United States Department of Education and the Circular Firing Squad

America has progressed much since 1979, and it is time to re-envision the role the US Department of Education will play moving forward in policy. It is likely any problem or challenge facing public education is best resolved at the local or state level, not by the federal government.


The creation of the United States Department of Education in 1979 was a payback to the teacher unions who endorsed then candidate Jimmy Carter for President of the United States in 1976. It was passed over the objections of both Democrats and Republicans. It was supposed to save the taxpayers money. Stop me, if you have heard that one before.

It is highly unlikely the Department of Education has delivered any budget savings or a helped simplify any education programs. Now that Betsy DeVos has been named Secretary of Education, the unions have engaged in a fruitless war with DeVos. Henry David Thoreau wrote: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” In this case the problem is not Betsy DeVos. It is the federal bureaucracy itself that is the problem.

The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Can you list an irrefutable positive consequence on the academic performance of school children in the United States as a direct result of the involvement of the federal government since the creation of the United States Department of Education?

Chester Finn, a former Assistant Secretary of Education (1985-1988), believes the principal reason unions wanted a federal Department of Education was for “the political power and prestige to seek bigger budget increases for federal education programs.” If Finn is accurate (and I agree with his assessment), union efforts have become a circular firing squad for educators. The unions will continue to spend political dollars to elect pro-union candidates to maintain that political power, with little regard to helping actual educators in the field. Too often they are hindered by their blatant fondness for political correctness and support of non-educational issues.

For local teachers, administrators and school districts, the US Department has added bureaucracy and increased the amount of paperwork required. The subsequent standardizing education and standardized tests are detrimental to creativity and innovation. Schools are often regulated to death. Tennessee, a big recipient of Race to the Top funding, has resumed concentrating on our own education problems and issues. It is imperative that we re-engage parents at the local level, who were often defenseless against federal dollars in their community. Effective programs and policies must be identified at the state level and shared in similar communities and among each other here in the state.

America has progressed much since 1979, and it is time to re-envision the role the US Department of Education will play moving forward in policy. It is likely any problem or challenge facing public education is best resolved at the local or state level, not by the federal government. The federal government could take an appropriate role in gathering data to assess how well certain programs and grants are working, along with awarding Pell grants, and other federal financial aid through loans while providing guidance over state policies to prevent racial and religious discrimination.

The founders never envisioned a robust role for the federal government in education. Yet here we are. I believe in a limited federal government, including limiting the federal role in education as much as possible. What do you think?


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. Follow him on social media via Twitter at @jcbowman.


Teach Today

The goal is to insure a “great teacher in every classroom.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) along with the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) launched their newest initiative, Teach Today, Change Tomorrow, to attract the best and brightest students/adults to become teachers in the state of Tennessee. The goal is to insure a “great teacher in every classroom.”

Joining SCORE CEO Jamie Woodson was TDOE Commissioner, Candice McQueen, Representative Harold Love, and Metro Nashville’s (MNPS) teacher of the year, Cicely Woodard. Even though Tennessee does not have a teacher shortage in every area, they do lack certified teachers in STEM, Special Education, World Languages and English Language Learners (ELLs). Recruiting teachers in these areas along with an emphasis to recruit “students of color” to become educators is the focus of this initiative.

Representative Harold Love stated that while 35% of Tennessee students were students of color, that only 15% of Tennessee teachers were teachers of color. To encourage more young adults of color to attend state Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs), the TDOE is offering grants to EPPs and to districts that will encourage the training and hiring of educators of color.

Another facet of SCORE’s Teach Today, Change Tomorrow campaign is the Ambassador Program. Some of Tennessee’s finest educators are going throughout the state to share why they are dedicated to teaching and how they can change lives. It is the desire that the Ambassador Program will encourage young people to become teachers and make a difference in their state/nation/world. Ambassador Cicely Woodard is an 8th grade math teachers who states “I teach because kids in Tennessee deserve teachers who will support, champion and live for them.”

Woodard states she has also found many opportunities to become a “teacher-leader” as she facilitates professional learning and has an open door for student-teachers and others to observe her classroom. As a teacher-leader, she knows she has the impact to not only change the lives of her students, but those of her colleagues and community.

To find out how you can be more involved in the Teach Today, Change Tomorrow initiative, please go to their website http://www.teachtodaytn.org and follow them on Twitter @teachtodaytn.

Family Traditions

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! The staff at Professional Educators of Tennessee wanted to share with you their favorite foods to make for the holidays. Feel free to share these with your families and friends. If you make these yourself, please leave us a comment telling us what you think!

From the kitchen of our Chief Operating Officer:

Apricot Nectar Cake

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 Box of Lemon Cake mix
  • ¼ cup Sugar
  • 4 Eggs
  • ¾ cup Oil
  • 1 cup Apricot Nectar

Glaze Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Confectioners Sugar
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons Lemon Juice


  • Preheat oven to 350°
  • Mix all cake ingredients in a bowl and transfer to in Bundt or loaf pan to bake.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes at 350°
  • Glaze while warm.


From the kitchen of our Director of Professional Learning:

Make Ahead Butterhorns


  • 2 Packages Dry Active Yeast (rapid rise yeast is okay)
  • 1/3 cup warm water (hot, but not boiling)
  • 9 cups BREAD flour – divided
  • 2 cups warm milk (hot, but not boiling)
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 Tablespoons melted butter (real is best)


  1. Put 1/3 cup warm water in glass measuring cup and dissolve the 2 packets of yeast and one teaspoon of sugar in the water. Let sit for 5 minutes. The sugar will proof the yeast. If you did your yeast correctly it will foam up and grow.


  1. While the yeast is proofing, mix 1 cup shortening with warm milk, sugar, and salt in large mixing bowl. Dissolve the sugar and shortening in the milk. (If sugar doesn’t all dissolve, that is okay.)


  1. In a large mixing bowl, add 4 cups flour, yeast mixture, and eggs. Mix with electric mixer until dough is smooth.


  1. Stir in enough of the remaining 5 cups of flour with a wooden spoon to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface and knead lightly. (You do not knead roll dough like you knead bread dough. It is very soft without being “wet.”)


  1. Place dough in a very large greased bowl (stick spray or cooking oil works great) turning once to grease all sides of the dough. Cover and let rise in warm place 2 ½ to 3 hours until the dough is tripled in size.


  1. When the dough has risen, punch down on the dough and divide dough into four equal parts. Work with one section at a time.


  1. Roll each section into a 12-inch circle. Brush with melted butter. (I use a stick of butter, 2 TBSP per circle). Cut each circle with pizza cutter into 8 to 12 wedges. Roll into butterhorn. Place on greased cookie sheet, tip side down. When rolls are complete, freeze for several hours. You need to do this quickly as the rolls will start to rise while you are working on them.


  1. When frozen, place in freezer bags and keep in freezer until needed. Thaw 5 hours or until doubled in size.


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden brown.


  1. Let cool and serve.


Notes: For amazing cinnamon rolls, generously sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top of the butter before rolling up and/or freezing. Then set out frozen rolls late the night before and have them for breakfast. Glaze with a powdered sugar icing before serving or vanilla icing of your choice.



From the kitchen of our Member Services Coordinator:

Granny’s Sugar Cookies


  • ½ cup Butter
  • ½ teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 2-2¼ cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • ½ teaspoon Salt


  1. In a medium mixing bowl cream together the butter and vanilla. Gradually add sugar and continue creaming. Add the egg and blend well.


  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl. Once thoroughly sifted add to mixture in the medium mixing bowl and blend together.


  1. Divide dough into two parts. Chill thoroughly for 1 to 2 hours so it will be easy to handle. Dough can be prepared and stored in refrigerator a day or two in advance. It is important that cookie dough is well chilled before rolling. If not well chilled, the dough will be too soft to roll without adding more flour. This will make less tender cookies.


  1. To prep for cutting out the cookies, lay down a sheet of wax paper and lightly flour. Place chilled dough onto floured wax paper and use a rolling pin to roll dough to a uniform thickness (about 1/8 inch). Keep second portion of dough refrigerated until ready to use.


  1. For each cookie, dip cookie cutter in flour and shake off excess. Using firm even pressure, press cookie cutter into dough and lift off. Use a flat spatula to transfer dough cutout from wax paper to cookie sheet.


  1. Bake in preheated oven at 375°F for 7 to 10 minutes. Place on wire rack to cool. Do not overlap or stack cookies until they are thoroughly cool. With thinly rolled dough (about 1/8 inch) the baked cookies will be more straight-sided than cookies make from more thickly rolled dough (about ¼ inch). The thin cookie will retain less of the cutter detail after baking.


Notes: Makes about 20 cookies (cut out).



From the kitchen of our Member Services Coordinator:

Friendship Tea


  • 1 – 18 oz. jar Tang
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • ½ cup Pre-Sweetened Lemonade Mix
  • ½ cup Instant Tea
  • 1 – 3 oz. packet Apricot Jello
  • 2 ½ teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Cloves


  • Mix all ingredients together and stir in approximately 3 tablespoons of mix to an 8-ounce cup of hot water.
  • If any mix is leftover, store in an air-tight container.

13 Tips for Educators For Maintaining A Work-Life Balance During the Holiday Season

  1. Enjoy holiday treats in moderation. Of course, when your aunt/mother/friend brings over a batch of your favorite cookies, you are going to want to have one. That’s fine. But when random food from unknown places shows up in the teacher’s lounge, avoid it. Save the calories for treats you really want.
  2. Meal plan and freeze leftovers. Whenever you cook for your family, make a large amount and freeze the rest. Soups, chili, lasagna, casseroles and many desserts freeze well and can be thawed and used during your busy days.
  3. It’s fine to get take out food, but try to avoid too much unhealthy fried fast food. Many of the sit-down chains have “curbside to go” which you can feel good about feeding yourself and family. And you can order online and verify the nutrition/calories on their website.
  4. Don’t forget to exercise at least a little bit. A quick brisk wall or short yoga routine will help you maintain your energy level.
  5. Teachers know to avoid germs in their classroom, but don’t forget the other places you go. Be careful in shops, restaurants, elevators and especially the gym because viruses and germs lurk everywhere this time of the year. Avoid touching knobs or handles when possible, and keep your antibacterial/Purell nearby and use frequently.
  6. If you haven’t discovered online shopping, you must try it. Unless physical shopping is your thing, you will save time and money by online shopping. And with many retailers, returns are simple.  Disclaimer – Be careful if your items come from overseas.  It can take many weeks to receive your order and be tricky to return. Verify the return policy/delivery date/shipping fees for any order before placing it.
  7. Decorate moderately- Teachers often receive more little gifts than they know what to do with, but you don’t have to use everything. Put up your favorite pieces/ornaments and donate the rest. Your post-holiday self will thank you.
  8. You can never go wrong with a gift card for any person over age 12. Most grocery stores stock them. Easiest gift ever.
  9. Budget your time the same way you budget your money or calories. You don’t have to feel obligated to attend everyone else’s Christmas program (no matter how good it may be). Set boundaries with your friends and family. Just say “no” when you need to.
  10. Delegate when possible. So what if the tree is not decorated perfectly, there is no reason why someone else can’t hang the decorations or plan a dinner.
  11. Hire help. Since you are a teacher some of your colleagues (or you) have teens who would love to earn some extra money. Let them run a vacuum, fold clothes or watch your kids so you can take a much-needed nap.
  12. Make sleep a priority. Have a regular planned bed-time and stick to it. Whatever you have left to do can wait until tomorrow.
  13. Take care of you. It’s OK to take a 30-minute hot bath. If Hallmark movies and glass of wine/cup of tea are your thing, there is no reason not to watch a few with your feet up. But don’t watch random TV for no reason. Just like you make lesson plans at school, you can make plans to relax as well.

We Give Thanks this Thanksgiving

The Director's Cut

1 thanks photo-verse-jpg-barefoot-manI used to keep a framed picture in my classroom: “Your Life is God’s gift to you. What you do with your Life is your gift to God.” I wish every child could hear that repeated every day. And what teachers do with their gift benefits so many children on a daily basis. Teachers are often on the front line of the poverty battle. It is important that children know from where their gifts originate. This Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to be thankful for the gift of life we have and the gift of others in our lives.

I grew up with the knowledge I wasn’t any better than anyone else, but nobody else was better than me. Because my parents understood that we were all created in the image of God. I believe that we should never be intimidated by those in power. Power is perception, and people…

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Top 10 Reasons We Are Grateful to Be Educators

As an educator, I’m thankful for:

  1. Students who, without fail, say “good morning” to me every day
  2. The feeling I get when I finally reach the bottom of a stack of student essays
  3. The look on a student’s face when they finally “get it”
  4. Three-day weekends
  5. The deductions from my paycheck which mean I have health insurance
  6. A lesson that doesn’t follow the script because it means my students are thinking
  7. Former students who visit after school just to chat
  8. School leaders who trust teachers and support them
  9. A snow day
  10. Teachers who are genuinely passionate about what they teach

Grateful Educator Because of Grateful Students

I want to share a note I received from one of my former students. I am grateful to be an educator because of grateful students like Kiki. Receiving notes like this is what makes being an educator worthwhile. I hope this note warms your heart like it did mine…

Opposing Vouchers in Tennessee

“The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Tennessee has a responsibility to ensure the right of all children to a quality education.

children diversityVouchers are likely to return both at the Tennessee General Assembly in 2018 and in the upcoming gubernatorial election. The issue has been debated and discussed for many years across our state. Public school teachers, administrators, superintendents and school boards, especially the members of our organization, are almost universal in opposition. Almost 90% of the children in our state currently attend a public school.   Our organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee, continues to oppose vouchers here in Tennessee.

Politicians across Tennessee, who ran for election or re-election in 2016, ran on one message: Tennessee is on the right track in public education. Nothing has changed. In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Tennessee is number one in improvement in both English and math for both 4th and 8th grade on the 2012 NAEP test scores and is number one in improvement in science on 2016 test scores. We are on the right track according to state politicians, and referenced in testimony by Economist Art Laffer in the Tennessee General Assembly in 2017.

Here is some additional food for thought:

  • Private schools will eventually be subjected to new regulations. There will, and there should be, strings attached if any school takes taxpayer money. Just look at these quotes: “A public school would become any school that receives students who brought with them public monies” –Lamar Alexander, former Secretary of Education under George Bush.  His words should serve as a warning to all private and parochial schools.
  • There are very limited seats available in accredited private schools. In Florida as vouchers were expanding in 2003, it was discovered that a state of 24 million had less than 5,000 seats in private schools available. Florida was a rapidly growing state and is approximately four times the size of Tennessee. A best estimate is there are only 1200 to 1500 seats available in Tennessee at accredited private schools that may be willing to take a voucher student. We would challenge voucher proponent to produce the statistics of seats available at an accredited private school that would accept a student for a $7,000 voucher.
  • Public Schools are more than a safety net. Many schools serving poor children throughout the United States are overwhelmed by the social needs of the children they serve. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), and Ohio (16.0%). More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3 according to the USDA. Our public schools are dealing with this issue, largely without additional resources or even acknowledgment by state and federal officials. Taking money from public schools, either rural or urban districts, will impact that school and community.

It is important that we remind ourselves of the purpose of public education under the Tennessee Constitution: “The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Tennessee has a responsibility to ensure the right of all children to a quality education.

Most educators do not support the status quo in public education and strive to raise the bar every day. They understand an engaging and challenging education is the proven path to prosperity and a life-long love of learning. It has long been acknowledged that a strong educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. Therefore, we remain focused on our public schools in Tennessee, the teachers we serve and the students they serve.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Why Am I Grateful to be An Educator

Why am I grateful to be a teacher? Of course, I am most thankful for my students. It is an absolute privilege to teach today’s youth. Even after dealing with some very difficult situations during my career, teaching has brought me much satisfaction and joy. Yes, joy. How can one spend 900 hours a year with kids and not experience joy? My “kids” are family to me, and I treat them as such. We laugh a lot, sometimes hysterically, but we also work very hard. Do they sometimes drive me insane? Absolutely! That is the nature of the beast. We start with a clean slate each day and put the past behind us. There is also something really special about a school: the sounds, the smells (not the ones after gym class), the busyness of the day, and the rare moments of silence after all the kids leave in the afternoon. Further, as a single mom for the past 17 years, teaching has provided me with an income to where my children and I have never done without the things we need. Lastly, I am thankful for the benefits: weekends and summers off, health insurance, and of course, SNOW DAYS! I am grateful to be a teacher.

Almost 18 years later, the title of “teacher” still sometimes takes me by surprise. I’ve wondered at times what I ever did before becoming an educator. For one thing, I never planned on going to college, much less have a career. I married and had two beautiful sons by the age of 30 and was fortunate to get to stay home with them until they started school. At 31, I felt the pull to go to college and become a nurse because I wanted to make a difference in others’ lives. So, I started classes in the evenings at my local community college. Two weeks in, I knew I was supposed to be a teacher, so I changed my major. I acquired my last degree in 2011. Almost 18 years have passed, and I still look forward to going to work each day. I am grateful to be a teacher.

I wish I had written down all the things students have said or done over the years that have blessed my life. There have been many. One thing a female student did two years ago was make me a bracelet from beads. This little girl did not have anything, not even a winter coat, but she took the little she had and made this bracelet; she blessed my life. It remains on my desk. It always will. I am grateful to be a teacher.

Somehow, some way, everything flows together during the school day, and we move on to the next. What teachers and students alike accomplish each day is an amazing feat. I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else. I thank God often for opening this door for me. I am a teacher, and I will be forever grateful.


— Penny Sutton

Teacher at Sevierville Middle School
Board Member of Professional Educators of Tennessee