Perspective: Dean and Lee on Charters and Vouchers

Retired educator Dr. Bill Smith offers some perspective on charters and vouchers as they relate to the Tennessee Governor’s race in a column he wrote for the Johnson City Press.

Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

When I read “Profit before Kids,” I wondered if our next governor will look closely at the Tennessee Virtual Academy in Union County, a charter that is operated by K12 Inc. If our state’s lawmakers are genuinely opposed to taxpayer dollars being funneled to for-profit educational entities, the findings reported in “Profit before Kids” should raise some concerns.

It’s no secret that non-profit charter schools often divert money intended for children’s instruction to other priorities. For example, many charters compensate their “CEOs” two to three times the salaries of principals who perform the same functions in regular public schools. Vision Academy in Nashville pays its two top executives (a married couple) a combined $562,000, while reportedly charging students for textbooks. (Imagine the outcry if a local public school engaged in such financial behavior.)

A Call to Action:

In this time of hyper-partisanship and extreme contentiousness over issues such as immigration and tax policy, the dangers of school choice are not going to attract the attention of most citizens until Democrats stand forcefully united against it. If they don’t, I’m afraid we will wake up one day and realize that what David Faris called the Republicans’ “slow-moving hostile takeover” of our educational system has been accomplished.

With one week to go before Election Day, this column is worth a read.

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


 

Nullification

Remember when the Tennessee General Assembly first past “hold harmless” legislation and then added “no adverse action” language so that TNReady scores from another failed administration would not negatively impact students, teachers, or schools?

It turns out, the return of TVAAS scores may in fact result in some adverse actions. I’ve reported on how the incorporation of TVAAS scores based on this year’s TNReady test into overall student growth projections could have lasting, negative impacts on teachers.

Now, Coffee County educator Mike Stein has a blog post up about this year’s TVAAS scores and a teacher’s Level of Effectiveness (LOE).

Here are a couple key takeaways:

Today is Thursday, October 25th and, as of today, I am 29% of the way into the school year. This afternoon, I received my overall teacher evaluation score from last school year (called the “level of effectiveness,” or L.O.E. for short). I have some major issues with how all of this is playing out.

To begin with, why am I just now finding out how well I did last school year? Teachers often times use the summer to make any kind of major adjustments to their curriculum and to their teaching strategies. It’s quite difficult to make changes in the middle of a unit in the middle of the second grading period–a situation where most teachers will find themselves right now. I remember a time not so long ago when teachers knew their L.O.E. by the end of the school year. Since the state’s implementation of TNReady, that hasn’t happened.

If I were a principal, I’m also upset about the timing of the release of the L.O.E. scores. They shouldn’t have to wait this long into the school year before finding out who their effective and ineffective teachers were last year. Part of their job is to help the ineffective teachers get back on track. Granted, a good principal will probably already know who these teachers are, but nothing can be made official until the L.O.E. scores are released. These scores are also used to determine whether teachers are rehired the following school year and if teachers will be granted tenure. Personnel decisions should be made over the summer, and the late release of these teacher effectiveness scores is not helpful in the least.

NULLIFY

If you find out, as Mike did, that including the scores may have an undesirable impact, you have the option of nullifying your entire LOE — in fact, even if the score is good, if TNReady makes up any part of your overall LOE, you have the nullification option. Here’s more from Mike on that:

What immediately struck me is that all three of these options include my students’ growth on a flawed test that, by law, isn’t supposed to hurt me if last year’s test results are included, which they are. My overall L.O.E. score is a 4 out of 5, which still isn’t too bad, but the previous three years it has been a 5 out of 5. This means that the TNReady scores are, in fact, hurting my L.O.E. So what do I do now?

As the president of the Coffee County Education Association, I received the following message from TEA today that I quickly forwarded to my members: “To comply with the [hold harmless] legislation, teachers and principals who have 2017-18 TNReady data included in their LOE may choose to nullify their entire evaluation score (LOE) for the 2017-18 school year at their discretion. An educator’s decision to nullify the LOE can be made independently or in consultation with his/her evaluator during the evaluation summative conference. Nullification is completed by the educator in the TNCompass platform. The deadline for an educator to nullify his/her LOE is midnight CT on Nov. 30.”

In addition to the valid concerns Mike raises, I’ve heard from teachers in several districts noting mistakes in the LOE number. These may result from including TVAAS data in a way that negatively impacts a teacher or using the incorrect option when it comes to factoring in scores. It is my understanding that several districts have alerted TDOE of these errors and are awaiting a response.

One key question is: What happens if you nullify your scores, and therefore have no LOE this year? Here’s an answer from TDOE:

Educators who choose to nullify their 2017-18 LOE may still be able to earn Professional Development Points (PDPs). Educators who choose to nullify their 2017-18 LOE may use their 2016-17 score to earn applicable PDPs;

So, PDPs are covered if you nullify. Great.

For educators who nullify their 2017-18 LOE, the number of observations required in 2018- 19 will be calculated based on 2016-17 data in conjunction with the educator’s current license type.

Looks like classroom observations have also been covered.

If a teacher chooses to nullify his or her 2017-18, LOE he or she may still become eligible for tenure this year. Pursuant to T.C.A. § 49-5-503(4), “a teacher who has met all other requirements for tenure eligibility but has not acquired an official evaluation score during the last one (1) or two (2) years of the probationary period due to an approved extended leave; transfer to another school or position within the school district; or invalidated data due to a successful local level evaluation grievance pursuant to § 49-1-302(d)(2)(A) may utilize the most recent two (2) years of available evaluation scores achieved during the probationary period.”

The bottom line: If you do nullify (and many are in situations where that’s a good idea), there should be no future adverse impact according to TDOE’s guidance.

The larger issue, in my view, is the one Mike raises: It’s pretty late in the year to be returning evaluation feedback to teachers and principals. The LOE determines the number of observations a teacher is to have (which impacts principal workload). It could, as Mike indicates, also point to areas for improvement or teachers who need additional support. But providing those numbers well into the school year significantly reduces the opportunity for meaningful action on those fronts.

Despite all these stubborn facts, Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education points to the teacher evaluation process a “key driver” of our state’s education success.

It seems highly unlikely a process this flawed is making much of a positive impact on teachers and schools.

 

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Coffee County Pushes for Testing Options

Coffee County joins a growing list of school districts calling on the state to allow for alternatives to TNReady in the wake of years of disastrous test administration.

The Manchester Times reports:

Following two years of log-in problems and failed testing processes with the state’s mandatory testing apparatus TNReady (which administers the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program), Coffee County Schools issued a vote of no confidence and implored the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Department of Education to choose what assessment they give to students.

Specifically, the resolution notes:

Because of this, paired with the continuous shortfalls of TNReady, the board moved to accept the resolution, which states, “The Coffee County Board of Education implores the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Department of Education to allow school districts the opportunity to select either the math, science, and English language arts assessments provided by the State of Tennessee or an English, science, or math test that is part of the suites of standardized assessments available from either ACT or SAT.”

While districts across the state are calling for flexibility, today, students around the state acted as testing guinea pigs, testing the TNReady testing platform, supposedly updated after last year’s fiasco.

Of course, the state is also seeking yet another testing vendor after problems with both Measurement, Inc. and Questar.

It’s worth noting that this year’s testing of the TNReady test before the test is given would not be necessary at all had the state heeded the pleas from district leaders and hit pause this year.

 

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Key Driver

Much is being made of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system as a “key driver” in recent “success” in the state’s schools.

A closer look, however, reveals there’s more to the story.

Here’s a key piece of information in a recent story in the Commercial Appeal:

The report admits an inability to draw a direct, causal link from the changes in teacher evaluations, implemented during the 2011-12 school year, and the subsequent growth in classrooms across the state.

Over the same years, the state has also raised its education standards, overhauled its assessment and teacher preparation programs and implemented new turnaround programs for struggling schools.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that BEFORE any of these changes, Tennessee students were scoring well on the state’s TCAP test — teachers were given a mark and were consistently hitting the mark, no matter the evaluation style.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that “growth” as it relates to the current TNReady test is difficult to measure due to the unreliable test administration, including this year’s problems with hackers and dump trucks.

While the TEAM evaluation rubric is certainly more comprehensive than those used in the past, the classroom observation piece becomes difficult to capture in a single observation and the TVAAS-based growth component is fraught with problems even under the best circumstances.

Let’s look again, though, at the claim of sustained “success” since the implementation of these evaluation measures as well as other changes.

We’ll turn to the oft-lauded NAEP results for a closer look:

First, notice that between 2009 and 2011, Tennessee saw drops in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math. That helps explain the “big gains” seen in 2013. Next, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade math, our 2017 scores are lower than the 2013 scores. There’s that leveling off I suggested was likely. Finally, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading, the 2017 scores are very close to the 2009 scores. So much for “fastest-improving.”

Tennessee is four points below the national average in both 4th and 8th grade math. When it comes to reading, we are 3 points behind the national average in 4th grade and 5 points behind in 8th grade.

All of this to say: You can’t say you’re the fastest-improving state on NAEP based on one testing cycle. You also shouldn’t make long-term policy decisions based on seemingly fabulous results in one testing cycle. Since 2013, Tennessee has doubled down on reforms with what now appears to be little positive result.

In other words, in terms of a national comparison of education “success,” Tennessee still has a long way to go.

That may well be because we have yet to actually meaningfully improve investment in schools:

Tennessee is near the bottom. The data shows we’re not improving (Since Bill Haslam became Governor). At least not faster than other states.

We ranked 44th in the country for investment in public schools back in 2010 — just before these reforms — and we rank 44th now.

Next, let’s turn to the issue of assessing growth. Even in good years, that’s problematic using value-added data:

And so perhaps we shouldn’t be using value-added modeling for more than informing teachers about their students and their own performance. Using it as one small tool as they seek to continuously improve practice. One might even mention a VAM score on an evaluation — but one certainly wouldn’t base 35-50% of a teacher’s entire evaluation on such data. In light of these numbers from the Harvard researchers, that seems entirely irresponsible.

Then, there’s the issue of fairness when it comes to using TVAAS. Two different studies have shown notable discrepancies in the value-added scores of middle school teachers at various levels:

Last year, I wrote about a study of Tennessee TVAAS scores conducted by Jessica Holloway-Libell. She examined 10 Tennessee school districts and their TVAAS score distribution. Her findings suggest that ELA teachers are less likely than Math teachers to receive positive TVAAS scores, and that middle school teachers generally, and middle school ELA teachers in particular, are more likely to receive lower TVAAS scores.

A second, more comprehensive study indicates a similar challenge:

The study used TVAAS scores alone to determine a student’s access to “effective teaching.” A teacher receiving a TVAAS score of a 4 or 5 was determined to be “highly effective” for the purposes of the study. The findings indicate that Math teachers are more likely to be rated effective by TVAAS than ELA teachers and that ELA teachers in grades 4-8 (mostly middle school grades) were the least likely to be rated effective. These findings offer support for the similar findings made by Holloway-Libell in a sample of districts. They are particularly noteworthy because they are more comprehensive, including most districts in the state.

These studies are based on TVAAS when everything else is going well. But, testing hasn’t been going well and testing is what generates TVAAS scores. So, the Tennessee Department of Education has generated a handy sheet explaining all the exceptions to the rules regarding TVAAS and teacher evaluation:

However, to comply with the Legislation and ensure no adverse action based on 2017-18 TNReady data, teachers and principals who have 2017-18 TNReady data included in their LOE (school-wide TVAAS, individual TVAAS, or achievement measure) may choose to nullify their entire evaluation score (LOE) for the 2017-18 school year at their discretion. No adverse action may be taken against a teacher or principal based on their decision to nullify his or her LOE. Nullifying an LOE will occur in TNCompass through the evaluation summative conference.

Then, there’s the guidance document which includes all the percentage options for using TVAAS:

What is included in teacher evaluation in 2017-18 for a teacher with 3 years of TVAAS data? There are three composite options for this teacher:

• Option 1: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 10%, TVAAS data from 2016-17 will be factored in at 10% and TVAAS data from 2015-16 will be factored in at 15% if it benefits the teacher.

• Option 2: TVAAS data from 2017-18 and 2016-17 will be factored in at 35%.

• Option 3: TVAAS data from 2017-18 will be factored in at 35%. The option that results in the highest LOE for the teacher will be automatically applied. Since 2017-18 TNReady data is included in this calculation, this teacher may nullify his or her entire LOE this year.

That’s just one of several scenarios described to make up for the fact that the State of Tennessee simply cannot reliably deliver a test.

Let’s be clear: Using TVAAS to evaluate a teacher AT ALL in this climate is educational malpractice. But, Commissioner McQueen and Governor Haslam have already demonstrated they have a low opinion of Tennesseans:

Let’s get this straight: Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen think no one in Tennessee understands Google? They are “firing” the company that messed up this year’s testing and hiring a new company that owns the old one and that also has a reputation for messing up statewide testing.

To summarize, Tennessee is claiming success off of one particularly positive year on NAEP and on TNReady scores that are consistently unreliable. Then, Tennessee’s Education Commissioner is suggesting the “key driver” to all this success is a highly flawed evaluation system a significant portion of which is based on junk science.

The entire basis of this spurious claim is that two things happened around the same time. Also happened since Tennessee implemented new teacher evaluation and TNReady? Really successful seasons for the Nashville Predators.

Correlation does NOT equal causation. Claiming teacher evaluations are a “key driver” of some fairly limited success story is highly problematic, though typical of this Administration.

Take a basic stats class, Dr. McQueen.

 

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Building a Table

Teachers in Shelby County are seeking to build a negotiating table with the school district, according to a story from Chalkbeat:

The district’s two organizations, which represent teachers and other licensed educators, say their priorities are restoring automatic pay increases and higher pay for educators with advanced degrees, and giving more flexibility to teachers in the classroom.

Despite evidence that pay schemes based on TVAAS aren’t impacting student achievement, district superintendent Dorsey Hopson continues to push merit pay schemes:

Hopson has tried for several years to switch teacher pay to a merit system based on evaluation scores that include student test scores. That would mean only teachers with high evaluation scores would be eligible for raises.

A report based on a Gates Foundation-funded experiment in a number of districts across the country, including Memphis/Shelby County, found:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s multi-million-dollar, multi-year effort aimed at making teachers more effective largely fell short of its goal to increase student achievement—including among low-income and minority students, a new study found.

Should teachers win the right to negotiate, this issue will surely be a hot-button and the evidence directly from Memphis should certainly weigh-in to the discussions.

If the groups representing teachers successfully win the first phase, a final vote will be taken in November to determine which organization teachers want to represent them. Then, seats at the negotiating table will be divided among the two groups according to the percentage of votes received.

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


 

MNPS and A Few Good Men

Nashville resident David Jones takes a moment to compare the MNPS School Board to the movie “A Few Good Men.” In short, he’s arguing that some on the board “can’t handle the truth.” He raises concerns that have been brought up by board member Amy Frogge but have yet to result in a change of course.

Here’s his letter:

There’s a melancholy scene in “A Few Good Men” in which two officers are found guilty of conduct unbecoming a United States Marine and are dishonorably discharged. Exasperated, Pfc. Louden Downey asks, “What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong!” A somber Lance Corporal Harold Dawson explains, “Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves.”

Nashville schools currently find themselves at a crossroads. Though sitting in a city so vibrant and prosperous, MNPS has been clouded with controversy and disappointment. While many were hopeful when Dr. Shawn Joseph took over as director in 2016, that hope soon eroded and was replaced by fear due to the actions (and inaction) of the director.

Over the past two and a half years, teachers, parents, and students have watched as Dr. Joseph not only has turned a blind eye to the indiscretions of his coworkers, but has been complicit in covering up their crimes as well. When Dr. Sam Braden, principal of JFK Middle School, was accused of multiple charges of sexual harassment, it was Shawn Joseph who promised he would work to make those files confidential in the future. When Arnett Bodenhamer, a former teacher and coach at Overton High School, attacked a student, it was Shawn Joseph who overruled the suggested firing and allowed Bodenhamer to continue teaching in MNPS. When an allegation of sexual harassment was made against Mo Carrasco, executive director of priority schools, it was Shawn Joseph who ignored MNPS rules and bypassed human resources, instead going straight to Carrasco. And to top it off, Shawn Joseph has failed to report at least 20 instances of misconduct to the state, which is required by state law.

Shawn Joseph’s refusal to do what is right has created a culture of fear in Nashville schools. Teachers are now scared about what might happen if a colleague sexually harasses them. Teachers have even expressed that they might not report harassment because not only will their complaint not be taken seriously, but they might face retribution from Shawn Joseph if they file a complaint against one of his friends.

Yet in a time when teachers are fearful, employees are being harassed, and leadership is absent, our board members do nothing, pretending the problem will get better while it only gets worse. Like Harold Dawson explained, our community looks to the board to fight for the people who can’t fight for themselves. If our board truly puts children first, they should be demanding accountability, protection, and responsibility.

Instead, we’re given excuses. At a time when our schools desperately need leaders, at a time when teachers are scared their harassment claims won’t be taken seriously, at a time when a large portion of our students fail to read at their current grade level, at a time when priority schools have doubled and funding has all but disappeared, we’re left with enablers—enablers who give Shawn Joseph free rein to waste money, protect the powerful, and exploit the most vulnerable.

It’s time to put an end to this charade. We deserve better. We demand better. It’s time the Board of Education starts fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves. It’s time the board votes to remove Shawn Joseph as director and puts us back on a path to success.

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


 

A Tennessee Teacher on Karl Dean

Educator and education blogger Mike Stein talks about why he’s supporting Karl Dean for Governor and explains why he believes Dean is the best choice to lead our state. Here’s some of what he says:

He is the best choice to continue the upward trajectory of our public education system. This is exemplified by the Tennessee Education Association Fund for Children & Public Education endorsing him. Additionally, at a recent town hall, Dean said: “When I look at this state, the number one thing that we gotta get right is education. We need to increase teacher pay. We’re losing too many teachers to the private sector. We’re paying below the national average.” On the debacle otherwise known as TNReady, he went on to say: “I don’t believe that testing should be punitive toward teachers at all. We lost teachers’ voices in this whole process. We need to get back to listening to our teachers. There’s way too much testing going on in schools today, and not enough learning.” When it comes to public education, he gets it. He’s also staunchly against school vouchers (sometimes referred to as education savings accounts) because he understands that taking money from public schools and using it to help the wealthy send their children to private schools is completely nonsensical and counterproductive. When polled, 64% of Tennesseans oppose vouchers, and Karl Dean is on the correct side of this issue.

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


 

TEA Backs Dean

The state’s oldest and largest organization of teachers is backing Karl Dean in this year’s Governor’s race. Here’s the press release:

The Tennessee Education Association Fund for Children & Public Education, the association’s political action committee, has endorsed former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in the Tennessee Gubernatorial race.

“Karl Dean has a record of increasing education funding as mayor of Nashville and has made improving K-12 funding a centerpiece of his campaign for governor,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “Increasing the state’s per-student investment is a top priority for TEA and one of the reasons Dean has earned our endorsement.”

The decision to make an endorsement in the gubernatorial race was voted on by the TEA-FCPE board. The Fund’s board is composed of educators from across the state who have been elected to the TEA-FCPE board by TEA members.

“Dean is the only gubernatorial candidate who opposes private school vouchers – a hardline issue for TEA. Vouchers take critical funding away from public schools and have severely undermined public education in states that have implemented voucher programs,” Brown said. “TEA has commissioned numerous polls across the state, in both Republican and Democratic primaries, and found Tennesseans overwhelmingly oppose the use of taxpayer dollars for private school tuition more than two-to-one.”

Dean has also indicated increased teacher compensation, improved teacher supports and expanding early childhood education are critically important education issues in his platform. Research shows quality pre-k programs set students up for success, and access to them is important in closing achievement gaps among Tennessee students. Dean wants to ensure every student in the state has a chance to succeed in their neighborhood school.

Brown concluded, “Dean earned the support of Tennessee’s teachers because he has demonstrated a willingness to listen to educators and has made the commitment to ensure every student in the state has a chance to succeed in their neighborhood school. We believe he will make the best interests of Tennessee students a top priority, and would listen to the experts in the classroom in shaping education policy.”

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


 

A Basic Human Right

A free public education should be viewed as a basic human right, according to a Texas pastor visiting cities across Tennessee to urge clergy to support public schools.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press has this story:

Pastors for Texas Children gained national attention after it began to lobby against efforts to use taxpayer money to send students to charter and private schools.

The group, an independent ministry and outreach group that comprises nearly 2,000 pastors and church leaders from across Texas, gained even more attention when it was criticized by Texas politicians with strong ties to the Koch brothers, according to The Washington Post.

A Call to Action

Johnson, described on the Pastors for Texas Children website as an advocate, said religious leaders need to reaffirm and reestablish that a free, public education is a basic human right.

“We have a debate today about whether or not children today deserve an equal education,” he said. “We all know the ills of public education and some [people’s] attempts to privatize it. It’s time for the church to get back together with the schools.”

Tennessee’s Constitution says the General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public schools.

In spite of this promise, legislators in recent years have repeatedly attempted to pass legislation that would divert public money to private schools. Currently, gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee is making vouchers a key element of his education agenda.

Pastors for Tennessee Children Launching

Johnson is traveling across the state, encouraging pastors to join the new arm of the coalition, Pastors for Tennessee Children.

Jeanette Omarkhail, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, first met Johnson at a conference in Minnesota and said his message was one she wanted to bring to Hamilton County.

“Educators need you. They need your support, your encouragement. The students need you,” Omarkhail told the religious leaders gathered in the church’s meeting hall Tuesday. “At those school boards, the school board members need to see you. Those leaders have been saying up at the dais, ‘We need more people of faith involved in our schools, but they’re not here.’ We can go there.”

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


 

Vouchers Gone Wrong

While significant evidence suggests that even with proper implementation, vouchers don’t improve student performance (and sometimes, make it worse), a cautionary tale out of Florida raises even greater concerns. What if a voucher program goes horribly, terribly wrong?

This question seems especially relevant given gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee’s backing of vouchers.

Here’s what the Orlanda Sentinel had to say about a range of problems in that state’s voucher program:

In its “Schools Without Rules” series, Sentinel reporters found voucher (or “scholarship”) schools faking safety reports, hiring felons, hiring high-school dropouts as teachers and operating in second-rate strip malls. They discovered curricula full of falsehoods and subpar lesson plans.

If you confront defenders of this system, be they legislators or school operators, many start mumbling about the virtue of “choice”— as if funding a hot mess of a school is a swell thing, as long parents choose that mess.

Horse hockey. I choose accountability. And transparency. And standards.

I’ve written before about the mess made of schools (and of children’s lives) when voucher schemes go awry:

South Florida Prep received significant funds from the Florida Department of Education under the McKay program. Here’s how that school was run:

Two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor. Eventually, fire marshals and sheriffs condemned the “campus” as unfit for habitation, pushing the student body into transience in church foyers and public parks.

“We had no materials,” says Nicolas Norris, who taught music despite the lack of a single instrument. “There were no teacher edition books. There was no curriculum.”

That’s just one example, of course. The Sentinel series exposes significant problems across a variety of schools. Among the problems were schools closing with little notice, evictions, and teachers without credentials.

Those supporting a voucher-backing candidate for Governor should be very aware of what that policy could mean for Tennessee’s families.

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