From Blogger to Board Member?

That’s the leap Nashville education blogger TC Weber is trying to make.

He notes in his most recent post:

I am going to do my best to focus on why I am the best candidate  – the level of my current involvement, the network I’ve built, my knowledge of the system, willingness to be a teacher voice – and not on why the other candidates are not worthy. As far as I am concerned, they are all worthy candidates and I look forward to spirited conversations about the issues. How my opponents choose to campaign is entirely up to them. As I tell my children, do not focus on what others do, but rather on your own actions. That is my intention and time will tell if I’m successful.

Do not expect to hear me engaging in charter school rhetoric. My position on charter schools is well documented and all you have to do is read my writings. I see no need to spend a summer rehashing those positions. Those who hold different positions are not my enemies, but just people with a different opinion.  I don’t have to embrace their opinions to learn from them, I just have to respect them and I must say I’ve enjoyed our interactions over the past year.

READ MORE>

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


 

Amy Frogge Talks School Budgets

MNPS School Board member Amy Frogge highlights the importance of funding our public schools in her latest Facebook post:

As the old saying goes: Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value. Despite all the hype from politicians (particularly this election year) that education is a top priority, Tennessee remains 36th in the nation on education funding, and Nashville ranks 54th out of 67 urban school systems in per-pupil funding (according to the Council of the Great City Schools). What better investment could our state make than providing ALL students with an excellent education? Yes, that money should be spent wisely, but adequate school funding REALLY makes a difference. Just ask any teacher (who- at one point or another- has probably spent her last $20 trying to buy supplies for her classroom).

I remember a conversation I had about school funding back in 2012, around the time I was first elected to the school board. Another elected official told me how awful local schools were, rolling her eyes at the thought of investing more money into our “failing” system. The irony of this conversation was that this person was spending approximately $25,000 per year to educate her own child at a prestigious private school- a school where, in addition to the high funding, students enter class already well equipped with every possible advantage. This article is for those who live in such a bubble.

Folks like this “won’t mention that there is research . . . showing that states that did provide more money to low-performing schools got better results — but never mind. . . .

And, apparently, people who don’t believe in a link between funding and student achievement won’t listen to teachers on the ground who can tell them otherwise.”

Frogge then links to this insightful article from the Washington Post about the impact of inadequate funding.

MORE on school funding in Tennessee>

Not Really Improving

What’s Missing is What Matters

Coming Up Short

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


 

Not Exactly Working

I wrote last week about research from Gary Rubinstein indicating the Achievement School District was underachieving. Now, additional research suggests the ASD is not living up to the hype.

WMOT has more:

Dr. Henry (Vanderbilt education researcher) notes that after five years of operation only one ASD school improved to the point that it could be returned to local control. He says the remaining schools haven’t gotten any worse, but haven’t gotten any better either.

Dr. Henry’s research suggests the primary reason for ASD’s failure is an extremely high teacher turnover rate. He says the special district loses up to half of its teachers every year.

Both high teacher turnover and removing schools from district control seem to be key factors inhibiting ASD success, Henry suggests. This means all that disruption caused by the ASD is not having the desired impact.

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


 

Fueling Error?

The Tennessean reports a tax lien has been filed against Rocketship Charter Schools in Nashville.

Here’s more:

National charter school operator Rocketship Public Schools owes more $19,000 in unpaid federal taxes, prompting the Internal Revenue Service to file a lien against the company in Nashville.

Rocketship Public Schools officials said the issue is tied to a clerical error by the third-party payroll provider it uses nationally. The charter school operator runs schools in Nashville, California, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

The property lien was filed with the Davidson County Register of Deeds in early January against Rocketship Education Wisconsin Inc. The organization’s residence is listed in Redwood City, California.

It’s not yet clear how the property lien may impact the school’s Nashville operations. An earlier report noted one new Rocketship school is closing due to low enrollment.

Rocketship has also faced challenges with expansion plans, having been denied by both the MNPS School Board and the State Board of Education.

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


 

Improving in the Wrong Direction

Last month, Education Week published the annual Quality Counts report on the state of education in the states. Rankings take into account school funding (both total dollars spent and equitable distribution of those dollars), K-12 achievement, and overall chance for success of people born in the state.

Since Governor Haslam likes to make much of the “success” of his Administration when it comes to education, I thought it’d be interesting to compare how the state was ranked back in 2011 when Haslam took over to today.

Haslam likes to say Tennessee is “fastest-improving” in education.

That’s interesting when you look at the 2011 rankings and see that in overall education climate, Tennessee received a grade of 77. Compare that to the 2018 rankings, and we’re at a 70.8. We’ve gone from a solid C and closing in on a B to a C- nearing a D. Back in 2011, Tennessee was ranked 23rd in the nation in education climate. Today, we’re ranked 37th.

Let’s dig a little deeper. It is noteworthy that in K-12 achievement, we’ve moved from a 66.3 to a 72. As for chance of success, we inched up narrowly, from a 72 to a 74.2. In funding, we’re not making much progress at all, moving from a 65.7 to a 66.2. Yep, still holding on to that D grade in school funding.

Governor Haslam will be the first to tell you about the hundreds of millions of new dollars he’s pumped into public schools. It is true that the state has added money to K-12 budgets over his term. However, that hasn’t happened in a vacuum. Other states also continue to increase investment in public schools. Clearly, other states are also moving forward in student achievement.

Going from 23rd in national rankings to 37th is the wrong kind of improvement. Failing to actually increase investment in schools relative to other states means you aren’t actually “fastest improving.” Our state’s own Comptroller says we’re at least $500 million short of adequately funding our schools. Large unfunded mandates remain and our teachers still earn about 30% less than similarly prepared professionals – though with a slight bump this year, we may finally edge Alabama in this category.

Admittedly, the Quality Counts data analysis is pretty hard on all the states. It’s disappointing, though, to see Tennessee lose ground in the rankings over the past seven years. Our state’s economy is going strong. We’ve had multiple years of revenue coming in over projections. We should be investing that money in our schools and providing them with the necessary resources to achieve at higher levels.

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


 

1 > 0

Tennessee is now four years into a program targeted at struggling students known as Response to Intervention and Instruction, or RTI2. For the first time next year, districts may actually receive some funding for this state-mandated program. That’s right, for the first four years of the mandated program, there was no state funding. This left districts struggling to make the program work.

Of the new funding, Chalkbeat reports:

This year for the first time, Gov. Bill Haslam is asking for state funding to help districts with RTI2. His proposed budget includes $13.3 million that would pay for at least one interventionist per district, along with additional resources, trainings, and tools to strengthen the program.

Back in 2015, Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat reported on the challenges faced by districts attempting to meet the state mandate without any supporting dollars:

Districts have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on assessments, and don’t have the money to hire educators with the expertise required to work with the highest needs students. Some schools are using their general education teachers, already stretched thin, and others are using computer programs.

Now, districts can rest easy. Entire districts will be able to use state dollars to hire exactly one RTI2 specialist. This may be great for tiny districts like Lexington City or Trousdale County, but not incredibly helpful in districts with more than two or three schools.

In fact, even as the program has moved into high schools, it’s been met with challenges:

 

RTI2 is now in place in all public K-12 schools statewide but launched just last school year in high schools — a rollout that has been especially challenging. The report notes that only half of those teachers say that the new program is helping students learn, compared to three-fourths of elementary school teachers. It also notes that — because the model depends heavily on collaboration among classroom teachers, interventionists, and special educators — struggles around scheduling and collaboration are heightened in high school.

“It still feels like we are trying to adapt an elementary-focused model to high school needs, and it is not working well,” according to one school psychologist.

One possible solution would be to embed funding for school-level RTI2 specialists in the state’s funding formula for schools, the BEP. In fact, Rep. Joe Pitts offered legislation that would do just that last year. His plan would have added funding for three RTI2 specialists at each school for a total projected cost of $167 million. Commissioner McQueen was quick to shoot that idea down and came back this year with the funding proposal of $13 million, or one specialist per district. That’s only $154 million short of adopting a plan that would actually meet the needs of a program many suggest is an important way to improve educational outcomes for Tennessee students.

Oh, and our state has the money. We’re on track to collect nearly $700 million in revenue above what we brought in last year. Plus, providing targeted funding for RTI2 would free up local dollars to boost teacher pay across the board or meet other district needs.

Instead, we’re left with a 1 > 0 scenario and told to be appreciative. Our Governor and Education Commissioner talk of the importance of helping our most vulnerable students, but their budget approach tells a different story.

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


 

A Taxing Vote

Voters in Williamson County approved a sales tax hike expected to generate some $60 million in revenue dedicated to school construction.

The Tennessean has more:

The tax increase — from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent — is projected to raise about $60 million over three years to help pay for  school construction.

“Voters overwhelming support public education and have agreed to use sales tax to fund schools,” said Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney. “I am surprised at the margin. I thought it would be a tight race but it’s a 2-for-1 margin. This is a huge victory tonight for the commission’s plan for the school district.”

More on Williamson County school funding:

The Williamson County Game

Got mine, want more

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


 

 

The Schoolhouse Heist

Unifi-Ed out of Chattanooga has this to say about legislation related to Signal Mountain creating an independent school district:

Tennessee Senate Bill 1755 was proposed on January 23, 2018 by State Senator Todd Gardenhire. The bill proposes that all property and assets in a municipality that belong to a county school system would be forcibly transferred to the municipality if it forms an independent school district.

There are a variety of consequences of this bill, if it passes, that run counter to the desires expressed by the Hamilton County community through the recent process of the forming the Action Plan for Educational eXcellence (APEX Project).

Reverse Robin Hood Effect

Under this bill, the state would force the transfer of assets from one entity to another without compensation. Taxpayers own their schools, yet this bill would allow for their property to be seized. Historically across the state, and within our own community today, the municipalities that have formed independent districts have been affluent suburbs.

This situation creates a transfer of wealth from lower income neighborhoods to more prosperous communities. It is, in effect, a “reverse Robin Hood” effect — stealing from the poor to give to the wealthy.

READ MORE on this attempt to force the transfer of school district assets without compensation. The basic premise that the entire county’s taxpayers paid for the buildings would seemingly dictate that any creation of an independent district would result in at least some proportional compensation back to the larger district.

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


 

The (Under) Achievement School District

Turns out, all that mission creep over at the Achievement School District (ASD) is really just creepy. Oh, and disruptive. And also not really all that helpful for kids. But, hey, they’ve got cool happy hours!

Gary Rubinstein has the latest update on how the ASD is doing relative to stated policy goals. Spoiler alert: Not good.

Here’s some of his analysis:

Though my own calculations made it clear that the six original ASD schools had not made it out of the bottom 5% after six years, it doesn’t become ‘official’ until Tennessee releases its next ‘Priority List’ which it does every three years.  But a few days ago, they released something just as good, the so-called ‘Cusp List’ showing all the schools in the bottom 10% which includes what percentile each school is at.

Here are the results:

School Percentile
Cornerstone 8.2%
Brick Church 4.3%
Humes (closed down and became Frayser Achievement Elementary School 1.3%
Corning 2.2%
Frayser 1.3%
Westside 2.2%

So, yeah. Not really moving the original schools into the top 25% of all Tennessee schools. At all. The best result was a single school moving from the bottom 5% all the way up to the bottom 9%. The other originals? Still in the bottom 5%.

The ASD’s directors, as Rubinstein notes, just keep moving on to new opportunities. The students in the ASD experiment don’t have that option, though.

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


 

Still Spanking Students?

Even as legislative efforts to limit the use of corporal punishment ramp up, some Tennessee school districts continue to incorporate physical violence against children into their discipline policies.

The Johnson City Press reports:

The Elizabethton Board of Education approved first reading of a disciplinary policy last month that continues to allow corporal punishment in the school system. Final approval of the policy will be made at school board’s next meeting.

As Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson reported in January, the policy says “any principal, assistant principal or teacher may use corporal punishment in a reasonable manner against any student for good cause in order to maintain discipline and order within the public schools.”

The policy goes on to define corporal punishment as “spanking (striking the buttocks with the open hand) and/or paddling (striking the the buttocks with a paddle). All other forms of physical punishment are expressly forbidden.”

Should Rep. Jason Powell’s legislation gain approval, using corporal punishment against children with disabilities will be prohibited.

A report by WSMV-TV Nashville noted:

Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, filed the bill Wednesday, after a News 4 I-Team investigation revealed students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities at 60 Middle Tennessee schools.

It’s not clear whether the trend of hitting students with disabilities at higher rates extends beyond middle Tennessee. It is clear that School Boards in many Tennessee districts still condone the use of physical violence as a means of disciplining children.

I welcome hearing from school districts that expressly prohibit the use of physical violence (including corporal punishment) against students. Please send an email to andy@tnedreport.com

 

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