Who is Sara Heyburn?

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed has an interview with the former teacher who is now the Executive Director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

One note that struck me in the interview was her expressed desire to hear more from teachers in the policy making process. Here’s what she had to say:

“We need to hear from teachers who are interested in policy making. Continue to persevere and look for those opportunities and find ways to make your voices heard.”

She also speaks to the strengths of existing policy outlets, and advises teachers to take part in them.

“The outlets we have now in our state are great. There are lots of opportunities for teachers to get involved.” However, she also emphasizes that teachers aren’t seeing what they want, they should work to create additional opportunities.

I absolutely agree that policymakers should look to teachers for guidance and insight on education policy decisions. Heyburn’s words sound like a welcome invitation for teachers to offer their perspective as policy is being made.

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

 

Voucher Week

 

This week is voucher week at the Tennessee General Assembly.

Yes, the voucher legislation has been scheduled for a hearing and vote in the House Finance Subcommittee. Should it pass that hurdle, it will be heard in the full House Finance Committee and then on to the House Floor.

Because the House has passed “Flow Motion” which suspends the normal notice requirements, all of this COULD happen this week.

Of course, the legislation could also fail at the committee level or be amended somewhere along the way.

But, whatever the fate of vouchers in 2015, it will likely be decided this week.

I’ve consistently written about or shared articles about why vouchers should be defeated. Vouchers are bad public policy – they don’t improve student outcomes and they do increase costs to taxpayers.

Here are some highlights of articles urging a rejection of vouchers:

Vouchers can be susceptible to fraud

A voucher program designed for Tennessee students with IEPs has been proposed and is modeled after similar programs in Florida and Arizona. The Florida program has been particularly susceptible to fraud and also keeps expanding, taking more and more public dollars with it to private schools of questionable value.

Read more about the failures of the Florida voucher model.

Vouchers mean big government expansion

Samantha Bates of PET argues that a voucher program would expand the scope and reach of government — purportedly the antithesis of what leading voucher proponents are seeking. She writes:

A voucher program will also inevitably lead to continued growth and power by the Tennessee Department of Education over local education. Vouchers will not eliminate or substantially reduce the state’s role in education, and it will take significant resources to oversee the program. If you like big government, this will increase the size and scope of the Tennessee Department of Education.

For some, vouchers are a means to eliminate public education. Looking at the argument for a moment, do we really want a massive system of government contractors, albeit private schools, approved by the state, who in turn will themselves lobby and demand larger subsidies? Vouchers will also likely drive up the cost for parents in private schools whose children do not use or qualify for vouchers.

Read more about why vouchers won’t work.

Vouchers create accountability problems

The Tennessee School Boards Association makes several points about why vouchers should be opposed. Here are two key points they make:

1. Vouchers use your money to help pay for a student to go to a private school that answers to private administrators and not you the taxpayer.  Public schools must answer to the people and are held accountable for the use of local, state and federal educational tax money.

2. Article XI, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution specifically states “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.”  Nowhere in our constitution is the General Assembly directed to take taxpayer money and use it for a voucher system so parents can use public money to send their children to private schools.

Read more on the TSBA’s opposition to vouchers.

Vouchers increase costs to taxpayers and could result in school closures

Here’s what I wrote about the Fiscal Note on the voucher bill — a Fiscal Note from the fantasyland world of the Friedman Foundation:

This analysis suggests two things: First, that the Fiscal Note assumptions about cost “relief” may be suspect and second, that the only way to gain true cost savings from a voucher program would be through school closures.

That’s right, to get true savings from a voucher program public schools would have to close. If they don’t, the cost shift noted in the fiscal analysis would mean increased costs to districts who then operate with decreased revenue.

Read more about the true cost of a voucher program.

Even some school choice advocates oppose vouchers

Jon Alfuth, publisher of Bluff City Ed and an advocate of school choice, and specifically, of adding more options for students by way of charter schools, says vouchers are the wrong way to go if you want to advance choice in a way that helps kids. He cites data from recent studies of voucher programs to note that they simply don’t improve student outcomes.

In 2010, the Center on Education Policy reviewed 10 years of voucher research and action and found that vouchers had no strong effect on student achievement.  The most positive results come from Milwaukee County’s voucher program, but the effects were small and limited to only a few grades.

Read more about why vouchers are the wrong way to advance a school choice agenda

Finally, voters aren’t all that concerned about school choice.

A recent poll of Tennessee voters found that:

Additionally, the poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, found that voters ranked lack of school choice dead last among issues of concern on education. That’s particularly relevant given the advancing voucher legislation at the General Assembly.

Voters simply aren’t talking about or thinking about vouchers or other methods of expanding school choice.

It’s voucher week, and there are some very solid reasons why Tennessee legislators should be casting votes against vouchers this week. Here’s the bottom line: Vouchers don’t work to improve academic outcomes for students and they do cost taxpayers lots of money. If that’s not enough, legislators can rest assured knowing that voters aren’t beating down the doors begging for vouchers — probably because they haven’t worked elsewhere and there’s no reason to believe they will start working if they hit Tennessee.

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

A Little Less Bad

From a story in Chalkbeat:

Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system is more accurate than ever in measuring teacher quality…

That’s the conclusion drawn from a report on the state’s teacher evaluation system conducted by the State Department of Education.

The idea is that the system is improving.

Here’s the evidence the report uses to justify the claim of an improving evaluation system:

1) Teacher observation scores now more closely align with teacher TVAAS scores — TVAAS is the value-added modeling system used to determine a teacher’s impact on student growth

2) More teachers in untested subjects are now being evaluated using the portfolio system rather than TVAAS data from students they never taught

On the second item, I’d note that previously, 3 districts were using the a portfolio model and now 11 districts use it. This model allows related-arts teachers and those in other untested subjects to present a portfolio of student work to demonstrate that teacher’s impact on growth. The model is generally applauded by teachers who have a chance to use it.

However, there are 141 districts in Tennessee and 11 use this model. Part of the reason is the time it takes to assess portfolios well and another reason is the cost associated with having trained evaluators assess the portfolios. Since the state has not (yet) provided funding for the use of portfolios, it’s no surprise more districts haven’t adopted the model. If the state wants the evaluation model to really improve (and thereby improve teaching practice), they should support districts in their efforts to provide meaningful evaluation to teachers.

A portfolio system could work well for all teachers, by the way. The state could move to a system of project-based learning and thus provide a rich source of material for both evaluating student mastery of concepts AND teacher ability to impact student learning.

On to the issue of TVAAS and observation alignment. Here’s what the report noted:

Among the findings, state education leaders are touting the higher correlation between a teacher’s value-added score (TVAAS), which estimates how much teachers contribute to students’ growth on statewide assessments, and observation scores conducted primarily by administrators.

First, the purpose of using multiple measures of teacher performance is not to find perfect alignment, or even strong correlation, but to utilize multiple inputs to assess performance. Pushing for alignment suggests that the department is actually looking for a way to make TVAAS the central input driving teacher evaluation.

Advocates of this approach will tell suggest that student growth can be determined accurately by TVAAS and that TVAAS is a reliable predictor of teacher performance.

I would suggest that TVAAS, like most value-added models, is not a significant differentiator of teacher performance. I’ve written before about the need for caution when using value-added data to evaluate teachers.

More recently, I wrote about the problems inherent in attempting to assign growth scores when shifting to a new testing regime, as Tennessee will do next year when it moves from TCAP to TNReady. In short, it’s not possible to assign valid growth scores when comparing two entirely different tests.  Researchers at RAND noted:

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.

So, even if you buy the idea that TVAAS is a significant differentiator of teacher performance, drawing meaningful conclusions from next year’s TNReady simply is not reliable.

The state is touting improvement in a flawed system that may now be a little less bad.  And because they insist on estimating growth from two different tests with differing methodologies, the growth estimates in 2016 will be unreliable at best. If they wanted to improve the system, they would take two to three years to build growth data based on TNReady — that would mean two t0 three years of NO TVAAS data in teacher evaluation.

Alternatively, the state could move to a system of project-based learning and teacher evaluation and professional development based on a Peer Assistance and Review Model. Such an approach would be both student-centered and result in giving teachers the professional respect they deserve. It also carries a price tag — but our students are worth doing the work of both reallocating existing education dollars and finding new ways to invest in our schools.

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

 

 

 

Voters Want Charter Reforms

 

That’s the message the Metro Nashville Education Association wants to get out as Nashville’s Mayoral candidates head to a forum focused on education this evening.

MNEA pointed to results from a poll of Tennessee voters conducted for the Center for Popular Democracy as evidence that charter reforms are a key education issue warranting attention.

The poll found that charter reforms focused on transparency and accountability received overwhelmingly favorable responses from Tennessee voters.

Additionally, the poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, found that voters ranked lack of school choice dead last among issues of concern on education. That’s particularly relevant given the advancing voucher legislation at the General Assembly.

Here’s the release from MNEA:

Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) Leaders say a recent survey of local voters shows that Tennesseans overwhelmingly favor reforms for local charter schools to protect students and taxpayers.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected charter expansion as a priority, the survey found. Instead, voters favored charter reforms to strengthen:
• Transparency and accountability

• Teacher training and qualifications

• Anti-fraud measures

• Equity policies for high-need students
“It’s clear our communities support quality public schools, not an expansion of charter schools,” said MNEA President Stephen Henry. “We need to make sure ALL Nashville schools are held to the same accountability and transparency standards that taxpayers expect.”
The survey also found voters rated the need for more parental involvement and the reduction of excessive student testing as bigger priorities than expanding charters.

Specifically, voters favored by greater than 80% approval reforms that would:

  • provide rigorous, independent audits of charter school finances
  • require charter schools to publish how they spend taxpayer dollars, including all budgets and contracts
  • ensure that teachers in any publicly-funded school meet the same training and qualification requirements

“We need community leaders who will stand up for the strong public schools our kids deserve,” said MNEA Vice President Erick Huth. “This includes our new director of schools and our next mayor.”
The poll was conducted in January among 500 registered voters by GBA Strategies, a research firm based in Washington, D.C. It was funded, in part, by the Center for Popular Democracy, a national organization dedicated to social justice issues.

Here are some of the poll results:

  Total Support %
Transparency & Accountability  
Require state officials to conduct regular audits of charter schools’ finances to detect fraud, waste or abuse of public funds 86
Require companies and organizations that manage charter schools to release to parents and the public how they spend taxpayer money, including their annual budgets and contracts 85
Preventing Harm to Neighborhood Schools  
Before any new charter school is approved, conduct an analysis of the impact the school will have on neighborhood public schools 78
Ensure that neighborhood public schools do not lose funding when new charter schools open in their area 78
Protect Taxpayer funds  
Require charter schools to return taxpayer money to the school district for any student that leaves the charter school to return to a neighborhood public school during the school year 78
Stop the creation of new charter schools if state officials have not shown the ability to prevent fraud and mismanagement 69
Prohibit charter school board members and their immediate families from financially benefiting from their schools 65
Prohibit charter schools from spending taxpayer dollars on advertising or marketing 54
Serving High Need Students  
Require all teachers who work in taxpayer funded schools, including neighborhood public schools and charter schools, to meet the same training and qualification requirements 89
Require charter schools to serve high-need students such as special education students, at the same level as neighborhood public schools 79

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

Money Talks

Funny how a little thing like a BEP lawsuit asking for more than $600 million can cause Governor Haslam to propose adding a little more money to the education pot.

Yes, seven Tennessee school districts are suing over the inadequacy of the state’s education funding. And, just one week after the suit was filed, Governor Haslam suddenly “found” some $30 million to invest in funding an additional month of teacher health insurance. The state currently pays 45% of 10 months of teacher insurance, but teachers are insured for a full 12 months.

The districts are suing based on numbers provided by the BEP Review Committee, the state group tasked with annually reviewing the BEP formula and making recommendations for improvements.

The idea is that the BEP Review Committee will highlight issues that need attention and help the state avoid additional funding lawsuits.

The reality is that the BEP Review Committee reports go ignored by the legislature and most Governors until a lawsuit is filed. Twice since the original “Small Schools” suit that initially brought about the BEP the state has been sued over funding equity. Twice, the state has lost those equity lawsuits.

Governor Haslam’s administration has said that education funding is now a priority — but that wasn’t the case last year and he didn’t seem to be making any real moves this year until a lawsuit was filed.

Only seven districts are party to the current suit while others continue to debate joining in.

In Metro Nashville, some on the Board have openly suggested a more collaborative approach. I would suggest that after giving Bill Haslam four years to get serious about school funding, the time for collaboration is over. Haslam has created a duplicative BEP Task Force that has the stated goal of rearranging the slices of a pie that’s too small.

When asked about the latest threat of a suit before it became a reality, Haslam said he was committed to doing “something” about school funding, but he just didn’t know what yet.

This $30 million is a tiny olive branch, but far from a serious move toward funding schools properly. And, with legislators like House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick saying Tennessee’s schools are currently properly funded, it’s unclear how much support truly improving the funding situation will have. In fact, at today’s legislative hearing on school vouchers, McCormick took a swipe at school boards, suggesting they should focus on educating kids instead of filing lawsuits.

I would also note that for those on the MNPS Board who want to collaborate with Haslam that he has been supportive of voucher schemes that will devastate public schools, especially MNPS. Haslam’s support of dangerous voucher schemes and lack of any serious effort to improve school funding combined with his legislative leaders taking verbal swipes at school boards means he’s deserving of a serious confrontation — not a collaborative spirit.

You don’t wait around for someone who has never shown an interest in making an effort to see if they suddenly will do something good. You don’t take the coin they toss in the way of some insurance money as evidence they are finally serious about giving you what you deserve.

The bottom line is this: The BEP is broken. 

Bill Haslam has made no meaningful effort to fix it. Until a lawsuit was filed, his administration wasn’t even willing to admit there was a problem with funding for teacher insurance.

Tennessee school districts, teachers, and parents should start working together to insist that the legislature and the Governor develop serious, long-term funding solutions for our state’s schools. If the BEP problem is not fixed by legislative action, the legislature and Governor may be forced to fix it by the courts. It’s long past time for the serious work of making the BEP work for all of Tennessee.

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

Validating the Invalid?

The Tennessee House of Representatives passed legislation today (HB 108) that makes changes to current practice in teacher evaluation as Tennessee transitions to its new testing regime, TNReady.

The changes adjust the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that is dependent on TVAAS scores to 10% next year, 20% the following year, and back to the current 35% by the 2017-18 academic year.

This plan is designed to allow for a transition period to the new TNReady tests which will include constructed-response questions and be aligned to the so-called Tennessee standards which match up with the Common Core State Standards.

Here’s the problem: There is no statistically valid way to predict expected growth on a new test based on the historic results of TCAP. First, the new test has (supposedly) not been fully designed. Second, the test is in a different format. It’s both computer-based and it contains constructed-response questions. That is, students must write-out answers and/or demonstrate their work.

Since Tennessee has never had a test like this, it’s impossible to predict growth at all. Not even with 10% confidence. Not with any confidence. It is the textbook definition of comparing apples to oranges.

Clearly, legislators feel like at the very least, this is an improvement. A reasonable accommodation to teachers as our state makes a transition.

But, how is using 10% of an invalid number a good thing? Should any part of a teacher’s evaluation be made up of a number that reveals nothing at all about that teacher’s performance?

While value-added data alone is a relatively poor predictor of teacher performance, the value-added estimate used next year is especially poor because it is not at all valid.

But, don’t just take my word for it. Researchers studying the validity of value-added measures asked whether value-added gave different results depending on the type of question asked. Particularly relevant now because Tennessee is shifting to a new test with different types of questions.

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. As more years of data become available, it may be possible to make some correlation between past TCAP results and TNReady scores.

Or, if the state is determined to use growth scores (and wants to use them with accuracy), they will wait several years and build completely new growth models based on TNReady alone. At least three years of data would be needed in order to build such a model.

It seems likely that the Senate will follow the House’s lead on Monday and overwhelmingly support the proposed evaluation changes. But in doing so, they should be asking themselves if it’s really ok to base any part of a teacher’s evaluation on numbers that reliably predict nothing.

More on Value-Added:

Real World Harms of Value-Added Data

Struggles with Value-Added Data

 

What Could Go Wrong?

Last week, I wrote about the newest voucher craze sweeping the Tennessee General Assembly — vouchers for kids with IEPs – individualized education plans.

The concept sounds interesting, but as noted in the post, the program lacks accountability. Tennessee’s program is modeled after Florida’s McKay Scholarship, and Sara Mead of Education Sector studied that plan and found it to be seriously lacking.

But, what does that mean? What could go wrong?

Well, everything.

A story in the Miami New Times details a number of problems with the McKay program – the very plan Tennessee is seeking to emulate if the legislation passes here.

Here are some highlights:

South Florida Prep

South Florida Prep received significant funds from the Florida Department of Education under the McKay program. Here’s how that school was run:

Two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor. Eventually, fire marshals and sheriffs condemned the “campus” as unfit for habitation, pushing the student body into transience in church foyers and public parks.

“We had no materials,” says Nicolas Norris, who taught music despite the lack of a single instrument. “There were no teacher edition books. There was no curriculum.”

Exponential Growth

Once a niche scholarship fund, the McKay program has boomed exponentially in the 12 years since it was introduced under Gov. Jeb Bush, with $148.6 million handed out in the past 12 months, a 38 percent increase from just more than five years ago.

There are 1,013 schools — 65 percent of them religious — collecting McKay vouchers from 22,198 children at an average of $7,144 per year.

Similarly, proponents of the vouchers in Tennessee suggest that plan will be modest, and not widely used. The Florida numbers tell a different — and financially devastating story.

No Accountability

While supporters of the measure in Tennessee claim that accountability measures are included, they were also included in the Florida legislation. Nevertheless, here’s what’s happened there:

According to one former DOE investigator, who claimed his office was stymied by trickle-down gubernatorial politics, the agency failed to uncover “even a significant fraction” of the McKay crime that was occurring.

Administrators who have received funding include criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.

Even in investigations where fraud, including forgery and stealing student information to bolster enrollment, is proven, arrests are rare. The thieves are usually allowed to simply repay the stolen loot in installments — or at least promise to — and continue to accept McKay payments.

Opening the Door

Just as in Florida, the Tennessee voucher plan is being pushed as a way to help kids with IEPs access services. But, here’s what has happened:

To be eligible for a McKay voucher in the early days, a student would have had to qualify for an individual education program (IEP) — which encompasses conditions ranging from attention disorders and autism to physical disabilities — and be failing in public schools. The latter requirement was eventually scrapped by legislators. A cap limiting the number of McKay kids per district was also tossed.

Who Will Check?

The proposed Tennessee plan creates “Individual Education Accounts” for parents/guardians of children qualifying for the program — the qualifications being the child has attended at least two semesters of public school in Tennessee and currently has an IEP.

The parent can then use the funds to provide services either through a private school or on their own, by purchasing curriculum or paying for tutoring. Though the bill requires the Department of Education to set up procedures for policing the program, it seems it would be difficult to keep track of the 6000-8000 accounts the plan is estimated to create in the early years. Additionally, of course, the Department would have to track providers of education services and curriculum. How long will it take to discover fraud? And what happens to the students with legitimate needs who are poorly or never served?

As proposed, Tennessee’s program has many similarities to the way the program in Florida began. The only way to prevent such a plan from becoming a disaster in Tennessee, it seems, is to never let it get started.

 

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 

Vouchers Gone Wild

Vouchers are going wild in the Tennessee General Assembly this week and its not clear where they’ll stop.

First, the Senate Finance Committee tacked on an amendment to the principle voucher vehicle, SB 999.

The amendment adds the words “public or nonpublic school” to the bill.

Here’s what that means: Students could use the so-called Opportunity Scholarship to pay “out of district” tuition to a neighboring school district.

A family lives in Davidson County but wants their child to attend school in Williamson. The language allows them to use the voucher to send their child to school in Williamson if they meet all the other voucher requirements.

This is problematic on several fronts. First, there’s no way for districts to predict how many students will apply for admission from outside their district. This makes planning for growth/space needs difficult.

Next, the voucher amount may or may not equal the actual per pupil dollars spent on the child — creating a financial burden for the receiving district as well as for the district that loses the student. Yes, even if students leave a public school system, fixed costs mean vouchers increase, not decrease expenses.

The amendment will surely require a new Fiscal Note — an analysis of the financial impact of the bill.  And its adoption delayed consideration of the companion bill in the House Education – Administration & Planning Committee.

Following this adventure in vouchers, the Senate Education Committee and a House subcommittee approved a voucher plan that would allow any Tennessee student with an IEP – Individualized Education Plan – to receive vouchers. 120,000 Tennessee students currently meet this definition.

That means that in addition to the 20,000 student cap that is in the first voucher bill, another 120,000 students would be eligible. It’s not hard to imagine an ultimate goal of making vouchers available to every single student in Tennessee.

The idea for the IEP voucher plan is based on a plan promoted by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who saw the program adopted in his state while he was in office.

A report by Sara Mead of Education Sector at American Institutes for Research notes that the Florida program, on which the Tennessee legislation is modeled, is problematic.

Here are some highlights:

McKay students do not have to take the annual state tests administered to public school students, and McKay schools are not required to report any information on student outcomes—which goes against the national trend toward standards and accountability in public education. Thus, it is virtually impossible to say whether special-needs children using McKay vouchers to attend private schools are faring better, worse, or about the same as they had in their old public schools. It is also difficult to determine whether the McKay program is improving existing special-education services, since, unlike public schools, McKay schools are not required to provide these services at all.

Tennessee’s plan would have a similar lack of accountability — which means parents could claim the voucher and then have their child be grossly under-served.

Mead continues:

McKay’s lack of accountability requirements and its minimal quality and service expectations make McKay a seriously flawed program. Under the current structure of the program, taxpayers have almost no knowledge of how their money is being spent, and neither taxpayers nor parents have access to solid information about the performance of different McKay schools. For parents, the stakes are very high, as they are required to give up their due process rights under IDEA if they choose to participate in the McKay program. Parents, taxpayers, and the state’s special-needs children deserve better.

Moving toward a program with zero accountability and unproven results seems a grave disservice to the families of special needs children in Tennessee.

Next week may yield a slow down for these two voucher initiatives. Or, it could be more vouchers gone wild – more tax dollars spent, less accountability.

More on School Vouchers:

Fiscal Note Fantasy

TSBA Talks Vouchers

Why Vouchers Won’t Work

Should Tennesseans Support School Vouchers?

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

 

TNReady … Already?

Back in November, the State of Tennessee awarded a contract to Measurement Inc. to develop the new assessment that would replace TCAP.

This assessment is to be aligned to state standards (largely based on Common Core State Standards) and should take into account feedback from Tennesseans.

Measurement Inc. will be paid $108 million for the contract.

Chalkbeat noted at the time the contract was awarded:

Measurement Inc. is subcontracting to AIR, a much larger player in the country’s testing market. AIR already has contracts with Utah and Florida, so Tennessee educators will be able to compare scores of Tennessee students with students from those states “with certainty and immediately.” AIR is also working with Smarter Balanced, one of two federally funded consortia charged with developing Common Core-aligned exams. That means that educators in Tennessee will also likely be able to measure their students’ progress with students in the 16 states in the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

The Department of Education notes on its website:

Comparability: While the assessments will be unique to Tennessee, TNReady will allow Tennesseans to compare our student progress to that of other states. Through a partnership between Measurement Inc. and American Institutes for Research, TNReady will offer Tennessee a comparison of student performance with other states, likely to include Florida and Utah.

While Measurement Inc. has an interesting approach to recruiting test graders, another item about the contract is also noteworthy.

The Department and Chalkbeat both noted the ability to compare Tennessee test scores with other states, including Utah and Florida.

Here’s why that’s possible. On December 5th, the Utah Board of Education approved the use of revenue from test licensing agreements with Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee based on contracts with AIR, the organization with which Measurement Inc. has a contract, as noted by Chalkbeat.

The contract notes that Utah’s expected arrangement in Tennessee is worth $2.3 million per year (running from 2015-2017) and that Tennessee will use questions licensed for the Utah assessment in Math and ELA in its 2015-16 assessment.

So, Tennessee’s new test will use questions developed for Utah’s assessment and also licensed to Florida and Arizona.

The contract further notes that any release of the questions either by accident or as required by law, will result in a fee of $5000 per test item released. That means if Tennessee wants to release a bank of questions generated from the Utah test and used for Tennessee’s assessment, the state would pay $5000 per question.

While Tennessee has said it may change or adapt the test going forward, it seems that the 2016 edition of the test may be well underway in terms of its development.

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

 

Why Vouchers Won’t Work

Samantha Bates, Director of Member Services for Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) offers her take on why vouchers won’t work in Tennessee.

We are living in an age of historic transformation. There is a no doubt that traditional conservative and liberal ideology has undergone a seismic shift. Political labels mean nothing to voters, because it is very obvious that they mean nothing to politicians elected under a political banner of a party. In education the name of the game is race to the top; in politics it is race to the trough.

Calvin Coolidge understood that the power to tax is the power to destroy. He said, “A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent public necessity and sound public policy is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny.” Government at all levels has created problems and then miraculously been seen as the savior to resolve that issue. We understand, however, that top-down reform rarely reaches the grassroots.

Unless we generate improved capacities in our people, organizations, and communities to see the world differently and to utilize new concepts and methods, we will continue to try to advance ideas and approaches that are increasingly out of date. For example, we have made our system of public education adhere to one set of rules and then handcuffed them. Now we want to allow other approaches to operate under different constructs. Should we not focus on means to free our state and local school districts from onerous rules and regulations and give them greater freedom to operate? Instead of charter schools, for example, what about charter districts in Tennessee. Let’s simply block-grant federal and money to the states or districts.

Education is the process by which we infuse knowledge of our culture and our moral values in our children. However, our schools are being changed from essential community institutions into government agencies. Rather than serving as hubs of civic life, our schools are converting into apparatuses of state and national policy more concerned with economic development than with the diffusion of culture; more concerned with issues associated with international competitiveness than with concern about national character. We have lost our vision because we handcuffed public schools with burdensome rules and regulations and outsourced our policymaking to chambers of commerce and wealthy philanthropists and their well-funded think tanks.

Just as good teachers know when to put aside curriculum to do what is right for children, good leaders will support that effort and good policy will embrace it. The move to shift more state and local dollars to vouchers in Tennessee will not work and will further destroy our public schools. Under a recent proposal the attempt is to target the lowest performing five percent. There will always be a bottom five percent. So, if your school is not on the list, rest assured it will eventually get there. The numbers will expand, and local school systems will be required to absorb the cost to educate the students that remain.

If policymakers want to argue that the latest voucher proposal will promote market-driven competition, they are operating under a false assumption. They will need to come to grips with the fact that, as a whole, Tennessee lacks the necessary infrastructure of quality private schools, and that list is further narrowed with ones that operate at a reasonable tuition rate in line with any proposed voucher. There are some Jewish, Christian, and Muslim schools that may meet the criteria. While the U.S. Constitution is silent on how states fund or provide a quality education, and courts around the nation have upheld that providing money to faith-based schools through vouchers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, each community will ultimately debate if this is where they want their tax money to be spent.

It would also stand to reason, if we are concerned about accountability in public schools and with public monies we will need to also need to be concerned with accountability of a voucher school. If the testing and evaluation system are critical for quality in public schools, would they not be as equally critical for private schools? Vouchers could lead private schools to excessive regulation, as well as undermine the quality and independence of private schools. Whoever pays the piper ultimately calls the tune.

A voucher program will also inevitably lead to continued growth and power by the Tennessee Department of Education over local education. Vouchers will not eliminate or substantially reduce the state’s role in education, and it will take significant resources to oversee the program. If you like big government, this will increase the size and scope of the Tennessee Department of Education.

For some, vouchers are a means to eliminate public education. Looking at the argument for a moment, do we really want a massive system of government contractors, albeit private schools, approved by the state, who in turn will themselves lobby and demand larger subsidies? Vouchers will also likely drive up the cost for parents in private schools whose children do not use or qualify for vouchers.

Philosopher George Santayana defined fanaticism as amplifying your efforts when you have forgotten your purpose. While public schools must promote personal development and intellectual growth, education goes beyond preparing students for college or the workforce. We must remind ourselves of the purpose of public education under the Tennessee Constitution: “The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Will vouchers, as proposed, meet that standard?

There are many people working hard to strengthen our system of free public schools. We simply believe that local educators, rather than outside influences, are the people who must transform our schools. We have been there. We are teachers, principals, superintendents and boards of education and we do not believe vouchers will work in our state.

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