Is John Oliver Reading TN Ed Report?

John Oliver recently took on the issue of standardized testing and it sounds like he’s been reading Tennessee Education Report. In 18 brilliant minutes, he hits on a number of topics covered here time and again.

Oliver discussed teacher merit pay, the recruiting tactics of testing companies, value-added assessment, and testing transparency.

Back in 2013, Tennessee’s State Board of Education moved toward merit pay based on value-added data.

This year, while adding nearly $100 million to the pot for teacher compensation, Governor Haslam continued a push for merit pay.

While Oliver noted that Pearson recruits test scorers on Craigslist, Tennessee’s new testing vendor, Measurement, Inc. uses the same practice.

And of course, there’s the issue of value-added assessment — in Tennessee, called TVAAS. While it yields some interesting information, it’s not a reliable predictor of teacher performance and it’s going to be even more unreliable going forward, due to the shift from TCAP to TNReady. Here’s what we’ve learned from TVAAS in Tennessee:

In fact, this analysis demonstrates that the difference between a value-added identified “great” teacher and a value-added identified “average” teacher is about $300 in earnings per year per student.  So, not that much at all.  Statistically speaking, we’d call that insignificant.  That’s not to say that teachers don’t impact students.  It IS to say that TVAAS data tells us very little about HOW teachers impact students.

Surprisingly, Tennessee has spent roughly $326 million on TVAAS and attendant assessment over the past 20 years. That’s $16 million a year on a system that is not yielding much useful information.

And then there’s testing transparency. Oliver points out that it’s difficult if not impossible to get access to the actual test questions. In fact, Tennessee’s testing vendor, Measurement, Inc., has a contract with Utah’s testing vendor that involves a fine if test questions are revealed — $5000 per question:

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

Here’s the clip from John Oliver:

 

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

 

A 5% Raise?

That’s what teachers and other school employees in Williamson County are likely to see next year if Director of Schools Mike Looney has his way.

Despite some contention at last night’s County Commission meeting, it appears the school system will be able to proceed with the raises as planned because the proposed budget is balanced without asking for additional revenue from the County Commission.

At least one County Commissioner called for merit pay, but Looney said the issue is his district’s ability to recruit new teachers and employees. He cited specific challenges, as noted by Jessica Pace at FranklinHomePage.com:

Looney defended the school board’s proposal by citing the district’s struggle to recruit high school level and specialty teachers, school nurses and bus drivers due to lack of competitive pay.

Looney’s concerns echo the findings of a study by the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

It’s not just Williamson County that is having trouble recruiting new teachers, it’s a statewide problem. Williamson is addressing that challenge by using its portion of the $96 million in new state money for teacher compensation to provide a meaningful raise in pay for all teachers and system employees.

Will other systems follow suit and offer significant pay increases to their employees across the board, or will they follow Haslam’s advice and move toward merit pay schemes? It’s budget time and that question will be answered in system after system in the coming months.

More on teacher pay in Tennessee:

Why is TN Teacher Pay 40th?

From 40th to 1st?

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

Hungry for BEP Reform

School Boards in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Memphis have all voted to begin the process of exploring a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the state’s school funding formula, the BEP.

This challenge is different from the previous Small Schools challenges in two ways. First, it is being initiated by the large school systems, with some support from smaller districts. Second, it’s about adequacy, not equity. That is to say: The point of this potential lawsuit would be to say Tennessee’s school funding formula does not provide enough funding for ALL districts.

Past suits, focused on equity, argued that smaller and poorer districts lost out because the formula didn’t give kids from all districts an equal opportunity. There’s certainly evidence that the BEP is approaching (or already at) unacceptable levels of inequity. One noteworthy example is teacher pay, which shows a disparity of 42% between the top paying and lowest paying districts. The last Small Schools suit found a disparity of 45% unconstitutional. It’s not at all a stretch to suggest that 42% is also unconstitutional or that Tennessee will very soon be at the 45% disparity level.

This time, though, systems are suggesting that overall funding for schools needs to increase — likely to the tune of $500 million or more.

A story from June of last year might explain why. The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported on changes to rules governing school nutrition, including what can be sold in vending machines at school. Here’s an interesting note from that article:

Before the change to diet sodas, Soddy-Daisy High School’s vending machines would pull in nearly $40,000 a year — money that helped pay the monthly phone bill or purchase copier paper. Now that revenue is down to about $9,000 annually…

…In Hamilton County, the school district funds teaching positions, maintains building and pays utility bills. But for other costs of running a school — including copiers, phone bills and school supplies — the schools have their own budgets, which often don’t come close to covering annual expenses. That’s why money from school fees, vending machines and fundraisers is so important.

Yes, that’s right. Schools are counting on money from selling unhealthy snacks to teenagers to meet their budgets. Existing funds aren’t enough to pay the phone bill or provide adequate school supplies.

The problem with the BEP now goes beyond equity — the inputs simply aren’t adequate to meet the needs of Tennessee’s public schools.

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

 

Of Poverty and Teacher Pay

Recently, I wrote about the correlation between poverty, investment in schools, and student achievement test scores.

To summarize, wealthier districts with lower levels of poverty tended to both invest more in their schools AND get higher scores on achievement tests.

On the flip side, school districts with higher levels of poverty had less money to invest in schools and also saw lower student achievement scores.

Now, I’ve broken down the top and bottom 10 districts from those posts and I’m highlighting their average teacher salaries. Here’s the data:

TOP 10

District                                    2014 Average Teacher Salary

Franklin Special                   $52,080

Rogersville                             $44,906

Newport                                $42,962

Maryville                               $52,076

Oak Ridge                             $54,039

Williamson                           $48,471

Greeneville                          $45,386

Johnson City                       $52,222

Kingsport                             $51,425

Shelby County                   $56,180

Average for Top 10 Districts: $49,974

 

Bottom 10

District                                   2014 Average Salary

Lake Co.                                 $42,547

Union Co.                               $42,027

Madison Co.                          $45,282

Campbell Co.                        $41,563

Haywood Co.                        $43,318

Hardeman Co.                      $43,556

Hancock Co.                          $39,777

Memphis                               $56,000 (Shelby Co. number, as Memphis is now part of SCS)

Fayette Co.                            $41,565

Humboldt                             $42,072

Average for Bottom 10: $43,770

The salary disparity among the top 10 and bottom 10 districts in terms of academic performance is $6204 — or 14.2%.

These numbers roughly correlate with the districts most able to pay and with the greatest investment over the BEP.

It’s important to note that high pay alone does not represent high student achievement. It is also important to note, though, that those districts with the most consistent high performance on student achievement indicators also consistently pay more than districts that are lower-performing.

Wealthier districts invest more funds in their schools, invest more in their teachers, and see better overall outcomes than low-income districts. Teacher pay is a part of that overall equation.

MORE on Teacher Pay:

A 4% Raise for Tennessee Teachers?

Do Your Job, Get Less Money

Pay Teachers More … A Lot More

Why is TN 40th in Teacher Pay?

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

 

TN BATs Talk Haslam

The leadership of Tennessee BATs (Badass Teachers Association) released this statement in response to Governor Bill Haslam’s remarks on education on Monday:

All educators are pleased with the governor’s proposal if it puts aside the promotion of pay for performance based on test data. Student populations change and test data changes. The TVAAS system is based upon a formula that no one at the Tennessee Department of Education has explained satisfactorily thus far. A straight across the board raise would be a welcomed move by the governor, but only as a first step. Many education policies are in need of review by experienced educators. Sit with a selection of teachers that are not hand-picked and not in short-notice secret meetings. Let’s make real progress for the sake of our students. Together it can be done when both sides genuinely listen.

 

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

Teacher Groups Respond to Haslam Raise Proposal

After Governor Bill Haslam addressed education, and specifically, raises for teachers last night, groups representing teachers responded with cautious optimism.

The Tennessee Education Association noted that they have been advocating for a six percent raise in order to restore teacher pay to 2010 levels and provide a slight raise. Four percent moves in the right direction, the group said. TEA also noted that Haslam is addressing revenue issues by proposing a revenue modernization act to create a level playing field between Tennessee businesses and multi-state corporations.

For their part, Professional Educators of Tennessee applauded the efforts on salary and raised concerns about the Governor’s plan to provide liability insurance.

Here’s the statement from TEA:

Just two months after TEA called for a six percent state raise for teachers, Gov. Bill Haslam announced he would propose a four percent increase in the budget. The total earmarked for raises totals approximately $100 million, and would be the largest pay increase in more than a decade.
At four percent, the average Tennessee teacher pay increase would be approximately $2,000 annually, not including step raises.
“The governor’s proposal to putting these funds into teacher salaries is a great first step to fulfilling his promise to make Tennessee the fastest improving in teacher salaries. Now it is our job to make sure this raise stays in the budget,” said TEA president Barbara Gray.
Last year a two percent teacher raise was cut from the budget when corporate excise taxes—a tax on profits—dropped unexpectedly. TEA has been working to find fixes for the holes in the corporate excise tax and other revenue problems in order to increase investment in schools and improve educator salaries. The Haslam administration is now on the same page.
“After presenting our budget last year, there was a sharp decline in revenue collections, and we weren’t able to do some of the things we initially proposed in the budget,” Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly on February 9. “Most of the drop was in our business tax collections. We’ve spent a lot of time working internally and with outside experts to analyze what happened.” Haslam wants the General Assembly to create the “Revenue Modernization Act” that would close some loopholes used by multi-state companies and level the playing field for Tennessee-based businesses.
“In order for us to ensure raises actually get passed this go round, every teacher needs to be ready for the fight on revenue. We never want repeated what happened last year,” said Jim Wrye, TEA Director of Government Relations. “And we should not stop at just four percent. If revenue continues to rebound, we should add more funding to salaries. There is a reason we asked for six percent, and that is the lack of raises most teachers have had in the past two years.”
Last year there was no raise. In 2013-14, most teachers did not receive the 1.5 percent raise passed by the General Assembly due to the gutting of the State Minimum Salary Schedule by the State Board of Education at the request of then commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.
“Increasing salaries in the state budget is our number one priority. Without a state raise, most teachers won’t see an increase. We’ll work on it every day of the session,” said Wrye.
The large figure for teacher salary increases proposed by the governor was a strong first step. There are also critical budget areas TEA is working on, including health insurance costs, classroom supply money, and pay equity funds that need to be added to the state budget. TEA is the only organization in the statehouse working to find revenue for education funding, and is ready to assist the administration in their goal.
“The increase really shows that the governor is listening to teachers and beginning to understand the economic hardships they have been facing. It is an encouraging start to a new legislative session to see the administration working hard to find a way to support our hardworking educators,” said Gray. “To attract and retain the best teachers, it is crucial that Tennessee stay competitive with neighboring states in teacher pay, something we have been unable to do in recent years.”
Here’s the statement from PET:
We always welcome a focus on education by our policymakers, especially when they engage stakeholders in the process.

Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen have started on a good foot this session by reaching out to us.  We must bridge the gap between policy and practice.  This will require bold, sustained leadership and input from classroom educators.

We have worked hard together on teacher salaries, and I am very pleased with the result. We hope the Governor stays the course this year.  Teachers have worked hard and deserve to be recognized and compensated for their efforts. We are somewhat concerned that it might not reach classroom teachers, if strictly left to districts.

We do not support the Governor’s  proposal to provide liability insurance.  While his intentions may be noble, Tennesseans know insurance provided by the private sector is always preferable to government run insurance like InsureTeach. We would prefer that he work to address frivolous lawsuits and protect teachers.

You never want anyone who has any interest in the outcome of a liability claim, whatever that interest may be,to also be the one to administer the program.  We would ask policymakers to save the $5 million and move those dollars into salaries.

We do appreciate his open dialogue and hope we can continue the discussion moving forward.

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

 

 

A (Sort of) 4% Raise for Teachers

Governor Bill Haslam delivered his State of the State address tonight and outlined his budget and policy priorities for the coming year.

Among the proposals he outlined was $100 million to provide raises for Tennessee teachers. That equates to enough money to provide all teachers with a 4% raise.

But.

Haslam’s plan doesn’t increase teacher compensation by 4%. Instead, it provides the money to districts and encourages them to use it to reward the “best performers.” Districts could give all teachers 4% or they could provide 6% raises for some teachers and 2% raises for others. Or they could, as they did the last time an increase in salary money was provided, give a smaller raise to more instructional staff. In 2013-14, Haslam provided funds for a 1.5% raise but the average Tennessee teacher saw only .5% — or 1/3 of what was available. Districts used the remaining funds to cover other instructional costs.

Let me be clear: Haslam is to be commended for finding the resources to provide districts with these funds. $100 million for a teacher pay increase is the biggest pot of money for that purpose to be provided in many years.

Additionally, Haslam is dealing with revenue issues by proposing a modernization of the tax code. It’s plan that will introduce fairness and protect small, Tennessee-based businesses.

But it’s not a 4% raise for all teachers. Not yet. And Tennessee teachers are facing growing pay inequity and overall pay that lags the rest of the country.

Adding 4% to all teacher salaries, by, for example, increasing the BEP instructional component, could go a long way toward making Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay.

Haslam’s proposal is an important first step down that path. With some help from the General Assembly, Tennessee could make Haslam’s 2013 promise on pay a reality.

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

 

Do Your Job, Get Less Money

Over at Bluff City Ed, there’s an article analyzing the new pay scale for teachers in Shelby County Schools. The scale is weighted toward TVAAS data and the evaluation rubric, which rates teachers on a scale of 1-5, 1 being significantly below expectations and 5 being significantly above. A teacher earning a 3 “meets expectations.” That means they are doing their job and doing it well.

Jon does a nice job of breaking down what it means to “meet expectations.” But, here’s the problem he’s highlighting:  Teachers who meet expectations in the new system would see a reduction in their annual step raise. That’s right: They do their job and meet the district’s performance expectations and yet earn LESS than they would with the current pay system.

Jon puts it this way:

But what the district outlines as meeting expectations exemplifies a hardworking and effective educator who is making real progress with their community, school and students. If a teacher is doing all these things, I believe that they should be in line for a yearly raise, not a cut. At its core, this new merit pay system devalues our teachers who fulfill their professional duties in every conceivable way.

I would add to this argument that to the extent that the new pay scale is based on a flawed TVAAS system which provides minimal differentiation among teachers, it is also flawed. Value-added data does not reveal much about the differences in teacher performance. As such, this data shouldn’t weigh heavily (or at all) in performance pay schemes.

Systems like Shelby County may be better served by a pay scale that starts teachers at a high salary and rewards them well over time. Increasing pay overall creates the type of economic incentives that both attract strong teachers and encourage school systems to develop talent and counsel out low performers.

Shelby County can certainly do more to attract and retain strong teaching talent. But the new pay scale is the wrong way to achieve that goal.

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

 

Dear Jim

Tomorrow, Knox County’s Director of Schools, Jim McIntyre, will testify before the Senate HELP Committee as part of ESEA reauthorization hearings being held by Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Ahead of his testimony, 9th District Knox County School Board member Amber Rountree sent McIntyre her thoughts on what he should say. This is her letter:

Dear Jim:
Thank you for the opportunity to give input on your upcoming testimony regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”).

As you stated in your email to the Board, you have been bestowed an honor to represent our students, our staff and the great state of Tennessee. I know you will share the wonderful innovation happening in Knox County Schools, but I implore you to provide a realistic picture of how NCLB (and its waiver) has impacted our schools.  I hope as you prepare your testimony you find courage to speak hard truths about the current state of our schools, including the following points:

More accountability≠better education. While we need a way to measure student progress, we must discontinue high-stakes testing that is not developmentally appropriate.  Punishing students, teachers and schools for results of these tests is simply unethical, especially while companies like Pearson profit from this punishment.

Restore local control.  Top down mandates from the federal government via NCLB have not led to a better outcome for students.  In fact, in our own district the achievement gap is widening.  Return the decision making to the hands of our state and local boards of education, along with controls to ensure punitive high-stakes testing does not continue.

Rethink the “Teacher Incentive Fund.”  Would you pay a firefighter based on the number of fires they successfully extinguished? Merit pay does not directly correlate to increased student performance.  A wiser choice would be to use the funding for smaller teacher-student ratios, which directly improve student outcomes.

Public dollars, public schools.  Vouchers and charters are a path to privatize public education.  When President Johnson signed ESEA into law, his intent was to help public schools succeed, not see those dollars funneled into private ventures which are not held to the same rigorous standards as public schools.
I concur with President Johnson’s remark that “there is no higher ground than a schoolroom or a more hopeful place than a classroom.”  The brightness of hope for our students and teachers has dimmed under the oppressive mandates of NCLB.  You’ve been given a gift to help restore that hope; my wish is that you use it wisely.
Yours in education,
Amber Rountree,  District 9 Representative

 

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

Will Haslam Raise Teacher Pay?

He’s not saying.

Yet.

Blake Farmer over at WPLN has the story.

Basically, both Haslam and incoming Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen say they are committed to improving teacher pay, but make no commitment about a specific raise this year.

Haslam does think he should be given credit for giving teachers raises early in his term, though.

Here’s what he said:

“What gets lost in there is we were one of the few states, in our first three budgets, who actually did give teachers raises,” Haslam said in an interview with WPLN.

What he failed to mention is that Tennessee ranks near the bottom in the nation in rate of improvement of teacher pay as well as total teacher compensation. And the disparity among districts in terms of teacher pay is reaching proportions previously rule unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

In short, a failure to address both the level of teacher pay and the resources provided to schools could result in more than just angry teachers. Some are even beginning to suggest a school funding lawsuit is in order.

Will 2015 be the year Bill Haslam makes a serious attempt to both improve teacher pay and provide needed resources to Tennessee schools?

He just won’t say.

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