Raise the Bar, Lead the World

Mar 05, 2024 at 06:46 am by JC Bowman

Schools are often political battlegrounds, reflecting the values and ideologies of different groups. Politicians and interest groups engage in contentious issues such as education policies, funding, and curriculum choices, which can impact the quality of education. Acknowledging this reality and striving for a balanced and inclusive education system prioritizing students' needs and well-being over political agendas is essential.

It is undeniable that a publicly funded education is of utmost importance, a belief shared by the vast majority of Americans. Public education plays a vital role in shaping the future of our state. Basic literacy, numeracy, and civics play a pivotal role in this education and are indispensable in positioning children for a financially secure future.

The success rates of educational systems differ across the state.  Ensuring access to high-quality public education is crucial for the prosperity of any state, and we must prioritize K-12 education to provide excellence in the future. State leaders aim to expand the privatization of K-12 education.  However, expanding voucher programs to private school students through a universal voucher increases the number of publicly funded students, leading to a surge in education costs for taxpayers.  Both transparency and accountability are critical.

The state holds public schools accountable through criterion-referenced tests, which measure student performance against state-specific learning standards. The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) is designed to test students' understanding.  Private schools have more independence and utilize norm-referenced exams that compare students' performance to a national average. It is an essential tool to identify areas where students may require assistance to succeed in the future. 

Students should never be treated as commodities; schools must focus on learning rather than test preparation. We must examine how standardized testing, accountability measures, and out-of-state special interests shape our education policy. Some policymakers acknowledge this. Regarding testing, equal testing between voucher recipients and public school students is critical. If all students receive the same type of test, we can compare academic programming. Otherwise, we won't be able to identify best practices and help all children equally.

We can improve education in our state by focusing on hyper-local strategies and addressing academic excellence, improved learning conditions, and comprehensive human development. A hyper-local approach means gathering insights from students, parents, and the community to understand unique needs and challenges. Using these insights, tailored educational strategies can foster a more effective learning environment.

To achieve educational excellence, we need scalable and replicable practices. Implementing successful educational models adaptable to different contexts raises the standard. Sharing best practices across our schools, districts, and communities creates a more equitable education system. We need to improve in this area and learn from each other.

Educators are the driving force behind student achievement. We must take decisive action to support them. By eliminating licensure barriers and providing robust professional development opportunities, we can equip educators with the tools they need to excel - ultimately leading to better student outcomes. Society must respect and appreciate educators as pillars of the community. Family involvement is crucial for student success and education. 

To ensure student success, we must prioritize academic excellence, create supportive learning environments, address the educator shortage, and re-evaluate our overemphasis on high-stakes testing. Data-driven instruction should complement teachers' understanding of students as individuals. Unfortunately, if something cannot be measured or linked back to a standard, it is unlikely to be implemented in schools.

We can raise the bar in education in Tennessee and lead the world by focusing on hyper-local needs, scalability, and replicability. Academic excellence, improved learning conditions, student mental health, and comprehensive human development are critical to a successful education system, regardless of the setting.

Many previous education reforms have not yielded the desired educational outcomes and have resulted in adverse effects such as a curriculum not being aligned to standards, increased inequality, and the teaching profession being impugned. We need sustainable, long-term reforms that should be favored over quick fixes that may yield short-term gains but fail to address systemic issues.

Education for the common good is crucial now more than ever. Relying solely on vouchers to solve education problems is a fallacy. Systemic factors like poverty and discrimination cannot be ignored. To transform k-12 education, we must involve educators, families, higher education, and businesses. Continuous system improvement is vital to securing a brighter future. Ultimately, by prioritizing all students' needs, we recognize education's role as a tool for social mobility and economic empowerment.



JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

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