-dough sale kick-off celebration in the gym at 2:30 pm...Pep-rally on Friday!...We're experiencing problems with the WiFi again.

We want the best for our kids. We move mountains for them—of fundraiser cookie dough and wrapping paper and coupon books. And we do all of this to get the funds we need to have the right technology in their hands or to have books for them to read. But it isn't equal. Not all communities have the same luxury of time and disposable income to make those sorts of things happen. Title I funds are supposed to reduce the inequity but still fall short. In addition, many schools who do not qualify for Title I funds struggle to provide for their students when the population does not quite reach the poverty threshold for Title I, yet cannot afford to self-fund.

Critics of public education often depict educators as inadequate for the job or unmotivated to teach students properly. I would argue that we are very motivated for our students. Motivation isn't the issue. It likely comes down to resources and culture. Have we enabled the resources needed for change? Have we dealt with the human needs and cultural needs creating barriers to academic gains?

So, though I appreciate the information that assessment data provides, I plead—look beyond the statistics and into the numbers and see the children they represent. Look beyond the school and see the community it serves. Educating our children is a beautiful, human act. Let's keep the humanity in the process.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Oath


While pondering what to write about this week, I Googled the phrase “first do no harm” because I had a vague sense that it pertained to an oath of some sort, but I couldn’t remember what it was called. When Google reminded me that it is from the Hippocratic Oath, my curiosity took over and I looked up the history of the term.

Interesting fact: the phrase “first do no harm” is no longer officially part of the modern Hippocratic Oath, though the intent of that phrase is ever-present. Another fun fact: people love things that come in sets of ten. For example, there’s the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, the modern Hippocratic Oath, and the teachers’ Bill of Rights that has been proposed in the Tennessee Legislature (SB0014/HB1074) and needs to become law as hastily as possible. As education professionals, we should take a similar oath when we receive our apprentice licenses, which enables us to become full-time teachers. As far as I can tell, such an oath does not exist; therefore, I have created my own, written in the same style as the modernized Hippocratic Oath.
  1. I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this oath.
  2. I will honor the gains of those educators in whose steps I walk and will gladly share my knowledge with those who are to follow. 
  3. I will always work for the intellectual betterment of my students, avoiding, as much as possible, the twin traps of over testing and teaching to the test. 
  4. I will remember that education is both an art and a science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the bubble sheet and the homework assignment. 
  5. I will not be ashamed to consult my colleagues when the skills of another are needed to help a student. 
  6. I will respect the privacy of my students. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death, and I will do everything lawfully within my power to protect a student’s life. 
  7. I will remember that I do not teach a data point on which I will later be judged, but a human being, whose desire to learn and become a productive member of society are of utmost importance in the classroom. 
  8. I will encourage my students to think critically whenever I can, and I will always look to incorporate ways for students to act creatively. 
  9. I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to the foundations of future societies. 
  10. If I maintain this oath, may I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of educating those who seek my help.
I believe in my heart that educators are well-intentioned. Sometimes lawmakers and other bureaucrats get in the way of us doing what is best for our students. For example, a person only needs to follow the money trail for a brief moment to discover the foundation of the accountability movement that is so pervasive in every public school in the country. One company or another profits from every standardized test that students take. It’s a billion dollar a year industry that is quite adept at generating a need for its products.

Sometimes, however, teachers get stuck, or groomed, in the mantra of “this is always how we’ve done things” and end up creating work that is detrimental to students’ success. For example, it is common practice for elementary school teachers to assign homework--despite the overwhelming evidence that it is not beneficial to enhancing students’ performance. Earlier this school year an elementary school in Vermont banned all homework and they have already declared the experiment a success--after only one semester! Especially with recess constantly being put in time-out during the school day, it’s more crucial than ever that these young learners have time after school to play, and be curious, and investigate things. After all, the entire concept for this article began when I did that very thing myself. Perhaps if educators took an oath, like the one that I wrote above, it would have a positive impact on how we operate our classrooms. In any case, it couldn’t do any harm.