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.


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.


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Voucher Backers Seek Knox School Board Seat

Two supporters of Gov. Bill Lee’s unconstitutional school voucher scheme are seeking seats on the Knox County School Board, CompassKnox reports. Here’s more on the three-person race that includes two voucher supporters:

Rob Gray

Gray supports Gov. Bill Lee’s effort to introduce school vouchers into Tennessee. Lee’s Education Savings Account program, which would only operate in Nashville and Memphis, has been blocked for the moment by a court ruling. Gray said competition for public dollars from private schools would force public schools to be better.

“You’ve got to be innovative,” Gray said. “Competition just makes you develop a better product.”

Betsy Henderson

On vouchers, Henderson said, “I am for school choice. And I think that comes in many forms, whether it’s through vouchers, through charter schools. You know, my family got the choice to live anywhere in Knoxville that we wanted to. And I think that every child should have the choice of where they go to school, or the school that meets their needs.”

It appears Hannah Kirby is the only candidate running who is unequivocally a supporter of public schools.

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What Passes for Rigor

Nashville education blogger TC Weber takes on the recently released CREDO study of supposed student learning loss in his most recent post. It’s the study relied on by Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn as she doubles down both on the need for kids to return to in-person instruction AND the critical need for ever more testing.

Here’s one paragraph that stood out to me:

Third, the need for rigorous student-level learning assessments has never been higher. In particular, this crisis needs strong diagnostic assessments and frequent progress checks, both of which must align with historical assessment trends to plot a recovery course. The losses presented here implicitly endorse a return to student achievement testing with the same assessment tools for the foreseeable future. At the same time, preserving and expanding the existing series is the only way to reliably track how well states and districts are moving their schools through recovery and into the future.

That’s directly from CREDO. Yes, they’re saying we need to continue with the testing regime we have. Since the folks at CREDO seem so interested in testing that aligns with “historical assessment trends,” let’s take a brief look at just how well testing has gone in Tennessee over the past few years.

To say that TNReady has been disappointing would be an understatement. From day one, the test has been fraught with challenges. There have been three vendors in five years, and a range of issues that caused one national expert to say:

“I’m not aware of a state that has had a more troubled transition” to online testing, said Douglas A. Levin of the consulting group EdTech Strategies.

Here’s more from the TNNotReady chronicles:

Hackers. Dump Trucks. Lies. Three vendors over five years. A broken system that sucks the life out of instructional time. That’s what CREDO and Commissioner Schwinn want to continue. Make no mistake, this is not about what’s good for Tennessee kids – it’s most definitely about what’s good for national testing companies and the Commissioner’s career aspirations.

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Fiction is Magic

I spent some time recently talking with Bobby Nicholson of Knoxville-based ACT test prep company Outlier’s Advantage. Bobby’s company publishes a guide called “It Pays to Prep” outlining the various merit-based scholarships available at Tennessee public and private colleges and the criteria for being considered for those awards.

When I asked Bobby if there was any one secret ingredient to boosting ACT readiness, he said without hesitation that it’s reading fiction. Students should start reading fiction intentionally in middle school with a goal of having 100 fiction books read by their junior year (the key year for the ACT test).

Here’s the entire interview:

1) How did you decide to start It Pays to Prep?
We realized that so few parents or students understand how scholarships work now. When parents were in school, they had to fill out essays and applications for different scholarships. Now, so many scholarships are guaranteed. This means that if the student has the right ACT and GPA, they are guaranteed a certain amount of scholarship money at that school. We put the scholarships in an easy-to-read format so that parents understand how they work, and students are motivated to put in the work.

2) What do you see as the primary utility of your guide?
The primary utility of It Pays to Prep! is helping families understand how much money there is available to them if they get their ACT scores up. Many families are unaware that students don’t even need to have a high ACT or GPA. For example, Maryville College gives $19,000 a year ($76,000 over four years) for a 19 on the ACT. 

3) What’s the ONE thing you want families to know as they are preparing to send a child to college?
It will pay off tremendously if parents can get students reading fiction daily for at least 20 minutes by the start of middle school. Contrary to what most think, GPA is NOT a good indicator of success on the ACT. Ultimately, it is a timed test, and a student who reads twice as fast will score higher. A student who has 100 fiction novels under their belt by the time they hit their junior year will be in a great position to achieve a 28 or above. Students with less than 50 are usually going to score below a 24 no matter how good their GPA is. As unexpected as it may sound, reading fiction daily is the magic ingredient. 

4) How soon should kids start prepping for the ACT?
First, students need to understand that they need to have a minimum 3.5 weighted GPA from the beginning of freshman year if they plan on going to college. That is the minimum GPA requirement for most merit-based scholarships. Commonly, students enter high school unaware that their freshman year GPA matters, but students need to be committed to obtaining at least a 3.5 GPA from day one of high school. Early in their high school journey, they should also start to consider colleges that they might like to attend, too, because the minimum GPA required for merit-based scholarships may be higher than a 3.5. For example, UTK has a minimum 3.8 weighted GPA requirement for merit-based scholarships.
Next, students need to understand that they aren’t just preparing themselves to get into college: they are preparing to graduate from college. It is a little known that less than 60% of students who start college will graduate, which is a huge reason to be taking the most challenging classes. Even if they don’t do as well, they are preparing themselves for success and meeting the standards of a college curriculum. 
Lastly, we recommend that students start prepping for the ACT as soon as possible after they have completed algebra two and geometry. There are only four pre-calc/trigonometry questions per ACT, so it is unnecessary to hold off on starting ACT prep until students have completed those courses. Furthermore, the longer students wait after taking algebra two and geometry, the more likely they will forget the material that would increase their ACT score. 

5) What are some of the biggest myths you’ve heard about college and the ACT? 
Instead of myths, I’ll rephrase this as misunderstandings. 
Most schools tell students to guess C. However, the ACT knows that schools recommend guessing C. Therefore, on the last ten questions of the math test (where students are highly likely to be guessing), the ACT almost always puts fewer Cs than every other answer.
Most schools recommend skimming. However, most schools also don’t understand that this is a test of attention to detail. If students skim, they will be missing the exact things the ACT is going to be asking about. This will mean that most students won’t be able to finish the test in time, and this fact further advocates for why it’s so important to be reading fiction from a young age.
Most schools recommend trying to finish the test. However, most students will get more questions correct if they read more carefully, even if they don’t get to all the questions. Students will often rush through the questions at the beginning of the test, which are usually the easiest. This causes them to miss questions they could have gotten correct to get to the end of the test, where they are facing questions that they are much less likely to get right.
It is a myth that it is harder for students to increase their score once they get to a 26. The reality is that it is often harder to go from a 20 to a 26 than a 26 to a 32. The former typically involves learning a ton of grammar, math, reading speed, and study skills. The latter is often a matter of tying up loose ends and mastering timing.
Many people think the ACT is a hard test. The reality is that it is a test of the mastery level understanding of the basics. Everything a student needs to score a 30 or above on English, reading, and science has been taught by the end of 8th grade. 

6) How can families maximize their student’s potential no matter where they fall on the ACT score spectrum?
I may answer this question differently than you want, but we want to say a few things about this question in general.
First, a bad score doesn’t mean ANYTHING about a student’s potential. It is just a good score that says a lot.
Second, it has been our experience that nearly 100% of students with at least a 3.5 weighted GPA are capable of at least a 28 ACT score.
Third, MOST students don’t need to worry about a high ACT score. If students start at a community college, their ACT score (outside of getting the hope scholarship and testing out of developmental classes) will have almost no bearing once they transfer. Most colleges won’t even have a place to include ACT scores for transfer students. 
Students with below a 3.5 GPA only need to get a high enough ACT score to get accepted into their college of choice, and that required ACT score is probably way lower than it might seem. For example, UTK’s AVERAGE ACT score is usually around 29 for incoming first-year students. However, we have students get accepted all the time with 3.1 GPAs and a 24 ACT score. With that being said, these scores are often rising, so it’s better to err on the side of a higher score, but UTK is one of the most competitive schools in the state. There are still lots of schools where a 19 ACT score will be enough. 
Therefore, the main students who need to focus on getting as high of an ACT score as possible are those who have at least a 3.5 weighted GPA and are trying to earn scholarship money or get accepted into a competitive school. Everyone else can maximize their student’s potential by getting them thinking about the future they want to create for themselves. A great program to help them do that is called the future authoring program. 

Check out It Pays to Prep!

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