Telling the NAC Story

Yesterday, TN Ed Report presented an analysis by Ezra Howard of the Neighborhood Advisory Council’s (NAC) rubrics and the Achievement School District’s (ASD) scoring mechanism. Ultimately, the analysis found the process biased toward matching a neighborhood school with a charter management organization. Separately, several members of the NAC held a press conference calling the process “deceptive” and a “scam.”

In response to the NAC press conference, the ASD sent this press release to several media outlets:

“The ASD invited people with varying backgrounds and points of view to join the NAC and, in so doing, we knew there was the possibility that giving every member a voice in decision-making would mean that some members would not be happy when final decisions were made. This year’s community input process was redesigned with the input of a diverse group of stakeholders, including some recent critics. We agreed with the importance of strengthening parent voices in decisions about schools and that NACs should have an opportunity to evaluate the plans of school operators in areas that reflect the highest priorities for parents and community members. There is no question that the Priority schools that we engaged in this process are deserving of a meaningful intervention to significantly improve students’ opportunities for success. We are grateful to the parents, students, teachers, counselors and community members who spent the better part of two months learning about and evaluating the potential fit of operators that applied to serve these Priority schools.

We did our best to run a fair, transparent process and we believe we achieved that. Based on the scored rubrics and methodology we used to ensure parent voice accounted for 50 percent of the feedback we received from the NACs, we had four matches and one school that did not match. We will honor both the match and non-match outcomes of this community input process.

We ran our redesigned process with fidelity, and we addressed every concern we were made aware of during the process. We have always attempted to be an organization that listens and learns. Our biggest concern as we move forward is the fact that we have some members of the NAC who feel the need to go to the media rather than come to us discuss their concerns. If it’s political posturing to overturn a fair and open process, then there is little we can do to address that. If there are good faith ways we can improve, we are open to that feedback. And we welcome those NAC members who continue to have concerns to meet with our team members in the new year.”

TN Ed Report would like to hear from both members of the NAC and the Achievement Advisory Councils (AAC) from past years. Did you find the process transparent, consistent, and acted on with fidelity? Did you share your concerns honestly with the ASD from the beginning? Did you find he process to be fair and open? Please write to nacstories@gmail.com

TN Ed Report would like to share your opinion in fairly and openly. Whether they are positive or negative, your view of the process will be presented without influence. In addition to your story, please provide your name and a detailed description on the NAC or AAC team on which you served.

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

The ASD’s NAC for Problems

Ezra Howard offers some insight into the ASD matching process in Memphis

Personal Experience

When the Achievement School District (ASD) announced that it would restructure its Achievement Advisory Council (AAC) and rebrand it as Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC), I was cautiously optimistic. Last fall, I sat on the Northeast Region of the Achievement Advisory Council (NE AAC) and was thoroughly disappointed with my experience. Due to an automatic match between Green Dot and Raleigh-Egypt High School, the NE AAC dealt solely with engaging the community. This ordeal was well covered by the media, specifically the decision for an automatic match, the heated community meeting, and Green Dot’s decision to pull out of the matching process. My frustration didn’t stem from fellow AAC members; they were wonderful and I have nothing but respect for them. It also didn’t come from speaking with community members, teachers, and families at schools considered for takeover; they were frustrated but needed to be heard. Rather, my frustration stemmed from receiving limited support when working with the Achievement School District and the matching charter management organizations (CMOs) as well as the lack of transparency throughout the entire matching process.

My biggest fear for the AAC process was that, as applied to REHS, it was all lip service for the veneer of community engagement. So when I heard that the AAC would make some changes and become the NAC, I was cautiously optimistic. I recognized there were new strengths in the process, like the use of scored rubrics and ensuring parents were on the council. However, there were weaknesses, like limiting the number of members in each NAC despite the size of the school or the number of grades taught. Furthermore, the ASD pledged to honor the NAC’s recommendations. Malika Anderson, the incoming Superintendent of the ASD, echoed these sentiments with a promise to emphasize community engagement. I thought this year would be different.

Continued Concern

I didn’t sign up for the NAC, however, I moved to Lisbon, Portugal with my wife in order for us to both pursue PhDs. Despite the distance, I closely followed the events from afar. I was immediately concerned when I read about the comments made by Latoya Robinson, an NAC member, in the Commercial Appeal.

Latoya Robinson said she served on one of the neighborhood advisory councils that the ASD employed to rate charter operators who applied to take over the struggling schools. Robinson said the way their input was calculated allowed for Kirby Middle to be taken over against the council’s wishes.

“We did not put down information saying that we wanted Kirby to be taken over by Green Dot,” she said.

So I filled out an Open Records Request with the ASD for the individual rubrics and the scoring sheets used by the ASD. The results were not particularly encouraging.

The Matching Process

A little background on this year’s matching process: Green Dot was matched with Hillcrest High School and Kirby Middle school. Green Dot has been active in ASD schools for less than two years. They operated Fairley High School last year (Composite TVAAS of 2) and Wooddale Middle School this year (no TVAAS). Scholar Academies began with Florida-Kansas Elementary this year (no TVAAS). All of the operators considered this year were CMOs. Achievement Schools, the ASD’s direct-run schools, were not considered for matching.

[Note: I was paying attention specifically to the quantitative data. However, I suggest everyone read the individual rubrics and pay close attention to the notes. There are some very interesting facts. Names of the NAC members were redacted, and probably for good reason.]

A Problematic Process: A Low Bar, Grade Inflation, and Erasures

ASD 1

When reviewing the NAC rubrics and scoring sheets, I was immediately surprised to find that the cut score on the rubric was 50%. A passing mark of 50% seems extraordinarily low and, honestly, reminds me of the long abandoned grade scale used by the ASD where 46 was considered passing. Second, I noticed that a couple CMOs were barely passing with scores in the low to mid 50s. Third, I noticed quite a few scores were erased from consideration due to “insufficient evidence bordering on opinion.”

Let’s take each point in turn. It seems very plain that the bar set for CMOs is really low in the matching process. To make matters worse, passing the 50% mark is almost guaranteed using the scoring rubric set by the ASD. The ASD used a four point Likert scale to measure if the CMO was meeting expectations. Each level of measurement was given a score from 1 to 4 (except Demonstration of Community Outreach, which receives a score of 3, 6, 9, 12); the scored are then added up and divided by the total to provide an average percentage. First and foremost, the 1 to 4 scale is problematic because even if a CMO fails to meet the standard of any measure by a NAC member, they still score 25%. These free points set the floor high enough that it tells a CMO that they only have to strive for 25 percentage points in order to pass. In theory, if every NAC member thought the CMO “partially met the standard” then the CMO would be matched with a school. With most scores hovering in the 50s, that’s exactly what happened.

The floor is so high and the ceiling is so low, it makes it very difficult for a CMO to not match with a school. The scoring mechanism for the NAC rubrics is blatantly biased in favor of matches and takeovers. Furthermore, the glaringly low expectations for CMOs in this process stands completely against the rhetoric of high expectations espoused by the ASD, most recently by Chris Barbic himself. It’s hypocritical to the standards held to the schools slated for takeover, which requires a TVAAS 4 or 5 from schools on the priority list. Take Raleigh-Egypt Middle School, which scored a TVAAS of 3 this year with a TVAAS of 5 last year, which is now in the hands of Scholar Academies, which partially met expectations with a score of 54.17%. That’s absurd, but it doesn’t end there.

The sheer amount of redactions is shocking. The most appalling is Green Dot’s rubric for Kirby Middle, where several individual scores were erased and at least two whole rubrics were taken out of consideration. However, if you look at the rubrics yourself, you see that this NAC was very thorough, their reasoning is sound, and they substantiated their arguments with evidence. Take for example this apparently redacted assessment for Green Dot partially meeting the standard for community engagement:

The application demonstrated plans for parent engagement but the operator presentation of how parents are involved in the school was not convincing. When asked about engaging parents at the level required to made (sic) significant cultural changes, the operator was not able to give a strong plan of action.

The NAC member then provides a long list of concerns about community engagement with references to documentation and examples of personal experience. And would it be a surprise that the redacted scores appear to be 1s and 2s rather than 3s and 4s? Consider this assessment of “meeting, with reservations” with a rationale of “Operator understands necessary interventions for the student population. Green Dot has shown academic success at Fairley” with the strengths being “As stated they are the leaders in the school turnaround. They have demonstrated success rates in schools not only in Memphis but other cities.” With Fairley’s composite TVAAS of 2 last year, I disagree.

A Second Look

So there are two major issues with the NAC rubric scores. First, there is the low bar set for CMOs. Second, the redactions on the NAC scores appear inconsistent and biased toward high scores, ensuring that a CMO matches. So I decided to recalculate the rubric scores. I first make “not meeting expectations quantifiably unacceptable by recalculating the scores without the free points while keeping the passing score at the ASD’s 50% mark. Second, I analyzed the final NAC averages using the redacted scores. Finally, combine the former to methods to see where the NAC scores stand. All data came directly from the individual rubrics and scoring sheets provided by the ASD.

ASD 2

In order to the account for the roughly free 25 percentage embedded in the measurement tool of the NAC rubrics, I simply changed the scale from 1 to 4 to 0 to 3. In essence, CMOs are awarded no points for “not meeting expectations.” If CMOs surpass the 50% mark, simply put, this would put the aggregate score must be somewhere between “meeting expectations with reservations” and “partially meets the standard.” Even with the ASD’s redacted score, the results are not promising. Caldwell-Gutherie is the only school matched with 80.79 percent. Kirby has 48.98%, Hillcrest has 34.52%, Raleigh-Egypt Middle has 38.33 percent, 29.39%. It’s apparent that a buffer of about 25 percentage point drastically changes the outcome.

ASD 3

 

When the redacted scores are accounted for, there is a dramatic change in the average rubric score. Only Caldwell-Guthrie with 83.90% and Raleigh-Egypt Middle School with 53.75% would be considered for the matching process. Kirby with 47.22%, Hillcrest with 49.17%, and Sheffield with 45.25% would not be considered matches. Without a doubt, the redactions changed the results.

ASD 4

When you take away the 25 percentage point buffer and use all data available, there are some very interesting findings. First and foremost, only one school passes the low 50% mark: Caldwell-Guthrie at 78.53%. Every other school is below 50%. Kirby is 29.63%, Hillcrest is 32.22%, Raleigh-Egypt is 38.33%, and Sheffield is 27.00%.

It seems apparent that the assessment tool for the NAC rubrics are not only biased, but highly massaged. I believe these three additional forms of analysis illustrates how the NAC truly perceived the CMO and potential matches, and that view is quantifiably poor. It also points to the importance and impact of how a test is scored.

There is another interesting observation that I want to put on the table. In the case of each of the five schools scoring below 50% in my assessment, there are two individuals in each group that score the CMO significantly higher than their peers. Sometimes the scores are two or three times higher than the others and there are two very impressive perfect scores for Caldwell-Guthrie. I may be wrong, but if I were a betting man, I would bet the farm that the two highest scores in each NAC are the two “community members.” The difference these community members make ranges anywhere from 7 to 23 percentage points. If I am correct, then the community members’ assessment of the CMOs may not be representative of the parent members on the NAC.

I went through some of the names of the NAC members and some of the community members also sat on the previous AAC (some of whom I worked with and are those for whom I still have great respect). Several individuals on the NAC appear to be members of the contentious Memphis Lift. Memphis Lift, which is funded by Democrats for Education Reform, headed by Chris Barbic’s wife. Apparently, as one NAC member noted, Lift assisted some CMOs in community organizing activities as well. Despite the community member’s background, the data suggests these outliers, which appear unrepresentative of majority of the NAC members, were highly influential in the outcome of the NAC rubrics.

Conclusion

Whichever way you view it, the NAC results are very problematic. The entire process seems to favor CMO matching from the outset. With low cut scores, a buffer of 25 percentage points, numerous redactions, and influential members that may not represent the consensus, CMO matching seems to be a foregone conclusion from the beginning. Simply looking at the data, the NAC and the matching process calls into question authentic and meaningful community engagement. The rubric data undermines everything the NAC proclaimed to be and refutes the constant message of high standards, accountability, data-centric approaches, student-centered mindsets, transparency, and community engagement espoused both by the current superintendent, Chris Barbic, and the incoming leader, Malika Anderson. At best, it’s disingenuous; at worse, its strategic community disenfranchisement.

Quite frankly, the NAC appears to be the same thing as the AAC, lip service. Now we have the data to prove it.

The Need for Action, The Need for Change

When I sat on the AAC, Margo Roen, then Deputy Chief Portfolio Officer, said she was surprised that I didn’t write a blog post about my AAC experience. I said, half-jokingly, that I didn’t want to be mean, but now I’m angry. Honestly, anyone looking at this data and reading these rubrics should be angry too. The ASD seems to be speaking out of both sides of its mouth. It sets the bar pretty high for priority schools trying to avoid a takeover, but sets the bar laughably low for matching operators. It claims to care about community engagement, but then puts extreme limits on the community voice and agency. It claims urgency for action, but asks for patience when it comes to turnaround.

I wanted to believe in the education reform espoused by the Achievement School District. I want kids to shoot from the bottom 5% to the top 25%. I do not take joy in the fact that academic institutions view the ASD’s effect as “statistically insignificant.” I am not happy that NAC rubrics illustrate low opinions of charters and a scoring mechanism that undermine the matching process. But something quickly needs to change, because Tennessee families continue to be sold a bill of goods by the ASD and out-of-town charters.

I have a simple suggestion for our legislature, because it seems very apparent that it will take a bill to entice honest operation by the ASD. Raumesh Akbari, as most educators know, passed a widely praised bill that took schools with a TVAAS composite of a 4 or 5 off the table for turnaround. There should be a bill that reflects the same for the expansion of the ASD. For any operator wishing to expand in the ASD, an aggregate TVAAS 4 or 5 must be necessary for all schools. Allowances could be made for new operators. However, for those already operating in the ASD, growth must be required. Second, an NAC-type structure is necessary, but must be heavily restructured and regulated outside of the ASD. There’s nothing wrong with the shape of the NAC, but the measurement tool makes very little sense and shows clear bias.

The worst part about it is that the ASD could have taken this exact approach to takeovers this year. A great example is the direct-run Achievement Schools. After some inconsistent results and a few rocky starts, all five of the Achievement Schools scored a composite 4 or a 5 last year. However, no schools were considered for the Achievement Schools in the matching process. Barbic is right to celebrate that fact in his opinion piece on Saturday; but his use of Whitney to prop up the cadre of charters considered for this year’s matching process is inaccurate and misleading. Green Dot’s Fairley High School has a TVAAS of 2 and Scholar Academies has no real track record in Tennessee. By all accounts, that should be unacceptable. Ultimately, it makes me think the expansion of the ASD is less about children and learning and more about adults and business plans.

NAC Rubric – no redacts, unweighted

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

RESOLVED: No More ASD

The Shelby County School Board last night passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on ASD expansion in the district until the ASD can show evidence it is improving student progress.

The statement about the ASD was part of a broader resolution calling for a comprehensive strategic plan for the district.

Here’s the full resolution:

RESOLUTION REQUESTING THE SUPERINTENDENT TO DEVELOP A COMPREHENSIVE SHORT-TERM STRATEGIC PLAN  IN SUPPORT OF DESTINATION 2025
WHEREAS, Shelby County Schools (SCS) is currently faced with an ever-evolving landscape – including, but not limited to fiscal inadequacies, consistently changing state mandated academic standards, and declining enrollment, etc. – impacted by a community facing persistent socio-economic challenges that require the District to realign and shift its focus in order to best serve this dynamic student population; and
WHEREAS, according to 2014 Census data, approximately 33.2 percent of Shelby County’s school aged children live in poverty, with over 80 percent of them attending SCS schools, which in turn directly impacts a student’s academic and behavioral performance, requiring development and implementation of solutions designed to appropriately and adequately address these potential impediments for our students’ educational and life success; and
WHEREAS, SCS faces a number of fiscal challenges from different fronts – OPEB liability, projected budget shortfall and diminishing revenue due to the loss of students to ASD schools and charter schools; and
WHEREAS, To ensure the academic welfare of its’ students, SCS’ focus is on investing in strategies that create a fair and equitable learning environment for all students in Shelby County; and
WHEREAS, although the challenges seem daunting, SCS continues the work of educating students as demonstrated by an increase in the graduation rate to 75 percent; achievement of District TVAAS Level 5 status; and solid results in the iZone (Innovation Zone), where a recent study by Vanderbilt’s Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development found that SCS iZone schools showed moderate to large positive effects in reading, math and science as opposed to the State’s ASD model who’s ability to effectively drive student academic achievement is questionable at this point; and
WHEREAS, the Shelby County Board of Education wishes to continue to propel the current forward momentum to a larger scale effort by developing short-term strategies to achieve the District’s long-term objectives under its Destination 2025 Strategic Plan.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED That the Shelby County Board of Education instructs the Superintendent to develop a Comprehensive Short-Term Strategic Plan to present to the Board that explores and/or considers strategies and/or opportunities to address the District’s challenges – fiscal inadequacies, consistently changing state mandated academic standards, declining enrollment, high poverty among its students, etc. – which include, but are not limited to the following:
– Equitable Distribution of OPEB Liability

– Expansion of the iZone Model –

School Capacity and Utilization –

Grade Configurations/Programmatic Structures –

Collaboration with Charter Operators –

Co-existence with the ASD and a moratorium on the ASD takeover of additional schools until they show consistent progress in improving student academic achievement - (emphasis added)

Strategic Legislation –

Wrap-Around Service Model –

Additional school choice options  –

Equitable Learning Environment
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED That the Shelby County Board of Education requests that the Superintendent present a timeline for the implementation of the proposed Comprehensive Short-Term Strategic Plan.
Submitted by:
Stephanie Love District 3
December 15, 2015

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What Does ESSA Mean to You?

Jon Alfuth is the newest addition to the Tennessee Education Report team. In his inaugural post, he breaks down the newly-signed Every Student Succeeds Act.

This last week saw the passage of the successor to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Every Student Succeeds Act. After months and months of negotiations, this legislation is suddenly a reality. I’m here to break to down and give you an idea of what it means for districts across Tennessee.

NCLB, Waivers and Race to the Top

First, you have to start with No Child Left Behind and education policy under the Obama administration. The legislation massively ramped up the Federal Government’s involvement in what was traditionally a state dominated education system. The 2002 law set ambitious long term goals that every student would be proficient by an agreed upon date, required states to establish systems to track student performance and set stiff penalties for schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress towards those goals.

It didn’t go as planned. Early in the Obama administration (and arguably before), it was clear that the 100 percent proficiency goals and timeframe was an admirable dream, but a dream none the less. The Obama administration chose to grant states waivers from many provisions of federal policy, but only if the states adjusted their education policy to fit the administrations education agenda. Specifically, states had to implement college and career ready expectations for students, target low performing schools and population groups and create teacher and principal evaluation systems with student growth as a component.

Then came the Race to the Top, a competition among states for funding to implement education reform policies in each state. Tennessee was one of the first states to receive funding and required states to build assessment systems for standards, adopt data systems, support teachers and school leaders and create interventions in low performing schools. Tennessee already had TVAAS in place, so we were a natural fit as two of the key requirements were already met. One of the biggest innovations that has come out of Race to the Top is the Achievement School District, which was spurred largely by federal money.

ESSA

Now we get to the Every Student Succeeds Act. The act tones down much of the direct or indirect influencing of local education policy that has been promoted by the Federal Government while keeping the “spirit” of NCLB in place.

The goal in the compromise bill that has now been signed into law is to keep in place the structure preferred by democrats that forces states to report on and take action to rectify education inequities while at the same time catering to republican desires for more state and local control.

Here are some of the highlights of how this bill differs from the NCLB and Obama era policy:

  • Testing– under NCLB, testing was once a year every year In grades 3-8 with one test in high school. ESSA keeps the frequency of testing in place, but allows states to be more flexible with what tests are given and when in the year they are given.
  • Standards- ESSA takes the same tack as NCLB, supporting higher standards, but includes an interesting provision that prohibits the Secretary of Education from “influencing, incentivizing or coercing” states to adopt common core.
  • Accountability–ESSA pulls back from the NCLB era significantly and allows states to essentially come up with their own accountability goals, as long as those plans are submitted to the Department of Education. This contrasts with NCLB, which prescribed interventions from the top down. ESSA also relaxes the influence that test scores are required to play in accountability systems.
  • School evaluation– under NCLB, evaluation focused mostly on test scores. ESSA allows states to expand the scope of their evaluation to include “other measures” such as graduation rate, student engagement and disciplinary data in evaluation.
  • Low performing schools –under NCLB states had to address low performing schools using mostly prescribed methods. ESSA specifies that states must address the bottom 5% of schools by assessment scores and high schools with low graduation rates or underperforming subgroups, but again leaves it up to the states to decide how.
  • Overtesting – the law contains a provision to encourage states to eliminate unnecessary state and local tests and provides them funding to do so. It also would provide support to districts to analyze the amount of time teachers test with the end goal of reducing that time.

Dramatic Change?

Looking over these provisions, the overall theme of ESSA in my eyes is state designed accountability monitored by the federal government. This differs markedly from the spirit of NCLB, which used heavy handed top down methods to impose change. Now states are much more on the hook to come up with their own strategies to improve schools.

That said, this isn’t that different than what has been done under the waivers granted by the Obama administration. Waivers required states to submit a plan, which was then reviewed by the federal government and approved or turned down. The same concept seems to be at play within ESSA, but with more freedom granted to the states to decide what and how to address the different requirements embedded within ESSA.

Short Term Impact

Here in Tennessee, we already do much of what the flexibility under ESSA would allow. We’ve already started breaking up our assessments over the course of the year with the upcoming implementation of TNReady, where students will take their yearly assessment in two different sessions in the spring. We’ve also started down the road of eliminating unnecessary assessments.

We also have two existing interventions for low performing schools (ASD and iZone), we report our test data and have established data systems in place.

We also effectively tackled the standards issue by writing our own standards by revising and adding to the common core.

In sum, I don’t think we’re going to see a dramatic transformation of how we conduct education in Tennessee a la Race to the Top. I think the more likely outcome is that teachers and schools will start seeing small tweaks here and there to the education policy frameworks established over the past few years.

One area in which I think we could see some movement is in the area of reducing redundant testing. My hope is that the Tennessee DOE takes advantage of the funds available through ESSA to study the number of tests and the time that is spent preparing for them to take these assessments.

Longer Term Impact

My final take on all of this is that much of the result of ESSA locally will depend on the actions taken by constituents and their interactions with state elected officials. I’ve already explained why I don’t think much will happen, primarily because we’ve taken advantage of much of the flexibility already afforded us under NCLB waivers.

But that could change quickly depending on constituent mobilization. Local and state level elected officials are much more responsive to public opinion and Tennessee’s legislators seem especially so. For example, if we see tremendous upswing in the opt-out movement we might see a large rollback in the amount, frequency and design of our accountability measures.

For advocates of the current system, much of ESSA will come down to defending what has already been won in the past decade. The systems for a standards based accountability system are in place, and those that support this vision of education will need to likely fight tooth and nail to keep it intact.

In the end, movement will be up to advocates for the new states quo to push to keep what we already have and for opponents of the system to push for what they want to see change. That’s something that is very difficult to predict.

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

 

Trade Your Pension for Better Pay?

That’s one proposal made by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce in its Report Card on Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).

The idea is that if new teachers forego their pension, they could take the savings in higher pay. The Chamber believes that higher pay would help the district attract teachers and encourage them to stay in the district once hired.

An analysis of teacher pay across similar districts found Nashville to lag behind its peers in terms of both starting pay and lifetime earnings.

While raising teacher pay certainly has merit in terms of both attracting talent and keeping teachers in the system, it’s important to look at the tradeoff between pensions and salaries.

Under the current pension system (recently revised) Tennessee teachers are eligible to retire with full pension benefits after they reach a combined number of 90 in years of service and age. That means a teacher who starts at 22 would need to teach until they are 56 in order to retire with full pension benefits.

At current salary levels, a teacher would sacrifice a pension benefit of around $25,000 per year. Factoring an average life expectancy, a teacher who decided to give up her pension would lose benefits totaling $625,000.

That means to make up the actual dollar value of the pension benefit, teachers would need to make about $18,000 more per year than they do now. Again, this assumes retirement after 34 years.

At current levels, this would move starting pay in MNPS to around $59,000 per year.

Alternatively, the district could make starting pay a bit lower and build in larger raises later. That may have the benefit of encouraging teachers to stay. To be competitive, starting pay should probably be raised to around $50,000. Again, though, if teachers are foregoing a $625,000 potential benefit, raises should be built-in to ensure they can earn that benefit over the course of their service.

While the Chamber may be correct that younger teachers are not necessarily as concerned with pensions as those in the past, it should be made clear that giving up a pension is a big financial sacrifice in the long-term. If such an idea is pursued, teachers should certainly be compensated at a level that makes up for that sacrifice over time.

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

 

A Note on PD

Mark Banasiak is a 2015-16 Hope Street Group Fellow in Tennessee. He has taught at Sango Elementary for 15 years and is the Lead K-5 Physical Educator for his district. He loves attending and presenting at local, state, and regional workshops/conferences. Mark was a co-recipient of the 2011 Share the Wealth Puckett-Merriman Physical Education Professional Award. He has published several items and most recently an e-book “I Teach More Than Gym: A Collection of Elementary Physical Education Activities.” Mark is a graduate of Tennessee Technological University (BS ‘98), Austin Peay State University (MS ‘00), and is a National Board Certified Teacher (2013). Mark is an Elder and the Senior High Youth Director at his church. He spent seven years as a volunteer firefighter and eight as a Montgomery County Commissioner.

Thoughts on Making the Most of Professional Development

Recently, I was looking through some old VHS tapes and discovered a video of myself teaching a lesson from when I was student teaching back in the 1990’s. Intrigued by this find, my son and I proceeded to sit down and watch the tape. He found it amusing to see daddy on the TV, whereas I found it to be an interesting snapshot allowing me to glimpse back to where my teaching began. In the tape, I had all of the main parts memorized and was able to regurgitate them, yet my instruction lacked a certain level of comfort and smoothness. That is, my teaching methods were rough. Watching the video caused me to ponder how my methods of instruction had matured since the video was recorded.

 

Over the years, I have had the benefit of teaching in environments that thrived on collaboration, and I have experienced personal growth through regular participation in professional development activities. I regularly seek out and enjoy participating in these activities within my school, district, state, and nation.

 

One of my favorite professional development experiences is to visit another classroom. I eagerly arrive and find myself looking at their furniture arrangement, wall hangings, and other items in the room. I inquire about their routines, particular pieces of equipment, and organization. Each visit provides more insight on how to organize a classroom.

 

What type of professional development activities do you enjoy the most?

 

Participating in professional development activities improves my instruction in four ways:

 

First, it gives me the ability to collaborate with other educators while having focused conversations on relevant topics. I try to be like a sponge and “soak-up” as much new information as possible. From these experiences, I have learned a wealth of information and strategies over the years that have influenced my methods of instruction. Conferences in particular give me the unique opportunity to gather ideas from and talk one-on-one with various state, regional, and national teachers of the year.

 

Which professional development experiences have helped to shape your methods of instruction?

 

Second, they provide handouts that are added to my files. I keep those handwritten notes and all of the handouts categorized by themes. I find myself perusing these files every so often looking for relevant information and ideas that can help me improve my methods of instruction. In recent years, I have found various education conferences that post their handouts online.

 

Third, they energize me! They place me in an environment surrounded by others who are passionate about education. I then return to my classroom full of energy and excitement to pass on to my students. In 1999, I met a fellow educator and told myself, “When I grow up, I want to be just like him!” Since then, we have crossed paths numerous times at various conferences, and each meeting is a rejuvenating experience.

 

Have you met anyone through these activities who has been a positive influence on you as an educator?

 

Finally, I make connections with fellow educators. Those connections provide me with a cadre of people to bounce ideas off of or simply to ask for advice. When I have an idea or question, those educators are only an email, text, or phone call away.

 

Each district varies in respect to professional development requirements. In my district, each teacher is required to partake in eighteen hours of in-service outside of the school day at some point during the school year.

 

Do you see your district’s professional development requirement as a maximum number or a minimum requirement?

 

I recently read an article that mentioned one sign of a quality educator is one who is humbled by the notion that they can always learn something new. Participating in professional development activities allows me to be the student while collaborating and learning best practices from other professionals.

 

I encourage you to be the type of educator who is always willing to learn new teaching strategies. I hope you set aside time to review an article, read a book, visit a website, listen to a podcast, participate in a webinar, gather some colleagues for a discussion, sign up for a class, or attend a conference. I urge you to never stop learning and always be willing to expand your instructional methods through professional development activities.

 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. www.iteachmorethangym.wordpress.com

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

 

 

The Re-Segregation of Our Schools

tumblr_nz435mE3NM1qgl0t5o1_1280No one talks much about segregation anymore, which is a shame since America (and especially the South) has been steadily been re-segregating its schools over the last few decades. The re-segregation is a consequence of a lot of things, including (chiefly) the Supreme Court’s Seattle/Louisville decision, many districts (like Nashville) coming into unitary status, and a decline in satisfaction with busing.

It turns out (surprise!), that this is not a good thing. There’s a lot of discussion nationally (and locally) about diversity as an important goal, but almost no focus on why it’s so important.

Turns out, diversity (and integration) makes you smarter (and more empathetic, and more well-rounded, and better adjusted . . .). We should be having this conversation, but we aren’t.

Via Scientific American, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter”

The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers.

Via The New York Times, “Diversity Makes You Brighter”

The findings were striking. When participants were in diverse company, their answers were 58 percent more accurate. The prices they chose were much closer to the true values of the stocks. As they spent time interacting in diverse groups, their performance improved.

In homogeneous groups, whether in the United States or in Asia, the opposite happened. When surrounded by others of the same ethnicity or race, participants were more likely to copy others, in the wrong direction. Mistakes spread as participants seemingly put undue trust in others’ answers, mindlessly imitating them. In the diverse groups, across ethnicities and locales, participants were more likely to distinguish between wrong and accurate answers. Diversity brought cognitive friction that enhanced deliberation.

The bottom line is that, except for a few isolated cases (good job, Rutherford County!), we’re not taking integration seriously as a lever of reform/school improvement.

We should be.

A version of this post appeared on the Nashville Jefferson tumblr page

Further reading:

Thoughts on Annual Student Assessments

Dan Lawson is the Director of Schools at Tullahoma City Schools

The Issue: Assessments of student academic progress.  As you well know, The state of Tennessee is transitioning assessments from our former suite to the new TNReady assessments.  Furthermore, you are also well aware of the fact that many of the standards on which the current assessment is based are currently under review with consideration for additions and removal.  

 

The Background: In the scenario I described about teachers and growth scores, a senior teacher representing a lauded math department was able to present data that clearly and convincingly aligned our instruction with two critical components in our academic program in Tullahoma City Schools: ACT and Advanced Placement.  As he visited with me, he did so with a concern that can best be characterized by this summary:  Our instructional path produces ACT and Advanced Placement scores significantly above the state average and if we teach all the prescribed TNReady standards in timeframes aligned with TNReady assessments, we are concerned that our student performance on ACT and Advanced PLacement assessments will decline.

Certainly, that statement is based on the experiences and anecdotes of my staff members, but there is tremendous logic in this fundamental question.  Since one of our primary purposes and expected outcomes is to produce students who are “college and career ready” as measured by ACT or SAT, why don’t we allow schools and districts with the desire to do so to assess based on the ACT or SAT suite of services aligned with the measure we aspire to accomplish?  While the issue of assessment often is directly linked to the issue of accountability, I submit that the accountability of most schools and districts would be enhanced by reporting scores that both our students and their parents readily understand.  To that end, nearly every high school student enrolled in Tennessee high schools clearly understands the difference between a “15” and a “30” on the ACT.  That understanding makes it much easier for a teacher and school leader to discuss and propose interventions to address the “15” that has been reported for that student.

 

A Proposed Solution: There has been a misalignment in the testing/teaching standards from SAT 10 to TCAP to ACT and this misalignment has allowed some system’s to experience low TVAAS scores for K-2, 3-8, and 9-12 assessments. Until we pick a plan and follow that plan, we will be hard pressed to see college and career readiness expand in Tennessee. IF college and career readiness is really our goal, then don’t we need a clearly and cleanly aligned set of standards to reach that goal?

 

Align the state assessment with the ACT or SAT suite of services.  I understand that concerns exist suggesting that we can not accomplish that outcome and be compliant with state procurement, but I am also well aware of the fact that other states utilize the ACT suite today.  I am confident that we have the ability to accomplish anything that the state of Alabama has accomplished.

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

Growth Scores and Teacher Tenure

Dan Lawson is the Director of Schools at Tullahoma City Schools. This post reflects his thoughts on the current use of TVAAS as it relates to teacher tenure.

 

The issue: “growth scores” as a determinant for teacher tenure recommendations.

 

The Background: I employ an outstanding young teacher who enjoyed three consecutive years of a level “4”+ evaluations and those scores were moved to a “5” based on the TCAP growth score. In the “old tenure” model, that teacher would have been eligible for tenure recommendation to our Board of Education upon completion of three years of services and the recommendation of their superintendent.  

 

The statutorily revised “new tenure” requires five years of service (probationary period) as well as an overall score of “4” or “5” for two consecutive years preceding the recommendation to the Board of Education. Last year, no social studies assessment score was provided since it was a field tested and the teacher was compelled to select a school wide measure of growth.  He chose POORLY and his observation score of a “4.38” paired with a school wide growth score in the selected area of a “2” producing a sum teacher score of “3” thereby making him ineligible for tenure nomination.

 

This is a very real example of an inequity in our current tenure eligibility metrics.  In the 2014-15 evaluation cycle, more than 66.6% of Tullahoma teachers did not have an individual assessment score, so were compelled to select some other measure. In this case, we have a teacher that we are happy with, who produces great student outcomes and one that we would like to recognize with tenured status but we are unable to do so.  More than anything this sends a message that the process for the majority of our teachers is little more than some arbitrary guessing game, and that guessing games does little more than erode confidence; Our teachers deserve better.

A second teacher visited with his building principal and I related to standards that are not taught aligned with the state assessment.  He went on to produce competition results, ACT scores and AP calculus scores of the students in that “pipeline” in support of his math departmental teaching practice.  His request was simple:  Allow me to teach with a focus on the end product instead of a focus on a test this May.  Within that dialogue, he was quick to share the fact that he expected his growth score to suffer that year but in the long term our students would be better served.  Furthermore, he opined that as long as his principal and superintendent were in place and understood the “big picture” he really had no concerns.  I concurred.  However, his next statement was deeply troubling.  He said “while the number doesn’t mean anything to us, when I retire, that next teacher may believe that number is the most important measure of progress.”  

I believe in accountability.  My board and I embrace expectations of high performance and I am comfortable in making personnel decisions aligned with school improvement and the best academic and developmental opportunities for our children. In this circumstance, however, we are letting the “tail” of growth scores “wag the dog” of teacher evaluations and subsequent tenure eligibility.

A Proposed Solution: We are supportive of the award of tenure returning to a local decision with eligibility determined by service and evaluations.  If, however, that change is not palatable, I believe that an amendment to the current “tenure” statute language allowing a school district to present “mitigating and compelling reason(s)” sponsored by the superintendent to the TDOE for review is warranted. We find the current system of “growth scores” serving as the overwhelming criteria to be an ineffective measure since in our school system since a majority of our teachers do not have those scores available for their use and are thereby compelled to use some school wide measure over which they may have limited influence.

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

So, About the ASD

A new study out of Vanderbilt calls into question the effectiveness of the Achievement School District.

Specifically, the study notes:

While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.

Those results echo the findings reported by Gary Rubinstein in his analysis of the schools under ASD management the longest.

Rubinstein noted:

As you can see, four of the original six schools are still in the bottom 5% while the other two have now ‘catapulted’ to the bottom 6%.

In 2014, Ezra Howard did an analysis of the ASD after two years of management and found that the results were not significantly better than what would have been expected had the schools remained under district management.

Based on his reading of the results, he noted:

 First, can the ASD reach 55% P/A in order to be in the top quartile? Maybe. In order to reach that magic number of 55% P/A in all three of these subjects, the ASD would have to average 11.07% gains in Math and 12.67% gains in ELA over a 5 year period. However, in the last two years, the ASD has averaged 2.92% gains in Math and 0.72% gains in ELA.

Second, is the money being spent on ASD a worthwhile investment. Howard notes:

an exorbitant amount is spent on results that are, at best, no different than what the data suggests we could have expected had these schools not been taken over by the ASD.

Now, we have three years of data and analysis by both Gary Rubinstein and Vanderbilt researchers. All of which suggest that Howard’s preliminary analysis was on-target.  The ASD is moving slowly at best, and not markedly better than district schools.

In spite of this, ASD officials noted in response to the Vanderbilt study:

For its part, leaders of the Achievement School District say there’s not enough data “to draw any decisive conclusions” and that their work is making a “positive difference.”

That sounds awfully cautious for an outfit that touted its success in a blog post and media release earlier this year.

As the ASD continues, the question is:  Will the Tennessee General Assembly allow this model to continue, or will it set some limits in order to push the district to demonstrate more success before further expanding its reach?

More on the ASD:

Expansion Teams

That’s Not That Much, Really

ASD vs. Nashville Middle Schools

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