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

Charters: An Expensive Proposition

That’s the argument advanced by MNPS School Board member Will Pinkston in a recent column in the Tennessean.

Pinkston uses an array of figures to make his case. He essentially reiterates research that suggests that charters typically perform on par with public schools and then notes they carry significant costs to the district. So, he says, we can either have unabated charter growth OR well-funded district schools, not both. If we choose the path of charters, it will mean closing traditional public schools.

Here are some highlights:

The push to dismantle public education in Nashville is running amok. Consider that in 2010, the entire state of Tennessee had just 20 charter schools. Later this year, in Nashville alone, 27 charter schools will operate at an annual cost of $75 million.

Even if the Nashville School board approves no new charter applications, more than 5,000 additional charter seats — costing $45 million a year — will come into existence by fall 2019 under current agreements. Yet charter operators still are seeking to create another 13 schools that would drain another $75 million a year from the school system.

To put it in perspective: This spring, MNPS is proposing to grow its annual operating budget from $790 million to $813 million — a $23 million increase. Not coincidentally, the budget plan contemplates about $23 million in additional cash outlays for charter schools.

In other words: Every dime of new revenue growth is going to charters, leaving little or nothing for traditional schools. The math is dizzying and troubling.

Pinkston makes a powerful argument: Nashville has to make a choice. More charters eating the growth of the MNPS budget, or a recommitment to supporting and improving the traditional public schools.

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

Getting the facts straight on Individualized Education Accounts

This is a guest post by Jonathan Butcher, a Senior Fellow on Education Reform at the Beacon Center of Tennessee. He serves as the Education Director for the Goldwater Institute.

Tennessee lawmakers brought hope to thousands of children with special needs by passing SB27/HB138 and creating Individualized Education Accounts. With an account, the state deposits a child’s portion of the school funding formula into a private bank account that parents use to buy educational products and services for their child. These accounts are already available to students in Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi, and existing research demonstrates that participating families are highly satisfied with the new accounts and children have more access to flexible learning opportunities.

Here are the facts about Tennessee’s new options for children with autism, that may be deaf or blind, or who have other cognitive or physical needs:

1. Quality educational choices. Individualized Education Accounts provide students with special needs the chance to attend a school that specializes in helping children that struggle in a traditional classroom. It also allows their parents to find other services such as personal tutors or educational therapists. While some have labeled these accounts as vouchers, they are different in that they give families access to more educational opportunities than vouchers might.

2. Constitutional. In 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that an account system similar to Tennessee’s was constitutional. The court upheld an opinion from Arizona Appeals Court Judge Jon W. Thompson, in which he wrote, “The specified object of the [accounts] is the beneficiary families, not private or sectarian schools. Parents can use the funds deposited in the [account] to customize an education that meets their children’s unique educational needs.

3. Transparent. The accounts protect against financial fraud and require that parents measure student progress. When families receive an account for their student, the state deposits funds onto the debit card that accompanies the account on a quarterly basis. If the Tennessee Department of Education finds that a parent has intentionally or unintentionally misused the card, the department and state board of education must develop rules to resolve the discrepancy that may include withholding the next quarterly deposit, as is the current practice in Arizona. Parents must also keep receipts proving that their purchases are for qualifying services. Arizona and Florida have developed rules for the accounts in those states. The account handbook for Arizona is available here, and Florida’s handbook is here. In addition, students using an account in Tennessee must take a nationally norm referenced test annually. Parents will have ready access to information about how well their children are learning.

4. Cost savings. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Tennessee taxpayers spend approximately $9,000 per student in traditional schools. However, students using an Individualized Education Account will be funded at $6,500. Beacon Center research finds that each account could save local school districts an average $1,000, even after fixed costs are considered.

Individualized Education Accounts hold tremendous promise for children across Tennessee. Research from Arizona and Florida provides evidence that families take advantage of the option to customize their child’s education and that families are highly satisfied with their accounts. Tennessee families can look forward to the same success for their children.

What Did They Just Do?

The Tennessee General Assembly today passed a bill to create a voucher system for students with IEPs. The plan was limited from its original scope to only apply to the most severe cases.

The vote in the House was particularly close, with 52 representatives voting in favor — 50 are required for passage.

What does the bill do?

If you ask the sponsors (and a number of members did), they really don’t know. Essentially, the legislation (HB138) creates individual education accounts of around $6600 to be provided to the parents or guardians who meet the qualifications in the amendment. They must have an IEP. Around 18,000 students (those with autism, blind or deaf, mental disabilities, and orthopedic disabilities) qualify.

A similar program in Florida, started in 1999, has been expanding rapidly. And, it’s been subject to fraud. When asked about what safeguards Tennessee’s plan will have, the sponsors said that the bill calls on the departments of education and health to qualify vendors. When asked what standards may be used to qualify vendors, the sponsors said they didn’t know.

When asked if the money will be distributed as a debit card or a bank account or a voucher, the sponsors didn’t know.

An important element of the bill is that any parent/guardian who accepts the voucher MUST forfeit their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. That’s a pretty big deal. When asked what rights, exactly, parents would be forfeiting, Rep. Roger Kane, a co-sponsor, said, “They are all listed in the IDEA.”

Indeed they are. And it’s pretty important. The rights include:

The right of parents to receive a complete explanation of all the procedural safeguards available under IDEA and the procedures in the state for presenting complaints

Confidentiality and the right of parents to inspect and review the educational records of their child

The right of parents to participate in meetings related to the identification, evaluation, and placement of their child, and the provision of FAPE (a free appropriate public education) to their child

The right of parents to obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE) of their child

The right of parents to receive “prior written notice” on matters relating to the identification, evaluation, or placement of their child, and the provision of FAPE to their child

The right of parents to give or deny their consent before the school may take certain action with respect to their child

The right of parents to disagree with decisions made by the school system on those issues

The right of parents and schools to use IDEA’s mechanisms for resolving disputes, including the right to appeal determinations

Depending on the child’s disability and a school system’s ability, the parents may be entitled to provision of services by private providers at school system expense. The advantage being that there is accountability to the LEA for providers offering the services.

So, forfeiting one’s IDEA rights is a big deal. And it could mean kids are not well-served by private providers.

An analysis of similar programs across the country found that none of them were subject to state testing to determine student outcomes and that accountability provisions were weak or non-existent. This analysis also noted that as early as 2003, Florida realized its 4-year-old program was subject to fraud. But this 2011 report highlights significant fraud ongoing in the expanding Florida program.

Just a four years ago, Tennessee authorized the creation of the Tennessee Virtual Academy operated by for-profit provider K-12, Inc. At the time, Senator Andy Berke warned of K-12, Inc.’s problems in operating virtual schools in Arizona. He asked how we could be sure there wouldn’t be fraud in Tennessee’s virtual school operated by K-12. The sponsor, Senator Dolores Gresham, said that the accountability would be built-in by the rules.

Yesterday, after $43 million spent on K-12, Inc. in Tennessee, Senator Gresham led the opposition to a last-ditch effort to keep K-12, Inc. open. To her credit, this was an admission that the experiment she had championed had failed. Gresham correctly noted that the Tennessee Virtual Academy was the worst performing school out of 1700 Tennessee schools.

Here’s the problem: Tennessee taxpayers won’t get their $43 million back. More importantly, the children who were poorly-served by TNVA can’t get their time back. They will return to other education environments behind their peers and possibly unable to complete school.

If the IEP voucher program fails, what will happen in two or three or four years to the children who were in the program? How will we ensure the accountability measures work for this program when they failed miserably for TNVA? And if the argument is that they worked for TNVA because the school is closing now, what happens to those kids who might lose years of their lives to a failed experiment?

What did the Tennessee General Assembly just do?

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

Not Dead Yet

Vouchers are still alive in the Tennessee General Assembly and Anne-Marie Farmer of the League of Women Voters explains why they should die — possibly as early as this morning’s meeting of the House Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee.

Farmer writes:

Make no mistake, these visions—over a hundred thousand available vouchers with no meaningful standards or oversight, or vouchers available statewide to any and every child—are not outliers. Pervasive availability is the ultimate goal of voucher advocates, and it’s where they hope any voucher law will ultimately take Tennessee, regardless of how limited its scope as currently presented. Voucher proponents will be back again and again to expand any voucher law that passes. This despite the use of private school vouchers for years in other states without any kind of track record of improved educational outcomes. Vouchers will accomplish something—they will provide tax money support to struggling private schools, which will then be free to use public dollars to teach a wide array of political and religious doctrines, and will not have to adhere to the same academic standards that are expected in public schools.

She’s talking about the combination of so-called IEP Vouchers (HB138) and the more traditional and limited voucher proposal (HB1049). Both are set to be considered in committee today.

Farmer lays out a compelling case against adoption of either plan.

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

 

Trust Us and Stop Complaining

That seems to be the over-arching message from the Tennessee General Assembly as they continue to advance legislation designed to prevent those who disagree with the current “ed reform” agenda from having a strong voice.

The latest example is the so-called Educator Protection Act (HB645/SB604) designed to offer liability insurance to teachers at state expense. But, as Jon Alfuth notes over at Bluff City Ed, it seems the legislation has other implications:

 I can only speculate, but this looks like a quiet effort to continue the drive towards making the TEA irrelevant in the state. Pass this and one of the big draws of union membership, legal protection in the case of a law suit, suddenly becomes less important. The TEA does contend that teachers would still have to rely on them for legal fees according to the link cited above, but teachers wouldn’t need the liability coverage under the TEA any more as the state would provide it. It just removes one additional reason for teachers to join the union.

Weakening TEA and also Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) weakens the organized opposition to much of what passes as education reform – evaluations based on suspect statistical methods and vouchers, as just two examples.

This effort comes after just last week, an amendment was added to the state budget that was designed to limit local school boards in their efforts to seek more funding from the state.

The General Assembly seems to be sending a clear message to those who disagree with prevailing education policy: Trust us, and stop complaining.

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

 

Why is he so angry?

Gerald McCormick is pissed.

The House Majority Leader apparently doesn’t like it very much when the school system in the county he represents sues the state alleging inadequate school funding.

So, now he’s going to teach them a lesson. He’s supporting a measure that is nothing more than a blatant attempt to keep school boards from asking for the adequate school funding they need.

Andrea Zelinski has the story:

Legislators are baking into one of several budget bills a ban on local school districts using state money for attorney’s fees, court costs or other expenses to sue the state, state agency or state official.

“I know you don’t want your own dog to bite you, I understand that part of it. But still, it seems a little unfair if you have a just cause against the state and you can’t have the ability to sue them,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, in a Finance Committee meeting Wednesday night before lawmakers approved the change on a voice vote.

If the state were to prevail in a legal challenge, the legislation would give the state power to recoup its own legal costs by pulling money out the school district’s education funding, also known as the Basic Education Program, BEP, funding formula. The language would also apply to county and municipal governing bodies suing the state, and would pull from its state-shared taxes if the local government lost.

McCormick is on record this legislative session as saying Tennessee’s public schools have adequate funding. And he’s clearly not happy with his home county suing and asking him to work a little harder at his job.

Note that I bolded that words: If the state were to prevail in a legal challenge.

That’s because every time the State of Tennessee has been sued over school funding, the state has lost. So, local boards probably have nothing to worry about.

In fact, funding now is nearing the levels deemed constitutionally inequitable in the Small Schools III lawsuit.

Of course, the current lawsuit by Hamilton County and six other districts is actually claiming funding is inadequate. That’s a fair claim, at least if you read the reports from the state’s own BEP Review Committee.

And, despite McCormick’s claims to the contrary, the state isn’t even funding its mandates. For example, the Response to Intervention and Instruction (RTI2) program is mandated, but there are no state funds to support it.

Here’s why that’s especially troubling:

…those districts with higher concentrations of poverty (and likely to have higher numbers of students needing intervention) also have the least resources available to assist students.  The poorest districts, then, are left further behind as a result of a well-intentioned unfunded state mandate.

The unfunded RTI mandate is clear evidence of inadequacy and also sets the stage for further inequity in Tennessee schools.

Rather than dig deep and find some solutions, Gerald McCormick and his legislative buddies appear willing to attempt to punish school boards. Here’s some advice: If you don’t want to be sued for inadequately and inequitably funding Tennessee schools, get to work finding the resources to support them and a funding formula that distributes those resources fairly.

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