MNPS Talks Testing, Charters

Andrea Zelinski has the story in Tweets

You might remember that not long ago, Board members asked for a work session to learn more about how much time, money is spent on standardized testing.

Looks like they didn’t get much in the way of answers.  Though Paul Changas did indicate that as more regular assessment occurs, there is less need for standardized tests.

I’d suspect Frogge and Speering (who brought the issue up) will want more than that, so this issue may continue to get some attention.

WCS Superintendent Explains Why He Signed Huffman Letter

A group of 56 Tennessee School Superintendents sent a letter to Governor Haslam this week encouraging him to ask his Education Commissioner, Kevin Huffman, to be more inclusive and collaborative in his approach on education reform.  The letter stirred up a bit of controversy and no doubt created headaches for Huffman last week and into this one.

Now, one of those who signed the letter, Williamson County’s Mike Looney, is explaining why he did.

Looney notes that he is a supporter of common sense education reform.  He indicates that his concern is with both the speed at which reform has been implemented and the lack of collaboration.

Here are a couple of important points made in Looney’s letter:

Our state secured and has spent $500,000,000 in Race to the Top grant funds in the last three years.  At the same time, Tennessee has realized small incremental improvements in student results.  One might argue that the dizzying rate of education reforms in Tennessee is the result of the huge influx of federal dollars rather than a careful, measured understanding of the needs of students.  Others believe these pockets of improvement are a result of implementing The Tennessee Diploma project, which preceded Race to the Top initiatives.  In reality, as most any researcher would concede, it is difficult to know which reforms have been beneficial because we have manipulated too many variables.

Perhaps most discouraging is the fact that 50% of the $500,000,000 was kept by the Tennessee Department of Education.  I wonder for what purpose and to whose benefit?  The district I serve received less than $400,000 which did not come close to covering the cost and burden of implementing these reforms.

This is likely why organizations like Professional Educators of Tennessee are asking for an audit of Race to the Top expenditures.

Looney continues:

Based on the number and pace of reforms, their strategy seems to be to throw as many darts as possible at the problem in hopes that something, anything, will hit the bull’s eye and stick.  Meanwhile, many teachers and administrators have encouraged a more deliberate, reflective and inclusive approach, which I believe will yield long term sustainable results.  In short, Tennessee students, educators and families are not well served by rapid-fire reform efforts that ignore the importance of collaboration and thoughtful implementation.

This is a thoughtful letter raising very legitimate concerns that should certainly be addressed by the Governor and Commissioner Huffman.  If Dr. Looney’s urging won’t encourage their response, perhaps some legislators will raise these very same questions.

Tennesseans deserve excellent education for all children.  They also need to know the reform strategy being pursued is being implemented thoughtfully and is efficiently using the state’s limited funds.

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

 

What is BEP 2.0?

I’ve written before about the importance of fixing Tennessee’s school funding formula (the BEP) and doing so by fully-funding BEP 2.0.

But, what is BEP 2.0? And what would it mean if fully-funded?

Well, here’s Governor Bredesen’s 2007 speech outlining the BEP 2.0 changes (developed with then state Senator Jamie Woodson).  It also includes a spreadsheet explaining the fiscal impact of funding BEP 2.0 at various levels.  This was, of course, back in 2007 and so the dollars are 2007 dollars and would need a slight adjustment to reflect 2013 reality.  Of course, it’s also likely the demographics of some districts have changed, so their numbers in the formula today would be slightly different.

As I recall at the time, the proposal would have meant an investment of nearly $500 million in new money for schools.  What passed was a plan to fund roughly half of that in 2007-08 and then to phase-in the remaining dollars over time.  Then, the 2008 financial crisis hit and BEP 2.0 was not fully-funded.

Now, of course, our state has seen revenue collections tick upward.  It seems that 2014 would be a good time to re-examine BEP 2.0, determine its relevance, and begin a path to full-funding.

According to these numbers, MNPS would see roughly $20 million new dollars every year if the plan were fully-funded.  That would certainly make a difference in the current debate MNPS is having over funding, school closures, charter schools, and teacher pay.

Neighboring Sumner County, which saw the opening of school delayed by 2 weeks due to a budget squabble over roughly $7 million in 2012, would see a bit more than $10 million in new money.  Which would mean they could fund their budget and not raise property taxes.

Other counties benefit as well.  It seems unlikely that the formula can be fully-funded all at once in 2014.  But a phase-in plan combined with an updating of the formula is long overdue.

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

 

 

PET’s Core Principles

As the Senate Education Committee conducts hearings today on the Common Core State Standards, Professional Educators of Tennessee has released a set of principles that they hope will guide policymakers on the Common Core implementation and on education reform in general.

Here they are:

  1. Keep Common Core State Standards in Language Arts and Math in place.
  2. Common Core is a starting point.  The standards that are currently adopted are the minimal baseline and we must keep moving forward to increase these standards.
  3. Evaluate Tennessee’s role in PARCC. 
  4. Delay using student test results for Teacher Evaluations, at least until 2016-2017 at the earliest.
  5. Make individual student data-mining in Tennessee illegal.   Schools and schools systems need better policies in regard to school personnel having access to an educator’s personal summative and evaluation scores.
  6. Textbook selection and purchasing must be completely transparent. 
  7. Conduct a public review of All Race to the Top Expenditures. 
  8. Evaluate Tennessee’s No Child Left Behind waiver. 
  9. Clarify the role of the State Board of Education. 
  10. Keep all stakeholders at the table.  

 

Several points are worth noting.  First, PET is made up of educators and is expressing support generally for the Common Core State Standards.  That’s important for parents and policymakers to know – the standards are, as PET says, a starting point.  They are an important starting point and a definite improvement over Tennessee’s previous standards.

Next, PET is calling for a delay in the use of the PARCC tests for teacher evaluations.  This makes some sense.  Transitioning Tennessee’s value-added date from TCAP to PARCC make take some time and adjustment (it’s not entirely clear how TVAAS will handle the transition from all bubble-in tests to constructed response tests, for example).  Delaying the use of this data in evaluations will give everyone time to see how the tests work and how to best fit them in to the TVAAS model.  Meanwhile, the teacher evaluation system itself can be improved — it seems it has changed often in the early phases of implementation and an opportunity to reflect and improve seems warranted. Further, for those who insist that some student data be included on evaluations, there are certainly other data points which might be included in a teacher’s performance evaluation.

I have been asked a lot about #7 — basically, what happened to all that Race to the Top money? How was it spent? Tennesseans deserve to know how the RTTT dollars were spent and what (if any) impact those dollars had on teachers and students.

Finally, in light of a recent letter from Superintendents to Gov. Haslam, it seems #10 also deserves some attention.  Intentionally including all stakeholders and ensuring their concerns are heard and questions are answered is a critical element in both Common Core implementation and in education reform in general.

Stay tuned for updates from the hearings today and tomorrow.

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

 

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?