Haslam Backs Huffman

After ending last week silent on the brewing controversy surrounding Education Commissioner, Governor Bill Haslam has issued a letter to school superintendents telling them to essentially “back off.”

From the Tennessean:

“The bottom line is that we are at a critical point in the implementation of key reforms that I believe will lead to continued progress in education, and this work is simply too important to get sidetracked,” Haslam wrote in a letter addressed to school system superintendents and dated Monday.

 

 

 

Common Core Hearings Thursday and Friday

The Senate Education Committee is holding hearings on the Common Core State Standards this Thursday and Friday — the Thursday hearings begin at 1 PM.

According to Andrea Zelinski of the Nashville Post, 5 of the 14 speakers are having expenses paid by right-wing groups the Tennessee Eagle Forum and the 9.12 Project.  Those five and two additional speakers are identified as being hand-picked by the Tea Party to discuss opposition to the new standards.

Here’s the full story, including the slate of speakers.

 

Everyone Agrees: Tennessee Needs to Invest in Education

Because, well, we’re not doing it right now.

WPLN’s Nina Cardona has the story of how groups from both the left and right have analyzed Tennessee spending on education and found it seriously lacking.  How bad? Last in the nation in both per pupil spending AND percentage of gross domestic product spent on schools.

Not only that, the Beacon Center suggests Tennessee should be spending at least 60% of its education dollars on classroom-related expenses (teacher salaries, benefits, classroom resources, etc.).  But, we’re spending 54%.  One way to remedy this would be to raise teacher salaries and otherwise increase support for teachers and schools.

The WPLN story comes on the heels of an analysis by Bruce Baker on Tennessee’s history of failing to invest in schools.

Perhaps most telling is this closing statement from the WPLN story:

The ELC rankings are based on numbers that pre-date the federal grant known as Race to the Top. Tennessee won roughly half a billion dollars to spend on strategies for changing education in the state. The grant runs out at the end of this school year.

Yes, you read that right.  Tennessee will no longer have the boost of Race to the Top funds after this school year.

Will the Tennessee General Assembly make up the difference? Will local governments foot the bill? How, exactly, will Tennessee maintain its current, rather paltry investment in schools? And will there be any movement to invest even MORE dollars in education — say, for improved teacher compensation or technology upgrades associated with Common Core testing?

Stay tuned to Tennessee Education Report for more details and be sure to follow us @TNEdReport

 

It Takes a Community

A lot of the talk in education reform focuses on teacher quality as the key factor to influence in order to impact student achievement.  While teacher quality is important, and other school-based factors also play a role, it is also important to realize that 50% of the factors that determine whether or not a child is successful in school come from OUTSIDE of school.  Family, neighborhood, trauma, health, etc.  All of those play a role in student success.

So, yes, schools and school systems should focus on factors they can control.  I’ve even written about my own ideas on this topic.

But, it also makes sense for schools to build partnerships with organizations and programs that can have a positive impact on the outside of school factors in student achievement.

To that end, I gladly accepted an invitation recently to tour Kirkpatrick Enhanced Option School and hear more about a fairly new (to Nashville) organization called Communities in Schools.

CIS operates in 3 elementary schools (Kirkpatrick, Warner, Ross) and just added a Site Coordinator at Bailey Middle School.

Fortunately for Nashville, the national CIS organization has been around for 35 years and has lots of data on what works (and what doesn’t).

As its name suggests, Communities in Schools seeks to build a community around students in some of the most challenging (economically) schools in the district.  Because they know that outside factors influence kids, they are set up to address those factors.  The Site Coordinators are typically trained Social Workers who understand the importance of connecting students and their families with services available.

For example, at Ross Elementary at the end of the 2012-13 school year, there were 12 students who had received vision screenings and needed glasses but still didn’t have them.  CIS staff worked with a local eye clinic to arrange appointments and help those students get the eyewear they needed.  No amount of focus on teacher quality will help if the kids in your class can’t see because they need glasses they don’t have.

CIS is a data-driven organization that sets goals for the students in the schools it serves and then achieves those goals.  Yes, they met 25 of 27 performance objectives they set in 2012-13.  Items like improving academics and attendance for the students they served.

CIS works in partnership with the schools to set up support services for students and for families.  One of the areas where they focus attention is on parent involvement in schools – and at the three sites where they have been working, parental involvement has increased significantly.

Another area of focus is attendance.  If a student isn’t at school, they simply aren’t going to learn.  And they are going to fall behind.  By introducing strategies to promote attendance, CIS has been able to impact and improve attendance (and mitigate chronic absenteeism) at the schools it serves.

I walked away from an hour at Kirkpatrick impressed with the dedication and commitment of CIS staff to the success of the students at the schools they serve.  The ability to connect families to resources and to help children meet their specific needs lifts a burden from teachers and school staff and strengthens the school community.

It truly takes a community to make a school work.  CIS-TN is making that happen in a small corner of Nashville.  It’s a success story that deserves to be continued and expanded.

Kevin Huffman’s Bad Week

Teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools added to what has already been a pretty bad week in the tenure of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman today.

On the heels of a letter from over 60 Directors of Schools essentially stating “no confidence” in Huffman’s leadership and criticizing his lack of collaboration, the Metro Nashville Education Association announced today that its members have taken a vote of “no confidence” in Huffman.

Lisa Fingeroot has the full story

So far, the only response from Huffman has appeared here.

In it, he claims that he does collaborate and that moreover, his job is to take care of kids, not adults.

Nevertheless, when a large group (nearly half) of all Directors of Schools and the teacher’s association in the second-largest city are expressing doubts about the Commissioner of Education’s leadership, it’s not a good sign for his future.

So far, Governor Haslam has not said anything publicly regarding the controversy.

 

Huffman Responds to Critics

After learning yesterday that at least 60 Directors of Schools from across the state had signed a letter essentially expressing limited confidence in his leadership and challenging his approach, Commissioner Kevin Huffman responded today by saying:

We are committed to doing whats right for kids and we’re going to continue to be committed to doing whats right for kids. It’s important we talk to people, it’s important we listen to people, it’s important that people have input.

“But,” Huffman said, “at the end of the day we’re going to make decisions that are in the best interests of children in Tennessee.”

The Times-Free Press story also includes a poll asking if readers support Huffman’s ouster.

Apparently, Huffman believes continuing to attack teachers and dis-incentivize entry into the profession is good for kids. Or, maybe he knows better than almost half of the state’s Directors of Schools how to help kids achieve? Or, perhaps his collaborative style is so incredible these Directors have been consulted by him and they don’t even realize it?

 

A Taxing Proposal

Amelia Morrison Hipps is advocating the idea of giving School Boards taxing authority.

It’s a good idea and one which can certainly be handled in such a way as to build in accountability.  For example, setting a maximum amount taxes can be raised before a public referendum is required.

Letting School Boards set policy and establish budgets WITHOUT also giving them the ability and responsibility to raise revenue creates tension between two governing bodies that should be working together to better communities.

Hipps writes:

In other words, the people held the school board members accountable for the whole kit-and-caboodle. In Tennessee, school board members can hide behind the shield of county commissioners when they “mismanage their finances” by saying, “We had no choice. They only gave us so much money, and we had to spend it on X instead of B like we said. The children needed it.”

I urge Tennessee’s leaders to be courageous and bold. Open up a true and honest dialogue about our schools’ funding mechanisms. A saying I hear a lot in Wilson County is, “He who holds the gold, makes the rules.”

 

It’s an idea that’s been discussed and debated before — but also one meriting more attention.

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

 

Huffman on the Hot Seat?

Is Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman finally feeling the heat?

A group of 60 Directors of Schools from around the state signed a letter calling for a halt to the fast pace of education reform — reform that some critics suggest has little to do with helping students.

Some recent proposals for changing public education have included changes to teacher licensure (that could result in more testing of students) and an unproven teacher merit pay plan that could place an unfunded mandate on local governments.

In addition to the concerns of the Directors, at least one state legislator is complaining about the most recent proposal.

Having a letter signed by 60 Directors suggesting that the pace of reform slow and that the actual reforms be re-evaluated seems unprecedented in the state.

Now, the question is: How will Governor Haslam and the Commissioner respond?

 

 

 

Why Tennessee Should Invest More in Schools

Quite simply, because it pays off.  Workers get better wages, the economy thrives, businesses locate here.

Yes, all that makes sense and we hear it all the time.  Now, there’s some pretty clear evidence that having a well-educated workforce is more important than low taxes when it comes to improving a state’s economic outlook. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, there is NO correlation between a state’s tax rate and it’s relative prosperity.

On the other hand, look at this graph and note where TN stands — on the low end in terms of both number of residents with a college degree and median wages.

median wage and education

 

So, while offering all kinds of tax breaks seems to be the trend when it comes to Tennessee cities and the state government luring business to our state, we’d be better off in the long term to ramp up or investment in and support of public education.

Perhaps along the lines of this proposal.

Crowe “Disappointed” by State Board Decision on Teacher Licensing

State Senator Rusty Crowe of Johnson City recently penned a column directly addressing his disappointment in the State Board of Education’s decision to link teacher licensing to student test scores.

Crowe suggests that using value-added data to inform teaching practice and even as a portion of a teacher’s evaluation is appropriate.  But using it to take away a teacher’s license is not acceptable.

Crowe concludes his piece by noting that he expects some level of legislative intervention in the matter.  Hardly an idle threat given that Crowe is a long-time member of the Senate Education Committee — the very committee that oversees State Board of Education action.

A simple, straightforward legislative intervention might be worded in such a way as to prohibit the Tennessee State Board of Education from enacting any policy that would cause a teacher to lose his/her license on the basis of student test scores.  Of course, it may have to repeal any such policy previously enacted, but since the testing proposal doesn’t take effect until 2015, it may be sufficient to prevent its implementation.

While teachers have been under attack by state policymakers for several years now, it seems in this case, the State Board may have gone a step too far.  At the very least, there’s sure to be legislative discussion around this issue in 2014.