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Merit badge idea for Nashville teachers, students draws ire

Ohanian Comment: This is so bizarre it's funny. I remember all my Camp Fire Girl beads and badges, carefully sewn on a vest.

But I never wore that vest--except once a year at an official Camp Fire Girl ceremony: WoHeLo.

I think the Nashville plan sounds more like military medals: They can have one-star teachers, two-star teachers, three-star teachers, and so on. Take a look at this picture of Marshall Zhukov for a glimpse of the possibilities.

By virtue of their Ivy League degrees, Teach for America teachers can enter the profession with 16 stars-- at not much cost. After all, medals start as low as $1.30.

The employees at Nissan might do a whole lot better with a union than with those badges the school board chair thinks are so great. Just ask them in Canton, Mississippi, where Nissan threatens to close the plant if they unionize.

How do you like them badges?

by Joey Garrison

Taking a cue from the corporate world and Girl Scouts, Metro Nashville Public Schools are drawing up a new system of badges to reward teachers who take on extra professional training.

Already, the idea is facing resistance.

School officials unveiled early details Tuesday of a plan that would let teachers earn "virtual badges" -- tokens, of sorts -- for taking on additional professional development or demonstrating other accomplishments.

Further down the road, badges might even be tied to compensation, under a preliminary plan discussed at the Metro school board's Teaching and Learning Committee meeting.

Also under consideration is a badging system for students based on things like internships or service projects.

Badges would show up digitally as icons or logos on the district's school software Blackboard Inc. But there are talks of a physical badge as well.

"Think about Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts," said Kelly Henderson, the district's executive director of instruction, using a description that irked at least one board member.

"I'm sorry --that doesn't impress me," the board's Jill Speering shot back. "Teachers are adults. They don't need a badge. It's almost a slap in the face."

J.C. Bowman, executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, agreed: "I don't see a lawyer or accountant wanting badges, or teachers for that matter," he tweeted.

A formal proposal of what is planned as a three-year phase-in isn't expected until the fall. An implementation date isn't clear.

Henderson, who contends 75 percent of the teachers she's gauged liked the badge concept, called it a "physical way of showing what they've accomplished other than just a print-off of a resume."

Nationally, a handful of school districts have turned to a badge approach for teachers, but it is still generally rare at the K-12 level. Lipscomb University uses badges for its employees.

Educause, a nonprofit focused on improving higher education through information technology, has researched using badges to demonstrate skills at a more granular level than a college degree.

According to school board chairwoman Cheryl Mayes, who works at Nissan, her company's use of badges has made it easier for employees to show their credentials when applying to other departments at Nissan.

"It's an absolutely fantastic thing," Mayes said. "The employees are actually the ones who led that effort to try to get the badging system in place. It's a great opportunity to recognize your accomplishments."

Jay Steele, Metro's chief academic officer, who has helped pushed the idea, said the plan is to solicit teacher input over the coming months to develop a final proposal for teachers, including the possibility of tying badges to pay. He said the hope would be to include the proposal in the 2015-16 budget.

As for kids, he said they could perhaps "cash in" virtual badges at online stores.

"We want kids to own their learning and own their experience, and this is a way to do it."

Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.

— Joey Garrison
The Tennessean





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