Interview With Senator Steve Dickerson

dickersonToday, we welcome Senator Steve Dickerson to the blog. Steve Dickerson is currently running for state senate in District 20 against Erin Coleman.

You can read Erin Coleman’s interview here.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are running for office?

I am an anesthesiologist and father of three. My wife and I have lived in Nashville for 20 years. I am running for re-election to continue to expand prospects for Tennesseans to live the American dream. I believe this is accomplished by creating an environment that fosters economic development, enhances educational opportunity and provides government services in an efficient and cost-effective manner. As a city and state, we have made great strides over my first term but there will always be room for improvement. Our best days are ahead of us.

What role should the legislature and the state play in the education system?

There is a dynamic relationship between local school boards, local governments, the General Assembly and the federal government. Overall, the General Assembly has a role in aligning curricula with workforce needs; funding and setting overall state standards. There will always be some tension between all of those stakeholders so it is important to have representatives who understand this, will try to build consensus and advocate for good policy.

What is one thing that the state is doing well in regards to the education system?

I think the best thing we have done is to continue to discuss the importance of education. While virtually everyone would agree as to the key role education plays, over the last several years we have really re-focused on education’s essential contribution to the future of our city and state. As far as specific, tangible policy, the state has increased funding at an unprecedented rate without increasing taxes.

What is one thing that the state is doing that needs to be changed or improved?

I believe there is widespread “over-testing.” Recently, the state decreased requirements for standardized testing. While this is a good start, I think we need to continue to look for ways to decrease the volume of testing and the reliance on “high stakes” testing. This process involves LEAs, school boards and the General Assembly and is one of our areas where we all need to work together. I have toured dozens of MNPS schools over my term and the burden of testing and test-preparation has been the most common concern voiced by teachers.

If reelected, what education policies will you advocate for at the legislature?

I will support a more nuanced agenda of educational reform. Six years ago, when Governor Haslam took office, there was universal concern over our state’s performance on national tests. As a result, our state undertook an aggressive reform package. Now, it is time to take stock of where we are and how to get where we need to be. I view this somewhat from my perspective as a physician. If a patient is in critical condition, one needs to be aggressive. But, once the patient is stabilized, a more long-term, balanced approach is required. I believe we are at that point in our current wave of education reform. In my first term, I sponsored numerous education bills. Two of note were the “Quality Pre-K Act” and the “Charter Accountability Act.” I will continue to seek these same sort of policies that look for data-driven solutions that are supported by advocates all across the spectrum.

How will you support Metro Nashville Public Schools as a state senator?

I have enjoyed a very solid relationship with MNPS over my first term and expect that it will only grow stronger over the next four years. There are three specific actions I will pursue on behalf of MNPS. First, I will be an advocate for MNPS in and out of the General Assembly. I am proud of the work we are doing in Nashville and will make sure everyone knows it. Second, I will continue to sponsor bills on behalf of MNPS. Third, I will continue to look for ways to enhance funding. MNPS has one of the most diverse student populations in the state. This is a strength that adds vibrancy to our city but also entails additional costs.

Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add? Where can readers go to find more about your campaign?

I have spent the last four years learning how to build coalitions and I have sponsored bills that have gained support from a wide range of groups and individuals. In my next term, I will continue to seek thoughtful solutions to help enhance educational opportunity for all Tennesseans. For more on my campaign, please visit my website at www.votestevedickerson.com

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


 

 

Interview With Senate Candidate Erin Coleman

colemanToday, we welcome Erin Coleman to the blog. Erin Coleman is currently running for state senate in District 20 against Senator Steve Dickerson.

You can read Steve Dickerson’s interview here.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are running for office?

I am a mother of three young children, a small-business owner, an attorney, and a U.S. Army veteran. Currently, there are no mothers of young children in the Tennessee Senate, and that viewpoint is sorely lacking. The state legislature has gotten sidetracked on wedge issues and bad behavior. The only way to change the culture of the state legislature is to change who serves in the state legislature. Senate District 20 deserves a senator that will put Nashville first. Let us decide issues and stop the state legislature from overriding our wishes every chance they get.

What role should the legislature and the state play in the education system?

The state legislature plays a huge role in funding education, in approving textbooks, in curriculum oversight,and in setting teaching licensure standards. In terms of funding, the state must get the BEP right and ensure that our large urban systems are getting the funding they need, especially for ELL. On the other issues, the legislature should work to ensure that the state is a productive partner with local officials. The state shouldn’t simply dictate to LEA’s. For example, the state should not have the authority to override local decisions on which charter schools are approved and which are not. Local officials are on the ground and know better than the state what is best for their districts.

What is one thing that the state is doing well in regards to the education system?

The state has two primary responsibilities- funding and assessment – and it is doing neither well. Prior to 2011, Tennessee was a national leader in education reform. Due to a lack of leadership, the state has since thrown that away. The responsibility for this failure falls most heavily on the members of the legislature’s Education Committees. They have led the race to the bottom in education in Tennessee.

What is one thing that the state is doing that needs to be changed or improved?

The state should not have the authority to override local decisions on charter schools. Charters have a valuable place in our education system, and locals know best what that place is. We should let our elected school boards do their jobs and keep the state out of it.

If elected, what education policies will you advocate for at the legislature?

Getting the BEP right. In order to thrive, school systems need financial resources. Nashville has a tremendous need for ELL funding. That must be taken into account in the BEP. I will also work to further expand Pre-K. There is no single education investment that can have as much of an impact as quality Pre-K.

How will you support Metro Nashville Public Schools as a state senator?

Over the past year, I have developed strong relationships with our MNPS Board members. I will meet with them regularly to determine their needs and how best I can help them in the Senate. I will also keep an open door for any parent, student, teacher, administrator, or school staffer that wants to talk to me. As a mom to three young children, I know how important a quality education is. In fact, I believe that educating our children is the single most-important thing our government does.

Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add? Where can readers go to find more about your campaign?

Visit erinfornashville.com or facebook.com/erinfornashville or twitter.com/ErinCforSD20 for the latest information about my campaign. This election presents a contrast between two distinct visions of what Nashville and Tennessee should be. I believe that our public education system is an essential building block in our community and it should be fully funded and supported. Our state legislature works to undercut public education at every turn. Unless we change who serves in the General Assembly, that will continue.

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


 

 

Vouchers on the Beach

Joel Ebert and Dave Boucher of The Tennessean reported this weekend on a beach vacation for five Tennessee lawmakers hosted by a prominent school voucher advocate.

Here are some highlights:

The Oscar winner inspired a spirited discussion among the men on the trip, who were hosted by voucher advocate Mark Gill, about leadership and integrity. Reps. Andy Holt, Mike Carter, Billy Spivey and recently ousted lawmakerJeremy Durham stayed at Gill’s condo and left one morning for a half-day deep sea fishing trip paid for by Gill. They didn’t catch many fish, but the captain showed them how to filet the ones they did. Rep. Jimmy Matlock also made the trip but went to the beach instead of fishing because he gets seasick.

Interestingly, the lawmakers who took the vacation at the voucher advocate’s beach house all supported and co-sponsored voucher legislation in subsequent legislative sessions.

From the report:

The “odd duck” Carter referenced is Gill, a member of the board of directors with the Tennessee Federation for Children, an arm of the American Federation for Children that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on contract lobbyists to push lawmakers to legalize school vouchers in Tennessee.

In 2016, all five lawmakers who went to Gill’s condo co-sponsored legislation to allow vouchers in the state.

So, Mark Gill serves on the Board of Directors for the Tennessee Federation for Children, is a large donor to the group, and hosts five Tennessee lawmakers at his beachside condo and then those same lawmakers just happen to co-sponsor pro-voucher legislation at the General Assembly?

No, this isn’t illegal. Yes, it actually happened. This is the type of behavior these same lawmakers decry about DC politicians.

Also: Why is Mark Gill so interested in vouchers?

More on Vouchers:

Million Dollar Baby

What Tennessee Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

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

 

 

MNPS Funding Suit DENIED

Jason Gonzales reports:

A judge has denied a request from Metro Nashville Public Schools asking the courts to command Tennessee to fully provide education funding to local school districts.

The district’s petition, filed Sept. 1, contends that the state’s constitution requires the Tennessee General Assembly to fully fund education in the state under its Basic Education Program. Commonly known as the BEP, it’s the formula the state uses to calculate how much it costs to educate an individual student in Tennessee.

Apparently agreeing with the state’s attorneys who said:

In its response to Nashville’s petition, the state says Nashville should follow the other districts in asking the court to address their right to education funding, rather than for a direct order to pay more money. “(Nashville) seeks a writ of mandamus that would require the General Assembly to provide funding to ELL teachers and translators in the ratios provided in (Tennessee Code),” the response reads. “… However, (Nashville) is not entitled to that writ.”

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s order says:

While the state has been sued for proper education funding, those cases didn’t request the courts force the state to immediately appropriate funds, Lyle said in the court papers. Therefore, Lyle said there is no law to enforce.

“Such law must first be adjudicated before the writ can issue,” Lyle said.

In short, until a decision is rendered on the adequacy of the formula, the state can’t be compelled to fund the formula. Lawsuits filed by Shelby County and Hamilton County both claim the state’s funding formula is inadequate and seek a judgment based on that claim. Those cases are still moving forward.

More on School Funding:

Haslam on Tennessee School Funding History

Just Kidding

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


 

 

TC Weber Shares His Anger

Blogger TC Weber has some anger to share and raises some interesting and valid points about public school advocacy in his latest post.

Here are a couple highlights:

We all seem to be willing to work harder when there is a boogeyman to face. Charter schools make for a convenient boogeyman in the same way that the cartels do for the war on drugs – now before everybody loses their mind, know that I am not equating charter schools to drug cartels in any way but in their use as scapegoats. There wouldn’t be cartels in the illegal drug trade if there were no demand, and the same goes for charter schools in that there wouldn’t be charter schools if the demand wasn’t there. I do have to ask, though, what if the boogeyman is really us and our inability to provide equitable educational opportunities for all children? Case in point: have we expended as much energy in improving our schools as we have in fighting against their takeovers? Can we look at parents who are considering sending their children to a charter school and honestly say we’ve done everything to make the public option better? It is time to get beyond this single hot-button issue and focus on the inequities that exist in our schools.

Later, he adds:

It is vital that as we fight off corporate attacks on our public schools that we are not just focusing on the supply, but have an equally diligent focus on the demand. We need to make sure that we are not falling into the trap of rewarding perks to adults while children are asked to make sacrifices. We need to ensure that we are applying every possible resource to directly impact the educational opportunities for our children

Weber has done his homework, analyzing current MNPS spending trends and highlighting some disturbing inequities. Read more about why he’s so angry.

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


 

Haslam: Haters Gonna Hate

Governor Bill Haslam this week lamented school funding lawsuits while also admitting that Tennessee has a history of under-funding schools.

From the Tennessean:

“Now if you’re an educator saying, ‘Well, you’re not putting enough money in’ … you’re right, as a state we historically have not put enough money — but we’re changing that,” Haslam said.

When asked about pending lawsuits claiming the state is failing to live up to its responsibility in terms of school funding, Haslam said:

Asked about the validity of the school funding suits as a result, Haslam said, “obviously anyone can sue over anything they want.”

“But it’s kind of strange when we’re making historic investments in K-12 education, it feels like it sends the wrong message to do that,” he said.

Haslam doesn’t seem to understand why supporters of public education may doubt his commitment. Here are three reasons:

1) Haslam promised in 2013 to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state in teacher salaries.” By April of the next year, the promise was gone. Additionally, the BEP Review Committee noted in its 2015 report that weighted average salaries in 2015 were lower than in 2013 as a result of the Haslam-Huffman elimination of the state minimum salary schedule. At the same time, the gap in pay among the highest-paying and lowest-paying districts in the state remains at an unacceptable 40%. Meanwhile, Tennessee suffers from one of the largest teacher wage gaps — that is, the gap between salaries paid to teachers and salaries paid to professionals with similar educational preparation.

2) In response to a lawsuit from Metro Nashville Public Schools, the state’s attorneys have said the state is not bound to follow the school funding formula Governor Haslam proposed and the General Assembly adopted. Grace Tatter reported the state’s response:

Attorneys for the state say Tennessee isn’t obligated to follow through with its own spending plan — and that Nashville doesn’t have the grounds to seek the order in the first place.

3) The state has a $925 million surplus as of the close of the 2015-16 fiscal year. That’s enough money to fully close the teacher wage gap and still leave more than $400 million for funding other important state projects. A more conservative approach would at the least meet the state’s funding obligations under the revised BEP formula, as Nashville is demanding in its lawsuit. From there, the state could phase-in further investment and do so without increasing taxes one cent. The current surplus comes after a year in which the state’s surplus topped $1 billion. During that budget year, Haslam and the General Assembly failed to adopt a salary proposal that would have provided teachers and state employees raises if revenues exceeded projections. They did, of course.

So, while Haslam is saying the right things and while there has been some investment in schools in recent years, it’s not hard to guess why school districts are filing lawsuits to get the money they need. Bill Haslam is right. Tennessee has historically under-funded schools. But he’s leaving out an important point. The only thing that seems to get the attention of the state-level policymakers — and get money into schools — is a court order.

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


 

Federal Grant Helps 4,000 Students Pay for AP Exams

The U.S. Department of Education announced $28.4 million in grants to 41 states and Washington, D.C to defray costs of taking the Advanced Placement (AP) fees for low-income families.

From the U.S. Department of Education:

The grants are used to help pay for students from low-income families taking approved advanced placement tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization and Cambridge International Examinations. By subsidizing test fees, the program encourages all students to take advanced placement tests and obtain college credit for high school courses, reducing the time and cost required to complete a postsecondary degree.

The grants included $362,985 awarded to the Tennessee Department of Education for the 2016 fiscal year, which means the department has already had the money and used it for students taking exams this past spring.

The Department had this to say:

More Tennessee students than ever before are taking AP exams and — more importantly — scoring high enough to become eligible for college credit. That’s key. One of our top priorities for the 2016-17 school year is strengthening pathways for students to be able to seamlessly transition into college and careers, and in order to do that, we have to provide more opportunities for students to earn postsecondary credit and industry certifications while in high school.

Sometimes these opportunities carry a price tag that may prohibit some of our students from being able to attain the college credit and/or certification they could otherwise earn if they were able to afford to take a specific exam. And in Tennessee, we want every student to be as equipped as possible when they graduate from high school. The funding announced today provided exam fee assistance on Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge exams for about 4,000 economically disadvantaged students.

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


 

A Fond Farewell

Our friends over at Bluff City Ed announced this week they are saying goodbye.

Jon even had a brief stint with us as his blog was transitioning. He’ll be keeping the content up – and there’s lots of good content.

BCE started about 6 months after we started TNEdReport. Jon, Ezra, and the other writers were often my source for information on what was happening in Memphis.

As Jon points out, Chalkbeat is here now, and they provide very solid coverage of the education landscape. But the insider perspective and the in-depth analysis from BCE will be missed.

To that end, I’d like to extend an invitation to teachers and education activists in Memphis seeking an outlet to publish about what’s happening in the education landscape there. If you have story ideas or an article to pitch, get in touch. Just email me at andy AT spearsstrategy DOT com

In the meantime, I want to wish Jon and friends well. A great blog that provided a great service — and one that will remain a great source of information and historical context.

 

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


 

New Name, Same Game

StudentsFirst, one of the leading proponents of school vouchers in Tennessee, has a new name.

Jason Gonzales reports:

Pro-voucher student choice group StudentsFirst Tennessee has changed its name to TennesseeCAN as part of working as an official member of the 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now network.

TennesseeCAN will function as a new organization whose legislative agenda, policy priorities, staff and underlying mission remains unchanged, according to a news release from the group.

StudentsFirst has been one of several organizations supporting legislation to create school voucher programs in Tennessee. These so-called “opportunity scholarships” use public money to pay a qualifying student’s private school tuition. Despite millions in spending on campaigns and lobbying, a broad voucher plan has yet to pass the General Assembly.

A very limited voucher plan focused on a narrowly-defined group of special needs students is now in effect in Tennessee.

More on vouchers:

Craig Fitzhugh on Vouchers

Million Dollar Baby

What TN Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

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


 

 

Interview with Dyslexia Expert Dr. Tim Odegard

Odegard, Tim 11-2015We welcome Dr. Tim Odegard to the blog to discuss dyslexia. Dr. Odegard is a dyslexia expert and is currently the Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies and a Professor of Psychology at Middle Tennessee State University.

He is a cognitive psychologist and received his PhD from the University of Arkansas. He speaks locally and nationally on the process of reading and dyslexia.

What are the signs and symptoms of someone with dyslexia?

Students do not have to present with underachievement or difficulties in all of these areas to be said to have characteristics of dyslexia.

  •   Difficulty reading words in isolation
  •   Difficulty accurately decoding unfamiliar words
  •   Difficulty with oral reading (slow, inaccurate, or labored)
  •   Difficulty spelling
  •   Segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
  •   Learning the names of letters and their associated sounds
  •   Holding information about sounds and words in memory (phonological memory)
  •   Rapidly recalling the names of familiar objects, colors, or letters of the alphabet (rapid naming)

We hear that 1 in 5 students have dyslexia. Is that fact or fiction?

It is a number based on study documenting the prevalence rate of dyslexia. The prevalence rate ranges from 5 – 20 % depending on the nature of the sample included in the study.

The reality is that when schools are required to report the identification rates of dyslexia the identification rate is less that 3%. This reality suggests that we do not have an issue of over identification in our country but one of under identification.

The data on the identification rates of Specific Learning Disability in our public schools also suggests that we have an issue in some states of under identification of specific learning disability. Dyslexia is just one form of specific learning disability.

When identified as having dyslexia, what type of intervention do students need to improve their reading ability?

These students struggle to read words accurately and or quickly. This can limit their ability to comprehend written material and learn new vocabulary from written material. These students need direct instruction that systematically teaches them how to read words.

Advocates say that OG (Orton-Gillingham) intervention is what is needed for all students with dyslexia. Has the OG method been proven to work with students with dyslexia?

Yes, there were several controlled studies conducted to test the impact of various Orton-Gillingham based programs. The results of these studies were summarized in a meta-analysis published in the Annals of Dyslexia. Due to the age of these studies they were not included in the What Works Clearinghouse.

Do all students who struggle with reading have dyslexia?

No, a small number of students with a specific learning disability in reading struggle with comprehension in spite of being able to accurately and efficiently read words and text passages. A specific comprehension problem is not dyslexia.

What are the two biggest misconception when it comes to dyslexia?

Many people still think that dyslexia is a medical diagnosis that must be tested and diagnosed by a health professional. This is not true. The reality is that dyslexia is not a medical condition and does not require a medical diagnosis.

Many people still think that school personnel cannot identify characteristics of dyslexia or dyslexia.

This is not true. The reality is that school psychologists in our public schools are often the best equipped to identify dyslexia. The 2016 Say Dyslexia law helps to clarify this for schools, and the Center for Dyslexia is working to provide educators and parents with valuable resources to aid in the identification of dyslexia.

What does the MTSU Center for Dyslexia offer parents and students?

The Center for Dyslexia has a small staff of experts in dyslexia and literacy dedicated to providing resources to parents, student and educators. We offer assistance to parents in understanding how they can work with their child’s schools in support of school based identification of dyslexia.

We also offer monthly parent workshops of different topics of dyslexia and supporting students with dyslexia. We have a limited capacity to provide testing services to students in the state.

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