You’ve Been Warned

MNPS Board Members Will Pinkston and Christiane Buggs wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution urging voters in Georgia to reject that state’s effort to create an Opportunity School District modeled after Tennessee’s struggling Achievement School District.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

Under this hostile approach, the ASD rips schools from their communities and hands them over to charter operators that convert them into taxpayer-subsidized private schools. Rather than sticking to a limited scope with a baker’s dozen schools, as originally envisioned, the ASD now has nearly 30 schools in its purview — and it’s expanding every year in ill-advised ways.

They also pointed to a recent Vanderbilt study to note the ASD’s lack of results:

If the ASD actually was working, some of it might be defensible. But research by Vanderbilt University shows the ASD is failing. The online news outlet Chalkbeat recently reported that a locally led school-turnaround initiative in Memphis has “sizable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are marginal.”

Tennessee’s ASD came about as a result of legislative approval of the (ultimately winning) Race to the Top application. As Buggs and Pinkston note, in its current form, the ASD has moved beyond the original vision. In doing so, the ASD has encountered problems that include troubling audit findings and a struggle to demonstrate results.

Georgia voters get to weigh-in on whether or not their state creates an ASD clone. Buggs and Pinkston offer a cautionary tale of well-intentioned reform gone wrong.

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


Learning 1, Imaginary Menace 0

Despite the best efforts of Jay Sekulow and Steve Gill, it seems Tennessee’s 7th grade social studies standards will still include learning about Islam in the world religion portion of the course.

The Tennessean reports:

In total, the department’s social studies review team has cut down the number of 7th grade standards, where Islam is taught, from 75 to 67.
The process has included a name change of standards under the “Islamic World, 400 A.D/C.E.–1500s” to “Southwest Asia and North Africa: 400-1500s C.E.” Some references to the “Islamic World” have been changed to “Africa.”
And under the new draft standards, students are asked to learn the origins, spread and central features of Islam. These include the founder Mohammed, sacred texts The Quran and The Sunnah and basic beliefs like monotheism and The Five Pillars. The diffusion of Islam, its culture and Arabic language are also still included in the standards.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about Sekulow and his fear-mongering for profit around Tennessee’s social studies standards. Citing one of his emails, here’s what I wrote about the alternate reality in which Sekulow apparently lives:

Hundreds of seventh grade students all across Tennessee converting to Islam after their world history class. It’s happening everywhere. In rural and urban communities. It’s happening because Tennessee teachers are not just teaching world religions, they are specifically focusing on Islam and indoctrinating our children. They must be, with so many conversions happening every single week.
Actually, so far, no one has reported a single conversion of any student to Islam after taking a seventh grade history class.

Despite the lack of any actual problem, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen called for an early review of the state’s social studies standards. And, State Board of Education Chair Fielding Rolston punted on the issue. That’s what prompted the changes noted in the Tennessean story cited above.

The good news is the standards (as proposed) leave the teaching of Islam as part of a broader curriculum on world religions largely intact.

It’s not clear (yet) if Sekulow and Gill will find a new way to gin up fear and pad their wealth as the state enters a comment period for the proposed revisions.

The comment period for the standards has been extended to December 15th. Those wishing to review the standards and offer feedback can do so here.

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




JC Bowman on Literacy

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

Government spending is often portrayed as a freight train “quickly running out of track.” And there is some truth to that statement. There is not an endless supply of money to fund every good idea that comes along, and we must acknowledge that problem. Fiscal responsibility is a must.

That is why spending on priority issues like public education is important. You can spend $9,000 a year for a child to receive a quality education, or you can spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate an adult in some communities.

That is a harsh reality. You have read the statistics enough to know that there is an undeniable connection between literacy skills and incarceration rates. Children who do not read on grade level are more likely to dropout, use drugs or end up in prison. Research shows that reading abilities in third grade act as a tell-tale barometer for later school success.

Governor Haslam has wisely invested Tennessee dollars into literacy initiatives in 2016 because he knows poor reading skills are connected with unfavorable life outcomes. Low literacy is strongly related to crime. Low literacy is strongly related to unemployment. Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.”

We need to come together as a society and work to address the real issues facing our children. We need to have community conversations about what we expect from our local schools, but we need to recognize that the problems are much larger than what a school can address and are likely to be different in each community. A “one size fits all” approach simply does not work.

You probably know the line, which comes from Jim Collins’ bestselling business book, Good to Great: “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” It is important that we start prioritizing our spending, and over the long run it will save money that we can use to create a stronger public school system. And we have to get the right people into our classrooms and retain them.

When educated and intelligent citizens make informed decisions about what they want from their government and society, the outcome is far more likely to be positive. Similarly, if a good education system is in place for the next generation of children, the likelihood of societal stability is greatly increased. So it is important we get this right. Literacy is critical. And public education is a wise investment.

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


Williamson County House Races

Williamson Strong has a breakdown of the education views of candidates in House districts 63 and 65, in Williamson County. The races feature Glen Casada vs. Courtenay Rogers (District 63) and Holly McCall vs. Sam Whitson (District 65).

It’s worth noting that both McCall and Rogers oppose school vouchers while Casada clearly supports them. Whitson’s position on the issue is less clear.

Take a look to see where these candidates stand on education issues.

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


Show Us the Money

WSMV reports state revenues came in at $108 million above projections in September:

Corporate franchise and exercise taxes came in at $76 million more than expectations in the month, which reflects economic activity in August. Sales taxes collections were $24 million higher than the amount budgeted for the month and reflect a 4.5 percent growth rate compared with the same year-ago period.

The surplus from September alone would be enough for the state to add 3500 teachers using the current funding formula. That’s 25% of the total needed to properly fund our state’s schools according to a recent report from the Comptroller’s office.

The report indicated:

The state is considerably underestimating the number of educators needed to run Tennessee schools according to its own requirements, says a state comptroller’s report released Wednesday.
And local governments are paying the difference. Statewide, districts employ about 12,700 more educators than the state funds, according to the comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, or OREA.

We are now in our third consecutive year of revenue growth well above projections. It’s time for the state to step up and invest in schools. Three more months with surpluses like September would provide enough revenue ($400 million) for the state to adequately fund teaching positions through the BEP. And don’t forget, we have more than $900 million in surplus funds from the budget year that ended on June 30th.

The money is there. Will it be invested in our schools?

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



Is the MNPS Charter Proposal Illegal? This State Lawyer Says Yes

We learned this past week in a committee meeting that Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston will ask for a policy change to require charter school proposals to list their location in their application. That would add difficulty to the proposal process because it would require a charter operator to secure a location before they even know if their application is approved by the district.

Many charter schools know the area they will open, but have not secured a location because it’s left to the will of an elected body to approve or deny their application. You can’t get financing to lease or buy a facility before your proposal has been approved.

According to a tweet by Nashville Scene reporter Amanda Haggard, Metro Legal said “if MNPS denies a charter based on not having location,  that (the) state could give them appeal if they chose to.”

School Board Member Sharon Gentry brought up the same fact in the committee meeting that this requirement could result in the State Board of Education overturning the denial decisions from the district.

The State Board of Education agrees, and says that it’s illegal to require charter applicants to have a specific location in their application.

The State Board of Education’s legal counsel, Elizabeth Taylor, said this past week during a State Board meeting that Tennessee law does not require a charter school to have a facility in place when they apply to open a charter school. The law, TCA 49-13-107, lists all the requirements that a charter application must contain, and a facility is not one of those requirements. “No, an exact brick and mortar address is not required at time of application,” Taylor added.

When asked if a local district denied a charter school application because they did not provide a location, would the state board uphold that?

“That would not be legally permissible as the only reason to deny an application,” said Sara Heyburn, the State Board of Education Executive Director.

The proposal brought forth by Will Pinston passed out of committee on a 5-3 vote. The five members voting to send the proposal out: Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, Anna Shepherd, and Christiane Buggs.

With 5 members voting this proposal out of committee, there is a good chance that this legislation will pass and become school board policy.

If members vote for this policy change, they are voting for a policy that is possibly illegal and will end up having charter schools approved at the state level more often because of it.

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals.

This policy proposal should be voted down.

One Google Search Could Have Helped the MNPS Chair

Anna Shepherd, the chairwoman of the Nashville school board, wrote an editorial in today’s Tennessean asking the State Board of Education to reject Rocketship’s appeal to the state.

I don’t want to discuss Rocketship in this post, but I do want to talk about her inaccuracies about the State Board of Education.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-12-20-05-pmThe nine members of State Board of Education are appointed by the Governor, approved by the General Assembly, and serve five year terms. Each member represents their congressional district. Nashville is part of the 5th congressional district (Jim Cooper’s seat).

In the editorial, Shepherd says,

Gov. Bill Haslam appoints members to the state board. The only state board member who nominally represents Nashville is Wendy Tucker, co-CEO of Project Renaissance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the number of charter schools in Tennessee.

Except that’s not the case. Wendy Tucker represents the 7th congressional district (Marsha Blackburn’s seat), which does not include Davidson County or Metro Nashville Public Schools. She’s not Nashville’s representative on the board. It’s right there on the state’s website if you google it.

Shepherd goes on to say that no board members live in Nashville.

Hopefully, the appointed members of the state board — none of whom live in Nashville — will see through Rocketship’s ruse and uphold the judgment of the local elected school board.

Again, not the case. Carolyn Pearre, the Vice Chair of the State Board of Education who is currently serving her 14th year on board, lives in Nashville, TN (according to the Tennessee Education Association) and represents the 5th congressional district.


Maybe it’s time for our school board to actually meet Nashville’s representative on the State Board. She’s only been there 14 years.

As chair of the Nashville school board, you need to know who actually represents you at the state level.

Blame the state board for a lot of things, but don’t blame them for not representing Nashville because you didn’t look it up.

Facts matter. Google helps.

Diane Ravitch Calls for the Termination of Shawn Joseph’s Contract. Do others agree?

Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education and education historian, believes that the Nashville School Board should terminate the contract of Dr. Shawn Joseph just three months into his tenure.

If you need a refresher, Diane Ravitch is an anti-reformer who teaches at New York University. Although never being a K-12 teacher herself, she is a hero to many teachers around the country because of her anti-testing, anti-accountably, and anti-charter school stances.

She regularly blogs about the happenings in Nashville. In the latest blog post, she uses a post from Nashville blogger T.C. Weber, who has been featured on this blog, as proof to call for the termination of Dr. Joseph’s contract:

If the elected board can’t straighten out this mess and revise Dr. Joseph’s contract to assure that he works for the board–the board does not work for him–then it’s time to cut their losses and terminate his contract. Don’t accept excuses for his wasteful spending, his ill-advised hires, his importing of the same aides involved in the scandal in Prince George’s County. If he won’t comply, say goodbye. It’s imperative to admit it when you have made a mistake. Cut your losses sooner rather than later.

Diane Ravitch is close allies of Nashville school board members and many anti-reformers in Nashville. School Board Members Amy Frogge and Will Pinkston have regularly posted articles from Ravitch and have been featured on Ravitch’s national blog. Frogge has previously said that Ravitch “simply speakscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-29-49-pms the truth.”

Here is Amy Frogge with Ravitch at an event in Nashville in 2014 that was put on by TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence—TC Weber is recording secretary of TREE), an anti-school reform organization. TREE has also put on other events where Pinkston and Frogge have attended.

It’s time we ask Pinkston & Frogge if they agree with Ravitch’s call for Joseph’s contract termination. We need to know.

Another education blogger who has been featured on this blog, Mary Holden, commented that she believes that “the board needs to admit its mistake and make it right. Now. Before it’s too late.”

While Weber doesn’t think Joseph’s contract should be terminated, he does believe other staff members should be fired because their “hirings are morally wrong.”

Do others believe that Joseph should be terminated? Vesia Hawkins, education blogger and former school board administer, believes this is just the start. On Twitter, she says, “The witch hunt to our Nashville’s first African American director of school after only 3 months on the job has gone national.”

Hawkins goes on to remind everyone that Nashville came together to hire Joseph. “The city identified the man they wanted in a director. Remember the committee? What about the community meetings? The many welcome mats?”

Those welcome mats are long gone.

I think it’s time to ask our school board members and education leaders if they think Joseph and his staff should be fired three months in. Are these the opinions of extreme bloggers or are these the represented opinions of the anti-reform crowd in Nashville? We need to know.

Three months in, are people already starting to work against our Director of Schools? This has happened before…I hope it’s not happening again.

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t think it would be so soon into Joseph’s contract when the calls for firing would start up. Nashville came together to hire an amazing new leader, so let’s give him time to show us what he can do.

But there is another person who “liked” the Diane Ravitch blog post calling for the termination of Joseph…Dr. Jay Steele. Maybe he is hoping for a second chance to become Director of Schools.

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


That’ll Be $400 Million

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability is out with a new report that suggests Tennessee is underfunding its schools by at least $400 million. That’s because the BEP (the state’s funding formula for schools) fails to adequately fund education personnel.

Grace Tatter has more:

The state is considerably underestimating the number of educators needed to run Tennessee schools according to its own requirements, says a state comptroller’s report released Wednesday.
And local governments are paying the difference. Statewide, districts employ about 12,700 more educators than the state funds, according to the comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, or OREA.

Back in March, I wrote about this, and estimated the state was underfunding teachers by about 15%:

If districts only hired the BEP number of teachers, they could reduce local costs, but they’d also likely have some pretty unhappy parents on their hands. So, yes, the Governor’s proposed changes do direct additional funds to districts. But the changes do not address the underlying problem with the BEP. Doing so would cost another $250 to $300 million. That would be the cost of adjusting the ratios by 10-15% for teachers. That’s not to mention nurses, counselors, and other positions. And it doesn’t include capital funding.

Turns out, I underestimated the problem. The real number is around 22%, as Tatter notes:

The median percentage of additional teachers funded with local money was 22 percent. That translated to 686 more teachers in Knox County and 499 more in Rutherford County in 2014-15.

So, what does this mean? It means the state is underfunding local districts by about $394 million. That’s because the updated BEP formula funds teachers at $44,430 per unit. The state pays 70% of this cost.

That doesn’t include the cost of insurance for the additional 12,700 teachers. Nor does it include a salary adjustment to begin making up for the teacher wage gap. That cost is about $500 million.

So, to add proper state funding for needed teachers and provide adequate salaries, we’d need $894 million.

Then, there are the additional priorities identified by the BEP Review Committee. These priorities include providing teachers and schools the resources they need to adequately educate Tennessee’s students.

If your local property taxes have gone up recently to cover the cost of schools, you can blame the state for shorting our state’s school districts by nearly $900 million.

Incidentally, our state has a $925 million surplus — we could invest every dime of that into schools, meet the current need, and not raise state taxes one cent. Oh, and doing so would both improve public education and keep your local property taxes low.

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