Ready to Pay

This week, the Murfreesboro City School Board discussed the possibility of refusing to administer Phase II of the TNReady test.

Board members cited frustration with the rollout of TNReady and the subsequent lost instructional time. Additionally, some members noted this year’s TNReady challenges have caused increased stress for teachers and students.

All of this prompted speculation about what would happen if an entire district refused to administer the state-mandated test.

Here’s the short answer: Money. The district would be “fined” by having a portion of its BEP allocation withheld as allowed in state law.

In response to a question on this issue, the Tennessee Department of Education issued the following statement:

Under both state law and State Board of Education rules, the commissioner of education is charged with ensuring compliance with all education laws and rules. T.C.A. 49-3-353 authorizes the commissioner to withhold a portion or all of the Tennessee BEP funds that a school system is otherwise eligible to receive to enforce education laws and State Board of Education rules.

In addition, the State Board states that the department shall impose sanctions on school systems, which may include withholding part or all of state school funding to the non-approved system.

An entire school system refusing to participate in state mandated testing would be a major violation of state law and rule, and the school system could be considered a non-approved system subject to sanctions, including the loss of state funding.

The department has a responsibility to ensure that all students are on track to be college and career ready, which it monitors in part through annual assessments. We take that responsibility seriously and expect districts and schools to do the same. We want to work with all our school systems, including Murfreesboro City, as we continue to administer and improve our state assessments and ultimately ensure that all our students are receiving a high-quality education. The department has been working with Dr. Gilbert and the district on this issue and will continue conversations with her team as we work toward this goal.

It Means Lost Money

So, while not specifying the level of impact, the DOE is making clear that the violation would be “major” and that funds would be withheld. A recent example of the DOE using its authority to withhold funds can be found in the “Great Hearts Controversy” in Nashville. When MNPS failed to authorize a charter school the State Board found should have been authorized, Commissioner Kevin Huffman fined the district $3.4 million.

For now, no action has been taken by Murfreesboro City Schools or any other district in terms of refusing to administer TNReady.

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

 

Phase II Ready

Now that the troublesome Phase I of TNReady is over, districts in coming weeks will move to TNReady Phase II.

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has more on what Phase II means for students and schools:

The second part of TNReady features mainly multiple-choice questions (although, unlike in years past, students sometimes will be able to select several choices.) It has about 60 questions each for math and English, split up over two days. When the test originally was to be administered online, Part II also was supposed to include interactive questions in which students could use drag-and-drop tools, but those won’t be possible on the paper version.

So, multiple choice, no interactive questions, and shorter testing times for this phase.

It’s worth noting that the test is in two phases and includes significantly more total testing time than was common in years past — up to 11 hours.

Also, at least one district is seriously discussing the option of not administering Phase II at all in light of all the disruption caused by the false start on Phase I.

What do you think? Is 11 hours of testing too much for the youngest students? Should Tennessee districts skip Phase II this year and focus on instruction instead of test prep?

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

 

Ready to Stop?

School Board members in Murfreesboro expressed frustration Tuesday night over the bumpy rollout of TNReady, including the failure of the computer test on day one.

According to the Murfreesboro Post, some board members even suggested stopping all testing for this year, which would mean not administering TNReady Phase II.

More than one Board Member raised the prospect of the district refusing to administer Phase II. The most forceful comments came from Jared Barrett:

Board Member Jared Barrett agreed, but put it more vehemently. “I say we mutiny and refuse to do any more,” he declared.

Another member, Dr. Andy Brown, agreed with stopping the tests:

With the second round of paper-and-pencil testing scheduled to begin April 25, Board Member Dr. Andy Brown said he believes the process should be halted because it’s punitive.

“And I don’t like wasted effort and wasted time,” he added. “To start testing again in 19 days is wrong.”

It would be better to actually teach the children, Brown said, instead of testing more. “I’d like to see superintendents statewide say, ‘No, we’re not going to do any more testing.'”

It’s not yet clear whether Murfreesboro City Schools or any other district will actually refuse to administer TNReady Phase II. If you’re in a district having these discussions, let me know by email: [andy AT spearsstrategy.com]

More on TNReady:

McQueen Says Department is Listening

Flexible Validity

Still Not TNReady

Ready for a Break

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

 

About Those Numbers

I posted last week about the Education Equality Index, first posting their press release and then some analysis based on a post from Bruce Baker.

Today, Education Cities and GreatSchools issued the following statement acknowledging some of the limitations of their data:

“Education Cities and GreatSchools have identified limitations in the interpretation of state-level Education Equality Index (EEI) scores. Our goal is to highlight states, cities and schools that are more successfully closing the achievement gap than others. We are confident that school-level and city-level EEI scores are highlighting success stories across the nation, but we have concluded that the state-level EEI scores are not the best way to compare states. Because states’ absolute EEI scores are highly correlated to the percentage of students in the state who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, we have removed the rankings of states based on the EEI score and pace of change pending further review. We want to ensure that the EEI adds value to the national conversation about the achievement gap, and we plan to further develop the EEI by exploring the possible incorporation of additional national measures. We welcome feedback and will continue to work to improve the Education Equality Index and its methodology over time.”

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

Stewart on Opting-Out

Nashville State Representative Mike Stewart talks about the decision he and his wife made to refuse standardized testing for their daughter this year.

He told Nashville Public Radio:

Parents are rallying in other parts of the state as well, and Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, is among them. He and his wife decided to opt out their daughter after speaking out against it themselves.

Stewart says, “We just felt like, we’re telling people these tests are so wrong. We should step up and opt out. We should live with our convictions.”

Stewart also noted:

“Testing has it’s place [but] it has gotten completely out of control to where the tests are driving what is going on in the classroom year round.”

As far as keeping up with how many students opt-out, WPLN reports:

School districts are not required to keep track of opt-out numbers because the state doesn’t officially recognize it as an option for students. Blank answer sheets are simply referred to as “irregularities.”

What do you think? Are you a parent “opting-out” or refusing testing this year? Are you a teacher who thinks TNReady’s rollout has caused too much stress? Should districts refuse to administer TNReady Phase II as was discussed by the Murfreesboro School Board?

Let us know!

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

 

RTTT Had Everything to do With Charter Schools

PinkstonComment

I was sent a Facebook comment by Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston in regards to the Race to the Top grant that Tennessee won in 2010. Pinkston claims that Race to the Top had nothing to do with charter schools. Race to the Top had everything to do with charter schools.

PinkstonComment

 

Before I break down the Race to the Top application, let’s revisit the Will Pinkston of 2013 after he was elected to the school board. In 2013, Pinkston praised Kevin Huffman and Bill Haslam for their work in continuing the reform started under Bredesen. Pinkston also endorsed Haslam in 2010, around the time he worked for Bill Frist’s State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 10.04.35 PM

 

Pinkston also advocated for charter schools.

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I remembered that Will Pinkston as I read through the Race to the Top application that was submitted by the state of Tennessee. Let’s remember that Will Pinkston helped write the application while he worked for Governor Phil Bredesen.

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You can read through the application here. The Race to the Top grant application mentions “charter school” 108 times. The Achievement School District was mentioned a lot in this grant application. Will Pinkston has said that he was in the room when the Achievement School District was created.

According to the grant application, the ASD would pull together an “unprecedented set of non-profits” to open charter schools in the ASD and other schools. The ASD was created, from the beginning, to partner with an unprecedented amount of charter schools.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 8.54.57 PMThe application, which Will Pinkston helped write, gushed over how great charter schools are. It also shows how Tennessee wanted to use charter schools to help in the turnaround of failing schools. The application shows Tennessee’s love of charter schools by showing that Governor Bredesen signed an updated charter school law in 2009.

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The application goes on to say that the state is actively recruiting charter school leaders to the state. While the state itself will help recruit, the ASD specifically will help charter schools find facilities in Tennessee.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.10.48 PMThe current landscape of Tennessee’s charter schools was mapped out years ago in this Race to the Top application. The ASD has partnered with charter schools to help turnaround school districts and state and city leaders have gone out to recruit charter school leaders. We have seen both of those items happen right here in Nashville.

If we move back to the start of the application, we see that the application is pushing for more charter schools. The application reads, “In this application, we describe how the atmosphere in the state encourages fresh ways of thinking, opens the education market to charter schools…”Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.54.58 PM

If the Race to the Top application had nothing to do with charters, why was so much of the application about charter schools? The state, and their grant writers, knew what they wanted. They wanted more charter schools in the state of Tennessee. They got their wish.


 

 

Is That Even Legal?

Charles Corra examines the potential legal issues with Tennessee’s charter schools in light of the Washington State Supreme Court ruling saying that state’s charter law was unconstitutional.

He starts with this note:

I recently tweeted about an article published in the Nashville Bar Journal called “Tennessee’s Waltz With Charter Schools,” which commented on the potential unconstitutionally of Tennessee’s charter school legislation.

Then adds:

Similar to Washington, Tennessee’s charter schools are also private entities that contract with a school board and cannot be managed by for-profit entities.  The author also points out the similarity with funding between Washington and Tennessee charter laws: that the money follows the student. What is important in the article is the discussion that follows regarding the variance in success rates between charter schools (i.e. some performed well while others did not), which could be attributed to the freedom that charter schools have with how they allocate resources. The takeaway here is that, based on a study the author delves into, there are inconsistencies in management, operation, funding, and student achievement among charter schools in Tennessee.

The points, as Corra makes it, is that because of the way Tennessee charter schools are operated and funded, they could be in violation of established precedent regarding equal educational opportunity. No challenge to this law has yet been made, but the issues raised in the Washington case may merit attention by Tennessee lawmakers.

Read Corra’s full analysis of this issue.

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

The Biggest Losers

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has a breakdown of Governor Haslam’s BEP changes. While this year’s budget includes an influx of dollars, it also freezes BEP 2.0.

Tatter explains:

Though the governor’s plan nixes BEP 2.0, it permanently increases the state’s spending on English language learners (funding ELL teachers at a 1:20 student ratio and translators at a 1:200 student ratio), and special education students, technology and teacher pay, especially when it comes to teachers insurance. For years, the state only paid for teachers to have 10 months of health insurance. Last year, the General Assembly mandated that the state provide for 11 months of insurance. Haslam’s proposal this year finally gives teachers’ year-round insurance.

It’s important to note here that districts are already paying for year-round insurance for teachers, now they will receive some funding for it. The state funds teacher insurance at 45% of the projected cost for a district’s BEP-generated teaching positions. Until last year, it funded 45% of this cost for only 10 months, now it will shift to 12 months. It’s also worth noting that every single district in the state hires teachers beyond the BEP-generated number. Typically, around 12-15% more than what the BEP formula generates. Districts cover the full cost of salary and insurance for all teachers hired beyond the BEP number.

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

The BEP Review Committee has been highlighting these deficiencies for years to no avail.

Additionally, Tatter mentions:

Another carryover from BEP 2.0 is the eventual elimination of a “cost differential factor,” known as CDF, that 16 districts in five counties receive to address a higher cost of living. Reducing the CDF would cut state spending by about $34.7 million. Almost half of that money would have gone to Shelby County Schools and the municipal districts in Shelby County. Other counties that would be impacted are Davidson, Anderson, Williamson and Sullivan.

While BEP 2.0 envisioned elimination of the CDF, it also envisioned the state covering 75% of teacher salaries for BEP-generated teachers. The Haslam changes makes the current 70% permanent.

Here are the districts losing money under the CDF elimination. The CDF is cut in half for the upcoming year and then completely eliminated in 2017-18.

Shelby
             30,873,136
Davidson
             17,570,727
Williamson
             11,073,924
Bartlett
                2,111,966
Collierville
                2,007,525
Germantown
                1,411,972
Franklin SSD
                1,260,978
Arlington
                1,169,503
Millington
                   672,030
Anderson
                   473,867
Oak Ridge
                   320,368
Lakeland
                   243,331
Sullivan
                      78,161
Clinton City
                      72,903
Kingsport
                      54,638
Bristol City
                      30,682
Total
69,425,713

It’s not clear whether these changes will impact the current lawsuits regarding funding adequacy. And the additional funds still don’t address the unfunded RTI mandate.

The ultimate impact of the changes will take a few years to determine. However, without significant structural changes, it is difficult to see this “new BEP” adequately meeting the needs of Tennessee’s schools.

More on the BEP:

Bill Dunn Wrong

They Noticed

Clay County and the Broken BEP

Why is TN 40th?

About BEP 2.0

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

Analytical Gap

 

Earlier today I posted a press release on the Education Equality Index and its claims about schools in Memphis.

I posted the release without comment or analysis.

Fortunately, Bruce Baker provided some analysis regarding this index and other attempts to compare achievement gaps among schools from different states.

Here’s the bottom line: Income gaps explain achievement gaps. That is, states with relatively large income gaps tend to have relatively large achievement gaps. Likewise, states with more income homogeneity tend to have smaller achievement gaps.

I wrote about this on a Tennessee-specific level when talking about the achievement gap and BEP funding increases:

Additionally, during this same ten year time period, the gap between the highest and lowest scores among districts is clearly explained by the gap in per pupil expenditures among those districts. You spend more, you get better results. The impetus for all this spending was the new BEP formula that sent more money to all school systems. Those districts already at the top were most able to take advantage and boost ACT scores while those at the bottom saw an increase in the number of students taking the ACT, resulting in the statewide slight ACT decline Dunn references.

The districts at the top in spending tend to also be the districts with the highest incomes. Thus, TCAP results often serve as good indicators of the relative income level of Tennessee school districts.

Here’s what Baker has to say:

But these assertions – both the old and the new – presume that comparisons of achievement gaps, either by race or income, between states are valid. That is, they validly reflect policy/practice differences across states and not some other factor.

Quite simply, as most commonly measured, they do not. They largely reflect differences in income distributions across states, a nuance I suspect will continue to be overlooked in public discourse and the media. But one can hope.

Achievement gap analysis is interesting and it tells us something. But, as Baker points out, it is important to be clear about what such gaps reveal.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Opting for Questions

Charles Corra over at Rocky Top Ed Talk has some questions about the Opt-out movement that appears to be gaining some traction in Tennessee:

To opt-out or to not opt-out? There seems to be an intense, festering degree of distrust with the state testing system in Tennessee (with good reason, based on how TNReady fared this year).  However, is that enough to justify a lack of no confidence?  Is testing essential to acquiring data and helping to properly identify the needs and focus areas of a school, of a particular student?

The article notes that students are refusing tests on a larger scale, though solid numbers are difficult to obtain. Perhaps the failures of TNReady have called attention to the testing challenges many schools and students face?

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