Cook: Up with teachers, out with Pearson

Cook: Up with teachers, out with Pearson

June 23rd, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

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.