Now 4=3

Readers may remember that last year, after Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly provided funds equivalent to a four percent increase in the BEP salary allocation, the State Board of Education accepted Commissioner Candice McQueen’s recommendation to increase the state’s salary schedule by two percent.

As McQueen wrote at the time:

We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between maximum flexibility for school districts and the recognized need to improve minimum salaries in the state. For the large majority of districts, the proposal does not result in any mandatory impact as most local salary schedules already exceed the proposed minimums. For these districts, the salary funds must still be used for compensation but no mandatory adjustments to local schedules exist.

This year, Governor Haslam and the General Assembly commendably added another four percent increase to BEP salary funds. The adjustment to the state’s minimum salary schedule, however, is up to the State Board of Education upon recommendation of the Commissioner of Education.

This year’s recommendation was a three percent increase. Today, the State Board of Education adopted that recommendation, making $32,445 the new base salary for Tennessee teachers, effectively the minimum a teacher in the state can earn.

As the State Board of Education notes:

An estimated total of 29  school districts will be required to make
increases to at least one level of their local salary schedule resulting in a specific and earmarked salary expenses.

Admittedly, this year’s increase in funding and the State Board action represent progress.

Last year, I made the following recommendations representing a way to truly improve teacher compensation in our state while supporting local districts:

  • Set the minimum salary for a first-year teacher at $40,000 and create a pay scale with significant raises at 5 years (first year a TN teacher is tenure eligible), 10 years, and 20 years along with reasonable step increases in between
  • Fund the BEP salary component at 75%
  • Adjust the BEP to more accurately account for the number of teachers a district needs
  • Fully fund RTI2 including adding a BEP component for Intervention Specialists
  • Adopt the BEP Review Committee’s recommendations on professional development and mentoring so teachers get the early support and ongoing growth they need

While the General Assembly did pass some BEP reforms this year, more should be done. For example, the new BEP formula freezes funding for the BEP salary component at 70%. Also, an adjustment in the calculation for number of teachers is still needed.

Again, however, this year’s legislative action and today’s State Board of Education action represent measurable progress.

 

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

A Bit of a Puzzle

Stand for Children is out with it’s list of endorsements in the School Board race and here’s how they start:

With a committed Mayor and the recent selection of Dr. Shawn Joseph as Director of Schools, there remains one major missing piece to improving our public education system: a better school board.

Interestingly, Stand advocates throwing out most of the incumbents running for re-election in order to achieve that “better board.”

But, it’s worth noting that most of the candidates Stand opposes supported Megan Barry in her campaign and the Board united to select Shawn Joseph as Director of Schools. That committed Mayor and new Director came about in as a result of the work of the current Board, not in spite of it.

Nevertheless, Stand says:

Imagine for a moment that we spent the next four years not rehashing the same old fights, but instead debating the best way to attract and support a great principal at every school; the best way to retain and develop our incredible educators; the most innovative ways to support our growing immigrant populations; and or the best way to ensure schools receive adequate and equitable funding and support.

While there have certainly been some vigorous debates on the School Board about how best to serve students in MNPS, the Board also adopted a revised pay scale designed to make the district more attractive to new teachers and bring teacher pay in line with similar urban districts. That same budget also made important investments in support of English Language Learners.

As for adequate and equitable funding, the MNPS Board has taken the state to task for leaving behind the promise of BEP 2.0.

The debate over charters is an important part of the discussion about MNPS, and there are certainly multiple perspectives. On one hand, you have those who raise the issue of cost and on the other, you have those who suggest the cost isn’t that high and the money spent is worth it. Arguably, both sides want what Stand says it wants: A Board focused on what’s best for kids.

Or, maybe they just want less of what they perceive as bickering. Or less dissent from a certain agenda.

The MNPS Board isn’t perfect, but working with Mayor Barry and hiring Shawn Joseph demonstrate a willingness to look past personal differences and focus on what really matters.

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


 

 

Candice is Listening

Or, she will be. The Commissioner of Education is going on a statewide tour to talk about testing in light of new flexibility offered to the states under the federal ESSA law, which replaced No Child Left Behind.

From the DOE’s press release:

Commissioner Candice McQueen and senior department leaders are launching a statewide listening tour to gather input from educators, key advocates, parents, students, and the public to determine how to implement specific components of the nation’s new federal education law: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The feedback will inform a Tennessee-specific ESSA plan that will guide the department’s work over the coming years and help the state capitalize on the new law’s empowerment of local leadership. These conversations will also build off feedback the commissioner has received on her Classroom Chronicles tour, during which she has met with more than 10,000 Tennessee teachers to learn how policies impact the classroom.

 

“We need to continue to elevate educators’ ideas to strengthen our education system, and the new federal law provides an opportunity to do that,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “We look forward to hearing from a variety of educators – from classroom teachers to directors of schools – as well as advocates, parents, and students as we craft a plan for Tennessee to transition to ESSA.”

The release notes that some policy changes might be in order:

Over the summer and fall, department leadership will draft a plan for transitioning to ESSA based on stakeholder and public feedback. Stakeholders and the general public will have another opportunity to provide input on the draft plan later this fall. In spring 2017, the department will work with stakeholder groups, the State Board of Education, and the Tennessee General Assembly as needed to recommend changes to state law and policy, as well as develop further guidance for school districts.

 

In addition to the various feedback loops and meetings across the state, the department will also be guided by its strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, which was developed with input from thousands of stakeholders over the course of several months to establish a clear vision for the future of Tennessee’s schools. It also has established a solid foundation in preparing to transition to ESSA.

Interestingly, the strategic plan referenced includes this under the category of Accountability:

Pilot first grade and career and technical education portfolio models in 2016, and continue to develop additional portfolio options for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects

Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them

Perhaps one improvement that will be suggested is that in addition to developing portfolio models for teacher evaluation (they already exist for related-arts teachers), the state should also provide funding to districts to support their implementation. Few districts use the state’s approved portfolio model for non-tested related arts teachers, likely because the cost of doing so is not covered by the state. Assessment includes both additional staff time and compensation for those performing the portfolio assessments.

The second item of note is: Develop additional valid and reliable student growth measures for those areas that do not currently have them.

This statement assumes that current methods of evaluating student growth (TVAAS) are valid and reliable. To put it simply, they’re not. Additionally, the most common method of assessing student growth is through standardized testing. This raises the possibility that additional tests will be provided for subjects not currently tested. After this year’s TNReady failure, it seems to me we should be exploring other options.

Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that this summer’s listening tour will lead to a new dialogue about Tennessee’s direction in education in light of ESSA. States like Hawaii are already taking student test scores out of the teacher evaluation process and moving toward new measures of evaluation.

Out of the chaos of TNReady, there is opportunity. Educators, parents, and students should attend these summer meetings and share their views on a new path forward for our state’s schools.

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

 

 

Amy Frogge on the High Cost of School Board Races

MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge talks about the high cost of School Board races, using her own experience of being outspent 5-1 as an example. Here’s her Facebook post on the issue:

When I first ran for school board four years ago, it was the start of a new era for local elections. In prior years, no one paid much attention to school board races, and $15,000 was considered a good haul for a school board candidate. So you can imagine how shocked I was to learn that my opponent had raised $125,000 for our race! She was the highest funded candidate in the history of Nashville’s school board races.

Ultimately, I was able to raise around $25,000 for my own race (which was very difficult for me!). I spent months knocking on neighbor’s doors campaigning. Through hard work and with a lot of help from my friends and unpaid volunteers, I was able to build a strong grassroots campaign that allowed me to overcome the odds. Despite being outspent 5 to 1, I managed to win by a 2 to 1 margin- which just goes to show that money doesn’t always determine the outcome of political races in smaller local elections.

Many candidates in Nashville’s school board races now routinely raise around $80,000 for school board elections. You should ask: Why is so much money being poured into small school board races? What is at stake for the funders of these elections, particularly when the funders do not even have children in our public school system? This eye-opening article explains it well.

Nashville is part of a larger network of cities where school board seats are being bought by outside corporate interests seeking to expand charter schools (and to make money in other ways, such as through for-profit testing). I’ve seen this very clearly at the national conferences I’ve attended, where I learned that the same organizations and funders (often billionaires!) are involved nationwide. School board elections in many major urban cities have turned into high-dollar, contentious events with money flowing in from unlikely sources. This has led to the fracturing of local school boards, which have been divided by outside special interests. (Already, I expect some nasty personal attacks from these outside interests during my campaign this summer.)

Watch our school board races carefully this year. It will become clear from donations who is backed by special interests. Their campaigns will be slick and shiny, run by high-dollar PR firms, and you will likely be impressed by the marketing. But please be wary of these candidates and the agenda their backers are trying to drive for our local schools. It is not about the best interests of children.

[From the article below:

“A network of education advocacy groups, heavily backed by hedge-fund investors, has turned its political attention to the local level, with aspirations to stock school boards — from Indianapolis and Minneapolis to Denver and Los Angeles — with allies. . . . The same big-money donors and organizational names pop up in news reports and campaign-finance filings, revealing the behind-the-scenes coordination across organizational, geographic and industry lines. The origins arguably trace back to Democrats for Education Reform, a relatively obscure group founded by New York hedge funders in the mid-2000s.
The hedge-fund industry and the charter movement are almost inextricably entangled. Executives see charter-school expansion as vital to the future of public education, relying on a model of competition. They see testing as essential to accountability. And they often look at teacher unions with unvarnished distaste. Several hedge-fund managers have launched their own charter-school chains. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hedge-fund guy who doesn’t sit on a charter-school board.”]

Here’s the article she cites from Bill Moyers.

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


 

TNReady: Time for a Trade?

TC Weber thinks the TNDOE needs to trade in TNReady and the rest of the current testing regime for a new model:

The Tennessee Department of Education has faced a similar dilemma for the last few years. Every spring, without fail, there is some issue with the tests and they have to send them to the garage to be fixed. I think it’s safe to say that this year the equivalent of the transmission falling out. Parents, teachers, and even legislators have been telling the TNDOE that things are getting to the point that it’s getting cost prohibitive to fix and that we really need to start exploring a new policy. But unfortunately, the message doesn’t seem to be getting to the TNDOE. They just keep reaching for the checkbook, making a temporary fix, and then praying nothing else goes wrong.

It’s a good read and TC proposes some solid solutions, like using some of the new flexibility granted by ESSA to move toward a truly new model of testing.

Read it all here.

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

 

Rite of Passage

Ah, springtime. A time for warm days, cool nights, rain, and graduation. Yes, spring marks a rite of passage for students leaving one phase of life and entering another.

Lately, this season has brought another ritual: The Tennessee Department of Education’s failure to deliver student test scores. Each of the last three years has seen TNDOE demonstrate it’s inability to get state testing right (nevermind the over-emphasis on testing to begin with).

Back in 2014, there was a delay in the release of the all-powerful “quick scores” used to help determine student grades. Ultimately, this failure led to an Assistant Commissioner losing her job.

Then, in 2015, the way “quick scores” were computed was changed, creating lots of confusion. The Department was quick to apologize, noting:

We regret this oversight, and we will continue to improve our processes such that we uphold our commitment to transparency, accuracy, and timeliness with regard to data returns, even as we experience changes in personnel.

The processes did not appear to be much improved at all as the 2016 testing cycle got into full swing, with a significant technical failure on Day One.

As the now annual spring testing failure season approached, it was all out chaos, with the state’s testing vendor and the Commissioner of Education playing the blame game and students, teachers, and schools left with no test at all.  

All of the TNReady’s unreadiness led to an “emergency” contract for grading tests that will have them back in the hands of teachers and parents in time for the December holidays. Just the gift everyone wants!

Last year, Commissioner McQueen and her staff blamed a lack of communication during a staff transition:

Our goal is to communicate early and often regarding the calculation and release of student assessment data. Unfortunately, it appears the office of assessment logistics did not communicate decisions made in fall 2014 regarding the release and format of quick scores for the 2014-15 school year in a timely manner

This year, it was the state’s vendor, Measurement Inc:

TNReady was designed to provide Tennessee students, teachers, and families with better information about what students know and understand, and the failure of this vendor has let down the educators and students of our state.

Three years, two Commissioners, and a series of testing failures, with 2016’s the biggest yet.

What does spring of 2017 hold for Tennessee’s schools? Can we expect another testing mishap, or will the cycle be broken? Who will Candice McQueen blame if and when the testing failures we’ve come to expect happen again?

Maybe our old friend Pearson will not only provide a holiday miracle (graded tests, yay!) but also save us from the perils of yet another year with incomplete, confusing, or just plain meaningless results.

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

 

Mary Holden Takes to the Blogosphere

Veteran educator Mary Holden is leaving teaching, but not education. She’s started a blog and her first post sets the stage for what I expect will be some pretty interesting commentary.

Here’s an excerpt about why Mary chose to become a teacher:

Mrs. Zambruski, my English teacher in 10th and 12th grade, in particular, really made me love reading and learning. I knew in 12th grade that I wanted to be a high school English teacher just like Mama Z (as we affectionately called her). English was my favorite class, and the time we spent in a circle dissecting the themes and symbolism in what we read was what I loved most. Looking for meaning and discussing what things meant to us had a strong effect on me. I came to see that literature held the keys to the secrets of the universe. That may sound a bit dramatic, but I truly loved learning and interpreting and being inspired by what I read. So much so that I knew I wanted to share that feeling with others by being a teacher.

The initial post is certainly promising. Read it all here.


 

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

TC Weber Finds Lots of Winners in MNPS Director Search

Nashville education blogger TC Weber wrote a post today welcoming Dr. Shawn Joseph to MNPS and summing up the process that led to his hire in a winners/losers style column. So far, he sees lots of winners in a process that he describes this way:

First, there was a battle over who was going to be the interim director while the search was conducted, and that involved an ethics complaint, that, to my knowledge, has never been addressed. Then, the initial search ended with an offer to Williamson County Schools Director Dr. Mike Looney, who promptly turned it down and decided to stay in Williamson County despite having a signed letter of intent. This led to the questioning of the initial search firm and the competency of their work. The search was restarted, a new firm hired with the bill footed by a private entity, the Nashville Public Education Foundation, and community involvement was sought. A slate of finalists was unveiled sans any women candidates and again questions arose. In the end, though, there was one clear choice and the board voted 9-0 to offer the job to Dr. Joseph.

That’s a lot. And it’s been a long time coming. But, in the end, TC seems pretty happy with the result, save a desire for a bit more transparency.

Check out all of his take on the search process.

For more from TC, follow him @norinrad10

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

 

Mitchell Questions Pearson “Emergency”

State Rep. Bo Mitchell of Nashville is questioning the wisdom of an emergency test-grading contract granted to Pearson for the grading of TNReady tests from this year.

According to WSMV:

“Pearson is no better than Measurement Inc.,” said Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville.

Mitchell, who has been critical of standardized testing, is not fully confident in Pearson.

“Just in the last week, they’ve lost another huge contract,” Mitchell said. “In the last few months, they’ve lost testing contracts with the state of Texas, state of New York and the state of Florida. So if they’re not producing for them, why are we to think that they will produce for us?”

He said the last minute moves are too costly for students, schools and the state.

Mitchell’s not the only one raising concerns about Pearson. According to the story:

The Washington Post recently profiled testing concerns with Pearson. It listed nearly 20 years of testing and scoring flaws that have caused the company to lose multi-million dollar contracts with schools in some cases.

It’s not clear how much value the state will receive for the $18.5 million contract as the grades 3-8 results will be incomplete (part II of testing was not completed) and the results are not anticipated until December, well past time to provide useful information for teachers and students.

In addition to this emergency contract, the state is also seeking a permanent vendor to develop and administer TNReady tests for the 2016-17 academic year.

More on TNReady:

Pearson: We’re Ready To Grade

TEA on TNReady

Why TNReady Wasn’t

 

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


 

 

 

An $18.5 Million Emergency

As a result of the failure of Measurement Inc. to deliver on its TNReady promises, the State of Tennessee has awarded a contract to Pearson to grade tests completed by students this year, including high school EOC tests and Part I tests that were completed. The contract pays $18.5 million and the estimated completion date for grading is December.

Grace Tatter has the details:

The state’s contract with Pearson goes through December for scoring and reporting of 2015-16 assessments, including high school exams, Part I grade 3-8 tests, and any completed Part II grade 3-8 exams.

Now, to be clear, the “emergency” is that some students completed tests that weren’t graded and won’t be graded by Measurement Inc. because they were fired.

What about the fact that some tests were completed online and others were completed on paper? Never fear, the state’s data team has a plan:

Measurement Inc. already has scored high school exams completed online last fall for students who are on block schedules. Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Townes said the state will use a formula to ensure that those scores are comparable to the scores of tests completed on paper, and to be graded by Pearson, this spring.

So, as a result of this new contract, there will be two different vendors grading the same test as well as some tests completed in an online format and some on pencil and paper.

Oh, and the results are due back in December. Well past time to have much value to inform instruction or help parents or students understand areas of deficiency.

Instead of spending $18.5 million on grading these tests which will have limited usefulness, the state could use that money to fully develop and pay for portfolio assessment at the district level for related arts and other non-tested teachers.

It could also use some of that money to support the unfunded mandate of RTI2.

Or, it could spend a portion of that money on developing an alternative assessment regimen — perhaps incorporating project-based assessment and reducing the reliance on standardized testing. Maybe even finding ways to reduce total testing time. Or, develop an assessment waiver as allowed under the new ESSA.

Out of crisis can come opportunity – and we have an opportunity and some unspent funds that could be used to develop better, more student-focused solutions going forward.

Instead, we’re handing money to Pearson and trying to get back to business as usual as soon as possible.

Rest assured:

…the department plans to select a new vendor in June to develop and administer next year’s state assessment.

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