Vouchers: The Ultimate Non-Solution

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen expressed frustration recently at years of ineffective education reform efforts. Specifically, she said:

“We can’t keep throwing $10 million, $11 million, $12 million, $15 million at solutions that are not solutions,” she told legislators on House education committees.

McQueen was lamenting the lack of progress made in school turnaround efforts and pointing lawmakers toward proven solutions. In fact, she noted the state’s ESSA plan focuses on strategies that have gotten results:

While McQueen didn’t single out specific turnaround initiatives, she stressed that Tennessee needs to focus on what has worked — specifically, at 10 schools that have been moved off the state’s priority list so far and have undergone case studies. McQueen named common themes: strong school leaders, quality instruction, and community and wraparound supports, such as mental health care services.

Candice McQueen is frustrated, and rightly so. As a result, her Department of Education is using ESSA to focus Tennessee’s school improvement efforts and even rein-in the Achievement School District (ASD).

What’s interesting in all of this, then, is that some state lawmakers seem intent on pushing through a voucher program for Shelby County.

McQueen told lawmakers they can’t keep throwing millions of dollars at solutions that are not solutions. But, according to the Fiscal Note on SB 161/HB 126, the bill will result in spending nearly $9 million on the voucher “solution” next year and more than $18 million per year once fully implemented. Of course, those estimates assume the program doesn’t expand beyond Shelby County.

A voucher program that started small in Indiana just five years ago now costs that state $131 million per year.

Talk about an expensive non-solution. In fact, the most recent research indicates that vouchers actually can have a negative impact on student academic achievement.

Kevin Carey summarizes:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

So, we have an Education Commissioner pleading with the General Assembly to focus on what works AND we have evidence from other states telling us vouchers don’t get the job done. At the same time, we have evidence from schools right here in Tennessee that tells us what IS working.

It’s time for the Tennessee General Assembly to heed the advice of Candice McQueen and stop attempting to throw millions of dollars at “solutions that are not solutions.”

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For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

MNPS Responds To Large Number Of Bus Driver Complaints

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Jason Gonzales at the Tennessean has a report out today that shows that there have been almost 400 complaints on MNPS bus drivers from August to January. These complaints range from not picking up students at the correct bus stop to some very serious accusations.

One case in the six-month span included an allegation against a bus driver of inappropriate communication with a student.

“Mom wants to report what she thinks may be suspicious activity between her 17-year-old daughter and her bus driver ‘Mr. Q.’ Mom says the driver bought her daughter a cell phone. Mom has the phone and found text messages between the two saying: ‘I’m thinking about you’ and ‘what are you doing,'” the January complaint reads.

“Also, she says that the driver has given her daughter money.”

MNPS doesn’t track the resolutions to these complaints so there is no information on if theses accusations were dealt with. Another accusation seems to read like the bus driver was okay with students fighting.

“(Parent) states when her son was on the bus in the afternoon route … three male students told her son they were going to jump him. The driver told the students, ‘whatever you do off the bus is up to you.’ Parent states after students got off the bus they jumped her son and busted his head. She feels the driver encouraged the students to jump her son, and didn’t do anything to prevent the incident,” a parent complaint to Metro Schools file in September says.

The board and district must act quickly in finding a solution to this problem and investigate all complaints. If bus drivers are having inappropriate relationships with students and encouraging violence, the punishment should be swift and harsh.

Thousands of students ride the bus each and every day. Their safety should be the top priority. This will now be the district’s top priority thanks to the reporting of Jason Gonzales. It shouldn’t have taken this long.

Palacios said the request of records for bus driver complaints “has been enlightening and identified as a serious priority” by the district. The management tool to monitor how resolutions came about from complaints would also be able to monitor discipline trends and how many drivers were disciplined, she said.

You can read the full article here.

Update (10:20am)

School board member Will Pinkston responded to the story on twitter.

Uncharacteristically good reporting by . I’ve been complaining about stuff like this since 2014. I’m glad is under new management. The new team is fixing broken processes and creating new processes where none existed. Logical follow-up reporting would be: Jesse Register systematically cut wages and hours bus drivers, causing many of the most experienced drivers to go elsewhere and leaving the remaining drivers overworked and stressed out. He left behind a mess.

The blame Register excuse is getting old from the school board. Jesse Register left Metro Nashville Public Schools on June 30, 2015. MNPS has been without Register for 633 days. The fault from this falls squarely on MNPS and the school board. Acknowledge the issue, fix it, and move on to the next set of issues facing our school system. Don’t spend time blaming others when you have the power to make changes yourself but failed to do so.

Blaming the problems of now on a leader who left 633 days ago is poor leadership.

Update (11:55am)

Nashville school board member Pinkston has responded via twitter:

Sounds like the nitwits are coming unglued and trying to blame the bus driver stuff on me. Let’s be clear about who did what and when. Let’s not forget who attacked for meeting with bus drivers to discuss their poor working conditions.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 


 

 

Backpack Full of Cash Coming to Nashville

MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge today announced that Matt Damon’s documentary “Backpack Full of Cash” will be coming to Nashville in April. Frogge posted on Facebook:

I’m excited to announce that “Backpack Full of Cash” has been selected for the Nashville Film Festival!

My children, their teachers, and I participated in this documentary, and although I’ve not yet seen it, I believe it will provide an eye-opening view of the school privatization movement affecting Nashville (and our state as a whole), as well as other urban areas across the country. The film, narrated by Matt Damon, focuses on market-based education reform and its impact on public schools.

It will be screened at the Regal Hollywood 27 on:
Sunday, April 23, 2017 at 5:30 pm
and
Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 5:30 pm.

Join me for a screening (and possibly a Q & A following the film). This should be a timely and informative film!

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post says of the film:

Actually, it’s a 90-minute documentary about the real and ongoing movement to privatize public education and its effects on traditional public schools and the students they enroll. With actor and activist Matt Damon narrating, “Backpack” tells a scary but important story about corporate school reform policies that critics say are aimed at destroying the U.S. public education system, the country’s most important civic institution.

So, two dates in April offer a chance for those in and around Nashville to check out this important film that also features an MNPS Board member.

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For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Voucher Opposition Growing

I reported last week on the Sumner County School Board passing a resolution opposing vouchers.

Here’s more from the Hendersonville Standard on that vote:

“We are just trying to keep it from ever getting implemented in the state to begin with because there’s no telling where it would go (from there),” board member Ted Wise said.

Board member Sarah Andrews agreed.

“I appreciate us looking at this,” she said. “I have been disappointed to see the number of bills coming up in the legislature concerning vouchers. To take money away from local schools is just very frustrating.”

The story noted that school systems impacted by the voucher proposal currently advancing in the General Assembly could stand to lose $37.2 million.

A program that started small in Indiana now costs $131 million, creating an education funding deficit of $54 million.

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For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

Senate Majority Leader Says Vouchers are “Problematic”

Senator Mark Norris, who has supported school voucher bills in the past, calls this year’s voucher plan “problematic.” The plan advancing this year is sponsored by Brian Kelsey — like Norris, from Shelby County — and it is a “pilot” program just for Shelby County.

The Nashville Ledger reports:

“It’s problematic,” Norris said when asked about the legislation in light of a Shelby County Commission vote opposing the voucher bill. The measure targets Shelby County because it has some 30 schools in the state’s lowest 5 percent for student performance.

But the measure is “problematic” for a combination of reasons, Norris said, mainly because of opposition by the Shelby County Commission and concerns about holding private schools “accountable” to the same standards as public schools.

Some opponents point out students who attend private schools as part of the program won’t be required to take the TNReady assessment, as public school students will.

School voucher advocates have failed in each of the last four legislative sessions to advance enabling legislation.

Now, they are trying to start their program only in Shelby County. Even before voucher proponents narrowed their focus to Shelby County in hopes of securing enough votes to advance the bill to the House floor, emerging research warned vouchers could actually be detrimental to student achievement. Those facts didn’t stop a House subcommittee from advancing the legislation, however.

Now, though, it seems the legislation is facing problems as lawmakers face the reality of a community not excited about Kelsey’s plan.

The Ledger notes:

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who opposes the legislation, commended Norris “for seeing” problems with the measure.

“There’s pressure building and people are sacrificing, taking off from work to be here, because they’re passionate against the fact that they targeted Shelby County, as if Shelby County caused all of the problems with regard to education,” Parkinson said. “It’s becoming personal for a Shelby County legislator to be carrying legislation like that.”

Parkinson pointed out Hamilton County has low-performing schools but is not included in the pilot program legislation, which he termed a “great experiment.”

A program in Indiana that started out six years ago as a small voucher plan has expanded rapidly and now costs $131 million. Research there suggests that while some advocates argued vouchers would save school systems money, they have actually created a $54 million funding deficit:

A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million.

“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” [Researcher Molly] Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”

Vouchers, then, create $54 million in new expenditures — an education funding deficit — in Indiana.

Evidence says vouchers don’t work. Research shows they are expensive. The Senate Majority Leader calls them “problematic.” It’s time for vouchers to go.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Mary Holden Takes the Hill

Former educator and current blogger Mary Holden tells the tale of her “Day on the Hill” in Nashville. Definitely worth a read. Here’s some of what she had to say about her experience advocating for public education at the Tennessee General Assembly:

There are many things that bother me about voucher legislation. But here are the two biggies:

  1. Vouchers haven’t worked anywhere they’ve been implemented. The evidence is clear. See also herehere, and here.
  2. Look who opposes vouchers: Teachers! You know, those people who actually do the work of educating our children! They know a thing or two about what is needed in public education, and we should be listening to them! (I should know…. I was a teacher, in case you didn’t know!)

But seriously, if the people we trust to educate our children believe vouchers would be harmful to our schools AND if there is plenty of evidence showing that vouchers aren’t successful, then why???? Why do they keep getting proposed?

Read more about Mary’s visit to our legislators and her encounter with state Senator Steve Dickerson.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Sumner School Board Takes a Stand Against Vouchers

The Sumner County School Board tonight unanimously voted in favor of a resolution opposing school vouchers in Tennessee. The move comes as legislative debate over vouchers is heating up.

One member of Sumner County’s legislative delegation, state Senator Ferrell Haile, is a co-sponsor of the “Opportunity Scholarship” program targeted at Memphis.

Here’s the resolution:

WHEREAS, the Sumner County Board of Education is responsible for providing a local system of public education; and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee General Assembly in the 2017 legislative session will entertain legislation that would create a voucher program allowing students to use public education funds to pay for private school tuition; and

WHEREAS, more than 50 years have passed since private school vouchers were first proposed, and during that time proponents have spent millions of dollars attempting to convince the public and lawmakers of the concept’s efficacy, and yet, five decades later, vouchers still remain controversial, unproven, and unpopular; and

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee requires that the Tennessee General Assembly “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools”, with no mention of the maintenance or support of private schools; and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee, through work of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee Department of Education, the State Board of Education and local school boards, has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers eliminate public accountability by channeling tax dollars into private schools that do not face state-approved academic standards, do not make budgets public, do not adhere to open meetings and records laws, do not publicly report on student achievement, and do not face the public accountability requirements contained in major federal laws, including special education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers have not been effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap, with the most credible research finding little or no difference in voucher and public school students’ performance; and

WHEREAS, vouchers leave many students behind, including those with the greatest needs, because vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that are not required to accept all students, nor offer the special services they may need; and

WHEREAS, vouchers give choices to private schools, not students and parents, since private schools decide if they want to accept vouchers, how many and which students they want to admit, and the potentially arbitrary reasons for which they might later dismiss a student; and

WHEREAS, many proponents argue these programs will increase options, when in fact several options currently exist within public school systems; and

WHEREAS, voucher programs divert critical dollars and commitment from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students, including many who already attend private schools; and

WHEREAS, vouchers are an inefficient use of tax payer money because they compel taxpayers to support two school systems: one public and one private, the latter of which is not accountable to all the taxpayers supporting it; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Sumner County Board of Education opposes any expansion of the special education voucher program as well as any new legislation that would divert money intended for public education to private schools.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

MNPS Budget Has Arrived! 3% raises and more…

Dr. Joseph has released his first budget as director of schools. It includes raises for teachers and support staff, adds more ELL teachers, and more. According to the Tennessean,  “Joseph is asking for $902.8 million in funds to operate the district, an increase of just over $59 million for the 2017-18 school year.” Here’s a first look at the budget, which you can read here:

 

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  • 3% raise for teachers and support staff
  • Increased substitute pay. According to Joseph, MNPS will have highest sub pay for middle Tennessee.
  • 31 new ELL teachers
  • 18 new translators
  • 11 new reading recovery teachers
  • 7 more school counselors
  • 19.5 additional itinerate staff (school psychologists, speech pathologists, and instructional technology specialists)
  • 2 SEL coaches
  • 4 more community achieves site managers
  • Every school will be required to have a literacy coach and a part time gifted instructor
  • Free Advanced Placement, Cambridge,  and International Baccalaureate exams for students
  • All middle schools will become STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) schools over the next three years
  • HR office will grow by 8 employees

Dr. Joseph will present the proposed budget to Mayor Megan Barry on April 13. The mayor and the council will have the final say in how much of the proposed budget is funded.

I wanted to share some of the graphics that went along with the budget presentation.

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For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.


 

 

 

Is Nashville Copying Denver?

TC Weber seems to think so. He outlines the Denver-Nashville connection in his latest post. According to his analysis, the move to a Community Superintendent model in MNPS is strikingly similar to what’s happening in Denver.

Here’s what he has to say:

Now here is where it gets even trickier. As part of its “Denver Plan,” DPS has set a goal of 80% of all students attending a high quality school by 2020. In order to do that within the next three years, they don’t have a lot of time to wait for schools to improve. So Denver employs an aggressive policy of closing schools and replacing them. Replacing means they keep the school buildings, but rehire all new staff and administrators, refocus the curriculum, and then open new schools. Since 2005, they have closed or replaced 48 schools and opened more than 70 new ones, the majority of them charter schools and right now, due to the Trump presidency and the new tone in Washington, charter chains are seeing an opportunity.

Think about some of Nashville’s chronically underachieving schools and then apply the Denver Plan to them. It’s important to remember as well that demographics play a role in performance. Attract the right kids and the school appears to perform better. With parents having a choice between schools in the enrollment zones or the community zones, competition will become even more heated than it is now. And it’s hard to predict who the “losers” will be.

Read more from TC about Nashville, Denver, charter schools, and distractions.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

Walkout!

A large group of students at Antioch High School walked out Friday morning due to a number of issues they say need to be addressed at the school.

Here’s the list of grievances from the students:

  • Administration’s decision to deny all applicable students the opportunity to take the PSAT, ruining their chances to qualify for National Merit Scholar scholarships
  • Extremely strict dress code that removes students from their learning environment based on what they are wearing
  • The fragmentation of school clubs and activities due to the denial of fundraising
  • Cancelation of Senior Week and all senior activities
  • Lack of adequate facilities
  • Vacancy of teachers for crucial classes
  • Unorganized administration
  • Failure to involve students in the decision making of school policies
  • Unfair and unequal treatment of staff members
  • Failure of administration to respond to student concerns in a timely manner
  • Cafeteria food that is moldy or undercooked and therefore unable to be consumed
  • Lack of fair discipline
  • Having an unlicensed principle for half of the school year
  • Discontinuation of Fee Waivers for students in tough financial situations
  • Tardy Policy that is extremely strict and unwarranted

NewsChannel5 also reports that a number of teacher have already or will be leaving the school:

Teachers there told NewsChannel 5 more than half the staff has already decided not to return next year. In fact, many teachers have already left.

MNPS offered the following response:

“A few hundred students at Antioch High School participated in a peaceful walkout today in response to a personnel issue involving the football coach. Personnel matters at schools are at the discretion of the principal. We are working with the administration at Antioch High School to resolve this issue with the community.”

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport