The Verdict on Vouchers

As the Tennessee General Assembly considers vouchers as part of the education agenda this year, it is important to look at the evidence. That is, do vouchers work? Do voucher programs lead to improved student outcomes. Until now, most research has been mixed, with some suggesting modest gains for students, while some studies showed no significant improvement. These studies focused on older, typically smaller programs.

Now, however, there is data on some statewide voucher efforts. That data suggests, quite strongly, that vouchers don’t work. In fact, the studies indicate vouchers actually cause student achievement to decline.

Kevin Carey writes in the New York Times:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

Voucher studies of statewide programs in Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana all suggest that not only do vouchers not improve student achievement, they in fact cause student performance to decline.

Some state policymakers (State Rep. Bill Dunn, State Senator Brian Kelsey, Governor Bill Haslam) are asking taxpayers to invest in a voucher scheme. These advocates suggest that a voucher program can provide a path to better outcomes for students. However, the results of statewide programs in three different studies indicate just the opposite: Vouchers offer a path to dismal achievement.

Tennessee lawmakers should take a look at the evidence. Vouchers just don’t work. In fact, they harm the very students voucher advocates claim to want to help. Instead of funding voucher schemes we know don’t get results, the state should focus on funding existing programs that will enhance education for all students.

MORE on vouchers:

Vouchers the wrong choice for Tennessee

What Tennessee Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

Fitzhugh on Vouchers

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


 

Farmer Takes on Vouchers

Anne-Marie Farmer, writing over at the League of Women Voters blog, takes on the perennial issue of vouchers. Here’s some of what she has to say:

No matter what initial limitations are placed on a voucher scheme, no matter how much it is couched in flowery language about opportunity and scholarship, the bottom line remains the same. Vouchers have been proven time and time again to be a failure at raising student achievement, and to reduce the resources available to our public schools that serve the most vulnerable children. Vouchers shift scarce public money away from school systems that are required and committed to serve every child to private schools that retain the right to pick and choose which students they prefer to educate. They represent an abandonment of public education and of the ideal that school should be open to all children.

READ MORE about why the LWV opposes vouchers.

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


 

 

McQueen’s Non-Response to Intervention

State Representative Joe Pitts of Clarksville has filed a bill (HB501) that would require the state to include funding for three Response to Intervention and Instruction positions for each public school in the BEP formula.

The idea is a sensible one. The state has mandated RTI2 without funding for years now, with a devastating impact on both budgets and services offered. Districts can use the “flexibility” offered by the state to choose which students get services and also use state instructional funds to pay for new RTI teachers, often meaning existing teachers receive smaller salary increases, if any are received at all.

The RTI staffing shortfall is a perfect example of why the BEP formula is inadequate. In fact, the formula is some $400 million short of what current staffing levels suggest is needed.

So, of course, in a year with a nearly $1 billion budget surplus, the state is moving to address the RTI issue as Pitts has suggested, right? Wrong!

Asked in a House education committee hearing today about new funds for RTI, Commissioner Candice McQueen said “not this year.” She did mention that she considered the Read to be Ready initiative (which receives $4.5 million in new funding this year) to be a part of RTI. Other than that, though, there’s no planned money to fund an ongoing, unfunded state mandate.

Here’s the thing: The bill sponsored by Pitts creates three new BEP-funded positions for each public school in the state. The cost of that as a portion of the BEP instructional component is $167 million. The state pays 70% of $44,000 for each instructional position funded through the BEP.

If Pitts’ legislation were adopted, districts would receive a dedicated funding stream for RTI positions. This would allow them to use their base instructional funding to improve the salaries of their existing teachers.

The additional funds would also allow for a more robust implementation of RTI. Districts may be able to expand the number of students receiving services or at least, provide better RTI service to the students in the program.

The Comptroller has identified a funding shortfall in our state’s schools. The issue is related to staffing ratios and state funding. Joe Pitts has a solution that would help address this concern. That solution would cost about 17 percent of the total current budget surplus. Yes, it’s an ongoing commitment, but it’s an expense recent budget cycles indicate our state can absorb.

We have a clearly identified problem. We have a simple, relatively affordable solution. And we have a Commissioner of Education who says, “not this year.”

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


 

Hoyt Chosen to Lead Community School Alliance

TREE co-founder Lyn Hoyt has been chosen to lead a new group focused on community schools.

From a press release:

The National Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) announces a new state alliance coordinator advocating for community schools in Tennessee. Lyn Hoyt, co-founder of TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence) will lead Tennessee AROS to strengthen public school advocacy by recruiting alliance members that will support schools and districts committed to the creation of transformational community schools.

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. It is a “stakeholder model” created by the school and the community. Some of the student needs might include improved health with a donated dental visit, access to enrichment, tutoring or even access to food and clean clothes. Public and private partnerships shape these services.

“I will be advocating and educating about how a ‘transformational’ community school model works to help address academic and opportunity disparities. I will also help schools explore how a community school model might meet the needs of their children,” Hoyt said. “We are ready to work closely with organizations like the PTA, TREE, and TEA to shape an alliance that can partner with parents, teachers, and community members. We already have community school efforts going on in Tennessee and we want to support and grow those efforts.”

“I am excited to see Lyn bring her perspective as a Tennessee native, public school graduate, public school parent, and former PTO president to Tennessee AROS.,” says Inez Williams with the Tennessee PTA. “It all connects. Tennessee PTA believes strongly in the important role parents and community members play in student achievement. The community schools model provides an opportunity for all stakeholders in a community to truly be a part of their local schools’ success.”

Lyn also brings a perspective from her volunteer role as president of TREE: Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, a grassroots band of parents, teachers and public school advocates committed to growing child-centered education.

“This opportunity with TennAROS really allows me to pursue a meaningful role in helping communities connect their good works, their non-profits, their churches, those who want to give their time and talent to help public schools thrive.”

For now, Hoyt will also continue her role with TREE.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) is an unprecedented alliance of parent, youth, community, and labor organizations that together represent over 7 million people nationwide. We are fighting to reclaim the promise of public education as our nation’s gateway to a strong democracy.

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


 

Polling: Tennesseans Oppose Vouchers

As I mentioned last week, the issue of school vouchers will again be a hot topic at the Tennessee General Assembly. Today, the Tennessee Education Association is out with polling suggesting Tennessee residents oppose vouchers.

Here’s the press release:

Tennesseans strongly reject private school vouchers, according to the largest and most comprehensive polling data on the subject. TEA extensively surveyed rural, urban and suburban voters in all three Grand Divisions of the state, with an oversample of highly-likely Republican primary voters. The polls were conducted May through October of 2016.

Of the 6,510 respondents, 59.5 percent rejected private school vouchers, 29 percent approved. The two-to-one negative opinion was consistent across geographic and demographic groups. The polling margin of error is +/- 4 percent.

“I’ve rarely seen such a strong negative opinion. It is clear Tennesseans do not like or want school vouchers,” said Jim Wrye, TEA Government Relations manager. “We are a conservative state that values our local traditions and institutions. Vouchers are a radical idea that attack and weaken the foundation of our communities — our public schools.”

During the 2016 primary and general elections, TEA conducted numerous polls in districts to help defend legislators from attacks by pro-voucher groups and determine where new attacks could happen. Polling was conducted by a respected Republican firm used by Tennessee GOP entities and candidates.

While TEA’s polling asked basic national and local “horse-race” questions and demographic information, the polling also asked a voucher question about using taxpayer funds for private school tuition. The simple and accurate question was asked in every poll commissioned by TEA and now provides the best voter opinion data on vouchers.

“It was important to keep the question simple, and to stay away from leading or flowery language seen in other polling and surveys,” said Wrye. “Vouchers use public school funding for private school tuition. It was important to ask voters in the most simple and accurate way whether they support such a thing. Overwhelmingly, they do not.”

Rejection of vouchers was remarkably consistent across the state. Rural voters tended to be more against vouchers (64.17 percent no, 24.54 percent yes; 2,995 voters) than urban and suburban (54.01 percent no, 34.43 percent yes; 3,536 voters). No area or legislative district saw vouchers receive more support than opposition.

“I strongly encourage any legislator to vote their district and listen to folks back home. There are a lot of special interest lobbyists and money floating around the capitol, pushing things that are not of Tennessee’s great traditions and values,” said Wrye. “No matter the special interest threats or demands, you can be sure voting with your folks back home is always good politics.”

When it comes to vouchers, it is not what voters want in any district.

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


 

2017 Education Issues Outlook

The 2017 session of the Tennessee General Assembly is underway and as always, education is a hot issue on the Hill. The bill filing deadline was yesterday and some familiar issues are back again. Namely, vouchers.

While the voucher fight may be the biggest education showdown this session, issues ranging from the scope of the state’s Achievement School District to a “Teacher Bill of Rights” and of course, funding, will also be debated.

Here’s a rundown of the big issues for this session:

Vouchers

Senator Brian Kelsey of Shelby County is pushing a voucher plan that is essentially a pilot program that would apply to Shelby County only. Voucher advocates have failed to gain passage of a plan with statewide application over the past four legislative sessions. The idea behind this plan seems to be to limit it to Shelby County in order to mitigate opposition from lawmakers who fear a voucher scheme may negatively impact school systems in their own districts.

In addition to Kelsey’s limited plan, Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville is back with the “traditional” voucher bill he’s run year after year. This plan has essentially the same requirements as Kelsey’s plan, but would be available to students across the state. It’s not clear which of these two plans has the best chance of passage. I suspect both will be set in motion, and as time wears on, one will emerge as most likely to be adopted. Voucher advocates are likely emboldened by the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Of course, Tennessee already has one type of voucher. The legislature adopted an Individual Education Account voucher program designed for students with special needs back in 2015. That proposal goes into effect this year. Chalkbeat reported that only 130 families applied. That’s pretty low, considering some 20,000 students meet the eligibility requirements.

Achievement School District

Two years ago, I wrote about how the ASD’s mission creep was hampering any potential effectiveness it might have. Now, it seems that even the ASD’s leadership agrees that pulling back and refocusing is necessary. Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat reports:

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would stop the Achievement School District from starting new charter schools, rather than just overhauling existing schools that are struggling.

Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville filed the bill last week at the request of the State Department of Education. In addition to curbing new starts, the legislation proposes changing the rules so that the ASD no longer can take over struggling schools unilaterally. Instead, the state would give local districts time and resources to turn around their lowest-performing schools.

Tatter notes that the Tennessee Department of Education and the ASD’s leadership support the bill. This is likely welcome news for those who have raised concerns over the ASD’s performance and approach.

Teacher Bill of Rights

Senator Mark Green of Clarksville has introduced what he’s calling a “Teacher Bill of Rights.” The bill outlines what Green sees as some basic protections for teachers. If adopted, his proposal would have the effect of changing the way the state evaluates teachers. Among the rights enumerated in SB 14 is the right to “be evaluated by a professional with the same subject matter expertise,” and the right to “be evaluated based only on students a teacher has taught.”

While both of these may seem like common sense, they are not current practice in Tennessee’s public schools. Many teachers are evaluated by building leaders and others who lack subject matter expertise. Further, teachers who do not generate their own student growth scores (those who don’t teach in tested subjects) are evaluated in part on school-wide scores or other metrics of student performance — meaning they receive an evaluation score based in part on students they’ve never taught.

Green’s Teacher Bill of Rights will almost certainly face opposition from the Department of Education.

Funding

green-dollar-sign-clipart-green-dollar-sign-4

Governor Bill Haslam is proposing spending over $200 million in new money on schools. Around $60 million of that is for BEP growth. $100 million will provide districts with funds for teacher compensation. And, there’s $22 million for English Language Learners as well as $15 million for Career and Technical Education.

These are all good things and important investments for our schools. In fact, the BEP Review Committee — the state body tasked with reviewing school funding and evaluating the formula’s effectiveness, identified teacher pay and funds for English Language Learners as top priorities.

Here’s the full list of priorities identified by the BEP Review Committee for this year:

1. Sustained commitment to teacher compensation

2. English Language Learner funding (to bring ratios closer to the level called for in the BEP Enhancement Act of 2016)

3. Funding the number of guidance counselors at a level closer to national best practices

4. Funding Response to Instruction and Intervention positions

5. Sustained technology funding

Haslam’s budget proposal makes an effort to address 1 and 2. However, there’s no additional money to improve the guidance counselor ratio, no funds for the unfunded mandate of RTI and no additional money for technology.

Oh, and then there’s the persistent under-funding of schools as a result of a BEP formula that no longer works. In fact, the Comptroller’s Office says we are under-funding schools by at least $400 million. Haslam’s budget does not address the funding ratios that create this inadequacy.

Then, of course, improving the ratios does nothing on its own to achieve a long-standing BEP Review Committee goal: Providing districts with teacher compensation that more closely matches the actual cost of hiring a teacher. The projected cost of this, according to the 2014 BEP Review Committee Report, is around $500 million.

The good news is we have the money available to begin addressing the ratio deficit. The General Assembly could redirect some of our state’s surplus dollars toward improving the BEP ratios and start eating into that $400 million deficit. Doing so would return money to the taxpayers by way of investment in their local schools. It would also help County Commissions avoid raising property taxes.

Stay tuned as the bills start moving next week and beyond. It’s expected this session could last into May, and education will be a flash point throughout over these next few months.

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


 

Corker Statement on DeVos

Despite an outpouring of opposition from parents, teachers, and others across the state, Senator Bob Corker has indicated he will support Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Here’s his statement:

“For decades, Betsy DeVos has passionately and effectively advocated for all children – regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status – to have access to a quality education,” Corker said in a statement released by his office.

“She believes in empowering parents and has committed to working with states and local school districts. I have known Betsy for many years and am confident that she will do a great job as secretary of education.”

Corker’s statement comes as DeVos’s nomination appears to be in peril, with 50 Senators indicating that will vote against her.

More on DeVos

Tennessee PTA Opposes DeVos

Knox County parents, teachers speak out on DeVos

A Letter of Reservation

A Voucher Vulture at the DOE

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


 

Knox County Approves Resolution Opposing A-F School Grading System

The Knox County School Board tonight approved a resolution urging the state to overturn the A-F school grading system set to go into effect this year.

Knox County joins a growing resistance to the model being proposed by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Here’s the resolution the Knox County School Board adopted:

 

WHEREAS, the Knox County Board of Education is responsible for providing a local system of public education; and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee, by March 2016 legislative approval and signature of Governor Bill Haslam of House Bill 155 and Senate Bill 300, has directed the Tennessee Department of Education to develop a grading system for assigning letter grades A through F on the state report cards for Tennessee schools, implementation of which will begin with the 2017-18 school year; and

WHEREAS, after operating under federally-mandated No Child Left Behind guidelines, Tennessee received a waiver of NCLB standards and adopted Race To The Top guidelines, which were subsequently replaced by the new federally-mandated Every Student Succeeds Act in an effort to close achievement gaps for economically disadvantaged students; and

WHEREAS, a rating system utilizing A through F grades for schools, and districts creates a false impression about students, ignores the unique strengths of each school, and unfairly reduces each student’s worth to the school’s assigned grade; and

WHEREAS, at least 16 states have implemented a similar rating system utilizing A through F grades for schools and districts and, to date, there is no definitive research that suggests these ratings have improved student or school performance; and

WHEREAS, the 2016-17 school year is already set to be a transition year for the Tennessee Department of Education to seek input for developing an accountability system for federally mandated ESSA requirements, it is now additionally tasked with developing a letter grading system at the same time;

WHEREAS, we embrace meaningful accountability that informs students, parents, and teachers about the learning needs of each student and each school; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE KNOX COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION AS FOLLOWS: The Knox County Board of Education hereby urges the Tennessee General Assembly to repeal legislation reducing schools to a single letter grade designation and, instead, in the best interest of students and schools, allow schools to publish multiple measures alongside any summative designation, as outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act Final Regulations, which were not available at the time this legislation was passed. (ESSA, Final Regulations, pg. 101).

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this new system should reduce the use of high-stakes, standardized tests, encompass multiple assessments, reflect greater validity, and, more accurately reflect what students know and can do in terms of the rigorous standards.

 

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


 

 

Tennessee PTA Opposes DeVos

The Tennessee PTA released a statement today expressing opposition to Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. The statement comes ahead of a scheduled Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) vote on DeVos’s confirmation.

Here is the statement:

Tennessee PTA is the oldest all-volunteer child advocacy association in Tennessee. As an association, Tennessee PTA annually presents legislative priorities, position statements, and resolutions identifying advocacy positions. Here are a few of our positions that are threatened by the nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education:

·         Tennessee PTA supports public education – The foundation of our American society is to provide free public education so that every child may achieve their dreams. We need a strong leader in the U.S. Department of Education that has experience in the public school system and is aware of the concerns of parents, teachers, and students within the system.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers does not feel Ms. DeVos has the needed awareness for public education. We support the availability of education for all children.

·         Tennessee PTA supports higher education as priority in the State – The ‘Drive for 55’ highlights the gap between high school and post-secondary education within the state. It was the use of federal funding that started the reforming of public education in Tennessee and the improvements in student access to information. Obtaining a higher education often requires an awareness of grants, scholarships, loans.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers stresses the importance of post-secondary education to our students.  We do not feel Ms. DeVos has the needed preparation to take over higher education opportunities.

·         Tennessee PTA has long supported our exceptional children –  The Individual with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and 504 plans are well established federal laws that have assisted parents and schools to partner on educating exceptional children. Ms. DeVos’s response about IDEA and the lack of understanding of a federal law within disability education runs counter to Tennessee PTA’s long standing commitment in this area.

·         Tennessee PTA each year stands against vouchers – Parents should be empowered with real choices, if the integrity of public schools remains intact. We acknowledge charter schools as one avenue to school reform and support them when designed in accordance with the National PTA’s resolutions and position statements. We oppose diverting public funds to private and parochial schools through vouchers or similar efforts such as school choice.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers believes that all schools receiving public funds should be held accountable to the same standards and requirements. We do not feel that Ms. DeVos shares these same beliefs.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers opposes the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Please take our concerns into consideration and make the best choice for the children of the United States and for their education.

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


 

Knox County to Consider Resolution on A-F School Report Card

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports that the Knox County School Board will consider a resolution in opposition to the state’s proposed A-F school report card. The A-F grading system has come under fire from educators and district leaders across the state.

The newspaper reports that Knox County’s Interim Director of Schools, Buzz Thomas, sent a letter to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen outlining his concerns:

“Branding a school with a single grade, on the other hand, could be both misleading and demoralizing,” Thomas wrote. “I can only imagine how it’s going to play in the African-American community when we place an F on several of their beloved, neighborhood schools.

“Yes, we need to be accountable. But a failing grade here is really a failing grade of the community – not the school. High poverty and high crime ravage people, and the schools those people attend will reflect those community realities.”

A vote on the resolution, sponsored by Board Vice Chair Amber Rountree, is expected to come this week.

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