30 Years of Lies

A former school superintendent from Ohio exposes 30 years of education policy lies foisted on public schools by policymakers too busy or too self-involved to actually focus on what our kids really need. Here are some highlights:


For at least three decades, politicians have claimed their goal has been to close the achievement gap between children who are successful in school and those who are not, and, by their own admission, their laws haven’t worked. They have failed while wasting billions of our tax dollars.


In the early 1990’s, politicians told us that if they could force all schools to follow the same academic standards, the achievement gap would be eliminated. But, the gap still exists.


Similarly, politicians promised us that forcing kids to take state approved tests, with schools, teachers, and principals being “held accountable” for their students’ performance, the achievement gap would be eliminated. But, the gap still exists.


The public was also assured that if laws were enacted “guaranteeing” that every child must achieve a politically determined level of achievement, all children would be successful. But, the gap still exists.

What are the education policy lies you hear most often?

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Lee’s Friend DeVos Pitches Failed ESA Scheme

PR Watch has the story of how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (a long-time associate of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee) pitched Arizona’s Education Savings Account (ESA) scheme at a recent ALEC meeting. The Arizona plan is similar to the one Tennessee’s legislature passed in 2019 at Lee’s request. The vote on the voucher scheme bill is currently under investigation by the FBI. Here’s more on DeVos’s pitch, which appears to have been divorced from reality:


Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos held a roundtable on “education freedom” with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) yesterday at the ALEC States and Nation Policy Summit to promote her controversial and costly Education Freedom Scholarships proposal.


DeVos heaped praise on Arizona’s school system at the event, saying, “Arizona is really a leader in giving parents and students the kind of freedom that they need to find their right fit for education. And I’m so grateful for the example that you are setting here,” the Arizona Republic reported.


But Arizona is not a great example when it comes to school performance. The state consistently ranks among the bottom among all states in opportunities and performance and was recently named the worst state to teach in.

Lee appears in some ways to be modeling his education agenda after the failed agenda of AZ Governor Doug Ducey.

It seems he might do well to heed the warning from Arizona when it comes to vouchers:


And later in the afternoon, DeVos told a larger group of attendees, “Arizonans are loving their ESAs,” or Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. But voters rejected a ballot measure to expand the state’s voucher system by a 65-35 percent margin in 2018, so DeVos appears to be misinformed. 

The same type of voucher scheme Lee is now fast-tracking has been devastating to Arizona public schools:


Last year, nearly $200 million which otherwise would have been in the state’s coffers, money which could have been used to boost our shamefully low education budget, is paying for children to go to private schools.

This is what Bill Lee wants for Tennessee. Unabated charter growth. An expansive voucher program that sucks funds from public schools. It’s an agenda that has failed children in state after state. It’s a top priority of Betsy DeVos, ALEC, and other Koch-funded entities.

The good news: There’s a bipartisan effort to repeal the voucher scheme in 2020.

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Vouchers a Taxing Proposition

Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn dropped a bombshell yesterday when she told a legislative committee that the value of a voucher under the state’s new education savings account program would be considered taxable income for the purpose of federal taxes. More from NewsChannel9 in Chattanooga:

Tennessee’s education commissioner says the state’s new school vouchers for private education will be considered federally taxable income for parents.

It was immediately pointed out that low-income families are the least likely to be able to absorb the burden of adding $7300 in taxable income reported to the IRS.

The announcement is the latest in a series of potential problems for Governor Bill Lee’s signature legislative initiative.

Just last week, it was revealed that the Department of Education is spending $2.5 million on a contract with a private firm to manage voucher payments. Not one cent of this money will go toward helping a student access a private school nor will it be paid to any private school. That’s just the administrative cost of managing the payments.

It’s also worth noting that there is an ongoing FBI investigation into both the House vote on the voucher legislation AND the Senate sponsor of the plan.

Oh, and there’s a serious effort to actually repeal the entire voucher scheme.

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Team Broad

Jeff Bryant has a great story about the Broad Academy — the story of one billionaire seeking to shape education policy by placing people in key roles. People like Knox County’s Jim McIntyre. Here’s more:


It’s rare when goings-on in Kansas City, Missouri schools make national headlines, but in 2011 the New York Times reported on the sudden departure of the district’s superintendent John Covington, who resigned unexpectedly with only a 30-day notice. The main reason Covington left Kansas City was not because he was pushed out by job stress or an obstinate resistance: He left because a rich man offered him a job. What caused Covington’s exit, Kansas City Star reporter Joe Robertson reported, was “a phone call from Spain.” That call brought a message from billionaire philanthropist and major charter school booster Eli Broad. “John,” Broad reportedly said, “I need you to go to Detroit.” It wasn’t the first time Covington, who was a 2008 graduate of a prestigious training academy funded through Broad’s foundation (the Broad Center), had come into contact with the billionaire’s name and clout. Broad was also the most significant private funder of the new Michigan program he summoned Covington to oversee, providing more than $6 million in funding from 2011 to 2013, according to the Detroit Free Press. But Covington’s story is more than a single instance of a school leader doing a billionaire’s bidding. It sheds light on how decades of a school reform movement, financed by Broad and other philanthropists and embraced by politicians and policymakers of all political stripes, have shaped school leadership nationwide.

MORE>

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1200

Since 2013, more than 1200 posts have been published on Tennessee Education Report. This publication passed the 1200 post milestone late last week. The original idea: To provide in-depth coverage of education issues and accessible analysis of complex topics is still the driving force today.

So often, headlines in traditional news outlets tout test results or talking points rather than digging-in to the meat of education policy. As the publisher and primary writer here, I make every effort to offer unique analysis in a way that is digestible.

I’ve written about the NAEP and explained where Tennessee really stands.

I’ve written about Kindergarten portfolios and state policy failure.

Closeup portrait Angry young Boy, Blowing Steam coming out of ears, about have Nervous atomic breakdown, isolated grey background. Negative human emotions, Facial Expression, feeling attitude reaction

I’ve written about the efforts of privatizers like Betsy DeVos and Bill Lee.

I’ve written about the broken BEP and what it means for Tennessee students.

I’ve examined teacher pay, especially in and around Nashville.

Recently, I wrote a post on the importance of addressing poverty.

And, of course, there’s the ongoing TNReady saga.

All of this is fun for me, believe it or not. But it also takes time and energy and research.

Thankfully, a number of readers have stepped up to make monthly contributions to ensure publishing the site is a viable enterprise.

Still others make one-time gifts to show support.

Know that I write with the intent to inform… and to go deeper on a an issue that impacts every single Tennessean. Know that I appreciate ALL of you who read regularly and share these posts.

Education in Tennessee will only improve WHEN we ask the tough questions and challenge the prevailing paradigm.

Your support makes that possible.

Thank you!

Let Me Hear You Scream

Nashville education blogger TC Weber is not amused. In fact, you can probably hear the screaming in his latest post. In it, he takes on a range of issues — charter schools, teaching reading, school discipline policies — and makes the case that all the shiny new objects are just a way to avoid the tough conversations adults in comfortable places don’t seem to want to have.

Here are some highlights:


As a result, we had a crisis on our hands, “According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than six in 10 fourth-graders aren’t proficient readers. It has been this way since testing began. A third of kids can’t read at a basic level.” 


I don’t want to get sidetracked, or this will turn into a 4000-word piece, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out who said it – National Assessment of Educational Progress – and what they said – It has been this way since testing began – nothing quite justifies one’s existence like the discovering of a crisis. Just think, if testing hadn’t started, we’d be wandering in the desert with no idea if kids could read or not.

On teaching reading:


Yet phonics disciples would have me believe that if we would just focus on using methods of teaching that aligned with science, we’d overcome all those social issues impacting students. Kids would suddenly start saying things in class like,


“Mrs. Johnson I used to be hungry in the morning when I came to class, but now that you are using phonics, I don’t feel hungry anymore.”


“Mr. Jones, my parents arguing and general drunken behavior used to keep me up all night, but now I go to sleep at night with the sounds of phonics in my head and I don’t even hear them anymore.”

The impact of poverty:


If you have doubts about what I’m saying when it comes to poverty’s impact on student outcomes, call me next time you have a job interview. We won’t feed you for 12 hours beforehand and I’ll keep you awake all night before your interview. We’ll see if you get the job.

There’s more — it’s intense, but worth a read.

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About that Letter

State Representative Gloria Johnson of Knoxville released a statement today about a controversial letter sent to parents around in several districts around the state. The letter was sent based on Tennessee Department of Education guidance regarding compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).


“Singling out a population of students in a letter like this harmful.
It sends an awful message to students who may question their self worth. And it implies those children are somehow hurting the school.
Here’s the reality: These students are not underperforming; these students are underserved.
Gov. Bill Lee’s department of education should stop pointing fingers and start providing the resources schools needs to make these students successful.”

Johnson went on to note her action on the issue:


I spoke to the Asst. Commissioner of Policy and Legislative Affairs yesterday and she said that question was a mistake. (I agreed;-) she told me it would be removed from the template. I asked that it be removed immediately and any schools who had not sent the letter yet be notified of the change.


I also asked that a public discussion take place with the communities that received the letter in an attempt to heal those communities and I asked they work with the systems who mailed that letter to address it with their school communities.


I hope that in the future our school admins ask questions when they feel something that comes from the state doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. Sadly, all at our state DOE do not share our love and concern for public schools and we need to review and question their directives when they go against what is good for our kids and families.


I continue to be frustrated that the folks at the TN DOE seem to suffer no consequences for the many mistakes they make, while our students, teachers, principals, and schools are given a score that allows for no mistakes. I intend to keep working on this as well.

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Probe of Voucher Vote Continues

The Tennessee Journal makes note of Sam Stockard’s reporting on the investigation into improper conduct surrounding the vote that led to the passage of Governor Bill Lee’s signature legislative achievement. Here’s more:


Despite the housecleaning that has taken place in the lower chamber of the General Assembly, state and federal officials are still looking into allegations that former Speaker Glen Casada offered inducements to lawmakers in exchange for supporting controversial voucher legislation, The Daily Memphian’s Sam Stockard reports.


The publication confirmed that agents with the FBI and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have spoken to lawmakers about allegations that Casada and his staff about made promises as part of an effort to break a 49-49 vote on the bill in May. Casada kept the board open for more than 40 minutes to try to make the case to various lawmakers, including on the balcony outside the House chamber.


Casada has denied any wrongdoing, calling allegations of inducements “unequivocally false.”

Some reports indicate that new House Speaker Cameron Sexton may be backing an effort to repeal the voucher law pending the outcome of the FBI investigation. This puts him at odds with Governor Lee, who is moving to accelerate voucher implementation.

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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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