No. 20: Two-Thirds of Tennessee Teachers Think Standardized Testing Sucks

Also, a third of teachers would quit for more money in another job

The results of the latest Tennessee Educator Survey are in, and they aren’t pretty. Of course, they haven’t been pretty for years, but this time around over 62 percent of educators across the state participated, a new high. And around two-thirds of those public school teachers think standardized testing is not worth it.

The state Department of Education has released a 20-page “report” trying to place the results “in context.” They also sent out three slightly edited versions of the same press release yesterday afternoon about it, stating that it was embargoed until 11 p.m. tonight, Aug. 21. (CT? ET? There’s no mention. Not even in the third one.) All the info is online already, and I did not agree to an embargo in advance, so I’m writing about this now, early.

I’m not breaking down any district-specific information, as I’m sure reporters across the state are prepping those stories for tomorrow’s papers and newscasts. But what this survey makes clear, as it has for several years now, is that the status quo in public schools in Tennessee is not working for a large percentage of teachers.

If you’ve been in Tennessee for a while, you might remember Republican Gov. Bill Haslam implemented sweeping education reforms early in his tenure — which followed other sweeping education reforms implemented by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and federal reforms pushed by Republican U.S. President George W. Bush and Democratic U.S. President Barack Obama. Haslam’s reforms went farther in stripping teachers of the little collective bargaining power they had and implementing even more testing. But both parties are to blame for all the changes and all the testing and all the “reforms” that still haven’t improved schools very much in Tennessee — where teacher salaries still trail national averages by $10,000.

In this latest survey, low salaries are indeed one of the top concerns of Tennessee teachers, but the number one concern is testing, followed by lack of school support like counselors. Overall, 30 percent of educators who replied to the survey strongly disagreed that information received from standardized tests was worth the time and effort, and another 33 percent disagreed with the statement. Only 29 percent of teachers agreed that the tests were worth it (and only 4 percent of that group strongly agreed).

“Why spend two or three weeks testing?” one anonymous teacher is quoted in the 20-page report. “What child on this planet can be successful on a test after 8 days of testing?”

Gov. Bill Lee apparently tried to get out ahead of these results earlier this week with a disingenuous press release — I mean, his first Medium post.

“Education is more than a test score, and I believe we have a long way to go for our state to reach her full potential,” Lee(’s communications staff) wrote. “That is why I prioritized school choice as one of my first legislative proposals in my administration.”

But school “choice” won’t improve anything, as all the current struggles with the Achievement School District and shady charter school operators in Memphis and Nashville have shown. In states with expansive voucher programs, like Lousiana, shady private schools have popped up specifically to take advantage of the voucher funds — to enrich the owners, not to educate kids. (Listen to this investigative reporting on the Reveal podcast for the full horrifying details.) Siphoning more money from underfunded public schools won’t help either teachers or students.

“Our salary increases don’t even keep up with the increases on the cost of insurance most years,” wrote another anonymous teacher — again, in the state’s own report. “We need a significant pay increase or I fear that teachers will leave the profession and young people will not choose the profession.”

In fact, the survey found that “one in three teachers report they would not choose to become an educator if they could go back in time and choose again” and “one in three teachers report they would leave teaching as soon as possible if they could get a higher paying job.” Which, in many of Tennessee’s rural counties, they can’t. But after eight years of Haslam going around the state talking up how much better he’s made the schools, it’s pretty telling that a third of teachers would leave if they could. Meanwhile, major municipalities like Nashville and Chattanooga have refused to increase taxes to better fund their own local school systems this year.

There’s a reckoning coming, and I have no idea if vouchers will be the tipping point. But I’d place all the bets in Vegas that Lee will be facing a lot more questions, a lot sooner, than Haslam ever did. Especially given what’s happening in his own state Department of Education … but that’s a story for another day.

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