SPEAK Members Seek KCEA Posts

Lauren Hopson, whose remarks at a Knox County School Board meeting gained national attention, is seeking the Presidency of the Knox County Education Association. Hopson is joined in campaigning by Amy Cate, who is seeking the Vice Presidency, and Linda Holtzclaw, running for Secretary.

Hopson’s speech was the catalyst for a movement that become SPEAK: Students, Parents, and Educators Across Knox County.

The group speaks out on education issues and even recruited and supported some successful candidates in the recent school board election.

Hopson sought to draw attention to Knox County Schools policies that she believed harmed both teachers and their students. Now, SPEAK keeps Knox County citizens informed of relevant education issues and regularly engages local policymakers in discussions about how to improve Knox County Schools.

Here is the video that helped launch Hopson:

 

SPEAK Members Marching:

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

PET Looks to 2015

A response to Governor Haslam’s recently announced teacher support initiatives by JC Bowman and Samantha Bates of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

 

The announcement by Governor Bill Haslam addressing testing, evaluations, local control and teacher input was a much needed statement, as Tennessee is heading into the 2015 legislative session. Keeping in mind that each branch of government has a distinct and separate role, it is appropriate for Governor Haslam to identify changing priorities. As always, the key is in implementation of policies. Many policies sound good. They simply have to be executed correctly.

It is always good to step back and put some political philosophy behind the policy. However, the real message educators need to hear from elected leaders is that they are trusted. We need to start a fresh conversation on evaluating how we assess our educators, which may mean a change in the way we measure engagement.

When did test results became the be-all and end-all of our education experience? Is standardized testing so reliable that it has ended the search for something better to determine the quality of our education experience? And while numbers may help us understand our world, we recognize that they do not tell us the entire story.

Most local school districts understand that ability of their instructional personnel is the only real differentiator between them and other local districts. Therefore, it is imperative that we start treating our educators like one of our most important assets. And it is only common sense that one of the key items policymakers need to address in 2015 will be teacher salaries.

However, educators do not enter this field of public education for the income; they are there for the outcomes. If the perception within Tennessee is that teaching is not a celebrated profession, we certainly will not get the young talented people to pursue a career in public education as a profession.

We have steadfastly maintained that requiring school districts to simultaneously implement new standards, new teacher evaluations and perhaps a new curriculum, as well as new testing demands, will continue to place enormous pressure at the local level. More information and feedback on state assessments to help teachers improve student achievement is a welcome addition to the discussion. The use and/or overuse of testing remain a conversation worthy of public debate.

Tennessee will need to continue allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have argued, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators.

The key item we took away from Governor Haslam’s latest proposal is his willingness to hear teacher concerns. It has taken us a long time to get to that point. However, it was a welcome relief to many educators, as we are now positioned to reset the dialogue. The area of improved teacher communication and collaboration has long been needed. We hope a new commissioner of education will truly embrace this concept.

If the right people are brought together for the right purpose, we believe anything is possible for Tennessee children and those who choose to educate our students. Dreaming big should not be just for the children in our classrooms, it should be for the stakeholders and policymakers in our state as well.

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

Little Value Added?

 

That’s the conclusion teacher Jon Alfuth draws about Governor Bill Haslam’s recently announced changes to teacher evaluation and support.

Alfuth notes with frustration that Haslam appears happy to support teachers in ways that don’t involve any new money.

Reducing the weight given TVAAS on a teacher’s evaluation, for example, doesn’t cost anything. Adding a few teachers to a “cabinet” to give feedback on tests is welcome change, but also doesn’t carry a price tag.

Haslam’s changes still unfairly assess teachers in non-tested subjects, in Alfuth’s view:

While reducing the percentage from 25 to 15 percent achievement data for non-EOC teachers is a step in the right direction, I don’t feel that it goes far enough. I personally think it’s unfair to use test scores from courses not taught by a teacher in their evaluation given the concerns surrounding the reliability of these data systems overall.

And, Alfuth says, the financial support teachers and schools need is simply not discussed:

Consider the teacher salary discussion we’ve been having here in Tennessee. This is something that Tennessee Teachers have been clamoring for and which the governor promised but then went back on this past spring. There’s no mention of other initiatives that would require extra funding, such as BEP2.0, which would provide millions of additional dollars to our school districts across the state and do much to help teachers. There’s also no mention of expanding training Common Core trainng, which is essential if we’re going to continue to enable teachers to be successful when the three year phase in of growth scores winds down.

In short, while the proposed changes are step forward, at least in the view of one teacher, much more can be done to truly support teachers and their students.

More on the importance of investing in teacher pay:

Notes on Teacher Pay

More on the state’s broken school funding formula, the BEP:

A BEP Lawsuit?

The Broken BEP

What is BEP 2.0?

For more from Jon Alfuth and education issues in Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

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

Value Added Changes

 

In what is certain to be welcome news to many teachers across the state, Governor Bill Haslam announced yesterday that he will be proposing changes to the state’s teacher evaluation process in the 2015 legislative session.

Perhaps the most significant proposal is to reduce the weight of value-added data on teacher evaluations during the transition to a new test for Tennessee students.

From the Governor’s press release explaining the proposed changes:

The governor’s proposal would:
•        Adjust the weighting of student growth data in a teacher’s evaluation so that the new state assessments in ELA and math will count 10 percent of the overall evaluation in the first year of
administration (2016), 20 percent in year two (2017) and 35 percent in year
three (2018). Currently 35 percent of an educator’s evaluation is comprised of
student achievement data based on student growth;
•        Lower the weight of student achievement growth for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects
from 25 percent to 15 percent;
•        And make explicit local school district discretion in both the qualitative teacher evaluation model that is used for the observation portion of the evaluation as well as the specific
weight student achievement growth in evaluations will play in personnel
decisions made by the district.

 

The proposal does not go as far as some have proposed, but it does represent a transition period to new tests that teachers have been seeking.  It also provides more local discretion in how evaluations are conducted.

Some educators and critics question the ability of value-added modeling to accurately predict teacher performance.

In fact, the American Statistical Association released a statement on value-added models that says, in part:

Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores

Additional analysis of the ability of value-added modeling to predict significant differences in teacher performance finds that this data doesn’t effectively differentiate among teachers.

I certainly have been critical of the over-reliance on value-added modeling in the TEAM evaluation model used in Tennessee. While the proposed change ultimately returns to using VAM for a significant portion of teacher scores, it also represents an opportunity to both transition to a new test AND explore other options for improving the teacher evaluation system.

For more on value-added modeling and its impact on the teaching profession:

Saving Money and Supporting Teachers

Real World Harms of Value-Added Data

Struggles with Value-Added Data

An Ineffective Teacher?

Principals’ Group Challenges VAM

 

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

Ravitch: Ed Reform is a Hoax

Education scholar and activist Diane Ravitch spoke at Vanderbilt University in Nashville last night at an event hosted by Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE), the Tennessee BATs (Badass Teachers), and the Momma Bears.

Ravitch touched on a number of hot-button education issues, including vouchers, charter schools, teacher evaluations, and testing. Many of these issues are seeing plenty of attention in Tennessee public policy circles both on the local and state levels.

She singled out K12, Inc. as a bad actor in the education space, calling the Tennessee Virtual Academy it runs a “sham.”

Attempts have been made to cap enrollment and shut down K12, Inc. in Tennessee, but they are still operating this year. More recently, the Union County School Board defied the State Department of Education and allowed 626 students to remain enrolled in the troubled school. The reason? Union County gets a payoff of $132,000 for their contract with K12.

Ravitch noted that there are good actors in the charter sector, but also said she adamantly opposes for-profit charter schools. Legislation that ultimately failed in 2014 would have allowed for-profit charter management companies to be hired by Tennessee charter schools.

On vouchers, an issue that has been a hot topic in the last two General Assemblies, Ravitch pointed to well-established data from Milwaukee that vouchers have made no difference in overall student performance.

Despite the evidence against vouchers, it seems quite likely they will again be an issue in the 2015 General Assembly. In fact, the Koch Brothers and their allies spent heavily in the recent elections to ensure that vouchers are back on the agenda.

Ravitch told the crowd that using value-added data to evaluate teachers makes no sense. The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) has been around since the BEP in 1992. It was created by UT Ag Professor Bill Sanders. Outgoing Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman made an attempt to tie teacher licenses to TVAAS scores, but that was later repealed by the state board of education. A careful analysis of the claims of value-added proponents demonstrates that the data reveals very little in terms of differentiation among teachers.

Ravitch said that instead of punitive evaluation systems, teachers need resources and support. Specifically, she mentioned Peer Assistance and Review as an effective way to provide support and meaningful development to teachers.

A crowd of around 400 listened and responded positively throughout the hour-long speech. Ravitch encouraged the audience to speak up about the harms of ed reform and rally for the reforms and investments our schools truly need.

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

The Value of the Report Card on Teacher Training

Every year, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission issues a Report Card on the state’s teacher training program. To evaluate educator effectiveness, THEC uses the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System.

Which effectively renders the Report Card of little value.

Not included in the report is a teacher’s overall effectiveness score on the TEAM model. That would include both observed scores and value-added data, plus other achievement measures. That would be a more robust score to report, but it’s not included.

I’ve written before on the very limited value of value-added data.

Here are some highlights of why we learn almost nothing from the THEC report in terms of whether or not a teacher education program is actually doing a good job:

Here’s the finding that gets all the attention: A top 5 percent teacher (according to value-added modeling or VAM) can help a classroom of students (28) earn $250,000 more collectively over their lifetime.

Now, a quarter of a million sounds like a lot of money.

But, in their sample, a classroom was 28 students. So, that equates to $8928.57 per child over their lifetime. That’s right, NOT $8928.57 MORE per year, MORE over their whole life.

For more math fun, that’s $297.61 more per year over a thirty year career with a VAM-designated “great” teacher vs. with just an average teacher.

Yep, get your kid into a high value-added teacher’s classroom and they could be living in style, making a whole $300 more per year than their friends who had the misfortune of being in an average teacher’s room.

If we go all the way down to what VAM designates as “ineffective” teaching, you’d likely see that number double, or maybe go a little higher. So, let’s say it doubles plus some. Now, your kid has a low VAM teacher and the neighbor’s kid has a high VAM teacher. What’s that do to his or her life?

Well, it looks like this: The neighbor kid gets a starting job offer of $41,000 and your kid gets a starting offer of $40,000.

So, THEC uses a marginal indicator of educator effectiveness to make a significant determination about whether or not educator training programs are effective. At the very least, such a determination should also include observed scores of these teachers over time or the entire TEAM score.

Until then, the annual Report Card on teacher training will add little value to the education policy discussion in Tennessee.

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

TEA President on Testing and Education Reform

Blake Farmer of WPLN in Nashville has an interview with TEA President Gera Summerford that hits topics including an over-reliance on standardized testing, using value-added data to evaluate teachers, and charter schools.

In the interview, Summerford suggests a move toward common assessments, developed by teachers, to supplement or replace standardized testing.

She notes that the current model of teacher evaluation is not complete, and that multiple measures of effectiveness should included.  And Summerford notes that there are serious concerns about the validity of value-added data and it’s significance in the current teacher evaluation scheme.

The write-up and the entire interview can be found here.

TEA Files TVAAS Lawsuit in Knox County

Use of TVAAS is Arbitrary and Violates 14th Amendment, TEA Alleges

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Knox County teacher who was denied a bonus under that school system’s pay plan after Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) data for 10 of her students was unknowingly attributed to her.

TVAAS is Tennessee’s system of measuring student growth over time. It generates data based on student test scores on TCAP and end of course tests.

In this specific case, the teacher, Lisa Trout, was assigned TVAAS data for 10 students after being told her evaluation would be based on system-wide TVAAS data because she taught at an alternative school.

The TEA lawsuit cites two different memos which indicated that Ms. Trout could expect an evaluation (and bonus eligibility) to be based on system-wide data. At the conclusion of the school year, Ms. Trout was informed that her overall evaluation score, including observations and TVAAS data was a 4, making her eligible for a bonus under the Knox County pay plan.

When she did not receive the bonus as expected, she began asking questions about why the bonus had not been paid.  She ultimately determined that without her knowledge, a school counselor had assigned 10 students to Ms. Trout for the factoring of TVAAS scores.  The students were in an Algebra II course Ms. Trout taught, even though she does not hold an endorsement for teaching Alegbra II.

Though the suit does not specifically mention this, it should be noted that 10 students is a particularly small sample size subject to significant statistical anomaly.

The TEA lawsuit contends that Ms. Trout was owed the bonus based on Knox County School Board policy and in this specific instance, the bonus should have been paid.

Arbitrary?

The TEA goes on to contend that Ms. Trout and similarly situated teachers for whom there is little or no specific TVAAS data are held to an arbitrary standard in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Specifically, the suit notes: ” … the majority of teachers in the Knox County Schools … have had their eligibility for additional compensation (under the APEX bonus system) determined on the basis of the test scores of students they do not teach and/or the test scores of their students in subjects unrelated to the subjects they teach.”

The suit alleges that such a system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because some teachers are evaluated and receive bonuses based on the scores of their own students while other teachers are held accountable for students they do not teach and over which they have no influence or control.

In short, the entire system is flawed and should be discarded.

A spokesperson for TEA confirmed that the organization does not believe that teacher pay should be tied to TVAAS data.

On a related note, the Metro Nashville Public Schools recently announced it is putting plans to pay teachers in part based on TVAAS scores on hold indefinitely.

A TEA press release announcing the Knox County suit indicated that the organization anticipates additional lawsuits along these lines.

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

 

Cameras in the Classroom?

Schools Matter has a series of posts up on the Measuring Effectiveness in Teaching project sponsored by the Gates Foundation.

Of note is the use of video cameras to record Tennessee classrooms and transmit the data for use in analyzing teaching behavior.  According to information obtained by Schools Matter, 120 schools in TN are using or have used the cameras to record classrooms.

The cameras were obtained and installed thanks to a grant from the Gates Foundation in the amount of $3.2 million.

The goal of the project is to take into account various measures of teaching practice and then use that information to determine what makes an “effective teacher.”

While not explicitly stated, it seems likely that the project will ultimately match up teachers with high value-added scores and their videotapes so as to determine which practices are most effective.  Teachers will then be encouraged to adopt the model practices as captured on video.

While this in itself is not bad practice, it is important that any data collected in this way is put to good use.  That is, it’s not enough to tape the lessons.  Will the TNDOE use the information to help coach struggling teachers? Will the TNDOE invest funds to provide early career mentoring, a method proven to increase teacher retention and improve teacher performance?

And, while at the outset, the idea behind the project seems to have some merit, the folks at Schools Matter raise some serious concerns.

Do teachers consent to have their classes taped? Are parents informed when a camera is used to tape their student in class? Is the use of this data made clear to both teachers and parents?

According to this piece, the cameras are turned on and off by the teacher and uploaded to the teacher’s account for sharing to appropriate parties. Certainly, that would include an administrator and also the data collection group.  So, it seems the teacher does have some control over when or whether the camera is on — unless there is a district or building policy dictating otherwise.

While the MET project may yet yield some interesting information, it’s not clear what will be done with that information.  And it’s not clear that the implementation of this project in Tennessee has been carried out with full disclosure to both teachers and parents.

If the basis of the project is to match teaching practices to value-added scores, I’d urge at least some caution.

Districts participating should inform parents about the collection of this data and how it may be used.

And, if the project DOES yield useful information, Tennessee should dispatch that information with an investment in training and support of its teachers.

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