published Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Cook: Up with teachers, out with Pearson

When teachers speak, we ought to listen. Here's what I'm hearing from local educators:

• Public education in Tennessee is dying.

• I've been teaching for 20 years, and last year was the hardest.

• One teacher here? She retired early. Said she'd had enough.

• A student threatened me with scissors. Told me to (expletive) off.

• Parents don't even know the name of their child's teacher.

• We have to share books. We don't have enough for every student to have their own.

• I would not want my grandchildren to become teachers.

They're not whining or complaining. They're mourning. Grieving. Profoundly sad, these teachers lament the deterioration of what was once beautiful, empowering and democratic.

The classroom experience.

Suit-and-tie policies in Nashville have turned it into something robotic and empty. Dysfunctional, loveless family dynamics abandon children at classroom doorsteps. Our society has become anti-intellectual and anti-teacher.

Teachers are required to constantly assess students. Principals constantly assess their teachers. All of this creates a fear-based landscape that stifles the joy, freedom and love that can and should be part of every classroom.

And now this.

Friday, the State Board of Education and Commissioner Kevin Huffman introduced new policies that would alter teacher's lives even more. The board passed policies that open the door for merit-based pay -- teacher salaries connected to student performance -- while de-emphasizing the importance of years experienced and degrees earned.

Plus, the board approved first reading of a plan that would revoke a teacher's license if certain student benchmarks are not met.

Some days I feel like Huffman is an alien, speaking a language I've never heard, talking about life on a planet none of us seems to inhabit.

Based on these policies, teachers are the problem.

Sure, I understand the desire to raise the standard for teachers. But with the other hand, create a counterweight: Pay them an upper-class salary. Establish a $60,000 base minimum, which would attract the best and brightest, and which would retain them in the profession for a career.

Then get rid of Pearson.

Our state has allowed Pearson, the corporation responsible for most standardized testing in Tennessee, to become the most powerful aspect of your child's education. No other factor is so influential in determining how classroom hours are spent than Pearson.

For creating and implementing the End-of-Course Assessments (EOC, for secondary students) and the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP, for grades K-8), Pearson was awarded two contracts by our state, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.

One contract, for five years, is worth $57,726,914.

Another, for eight years, is worth $95,820,439.

Add in two other contracts with Measurement Inc., and our state has entered a system of mandatory standardized testing worth more than $183 million.

Standardized testing is theft. Students come to believe the lie that education is only about memorization and test performance. Teachers are exhausted, demoralized and angry.

Just listen.

• Return standardized tests to their former place as a diagnostic tool that teachers and principals use to plan teaching strategies.

• I would like to see our Board of Ed members and legislators take the same tests.

• I don't know any young teacher who desires to be a career teacher who would want to come to Tennessee.

And the best line of all:

• Give education back to educators.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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jsnyder807 said...

With the advent of PARCC we will not be leaving Pearson http://www.parcconline.org/sites/parcc/files/PARCCItemDevREDACTEDFINAL.pdf A state consortium "yes" but with Pearson at the corporate helm.

June 23, 2013 at 10:16 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

My 9-year-old seems to do better with older teachers than with young ones, but paying an old teacher who's mostly going through the motions more than a gifted and capable young one who's doing a better job--whose students learn more--stinks, because

The schools are for the students, not vice versa.

Yeah, the whole system is probably overregulated and overtested. Yeah, only a small percentage of teachers are the problem. (Face it, a few of them are.) Yeah, fornication fills the schools with unparented kids who are hard to teach.

So? Divide education dollars into vouchers for each student, and let families reward good schools and teachers with more students and more money, and punish unsuccessful schools with loss of students and loss of money. Instant accountability! Parental involvement! Competition forces cars and restaurants to keep improving. Lack of competition lets schools putter along. Democracy? Prayer in schools would probably win a vote. Vouchers would let atheists use, and pay for, their preferred schools and Christians ours: diversity!, instead of imposing the atheist religion.

As a halfway step, pay students to leave the public system and write the law so each school gets to keep some of the money for students who leave. Say pay 8 students $5000 each to leave the Hamilton County system for home, private, other public, or college schools. They leave $40,000 behind them in the system, giving the system another dollar for each student still in it.

June 23, 2013 at 7:52 p.m.
ltingle said...

Outstanding article - breaks it down perfectly. I am a SPED teacher. I watch students suffering every day - students with disabilities who are held to the same standard as students in AP classes, and everyone in between. I watch them struggle, give up, fail... then miraculously, some how, they pass the state mandated test! How is this possible? I'd bet the ranch that students are being passed to show schools are progressing just enough to earn more free money. A few of the same students fail the class, or pass because their grades are inflated (grade inflation is another subject entirely). In the end, what has the system done for the student? Nothing. Johnny graduates with a useless, meaningless piece of paper that qualifies him for a nice photo op at commencement. The morning after, he has no skills, a 14 on the ACT, and few to no options for continuing ed. TN Voc-Rehab is a joke. No disabled student of mine over the past 10 has been approved for Voc-Rehab - if they can walk and talk, they are considered too high functioning.

The need for Vocational Education in our schools is dire - not every student is college bound, and not every student needs four years of math, unless systems accept consumer math, math foundations, etc. This, also, is a subject that stands alone and far too multifaceted to address here.

When I saw my students' Algebra I EOC scores, I almost fainted. I am, for lack of a better word, intimate with their skills, or lack thereof. There is no WAY they could have passed that test. Once I regained consciousness - it took a few weeks - I arose reenergized and with an epiphany: I have decided to genuinely teach this year as if a test did not exist. It doesn't matter - students are going to pass anyway. What a scam.

June 24, 2013 at 10:02 a.m.
rishteach said...

Mr. Cook, you are completely and absolutely on-point with this article!! BRAVO to you!! I have been a teacher for 15 years, 10 of those in TN public schools. The current public school climate is centered completely around data, test scores, and rankings, NOT around quality, meaningful education. Teachers are being bullied by administrators at all levels, and students are being bribed to raise scores. We spend far too many days on a myriad of tests, and far too few on rich learning experiences whose long-term benefits for students cannot be measured by tests. Teaching to the test has become the norm, while teaching the whole child has become a thing of the past. The arts have been pushed out of schools and replaced with increased instructional time. Why is all this happening?? THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR! Higher test scores, more money for the schools. As notes in the article, PLENTY of money is being spent on education, but to corporations who have found a money pit in the public schools. MILLIONS are paid to corporations, but I have to beg for a pack of copy paper for my middle school math classroom. (Imagine teaching math with little or no paper.) Many thousands were recently spent to send a group of teachers and administrators to China to visit their schools. You want our kids to be like THEM??? Really??? The entire public school arena has become one of big money and corporate greed. I love my kids, and try to do what's best for them to develop real and meaningful learning experiences, but the overall climate does not respect that anymore. I teach in a relatively high poverty, rural area, with many students whose personal situations are nothing less than tragic. My classroom is a safe place for them. However, I may be forced out if I don't raise their scores to reach the moving target we are expected to hit. I am an excellent teacher and know my subject, but my life, as well as that of my colleagues, is totally about the data, which is being pushed by administrators who rarely, if ever darken my door.

November 22, 2013 at 5:49 a.m.
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