TN to Pursue Pre-K Funds for Memphis, Nashville

From the Tennessean:

Tennessee is asking for $70 million in federal money to expand pre-kindergarten programs in Davidson and Shelby counties, but not for other communities around the state.

The Tennessean reported for Friday’s editions that the state Education Department would act as a pass-through agency for the money to go toward adding 1,600 pre-K seats in Nashville by 2018, and 3,580 slots for the Shelby County Consortium, which includes schools in Memphis and suburban districts.

Haslam has previously stated he will wait until the results of a muli-year Vanderbilt study are available before he decides on spending more on Pre-K.

Others have called for a broader expansion of Pre-K as a part of a larger education agenda.

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

A TN Teacher Takes on Arne Duncan

Tennessee teacher Lucianna Sanson has something to say to Arne Duncan as Duncan backs off the testing bandwagon.

Sanson writes in the LA Progressive:

Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, is changing his tune regarding the importance of standardized testing in American Public Schools. In a piece published in the Washington Post, entitled, “Standardized Tests Must Measure Up,” Secretary Duncan claims that “parents and educators know that tests are not the only indicator “ in student performance. I find this an ironic statement coming from a man, who mere months before, was bemoaning the fact that soccer moms were finding out their children weren’t as smart as they thought they were — based on test scores. These two statements are in direct contrast with each other. What then, led to Secretary Duncan’s abrupt about-face?

Sanson challenges the idea that we need reliance on the very tests Duncan has pushed relentlessly until now in order to measure teachers and students. She also notes that the tide is turning against excessive testing and toward new models. Perhaps the new models will look like this experiment in Kentucky.

Read more of what Sanson has to say to the U.S. Secretary of Education.

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

Struggling ASD to Takeover 9 More Memphis Schools

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports:

Nine more schools in Memphis will be taken over by the state-run Achievement School District next fall, including Wooddale Middle, Raleigh-Egypt High and South Side Middle, which have already been assigned to charter schools. Nine others — Florida-Kansas Elementary, Denver Elementary, Airways Middle, Brookmeade Elementary, American Way Middle, Hawkins Mills Elementary, LaRose Elementary, A. Maceo Walker Middle and A.B. Hill Elementary — are eligible for takeover, although only six of those will be under new management. The six to be taken over will be determined in part by a community vetting process that suggests which charter operators are best-suited to each school’s needs. The ASD will announce the final matches in December.

A recent analysis of the ASD’s performance indicates that the schools it has taken over in Shelby County would have been better off if they had remained in district hands. The ASD’s student achievement numbers have failed to meet their own ambitious targets and also failed to grow at a rate consistent with that of district schools.

An additional analysis compared schools in the iZone to ASD schools and found that the iZone model consistenly out-performs the ASD model.

When asked recently if he planned to convert iZone schools to charter schools, Shelby County Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson called the idea “absurd.”

Hopson’s statement is noteworthy because converting district schools to charters is exactly what the ASD plans to do.

While it may be fair to give the ASD more time to prove it can be effective with its existing schools, it seems irresponsible to allow the ASD to take on more schools. The leaders of the ASD would not be likely to put more students into a classroom of a teacher who failed to meet their desired student achievement targets. Why should more schools be handed over to a model that’s not only not living up to its own hype, but also failing to outperform the district schools it has taken over?

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

What’s Going on in Williamson County?

The School Board elections in Williamson County were fought on one primary issue: Common Core. A group of candidates who strongly opposed Common Core were supported by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and won a majority on the School Board.

Some of these individuals have expressed support for vouchers and for bringing charter schools to Williamson County. Those are two primary goals of AFP.

Alvey on Education offers a view of what’s happening from a Williamson County parent’s perspective. A recent post there discusses a pending resolution at the School Board level that would denounce Common Core. Of course, it seems increasingly likely that Common Core will die an early death in Tennessee. But, the post offers some insight into what is happening now in one of the best school systems in Tennessee.

The article concludes with a prediction:

So that’s why the board will vote to approve the anti-Common Core resolution. But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself what is going to go down at the Oct. 16 board working session. Formal meeting on new board chair and vice-chair starts at 6pm. Expect lots of AFP t-shirts, and lots of crazy from 912ers. If you want to attend, and not get confused with those groups, put on a WCS or FSSD school shirt, or a Be Nice shirt, to show you’re a real local and not an import. Doors open at 5 pm, and you’ll want to get there earlier rather than later.

But the whole piece is worth a read to get some background on the players from inside and outside Williamson County seeking to disrupt what was once a quiet, and quite successful, suburban school system.

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

Pinkston on MNPS Teacher Firings

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston had this to say about last night’s board action:

“I regret to report that, last night, the Nashville School Board moved to deprive four teachers of their careers and livelihoods without adequate process. Here are the facts: Director of Schools Jesse Register called for the teachers’ firings. Under state law, the school board had to vote on it to get the ball rolling. Dr. Register and his staff failed to provide the board with enough advance notice about these teachers and the details of their evaluations. Rather than deferring the process for two weeks in order to allow for additional fact-finding by the board, Dr. Register demanded that the process proceed immediately even though board members were given only two business days to review details of the teachers’ evaluations. Unfortunately, a slim five-member majority of the board agreed to go along with Dr. Register’s directive. You can watch the 45-minute conversation on the MNPS YouTube channel beginning at the 1h18m time mark. As someone who knows intimately the history and origin of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system, I can assure educators: This kind of railroading approach to teacher dismissal is not what state policymakers and members of the Tennessee General Assembly intended to happen. Dr. Register and his staff are doing a disservice to the teaching profession. Teachers across Nashville should speak up and demand change.”

 

TN Teacher Attends Public Ed Nation Event

On October 11th, the Network for Public Education hosted the first Public Education Nation event in Brooklyn, New York.

The event focused on “Changing the Conversation” and allowed critics of the current education reform agenda a platform to discuss ways to improve public schools. The event was chaired by edu-blogging celebrity Anthony Cody.

Tennessee was represented at the event by teacher and President of the Franklin County Education Association Lucianna Sanson. She previously answered some questions for us about her trip to DC with the Badass Teachers Association.

Sanson provided this report from the Public Education Nation event:

 

Overall impression
I attended the Public Education Nation Event, in Brooklyn on Saturday, October 11, 2014 to listen, learn, make connections, and build relationships with other education activists across the country. I was honored to be asked by Anthony Cody, author of The Educator and the Oligarch, and award-winning edu-blogger at “Living in Dialogue,” to take part in the event as a social media moderator.
What I took away from the NPE event was that we all have to work together and become community activists in order to, as Jitu Brown said, “kill” corporate ed reform.
On the current climate in Tennessee
Memphis, Shelby County, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, are all feeling the pressure applied by the heavy hand of the Achievement School District as it lays chains of Charters across the state. Teachers in Tennessee are stressed, demoralized, over-worked, and under-paid in many districts.
Tennessee teachers should all watch the archived videos of the NPE event. The panels featured students, administrators, college administrators, parents, and classroom teachers. The panelists are passionate and determined to save our public schools. Watching the panels will give TN teachers the knowledge that we are not alone in the battle here in the Volunteer state. TN teachers can learn how to band together and speak about the attrocities happening in our public schools. Tennessee teachers, I encourage you to speak the truth about toxic testing, developmentally inappropriate standards, loss of arts and recess, and the systematic removal of experienced teachers replaced by green Teach for America recruits.
TN teachers need to realize that they have a voice and they can use it to speak truth to power and stand up to the Corporate Bully of Ed Reform because we do have allies across the Nation that are watching and are willing to help us fight back corporate ed reform.
On how parents and teachers can fight back against institutional ed reform in TN
We begin by having honest dialogue with parents about what the testing is like in our schools. We educate parents on what is happening. We discuss with our students the affects that the testing is having on them. We inform our parents that they can refuse certain tests for their child. We can listen to the voices of our students when they have a concern about being tested. We can encourage our students to speak up about testing and the effects it is having on their educational experience.
These videos and discussions should be shared again and again and again with community leaders and policy makers, county commissioners, board of education members, lawyers, civil rights groups, and citizens who help fund our public schools. These are the grassroots experts discussing the “in the trenches” reality of ed reform, not astroturf faux educators discussing “rigor and grit.”
A message to TN policymakers
My message for Tennessee policymakers is to stop listening to the corporate millionaries, especially the Koch brothers (yes, Williamson County, I am talking to you)  and start listening to the teachers before our state loses our most valuable asset, our public school system, to venture capitalist vultures who grow fat while starving our students.
Tennessee Politicians- Here are my questions for you:  Are you willing to sacrifice our children and our public schools to corporate America? A corporate America that knows nothing about education, or education practice? Or will you choose to embrace community schools, listen to experienced educators, and allow our tax  dollars to support our public schools?
A final observation
One last tidbit from the forum. At the end of the finale, when Diane Ravitch and Jitu Brown were taking questions, I stood up and spoke to them about the ed reform situation in TN. I spoke about Memphis and Shelby County being merged and excessing veteran teachers. I spoke about TFA staffing the schools. I spoke about Nashville struggling to fight back the ASD invasion. I also mentioned our brave advocy groups here in Tennessee: the TN BATs, BEARs, TREE, and SPEAK, and how we network across the state to keep each other informed on the shenanigans going on in our state. I wanted people to know that Tennessee needs to be on the radar as a targeted state.
When I was through speaking, Diane Ravitch gave a positive shout out to our activist groups by saying ” Well, one thing I know for sure about Tennessee is that they have BATs, BEARS and TREEs!!”
Sanson with Diane Ravitch at the Public Education Nation event:
Luci and Diane
For more on the event, see Russ Walsh’s take.
Follow Lucianna Sanson @Lucianna_Sanson

From 40th to 1st?

Around this time last year, Governor Haslam stated his intention to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher salaries. He even tweeted it: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

And, at the Governor’s request, the BEP Review Committee included in its annual report the note:

The BEP Review Committee supports Governor Haslam’s goal of becoming the fastest improving state in teacher salaries during his time in office…

Of course, Haslam wasn’t able to pay the first installment on that promise. Teachers then and since then have expressed disappointment.

But, what does it mean to be the fastest improving? How is Tennessee doing now?

Well, according to a recent report by the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center, Tennessee ranks 40th in average teacher pay and 40th in teacher salary improvement over the past 10 years.

That means we have a long way to go to become the fastest improving state in the nation. Bill Haslam will certainly be re-elected in November. And that means he has about 5 years left in office. What’s his plan to take Tennessee from 40th in teacher salary improvement to 1st in just 5 years?

Does it even matter?

Yes. Teacher compensation matters. As the ARCC report notes, Tennessee has a long history of teacher compensation experiments that typically fizzle out once the money gets tight or a new idea gains traction.

But the report points to a more pressing problem: A teacher shortage. Specifically, the report states:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

So, we face a teacher shortage in key areas at the same time we are 40th in both average teacher pay and in improvement in salaries over time. Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed notes that a recent analysis of teaching climate ranked Tennessee 41st in the nation. Not exactly great news.

Moreover, an analysis by researchers at the London School of Economics notes that raising teacher pay correlates to increased student achievement.

The point is, Bill Haslam has the right goal in mind. Tennessee should absolutely be aiming to improve teacher salaries and do it quickly. The question remains: What’s his plan to make that happen?

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

Is Common Core Dead in Tennessee?

That seems to be the message Tennessee leaders are sending about the controversial Common Core State Standards.

After a legislative session which saw the House of Representatives strongly denounce Common Core and ultimately the entire General Assembly vote to delay the PARCC tests, Governor Haslam convened an Education Summit to “reset the conversation” around education policy in the state.

In Williamson County, Americans for Prosperity spent tens of thousands of dollars on School Board races to elect new members who oppose the Common Core State Standards.

Just this weekend, Scott Stroud of the Tennessean wrote:

If Common Core education standards come crashing to earth next year when the legislature reconvenes — and it looks as though they might — Gov. Bill Haslam will need to look no further than his campaign for re-election to figure out when he lost that fight.

Haslam appears now to be shifting to a conversation of why higher standards matter rather than advocating in favor of the Common Core.

And, Speaker Beth Harwell is joining him. In an interview with Chalkbeat, Harwell said:

I really think Tennessee is going to get to the point where they’ll just develop their own standards and try to make them some of the best standards in the nation.

So, it seems likely that Tennessee will shift away from Common Core. But will Tennessee policymakers use the Common Core as a guideline for new standards? And how will development of Tennessee’s own standards impact the already-issued RFP for tests aligned to the Common Core in math and reading? Will there be yet another delay in the use of assessments aligned to Tennessee standards? Will teachers be sent yet another set of standards to teach students? And how will these new standards be developed?

The shift away from the CCSS may be politically expedient, but it leaves many questions unanswered. It also presents an opportunity: To reset the conversation by involving teachers, parents, and communities in a discussion about what’s best for Tennessee.  That conversation was missing in the initial build-up to Common Core in Tennessee and it is likely among the reasons why the standards are facing challenging times now.

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

Start Over! Slow Down! Review the Report!

In response to MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposal to redesign schools in East Nashville into an “All-Choice” zone with more charters and schools turned over to the struggling Achievement School District, a group of parents in East Nashville calling itself East Nashville United is now asking for a review of a consultant’s report on Metro Schools.

ENU has previously called on Register to start over with any plan for East Nashville schools and more recently has asked for more time in order to allow for broader community input before a plan goes into place.

Register’s announcement of changes in East Nashville comes amid a report detailing the increased costs charter schools impose on MNPS and reports out of Memphis that rather than turn more schools in that district’s Innovation Zone, the Director of Schools there is seeking to “double down” on what’s working: District management of schools with increased investment, support, and flexibility.

Here’s East Nashville United’s latest press release, calling on Register to revisit the report of the Tribal Consulting Group as a basis for any new plan for East Nashville schools:

An organized group of East Nashville residents is calling on Nashville schools to re-examine a consultant’s series of reports on some of the city’s struggling schools.

The request by East Nashville United—the parent-led coalition formed in September after the abrupt announcement of sweeping changes to East Nashville schools—asks Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register to brief the school board and the public on how, or if, MNPS addressed the detailed findings laid out in the reports.

MNPS paid the Tribal Group, a British Consulting Group, $3.5 million to study nearly 40 schools, including Bailey, Jere Baxter and Gra Mar Middle Schools and Stratford and Maplewood High Schools. Although the reports provide a wealth of information on the challenges each school faces, MNPS has been noticeably silent on the Tribal Group’s evaluations. In fact, last year MNPS rejected media efforts to obtain a copy of one of the group’s reports assessing the central office.

http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2013/09/06/foia-friday-the-tribal-reports

John Haubenreich, the chair of East Nashville United (ENU), says that MNPS can’t dismiss the findings of its own paid consultant.

“We’ve heard so much talk of school closings, charter conversions and a rash All-Choice plan that would divide neighborhoods,” Haubenreich said. “What we’re asking for instead is a serious look at the needs of our schools and how we can provide them. The Tribal reports provide as good a starting place as any.”

Haubenreich says that Dr. Register must address the problems underscored by the group’s findings. For example, at last week’s community meeting at Jere Baxter Middle School, a teacher spoke of how the school, which hired a new principal this year, lacked stability. With the school in a constant state of transition, she said, it was difficult to develop plans to meet the needs of its students.

The Tribal report on Jere Baxter observed the same problem. In fact, the report, conducted in 2011, noted that a recent shift to a new education model “brought considerable uncertainty to the school.” The report also noted that it was challenging for the school to “develop continual improvement against a background of significant change.”

Haubenreich says East Nashville United welcomes an East Nashville plan, as long as it builds on genuine community input and critical information already available.

“What we have asked for from Day 1 is a methodical, community-driven blueprint for our schools,” Haubenreich says. “We think the Tribal reports offer useful information from our teachers and students, both about their schools and central administration. Why would we develop a plan that doesn’t take advantage of that?”

The Tribal reports provide distinct portraits of each school. They show the effectiveness of the leadership, the concerns of the teachers and, in general, the culture of the school. They also examine the quality of instruction, the use of data and the distinct behavioral issues each school faces. Most of all, the Tribal reports lay out detailed “areas of improvement” that could shape a strategy to close the performance gap of low-income children.  (You can read the reports here.)

In light of the renewed attention focused on the consultant’s reports, Jai Sanders, one of the founding members of East Nashville United, says that MNPS should brief the school board and the public about the findings of the Tribal Group.

“We’re actually stunned this hasn’t been done already. We have detailed reports about several East Nashville Schools and we don’t know how MNPS addressed these findings,” says Sanders, a parent at Inglewood Elementary.

“Sometimes we feel like the leadership at MNPS is juggling ideas around with no real strategy, moving on whatever it heard last,” he says. “Revisiting the Tribal reports is a good way for MNPS to regain credibility.”

Last week East Nashville United called on Dr. Register to push back his plan to reorganize schools in East Nashville. Register has said his plan will be finalized by January 1st. ENU wants MNPS to use remainder of the school year to develop a thorough, transparent plan that addresses the diverse needs of its unique schools.

 

NOTE: John Haubenreich, Chair of East Nashville United, is a contributor to TN Ed Report.

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

 

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Receives Top Marks from TREE

Parent advocacy group TREE – Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence – released a legislative report card ranking lawmakers based on votes on education-related isues.

Votes that made up the Report Card included:

  • Charter Authorizer. TREE opposed this bill, which passed.
  • For-Profit Charters. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.
  • Vouchers. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.
  • Charter Conversion a/k/a Parent Trigger. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.
  • Testing Notification. TREE supported this bill, which passed.
  • Teacher Pay Restoration: TREE supported this bill, which passed.
  • Elimination of School Board Representation. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.

Legislators were ranked from A+ to F based on their votes on the issues of importance to TREE.

Senators receiving top grades: Charlotte Burks (D-15), Lowe Finney (D-27), Thelma Harper (D-19), Jim Kyle (D-30), Becky Massey (R-6), Doug Overbey (R-2), and Ken Yager (R-12).

Of those, Senators Burks, Finney, and Kyle will not be in the General Assembly in 2015 due to retirement.

Representatives receiving top grades: Raumesh Akbari (D-91), John Forgety (R-23), Gloria Johnson (D-13), Bo Mitchell (D-50), Joe Pitts (D-67), and Mike Stewart (D-52).

TREE billed the release as a means of informing voters ahead of the November elections.

View the full report card.

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