Conflict Call

The Tennessee State Board of Education meets on Thursday, December 15th via conference call to discuss the A-F school grading system and to take action on high school policy, specifically as it relates to grading.

The high school policy includes a proposed change to the way End of Course tests are factored in to student grades — which is pretty important, since the semester is ending very soon and high school students on block schedules will be finishing courses in the next few days.

The EOC grade policy is noteworthy as two of the largest school districts in the state (Nashville and Knox County) have passed resolutions asking the state NOT to count any TNReady test in student grades or teacher evaluations for the 2016-17 academic year.

Here’s the language of the proposed policy change as it relates to EOC tests:

Results of individual student performance from all administered End of Course examinations will be provided in a timely fashion to facilitate the inclusion of these results as part of the student’s grade. Each LEA must establish a local board policy that details the methodology used and the required weighting for incorporating student scores on EOC examinations into final course grades. If an LEA does not receive its students’ End of Course examination scores at least five (5) instructional days before the scheduled end of the course, then the LEA may choose not to include its students’ End of Course examination scores in the students’ final course grade. The weight of the EOC examination on the student’s final average shall be ten percent (10%) in the 2016-2017 school year, fifteen percent (15%) in the 2017-2018 school year; and shall be determined by the local board from a range of no less than fifteen (15%) and no more than twenty-five (25%) in the 2018-2019 school year and thereafter.

 

Note, the 2016-17 academic year is happening right now. Students have already taken these EOC exams and their semesters will be ending soon. But, the policy change won’t happen until Thursday, assuming it passes. Alternatively, the State Board of Education could be responsive to the concerns expressed by the school boards in Nashville and Knoxville and prevent this year’s EOC exams from impacting student grades.

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


 

 

Test Scores Are In! How Did Our Nashville Students Do?

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released TNReady results for individual districts. The data only show results for high schools because elementary and middle schools did not take the full assessment last school year.

For those of you who just want the gist of it, Nashville’s public high schools are struggling to get kids to proficiency, and they’re particularly struggling with math.

Let’s dig a little deeper, using some screenshots from the state’s Report Card website.

ACT Achievement

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I have written previously about the ACT scores of the district. TNReady is trying to be more aligned with the ACT.

Math and ELA Achievement 

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The data show that our high schools are struggling more with math than English language arts (ELA), though each section has only a small percentage of students who are scoring within the top two tiers of TNReady.

Here’s the more in-depth breakdown of the data, including individual subjects. As we see from the graph below, we have new terminology to use when discussing the data.

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The data clearly show that too many high school students are not “on track” nor have achieved mastery of the subjects. We have given our high schools a makeover, but has that makeover really improved the achievement of our students? That will be hard to tell because this is a brand new assessment.

The achievement of high school students are more than just a problem with high schools. We need more support in lower grades to give students the skills they need to achieve in high school so that they can graduate and move on to college or a career.

Growth

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It’s great to see that we are showing growth in literacy, but we have to do better in math.

We Have to Do Better

Our district has to do better. We have too many students not achieving at the level they should be. I hope our school board will really delve into this issue, instead of spending so much time on petty resolutions that will only hurt the district in the long run.

Turning around our district is not something that will make the newspaper tomorrow. It’s not something that you can brag about in your monthly email in a few weeks. Turning around our district takes time, resources, and a vision to help all students achieve. It means that everyone involved in the education system must work together, which can be hard for some.

It’s results like this that draw people away from Davidson county and into the suburbs and private schools. We can’t let it continue.

Let’s get to work!

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


 

The Call For A Charter School Moratorium Lacks Transparency

On Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board will vote on a charter school moratorium. The policy proposal is being brought by Will Pinkston. As of Monday morning, language of the resolution has still not been publicly shared on the MNPS website.

Will Pinkston calls for transparency for charter schools, but he should also be held to that same transparency. It’s unacceptable that the meeting is tomorrow, and the citizens of Nashville still can’t access the policy that will be discussed.

Sources within MNPS tell me there is a draft floating around, but language is still not finalized. It seems like this policy is being snuck in at the last moment so that the citizens of Nashville cannot give specific feedback before the vote. That’s not right.

If this is what Nashville wants, why does this resolution have to held in the dark?

Because of the lack of transparency, the Metro Nashville School Board should postpone voting on this moratorium until the people of Nashville can read and respond to it.

While on the issue of a moratorium, it should be noted that having a moratorium will give the State Board of Education more power. I wrote the same thing when Pinkston last tried to change charter school policy:

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals

The same is true with the moratorium. A moratorium will give the State Board a bigger hand in approving charter schools in Nashville. Nashville should continue to rigorously review and approve the charter schools that best meets the needs of MNPS.

A flat out moratorium on charter schools is not in the best interest of our Nashville schools or their students.

Update: As of 1:45pm, the resolution has been posted here.  

 

 

A Letter of Reservation

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, sent a letter to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander expressing his organization’s concerns about President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos to be the next Secretary of Education.

Here’s the press release from PET:

Today, Professional Educators of Tennessee sent a letter to Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander who serves as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in the US Senate expressing reservations regarding the nomination of Ms. Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education.

There are two issues of immediate concern for our members. The first is that Ms. DeVos has no direct experience with public education as a student, employee, parent, or school board member, of which we are aware. In your case, when you served as Secretary of Education, you had the prerequisite background, having grown up as a child of public school educators and an advocate of public schools as Governor of Tennessee. Ms. DeVos lacks that background and may not fully understand the historical and philosophical basis for public education. Out of the roughly 55.5 million K-12 students in America, 49.5 million of them are in our public schools, which is a little over 89%.

The second issue, her advocacy of vouchers funded through the use of public tax dollars, may well cloud her desired support of public schools. Vouchers are not a magic bullet, and may do little to improve the quality of public schools. Vouchers are also not a solution to problems in urban cities. These cities face societal challenges well beyond the classroom door. Most communities lack the number of high quality private schools to meet any real demand created by vouchers. It is clear that for now and the foreseeable future, a vast majority of children will be educated by public schools. We must focus on making our public schools successful. Therefore, choosing an education secretary that is so pro-voucher sends a negative message to the hard working educators in our public schools.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Senator Alexander,

Thank you for your continued leadership as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, as well as the recently-passed Every Student Succeeds Act. A strong public education system is a key to our democracy, a foundation to build our economy, and the means by which we can help all Tennessee children achieve their dreams.

Professional Educators of Tennessee is the fastest growing teacher association in our state. We are non-partisan and our organization is unaffiliated with the national teacher unions. Not all educators are members of the NEA or AFT. In fact, there are more educators that are members of independent education associations than the AFT. We are completely funded by the dues of our members. Our members are educators from the state of Tennessee. We do not endorse political candidates, or use their members’ dues to fund political candidates.

I have worked with you previously on numerous occasions from American Legion Boy’s State as a teenager, to various political endeavors, and to address numerous public education challenges within the state of Tennessee. Today, I am writing to share our organization’s reservations in regards to the nomination of Ms. Betsy DeVos for the position as Secretary of Education.

There are two issues of immediate concern for our members. The first is that Ms. DeVos has no direct experience with public education as a student, employee, parent, or school board member, of which we are aware. In your case, when you served as Secretary of Education, you had the prerequisite background, having grown up as a child of public school educators and an advocate of public schools as Governor of Tennessee. Ms. DeVos lacks that background and may not fully understand the historical and philosophical basis for public education. Out of the roughly 55.5 million K-12 students in America, 49.5 million of them are in our public schools, which is a little over 89%.

The second issue, her advocacy of vouchers funded through the use of public tax dollars, may well cloud her desired support of public schools. Vouchers are not a magic bullet, and may do little to improve the quality of public schools. Vouchers are also not a solution to problems in urban cities. These cities face societal challenges well beyond the classroom door. Most communities lack the number of high quality private schools to meet any real demand created by vouchers. It is clear that for now and the foreseeable future, a vast majority of children will be educated by public schools. We must focus on making our public schools successful. Therefore, choosing an education secretary that is so pro-voucher sends a negative message to the hard working educators in our public schools.

I appreciate your strong support of students, educators, and public education in Tennessee, especially your commitment to local control of public education. We encourage Ms. DeVos to go out and visit our public schools and see the incredible things that educators are doing every day across our state and nation. We think she would be amazed. We welcome a dialogue with Ms. DeVos and yourself to address our concerns and invite you both to talk directly to our members to assure them that as Secretary of Education she will support the mission of public schools and has the necessary experience in improving them.

More on DeVos

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


 

 

Stand For Children Unanimously Cleared

Today, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance unanimously dismissed two complaints filed against Stand for Children by a group named Tennessee Citizen Action.

It should be noted that fellow TNEdReport blogger, Andy Spears, is the executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

The complaints alleged illegal coordination between Stand for Children and four school board candidates: Thom Druffel, Jane Grimes Meneely, Jackson Miller, and Miranda Christy. The Registry unanimously dismissed those allegations because there was no evidence for them.

Dark Money or Charter Schools?

But were these complaints really against “dark money” as Tennessee Citizen Action claimed or more about charter schools? Sources who attended the press conference after the hearing stated that Gerard Stranch, attorney for Tennessee Citizen Action, brought up how Stand for Children wanted to bring more charter schools to Nashville. These school board candidates weren’t even calling for more charter schools.

The complaint had nothing to do with charter schools, so it was surprising to hear that’s what Tennessee Citizen Action’s legal counsel wanted to discuss. On Twitter, Stranch believes “pro charter folks” are treated differently by the bipartisan registry.

This was about the fight for charter schools disguised as a campaign against dark money. And Tennessee Citizen Action lost overwhelmingly.

Political Payback

It should be noted that anyone can file a complaint through the Registry. While the Registry can only hand down civil penalties, Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston told Stand for Children’s Nashville Director Daniel O’Donnell on Twitter: “Post election, we’re talking about your orange jumpsuit.”

Will Pinkston is advocating and hoping for the jailing of his political opponent. I feel like we are back in the presidential campaign.

Of course Will Pinkston knew (I would hope) that this was only a civil matter, but Pinkston wanted to make this complaint look more than it really was. The press went out of their way to cover these hearings as huge breaking news, with the Tennessean using large breaking news banners to discuss each hearing.

Early on in the Registry’s process, a commissioner said that they thought there wasn’t enough evidence to go on, but allowed Stand for Children more time to make a defense. If you ever look at the Registry’s monthly agenda, you will see there are so many cases in front of the Registry at one time. The media picked up on this one and really ran with it.

Everything is Rigged

After the unanimous decision by bipartisan Registry, Andy Spears called the Registry “rigged” because they did not vote the way he wanted them to. Is the system rigged when it doesn’t go your way?

We just finished an election where Trump said everything was rigged…until it went his way, and it wasn’t rigged anymore.

The bigger implication is when you have a coordinated effort against a group of candidates, it may discourage others from running. Even though there was no evidence of law breaking, these candidates had to retain legal counsel. Try talking a middle class parent into running for school board if there is a chance you will need a lawyer. Miranda Christy says it best:

Our city needs good people to step up and throw their hat in the ring without having to worry whether they might have to hire a lawyer or whether they might have to publicly endure false accusations of wrongdoing.

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

Warning Signs

Following a deadly bus crash in Chattanooga last month, lawmakers and Governor Haslam indicated a desire to seek answers and improve bus safety.

It’s worth noting, though, that in the case of Durham School Services, there’s a track record that raises concerns about privatizing or outsourcing school services such as transportation.

Payday Report notes:

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.

It’s not clear whether the legislature will address the issue of outsourcing as part of a bus safety legislative package.

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


 

 

Waiver Wave

The MNPS School Board unanimously approved a resolution calling for a one-year waiver of the use of TNReady/TCAP scores in both student grades and teacher evaluation. The request follows Knox County’s passage of a similar resolution earlier this month.

Here’s what I wrote about why that was the right move:

Right now, we don’t know if we have a good standardized test. Taking a year to get it right is important, especially in light of the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience.

Of course, there’s no need for pro-achievement and pro-teacher folks to be divided into two camps, either. Tennessee can have a good, solid test that is an accurate measure of student achievement and also treat teachers fairly in the evaluation process.

To be clear, teachers aren’t asking for a waiver from all evaluation. They are asking for a fair, transparent evaluation system. TVAAS has long been criticized as neither. Even under the best of circumstances, TVAAS provides a minimal levelof useful information about teacher performance.

Now, we’re shifting to a new test. That shift alone makes it impossible to achieve a valid value-added score.

Now, two large Tennessee school districts are calling for a waiver from using test data in student grades and teacher evaluations. Will other districts follow suit? Will the General Assembly pay attention?

Here’s the text of the Nashville resolution:

WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Board of Education is responsible for providing a local system of public education; and
WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee, through the work of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee Department of Education, the State Board of Education and local school boards, has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education; and
WHEREAS, the rollout of the TNReady assessment in School Year 2015-2016 was a failure resulting in lost instructional time for students and undue stress for stakeholders; and
WHEREAS, due to the TNReady failure a waiver was provided for School Year 2015-2016
WHEREAS, a new assessment vendor, Questar, was not selected until July 6, 2016, yet high school students are set to take EOC exams from November 28-December 16; and
WHEREAS, there are documented errors on the part of Questar to administer similar assessments in New York and Mississippi; and
WHEREAS, score reports will be unavailable until Fall 2017; and
WHEREAS, Tennessee teachers will not be involved in writing test items for the assessment in School Year 2016-2017; and
WHEREAS, there is a reliance on using test items from other states, which may not align with Tennessee standards; and
WHEREAS, more than seventy percent of Metro Nashville Public School teachers do not produce individual TVAAS data; and
WHEREAS, the American Educational Research Association released a statement cautioning against the use of value added models, like TVAAS, for evaluating educators and using such data for high-stakes educational decisions;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE METRO NASHVILLE BOARD OF EDUCATION AS FOLLOWS:

The METRO NASHVILLE Board of Education opposes the use of TCAP data for any percentage of teacher and principal evaluations and student grades for school year 2016-2017 and urges Governor Haslam, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, the General Assembly and the State Board of Education to provide a one-year waiver.

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


 

 

Changes Are Coming To Nashville Middle Schools

Dr. Joseph heard a lot of critiques about Metro Nashville’s middle schools when he arrived in Nashville. He later found out that those critiques were spot on, according to Nashville Public Radio.

The newly-hired administrative team held 30 parent listening sessions over the first few weeks. And moms and dads kept talking about middle schools and how they’d like to see them add rigor, more advanced courses and even just a bit more homework.

As a former middle school principal, superintendent Shawn Joseph thought maybe parents were just misunderstanding their pre-teen children. But then he visited many of the district’s middle schools, and the concerns about academics were “validated.”

As a middle middleprepschool teacher, I’ve clearly seen the need for the transformation of middle schools. The district spent so much time transforming high schools that it felt like they forgot about middle schools.

While elementary schools are now getting more resources, middle schools got a new name in 2014 (Middle Preps) and were left alone. It’s like needing stitches and throwing a bandaid on it. It’s time for a real transformation and not just a quick fix. It didn’t work in 2014 and it won’t work now.

As I wrote in September following the release of ACT scores,

Preparing our students for graduation starts before the students even get to the high school level. MNPS transformed our high schools years ago towards the academy model. I think it’s time to start looking at the transformation of elementary and middle schools.

Elementary and middle schools need more supports in place to help close the gaps before students move on to high school. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope MNPS will be looking into ways to give more support to our lower grades.

It looks like Dr. Joseph is answering this call. I think too many students are still coming to middle school without basic skills that middle school teachers are not usually equipped to handle. I hope Dr. Joseph will continue to add more support to elementary schools while he is working to transform middle schools.

So when will these changes start to take place?

“Now is the time to give middle schools the love and attention they need to help strengthen our high school programs,” Joseph says.

Joseph cautions that he doesn’t anticipate any “mid-year, shoot-from-the-hip shifts.”

“We’ll take a bite at the apple next year with more comprehensive plans in year two and three,” he says.

Good luck, Dr. Joseph.

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


 

School Funding: A Matter of Safety

The Tennessean offered this opinion today on school bus safety:

The National Transportation Safety Board has shifted its position on the issue, recommending that the addition of lap/shoulder seat belts could enhance safety features already built into the buses, saving more lives.

This is an issue that has been left to individual states to decide. The Tennessee General Assembly should give McCormick’s proposed school-bus-seat-belt legislation a good debate, and then pass it.

Yes, catastrophic school bus accidents are rare, but when it comes to the safety of children, rarity and cost should not be an issue.

Six dead children and more than a dozen injured in Chattanooga makes that point quite well.

The article references the recent tragedy in Chattanooga and notes Governor Bill Haslam calling for a safety review:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam last week promised he would mobilize state government for a thorough review of the school bus process that would include everything “from how we hire drivers, to how we ensure safety of the equipment, to whether there’s seat belts on those buses.”

Interestingly, in 2015, when legislation was proposed to add seat belts to school buses, Haslam’s Administration expressed skepticism, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel:

Rep. Joe Armstrong says he will continue to push for passage of a law requiring seat belts on school buses this year despite skepticism voiced by officials of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and some fellow legislators.

So far, despite attempts by legislators including now-House Speaker Beth Harwell, no seat belt legislation has passed in Tennessee.

Instead, the General Assembly spends a fair amount of time helping districts save money by extending the life of buses. Andy Sher in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported in 2014:

School districts that own their own school buses may get some relief as a new bill approved by the Tennessee General Assembly will allow school buses to stay on the road longer.

The bill, which is projected to save local school systems an estimated $56 million in the 2014-2015 school year alone, was given final approval by the House on Monday following its passage last week by senators.

Sponsored by Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the bill authorizes the use of conventional and Class D school buses until their 18th year of service. Buses that are older can go beyond that time limit provided they have less than 200,000 miles and are inspected twice annually.

The effort to extend the life of buses combined with the failure of efforts to require seat belts ultimately comes down to the issue of money versus safety.

So, in a state that significantly under-funds schools, districts are forced to choose.

While it is encouraging to see lawmakers and Governor Haslam now examining bus safety, we shouldn’t have to wait for a tragic accident to take steps that could save lives.

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


 

 

Voucher Vulture DeVos Tapped as Education Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly offered Michigan-based voucher vulture Betsy DeVos the role of Education Secretary in his cabinet.

Education Week reports:

  1. DeVos is the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an advocacy and research organization which advocates for a variety of forms of school choice including vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. Fellow board members include Kevin Chavous, a former District of Columbia Council member, and Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor and the founder of The 74, an education news organization that says the “public education system is in crisis” in the U.S.

Fortunately, we have a preview of what education policy could look like if DeVos has her way. Unfortunately, that outlook is pretty grim. In June, I wrote about Detroit’s experiment with school choice — an experiment designed and supported by DeVos. Essentially, the system DeVos champions is one based on chaos:

Chaos. Uncertainty. Instability. That’s what a free market approach to public education brought Detroit. And, sadly, it also resulted in academic outcomes even worse than those expected in one of the worst public school districts in the country.

Choice advocates would have us believe that having more options will lead to innovation and force the local district to improve or close schools. Instead, in the case of Detroit, it led to chaos. The same fate could be visited upon other large, urban districts who fall into the free market education trap. Another unfortunate lesson from Detroit: Once you open the door, it’s very, very difficult to close.

The National Education Association was quick to respond to the reports:

Every day, educators use their voice to advocate for every student to reach his or her full potential. We believe that the chance for the success of a child should not depend on winning a charter lottery, being accepted by a private school, or living in the right ZIP code. We have, and will continue, to fight for all students to have a great public school in their community and the opportunity to succeed no matter their backgrounds or circumstances.

“Betsy DeVos has consistently worked against these values, and her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense.

In fact, the American Federation for Children by way of its Tennessee affiliate, the Tennessee Federation for Children, has spent millions of dollars in Tennessee lobbying for vouchers and supporting pro-voucher candidates for the General Assembly. In four consecutive legislative sessions, those efforts have failed. However, with renewed pressure from the federal government under DeVos, Tennesseans can likely expect an even more aggressive push for dangerous voucher schemes in 2017.

We’ve already seen voucher front group Tennesseans for Student Success spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect pro-voucher candidates.

And then there are the reports of voucher lobbyists hiding behind ethics law loopholes to host pro-privatization lawmakers at beach vacation retreats.

To be sure, Betsy DeVos is an advocate of education policies that have failed and she’ll likely seek an expansion of these failed policies through the use of the Department of Education.

MORE ON VOUCHERS:

Million Dollar Baby

Lessons from Louisiana on Vouchers

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