Ron Ramsey’s Coming to Get Your Pre-K and He’s Driving a Chevy Tahoe

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has earned his brand new Chevy Tahoe through smart choices and hard work, just ask him, as reported by Andrea Zelinski:

You know what, if they work hard and set their goals high, you decide tomorrow that I want to go back to college and and I’m going to make a proper sacrifice, when I hear stuff like, I do get a little upset. Nobody ever gave me a dime. When I was 21 years old, I knew what I wanted to do in life, I made my steps toward that. And yes, now I can afford to drive a Tahoe. The same people I went to high school with decided they didn’t want to go to college, they decided they wanted to go to Eastman. They decided they wanted to be off at 5 o’clock and go fishing. I didn’t. So yes, I made some choices in my life to where I can now afford a Tahoe and other people didn’t. Yes.

It’s all about smart choices, you see. And, since no one ever gave him a dime, why should anyone else get the chances Ron Ramsey had. Ramsey is among those who think that the state’s voluntary Pre-K program should be scaled back. The program is designed to provide Pre-K to children from families who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Families who maybe can’t afford a brand new Chevy Tahoe — no doubt, Ramsey would say that’s their own choice, of course.

Here’s what Ramsey had to say on Pre-K:

“I’ll leave it up to the governor: he’ll have to propose it. There’ll probably be bills in the Legislature to pull back,” Ramsey said. “Do I think we should pull back? We probably should start systematically pulling back on that. Education is a limited pot of money, a finite pot and any dollar you put into pre-K is a dollar you took away from K-12 education. I would like see it begin, absolutely. I don’t know what the amount would be.”

But then, since “no one ever gave (him) a dime,” why should the state be paying for programs that might help the children of those families get a leg up on school?

First, the idea that Pre-K is “not working” is simply not supported by the evidence (a recent Vanderbilt study and an earlier study by the Comptroller’s office). In fact, analysis of the results of those studies indicate that Pre-K yields two years of clear academic benefits for a one year investment in a child. That’s a pretty good ROI.

Second, Ron Ramsey is one of the most powerful men in Tennessee public policy. He presides over a Senate with 28 Republicans and rules it as forcefully as Jimmy Naifeh once controlled the House. So, when he says “education is a limited pot of money,” he’s a big reason why that pot is so limited. If he wanted to put more money into public education, he could certainly push through such an initiative, even over the Governor’s objection. The fact is, he hasn’t.

And, it’s not like Tennessee doesn’t have available funds. In the recently concluded fiscal year, we had over $600 million in surplus revenue. That’s money that could be used to expand the “finite pot” of education dollars that Ramsey and other legislative leaders have built for our schools.

Some school systems are even suggesting (by way of lawsuit) that the pot of money being provided to them is simply not adequate to meet the needs of their students. And of course, by continuing to let the problem fester, as Ramsey has, Tennessee taxpayers are suffering a sort of double taxation.

Anyway, Ron Ramsey has a cool new Chevy Tahoe. Which he earned. All by himself. 4-year-olds from low income families should just be more like Ron. They don’t need Pre-K, they just need more grit and determination.

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

 

The NAEP Spin Room

Yesterday, I wrote about the very rosy interpretation of NAEP data being advanced by Tennessee leaders. Governor Haslam said:

“Today, we’re very excited to say that based on 2015 NAEP results, we’re still the fastest improving state in the nation since 2011. What this means is a new set of fourth- and eighth-graders proved that the gains that we made in 2013 were real.”

After analyzing the Tennessee results and putting them in context with national results (both of which essentially remained steady from 2013) , I noted:

It’s also worth noting that states that have adopted aggressive reforms and states that haven’t both remained flat. The general trend was “holding steady,” and it didn’t seem to matter whether your state was using a reform agenda (charters, vouchers, value-added teacher scores in teacher evaluations) or not.

Again, this makes it difficult to suggest that any one or even a package of educational practices drives change.

Then, I read the statement issued by SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) Executive Director Jamie Woodson. Here’s what she had to say:

Since 2011, Tennessee has made record-setting gains, held them, and progressed in state rankings because of a multi-faceted strategy of high standards, great teaching, accountability, and common-sense adjustments based on the feedback of educators and citizens.

Note that she assigns causality based on these results. I wonder, then, what to make of the states that didn’t adopt the multi-faceted strategy she references? Last year, a number of states showed significant gains on NAEP. Some, like DC and Tennessee were reform-oriented states, others were not.

Additionally, in a post about the NAEP results two years ago, I noted:

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.

Note here that what I suggested then was an expected result (big gain, followed by holding steady) is exactly what happened in Tennessee this year. That’s good news — it means we’re not declining. But it also means we can’t really say that 2013 was something special.  As I noted last year, Kentucky had a series of big gains in the 1990s and then again in the early 2000s. It wasn’t just a big bump one time. So far, Tennessee has had one banner year (2013) and this year, returned to normal performance.

However, the narrative of “fastest-improving” keeps being repeated. In fact, Bethany Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) released a statement that said in part:
Tennessee students are still the fastest improving in the nation since 2011 according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. “This year’s results from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that Tennessee has maintained the positive gains that we achieved in 2013.

We had one year in which we made a big splash and then, as I noted in 2013:

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.

That is to say, over a 20-year period, both states saw similar net gains. This year’s scores, in which Tennessee remained steady relative to the 2013 scores suggest, if anything, that the 2013 jump was likely an outlier. Had the 2013 gains been followed by gains in 2015 and again in 2017, more could be suggested. And frankly, it is my hope that we see gains (especially in reading) in 2017. But, it’s problematic to suggest that any specific reform or set of reforms caused the one-time jump we saw in 2013. Saying we are the fastest improving state in the nation over the last 4 years when we only saw a jump in 2013 is like saying we started the first quarter of a football game way behind, scored a bunch in the second quarter, (so we’re not as far behind), and then scored the same number of points in the third quarter. The result is we’re still behind and still have a long way to go.

So, yes, let’s celebrate that we made a big jump and held it steady. But, let’s also put those results in context and focus on how we can move forward instead of using these results to advance our favorite plays. For example, I’m not a huge fan of vouchers, but NAEP data doesn’t really help me make the case for or against. Likewise, states with and without strong collective bargaining posted gains in 2013 and held steady in 2015 — that is, the presence or absence of bargaining has no impact on NAEP scores.

NAEP can be an important source of information — but, too often, the results are subjected to spin that benefits a political agenda. As that narrative gets reinforced, focus on progress can be lost.

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

 

 

 

NAEP: First Take

The 2015 NAEP results are out today and there is already discussion about what they mean both state-by-state and nationally.

Here’s what Governor Haslam had to say:

“Today, we’re very excited to say that based on 2015 NAEP results, we’re still the fastest improving state in the nation since 2011. What this means is a new set of fourth- and eighth-graders proved that the gains that we made in 2013 were real.”

That’s pretty strong language. Proved. Governor Haslam said this year’s results proved that the gains seen in 2013 were real.

Here’s what we know: Tennessee remained relatively flat – no significant growth, relatively small decline in reading scores. Basically, we are where we were in 2013.

Here’s what else we know: The entire nation remained relatively flat – no significant growth, some decline in math.

So, here’s what that means: In 2013, Tennessee gained faster than the national average. In exactly one testing cycle. In 2015, Tennessee didn’t do worse than the rest of the country. We also didn’t do better. Like the rest of America, we remained steady.

That is, it’s entirely possible the 2013 gains seen in Tennessee were a one-time occurrence. An outlier.

Had Tennessee again made gains that outpaced the nation, one could say the results suggest something special or different is happening in Tennessee that may be causing the gains. It’s important to be cautious until you have several years of data and more thorough analysis.

It’s also worth noting that states that have adopted aggressive reforms and states that haven’t both remained flat. The general trend was “holding steady,” and it didn’t seem to matter whether your state was using a reform agenda (charters, vouchers, value-added teacher scores in teacher evaluations) or not.

Again, this makes it difficult to suggest that any one or even a package of educational practices drives change.

Was Tennessee’s performance on NAEP in 2013 a blip or an indicator of actual progress? The 2015 results don’t provide much insight.

The good news: Tennessee held steady. The related news: So did everyone else.

I’ll be doing some more digging in to the data to examine trends over time and what more can be learned from 2015. Stay tuned…

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

 

 

 

Just Like Mississippi

This letter to the editor about the current school funding crisis in Mississippi reminded me of the funding issues faced in Tennessee as a result of a Governor and legislature so far unwilling to properly fund our public schools.

Of particular interest was this note:

Every citizen of Mississippi pays taxes; income tax, sales tax and others; and a portion of that tax is required to be used to fund public education in this state. Again, the law is known as MAEP. When the legislature fails to obey this law, two things happen: First, the legislature gets to use the money it did not spend for pubic education for other purposes, even for funding private education with public money. Second, the local school districts, because the functions of running a school district must continue, have to request more local funding from the boards of supervisors. This, in turn, causes the supervisors to have to raise local millage rates.

This is effectively double taxation to fund education.

Except for the fact that Tennessee does not have an income tax, this is exactly what is happening in our state. Citizens are paying state taxes, the state is underfunding schools, and local governments are raising property taxes in order to address the shortfall.

In fact, because of revenue issues, Clay County’s School Board recently voted to delay the re-opening of schools following Fall Break.

And, Tennessee’s school funding challenge can be met without raising taxes. Yes, we have a $600 million surplus for 2015 fiscal year. Are legislative leaders talking about using that money to invest in schools?

No.

Instead, they are talking about more tax breaks for the investor class or building roads.

When the state fails to adequately support public schools and then passes down expensive, unfunded mandates, local taxpayers end up footing the bill.

Let me say this again: Tennessee taxpayers paid more than $600 million more than was projected just last year. Revenue is up above projections again this year. And legislators are talking about using the extra money for roads and tax breaks, but not schools.

That means taxpayers will likely see local tax increases or that local schools will go without needed resources — or, in some cases, both.

The BEP — the state’s funding formula for schools, is broken. But, the legislature is not yet poised to fix it.

When it comes to support for schools, Tennessee’s General Assembly is a lot like Mississippi’s.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

The Great Heart of KIPP: The State Board and Charter Authorizing

The Tennessee State Board of Education today used authority granted to it by the General Assembly in 2014 to approve two KIPP charter schools that had previously been rejected by the MNPS Board of Education.

The decision means the State Board has decided which schools will be opened and funded by MNPS rather than that decision being left to the elected School Board.

The authority was given to the State Board because of the Great Hearts Controversy.

Back in 2012, MNPS rejected an application filed by Great Hearts to open a charter school. The State Board heard an appeal from Great Hearts and sent the issue back to the MNPS Board, recommending approval. MNPS refused. Then-education commissioner Kevin Huffman fined MNPS $3.4 million.

And legislators, ever eager to micro-manage public education to the point of absurdity, filed legislation.

As John noted at the time, a significant part of the legislation is:

This might actually be a better financial deal for charter schools.  Under this legislation, a charter school authorized by the state would get the full state, local, and federal share of per-pupil dollars, plus a “local match” from the LEA for capital outlay.  The latter portion, especially, may be a change from how things currently work when charters are authorized by an LEA.

Specifically:

(d) Funding for charter schools authorized by the state board shall be in accordance with § 49-13-112, except that the LEA in which the charter school operates shall pay to the department one hundred percent (100%) of the per student share of local funding and any federal funding in the custody of the LEA that is due to the charter school.  The department shall withhold from the LEA the per student share of state funding that is due to the charter school as well as any federal funding in the custody of the department that is due to the charter school.  The department shall then allocate and disburse these funds to the charter school in accordance with procedures developed by the department.

It will be interesting to see how MNPS reacts to this course of action. The State Board has authorized the expenditure of Nashville tax dollars in a very specific manner, directing that those funds go to support the opening and operation of two KIPP charter schools.

It’s not like MNPS is averse to charter schools. Many charter schools operate in the district and the Board did approve some charter applications this year.

In fact, in 2014, the Board signed off on a plan to give KIPP an elementary school. As Dr. Register proceeded, this action actually led to the formation of East Nashville United.

At that time, the focus of the possible takeover was Inglewood Elementary. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia even visited the school to build support for preventing a KIPP takeover there.

Ultimately, KIPP won the right to takeover Kirkpatrick Elementary.

All of this to say: The majority of the MNPS Board has not demonstrated a bias against charter schools or even KIPP.

Some, including Board Member Will Pinkston, have argued for smart growth when it comes to charters. Pinkston noted:

The school board took a fiscally conservative position. With 8,157 seats currently in the charter pipeline — including more than 1,000 yet-to-be-filed seats belonging to KIPP — that’s a total future annual cash outlay of $77.5 million.

What KIPP wants to do — expand the pipeline to more than 9,000 seats — would take our future annual cash outlays up to $85.5 million. None of this includes the $73 million in annual cash outlays for charter seats that already exist.

Pinkton’s argument and other analysis suggesting that charter schools do place a burden on the MNPS budget prompted Board Member Mary Pierce to respond with a straw man argument about the cost of closing all current metro charter schools.

The fact is, MNPS hasn’t been in the business of closing charter schools — they’ve been approving new charter applications nearly every year and have many more charter seats opening. It seems likely that the KIPP charter schools approved by the State Board today would have ultimately won MNPS Board approval.  But today, the State Board of Education decided they knew better than Nashville’s School Board when and how many charter schools should be opened in Nashville. They also obligated funds, including local funds, to the opening and operation of these schools.

One final note: The State Board now is accountable for the oversight and monitoring of the two KIPP schools it approved in Nashville:

Except as provided in subdivision (b)(3), oversight and monitoring of
charter schools authorized by the state board of education shall be performed by the state board. As requested, the department of education shall assist the state board with general oversight of any charter school authorized by the state board. (Public Chapter 850, 2014).

What happens next? Stay tuned…

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

Sharing the Wealth

Last month, I wrote about ACLJ leader Jay Sekulow and his quest for financial gain based on the fear of Islam as one of the world religions covered in 6th and 7th grade social studies classes.

Now, it seems that Tennessee-based blogger and former radio host Steve Gill is getting in on the money grab.

Gill sent out a press release yesterday about an event in White County directed at removing textbooks that cover Islam. Gill is also listed as the media contact (and registered owner) of this website designed to keep the “controversy” going.  WPLN has this story which refers to the standards as new.

However, while the standards have been updated, the teaching of Islam as part of social studies in 6th and 7th grade is not a new practice in Tennessee. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen notes in a memo:

The content of religion in our social studies standards is not new in Tennessee, but the sequence has been revised. The content of the current Islamic World standards has been included in the state’s social studies standards for many years and what students are expected to know about the Islamic World is also consistent with years prior. The new standards have simply moved what was previously spread throughout the social studies standards prior to 2013 (those standards can be found here: http://tn.gov/education/article/academic-standards-archive) to one section in the seventh-grade World History course. Most of the current seventh-grade World History standards were previously contained in sixth-grade and can be found here: http://tn.gov/…/education/attachments/std_arch_ss_gr_6.pdf


The State Board of Education adopted the current social studies standards in July 2013. The standards were developed by a committee of Tennessee teachers and were available for the public and all Tennessee educators to review and provide feedback.

To be clear: The standards were developed and adopted more than two years ago. That process included Tennessee teachers developing the standards, a public feedback period, and the State Board of Education adopting the standards in a public meeting.

While updated, the standards continued the practice of covering the Islamic World in middle school social studies courses.

Where was Steve Gill in 2013 when the State Board adopted these standards that he now claims are responsible for “Islamic indoctrination?”

Why didn’t the ACLJ’s Sekulow cry out in 2013 when the State Board adopted standards he suspected would cause mass conversion of 7th graders to Islam?

And what about all the years prior to 2013 when the Islamic World was ALSO covered in middle school social studies? Was there mass indoctrination then? What about a slew of middle school students converting?

Gill and Sekulow don’t have answers to those questions … or, they haven’t been asked, it seems.

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

Clay County and the Broken BEP

Citing budget difficulties, Clay County Schools have closed (temporarily) and may not reopen until mid-November.

The Director of Schools, Jerry Strong, notes that the budget issues have been building over the past three years and have finally reached the tipping point. The County Commission doesn’t want to raise property taxes (the county is relatively poor, so a property tax wouldn’t necessarily generate a lot of revenue) and has placed a wheel tax referendum on the March ballot.

It’s interesting to see a school system close due to insufficient funds at the same time school systems across the state are suing due to inadequate funding from the BEP formula.

Moreover, the lack of funds comes at a time when the state is passing down expensive, unfunded mandates like RTI2.

It’s also hard to imagine that a fully-funded BEP 2.0 wouldn’t help address this situation. Under that scenario, Clay County would see some $450,000 in new revenue each year from the state.

While the situation in Clay County may soon see at least a temporary resolution that will get students back to school, it points to a larger reality: The BEP is broken.

It’s time to use the surplus revenue our state has to begin investing in schools in a meaningful, sustainable way.

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

 

 

Any Given Weekday

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers his thoughts on the need for flexibility and support for teachers.

I am an unabashed Tennessee Vols fan. I own at least fifteen orange shirts, as well as other Tennessee paraphernalia throughout my home and office. It has been a long and sometimes painful journey from the glory years of the late 1990’s until now, but it hasn’t stopped me from rooting for the home team.

College Football is a microcosm of life. We see young men with hope and excitement start every season with the belief that this is their year. And after a few losses they either keep fighting or they just give up. As fans, we have to also keep our belief in those young adults playing that game. These are young men & women who, for the most part, will not move into the professional ranks. Most of their football (or whatever sport they play) careers end when they graduate from college. A lucky few get to move up and play on Sunday. But very few of them will ever get that chance.

Life is also like that. We all compete at various levels. Maybe it is against a co-worker for a promotion. Perhaps it is your company against another for a contract. If you lose, you have a choice to either quit or keep going. Those that keep going usually end of more successful. Think of Peyton Manning. He had a serious neck injury, several surgeries and loss of arm strength. He could have quit. Who would have blamed him? He had a Hall of Fame career at that point. Yet he continues to defy the odds and play at an incredible level. His team is currently 4-0, and still he hasn’t played his best. But he doesn’t need me to tell him that; his own intrinsic drive will motivate him.

Educators are the same way. They understand their “team.” They don’t need scores to motivate them. They do not need fans to cheer for them. All of this helps, of course. However, what they most need is the freedom to teach. A teacher and education blogger from Georgia, Vicki Davis, wrote: “In our rush to make teachers accountable, we have made them accountable for the wrong things. We are pushing them to turn kids into memorizing automatons who remember a lot of facts only to forget them right after the test.” In fact, it is important to recognize that children are not widgets, so education reforms aimed at making better widgets is (not surprisingly) a failure.

There is an unforgettable line in a Suffern Middle School video “No Future Left Behind,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kra_z9vMnHo) that says: “You can’t create my future with the tools of your past.” These students are deadly accurate. Ms. Davis adds: “We’re using a 20th-century measuring stick to measure a 21st-century learner.”

We need to give our local districts and schools much more flexibility. Thomas Askey, a teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts, added: “Teaching should be approached as an art form that respects autonomy, individuality and critical engagement on the part of teachers.” Askey added that we need to “completely reorient the national narrative about the teaching profession.” Noah Berlatsky wrote in Reason: “Complete professional autonomy is dangerous -but so is obsessive micromanagement by distant politicians or nearby bureaucrats. If we don’t want our kids taught by slavish, debased drones, then we need to stop treating teachers like slavish, debased drones.”

As a Tennessee Vols supporter, I think that may be the same problem with our football team. We want what we had last century. Unfortunately, we have moved on to another century, with a new coach and new players. Perhaps the brick-by-brick philosophy espoused by Coach Butch Jones is not well-received in the “win now” world in which we live. However, I would argue it is the correct approach. I would also contend that giving schools greater flexibility and empowering our teachers to teach would be a more powerful strategy to make public education a success than many of the so-called education reforms. Go Vols!

 

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

Rolston Named to National Board

Tennessee State School Board Chair Fielding Rolston has been named to the National Assessment Governing Board by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Here’s the press release:

Tennessee State Board of Education Chair B. Fielding Rolston has been
reappointed to serve a second four-year term on the National Assessment Governing Board, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced today. Six other Board members — two of them also repeat appointees — were announced as well, and their terms began Oct. 1.
Rolston, who heads the governing and policymaking body for the Tennessee system of public elementary and secondary education, will continue work with a Board that includes governors, state legislators, school officials, educators, researchers, business representatives and members of the general public. The Governing Board sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card. NAEP is the country’s largest nationally representative assessment of student achievement in various subjects, including mathematics, reading, writing and science. Rolston currently serves as vice chair of the Governing Board’s
Committee on Standards, Design and Methodology, and is a member of its executive and nominations committees.
“We are delighted Fielding has been reappointed to continue his invaluable service on our Board,” Governing Board Chair Terry Mazany said. “He has been a very effective leader in education and policy, and also has a background in a variety of other fields that contribute to his knowledge and insight. The dedication he has shown as a state leader and a Board member will be a major asset in our oversight of The Nation’s Report Card — the most valuable benchmark we have for monitoring student progress across the nation, in every state and in 21 large urban districts.”
Rolston was first appointed to the Tennessee education board in 1996. With a professional background in engineering, he also has served as board chair for several other organizations in the field of higher education, health and industry, including the Wellmont Health System, Emory & Henry College, and Eastman Credit Union. In 2003, he retired from Eastman Chemical Company with more than 38 years of service that included work as an industrial engineer. He held a series of management posts in industrial engineering,
strategic planning, supply and distribution, and human resources and communications.
As Rolston enters his second term, the Board is overseeing several major developments. They include the first-ever Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment, with results to be released in spring 2016; a move to computer-based NAEP assessments; and a comprehensive plan to expand outreach efforts and partnerships to better inform audiences nationwide about NAEP resources and data. Congress established the 26-member Governing Board in 1988 to oversee NAEP, which makes objective information on student performance available to policymakers and the public at the national, state and local levels. NAEP has played an important role in evaluating the condition and progress of American education since 1969.
Among many other duties, the Governing Board determines subjects to be tested and the content and achievement levels for each test, and works to inform the public about NAEP results.
Rolston will serve in the category of “state school board member.” Others appointed this year are listed below along with their hometown, category of appointment and official title. The term for each member will extend to Sept. 30, 2019.

* Alberto Carvalho, Miami;  local school superintendent; superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools
* Carol Jago, Oak Park,  Illinois; curriculum specialist; associate director
for the California Reading and Literature Project at the University of California, Los Angeles
* Dale Nowlin, Columbus, Indiana; 12th-grade      teacher; teacher and mathematics department chair of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation; Board member since 2011
* Linda Rosen, District of Columbia; business representative;  CEO of Change
the Equation
* Cary Sneider, Portland, Oregon; curriculum specialist; associate research
professor at Portland State University; Board member since 2011
* Joe Willhoft, Tacoma, Washington; testing and measurement expert; consultant and former executive director of the Smarter Balanced      Assessment Consortium
# # #
The National Assessment Governing Board is an independent, nonpartisan board whose members include governors, state legislators, local and state school officials, educators, business representatives and members of the general public. Congress created the 26-member Governing Board in 1988 to oversee and set policy for NAEP.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only nationally representative, continuing evaluation of the condition of education in the United States. It has served as a national yardstick of student achievement since 1969. Through The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP informs the public about what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas, and compares achievement among states, large urban
districts, and various student demographic groups.

 

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

 

Of Poverty and Education

Mike Sheppard serves as General Counsel for Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee. This article originally appeared in TREND, a publication of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Many Americans believe that the major problem within public education is the lack of focus within the administration of a school. They even go so far as to blame the teachers for not providing the adequate time and skills needed for their child to grow and learn on a day-to-day basis. This type of mentality is wrong. As much as we can over analyze the various policies and red tape that go on behind the scenes in these schools, it is imperative that we become more aware and cognizant of the overarching problem that has plagued our schools for years, poverty.

Poverty, in itself, is a very uncomfortable topic. It is a dark cloud that looms in the backyard. It is a whisper that passes by individuals who, rather than confront it, tiptoe around the idea whenever they hear it brought up. But, like it or not, it is a conversation that we need to start having. For many of our schools, especially those that are failing, poverty is right behind it. Many of these well deserving students are held back from incredible opportunities to grow because of lack of funding or lack of resources. This should not happen.

But why is it happening? Why is this a problem?

More than 16 million children are growing up in poverty, meaning that 22% of all children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level of $23,550 a year. Research has shown that children living in poverty have a higher number of absenteeism and dropout rates than those coming from middle class or higher.

Now how does this affect the classroom, and how can we address it as educators?

Lacking a Strong Foundation
For our students, children who grow up in low socioeconomic conditions typically have a smaller vocabulary than middle or higher-class children do, which increases the risk for academic failure. Much of this attributes to lack of exposure. Whether the words are spoken or read, low socioeconomic households will in most cases not be able to provide their child with that elementary foundation. In the classroom, this lack of exposure can impact various lesson plans and achievement for both the teacher and the student. To resolve this type of problem, educators should try and incorporate vocabulary practice on a daily basis. More exposure to new and unique words can enrich the student in successful ways.

Student-Teacher Relationships
Many teachers, especially new teachers to the field, find many students in low-income areas to be behaviorally difficult and inattentive to the work. It is easy to blame the student, but we need to understand their background and their stories. One reason why many students seem unmotivated toward schoolwork is a lack of hope or optimism related to their outside problems. Low socioeconomic students often deal with problems bigger than themselves. Whether they are financial hardships or absent guardians, these types of negative problems can take a toll on the mentality of the student, causing them to act in a very brash and hasty way.

Disruptive home relationships often create mistrust in students. Feelings toward parent or guardian figures that have often failed students at home can be projected onto adults at the school. Classroom misbehaviors are likely to increase because of these at-home instabilities. One thing a teacher can do to aid the situation is to build a relationship with the student. Establishing a relationship with the student can benefit you as well as the overall classroom. In addition, providing positive reinforcement can give the child the necessary confidence to perform on an academic basis. Understanding, listening, and talking with a child can provide you a strong advantage, especially later down the line.

Performance on Assessments
Studies have shown that children from lower socioeconomic background often perform below those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds on state exams. Many students coming from specific communities are found to struggle with core subjects such as reading, math, science, etc. In addition, many of the schools that the students attend lack the necessary resources and teachers to provide them the foundation to develop these core skills. A school can help nullify this problem by strategically analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each of their students. By having this type of data, a teacher is able to break down lessons so that their students can be successful.

There are no easy solutions. We must be willing to admit there is a problem and openly discuss the issue. Government cannot solve all of our problems. Poverty must be challenged community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, classroom by classroom and home by home. Together we can inspire, and we can identify needs and marshal resources to meet the challenge. Together we can defeat the issue of poverty.

For more on education and poverty:

Tennessee’s Poverty Test

TCAP, Poverty, and Investment in Schools

Pre-K as a Piece of the Puzzle for Overcoming Poverty

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