Pre-K Tax Fails, TEA Appoints New Leader

Pre-K, TEA, and other education news this week

Yesterday, voters in Memphis rejected a sales tax increase that would have directed funds to expand Pre-K in that city. The city took the vote as a means to find local funding for a program that state has so far been unwilling to expand.

Also yesterday, the Tennessee Education Association announced the hiring of its new Executive Director, Carolyn Crowder. Crowder comes to Tennessee from Denver.  She has worked in education association’s in both Colorado and Oklahoma and was also a classroom teacher in Oklahoma.

Earlier in the week, teachers in Rutherford County teachers joined a growing list of local education associations expressing “no confidence” in Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

And, the Tennessee Charter School Center released a report on “seat quality” in Metro Nashville Public Schools.  The report prompted this response from Board Member Amy Frogge.

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

Rutherford Teachers Vote “No Confidence” in Huffman

The Rutherford County Education Association is the latest to join a growing list of local educator associations expressing frustration with Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman.

The organization’s President said of the vote:

Commissioner Huffman wants to make Tennessee the ‘fastest’ improving state in terms of education Rutherford Education Association President Emily Mitchell said. “It seems to me that if you want to go fast, you go by yourself, but if you want to go far, you go together. I wish the commissioner would include input from the outstanding educators we have in this great state so that students, teachers, parents and community members could go far together.

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

 

Tennessee Department of Education Denies Request to Delay the Use of Surveys in MNPS Teacher Evaluations

This afternoon, MNPS teachers and staff were informed of the State’s decision on Dr. Jesse Register’s request for the state to delay using the TRIPOD survey in this year’s evaluations.  According to Dr. Register, this request was denied and thus, in this year’s evaluations, the results of the surveys will count for 5% of the qualitative (i.e., observational) portion of each classroom teacher’s evaluation.  The full email from Dr. Register is below.

From: Register, Jesse

Sent: Tuesday, November 05, 2013 3:18 PM

To: MNPS Teachers – All

Cc: MNPS Principals – All

Subject: Update on TRIPOD Request

Dear Certificated Staff:

As promised, I am updating you on our request to the Tennessee Department of Education to use TRIPOD on a formative basis this fall and allow teachers to choose whether to use spring TRIPOD data in their evaluations.

Last Friday, I learned both these requests were denied. I am disappointed, and I expect you are, that we will not be able to use the survey data for formative use only this fall. As I mentioned in my email last week, I am convinced the survey will be valuable to teachers and administrators in the longer.

Therefore, please understand that TRIPOD will count as 5% of the qualitative (observational) portion of each classroom teacher’s evaluation. Results from the two administrations will be averaged together, except in the case in which two administrations are not possible. In such cases, one administration will be used for the full 5% weight in the evaluation. If no survey administrations are possible, such as is the case for teachers with fewer than 10 students, then the 5% reverts back to observation.

If you have not already, I encourage you to look at last spring’s survey data, now available online in CODE, and to use those results as you plan your work for the balance of the year. If you are a new teacher or have no survey results for last year, please ask your principal to share school-level results with you. They are in much the same format as teacher results.

We believe the TRIPOD survey will ultimately be beneficial to teachers and our district and will help inform our instructional practices. If you are interested in reading research on the survey, consider reading the research linked below.

For the MET project:

http://www.metproject.org/downloads/Asking_Students_Practitioner_Brief.pdf

http://www.metproject.org/downloads/MET_Gathering_Feedback_Research_Paper.pdf

http://www.metproject.org/downloads/Preliminary_Finding-Policy_Brief.pdf

Article containing a literature review with further references:

http://scee.groupsite.com/uploads/files/x/000/08f/0fb/Student%20Perception%20Surveys%20and%20Teacher%20Assessments%20-%20Membership%20%282%29.pdf

A magazine article that discusses the research:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/why-kids-should-grade-teachers/309088/2/

In conclusion, please accept my gratitude for the hard work that you are doing. I look forward to working with you as we continuously improve our own performance and the success of children in Metro Schools.

Sincerely,

Jesse B. Register, Ed. D.

Director of Schools

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

MNPS Director of Schools Asks State Not to Use TRIPOD Survey in Teacher Evaluations

Today, MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register sent an official request to Commissioner Kevin Huffman asking that the TRIPOD survey not be linked to teacher evaluation, at least for this year. The email Dr. Register sent to MNPS teachers and principals follows below:

From: Register, Jesse

Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 2:10 PM

To: MNPS Teachers – All

Cc: MNPS Principals – All; Thompson, Susan; Stenson, Christine M; Cour, Katie; Black, Shannon

Subject: TRIPOD Letter to Commissioner Huffman

 

Dear Metro Schools teachers and administrators:

Today I sent an official request to Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Assistant Commissioner Sara Heyburn asking that the TRIPOD fall survey not be linked to teacher evaluation. I do not expect to know if our request is granted until after the fall survey period ends. I have also requested for each teacher to have the choice of using the spring administration as a part of your evaluation for the year.

I made this request because you did not have the opportunity to review the results of the TRIPOD survey administered last spring until this week. Last year’s TRIPOD information is starting to appear in CODE now, and our Human Capital and Assessment Departments are working on a guide to explain teacher results and will send it to you soon.

Although the rollout has been problematic, in the long run I expect the TRIPOD survey will be recognized as valuable information for teachers to use in improving their practice. I also believe, although the survey will be a small part of teacher evaluation, it will be viewed as one of the most valid and reliable measures that we use.

TRIPOD has been extensively validated and is designed so it is not a popularity contest. Analysis from tens of thousands of surveys in other districts indicates less than one percent of students answer the survey in a biased manner. TRIPOD correlates strongly to student growth and gives us valuable information. Memphis is in its third year of using TRIPOD as part of their teacher evaluation model with good results. We believe that TRIPOD can be a positive and very valuable component of the TEAM evaluation process.

I know this uncertainty is difficult and I appreciate your patience. We will keep you informed of further developments.

Sincerely,

Jesse B. Register, Ed.D.

Director of Schools

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

Test Questions

A group of parents attempting to reduce the amount of standardized testing Tennessee students are subjected to each year is now raising questions about Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s testimony in defense of Common Core at a recent state Senate Education Committee hearing.

Huffman essentially admitted that TCAP is not a very strong test.  The parent group wants an explanation of why this weak test is being used to determine teacher licensure and possibly teacher pay.

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

Memphis Makeover, Blogging Commissioner, and Drinks for Schools

Just a few quick hits today from education news around Tennessee.

While we tend to be Nashville-centric in many of our posts – either coverage of MNPS or state policy happenings in Nashville, Bluff City Ed offers an interesting look into the transformation of public schools in Memphis.

Now, back in Nashville, it seems the Commissioner of Education will now also be a blogger. Maybe this is how he intends to improve communication with all those Superintendents who aren’t happy with his leadership style.

Finally, over in Sumner County, Fox 17 has an interesting take on what turned out to be a fairly reasonable solution to a sticky tax problem.

PET Talks to Kevin Huffman

Professional Educators of Tennessee launched a new online journal today and it contains a wide-ranging interview with Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman. The full interview can be viewed here.

I’ve got some excerpts and analysis below.

PET:  You started in your post about 3 or 4 months into Governor Haslam’s term, after Tennessee was already several months into the Race to the Top (RTTT) Grant Award and after the new evaluation system was put in place.  Yet, many people seem to tie you to the changes in teacher evaluation which was actually included in the 2010 RTTT Application.  Is that fair?

Huffman: Yes and no. No in the sense that we committed to implement the system (including 50% student achievement for all teachers) through the First to the Top legislation and then through the grant. My first week on the job, the advisory committee (TEAC) completed its work which included the selection of the TEAM rubric and the format for the observations, so that was all done by the time I came, and it isn’t accurate to say that I created it.

What set us apart from other states, though, is that we didn’t back down. Other states committed to do evaluation too, and many delayed by a year or two, or kicked the can even farther down the road, and we stayed the course. If that means that I am tied to the evaluation system, I accept that, because I think the system has made instruction better and helped kids learn more. One of the things I think people miss in the evaluation discussion is that the real value is not in anything punitive: it is in ensuring that real feedback and conversations about instruction happen across the state with a common language. And I think that has happened.

What’s missing, in my view, is the attendant professional development and early career support.  Early career teachers need mentoring and support.  Teach for America, where Huffman got his start, places a heavy emphasis on targeted coaching and mentoring in the first two years. Even if the evaluation process is on balance a good one (and there’s debate about that), it’s difficult to see how it improves instruction significantly without supports and targeted professional development being provided to teachers. 

PET:  What changes do we need to make in teacher evaluations?  And what should the state have done differently in retrospect?

Huffman: We made a bunch of changes after the first year, which I think made the system better and certainly made educators feel the system was better in the second year. I think we have to keep looking each year at how to improve it. A couple of things over the long haul that I think we need to keep looking at: 1) adjusting language each year on the rubric so that it effectively matches the observations with the standards teachers are teaching. I think we have done a little of this but we have to keep looking; 2) the whole “15% measure” for achievement still doesn’t seem to be going very well. Many teachers and schools don’t feel like it accurately reflects teachers’ impact, so I want to keep looking at this.

In retrospect, I think the biggest piece missing was training and communication for teachers well in advance of the rollout. I think some teachers got strong communication from local schools and districts and others did not, and the communication piece was insufficient from the state. A good example of that was the initial “planning” strand. Some teachers spent hours and hours and wrote 20-page lesson plan documents, which was never the intent. Better communication way back in early 2011 would have made a big difference.

The evaluation process is an ever-changing one — and that’s frustrating for teachers.  Every few months, it seems, something new is decided or added or taken away from the evaluation process. No one objects to a sound evaluation of their performance.  What’s problematic is the implementation.  Further, the 15% measure for achievement is becoming more, not less problematic.  In some systems, teachers are forced to choose an “Annual Measurable Objective” connected to English/Language Arts or Math.  Rather than owning their own students (in the case of AP teachers, for example) teachers are sometimes tied to students they’ve never taught.  The State Board document on the 15% provides a number of choices and ample flexibility.  Revisiting this issue with the input of teachers from across the state would be a welcome policy change.

PET:  In your opinion, what are the top three current challenges facing education in Tennessee?

Huffman: This is a tough one. 1) Helping students with disabilities reach their potential. We have a huge gap in achievement and we are really focused on this at the state level right now. 2) Early grades reading. We heard all summer from teachers that they need and want more support for teaching reading and for intervening with students who are far behind their peers. We are offering a course through our regional CORE offices to thousands of teachers on reading instruction, and I hope it will help. 3) Integrating all of the changes. We have done a lot in the last few years, and we now have new assessments coming. Our focus is not on more change – it is on how to manage all of the change effectively.
I’m very bullish on our ability to navigate these challenges though.

One clear way to improve early grades reading is by ensuring access to high quality Pre-K programs.  Both the Comptroller’s study and the Vanderbilt study of Pre-K indicate its ability to help improve reading in early grades.  Governor Haslam, however, has indicated he’s not in favor of expanding a program that is proven to work to address what the Commissioner of Education identifies as a top priority for our state.
PET:  Any final thoughts you would like to share with Tennessee educators?

Huffman: I am deeply grateful for your service. Every time I visit a school, I am struck by the professionalism and commitment of our educators, and our students are lucky to have you.

I’m sure it’s nice for educators to hear those words.  But, you can’t buy groceries with gratitude.  So far, there hasn’t been a real commitment to improving the pay and support for the educators the Commissioner identifies as both highly professional and deeply committed.  We heard a lot about how important teachers were to the gains noted on this year’s TCAP’s.  What hasn’t been heard is how compensation and support will be improved to ensure Tennessee is attracting and keeping strong educators.  To be clear, it’s not just better pay, but more support and more resources that teachers need.

EDIT: Today (10/3/13) at 3:00 PM Central Time Haslam and Huffman announced a goal to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state when it comes to teacher salaries.”

More Huffman: “Too often we try to use gratitude as a substitution for compensation.” — is he reading as I write?

And he notes, “Tennessee ranks in the bottom 10 in terms of teacher compensation.”

It’s not clear what that means, exactly, but it should mean more than this.

And then, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh offers this response:

“Teachers in this state are overworked, underpaid, and deserve to be treated as professionals.

However, after listening to teachers across the state, we are increasingly convinced that Commissioner Huffman’s unproven, unreliable testing methods as a basis for teacher pay are hurting our public education system.

“….Basing teacher pay on scores, especially the scores of students they never teach, is going to further strain the system, lower morale, and detract from the progress we have made in Tennessee.”

For more on Tennessee education news, follow us @TNEdReport