Dr. Register, Tear Down Those Data Walls

Or, what a progressive Karl Dean might have said at yesterday’s Nashville Chamber education report card “party.” If you’d like to read his defense of charter schools and warning to MNPS, read this.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean yesterday took on the education establishment and challenged the city to do more for its children and families. The remarks came as stunned members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce looked on in disbelief.

Dean first suggested that Metro Nashville Schools stop its over-reliance on testing in spite of state mandates.  He noted the practice of data walls as emblematic of the current emphasis on test-based measures of student success and suggested that the schools might try focusing on the whole child.

With his voice raised and fist clenched, Dean said, “Dr. Register, tear down those data walls.”

Dean seemed to be suggesting that School Board member Amy Frogge has a point when she continues to ask about how much all the spending and preparation for tests costs Metro Schools.

He further added that a teacher’s value is about more than the points she might add to her students’ test scores.

Dean proceeded to challenge the popular and oft-repeated notion that Nashville is home to failing schools.

“It’s not the schools that are failing,” Dean said. “MNPS teachers work hard every single day to reach the children in their care.  But too many of those students arrive hungry and without access to health care or basic shelter.  It’s our community that has failed the families of these children.”

Dean noted that nearly 3 of every 4 MNPS students qualifies for free or reduced price lunch.  He went further to note that 7500 Davidson County families with school age children earn incomes below the federal poverty line (Source: American Community Survey of the U.S. Census).

“We’re simply not supporting the ENTIRE community,” Dean said. “When so many families are working hard and can’t make ends meet, there’s a fundamental problem in the local economy.  Rising income inequality is bad for Nashville.  We must work to address it together now.”

Dean pledged to push for changes in state law to allow Nashville to adopt a living wage and also pledged to use his considerable clout with the General Assembly to advocate for a $10 an hour state minimum wage.

“When Nashville families are struggling, their children struggle,” Dean said.  “It’s hard to focus on school when you don’t know where your next meal will come from or what to do when you can’t see to read and can’t afford glasses.

“Quite simply, Nashville must do a better job of reaching out and lifting up all our citizens.”

Dean said he would work with the staff at Music City Center to turn the nearly $600 million facility into a community center and transitional housing for the working poor.  He noted that it would include free dental and vision clinics for children and an urgent care center for basic medical needs.

“This facility will set Nashville apart as a city that puts people first and will no longer fail its children and families.”

Dean also said he will be asking Metro Council to expand the hours at all the city’s libraries so students can have access to its materials and computers.

“Our children need consistent, reliable access to our magnificent library facilities.  They should be centers of learning and excitement and they will be open to serve that need.”

Following Dean’s speech, he walked to the park across from the downtown library to meet the homeless men and women he’d be spending his nights with until January, when he’ll take them to their new rooms at MCC.

Alas, Dean’s actual remarks are chronicled here.

 

Time to Fix the BEP?

The Metro Nashville School Board this week suggested that the state revise and improve its funding formula for schools, known as the BEP.

A resolution drafted by board member Amy Frogge and passed unanimously by the MNPS board indicates that the current formula does not allow districts to properly implement rigorous news standards and provide improved salaries for teachers.

If legislators and Governor Haslam want to take a look at improving the BEP, they need only take a look at the BEP 2.0 formula developed under Governor Phil Bredesen with significant input from then-state Senator Jamie Woodson, who now heads SCORE.

Of course, current Metro board member Will Pinkston was a key Bredesen staffer when the BEP 2.0 formula was developed, so he’s quite familiar with how it would improve the funding situation not just for MNPS but for most districts in the state.

Fully funding BEP 2.0 may take incremental steps and perhaps could be complete in two to three years with some focus and budget prioritization from the General Assembly and the Governor.

If the current formula is not re-examined and improved, it seems likely that districts large and small will continue to complain of mandates coming from the state without adequate funding for their implementation.

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

Strategies for Retaining Educators

Memphis teacher and blogger Jonathan Alfuth writes about strategies for retaining educators in an urban environment.

This past June, I completed my second year as a Teach for America teacher.  I’d worked in one of the most struggling high schools in Memphis but rather than being scared away, it strengthened my commitment to teaching.  Yet I knew that there was no way I’d return to my placement school.  The culture didn’t promote student achievement, individual teachers operated in isolation and we had little shared vision for where we were going as a school.

Over the next few weeks, I did a comprehensive search of schools across Memphis. While I turned up several schools that I believed embodied the type of culture I desired, none of them were Shelby County Schools (all were charter).  I made the choice to move to a charter school and I’ve been amazed by the difference in culture and its impact on student achievement.  Our leaders are hardworking and dedicated to a common mission.  My colleagues and I are given common planning time in content and grade level teams each and every week. And most importantly, we work together to develop the kind of school culture that drives students to success.  I see its impact each and every day in the quality of my students work and their academic outcomes as so far, 100% of our graduating students have been accepted to 4-year schools.

My dilemma was recently discussed at the policy level in Shelby County during the school board’s decision whether or not to extend Teach for America’s contract with the district.  The board voted to extend the contract, but the two opponents of extending the contract cited poor TFA retention beyond the program’s two year commitment in their opposition to its continuation.  In the same piece, she also quoted Superintendent Hopson in a statement that perfectly encompasses my dilemma and the dilemma of second year TFA teachers every year.  Hopson said, “I have to say, if effective talent is leaving the district at a 70-something percent rate, we have to look at strategies we can use to retain talent.”

I often find myself thinking that we’ve done so much to improve education both here in Memphis and across Tennessee.  We’ve reformed teacher evaluation to identify our best and brightest.  We’re on the verge of dramatically reforming teacher compensation in Tennessee.   And yet all this means NOTHING if we cannot keep great teachers in high need classrooms once they are placed.  This begs the question; what do educators really want?  What will keep them in district classrooms?  In my experience, young education professionals, TFA or otherwise, aren’t much different from most other young professions.  We all have highly varied motivations for entering the profession.  But in the end, great teachers gravitate towards environments with great school and district leaders, great office (or in this case school) culture that focuses on achievement and great colleagues that work together to achieve a common vision.

I am a TFA alumni but I also work closely with young educators from both alternative and traditional certification programs.  And I believe strongly that my decision is one that almost every young educator in Shelby County faces at some point in their first two years.  At the end of two years, many young educators, TFA or otherwise, feel a strong sense of commitment to their children and a desire to continue in education.  However, we are often placed in such dysfunctional environments that we have to make a choice which feels like choosing between being a martyr for our kids by staying or abandoning them by quitting or moving schools.  And so often the challenges inherent in district schools make the former untenable, and so we leave, either choosing a different school like I have or leaving the profession all together.

I should add that some schools in Shelby County have found a way to make it work and retain young educators beyond their first few years.  Colleagues of mine at Ridgeway High, Whitehaven and Kingsbury High consistently tell me about the strength of their school leadership and the support they receive from their colleagues.  We should certainly study these schools further, but they represent the exception rather than the norm.

Until district leaders devote attention to improving school cultures to make them attractive and professional work environments that attract young educators, we will continue to see an exodus of young teaching talent to other systems, schools or professions.  And it won’t matter what program those educators come from if conditions are so challenging that teachers can’t fathom working in high need environments.  We can extend or eliminate contracts with organizations like Teach for America, but that won’t fix the underlying fact that many young educators simply don’t feel that the school culture where the work is one where they can be successful.

I don’t want to leave this post without offering some solutions.  I’ve already written a seven part series on a package of strategies that could be used to promote teacher retention in SCS, so I  won’t rehash it here. If you’re interested in some research based strategies for how we could start building the types of school cultures that attract and retain high quality educators by enacting district level policies, I invite you to check the series out here.

Jonathan Alfuth is a math teacher at a charter school in Memphis.  He blogs about education issues at Bluff City Ed

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

 

Want to know who is “responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement” in TN?

Today is the first day of the Tennessee Principals Association annual conference. The topic of this year’s conference is Leading in the Common Core Era. The conference will have three keynote speakers to discuss Common Core. Emily Barton, Assistant Commissioner for Curriculum and Instruction, is one of those keynote speakers. The first line of her biography tells a lot (see picture below).

“Emily Barton is responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement through many strategies including implementation and success of Tennessee’s evaluation system and the adoption of Common Core State Standards.”

Looks like Emily Barton is solely responsible for the gains in achievement. That’s a huge claim to make at a conference filled with educators.

 

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Big Monday Coming for McIntyre

On Monday, the Knox County School Board will discuss and possibly vote on a contract extension for embattled Director of Schools Jim McIntyre.

Last night, teachers, parents, and students packed the Board meeting room and some asked the Board not to renew McIntyre’s contract. It’s not clear from available news reports that anyone was present to ask the Board to extend the contract.

McIntyre has come under fire for being an enthusiastic supporter of state-level policy changes to teacher evaluation and for not listening to the concerns of parents and teachers regarding what they call excessive testing and over-reliance on test-based data to evaluate teachers.

That said, the Board recently announced they are working on a resolution calling for more transparency in the TVAAS system used to create scores for teacher evaluation.

Monday’s meeting, focused on the contract extension for McIntyre, will also likely be a contentious one, though it’s not clear whether a significant number of Board members would consider non-renewing the contract.

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

 

Value-Added Transparency

At a working session last night, the Knox County School Board announced a collaborative effort to push for transparency in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS).  The idea is to ensure that teachers understand the inputs that create the value-added score that makes up 50% of their overall evaluation in the TEAM model.

From Tamara Shepherd via KnoxViews:

Finally, the board is collaborating on a resolution to be delivered to the legislature to urge, if I understood correctly, legislators’ assistance in ensuring that the mechanics of TVAAS be made understandable to teachers.

Some conversation ensued concerning the potential for employing a different model for measuring student growth if Sanders/TVAAS cannot honor the resolution’s request, given that TVAAS is proprietary property

 

Bill Sanders, creator of TVAAS, has been reluctant to give much detail about TVAAS over the years.  As the story explains, it seems that there could be a push for using a different model that is more transparent if the current value-added model can’t be made transparent.

While there are doubts about the validity and reliability of TVAAS data in general, at the very least, the method for arriving at a teacher’s score should be made transparent.

Lots of other happenings at the meeting.  Read more here.

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

Momma Bears take on Edu-Profiteers

A group of Tennessee moms is asking tough questions and raising concerns about education profiteering right here in the Volunteer State.

Here’s their Top 10 list of ways to get rich being an education industry profiteer.

The list is followed by lots of handy links to stories you may not hear often or may not remember.