2016 has been an amazing year, and it has served as another reminder to take the bad with the good. I would like to reflect on the top five educational stories, both personally and as a public school teacher in Tennessee.
At the top of my list is having the privilege of attending the national teacher of the year ceremony at The White House. I traveled to The White House because I was recognized as one of America’s most distinguished educators, and I participated in honoring Ms. Jahana Hayes as the national teacher of the year. The ceremony itself only lasted 30 minutes, beginning with a short speech from Ms. Hayes, who is a history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. Her passion-filled opening remarks set a powerful tone and her enthusiasm for the teaching profession was palpable.
On the way back to Nashville, I had time to reflect on attending this absolutely sublime White House event. Continuing the spirit of this ceremony the best way I know how, I am committed to help my fellow educators elevate and express their voices and tell their stories. Teachers matter. No one knows how to improve the educational landscape better than us. We are the experts, and when we speak in unison, educators have a remarkably strong voice. It begins with educators telling their own stories and having honest conversations with stakeholders about what’s working in our profession and what’s not.
Next on my list is the complete meltdown of TNReady. Though not completely their fault, the Tennessee Department of Education took a black eye on this one. The failure of TNReady sent shock waves throughout the state’s public education system. Elementary and middle school students didn’t even get to take the exam, while high school students across the state went through the motions of taking the test and didn’t take it seriously. A state law was passed holding teachers harmless on their evaluations from these test scores, but this law doesn’t apply to schools and school districts. Meanwhile, TDOE changed testing vendors from Measurement Inc. to Questar and has some significant rebuilding to do in terms of its efficacy.
Number three on my list is something that happened within the last few days, when TDOE released its plan for public review of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In case you haven’t been following, ESSA is the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind, and it requires each state to develop its own plan on how it will meet the needs of its own students. Along with three other teachers from the high school, I recently attended a town hall meeting in Nashville where Commissioner McQueen and some of her TDOE cohorts explained the overview of their plan. I believe that TDOE’s ESSA plan needs some revision, but, overall, it sends a clear message that “all means all”--that TDOE is committed to educating all of Tennessee’s students, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, receiving special education services, or English Language Learners who just moved here from another country.
Number four on my list is the revelation from TDOE that the state’s science scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are “above the national average for the first time ever, doubled the national average for student growth, eliminated the performance gap between male and female students, narrowed the performance gap between white and black students in both grades, and narrowed the performance gap between white and Latino students in fourth grade.” Tennessee had previously scored above the national average in English Language Arts and math. This announcement is further proof that the public education system in Tennessee is on the right track. Historically, Tennessee has ranked at or near the bottom in public education.
Rounding out my top five education stories of 2016 is Mr. Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as the future U.S. Secretary of Education. Putting a pro-charter and pro-voucher champion at the head of the nation’s public schools will certainly have “yuge” ramifications. One only needs to look at the education systems in Michigan and Louisiana (both are below the national average and dropping) to understand the devastating effects of diverting money from public schools in the name of school choice.