Investing in Priority Schools

The Tennessee Department of Education today announced $5 million in grants to 5 school districts to be used to address priority schools in those districts. It should be noted that the funds are from federal dollars and do not represent new state investment in schools.

From the press release:

The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded nearly $5 million in federal funds to five districts to plan for how to best support their Priority Schools, the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state, in terms of academic achievement.

“We believe this additional financial investment will help districts provide our Priority Schools with specific supports,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “For the past several years, our state has been focused both on improving overall performance of all kids in Tennessee, while closing achievement gaps and supporting students that are the farthest behind; we have seen results from these efforts and are excited to help districts plan for additional interventions.”

A new list of Priority Schools was identified last summer (see the complete list at http://www.tn.gov/education/data/accountability/schools_2014.shtml). These planning grants will provide resources for districts to plan for how to best support their Priority Schools, beginning in the 2015-16 school year. These funds can assist districts in engaging the community, recruiting teachers and leaders, and exploring additional resources that may be needed for Priority Schools.

Districts were awarded the following amounts:

  • Metro Nashville Public Schools, $1.3 million
  • Knox County Schools, $1 million
  • Shelby County Schools, $900,000
  • Jackson-Madison County Schools, $400,000
  • Achievement School District, $1.3 million

Additional funds will be made available through a competitive grant process in the spring of 2015 to further assist districts with implementation of their turnaround plans.

 

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

 

The Final Four

So, Education Commissioner Madness is down to the Final Four.

The entire process has been a fun way to engage people across Tennessee in a friendly conversation about who should be our next Education Commissioner.

I’m honored to be among the four finalists.

But, more importantly, I’m delighted to see so much engagement around education issues.

More than personalities, this contest has demonstrated that people are paying attention and really do care about the future of schools in our state.

I’m encouraged to hear stories about great education leaders and advocates from all parts of Tennessee.

Take just a few minutes and vote today!

For more from Bluff City Ed, follow @BluffCityEd

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

Teachers Leaving TN School for the Blind

WSMV in Nashville has the story about how 31 teachers have left the Tennessee School for the Blind over the past two years. That’s a 50% turnover in teachers.

The WSMV story notes complaints from teachers and staff about leadership tactics at the school.

According to the report, state legislators are beginning to ask questions and may call a hearing on the issue.

The school, based in Nashville, educates blind children from all across Tennessee in grades K-12.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

The Sweet Sixteen

Round 1 of Education Commissioner Madness is over and Round 2 — The Sweet Sixteen — is well underway.

The Round of 16 includes former legislator Gloria Johnson, Deputy Commissioner of Education Kathleen Airhart, and Williamson County Superintendent Mike Looney, who edged out Tullahoma’s Dan Lawson with a late surge.

The Sweet Sixteen also features PET’s JC Bowman and TEA’s Jim Wrye.

Head on over to Bluff City Ed and vote NOW for who should advance to the Elite Eight.

For more on education issues in Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

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

Ed Commissioner Madness!

It’s here. And it’s even better than March Madness.

Tennessee needs a new Education Commissioner.

Now, a joint project between Tennessee Education Report, Bluff City Ed, and Professional Educators of Tennessee brings you a chance to weigh-in on who should be our next Commissioner of Education.

Should it be a reformer from another state like Cami Anderson?

Should it be a teacher and blogger like Jon Alfuth?

What about Knox County Director of Schools Jim McIntyre?

Or, Jim Wrye from the TEA?

Find out all the details over at Bluff City Ed.

Here’s a bracket:

Bracket2

And here is some background on each candidate:

  • Kathleen Airhart (TNDOE) – Deputy Commissioner of Education, prior director of Putnam County Schools since 2007, named TN Superintendent of the year in 2012. Has experience as a classroom teacher.
  • Lyle Ailshie (Kingsport schools) – Superintendent, former Director of Greenville City Schools (TN) – Greenville schools recognized during tenure as a high performing system, past president of Tennessee Organization for School Superintendents, 2005 Superintendent of the year. School district ranked second in the state by niche.com.
  • J. Worthington (Clarksville-Montgomery County) – Superintendent, worked to expand STEM integration into all 37 district schools. Previously served as CAO in the system, and as a principal and a science teacher. School district ranked thirty first in the state by niche.com.
  • Jim McIntyre (Knox County) – Superintendent, previously served as chief operating officer and budget director for Boston Public Schools. Has worked as a classroom teacher, went through the Broad Foundation Fellowship. Named outstanding Superintendent of the Year by state-wide PTA association from 2009-2011. School district ranked thirteenth in the state by niche.com.
  • Rick Smith (Hamilton County)– Superintendent, has 30 years of educational experience. School district ranked forty fourth in the state by niche.com.
  • Dan Lawson (Tullahoma City) – Superintendent, previously served as a professor of educational leadership in Murfreesboro, TN. Also served as superintendent in Mountain Grove, Missouri. School district ranked fourteenth in the state by niche.com.
  • Mike Looney (Williamson County) – Superintendent since 2009, previously served as superintendent of Butler County Schools and assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Montgomery public schools in Alabama. School district fourth second in the state by niche.com.
  • Linda Stroud (Greenville) – Director of Schools, has spent entire career in Greenville City School System and has been a principal and assistant director of administration. Named Tennessee Mid Level Principal of the year in 2005, finalist for National Association of Secondary School Principals National Principal of the Year in 2006. School district ranked third in the state by niche.com.
  • Wanda Shelton (Lincoln County) – Superintendent, named Superintendent of the year for 2015 by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. School district ranked fifth fifth in the state by niche.com.
  • Chuck Cagle (Education Lobbyist) – chair of the Education law Practice Group for Lewis Thomason’s Nashville office. Oversees representation of over 70 public boards of education and other private schools. Registered lobbyist for school superintendents, employee professional organizations and educational services corporations.
  • Del Phillips (Sumner) – Director of Schools, began career as a teacher in Mississippi, has also served as an assistant principal and assistant superintendent. School district ranked 20th in the state by niche.com.
  • Jesse Register (Nashville) – outgoing superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Previously served as Hamilton County Supt from 1996-2006. School district ranked thirty sixth in the state by niche.com.
  • Dorsey Hopson (Shelby) – Superintendent, worked as general counsel for Atlanta Public Schools, served as private consultant for Clayton County Schools in Georgia. Accepted role as general council from MCS in 2008, moving into interim Supt. Role and then Supt. Role. School district ranked eleventh in the state by niche.com.
  • Jim Wrye (TEA) – government relations manager and chief lobbyist for TEA. Previously worked for Alabama education Association, notably fought to stop charter schools in Alabama. Also served as the Deputy Commissioner for Alabama Dept. of Children’s Affairs and Assistant Director of University of Alabama.
  • Dolores Gresham (Senate Ed Chair) – elected in 2008, previously served three terms in TN Hous of Representatives. District located in western part of the state. Served in US Marine Corps.
  • Gloria Johnson (former Knox State Rep) – former rep, was defeated this cycle. Democrat, worked as a Knox County teacher for 26 years. Graduated from Knox County Schools.
  • Jamie Woodson (SCORE) – president and CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, served for 12 years in Tennessee General Assembly. Chaired Senate Education Committee. Serves on TN Business Roundtable and TN Fish and Wildlife Commission.
  • Dale Lynch (Hamblen County) – Director of Schools in Hamblen County.
  • Mike Winstead (Maryville) – Director of Schools since 2013. Previously served as assistant director of schools. School district ranked first in the state by niche.com.
  • B. Smith (Giles County) – director of schools. Previously served as principal of a middle school.
  • Jason Vance (loudon County) – Director of Schools. School district ranked thirty third in the state by niche.com.
  • Bob Rider (Dean of UT College of Ed) – dean since 2004, previously served as Dean of college of education at Butler University from 2001-2004, as well as associate dean at Florida State.
  • Paul Conn (president of Lee University, Cleveland TN) – president since 1986, previously worked in the Lee College psychology faculty, won an award for excellence in teaching. Also taught at Appalachian State.
  • Candice McQueen (Lipscomb) – Senior Vice President of Lipscomb, taught in Elementary and Middle schools.
  • Terry Holliday (KY) – recently selected education commissioner for Kentucky. Previously served as superintendent in the state, and awarded the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality award.
  • Paul Vallas (NO) – former Superintendent of Bridgeport Public Schools and former Supt. of the Recovery School District in LA, as well as former CEO of Chicago public schools and Philadelpha Schools. Ran for Lt. Gov of Illinois in 2014.
  • Cami Anderson (NJ) – Superintendent of Newark Public Schools, formerly superintendent of alternative high schools for the NYC Department of Education. Served as ED of Teach for America NY, served as chief program officer for New Leaders for New Schools.
  • Jon Alfuth (teacher, Memphis) – teacher, writer, public commentator, serves as a Teach Plus policy fellow and Tennessee Educator fellow (hey, its our tournament!)
  • JC Bowman (ProEdTN) – Executive Director and CEO of PET. Fomer school teacher and VP of the National Association of Professional Educators. Served as chief policy analyst for the Education Policy Unit for Gov. Jeb Bush. Received 2003 SMART award from the National institute for Education options, and much more (hey, its our tournament!)
  • Andy Spears (consultant, Nashville) – Tennessee Emergency Communications Board, president of Spears Strategy, editor/writer at TNEdReport. Formerly a press secretary in the Tennessee State Senate (hey, its our tournament!)
  • Emily Barton (TN Department of Education) – Assistant Commissioner of Curriculum and Instruction for Tennessee. Served as Chief of Staff to Commissioner Huffman previously, and managed Teach for America’s DC region. Former 7th grade math teacher in Louisiana.
  • Chris Barbic (TN, ASD) – Superintendent of the Achievement School District, founder of Yes Prep charter schools in Houston, TX. Former public school teacher. Received 2004 Citizen Activist Award from Gleitsman Foundation.

Full rules and voting information over at Bluff City Ed.

Voting for the Round of 32 starts tomorrow and ends on November 23rd.

 

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

 

NEA President Visits Nashville

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was in Nashville today to kickoff American Education Week.

While in town, the visited Shwab Elementary where she toured the school and served as a guest teacher in a first grade classroom.

After the tour and class visit, Garcia was available to the media.

Here are some highlights of what she had to say:

On education policymaking:

“Policymakers should respect educators. We don’t need top-down management of teachers. We need to trust teachers and treat them like professionals. When we begin trusting teachers and providing them with resources, we’ll unleash a true revolution education.”

On Common Core:

Garcia says she was initially a Common Core skeptic. But says she reviewed the standards for 6th grade, which she taught, and found them to be reasonable. She said Common Core is and should be a state initiative.

“Common Core belongs to the states and states should adapt it to meet their needs. In order for Common Core to work, we need to get back to trusting teachers. Common Core sets the standard. Teachers should decide how to meet those standards. Where Common Core has failed, it is because of top-down management. Implementation must include teachers and trust teachers to meet the standards.”

On Value-Added Modeling:

“Voodoo value-added models are silly. They are silly because the voodoo formula can’t control for factors like poverty that impact kids. They can’t control for the fact that a kid may be hungry or may be an English Language Learner taking a test in English instead of their native language.

“I was the Utah Teacher of the Year. I know that kids are more than a test score. I’m not afraid of evaluation, I welcome it. Data can be helpful, but high-stakes use of value-added data is not appropriate.”

On NEA’s Education Agenda:

“NEA wants to end No Child Left Untested,” Garcia said. “2014 is the magic year when all kids were supposed to be proficient. Now, we’ve got a waiver process because that goal is simply not possible with human students. This just shows that NCLB was a fraud.

“NEA wants the federal government to set standards and provide resources and then listen to teachers and local communities.”

On Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander’s Agenda with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee:

“NEA shares common ground with Sen. Alexander on the need for local control and an end to the waiver process for NCLB. We also agree with him on the need to focus more on National Board Certification for teachers.

“Where we differ with Sen. Alexander is on his push for privatization, whether it be vouchers or charters. If Sen. Alexander respects science and data, he’ll see that charters and vouchers simply don’t work.”

On creating an “all-choice” zone in East Nashville:

Garcia said she wasn’t familiar with the specifics of the East Nashville plan, but said, “Whenever you see people pushing grand plans to expand charters, they’re just not reading the research. The research shows that charters aren’t any better than district schools.”

She also suggested that the few charter success stories happen as a result of significant outside money being poured in. “If districts saw that kind of money coming into their schools, they’d see a difference, too.”

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

 

Diane Ravitch Coming to Nashville

Education historian Diane Ravitch will be visiting Nashville on Wednesday, November 19th.

Here are the details from a press release:

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE), Tennessee BATs, and Momma
Bears today announced a special event featuring acclaimed historian, best-selling author, and former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch. Ravitch served in the administrations of President George H.W. Bush, where she worked alongside then-U.S. Secretary of Education and current U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, and President Bill Clinton.

The event, “Educating Nashville,” will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 19, in
Nashville. The venue will be announced via TREE’s Facebook page, http://facebook.com/TNExcellence, on Monday, Nov. 17. Dr. Ravitch will be introduced by local officials and will hold a question-and-answer session after her remarks regarding the hoax of education privatization. Following the program, attendees are encouraged to stay and meet
with public education advocates from across the state.

“We are honored to welcome Dr. Ravitch to Nashville,” said Lyn Hoyt, president of TREE. “She has seen and studied the effects of education privatization across the country and
is the nation’s foremost expert on what works and doesn’t work when it comes to
reforming our public schools.”

Ravitch frequently writes about topics including Common Core, charter schools, vouchers, and standardized testing and is well respected across partisan lines. Tennessee’s own Senator Alexander urges readers of his “Little Plaid Book” to “[r]ead anything Diane Ravitch writes
about education.”

The event is free. Parents, teachers, elected officials, policymakers, and members of the media are encouraged to attend. To RSVP, visit http://ravitchnashville.eventbrite.com.

About Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She blogs at dianeravitch.net, a site which has had nearly 8.3 million page views in less than a year. From 1991 to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of George H.W. Bush. From 1997 to 2004, she was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program. She was appointed by the Clinton administration’s Secretary of Education Richard Riley in 1997 and
reappointed by him in 2001. From 1995 until 2005, she held the Brown Chair in
Education Studies at the Brookings Institution and edited “Brookings Papers on
Education Policy.” Before entering government service, she was Adjunct Professor
of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has
authored 11 books and edited 14 others.

About TREE
Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) is a
statewide volunteer advocacy organization rooted in fighting for strong,
equitable public education, and committed to growing child-centered education
policy.

About Tennessee BATs
Tennessee BATs (Badass Teachers) is an affiliate of the national BATs organization and is a rich and diverse group of education professionals and concerned citizens/families who
strive to engage in discourse that improves their profession.

About Momma Bears
Momma Bears is a Tennessee-based grassroots organization of public schools advocates who defend and support children and public schools and recognize quality public education
as a right for every child.

Here’s our 2013 interview with Diane Ravitch

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

Heyburn Named to Lead State Board of Ed

From a News Release:

The Tennessee State Board of Education announced Friday morning that Sara Heyburn will become the board’s executive director upon the retirement of current executive director Gary Nixon.

Nixon, set to retire at the end of this year, was recognized at Friday’s board meeting for his decades of service to Tennessee students.

“Dr. Nixon provided excellent leadership over the last decade, and we believe that Dr. Heyburn is the right person to follow in his footsteps,” Fielding Rolston, chairman of the state board, said. “The board was impressed with Dr. Heyburn’s leadership in key areas over the past years. We also have been impressed with her ability to build consensus among different education groups and her willingness to meet with and listen to all stakeholders.”

Heyburn has served as the assistant commissioner for teachers and leaders at the Tennessee Department of Education since 2011, where she leads the state’s efforts related to increasing teacher and leader effectiveness. Prior to that, she served as an education policy adviser for the state and also worked for Vanderbilt University as a policy analyst at the National Center on Performance Incentives. Heyburn holds a B.A. in English and a master’s degree in teaching, both from the University of Virginia, and she earned an Ed.D. from Vanderbilt University in 2010. She began her work in education as a high school English teacher in Jefferson County Schools in Kentucky and Williamson County Schools in Tennessee.

“I am humbled by the board’s decision,” Heyburn said.  “It is an honor to work on critical issues affecting Tennessee children, and I will work diligently to ensure that the board continues to pursue student-centered policies.”

Wayne Miller, executive director of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS), added, “Dr. Heyburn has always been very easy to work with and open to the ideas that TOSS brings to the table. I look forward to many opportunities to collaborate with her and the state board as we continue to improve the academic experience for all of Tennessee students.”

Heyburn will assume the role early next year.

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

Tennessee Education Summit: What About the Money?

Governor Bill Haslam was joined by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell today in hosting a Tennessee Education Summit.

The event focused on a range of education policy issues and included presentations on topics such as Standards and Curriculum, District and Teacher Accountability, and School Choice.

One topic not mentioned was the current level of financial support for public education provided by the state. While Governor Haslam has convened a BEP Task Force to study the current funding formula, he’s also said that task force won’t be talking about more investment, but about different ways to slice the current funding pie.

The closest anyone came to addressing the funding challenges faced by Tennessee school districs (Tennessee now invests less per pupil than Mississippi) was when Tennessee Teacher of the Year Wanda Lacy asked about what was being done to help teachers who received scores below a 3 on the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

The response was that the intervention for these teachers was left up to the district. That is to say, the state provides little or no funding for mentoring, coaching, or other support mechanisms that may be used at the district level to help improve teaching practice.

The issue of money was again approached when discussing the state’s transition away from TCAP and toward a new testing model better aligned to Tennessee’s current state standards. Because the tests must be completed online, many districts are being forced to upgrade their technology. Here again, the state’s support for this new technology lags behind what many districts need to catch up.

Not mentioned was Governor Haslam’s October 2013 promise to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay or any way the Governor or General Assembly might make that happen.

Tennessee has historically made big education promises only to fail to deliver when it came time to fund them. This was true of Lamar Alexander’s Career Ladder program, the original BEP, BEP 2.0, and now the new evaluation system which does not include funding for attendant support of teachers identified as below expectations.

In fact, a report released in Janaury by the Education Law Center indicates that Tennessee is among the worst states in the nation in terms of its investment in public schools. The report uses statistical methods to compare funding levels across states taking into account the different cost of living and socioeconomic factors of each state. In terms of raw funding level, Tennessee falls in the low to mid-40s among all states. Yes, Tennessee now spends less per student than Mississippi, as I mentioned above. Perhaps even more striking, Tennessee is near the bottom in terms of funding “effort,” a category that rates a state’s ability to fund public schools compared to the actual dollars invested. So, we have the capacity to invest more in our schools, but we’ve historically chosen not to do so.

Do we really need more money? An analysis of the achievement gap in Tennessee suggests we do. The NAEP data cited in that report indicate a widening achievement gap. That is, kids at the bottom of the income scale are falling further behind their better off peers. What’s essentially happening is the kids at the top of the income scale are gaining ground while kids from low income families are remaining stagnant. The takeaway: The resources available to middle- and upper-income kids make a difference. And it would be worthwhile to invest in the community supports necessary to create a more level playing field for low income kids.

Additionally, teachers aren’t all that happy about doing what Governor Haslam admits is incredible work but not being paid well for it. Time will tell if this results in teachers leaving the profession in Tennessee in significant numbers.

So, today’s big Education Summit was an interesting conversation about issues that can have an impact on our schools. But it avoided the biggest issue of all: How will we pay for the investment in schools our state needs?

 

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

 

Is the ASD Working?

That’s the question at the heart of this analysis by Ezra Howard over at Bluff City Ed.

Howard performs a longitudinal analysis of the performance of schools in the Achievement School District both before and after they were in the ASD to determine growth patterns.

Turns out, ASD is not doing so well at improving growth (the stated goal of ASD).

Howard does a great job of explaining his methods and outlining the case that “it’s fair to say that the Achievement School District has been a disappointment in the last two years. In terms of achievement, the results have been moderate at best (Math) and regressive at worst (ELA).”

The entire piece is worth a read, but I’m going to hit some highlights here.

Math

When comparing two years of growth under each district, the gains made by the LEA are actually greater than the ASD by almost 2%, 7.75% compared to 5.84%. Chart 2 illustrates the rate of growth for these schools since 2010. In summary, achievement gains have not hastened under the ASD; indeed, they continue to follow a trend that was already established in the two years before the ASD took over.

ELA

Once again, the LEA exceeded the ASD. Much discussion has been given to the regression of ELA scores in the first year of the ASD. But in examining the total growth of the same schools under the two different districts, it’s readily apparent that the LEA outperformed the ASD by over 4%, 4.64% total gains in P/A compared to 1.44%. Even the level of growth in the last year under the ASD, 3.40% in 2014, is less than that with the last year of the LEA before ASD takeover, 3.71% in 2012. Chart 2 exhibits the trend of growth for ELA, illustrating that the ASD failed to capitalize on the LEA’s momentum of increasing P/A rates in the same way that they were able to with math scores.

Policy Implications

Howard raises some important questions and addresses the policy implications of this analysis. First among them being can the ASD reach its stated goal? Howard writes:

 First, can the ASD reach 55% P/A in order to be in the top quartile? Maybe. In order to reach that magic number of 55% P/A in all three of these subjects, the ASD would have to average 11.07% gains in Math and 12.67% gains in ELA over a 5 year period. However, in the last two years, the ASD has averaged 2.92% gains in Math and 0.72% gains in ELA.

Second, is the money being spent on ASD a worthwhile investment. Howard notes:

an exorbitant amount is spent on results that are, at best, no different than what the data suggests we could have expected had these schools not been taken over by the ASD.

The ASD has already spent $18 million in Race to the Top funds in addition to other resources from the district and outside sources. But, according to Howard’s analysis, the gains are minimal at best and appear to be no better than what would have happened had the schools been left in the care of their district.

Howard then raises the question of whether or not the ASD will end up being a long-term approach to school turnarounds based on its results.

Again, all of what Howard writes is insightful and his approach to the data is solid. It is well worth a close read.

To read more from Ezra Howard or learn more about education policy and its impact on Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd