Opportunity to Learn

Natalie Coleman, Sumner County Teacher and HSG Tennessee Teacher Fellow

originally posted on TNTeacherTalk

 

Any teacher can tell you that students who miss too much school are at a disadvantage compared to their peers. Regardless of whether absences are a result of illness, personal reasons, or suspensions, missed time in school is detrimental to the individual student’s learning. The Tennessee Department of Education hopes to improve students’ opportunity to learn by reducing absenteeism. In Tennessee’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, one nonacademic indicator for school and district accountability is the “chronically out of school” metric, which will evaluate progress in reducing the number of students who miss ten percent or more of the school year.

Before finalizing the state’s ESSA plan, the TDOE tasked the Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellows with collecting feedback from teachers across the state of Tennessee about their experiences with chronic absenteeism and with student discipline. This spring, the Fellows released a report based on the valuable input of over 2,000 teachers who participated in an online survey and nearly 400 who provided their insights in focus groups. The report includes six recommendations that the Fellows presented to Commissioner McQueen and the TDOE and is now available for the benefit of all stakeholders in Tennessee education.

The report details the results of the survey and summarizes the trends of teachers’ comments in focus groups, and a look through the report shows many connections between teachers’ experiences and the recommendations made to the Department of Education.

Recommendation 1 focuses on helping schools and teachers address the problem of students chronically missing school. Based on the survey data, even though 95% of teachers affirmed that chronic absenteeism affects student achievement, many teachers also reported that they have received little or no training in how to reduce student absences. 90% of teachers reported that they had not received training on strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism, and 92% reported that they were unfamiliar or only somewhat familiar with the state’s initiatives in addressing this issue. In response to this feedback, the Fellows recommend, “To ensure that teachers are fully aware of TDOE efforts, CORE offices could build teacher awareness of the draft ESSA plan (2016) through trainings that highlight key plan features that are designed to reduce chronic absenteeism.”   

Recommendation 2 seeks to provide schools and teachers with more resources to address this issue. On the Fall 2016 survey, 69% of teachers reported that they believe problems at home are the most significant barrier to student attendance, but only 30% report that they are aware that Family Resource Centers are available to help families and students who struggle with absenteeism. In fact, teachers who chose to write in their own answers about the family support services offered by their schools overwhelmingly responded with none. As a result, the second recommendation says, “To alleviate teacher concerns about this issue, TDOE could build awareness of an increased TDOE focus in 2017 on reducing chronic absenteeism through Family Resource Centers. Additionally, TDOE could remind teachers of the 103 Family Resource Centers in 78 districts and highlight the various needs-based services and training provided to parents and families through these centers.”

Recommendations 3 and 4 focus on student behavior and discipline. In focus groups, teachers shared various obstacles they encounter in implementing effective discipline policies. The third recommendation connects these teacher concerns to resources the TDOE could provide in conjunction with Response to Instruction and Intervention for Behavior (RTI2-B): “Because TDOE focuses on RTI2-B in the draft ESSA plan (2016), TDOE could expand the RTI2-B framework to reach more districts and schools through CORE offices or Tennessee Behavior Supports Project (TBSP), thereby providing additional targeted support in areas highlighted as obstacles by teachers.” The fourth highlights strategies for improving student behavior that are both research-based and frequently cited by teachers themselves in their focus group responses: “Through CORE offices or Tennessee Behavior Supports Project (TBSP), TDOE could emphasize how the following teacher suggestions for improving student behavior are research-based and addressed in RTI2-B: promoting positive behavior and prevention efforts and encouraging restorative behavior practices; involving parents in student behavior efforts; nurturing positive student-teacher relationships; and providing appropriate consequences in response to student behavior issues.” This recommendation encourages the TDOE to promote these research-based practices which teachers also know to be effective.

Recommendation 5 addresses the all-too-familiar concern of bullying in school. 14% of teachers report they feel unprepared or very unprepared to handle incidents of bullying in their classrooms, and 20% rate the effectiveness of their schools’ response to bullying as ineffective or very ineffective. These numbers show that many schools and teachers need additional support in addressing the issue of bullying and validate the fifth recommendation: “Because 20 percent of teachers shared that their schools’ response to bullying is ineffective, TDOE could provide resources to CORE offices for dissemination to districts and schools.”

Recommendation 6 highlights previous Hope Street Group findings about RTI2 and urges using prior teacher feedback to inform implementation of RTI2-B, Response to Instruction and Intervention for Behavior, which features in the state’s draft ESSA plan. This recommendation reads: “TDOE could revisit the recommendations provided in the Spring 2016 Hope Street Group Report on RTI2, including those related to scheduling and structuring RTI2; promoting whole school support and reducing negative perceptions of RTI2 effectiveness; and providing funding for additional RTI2 resources (e.g., professional development) and staffing.” This previous report, detailing teacher feedback regarding RTI2, is also available on the Hope Street Group website.

To learn more, visit the Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellows website and download the full 2016-17 report. You can also stay connected by liking and following the Tennessee Teacher Fellows’ Facebook page, Tennessee Teacher Voice.

 

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


 

Key Voucher Vote Tomorrow

Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence (TREE) has the details:

HB126, this year’s voucher bill, is up for a crucial vote tomorrow (Wednesday) morning in the House Budget Subcommittee.

Please take a moment to e-mail committee members and ask them to oppose this bill. You can do it using our one-click feature at http://treetn.org/act.

This insidious legislation will lead to bad outcomes for students and taxpayers across the state. We need your help to stop it.

Take action and share with your friends. http://treetn.org/act

Showing up in person at the committee hearing is also encouraged. It will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Enter Legislative Plaza at the corner of Union and 6th and take a right after security. The hearing is in Room 16.

More on vouchers:

The Evidence is In: Vouchers Don’t Work

What Do the Facts Say?

Arizona’s Voucher Lesson

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


 

 

Haslam to Kids: Be Ready, Even Though TN Hasn’t Been

In a letter sent home to students ahead of TNReady testing season, Governor Bill Haslam encourages them to do well and tells them, “Tennessee is behind you.”

Here’s the full text of the letter:

IMG_3182

These words of encouragement as well as a handy number 2 pencil were paid for by SCORE.

Here’s the thing: For the past few years, Tennessee hasn’t exactly been “behind” kids. Not in terms of delivering an annual test in an effective manner.

I wrote last year about the new “Rite of Spring.” Here’s what I said then:

Lately, this season has brought another ritual: The Tennessee Department of Education’s failure to deliver student test scores. Each of the last three years has seen TNDOE demonstrate it’s inability to get state testing right (nevermind the over-emphasis on testing to begin with).

Back in 2014, there was a delay in the release of the all-powerful “quick scores” used to help determine student grades. Ultimately, this failure led to an Assistant Commissioner losing her job.

Then, in 2015, the way “quick scores” were computed was changed, creating lots of confusion. The Department was quick to apologize, noting:

We regret this oversight, and we will continue to improve our processes such that we uphold our commitment to transparency, accuracy, and timeliness with regard to data returns, even as we experience changes in personnel.

The processes did not appear to be much improved at all as the 2016 testing cycle got into full swing, with a significant technical failure on Day One.

When it comes to actually getting test administration and subsequent details right, Tennessee hasn’t exactly been “behind” the kids taking the tests.

But this year, armed with a letter from the Governor and a new pencil, the kids are ready. Haslam wants them to do their best, even though the state has been letting them down.

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


 

Shelby County Passes TNReady Resolution

The Shelby County Commission last night unanimously passed a resolution calling on state lawmakers to suspend use of TNReady data for student grades and teacher evaluations this year.

Here’s what they had to say:

RESOLUTION URGING THE TENNESSEE COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION, GOVERNOR BILL  HASLAM, AND THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO ELIMINATE THE TENNESSEE READY SCORES AS A COMPONENT OF TEACHER EVALUATIONS AND STUDENT SCORES.  SPONSORED BY COMMISIONER DAVID REAVES

 

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee has invested heavily in the development of educational standards known as Tennessee (TN) Ready, and

WHEREAS, standardized testing has become the cornerstone of measuring mastery of the TN educational standards, and

WHEREAS, TN Ready should be meant to be diagnostic in nature and help teachers and administrators understand and develop an educational plan to help students close the achievement gap in proficiency; and

WHEREAS, the TN Ready test has become a final exam for children instead of a continual diagnostic view; and

WHEREAS, the TN General Assembly has chosen to hold teachers accountable by linking student performance on the TN Ready exam to a teacher’s evaluation; and

WHEREAS the unintended consequence of such action has led to teachers teaching children to score high on a test versus teaching real mastery of subject matter; and

WHEREAS, while giving off the appearance of a better education, this type of teaching to the test behavior actually limits the amount of quality content in deference to test taking strategies; and

WHEREAS, the TN General Assembly has now also tied student scores to the results of standardized testing creating an unfair playing field for students and their college scholarship prospects with private school students who do not count standardized tests as part of their grade point average (GPA); and

WHEREAS, parents, students, and teachers are all impacted by the State of TN placing so much emphasis on testing instead of instruction; and

WHEREAS, record numbers of quality teachers are leaving the teaching profession and school districts are struggling to recruit and retain quality teachers due to the TN standards imposed in regards to standardized testing.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SHELBY COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, that we urge the TN General Assembly to suspend the use of TN Ready Results as part of the teacher evaluations and as part of the students’ GPAs.

MORE on TNReady:

Will TNReady Yield Valid Data for Teacher Evaluations?

Washington County Joins Waiver Wave

State Board Makes Late Call on TNReady Data

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


 

 

TREE: A Takedown of Vouchers

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) is out with an email detailing the latest efforts to pass vouchers at the Tennessee General Assembly. The message is clear: Vouchers don’t work and they’re pretty expensive.

Here’s the text:

The “Ever-Expanding Universe of Vouchers” was a blog post https://treetn.org/expanding-vouche… TREE did last year warning Tennessee about school voucher intentions. In that blog we stated, “Voucher supporters, along with money from outside interests, will stop at nothing to expand voucher programs in Tennessee, effectively creating a privatized black hole for taxpayer dollars. Tennessee ranks 47th in funding for public education, leaving schools to tread water while legislators look for ways to fund private schools.” And where are we AGAIN this year? Fighting back multiple attempts to expand public school vouchers.

One bill will expand the TN IEP voucher. Only 38 out of 20k qualifying families bothered to sign up for the current version of this voucher. But, it is not about what families want. It is about expanding. This new version wants to qualify more disabilities to wave their IDEA rights and take the money even though we have no idea if the pilot works. This IEP expansion is modeled after Arizona. The Arizona Legislature created its ESA program in 2011 for special-needs students and has since expanded it to allow children from poor-performing schools, from military families, and others. Watch for this pattern in Tennessee. It is all intentional.

MEMPHIS IS THE TARGET
The other voucher bill (HB126) left progressing through committee is squarely and unfairly aimed at Memphis as a pilotAnd Memphis parents, school boards, and elected officials have not been silent in their objection. Here is what we know about urban pilots. Every time a voucher starts as an urban pilot for a small number of students, it expands across the state. Flashback to charter schools as an urban pilot solution. And now several rural districts are seeing charter school intent letters. The playbook is followed in every state where privatized solutions proliferate. Vouchers will not stop at a pilot. Isn’t the point of a pilot to see if something works? The word pilot is a sham. We don’t even know if the IEP disability pilot is working and it is already expanding.

This Memphis pilot bill is stuck on whether it will even use the TNReady to see if the pilot works.  How is that fair? How do you show a voucher pilot improves educational outcomes for children if they don’t take TNReady? Then what kind of overreach will we see private school curriculum to make sure “the test” is addressed? It is a slippery slope.

THANK YOU COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Concerns are growing fast as the County Commissioners Association published a spreadsheet (shown above) that TREE obtained via email, sent to Association members outlining a rough idea, county by county illustrating “[H]ow a k-12 voucher program might impact county budgets, particularly if you compare revenue lost when a student transfers out of a school district and into a private school.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6… ) The chart shows the amount of county property tax needed to offset a 10-percent decrease in student population. [The Association] research has cross-checked many of the systems and, for the most part, it appears to be accurate. ” Of note: Carroll County sets its districts differently, so the formula used does not translate for that county.

The property tax increases to offset vouchers seen on the spreadsheet is not something any county commissioner wants to pass on to property owners. Lauderdale County loses the most with an 84.23 cent increase per year. Davidson is looking at a 30.36 cent increase. The Tennessee Ed Report did a post that outlined skyrocketing taxes in Indiana and some potential scenarios for Tennessee. http://tnedreport.com/2017/03/the-v…

School vouchers become a parallel school system to fund. One Tennessee cannot afford.

Parents feel vouchers are an empty promise. Study after study show they do not work to increase achievement. https://www.brookings.edu/research/… Without transportation and the ability to cover all the extras, a voucher is not really in reach of most public school families. The private schools most familiar won’t be taking vouchers. And in the end, voucher school choice is the choice of the private school to accept a student and to keep a student. It opens the door to discriminatory practices that leave Shelby County parents in doubt this is little more than a religious school subsidy with tax dollars that experiments on their children.

Our government needs to invest in neighborhood schools, invest in RTi2 small intervention classes, time with a teacher, community schools coordinators to coordinate wrap-around services and discipline supports. Fund opportunities to engage in learning. Not siphon off public dollars into private, unregulated hands. We must support Shelby County Schools, not public money for vouchers. Former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey confirmed that he supported intentions to expand the program statewide when he recently spoke to a group of Shelby County Republicans in Bartlett. These pilots are nothing more than seeds for state voucher program growth and higher taxes.

And here’s a breakdown of those costs at a 10 percent level:

TREE Vouchers 2017-1

 

TREE Vouchers 2017-2

In fairness, the Indiana experience has shown about a three percent rate of students taking vouchers. Still, that’d add up to a pretty hefty tax increase in many places. All to support a second school system. The Indiana experience shows that creating a voucher school system means an education funding deficit.

This is a key week for vouchers, as the Shelby County pilot bill is going before the House Finance Subcommittee.

Stay tuned to see if legislators will advance a voucher scheme.

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


 

 

Despite Concerns, Knox Board Passes Budget

I noted yesterday that KCEA President Lauren Hopson had concerns with the proposed Knox County Schools budget for 2017-18. It turns out, she was not alone. Despite concerns being raised, the budget won approval from the Board with an 8-1 vote.

Here’s how the Knoxville News Sentinel reported it:

…the move didn’t come without frustrations from a majority of members who criticized staffing cuts, the elimination of assistive technology staff and teacher raises that were deemed too low. But beyond the line-item changes, the board was nearly unanimous in its irritation over a complicated budget document that wasn’t posted publicly until five days before the meeting.

According to new Superintendent Bob Thomas, just one week into the job, some of those concerns could be addressed later in the process. For now, the Board’s budget moves on to the countywide budgeting process.

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


 

KCEA President Questions Budget

Knox County Education Association President Lauren Hopson is questioning a proposed 2017-18 budget that she says doesn’t live up to promises made.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

The president of the local teacher’s union on Monday criticized Knox County School’s proposed budget for offering teacher raises below the-agreed-upon goal of 4 percent despite an estimated $18 million revenue increase.

Hopson said of the framing of the budget decision:

“The choice should never be between a raise for certified staff and a raise for classified staff,” said Lauren Hopson, head of the Knox County Education Association. “Knox County Schools needs to prioritize their budget so that the memorandum of understanding (with the union) can be honored and our classified staff can be given a raise to show that they are an invaluable part of our school system as well.”

The budget issue will be before the Knox County School Board for a vote tonight, and Hopson plans to bring her concerns directly to the board.

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


 

4 Bills Teachers Need To Know About

While the debate around vouchers is loud and needed, we must not forget about the other bills that are making their way through the legislative process. Here are four bills that teachers need to know that will change how teacher effectiveness and preparation are measured.

The proposed bills all look like they will pass and become law. Spread the word about these bills so teachers will have the most updated information.

SB114/HB695 By Senator Bo Watson & Rep. Ryan Williams

There is a consensus that we need to improve the preparation of future teachers. Teachers need the most updated information from faculty that still have connections to the classroom.

The amended version of the bill requires education preparation faculty, including education deans, to have direct personal involvement in a school annually. The state summarizes that bill as follows:

Requires full-time educator preparation program faculty members, including academic deans, to have direct personal involvement in public schools or local education agencies (LEAs) annually. Requires faculty involvement to include professional learning targeted to pre-K through grade 12 teachers; learning focused on LEA specific initiatives; direct instruction to pre- K through grade 12 students; district-level partnership; or observation of pre-K through grade 12 teachers.

The bill has passed the Senate and is waiting to be taken up in the House Finance committee this week.

SB575/HB626 by Senator Dolores Gresham & Rep. Sabi Kumar:

Right now, you are able to log on the Teacher Prep Report Card to find out information about how teacher preparation programs are doing in preparing teachers for the classroom. This bill will add teacher observation data into this mix.

The bill requires the department of education to provide all state board of education approved teacher training programs access to annual evaluation data for teachers and principals graduating from the programs for a minimum of five years following the completion of the program.

It’s not clear if the public will be able to see the evaluation data from the different preparation programs. Either way, I hope the programs will use the data to improve.

The bill has passed the Senate and is waiting for the House to take it up this weeks.

SB1196/HB309 by Senator Mark Norris and Rep. David Hawk

This bill deals with assessment data that are used in overall teacher evaluations. The bill makes permanent the flexibility to use the most recent year of TVAAS student growth, if it leads to a higher evaluation score for the teacher. I’ve heard that some superintendents like this bill because it could be used to reward a teacher for a large one year growth. The three year growth option will allow teacher flexibility to change schools, grade level, or move to support a higher need population.

And here’s the state’s summary:

Requires the student growth portion of teacher evaluations to account for 10 percent of the overall evaluation criteria in FY16-17 and 20 percent in FY17-18 and each year thereafter. Requires that the most recent year’s student growth evaluation composite account for 35 percent of growth data in a teacher’s evaluation, if such use results in a higher evaluation score. Authorizes the use of educational progress and evaluation data for research purposes at postsecondary institutions. Requires Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) subject-area scores to make up the following percentages of elementary and middle school students’ final spring semester grades in grades 3-8: 10 percent in FY16-17; 15 percent in FY17-18; and 15 to 25 percent in FY18-19 and subsequent years.

This bill has passed the House and is waiting to be passed in the Senate.

SB250/HB67 by Senator Jim Tracy & Rep. Eddie Smith

This bill is trying to solve the problem that arises with teachers who teach in non-tested subjects. The state summary is pretty clear in this case:

Requires local education agencies (LEAs), by the 2018-2019 academic school year, to adopt at least one appropriate alternative growth model approved by the State Board of Education in order to provide individual growth scores to teachers in non- tested grades and subjects. Requires the Department of Education (DOE) to develop valid and reliable alternative student growth models for non-tested grades and subjects currently without such models.

What do you think?

Teachers, what are thoughts on these four bills? Let us know in the comments.

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


 

 

374 Charter Parents: Attacks Against Our Schools Must Stop

A Tennessean editorial by 374 Nashville parents demand that attacks on charter schools stop. The editorial, which was delivered as an open letter to Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and Board Chair Anna Shepherd, includes parents from 19 charter schools in Nashville.

The signees make their intent clear:

We are coming together to say that the attacks against our schools must stop.

Many parents in Nashville exercise school choice by moving into zones of high-performing schools or by entering the lottery and hoping for seats in choice schools. As parents of students attending public charter schools, we are no different. Our zoned schools were not able to meet the needs of our children, so we found schools that do. Yet we find ourselves and our schools on the receiving end of constant accusations and attacks.

In education, we know that we must meet the individual needs of our students. The same is true for parents. They want to pick a school that meets the needs of their child and family. That could be a zoned school, charter school, magnet school, or a private school. They know what’s best for their child. We shouldn’t fault anyone for that.

We must all come together to make our district better. That includes charter schools, magnet schools, and zoned schools. All are responsible for making collaboration key for our students. I’ve even seen collaboration between private schools and MNPS.

Division may gain you retweets, but it won’t help our students. Collaboration will.

In this age when too many elected officials delight in drawing divisions rather than doing the hard work of solving problems, we hope you will reject that path and instead come together to focus on the opportunities and challenges in all of our city’s public schools.

We urge you to cease these attacks on our schools and show the city of Nashville that you are a productive, student-centered board focused on making every MNPS school excellent.

Contrary to the picture some board members paint, we are intelligent, engaged, determined parents who want a better life for our children. All parents want what is best for their children, and we are no different. Our children are thriving. They are working hard and learning every day. They are encouraged at school to dream big, and they are receiving the education they need to reach those dreams.

While each of us has a story of why we chose our public charter school instead of our zoned school, we wish every Nashville school well and are thankful for the hard work of this board and the progress you have made over the past year. We ask that you continue that progress by focusing your positive energy on all of our city’s public schools instead of singling out a few.

These 374 parents are public school parents, and they are fed up with the attacks on the schools they decided to send their kids to. We spend too much time shaming parents for picking charter schools or private schools. Shouldn’t we be asking why these families are picking private and charter schools? Let’s find that answer, and then let’s move to make the changes that are needed.

I’ve heard from parents who transferred their student with learning differences to a private school to only get shamed from their friends. The same has been heard from a parent who found that a charter school served their student with learning differences better than their zoned school. As a special education teacher, I can’t fault any parents for picking what is best for their child.

Let’s listen to all public school parents, not just those from zoned and magnet schools.

You can read the editorial and all 374 signees here.

Update (5:50pm): School board member Will Pinkston has responded to the editorial:

Let’s see: 9,718 students in Nashville charter schools. Which means there are 9,344 parents who didn’t sign on to the big letter. Sad!

When hundreds of parents come to the school board with an issue, it shouldn’t be dismissed by a school board member in a Trump-like tweet. That’s not the leadership that our city deserves.

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


 

 

Vouchers: A Warning from Arizona

Arizona just expanded its voucher program so that every child in the state will be eligible for a voucher.

This is worth noting as Tennessee continues to debate adopting a voucher “pilot program” this year. We’re told by voucher advocates this will be limited to Shelby County and won’t expand unless is “works.”

The evidence in states like Indiana and now Arizona, however, suggests that once voucher programs get started, they don’t stop. Instead, they grow and comprise more and more of a state’s education budget. Indiana’s voucher program grew from 7500 students to more than 30,000 in just five years and now costs the state $131 million.

Derek Black describes the Arizona situation this way:

 If one understands the facts, one understands that this voucher program is not about helping kids in Arizona “win.”  It is about raw politics and continuing the longstanding trend of depriving public schools of the resources they need to succeed.  If parents in Arizona want vouchers (or charters), it is not because those policies are normatively appealing.  It is because the state has been robbing them of the public education they deserve.  Many families now surely believe they have no other realistic option.  In short, the state has created the factual predicate of failing public schools to create the justification for its own pet project of privatizing education.

And here’s what’s going on in Indiana:

Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

Vouchers don’t work. And those small programs quickly grow out of control — costing taxpayers more money and yielding disappointing results.

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