Joey Hassell’s Tweetstorm of Truth

Ripley High School Principal Joey Hassell has been tweeting this weekend about the state’s move to an A-F grading system for schools. The new system came about because of a legislative mandate. Hassell’s not happy about it. Interestingly, Hassell was formerly an Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education.

Here are a few of his tweets about the A-F grading system for schools:

 

As you can see, Hassell is quite unhappy with the move to the new grading system. His opinion seems to be supported by at least some district-level leaders based on likes and retweets he’s received.

The A-F system is set to start next school year, based on results from this year’s battery of tests and other data.

The legislature could make changes to the proposal in the upcoming legislative session, which starts on Tuesday, January 10th.

 

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


 

Sargent Proposes BEP Changes

State Representative and House Finance Chair Charles Sargent will change how the state divvies up the school funding formula, known as the BEP.

Franklin Home Page reports:

In his first bill, Sargent said breaking down the figures and math with the BEP formula is simply complicated. But essentially, what he wants to accomplish is making sure districts receive their fair share of money.

New money would go into the BEP formula, and would provide a baseline for what the state has to provide per district. School districts should receive 80 percent of the average funding per pupil.

Essentially, no district would receive less than 80% of the state’s average per pupil expenditure.

The story also notes that Sargent wants the state to begin fully funding growth for districts:

Sargent said his second bill is a little bit less complex. Simply, he said he wanted the state to pay for growth entirely for districts. Right now, it only pays a partial percentage. And for districts that growing quickly like Williamson, it could be a game changer. The district grew last year by 1,800 students. In the next five years, that number will expand to 10,000 new students in WCS.

At the present time this last year, we funded anything over 1.4 percent growth,” Sargent said. “So if your district grew 2.4 percent, we paid for one percent of the at increase. But really, we need to fully fund all growth.”

With the state experiencing a significant budget surplus, it will be interesting to see if these proposed changes or other improvements to the BEP are adopted.

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


 

 

Washington Co. Joins Waiver Wave

Last night, the Washington County School Board voted 6-3 in favor of a resolution asking the State of Tennessee to grant a 1-year waiver from the use of TNReady scores in teacher evaluations and student grades. The resolution is similar to those passed in Nashville and Knox County and comes after the State Board of Education voted to change the way End of Course tests are counted in student grades.

The Washington County resolution comes just days before the Tennessee General Assembly returns to action (January 10th). Barring action by the State Board to grant a waiver, the only way it will happen is if lawmakers force the issue.

Similar resolutions were passed last year ahead of TNReady testing that ultimately failed. That makes this year the first year of new tests, now administered by Questar.

Tune in next week and beyond to see if more school boards pass resolutions asking for a waiver or if the State Board or legislature take action.

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


 

Stand for Children Looking Forward to New Year

Stand for Children was recently dragged through months of hearings after a politically motivated complaint was filed alleging they broke campaign finance laws. Earlier this month they were unanimously cleared of wrongdoing.

According to a new editorial by Daniel O’Donnell, it seems likes Stand for Children is looking ahead to a new year where they can return their focus on improving Nashville’s education.

There is a lot to be optimistic about in Nashville’s public schools these days. But the fact remains that a great public education remains out of reach for far too many Nashville students. In recent years, the achievement gap between kids from low-income families and their privileged peers has widened significantly; only 11 percent of Nashville graduates are considered “college-ready.”

Let that sink in. Behind those numbers are real kids with real lives – kids who deserve urgency and focus from adults.

Nashville spends an enormous amount of time debating public charter schools, and that debate no doubt colored the recent school board races. The prevailing charter narrative notwithstanding, Stand advocates for strong public schools, regardless of type.

Our record here has been consistent: In recent years we’ve fought for high-quality pre-Kindergarten expansion, high academic standards and topnotch district leadership. As a city, we should be doing more to support and learn from some of our incredible charter schools, while doing a lot more to lift up the schools that the other 90 percent of students attend. It’s really not that complicated.

Since the August election, we’ve been working with hundreds of parents in North and East Nashville to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing our school system: below-average third-grade literacy rates. Ensuring more third-graders are on track is one critical component of a larger effort to close Nashville’s achievement gap.

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

I agree with O’Donnell that we spend too much time fighting over charter schools when we could be spending that same amount of time on the abysmal literacy rates of our students. Let’s focus on all the students in our district and work together to make MNPS better.

Teachers collaborate every day to do what’s best for students. It’s time for organizations, school board members, and district leaders to collaborate to help all of our students.

 

 

Not Even Licensed

A new report out of Memphis indicates that 66 bus drivers from Durham School Services were not properly licensed.

Durham is the same company that operates buses in Chattanooga, where a recent crash resulted in 6 deaths.

Jennifer Pignolet of the Commercial Appeal reports:

The company that runs school transportation for Shelby County Schools and other districts contracted with a Memphis driving academy not authorized to license school bus drivers.

Sixty-six drivers actively employed by Durham School Services across Shelby County will have to retake their commercial driver’s license test over winter break after the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security suspended operation of Private First Class Driving Academy.

Her story also notes:

Durham has previously come under fire from local school officials. An examination of police records in late 2014 found that Durham school bus drivers had been involved in at least 32 wrecks in Shelby County during the school year, a 27 percent increase over the previous year. Bus drivers were cited in 18 of those incidents.

I previously noted reports of Durham’s safety record which raised questions about the vendor when compared with similar bus operators.

Specifically:

According to federal safety data, Durham School Services has been involved in 346 crashes in the past two years. These accidents have resulted in 142 injuries and 3 fatalities. During that same time period, the company was cited 53 times for “unsafe driving conditions”. According to data compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “93% of motor carriers in the same safety event group have better on-road performance” than Durham.

The repeated issues with Durham School Services raise questions about both the vendor and about outsourcing essential school services generally. An earlier piece noted that the push to outsource bus services may be the result of under-funded schools systems searching for financial answers.

Unfortunately, outsourcing bus services may have immediate financial benefits, but rarely results in long-term savings. The issues around Durham’s performance also raise troubling questions about safety.

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


 

 

Will Pinkston on the Nashville Chamber Education Report Card

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston had this to say about yesterday’s release of the Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card:

After digesting the news accounts of yesterday’s 2016 Education Report Card staged by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, I am more convinced than ever that the Chamber is an enemy of public education — and frankly, it has been for a long time. Consider this passage in Nashville Public Radio’s report, taken directly from the Chamber Report Card: “Over the past two decades, Metro Schools has launched various district reading and literacy initiatives, with no discernible impact on overall reading results.” This is true. However, this line could easily be rewritten to read: “Over the past two decades, the Chamber has meddled constantly in the affairs of Metro Nashville Public Schools, with no discernible impact on overall results.”

The reality is: The last two directors of MNPS — Jesse Register (2009-15) and Pedro Garcia (2001-08) — were the Chamber’s hand-picked superintendents who presided over stagnant growth in reading proficiency and, in Register’s case, a proliferation of struggling schools and lack of innovation to assist English learners, who represent the fastest-growing segment of our student population. I know this because I serve Nashville School Board District 7, where 43% of our students are struggling to learn English. Our lack of progress in helping these kids was a big reason why I led the charge in 2014 to exit Register from the school system and install new management that can think and act strategically.

What was the Chamber’s response? Not surprisingly, the Chamber did not step forward and agree that a leadership change was needed at MNPS. To the contrary, the Chamber and its rubber-stamp Report Card Committee instead attacked me and other board members who actually were confronting problems, versus turning a blind eye to the situation. The fact is the Chamber, through its lack of understanding of public education and lack of leadership in this community, helped to enable poor-performing superintendents for the better part of two decades — while at the same time trying, mostly ineffectively, to destabilize the school board in local elections. Adding insult to injury, the Chamber has advocated to strip the school board of local control while vigorously endorsing vouchers and the unabated growth of charter schools, which drain finite resources at a time when MNPS is now universally considered to be an under-funded school system. If the Chamber and the Report Card Committee aren’t happy with the lack of progress, perhaps they should take a look in the mirror and do some soul-searching. I daresay they won’t see any profiles in courage.

All that said: I’m optimistic that MNPS is finally headed in the right direction. This year, the school board exerted overdue independence and sidelined the Chamber during the search for our new MNPS director. In typical passive-aggressive fashion, Chamber leaders pouted throughout the months-long search process, then tried to take credit for the favorable outcome, and then attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to oust from elected office one-third of the school board — members who played key roles in ushering in the new leadership. Our new director of schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, now is doing yeoman’s labor getting his arms around years of problems that have been either created or exacerbated by the Chamber. Thankfully, the Mayor, the Metro Council, and the school board are finally on the same page. We’re all working together to lead public education forward, no thanks to the Chamber.

So now let me send the same message to Ralph Schulz and the Chamber that I sent to former Tennessean columnist Frank Daniels (whose sycophantic and obsequious support of the Chamber helped perpetuate some of this mess): MNPS is going to succeed despite you, not because of you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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

Amy Frogge on the Chamber and Charters

As reported earlier, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce released its education report card today.

Board member Amy Frogge did not attend the event and offered an explanation as well as some comments on why she supported the proposed moratorium on expansion of charter schools. The moratorium proposal was pulled from the agenda at last week’s meeting.

Here are her comments:

Today is the presentation of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s Education Report Card. I have not attended this event for the last two years and will not attend today. I was actually considering attending this year (it’s a new day in Nashville with a new Director of Schools), but Chamber leaders were up to their old tricks at our school board meeting last week, which left a bad taste in my mouth. Their actions demonstrated, once again, that their first priority is not the health of our school system, which is why I will not attend today’s presentation.

When I first decided to run for school board back in 2012, I contacted several people to learn more about the work. I spoke with a minister who formerly served on the board, and one of her first comments to me was: “I am very concerned about the influence of the Nashville Chamber on education in Nashville.” I was perplexed by this remark and wondered why business executives might have a negative influence on public education. I soon learned. I have since been warned about the Chamber’s influence over the board by several other leaders in the city.

What Chamber leaders chose to do last week is a good example of why I have lost respect for their work. The school board was scheduled to vote on a charter school moratorium. It was absolutely the right thing to do, given the facts (which I will detail below), but then the Chamber got involved. Chamber leaders like to use their powerful connections to twist arms behind the scenes, and they also started a campaign for more charter schools. This was not a grassroots campaign. Instead, the Chamber managed to generate a number of emails to the board opposing the moratorium from people in places like Brentwood, Mt. Juliet, Murfreesboro, and even Claremont, California. The emails came from affluent folks who obviously don’t have children in local schools, who likely don’t even utilize public schools, and who most certainly don’t send their children to charter schools. So what’s this all about? In part, it’s about education for “those” children (something quite different than the education they expect for their own children). However, the primary impetus for these emails is quite simple: Chamber leaders want more charter schools that will drain money from public schools to financially benefit their wealthy friends.

Expanding charter schools has been the Chamber’s number one focus since I’ve been on the board. While I’m all for school partnerships and I do appreciate the business partners the Chamber has brought in to support our high schools, Chamber leaders repeatedly overstep their bounds by trying to set the agenda for the school board. There have certainly been some good folks involved on the Report Card committee who do support public education, but their voices are drowned out by those who are more interested in profit for their rich friends. Top level Chamber leaders have worked hard to control the school board for many years, and they do not seem to recognize that we are duly elected representatives who answer to the public, not them. These folks are used to running things in Nashville, and they expect school board members to hop to.

In my own interviews with Chamber leadership, I’ve been arrogantly lectured, told that school board members should never go into the schools, and admonished that I don’t understand the role of the school board (which apparently should be to cater to the elite). I was so annoyed by these interactions that I finally quit going to Chamber interviews and did not seek their support during this last election cycle. I do not work for the Chamber, and I will not be controlled by the wealthy and powerful.

If Nashville Chamber leaders truly care about our students, they should promote fiscally responsible policies. They would also do well to start trying to work with- and not against- the school board and the Director of Schools. Great partnerships happen when each partner respects and values the role and viewpoint of others.

Here are the remarks that I planned to share at our last school board meeting before the moratorium was pulled from consideration. I hope Chamber leaders read this and take note.

“Currently, there are 1,128 children on wait lists for charter schools in Nashville. Our charter schools currently serve 10.529 students, but by year 2021, the projected enrollment for charters is 18,365, which comprises a 74% increase. That means that even if we don’t approve another single charter school in Nashville, the number of charter seats will nearly double in five years.

In contrast, there are 5,433 students on wait lists for optional schools in Nashville, including both traditional schools and magnet schools. The wait list for one school alone, Meigs magnet school- at 816 students- is nearly as high as the combined wait lists for all charter schools in the city. And if we are truly interested in responding to parent demand, it would make sense to consider opening another Montessori school, because there are nearly 600 students on the wait list for Stanford, one of the city’s two public Montessori options.

Also of note: there are 2,389 students on wait lists for preschool and pre-k programs across the city. It’s important to acknowledge that this extensive wait list includes only children under 6 years of age. There is obviously a huge demand for more pre-k seats, more than double the demand for charter seats.

So while there’s been a well-funded marketing campaign for increased ‘choice’ by the charter sector and a great deal of our tax dollars spent on charter marketing to families, the data paints a very different picture about parent demand. There is simply no demand for more charter school seats in Nashville. The already approved growth of our existing charters schools greatly eclipses any wait lists for charter school seats.

Unfortunately, we have failed to set a clear direction for charter growth in our city. The lack of planning for controlled charter school growth can lead to disastrous outcomes for school districts. In 2013, Detroit schools filed for bankruptcy, and this past June, the state of Michigan had to pay $617 million to bail out the Detroit school system, which was facing bankruptcy again and couldn’t even afford to pay its own staff. Detroit has the biggest share of students enrolled in charter schools than any other city in the US, with the exception of New Orleans, and Detroit has been on the forefront of charter school expansion. Its approach to education, which is based on school competition, has been described as ‘the Hunger Games for schools.’ Philadelphia is another case in point. Philadelphia schools have been plagued by persistent budget deficits, according to a recent audit, which have been attributed largely to charter school growth in the city. As one source summarized, ‘The influence of charter schools mixed with funding cuts for traditional schools combine for a perfect storm of financial distress.’ Similarly, two years ago, Shelby County Schools in Memphis reported a $157 million deficit, which school leaders attributed largely to the explosive growth of charter schools in the city, many imposed upon the district by the state’s Achievement School District. Last year’s shortfall was $125 million, and this year’s deficit is $86 million. The deficit is decreasing because Memphis is closing neighborhood schools to address debt created by the expansion of charters schools in the city. These stories are not scare tactics; they are lessons for us to learn, and we would be wise to pay attention and take heed of how the growth of charter schools is impacting other school districts around the country. And if we need further evidence of the problem, Moody’s Investors Service, which rates the fiscal health of local governments including Nashville, has warned that ‘charter schools pose growing risks for urban public schools’ and noted that ‘a city that begins to lose students to a charter school can be forced to weaken educational programs’ in traditional public schools.

Here in Nashville, we have been warned. Two independent studies of our school system concluded that ‘charter schools will – with nearly 100 percent certainty – have a negative fiscal impact on Metro Schools.’ We cannot rob the schools that serve 90% of our students to feed the charter schools that serve only 10%. Every student deserves a great education, and if we support some students at the expense of others, we have created a major equity problem. It’s particularly baffling to me that we would risk placing our school system at risk when there’s no demand for more charter schools and no plan to pay for them.

And then there’s the question of whether we are really improving outcomes for students by increasing school choice, via charter schools, within our district. Research on the impact of school choice on student learning generally shows mixed results with studies typically showing little or no difference in overall performance compared to traditional public schools.

As this board moves forward in partnership with a new administration, we would be wise to create a strong strategic plan that positively impacts all students. We have allowed the charter sector to create its own vision for growth in Nashville, a duty that should instead fall squarely on the board’s shoulders. The board should set clear parameters for charter growth, decide what programs we could implement to benefit the majority of students, and what investments we must make to ultimately improve our outcomes. We cannot continue to open more and more schools, willy nilly, with no clear vision of how they will serve our needs or impact other schools and students. And we would be foolish to ignore the ample warnings we’re received indicating that charter growth could very well place our already underfunded district in financial distress.

For these reasons, I support the moratorium.”

 

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


 

The Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce today released its annual Education Report Card for MNPS today.

Here are some highlights:

The graduation rate, which measures the percentage of all students who graduate from high school within four years, plus a summer period, fell from 81.6 percent in 2015 to 81 percent in 2016. The number of MNPS students taking the ACT increased by 586 students in 2016, while the percentage of those scoring at least a 21 dropped from 30 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2016. Based on these limited results, we must conclude that MNPS did not record overall improvement during 2015- 2016 – for the second year in a row. With a new director of schools and executive team in place for the 2016-2017 school year, there is an expectation in the community for MNPS to resume a faster pace of improvement.

And the recommendations:

1. Metro Schools should expand its commitment to school-based budgeting to ensure equitable access to resources across all schools.

2. The State of Tennessee should incorporate measures of both career and college readiness into the new school and district accountability system.

3. Metro Schools should ensure that its early-grade teachers have demonstrated expertise in literacy instruction.

4. Metro Schools should measure each school’s implementation of the district’s literacy initiatives to ensure fidelity.

5. Metro Schools should engage community partners in developing a citywide plan and timeline to ensure early-grade (K-2) literacy by May 2017.

For more details on the findings used to reach the recommendations, read the full report.

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


 

A Late Call

Yesterday, the State Board of Education met and amended the state’s high school policy, including how End of Course exams factor into a student’s final grades.

As I reported earlier, this meeting happened just days before the semester ended for many students.

Here’s a note from Commissioner McQueen’s latest message to educators on the topic:

Yesterday, the State Board of Education voted on final reading to approve the department’s proposal to phase in EOC scores into high school students’ grades beginning this school year and continuing during the next few years. Also in the proposal, the department recommended to provide districts with students’ raw score points earned out of the total available instead of the conversion score that the department provided previously, commonly called quick scores. Please reference this memo (here) and FAQ document (here) for additional context. This policy becomes effective immediately for all 2016 fall block courses taking EOCs. The exams will account for 10 percent of students’ course grades this year.

Remarkably, the memo McQueen cites notes that the first reading of this policy change was in October. However, the special called meeting on adopting the change and making it official didn’t happen until yesterday. While the October meeting may have signaled the Board’s intent, there was no official policy change until just days before the semester ended.

Between October and now, of course, two large school districts have seen their boards pass resolutions asking the State Board and General Assembly to not count these tests in either student grades or teacher evaluations as we transition to a new test with a new vendor. Those concerns were apparently ignored at yesterday’s meeting.

The legislature could take action on the issue in 2017, but doing so may create confusion since students on block scheduling will have completed courses and received grades.

One provision of the change that is worth noting is that if EOC scores are not available to districts at least five instructional days before a course ends, the district may elect NOT to use those scores in a student’s final grade. For many districts, that day was yesterday.

If districts do decide to use the scores for this semester and next, they may only count for 10% of a student’s final grade.

I’d suggest that the more prudent course is for districts to not count the scores at all this year as we are in a transition year.

The late call (why not a special meeting a few weeks after the first meeting?) raises questions about the State Board’s responsiveness to the concerns of those officials doing the day-t0-day work of running a school district.

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


 

 

Let’s Get Ready for Vouchers

It may only be December, but the voucher battle at the General Assembly is already heating up.

There’s the Oak Ridge School Board, passing a resolution opposing the use of public funds for private school vouchers.

Then, there’s a Murfreesboro legislator citing President-elect Donald Trump’s support of vouchers as a reason to move forward on the issue.

To be sure, Trump has selected a free market fundamentalist and voucher advocate, Betsy DeVos, to be the next Secretary of Education.

According to the story in the Oak Ridger on the anti-voucher resolution, Rep. Kent Calfee stands in opposition to vouchers, while other lawmakers from the area are certain the issue will come up, but did not commit on how they would vote. Senators Randy McNally and Ken Yager have both supported voucher legislation in the past.

Meanwhile, in Murfreesboro, Senators Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy both indicated support for vouchers, with Ketron noting Trump’s support of vouchers.

Ketron also noted that he didn’t expect vouchers to impact Murfreesboro or Rutherford County schools.

So, the battle lines are being drawn for the 2017 voucher fight. It is a fight that may well coincide with the confirmation hearings of pro-voucher Secretary of Education candidate Betsy DeVos. If 2017 sees the General Assembly once again reject vouchers, 2018 will likely see Trump’s plan to spend some $20 billion of federal funds to entice states to enact voucher schemes. Those funds just might tempt Tennessee lawmakers.

More on Vouchers:

A Letter of Reservation

Million Dollar Baby

Lessons from Louisiana on Vouchers

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