Want to know who is “responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement” in TN?

Today is the first day of the Tennessee Principals Association annual conference. The topic of this year’s conference is Leading in the Common Core Era. The conference will have three keynote speakers to discuss Common Core. Emily Barton, Assistant Commissioner for Curriculum and Instruction, is one of those keynote speakers. The first line of her biography tells a lot (see picture below).

“Emily Barton is responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement through many strategies including implementation and success of Tennessee’s evaluation system and the adoption of Common Core State Standards.”

Looks like Emily Barton is solely responsible for the gains in achievement. That’s a huge claim to make at a conference filled with educators.

 

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 12.42.22 PM

 

Momma Bears take on Edu-Profiteers

A group of Tennessee moms is asking tough questions and raising concerns about education profiteering right here in the Volunteer State.

Here’s their Top 10 list of ways to get rich being an education industry profiteer.

The list is followed by lots of handy links to stories you may not hear often or may not remember.

NAEP in TN: The Rest of the Story

Today, leaders across Tennessee lauded the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) results.  And they should. Tennessee is first in an education statistic and it’s a good one.  The fastest growing state in the last 2 years in terms of growth in math and reading scores as measured by NAEP.

That’s good news. It’s very good news.  Despite some claims, though, it’s very difficult to say results on the 2013 NAEP are a direct result of reforms that took place in 2011 and 2012. States with more rigid teacher tenure and with collective bargaining for teachers scored higher overall than Tennessee (nevermind Ron Ramsey’s rant against both — they just don’t test out as significant indicators of student achievement in either a positive or negative way). And of course, it’s easier to grow when you have a long way to go — Tennessee has historically been among the lowest performing states on the NAEP.

Let’s take a look at the data on a deeper level, though, and see what’s been happening. For the sake of this comparison, I’m going to look at Tennessee and Kentucky — a similarly situated Southeastern state with a nearly identical level of students in poverty and/or on free/reduced lunch.  I’m going to look at 20 year trends to see what we can learn from the overall education work in both states. So, here goes:

4th Grade Math

1992      KY   215                        TN  211

2013     KY  241                          TN 240

Over the 20 year period, Kentucky increased by 16 points, Tennessee by 19 — and Kentucky still leads by 1 point.  To Tennessee’s credit, the gap in scores was narrowed by 3 points.

Let’s look at the percentage of students in each state who test at or above basic — this is short of the mastery demonstrated by the score of proficient, but still indicates a basic understanding of the concept — below basic is the lowest score and is frankly, unacceptable.

In 1992, 51% of Kentucky kids tested at or above basic and in Tennessee, it was 47%.  Now, 84% of Kentucky kids are at or above basic in 4th grade math while only 80% can say the same in Tennessee.  Both states posted 33 point gains in this important number over the last 20 years and Kentucky remains 4 points ahead of Tennessee.

Now, let’s look at the two states and how they are doing with their poorest students, those on free and reduced lunch.  One of the key goals of many involved in education is closing achievement gaps and moving the lowest performing kids forward quickly.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY  232  TN 228

Achievement gap

KY 19 points  TN 26 points

Not only do Tennessee’s students on free and reduced lunch score lower than Kentucky’s, Tennessee’s gap is wider — by a 7-point margin in the case of 4th grade math.  This begins a troubling pattern.

Before I go further with this analysis, I want to point out that Kentucky doesn’t use value-added data for teacher evaluations, has no charter schools, its teachers are awarded tenure after 4 years, and it hasn’t adopted any of the reforms Tennessee’s current leaders tell us are essential to improving scores.  In fact, their Commissioner has openly expressed skepticism of any evaluation system that bases any part of a teacher’s score on value-added data.  As the rest of the data will demonstrate, both Kentucky and Tennessee have posted gains over time on NAEP — in most categories, Kentucky started out tied or very slightly ahead of Tennessee and today, Kentucky remains ahead.  Kentucky posted some pretty big gains in the mid-90s and again from 2003-2009.  Since then, they’ve held fairly steady.  That’s an expected result, by the way — a big gain followed by steady maintenance of the new level.  For Tennessee, that won’t be enough, but celebrating the big gain is certainly warranted.  It’s also important to take care in assigning causality.

Ok, back to the data.

8th Grade Math

1992  KY 262   TN 259

2013  KY 281  TN 278

Over 20 years, both states made a 19-point gain in 8th grade math and Kentucky maintains a 3-point lead.  Looking at students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 51% in 1992 and is at 71% today while Tennessee was at 47% in 1992 and at 69% today.  Kentucky gained 20 points and Tennessee, 22.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE MATH SCORES

KY 268  TN 265

Achievement Gap

KY 25 points TN 27 points

 

4th Grade Reading

1992 KY 213   TN 212

2013 KY 224   TN 220

Here, Kentucky makes an 11-point gain and Tennessee makes an 8-point gain over the same time period.  Now, Kentucky has a solid 4-point lead in reading — while in 1992, it was just 1-point.  In terms of students at or above “basic,” Kentucky was at 58% in 1992 and stands at 71% today while Tennessee was at 57% in 1992 and is now at 67% — Kentucky gained 13 points over this time, while Tennessee gained 10.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 4th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 213  TN 205

Achievement Gap

KY 24 points TN 32 points

 

8th Grade Reading

1998  KY 262   TN 259

2013 KY 270  TN 265

Here, Kentucky gained 8 points and Tennessee only 6 — giving Kentucky students a 5-point edge over Tennessee’s in 8th grade reading. Both states posted 6-point gains in percentage of students at or above “basic,” with Kentucky maintaining a 3-point edge in that category.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 8th GRADE READING SCORES

KY 258  TN 256

Achievement Gap

KY 23  TN 20

As the data shows, Kentucky and Tennessee in many cases posted similar net gains over time, with Kentucky seeing big jumps in the mid-90s and again in the early part of the last decade.  In all categories, Kentucky’s students still outperform Tennessee, though in some cases that gap is narrowing.  Also, in all subjects, Kentucky’s students on free/reduced lunch outperform Tennessee’s students on free/reduced lunch.

ABOUT THAT FREE LUNCH

Possibly the most interesting (and troubling) finding in this data is the widening of the gap between free/reduced lunch students and those not eligible.  Tennessee has a significant population of students who qualify (as does Kentucky) and one of the key aims of reform is to ensure that gaps are closed and that those with the most challenges get more opportunity.  Here’s some data demonstrating that Tennessee’s achievement gap is widening when it comes to its poorest students.

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH ACHIEVEMENT GAPS

4th Grade Math 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 26 points

8th Grade Math 2011 — 25 points  2013 – 27 points

4th Grade Reading 2011 — 26 points  2013 – 32 points

8th Grade Reading 2011 — 20 points  2013 – 20 points

The 4th grade scores in particular present rapidly widening gaps.  That’s absolutely the wrong direction.  Moreover, students on free/reduced lunch saw their scores improve less than those not on free/reduced lunch 3 points vs. 9 points in 4th grade math, 3 points vs. 5 points in 8th grade math, 1 point vs. 7 points in 4th grade reading, and both groups saw a +6 in 8th grade reading.

While we’re told that “poverty is not an excuse” it certainly appears to be a factor (and one growing in importance) in terms of student achievement growth in Tennessee. While we have had significant reforms in some of our poorest urban communities (and even have an Achievement School District to address the most challenged schools), the gap between poor and better off students widened in the last two years.

Yes, Tennessee should celebrate its growth.  But policymakers should use caution when seeing the results from the last 2 years as a validation of any particular policy.  Long-term trends indicate that big gains are usually followed by steady maintenance. And, even with the improvement, Tennessee has a long way to go to be competitive with our peers. Additionally, education leaders should be concerned about the troubling widening of the rich/poor achievement gap  – an outcome at odds with stated policy goals and the fundamental principle of equal opportunity.

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

 

 

 

A Tennessee Teacher Speaks Out

A Knox County teacher addresses her School Board and expresses the frustrations of many teachers in Tennessee.

 

The question: Is anyone listening? And, if so, will anything be done to bring about collaboration with and input from educators?

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

 

Diane Ravitch speaks to TNEdReport

We welcome Dr. Diane Ravitch to our blog. Dr. Ravitch is a Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor under Education Secretary Lamar Alexander’s leadership in the early 1990s. Her latest book, Reign of Error, is a New York Times bestseller.

1. Tennessee leaders have proposed linking teacher pay to value-added scores. Does this practice hold promise or peril for students and teachers?

Doing this has no basis in research or experience. It has failed wherever it was tried. It causes teaching to the test, which is unprofessional. 70% of teachers do not teach tested subjects, so either the state will spend millions to create new tests for every subject or teachers will be evaluated by the scores of students they never taught. Teachers in affluent districts will get high ratings. Teachers of English learners, of students with disabilities, of the gifted will get low ratings. This methodology doesn’t work. It appeals because it is simplistic. But it is ineffective at identifying the best and worst teachers. It shows who you taught.

2. Some legislators are proposing a voucher system for Tennessee students. What has been learned about the effectiveness and impact of voucher systems in other areas?

Vouchers have failed wherever they were tried. Milwaukee has had vouchers since 1990. Voucher students get the same scores as students in public schools. Meanwhile, on federal tests, Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing cities in the nation. Why should taxpayers pay for children to attend religious schools? Voters have never approved vouchers, not in any state. They were decisively rejected last fall by the voters of Florida.

3. Tennessee consistently ranks near the bottom of all states on tests like NAEP and ACT. What’s the best way for policy makers to change this?

Read my latest book. Early childhood education works. Health clinics for every school work. The arts raises student motivation to attend school. After school programs and summer programs work. Raising standards for entering teachers works. Set high standards for all educators, including the state commissioner, who has never been a principal or a superintendent and lacks the qualifications to be state commissioner.

4. Typically, state departments of education employ people with a variety of backgrounds; some have teaching experience, but others come from academic and policy backgrounds.  What is your take on having many Teach for America corps members moving into state policy positions?

Teach for America demeans the teaching profession by perpetrating the myth that teachers are qualified with only five weeks of training. Who would go to a doctor or lawyer with only five weeks training? Or fly in a jet whose pilot had five weeks training? TFA is destroying professionalism.

5. You are a frequent critic of Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. What are the good and bad things that Commissioner Huffman has done since taking the job?

He gives the erroneous impression that a state commissioner need have no administrative experience. He lacks the basic qualifications for the job. He has punished the city of Nashville’s children by withholding $3.4 million, punishing the board for not granting a charter that he favored. He does not respect local control. He pushes privatization through charters and vouchers. He has no ideas that are constructive for public education, which is an essential democratic institution. He has demoralized teachers. If I think of something good he has done, I will let you know.

6. It’s perhaps not-so-common knowledge that legendary union leader Albert Shanker was an early fan of the charter school concept, though his vision was of teacher-run schools authorized by a school district, in contrast to most modern charter schools.  What was it that Shanker liked about the concept, and are there kernels of practice and/or organization that you like in the charter universe?

Shanker advocated for charters that sought out the weakest students, not the best ones. He thought that charters should be approved by their union and their local district.

Whatever they learned about how to help dropouts would be shared with the public schools.

This is a very different vision from charters today, which boast of their high scores, and often push out the weakest students who might pull down their scores.

7. The recession starting in 2008 hit states and local governments hard, and continuing debates in Washington leading to stalemated battles certainly don’t help the funding situation for districts and schools.  Putting aside the argument of whether states and local governments have funded schools, anti-poverty campaigns, healthcare, etc. sufficiently, what strategies do you find most promising that don’t require new funding?  Are there such strategies?

Better schools require adequate funding.

8. The education debate has lately taken an outsized role in public discourse, and includes many efforts, on both sides, to use coordinated messaging, public relations efforts, and branding efforts.  The “Reform” movement, writ large, has an easily-recited list of policies associated with it, including vouchers, charter schools, pay-for-performance, teacher evaluations using student testing data, and ending seniority rules.  For those on the opposite side, what are the list of marquee policies to point to?  What’s the alternative policy agenda?

Read my book. A thriving public school system that meets the needs of children. No privatization. No high-stakes testing. Money for arts and reduced class size, not for consultants, corporations and the testing industry.

9. In a recent interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, you talked about how our education system is actually a lot better than people make it out to be. Can you explain your views on this topic?

Read my book.

Test scores for whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians are at their highest point in history.

Graduation rates at their highest point in history.

Dropout rates at lowest point in history.

These are 40-year trends.

Where scores are low, there is poverty and racial segregation.

None of the “reformer” ideas address the Root causes of low academic performance.

10. You have recently released a book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Can you tell us why you wrote this book? How is it different than your previous book?

I explain in the book. One, to give realistic solutions that would improve schools and society. Two, to demonstrate using graphs from the US Dept of Education website that the reformy claims of failure are untrue. Our American public schools do a great job, but they cannot overcome poverty without changes in our social and economic structures.

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


 

Boys Prep’s Principal Removed From School

Boys Prep, an embattled Nashville charter school that is already facing threats of closure, is now facing more problems. Tennessee Education Report has confirmed that the principal for Boys Prep has been removed from his position and asked not to return until further notice.  Rev. Keith Jackson, a board member for Boys Prep, issued this statement after contacted about rumblings we were hearing about the school:

I will say that there are some serious concerns that are still being investigated.  He is not at the school and has been advised not to return until further notice.  There is a Board of Directors meeting scheduled for Oct. 24, at which time these issues will be discussed and any decisions will be made at that time.

The board consists of Paul Boersig, Rubin Cockrell, Sonya Jennings, Daniel Crews, Keith Jackson, and Karen Jackson.

UPDATE: Metro Nashville Public Schools released the following statement:

We have been in contact with the leadership at Boys Prep and understand they have taken action. We will stay in close contact to monitor the situation as it develops. Any further inquiries should be directed to Boys Prep.

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


 

Our Interview with Dr. Jesse Register

We had the great opportunity to interview Dr. Jesse Register, the Director of Schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools. We hope you enjoy the interview.

1) Is MNPS moving towards school-based budgeting and budgetary control? If so, what’s the timeline? What elements of the budget will schools be free to spend as they wish? What elements will be outside a school’s purview?

Yes. We currently have 15 schools in a pilot program for school-based budgeting. We expect to have 50-60 schools in the program next school year, with a goal of going district-wide by 2015-16.

Schools in our pilot group get an average of around $6,300 per student on their school budgets. The rest of the per-pupil money goes to central services like transportation, food, human capital, textbooks, building services, etc. Of that $6,300, principals have direct control over 92%. Those numbers are expected to go up every year.

We’ve also seen a big, big increase in the amount of Title I money going directly to schools – rising from 49% two years ago to 85% today.

And of course we are looking at a weighted student funding formula that would funnel resources to schools more equitably, based on the kinds of students they serve. That could mean different levels of funding for English learners, exceptional education, gifted or others who might need more dedicated resources.

 

2) Is MNPS moving towards school-based hiring? Same questions as above — how fast, what are the parameters, etc.?

As you know, the entire Human Capital department was completely restructured. We’re looking at them as a strategy and support system more than a group that does hiring and firing.

So principals select and interview their own candidates right now. That’s district-wide. They assess the needs for teachers in their schools, select candidates from the available pool, interview them and recommend them for hire.

I say “recommend them for hire” because Human Capital needs to run background checks and actually process the hire, but principals are selecting teachers for their schools based on their specific needs.

That means we are greatly reducing the number of forced transfers. In fact, we hope to eliminate them entirely. That means principals can hire teachers, but they also have to deal with their problems and weaknesses. We don’t want inadequate performers just transferred from school to school.

The autonomy principals have also comes with accountability, and that includes staffing.

 

3) Will we see any more movement/changes to the salary structure?


We have a strategic compensation committee that is working on developing recommendations that link part of teacher compensation to performance. We expect those recommendations to be ready in before winter break. Our goal is to implement this plan for the 2014-15 school year. We expect to reward high-performing teachers while also continuing to pay teachers for additional education from quality programs – if it contributes to their work.

 

4) Given the lengthy waitlists for schools like Hume-Fogg, Meigs, and MLK, why hasn’t MNPS opened more academic magnet schools?  Understanding that other non-academic magnets (such as Rose Park, East Lit and Nashville School of the Arts) exist, why has MNPS not moved to meet that demand?

A quarter of our students attend a school by choice rather than by geography. That’s an important statistic for people to understand because it represents the diversity of attractive programs in our district, not just academic magnet schools.

Yes, the academic magnets have terrific track records and reputations. We are extremely proud of Hume-Fogg, MLK, Meigs and all of their feeder schools. But our thematic magnets and improving zoned schools can offer strong, challenging academics that meet every student’s needs.

The question we must face in Nashville is this: do we want to take our highest achieving students out of neighborhood schools and separate them into just a few academic magnets? I believe that is counterproductive. Instead let’s build the capacity in our zoned schools to challenge the high achievers while also serving the broad spectrum of all our students.

We want to improve the quality of all our schools, and we are making progress in doing that. Academically talented students can get a great education at any of our schools. If you look at our high schools, you see that in action. We have advanced academic tracks in each of our zoned high schools: Cambridge, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, STEM courses, Vanderbilt Scientists in the Classroom and more. No matter where you live in Nashville, you can attend a school that challenges you and gives you the education you deserve.

 

5) Is MNPS planning implementation of a comprehensive new teacher induction program that includes dedicated mentors?


We are in discussions for that right now, but it is very early in the process. It will all come down to funding.

There is a lot of research touting the positive impact of high-quality teacher mentors on student achievement. This year we are finishing up a three-year mentor-training program with Trevecca where teachers are moved into high-priority schools to act as teacher mentors. This will be a great pool of talent to pull from to get our mentor program started if it takes off.

 


6) Memphis is moving forward with additional Pre-K classrooms despite a stop in state dollars for expansion.  Will MNPS move ahead with a Pre-K expansion plan?


I believe strongly in universal pre-K. I intend to pursue increased funding at the state and local levels. It is long-term the best strategy for eliminating achievement gaps between disadvantaged children and those who are not.

 

7) How would you describe the relationship between MNPS and the TNDOE? Commissioner Huffman?

It’s well known at this point that we don’t always see eye-to-eye.

However, we both recognize the absolute necessity of having a professional working relationship that supports improving student achievement at the local level and state level. It’s important that we have an honest dialogue in those areas where we may disagree.

 

8) What would you like to see as the state’s top education priority?

This is a difficult question because there are so many top priorities, as far as I’m concerned: recruiting and retaining great teachers, developing great school leaders, implementing common core, adequately preparing for PARCC testing.

But if I had to zero in one just one, it has to be funding universal pre-K. We serve a very large population of economically disadvantaged children, many of them also English learners. They must be given a jump-start on kindergarten so they are ready to start school. We generally have about 1,500-2,000 applications for pre-K every year that we can’t accommodate.

 

9) Dr. Register, you were quoted in the Tennessean that the district was not able to give step increases because of the rising cost of charters. Do you believe the district is reaching a tipping point in regard to charter school costs?

We need to have a conversation about the fiscal impact of charter schools. The Board of Education has already begun the budget planning process for 2014-15 because the members are concerned about the fiscal effect of charter schools on the district as a whole. Funding follows students, but fixed costs do not. The district continues to experience enrollment growth overall, so we have the same infrastructure and some increases in variable costs for teachers, transportation and other budget items, but when the transfer to charter schools is taken into account, our funding was flat this year and may even be reduced next year.

At the same time, we are moving ahead with the RFP for additional charter schools. Going forward, we might ask charter school applicants to meet specific needs. For example, a charter school in southeast Nashville could help address the tremendous growth in that area.

 

10) I recently toured Cameron College Prep. It was very fascinating to see a charter school slowly take over a zoned school grade by grade. Is the district looking to replicate this in other zoned schools?

We are also doing this at Brick Church Middle/Brick Church College Prep, though that is through the Achievement School District. Without our partnership with LEAD Academy through the Office of Innovation, Cameron might have also been in the ASD. We do not have any other charter school conversions on the table now.

For more Tennessee education news, follow us @TNEdReport


 

Have a Drink on Us

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.

Edit: ASD took down the video, but some nice people have added it to Youtube. 

Happy Hour Welcoming TFA Teachers from Achievement School District on Vimeo.

Expect more, but not too much more…

So, all the advocates of Common Core are part of the Expect More, Achieve More coalition.  I support the general principles of Common Core. The higher standards, the expectations, the value placed on critical thinking.

I’m carefully watching the implementation, however, as Tennessee’s track record of getting education right is well, missing.

That said, the State Department of Education has been talking a lot about expectations.  About being direct and honest with students and families about their achievement.  About what it takes to demonstrate content mastery.  About grade level appropriate learning progress.

All of which sounds good.  And, if done correctly, is good.

And then, I read that the Achievement School District has released a new grading scale for some of the K-8 schools in its control.

Here it is:

ASD Grades

And here’s the explanation from ASD.

Basically, they are aligning grades with TCAP cut scores.

Which means, you can receive a passing score in school and only demonstrate knowledge/mastery of 47% of content.

Also, there’s a huge range of scores for a B.

I’m not sure that if someone goes into the workforce and gets 59% of their work done well, they’ll have a job for very long.

And doesn’t this contradict the whole concept of high expectations?

And if these grades are aligned to TCAP cut scores, maybe we should strengthen the cut scores?

What about the students who “pass” their grade level with a 48? Really? Isn’t that setting them up to fail by telling them they “passed” even though they demonstrated mastery of less than half of the material?

It’s great to reward effort.  And nice to see students grow over a year.  But high expectations means high standards.

I’d expect to see stories soon about the ASD’s improved GPAs and promotion rate.

For more education policy news, follow us @TNEdReport

Everyone Agrees: Tennessee Needs to Invest in Education

Because, well, we’re not doing it right now.

WPLN’s Nina Cardona has the story of how groups from both the left and right have analyzed Tennessee spending on education and found it seriously lacking.  How bad? Last in the nation in both per pupil spending AND percentage of gross domestic product spent on schools.

Not only that, the Beacon Center suggests Tennessee should be spending at least 60% of its education dollars on classroom-related expenses (teacher salaries, benefits, classroom resources, etc.).  But, we’re spending 54%.  One way to remedy this would be to raise teacher salaries and otherwise increase support for teachers and schools.

The WPLN story comes on the heels of an analysis by Bruce Baker on Tennessee’s history of failing to invest in schools.

Perhaps most telling is this closing statement from the WPLN story:

The ELC rankings are based on numbers that pre-date the federal grant known as Race to the Top. Tennessee won roughly half a billion dollars to spend on strategies for changing education in the state. The grant runs out at the end of this school year.

Yes, you read that right.  Tennessee will no longer have the boost of Race to the Top funds after this school year.

Will the Tennessee General Assembly make up the difference? Will local governments foot the bill? How, exactly, will Tennessee maintain its current, rather paltry investment in schools? And will there be any movement to invest even MORE dollars in education — say, for improved teacher compensation or technology upgrades associated with Common Core testing?

Stay tuned to Tennessee Education Report for more details and be sure to follow us @TNEdReport