Report: Charter Schools an Expensive Proposition for MNPS

A report by a third-party group commissioned by the MNPS School Board finds that the rapid growth of charter schools in Nashville is having a negative financial impact on the district.

The report, prepared by MGT of America, notes:

“… 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.”  From this analysis, new charter schools will, with nearly 100 percent certainty, have a negative fiscal impact on MNPS:    

They will continue to cause the transfer of state and local per student funds without reducing operational costs. 

They will continue to increase direct and indirect costs. 

They will continue to negatively impact deferred maintenance at leased buildings. 

They may have an offsetting impact on capital costs, if they open in areas of need for increased capacity.

The report confirms what some have suspected: Continued growth of charter schools presents higher costs to the district than operating without such growth.”

That’s not to say that the report suggest MNPS should not approve future charter schools. The report makes recommendations for handling future growth of charter schools, including encouraging such growth in areas of the school system experiencing rapid student growth. The Board adopted just such a proposal earlier this year.

The recommendations for managing future growth include: Developing a process to identify and quantify indirect costs to MNPS, such as support services; establishing a separate fund to better account for direct and indirect costs; levying depreciation charges to charter operators leasing MNPS facilities; and identifying areas of the school district where charter school growth would help offset the need for MNPS capital growth and expenditures.

The study is likely to shape future discussions at the Board level about what direction future charter growth will take.

For more on education policy and politics 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

 

“Tennessee Solution” a Viable Option?

Back in April, when Governor Haslam betrayed teachers and state employees and took their proposed pay increase out of his budget, a bipartisan group of legislators proposed what they then called the Tennessee Solution.

The plan had a price tag of $90 million and used reserve funds to pay out a one time bonus to teachers and state employees. The plan also called for a 1% raise to be provided only if state revenues exceeded budgeted targets.

By doing so, the plan put money in the pockets of teachers (essentially delivering a portion of Haslam’s promise) and also offered hope of more funds should the state find the money. Essentially, it said that if there is extra money, the first priority for those funds should be our teachers.

Ultimately, Haslam’s forces prevailed and that idea was rejected.

Now, there’s news that August revenues were far above projections. More than $30 million ahead, to be specific. The increase is due to the highest sales tax collections in more than two years. And, despite a negative growth number for non-corporate taxes, collections there were $6.1 million over budget.

If this type of revenue growth continues, delivering on the Tennessee Solution would be very doable. Except that the legislature decided against it at Haslam’s urging.

Yes, it’s still early in the revenue cycle, but making education a priority was the right thing to do in April and early revenue numbers show it fiscally feasible as well.

Next up, tomorrow’s Education Summit in Nashville. Where Haslam and friends should be talking about how best to use any unexpected revenue growth to invest in Tennessee’s public schools.

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

Haslam: Pre-K MAY Be Ok

Tennessee took the first step toward applying for federal dollars to expand its voluntary Pre-K program yesterday, notifying the federal government of its intent to apply for funds.

Haslam’s office was careful to caution that this does not mean Tennessee will definitely apply for federal Pre-K dollars. Instead, as he has said before, Haslam wants to wait until further information on the program’s effectiveness is available. Namely, a study underway at Vanderbilt.

Exanding access to quality early education is a key element of an alternative education agenda proposed in 2013.

Under the parameters of the program, Tennessee could receive up to $17.5 million a year for the next four years to expand access to Pre-K. That could mean as many as 3000 additional students accessing the state’s Pre-K program each year.

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

Fitzhugh, Frogge Take on Tennessee Ed Reform

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh and Nashville School Board member Amy Frogge both had Tennessean op-eds this weekend that challenged the state’s education establishment to start listening to teachers when it comes to deciding what schools and students need.

Fitzhugh referenced a recent letter to teachers from Governor Bill Haslam and noted its very tone was insulting. Teachers have also responded to Haslam.

From Fitzhugh’s op-ed:

Tennessee teachers don’t need the governor to explain to them that too many students are unprepared for a postsecondary education — they see it firsthand every morning. Instead of lecturing on the issue, the governor should give our teachers the tools they need to succeed, starting with the raise they were promised in 2014 and working to increase per pupil spending beyond our woeful $8,600 a child.

Instead of talking down to our teachers, instead of blaming them for the state of our workforce, we need a new conversation.

We need to talk about a new evaluation system that grades teachers on students they actually teach and rates their performance in a fair, objective manner. We need to talk about per-pupil spending, teacher salaries and where our priorities are as a state. We need to talk about prekindergarten and the real effects of early learning.

In her article, Amy Frogge also pushes for more respect for teachers and argues that evidence-based practices chosen by teachers should be driving education policy:

As a community, we must ensure that every child comes to school ready to learn. Research confirms that poverty, not poor teachers, is at the root of sagging school performance. Indeed, the single biggest factor impacting school performance is the socioeconomic status of the student’s family. Nashville has seen a 42 percent increase in poverty in the past 10 years, and our child poverty and hunger rates remain alarmingly high throughout the U.S. Too many of our students lack basic necessities, and many suffer what experts have termed “toxic stress” caused by chronic poverty. Our efforts to address this problem must extend outside of school walls to provide “wrap-around services” that address social, emotional and physical needs of children through community partnerships and volunteers.

Other evidence-based, scalable school reforms include:

• excellent teacher recruitment, development, retention, and pay;

• socioeconomic diversity in schools;

• increased parental engagement;

• early intervention programs such as high quality pre-K, particularly for low-income children; and

• increased school funding. Let’s focus on these reforms, maintain local control of schools, and allow educators — not hedge funders — to have a voice in the direction of education policy.

 

Fitzhugh and Frogge offer an alternative vision from that dominating Tennessee’s education policy landscape. It is a vision of trusting teachers, investing in schools, and putting students first.

 

 

 

 

East Nashville Parents Call on Register to “Start Over”

In response to an announcement by Dr. Jesse Register that plans are in the works to shakeup schools in East Nashville, including closing some schools, handing some over to charter operators, and allowing the state’s Achievement School District to takeover others, a group of East Nashville parents held a meeting on Saturday to launch a formal response.

The group, calling itself East Nashville United, is forming a Political Action Committee (PAC) and is calling on Register to start over on any plans to change the way schools work in East Nashville.

Matt Pulle, who hosted Saturday’s meeting, said, “We’d like Dr. Register to tear up his plan for East Nashville and start again, this time by listening to us all.”

In response to Register’s planned community meetings in East Nashville, Pulle said, “We don’t see the purpose of these community meetings if he already knows what he wants to do. So, start over. No plan, no preconceptions and hear what local parents and teachers want and need. And go to all our neighborhoods.”

At least one mayoral candidate, Jeremy Kane, attended Saturday’s meeting.

The possibility that Inglewood Elementary School may become a part of the Achievement School District caused parents there to send a letter supporting the school’s principal and expressing concern about being included in the ASD.

Turning schools over to the ASD is becoming more controversial in light of data analysis that indicates the ASD is not doing better (and in some cases, is performing worse) than the schools were performing before ASD takeover.

For more on the East Nashville United group, follow @EastNashUnited

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

Arne Duncan Visits Tennessee

This is one teacher’s account of Arne Duncan’s visit to Memphis this past week. I’ve edited to include the key highlights of Duncan’s visit.

When asked about large Kindergarten classes and how to handle the added stress, Duncan reportedly told the audience that the answer was to work with faith-based organizations to find tutoring and support for the students.

Chris Barbic, Superintendent of the Achievement School District (ASD), which has come under fire recently for low performance, was asked about taking over the bottom 5% of schools. According to this report, he claimed there will not always be a takeover of the bottom 5% of schools (a group which changes year to year).

Barbic was then asked about the low performance of the ASD. His response was that the low performance could be attributed to the quality of teachers and that more needed to be done to improve teacher quality in the ASD. Apparently, offering free drinks isn’t working.

That was Memphis.

And in Chattanooga, columnist David Cook had a few words for Duncan as well.

Cook’s chief complaint? That Duncan didn’t visit a Hamilton County public school while he was in town. Here’s what Cook had to say:

Was there no public school you’d want to see? No Hamilton County classroom to tell the rest of America about?

Let me tell you what you’re missing.

“Lots of discontent. Resignation. Depression. Many teachers will leave this year, including me,” one teacher recently told me.

Mr. Secretary, our public schools are on the verge of something quite awful, a ground zero of this perfect storm — sorry funding, broken-hearted employees and warped policy — that’s just about to make landfall.

So, while Duncan’s visit to Tennessee created plenty of nice photo ops, it also was a chance for some to show discontent. In both Memphis and Chattanooga, there were voices expressing displeasure at the policies put forth by Duncan. Policies like support for school takeovers by the Achievement School District. And David Cook raises a fair point: If the education secretary comes to town, shouldn’t he visit a local public school and see first hand what’s working (and what’s not)?

Maybe next time.

 

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

Is the Achievement School District the Right Solution?

In a week that saw a group of Nashville parents actively resist state takeover of their school by the Achievement School District (ASD), MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register suggested turning more Nashville schools over to the ASD.

MNPS responded to questions about this on social media by saying that MNPS schools were likely to be taken over anyway, so they might as well work with the state on the ASD takeover.

Interestingly, Ezra Howard has an analysis of ASD schools compared to Memphis iZone schools over at Bluff City Ed.

Howard has written about the ASD before, noting that when compared to the trajectory district schools were on before ASD takeover, the ASD schools are actually doing worse now.

The most recent analysis by Howard shows that by and large, district-led school turnarounds get better results than ASD efforts.

This may because district-led efforts are less disruptive — Howard has also written about education reform buzzword “disruption” and its disastrous effects on students.

In light of more and more data suggesting ASD efforts aren’t living up to their early hype (ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic once suggested that ASD schools need to make 8-10 point gains each year), it will be interesting to see if more parent resistance to ASD school takeovers emerges.

In the meantime, take a look at Howard’s work on ASD results.

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

Resisting the ASD

After learning that their school has been placed on the “Priority” list as a result of its TCAP scores, some parents at Inglewood Elementary School in Nashville are pushing to prevent the school from being handed over to the Achievement School District (ASD). The PTO has posted a letter from a parent pointing out the positive changes made at the school over the past three years. The parent suggests that with more time, Inglewood will show steady improvement.

A recent analysis of ASD results indicates parents are right to be skeptical. The analysis, published in full over at Bluff City Ed, indicates that the ASD did not no better than district schools in English/Language Arts (ELA) and actually performed worse in Math. So, if Inglewood becomes a part of the ASD, parents might expect the same results — that is, no real improvement from where they are now or, worse, a falling behind.  That’s a difficult pill to swallow for parents who have seen evidence that their school is turning around.

Here’s the Inglewood letter:

 

Inglewood Parent Letter -- ASD

 

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

 

 

 

No thank you, Mr. Haslam

On August 14th, Governor Bill Haslam sent a “Welcome Back” letter to teachers across the state. In the letter, he thanked teachers for their hard work in helping Tennessee improve its student achievement scores. He said he appreciated what they did for Tennessee students every day.

Apparently, some teachers haven’t forgotten that this is the same Bill Haslam who promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay in October of 2013 and included a teacher pay raise in his 2014 budget address … only to break that promise in April.

Some teachers sent responses directly back to Haslam. And some of those same teachers sent their responses to TN Ed Report under the condition we keep their names anonymous.  Here are some of the responses we received:

Teacher Response #1:

I appreciate your attempt to understand the inner workings of a classroom and appreciate your words of appreciation for those of us who chose to serve others through teaching. However, I am highly disappointed at the turn of events in which you announced that teachers would not receive pay raises. We already make much less than other TN State employees and much less than teachers of other states.

It is easy to make promises and to break them:
http://tnreport.com/2013/10/04/raising-teacher-pay-a-top-budget-concern-for-haslam-administration/   

I am personally insulted in your lack of support for the teaching profession. My colleagues and I work hard for the families we serve. A normal day for most of us is  7:45 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Though we are only paid to work 8:00 until 3:15, our jobs cannot be completed in those hours. Many times we take student work home with us and are constantly looking for ways to improve our teaching on our own time.

Teachers are generally told “no one teaches for the money”. TRUE, but teachers never expected to be put on the “budget cutting” chopping block each time raises are considered. We feel betrayed with popular campaign promises and rhetoric.

In closing, make no mistake that our hard work is not completed for you or any elected official. Our hard work is for the children we PROMISED to educate when we accepted our jobs. Your letter of appreciation proves that WE have not failed those who have put their trust
in us, including you.

Teacher Response #2

Please tell the PR firm that suggested you send these letters that we teachers are
well educated and therefore insulted that they would believe a letter full of
empty words could ever make up for what you and your administration have done
and are doing to ensure the destruction of public education in Tennessee.

Teaching is more than a job to me. Teaching is my calling. I sincerely love all of my
students and work tirelessly for them. I most often work six full days a week
to ensure that they have exactly what they need to succeed. I spend hundreds
sometimes more than a thousand dollars of my own limited income every year to
make sure that their needs are met. I was always proud to be a teacher but, not
so much these days. Mostly these days my heart aches for my children. I spend many
hours crying for them. Your administration has stripped our classrooms of all
joy. Teacher morale is low because we are working in hostile conditions.

Finally, please keep your empty words. This letter is too little, too late.

Teacher Response #3

I am in receipt of your letter of August 14, 2014.
 
I appreciate the welcome back to school. And it is nice to hear the words “thank you.”
 
In your letter, you note that Tennessee is the fastest improving state in the nation in terms of student achievement. You attribute this success directly to teachers.
 
I seem to remember that in October of 2013, you also promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in teacher pay — an acknowledgement of the hard work so many Tennessee teachers are doing every single day.
 
Your budget, proposed in early 2014, also indicated at least a nominal raise for teachers was forthcoming.
 
Then, in April, you abandoned that promise.  When the state revenue picture changed, the budget was balanced on the backs of teachers. Not only did your new budget take away promised raises for teachers, but it also reduced BEP funding coming to school districts. Now, teachers are being asked to do more with less.  And students suffer.
 
Your words ring hollow when your actions make it clear that teachers don’t matter. That our schools can wait just one more year for the resources students need to succeed.
 
As for your “thank you” for the work I do, I’d note that I can’t send it to the bank to pay my mortgage. A thank you isn’t going to fix my car when it needs repair. When the price of groceries goes up, I can’t simply use your thank you letter to cover the increase. And when my health insurance premium inevitably rises in January, your letter won’t put money back in my paycheck to cover the cost.
 
The raise you promised but failed to deliver would have helped with all of these things. But your letter does nothing but remind me that you say nice words and shortchange our schools.
 
In my classroom, I place a high value on integrity. That means doing what you say you’re going to do. On that scale, sir, you rate an F.
We received copies of other responses that mentioned the poor communication style of Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman and the loss of collective bargaining rights. While teachers may not have a viable alternative to Haslam on the ballot in November, those sending us copies of their responses made it clear they won’t be supporting Haslam.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport