War on Teachers?

Cari Wade Gervin over at MetroPulse in Knoxville has the story on the turmoil brewing there over education reform, teacher evaluation, and more.  Her story notes that while Knox County has seen a lot of tension, teachers are organizing and offering feedback across the state.

Knox County’s Lauren Hopson gained attention with this speech to the Knox County School Board.

At a more recent Board meeting, student Ethan Young made a plea that the Board reconsider its current path.

Voucher Backers Gearing up for 2014

Following a 2013 legislative session that saw voucher proposals competing and ultimately, no proposal succeeding, advocates for a vouchers, or “opportunity scholarships,” are gearing up for the 2014 legislative session.

2014 in education will likely look a lot like 2013 in terms of proposals on vouchers and charter schools.

Voucher advocates, organized under a coalition known as School Choice NOW, held a recent event in Hendersonville. There, they noted that this year’s discussions will start with Governor Haslam’s proposal from last session.  His proposal was a limited voucher plan that would initially offer 5000 vouchers in Memphis and Nashville and eventually grow to 20,000.  While it seems no competing proposal will be offered, it’s not clear what shape the final legislation will take.

Lawmakers in Chattanooga also recently discussed vouchers, with a solid pro-voucher bent coming from that delegation.

One possible stumbling block is the rapid pace of recent education reforms.  Some in the legislature, including House Speaker Beth Harwell, are suggesting that perhaps school systems need time to absorb the current crop of reforms before vouchers are allowed to move forward.

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

Williamson County Teachers Vote “No Confidence” in Huffman

The Williamson County Education Association is the latest teacher group to express a lack of confidence in Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s ability to lead the state’s schools.

The announcement of the vote adds to a growing list of teacher groups, superintendents, and school boards expressing frustration at Huffman’s lack of collaboration and top-down leadership style.

Williamson County’s Director of Schools, Mike Looney, signed a letter also signed by directors across the state expressing frustration with Huffman.

While the vote was taken before last week’s release of NAEP results, Williamson County teachers maintain they are not opposed to positive reform, but are frustrated with leadership at the state level they say is not listening to teachers.

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

 

NAEP in TN: The Rest of the Story

Today, leaders across Tennessee lauded the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) results.  And they should. Tennessee is first in an education statistic and it’s a good one.  The fastest growing state in the last 2 years in terms of growth in math and reading scores as measured by NAEP.

That’s good news. It’s very good news.  Despite some claims, though, it’s very difficult to say results on the 2013 NAEP are a direct result of reforms that took place in 2011 and 2012. States with more rigid teacher tenure and with collective bargaining for teachers scored higher overall than Tennessee (nevermind Ron Ramsey’s rant against both — they just don’t test out as significant indicators of student achievement in either a positive or negative way). And of course, it’s easier to grow when you have a long way to go — Tennessee has historically been among the lowest performing states on the NAEP.

Let’s take a look at the data on a deeper level, though, and see what’s been happening. For the sake of this comparison, I’m going to look at Tennessee and Kentucky — a similarly situated Southeastern state with a nearly identical level of students in poverty and/or on free/reduced lunch.  I’m going to look at 20 year trends to see what we can learn from the overall education work in both states. So, here goes:

4th Grade Math

1992      KY   215                        TN  211

2013     KY  241                          TN 240

Over the 20 year period, Kentucky increased by 16 points, Tennessee by 19 — and Kentucky still leads by 1 point.  To Tennessee’s credit, the gap in scores was narrowed by 3 points.

Let’s look at the percentage of students in each state who test at or above basic — this is short of the mastery demonstrated by the score of proficient, but still indicates a basic understanding of the concept — below basic is the lowest score and is frankly, unacceptable.

In 1992, 51% of Kentucky kids tested at or above basic and in Tennessee, it was 47%.  Now, 84% of Kentucky kids are at or above basic in 4th grade math while only 80% can say the same in Tennessee.  Both states posted 33 point gains in this important number over the last 20 years and Kentucky remains 4 points ahead of Tennessee.

Now, let’s look at the two states and how they are doing with their poorest students, those on free and reduced lunch.  One of the key goals of many involved in education is closing achievement gaps and moving the lowest performing kids forward quickly.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY  232  TN 228

Achievement gap

KY 19 points  TN 26 points

Not only do Tennessee’s students on free and reduced lunch score lower than Kentucky’s, Tennessee’s gap is wider — by a 7-point margin in the case of 4th grade math.  This begins a troubling pattern.

Before I go further with this analysis, I want to point out that Kentucky doesn’t use value-added data for teacher evaluations, has no charter schools, its teachers are awarded tenure after 4 years, and it hasn’t adopted any of the reforms Tennessee’s current leaders tell us are essential to improving scores.  In fact, their Commissioner has openly expressed skepticism of any evaluation system that bases any part of a teacher’s score on value-added data.  As the rest of the data will demonstrate, both Kentucky and Tennessee have posted gains over time on NAEP — in most categories, Kentucky started out tied or very slightly ahead of Tennessee and today, Kentucky remains ahead.  Kentucky posted some pretty big gains in the mid-90s and again from 2003-2009.  Since then, they’ve held fairly steady.  That’s an expected result, by the way — a big gain followed by steady maintenance of the new level.  For Tennessee, that won’t be enough, but celebrating the big gain is certainly warranted.  It’s also important to take care in assigning causality.

Ok, back to the data.

8th Grade Math

1992  KY 262   TN 259

2013  KY 281  TN 278

Over 20 years, both states made a 19-point gain in 8th grade math and Kentucky maintains a 3-point lead.  Looking at students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 51% in 1992 and is at 71% today while Tennessee was at 47% in 1992 and at 69% today.  Kentucky gained 20 points and Tennessee, 22.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY 268  TN 265

Achievement Gap

KY 25 points TN 27 points

 

4th Grade Reading

1992 KY 213   TN 212

2013 KY 224   TN 220

Here, Kentucky makes an 11-point gain and Tennessee makes an 8-point gain over the same time period.  Now, Kentucky has a solid 4-point lead in reading — while in 1992, it was just 1-point.  In terms of students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 58% in 1992 and stands at 71% today while Tennessee was at 57% in 1992 and is now at 67% — Kentucky gained 13 points over this time, while Tennessee gained 10.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 213  TN 205

Achievement Gap

KY 24 points TN 32 points

 

8th Grade Reading

1998  KY 262   TN 259

2013 KY 270  TN 265

Here, Kentucky gained 8 points and Tennessee only 6 — giving Kentucky students a 5-point edge over Tennessee’s in 8th grade reading. Both states posted 6-point gains in percentage of students at or above “basic,” with Kentucky maintaining a 3-point edge in that category.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 258  TN 256

Achievement Gap

KY 23  TN 20

As the data shows, Kentucky and Tennessee in many cases posted similar net gains over time, with Kentucky seeing big jumps in the mid-90s and again in the early part of the last decade.  In all categories, Kentucky’s students still outperform Tennessee, though in some cases that gap is narrowing.  Also, in all subjects, Kentucky’s students on free/reduced lunch outperform Tennessee’s students on free/reduced lunch.

ABOUT THAT FREE LUNCH

Possibly the most interesting (and troubling) finding in this data is the widening of the gap between free/reduced lunch students and those not eligible.  Tennessee has a significant population of students who qualify (as does Kentucky) and one of the key aims of reform is to ensure that gaps are closed and that those with the most challenges get more opportunity.  Here’s some data demonstrating that Tennessee’s achievement gap is widening when it comes to its poorest students.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH ACHIEVEMENT GAPS

4th Grade Math 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 26 points

8th Grade Math 2011 — 25 points  2013 – 27 points

4th Grade Reading 2011 — 26 points  2013 – 32 points

8th Grade Reading 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 20 points

The 4th grade scores in particular present rapidly widening gaps.  That’s absolutely the wrong direction.  Moreover, students on free/reduced lunch saw their scores improve less than those not on free/reduced lunch 3 points vs. 9 points in 4th grade math, 3 points vs. 5 points in 8th grade math, 1 point vs. 7 points in 4th grade reading, and both groups saw a +6 in 8th grade reading.

While we’re told that “poverty is not an excuse” it certainly appears to be a factor (and one growing in importance) in terms of student achievement growth in Tennessee. While we have had significant reforms in some of our poorest urban communities (and even have an Achievement School District to address the most challenged schools), the gap between poor and better off students widened in the last two years.

Yes, Tennessee should celebrate its growth.  But policymakers should use caution when seeing the results from the last 2 years as a validation of any particular policy.  Long-term trends indicate that big gains are usually followed by steady maintenance. And, even with the improvement, Tennessee has a long way to go to be competitive with our peers. Additionally, education leaders should be concerned about the troubling widening of the rich/poor achievement gap  – an outcome at odds with stated policy goals and the fundamental principle of equal opportunity.

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

 

 

 

Knox County Teachers to Speak Out at Tonight’s Board Meeting

As a follow-up to Knox County teacher Lauren Hopson’s address to the School Board, a group of Knox County teachers plan to attend tonight’s Board meeting at 5PM and wear red to show their support for the key points she made — that students are subjected to too much testing, that teacher evaluation using TVAAS data is unfair because it is unreliable, that using student surveys like TRIPOD to evaluate teachers (a controversial issue in Metro Nashville as well) is inappropriate.

From the information post promoting tonight’s action:

knox teacher protest

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

 

Robertson Teachers Voice “no confidence” in Commissioner Huffman

The Robertson County Education Association, representing 90 percent of Robertson County teachers, has taken a vote of no confidence in Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

The RCEA indicated that Huffman is not listening to educators as he implements reforms and that the pace of reform is too fast and is causing good teachers to leave the field.

Similar concerns have been expressed by a teacher in Knox County whose presentation to the School Board there went viral.

Additionally, both Bradley County and Cleveland City passed resolutions questioning the pace of reform and the use of TVAAS in high-states decisions for educators.

Those actions followed similar votes in Marshall and Roane counties.

With school districts, teacher organizations, and superintendents from across the state challenging the pace and implementation of the state’s education reform, it seems likely that at least some action will be taken in response during the 2014 legislative session.

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

Raj Chetty and Tennessee Education Policy

No, Raj Chetty, economics professor at Harvard,  is not specifically making recommendations to Tennessee about how to conduct education policy.  But he did join with other scholars to analyze Tennessee’s STAR program (1985-1989) for early education (K-3) which included students in 79 Tennessee schools and random student assignment.

The results of Chetty’s study suggest that the quality of a kindergarten class matters greatly to a child’s future.  It’s important to note that the study focused on the overall quality of the class — from the teacher to the resources provided to class size to peer group.  So, yes, quality matters.  And certainly, the teacher is a factor in that overall quality picture.

Chetty notes that a top quartile teacher (based on test scores) can make a significant difference in lifetime income for a child.  Yes, I’ve been critical about the “big” differences Chetty notes in terms of lifetime income in other studies. And, I certainly have questions about how important this particular finding is in terms of overall income impact. And then there’s the whole notion about the limitations of the knowledge we can gain about an individual teacher based on test scores alone.

That said, Chetty does note the findings are statistically significant and his study does control for many outside factors in order to isolate classroom inputs.

Moreover, the current Tennessee Department of Education policy framework is geared toward improving results on just these sorts of tests.

So, it becomes interesting, then to see what Chetty’s research says about how to improve results on such tests (which provide at least some predictive value about how a student will do later in life) and how that compares to current Tennessee education policy being pursued by the Haslam-Huffman regime.

1) Class Size Matters: According to the Chetty study, “Small-class students went on to attend college at higher rates and to do better on a variety of measures such as retirement savings, mar- riage rates, and quality of their neighborhood of residence.”  Which makes it difficult to understand why among the first proposals of Commissioner Huffman was to attempt to adopt a policy that would have raised class sizes across Tennessee.

2) Teacher Experience Matters: Contrary to what Commissioner Huffman told the State Board of Education about teacher experience (that a teacher’s years of experience don’t effectively predict student outcomes), the Chetty study noted, “We find that kindergarten teachers with more years of teaching experience are more effective at raising both kindergarten test scores and adult earnings. This may partly be the effect of learning on the job, but it may also reflect the fact that teachers who have taught for a long time are more devoted to the profession or were trained differently.” In spite of this Tennessee-specific data on the importance of years of experience to improved student outcomes, Commissioner Huffman proposed and the State Board of Education adopted a teacher pay plan that discounts years of experience as a factor in compensation.

3) Teacher Merit Pay is Problematic: When discussing the policy implications of the study, Chetty notes, “Merit pay policies could potentially improve teaching quality but may also
lead to teaching to the test without gains on the all- important noncognitive dimensions” (soft skills). Which, as stated above, would point to policies that move away from merit pay for individual teachers, in contrast to the Haslam-Huffman policy.

4) Teacher Support is Critical: Chetty specifically points to improved teacher training, early career mentoring, and reducing class sizes as policies that could work to improve the overall quality of early (K-3) classrooms.  Again, Tennessee has no statewide program for new teacher mentoring and is not systematically working on reducing class size, especially in the early grades.  In fact, as noted above, the initial proposal from this administration would have increased class sizes.

While I may be among the first to look skeptically at the current administration’s education policy goals, it would be nice if their policy solutions actually lined up with the stated goals.  In this case, using Tennessee data, it seems clear the proposed solutions are not matching the stated challenges.

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

Rutherford County to Consider Alternative Pay Plan

The Rutherford County School Board will begin discussions tonight on a new pay plan as required by the State Board of Education.  The State Board approved Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s recommendations for a new pay scale and a requirement that districts come up with differentiated pay schemes, including merit pay and pay based on performance on the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS).

TVAAS is facing continued criticism from some who don’t wish to tie teacher licensure to the scores it produces. It has also been suggested that TVAAS has done very little so far to improve Tennessee schools despite having been in existence for 20 years. And, some critics of value-added data note that it is unable to effectively differentiate among teachers.

It will be interesting to see the general outline of the pay plan discussed in Rutherford tonight as it may offer insight in to how the state is “guiding” districts to develop such plans.

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

Parents, Educators Challenge Over-Reliance on Testing

Stories out of Shelbyville and Knoxville over the weekend indicate a growing pattern of frustration on the part of parents and teachers about the amount of testing forced on Tennessee students and the use of those students (and now, student surveys) to evaluate teachers.

Jason Reynolds at the Shelbyville Times-Gazette reports that the currently used TCAP tests are coming under increasing scrutiny. Reynolds reported that Nashville parent  and education activist Jennifer Smith, suggests Tennessee students are subject to too much testing and it is having negative consequences:

“Children are being denied valuable classroom instruction, experiencing undue anxiety and stress, and receiving little — if any — recess time so they can prepare to take a test that is ‘not very strong,'” she wrote. Smith said she would like to see Tennessee follow the lead of California, which recently discontinued its version of TCAP so teachers could prepare to implement PARCC.

Reynolds also notes that J.C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) says Tennessee students are overloaded with tests.  Bowman has also expressed concern with the use of value-added scores to evaluate teachers.  His organization has called for a suspension of the use of TVAAS in evaluations until the PARCC test is implemented, which seems to echo Smith’s concern.

Teachers are speaking out as well.  A Knox County teacher recently addressed her School Board about the pressures teachers are facing.

And in this story out of Knoxville, parents and teachers both express concern over excessive testing.

One PTSO leader in Knox County noted: 35 days during the year at the elementary level were devoted just to math assessments, “and that’s not including the other four subjects.”

Concern from parents and teachers over testing combined with serious questions about the ability of value-added scores to actually differentiate between teachers seem to be behind the school systems of both Bradley County and Cleveland passing resolutions recently opposing the use of TVAAS data for teacher evaluation and licensure.

The same parent noted she is concerned about the use of student surveys to evaluate teachers. This is practice underway in Knox County, Shelby County, and Metro Nashville.  It’s called the TRIPOD survey and uses student answers on a battery of questions to evaluate teacher performance.  This year, the surveys count for 5% of a teacher’s overall evaluation score.  It’s not clear how the surveys are scored or what a teacher needs to do to earn the top score of 5.

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