Dunn Done? Done!

It seems the formal announcement of a challenger was all it took to make Rep. Bill Dunn, the prime sponsor of controversial voucher legislation, decide to retire.

The Tennessee Journal reports:

Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, the longest-serving Republican in the state House, says he won’t run for re-election next year. Dunn was the lead House sponsor of this year’s controversial school voucher legislation. He had already drawn a primary opponent.

“After the 2019 session was over, and we had passed Educational Savings Accounts legislation, as well as one of the most pro-life measures in the country, House Bill 1029, I decided it was the right time to conclude my public service on a high note,” Dunn said in a statement.

Knox County School Board member Patti Bounds is the only announced Republican running for the seat Dunn currently holds.

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Wrong Direction

Even as neighboring districts like Sumner County move to significantly increase teacher pay, teachers in Metro Nashville find their salaries stagnating.

Ben Hall of NewsChannel5 reports that a teacher in Metro with 15 years of experience actually earns LESS money today than a teacher with 15 years of experience earned back in 2012:

It’s hard to believe, but a Metro teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree and 15 years experience is paid less today than a teacher in that same position back in 2012. As you can see in the chart above, in 2012-2013 teachers on Step 15 made just over $52,089. Today, seven years later, Step 15 is valued at $51,772.

This chart shows the stagnation of teacher pay in MNPS

The problem of low teacher pay in Nashville is not new. In fact, in 2015, I reported on teacher pay in Nashville relative to peer districts and noted that at that time, starting pay was reasonably competitive, but pay for experienced teachers lagged behind:

Just three hours north of Nashville in a city with similar demographics and cost of living, a teacher can earn significantly better pay over a career. While a teacher in Louisville starts out making slightly less than a new Nashville teacher, by year 10, the Louisville teacher makes $9,000 more than her Nashville counterpart and by year 20, that difference stretches to $15,000. The lifetime earnings of a teacher in Louisville significantly outpace those of a teacher in Nashville.

In 2017, I updated this analysis with a comparison to Louisville:

A Nashville teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 20 years experience makes $56,000. In Louisville, that teacher makes $71,000. A teacher working in Louisville with 20 years experience earns $22,000 more a year than that city’s “comfortable living” salary. In fact, they earn more than Nashville’s “comfortable” salary.

How about the top of the pay scale? At year 25, a Nashville teacher earns $57,000. In Louisville, it’s just over $72,000.

Some may note that teachers often earn advance degrees over the course of their career and that boosts pay. That’s true. So, a teacher with a master’s degree working in Nashville earns $62,600 at the top of the scale. In Louisville, it’s $78,000.

Imagine working for 25 years in the same profession, earning an advanced degree in your field, and making $7000 less than the “comfortable living” salary for your city? That’s what’s happening in MNPS.

In short, teacher pay in Nashville has been an “area of concern” for years now. So far, little has been done to address it. Yes, the state should absolutely put forward its fair share — though Bill Lee wants that money spent on vouchers. But, Nashville has the resources to significantly boost teacher pay. That the city has chosen not to should tell you all you need to know about the priorities of those in power.

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Dunn Done?

Knox County School Board member Patti Bounds is officially in the race to take on Rep. Bill Dunn, reports KnoxTNToday:

Bounds has been contemplating a race for state representative for some time. The former elementary school teacher has served on the school board for five years, while incumbent Bill Dunn has served in the legislature since 1994. The two Republicans share similar views except on one fundamental issue: school vouchers. Dunn was the prime sponsor of Gov. Bill Lee’s bill for vouchers that passed by one vote after several deals were cut and most counties eliminated. Bounds supports public education and will resist efforts to divert state revenue toward private or church schools through vouchers.

The voucher legislation sponsored by Dunn passed the House by a single vote. That vote is now under investigation by the FBI. The Senate sponsor of the voucher legislation is also facing an FBI investigation.

In fact, while Bounds has experience as an educator and tireless advocate for public school students and teachers, Dunn has been at the forefront of the effort to privatize Tennessee’s public schools for years. That fight highlights the influence of big money from outside special interests:

The answer is shockingly simple and unsurprising: money. The details, though, reveal an unrelenting push to dismantle America’s public schools. Yes, this story includes familiar characters like Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers joining forces with a Tennessee cast to advance their vision for our nation’s schools. That vision: Public money flowing to private schools with little regard for the impact on students. In fact, the evidence is pretty clear—vouchers simply don’t achieve their stated goal of helping kids improve academic outcomes. Tennessee’s plan could result in taking more than $300 million away from local school districts to support private entities.

Will Republican voters stick with Dunn, who led the effort to use public money for private schools, or will they choose an educator and public school advocate?

Patti Bounds

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Senator Roberts Calls for End of Higher Education

Tennessee State Senator Kerry Roberts recently called for the elimination of higher education on his radio show. The AP reports the remarks come in response to a recent legislative hearing on reproductive rights:

A Republican Tennessee lawmaker says he supports getting rid of higher education because he argues it would cut off the “liberal breeding ground.”

Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield called for eliminating higher education while speaking about attending a recent abortion legislative hearing on his conservative radio talk show on Sept. 2.

Here’s the video of the remarks courtesy of TN HOLLER:

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About that Letter

State Representative Gloria Johnson of Knoxville released a statement today about a controversial letter sent to parents around in several districts around the state. The letter was sent based on Tennessee Department of Education guidance regarding compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

“Singling out a population of students in a letter like this harmful.
It sends an awful message to students who may question their self worth. And it implies those children are somehow hurting the school.
Here’s the reality: These students are not underperforming; these students are underserved.
Gov. Bill Lee’s department of education should stop pointing fingers and start providing the resources schools needs to make these students successful.”

Johnson went on to note her action on the issue:

I spoke to the Asst. Commissioner of Policy and Legislative Affairs yesterday and she said that question was a mistake. (I agreed;-) she told me it would be removed from the template. I asked that it be removed immediately and any schools who had not sent the letter yet be notified of the change.

I also asked that a public discussion take place with the communities that received the letter in an attempt to heal those communities and I asked they work with the systems who mailed that letter to address it with their school communities.

I hope that in the future our school admins ask questions when they feel something that comes from the state doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. Sadly, all at our state DOE do not share our love and concern for public schools and we need to review and question their directives when they go against what is good for our kids and families.

I continue to be frustrated that the folks at the TN DOE seem to suffer no consequences for the many mistakes they make, while our students, teachers, principals, and schools are given a score that allows for no mistakes. I intend to keep working on this as well.

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Not Good Execution

Chalkbeat has the story of a letter sent to parents around the state based on guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education:

The letters inform parents that, based on state systems for rating school performance, their school has been targeted to receive additional federal resources and support because a historically underserved group of students within the school is in the state’s bottom 5% for that group. And based on guidance provided to districts by the state Education Department, most districts are telling parents which student group or groups are struggling.

“Specifically, Cedar Bluff is a Targeted Support and Improvement school based on the following student groups: Black student ethnic/racial group,” says one letter sent to parents of students at Cedar Bluff Middle School, a Knoxville school that is mostly white.

Other letters have identified Hispanic students as the source of the designation, as well as students who have disabilities, are economically disadvantaged, or are English language learners.

While lawmakers and advocacy groups have criticized the move, the Tennessee Department of Education’s Director of Communications, Jennifer Johnson, had this to say:

“This was not good execution of a template letter and goes beyond the scope of what the federal law requires,” acknowledged Jennifer Johnson, a state spokeswoman. She added that the matter will be reviewed by the Education Department.

So, Jennifer Johnson, who is in charge of communication for the state department of education is indicating that information was not communicated well by the state.

No matter what the review finds, the damage is already done. Seems like someone tasked with overseeing communication at the state level would be tuned-in to how a message might sound.

Not good execution could, in fact, describe pretty much all of Governor Bill Lee’s term so far — from an FBI probe into the vote on his voucher bill to shafting teachers while boosting charter schools.

Will the man who inherited a successful HVAC company ever learn to actually be Governor? It’s not looking good.

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This is a Joke, Right?

The Tennessee Department of Education continues to demonstrate they don’t give a damn about teachers (or their students) as evidenced by the handling of the Pre-K/Kindergarten portfolio fiasco.

Here’s the latest email from the TNDOE on the portfolio situation and the very, very slow process of developing an alternative:

In August, the department submitted the pre-K and kindergarten (pre-K/K) portfolio review committee report to the House and Senate education committees. One of the recommendations included developing a path forward to support districts in pursuing alternative growth options in lieu of portfolio. The department is working closely with the State Board of Education on potential alternatives with the below timeline:

In November 2019, the department submits proposed alternatives to pre-K/K portfolios on first reading.

In February 2020, proposed alternatives submitted to the board for final reading.

By March 1, the department will communicate to districts a list of alternatives approved by State Board.

Districts will indicate in the annual evaluation flexibility survey any approved alternatives for pre-K/K they opt into for the 2020-21 school year or if they will continue with the current pre-K/K portfolio models.

To recommend an alternative growth option for consideration, directors of schools should submit any proposed pre-K/K alternatives to David Donaldson. All proposed alternatives will be reviewed to determine if they are nationally normed and are valid measures of student growth. We will be accepting proposed alternatives through Nov. 1, 2019. 

Here’s what this means: If you have a child in Kindergarten, they are losing valuable instructional time while their teacher complies with a ridiculous state mandate that Kindergarten teachers have repeatedly said is of little to no value.

Do these portfolios even get graded? NO!

Let’s be clear: Governor Bill Lee is trying to accelerate his voucher scheme (which will harm students) but the state department of education can’t get a portfolio alternative ready in time to actually help students.

What, exactly, is Bill Lee’s education agenda?

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Not Worth It

That’s how teachers view standardized testing in Tennessee, according to a statewide survey.

The Cookeville Herald-Citizen reports on attitudes toward standardized testing (TNReady) among teachers in Putnam County and notes the results are similar statewide:

Most teachers in Putnam County say information received from statewide standardized exams is not worth the investment of time and effort.
The results come from the state’s 2019 Tennessee Educator Survey released Thursday.
The state Department of Education said more than 45,000 Tennessee educators completed this year’s survey, representing 62 percent of the state’s teachers — an all-time high response rate. In Putnam County, 80 percent of the teachers took the survey, as did 88 percent of administrators.
According to the results, 62 percent of Putnam teachers either disagreed or strongly disagreed that standardized testing was worth the effort. Statewide, that percentage was 63 percent.

It’s no surprise that educators find little value in TNReady given the challenges with test delivery over the past five years:

We moved from a different type of test to an online test that failed to a paper test, to another online failure, and back to a paper test. Can we really measure any actual growth based on those circumstances?

It will be interesting to see how lawmakers and Governor Lee respond to this crisis of confidence in state testing. I suspect many promises will be made and, ultimately, nothing will change.

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Bonus Statement

The Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) has this statement regarding the awarding of $5000 bonuses to first-year teachers in “priority schools.”

MNEA has contacted MNPS leadership with the following concerns about the recent decision to give $5000 bonuses to new teachers at priority schools:

First, we are deeply concerned that veteran educators who have chosen to work in priority schools for more than one year did not receive this compensation. The message this bonus sends is that new employees are more valuable than those with experience. In some cases, the $5000 bonus for beginning teachers means they are now earning more than teachers with more years of experience at the same school. This is deeply troubling, especially since the more experienced teachers are often charged with mentoring new teachers, which increases their workload for no additional compensation. Quite frankly, many current employees of priority schools feel this is a slap in the face.

Secondly, we strongly believe that it would be beneficial to the district to inform MNEA of any initiatives that involve changes to compensation ahead of time. Learning about this initiative from the news after it had already happened did not allow for proactive feedback at our end. We have heard from many angry employees about this issue, and we feel overall the bonuses have done more harm than good. As Dr. Majors reminded the Board of Education at last night’s meeting, the best recruiters are current employees. We want to ensure that MNEA is able to give the district feedback from an educator perspective, as we feel this will lead to better workplace morale and make recruiting educators easier.

In addition, we are also worried that this bonus was given in one lump sum at the beginning of the year. It is statistically very likely that a number of the first-year teachers who received this bonus will either leave before the year is out or will not return next year. They will take that bonus with them while at the same time veteran teachers will see nothing for their dedication to stay. In addition to making sure that all employees at priority schools are rewarded for their dedication to serving our students with the greatest needs, any bonuses should be given out at the middle and end of the year, to ensure the bonus is actually earned before it is given.

In conclusion, we have asked what steps the district will be taking to reward veteran employees who have chosen to remain at priority schools. After all, it is unlikely that priority schools will make academic progress without not only recruiting but also retaining the professional educators who are charged with doing the work of making sure that every student succeeds. These veteran educators not only have more experience and tools to teach, but they have built the lasting relationships with students and their families that are required as a foundation for academic success. It is in the best interests of our students to make sure they have equitable access to veteran employees.

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Leaving Rural Schools Behind

While Tennessee’s two largest school districts (Nashville and Memphis) are suing the state arguing the BEP funding formula is not adequate, new concerns are being raised about the equity of current funding. Three previous lawsuits (the “Small Schools” suits) challenged the state funding formula and each time, the Tennessee Supreme Court directed the state to take action to improve funding and make it more equitable for rural districts.

Despite these changes, it seems familiar concerns are being raised about funding distribution to rural districts. Chalkbeat has more:

But a new report says rural schools also face significant challenges in providing an equitable education to a third of the state’s students, all while serving a growing Latino population drawn to those areas mostly by agricultural work.

High poverty rates, lower median household income, opioid addiction, and limited access to technology and healthcare are among the issues in rural Tennessee, where fewer people are likely to attend college and more are likely to receive food stamps than their urban counterparts, according to economic research.

And with less industry and lower local tax bases to support their schools, rural districts also struggle to recruit, support, and retain effective educators.

Governor Bill Lee inherited this problem, and so far has done nothing to help it. Instead, his push for vouchers could end up hurting rural school systems by taking as much as $300 million out of the state funding formula for public schools.

Additionally, for years, the BEP formula has been broken, failing to deliver needed funds to districts at even a basic level. Now, the state’s Comptroller suggests Tennessee would need at least $500 million a year in new investments to properly fund schools.

So far, there has been zero indication Lee has any desire or inclination to address the funding shortfall that disproportionately impacts the state’s rural schools. Sure, he dresses up like a farmer every weekend and records neat videos, but that’s not doing anything to put dollars into the schools that need them most.

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