Despite Concerns, Knox Board Passes Budget

I noted yesterday that KCEA President Lauren Hopson had concerns with the proposed Knox County Schools budget for 2017-18. It turns out, she was not alone. Despite concerns being raised, the budget won approval from the Board with an 8-1 vote.

Here’s how the Knoxville News Sentinel reported it:

…the move didn’t come without frustrations from a majority of members who criticized staffing cuts, the elimination of assistive technology staff and teacher raises that were deemed too low. But beyond the line-item changes, the board was nearly unanimous in its irritation over a complicated budget document that wasn’t posted publicly until five days before the meeting.

According to new Superintendent Bob Thomas, just one week into the job, some of those concerns could be addressed later in the process. For now, the Board’s budget moves on to the countywide budgeting process.

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


 

KCEA President Questions Budget

Knox County Education Association President Lauren Hopson is questioning a proposed 2017-18 budget that she says doesn’t live up to promises made.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

The president of the local teacher’s union on Monday criticized Knox County School’s proposed budget for offering teacher raises below the-agreed-upon goal of 4 percent despite an estimated $18 million revenue increase.

Hopson said of the framing of the budget decision:

“The choice should never be between a raise for certified staff and a raise for classified staff,” said Lauren Hopson, head of the Knox County Education Association. “Knox County Schools needs to prioritize their budget so that the memorandum of understanding (with the union) can be honored and our classified staff can be given a raise to show that they are an invaluable part of our school system as well.”

The budget issue will be before the Knox County School Board for a vote tonight, and Hopson plans to bring her concerns directly to the board.

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


 

Vouchers: A Warning from Arizona

Arizona just expanded its voucher program so that every child in the state will be eligible for a voucher.

This is worth noting as Tennessee continues to debate adopting a voucher “pilot program” this year. We’re told by voucher advocates this will be limited to Shelby County and won’t expand unless is “works.”

The evidence in states like Indiana and now Arizona, however, suggests that once voucher programs get started, they don’t stop. Instead, they grow and comprise more and more of a state’s education budget. Indiana’s voucher program grew from 7500 students to more than 30,000 in just five years and now costs the state $131 million.

Derek Black describes the Arizona situation this way:

 If one understands the facts, one understands that this voucher program is not about helping kids in Arizona “win.”  It is about raw politics and continuing the longstanding trend of depriving public schools of the resources they need to succeed.  If parents in Arizona want vouchers (or charters), it is not because those policies are normatively appealing.  It is because the state has been robbing them of the public education they deserve.  Many families now surely believe they have no other realistic option.  In short, the state has created the factual predicate of failing public schools to create the justification for its own pet project of privatizing education.

And here’s what’s going on in Indiana:

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.

Vouchers don’t work. And those small programs quickly grow out of control — costing taxpayers more money and yielding disappointing results.

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


 

That’s Not What You Said Last Week

Earlier this legislative session, voucher bill sponsor Brian Kelsey said TNReady was a “disaster” and he wouldn’t want to force it on private schools accepting public funds by way of vouchers.

Then, last week, he changed his tune.

Here’s how Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat reported it:

Sen. Brian Kelsey, the architect of Tennessee’s voucher bill, said he would prefer requiring students who use vouchers to take nationally normed tests, like they do in Florida and several other states with voucher programs.

But he said he understands why policymakers want to make “apple to apple” comparisons between public schools and private schools accepting government dollars. “If that gives policymakers greater comfort to vote for the bill, then I am all for that,” said the Germantown Republican.

And, with Kelsey’s blessing, the bill was amended in the House Government Operations Committee last week to include a requirement that students receiving vouchers take the TNReady test. Yes, the one Kelsey called a disaster.

Exactly one week later, this happened:

The panel voted narrowly to amend the bill so that voucher participants could take tests in their private schools that are different from what their counterparts take in public schools. But lawmakers stopped short of sending the amended bill to their finance committee after Rep. Mike Stewart, who opposes vouchers, moved to adjourn.

So, is TNReady a disaster, but one that’s worth risking in order for private schools to get public money? Or, should private schools choose their own tests?

Here’s what we do know: In states like Indiana and Louisiana, students receiving vouchers must take state tests. The results in those states paint a picture of vouchers as an education reform that not only doesn’t help kids, but also pushes them further behind. Yes, students in Indiana and Louisiana who received vouchers actually lost ground academically when they went to private schools.

For now, voucher legislation in Tennessee is stalled in the House Government Operations Committee. The Senate version is sitting in the Finance Committee there, still not scheduled for a vote.

To test or not to test? That seems to be the core question and the final answer may determine whether a voucher bill passes this session.

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


 

DeBerry’s Dollars

Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis is one of the most ardent supporters of school vouchers in the General Assembly. Voucher proponents (mostly Republicans) like to use DeBerry to show “bipartisan” support for their plan.

Here’s the deal: DeBerry may well be a “true believer” in vouchers. He often bashes public schools and their teachers in speeches in legislative committees. But, he’s also a top recipient of dollars from pro-voucher groups.

Here’s some information on the funds spent in support of DeBerry by various groups backing vouchers:

DeBerry Vouchers PIC

 

Students First (now Tennessee CAN) has spent over $100,000 keeping DeBerry in office. Betsy Devos‘s American Federation for Children has spent nearly $100,000.

It’s expensive to keep John DeBerry on your side.

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


 

It May Be Ready, But is it Valid?

In today’s edition of Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Educator Update, she talks about pending legislation addressing teacher evaluation and TNReady.

Here’s what McQueen has to say about the issue:

As we continue to support students and educators in the transition to TNReady, the department has proposed legislation (HB 309) that lessens the impact of state test results on students’ grades and teachers’ evaluations this year.

In 2015, the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act created a phase-in of TNReady in evaluation to acknowledge the state’s move to a new assessment that is fully aligned to Tennessee state standards with new types of test questions. Under the current law, TNReady data would be weighted at 20 percent for the 2016-17 year.

However, in the spirit of the original bill, the department’s new legislation resets the phase-in of growth scores from TNReady assessments as was originally proposed in the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act. Additionally, moving forward, the most recent year’s growth score will be used for a teacher’s entire growth component if such use results in a higher evaluation score for the teacher.

We will update you as this bill moves through the legislative process, and if signed into law, we will share detailed guidance that includes the specific options available for educators this year. As we announced last year, if a teacher’s 2015-16 individual growth data ever negatively impacts his or her overall evaluation, it will be excluded. Additionally, as noted above, teachers will be able to use 2016-17 growth data as 35 percent of their evaluation if it results in a higher overall level of effectiveness.

And here’s a handy graphic that describes the change:

TNReady Graphic

 

 

Of course, there’s a problem with all of this: There’s not going to be valid data to use for TVAAS. Not this year. It’s bad enough that the state is transitioning from one type of test to another. That alone would call into question the validity of any comparison used to generate a value-added score. Now, there’s a gap in the data. As you might recall, there wasn’t a complete TNReady test last year. So, to generate a TVAAS score, the state will have to compare 2014-15 data from the old TCAP tests to 2016-17 data from what we hope is a sound administration of TNReady.

We really need at least three years of data from the new test to make anything approaching a valid comparison. Or, we should start over building a data-set with this year as the baseline. Better yet, we could go the way of Hawaii and Oklahoma and just scrap the use of value-added scores altogether.

Even in the best of scenarios — a smooth transition from TCAP to TNReady — data validity was going to be challenge.

As I noted when the issue of testing transition first came up:

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.

So, we’re transitioning from TCAP to TNReady AND we have a gap in years of data. That’s especially problematic — but, not problematic enough to keep the Department of Education from plowing ahead (and patting themselves on the back) with a scheme that validates a result sure to be invalid.

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


 

Pinkston: Charter Industry Unraveling

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston argues in today’s Tennessean that Nashville’s charter school industry is unraveling.

To make his case, he cites a federal class action lawsuit against RePublic charter schools, a state finding that Rocketship isn’t following the law when it comes to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, and a significant financial deficit at LEAD Public Schools.

Of Rocketship, Pinkston notes:

Despite failing to serve its current students, Rocketship routinely makes end-runs around the local school board to seek state approval of more charters. That’s because Rocketship’s growth isn’t driven by what’s best for kids but rather by its real-estate deals with Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, a for-profit investment fund co-managed by tennis star Andre Agassi.

Taken together, Pinkston says, the problems faced by these three charter operators show an industry not living up to its hype.

Add to that the expense of charters, and Pinkston says we should exercise caution. He previously noted based on the findings of an audit of MNPS:

Briefly: The new audit acknowledges that unabated growth of charter schools does, in fact, have a fiscal impact on existing MNPS schools. The operative language in the audit relative to charter fiscal impact can be found on Page 3-16, which states: “The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

While some call it a distraction, the charter debate is alive and well in MNPS.

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


 

That’s NOT a PAC

Melanie Balakit of the Tennessean reports that an Administrative Law Judge has ruled that Williamson Strong was not a political action committee (PAC) in the 2014 election cycle:

Williamson Strong was not a political action committee in a past school board election, according to an order released Thursday from an administrative law judge.

The order, written by Michael Begley, dissolves a fine that Williamson Strong had for failure to register as a PAC during a 2014 school board election.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance issued a $5000 fine, later reduced to $2,500, to Williamson Strong in 2015.

Williamson Strong posted this response on their Facebook page:

A former school board member filed a campaign finance against Williamson Strong in December 2014. 28 months later, we have been vindicated!

We’re still digesting the 19-page order from the Administrative Law Judge, but you can read it along with us.

“After consideration of this entire record in this matter, it is determined that the Respondents did not constitute a political campaign committee with respect to the 2014 election. It is therefore ORDERED that the Registry’s charges against the respondents are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.”

The order from the ALJ indicates the Registry failed to meet the burden of establishing Williamson Strong constituted a PAC for three reasons: The “express advocacy” standard, the functional equivalency test, and the media exception.

To summarize, the judge found that Williamson Strong did not engage in any “express advocacy” — they didn’t encourage the public to vote for or against any specific candidate or candidates. The judge also found that Williamson Strong did not act as the “functional equivalent” of a PAC. Finally, the judge found that Williamson Strong’s activity may have fallen under the “media exception.” That is, Williamson Strong was providing information to the public via a website and Facebook page just as a media outlet may do during an election cycle.

This order becomes final unless the Registry appeals within 15 days.

The ruling in this case is clear: Williamson Strong is not a PAC and certainly was NOT a PAC in 2014, despite claims by Susan Curlee and others to the contrary.

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


 

Vouchers: The Ultimate Non-Solution

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen expressed frustration recently at years of ineffective education reform efforts. Specifically, she said:

“We can’t keep throwing $10 million, $11 million, $12 million, $15 million at solutions that are not solutions,” she told legislators on House education committees.

McQueen was lamenting the lack of progress made in school turnaround efforts and pointing lawmakers toward proven solutions. In fact, she noted the state’s ESSA plan focuses on strategies that have gotten results:

While McQueen didn’t single out specific turnaround initiatives, she stressed that Tennessee needs to focus on what has worked — specifically, at 10 schools that have been moved off the state’s priority list so far and have undergone case studies. McQueen named common themes: strong school leaders, quality instruction, and community and wraparound supports, such as mental health care services.

Candice McQueen is frustrated, and rightly so. As a result, her Department of Education is using ESSA to focus Tennessee’s school improvement efforts and even rein-in the Achievement School District (ASD).

What’s interesting in all of this, then, is that some state lawmakers seem intent on pushing through a voucher program for Shelby County.

McQueen told lawmakers they can’t keep throwing millions of dollars at solutions that are not solutions. But, according to the Fiscal Note on SB 161/HB 126, the bill will result in spending nearly $9 million on the voucher “solution” next year and more than $18 million per year once fully implemented. Of course, those estimates assume the program doesn’t expand beyond Shelby County.

A voucher program that started small in Indiana just five years ago now costs that state $131 million per year.

Talk about an expensive non-solution. In fact, the most recent research indicates that vouchers actually can have a negative impact on student academic achievement.

Kevin Carey summarizes:

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.

So, we have an Education Commissioner pleading with the General Assembly to focus on what works AND we have evidence from other states telling us vouchers don’t get the job done. At the same time, we have evidence from schools right here in Tennessee that tells us what IS working.

It’s time for the Tennessee General Assembly to heed the advice of Candice McQueen and stop attempting to throw millions of dollars at “solutions that are not solutions.”

pile-of-cash-1024x576

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


 

Backpack Full of Cash Coming to Nashville

MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge today announced that Matt Damon’s documentary “Backpack Full of Cash” will be coming to Nashville in April. Frogge posted on Facebook:

I’m excited to announce that “Backpack Full of Cash” has been selected for the Nashville Film Festival!

My children, their teachers, and I participated in this documentary, and although I’ve not yet seen it, I believe it will provide an eye-opening view of the school privatization movement affecting Nashville (and our state as a whole), as well as other urban areas across the country. The film, narrated by Matt Damon, focuses on market-based education reform and its impact on public schools.

It will be screened at the Regal Hollywood 27 on:
Sunday, April 23, 2017 at 5:30 pm
and
Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 5:30 pm.

Join me for a screening (and possibly a Q & A following the film). This should be a timely and informative film!

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post says of the film:

Actually, it’s a 90-minute documentary about the real and ongoing movement to privatize public education and its effects on traditional public schools and the students they enroll. With actor and activist Matt Damon narrating, “Backpack” tells a scary but important story about corporate school reform policies that critics say are aimed at destroying the U.S. public education system, the country’s most important civic institution.

So, two dates in April offer a chance for those in and around Nashville to check out this important film that also features an MNPS Board member.

backpack

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