Texas State BOE Rejects Great Hearts in Dallas

By a vote of 9-6, the Texas State Board of Education rejected an application by Great Hearts to open four schools in the Dallas area.

It’s not clear why the Board rejected the application, as the Board has a reputation for approving Charter Schools.

Of course, the Great Hearts Controversy in Nashville prompted legislation this year to create a state charter authorizer.  That legislation failed to pass due to some last-minute problems between the House and Senate, but it is certain to come up again.

Pre-K Tax Fails, TEA Appoints New Leader

Pre-K, TEA, and other education news this week

Yesterday, voters in Memphis rejected a sales tax increase that would have directed funds to expand Pre-K in that city. The city took the vote as a means to find local funding for a program that state has so far been unwilling to expand.

Also yesterday, the Tennessee Education Association announced the hiring of its new Executive Director, Carolyn Crowder. Crowder comes to Tennessee from Denver.  She has worked in education association’s in both Colorado and Oklahoma and was also a classroom teacher in Oklahoma.

Earlier in the week, teachers in Rutherford County teachers joined a growing list of local education associations expressing “no confidence” in Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

And, the Tennessee Charter School Center released a report on “seat quality” in Metro Nashville Public Schools.  The report prompted this response from Board Member Amy Frogge.

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

Amy Frogge on “High Quality” Seats

Yesterday, we linked to Andrea Zelinski’s story on the Tennessee Charter School Center’s analysis of “seat quality” in Metro Nashville Public schools. In the story, I noted 5 key takeaways, among them that the Center is calling for closing low-performing charter schools and that there does seem to be common ground possible in terms of moving toward expanding charter schools as growth dictates.  Both closing low performing charters and allowing expansion in a smart way offer a path forward from what has been a rather messy debate in recent years.

School Board member Amy Frogge has weighed-in on the “quality seat” discussion and offers this analysis on her campaign Facebook page:

The Great Hoax of the “High Quality Seat”:
We’ve been hearing this phrase a lot lately, but what does it actually mean? Those who use it are referring to standardized test scores. The higher the score, the higher the “quality” of the seat and therefore the school, according to these folks.
Here’s the problem. Looking at standardized test scores tells us only a little about a school. If anything,… test scores primarily reflect the types of students a school serves. Children in poverty, children who don’t speak English, and children with special needs struggle with standardized tests- for reasons entirely beyond their control. It’s not that these children are incapable of learning. It’s that they need extra support to succeed. All children hold immense promise, and standardized test scores often don’t reflect a child’s true capability. Tests are just a snapshot of what children can do in certain subject areas in a very specific format on one particular day (or a few days) of the school year.
Are we to assume that magnet schools have better “seats” because they serve children selected for their academic abilities? Are we to assume choice schools have better “seats,” even though the selection of these schools is made by parents engaged enough to know how to enter the lottery? (Research shows that children of engaged parents perform better in school.) Are we to assume that zoned schools that take any child who walks into the doors at any time during the year (no matter how great the child’s academic needs) have lesser quality “seats” because of the scores these children make?
In summary, then, the “quality” of a seat, according to the definition of those who prefer this phrase, has more to do with the child sitting in that seat (and the challenges that he or she faces) than the quality of instruction at a school. To presume otherwise assumes a level playing field, and in comparing schools, we are comparing children, not quality-checking mass-produced, assembly line items. Certainly, scores can help us judge how well a school performs, but it’s not the entire story. Anyone who fails to consider student population in determining the “quality” of a school just isn’t digging deep enough.
If the Charter School Center hoped to continue a conversation, they’ve certainly raised some points to ponder.  Frogge has engaged, addressing directly the “quality seat” issue without dismissing the call to close low performing schools or arguing that current limits on charter geography need to stay in place forever.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport

MNPS, Charter Schools, and “Quality Seats”

So the Tennessee Charter School Center has a new report out about the “quality” of seats in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Andrea Zelinski has a solid report on the report over at the Nashville Scene.

A couple of takeaways:

1) The Charter Center wants to open more charters than the recent MNPS resolution would seem to allow (not surprising, really).

2) Nearly 1/3 of all Charter seats are deemed “low quality” by the Center’s own report

3) The Center is advocating closing low quality charters — a step in the right direction

4) It seems reasonable that as other clusters become more crowded due to growth, the MNPS resolution should be expanded to include those clusters for future charters

5) In spite of constant battling between the Board and the Charter Center, there is some common ground:  Close low-performing charters (the center could help by taking the lead on recommending schools to be closed) and allow new charters in more clusters as growth dictates.

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

 

Rutherford Teachers Vote “No Confidence” in Huffman

The Rutherford County Education Association is the latest to join a growing list of local educator associations expressing frustration with Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman.

The organization’s President said of the vote:

Commissioner Huffman wants to make Tennessee the ‘fastest’ improving state in terms of education Rutherford Education Association President Emily Mitchell said. “It seems to me that if you want to go fast, you go by yourself, but if you want to go far, you go together. I wish the commissioner would include input from the outstanding educators we have in this great state so that students, teachers, parents and community members could go far together.

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

 

 

 

War on Teachers?

Cari Wade Gervin over at MetroPulse in Knoxville has the story on the turmoil brewing there over education reform, teacher evaluation, and more.  Her story notes that while Knox County has seen a lot of tension, teachers are organizing and offering feedback across the state.

Knox County’s Lauren Hopson gained attention with this speech to the Knox County School Board.

At a more recent Board meeting, student Ethan Young made a plea that the Board reconsider its current path.

Voucher Backers Gearing up for 2014

Following a 2013 legislative session that saw voucher proposals competing and ultimately, no proposal succeeding, advocates for a vouchers, or “opportunity scholarships,” are gearing up for the 2014 legislative session.

2014 in education will likely look a lot like 2013 in terms of proposals on vouchers and charter schools.

Voucher advocates, organized under a coalition known as School Choice NOW, held a recent event in Hendersonville. There, they noted that this year’s discussions will start with Governor Haslam’s proposal from last session.  His proposal was a limited voucher plan that would initially offer 5000 vouchers in Memphis and Nashville and eventually grow to 20,000.  While it seems no competing proposal will be offered, it’s not clear what shape the final legislation will take.

Lawmakers in Chattanooga also recently discussed vouchers, with a solid pro-voucher bent coming from that delegation.

One possible stumbling block is the rapid pace of recent education reforms.  Some in the legislature, including House Speaker Beth Harwell, are suggesting that perhaps school systems need time to absorb the current crop of reforms before vouchers are allowed to move forward.

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

Williamson County Teachers Vote “No Confidence” in Huffman

The Williamson County Education Association is the latest teacher group to express a lack of confidence in Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s ability to lead the state’s schools.

The announcement of the vote adds to a growing list of teacher groups, superintendents, and school boards expressing frustration at Huffman’s lack of collaboration and top-down leadership style.

Williamson County’s Director of Schools, Mike Looney, signed a letter also signed by directors across the state expressing frustration with Huffman.

While the vote was taken before last week’s release of NAEP results, Williamson County teachers maintain they are not opposed to positive reform, but are frustrated with leadership at the state level they say is not listening to teachers.

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

 

A Tennessee Student Speaks Out on Common Core, Teacher Evaluation

A Knox County high school student addresses his School Board on Common Core and teacher evaluation. His remarks underscore the reality that education is a people business and thus, not easily quantified.

 

NAEP in TN: The Rest of the Story

Today, leaders across Tennessee lauded the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) results.  And they should. Tennessee is first in an education statistic and it’s a good one.  The fastest growing state in the last 2 years in terms of growth in math and reading scores as measured by NAEP.

That’s good news. It’s very good news.  Despite some claims, though, it’s very difficult to say results on the 2013 NAEP are a direct result of reforms that took place in 2011 and 2012. States with more rigid teacher tenure and with collective bargaining for teachers scored higher overall than Tennessee (nevermind Ron Ramsey’s rant against both — they just don’t test out as significant indicators of student achievement in either a positive or negative way). And of course, it’s easier to grow when you have a long way to go — Tennessee has historically been among the lowest performing states on the NAEP.

Let’s take a look at the data on a deeper level, though, and see what’s been happening. For the sake of this comparison, I’m going to look at Tennessee and Kentucky — a similarly situated Southeastern state with a nearly identical level of students in poverty and/or on free/reduced lunch.  I’m going to look at 20 year trends to see what we can learn from the overall education work in both states. So, here goes:

4th Grade Math

1992      KY   215                        TN  211

2013     KY  241                          TN 240

Over the 20 year period, Kentucky increased by 16 points, Tennessee by 19 — and Kentucky still leads by 1 point.  To Tennessee’s credit, the gap in scores was narrowed by 3 points.

Let’s look at the percentage of students in each state who test at or above basic — this is short of the mastery demonstrated by the score of proficient, but still indicates a basic understanding of the concept — below basic is the lowest score and is frankly, unacceptable.

In 1992, 51% of Kentucky kids tested at or above basic and in Tennessee, it was 47%.  Now, 84% of Kentucky kids are at or above basic in 4th grade math while only 80% can say the same in Tennessee.  Both states posted 33 point gains in this important number over the last 20 years and Kentucky remains 4 points ahead of Tennessee.

Now, let’s look at the two states and how they are doing with their poorest students, those on free and reduced lunch.  One of the key goals of many involved in education is closing achievement gaps and moving the lowest performing kids forward quickly.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY  232  TN 228

Achievement gap

KY 19 points  TN 26 points

Not only do Tennessee’s students on free and reduced lunch score lower than Kentucky’s, Tennessee’s gap is wider — by a 7-point margin in the case of 4th grade math.  This begins a troubling pattern.

Before I go further with this analysis, I want to point out that Kentucky doesn’t use value-added data for teacher evaluations, has no charter schools, its teachers are awarded tenure after 4 years, and it hasn’t adopted any of the reforms Tennessee’s current leaders tell us are essential to improving scores.  In fact, their Commissioner has openly expressed skepticism of any evaluation system that bases any part of a teacher’s score on value-added data.  As the rest of the data will demonstrate, both Kentucky and Tennessee have posted gains over time on NAEP — in most categories, Kentucky started out tied or very slightly ahead of Tennessee and today, Kentucky remains ahead.  Kentucky posted some pretty big gains in the mid-90s and again from 2003-2009.  Since then, they’ve held fairly steady.  That’s an expected result, by the way — a big gain followed by steady maintenance of the new level.  For Tennessee, that won’t be enough, but celebrating the big gain is certainly warranted.  It’s also important to take care in assigning causality.

Ok, back to the data.

8th Grade Math

1992  KY 262   TN 259

2013  KY 281  TN 278

Over 20 years, both states made a 19-point gain in 8th grade math and Kentucky maintains a 3-point lead.  Looking at students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 51% in 1992 and is at 71% today while Tennessee was at 47% in 1992 and at 69% today.  Kentucky gained 20 points and Tennessee, 22.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY 268  TN 265

Achievement Gap

KY 25 points TN 27 points

 

4th Grade Reading

1992 KY 213   TN 212

2013 KY 224   TN 220

Here, Kentucky makes an 11-point gain and Tennessee makes an 8-point gain over the same time period.  Now, Kentucky has a solid 4-point lead in reading — while in 1992, it was just 1-point.  In terms of students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 58% in 1992 and stands at 71% today while Tennessee was at 57% in 1992 and is now at 67% — Kentucky gained 13 points over this time, while Tennessee gained 10.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 213  TN 205

Achievement Gap

KY 24 points TN 32 points

 

8th Grade Reading

1998  KY 262   TN 259

2013 KY 270  TN 265

Here, Kentucky gained 8 points and Tennessee only 6 — giving Kentucky students a 5-point edge over Tennessee’s in 8th grade reading. Both states posted 6-point gains in percentage of students at or above “basic,” with Kentucky maintaining a 3-point edge in that category.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 258  TN 256

Achievement Gap

KY 23  TN 20

As the data shows, Kentucky and Tennessee in many cases posted similar net gains over time, with Kentucky seeing big jumps in the mid-90s and again in the early part of the last decade.  In all categories, Kentucky’s students still outperform Tennessee, though in some cases that gap is narrowing.  Also, in all subjects, Kentucky’s students on free/reduced lunch outperform Tennessee’s students on free/reduced lunch.

ABOUT THAT FREE LUNCH

Possibly the most interesting (and troubling) finding in this data is the widening of the gap between free/reduced lunch students and those not eligible.  Tennessee has a significant population of students who qualify (as does Kentucky) and one of the key aims of reform is to ensure that gaps are closed and that those with the most challenges get more opportunity.  Here’s some data demonstrating that Tennessee’s achievement gap is widening when it comes to its poorest students.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH ACHIEVEMENT GAPS

4th Grade Math 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 26 points

8th Grade Math 2011 — 25 points  2013 – 27 points

4th Grade Reading 2011 — 26 points  2013 – 32 points

8th Grade Reading 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 20 points

The 4th grade scores in particular present rapidly widening gaps.  That’s absolutely the wrong direction.  Moreover, students on free/reduced lunch saw their scores improve less than those not on free/reduced lunch 3 points vs. 9 points in 4th grade math, 3 points vs. 5 points in 8th grade math, 1 point vs. 7 points in 4th grade reading, and both groups saw a +6 in 8th grade reading.

While we’re told that “poverty is not an excuse” it certainly appears to be a factor (and one growing in importance) in terms of student achievement growth in Tennessee. While we have had significant reforms in some of our poorest urban communities (and even have an Achievement School District to address the most challenged schools), the gap between poor and better off students widened in the last two years.

Yes, Tennessee should celebrate its growth.  But policymakers should use caution when seeing the results from the last 2 years as a validation of any particular policy.  Long-term trends indicate that big gains are usually followed by steady maintenance. And, even with the improvement, Tennessee has a long way to go to be competitive with our peers. Additionally, education leaders should be concerned about the troubling widening of the rich/poor achievement gap  – an outcome at odds with stated policy goals and the fundamental principle of equal opportunity.

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