Tag Archives: teachers

Teachers union turf war in Memphis

A turf war is brewing between the state and Memphis teachers unions, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee.

In an unexpected move, the Tennessee Education Association told Memphis-area union members in an email that it had created a new chapter for them on Wednesday. The TEA did so after the local teachers union moved to break from the state and national unions — a decision that has left educators confused about who represents them.

“I think everyone’s got to be puzzled about what’s going on,” said Ken Foster, the former head of the local union. “I don’t know if the average teacher in the classroom knows what is going on, but I guess they would have some questions.”

The conflict stems from a series of changes — including Foster’s departure — at the local union, the Memphis and Shelby County Education Association, that appear to have provoked the state union.

At issue is whether the local chapter can make its own decisions about its staff and policies, or whether it falls under the state union’s oversight.

Recently, the local union — which represents about 4,500 teachers, or about half of local educators — has taken advantage of its autonomy to make a slew of leadership changes. Most notably, Keith Williams, the five-year union president whose term ended in July and who is now running for City Council, returned as executive director in August. He replaced Foster, who had held the executive director position for 15 years.

Williams has used his new position to wage a battle against the state union, which he said had failed to serve local members. He said the local affiliate handles all grievances filed by its members, but when they choose to turn court cases over to state union officials they are ignored.

“They haven’t done one thing for members in Memphis and Shelby County,” Williams said.

So he retained Memphis attorney Michael Floyd to inform state union officials that the local chapter was seceding.

“Effective immediately my client has elected not to be affiliated with either the NEA or the TEA,” Floyd wrote to TEA President Barbara Gray on Wednesday.

Survey finds TN teachers worried by testing

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With new tests on the way in math and English for students in grades three through 11, a survey released Wednesday shows Tennessee teachers worried that they’re spending too much time on testing and test preparation.

TNReady will be given to students in the spring. It’s part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, which includes achievement tests and end-of-course exams for science, social students, math and English.

Officials say the new test is designed to measure students’ understanding of the material, not just memorization and test-taking skills. They say it will better measure students’ progress and make sure they are on track to succeed after graduation.

State education officials told reporters last week that the best thing teachers could do to get students ready for the test would be to provide “strong instruction every day.”

However, the survey of nearly 37,000 teachers showed 60 percent say they spend too much time helping students prepare for statewide exams, and seven out of ten believe their students spend too much time taking exams. (Note: The department’s report on the survey is HERE.)
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18 named to ‘Governor’s Teacher Cabinet’ (with list)

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced 18 Tennessee teachers selected to serve on the first Governor’s Teacher Cabinet.

The cabinet will meet quarterly with Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to share real-time information from the classroom, advise on policy considerations and provide a direct line of communication to schools and communities.

A year ago the governor travelled the state to hear from groups of teachers, and in December, he announced plans to create the cabinet in an effort to improve teacher communication and collaboration.

“We’ve had a number of conversations with teachers in a variety of settings, and this is another way to receive direct feedback from teachers who are in front of a class every day,” Haslam said. “As Tennessee continues to build on the success we’ve seen in our schools over the past four years, we want to hear from teachers about what is working and what needs improvement. These teachers have a lot on their plates, so I really appreciate their willingness to serve the state in this way.”
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Bill banning teacher politicking at work gets final legislative approval

(Charlie Daniel cartoon)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Legislation to prohibit Tennessee teachers from engaging in political campaigning during work hours is headed to the governor.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Joey Hensley, of Hohenwald, was approved 27-6 in the Senate on Wednesday. The companion bill (HB158) passed the House 68-27 earlier this month.

Currently, public school teachers and other school employees are excluded from the Little Hatch Act, which applies to most state employees. The proposal would add teachers to the employees prohibited from campaigning at work. Teachers could still campaign on their own time.

Republican Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville voted against the measure because he doesn’t think it’s necessary. He said most school districts already have policies to prevent campaigning.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam will review the legislation when it reaches his desk.

Note: Previous post HERE.

House GOP chairman pushes new rules on teacher political activity

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada has advanced – over Democratic objections – a bill penalizing teachers for on-the-job political activity while running into bipartisan opposition in an attempt to change state law on teacher donations to political action committees.

In the face of misgivings voiced by fellow Republicans, Casada has also abandoned for the year a bill that a Democrat depicted as a “setup” for stopping federal funding of pre-kindergarten programs in Nashville and Memphis.

Approved by the House last week on 68-27 vote, Casada-sponsored HB158 would make teachers subject to the state’s “Little Hatch Act,” enacted in 1970 and generally copying the federal “Hatch Act” that prohibits government employees from engaging in political activity while at work. Teachers are not legally considered state employees and are thus now excluded from the law — along with all local government employees.

State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, declared in House floor debate that the bill would “precisely” tly cover a Bradley County teacher who last year sent political material through a school email account. He and most other Republicans applauded the bill as a means of assuring taxpayer dollars do not directly go to politicking.

With exceptions, the vote was generally along partisan lines – Republicans supporting, Democrats opposing. One exceptions was freshman Republican Rep. David Byrd of Waynesboro, a high school coach by profession. Byrd said teachers often participate in extracurricular activities and the bill opens the door to prosecution of those simply suggesting a vote for someone at a school football game of school fundraising event.

Casada said the “line of demarcation” is whether the teacher is on the taxpayer payroll. A coach being paid to attend a game, he said, would be covered; a teacher “on his own time” would not.

Democrats protested that an overtly politicking teacher – as in the Bradley County situation — is already subject to discipline under local school board rules and the bill is unnecessary.
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Governor adds $30M to education budget to cover part of lawsuit contention

Days after seven Southeast Tennessee school systems filed a lawsuit against the state claiming inadequate state funding of education, Gov. Bill Haslam has added $30 million in education funding to his budget plan for the next year.
The money would cover payments for 11 months of health insurance for teachers. One of the points in the lawsuit is teacher insurance.

From The Tennessean:

The state (currently) pays 45 percent of health insurance premiums for 10 months, meaning local districts and teachers statewide are left with the brunt of insurance costs.

Haslam’s announcement to address teacher health insurance comes a little more than a week after representatives of the four largest districts in the state met with Haslam to discuss funding inadequacies in the BEP. The next day, seven Hamilton County-area school districts filed suit against the state because of what they see as inadequate funding of the program and state’s schools.

A main complaint of the funding inadequacy debate lies in teacher health insurance and pay, which some say is underfunded by $500 million.

“Funding teacher insurance is one of the two major concerns we shared with the governor last week, and it was the top recommendation of the BEP committee,” said Jesse Register, Metro Schools director. “This is the first step toward solving it. Reaching a full solution will take time and cooperation, but together we can come up with a substantive plan to properly fund public education in Tennessee.

“It also confirms for me that a lawsuit is the wrong direction to take. As today proves, more can be accomplished by working together than in the courts.”

But even with 11 months on the table, Metro Schools board member Anna Shepherd said Haslam’s move is only a baby step.

“He knows we need 12 and that we need the full funding,” Shepherd said. “That is the bottom line.”

New TN education commissioner likes teachers

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has a message for the state’s teachers: You’re valued.

That might seem intuitive, but teachers say it offers a refreshing contrast to her predecessor, Kevin Huffman. He left the state Education Department under fire last year for his aggressive approach to education reform. He was especially criticized for how he handled teachers, especially when he tried to tie their licenses to standardized test scores.

McQueen says she wants teachers to help determine how the state measures what they do.

“It’s extraordinarily important to make sure that teacher voice is being heard as we analyze the policy decisions that have been made over the last several years, and start planning for the future,” she said during a visit this month to a Nashville high school. “We value them.”

The new commissioner, who took office in January, recently launched a statewide effort to visit with 10,000 teachers by the end of the 2015-16 school year.

McQueen’s so-called “Classroom Chronicles Tour” is among several efforts by state officials to show appreciation for teachers and involve them in decision-making.

When McQueen took over, the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said it hoped her leadership style would be different from her predecessor’s.

Disdain for Huffman wasn’t limited to teachers. Nearly half of the state’s superintendents signed a petition stating Huffman had “no interest in a dialogue” with local school leaders as he made policy changes.

So far, they seem pleased with McQueen, who has taught teachers, as well as elementary and middle school.
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TEA: Poll shows TN voters not concerned with charter schools, but want them accountable

News release from Tennessee Education Association:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Poll results released today by In the Public Interest (ITPI) and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), national organizations with expertise in national and community-level education policy, found that registered voters in Tennessee are not concerned with school choice and strongly favor accountability for charter schools.

“When Tennesseans were asked to rank important issues facing the state’s public schools, school choice came in dead last,” said Barbara Gray, Arlington Community Schools administrator and TEA president. “This poll shows that legislators need to redirect their attention to the issues that really matter to Tennesseans, like parental involvement, over-emphasis on standardized testing and cuts to programs like physical education and music. School choice isn’t even on the radar of the average Tennessean, despite what some out-of-state groups may tell legislators.”

The poll of Tennessee voters, conducted by GBA Strategies on behalf of ITPI and CDP, was part of a larger nationwide survey on public opinion of charter schools.

In Tennessee, participants overwhelmingly favor charter school reform proposals and common sense accountability for these schools. Nearly 80 percent of participants strongly believe charter schools should not harm local public schools and should be held to the same accountability as public schools.

“Tennesseans believe in their local public schools,” said Gray. “The survey results are a clear indication that Tennesseans want their local schools protected and to see proper financial investment from the state in the public schools that already have a proven record of success.”

Poll results also revealed that nearly all registered Tennessee voters want charter school educators held to the same qualification standards as public schools and that charters be required to serve students with special needs at the same rates as local public schools.

TEA has worked with legislators to introduce legislation that directly addresses the issues raised in the poll. First, a TEA-backed bill would put a claw-back provision into place requiring charter schools with a high student turnover rate to return taxpayer money to the district. A second TEA bill would give parents the ability to sign a petition against a charter school taking over a local public school, or petition to close a failing charter school.

“I hope legislators will take to heart what we have learned from this poll – the only people who think charter schools and school choice are important for student success are the out-of-state organizations who seek to profit from these privatization schemes. Huge majorities of Tennessee voters support prioritizing neighborhood schools over charters, implementing more common sense accountability for charters and greater protections that taxpayer money is being spent appropriately by charter operators. It is important that Tennessee take a cautious, measured approach to any further charter expansion in our state.” the TEA president said.

Note: A memo on the poll, giving some more details, is available by clicking this link: TEApollmemo

Now there’s a task force on testing (AP story and news release)

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A new task force will review student testing and assessment amid concerns that students are being overtested, the state Education Department announced Monday.

The group is charged with identifying best practices in testing and how those assessments align with required state tests.

“We have heard some concerns that there is ‘too much testing’ taking place,” said Education Commissioner Candace McQueen. “So as education leaders and stakeholders, it’s important that we clearly understand current testing policies and practices at both the state and local levels.”

Jim Wrye, assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said he’s pleased to see the panel formed.

“When you’re losing the time to teach because you are testing and testing again, you have lost the purpose of what tests are supposed to be,” he said.

The formation of the panel comes at a time when the state is preparing to administer an assessment that aligns with the state’s current academic standards, which include the controversial Common Core state standards for English and math.

Conservative critics argue that the common education standards represent federal intrusion in matters that should be decided by the state, while those on the left say they impose too many requirements on teachers.
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Use of student test scores will change under Haslam plan, but kinda remain the same?

In one of Gov. Bill Haslam’s key legislative proposals, the Tennessean reports that student test scores will still play largely the same role in the evaluations of certain Tennessee teachers.

Haslam’s plan changes evaluations for teachers in subjects with standardized tests, such as math and English, and those without such tests, such as kindergarten or music classes. Starting next school year, the plan calls for the new state standardized assessment, TNReady, to account for only 10 percent of a teacher’s total evaluation if that teacher is in a tested subject.

But state Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen confirmed that 35 percent of the evaluation for those teachers will still come from student test scores, as is the case now. Under Haslam’s proposal, McQueen said the remaining 25 percent would come from the teacher’s previous two years of Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores — known as TCAP.

“We’re not changing the calculation. It’s that the new assessment would count 10 percent of the full 35 percent,” McQueen said Tuesday after state lawmakers discussed Haslam’s proposal.

That’s a bit of a surprise for one of the state’s largest teachers’ unions. Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jim Wrye said that his organization thought the plan would roll back the amount student test scores play in all teacher evaluations.

“What we were assuming is that tested and non-tested teachers would all have just 10 percent, and that’s what it would be based on. And so when they came out that they wanted to keep using some sort of TCAP data, that can be really problematic,” Wrye said Tuesday.