Walkout!

A large group of students at Antioch High School walked out Friday morning due to a number of issues they say need to be addressed at the school.

Here’s the list of grievances from the students:

  • Administration’s decision to deny all applicable students the opportunity to take the PSAT, ruining their chances to qualify for National Merit Scholar scholarships
  • Extremely strict dress code that removes students from their learning environment based on what they are wearing
  • The fragmentation of school clubs and activities due to the denial of fundraising
  • Cancelation of Senior Week and all senior activities
  • Lack of adequate facilities
  • Vacancy of teachers for crucial classes
  • Unorganized administration
  • Failure to involve students in the decision making of school policies
  • Unfair and unequal treatment of staff members
  • Failure of administration to respond to student concerns in a timely manner
  • Cafeteria food that is moldy or undercooked and therefore unable to be consumed
  • Lack of fair discipline
  • Having an unlicensed principle for half of the school year
  • Discontinuation of Fee Waivers for students in tough financial situations
  • Tardy Policy that is extremely strict and unwarranted

NewsChannel5 also reports that a number of teacher have already or will be leaving the school:

Teachers there told NewsChannel 5 more than half the staff has already decided not to return next year. In fact, many teachers have already left.

MNPS offered the following response:

“A few hundred students at Antioch High School participated in a peaceful walkout today in response to a personnel issue involving the football coach. Personnel matters at schools are at the discretion of the principal. We are working with the administration at Antioch High School to resolve this issue with the community.”

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


 

Let’s Change How We Treat Truancy

Below is a guest post by Roy Kramka. You will read about Roy’s struggle in high school and how the district did not try to help along the way. Luckily, Roy ended up enrolling back in MNPS and graduating. Could his story have been different if interventions were in place?

The bill discussed below would create a progressive truancy intervention program for students who are on the verge of being referred to local authorities for truancy. These interventions would decrease the amount of referrals to the juvenile courts. Could we solve this issue if we had a uniform procedure in place? Here’s what Roy thinks:

I’d like to draw your attention to Senate Bill 196 / House Bill 483 of the Tennessee General Assembly. This bill is designed to create a progressive truancy intervention program that seeks to address the root cause of truancy. Currently, truancy cases in Tennessee are handled by the juvenile court system, which is very good at punitively addressing absenteeism, but very poor at rehabilitation. This bill should have minimal fiscal impact (and could conceivably save money), but more importantly, can mean the difference between sending a kid to jail vs sending a kid back to the classroom with the support they need to succeed.

This is personally meaningful to me because I struggled in high school, skipping the last four or five weeks of my junior year (at Hillsboro High) and dropping out in the Fall semester of my senior year (at Hume Fogg). While there were no legal consequences to my absenteeism for myself, or my family, there was also little, if any effort by Metro Public Schools to determine why I stopped attending classes or intervene when I dropped out. I would later be diagnosed with a learning disability, a process that indicated I was only writing at an 8th grade level while trying to complete honors and AP course work as a senior in high school.

I don’t know how I could have helped myself before I started skipping school. There simply wasn’t a seed of thought in my brain that I had a learning disability. I had no idea that I could tell my teachers that my struggles with school were so painful and great that it was preferable to simply walk away from the dominant social and intellectual structure in my life to avoid said pain. My truancy was humiliating. There was no joy in dropping out. But at 17 and 18, I was incapable of the introspection and self-advocacy required to rescue myself and we shouldn’t expect such introspection or self-advocacy from any other 17 or 18 year old kids.

This bill won’t solve all the problems with the ways we educate our children, but it’s a step forward. Further, it’s an example of the way local politics are a powerful tool in shaping our communities. There are four branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative, the Judiciary, and the People. And at the local level, we are most powerful. While we call our representatives in Washington, only to have our pleas fall on the deaf ears of their assistants, our local representatives are waiting for us to call.

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


 

TNReady Again

TNReady is back again with online testing being phased-in this time.

Grace Tatter at Chalkbeat reports:

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Here are the districts opting to test high school students online this year:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County

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


 

 

Rocketship Down?

A visit to the Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary revealed the school was not adequately serving English language learners, students with disabilities, and homeless students, according to a report on WSMV:

According to the Metro Schools letter, Rocketship is not providing services to children with special learning needs, like English language learners and students with disabilities.

The notice was sent from Metro Nashville Public School’s top administrators after a monitoring team with the Tennessee Department of Education came in to conduct a routine audit of special services, primarily programs adhering to The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The letter from MNPS notes a plan of improvement for Rocketship.

In response to the findings, Rocketship’s principal, Shaka Mitchell, cited test score results and then said:

We are proud of the results Rocketship achieved in its first few years but are always striving to improve. We appreciate and value the constructive input from our colleagues at MNPS and the state. We worked with the District as recently as yesterday and today, and continue to collaborate to resolve the technical issues noted in the most recent monitoring visit

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Rocketship has faced difficulty with the state and MNPS in the past, as in two consecutive years it sought to expand its presence in Nashville only to be denied by both the MNPS school board and the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Here’s what the MNPS charter review team had to say last year when Rocketship appealed the board’s decision to deny expansion:

In summary, with no additional state accountability data to consider, and no compelling evidence presented that provides confidence in the review team, converting an existing low-performing school before Rocketship has demonstrated academic success on state accountability measures would not be in the best interests of the students, the district, or the community.

As was noted in the WSMV story, the problems identified at Rocketship are not acceptable at any school, regardless of what kind of scores they are posting. Mitchell and his colleagues should work quickly to deliver on the promise of resolving these issues and striving for continuous improvement.

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


 

What Do the Facts Say?

The facts tells us that school vouchers don’t work — they are expensive and can actually have a negative impact on student achievement.

But, that didn’t matter last night as a subcommittee of lawmakers advanced a voucher bill proponents claim will only impact a small group of students.

Grace Tatter at Chalkbeat reports:

… Tennessee lawmakers insisted Tuesday that the state can succeed where others have failed, and easily advanced a proposal that would start a five-year pilot program in Memphis.

The voice vote came after members of a House education subcommittee heard voucher opponents cite recent research showing that vouchers in other states have led to worse academic outcomes for students. But again and again, lawmakers said that Tennessee could be different.

Perennial voucher advocate John DeBerry of Memphis said that voucher opponents shouldn’t worry — the program will be small, and schools won’t lose that much money.

Tatter notes that he:

… projected that few students would actually opt to participate, meaning public schools would not lose as much funding as its leaders fear. “A lot of folks are not going to put in the time, the effort,” DeBerry said, “but for the handful of parents that do, why not give them that right?”

Let’s examine that a little more closely. DeBerry is acknowledging that public schools will lose money under the plan he supports. He’s willing to take money from a school system that finally appears to be turning around in order to help what he describes as a small group of students. Oh, and the evidence says the vouchers won’t actually help those students and may well harm them.

Now, let’s compare DeBerry’s remarks to what former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said when he started a voucher program in his state:

Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.

“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”

There are other similarities between Indiana’s voucher experience and the Tennessee proposal. Back in 2011, the program in Indiana was capped at 7500 students. The proposal advanced last night would initially provide vouchers for up to 5000 students.

That Indiana program was expanded rapidly, and now it serves more than 30,000 students.

If you think lawmakers won’t move to quickly expand vouchers in Tennessee once the door is opened, you are wrong. At the end of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers narrowly approved an IEA voucher bill. This bill was targeted at students with a specific list of special needs. Now, Senator Dolores Gresham is advancing legislation that would expand that program to include students who have never attended a public school. The program is in the first year of operation, there’s no data on student results, and yet voucher proponents are already seeking to expand.

Last night, facts didn’t matter. A majority on subcommittee ignored research and suggested Tennessee could be different. The track record in other states tells a different story.

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


 

 

 

The Voucher School District

This week, Education Committees in the House and Senate will consider a number of bills creating school vouchers in Tennessee. Proponents are pushing the bills even as growing evidence suggests vouchers fail kids.

So, what would happen if Tennessee started a voucher program, even a small-scale one, this year?

One state with a record on this is Indiana. Vouchers started there back in 2011 in a relatively small program with fairly strict eligibility requirements. At the time the vouchers were created, then-Governor Mitch Daniels said:

Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.

“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”

Initially, vouchers were only to serve some 7500 students.

Fast forward five years, and the program has expanded exponentially, serving more than 30,000 students — 3 percent of the state’s student population.

The qualifications have changed, too. Now, a student doesn’t even have to have attended a public school to qualify for a voucher. Reports suggest this provision means Indiana is spending some $54 million supporting private schools — money that would not have been spent without the voucher program:

A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million.

“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” [Researcher Molly] Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”

Vouchers, then, create $54 million in new expenditures — an education funding deficit — in Indiana.

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To put that state’s program growth into perspective, 3 percent of Tennessee’s student population would be 29,936. The Tennessee voucher district would be the 8th largest district in the state, just larger than Sumner County and slightly smaller than Montgomery County. And, if our experience is at all like Indiana’s, about half of those students will never have attended a public school.

Nearly 15,000 students who never attended public school suddenly receiving vouchers would mean a state cost of $98 million. That’s $98 million in new money. Of course, those funds would either be new money (which is not currently contemplated) or would take from the state’s BEP allocations in the districts where the students receive the vouchers.

Let’s look at Davidson County as an example. If three percent of the student population there took vouchers, and half of those were students who had never attended a public school, the loss to the district would be a minimum of $8.4 million.

This means local governments would be stuck picking up the tab to support private schools. The alternative would be a dedicated state fund to support the voucher school district. That’s a total cost of around $200 million, half of that new money.

Should taxpayers be asked to invest $100 million in a program that gets negative results? Studies in Indiana, Ohio, and Louisiana all indicate that vouchers have a negative impact on student academic outcomes.

Kevin Carey noted recently that even a study by the Fordham Institute showed negative results for vouchers:

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

This week, we may hear that any new voucher program will start small and will only serve a fraction of our state’s students. Even if that’s true, the cost to taxpayers at the state and local level will be significant. Then, there’s the fact that studies are emerging showing vouchers just don’t work. Why spend more to get less?

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


 

Voucher Wars

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Every single year, in a legislature that meets in Nashville, one issue rises from the ashes again and again. That issue: Vouchers.

This year, there are multiple school voucher proposals and just about all of them will be up for consideration in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

Here’s a rundown of the bills and what they would do:

SB161/HB126 – Senator Brian Kelsey/Rep. Harry Brooks

This bill would create a pilot voucher program in Shelby County. Voucher advocates have been pushing some version of a statewide voucher program for the past four years. So far, they haven’t been successful. Now, they are trying to limit the plan to Shelby County to start in hopes they can garner additional votes.

SB380/HB336 — Sen. Todd Gardenhire/Rep. Bill Dunn

This is the voucher bill that has failed the past four years. It would allow students from districts with at least one “priority school” to apply for a voucher.

SB573/HB715 — Sen. Dolores Gresham/Rep. Debra Moody

This bill would expand eligibility to the failing IEA voucher program. Despite claims of widespread demand for this program, so far, only 39 students have taken these vouchers.

SB987/HB1109 — Sen. Kelsey/Rep. John DeBerry

This bill would also change (expand) eligibility for the IEA vouchers. It would allow students who had not previously attended public schools to obtain this voucher.

SB395/HB460 – Gresham/Rep. Roger Kane

This is an Education Savings Account (ESA) bill with no eligibility restrictions. This bill would allow the parents of any student to convert their BEP funding into a debit card or have the money wired into a checking account to use for approved education expenses.

Here’s the deal: Vouchers don’t work. The recent evidence is clear. Here’s what I wrote last week after reading recent research on the issue:

Some state policymakers (State Rep. Bill Dunn, State Senator Brian Kelsey, Governor Bill Haslam) are asking taxpayers to invest in a voucher scheme. These advocates suggest that a voucher program can provide a path to better outcomes for students. However, the results of statewide programs in three different studies indicate just the opposite: Vouchers offer a path to dismal achievement.

Tennessee lawmakers should take a look at the evidence. Vouchers just don’t work. In fact, they harm the very students voucher advocates claim to want to help. Instead of funding voucher schemes we know don’t get results, the state should focus on funding existing programs that will enhance education for all students.

Despite overwhelming evidence that vouchers fail, expect the voucher wars to wage just as hot this session — and next week.

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


 

TC Weber has a Poll

It’s Friday, and that means another TC Weber poll.

This week, TC is asking about vouchers, teacher challenges, and how open MNPS is to teacher/parent involvement.

Take a minute and check it out and vote — TC promises to write up something interesting.

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


 

 

Mike Stein on the Teachers’ Bill of Rights

Coffee County teacher Mike Stein offers his thoughts on the Teachers’ Bill of Rights (SB14/HB1074) being sponsored at the General Assembly by Mark Green of Clarksville and Jay Reedy of Erin.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

In my view, the most impactful elements of the Teachers’ Bill of Rights are the last four items. Teachers have been saying for decades that we shouldn’t be expected to purchase our own school supplies. No other profession does that. Additionally, it makes much-needed changes to the evaluation system. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue against the notion that we should be evaluated by other educators with the same expertise. While good teaching is good teaching, there are content-specific strategies that only experts in that subject would truly be able to appreciate fully. Both the Coffee County Education Association and the Tennessee Education Association support this bill.

And here are those four items he references:

This bill further provides that an educator is not: (1) Required to spend the educator’s personal money to appropriately equip a classroom; (2) Evaluated by professionals, under the teacher evaluation advisory committee, without the same subject matter expertise as the educator; (3) Evaluated based on the performance of students whom the educator has never taught; or (4) Relocated to a different school based solely on test scores from state mandated assessments.

The legislation would change the teacher evaluation system by effectively eliminating TVAAS scores from the evaluations of teachers in non-tested subjects — those scores may be replaced by portfolios, an idea the state has rolled out but not funded. Additionally, identifying subject matter specific evaluators could prove difficult, but would likely provide stronger, more relevant evaluations.

Currently, teachers aren’t required to spend their own money on classrooms, but many teachers do because schools too often lack the resources to meet the needs of students. It’s good to see Senator Green and Rep. Reedy drawing attention to the important issue of classroom resources.

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


 

Are Ideology & Double Standards Harming Nashville Schools?

Is ideology holding us back from improving education in Nashville? TC Weber thinks so. In his latest post, Weber lays out his argument that we in Nashville quickly rush to our fighting corners (Charters vs No Charters) before we even really delve into an issue. We saw this take place during our last school board election in Nashville. I’m going to break down some of his thoughts with some of my own. 

People quickly fell into one camp or the other with defenders making the argument that nothing worse could befall our school district than to be taken over by private interests, while the privateers made the argument that the status quo had to go. Much to my chagrin, I must admit that I quickly grabbed a uniform and joined a team. And for that, I owe an apology to Jane Grimes-Meneely, Miranda Christy, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.

Now I’m not saying that I would have voted for them nor campaigned for them. I still have a lot of disagreements with them on issues and take exception to a lot of strategies they employed during the election. What I am saying is that I quickly grabbed onto a dogma and stopped listening. Charter schools are bad, and they supported charter schools; therefore, they are bad. I’ve since learned the hard way that the world is a much more complex and nuanced place than that, and while we are busy building the wall at the front door, the wolf can slip in the back door.

Weber goes on to discuss the problems that he sees are facing our district right now, including policy governance, transparency, and double standards. But he comes back to the point that we must all come to: We must understand why parents want to go to a charter school.

I myself have been guilty of talking past charter supporters. Interesting enough, while I’m not an overly religious person, it’s been my experience that whenever I say I would never do something, the Lord puts me in a situation that helps me understand why I just might. This school year has been such an experience. The lack of transparency and the failure of the  district to provide equitable resources has led me consider alternatives. At this point, I can say I understand why parents consider charter schools.

I think anyone who is a part of this debate knows that many of us do not sit around and discuss ideas with someone from the other side. We have all set up a hostile environment, but even those who have not set a hostile environment join in by just picking a side in the debate. The hostile environment takes place inside schools, on twitter, or at events around town.

I’ve been yelled at in hallways of my school by a teacher, I’ve had teachers tell other teachers not to talk to me, and myself and others have felt silenced in our schools because of our views. That must stop.

Having people step up to make it stop will be the hardest part. It’s hard to break the cycle that we have found ourselves in. Think of how amazing our system would be if we actually collaborated with everyone. I think it would be wonderful.

That is how ideology blinds us and hurts us. Instead of making decisions based on the merits of individual arguments, we make them based on an alignment with ideology. How many board members voted for Dr. Joseph because he wasn’t a charter person? How many failed to question his actions because they were afraid of it opening the door for charter proponents? How many would publicly protest if his actions this year were committed by the head of a charter school?

Weber says something that will get a lot of charter school fans excited (bet you didn’t think you would hear that phrase). The double standard between if a charter school did something or if a district school did the same thing is staggering. There are many times a charter school may get dragged in the mud when a district school does the same thing. Before I started teaching, I remember hearing complaints that charter schools made their students walk silently in a line around the building. I started teaching in MNPS and guess what? We all get students in a line and walk them around school quietly.

I heard that charter schools kick out misbehaving students. I then worked at school that was able to do that same thing at the end of the school year because it was a choice school.

When I mentioned that tidbit years ago on twitter, an anti-charter school board member called for an investigation on that claim and said that it must be stopped. MNPS came back and said that students can be revoked from certain schools. The reply back to that member said, “This is also done at other schools such as East, Hume Fogg, MLK, Meigs, and Lockeland and several other MNPS schools.  Any school that has an option out of zone student at their school who does not follow rules can be ‘revoked’.” They cited a school board policy, which is voted on and approved by the school board, that allows the practice. I never heard that issue brought up in publicly after that. 

If we really want to stop charter school proliferation shouldn’t we follow the leads of Dr. Mike Looney and former Maplewood principal and current director of pupil services for Maury County Ron Woodard, both who say you don’t have to worry about charter schools if you make your school the most attractive option. The only ideology they subscribe to is to make better schools and the same should be true for all of us.. Yet we still fight the same arguments over and over and MNPS becomes less and less responsive to stakeholders.

I just want what is best for students and families in Nashville. That means that I am fine with students attending zoned, magnet, charter, or private schools.

You can read Weber’s full post here.

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