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

 

Craig Fitzhugh Welcomes Back Tennessee’s Teachers

Last week Governor Bill Haslam released a video welcoming teachers back to the classroom. This week, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh makes his own video welcoming Tennessee’s teachers. I think teachers will really appreciate Fitzhugh’s message. Watch below.

Hi, I’m House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

Last week, Governor Haslam sent a message to teachers welcoming them back to another year of school. I too would like to extend a welcome back and a thank you for your service to our children and our state.

In his message, Governor Haslam said he “could imagine how challenging it is to teach in an environment with a variety of factors beyond your control.”

Quite frankly, I could not agree more.

That is why I have been so deeply disappointed in this Governor and his Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman. I’m disappointed in their continued refusal to fix an evaluation system that is driving quality teachers out of the profession. I’m disappointed in their push to cut teacher salaries, while asking them to contribute more to a less secure retirement plan. I’m disappointed in their work with the State Board of Education to revamp the process for licensing teachers—all without consulting the elected leaders in the General Assembly.

Like my wife, my sister-in-law, my niece & my daughter, I know most of you became teachers to make a difference in the lives of the children you encounter. Unfortunately, outside so-called “reform” groups have used their mounds of out-of-state cash to lobby the General Assembly and make your job more difficult. These groups are more concerned with standardized testing & fundraising for their PACs than they are about the future of our children.

As teachers, you are responsible for molding Tennessee’s most precious resources. Unlike Commissioner Huffman who taught for two years and moved on to the lucrative world of education reform, many of you have foregone more lucrative careers because of your passion and dedication to our students.  That is why teachers must always be at the center of our education reform efforts—because you are on the front lines. You know what works, and you know what doesn’t.

Thank you again for another year invested in our education system. Times are tough, believe me I understand that. But always know that you have a friend in our caucus on whom you can call anytime. Thank you.

 

 


 

A Look at Charter Attrition Rates

After WSMV and The City Paper ran stories on charter schools losing “struggling students” to zoned schools in time for TCAP exams, outrage has ensued among parents and charter advocates. While some parents are upset that charter students are being sent back into the school system weeks before the TCAP exam, some charter advocates believe MNPS mislead the news station because “their own scores must not be that hot this year,” “data was skewed & manipulated,” and that MNPS does not care about individual students.

After I read the WSMV article, I emailed MNPS to ask for the same information they gave the WSMV reporter. I received seven documents from the communications office including attrition rates for MNPS and some individual school reports of attrition 9 weeks before the TCAP. Though, after my first communication with the schools, I was told that MNPS and the principal from KIPP Academy met and the school system sent me an updated attrition document that was changed after their meeting. The numbers were a little different, but the top attrition schools were still the same.

UpdatedAttrition

The first chart shows charter schools leading the way in attrition. As others have noted, if you have a smaller set of students, your percentage is higher than larger schools if a few students leave.

But, as you can see from the chart, there are a lot of people leaving all schools, zoned schools included. For Smithson Head Middle, out of an 11th day enrollment of 324, 89 students left while they have taken on 8 students throughout the year. The number of 81 for attrition equates to a -25% attrition rate. They now only enroll 243 students.

For Boys Prep, they had a smaller 11th day enrollment of 100 students. The school lost 39 students, or 39% of their student body this year. They took on 16 students for an attrition of 23 students and a -23% attrition rate. They now only enroll 77 children.

When looking at KIPP Academy, a well known charter, nationally, for it’s high standards and performance, they had an 11th day enrollment of 337. We see that 64 left while 13 came to the school during that time.

KippWDWhile looking at the school specifically, you can see that 20 students left KIPP Academy nine weeks leading up to TCAP. All but one of those 20 students that left had been suspended multiple times. Eight of those 20 are considered “special needs disability” students.

 

LeadWD

 

 

LEAD Academy lost 20 students in the nine weeks leading up to TCAP. Fourteen of those students had been suspended during the year.

 

 

 

 

Drexel1Drexel2

 

 

 

Drexel had 33 students leave within the nine week period, which means that over half of the exits took place within a 9 week period.

 

 

 

 

While more charter schools are on the way, we should be looking at attrition both in charter and in zoned schools. We need to keep more kids from changing schools. As many zoned schools see a large number of students leave their schools, I believe charter schools and zoned schools are different for one main reason: Charter students are not randomly chosen. While families zoned for schools aren’t technically randomly selected for their schools, it’s the best way to describe it. For charters, you have to go out of your way to attend the schools. Parents have to agree to longer schools day, to read to their kids, or other agreements along those lines. For zoned schools, it’s the exact opposite. The parents do nothing and the kids are sent to the school they are zoned to. So while many people are leaving zoned schools, it looks strange to see that parents would go out of their way to enroll their children in a new program to only move to a different school at a later time.

Antioch2

I wanted to show the numbers from my high school for two reasons. One, because there are many people coming and going from zoned schools, as I said earlier. Two, to show people that I attended a school with a graduation rate of 66.9% and a dropout rate of 19.6% the year I graduated. I hear continued arguments that those families who may come from nicer areas of Nashville should not have a point of view on this topic because they go to nicer schools. First, all families should be able to voice their opinions without getting attacked for where they live. I went to a school where over half of the students are considered “Economically Disadvantaged” and hallways were lined with gangs. Does that mean my opinion matters more than those who went to (fill in the school that you always site as being better than others)? No, they don’t.

When more people, both with children in the school system and not, care about our education system, it will get better. That is everyone’s goal here. We want the education of Nashville’s children to be better, some just want to get there a different way. The goal is still the same. But when people start attacking others based on where they live or where they went to school, you are undermining your whole argument. You want to give all students a chance to learn and succeed, but you won’t give all parents a right to express their ideas.

Let’s continue to talk about issues that are facing our education system. Let’s continue to meet and talk with people whose idea’s are different. Let’s continue to exchange ideas between us. Let’s continue to improve our children’s education. But let’s not continue the harsh tones and attacks that we all are doing. The only way to fix our education system is working together.

While I have written a post that may seem “anti charter,” (hint: it’s not) it doesn’t not mean I won’t work with charter schools to see what they are doing better than zoned schools. We can all question what zoned schools are doing or what charter schools are doing. The only thing we can do to help our education system is to be involved.

Here are a few organizations you can check out to get involved in your local education system.

State Collaborative on Reforming Education

TEA Teachers – Tennessee Education Association

Professional Educators of Tennessee

Tennessee Charter Schools Association


 

The Hidden Cost of Campfield’s Welfare Bill

The much debated welfare bill may have some hidden costs for the LEAs. Jared Barrett, a member of the Murfreesboro School Board, has this to say about the proposed bill (which Haslam has threatened to veto):

 I am writing you as a concerned school board member to urge you to vote no on SB0132. There are a few unintended consequences to this bill that will end up adding more costs to already strapped local school boards. One part of this bill would allow a student to attend summer school in the subject area in which the student has failed or has scored below proficient in order to demonstrate competency. Many questions and costs arise from this part of the bill as presented. The first costs shouldered by local school boards would be that the  district would be required to offer multiple content areas over multiple weeks and possibly over multiple locations during the summer.  Again, this would add to the overall cost of operating the district. And how would the kids get there? This would be a major concern for Murfreesboro City Schools, having to provide transportation to these students.

Another hidden cost to this legislation is regarding parent sessions?  When?  Where?  Who would conduct? Cost?  Transportation? Not only does this add additional costs to already strapped local school districts (like Murfreesboro), but it also takes away time from educators who are already trying to implement Common Core standards and keep up with other Federal and state mandates.

So while I understand these types of issues are not included in the fiscal note, the fact that this implies little cost is a false reality. I’m all for parental involvement and local school districts across the state struggle on how to implement that, but this bill is the wrong approach.

 


 

 

Rep. Pitts fires back at out of state speaker

Today, the California based Parent Revolution sent Ryan Donohue to Nashville, TN to speak in favor of a parent trigger bill. For an out of state interest, Mr. Donohue makes some broad statements about our public schools here in Tennessee. Please watch what Representative Joe Pitts had to say about that.