Probe of Voucher Vote Continues

The Tennessee Journal makes note of Sam Stockard’s reporting on the investigation into improper conduct surrounding the vote that led to the passage of Governor Bill Lee’s signature legislative achievement. Here’s more:

Despite the housecleaning that has taken place in the lower chamber of the General Assembly, state and federal officials are still looking into allegations that former Speaker Glen Casada offered inducements to lawmakers in exchange for supporting controversial voucher legislation, The Daily Memphian’s Sam Stockard reports.

The publication confirmed that agents with the FBI and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have spoken to lawmakers about allegations that Casada and his staff about made promises as part of an effort to break a 49-49 vote on the bill in May. Casada kept the board open for more than 40 minutes to try to make the case to various lawmakers, including on the balcony outside the House chamber.

Casada has denied any wrongdoing, calling allegations of inducements “unequivocally false.”

Some reports indicate that new House Speaker Cameron Sexton may be backing an effort to repeal the voucher law pending the outcome of the FBI investigation. This puts him at odds with Governor Lee, who is moving to accelerate voucher implementation.

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Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Chalkbeat has the story of how 1 in 3 Tennessee teachers is seeking a way out of the profession. The data comes from the annual Tennessee Educator Survey released last week. Here’s more:

A third of Tennessee teachers say they would leave the profession for a higher-paying job and also would choose a different career if given a do-over, according to the results of a new statewide survey.

The bad news comes amidst a national teacher shortage that is definitely impacting Tennessee. In fact, Metro Nashville schools opened the year with more than 100 vacancies and a number of schools have few math teachers. Nearby Sumner County opened school with as many as 30 vacancies and has taken action — raising pay by $4000.

It’s no wonder Tennessee teachers want to leave the profession. Not only do they earn less than their peers in similar states, as Chalkbeat notes, they also earn nearly 30% less than similarly trained professionals:

This year’s results indicate a national average teacher pay gap of 23.8%. Tennessee’s gap is 27.3%. That’s an improvement of two points for Tennessee, which had a gap of 29.3% two years ago.

Of course, Bill Lee’s focus on vouchers and funding for charter schools instead of teacher pay only serves to exacerbate the problem:

So, charter schools — which serve only 3.5% of the state’s students — will see a 100% increase in available facility funding from the state while teachers will see only a 2% increase in pay.

If the two investments were equal and funded at the rate granted to charter schools, there would be a $342 million investment in teacher salaries. That’s roughly a 10% raise. A raise that’s desperately needed as Tennessee leads the nation in percentage of teachers with little to no classroom experience. We also have one of the largest teacher wage gaps in the Southeast.

Of course, teachers cite more than pay as a reason for wanting to leave the profession. Many cite the poor treatment by the state as an impetus for wanting to exit the field. For example, Kindergarten teachers have essentially been told their opinions about what’s best for kids count for nothing:

So, teachers and students will have to wait ONE MORE YEAR until the DOE actually provides an alternative model. That means your Kindergarten student will be losing instructional time and that teachers across the state will be forced to jump through meaningless hoops in order to meet a ridiculous mandate.

Does the TNDOE care? Nope. Not at all.

It’s as if Governor Bill Lee and Commissioner Penny Schwinn are joining together and singing to Tennessee teachers:

“I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you…”

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Killer Recruiting

RePublic Charter School in Nashville is under fire after reports the school hired a substitute who had shot and killed the brother of two students there.

NewsChannel5’s Ben Hall has more:

But that feeling of safety was shattered Friday when the twins had a substitute teacher in their math class. It was Khadijah Griffis, the same woman who had shot and killed their older brother last month.

“They were put in the room with their brother’s killer and they were tormented by this woman,” Scott said.

Scott said other students at the school actually knew Griffis because she had been a substitute there before. She said some students even asked her how she had gotten away with shooting someone.

How did this happen?

The twins attend RePublic High School which is a Metro charter school that uses two temp agencies to fill substitute teaching positions. Scott cannot believe Griffis was hired despite numerous news articles about what happened.

RePublic says it will suspend using substitute teachers from the company that recommended Griffis until it receives further assurances.

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Sumner Teachers to See $4000 Raise

The Sumner County Commission on Monday night gave approval to a new tax rate that includes necessary funding to give every teacher a $4000 raise. It’s part of a pay scale adjustment put forward by Director of Schools Del Phillips earlier this month.

The move is the first scale adjustment in Sumner County since 2014, when teachers saw an overall 3% adjustment to pay. Phillips argued the move was necessary in order to make Sumner competitive with other counties in middle Tennessee.

Here’s more on the move:

By a vote of 17-7, the Sumner County Commission last night approved a budget and certified tax rate. The measures included a $4000 pay raise for all teachers. If the Sumner County Board of Education approves, the raise will go into effect in January.

Based on numbers from neighboring districts, Sumner will now have one of the most competitive pay and benefits packages in the region. In fact, depending on where teachers fall on the pay scale, Sumner will be just behind Davidson County in total compensation.

The average Davidson County teacher earned a total of $59,154 when pay and benefits were combined in 2018. Sumner teachers will see a $4000 bump in pay and will still enjoy the same benefits package they have been, so the average pay and benefits package there will now be around $59,000.

The move also puts Sumner in line with Williamson and Rutherford Counties in terms of best overall compensation in the area.

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TNReady Growth in the Age of Hackers and Dump Trucks

Last week, the state released (and celebrated) TNReady scores. Local school districts followed suit, often touting reward status based on “growth.” This “growth” is determined by a value-added formula known as TVAAS — Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System. Ken Chilton took some time to explain why the celebration should, at best, be muted.

I’d like to add that using any type of value-added formula for the purpose of evaluating a teacher (or even a school) is at least somewhat suspect.

More importantly, though, I’d like to say this: The test in 2018 was a disaster. Attempting to claim “growth” from results in 2019 using a baseline of 2018 is simply flawed.

Remember the hackers? What about the dump trucks? What about the deception:

While at the time, the hacking excuse sounded pretty far-fetched, today’s hearing confirms that the Department advanced a lie offered by the state’s testing vendor. Of course, later on in the testing cycle, a dump truck was blamed for disrupting testing. That excuse was also later proven untrue.

At a minimum, we’ve seen a mostly online test followed by a mostly pencil-and-paper test. Not only did the online test have big problems, but also students tend to score higher on pencil-and-paper tests. Here’s some analysis from a recent study on that topic:

At least in the time period that we studied, there is pretty compelling evidence that for two students who are otherwise similar, if one took the test on paper and one took the test on a computer, then the student taking the test on paper would score higher. And that’s controlling for everything we can control for, whether it’s the school that a student is in, or their previous history, or demographic information. It looks like there is pretty meaningful differences in how well students score across test modes.

We found mode effects of about 0.10 standard deviations in math and 0.25 standard deviations in English Language Arts. That amounts to up to 5.4 months of learning in math and 11 months of learning in ELA in a single year.

So: Of course moving back to paper-based tests yields “impressive” growth.

A five-year history of testing in Tennessee indicates that the results can’t be said to be reliable predictors of, well, anything. Here’s how it’s gone down:


Cancelled test

Pencil and Paper TNReady

Hackers and Dump Trucks Online TNReady

Pencil and Paper TNReady

We moved from a different type of test to an online test that failed to a paper test, to another online failure, and back to a paper test. Can we really measure any actual growth based on those circumstances?

TDOE says YES. They’re wrong.

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Why Money Matters

As the Sumner County Commission prepares to vote tonight on setting a tax rate that would in part fund a $4000 raise for every teacher in the county, local educator Kyle Craighead explains the importance of taking this step.

My name is Kyle Craighead, and I have lived in Sumner County my entire life except for the four years I attended Lipscomb University. I am a proud graduate of Hendersonville High School and am thankful for the education I received at Lakeside Park, Hawkins, and HHS. I began teaching science at Merrol Hyde Magnet School in 2008, where I also at various points coached basketball, tennis, and served as the athletic director and as a teacher leader. From 2016-2018 I taught biology and served as a teacher leader at Gallatin High School. I am currently in my 2nd year as an assistant principal at White House High school and am in my 12th year overall in education. My wife, brother, and several cousins are educators in Sumner County. Education is a calling, and my family is 100% devoted to doing what is right by our students in Sumner County.

You will likely hear many facts and figures tonight, and I have a few of my own, but I want to first tell a story. This summer in June we were interviewing for an open teaching position, and at the end of the interview we asked the prospective teacher if he had any questions for us. He then asked, “Well I don’t know how to ask this without sounding selfish, but I looked up the pay scale in Sumner County, and it looks like to me that I would take almost a 1200 dollar pay cut if I moved over here. I know that can’t be correct, so can you explain this to me?”

How do you answer that question? Sumner is the 9th wealthiest county in TN out of 95 counties. Robertson is 21st . I’m not talking about Williamson. I’m not talking about Davidson or Rutherford. Robertson is across the street from White House Middle School…literally. White House Heritage is less than 1 mile from White House High School. Let that sink in a minute. This is not a distant competitor.

When finding prospective teachers, we pride ourselves on selling a strong student and faculty culture as well as a supportive community, and it works. Everyone wants to work where they are respected and have growth opportunities. We have accomplished this in Sumner County Schools. But as the Sumner County Community as a whole, how can a brand new teacher looking for a job out of college think that they are supported when Robertson, Davidson, Wilson, Trousdale, and Macon counties all pay first year teachers more? How many teachers overlook Sumner immediately? How many drop out of interview pools when they figure out the pay scale? How many of our top level Sumner County graduates are going to decide to teach in a different county? When you’re talking about a salary of 35,000 dollars, every bit counts.

I want to say this to all parents of Sumner County students: you, like us, want the best education for your child. There are endless studies on the biggest influence on a student’s learning, and every one of them point to the classroom teacher as the most important factor. I am a parent of a future student in our county, and I don’t just merely want good teachers. I expect it. I demand it, just like all of the rest of the parents out there.

In summary, I hope you all see that I am not clamoring for ridiculous teacher pay increases. I’m not even arguing that teachers work way more and are far more devoted that anyone outside of education understands, because although those are very true and valid points, I’m making a simpler point and it is incredibly easy to understand:
Robertson, Trousdale, and Macon have a combined total of 95,000 residents. Sumner has over 160,000. Sumner routinely outperforms those other 3 counties on every measurable piece of student achievement and growth, and that’s because we have amazing teachers.

In terms of wealth, Sumner is 9th, Robertson is 21st, Trousdale is 40th, and Macon is 85th.Based on that evidence, how can Sumner continue to pay the least and expect to have the best teachers in the future?

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Regression to the Mean

A guest post from Ken Chilton, who teaches education policy at Tennessee State University

When organizations plan for strategic change, one tenet is to cherry pick some easy wins early in the process to build support for the program and new momentum. School districts across the state of Tennessee are doing exactly that. They are parading the recently released TVAAS data that shows big jumps in value-added achievement.

Good news should be trumpeted, but I’m not sure this is good news. Unfortunately, most people have no idea what TVAAS measures. A score of “5” out of a possible 5 sounds impressive; however, it is an extremely flawed measure of success. While TVAAS purports to measure student growth year over year, the Department of Education advises, “Growth scores should be used alongside achievement scores from TNReady to show the fuller picture of students’ performance.”

When happy education administrators state “math scores increased from 27.6% proficient or greater to 28.1%” what does this mean? How do we translate a school district’s TVAAS score or essentially meaningless *increase* in scores to your child’s performance? It simply means that on one day your child took a standardized test and was considered above/below a proficiency threshold designated by an education technocrat. It provides little information on your child’s level of achievement and/or the quality of her/his teacher.

Surely, we wouldn’t spend millions of dollars annually and weeks upon weeks on preparation on a test that is meaningless, would we? Sadly, the answer is yes. In statistics, the term “regression to the mean” is used to explain how extremely low and high performers tend to move toward the average over time. If you start with really low scores, it’s easier to show large gains. Achieving a one-year jump in test scores or value-added algorithms at the school or district level does not mean your district or school is performing at a high level.

For example, let’s take two groups of kids and test them on their ability to complete 50 pushups—our chosen benchmark for measuring fitness proficiency. Let’s assume group A completed an average of 65 pushups last year. Group A participants have private trainers and nutritionists who work with them outside normal training hours. This year, Group A completes an average of 66 pushups. The trainers did not achieve much in terms of value-added.

Group B, on the other hand, has had little training. Last year, they averaged 5 pushups per participant. After concerted efforts to improve their performance, they averaged 10 pushups per participant this year. They DOUBLED their output and would likely show high value-added performance. Granted, they are still woefully below the 50-pushup benchmark.

In a nutshell, superintendents across the state are celebrating a nebulous statistic. Critics of value-added tests to measure teacher performance have long argued that state tests—especially multiple-choice ones—are woefully inadequate measures of a teacher’s impact on learning. TVAAS assumes that teacher effects can be isolated from the array of external variables that are widely recognized as factors that affect student performance. So much of learning occurs outside the school, but none of these factors are controlled for in value-added scores.

Here’s the good news: positive things are happening. Celebrate that. However, don’t mislead the public. One year of data does not make a trend—especially when the 2018 data were massively flawed. What matters is performance. Tennessee’s TN Ready test focuses solely on Tennessee standards. As such, parents cannot compare student results to other states that have different standards.

If you want to know how well Tennessee performs relative to other states, focus on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). NAEP is a good test and allows state-to-state comparison of performance using rigorous proficiency standards. It is administered every 2-years to randomly selected 4th, 8th, and 12th graders.

If you analyze NAEP data, Tennessee has not experienced sustained improvements in 4th and 8th grade reading and math tests over the last 3 testing periods. In 2017, 33 percent of Tennessee 4th graders and 31 percent of 8th graders achieved NAEP proficiency in reading. In math, 36 percent of 4th graders and 30 percent of 8th graders achieved NAEP proficiency.

The sad truth remains: most of the factors associated with student performance are related to socio-economic status. Inasmuch as poverty rates, absenteeism, parental involvement, household stability, and economic certainty are outside the control of school administrators and teachers, school performance data will underwhelm. Thus, we celebrate improvements in TVAAS algorithms that are not valid predictors of teacher performance.  

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Fund Us

In the wake of Governor Bill Lee’s voucher legislation that is poised to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and drain resources from public schools, the Fayetteville City School Board passed a resolution calling on the General Assembly to make a commitment to funding teacher salaries.

The Elk Valley Times has more:

The Fayetteville City School Board has adopted a resolution urging legislators to increase public school teachers’ pay by the same amount invested in Education Savings Accounts established through legislation passed by the General Assembly this past session.

The Board is asking school districts across the state to join in the effort. The resolution notes that current BEP funding for schools does not adequately fund teacher pay.

“ … Local school boards recognize that funding for teacher salaries under the Basic Education Program (BEP) under current law is insufficient,” the resolution continues. “ … Districts are funded based on a district-wide student-teacher ratio, rather than the actual number a district is required to employ to meet school-level ratio requirements … The teacher salary used for BEP funding does not represent the actual average teacher salary statewide.

While vouchers certainly impact school funding, it’s also worth noting here that Governor Lee made a significant investment in charter schools this year as well, doubling funds for charter facilities while offering teachers only a 2.5% increase in BEP salary funds.

Estimates indicate that funding the BEP salary component — funds given to districts for teacher pay — at an amount approaching the actual cost of hiring a teacher would mean spending in the range of $300-$500 million.

It’s not clear if Governor Lee or anyone in the legislature has a desire to actually improve teacher pay at a level that will make a real difference. Or, if anyone there even plans on undoing Governor Haslam’s mistake of freezing BEP 2.0.

It will be interesting to see how lawmakers respond if additional districts join Fayetteville in pushing for adequate pay for teachers. Will the same lawmakers who were so focused on ensuring vouchers didn’t “hurt” their districts also support providing their districts with the needed funds to compensate teachers?

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Got a teacher struggle story? Share:

Don’t let your babies grow up to be teachers

A new report from PDK International, a professional association for teachers, indicates that most parents and teachers don’t want their kids to become teachers.

Here’s more:

“We ask parents whether they want their children to become teachers and when we started asking that question in 1969 there was good support from parents for having their children enter the teaching profession,” she tells CNBC Make It. “But when we asked the same question in 2018, for the first time, a majority of parents said they did not want their children to become teachers.”

“This year, when we asked teachers whether they wanted their own children to follow them into the profession, a majority of them said they did not,” says Richardson. “We do see a shift over time. As the teaching profession has become a lot more difficult, we’ve seen a lot less interest in the part of both the public and on the part of teachers in encouraging others to follow them into the profession.”

This report comes amid a growing national teacher shortage that has impacted Tennessee. In fact, Tennessee leads the nation in the number of inexperienced teachers in classrooms. This should come as no surprise to policymakers. As early as 2009, studies have noted Tennessee’s challenges with attracting and retaining teachers. Specifically, the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center noted:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

It’s also worth noting here that Tennessee lags behind the rest of the country when it comes to the rate of teacher pay raises:

Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.

This seems like the perfect time to mention the Teacher Struggle. If you’ve got a Tennessee Teacher Struggle story to share, email me:

Teachers are leaving. Students aren’t entering teacher education programs to replace them. Parents are telling their kids NOT to become teachers. It’s almost like there’s a full flown crisis and all lawmakers want to do is pour more gas on the fire.

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The Struggle is Real

As Sumner County considers providing teachers with a $4000 pay raise for the 2020-21 academic year, teachers there have taken to Facebook to explain the struggles they face under current salary conditions. Here are some excerpts from a few of those stories:

I teach full time, sponsor an extracurricular that requires multiple hours outside of the regular school day, and I work another job two nights a week and on occasional weekends. Wow this is just eye opening that people believe teachers have the nicest of everything. My apartment was flooded this week, and I’m potentially looking at having to move back in with parents until I can afford to get a house. That comment has me completely baffled.

I’ve been teaching for 18 years. I have had a second job for 16 of those 18. As a single woman, I have had a roommate for the last 10 years because I can not afford to live on my own. I have lost a home in foreclosure in the last 10 years. I will be paying for my student loans well after retirement age (I have a bachelors and a masters). I still live paycheck to paycheck with no savings to speak of. I drive a car that is 12.5 years old and was not purchased new. Would I choose to be a teacher again if I knew these circumstances? Yes. God has called me to this profession. But it only seems fair that people who work tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of children should be treated as the professionals that they are and compensated as such. Oh yeah, and before I was a teacher, I was a missionary. I had to raise 100% of my support. When I left the mission field and began teaching, I took a shocking pay cut. .

It’s not only a struggle financially, it is a struggle mentally, physically, and emotionally on myself and my family. The fact that I am at school hours before school begins, ends, and on weekends is crazy. The fact that my kids don’t understand why mommy spends so much time away from them when school is “over”. The struggle comes when I am constantly looking and comparing my bank account to when the next payday is and wondering what else I can find in the pantry to feed my family until payday comes around. The struggle is when it’s 5pm on a Monday, and I need to leave the classroom, and get all of the kids and take them home to eat, but I still have so much work that needs to be done in order to give my students the best.

If many teachers are having to work other jobs, you should know they can not and will not be able to give their best to their students. I was tired before the day began and I couldn’t grade timely enough because of my other responsibilities. (Fun fact – it’s in our contracts to not work other jobs that could get in the way of our performance)
4) It should not be okay that we justify paying teachers poorly because most teachers are female and have husbands that could support the family. That is a stereotype that isn’t always true nor should it be acceptable. Teaching isn’t a hobby. We are professionals with high levels of education. I literally panicked if I had to buy clothing. And I didn’t buy more than maybe a shirt at a time from Target.
5) The financial strain and lack of support for teachers is what makes great teachers quit. I LOVEEEEEE the relationships I build with my students. That’s why I teach. But sometimes, you can be too overwhelmed to remember that.

There’s more — a lot more. And it’s not just in Sumner County, where starting pay for teachers is about $4000 less than in peer districts and lags behind throughout a teacher’s career.

Tennessee is a state that pays teachers poorly and experiences a high teacher wage gap.

Since it’s back to school time, it’s a great time to share your “teacher struggle story.”

What struggles do you face as a Tennessee teacher? Do you work a second or a third job to make ends meet? Tell your story:

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