Just South of Nashville

 

TC Weber offers his take on what’s happening in Williamson County.

Essentially, he’s concerned that parent groups are coming under political fire when they enter the education policy debate. Here are some highlights:

The fine:

The Registry of Election Finance voted to fine Williamson Strong a total of 5K for failure to register as a PAC and failure to file campaign expenditures. That’s right – an organization that doesn’t have a treasurer nor a fundraising mechanism was fined for not declaring themselves a PAC. Either they are the worst PAC ever or there is something a little skewered here.

The Bottom Line:

This past week, I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking to people in Williamson County about these events. What emerges is a convoluted picture that seems to have as much to do with past politics as it does with the current issues. Much of it also seems to be tied to personalities as much as policies. That should not be a surprise to anyone who has been involved with politics. It would take King Solomon to weed through all that has transpired and assign accountability. That’s a task well above my pay grade and not really the point I’m looking to make.

What is important here is to recognize and possibly prevent the use of personal issues to circumvent the democratic process. Parents should absolutely have the right to band together and champion issues they deem important. They should have the right to educate the public without fear of retribution. I obviously don’t endorse slander, but politicians should understand that reaping the benefits of certain entities also means suffering the disadvantages. To argue that there are not outside forces seeking to influence our democratic society through their financial injection, on both sides of the aisle, is either naïve or willfully ignorant.

Parents should not have to go through a cryptic bureaucracy to get involved in policy making that directly affects their children, unless they are actively raising money and financially supporting candidates at a reasonable threshold.

TC’s entire post offers lots of detail about what happened, when it happened, and what it could mean for other grassroots groups. It’s worth a read.

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

Should Shelby County Schools Sue the State?

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed says YES!

Here’s the basic reason why:

Education funding has been creeping up slowly, but its not enough. We’re at a critical juncture in urban districts like Shelby County, and the only realistic way we are going to find the funds to adequately support our schools is from the state. Local taxes are tapped out and the district has cut to the bone. And at the same time, the state has indicated very little willingness to adequately fund BEP 2.0.

More on BEP Funding:

Why is He So Angry?

Money Talks

Hungry for BEP Reform

Of Poverty and Teacher Pay

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

 

 

Candice Clarifies

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen issued an email to teachers today clarifying an email she sent Monday regarding Tennessee standards and the upcoming TNReady tests.

It seems there was some confusion about what standards to teach in the 2015-16 academic year and what Tennessee standards may look like going forward.

Below is today’s email followed by the one sent Monday:

Teachers,

I’m writing to clarify information I shared on Monday about the standards review and development process. We have received several questions about which standards teachers should use during the 2015-16 school year. We want to make sure that your questions are answered quickly, so you can move into summer with clear expectations for the upcoming school year.

Tennessee teachers should continue to use the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not the previous SPI’s. The current state standards are available on our website.

TNReady, the state’s new and improved TCAP test in English language arts and math, will assess the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not SPI’s.

As we shared on Monday, the standards review and development process that Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education established last fall will continue. Teams of educators will work to review public input and will then recommend new sets of math and English language arts standards to the State Board of Education to be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year. TNReady will evolve as our math and English language arts standards do, ensuring that our state assessment will continue to match what is being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

Please feel free to reach out with additional questions or clarifications. We look forward to sharing more information about TNReady and the standards review and development process in the coming weeks.

Best,
Candice

_________________________________________________________________
From: Commissioner.McQueen@tn.gov
Date: Monday, May 11, 2015 3:20 PM
To: Tennessee teachers
Subject: Update on Standards Review Process

Teachers,

The Tennessee General Assembly recently voted to support our administration’s efforts to ensure that Tennessee students graduate from high school ready for post-secondary education or the workforce.

The vote complements the academic standards review and development process established by Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education last October, and it will maintain the participation of Tennessee educators and parents in the process.

At the conclusion of the review process, Tennessee’s new academic standards, which will include public input and are established by Tennessee educators, will replace the existing set of standards in English language arts and math. These standards will be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year.

In addition to the teams of educators established by the State Board of Education that will review the existing standards, the adopted legislation also provides for a 10-member standards recommendation committee appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House. This committee will review the recommendations of our educator groups and will then make a final recommendation to the State Board of Education for consideration and approval.

In addition, the state’s academic standards in math and English language arts will also inform and help guide the state’s new assessment, TNReady. TNReady begins during the 2015-16 school year, and it will be aligned to the state’s existing academic standards in math and English language arts. TNReady will then evolve as the standards do, ensuring that our state assessment matches what is actually being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

As I travel around the state listening to teachers, I continue to hear teachers’ confidence in Tennessee’s higher standards and the positive impact they are having on students. I also continue to hear your desire for stability and alignment, so teachers and school leaders can make informed decisions about what works best for your students. We hope this process encourages you to continue on the path that you boldly started – great teaching to high expectations every day – as we all continue to work together to improve the standards during the review process.

We are proud that Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement, and your work this year to ensure that Tennessee stays on a path of high academic standards to help continue that success has been critical. Thank you to those that commented on the math and English language arts standards on the review website, www.tn.gov/standardsreview.

I am confident that the process that the General Assembly has now adopted will only enhance our efforts to improve outcomes for all of our students.

We look forward to sharing more updates with you as the standards review and development process continues this summer. Thank you again for all you do in support of Tennessee families and students.

Best,
Candice

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

Does TN Need Annenberg?

Recently, the MNPS School Board adopted the Annenberg Institute’s standards for the operation and oversight of charter schools.

The measure passed by a 5-3 vote, with charter advocates suggesting the standards may not be necessary.

As Nashville’s education community prepares for a proposed RESET of its conversation, it’s important to understand why standards like those recommended by Annenberg could be helpful in Nashville and, in fact, in all of Tennessee.

First, charters are expensive. According to recent reports, they are becoming a key cost-driver in MNPS. That’s fine, if that’s what the community wants and what students need. But, the Annenberg Standards put into place a level of accountability and transparency designed to prevent fraud and abuse. That protects parents, kids, and taxpayers.

Next, without proper oversight, charters fraud can go unchecked. A recent report out of Louisiana suggests as much:

Louisiana understaffs its charter schools oversight offices and, instead of proactively investigating these schools, relies on charters’ own reports and whistleblowers to uncover problems, according to a report released Tuesday (May 12) by the Center for Popular Democracy and the Coalition for Community Schools. That allows theft, cheating and mismanagement to happen, such as the $26,000 stolen from Lake Area New Tech High and the years of special education violations alleged at Lagniappe Academies.

The challenges faced in Louisiana should be a cautionary tale for those who want to remake MNPS in the mold of New Orleans.

If we’re going to have a new conversation in Nashville about schools, it makes sense to do so under guidelines that foster transparency and accountability, such as the Annenberg Standards. In fact, as Leigh Dingerson from Annenberg suggests, all of Tennessee may well benefit from adopting these standards to govern the operation and oversight of charter schools.

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

 

 

PET to Host LeaderU

Professional Educators of Tennessee will host a workshop and panel discussions with the theme of “The Future is Now.” The event will be held on June 20th, 2015.

Here are the details from a press release:

Hundreds of educators will gather at LeaderU on Saturday, June
20, 2015 at the Marriott Hotel in Franklin, Tennessee  to discuss the future
of education in Tennessee as well as best practices in teaching and
administration.  This is an event for all educators, public school parents,
business and community leaders, and media who desire a better understanding
of where the state is heading with education.   This year’s theme is “The
Future is NOW.”

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Dr. Candice McQueen will outline the
state’s vision for public education at the event.  Dr. McQueen, a
Clarksville native and former teacher, will share the state’s top education
initiatives and discuss the important role education plays across the state
as well as her story of how she rose through the ranks to become Tennessee’s
chief education official. In the months ahead, Dr. McQueen faces tough
challenges as she strives to earn the trust of educators, superintendents
and lawmakers, revamp more rigorous academic standards, and establish a new
state standardized test called “TNReady
< http://www.tennessee.gov/education/assessment/TNReady.shtml> .”

State Senator Dr. Mark Green will also address attendees, describing ways
educators can become more effective leaders across the state in the
conversation on education. Senator Green draws upon his years of leadership
experience in military service, medical practice, and policymaking to assist
educators in planning their leadership strategies.

 

Other featured presenters:

Dr. Felicia Bates, Instructional Administrator, Lakewood Schools, Henry
County Schools; Adjunct Professor, Freed-Hardeman University; Samantha
Bates, Director of Member Services, Professional Educators of TN; former
middle school teacher; Timothy Carey, Media Arts Instructor, Maxwell
Elementary, Metro-Nashville Public Schools; Tim Childers, Asst. Principal at
the L&N STEM Academy, Knox County Schools; Dr. Timothy Drinkwine, Principal,
Eakin School, Metro-Nashville Public Schools; Dr. April Ebbinger, Director
of Clinical Studies, University of Tennessee – Chattanooga; Leigh Jones,
Director of Aesthetic Education Initiatives for TN Performing Arts Center
(TPAC); Karen Lawson, Social Studies instructor, West Middle School,
Tullahoma City Schools; David Lockett, Instructor, Homer Pittard Campus
School; Adjunct Professor, Middle TN State University; Susan Millican,
Adjunct professor/Professor in Residence, University of TN – Chattanooga;
Dr. Jill Pittman, Principal, Goodlettsville Middle Prep, Metro-Nashville
Public Schools; Tiffany Roan, College Savings Specialist, TN Dept. of
Treasury; Mike Sheppard, Esq., General Counsel for Professional Educators of
Tennessee; Susan Sudberry-, Instructional Technology Specialist, Tullahoma
City Schools

These education professionals will lead a total of 16 sessions such as “Why
Teach Coding?” “Take Charge of Your Professional Learning,” “Your School’s
Social Media Presence: Telling Your Own Story,” and the popular LawTalkC
series. These current issues are tailored to meet the needs of teachers and
administrators at all levels, and multiple classes are available for up to 6
TASL credits. College students and new teachers can also benefit from the
networking opportunity and classes on financial literacy, advice for new
teachers, technology, and project-based learning.

For more information or to register, visit www.leaderutn.com.

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

 

Will It Ever Happen?

Just over two years ago, I proposed an education agenda that was an alternative to the education reform status quo. I lamented the focus on vouchers and teacher merit pay and called for an investment in and support for proven initiatives that would move Tennessee schools forward.

A lot has happened in Tennessee since then. The legislature even passed a very limited voucher scheme this year. The primary voucher vehicle, however, was defeated for the third consecutive legislative session.

But, what’s happening on issues like Pre-K and teacher mentoring? Well, not much. So, here’s a look at the agenda items I put forward two years ago and any action that’s happened on those items:

We should expand the Pre-K program to serve all at-risk four-year-olds by 2017. 

Despite Governor Haslam saying that Pre-K expansion might be a good thing, there’s been no legislative push to expand the state’s voluntary Pre-K program. The state did pursue (and win) federal funds to allow Memphis and Nashville to expand their Pre-K programs.  However, State Representative Glen Casada did sponsor legislation (HB159) that would have prevented the disbursement of those federal funds since the application did not include all counties in the state. That legislation is on hold in the House Local Government Subcommittee. Between Casada’s bill and efforts by Rep. Bill Dunn, there is serious concern that Pre-K funding could be in jeopardy in 2016. Certainly, that means Tennessee won’t be talking about expanding its Pre-K program to serve all at-risk four-year-olds by 2017.

Tennessee policy-makers should build and launch a new BEP formula in time for the 2015-16 academic year.

This has not been done. Governor Haslam has appointed a task force to study the BEP and that group has yet to issue a final recommendation. In the meantime, a lawsuit claiming the BEP is inadequate was filed this year. In terms of both equity and adequacy, it appears the BEP is broken.

There’s not a new BEP formula for 2015-16 and it remains to be seen if the Task Force appointed by Haslam will make proposals for meaningful improvements by the 2016 legislative session.

Tennessee policy-makers should build a new teacher mentoring program and ensure every new teacher has a trained mentor by the 2016-17 academic year.

Nothing has been done on this. At all.

Tennessee policy-makers should raise the starting pay for all teachers to $40,000 and adjust the pay scale to improve overall compensation by the 2015-16 academic year.

Governor Haslam did promise a teacher pay raise in 2014, only to back down when the revenue picture got a little less rosy. This year, the Governor’s budget includes $96 million in new money for teacher pay, but that doesn’t mean a 4% raise for all teachers. Tennessee’s starting teacher pay is nowhere near an average of $40,000, though State Rep. Jason Powell of Nashville offered a proposal to increase the BEP allocation for teacher pay by $10,000, at a cost of $500 million a year. Powell’s proposal would have brought Tennessee close to the goal of a significantly improved starting pay number for our state’s teachers. But, the price tag was deemed too high and the effort was delayed.

There is much to do for Tennessee schools — efforts that would improve the classroom environment, provide support for teachers, add resources to students, and relieve the tax burden on local governments. So far, these initiatives have either not been discussed or have been put off in favor of education reform fads. There is another legislative session in 2016, of course. And there’s always hope that either a lawsuit or elections or both will cause the General Assembly to re-focus its attention on the investments our state needs to move forward.

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

MNPS and Annenberg

Last week, the Metro Nashville School Board passed a resolution supporting adoption of recommendations by the Annenberg Institute on School Reform for the operation of charter schools.

The standards include:

  • Traditional school districts and charter schools should collaborate to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children
  • School governance should be representative and transparent
  • Charter schools should ensure equal access to interested students and prohibit practices that discourage enrollment or disproportionately push-out enrolled students
  • Charter school discipline policy should be fair and transparent
  • All students deserve equitable and adequate school facilities.  Districts and charter schools should collaborate to ensure facility arrangements do not disadvantage students in either sector
  • Online charter schools should be better regulated for quality, transparency and the protection of student data
  • Monitoring and oversight of charter schools are critical to protect the public interest; they should be strong and fully state funded

The adoption of the standards comes after MNEA and TREE advocated for them at a recent meeting, and the move was driven by Board member Amy Frogge.

Two recent reports indicate charter growth carries a significant cost to MNPS.

First, a report by MGT of America noted:

“… it is clear that charter schools impose a cost on MNPS – both directly and indirectly.  It is also clear … that the loss of operating funds caused by the transfer of revenue cannot likely be made up through a reduction in capital or facility costs.  Therefore, approving future charter schools does potentially meet the “bar” described in  Tennessee Code Annotated 49-13-108(b) which encourages local boards of education to consider fiscal impact in determining whether new charter schools may be “contrary to the best interest of the pupils, school district or community.”

More recently, the Operational and Performance Audit of MNPS found:

“The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

Because of these costs, it seems sensible for MNPS to put into place provisions designed to prevent fraud and promote transparency.

Leigh Dingerson of the Annenberg Institute, spoke at the Board meeting and noted in separate comments that a statewide adoption of the standards could protect taxpayers going forward. She said that while most charters operate with integrity, the standards can provide a means of catching bad actors before serious problems arise.

Here’s Dingerson in her remarks before the MNPS Board:

 

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

Is John Oliver Reading TN Ed Report?

John Oliver recently took on the issue of standardized testing and it sounds like he’s been reading Tennessee Education Report. In 18 brilliant minutes, he hits on a number of topics covered here time and again.

Oliver discussed teacher merit pay, the recruiting tactics of testing companies, value-added assessment, and testing transparency.

Back in 2013, Tennessee’s State Board of Education moved toward merit pay based on value-added data.

This year, while adding nearly $100 million to the pot for teacher compensation, Governor Haslam continued a push for merit pay.

While Oliver noted that Pearson recruits test scorers on Craigslist, Tennessee’s new testing vendor, Measurement, Inc. uses the same practice.

And of course, there’s the issue of value-added assessment — in Tennessee, called TVAAS. While it yields some interesting information, it’s not a reliable predictor of teacher performance and it’s going to be even more unreliable going forward, due to the shift from TCAP to TNReady. Here’s what we’ve learned from TVAAS in Tennessee:

In fact, this analysis demonstrates that the difference between a value-added identified “great” teacher and a value-added identified “average” teacher is about $300 in earnings per year per student.  So, not that much at all.  Statistically speaking, we’d call that insignificant.  That’s not to say that teachers don’t impact students.  It IS to say that TVAAS data tells us very little about HOW teachers impact students.

Surprisingly, Tennessee has spent roughly $326 million on TVAAS and attendant assessment over the past 20 years. That’s $16 million a year on a system that is not yielding much useful information.

And then there’s testing transparency. Oliver points out that it’s difficult if not impossible to get access to the actual test questions. In fact, Tennessee’s testing vendor, Measurement, Inc., has a contract with Utah’s testing vendor that involves a fine if test questions are revealed — $5000 per question:

The contract further notes that any release of the questions either by accident or as required by law, will result in a fee of $5000 per test item released. That means if Tennessee wants to release a bank of questions generated from the Utah test and used for Tennessee’s assessment, the state would pay $5000 per question.

Here’s the clip from John Oliver:

 

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

 

A 5% Raise?

That’s what teachers and other school employees in Williamson County are likely to see next year if Director of Schools Mike Looney has his way.

Despite some contention at last night’s County Commission meeting, it appears the school system will be able to proceed with the raises as planned because the proposed budget is balanced without asking for additional revenue from the County Commission.

At least one County Commissioner called for merit pay, but Looney said the issue is his district’s ability to recruit new teachers and employees. He cited specific challenges, as noted by Jessica Pace at FranklinHomePage.com:

Looney defended the school board’s proposal by citing the district’s struggle to recruit high school level and specialty teachers, school nurses and bus drivers due to lack of competitive pay.

Looney’s concerns echo the findings of a study by the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

It’s not just Williamson County that is having trouble recruiting new teachers, it’s a statewide problem. Williamson is addressing that challenge by using its portion of the $96 million in new state money for teacher compensation to provide a meaningful raise in pay for all teachers and system employees.

Will other systems follow suit and offer significant pay increases to their employees across the board, or will they follow Haslam’s advice and move toward merit pay schemes? It’s budget time and that question will be answered in system after system in the coming months.

More on teacher pay in Tennessee:

Why is TN Teacher Pay 40th?

From 40th to 1st?

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

The End of an Era

Over at Bluff City Ed, Jon Alfuth celebrates the end of the EOC testing era. Those tests will be replaced with TNReady next year.

Alfuth notes that there are many challenges with the current testing regime, including gaming the system and misalignment with current standards.

Here’s what he says he hopes the new tests provide:

First, I’d personally like to see aligned pre- and formative assessments to allow teachers to track tests throughout the year. These could be given to the districts and used to develop a benchmark for where students are starting and track their progress throughout the year. These should be designed by Measurement Inc. to ensure close alignment to the actual test.

Second, we need to see shorter tests. Asking students to sit for between 2 to 4 three hour assessments in a four day period is a lot, and it does stress kids out. I’d like to see the number of questions reduced on the new TNReady assessments to reflect this reality.

Third, we need better special education and special needs accommodations. I’m not a special education teacher myself, but from talking to some of my colleagues my understanding is that the accommodations for the EOC regime aren’t the greatest. Hopefully a technologically advanced test like TNReady (it can be given on paper or on a computer) could include better accommodations for kids with special needs. I also hope it makes automatic adjustments for students who, say, speak English as a second language.

Fourth, we need to see a substantial increase of resources aligned to the new assessments and SOON. Teachers need time to internalize the format at the types of questions that students will be asked to complete on the new assessments. That was one of the failings of PARCC and one reason I believe we no longer have it in Tennessee – teachers didn’t have enough supporting resources and backed off support for the assessment. Lets hope that TNReady doesn’t make the same mistake.

More on TNReady:

TNReady to Borrow Questions from Utah

Transition to TNReady Creates TVAAS Problems

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport