User Error

Dear Teachers,

It’s your fault.

It always is.

That’s essentially the sentiment expressed by the Tennessee Department of Education led by Candice McQueen after the latest round of problems, this time with portfolio evaluation of Pre-K/Kindergarten teachers.

The Tennessean has more:

Tennessee’s teacher union is blaming a vendor glitch for issues with some teachers’ low kindergarten and prekindergarten portfolio scores. But the state says the problems are due to user error.

“There was no error by our vendor. The vendor has double-checked all of the peer review scores and everything has been correctly and accurately reported,” according to a statement from Sara Gast, Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman.

But Gast said Monday that portfolios are reviewed and scored by peers through a rubric. In some cases, Gast said, an educator mismatched students or standards, which made it impossible to score. In that case, she said, educators were given a score of 1.

The Department of Education, an entity with a serious allergy to the truth, is blaming teachers instead of accepting responsibility.

This is the same DOE that seemed surprised when May 15th arrived this year and portfolio reviewers hadn’t been provided guidance:

The initial portfolios were to be evaluated by May 15th. Then, the portfolios with score disputes go on to the “experts.”

Here’s the text of an email about that sent on May 15th:

Dear Educator,

Thank you for all your hard work! The portfolio scoring in the general pool concludes at 11:59pm tonight. The consensus review scoring begins tomorrow, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

In the event that you were unable to meet your 10 portfolio review requirement (the same as 40 collections) AND you have demonstrated competence during the certification process and/or general pool scoring, you may receive additional portfolios to score. Reviewers who will receive additional portfolio submissions in this next phase and Expert Reviewers will be provided additional guidance to support the scoring process.

Thanks for all that you do! Please look for our next communication in 24 hours.

Here’s a follow-up email sent on May 16th:

Thanks again for your patience and support. We are still developing the guidance documents for the next phase of peer review. Our goal is to make sure you have the most comprehensive and best information to be successful. We appreciate your understanding and will communicate in the next 24-48 hours with updates.

This is also the same DOE that gave teachers one rubric for preparing their portfolios while providing reviewers with a rubric with significantly more difficult standards by which to assess those same portfolios.

Teachers received:

Reviewers were given:

This is the same DOE that set a June 15th deadline for returning scores, then moved it to June 30th, then released the scores last week — in late July.

By all means, let’s give Commissioner McQueen and her department the benefit of the doubt despite all the mishaps during her tenure at the helm.

In Candice McQueen’s world, it’s blame everyone all the time and it’s NEVER her fault or her responsibility.

Never fear, though, the state is now switching to a new platform for portfolio submissions. This means rolling out new training for teachers well after the academic year has started. For teachers in the few districts using Fine Arts Portfolios, this will be the third platform for submission in the last three years. Yes, each year is spent preparing for the portfolio collection and submission AND learning a new platform well into the school year.

If one wonders what Governor Haslam thinks of Tennessee’s teachers, let’s be clear: He’s been standing steadfastly behind Commissioner McQueen. In short, he doesn’t respect our teachers or the work they do.

Frankly, any lawmaker not demanding McQueen be held to account is complicit in this mistreatment of our teachers. The message is and has been clear: Everyone is accountable and responsible EXCEPT the Commissioner of Education. Teachers will continue to pay the price and must go along because no one with authority will stand up and make this stop.

I’d caution those sitting silently to note the teacher uprisings in places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. We may be inviting just this sort of direct action here.

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


 

Frogge Backs Fitz

Nashville School Board member Amy Frogge explains why she’s backing Craig Fitzhugh for Governor in a Tennessean column:

Fitzhugh “is not in favor of taking public money and giving it to private . . . charter schools,” thereby reducing school funding. He strongly opposes wasteful spending on excessive and meaningless standardized testing. He supports fully funded schools and always stands up for the best interests of our children.

Fitzhugh and his entire family all attended local public schools. His wife, daughter, and sister-in-law are all teachers. Craig is an attorney, veteran, and CEO of the local bank where he grew up.

A native son of Tennessee, he remains deeply committed to his community, where he’s lived nearly his entire life. He even drives home every Friday when he’s working in Nashville to announce the local high school football games!

Fitzhugh has bipartisan support, because people know that he is an honorable man who is truly committed to public service.

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


 

Eric Goes Back to School

As the 2017-18 school year came to a close, we reviewed the Kindergarten experience of a student named Eric and his teacher. Eric’s teacher was participating in an exciting new mandate from the Tennessee Department of Education known as a portfolio. The idea was to assess that teacher’s ability to impart knowledge by looking at her ability to move Eric and other students from Point A to Point B according to state standards.

Here’s how Eric’s year ended:

Eric has now just about completed Kindergarten. He knows no other “normal” environment for school. Complete the task, be recorded, do it again at the end of the year.

The story doesn’t note the hours his teacher spent tagging evidence and uploading it instead of (or in addition to) preparing for learning activities for her class. The story also isn’t over. The results of the first year of statewide, mandatory Kindergarten portfolios have not been recorded.

Now that the 2018-19 school year is about to start, we return to the questions posed as teachers waited on portfolio review and scoring:

How many parents are aware that their child is spending time in Kindergarten working as evidence collection specimens for a system used to assign a 1-5 number for their child’s teacher? How many know just how much instructional time is lost to this process?

Results?

Teachers were initially told by the Department of Education that results would be back by June 15th. Then, they were told it would be June 30th. Since the TN DOE has never met a deadline it could find ways to miss, June 30th came and went with no scores available to teachers. Also missing: Any clear explanation or accountability from the state.

Finally, on July 26th, the Department of Education sent a memo that included these lines teachers across the state had been waiting for:

The department is excited to announce that early grades portfolio scores (pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade) are now available. TNCompass displays the Teacher Effectiveness Indicator, which will be used as the 35 percent student growth measure in calculating the level of overall effectiveness (LOE);

Finally, after a frustrating year of jumping through hoops and losing instructional time, teachers could see the results. According to the state’s propaganda, these results would help teachers improve future instruction, so all that lost time helping kids would be worth it in the long haul. Plus, all that frustration was just because the system was new, it would get better with time.

But wait, this is the Tennessee Department of Education we’re talking about. It’s not like they have a track record of treating teachers fairly or getting evaluation and assessment right.

So, you’re saying there were problems?

Yes!

Initially, teachers noted relatively low scores. That might be expected in the first year of a new evaluation. However, closer examination revealed the low scores were the result of a grading error. For many teachers, entire sections were not reviewed. When a section was not reviewed, that section’s assessment score defaulted to a 1 – the lowest possible score. Because of this default to a low score, a teacher’s entire portfolio score was impacted.

A number of teachers shared score reports that had one or more sections that had not been reviewed.

What’s going on?

Well, it’s time for another memo from the Department of Education. Here’s what they say happened:

Portfolios are designed to demonstrate student growth across time and for standards which teachers select and are assessed through student work. In cases where evidence of student growth is significantly below expectations, these collections would receive a score of 1.

Collections could also receive a score of 1 because of a mismatch either between samples of students or between the standards that were chosen at Point A and the standards that were chosen at Point B. When the standards are mismatched in either of these ways, those portfolio collections/submissions were both flagged by a peer reviewer and autoscored as a 1. • It’s important to note that, for teachers who used all standards consistently from Point A to Point B for all three samples of students, no autoscore was generated, and the collection was scored by a peer reviewer and an expert reviewer if needed. If the difference between these two scores is more than one performance level, an expert reviewer scores the collection/submission, providing an additional level of review. If an expert reviewer scores a collection/submission, those scores are considered final.

So, a teacher who has the highest possible score on three sections and a 1 on a single section either demonstrated below expectations growth OR mismatched the collection and the standard — in other words, it was the teacher’s fault.

An analysis of department guidance by staffers at the Tennessee Education Association noted:

Based on the TDOE’s initial guidance, the cause of the debacle is a glitch in the Educopia platform that allowed a “mismatch” to occur between the two data collection points.  According to TDOE, this mismatch could result in one of two ways, either from a lack of continuity in the student sample or in the standard selected.  Apparently, the Educopia platform allowed erroneous mismatched data to be submitted without alerting the submitter to the apparent mismatch.  When that happened, the platform proceeded to “autoscore” the mismatched collections assigning a default score of “1” rather than flagging such collections for further human review and possible correction. This procedure was not in accordance with the TDOE’s published guidance.

 

The Hotline reviewed all of the TDOE guidance prior to the release of the portfolio scores and it appears there was nothing to advise teachers that errant mismatched data submissions were possible, or that such mismatches could result in an autoscore of “1” for the collection.  To the contrary, TDOE’s guidance repeatedly suggests all collections would be subjected to a progressive human review process in response to any discrepancies greater than one performance level.  So not only does it appear there was no way teachers reasonably could have known these mismatch errors could occur, there was nothing to alert teachers to the possibility such mismatched collections could receive an autoscore of 1 without later being reviewed.

Look at that again: The Tennessee Department of Education — the same department that blamed this year’s TNReady problems on non-existent hackers and incredibly powerful dump trucks — is now blaming the Pre-K/K portfolio problems on a computer glitch. Boy, we sure do have bad luck with testing and evaluation vendors. I’m sure glad our DOE is not to blame, that’d be terrible if they were held accountable for all these crazy coincidences.

A New Approach

Thankfully, Eric has been happily enjoying his summer, blissfully ignorant of the challenges his teacher is having with all that portfolio madness. Now, though, he’s ready to go back to school and the teachers are feeling defeated as their Commissioner of Education and the department she leads continue to disrespect them.

Good news! Now, the DOE is going to provide a new portfolio vendor — one without all those pesky glitches! Here’s more on that:

One way that we plan to reduce the amount of time for portfolio development and provide enhanced support is through a partnership with Portfolium, Inc. to give educators a new e-portfolio platform: TNPortfolio. TNPortfolio will house TEAM portfolios in 2018-19, and in the future, it will support educator micro-credentialing and Work-Based Learning Student ePortfolio systems. In supporting the TEAM student growth portfolios, the platform provides functionality that will automate and improve several processes associated with portfolio development. The improved platform will allow schools to track student work samples longitudinally across multiple years. The TEAM Portfolio element of the platform will be available for teacher use on Aug. 24. On that date, you will receive an email from portfolium.com to access the system for the first time. All portfolio scoring guides and other resources will be available on that date.

YAY! A new, better vendor. Where have we heard this before? This is coming from the same Department of Education that fired Measurement, Inc. from TNReady and hired Questar. Both of them flopped. Then, in an attempt at trickery, the DOE announced Questar was being replaced by the company that owns Questar?!?

Still, there’s hope, right? I mean, this new vendor, Portfolium, is a tried and true teacher evaluation provider ready for the task, right? Well, maybe…

Here’s a bit more about the new company taking over the portfolio process — not just for Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers, but for all teachers submitting portfolios:

SAN DIEGOJuly 26, 2018 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded the contract for its TEAM student growth portfolio, student Work-Based Learning, and educator micro-credential ePortfolio systems to Portfolium, Inc., the only Student Success Network.

Portfolium’s TNPortfolio platform, which can accommodate up to 500,000 users, will allow Tennessee teachers to demonstrate the impact of classroom instruction on student growth through the TEAM student growth portfolio, allow students to demonstrate the value of the education they’re receiving through work-based learning, and allow educators to acquire and maintain micro-credentials earned through personalized professional learning. The TEAM Portfolio element of the platform will be available for teacher use starting August 24; other elements of the platform will be available for use during the 2019-20 school year.

Note that the Portfolium press release announcing the awarding of the State of Tennessee contract came on July 26th, the same day as the state’s memo to teachers regarding this year’s portfolio scores.

Who is Portfolium?

Portfolium is a startup company designed to provide college students with a way to highlight accomplishments and work samples for future employers. Yes, you read that right: The new evaluation platform is a startup company that was founded in 2013 and just three years ago, began raising a small amount of capital to launch:

Portfolium, a Web-based social network for students preparing to start their careers, said it has closed on $1.2 million in new venture funding, bringing its total funding to $2.1 million since 2013, when the San Diego-based startup was founded.

I mean, sure, this could work out great. But let’s be cautious — this is a partnership between a Department of Education with a record of failed testing ventures and a startup company seeking to expand market share. What could go wrong?

Oh, and all that time and energy teachers spent learning how to use Educopia? Gone out the window. Time to learn a new platform and see if it works.

In fact, the DOE plans to roll out training for the new platform via webinar on August 23rd. Teachers will have login credentials for Portfolium on August 24th.

Parents, you should be aware that your child’s Pre-K/K teachers may be just a tad frustrated as the year starts — it’s probably not your kid (I mean, it might be). It’s most likely the poor treatment they are receiving at the hands of the Tennessee Department of Education.

How much longer must we tell Eric’s story before policymakers in Nashville make changes that support rather than deflate our teachers?

Have a portfolio experience you’d like to share? Email me at andy@tnedreport.com

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


 

 

 

Haslam’s TNReady Pit

Chalkbeat has a story demonstrating just how out of touch outgoing Governor Bill Haslam is. The story details Haslam’s belief that tying teacher evaluation to TNReady results is a key element in Tennessee’s recent education success.

Here’s some truth: Over the past few years, Tennessee has seen high school graduation rates and average ACT scores climb while also seeing the number of students requiring remediation at state schools decline. All of that is encouraging. All of it happened in a climate where the TNReady test was unreliable and poorly administered. In other words, Tennessee’s testing system had nothing to do with student performance. All other indicators point to teachers getting the job done and students hitting ever higher marks.

Here’s more truth:

Does basing teacher evaluation on student test scores get results that impact student outcomes?

No.

That’s the conclusion from a years-long study funded by the Gates Foundation that included Memphis/Shelby County Schools.

It’s also worth noting that while Haslam touts the “fastest-improving” NAEP results from back in 2013, further evidence suggests the results then were likely an outlier.

Here’s more from Chalkbeat:

Gov. Bill Haslam says he had a “pit” in his stomach every day of Tennessee’s testing season this spring when a parade of technical problems vexed students and teachers in the bumpy transition to computerized exams.

He also worries that three straight years of frustrations with the state’s 3-year-old standardized assessment, TNReady, could unravel policies that he believes led to students’ gains on national tests.

“Do we really want to go back? Do we really want to go back to when Tennessee was in the 40s out of the states ranked 1 to 50?”  the outgoing Republican governor asked recently in an exclusive interview with Chalkbeat.

First, no serious policymaker is suggesting Tennessee adopt weaker or lower standards for students.

Second, as noted above, other significant indicators demonstrate Tennessee students are improving — even without a reliable annual test.

Third, Haslam’s “beliefs” about policies have not been tested on a statewide level – in part due to the failure of his own Administration to execute the tests. Haslam has allowed Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen to keep her job despite multiple testing failures with different vendors. In fact, Haslam joined McQueen in touting a “new” testing vendor that turned out to actually be the parent company of the current vendor.

More from Chalkbeat:

“Hopefully Tennessee and the new administration won’t have the same struggles we’ve had this year with testing. But there will be some struggles; there just are by the very nature of it,” he said. “I worry that the struggles will cause us to say, ‘OK, we give. We’re no longer going to have an evaluation that’s tied to an assessment.’

To this, I’d note that experts suggest no state has had a more tumultuous transition to online testing than Tennessee:

“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.

In terms of an evaluation tied to an assessment, even if TNReady had gone well, the results in the initial years would not be in any way valid for use in teacher evaluation. That’s because the nature of value-added assessment requires multiple years of similar testing in order to produce results that are even vaguely reliable predictors of teacher performance. Here’s a bit more on that:

Here’s what Lockwood and McCaffrey (2007) had to say in the Journal of Educational Measurement:

We find that the variation in estimated effects resulting from the different mathematics achievement measures is large relative to variation resulting from choices about model specification, and that the variation within teachers across achievement measures is larger than the variation across teachers. These results suggest that conclusions about individual teachers’ performance based on value-added models can be sensitive to the ways in which student achievement is measured.
These findings align with similar findings by Martineau (2006) and Schmidt et al (2005)
You get different results depending on the type of question you’re measuring.

The researchers tested various VAM models (including the type used in TVAAS) and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured.

And they concluded:

Our results provide a clear example that caution is needed when interpreting estimated teacher effects because there is the potential for teacher performance to depend on the skills that are measured by the achievement tests.

If you measure different skills, you get different results. That decreases (or eliminates) the reliability of those results. TNReady is measuring different skills in a different format than TCAP. It’s BOTH a different type of test AND a test on different standards. Any value-added comparison between the two tests is statistically suspect, at best. In the first year, such a comparison is invalid and unreliable. As more years of data become available, it may be possible to make some correlation between past TCAP results and TNReady scores.

But, TNReady hasn’t gone well. At all. It’s been so bad, the Department of Education has been unveiling a bunch of pie charts to demonstrate how they are attempting to correlate test scores and teacher evaluation. First, it went like this:

Second, this chart is crazy. A teacher’s growth score is factored on tests from three different years and three types of tests.

15% of the growth score comes from the old TCAP (the test given in 2014-15, b/c the 2015-16 test had some problems). Then, 10% comes from last year’s TNReady, which was given on paper and pencil. Last year was the first year of a full administration of TNReady, and there were a few problems with the data calculation. A final 10% comes from this year’s TNReady, given online.

So, you have data from the old test, a skipped year, data from last year’s test (the first time TNReady had truly been administered), and data from this year’s messed up test.

There is no way this creates any kind of valid score related to teacher performance. At all.

After teachers expressed outrage that the DOE was going to count this year’s scores in their evaluations, the legislature finally took action and passed legislation that said teachers could face “no adverse action” based on this year’s test results.

So, now the Department of Education has more pie charts and a lot of explanations:

What is included in teacher evaluation generally?

There are many factors that go into a teacher’s overall evaluation. One of those, the individual growth component (in gray in the charts in this document), is typically based on a three-year TVAAS measure if data is available. However, for the phase-in period there are two key items to note for the growth component:

• If the current single-year year growth score – in this case, 2017-18 data – provides the educator with a higher overall composite, it will be used as the full growth score.

• Additionally, if a teacher has 2017-18 TNReady data included in any part of their evaluation, they will be able to nullify their entire LOE this year.

What is included in teacher evaluation in 2017-18 for a teacher with 3 years of TVAAS data?

There are three composite options for this teacher:

• Option 1: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 10%, TVAAS data from 2016-17 will be factored in at 10% and TVAAS data from 2015-16 will be factored in at 15% if it benefits the teacher.

• Option 2: TVAAS data from 2017-18 and 2016-17 will be factored in at 35%.

• Option 3: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 35%. The option that results in the highest LOE for the teacher will be automatically applied. Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

And if you only have one or two years of TVAAS data or if you teach in a non-tested subject? Well, the key line continues to apply: Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

What does this mean? Well, it means you’d have a year with no evaluation score. Sounds fine, right? No. It’s not fine. In order to achieve tenure, a teacher must have consecutive years of evaluation scores at Level 4 or 5. But a year with no score at all means that teacher would then need to have TWO MORE YEARS of high scores in order to be tenure eligible. While it seems unlikely a teacher would choose to nullify their entire score if they achieved a high rank, it also seems only fair to allow that teacher to simply exclude the TNReady data and receive their LOE rating based on all the other factors that go into a TEAM rating.

But wait, excluding 2017-18 TNReady data is NOT an option provided. It’s either count it as 10%, count it as 35%, or nullify your entire LOE score. Doing so could certainly have an adverse impact on a teacher.

In short, the TNReady mess has made teacher evaluation a mess. Still, a host of indicators suggest Tennessee’s teachers are hitting the mark. One might conclude that tying a suspect teacher evaluation model to an unreliable test is, in fact, not the key to educational progress in our state. Unfortunately, Governor Bill Haslam has concluded the opposite.

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

Help keep the education news coming!


 

Moving on to Memphis

One School Board candidate in Memphis has attracted significant attention and financial support from pro-privatization group TennesseeCAN. The group bills itself as a grassroots advocacy organization, though it is not clear if the work here will benefit Tennessee or Minnesota.

Chalkbeat has more on TennesseeCAN’s efforts in Memphis:

TennesseeCAN spent more than $26,000 on behalf of candidate Michelle Robinson McKissack for mailed advertisements, phone calls, and texts in late June, according to the group’s disclosure forms.

The group also sent an endorsement letter to Shante Avant and contributed $3,000 to her campaign last week, said the organization’s spokeswoman.

The story notes TennesseeCAN has long been supportive of using public money to fund private schools:

But since starting its advocacy work in the state in 2011, TennesseeCAN has been best known for supporting vouchers that would allow state money to pay for private school tuition as an option for students from low-income families. State lawmakers sought to pilot a program in Memphis, despite the fact that parents and policymakers in the city strongly opposed the measure. Vouchers could siphon off more than $18 million annually from public schools.

Both candidates supported by TennesseeCAN have said they oppose vouchers.

While the funds spent in Memphis, especially in favor of McKissack, are significant, the dollar amount pales in comparison to what was spent in the Nashville School Board races in 2016. That year, TennesseeCAN ally Stand for Children spent more than $200,000 on four School Board races in Nashville and lost all four.

With the election in Shelby County just around the corner, it will be interesting to see if the TennesseeCAN investment gets the desired result.

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


 

Tempered Enthusiasm

Following last week’s release of TNReady results, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney offered words of caution in interpreting the results.

The Williamson Herald has the story:

Looney said he was proud of how well WCS students, parents, teachers and staff responded to the testing in light of its documented flaws, and he was pleased with the fact that the district remained in the top five in every test and grade level.

“However,” he said in a statement released by WCS, “it would be disingenuous to fully celebrate without acknowledging the problems experienced by students, parents and teachers during last year’s testing process.”

While clearly frustrated with continued TNReady problems, Looney offered hope for a reliable assessment in the future:

“While I am so sorry that our students and teachers had to endure last year’s State testing experience, moving forward, we are optimistic that our students will be able to show what they know with a reliable and functional assessment. As a district, we will continue to be laser focused on success for all students.”

MORE on TNReady:

It’s all been a pack of lies

Beyond TNReady

Definitely something wrong

One glaring exception

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


 

Meaningless Scores Make Big Splash

The Tennessee Department of Education today released results from this year’s troubled administration of TNReady testing.

This Tennessean story indicates Commissioner McQueen is taking the results seriously in spite of what has become an annual inability to get the job done right:

“We see reason to be encouraged, but we also have a lot of work to do to meet our higher expectations for all students,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement. “While we’ve focused extensively on early grades reading and are starting to see a shift in the right direction, we know middle school remains a statewide challenge across the board. TNReady serves as a vital feedback loop for teachers, parents, and administrators to tell us where we are, and the results inform what steps we need to take to help all students and schools succeed.”

Umm…what?? Are you even serious, Candice? THE TESTS DIDN’T WORK! Also, you were caught lying time and again about WHY they didn’t work.

The legislature passed legislation at the end of session, during testing to account for the failure of TNReady.

This isn’t even the first year the tests didn’t work. It happens EVERY year.

Here’s the deal: These scores can’t credibly be used to tell us ANYTHING. Students in schools all across the state faced disruptions caused by dump trucks and hacking (also known as the ineptitude of DOE leadership). Some kids got the wrong test and the extent of that problem is not totally known.

Note to district leaders: If you use these results to say your district or a given school are “doing well,” you have ZERO credibility. Treating these results as anything other than the complete trash that they are is unacceptable.

Some districts have already begun pushing for change in either how TNReady happens next year or even a totally different type of test.

Oh, and note that the DOE makes it sound like they are making improvements:

The Tennessee Department of Education also announced changes after this year’s problems, including searching for a new vendor. It also adjusted how fast it will phase-in online testing.

That sounds great, but the truth is, the DOE and Governor Haslam are treating Tennesseans like we’re stupid:

Let’s get this straight: Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen think no one in Tennessee understands Google? They are “firing” the company that messed up this year’s testing and hiring a new company that owns the old one and that also has a reputation for messing up statewide testing.

So, we had a testing season full of lies, deception, disruption, and mixed-up tests but we’re supposed to look at the “results” of those tests and take them seriously? No thanks.

 

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

Help keep the education news coming!


 

CLC Announces MNPS Endorsements

Nashville’s Central Labor Council has announced endorsements in the upcoming School Board races in Nashville. Here’s their announcement:

We are proud to announce that the delegates at last week’s Central Labor Council meeting voted to endorse Metro Nashville and Davidson County School Board candidates Thomas “TC” Weber of District 2, Tyese Hunter of District 6, and Gini Pupo Walker of District 8. Candidates submitted questionnaires pertaining to their commitment to students, workers, and support staff as well as met with local union delegates to discuss the candidate’s awareness and concern regarding our affiliates’ pressing issues. CLC is confident these school board candidates, once elected, will fulfill their commitment to prioritize the needs and well-being of Nashville students, workers, and the greater community.

Election day is August 2nd. Early voting runs July 13 – 28.

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


 

Mike’s Misnomer

State Representative Mike Sparks feels like Tennessee teachers are adequately paid. In fact, he’s so sure of this fact, he wants a website to demonstrate the generous pay teachers in our state receive.

Michelle Willard in the Murfreesboro Voice has more:

“It seems like there’s a misnomer out there that teachers are very low paid,” Sparks said at the State House Education and Planning Subcommittee

Sparks was promoting a bill to require teacher salaries to be posted online.

Here’s the thing: Districts already post pay scales online.

Also, the state sets minimum pay standards — and they are, in fact, pretty low. The current state pay scale indicates a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience must earn a starting salary of at least $33,745. Put in 10 years and your minimum jumps up to $40,595. And, that’s it! If you have a bachelor’s degree and 10 or more years of experience, your district is not required to pay you anymore than just over $40,000.

Now, most districts offer pay that exceeds the state minimum. In some cases, though, it’s not by much. Further, the state’s BEP Review Committee (the group that studies and reports on the school funding formula) notes a pretty steady gap of around 40% between the highest and lowest paying districts in the state.

When that gap hit 45% percent back in the early 2000s, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that school funding in our state was unconstitutional because it was not substantially equal across districts.

Sparks is also apparently not concerned that Tennessee teachers earn about 30% less than comparably educated professionals. He would do well to take some time and understand the deeper issues in our state’s funding formula — namely, that it’s not exactly adequate and that it continues to foster inequality across districts.

Instead of seeking solutions, Sparks wants to let Tennesseans in on the secret of just how much teachers are paid. Those of us actually paying attention already know – it’s not nearly enough and it’s not getting better.

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


 

Growth, Change, and Education Politics

Tennessee State University Professor and Williamson County resident Ken Chilton offers his thoughts on the changing demographic landscape of Williamson County and the implications for politics and public education there.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city of Franklin was the eighth fastest growing small town in the United States between July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017. That’s both exciting and scary. How will we pay for the schools? What about the congestion? How will we finance and manage all this growth? This is nothing new. Think of Levittown or the suburb you grew up in. Things change. Cities grow. Infrastructure gets built.

The growth of Franklin is dwarfed in number by the growth of Williamson County. The population of Williamson County grew by about 31,383 residents between 2010 and 2016. In 2016 alone, roughly 9,500 new residents moved to Williamson County from out-of-state or abroad.

Who are these new residents? Overall, 85.6 percent of Williamson County residents are classified as non-Hispanic white. In fact, between 2010 and 2016 the non-Hispanic white population grew by 24,000. Many of them have relocated to the Nashville region for employment and they chose Williamson County because of the public schools.

During that same time, the number classified as Asian grew from 4,432 to 7,752—a 75 percent increase in just 6 years. Likewise, the Hispanic population grew from 7,338 to 9,513. The African American population increased from 7,416 to 8,698, but its share of the population dropped from 4.3% in 2010 to 4.2% in 2016.

I believe Williamson County leaders and residents will figure out the growth puzzle. The bigger challenge is the ongoing demographic shifts and the future battles associated with rapid cultural change.

The Politics of Cultural Change

During the May primaries, some candidates appealed to traditional Williamson County values to garner votes. Such calls to nostalgia are often nothing more than dog whistles to a more racially homogeneous time. Regardless, there seems to be a growing resentment of newcomers. The new residents are accused of ruining the small town vibe, and presumably, bringing their non-Williamson County values.

Perhaps the opposition is not appealing to our basest instincts. Maybe it’s simply a matter of scale—we’ve reached a tipping point where the marginal costs of additional growth outweigh the marginal benefits of continued growth.

Invoking the “costs of growth” to rail against changes occurring in Williamson County is politically acceptable. However, do those who vocally oppose growth support policies typically associated with controlling growth?

Smarter growth means support for affordable housing. It means support for denser developments. It means support for impact fees. And, it means limiting the property rights of landowners who want to sell their properties to developers.

Most of the anti-government types in Williamson County resist all or most smart growth measures as big government interference in the private market.

Given this disconnect, I fear that some of the opposition to newcomers is rooted in “otherness.”

The changes are visibly evident. Go to Crockett Park on a Saturday morning and you will see plenty of racial diversity in YMCA sports leagues. My son’s YMCA tennis classes are racially diverse. A casual ride through Cool Springs reveals an increase in the number of Indian and other ethnic restaurants.

Many of the new residents are, first and foremost, parents seeking to maximize their children’s success. They might be Republicans, Democrats, or Independents in political affiliation, but their primary concern is maintaining and improving the quality of public schools. Some have moved here from high tax districts and they are fully supportive of efforts to increase public school revenues.

A quick glance at the age composition of Williamson County by racial group is instructive. Roughly 42.5% of the white population is aged 45 and older compared to 39.3% for African Americans, 21.1% for Hispanics, and 26.5% for Asians. The graying of Williamson County is most pronounced in the white community. In most cases, those over the age of 45 have less of a vested interest in the school system. Many no longer have children in the school system. Consequently, increasing property taxes to increase school revenues is a harder sell.

Age White Black Hispanic Asian
<18 26.9 27.4 38.9 31.6
18-44 30.6 33.2 39.9 41.8
45-64 30 28.2 19.1 21.5
65+ 12.5 11.1 2.0 5.1

 

Sharing Power & Resources

Williamson County must reconcile the concerns of an aging, mostly white, political elite that has called the shots in Williamson County for the past 30 years with the different preferences of new Williamson County residents. The May primary results are an example of how new voices are shaping local politics.

If opposition to growth is justified on the grounds that urban values are supplanting rural values, that’s xenophobia. No group has a monopoly on place. Neighborhoods transform. New residents bring fresh ideas to the public sphere. My property did not come with a deed restriction requiring me to support the political status quo.

Growth will continue to happen. You can either manage it or drown in it. You can either resent the newcomers or tear down walls and welcome them. The future is unwritten.

 

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