Vouchers on the Beach

Joel Ebert and Dave Boucher of The Tennessean reported this weekend on a beach vacation for five Tennessee lawmakers hosted by a prominent school voucher advocate.

Here are some highlights:

The Oscar winner inspired a spirited discussion among the men on the trip, who were hosted by voucher advocate Mark Gill, about leadership and integrity. Reps. Andy Holt, Mike Carter, Billy Spivey and recently ousted lawmakerJeremy Durham stayed at Gill’s condo and left one morning for a half-day deep sea fishing trip paid for by Gill. They didn’t catch many fish, but the captain showed them how to filet the ones they did. Rep. Jimmy Matlock also made the trip but went to the beach instead of fishing because he gets seasick.

Interestingly, the lawmakers who took the vacation at the voucher advocate’s beach house all supported and co-sponsored voucher legislation in subsequent legislative sessions.

From the report:

The “odd duck” Carter referenced is Gill, a member of the board of directors with the Tennessee Federation for Children, an arm of the American Federation for Children that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on contract lobbyists to push lawmakers to legalize school vouchers in Tennessee.

In 2016, all five lawmakers who went to Gill’s condo co-sponsored legislation to allow vouchers in the state.

So, Mark Gill serves on the Board of Directors for the Tennessee Federation for Children, is a large donor to the group, and hosts five Tennessee lawmakers at his beachside condo and then those same lawmakers just happen to co-sponsor pro-voucher legislation at the General Assembly?

No, this isn’t illegal. Yes, it actually happened. This is the type of behavior these same lawmakers decry about DC politicians.

Also: Why is Mark Gill so interested in vouchers?

More on Vouchers:

Million Dollar Baby

What Tennessee Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

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

 

 

MNPS Funding Suit DENIED

Jason Gonzales reports:

A judge has denied a request from Metro Nashville Public Schools asking the courts to command Tennessee to fully provide education funding to local school districts.

The district’s petition, filed Sept. 1, contends that the state’s constitution requires the Tennessee General Assembly to fully fund education in the state under its Basic Education Program. Commonly known as the BEP, it’s the formula the state uses to calculate how much it costs to educate an individual student in Tennessee.

Apparently agreeing with the state’s attorneys who said:

In its response to Nashville’s petition, the state says Nashville should follow the other districts in asking the court to address their right to education funding, rather than for a direct order to pay more money. “(Nashville) seeks a writ of mandamus that would require the General Assembly to provide funding to ELL teachers and translators in the ratios provided in (Tennessee Code),” the response reads. “… However, (Nashville) is not entitled to that writ.”

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s order says:

While the state has been sued for proper education funding, those cases didn’t request the courts force the state to immediately appropriate funds, Lyle said in the court papers. Therefore, Lyle said there is no law to enforce.

“Such law must first be adjudicated before the writ can issue,” Lyle said.

In short, until a decision is rendered on the adequacy of the formula, the state can’t be compelled to fund the formula. Lawsuits filed by Shelby County and Hamilton County both claim the state’s funding formula is inadequate and seek a judgment based on that claim. Those cases are still moving forward.

More on School Funding:

Haslam on Tennessee School Funding History

Just Kidding

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


 

 

TC Weber Shares His Anger

Blogger TC Weber has some anger to share and raises some interesting and valid points about public school advocacy in his latest post.

Here are a couple highlights:

We all seem to be willing to work harder when there is a boogeyman to face. Charter schools make for a convenient boogeyman in the same way that the cartels do for the war on drugs – now before everybody loses their mind, know that I am not equating charter schools to drug cartels in any way but in their use as scapegoats. There wouldn’t be cartels in the illegal drug trade if there were no demand, and the same goes for charter schools in that there wouldn’t be charter schools if the demand wasn’t there. I do have to ask, though, what if the boogeyman is really us and our inability to provide equitable educational opportunities for all children? Case in point: have we expended as much energy in improving our schools as we have in fighting against their takeovers? Can we look at parents who are considering sending their children to a charter school and honestly say we’ve done everything to make the public option better? It is time to get beyond this single hot-button issue and focus on the inequities that exist in our schools.

Later, he adds:

It is vital that as we fight off corporate attacks on our public schools that we are not just focusing on the supply, but have an equally diligent focus on the demand. We need to make sure that we are not falling into the trap of rewarding perks to adults while children are asked to make sacrifices. We need to ensure that we are applying every possible resource to directly impact the educational opportunities for our children

Weber has done his homework, analyzing current MNPS spending trends and highlighting some disturbing inequities. Read more about why he’s so angry.

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


 

Haslam: Haters Gonna Hate

Governor Bill Haslam this week lamented school funding lawsuits while also admitting that Tennessee has a history of under-funding schools.

From the Tennessean:

“Now if you’re an educator saying, ‘Well, you’re not putting enough money in’ … you’re right, as a state we historically have not put enough money — but we’re changing that,” Haslam said.

When asked about pending lawsuits claiming the state is failing to live up to its responsibility in terms of school funding, Haslam said:

Asked about the validity of the school funding suits as a result, Haslam said, “obviously anyone can sue over anything they want.”

“But it’s kind of strange when we’re making historic investments in K-12 education, it feels like it sends the wrong message to do that,” he said.

Haslam doesn’t seem to understand why supporters of public education may doubt his commitment. Here are three reasons:

1) Haslam promised in 2013 to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state in teacher salaries.” By April of the next year, the promise was gone. Additionally, the BEP Review Committee noted in its 2015 report that weighted average salaries in 2015 were lower than in 2013 as a result of the Haslam-Huffman elimination of the state minimum salary schedule. At the same time, the gap in pay among the highest-paying and lowest-paying districts in the state remains at an unacceptable 40%. Meanwhile, Tennessee suffers from one of the largest teacher wage gaps — that is, the gap between salaries paid to teachers and salaries paid to professionals with similar educational preparation.

2) In response to a lawsuit from Metro Nashville Public Schools, the state’s attorneys have said the state is not bound to follow the school funding formula Governor Haslam proposed and the General Assembly adopted. Grace Tatter reported the state’s response:

Attorneys for the state say Tennessee isn’t obligated to follow through with its own spending plan — and that Nashville doesn’t have the grounds to seek the order in the first place.

3) The state has a $925 million surplus as of the close of the 2015-16 fiscal year. That’s enough money to fully close the teacher wage gap and still leave more than $400 million for funding other important state projects. A more conservative approach would at the least meet the state’s funding obligations under the revised BEP formula, as Nashville is demanding in its lawsuit. From there, the state could phase-in further investment and do so without increasing taxes one cent. The current surplus comes after a year in which the state’s surplus topped $1 billion. During that budget year, Haslam and the General Assembly failed to adopt a salary proposal that would have provided teachers and state employees raises if revenues exceeded projections. They did, of course.

So, while Haslam is saying the right things and while there has been some investment in schools in recent years, it’s not hard to guess why school districts are filing lawsuits to get the money they need. Bill Haslam is right. Tennessee has historically under-funded schools. But he’s leaving out an important point. The only thing that seems to get the attention of the state-level policymakers — and get money into schools — is a court order.

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


 

Federal Grant Helps 4,000 Students Pay for AP Exams

The U.S. Department of Education announced $28.4 million in grants to 41 states and Washington, D.C to defray costs of taking the Advanced Placement (AP) fees for low-income families.

From the U.S. Department of Education:

The grants are used to help pay for students from low-income families taking approved advanced placement tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization and Cambridge International Examinations. By subsidizing test fees, the program encourages all students to take advanced placement tests and obtain college credit for high school courses, reducing the time and cost required to complete a postsecondary degree.

The grants included $362,985 awarded to the Tennessee Department of Education for the 2016 fiscal year, which means the department has already had the money and used it for students taking exams this past spring.

The Department had this to say:

More Tennessee students than ever before are taking AP exams and — more importantly — scoring high enough to become eligible for college credit. That’s key. One of our top priorities for the 2016-17 school year is strengthening pathways for students to be able to seamlessly transition into college and careers, and in order to do that, we have to provide more opportunities for students to earn postsecondary credit and industry certifications while in high school.

Sometimes these opportunities carry a price tag that may prohibit some of our students from being able to attain the college credit and/or certification they could otherwise earn if they were able to afford to take a specific exam. And in Tennessee, we want every student to be as equipped as possible when they graduate from high school. The funding announced today provided exam fee assistance on Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge exams for about 4,000 economically disadvantaged students.

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


 

A Fond Farewell

Our friends over at Bluff City Ed announced this week they are saying goodbye.

Jon even had a brief stint with us as his blog was transitioning. He’ll be keeping the content up – and there’s lots of good content.

BCE started about 6 months after we started TNEdReport. Jon, Ezra, and the other writers were often my source for information on what was happening in Memphis.

As Jon points out, Chalkbeat is here now, and they provide very solid coverage of the education landscape. But the insider perspective and the in-depth analysis from BCE will be missed.

To that end, I’d like to extend an invitation to teachers and education activists in Memphis seeking an outlet to publish about what’s happening in the education landscape there. If you have story ideas or an article to pitch, get in touch. Just email me at andy AT spearsstrategy DOT com

In the meantime, I want to wish Jon and friends well. A great blog that provided a great service — and one that will remain a great source of information and historical context.

 

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


 

New Name, Same Game

StudentsFirst, one of the leading proponents of school vouchers in Tennessee, has a new name.

Jason Gonzales reports:

Pro-voucher student choice group StudentsFirst Tennessee has changed its name to TennesseeCAN as part of working as an official member of the 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now network.

TennesseeCAN will function as a new organization whose legislative agenda, policy priorities, staff and underlying mission remains unchanged, according to a news release from the group.

StudentsFirst has been one of several organizations supporting legislation to create school voucher programs in Tennessee. These so-called “opportunity scholarships” use public money to pay a qualifying student’s private school tuition. Despite millions in spending on campaigns and lobbying, a broad voucher plan has yet to pass the General Assembly.

A very limited voucher plan focused on a narrowly-defined group of special needs students is now in effect in Tennessee.

More on vouchers:

Craig Fitzhugh on Vouchers

Million Dollar Baby

What TN Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

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


 

 

Interview with Dyslexia Expert Dr. Tim Odegard

Odegard, Tim 11-2015We welcome Dr. Tim Odegard to the blog to discuss dyslexia. Dr. Odegard is a dyslexia expert and is currently the Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies and a Professor of Psychology at Middle Tennessee State University.

He is a cognitive psychologist and received his PhD from the University of Arkansas. He speaks locally and nationally on the process of reading and dyslexia.

What are the signs and symptoms of someone with dyslexia?

Students do not have to present with underachievement or difficulties in all of these areas to be said to have characteristics of dyslexia.

  •   Difficulty reading words in isolation
  •   Difficulty accurately decoding unfamiliar words
  •   Difficulty with oral reading (slow, inaccurate, or labored)
  •   Difficulty spelling
  •   Segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
  •   Learning the names of letters and their associated sounds
  •   Holding information about sounds and words in memory (phonological memory)
  •   Rapidly recalling the names of familiar objects, colors, or letters of the alphabet (rapid naming)

We hear that 1 in 5 students have dyslexia. Is that fact or fiction?

It is a number based on study documenting the prevalence rate of dyslexia. The prevalence rate ranges from 5 – 20 % depending on the nature of the sample included in the study.

The reality is that when schools are required to report the identification rates of dyslexia the identification rate is less that 3%. This reality suggests that we do not have an issue of over identification in our country but one of under identification.

The data on the identification rates of Specific Learning Disability in our public schools also suggests that we have an issue in some states of under identification of specific learning disability. Dyslexia is just one form of specific learning disability.

When identified as having dyslexia, what type of intervention do students need to improve their reading ability?

These students struggle to read words accurately and or quickly. This can limit their ability to comprehend written material and learn new vocabulary from written material. These students need direct instruction that systematically teaches them how to read words.

Advocates say that OG (Orton-Gillingham) intervention is what is needed for all students with dyslexia. Has the OG method been proven to work with students with dyslexia?

Yes, there were several controlled studies conducted to test the impact of various Orton-Gillingham based programs. The results of these studies were summarized in a meta-analysis published in the Annals of Dyslexia. Due to the age of these studies they were not included in the What Works Clearinghouse.

Do all students who struggle with reading have dyslexia?

No, a small number of students with a specific learning disability in reading struggle with comprehension in spite of being able to accurately and efficiently read words and text passages. A specific comprehension problem is not dyslexia.

What are the two biggest misconception when it comes to dyslexia?

Many people still think that dyslexia is a medical diagnosis that must be tested and diagnosed by a health professional. This is not true. The reality is that dyslexia is not a medical condition and does not require a medical diagnosis.

Many people still think that school personnel cannot identify characteristics of dyslexia or dyslexia.

This is not true. The reality is that school psychologists in our public schools are often the best equipped to identify dyslexia. The 2016 Say Dyslexia law helps to clarify this for schools, and the Center for Dyslexia is working to provide educators and parents with valuable resources to aid in the identification of dyslexia.

What does the MTSU Center for Dyslexia offer parents and students?

The Center for Dyslexia has a small staff of experts in dyslexia and literacy dedicated to providing resources to parents, student and educators. We offer assistance to parents in understanding how they can work with their child’s schools in support of school based identification of dyslexia.

We also offer monthly parent workshops of different topics of dyslexia and supporting students with dyslexia. We have a limited capacity to provide testing services to students in the state.

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


 

Just Kidding

The Tennessee General Assembly this year approved changes to the state’s school funding formula (the BEP) and at the same time, refused to appropriate sufficient funds to pay for the changes.

As a result of this refusal, MNPS is suing the state and demanding full funding of the formula.

The state’s response is pretty remarkable. State lawyers maintain that even though new funding ratios are now state law, the state doesn’t have to follow this law.

Grace Tatter reports:

Metro Nashville Public Schools, which serves about a third of the state’s ELL population, is seeking a court order demanding that the state provide the district with funds promised under its recently revised funding formula known as the Basic Education Program, or BEP.

State lawmakers voted this year to increase ELL funding based on a 1:20 student-teacher ratio instead of the previous 1:30 ration, but only provided Nashville with money for a 1:25 ratio. That’s about $4 million short of what was promised this school year, say Nashville school leaders.

Attorneys for the state say Tennessee isn’t obligated to follow through with its own spending plan — and that Nashville doesn’t have the grounds to seek the order in the first place.

The state doesn’t have to follow through with its own spending plan? Then why even have a spending plan? The state adopted a new funding formula and put new funding ratios into Tennessee Code. But now the state is saying they don’t actually have to follow the laws they passed.

Perhaps what’s most frustrating about this entire situation is that Tennessee has a $925 million budget surplus this year. That’s following a $1 billion surplus last year.

Yes, we have the money to fully fund the formula. Instead, lawyers are now arguing that policymakers are not obligated to follow a formula they proposed and adopted. That’s a pretty strange defense.

The legislature could have phased-in the ratios. Or adopted different, more “affordable” ratios. But they didn’t. Now, the state doesn’t want to be held accountable for meeting the ratios Governor Haslam suggested and the General Assembly adopted. What other laws does the state view as mere suggestions?

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


 

Federal Report Shows TFA Teachers As Good As Or Better Than Traditionally Trained Teachers

The Institute of Education Sciences’ What Works Clearinghouse recently released a systematic review of all the research on Teach for America (TFA).

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is a place where educators can go to determine if programs are scientifically proven to work. It’s a helpful tool for all those educators who wondered, “Does this actually work?”

From their website:

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question “What works in education?”

WWC doesn’t just review any type of research reports that are thrown out there. Studies have meet certain scientific requirements to be added into a systematic review of the subject at hand.

This current review looked at TFA’s effectiveness in math, science, English, and social studies achievement.

Overall Effectiveness 

Let’s start out with an overall look at the effectiveness of TFA teachers. Afterwards, I will break down the individual subjects achievement data. As you can see below, TFA teachers are better than traditionally trained teachers in math achievement, potentially better in science achievement, and are the same in social studies achievement and English achievement. The systematic review did not find a pattern of TFA teachers being worse than traditionally trained teachers in any subject.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-18-31-amscreen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-34-28-am

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-54-40-am

Math Achievement 

According to this systematic review, TFA teachers see the great achievement with math. The studies involved look at over 65,000 students and found TFA teachers had a statistically significant positive effect on math achievement. The review found a medium to large amount of evidence for this claim. screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-38-48-amScience Achievement 

For science achievement data, the one study included over 36,000 students and found a positive and statistically significant effect of TFA teachers on science achievement.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-44-41-amSocial Studies Achievement 

The one study included in this section found no statistical significant effect on TFA teachers in regards to social studies achievement. This means that TFA teachers were the same as traditionally trained teachers when it came to their student’s social studies achievement.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-48-54-amEnglish Achievement

For English achievement, the systematic review looked at 5 studies that included over 53,000 students. They found that there was no statistically significant effect of TFA teachers compared to traditionally trained teachers. TFA teachers and traditionally trained teachers were the same when it came to English achievement.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-10-51-54-amWhat are the takeaways? 

TFA teachers do better in math and science achievement, but do no worse in English and social studies achievement compared to traditionally trained teachers. The takeaway is that TFA teachers, with limited amount of training, are doing the same or as better as teachers who spend years in training.

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