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

 

Is the ASD Working?

That’s the question at the heart of this analysis by Ezra Howard over at Bluff City Ed.

Howard performs a longitudinal analysis of the performance of schools in the Achievement School District both before and after they were in the ASD to determine growth patterns.

Turns out, ASD is not doing so well at improving growth (the stated goal of ASD).

Howard does a great job of explaining his methods and outlining the case that “it’s fair to say that the Achievement School District has been a disappointment in the last two years. In terms of achievement, the results have been moderate at best (Math) and regressive at worst (ELA).”

The entire piece is worth a read, but I’m going to hit some highlights here.

Math

When comparing two years of growth under each district, the gains made by the LEA are actually greater than the ASD by almost 2%, 7.75% compared to 5.84%. Chart 2 illustrates the rate of growth for these schools since 2010. In summary, achievement gains have not hastened under the ASD; indeed, they continue to follow a trend that was already established in the two years before the ASD took over.

ELA

Once again, the LEA exceeded the ASD. Much discussion has been given to the regression of ELA scores in the first year of the ASD. But in examining the total growth of the same schools under the two different districts, it’s readily apparent that the LEA outperformed the ASD by over 4%, 4.64% total gains in P/A compared to 1.44%. Even the level of growth in the last year under the ASD, 3.40% in 2014, is less than that with the last year of the LEA before ASD takeover, 3.71% in 2012. Chart 2 exhibits the trend of growth for ELA, illustrating that the ASD failed to capitalize on the LEA’s momentum of increasing P/A rates in the same way that they were able to with math scores.

Policy Implications

Howard raises some important questions and addresses the policy implications of this analysis. First among them being can the ASD reach its stated goal? Howard writes:

 First, can the ASD reach 55% P/A in order to be in the top quartile? Maybe. In order to reach that magic number of 55% P/A in all three of these subjects, the ASD would have to average 11.07% gains in Math and 12.67% gains in ELA over a 5 year period. However, in the last two years, the ASD has averaged 2.92% gains in Math and 0.72% gains in ELA.

Second, is the money being spent on ASD a worthwhile investment. Howard notes:

an exorbitant amount is spent on results that are, at best, no different than what the data suggests we could have expected had these schools not been taken over by the ASD.

The ASD has already spent $18 million in Race to the Top funds in addition to other resources from the district and outside sources. But, according to Howard’s analysis, the gains are minimal at best and appear to be no better than what would have happened had the schools been left in the care of their district.

Howard then raises the question of whether or not the ASD will end up being a long-term approach to school turnarounds based on its results.

Again, all of what Howard writes is insightful and his approach to the data is solid. It is well worth a close read.

To read more from Ezra Howard or learn more about education policy and its impact on Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

Cheatham County Charter School Denied Again

A proposed charter school in Cheatham County was turned down by the School Board for the second time last night.

The application had previously been rejected, but the organizers revised their application and appealed.

25th District State Senate candidate Tony Gross helped organize opposition to the charter application and this morning sent out an email thanking those who came out to speak in opposition.

Here’s what he had to say:

Twice, outside groups have attempted to push a costly charter school into Cheatham County. And twice, we have defeated it.
 
I am so proud of what we accomplished last night. For everyone of you who supported this cause, thank you so much. 
A special thanks to all of those who came out to the meeting last night – people like Kingston Springs mother Rachel Harwood, who stood up to speak about the programs that are already being neglected in our schools due to budget constraints.
 
I think my wife Joy put it nicely: “When money is taken away from our struggling education system, ALL of our schools suffer.” 
 
Our public schools are vital parts of our communities in the 25th district, and you all stood up for them last night. But you also did more than that. You showed our teachers, who put their sweat and tears into teaching our children, that you appreciate the job that they do.
I’m sure that message is not lost on them tonight.
 
This was a win for all of Cheatham County. Our public schools are not just where our kids go to learn, they are where we gather on Friday nights for football games, they are where we have our bake sales and car washes, and they are even the homes of important local meetings like this one. 
 
They are so integral to keeping our community together, and thanks to you all, they will continue to grow and thrive.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Cheatham Charter Fight Continues

The original application for a charter school in Cheatham County was denied.

Now, the group is back at a special meeting to appeal that decision.

State Senate candidate Tony Gross is encouraging opponents to attend.

Here’s his email:

Cheatham Co To Decide on Charter Schools

We must fight back.

Friends, I need your help.

In June, we defeated a measure that would bring a controversial charter school to Cheatham County – a charter school that would draw important funds and attention away from our public schools.
Tomorrow night, the Cheatham County school board will have a special meeting to discuss the appeal of that decision. All we’ve fought for could come undone if we do not throw our full support behind our public schools tomorrow evening.
If you are able, I strongly encourage you to attend the meeting, which will be at the Ashland City Elementary School cafeteria at 6 pm. To show the strength in our numbers, we will be wearing white in support of our schools.
Public schools are the foundation of our communities, and the teachers and faculty that work there are so important in our children’s lives.
Let’s not let them down.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport