TEA Calls for Moratorium on PARCC

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) issued a statement today calling on the State of Tennessee to reconsider participation in PARCC – a consortium of states administering a Pearson-designed test to assess Common Core skills.

The statement indicated that TEA supports the Common Core State Standards but has concerns about the PARCC test.  Neighboring Kentucky, an early Common Core and PARCC adopter, recently chose to stop using PARCC.

Here’s the TEA Release:

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement today calling for the state to put the brakes on its plans to use the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment in conjunction with the Common Core State Standards.

 

“TEA believes Tennessee needs to reconsider the use of the PARCC assessment,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “First and foremost, we object to our students being set up to fail. Any assessments aligned with the Common Core standards should ensure no harm is done to Tennessee students, schools or educators. Though PARCC supporters speak of an apples-to-apples comparison of student achievement, Tennessee students will be measured against states that invest thousands of dollars more per pupil.”

 

“TEA supports the more rigorous standards that are included in Common Core, but the implementation must provide adequate time and resources to be effective. Tennessee teacher involvement in standards development and implementation is critical to ensure the standards are developmentally appropriate for all students,” added Summerford.

 

“While thousands of teachers and administrators have received training, more support and resources are needed,” the TEA president said. “Many school districts lack the necessary technology for student access to the PARCC.”

 

“Teachers do not oppose testing and accountability. Teachers do oppose an over-reliance on summative standardized test results above all other indicators of student learning, particularly on a test that has not been properly vetted,”  emphasized Summerford.

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

Cameras in the Classroom?

Schools Matter has a series of posts up on the Measuring Effectiveness in Teaching project sponsored by the Gates Foundation.

Of note is the use of video cameras to record Tennessee classrooms and transmit the data for use in analyzing teaching behavior.  According to information obtained by Schools Matter, 120 schools in TN are using or have used the cameras to record classrooms.

The cameras were obtained and installed thanks to a grant from the Gates Foundation in the amount of $3.2 million.

The goal of the project is to take into account various measures of teaching practice and then use that information to determine what makes an “effective teacher.”

While not explicitly stated, it seems likely that the project will ultimately match up teachers with high value-added scores and their videotapes so as to determine which practices are most effective.  Teachers will then be encouraged to adopt the model practices as captured on video.

While this in itself is not bad practice, it is important that any data collected in this way is put to good use.  That is, it’s not enough to tape the lessons.  Will the TNDOE use the information to help coach struggling teachers? Will the TNDOE invest funds to provide early career mentoring, a method proven to increase teacher retention and improve teacher performance?

And, while at the outset, the idea behind the project seems to have some merit, the folks at Schools Matter raise some serious concerns.

Do teachers consent to have their classes taped? Are parents informed when a camera is used to tape their student in class? Is the use of this data made clear to both teachers and parents?

According to this piece, the cameras are turned on and off by the teacher and uploaded to the teacher’s account for sharing to appropriate parties. Certainly, that would include an administrator and also the data collection group.  So, it seems the teacher does have some control over when or whether the camera is on — unless there is a district or building policy dictating otherwise.

While the MET project may yet yield some interesting information, it’s not clear what will be done with that information.  And it’s not clear that the implementation of this project in Tennessee has been carried out with full disclosure to both teachers and parents.

If the basis of the project is to match teaching practices to value-added scores, I’d urge at least some caution.

Districts participating should inform parents about the collection of this data and how it may be used.

And, if the project DOES yield useful information, Tennessee should dispatch that information with an investment in training and support of its teachers.

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

 

Silencing the Opposition

Joey Garrison has the story about some legislators who wish that local school boards didn’t hire lobbyists to represent their interests before the legislature.

To that end, they’ve filed legislation that would allow County Commissions to revise a School Board’s budget as it relates to lobbying expenses (HB 229/SB 2525).

Many school boards in the state are members of the Tennessee School Boards Association, which hires a lobbyist to represent the interests of school boards at the General Assembly. Additionally, some local boards hire contract firms and/or in-house government relations specialists to monitor state policy.

Of course, many County Commissioners are members of the Tennessee County Commissioners Organization, which employs a lobbyist to represent the interests of County Commissions at the General Assembly.  And many local government bodies also contract for or hire government relations specialists.

And of course, if local citizens don’t like how their School Board spends money, they can speak out at public meetings, talk to Board members directly, or even vote in new Board members.

None of this seems to matter to sponsors Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin and Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville.

This legislation would give County Commissions unprecedented authority over School Board budgets.  In districts that hire in-house lobbyists, the Commission would theoretically have staffing authority over that position.

In Tennessee, School Boards propose budgets and determine how funds are spent, County Commissions either fund all or part of the proposed budget.  But, Commissions have no authority over how school dollars are spent.  Their only recourse is to reject a budget and suggest amendments or improvements – which the School Board can adopt or not.

However, it seems likely that resistance to recent reform efforts by School Boards is at the root of this issue.  Recently, groups like TSBA and some prominent local School Boards have been vocally opposed to school vouchers, a state charter authorizer, and even portions of the state’s new teacher evaluation plan.

And, outside groups like StudentsFirst and the deceptively-named Tennessee Federation for Children have been spending significantly to push a pro-reform agenda.

From Garrison’s story:

Out-of-state organizations StudentsFirst and the Tennessee Federation for Children — both of which want a voucher system to let public dollars go toward private schooling — have ramped up lobbying again this fiscal yearafter spending some $235,000 to $455,000 in lobbying-related efforts the year before. The Tennessee Charter School Center is armed with eight lobbyists this session.

So it seems that rather than looking out for local taxpayers, Durham and Bell are looking out for outside special interest groups seeking to influence how local tax dollars are spent in Tennessee.

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

Haslam Appoints BEP Task Force

Governor Bill Haslam yesterday announced he’s appointed a task force to study the state’s education funding formula, known as the Basic Education Program (BEP). This is likely a response to some school districts, like Nashville, complaining that the current formula is unfair.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who will chair the group,  says the plan may need revision and updating and that this task force will provide recommendations about how to “distribute available resources in a responsible manner.”

Neither Haslam nor Huffman mentioned providing more resources to the formula as a means of further investing in Tennessee’s schools.

Someone probably ought to tell the Governor that there’s a group of people (school directors, city and county representatives, school board members, and other education stakeholders) that meet regularly to review and study the BEP.  It’s called the BEP Review Committee and it is required by law, specifically: Tennessee Code Annotated 49-1-302(4)(a).

This task force meets 4 times a year and makes recommendations annually for upgrades or improvements to the BEP.  Here’s the latest report, issued November 1, 2013.

The top recommendation of the task force is to continue the phase-in of BEP 2.0 — a revision to the formula developed by Governor Bredesen and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in 2007. The projected remaining cost of full implementation is $146 million.  The Committee is recommending a phase-in approach, so something along the lines of $50 million a year each year for the next three years could meet this goal.

Other recommendations of the BEP Review Committee include:

  • Reducing the class size ratio used to generate teachers for grades 7-12. This would have the impact of sending more dollars to districts for hiring teachers. The Committee recommends a reduction of 2-3 students at a projected cost of $81 million.
  • Providing funds for professional development of teachers at a rate of 1% of the total dollars spent on instructional salaries. This would cost $22 million.
  • Providing funding for a comprehensive mentoring program for all new teachers and principals with a  1:12 mentor/teacher ratio.  The mentoring program would cost $14 million.

The Committee makes recommendations about changing the ratio for funding school nurses and improving technology, including creating a funding element for technology coordinators.

The bottom line is, there’s already a BEP task force, it’s been doing it’s work for some time now, and it has made solid recommendations for improving the formula.

I suppose the first assignment of the task force could be to review the work of the BEP Review Committee.

Of course, one might expect legislative Democrats to take up the cause and fight for improvements to the BEP by way of legislative proposal or budget amendment.  Perhaps proposing a BEP 2.0 phase-in or championing mentoring for new teachers?

However, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh tells us that’s not going to happen. In an interview we published yesterday, he said:

There are a few proposals before the General Assembly that deal with BEP, primarily with the state’s portion of funding. At this time, I’m not aware of any other Democratic proposals that will change the BEP, especially in light of a tight budget cycle.

So, the task force will meet and report and the BEP might (or might not) be improved.  And the BEP Review Committee will continue to meet and issue reports that go largely ignored on Capitol Hill. Ignored so routinely, apparently, that the Governor forgot the Committee even existed.

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

 

A Broader, Bolder SCORE Report

Today, newly-formed education advocacy group TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence) hosted a presentation by Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.

Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality.  She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.

Later in the day, SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) released its annual State of Education in Tennessee Report.

Both reports indicate Tennessee has much work to do to improve educational outcomes.  There were some similarities and some differences in the approaches presented, however.

The SCORE report outlined five specific priorities for Tennessee education policy in 2014.  I’ll examine those and note where the Broader, Bolder Approach supported by Weiss matches up and where there are differences.

Here are the SCORE priorities:

  • Maintaining a commitment to rigorous standards and assessments. The report says Tennessee must push forward with the continued implementation of the Common Core State Standards. It also points out that measuring student success with higher standards is needed for effective instruction, so Tennessee must continue its commitment to implementing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments.
  • Strengthening schools through effective leadership. As Tennessee continues to implement student-centered initiatives it is crucial to have strong instructional leadership in every school, the report concludes. To build a pipeline of strong leaders, the state focus should be on creating an aligned, rigorous system for recruiting, training, evaluating and providing ongoing support to school leaders.
  • Expanding student access to great teaching. The report specifically calls for providing teachers with the tools and resources – including instructional coaching, collaborative planning time, and targeted professional learning – that will enable them to be experts in their profession. The report also calls for helping teacher preparation programs implement more selective admissions processes and rigorous curriculum requirements that prioritize the skills and knowledge teachers need to support students in the classroom.
  • Investing in technology to enhance instruction. The report says that although the upcoming online PARCC assessments are a catalyst for increasing technological capabilities in schools and school districts, investing in technology must be an ongoing priority and not just a one-time purchase. Students and teachers need daily access to technology and must be trained on using it, the report says.
  • Supporting students from kindergarten to career. The report points out that in today’s economy most careers require training after high school. It specifically calls for creating a data-rich environment that equips leaders, educators, and parents with the information and tools they need and a data-driven approach to making decisions about policy and practice that will advance student success. It also recommends expanded opportunities for more students to take AP, International Baccalaureate, dual-credit, and dual-enrollment courses and to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects.

And here is some analysis in light of the Broader, Bolder presentation:

Standards/Assessment: Weiss suggests that higher standards alone do not improve student achievement.  She points to persistent achievement gaps over time in spite of increasing standards, particularly in the NCLB era.  She also notes the stress caused to students and parents due to increased testing.  She notes that in some cases, as much as 30 instructional days are lost to testing and test prep. She suggests that raising student achievement over time must not simply be a function of high standards but also must include a commitment to supporting students and families outside of school.

Strengthening Schools Through Effective Leadership: Here, SCORE focuses on providing support for the development of effective school principals.  Weiss also suggests the importance of providing support and development to teachers and school leaders.  She would note that having an effective leader alone won’t close the gap, but that having supported leaders along with strong community supports can make a difference.

Expanding Student Access to Great Teaching: Weiss notes that Tennessee’s teachers are among the lowest paid in the country.  SCORE does not specifically address teacher pay in its report.  SCORE does call for improved professional development and additional collaboration with teachers going forward.  SCORE also calls for continued use of TVAAS to identify quality teachers.  Weiss is clear that value-added modeling is inconsistent and unreliable as a tool for evaluating teachers.  At the same time, SCORE calls for adding growth measures to additional teachers (these may or may not be in the form of tests that feed into the TVAAS formula).

Access to Technology: While Weiss might also place value on technology, she’d also suggest that access to summer learning opportunities and enriching extended learning is important.  She points to research suggesting that low-income students tend to proceed at a rate comparable to their peers but lose significant ground over the summer.  That is, what teachers are doing is working, but outside supports are lacking.  Adding meaningful time to the school calendar is one way to address this.

Supporting Kids from Kindergarten to Career:  Weiss absolutely states that kids need a variety of supports throughout school to ensure their success.  She’d likely expand this recommendation to include supporting kids from Pre-Kindergarten through career.  In fact, Weiss notes that while Tennessee was once moving quickly to grow a high-quality Pre-K program, the state has not added a single Pre-K seat since winning Race to the Top. Weiss explicitly recommends continuing the growth of the state’s Pre-K program in order to provide a proven intervention that closes opportunity gaps.

With the exception of TVAAS, it seems the Broader, Bolder Approach outlined by Weiss would generally be in agreement with the SCORE recommendations.  However, as the name indicates, the approach favored by Weiss would be broader and more expansive.  It would include expanded access to Pre-K. It would provide both targeted support to teachers AND significantly better pay for teachers.  It would examine ways to add valuable learning time to the school calendar.  And it would seek a more balanced approach to administering tests in order to avoid an over-reliance on test-based assessments.

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

 

 

Education Monday

Monday will see two events focused on the state of education policy in Tennessee.

The first is sponsored by newly-launched TREE and will be held at 9:30 AM in Legislative Plaza Room 31.

The event features Elaine Weiss discussing Race to the Top, Poverty, NAEP Scores, and the state of Tennessee schools.  Weiss is the National Coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.

The next event is hosted by SCORE. At 11 AM SCORE will release and discuss its “State of Education” Report highlighting Tennessee’s education status and listing priorities for 2014.

SCORE has released such reports in the past. They have focused on student achievement, educator quality, teacher evaluation, and teacher preparation among other topics.

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

Sen. Kelsey Offers Limited Voucher Plan

After watching competing voucher plans stall last year, Governor Haslam and Senator Brian Kelsey have both made statements this year that they’ll work together to pass a voucher plan.

Perhaps to that end, Sen. Kelsey filed a bill that proposes a limited voucher plan, initially allowing for 5,000 “opportunity scholarships” in the first year of the program.

Post Politics has the full story.

And Jon Alfuth in Memphis makes a case against vouchers here.

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

The Education Agenda

What’s the best way to move Tennessee schools forward? It seems lots of people have opinions about this.  And some organized groups (teachers, superintendents, parents) are familiar faces around the General Assembly as education legislation is discussed, debated, and voted on.

Here, I attempt to break down the education agenda according to various groups attempting to influence the debate at the General Assembly this session.

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

This group of teachers is the smaller of the two organizations in the state representing teachers (the other being the Tennessee Education Association).

We’ve written about PET’s 2014 agenda before.

Essentially, they are focusing on teacher licensure (and the use of TVAAS to determine continuation), protection of student and teacher data, and testing.

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE)

We reported last week on the launch of this new group. They appear to stand in opposition to much of the current reform agenda in Nashville (state charter authorizer, vouchers, etc.). They also support full funding of BEP 2.0.

Tennessee Education Association (TEA)

TEA is the state’s oldest and largest association of teachers.  The TEA has historically opposed the expansion of charter schools and the use of public dollars for private schools (vouchers). They have a fairly wide-ranging legislative agenda. Additionally, they are currently undertaking a “road trip” to expose flaws in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS).

Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA)

As its name implies, this group represents school boards across the state.  Though a few systems are not members, most in Tennessee are.  Here’s their complete agenda.  The organization opposes vouchers and opposes revoking a teacher’s license based solely on TVAAS data.

Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS)

The statewide organization representing school superintendents.  Their full legislative agenda can be found here. TOSS opposes vouchers, a statewide charter authorizer, and the revocation of a teacher’s license based on TVAAS data.

Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)

SCORE is headed-up by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.  The organization is comprised of many education stakeholders and aims to provide information to policymakers as they make decisions that impact schools.  They have been supportive of the new teacher evaluation model and are the leading organization in Tennessee in support of the Common Core State Standards.  More on SCORE here.

Stand for Children

This organization has been active in Tennessee since 1999.  For the sake of full disclosure, I worked for Stand in TN from 2007-2009. The organization made its mark in Tennessee advocating for expanded access to Pre-K.  According to a recent email from new Executive Director Betty Anderson, the organization plans to focus this year’s legislative efforts on maintaining the Common Core State Standards.  They are also supportive of expanded access to Pre-K and to improvements to the BEP.

StudentsFirst

This is the Tennessee affiliate of Michelle Rhee’s nationwide StudentsFirst organization. Here’s the group’s official issue agenda.  They have been supportive of vouchers, a statewide charter authorizer, and teacher merit pay.

Tennessee Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

The Tennessee PTA is comprised of parents organized at the local school level. While these groups typically support their specific school, the PTA also supports schools and students in the community and state. Their complete legislative agenda can be found here. The PTA includes in its agenda support for the inclusion of parent and student feedback in teacher evaluation and the use of “strategic compensation” for teachers.  They also support the Coordinated School Health program and changes to the BEP that would provide funding for additional nurses. The PTA opposes vouchers.

School Choice Now

This group is a joint project of the Tennessee Federation for Children and the Beacon Center of TN.  Their focus is on a statewide school voucher program, which they call “opportunity scholarships.”

Those are the major groups I’m aware of attempting to influence education policy in Tennessee. There are likely others.  But this is a starting point to understanding what’s going on at the Legislative Plaza regarding education policy and who is pushing for what policies.

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

 

A New TREE Takes Root

A new advocacy group focused on countering corporate education reformers in Tennessee announced its formation this week. Calling itself TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence), the group is focused on advocating for quality investment in schools, accountability and transparency in the education system, and local control of schools.

The group is at odds with many of the heavily-funded major players in Tennessee education — StudentsFirst, Stand for Children, Tennessee Federation for Children/Beacon Center, and others.

Unlike those groups, which receive significant funding from out-of-state special interest groups and foundations, TREE is a grassroots, citizen-funded group born in Tennessee.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, impact TREE’s presence has on issues like school vouchers and a state charter school authorizer.

Here’s their announcement press release:

A grassroots group of Tennesseans backed by concerned parents, teachers, and taxpayers today announced the formation of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE), a new advocacy group focused on protecting and strengthening Tennessee’s schools.
TREE is dedicated to stopping attempts by special interest groups to dismantle Tennessee’s public education system. “Well-funded, out-of-state special interest groups are now doubling down on their efforts to influence laws that will divert public money to private entities, further eroding our already underfunded schools,” TREE president Lyn Hoyt, parent to three Metro Nashville Public School students, said. “Public school parents, teachers, and advocates must be heard by our legislators.”
TREE will pursue several goals based on the group’s core values: quality investment in schools, transparency and accountability throughout the education system, and local control of our schools.
“We don’t plan to match corporate funded lobbying groups dollar for dollar,” Hoyt said. “TREE will be an authentic parent voice for legislators. We will work to educate legislators, parents, and citizens across the state about the dire consequences of legislation, pushed by special interest groups, that will negatively impact our public schools, teachers, and tax dollars.”
 
 
Twitter: @TNExcellence 
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport

Wonder if the State Charter Authorizer Will Approve?

Blake Farmer of WPLN notes that legislation creating a state charter authorizer is just one vote in the Senate away from becoming law.  The legislation would allow charter schools to apply directly to the state, or to apply to the state if denied by a local school board.  Some have speculated that out of state organizations (like Great Hearts) will simply go straight to the state authorizer rather than dealing with the sometimes contentious local boards.

Cari Gervin points out that Governor Bill Haslam is on the board (albeit in honorary fashion) of this organization which is seeking to open a charter school in Knoxville.

If, despite all the Knoxville luminaries on the board, the group gets turned down at the local level, one wonders how receptive a state charter authorizer with members appointed by honorary board member Bill Haslam would be?