A reader in Tennessee nominates his state as the worst in the nation in terms of implementing the usual stale ideas to “reform” the schools.
How could it not be in contention to win the race to the bottom when it was one of the first states (Delaware was the other) to win the Race to the Top? That guaranteed that Tennessee would adopt every untested and harmful policy idea that Arne Duncan’s team could think up.
Conservative Republicans control the state, and they like the Obama agenda. Go figure. Could it be because Obama’s agenda is a more muscular version of NCLB? Republicans love the tough accountability, they like cracking the whip on the teachers, and they love privatization of public services.
Where other people (like parents and teachers) look at schools and see children, the reformers in Tennessee (and elsewhere) look at schools and see entrepreneurial prospects and a steady stream of government revenue.
So naturally the state is committed to evaluating teachers based on student test scores, and those who don’t teach tested subjects get evaluated by some other teachers’ work. Makes sense, no? And surely there will be lots of new charters in Tennessee to “save” the children.
Then, to add to that state’s woes, the new state commissioner of education, Kevin Huffman, is not only Michelle Rhee’s -ex, but was formerly the PR director for TFA. That guarantees a very big foot in the door for the ill-trained novices who only Teach For Awhile. Huffman hired a charter school leader from Houston to take over the state’s lowest performing schools. Tennessee will soon be charter school paradise, or at least paradise for TFA.
And then there is all that Gates money in Tennessee, now deployed to figure out how to have an effective teacher in every single classroom in the state. Watch Tennessee overtake Massachusetts on NAEP rankings. Wait a minute, isn’t Tennessee the birthplace of value-added assessment under William Sanders, the agricultural statistician? Didn’t Tennessee start measuring value-added by teachers in the 1980s? Why aren’t they already number one?
Yes, Tennessee is a contender.
|Last year, TN and our TfA commissioner of ed and Michelle Rhee’s ex, Kevin Huffman, rushed into use a similar teacher evaluation system purchased from the Milken Foundation (the same Michael Milken of securities fraud fame) that measures teacher competence on a 1 – 5 Likert scale, aptly named TEAM. 1-5 is the same crude metric I used to rate my hotel stay and my car dealership. Sensitive to the effects of nuanced teaching practices, it’s not. If scored according to the TEAM trainer, on 15% of all teachers will gain or keep tenure protection. 85% will be subject to firing.
Tied into the teacher’s average TEAM score is 40% VAM scores from the TCAP state assessments in reading in math. Teachers who do not teach reading and math were forced to use the VAMs of the school TCAP average or arbitrarily assigned either the school reading or math average score. Recommendations by an “independent” committee to improve the system suggested adding more tests to include all subject areas.
With the republicans well in control of all branches of government in TN, teachers here have lost their collective voices. In 2010, Ramsey with the help of ALEC ended tenure, collective bargaining, auto deductions for TEA dues, and kicked all teacher reps off of the state retirement board. Three of the largest school systems in the state have Broad trained superintendents. The day after Walker in WI survived his recall, TN’s Lt Gov Ron Ramsey announced he’d propose vouchers in the 2013 legislative session.
For profit, online teacher education is proliferating. Requirements for certification to teach are being dumbed down at the same time requirements to raise achievement are increased to levels nearly impossible. Further, state university teacher education programs are being evaluated according to their graduate’s VAM scores. Huffman posted the VAM scores on the TN website and guess which teacher ed program scored the best? Teach for America! The results were so skewed and improbable that several schools requested the raw data, only to be rebuffed, with great umbrage, by the state.
TN politicians in collusion with wealthy privatizers in both the Democratic and Republican parties are using the full force of state power to crush involvement of teachers and parents in decisions about our children’s schools. God help us all in TN.