Nothing New at ASD

Chalkbeat has the story of how the troubled Achievement School District (ASD) will not add any schools, and may see some leave:

No new schools will enter Tennessee’s troubled turnaround district, and there’s a likelihood some will exit and return to their local districts.


While the achievement district was once the cornerstone of Tennessee’s turnaround strategy, no new schools have been added to the district since 2016. Schwinn said that trend will continue this year because the state is in “the process of redesigning and building” the district.

Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn added that she expects new schools will be added in the future.

Now seems like a good time to remind everyone of the troubles with the ASD over the years.

First, the district simply isn’t getting results:


Most of the schools that were taken over by Tennessee’s turnaround district remain on the state’s priority list six years after the intervention efforts began.


Four of the six original Memphis schools that were taken over by the state in 2012 are on the newest priority list released last week. And more than a dozen schools that were added to the district later also remain on the list.


For years, the district has fallen short of its ambitious promise to dramatically raise test scores at the schools by handing them over to charter operators — a goal that the district’s founder later acknowledged was too lofty. And researchers with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance recently concluded that schools in the state district are doing no better than other low-performing schools that received no state help.


The ASD has also had some audit problems:


The audit said that the Comptroller’s office has previously “reported deficiencies in ASD’s internal controls and noncompliance with federal program requirements, resulting in approximately $721,000 of federal questioned cost.”


Sher notes:


On March 30, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, released an audit of Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant, which included funds spent by the ASD.


“This federal audit identified similar internal control deficiencies and areas of federal noncompliance with the Race to the Top grant at ASD,” the latest Comptroller notes. “During our current audit, we continued to find similar issues relating to fiscal deficiencies and noncompliance, but we have also identified new areas of deficiencies related to human resources and purchasing cards.”

The ASD seems to also have a hard time dealing with reality:

I find the rhetoric to be a deflection from real and valid criticism of the ASD and its approach to school turnaround. While collaboration is certainly a virtue in education, a hard look should be taken at the ASD’s approach. All this nice talk about collaboration avoids these courageous conversations. I think people will find that there are some serious flaws in the way in which the ASD and its operators are taking on the arduous task of school turnaround. I agree with Mr. Manning that working together is important, but if the ASD’s has fundamental flaws and does not address them then no amount of collaboration will help.

Also, they are kinda creepy:

By creeping beyond its admirable mission, the ASD has become an example of good intentions gone awry. Focusing on the original goal of using highly focused effort to both improve struggling schools AND learn new strategies to help other schools would be a welcome change.

But, they throw cool parties:


If you happen to be a young, hip, TFA-type teacher.  Non-TFA types not allowed.  The video says it’s an ASD event and the video clips appear to have been filmed inside classrooms.  It’s not clear who is paying for the event or why only TFA teachers are invited to attend.

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Endless Summer

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers insight into “summer break.”

It is said that sunshine is the best medicine and the best sunshine is found during the summer. The concept of an Endless Summer was based on a 1964 Bruce Brown movie built on the idea that if someone had enough time and money would it be possible to chase summer across the world. In both the Northern and Southern hemisphere making it endless. Alas, teachers neither have enough time nor money, and it is almost back to school time here in Tennessee. For students, it means summer is coming to an end. For parents, advertisers tell us, it is the most wonderful time of the year.


Teaching has a calendar unlike that of most other vocations. Some mistakenly believe that teachers only have annual instructional time for 180 or so days. The romanticized summer off for teachers is as likely as an endless summer for most of us. Educators have responsibilities beyond their days with students. Others often fail to take in after school hours, lesson prep, weekends, professional learning, parent-teacher conferences, and, “in-service” days to name a few. In urban communities, they have to factor in travel time as teachers, often cannot afford to live in communities where they teach. The same is true of police, fire and hospital personnel.

The argument can be made that teachers knew the task was tough when they took the job assignment. This is true. However, few jobs are as demanding as teaching. Certainly, summers off are a thing of the past. Most educators are paid for 10 months and have money withheld from their check, so they can get paid for 12 months. USA Today points out that across the country, “teachers often trade their summer vacation for other work opportunities to make ends meet. Recent data from the National Survey of Teachers and Principals showed nearly one in five teachers hold a second job during the school year.”

Many parents legitimately worry about the “summer brain drain,” also known as the “summer slide” that children experience. This concept refers to the loss of skills and knowledge that happens in the summer months. David Quinn and Morgan Polikoff review of academic literature summarized several findings regarding summer loss, and concluded that: (1) on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning, (2) declines were sharper for math than for reading, and (3) the extent of loss was larger at higher grade levels. None of this attributable to teachers.

Parents who combat this academic issue understand that learning occurs beyond the classroom. They help their children find opportunities to grow and learn. You must engage children in both mental and physical activity, not strictly tied to formal education. If you missed out on these opportunities, it is never too late to supplement a child’s learning. The key is to be actively engaged in your child’s education throughout the year. Parents and students can no longer take summer off either.

Therein lies the problem, absent the concept of year-round school, summer breaks are not equal for all students. The range of activities, including summer camps, family vacations, and home learning activities are different. Access to summer activities may vary for children from different socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. Child care arrangements are also a factor, as well as the education level of parents. Communities need a plan for enrichment activities for these students with increased access for children of low socioeconomic status.

Some children return to school ready to learn, others come back needing to catch back-up, and some even missing necessary prerequisite skills. That should create some valid concerns for annual tests. Writer Seth Godin suggests that “Better decisions, emotional labor and the confidence that comes from education are the future of work. Either you’re on that path or you’re falling behind.”

I would add that Godin’s quote is applicable here as well, and we should acknowledge we are indeed falling behind because we are not addressing the summer loss of learning adequately. We need more parent engagement. Endless summer has to become endless learning for all of us; educators, parents, and students. Surf’s up, and sadly Summer is nearly over.

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

Pickler Named “Catalyst for Change”

An education advocate from Shelby County has been named a finalist for a national award recognizing change agents in education policy. David Pickler, who has served as a school board member, Tennessee School Boards Association leader, and President of the National School Boards Association is a finalist in the 2019 “Invest in Others” Awards. Here’s more from a press release:


David A. Pickler, President of Pickler Wealth Advisors in Collierville, has been announced as one of three national finalists for the Catalyst Award as part of the 13th Annual Invest in Others Awards. Pickler is being honored for his work with the American Public Education Foundation, which will receive a $10,000 donation from the Invest in Others Charitable Foundation. If Pickler wins his category, the donation will increase to $40,000.
 
The Invest in Others Awards program recognizes the charitable work of financial advisors in communities across the country and around the world. Advisors are nominated for actively giving back to nonprofits to improve their communities and make a difference in the lives of others. Invest in Others received hundreds of nominations this year. Finalists are selected based on their leadership, dedication, contribution, inspiration, and impact on a nonprofit and the community it serves.
 
David Pickler has been a steadfast supporter of public education for the past thirty years, advocating for K-12 youth locally in Shelby County, Tennessee and more broadly on a national scale. David built upon these experiences in creating the American Public Education Foundation, a national 501c3 nonprofit focused on inspiring K-12 youth. The Foundation’s two core focuses include Financial Literacy and Workforce Development. David has structured these twin pillars intentionally, as they are specifically targeted to address critical needs nationwide both now and in the future. Some of David’s greatest accomplishments in his work with the Foundation include playing a major advocacy role in getting Tennessee to mandate financial education as a high school requirement. Additionally, the Foundation has played a pivotal role in creating innovative partnerships between educators and business leaders in Tennessee to align workforce development initiatives. David strongly believes that public education is the great American equalizer and that children who receive great educations will have the capacity to fulfill their potential as productive adults.
 
Awards will be presented at the 13th Annual Invest in Others Awards Gala, a premier event attended by over 700 financial advisors and financial services executives, on September 26, 2019 in Boston, Mass.

According to his bio, Pickler has been a staunch advocate of public schools and a leader in the resistance to school privatization:


Pickler was elected President of the National School Boards Association in 2013, leading more than 90,000 school board members. During his tenure, Pickler led the fight to stop the privatization and profitization of public schools; well-funded movements that could ultimately end the promise of public education. As part of the campaign to promote public education, David helped the NSBA launch its Army of Advocates, a movement that gained more than five million members in less than one year. Under his guidance, Pickler also established the “Stand Up 4 Public Schools” red wristband program; a simple way for people to show their support for the 50 million children and 6.2 million employees in public education.



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Ready for Danger

Chalkbeat reports on the state’s Read to be Ready summer camps and the very real danger that funding for them could expire after this year:


Read to be Ready camps first opened in 2016, and Tennessee has expanded the program annually with funding from the U.S. Department of Human Services. But state officials learned in January that the federal grant now has to be used for child care programs, not educational camps. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration then reached into discretionary funds to keep the camps afloat this summer, since Tennessee already had announced $8.9 million worth of grants would be awarded to 218 schools hosting them for about 9,000 students in 2019.


Now the question is whether Read to be Ready summer camps will be funded in 2020 and beyond, especially following the demise last month of the initiative’s 3-year-old network of literacy coaches working with local educators to beef up reading instruction statewide.  


State legislators already have begun to get an earful from their constituents.


“If we’re abandoning this, what’s the plan?” asked Joey Hassell, a West Tennessee school superintendent and an outspoken advocate of Read to be Ready. “Our summer camp in Haywood County Schools means a lot to us. We’ve got 90 kids in it for a month this summer to help them read better, and the legislature didn’t even talk about these funding problems this year.”

While Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn has indicated support for literacy initiatives, she hasn’t yet made assurances about the future of Read to be Ready.

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Stuck in the Middle

Nashville teacher and education blogger Mary Holden talks about her transition from teaching high school to teaching middle school — and about being the middle of her teaching career.

Here are some highlights:

There are many weird things that happen in middle school that I never experienced as a high school teacher. Boogers. Penises drawn in weird places. Bad smells, especially after PE on a hot day. Excessive bottle flipping. Weird dance moves that kids break into constantly and at the most random times.

One thing that helped me maintain my spark was the amazing group of teachers I worked with this year. In high school, of course I worked with other teachers, and some are still great friends of mine. But generally speaking, teachers don’t have the chance to really bond like they do when teaching middle school.

In middle school, my grade level team worked together all year long. We ate lunch together every day. We bitched, we gossip, we laughed, we shared joys, sorrows, and hard times. We wore matching Sixth Grade Squad t-shirts. We wore #RedforEd on Tuesdays. We celebrated each other’s successes, birthdays, weddings, and a retirement with potlucks and parties during lunch time. And we had Chick-fil-A Fridays on paydays. We still have an ongoing text thread that will live on in infamy! We were there for each other in a way I have never experienced in my career. I have never felt that level of support.

Check out her post (and all of her blog). It’s a great firsthand account of teaching.

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You’ve Written 1000 Stories

Tennessee Education Report has been around since January of 2013. Before Chalkbeat found Tennessee. After most local newspapers stopped focusing so much on education issues.

As of this week, I’ve written 1000 stories that have appeared on this blog. More precisely, YOU have written those stories. I’ve heard from teachers and parents and policymakers over this time. I’ve conducted interviews and taken phone calls and read emails.

YOU make Tennessee Education Report possible.

When it started in 2013, it was not clear there’d be an audience. Sure, there were issue to be covered, but who would read stories day after day about education issues in Tennessee?

Turns out, lots of you.

So, thank you!

Thank you for reading about an education agenda for our state that STILL has yet to be realized.

Thank you for reading analysis about NAEP scores. And about TNReady quick scores.

Thank you for reading about hackers and dump trucks impacting state testing.

Thank you for reading about a failed portfolio evaluation process in both Kindergarten and Related Arts.

And of course, this year has been all about Bill Lee and his dangerous voucher scheme.

YOU make it possible to report education news day after day, week after week, year after year.

Thank you!

Your support — your monthly donation or one-time contribution — makes it possible for me to generate 1000 stories about education policy in our state. YOU write the stories!

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

Success in Education

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers thoughts on how to “keep public education a success.”

I struck up a conversation with a graduating senior. “What do you want in life?” I asked. “To be successful,” he replied. To which I asked the question: “What is success?” “I don’t know,” he said as he walked away. We all want to be successful. But how can you be successful if you cannot even define it?

The World Economic Forum estimates 65 percent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Let that sink in for a minute: the vast majority of children in school will end up in careers that do not even exist today.

One of the organizations I like to keep up with is The Future Project. They argue that “the future is not fixed—and that people, working together, can shape it for the better.” I share their optimism. I think the same is true of the teaching profession: people working together, can shape it for the better.

Too often I see the education community put up walls. Walls between school systems and communities. Walls between school administration and teachers. Walls between teachers and other teachers. Walls between teachers and students. It is time to tear the walls down. It is time that we create the change that our schools, teachers, and students need. I recommend three steps for policymakers to consider at the state level that can create success for our schools in the future:

  1. Embrace Innovation. Governor Bill Lee said: “In order to improve, you have to be willing to innovate and challenge the status quo. That’s true whether it is in business or education.” This means at the state level the focus must be on providing the flexibility and freedom for educators and education leaders at all levels to try new things that will help improve student achievement and success. Our goal as a state should be to give every child the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, in order to build a skilled workforce for the 21st Century global economy.
  2. Update the Funding Formula. At the state level, the Basic Education Program (BEP), is how Tennessee funds our K-12 public schools. The BEP provides over $4.7 billion of state funding for education. We must update our K12 funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. It is time for the state to push for a new funding plan and formula that reflects our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies. Yes, there are lawsuits under the current system, and it will be a challenge to make everyone happy, but it is past time to address the funding issue. We must also make sure dollars that are earmarked for salary increases end up in the pockets of teachers, and that all state mandates are fully funded.
  3. End Social Promotion. We must ensure that all students will be able to read proficiently by the end of the third-grade. Children who do not read on grade level are more likely to drop out, use drugs or end up in prison. Research shows that reading abilities in the third-grade act as a tell-tale barometer for later school success. We cannot keep sending Tennessee students onto the next grade if they lack basic reading skills. Social promotion does more harm than good. We can no longer ignore the issue of social promotion. We must eliminate the practice of advancing students because of their age rather than their knowledge. The decision to have a student to repeat a grade should not be made lightly or without considering a student’s unique situation. The evidence for focused retention strategies points toward real benefits for those students who arrive at school lacking some of the building blocks of literacy. These students need some extra time to catch up. We cannot give up on teaching our children how to read. The best solution, of course, is to remediate struggling readers during the school year, to get them the extra help they need to stay on track. However, we cannot simply to continue to move these students through the system. Social promotion hurts our kids, kills our workforce, and fills up our prisons.

We can change the path we are on, and give every child a better chance of success—even if they don’t know what it looks like at this point in their life. Success is not left to chance, it’s a matter of choice. We have tough choices to make in public education, and that will include changes. We must make the choices that benefit our state, our communities, our schools, our educators and especially our children.

We must make sure public education is viewed as a significant part of the choice that parents will make for their children moving forward. The best and brightest students in our communities should know that our public education system will work for them. The underserved and poor in our communities should know that our public education system can work for them. Every parent in our communities should know that they have a role in making sure our public education system works for their children. Part of our role has to be keeping K12 education at the forefront of every discussion in public policy across Tennessee. That is the success we should seek.

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JC Bowman on Leadership

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers thoughts on district leadership as the “summer of change” approaches.

It’s that time of year when we see changes in leadership across the state in our schools.  Superintendents will leave and be replaced.  It matters to all of us whomever a school board places in leadership.  In some cases, you will see districts go outside their district and pick new leadership while others will promote from within.  There are good choices and there are bad choices out there.  So, to all school boards we say: choose wisely.  In my circle we call this time of the year the Dance of the Lemons and/or the Parade of Favorites.  

A school district must have competent leadership managing the daily operations of the school district. A good superintendent leads the districts educational, financial and administrative performance; facilitates the performance of all personnel; and responds to and informs stakeholders and policymakers about the performance and leadership of the district.  Probably one of the most important duties of the superintendent is to make sure district students are learning and achieving at the highest level possible.

A superintendent must understand effective academic practices and be supportive of the teachers and administrators in the district. Leadership, vision, and strategic thinking are critical skills for every superintendent. A successful superintendent should also be an effective and excellent communicator. If the only voice a superintendent will listen to is his/her own, or a few members of the school board, public education will eventually lose community support. Does that mean that we simply accept decisions from superintendents, without challenging them? Of course not!

Stakeholders and policymakers must particularly hold Superintendents accountable in regard to educational, financial and administrative performance. However, we should provide them latitude in regards to leadership, vision and strategic thinking on how to address the performance in those areas. And we must expect them to communicate effectively to ALL stakeholders.  

Superintendent, like principals, must also demonstrate a keen understanding of teaching, learning and what works for students. As a change leader, a successful superintendent should emphasize the efficient use of resources, personnel, and data to break down resistance and drive systemic change; empower board and personnel to set goals, measure results, develop accountability, and support planning, evaluation, and resource allocation.

As far as degrees and experience go, that really depends on the person.  Practical knowledge is likely more important than theoretical knowledge.  We have all seen people with advanced degrees who were unable to apply that knowledge to the real world.  I think executive experience might be critical in a larger district.  Keep in mind that education is a business, as much as it is a service.  In most districts, the school system is one of the largest employers in the community.  Teaching experience and some building-level administrative experience is strongly suggested, because it gives the person in charge at least a background in what the educators in the schools face on a daily basis.       

In my own experience, I am never concerned with the WHO in a position.  I would look at the philosophy of the person, their background and their vision.  A smart school board would not focus on what an applicant would do similar to continue the work of the exiting predecessor, but rather how he or she would differentiate from the previous occupant. You must have a plan to build on the work of the previous administration, not merely maintain the status quo.    

Probably the greatest weakness by some superintendents, in my opinion, has been the lack of empathy toward educators.  It is one thing to be relentless in support of excellence for children, it is another to manage completely by fear.  Personnel drives policy.  How you treat your employees is also a reflection of character.   Several districts are well-known for unnecessarily treating educators harshly.  These districts must understand that schools are not factories, students are not widgets, and personnel are not simply interchangeable on a whim. 

Certainly, some educators have been forced to leave their school system for subjective reasons, rather than objective reasons.  Actions speak louder than words.  In some cases, dismissal may have been warranted, but in many cases, it appears circumstances were little more than personality conflicts and people not fitting into a certain educational or political environment.  We have lost some good educators in our state because of this subjectivity, and I would argue many of these educators deserve another chance to keep their career going.  

No matter who your district hires—whether from within or bringing in an experienced educator from outside—give that new leader a chance.  Don’t be afraid to hold them accountable.  Make sure that your local school board has fully vetted the candidate, and takes the time to select the best person for the children, educators, parents, and taxpayers in your community. 

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

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Teacher Appreciation

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s a time to provide lunches and gift cards to teachers in lieu of the salaries and support they deserve. Sure, gratitude is nice, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage.

Here’s what else happened in Tennessee this week: We learned that the Speaker of the House gave a $130,000 raise to an individual who had used cocaine while on the job and who had also exchanged sexually-explicit messages with the Speaker. He also has a history of racist text messages and social media posts.

Before his nearly $200,000 year a job as Speaker Casada’s Chief of Staff, Cade Cothren earned around $61,000 a year as a legislative employee.

It’s worth noting that many of Tennessee’s more than 70,000 teachers will NEVER see a salary of $61,000 a year in the course of their career.

For full disclosure, I’m married to a Tennessee teacher. She’s been teaching for nearly 20 years now. She’s been at the same school in the same job since 2003. She STILL doesn’t make $60,000 a year despite assurances from district leadership year after year that “we *wish* we could do more.”

My wife doesn’t do cocaine at her desk. She’s not in the habit of sending sexually explicit messages about who she f***d in the bathroom at a hot chicken restaurant. She shows up every single day and takes care of other people’s children.

Let’s be clear: If the text exchange between Cade Cothren and Glen Casada had been between a Tennessee teacher and her principal, there would be no question, both would be fired.

So, let’s be honest: Tennessee teachers are NOT appreciated. White men of any age at the highest levels of state government engage in abhorrent behavior and earn promotions and high salaries. Tennessee teachers, mostly women, take on the responsibility of caring for our state’s children and educating them every single day and receive little more than a “thank you” during a designated week of the year.

This year, instead of a larger raise for teachers, Governor Bill Lee proposed and the General Assembly passed legislation creating a new school voucher program. Instead of a minimum of a four percent increase in teacher raises, teachers will see 2.5%. When white men in Tennessee ask for something, they get it — whether it is school privatization or sex with a lobbyist in a Nashville restaurant. Meanwhile, the women who toil tirelessly in under-funded schools are told to “keep going” for the sake of “the kids.”

When teachers in Tennessee threaten to “strike” or engage in a “sick out” they are told it’s “against the law” and that they should “think of the kids.” At the same time, white men prey upon female interns and lobbyists at the Capitol and our supposedly Christian Governor can’t be bothered to comment. Even an admitted sex offender earns a top post on education policy while teachers remain short-changed when it comes to pay and respect.

It’s no accident that a profession dominated by women receives so little respect from our legislature and Governor. These are white men who have demonstrated time and again they care little for the women around them. Even those not directly involved are complicit by way of their silence. Both in policy and in personal practice, Tennessee’s elected leaders demonstrate they don’t care about teachers, about women, or about a truly better future for ALL of our state.

When you see Governor Lee trot out a resolution appreciating teachers — when Glen Casada or Randy McNally issue a proclamation about the importance of educators — it’s time to call BS. They don’t believe it. The evidence is clear.

Today, teachers across our state are showing up, teaching kids, and NOT doing cocaine or soliciting sex. They’re not asking for a reward, they’re just doing what’s right. It’s time our lawmakers looked to our teachers for leadership.

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

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Elizabethton Students Win NPR Podcast Challenge

A group of students from Elizabethton High School won the high school division of NPR’s student podcast challenge. More from NPR:

In 1916, people hanged a circus elephant from a crane in Erwin. The students of nearby Elizabethton High School, in their winning podcast, told the bizarre story — and how people there today want to make things right.

“Through researching and talking to some of Erwin’s people, we have learned how they are determined to change how people think about Erwin and its tragic history,” the podcast concludes.

“This podcast took me on a journey,” says Lee Hale, one of our judges and a reporter at member station KUER in Utah. “Halfway in, I forgot I was judging a student competition because I got so wrapped up in the story. The voices, the pacing, the arc — everything worked.”

The work was submitted by English teacher Tim Wasem and social studies teacher Alex Campbell. When we broke the good news to Wasem, he said, “They really had a story they wanted to tell, and they wanted to tell it right.”

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