Time to Fix the BEP?

The Metro Nashville School Board this week suggested that the state revise and improve its funding formula for schools, known as the BEP.

A resolution drafted by board member Amy Frogge and passed unanimously by the MNPS board indicates that the current formula does not allow districts to properly implement rigorous news standards and provide improved salaries for teachers.

If legislators and Governor Haslam want to take a look at improving the BEP, they need only take a look at the BEP 2.0 formula developed under Governor Phil Bredesen with significant input from then-state Senator Jamie Woodson, who now heads SCORE.

Of course, current Metro board member Will Pinkston was a key Bredesen staffer when the BEP 2.0 formula was developed, so he’s quite familiar with how it would improve the funding situation not just for MNPS but for most districts in the state.

Fully funding BEP 2.0 may take incremental steps and perhaps could be complete in two to three years with some focus and budget prioritization from the General Assembly and the Governor.

If the current formula is not re-examined and improved, it seems likely that districts large and small will continue to complain of mandates coming from the state without adequate funding for their implementation.

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

Strategies for Retaining Educators

Memphis teacher and blogger Jonathan Alfuth writes about strategies for retaining educators in an urban environment.

This past June, I completed my second year as a Teach for America teacher.  I’d worked in one of the most struggling high schools in Memphis but rather than being scared away, it strengthened my commitment to teaching.  Yet I knew that there was no way I’d return to my placement school.  The culture didn’t promote student achievement, individual teachers operated in isolation and we had little shared vision for where we were going as a school.

Over the next few weeks, I did a comprehensive search of schools across Memphis. While I turned up several schools that I believed embodied the type of culture I desired, none of them were Shelby County Schools (all were charter).  I made the choice to move to a charter school and I’ve been amazed by the difference in culture and its impact on student achievement.  Our leaders are hardworking and dedicated to a common mission.  My colleagues and I are given common planning time in content and grade level teams each and every week. And most importantly, we work together to develop the kind of school culture that drives students to success.  I see its impact each and every day in the quality of my students work and their academic outcomes as so far, 100% of our graduating students have been accepted to 4-year schools.

My dilemma was recently discussed at the policy level in Shelby County during the school board’s decision whether or not to extend Teach for America’s contract with the district.  The board voted to extend the contract, but the two opponents of extending the contract cited poor TFA retention beyond the program’s two year commitment in their opposition to its continuation.  In the same piece, she also quoted Superintendent Hopson in a statement that perfectly encompasses my dilemma and the dilemma of second year TFA teachers every year.  Hopson said, “I have to say, if effective talent is leaving the district at a 70-something percent rate, we have to look at strategies we can use to retain talent.”

I often find myself thinking that we’ve done so much to improve education both here in Memphis and across Tennessee.  We’ve reformed teacher evaluation to identify our best and brightest.  We’re on the verge of dramatically reforming teacher compensation in Tennessee.   And yet all this means NOTHING if we cannot keep great teachers in high need classrooms once they are placed.  This begs the question; what do educators really want?  What will keep them in district classrooms?  In my experience, young education professionals, TFA or otherwise, aren’t much different from most other young professions.  We all have highly varied motivations for entering the profession.  But in the end, great teachers gravitate towards environments with great school and district leaders, great office (or in this case school) culture that focuses on achievement and great colleagues that work together to achieve a common vision.

I am a TFA alumni but I also work closely with young educators from both alternative and traditional certification programs.  And I believe strongly that my decision is one that almost every young educator in Shelby County faces at some point in their first two years.  At the end of two years, many young educators, TFA or otherwise, feel a strong sense of commitment to their children and a desire to continue in education.  However, we are often placed in such dysfunctional environments that we have to make a choice which feels like choosing between being a martyr for our kids by staying or abandoning them by quitting or moving schools.  And so often the challenges inherent in district schools make the former untenable, and so we leave, either choosing a different school like I have or leaving the profession all together.

I should add that some schools in Shelby County have found a way to make it work and retain young educators beyond their first few years.  Colleagues of mine at Ridgeway High, Whitehaven and Kingsbury High consistently tell me about the strength of their school leadership and the support they receive from their colleagues.  We should certainly study these schools further, but they represent the exception rather than the norm.

Until district leaders devote attention to improving school cultures to make them attractive and professional work environments that attract young educators, we will continue to see an exodus of young teaching talent to other systems, schools or professions.  And it won’t matter what program those educators come from if conditions are so challenging that teachers can’t fathom working in high need environments.  We can extend or eliminate contracts with organizations like Teach for America, but that won’t fix the underlying fact that many young educators simply don’t feel that the school culture where the work is one where they can be successful.

I don’t want to leave this post without offering some solutions.  I’ve already written a seven part series on a package of strategies that could be used to promote teacher retention in SCS, so I  won’t rehash it here. If you’re interested in some research based strategies for how we could start building the types of school cultures that attract and retain high quality educators by enacting district level policies, I invite you to check the series out here.

Jonathan Alfuth is a math teacher at a charter school in Memphis.  He blogs about education issues at Bluff City Ed

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

 

Big Monday Coming for McIntyre

On Monday, the Knox County School Board will discuss and possibly vote on a contract extension for embattled Director of Schools Jim McIntyre.

Last night, teachers, parents, and students packed the Board meeting room and some asked the Board not to renew McIntyre’s contract. It’s not clear from available news reports that anyone was present to ask the Board to extend the contract.

McIntyre has come under fire for being an enthusiastic supporter of state-level policy changes to teacher evaluation and for not listening to the concerns of parents and teachers regarding what they call excessive testing and over-reliance on test-based data to evaluate teachers.

That said, the Board recently announced they are working on a resolution calling for more transparency in the TVAAS system used to create scores for teacher evaluation.

Monday’s meeting, focused on the contract extension for McIntyre, will also likely be a contentious one, though it’s not clear whether a significant number of Board members would consider non-renewing the contract.

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

 

Value-Added Transparency

At a working session last night, the Knox County School Board announced a collaborative effort to push for transparency in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS).  The idea is to ensure that teachers understand the inputs that create the value-added score that makes up 50% of their overall evaluation in the TEAM model.

From Tamara Shepherd via KnoxViews:

Finally, the board is collaborating on a resolution to be delivered to the legislature to urge, if I understood correctly, legislators’ assistance in ensuring that the mechanics of TVAAS be made understandable to teachers.

Some conversation ensued concerning the potential for employing a different model for measuring student growth if Sanders/TVAAS cannot honor the resolution’s request, given that TVAAS is proprietary property

 

Bill Sanders, creator of TVAAS, has been reluctant to give much detail about TVAAS over the years.  As the story explains, it seems that there could be a push for using a different model that is more transparent if the current value-added model can’t be made transparent.

While there are doubts about the validity and reliability of TVAAS data in general, at the very least, the method for arriving at a teacher’s score should be made transparent.

Lots of other happenings at the meeting.  Read more here.

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

Texas State BOE Rejects Great Hearts in Dallas

By a vote of 9-6, the Texas State Board of Education rejected an application by Great Hearts to open four schools in the Dallas area.

It’s not clear why the Board rejected the application, as the Board has a reputation for approving Charter Schools.

Of course, the Great Hearts Controversy in Nashville prompted legislation this year to create a state charter authorizer.  That legislation failed to pass due to some last-minute problems between the House and Senate, but it is certain to come up again.

Pre-K Tax Fails, TEA Appoints New Leader

Pre-K, TEA, and other education news this week

Yesterday, voters in Memphis rejected a sales tax increase that would have directed funds to expand Pre-K in that city. The city took the vote as a means to find local funding for a program that state has so far been unwilling to expand.

Also yesterday, the Tennessee Education Association announced the hiring of its new Executive Director, Carolyn Crowder. Crowder comes to Tennessee from Denver.  She has worked in education association’s in both Colorado and Oklahoma and was also a classroom teacher in Oklahoma.

Earlier in the week, teachers in Rutherford County teachers joined a growing list of local education associations expressing “no confidence” in Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

And, the Tennessee Charter School Center released a report on “seat quality” in Metro Nashville Public Schools.  The report prompted this response from Board Member Amy Frogge.

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

Amy Frogge on “High Quality” Seats

Yesterday, we linked to Andrea Zelinski’s story on the Tennessee Charter School Center’s analysis of “seat quality” in Metro Nashville Public schools. In the story, I noted 5 key takeaways, among them that the Center is calling for closing low-performing charter schools and that there does seem to be common ground possible in terms of moving toward expanding charter schools as growth dictates.  Both closing low performing charters and allowing expansion in a smart way offer a path forward from what has been a rather messy debate in recent years.

School Board member Amy Frogge has weighed-in on the “quality seat” discussion and offers this analysis on her campaign Facebook page:

The Great Hoax of the “High Quality Seat”:
We’ve been hearing this phrase a lot lately, but what does it actually mean? Those who use it are referring to standardized test scores. The higher the score, the higher the “quality” of the seat and therefore the school, according to these folks.
Here’s the problem. Looking at standardized test scores tells us only a little about a school. If anything,… test scores primarily reflect the types of students a school serves. Children in poverty, children who don’t speak English, and children with special needs struggle with standardized tests- for reasons entirely beyond their control. It’s not that these children are incapable of learning. It’s that they need extra support to succeed. All children hold immense promise, and standardized test scores often don’t reflect a child’s true capability. Tests are just a snapshot of what children can do in certain subject areas in a very specific format on one particular day (or a few days) of the school year.
Are we to assume that magnet schools have better “seats” because they serve children selected for their academic abilities? Are we to assume choice schools have better “seats,” even though the selection of these schools is made by parents engaged enough to know how to enter the lottery? (Research shows that children of engaged parents perform better in school.) Are we to assume that zoned schools that take any child who walks into the doors at any time during the year (no matter how great the child’s academic needs) have lesser quality “seats” because of the scores these children make?
In summary, then, the “quality” of a seat, according to the definition of those who prefer this phrase, has more to do with the child sitting in that seat (and the challenges that he or she faces) than the quality of instruction at a school. To presume otherwise assumes a level playing field, and in comparing schools, we are comparing children, not quality-checking mass-produced, assembly line items. Certainly, scores can help us judge how well a school performs, but it’s not the entire story. Anyone who fails to consider student population in determining the “quality” of a school just isn’t digging deep enough.
If the Charter School Center hoped to continue a conversation, they’ve certainly raised some points to ponder.  Frogge has engaged, addressing directly the “quality seat” issue without dismissing the call to close low performing schools or arguing that current limits on charter geography need to stay in place forever.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport

MNPS, Charter Schools, and “Quality Seats”

So the Tennessee Charter School Center has a new report out about the “quality” of seats in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Andrea Zelinski has a solid report on the report over at the Nashville Scene.

A couple of takeaways:

1) The Charter Center wants to open more charters than the recent MNPS resolution would seem to allow (not surprising, really).

2) Nearly 1/3 of all Charter seats are deemed “low quality” by the Center’s own report

3) The Center is advocating closing low quality charters — a step in the right direction

4) It seems reasonable that as other clusters become more crowded due to growth, the MNPS resolution should be expanded to include those clusters for future charters

5) In spite of constant battling between the Board and the Charter Center, there is some common ground:  Close low-performing charters (the center could help by taking the lead on recommending schools to be closed) and allow new charters in more clusters as growth dictates.

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