We hope they will keep Common Core State Standards in language arts and math in place. Tennessee teachers in large measure believe that Common Core State Standards in language arts and math are the right thing for Tennessee students. However, until this can be fully evaluated, we do not support adding any additional areas to Common Core. We concede that doing things quickly is often good, but doing them right is always better, particularly when we are dealing with something as important as Tennessee’s schools.
Common Core standards that are currently adopted are the minimal baseline and we must keep moving forward to increase these standards, regardless of whatever any other state does.
We have recommended that we evaluate Tennessee’s role in PARCC. Tennessee should evaluate their role with the organization and ensure it is a good investment of Tennessee taxpayer dollars. Any contracts or agreements with PARCC, or by PARCC, should be made public to stakeholders and policymakers in order to better foster transparency. We are concerned about the involvement of lobbyists, who will or may profit indirectly from Common Core in the promotion or implementation of the standards, adoption of curriculum and finally the testing.
In addition, we recommend a delay in using student test results for teacher evaluations until at least 2016-17 at the earliest. Requiring school districts to simultaneously implement new standards, new testing demands, new teacher evaluations and perhaps a new curriculum will create enormous pressure at the local level. The use and/or overuse of testing remain a conversation worthy of discussion. Educators themselves understand they are accountable for the instruction of their students and need to produce valid evidence regarding their effectiveness. We agree that the education of children is far too important a task to not be evaluated. However, by using the wrong assessment instruments to evaluate educational quality we may actually do more harm than good.
Developing and implementing the testing phase of the Common Core process will provide an important baseline for assessment of what progress is being made and what adjustments may be necessary from an academic standpoint. Teachers, however, should not be punished by a testing system that remains a work in progress, particularly when so many communities in Tennessee do not yet have the resources for the teaching and testing elements to function properly.
We should make certain that all students and teachers — regardless of geography or income — can access the numerous opportunities offered digitally. Ensuring connectivity in the hands of students and teachers is a catalyst for reimagining the learning experience itself by enabling personalized learning, and advances in testing will follow suit.
While the testing should proceed, it should not be used to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers, impact their licensure or impact local school systems until the process is further refined and developed.
We must make individual student data-mining in Tennessee illegal.
While the federal government and others claim it is currently illegal to conduct student data-mining, we must augment this to safeguard Tennessee students and educators. Making individually identifiable information about Tennessee’s children available to groups, agencies, companies or any other organization without specific parental approval in advance should be illegal, and violating the protections of privacy rights for families in Tennessee and our children should be punishable as a felony.
Tennessee teachers should also have their identifiable information protected to prevent possible misuse of such data to adversely harm them. Schools and school systems need better policies in regard to school personnel having access to an educator’s personal summative and evaluation scores. Individual teacher scores should remain confidential and must not be arbitrarily shared among non-supervising administrators and/or staff.
The most important thing we can do is keep all stakeholders at the table. We must learn to listen carefully, communicate transparently and operate from our common Tennessee values and goals. When personalities and control issues can be kept in check, significant progress can be achieved in Tennessee classrooms. This means ensuring that the federal government does not usurp state and local responsibilities or increase control over our public education system.
Policymakers will continue to have a challenging job trying to balance the debate between nontraditional education reformers who are accused of trying to upset the public education system and traditional educators who are opposed to changing the status quo.
We applaud the Tennessee Senate for holding these hearings. We believe that by openly discussing any political issue it should enlighten our understanding of the topic and not provoke animosity.
Let the debate continue.
(Editor’s Note: This guest “Viewpoint” has been written and submitted to the Cleveland Daily Banner by J.C. Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, and Audrey Shores, director of Technology & Communications for the same organization. PET serves educators across the state of Tennessee and is headquartered in Brentwood. Bowman is a Bradley County native.)