Tennesseans for Stupid Testing

Dark money lobbying group Tennesseans for Student Success is out with a statement supporting Gov. Bill Lee’s weak ploy on state testing — continuing with the time-wasting tests while taking it easy on so-called accountability measures.

Here’s what Tennesseans for Student Success has to say:

“Tennessee students and teachers have been challenged this year in ways we could not have imagined. We have been inspired by the commitment demonstrated by parents and teachers to provide intellectually challenging learning opportunities for students across the state,” said Adam Lister, TSS President & CEO. “In these uncertain times, abandoning testing and progress reporting for our students would be a mistake and result in leaving some of our students behind. By continuing with end-of-year testing, the governor ensures each Tennessee student will receive the support they need based on objective data to measure learning loss, inequities, and areas of improvement. We also believe, in this extraordinary moment, student growth measures should not be used in teacher evaluations unless it benefits the teacher and supports his or her professional growth. We thank Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn for their commitment to student improvement and growth in the future generation.”

So, basically, they say: “Hey, look, we know this pandemic sucks and learning time has been lost, etc. But, let’s take weeks out of the year for a test that hasn’t really worked at all in the past five years.”

Meanwhile, Congressman Mark Green is simply calling for the cancellation of TNReady.

In addition to being dark money spenders and supporters of stupid testing, let’s not forget this group is also pretty good friends with payday predators:

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Severe Teacher and Staff Shortages

Tennessee public schools suffer from severe teacher and staff shortages, according to a newly-released analysis from the Education Law Center. The report finds the state’s school funding formula (BEP) completely inadequate.

Here’s more on the report from ELC:

A new report by Education Law Center, More Funding Needed to Fix Tennessee School Staff Shortages, shows Tennessee’s high poverty school districts are burdened with larger student-to-teacher ratios than wealthier districts and support staff ratios that are drastically out of line with minimum national standards. This staffing shortage is the result of the well-documented failure of Tennessee’s school funding formula, the Basic Education Program (BEP), to adequately fund the cost of education for all students, especially students in the state’s poorest districts and schools.

The ELC report documents the need for all Tennessee districts to hire more staff than the BEP funds, especially in the case of the state’s poorest districts, which are more understaffed than their wealthier counterparts. ELC’s analysis finds:

·     Nearly all districts raise more local funds than required by the BEP. Districts with the least fiscal capacity raise, on average, $375 per pupil above the level required by the BEP formula, compared to over $2,350 per pupil in districts with the most fiscal capacity.

·     On average, the BEP funds one teacher for every 23 students. Wealthier districts supplement with local funds to reduce that ratio to 19-20 students per teacher, while the poorest districts average a student-teacher ratio of 24:1.

·     The population of English language learners (ELL) is considerably higher in the poorest districts than in the wealthiest (10% vs. 3%); yet the ELL student to ESL teacher ratio is twice as high in poor districts than in wealthier districts.

·     Of the 140 districts in the state, 111 did not have a single social worker on staff, including 15 of the poorest districts.

·     Twelve districts across the state had no social worker, no psychologist and a student to counselor ratio above 600. These districts educate over 25,000 students, nearly 40% of whom are poor.

The report also presents district-level details. For example, it is possible to compare staffing levels in Shelby, with 59% of students in poverty, with neighboring Collierville, with a student poverty rate of only 7%. Both districts add nearly double the local funding they are allocated through the BEP formula, or about $2,000 per pupil. But Shelby has a student-teacher ratio of 26:1 compared to Collierville’s ratio of 21:1. Overall, Shelby hired 4% more staff than they were allotted through the BEP formula, compared to 11% more staff in Collierville. 

This summer, Tennessee legislators decided to flat fund the deeply inadequate BEP formula in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. An $117 million increase in teacher salaries in this year’s state budget was lowered to $58 million in March and then cut completely in June. The severe deficits in essential teachers and support staff are likely to worsen given the Legislature’s continuing resistance to follow-through on a promised increase in teacher salaries and other school funding increases. This will require districts to seek more local funds to meet the additional needs of their students during this time of pandemic school closures and reopenings, increased unemployment, and health dangers.

“Tennessee lawmakers must protect current levels of funding in high-poverty districts and provide additional support to these districts wherever possible,” said Mary McKillip, ELC Senior Researcher and report co-author. “The State should also take the opportunity presented by the pandemic to rethink its clearly broken funding formula and set the stage for long-term improvements to public education, including supporting teachers and other school staff.”

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Taking on Testing

Four members of the Tennessee House of Representatives have signed a letter to Gov. Bill Lee calling on him to end TNReady testing and teacher evaluations this year. The move follows a similar request issued by the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) last week. The letter, signed by Representatives John Ray Clemmons, Gloria Johnson, Bill Beck, and Jason Hodges notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has created special challenges that must be taken into account.

Here’s that letter:

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Voucher Vultures Back Dickerson in Nashville State Senate Race

Here’s more from The Tennessee Holler:

NASHVILLE: voucher vultures tout Medicare Fraudster Steve Dickerson’s support for Trump & “SCHOOL CHOICE” (code for Gov….

Posted by The Tennessee Holler on Tuesday, October 20, 2020

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TEA Continues Push to #CancelTNReady

Following an announcement from Gov. Bill Lee today that this year’s state testing will not be used in so-called accountability measures related to teachers and schools in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Tennessee Education Association renewed its call to cancel the TNReady test altogether.

Here’s more from a press release:

“The governor’s statement is a good first step on how to support educators who are already doing everything they can during a pandemic,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “There are additional important steps the administration can take quickly to further reduce the burden on teachers and administrators.”

TEA calls for extending hold-harmless to include suspension of other areas of the evaluation system that take up enormous time and are not aligned to teaching in a pandemic, such as observations and portfolios for non-tested grades.

“It’s not just standardized testing. Our evaluation system is simply not designed to assess teaching during a pandemic,” Brown said. “Many educators are teaching both virtually and in person. We constantly adjust to disruptions caused by infections or quarantines. We teach while doing everything we can to minimize transmission and take time to attend to the emotional needs of students dealing with the pandemic. None of these issues are even remotely included in models the state requires schools use to evaluate teachers.”

The administration could save teachers countless hours by letting school systems know that observations, portfolios, and other evaluation requirements may be suspended, letting teachers devote that time instead to the hard work required for both in-person and online instruction. It would be a tremendous signal of support to Tennessee’s teachers.

As has been the case for months, TEA also disagrees with the administration on the need to administer state standardized testing during the pandemic and calls for the suspension of TNReady.  

“Administering state tests takes weeks and disrupts instruction,” Brown said. “Our students are already dealing with so many distractions and challenges that we simply cannot afford to lose additional instructional time. Our goal must be to get students back on track, not collect testing data that everyone knows will be so flawed it will be useless.”

TEA understands assessing students is important and is being done on a continual basis by educators.

“We don’t need to have state standardized tests to know where students are academically,” Brown said. “We have ongoing state-approved benchmark assessments in addition to the tests and exams teachers administer themselves throughout the school year. If you want to know where students are academically, just look at our gradebooks.”

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Speaking the Truth to Powers

State Senate candidate Ronnie Glynn is taking incumbent Bill Powers to task, calling Powers out for his votes in favor of vouchers and against teacher pay raises.

Here’s more from a tweet:

Readers may remember that although Powers promised he’d oppose school vouchers during his campaign, he broke that promise within hours of being sworn-in:

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Kirby Endorsed in Knox School Board Race

In a race for a seat on the Knox County School Board, the Knox County Political Action Committee for Education (K-PACE) has endorsed Hannah Kirby, per a Facebook post.

The KC PACE leadership council has voted to endorse Hannah Kirby in the District 6 Board of Education race. Remember: early voting begins tomorrow morning!

Posted by Knox County Political Action Committee for Education on Monday, October 12, 2020

While Kirby is a staunch supporter of public schools, her two opponents for the seat have both expressed support for school vouchers.

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Mark White and NAEP

In a post about House Education Committee Chair Mark White being appointed by Betsy DeVos to the national board that governs the NAEP test, Nashville education blogger TC Weber takes White to task. Specifically, Weber notes:

Well, he supported an unconstitutional voucher bill in spite of purportedly, “not liking it”. He failed to increase funding for Tennessee school districts despite the state sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus money. He supported a literacy bill that robbed LEA’s of power to choose materials and curriculum, increased testing, and called for the retention of third-graders – luckily despite his support, the bill failed to pass. He failed to substantially raise teacher salaries. Salaries have been stagnating for years.

In short, White is a rock star only in the areas of cheering on the antics of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and being unfailing in his support of Gov. Bill Lee’s bad ideas.

I would add the recent plea of the TEA on school nurses to the list of areas where White has let public schools down. It’s not like White is merely a member of the House or simply one of many members on the House Education Committee. He’s the committee Chair. He’s in a position of tremendous influence. Still, the challenges Weber points to linger on with no effort at solution in sight.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine a Mark White who actually stood up for public schools and teachers in any meaningful way earning the adoration of Betsy DeVos and a subsequent coveted appointment to a national board.

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Green Calls on State to #CancelTNReady

Congressman Mark Green last week issued a call for the State of Tennessee to cancel the TNReady tests and teacher evaluations based on them for this school year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s more from a press release:

Rep. Mark Green issued this statement regarding high stakes testing and teacher evaluations in the wake of COVID-19:

“Teachers, students, and parents quickly adapted in the wake of this pandemic. To treat this school year like any other by requiring high stakes testing and teacher evaluations would force an unnecessary burden on educators and students alike. We should acknowledge these challenges, cancel high stakes testing, and devote resources to ensuring students can learn safely and effectively in person.”

“These one-size-fit-all mandates overlook the challenges of the pandemic and divert resources that could instead be used to close the learning loss gap. I urge both our State and Federal governments to immediately address this distraction from the classroom and cancel high stakes testing and teacher evaluations for the 2020-2021 school year.”

Rep. Mark Green has been a champion of both students and teachers during his time in the U.S. Congress and the Tennessee State Senate. He has sponsored bills to help students pay off student loans at the federal level, and in Tennessee, he authored the Teachers’ Bill of Rights.

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TEA Pushes for School Nurses

In a recent tweet responding to Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to have school nurses conduct COVID-19 testing, the Tennessee Education Association highlighted the need for the state to provide funding for a nurse in every school.

https://twitter.com/TEA_teachers/status/1313532196930686978?s=20

The issue of school nurses has been on the agenda of the state’s BEP Review Committee for years. In fact, back in 2014, the committee (tasked with annually evaluating the efficacy of the state’s school funding formula), recommended a significant improvement in funding for school nurses.

Here’s the recommendation from the 2014 report:

Change funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500  $12,194,000

So, for at least six years now (and, to be fair, BEP reports before 2014 also mentioned improvements to funding for school nurses), the state has fallen significantly short of the necessary funding to adequately staff schools with nurses. Now, Gov. Lee wants to add tasks without adding personnel.

Here’s the deal: The management principle of “get more with less” is total crap. Gov. Lee should know this, as he came to state government straight from the private sector. Here’s what you get when you ask overworked, underpaid people to do more with less: You get less. Something has to suffer. Maybe COVID tests will happen, but something else will fall by the wayside. Or, maybe less people will even consider becoming school nurses in Tennessee, further exacerbating the current shortage.

Six years. Two Governors named Bill. No action.

Sad!

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