Enough Already

Today, amid another round of testing problems, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney tweeted:

Testing Update: TnReady testing challenges persist this morning. This has been the worst state testing process I have ever seen and it’s beyond ridiculous! Nevertheless, I am proud of WCS students and teachers for handling this with grace.

We’re now in the third week of the TNReady testing window and we’ve seen problems of some sort on a majority of those days. In fact, last week, Williamson County posted a list of TNReady problems by day:

Monday, April 16: Login problems affecting approximately 15,000 students.

Tuesday, April 17: Login problems affecting approximately 8,000 students.

Wednesday, April 18: WCS suspended testing to give the TDOE time to correct problems.

Thursday, April 19: Login problems affecting approximately 1,000 students.

Friday, April 20: No significant issues reported.

Monday, April 23: No significant issues reported.

Tuesday, April 24: System defaults caused 100+ students to take the wrong grade level test.

Wednesday, April 25: Delays and canceled testing affecting approximately 8,000 students.

Thursday, April 26: System lockout affecting approximately 15,000 students.

Friday, April 27: No significant issues reported.

That’s just one district, and the problems have been reported by a number of districts large and small across the state.

The Department of Education has blamed the problems on mysterious forces such as hackers and dump trucks, but it seems clear testing vendor Questar is not quite prepared for the job Tennessee is paying them $30 million this year to do.

Oh, and sometimes students get the wrong test.

All of this has caused an outcry among students, parents, and teachers. While one legislator says all the “whiners” should just suck it up, the TNReady trouble this year has caused legislators to take matters into their own hands, passing bills on “holding harmless” and “adverse actions” in order to make clear these tests should not negatively impact teachers, students, or schools.

One might recall that before our state’s testing window started, there was a bit of a warning that trouble might be headed our way. Despite the signs of potential trouble, Questar and the TN DOE expressed confidence in TNReady:

State officials said Thursday they are confident the new digital platform will work under heavy traffic, even as their new testing vendor, Questar, had headaches administering computer-based tests in New York on Wednesday. Some students there struggled to log on and submit their exam responses — issues that Questar leaders blamed on a separate company providing the computer infrastructure that hosts the tests.

It seems that confidence was misplaced.

I’ve talked with testing coordinators who tell me districts will be testing all the way up until graduation. I heard today that even when the login and submission problems were “resolved,” some students returned to their computers only to be issued a test for a subject other than the one they had started earlier in the day.

Student answers have been deleted or lost. Because of the legislation passed at the end of legislative session, TNReady will likely not count in many student’s grades. Teachers and administrators report that whether the scores count or not, students have no confidence in the system and no longer take the test seriously.

Even today, as I began seeing reports of issues around the state, I realized that TNReady being down is no longer news, it’s the norm.

Of course, Tennessee has had some sort of problem with testing or test results for five years now, dating back to the last administration of TCAP.

Here’s what else I realized: This test will just keep going. No one will stop it. Governor Haslam has yet to seriously weigh-in and appears to be fully behind Commissioner McQueen despite years of testing failures. While Directors of Schools complain about the ridiculous excuses from DOE and poor execution from Questar, so far, no district has permanently suspended testing.

Representatives from the Department of Education told lawmakers last week that there will be some valid data from this administration of TNReady. They even said it with a straight face.

So, why won’t this stop? Will any district refuse to subject students to further testing in this environment? Who will finally stand up and say “Enough?”

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Bump in the Road

While one Tennessee legislator refers to the TNReady trouble as a mere “Bump in the Road,” school districts around the state are stuck trying to pick up the pieces and move forward. Here’s an excerpt from a message to parents provided by Williamson County Schools with an outline of the challenges faced during TNReady testing so far:

On behalf of WCS, I want to apologize to you and your children for having to endure the State’s failed online testing program these past two weeks. We know that this has been difficult for everyone involved, and for that we are sorry.

State standardized testing has been required for decades in Tennessee. What has changed in the past few years is that the Tennessee Department of Education has been trying to transition to online testing. As many of you know, they have had massive difficulties with online administration of TNReady and high school End of Course exams (EOCs). These online problems have affected our grades 5-11.

Here’s a quick timeline of what our students and staff have undergone since State testing began last week:

Monday, April 16: Login problems affecting approximately 15,000 students.

Tuesday, April 17: Login problems affecting approximately 8,000 students.

Wednesday, April 18: WCS suspended testing to give the TDOE time to correct problems.

Thursday, April 19: Login problems affecting approximately 1,000 students.

Friday, April 20: No significant issues reported.

Monday, April 23: No significant issues reported.

Tuesday, April 24: System defaults caused 100+ students to take the wrong grade level test.

Wednesday, April 25: Delays and canceled testing affecting approximately 8,000 students.

Thursday, April 26: System lockout affecting approximately 15,000 students.

Friday, April 27: No significant issues reported.

That’s six days of problems over a two week testing period. Williamson County is now the third district (joining Knox and Anderson) to report students being given the wrong test.

This doesn’t look like a bump in the road, it looks like a huge mess. Thousands of students in just this one district have been impacted. Districts are now scheduling meetings to determine how to move forward in light of “hold harmless” and “adverse action” legislation.

Still, the Tennessee Department of Education insists that testing must keep going. A TDOE representative told House and Senate members this week that it was entirely possible to obtain valid data from this test administration.

We’ve supposedly had hackers and dump trucks running around trying to stop the test.

Still, Candice McQueen and her Department, backed by Governor Haslam, insist we simply MUST keep testing.

Why?

Whenever the idea of stopping testing is brought up, the state says we will lose federal money. Even this week, amid legislative wrangling on the issue, the final proposal was adopted as means of preserving compliance with federal law.

Here’s how Chalkbeat reported it:

The language in both bills seeks to keep Tennessee’s school accountability plan in compliance with a federal education law that requires states to include student performance in their teacher evaluation model — or risk losing federal funding for schools. Lawmakers also cited the state’s tenure rules in preserving the data.

So, what’s the real risk?

There isn’t one. If Tennessee stops testing this year and doesn’t include the data at all in teacher evaluation, we’d only be violating the plan we wrote, not some federal mandate. It was Tennessee’s ESSA plan that spelled out how our state planned to use data from testing. Certainly, a case can be made that testing didn’t go as planned this year, so we won’t use this year’s data.

Still, could we lose money?

No.

I mean, it’s not exactly THAT clear, but pretty much.

Here’s what I wrote on this topic back in 2016 (yes, we have testing problems all the time — as one person noted on Twitter, we’ve become the Cleveland Browns of state testing):

There’s just one problem: The federal government has not (yet) penalized a single district for failing to hit the 95% benchmark. In fact, in the face of significant opt-outs in New York last year (including one district where 89% of students opted-out), the U.S. Department of Education communicated a clear message to New York state education leaders:  Districts and states will not suffer a loss of federal dollars due to high test refusal rates. The USDOE left it up to New York to decide whether or not to penalize districts financially.

And here’s more on how the federal Department of Education rarely withholds funds from states over testing or accountability issues:

  1. In 2015 more than 600,000 students opted out of state tests around the country, including 20% of all students in NYS, and 100,000 students in New Jersey and Colorado. Here in Illinois, more than 40,000 students opted out, including 10% of all CPS students eligible for the test. In 2016, as a district, CPS still did not make 95% participation, and more than 160 individual CPS schools also had <95% participation on PARCC last year. And in New York State in 2016, more than 9 out of 10 school districts had less than 95% participationNo state, district or school lost a single penny—despite threats throughout testing season every year since mass opt out began.  In fact, as mentioned above, no state or local educational agency has lost any funding for participation rates ever. And states have had participation below 95% in the past (particularly in demographic subgroups), even before the era of mass opt out campaigns.
  2. In 2015 the IL State Board of Education (ISBE) opted out the entire state from science testing. States must administer science testing by grade-span (i.e. once in 3-5th, once in 6-8th, once in high school). There was a 0% participation rate. No funding was lost. The US Department of Education (USED)’s response was described by the Chicago Tribune as a ‘crackdown‘. In fact, the ‘crackdown’ was a stern letter, informing the state that they needed to administer a science test the next year.

So, will we lose money because we tried to administer a test but experienced a series of unfortunate events?

No.

No we will not.

Still, the Tennessee Department of Education insists that our students, teachers, and schools persist.

Still, TDOE insists the data is somehow valid and useful.

The fact is, TNReady has not been. Not in 2016, not this year, not yet.

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

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Whiners

Rep. Sabi Kumar has a message for students, parents, and teachers about the TNReady problems: Stop whining!

Yes, that’s what the Robertson County State Representative said in an email to an educator. The full email response is pictured below. Here’s the text where he responds directly about the testing issues this year:

I also ask a favor of you.

I ask that you and your colleagues rise to your calling as Educators and use this TN Ready Software Failure, that is being labeled a “Debacle” and a “Spectacular Failure”, as a Teaching Moment for your students.

I ask that you teach your students to treat this as a Bump in the Road and teach them how to handle Software Failures at home, or later, in their work space and in Life!

We do not want a child to learn that if they complain loud enough or cry in response to stress, life will get better. It is more important that they learn how to overcome stress and find solutions to problems in the Software of Life.

We want our students to be Winners Who Overcome Circumstances in Life and not whiners who complain. I do agree that each child has different needs and responses but our goal should be the same.

I admire you and your fellow Educators because you do so much for our children.

There is no successful adult who does not owe gratitude to that special teacher, or teachers, who helped shape us towards success in life.

So, Rep. Kumar ends his letter with kind-sounding words about teachers after suggesting that raising concerns about a testing system that has repeatedly failed students makes them “whiners.”

Kumar speaks of teaching children to find solutions to problems while simultaneously refusing to hold the Tennessee Department of Education accountable. He fails to mention that the voters of Robertson County send him to Nashville to help find solutions. Instead, he allows a multi-million dollar, multi-year testing failure to continue and implores those pointing that out to stop whining.

To students who have had schedules disrupted, test answers erased, and instructional time lost, Mr. Kumar says: stop complaining and don’t cry.

One thing he says is true: So far, in spite of the outcry from teachers, parents, and students, life in schools during TNReady is not getting any better. The testing marches on, the window is extended, the problems continue and those responsible are not held accountable.

Here’s an image of the email sent by Kumar:

Here’s how to contact Rep. Kumar.

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Would You Eat This Pie?

After last week’s TNReady failure, the Tennessee General Assembly took some action to mitigate the impact the test would have on students and teachers.

I wrote at the time that the legislature’s action was a good step, but not quite enough:

  1. The law does say that districts and schools will not receive an “A-F” score based on the results of this year’s test. It also says schools can’t be placed on the state’s priority list based on the scores. That’s good news.

  2. The law gives districts the option of not counting this year’s scores in student grades. Some districts had already said they wouldn’t count the test due to the likelihood the scores would arrive late. Now, all districts can take this action if they choose.

  3. The law says any score generated for teachers based on this year’s test cannot be used in employment/compensation decisions.

Here’s what the law didn’t say: There will be NO TVAAS scores for teachers this year based on this data.

In other words, this year’s TNReady test WILL factor into a teacher’s evaluation.

The Department of Education took some steps to clarify what that means for teachers and offered a handy pie chart to explain the evaluation process:

First, this chart makes clear that this year’s TNReady scores WILL factor into a teacher’s overall evaluation.

Second, this chart is crazy. A teacher’s growth score is factored on tests from three different years and three types of tests.

15% of the growth score comes from the old TCAP (the test given in 2014-15, b/c the 2015-16 test had some problems). Then, 10% comes from last year’s TNReady, which was given on paper and pencil. Last year was the first year of a full administration of TNReady, and there were a few problems with the data calculation. A final 10% comes from this year’s TNReady, given online.

So, you have data from the old test, a skipped year, data from last year’s test (the first time TNReady had truly been administered), and data from this year’s messed up test.

There is no way this creates any kind of valid score related to teacher performance. At all.

In fact, transitioning to a new type of test creates validity issues. The way to address that is to gather three or more years of data and then build on that.

Here’s what I noted from statisticians who study the use of value-added to assess teacher performance:

Researchers studying the validity of value-added measures asked whether value-added gave different results depending on the type of question asked. Particularly relevant now because Tennessee is shifting to a new test with different types of questions.

Here’s what Lockwood and McCaffrey (2007) had to say in the Journal of Educational Measurement:

We find that the variation in estimated effects resulting from the different mathematics achievement measures is large relative to variation resulting from choices about model specification, and that the variation within teachers across achievement measures is larger than the variation across teachers. These results suggest that conclusions about individual teachers’ performance based on value-added models can be sensitive to the ways in which student achievement is measured.
These findings align with similar findings by Martineau (2006) and Schmidt et al (2005)
You get different results depending on the type of question you’re measuring.

The researchers tested various VAM models (including the type used in TVAAS) and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured.

And they concluded:

Our results provide a clear example that caution is needed when interpreting estimated teacher effects because there is the potential for teacher performance to depend on the skills that are measured by the achievement tests.

If you measure different skills, you get different results. That decreases (or eliminates) the reliability of those results. TNReady is measuring different skills in a different format than TCAP. It’s BOTH a different type of test AND a test on different standards. Any value-added comparison between the two tests is statistically suspect, at best. In the first year, such a comparison is invalid and unreliable. As more years of data become available, it may be possible to make some correlation between past TCAP results and TNReady scores.

I’ve written before about the shift to TNReady and any comparisons to prior tests being like comparing apples and oranges.

Here’s what the TN Department of Education’s pie chart does: It compares an apple to nothing to an orange to a banana.

Year 1: Apple (which counts 15%)

Year 2: Nothing, test was so messed up it was cancelled

Year 3: Orange – first year of TNReady (on pencil and paper)

Year 4: Banana – Online TNReady is a mess, students experience login, submission problems across the state.

From these four events, the state is suggesting that somehow, a valid score representing a teacher’s impact on student growth can be obtained. The representative from the Department of Education at today’s House Education Instruction and Programs Committee hearing said the issue was not that important, because this year’s test only counted for 10% of the overall growth score for a teacher. Some teachers disagree.

Also, look at that chart again. Too far up? Too confusing? Don’t worry, I’ve made a simpler version:

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TNReady and TVAAS: A Teacher’s Perspective

Nashville teacher Amanda Kail talks about the connection between TNReady and TVAAS and the importance of legislation moving TODAY that could actually hold teachers harmless.

QUESTION: I thought the legislature said the tests wouldn’t count. What’s going on?
ANSWER: The state legislature was moved by all the horror stories surrounding testing problems to tack a bunch of amendments on to the only remaining education bill of the session (HB1109/SB0987) which attempted to “hold harmless” students, teachers, and schools for the results of the test. What this technically means is that local boards of education can vote on how much they want the students’ scores to count towards their grades (0-15%), and that the data cannot be used to issue a letter grade to schools (A-F, another asinine idea designed to find new ways to punish schools that serve mostly poor kids, but I digress).
However, for teachers the bill specified only that the results of the testing could not be used for decisions regarding employment and compensation. It does not say anything about the scores not being used for EVALUATIONS. Because of this, many teachers across the state pushed TEA to go back to the legislature and demand that the legislation be amended to exclude this year’s scores from TVAAS. You can read more about the particulars of that in Andy Spears’ excellent article for the Tennessee Education Report.
As a result, the House Finance Committee voted to strip all the amendments from HB1109 and start over again with the “hold harmless” language. That needs to happen TOMORROW (4/24/18 — TODAY).
QUESTION: What is TVAAS?
ANSWER: Teachers in Tennessee have evaluations based partly on value-added measures (we called it “TVAAS” here). What this means is that the Tennessee Department of Education uses some sort of mystical secret algorithm (based on cattle propagation– REALLY!) to calculate how much growth each student will generate on statewide tests. If a student scores less growth (because, like, maybe their test crashed 10 times and they weren’t really concentrating so much anymore) than predicted, that student’s teacher receives a negative number that is factored into their yearly effectiveness score. Generally, TVAAS has been decried by everyone from our state teacher union to the American Statistical Association (and when you upset the statisticians, you have really gone too far), but the state continues to defend its use.
QUESTION: What if I am a teacher who didn’t experience any problems, and I think my students did great on the test? Why would I want to oppose using this year’s data for TVAAS?
ANSWER: Thousands of your colleagues around the state don’t have that luxury, because they DID have problems, and their students’ scores suffered as a result. In fact, even in a good year, thousands of your colleagues have effectiveness scores based on subjects they don’t even teach, because TVAAS is only based on tested subjects (math, ELA, and depending on the year science and social studies). The fact is that TVAAS is a rotten system. If it benefits you individually as a teacher, that’s great for you. But too many of your colleagues are driven out of the classroom by the absurdity of being held accountable for things completely beyond their control. As a fellow professional, I hope you see the wisdom in advocating for a sane system over one that just benefits you personally.
QUESTION: Okay. So what do we do now?
ANSWER: Contact your state house and senate representatives! TODAY! These are the last days of the legislative session, so it is IMPERATIVE that you contact them now and tell them to support amendments to HB1109 and SB0987 that will stop the use of this year’s testing data towards TVAAS. You can find your legislators here.
Don’t leave teachers holding the bag for the state’s mistakes. AGAIN.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Beating Alabama

Governor Haslam gave his State of the State Monday and outlined budget priorities. Immediately, the Tennessee Education Association called on the General Assembly to improve on the small raise Haslam proposed for teachers.

Here’s the deal: A few years back, Bill Haslam promised to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay. That very same budget year, Haslam’s actual budget included no new money for teacher compensation. Since then, however, his budgets have included back-to-back four percent increases in funds for teacher compensation. This year, however, the budget proposal is for a more modest two percent increase. Should this budget pass as proposed, Haslam’s education budgets will have resulted in average annual increases in funds for teacher pay of about two percent. That’s not much faster growth than surrounding states. In fact, during Haslam’s term of office, actual teacher pay in Tennessee has increased by about one percent per year, very similar to rates in Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama.

Here’s what’s interesting: Tennessee teachers still earn about $3000 less on average than their counterparts in Georgia and Kentucky. But, our teachers are actually closing in on Alabama. Current numbers suggest Tennessee teachers earn about $300 less on average than Alabama teachers.

Of course, Alabama will pass a budget this year, too. And, it will likely include additional funds for teacher pay. But, if Haslam and the General Assembly were to double the amount of money allocated for increases in teacher compensation in this year’s budget, Tennessee would almost certainly overtake Alabama in average teacher pay.

Can we afford it? The short answer is yes! Revenue has been growing at about 5% this year when comparing year-over-year numbers. If that keeps up, we’ll see about $700 million in new revenue. Sure, some of that is allocated, but moving around $55 million to bump the teacher pay raise from two to four percent shouldn’t be that difficult. And, if we do it, Tennessee will beat Alabama.

I’ve lived in Tennessee almost 20 years now. If there’s one thing I know about my fellow Tennesseans it’s that we love to beat Alabama. Come on, Tennessee General Assembly. You can do it! You can help Tennessee beat Alabama.

Watch out, Kentucky and Georgia, you COULD be next!

 

 

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


 

2018 Legislative Preview

The Tennessee General Assembly is back in session today. Here’s an overview of some education topics that are likely to be considered this year. Of course, more issues always arise, but these issues will most certainly be given attention.

Testing

Senator Bill Ketron has indicated he’s proposing legislation that will place a moratorium on any new testing until the current TNReady tests are successfully administered. Initially, it sounded like his proposal would stop all testing, but Ketron has since clarified that to indicate he wants to see the current test done right before any new tests are added.

Representative Jeremy Faison has proposed separating TNReady test scores from student grades and teacher evaluations. There have been significant problems with getting scores back in a reliable way in order to include them in student grades. Additionally, the apples to oranges comparison of TNReady to the old TCAP tests renders any teacher growth scores essentially meaningless.

Representative Matthew Hill has proposed shifting high school testing from TNReady to the ACT suite of assessments. Hill says there’s too much emphasis on testing and too many hours spent away from instruction.

Combined, these initiatives represent a shift in attitude about TNReady and testing in general that could lead to some changes in how tests impact students and teachers. Decoupling tests from student grades and teacher evaluations would likely have the effect of reducing the influence they have over instructional time.

RTI

Response to Intervention and Instruction (RTI2) has been a state mandate for several years now, but state funding to carry out the program’s demands has not been provided. This has led to some creative (and not terribly effective) implementation strategies. Districts are responding to the mandate to the best of their abilities, but due to lack of financial support, this doesn’t always lead to the best outcome for students.

In her budget presentation to Governor Haslam, Commissioner Candice McQueen indicated she’d propose dedicated funding for RTI in a BEP update. It was not immediately clear how much funding or how it would be integrated into the school funding formula. Rep. Joe Pitts offered a possible option last year, but his proposal was not embraced by the Administration.

It’s encouraging to see this item being discussed. Many districts have used the state’s salary increase funding for teachers to hire RTI teachers — which means lower or no raises for teachers across a district. Providing dedicated RTI funding would allow districts to use state salary funds to boost pay across the board, and that’s good news in a state that pays teachers 30% less than similarly educated professionals.

Teacher Pay

Following up on the RTI discussion as it relates to overall teacher pay, Governor Haslam has proposed and the General Assembly has approved BEP salary fund increases of 4% per year over the past three years. Because of issues like RTI and the general inadequacy of the BEP, teachers haven’t always seen 4% raises. The average, in fact, has been just under 2% per year. Still, Governor Haslam gets some credit for maintaining investment in teacher compensation. Some speculate he’ll go a step further in his last year in office, adding 5% to teacher compensation through the BEP. If this is coupled with a significant investment in RTI, it could mean the largest raise teachers have seen in years. The cost of making this investment would be around $125 million. With revenue continuing to outpace projections, this level of investment is both possible and wise. Tennessee still has a long way to go in terms of improving teacher compensation and support, but these two steps would signal a positive trend.

Vouchers

Both the House and Senate sponsors of voucher legislation have indicated they will not pursue the idea this year. In fact, both have said they want to focus on finding ways to invest in teacher pay and RTI, signaling a level of agreement with Governor Haslam. Last year marked the fifth consecutive year vouchers were defeated. It seems, for now at least, that advocates of using public tax dollars for private schools will wait to fight another day.

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


 

Did You Read the Whole Letter?

The BEP Review Committee met today as it begins the process of outlining priorities for BEP improvement for 2018. The group received an update on how Governor Haslam and the General Assembly responded to the priority list it created for this year.

Here’s the list of priorities the committee identified for 2017:

The five priorities, in order:

1. Sustained commitment to teacher compensation

2. English Language Learner funding (to bring ratios closer to the level called for in the BEP Enhancement Act of 2016)

3. Funding the number of guidance counselors at a level closer to national best practices

4. Funding Response to Instruction and Intervention positions

5. Sustained technology funding

Committee members noted that Governor Haslam funded an increase in teacher compensation and improvements in ELL funding. As of today, that budget has passed the House of Representatives and awaits final approval by the Senate on Monday.

The committee also noted that no movement was made to improve the ratio of school counselors to students and no funding was provided for RTI positions. Technology funding also remained constant.

There was an opportunity to address the RTI issue. Rep. Joe Pitts of Clarksville sponsored a bill that would have added to the BEP formula funding for 3 RTI positions for each public school in the state. That bill carried a cost of $167 million. Despite a nearly $1 billion surplus this year, funding was not provided for this legislation.

Committee members — representatives of school boards and superintendents — noted that the RTI program can be successful if properly implemented. Directors of Schools in particular expressed frustration at the state of RTI, noting the program is mandated, but not funded.

The legislature referred Pitts’ bill to the BEP Review Committee for study and further recommendations.

In addition to the lack of funding for RTI positions and school counselors, MNPS Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson noted that historically, the committee has recommended an improvement in funding for school nurses. While that wasn’t in the top 5 this past year, Henson advocated for getting it back on the list. Committee staff indicated members would be surveyed over the summer, with an eye toward a new list of priorities released by August.

One other issue worth noting: Committee staff highlighted increases in BEP funds for teacher compensation over the past three years and suggested this indicates a commitment to the committee’s top priority. However, the BEP Review Committee’s own 2016 report , actual total compensation for teachers has increased by only 1% per year over the last two years.That’s less than the rate of increase from a decade ago, when total teacher compensation was increasing at a rate of about 3% per year. This in spite of repeated commitments to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay.

So, the BEP Review Committee will make a new priority list. Issues like funding RTI positions and school counselors seem likely to make a repeat appearance. The question, then, is will these items receive the attention they deserve?

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


 

Let’s Change How We Treat Truancy

Below is a guest post by Roy Kramka. You will read about Roy’s struggle in high school and how the district did not try to help along the way. Luckily, Roy ended up enrolling back in MNPS and graduating. Could his story have been different if interventions were in place?

The bill discussed below would create a progressive truancy intervention program for students who are on the verge of being referred to local authorities for truancy. These interventions would decrease the amount of referrals to the juvenile courts. Could we solve this issue if we had a uniform procedure in place? Here’s what Roy thinks:

I’d like to draw your attention to Senate Bill 196 / House Bill 483 of the Tennessee General Assembly. This bill is designed to create a progressive truancy intervention program that seeks to address the root cause of truancy. Currently, truancy cases in Tennessee are handled by the juvenile court system, which is very good at punitively addressing absenteeism, but very poor at rehabilitation. This bill should have minimal fiscal impact (and could conceivably save money), but more importantly, can mean the difference between sending a kid to jail vs sending a kid back to the classroom with the support they need to succeed.

This is personally meaningful to me because I struggled in high school, skipping the last four or five weeks of my junior year (at Hillsboro High) and dropping out in the Fall semester of my senior year (at Hume Fogg). While there were no legal consequences to my absenteeism for myself, or my family, there was also little, if any effort by Metro Public Schools to determine why I stopped attending classes or intervene when I dropped out. I would later be diagnosed with a learning disability, a process that indicated I was only writing at an 8th grade level while trying to complete honors and AP course work as a senior in high school.

I don’t know how I could have helped myself before I started skipping school. There simply wasn’t a seed of thought in my brain that I had a learning disability. I had no idea that I could tell my teachers that my struggles with school were so painful and great that it was preferable to simply walk away from the dominant social and intellectual structure in my life to avoid said pain. My truancy was humiliating. There was no joy in dropping out. But at 17 and 18, I was incapable of the introspection and self-advocacy required to rescue myself and we shouldn’t expect such introspection or self-advocacy from any other 17 or 18 year old kids.

This bill won’t solve all the problems with the ways we educate our children, but it’s a step forward. Further, it’s an example of the way local politics are a powerful tool in shaping our communities. There are four branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative, the Judiciary, and the People. And at the local level, we are most powerful. While we call our representatives in Washington, only to have our pleas fall on the deaf ears of their assistants, our local representatives are waiting for us to call.

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


 

Polling: Tennesseans Oppose Vouchers

As I mentioned last week, the issue of school vouchers will again be a hot topic at the Tennessee General Assembly. Today, the Tennessee Education Association is out with polling suggesting Tennessee residents oppose vouchers.

Here’s the press release:

Tennesseans strongly reject private school vouchers, according to the largest and most comprehensive polling data on the subject. TEA extensively surveyed rural, urban and suburban voters in all three Grand Divisions of the state, with an oversample of highly-likely Republican primary voters. The polls were conducted May through October of 2016.

Of the 6,510 respondents, 59.5 percent rejected private school vouchers, 29 percent approved. The two-to-one negative opinion was consistent across geographic and demographic groups. The polling margin of error is +/- 4 percent.

“I’ve rarely seen such a strong negative opinion. It is clear Tennesseans do not like or want school vouchers,” said Jim Wrye, TEA Government Relations manager. “We are a conservative state that values our local traditions and institutions. Vouchers are a radical idea that attack and weaken the foundation of our communities — our public schools.”

During the 2016 primary and general elections, TEA conducted numerous polls in districts to help defend legislators from attacks by pro-voucher groups and determine where new attacks could happen. Polling was conducted by a respected Republican firm used by Tennessee GOP entities and candidates.

While TEA’s polling asked basic national and local “horse-race” questions and demographic information, the polling also asked a voucher question about using taxpayer funds for private school tuition. The simple and accurate question was asked in every poll commissioned by TEA and now provides the best voter opinion data on vouchers.

“It was important to keep the question simple, and to stay away from leading or flowery language seen in other polling and surveys,” said Wrye. “Vouchers use public school funding for private school tuition. It was important to ask voters in the most simple and accurate way whether they support such a thing. Overwhelmingly, they do not.”

Rejection of vouchers was remarkably consistent across the state. Rural voters tended to be more against vouchers (64.17 percent no, 24.54 percent yes; 2,995 voters) than urban and suburban (54.01 percent no, 34.43 percent yes; 3,536 voters). No area or legislative district saw vouchers receive more support than opposition.

“I strongly encourage any legislator to vote their district and listen to folks back home. There are a lot of special interest lobbyists and money floating around the capitol, pushing things that are not of Tennessee’s great traditions and values,” said Wrye. “No matter the special interest threats or demands, you can be sure voting with your folks back home is always good politics.”

When it comes to vouchers, it is not what voters want in any district.

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