The Data Wars: Herb Strikes Back

Yes, the Data Wars continue. Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) gained new hope recently when 33 members of Nashville’s Metro Council penned a letter supporting resistance to the Achievement School District’s request for student data.

Now, Tennessee’s Attorney General has weighed-in and says the alliance of MNPS and Shelby County must comply with the ASD’s request. What happens if they don’t? Nate Rau notes in the Tennessean:

McQueen’s warning leaves open the possibility the state would dock education dollars from Metro and Shelby schools if they continue to deny her request.

It wouldn’t be the first time for Nashville, as the Haslam administration withheld $3.4 million in state funds in 2012 after the school board refused to approve controversial Great Hearts charter school.

Withholding state BEP funds is a favorite “ultimate weapon,” used in the Great Hearts controversy and also threatened during the TNReady debacle in year one of that test that wasn’t.

During the debate that ultimately saw Nashville schools lose funds in a BEP penalty, Commissioner Kevin Huffman and the Department of Education had an ally in then-Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. Joey Garrison reported in the (now defunct) City Paper at the time:

By this point, Huffman had already facilitated a July 26 meeting to discuss Great Hearts’ next move, a gathering that took place just hours before Great Hearts’ revised application would go before the Metro board for second consideration. The meeting site: the office of Mayor Karl Dean, also a Great Hearts backer. In attendance, among others, were Huffman, Dean, Barbic, Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote, Great Hearts officials Dan Scoggin and Peter Bezanson, and Bill DeLoache, a wealthy Nashville investor and one of the state’s leading charter school proponents.

As Rau points out, the current controversy stems from a newly-passed state law giving charter schools the opportunity to request student data from district schools. It seems, however, that there is some dispute over the intent of that law. Rau explains:

Slatery’s opinion also said that the student data may be used for the ASD to promote its schools to prospective students. State Rep. John Forgety, who chairs a House education committee and supported the legislation, told The Tennessean the intent was not to create a law that allowed districts to market to each other’s students.

So it seems the legislature may need to revisit the issue to clear things up.

Also unclear: Where do the current candidates for Governor stand on protecting student data vs. providing marketing information to competing districts and schools?

Stay tuned for more. Will the Shelby-MNPS alliance continue their resistance? Will Commissioner McQueen unleash the power of BEP fund withholding? Will this issue end up in court?

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


 

Metro Council Members Back MNPS in Data Wars

I’ve written before about the escalating Data Wars between the state’s Achievement School District (ASD) and the two largest school districts – Shelby County and MNPS.

Now, Nashville’s Metro Council is weighing-in, at least in the form of a letter signed by 33 Council Members to MNPS Board Chair Anna Shepard.

The Tennessean notes:

The 33 Nashville Metro Council members signed a letter, dated Tuesday, that commends the district for “taking steps to protect the personal information of students and families.”

“We understand the state has taken a confrontational position on this issue, seeking to compel Nashville and Memphis schools to continue sharing personal information in opposition to federal and without state statute supporting their position,” the letter reads. “However, as elected representatives of the same constituents whose privacy rights are being violated, we encourage you to continue to advocate for our families by the just and proper means that are available to you.”

As I’ve noted before, Commissioner McQueen has asked for an Attorney General’s opinion on the various interpretations of a new state law that some suggest mandates the data-sharing the ASD seeks.

What happens if MNPS doesn’t share the data? There’s always the possibility the state will punish them by withholding some BEP funds.

That happened back in 2012 over the Great Hearts controversy. Those who follow MNPS closely will recall that then-Mayor Karl Dean was a prime backer of Great Hearts, which put him at odds with the elected School Board at that time.

As Joey Garrison, writing for the City Paper at the time, reported:

Emails show DeLoache, long known as an unofficial education adviser to Dean, served as a resource for Huffman, as well. After the Metro board denied Great Hearts in May, DeLoache told Huffman he hoped its rejection might “provide an opportunity to highlight to the Governor” the need to push for a statewide charter school authorizer during the 2013 legislative session. (A statewide charter authorizer would effectively supersede and therefore negate authority of local charter authorizers such as Metro.)

That’s Bill DeLoache, the wealthy Nashville investor and charter proponent who has spent heavily in the past to help elect pro-charter candidates to the MNPS School Board.

Will MNPS and Shelby County Schools face fines if they continue on their current path of protecting student data from the ASD? Will more Metro leaders stand up and support the School Board?

The Data Wars continue.

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


 

Why TN Teachers Didn’t Like Kevin Huffman

Kevin Huffman announced yesterday he’s leaving his post as Commissioner of Education. The news was met positively by many teachers around the state. But, why didn’t Tennessee teachers care for Kevin Huffman? Why did a number of local teacher associations vote “no confidence” in Huffman in 2013? Why did Directors from across the state sign a letter telling the Governor that Huffman needed to do a better job?

I wrote a post for a different blog back in 2011, Huffman’s first year, about his remarks on teacher evaluation. In short, he got off to a bad start in terms of communicating with and about teachers, and never recovered.

Here’s that post from 2011 in its entirety, with some notes about what has happened since then included:

Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, offered his thoughts today on the state’s new evaluation system for teachers which takes effect this year.

 

While I certainly agree that the evaluation system needed significant improvement, I have some concerns about the Commissioner’s statements.

 

Specifically, he notes:

 

Tennessee is now a few weeks into a new era of evaluation. The new system is strong, though not perfect, and it represents a dramatic leap forward over the past system that told nearly all teachers they had succeeded, even when students had failed.

 

This statement assumes that the poor performance of Tennessee students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was solely or primarily the result of bad teachers. By his calculations, since 70 percent of students failed to meet satisfactory progress on the NAEP, 70 percent of Tennessee teachers must not be performing up to par.

 

What’s missing from his analysis, however, is the reality that until 2010, Tennessee had incredibly low standards relative to the NAEP. In fact, nearly 87% of students were deemed proficient on TCAPs despite only 27% testing proficient on the NAEP. Here’s the deal: Tennessee schools were held accountable under NCLB for hitting TCAP benchmarks. Tennessee policymakers set the standard. And Tennessee teachers were hitting the mark they were told was important. In fact, data suggest more and more Tennessee students were marching toward TCAP proficiency each year. By that indicator, Tennessee teachers were doing a fine job. Policymakers set a target, and Tennessee teachers hit it year after year. Since curriculum and accountability were not tied to NAEP, it seems unreasonable to expect that teachers would be helping students hit NAEP benchmarks.

 

Huffman’s remarks also ignore this reality: Tennessee spends less per student than most of our neighboring states. 8 states test 100% of graduates on the ACT. Tennessee ranks 7th in that group, below every other state that spends MORE per pupil than Tennessee. Kentucky spends about $1500 more per student than Tennessee and gets significantly better results on the NAEP year after year. The point being: teachers can only do so much with limited resources and our state has done a pretty good job of limiting the resources.

 

Huffman also notes:

 

As new student assessments are developed and vetted by Tennessee educators and experts, we expect that next year, it will be possible for 70 percent of teachers to be evaluated by their own student-assessment results. Eventually, more than 90 percent of teachers will have such options.

This dream still hasn’t been realized — Portfolios are available for some non-tested subjects, but are not in wide use due to cost.

So more teachers will have their own value-added data. This means more assessments (TESTS) for Tennessee students. Will there now be TCAP-like tests in grades K-2? As the parent of a Kindergartener, I certainly hope not. What about related arts? Will there be a written test for an instrumental music course? Or is the value-added that a student who previously struggled with the flute now excels? How is that measured? In performance-based art, music, and theatre classes, will more time be spent drilling on concepts so a kid can pass a written test rather than on actually improving one’s ability to draw, sing, or perform?

 

Finally, the new evaluations are time-intensive and do provide regular feedback. That’s a good thing. However, there’s no indication of available funding for meaningful professional development tied to the evaluations. There is yet to be a serious discussion of funding for mentors for early career teachers to help them get up to speed on key concepts and improve their technique. Teach for America (where Huffman worked as a teacher and then as a national organizational leader) relies heavily on intensive support for their Corps members. Lessons are video-taped, coaches are provided, feedback is regular and strategies for improvement are offered. Research suggests that intensive mentoring in the first two years of a teacher’s career not only improves their practice and increases retention, but also results in higher student achievement.

 

Tennessee’s new evaluation system for teachers is no doubt an improvement. But unless that system is coupled with meaningful support for teachers and adequate classroom resources, we’ll still find ourselves far behind the rest of the country.

There’s been no significant commitment to professional development or intensive mentoring by the state. Teachers didn’t get a promised raise this year.

So, Tennessee teachers started off hearing from Huffman that they had failed. Then, resources for support didn’t materialized and the transition to Common Core wasn’t well-communicated. Huffman suggested the same flawed, value-added based evaluations were responsible for a 2013 NAEP boost, and then a promised pay raise was taken away.

Is it any wonder Tennessee teachers aren’t too sad to see Huffman go?

 

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

After Huffman: Who Will Be the Next Commissioner of Education?

Kevin Huffman is leaving his job as Commissioner of Education to pursue private sector opportunties, it was announced yesterday.

In my initial post, I mentioned three names of potential candidates for Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education. Totally speculative on my part, but with good reasons for each. Today, I’ll talk a little more about each one and provide some background.

SCORE President Jamie Woodson

Woodson is a former member of the Tennessee General Assembly, first serving in the House, then moving on to the Senate, where she served as Chair of the Education Committee and later as Speaker Pro Tem, the number two job in that body. Woodson was intstrumental in the BEP overhaul known as BEP 2.0. So, she understands education issues and especially the BEP, which is getting lots of attention as districts seek more state funding.

Woodson is from Knoxville, where Haslam was Mayor. She understands the legislative process and has relationships that could be helpful to passing the Governor’s agenda in both bodies of the General Assembly. It’s also been rumored that she may someday be a candidate for Governor. Serving as Education Commissioner would give enhance her credentials for the state’s top job.

Here’s her bio from the SCORE website:

Jamie guides SCORE’s work as President and CEO and has been a leading figure in spearheading Tennessee’s efforts to better prepare students for college and the workforce. Prior to leading SCORE, she served for more than 12 years in the Tennessee General Assembly in both the House and Senate. As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and later as Senate Speaker Pro Tempore, Jamie was a key leader in efforts to identify and support effective teaching, overhaul Tennessee’s K-12 education funding formula, raise academic standards for Tennessee students, turn around low-performing schools, and expand high-quality public charter schools in Tennessee. In addition, she was a key leader in Tennessee’s work to transform public higher education by aligning Tennessee’s postsecondary system and the state’s economic goals through changes in academic, fiscal, and administrative policies. As a citizen legislator, she also served as general counsel for an East Tennessee manufacturing firm.

Jamie serves on numerous statewide boards, including Tennessee Business Roundtable, and is a member of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Jamie received a Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was selected as “Torchbearer,” which is the highest honor an undergraduate may receive from the university. Jamie attended public schools in Tennessee.

Deputy Commissioner of Education Kathleen Airhart

Airhart has served as Deputy Commissioner of Education Since late 2011. She is a former Tennessee Superintendent of the Year. She served as Director of Schools in Putnam County, where she worked with the local education association to design a differentiated pay plan.

Like Woodson, she is a Tennessean. She’s also an educator, which may placate the teachers and superintendents who have complained that Huffman doesn’t understand their jobs due to his limited experience in the classroom. Tapping Airhart makes sense as she’s been with the Department for most of Huffman’s tenure and she would have immediate credibility with educators.

Knox County Director of Schools Jim McIntyre

McIntyre, like Woodson, is from Knoxville. He and Haslam reportedly had a good relationship when Haslam was Mayor. While technically an outsider (McIntyre came to Knoxville from a post in Boston), he’s been in Tennessee for some time now and understands the state’s education landscape.

It was rumored that McIntyre was considered by Haslam’s for the job in 2011, but he was relatively new to Knox County then and chose to stay in that role. McIntyre now faces a School Board less friendly to his pro-reform agenda and may want to take the opportunity to exit rather than face a combative Board.

Here’s his bio from the Knox County Schools site:

Dr. Jim McIntyre has served in the field of education for more 20 years, with experience at both the K-12 and post-secondary levels.  He began his tenure as Superintendent of the Knox County Schools in July, 2008.  In his first year as Superintendent, Dr. McIntyre led the school system and the community through a process that produced a focused vision for the future of the Knox County Schools and a five-year strategic plan designed to achieve Excellence for All Children.

Prior to his appointment in Knoxville, Dr. McIntyre served as the Chief Operating Officer for the Boston Public Schools, where he was responsible for the day to day operations of the school district.  Jim had also served as the Budget Director for the Boston Public Schools for seven years. During Dr. McIntyre’s tenure, the Boston Public Schools was named one of the top performing urban school systems in the nation.

As a teacher at Vincent Grey Alternative High School in East St. Louis, Illinois early in his career, McIntyre taught English, anatomy, and physical education to a diverse group of at-risk students between the ages of 16-21.

McIntyre has served on numerous state-level working groups aimed at enhancing public education, and was also selected as a fellow in the prestigious Broad Foundation Superintendent’s Academy, an intensive ten month fellowship in the urban public school superintendency.

In 2010, Governor Phil Bredesen invited Dr. McIntyre and three others to join him in presenting Tennessee’s Race to the Top proposal to the United States Department of Education.  Tennessee was one of only two states in the country to be selected in the first round of this national competition, and was awarded $501 million for school reform and improvement.

As a parent of two Knox County Schools students, Dr. McIntyre is incredibly honored that the state-wide Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has named him the Tennessee Outstanding Superintendent of the Year for three consecutive years (2009, 2010, and 2011).

Dr. McIntyre holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Boston College, a Master of Science degree in Education Administration from Canisius College, a Master of Urban Affairs from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Massachusetts.

 

It’s entirely possible there are other names being considered, but these three seem to fit with support for the Haslam agenda and some connection to the Governor.

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

Fitzhugh Talks Huffman

Shortly after it was announced that Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman is leaving his post, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh issued the following statement:

“In 2010 Democrats and Republicans passed Race to the Top. We had buy-in from teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders setting us on a path for real improvements in public education. While the hard work of our teachers has certainly produced some positive results, these outcomes would be much greater without the culture of hostility and mistrust created by the Department of Education.
Now we need to reset the conversation. Tennessee will never see real, lasting change until we stop blaming teachers and start addressing root problems. Our schools are underfunded, our teachers are underpaid and we aren’t talking about poverty and parental involvement–two key factors in student improvement. Our hope is that Governor Haslam’s new Commissioner of Education understands these issues and shares our commitment to addressing them going forward.
House Democrats stand ready to work with Governor Haslam, his new appointee and all those who value public education. Though we often disagreed, we thank Commissioner Huffman for his service and wish him the best as he returns to the private sector.”
Fitzhugh has been a frequent critic of the current education reform agenda pushed by Huffman.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 

Huffman Resigns as TN Ed Commissioner

Controversial Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman is leaving his post, the Tennessean is reporting.

The paper cites a press release from Governor Haslam’s office noting that Huffman is leaving his position for a post in the private sector.

There was no immediate word on who might succeed Huffman as Commissioner of Education.

Huffman led a Department of Education that claimed credit for improved achievement on NAEP while downplaying widening achievement gaps and a lack of investment in the BEP formula.

Huffman also took criticism for his failure to communicate about new teacher evaluations and for his lack of communication regarding implementation of the Common Core, which resulted in Haslam holding an education summit and “re-setting” the conversation around standards.

Around this time last year, Directors of Schools from around the state were signing a letter expressing a lack of confidence in Huffman’s leadership.

While Haslam has not yet said who may replace Huffman, two potential candidates are Deputy Commissioner and former Putnam County Director of Schools Kathleen Airhart and former Senate Speaker Pro Tem and now SCORE Executive Director Jamie Woodson.  Another potential candidate is Knox County Director of Schools Jim McIntyre, a supporter of the Haslam education agenda.

More on who may replace Huffman.

Here’s House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s statement on Huffman leaving.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Failure to Communicate

It seems Governor Bill Haslam is having some trouble advancing his education agenda.

But why? Why is a governor with a supermajority from his own party not able to advance key pieces of his legislative agenda?

He hosted an Education Summit last week designed to “reset” the education conversation in the state. More than anything, it seemed an attempt to save Common Core from a potential political demise. That summit failed to address one key education topic. And he received a response from a teacher (TEA Vice President Beth Brown) indicating he may be missing the point when it comes to what matters to students and teachers.

Earlier this week, a report from a Vanderbilt study indicated support for Common Core among Tennessee’s teachers has dropped dramatically. Teacher Lucianna Sanson explained it this way:

“What you’re seeing in that survey is the difference between what we were told it was and a year of implementation,” Sanson says. “And that is why you have that drastic, drastic change. Because you start implementing it, and you’re like, ‘What is this?’”

Back in August, Haslam sent a note to teachers welcoming them back to school. But, teachers were not amused. Instead, they reminded him that he’d broken his promise to dramatically improve teacher pay in the state.

Of course, during the legislative session, Haslam suffered a major setback as the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests were delayed by the General Assembly.

Before that, Directors of Schools from around the state sent a letter to Haslam complaining that Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman wasn’t listening.

What do all of these issues have in common? Here’s a video that briefly illustrates the problem:

 

 

 

EduShyster Visits Tennessee

Noted education blogger EduShyster has a post up today regarding the fun and excitement that is Tennessee education policy.

The post talks about data-driven results… the TCAP score release delay, the competing petitions regarding Commissioner Huffman and his continued employment.  And much more.

She notes that voters will be pleased to learn that if they re-elect Governor Bill Haslam, they’ll get more Kevin Huffman.  Or, maybe not.  Haslam is saying he’ll decide more about Huffman AFTER the election.

Also discussed: Secret meetings and the Koch Brothers.

Read it all!

 

 

 

TEA Takes on Huffman Over TCAP Delay

The Tennessee Department of Education advised school district directors yesterday that TCAP “quick scores” would not be available this year in time to factor them in to final grades for students in grades 3-8. This left districts with a choice: delay the issuing of report cards until the scores are available “sometime this month” OR seek a waiver from state law mandating that TCAP scores count toward a student’s final grade.

Some districts issued statements explaining what the delay means for students.

And now, TEA is out with a statement on the matter.  From the TEA press release:

The Tennessee Department of Education informed directors of schools that TCAP scores will not be available before the end of the school year, as is typically the case for calculation of students’ final grades. The state’s decision to delay the release of the scores has serious implications for students, families, teachers and administrators statewide.

“This delay is unacceptable and further illustrates the many consequences of making a one-time standardized test the be-all, end-all for our students and teachers,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “School districts being unable to calculate final grades creates a domino effect of problems for everyone from the local director of schools right down to the students.”

“Test-related anxiety and distrust are already high among students, parents and educators in our state because of Commissioner Huffman’s insistence on placing more and more weight on these tests,” Summerford continued. “The state cites a change in assessments this school year as the reason for the delay. Why are districts just now being informed about something that the department has known about for months?”

“If TCAP was used as a diagnostic tool, rather than as a punitive measure, our schools would not be in the absurd position of deciding whether to send students home without report cards or send home grades that may change once the state chooses to release the scores,” the TEA president said.

“Teachers face a tremendous challenge in providing the best education for all students, particularly when forced to spend so much time focused on standardized tests. The mishandling of this entire situation should be enough to cause legislators and communities to reevaluate, and correct, the ‘reform’ path the commissioner is leading our students down,” Summerford concluded.

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

 

 

 

Huffman Chairs Pie-Slicing Task Force

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is chairing Governor Haslam’s Task Force on the Basic Education Plan.  Haslam appointed the task force after districts began complaining that the current structure of the BEP is unfair.  In doing so, he essentially ignored the work of the standing BEP Review Committee, which annually reviews and recommends changes to the BEP formula.

After the committee’s initial meeting, Huffman said, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:

“The purpose of the task force is not to say Tennessee needs to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more of money that we may or may not have,” Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, said following the meeting. “The purpose of it to look at are the right components included as part of the formula, and given a fixed pie, how would you distribute that pie based on capacity.”

So, Huffman is in charge of a committee that’s tasked with deciding how to divide up an already inadequate pie.

If he’s serious about the work, he’d do well to go back to the reforms proposed under Governor Bredesen with the help of then-state Senator Jamie Woodson. Those reforms, dubbed BEP 2.0 changed BEP allocations and also added some new funding allocations.

The cost of fully funding BEP 2.0 would be around $150 million.

Finding that money may mean making difficult choices.  Just north of us, in Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear has proposed a budget making tough choices in order to fund education.  While many departments see budget cuts in his proposal, K-12 education sees budget increases.

While Governor Haslam and his legislative partners seem intent on eliminating the Hall Income Tax and reducing revenue, education suffers.  And if that agenda is what they believe is absolutely essential to Tennessee’s future, surely some cuts in other areas can be found in order to boost investment in public education.

Of course, proposing a budget that cuts most departments but increases funding for public schools requires leadership and tough choices.

Instead, it seems we have a committee focused on redistributing the slices of a shrinking pie.

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