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‘TELL Tennessee’ Seeks Teachers’ Input on Improving Education

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, Feb. 10, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Education want to ensure all educators have a supportive environment to help students achieve. The TELL Tennessee (Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning) Survey is the first statewide opportunity for teachers and licensed staff in Tennessee to provide input on their learning environment. The survey launches February 14 through March 11, 2011.

“A successful school has a great principal leading it and great teachers in the classroom,” said Governor Bill Haslam. “We want to ensure that every Tennessee principal and educator has the tools and supportive environment necessary to be effective in the classroom and in their schools.”

All school-based licensed educators are strongly encouraged to anonymously and voluntarily share their perceptions of the teaching and learning environment in their school, which research has shown to be critical to student achievement and teacher retention. As part of Tennessee’s First to the Top reform initiative, the survey will provide additional data for school and district improvements and results are expected to inform state policy.

The TELL Tennessee survey is supported by a Coalition of Partners that include Governor Haslam, Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith, Tennessee Education Association, Tennessee Principals Study Council, Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education, Tennessee School Boards Association, Tennessee Association of School Superintendents, and Tennessee Charter Schools Association.

Educators across the state can access the survey online with their individual, anonymous code from any Internet location to provide insight about key day-to-day factors such as:

  • Time during the day for collaborative instructional planning
  • School and teacher leadership
  • Facilities and resources
  • Professional development opportunities

“TELL Tennessee Survey data gives a voice to our teachers and licensed staff,” said Acting Commissioner Smith. “In turn, policy makers and education leaders are encouraged to make informed decisions. Identifying areas of improvement and guiding strategic interventions will help shape the future of our schools and support academic success for our students.”

Participation in the survey is encouraged and Tennessee SCORE is providing $1000 to five schools each that reach a 90 percent participation rate or higher.

Help Desk assistance is available for all survey takers at helpdesk@telltennessee.org, or by calling toll-free at 1-888-280-7903 Monday through Friday between 7:30 AM and 4:30 PM local time. Educators can access instant help from the website by visiting www.telltennessee.org. Survey results will be available online mid-April 2011.

For more information or to view the real time response rates for Tennessee schools, visit www.telltennessee.org.

Categories
Education News

‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Closeted in Study Group Again

A House subcommittee voted last week to put on hold for another year a proposal to ban sex-ed instruction and discussion in public-school grades K-8 that touch on non-heterosexual topics.

Lawmakers on the committee said they want the state Board of Education to take more time studying the issue, even though bill sponsor Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, says they didn’t spend much time examining the issue last year.

And he isn’t optimistic that the board will take his concerns seriously going forward. “If they didn’t look into it last time, I highly doubt they’ll look into it this time,” he told reporters after the hearing.

According to Campfield ‘s proposal, HB821, public elementary or middle schools would be banned from providing any instruction or materials that discuss sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.

“We’re not going to advocate for homosexuality. We’re not going to advocate against homosexuality,” Campfield said. Neutrality is part of the intent of the legislation, he maintains.

Campfield recently blogged about the issue, citing newspaper articles from Knoxville and Nashville that indicated homosexuality had been discussed in schools.

He also pointed to a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed after the Knox County School System closed student computer access to web sites that discussed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered issues.

Campfield said he alerted the Department of Education to the issue, but the members don’t seem particularly interested. “I already handed handed them everything on a silver platter,” he said. “I don’t know what else I can do. I can’t make it any easier for them.”

DOE officials say Campfield’s concerns are essentially baseless and warrant little attention.

“The only mention of sexuality is in the context of abstinence,” said Bruce Opie, legislative liaison for the state Department of Education. “We really don’t…in the K-8 curriculum…(get into) any sort of information on sexual preferences.”

Opie said he’s never heard an official complaint about the issue in the 26 years he has worked with the department. The teachers’ association also denied Campfield’s claims.

“Public schools are being attacked for something that is not happening, and I don’t appreciate it,” said Jerry Winters, Government Relations Manager for the Tennessee Education Association. “Teachers are not teaching alternate lifestyles in the classroom. If that was happening, they would be told to stop it. If they didn’t stop it, they would rightfully be fired. This is an attempt to bash public schools, and it is an attempt to bash teachers.”

Fans of the bill said the legislation is a solid preventative measure.

“I don’t feel any threat in this kind of legislation,” said Rep. Terry Lynn Weaver, a Lancaster Republican. “We’re creating a safe harbor here…we’re drawing a line in the sand.”

Republican Joey Hensley, of Howenwald, said he has children in the first and second grade, and he’s worried about what lessons they take home.

“We’re seeing in other states (that) they’re bringing books home that I don’t agree with. I don’t want my child exposed to this. If we don’t have it now, that’s great. We don’t want to have that problem.”

Other lawmakers say passing legislation to address a problem that doesn’t yet exist is unnecessary.

“What we’re doing is we’re dealing with a figment of his imagination,” Rep. Ulysses Jones, D-Memphis, said of Campfield. “This is not based on any evidence, and if we start passing legislation based on what a person is thinking (is happening)…we’d be passing stupid legislation.”

Reading from the results of last year’s study committee, Rep. Les Winningham, D-Huntsville, said, “Local education agencies teach what they consider to be age appropriate topics…which does not include homosexuality as a topic. The Department of Education’s healthy living curriculum does not include homosexuality as a topic, which, to me, means it’s not being done.”

Yet, supporters of the bill insisted that the state act now to avoid allowing teachers to discuss homosexuality with students.

“Without any guidelines, it allows teachers on their own to venture off into this area. We should draw a line…and make it clear to teachers…this is some place you don’t go,” said Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.”Just like they’ve probably been told, because of court cases, there are places dealing with religion that you don’t go.”

Winningham asked to send the bill back to the Board of Education for more study. Dunn, Hensley, and Weaver voted against the motion.

Rep. Ron Lollar, who said he served on a school board for 10 years, was the only Republican to vote against the bill.

“I can say unequivocally, and without a doubt, the state never — in any way, form, or fashion — insinuated that anything be taught that I’ve heard in this room,” he said.

The companion bill in the Senate was scheduled to be taken up later that afternoon in the Education Committee, but committee chair Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, announced at the outset of the meeting that the bill is dead for the year.