Goodbye, Grace Tatter

Chalkbeat’s Grace Tatter wrote her last piece for the online education news site this week. She’s moving on to Harvard for graduate school.

I could go back and count the number of blog posts of mine that included the words “Grace Tatter reported…” or some variation of that phrase, but that would take too long.

Tatter did an incredible job providing comprehensive coverage of education policy in Tennessee. She was there and wrote about numerous key events.

Her stories were clear, concise, and accessible.

Often, a paragraph from a Grace Tatter story would inspire me to dig a little deeper, find out a little more, and write a post of my own.

So, I say goodbye to Grace Tatter. Your work will be missed. I know the newer faces at Chalkbeat will continue doing sound work, and I look forward to it.

And, one last time, I’ll cite something Grace said to make a point:

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools

Once again, in typical Tatter fashion, she nails it. We can’t have the conversation about improving our schools without the conversation about investing in our schools. Money matters.

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


 

Teachers Union Membership Is Down Again. What Should TEA Do?

A new report shows that 27 state affiliates of the National Education Association lost active members in the past year, including Tennessee. Tennessee Education Association’s (TEA) membership dipped last year and has been continuously decreasing over the past five years.

In Tennessee, TEA had 28,802 active members during the 2015 – 2016 school year. That’s down 7%, or 2,240, from their 2014 – 2015 total of 31,042. TEA has lost over 37% of their active members in the past five years.

The decrease in membership is a direct result of the state’s mission to do whatever it takes to make the union as weak as possible. Teacher’s collective bargaining and payroll deductions were stripped away, and the membership has been decreasing since then.

While TEA can no longer collectively bargain, they can do what is known as collaborative conferencing. Teachers at Metro Nashville Public Schools voted to start collective conferencing with the district this past school year. 

The Tennessean describes collaborative conferencing as:

Collaborative conferencing is a form of district and union negotiation where topics such as: salaries or wages; grievance procedures; insurance benefits; fringe benefits; working conditions; vacation; and payroll deductions can be discussed. Other topics outside those listed are prohibited in meetings and conversations.

Another reason to join TEA was the ability to gain liability insurance. Now, the state of Tennessee provides all public school teachers with liability coverage at no cost, though the amount of coverage is not clearly defined.

The Fund provides liability insurance coverage to covered individuals and protects against damages or claims arising out of the performance of their work and within the scope of their employment or assignment

I have spoken to many teachers who agree with the positions of TEA, but do not want to spend $670 a year to become a member of a union that no longer has power. The state of Tennessee has done everything it can to reduce the amount of power TEA has in hopes of reducing their membership. It looks like it has worked.

What should TEA do to increase membership? I would love to hear your ideas.

Powell Moves to Protect Special Needs Students

Alanna Autler of WSMV noted yesterday that State Representative Jason Powell of Nashville has drafted legislation to be introduced in 2018 that will ban corporal punishment for students with disabilities. Powell had previously attempted to pass legislation banning the practice for all students, but that legislation never made it out of a subcommittee.

Autler reports:

A state lawmaker has vowed to file legislation that would ban the use of corporal punishment against students with special needs following an investigation by the Channel 4 I-Team.

“This seems like a no-brainer,” said Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville.

The I-Team found in a single school year students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities at 60 Midstate schools.

Disparities could be found at dozens of schools, according to data released by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. The most recent data available is from the 2013-2014 school year.

At Allons Elementary in Overton County, 62.5 percent of students with disabilities received corporal punishment compared to 7.7 percent of students without disabilities.

“It’s absolutely unfair to have students with disabilities punished at a higher level than students without disabilities,” Powell said. “I would say it’s troubling. To say it’s shocking, it’s not.”

It’s still unclear why Tennessee lawmakers allow the practice of corporal punishment to continue or why more local school boards haven’t banned the practice.

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


 

A Troubling Disparity

WSMV’s Alanna Autler reports that students with disabilities in some middle Tennessee school districts are disciplined with corporal punishment at higher rates than their peers without disabilities.

From the story:

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation has found that at 60 schools in Middle Tennessee, students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities.

These are students protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures services to children with a variety of special needs ranging from autism to intellectual and physical disabilities.

The I-Team analyzed data from the 2013-2014 school year, which is the most recent data published by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

Autler’s story also notes that only seven middle Tennessee districts have banned corporal punishment.

Whether and when to use corporal punishment in Tennessee schools is a district-level decision.

Of course, one way to eliminate this disparity would be to ban corporal punishment at all Tennessee schools. That would require legislative action.

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


 

TC Weber has a Poll

It’s Friday, and that means another TC Weber poll.

This week, TC is asking about vouchers, teacher challenges, and how open MNPS is to teacher/parent involvement.

Take a minute and check it out and vote — TC promises to write up something interesting.

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


 

 

Middle TN Group to Push for BRIDGE Act Today

A group known as Equal Chance for Education will hold an event in Lebanon tonight in support of the BRIDGE Act. Here’s more on the event from the group:

A group of more than 40 young people will assemble tonight to celebrate the future — hours after Donald Trump becomes President. Every one one them could already be illegal when their celebration starts. They are beneficiaries of the DACA program for young people who were brought into this country illegally as children. Unless the BRIDGE Act passes, they will have to drop out of college and face the very real possibility of deportation.

Tonight’s event will celebrate a local organization that has assisted them in getting into and succeeding at college. Four of these “Dreamers” will speak, all preparing to graduate this year from Lipscomb, Fisk, and Trevecca. We also will have information available from FWD.US, an organization founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, which is advocating for the BRIDGE Act.

The event will be held at 4:40 PM today at Baird Chapel on the campus of Cumberland University in Lebanon.

For more information, contact Terry Quillen at 615.305.5062

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


 

Warning Signs

Following a deadly bus crash in Chattanooga last month, lawmakers and Governor Haslam indicated a desire to seek answers and improve bus safety.

It’s worth noting, though, that in the case of Durham School Services, there’s a track record that raises concerns about privatizing or outsourcing school services such as transportation.

Payday Report notes:

According to federal safety data, Durham School Services has been involved in 346 crashes in the past two years. These accidents have resulted in 142 injuries and 3 fatalities. During that same time period, the company was cited 53 times for “unsafe driving conditions”. According to data compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “93% of motor carriers in the same safety event group have better on-road performance” than Durham.

It’s not clear whether the legislature will address the issue of outsourcing as part of a bus safety legislative package.

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


 

 

Elissa Kim Appointed to the State Board of Education

The State Board of Education got a new member today. Elissa Kim, the former Nashville School Board member, has been appointed to the State Board of Education as the 5th congressional district representative. Elissa Kim served one term on the Nashville school board.

Elissa Kim previously worked as the Executive Vice President of Recruitment at Teach for America, and she was a teacher in New Orleans before that. Kim replaces Carolyn Pearre, whose term expired this year after serving on the board since 2002.

Welcome aboard!

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


 

Learning 1, Imaginary Menace 0

Despite the best efforts of Jay Sekulow and Steve Gill, it seems Tennessee’s 7th grade social studies standards will still include learning about Islam in the world religion portion of the course.

The Tennessean reports:

In total, the department’s social studies review team has cut down the number of 7th grade standards, where Islam is taught, from 75 to 67.
The process has included a name change of standards under the “Islamic World, 400 A.D/C.E.–1500s” to “Southwest Asia and North Africa: 400-1500s C.E.” Some references to the “Islamic World” have been changed to “Africa.”
And under the new draft standards, students are asked to learn the origins, spread and central features of Islam. These include the founder Mohammed, sacred texts The Quran and The Sunnah and basic beliefs like monotheism and The Five Pillars. The diffusion of Islam, its culture and Arabic language are also still included in the standards.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about Sekulow and his fear-mongering for profit around Tennessee’s social studies standards. Citing one of his emails, here’s what I wrote about the alternate reality in which Sekulow apparently lives:

Hundreds of seventh grade students all across Tennessee converting to Islam after their world history class. It’s happening everywhere. In rural and urban communities. It’s happening because Tennessee teachers are not just teaching world religions, they are specifically focusing on Islam and indoctrinating our children. They must be, with so many conversions happening every single week.
Actually, so far, no one has reported a single conversion of any student to Islam after taking a seventh grade history class.

Despite the lack of any actual problem, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen called for an early review of the state’s social studies standards. And, State Board of Education Chair Fielding Rolston punted on the issue. That’s what prompted the changes noted in the Tennessean story cited above.

The good news is the standards (as proposed) leave the teaching of Islam as part of a broader curriculum on world religions largely intact.

It’s not clear (yet) if Sekulow and Gill will find a new way to gin up fear and pad their wealth as the state enters a comment period for the proposed revisions.

The comment period for the standards has been extended to December 15th. Those wishing to review the standards and offer feedback can do so here.

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