A Failed Business Plan

Nashville teacher JH Rogen offers a Twitter thread on the entirely predictable teacher pay crisis facing Nashville (and, frankly, the rest of Tennessee). It starts like this:

I’m starting a business and looking for workers. The work is intense, so the workers should be highly skilled. Experience preferred. Starting salary is 40k with the opportunity to get all the way to 65k after 25 years of staying in the same position. See how dumb that sounds?

 

He adds:

You say: talking about salary shows an ignorance towards the economic situation many of our kids come from. I say: offering salaries so low that kids have classrooms run by computers instead of functional adults shows an ignorance towards what it takes to create great schools.

 

Read it all. Think about it.

Nashville offers relatively low salaries to teachers in a state that trails the region and the nation in teacher pay. The value proposition for teachers in our state is low. We offer bargain basement salaries to educators and then demand more and more from them.

Is that a recipe for success? Does it demonstrate that we put our children first?

Think about it.

We hear all the time that “kids matter” and we should worry about the concerns of the students in the room rather than the adults. But the adults are sending a clear message: Schools don’t matter. The teachers don’t matter. It’s not important to pay those who are entrusted with the care and education of our children a reasonable salary.

Do you think the kids haven’t noticed?

They have and they do.

Will anything change?

Maybe if there’s a strike. At least for a little while. But how long would a strike go on until teachers were told to get back to class “for the kids?” Meanwhile, the policymakers sit back in comfort and refuse to make so-called “tough decisions” that should be easy.

It should be easy to pay teachers a living wage and to invest in and support schools. But instead, our policy leaders play games and hope we don’t notice.

It WOULD be easy to pay teachers a living wage if our leaders — our policymakers really wanted to do that. But they don’t. Because the adults who elect them haven’t insisted on it. Because it doesn’t matter.

Yes, the kids in the schools are watching. They see what’s happening.

The message is clear.

 

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Fortune Teller

While reading this piece on Nashville’s large and possibly unsustainable debt burden, I was reminded of the time I imagined what former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean might have said (and done) on a range of issues had he actually been a progressive.

Imaginary Karl Dean had this to say back in 2013:

Dean first suggested that Metro Nashville Schools stop its over-reliance on testing in spite of state mandates.  He noted the practice of data walls as emblematic of the current emphasis on test-based measures of student success and suggested that the schools might try focusing on the whole child.

Turns out, the warning about testing perhaps foretold years of problems ranging from TCAP quick score issues to TNReady failure and lies.  If only policy makers had been paying attention.

Imaginary Karl also offered this:

“It’s not the schools that are failing,” Dean said. “MNPS teachers work hard every single day to reach the children in their care.  But too many of those students arrive hungry and without access to health care or basic shelter.  It’s our community that has failed the families of these children.”

Dean noted that nearly 3 of every 4 MNPS students qualifies for free or reduced price lunch.  He went further to note that 7500 Davidson County families with school age children earn incomes below the federal poverty line (Source: American Community Survey of the U.S. Census).

“We’re simply not supporting the ENTIRE community,” Dean said. “When so many families are working hard and can’t make ends meet, there’s a fundamental problem in the local economy.  Rising income inequality is bad for Nashville.  We must work to address it together now.”

Dean pledged to push for changes in state law to allow Nashville to adopt a living wage and also pledged to use his considerable clout with the General Assembly to advocate for a $10 an hour state minimum wage.

Fast forward to 2019 and we see a city that’s pricing out working class families. Meanwhile, the legislature overrides any attempt at improving wages or working conditions. The situation makes this suggestion seem even better now than it did back in 2013:

Dean said he would work with the staff at Music City Center to turn the nearly $600 million facility into a community center and transitional housing for the working poor.  He noted that it would include free dental and vision clinics for children and an urgent care center for basic medical needs.

“This facility will set Nashville apart as a city that puts people first and will no longer fail its children and families.”

The basic point: We keep having the same conversations. Nothing actually happens. City and state leaders keep saying words, but failing to take action to move us forward.

Another recent story further brings this point home. Much has been made of the relatively low pay Nashville teachers receive. A proposal to provide some form of “low-cost” teacher housing is getting discussion — and pushback:

Mayor Briley is spearheading the proposal to turn the 11-acre property in South Nashville currently used to store and repair school buses into affordable housing for teachers. The city wants to trade it, meaning a developer could build on the land in exchange for other land where the district can build a new bus barn.

“A lot of us have families.  A lot of us have advanced degrees. We don’t want public housing, we want a professional salary,” said Amanda Kail, who teaches at Margaret Allen Middle School. “If you have to public housing for teachers then there is something seriously wrong with our city.”

The underlying issue here is pay. It’s something I’ve written about quite a bit. Specifically, I wrote this in 2015 about Nashville’s then-emerging teacher pay crisis:

Long-term pay increases in MNPS don’t keep pace with those in other, similar districts. Taking Denver as an example, a teacher who received NO ProComp incentives and maintained only a bachelor’s degree would make at Step 13 very close to what an MNPS teacher with similar education makes at Step 20. In all other cities examined, the top step is higher (from $3000 to $15,000) than it is in MNPS.

Two years later, I added this:

Attracting and retaining teachers will become increasingly more difficult if MNPS doesn’t do more to address the inadequacy of it’s salaries. The system was not paying competitively relative to its peers two years ago, and Nashville’s rapid growth has come with a rising cost of living. Does Nashville value it’s teachers enough to pay them a comfortable salary? Or, will Nashville let cities like Louisville continue to best them in teacher compensation?

Then this:

No, better pay alone won’t solve the teacher shortage being experienced in MNPS. But, failure to address the issue of teacher compensation will mean more virtual Ravens, Cobras, and Bears in the future.

This is a problem that could be clearly seen years ago and which still hasn’t been adequately addressed.

It’s now 2019. Still, nothing. No significant movement on a teacher pay crisis that was looming years ago. Decision makers had information available and did nothing.

While we’re on the topic of predicting the future, back in 2013, Governor Bill Haslam and then-Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman made a big deal of Tennessee being the “fastest-improving” in national test scores as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Here’s what I wrote then:

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

Then, in 2015, added:

This year’s scores, in which Tennessee remained steady relative to the 2013 scores suggest, if anything, that the 2013 jump was likely an outlier. Had the 2013 gains been followed by gains in 2015 and again in 2017, more could be suggested. And frankly, it is my hope that we see gains (especially in reading) in 2017. But, it’s problematic to suggest that any specific reform or set of reforms caused the one-time jump we saw in 2013. Saying we are the fastest improving state in the nation over the last 4 years when we only saw a jump in 2013 is like saying we started the first quarter of a football game way behind, scored a bunch in the second quarter, (so we’re not as far behind), and then scored the same number of points in the third quarter. The result is we’re still behind and still have a long way to go.

Turns out, those predictions were rather accurate:

First, notice that between 2009 and 2011, Tennessee saw drops in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math. That helps explain the “big gains” seen in 2013. Next, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade math, our 2017 scores are lower than the 2013 scores. There’s that leveling off I suggested was likely. Finally, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading, the 2017 scores are very close to the 2009 scores. So much for “fastest-improving.”

Tennessee is four points below the national average in both 4th and 8th grade math. When it comes to reading, we are 3 points behind the national average in 4th grade and 5 points behind in 8th grade.

 

So, here’s the deal: If you want to know not only what IS happening in Tennessee education policy, but also what WILL happen, read Tennessee Education Report.

What’s coming in 2019? Vouchers!

Also ahead: More platitudes about “access” and “equity.” Oh, and you can count on some words about the importance of testing and benchmarking and rigor and high standards.

What’s not going to happen? There will be no significant new investment in schools initiated by our Governor or legislature. Our state will not apply for an ESSA waiver to move away from excessive testing. There will be no large scale commitment to a living wage or health care access.

Instead, our state (and it’s largest, most vibrant city) will continue to fail many among us. Our policymakers will continue to spread the lie that we just can’t afford to do more.

Maybe one day, Imaginary Karl (or someone with his views) will lead Tennessee out of the wilderness and into a land where we honestly approach (and tackle) our many great challenges.

 

 

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Fun Facts

The Tennessee Education Association is out with a fact sheet on school funding. The document makes clear Tennessee can certainly afford to invest more money in schools. In fact, TEA identifies more than $800 million in revenue from budget cycles dating back to 2015 that could be invested in schools. Additionally, there’s an estimated surplus of $200 million and new internet sales tax revenue of $200 million.

The bottom line: When Gov. Lee and the legislature say we can’t afford to do more for our schools, don’t believe them.

In fact, since 2010, Tennessee has actually failed to move the needle on school funding. Specifically:

To translate, in 2010 (the year before Bill Haslam became Governor), Tennessee spent an average of $8877 per student in 2016 dollars. In 2016 (the most recent data cited), that total was $8810. So, we’re effectively spending slightly less per student now than in 2010. The graph indicates that Tennessee spending per student isn’t really growing, instead it is stagnating. Further evidence can be found in noting that in 2014, Tennessee ranked 43rd in the nation in spending per student. In 2015, that ranking dropped to 44th. 2016? Still 44th.

We’re not getting the job done. The state’s Comptroller suggests we are underfunding schools by at least $500 million a year.

The analysis of available revenue by TEA makes clear Tennessee can afford to close that gap. Unfortunately, our leaders have so far lacked the political will to make that happen. Why not invest in schools? Why not use available revenue to boost opportunity for every child in our state? Why not close the funding gap?

These are the questions Tennesseans should be asking as the 111th General Assembly begins and Bill Lee assumes office.

 

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I Will Survive

A lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the state’s school funding formula will keep moving forward despite a last-ditch effort by Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery to derail the effort.

Chalkbeat reports:

A school funding lawsuit that has hung over Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration for more than three years has survived a third attempt in six months to kill it, including a “Hail Mary” legal maneuver before Tennessee’s Court of Appeals.

In the waning days before the Republican governor leaves office on Jan. 19, the appellate court denied Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery’s request to consider an appeal for dismissal.

The third strike increases the likelihood of a 2019 trial over whether the state adequately funds its K-12 schools — a question that could have far-reaching implications for Tennessee’s system of funding public education.

Despite Haslam’s claims that he’s made valiant efforts to increase school funding, a look at relevant data indicates Tennessee still has a long way to go to adequately fund schools:

To translate, in 2010 (the year before Bill Haslam became Governor), Tennessee spent an average of $8877 per student in 2016 dollars. In 2016 (the most recent data cited), that total was $8810. So, we’re effectively spending slightly less per student now than in 2010. The graph indicates that Tennessee spending per student isn’t really growing, instead it is stagnating. Further evidence can be found in noting that in 2014, Tennessee ranked 43rd in the nation in spending per student. In 2015, that ranking dropped to 44th. 2016? Still 44th

It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit proceeds and what the outcome will mean for school funding in Tennessee.

 

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


 

 

Reflections

With last week’s news of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen leaving her post in January, Chalkbeat featured education leaders around the state offering reflections on her time in the role.

While most of those cited made every effort to say nice words, I was struck by the comments from Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”

Brown took care to highlight two critical issues: Testing and funding.

The next Commissioner of Education will inherit a testing mess:

If this year had been the first time our state had faced testing challenges, one might understand (and forgive) the excuse-making. However, this is now the fifth consecutive year of some sort of problem and the fourth year testing administration has been, to say the least, a challenge.

Brown also points to a need for further investment in schools. While there have been additional dollars spent on K-12 education, Tennessee still lags behind our neighbors and the nation:

Tennessee is near the bottom. The data shows we’re not improving. At least not faster than other states. I’ve written about how we’re not the fastest-improving in teacher pay, in spite of Bill Haslam’s promise to make it so:

Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.

School spending doesn’t happen in a vacuum — it’s not like when Tennessee spends, other states stop. So, to catch up, we have to do more. Or, we have to decide that remaining 43rd or 44th in investment per student is where we should be.

So, who will inherit these challenges? Some suggest Shelby County Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson is a leading candidate. He endorsed Bill Lee and is playing a role in Lee’s education transition. Other possibilities include some current Tennessee superintendents.

This look back at the last time the role was vacant offers some ideas of who is out there for Lee to consider.

What are your thoughts? Who should be Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education? What’s the biggest challenge they will face?

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


 

 

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A Basic Human Right

A free public education should be viewed as a basic human right, according to a Texas pastor visiting cities across Tennessee to urge clergy to support public schools.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press has this story:

Pastors for Texas Children gained national attention after it began to lobby against efforts to use taxpayer money to send students to charter and private schools.

The group, an independent ministry and outreach group that comprises nearly 2,000 pastors and church leaders from across Texas, gained even more attention when it was criticized by Texas politicians with strong ties to the Koch brothers, according to The Washington Post.

A Call to Action

Johnson, described on the Pastors for Texas Children website as an advocate, said religious leaders need to reaffirm and reestablish that a free, public education is a basic human right.

“We have a debate today about whether or not children today deserve an equal education,” he said. “We all know the ills of public education and some [people’s] attempts to privatize it. It’s time for the church to get back together with the schools.”

Tennessee’s Constitution says the General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public schools.

In spite of this promise, legislators in recent years have repeatedly attempted to pass legislation that would divert public money to private schools. Currently, gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee is making vouchers a key element of his education agenda.

Pastors for Tennessee Children Launching

Johnson is traveling across the state, encouraging pastors to join the new arm of the coalition, Pastors for Tennessee Children.

Jeanette Omarkhail, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, first met Johnson at a conference in Minnesota and said his message was one she wanted to bring to Hamilton County.

“Educators need you. They need your support, your encouragement. The students need you,” Omarkhail told the religious leaders gathered in the church’s meeting hall Tuesday. “At those school boards, the school board members need to see you. Those leaders have been saying up at the dais, ‘We need more people of faith involved in our schools, but they’re not here.’ We can go there.”

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


 

When it Comes to Discipline, Money Matters

Over at the Law Professors Blog Network, Derek Black offers some insight on the importance of funding to obtaining better school discipline outcomes. Specifically, Black looks at Nashville and the positive impact a state grant had on reducing discipline referrals.

He starts by referencing some past analysis regarding funding, achievement gaps, and suspensions:

A month ago, I tried to show how school quality and school discipline are intertwined.  I talked about my prior research, put up a fancy color-coded map of school funding and achievement gaps from Bruce Baker and another fancy color-coded map of school suspensions by the ACLU and UCLA Civil Rights project.  A rough mashing together of these two maps showed that the funding and achievement gaps had substantial overlap with school suspensions.

Then, he turns to a pretty clear piece of evidence from Nashville:

The Tennessean reports that “[t]he increased support for students has helped almost every school see a reduction in office discipline referrals, helping keep kids in the classroom.”  The first school to implement the trauma informed practices saw “the most promising results, with a 97-percent reduction in discipline referrals.”  All but one of the other schools also saw impressive reductions:

  • Fall-Hamilton Elementary — 97 percent reduction in year one and a 53 percent reduction in year two over the previous year.
  • Eakin Elementary — 73 percent reduction.
  • Waverly Belmont Elementary — 29 percent reduction.
  • Napier Elementary — 15 percent reduction.
  • Hermitage Elementary — 60 percent reduction.
  • Inglewood Elementary — One percent reduction.
  • Tulip Grove Elementary — 52 percent reduction.
  • Meigs Magnet Middle Prep — 37 percent reduction.

So if someone asks what money buys, it buys district and school coordinators for the program, reduced suspensions, and more time in the classroom. 

The bottom line: Spending on quality programs has an impact. Money matters.

While Black notes the specific impact of the grant-funded program at select Nashville schools, it’s worth noting that Tennessee fails to adequately fund school counselors, school nurses, and trained interventionists (though a small RTI component was just added to the state’s funding formula). While education experts have noted the shortcomings, little has been done to actually make improving funding a priority. In fact, Tennessee has remained relatively stagnant in terms of funding in recent years.

Tennessee policymakers have been told what works and now have a very clear example of an intervention that gets results. So far, they’ve not been willing to act on this knowledge.

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Failing Public Schools

David Waters of the Memphis Commercial Appeal highlights just a few of the ways policymakers are failing our state’s public schools. Here’s a bit of what he says:

The governor and education commissioner held a public meeting in Knoxville last week to hear from teachers, parents and students ideas about how to improve (or even actually conduct) TNReady standardized testing.

The meeting was held from 3-4:30 p.m. on a Friday. Most Knoxville area public schools don’t dismiss until 3:15 or later.

Most public school teachers and other educators keep working in their buildings until 4 p.m. or later to work on mounds of paperwork required by non-educator education officials in Nashville and Washington.

Most public school parents are at work until 5 or 6 p.m. or later on weekdays.

Of course, the meeting wasn’t exactly public, either.

Waters also points out one of the deficiencies of our state’s school funding formula, the BEP:

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of no more than 1,000 students per school psychologist, and no more than 500 to 700 students per psychologist when more comprehensive and preventive services are being provided (as in most public schools).

Funding from Tennessee’s Basic Education Program covers one psychologist for every 2,500.

As a result, most public school psychologists spend most of their time conducting paperwork-intensive special education assessments that are required by federal law.

Waters concludes:

But today’s public school system was built by (and for) federal and state officials who aren’t educators and who sent their own kids to private or affluent public schools.

They don’t know what they don’t know, so there’s no way they passed this test.

READ MORE>

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Graphs!

I’ve written a lot about school funding and teacher pay in Tennessee. About how our state pays teachers at a discount rate and hasn’t really been improving that much.

Now, I’ve found a couple of helpful graphs to demonstrate that in spite of all the rhetoric you might hear from Governor Haslam and some legislators, Tennessee still has a long way to go in order to be making proper investments in our schools.

First, we’ll look at per pupil spending in inflation-adjusted (2016) dollars:

To translate, in 2010 (the year before Bill Haslam became Governor), Tennessee spent an average of $8877 per student in 2016 dollars. In 2016 (the most recent data cited), that total was $8810. So, we’re effectively spending slightly less per student now than in 2010. The graph indicates that Tennessee spending per student isn’t really growing, instead it is stagnating. Further evidence can be found in noting that in 2014, Tennessee ranked 43rd in the nation in spending per student. In 2015, that ranking dropped to 44th. 2016? Still 44th.

Here’s the graph that shows per pupil spending by state for 2016:

Tennessee is near the bottom. The data shows we’re not improving. At least not faster than other states. I’ve written about how we’re not the fastest-improving in teacher pay, in spite of Bill Haslam’s promise to make it so:

Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.

School spending doesn’t happen in a vacuum — it’s not like when Tennessee spends, other states stop. So, to catch up, we have to do more. Or, we have to decide that remaining 43rd or 44th in investment per student is where we should be.

 

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


 

 

Mike’s Misnomer

State Representative Mike Sparks feels like Tennessee teachers are adequately paid. In fact, he’s so sure of this fact, he wants a website to demonstrate the generous pay teachers in our state receive.

Michelle Willard in the Murfreesboro Voice has more:

“It seems like there’s a misnomer out there that teachers are very low paid,” Sparks said at the State House Education and Planning Subcommittee

Sparks was promoting a bill to require teacher salaries to be posted online.

Here’s the thing: Districts already post pay scales online.

Also, the state sets minimum pay standards — and they are, in fact, pretty low. The current state pay scale indicates a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience must earn a starting salary of at least $33,745. Put in 10 years and your minimum jumps up to $40,595. And, that’s it! If you have a bachelor’s degree and 10 or more years of experience, your district is not required to pay you anymore than just over $40,000.

Now, most districts offer pay that exceeds the state minimum. In some cases, though, it’s not by much. Further, the state’s BEP Review Committee (the group that studies and reports on the school funding formula) notes a pretty steady gap of around 40% between the highest and lowest paying districts in the state.

When that gap hit 45% percent back in the early 2000s, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that school funding in our state was unconstitutional because it was not substantially equal across districts.

Sparks is also apparently not concerned that Tennessee teachers earn about 30% less than comparably educated professionals. He would do well to take some time and understand the deeper issues in our state’s funding formula — namely, that it’s not exactly adequate and that it continues to foster inequality across districts.

Instead of seeking solutions, Sparks wants to let Tennesseans in on the secret of just how much teachers are paid. Those of us actually paying attention already know – it’s not nearly enough and it’s not getting better.

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