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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

Your support helps make publishing education news possible.

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.

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

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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.



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

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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.

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

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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.

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

Your support makes reporting education news possible.

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