That's about all we could find on Candice McQueen, but then Christmas came a little early because someone sent Momma Bears a gift... Dr. Candice McQueen's doctoral dissertation paper! It is a doozy! It is long, but totally worth reading. We'll highlight some nuggets for you:
What was her dissertation about?
The title is "Preservice Teachers' Beliefs about and Experiences with Parents and Parent Involvement". Basically, it is about how potential teachers feel about parental involvement. Hey, Momma Bears know about parental involvement, so this is right up our alley! "Preservice" means the time when wanna-be teachers are completing the process to become a teacher, which generally includes at least a semester of student teaching under the mentorship of a real teacher with real students. (Teach For America and other teach-quick programs skip this step or condense it to a couple of weeks). Anyway, McQueen studied six brand new, white, female teachers at a private Christian college (the pseudonym is "Kane University", but we are guessing it was probably at Lipscomb) as they did their semester of student teaching. She turned her research of these 6 teachers into her doctoral thesis about how new teachers need training on dealing with parents.
Why this topic for her dissertation?
As a brand new 5th grade teacher in 1996 at Lipscomb Middle, McQueen thought that she was at the top of her game and doing everything right. So she was shocked to get a letter from a parent pretty much blasting her for assigning too much homework. This made her question the value and role of parents in education. Here is the letter:
Notice, she doesn't write a single word about her struggling, overwhelmed 5th grade student. Not a word.
What did McQueen do about the letter? Nothing. She pretended it never happened. She writes, "After a week of deliberation, I actually chose not to respond to Mrs. Dugger at all. In fact, I decided to ignore the parent population entirely. Apparently, Mrs. Dugger had made an unsubstantiated general statement about other parents agreeing with her. I had not heard from other parents about homework. I decided that I was hired to teach fifth graders, not deal with parent complaints. I knew I was doing a good job. My test scores were fine and student outcomes on other assessments were excellent. I decided to keep pushing my students while avoiding the issues brought up in the letter."
Two weeks later, McQueen was called to the principal's office. The parent had complained to him about McQueen's lack of communication. The principal asked McQueen about her homework policy and then asked her, "How are your relationships with your parents?". McQueen was taken aback by that question. The principal said to think about it and to come back to see him the next day. Gulp.
This next part gives us a glimmer of hope. McQueen writes, "For the first time, I realized my past individual merits and accomplishments were not necessarily indicators of my success in the classroom, particularly with parents. Consequently, I began to discern many of my shortcomings. I recognized that I was struggling with parent relationships and I did not know how to remedy the situation. Internally, I knew why I was assigning the homework, but I did not know how to communicate that to the parents. I even found myself wondering why I needed to communicate that to them - I was teaching fifth graders, not their parents. In an attempt to find answers, I mentally searched my repertoire of knowledge and skills to access my experiences with parents in the classroom. My undergraduate teaching preparation had been filled with learning theoretical teaching strategies and methods with some practice, but had lacked discussion of how to build a parent involvement relationship." (p.5)
So what happened??? What did she say to her principal the next day? Did McQueen change her ways? Did she assign less homework? Did she talk to Mrs. Sue Dugger about this issue and work out a solution to help the child? I know you're dying to know, right??? We are, too. But it doesn't say in her dissertation. It only says that it made her question parental involvement and led her to this particular dissertation topic.
McQueen went on to teach for 1 more year at that private middle school (Lipscomb Middle), quit teaching to get a Masters of Education from Vanderbilt in Nashville, and then taught for 3 years at a public elementary school (Lakeway Elementary in Austin, TX) while earning her doctorate from University of Austin. Leaving the classroom after only 3 years in public schools, she climbed the proverbial career ladder to reach the top, to be appointed Tennessee's next Commissioner of Education in January 2015. It is remarkable that with a public school foundation and a public school diploma from Northeast High in Clarksville, TN, McQueen achieved such success! We simply must ask the question: How on earth was she college and career ready without Common Core and lots of standardized tests? Anyway, let's get back to that doctorate dissertation...
What did her thesis research conclude?
Basically, parental involvement is important, and there is plenty of research to support it. Therefore, teachers should be trained on how to deal with parents. Communication is key. That is good to hear. The Momma Bears agree with and support that.
Timing is everything...
Before we wrap up this blog, it is worth mentioning the timing of her appointment. Timing is everything, and Governor Haslam's strategy is no accident. Notice that McQueen starts her new job on January 20, just before legislative session starts for legislators (the time when legislators across the state come to Nashville for a few months to draft, vote upon, and pass new laws). Many are speculating that this is just another stalling tactic to further embed the Common Core standards in our state, and they very well could be right. After all, McQueen hasn't had a chance to put her foot in her mouth, yet, and legislators will listen to her kind demeanor and give her a chance, thereby delaying action to eliminate Common Core. Unfortunately, it just might work, so we need to keep communicating with our elected officials. Hey, communication is key, right???
Momma Bears have a whole bunch of questions that nobody will know the answers to for a few years:
Will she be the Governor's puppet? Will she still be a champion for the Common Core initiative? Will she defend and strengthen the battered teaching profession? Will she be an advocate for children or for business interests? Will she listen to parents when we tell her the testing is excessive? Will she understand and act wisely upon what she hears? Will she see parents as the enemies as Kevin Huffman did? Will she truly listen?
If we could ask her some literal questions, we'd like to know:
- What were McQueen's TVAAS scores were when she taught? Was she a level 5?
- Why didn't she teach longer? 2 years at one private school + 3 years at a public elementary school don't seem to be very long at all. That's not even long enough to gain tenure. Why did she quit so soon?
- What happened to the 5th grade student she wrote about in her dissertation who was frustrated to tears over math homework? Would Sue Dugger, the student's mother, rate McQueen as an excellent or poor teacher?
- Does McQueen keep in touch with any of her former public school students? (we're not talking about the adult students in her grad programs, but want to know about the children she taught because teaching is a lot about building relationships) Did her students feel valued, respected, and did they enjoy learning?
- Where do her own children attend school? Is she involved as a parent there? Does she volunteer with the PTO/PTA?
- What does parental involvement mean to her? Private schools often have different expectations than public schools.
- What would she do if her own child was overwhelmed with testing and/or homework?
- Would McQueen support suspending TCAP testing for 2015, or at least make it a no-consequences test since it is not aligned with the standards that are in limbo?
- Would McQueen support throwing the secretive TVAAS formula and evaluation system out?
- Will McQueen push the Governor for increasing teacher pay in Tennessee as he promised to do years ago?
- Will she advocate for smaller class sizes and more support staff in schools?
- Will she be a supporter of Art, Music, and sports in every school in TN?
- Will she respect a parent's choice to opt-out of standardized testing for their child?
- Will she get rid of all these expensive benchmark assessments and screener tests that are eating up instructional time and recess for our children?
- Will she take an honest look at the new RTI2 program mandated in TN? Is it really helping students, or is it helping the testing companies? Is it hurting students with disabilities and special needs?
- Will she hire qualified, experienced people within the Tennessee Department of Education, or will she favor young, inexperienced Teach For America yes-man types like Huffman did?
- Will she strengthen our locally elected school boards or seek to further revoke their power?
- Will she favor charter schools over public schools?
- Will she have the guts to close failing or corrupt charter schools, including the online K12 virtual school that is making so much money for its owner and for politicians' campaigns?
- Will she get rid of the ASD and give failing, poor schools the support they desperately need to help their students succeed?
- Will she sign a multi-million dollar no-bid contract with Teach For America with our tax dollars?
and a whole lot of poo!!!
Momma Bears will be watching...