Memphis Makeover, Blogging Commissioner, and Drinks for Schools

Just a few quick hits today from education news around Tennessee.

While we tend to be Nashville-centric in many of our posts – either coverage of MNPS or state policy happenings in Nashville, Bluff City Ed offers an interesting look into the transformation of public schools in Memphis.

Now, back in Nashville, it seems the Commissioner of Education will now also be a blogger. Maybe this is how he intends to improve communication with all those Superintendents who aren’t happy with his leadership style.

Finally, over in Sumner County, Fox 17 has an interesting take on what turned out to be a fairly reasonable solution to a sticky tax problem.

20 Years of TVAAS has Told Us Almost Nothing

Valerie Strauss has an interesting piece over at the Washington Post dealing with Value-Added Modeling.  More specifically, the post analyzes what can be learned from 20 years of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) implemented as a result of the Education Improvement Act — the Act that created the Basic Education Program (Tennessee’s school funding formula, also known as BEP).

The promise of Value-Added Assessment was that we could learn a lot about which schools were working and which weren’t.  We could learn a lot about kids and how they were progressing.  We could even learn about teachers and how they were doing with all their students and with specific groups of students.  With all this information, Tennessee would intervene and take action that would move schools forward.

Unfortunately, that promise has not been delivered.  At all.

Here, I highlight the key takeaways from the Strauss piece.  Tennessee parents and policymakers should take note – TVAAS is taking up tax dollars and impacting teacher evaluations and it doesn’t really work all that well.

1. Using TVAAS masked persistently low proficiency rates.

The Tennessee value-added assessment model basically identified the schools that were already making required annual proficiency targets, but it failed to distinguish between schools with rising or declining proficiency scores.

In short, the Sanders Model did little to address the essential unfairness perpetuated by NCLB proficiency requirements, which insisted that those student further behind and with fewer resources than those in economically privileged schools had to work harder to reach the same proficiency point.  More importantly, there was no evidence that the Sanders version of value-added testing did anything to help or even predict the future outcomes for those furthest behind.

 

2. TVAAS is unstable and inappropriate for high-stakes decisions — like hiring and firing teachers, renewing licenses, or determining pay.

And despite the National Research Council and the National Academies’ flagging of value-added assessment as too unstable for high-stakes decisions in education …

…states like Tennessee rushed to implement a federally recommended system whereby value-added growth scores would come to dominate teacher evaluation for educators who teach tested subjects.  And contrary to the most basic notions of accountability and fairness, two-thirds of Tennessee teachers who teach non-tested subjects are being evaluated based on school-wide scores in their schools, rather than their own.

3. Continued use of TVAAS as an indicator of “success” leaves the most vulnerable students further and further behind.

In a 2009 Carnegie-funded report, Charles Barone points out that focus on value-added gains, or growth in test scores, may downplay the need for interventions to address low proficiency rates:  “Due to the projection toward proficiency being recalculated annually [in the TVAAS model], there is not necessarily a significant progression, over time toward proficiency . . . causing a delay of needed intervention at appropriate developmental times” (p. 8). So while showing academic progress, gain scores or growth scores easily mask the fact that minority and poor children are far below their well-heeled peers in becoming intellectually prepared for life and careers. And in masking the actual academic progress of the poor and minority students, the state (and the nation) is let off the hook for maintaining and supporting an adequate and equally accessible system of public education for all students. At the same time, politicians and ideologues can celebrate higher “progress rates” for poor and minority students who are, in fact, left further and further behind.

4. Tennessee has actually lost ground in terms of student achievement relative to other states since the implementation of TVAAS.

Tennessee received a D on K-12 achievement when compared to other states based on NAEP achievement levels and gains, poverty gaps, graduation rates, and Advanced Placement test scores (Quality Counts 2011, p. 46).  Educational progress made in other states on NAEP [from 1992 to 2011] lowered Tennessee’s rankings:

• from 36th/42 to 46th/52 in the nation in fourth-grade math[2]

• from 29th/42 to 42nd/52 in fourth-grade reading[3]

• from 35th/42 to 46th/52 in eighth-grade math

• from 25th/38 (1998) to 42nd/52 in eighth-grade reading.

5. TVAAS tells us almost nothing about teacher effectiveness.

While other states are making gains, Tennessee has remained stagnant or lost ground since 1992 — despite an increasingly heavy use of TVAAS data.

So, if TVAAS isn’t helping kids, it must be because Tennessee hasn’t been using it right, right? Wrong. While education policy makers in Tennessee continue to push the use of TVAAS for items such as teacher evaluation, teacher pay, and teacher license renewal, there is little evidence that value-added data effectively differentiates between the most and least effective teachers.

In fact, this analysis demonstrates that the difference between a value-added identified “great” teacher and a value-added identified “average” teacher is about $300 in earnings per year per student.  So, not that much at all.  Statistically speaking, we’d call that insignificant.  That’s not to say that teachers don’t impact students.  It IS to say that TVAAS data tells us very little about HOW teachers impact students.

Surprisingly, Tennessee has spent roughly $326 million on TVAAS and attendant assessment over the past 20 years. That’s $16 million a year on a system that is not yielding much useful information. Instead, TVAAS data has been used to mask a persistent performance gap between middle to upper income students and their lower-income peers.  Overall student achievement in Tennessee remains stagnant (which means we’re falling behind our neighboring states) while politicians and policy makers tout TVAAS-approved gains as a sure sign of progress.

In spite of mounting evidence contradicting the utility of TVAAS, Commissioner Huffman and Governor Haslam announced last week they want to “improve” Tennessee teacher salaries along the lines of merit — and in their minds, TVAAS gains are a key determinant of teacher merit.

Perhaps 2014 will at least produce questions from the General Assembly about the state’s investment in an assessment system that has over 20 years yielded incredibly disappointing results.

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

 

 

PET Talks to Kevin Huffman

Professional Educators of Tennessee launched a new online journal today and it contains a wide-ranging interview with Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman. The full interview can be viewed here.

I’ve got some excerpts and analysis below.

PET:  You started in your post about 3 or 4 months into Governor Haslam’s term, after Tennessee was already several months into the Race to the Top (RTTT) Grant Award and after the new evaluation system was put in place.  Yet, many people seem to tie you to the changes in teacher evaluation which was actually included in the 2010 RTTT Application.  Is that fair?

Huffman: Yes and no. No in the sense that we committed to implement the system (including 50% student achievement for all teachers) through the First to the Top legislation and then through the grant. My first week on the job, the advisory committee (TEAC) completed its work which included the selection of the TEAM rubric and the format for the observations, so that was all done by the time I came, and it isn’t accurate to say that I created it.

What set us apart from other states, though, is that we didn’t back down. Other states committed to do evaluation too, and many delayed by a year or two, or kicked the can even farther down the road, and we stayed the course. If that means that I am tied to the evaluation system, I accept that, because I think the system has made instruction better and helped kids learn more. One of the things I think people miss in the evaluation discussion is that the real value is not in anything punitive: it is in ensuring that real feedback and conversations about instruction happen across the state with a common language. And I think that has happened.

What’s missing, in my view, is the attendant professional development and early career support.  Early career teachers need mentoring and support.  Teach for America, where Huffman got his start, places a heavy emphasis on targeted coaching and mentoring in the first two years. Even if the evaluation process is on balance a good one (and there’s debate about that), it’s difficult to see how it improves instruction significantly without supports and targeted professional development being provided to teachers. 

PET:  What changes do we need to make in teacher evaluations?  And what should the state have done differently in retrospect?

Huffman: We made a bunch of changes after the first year, which I think made the system better and certainly made educators feel the system was better in the second year. I think we have to keep looking each year at how to improve it. A couple of things over the long haul that I think we need to keep looking at: 1) adjusting language each year on the rubric so that it effectively matches the observations with the standards teachers are teaching. I think we have done a little of this but we have to keep looking; 2) the whole “15% measure” for achievement still doesn’t seem to be going very well. Many teachers and schools don’t feel like it accurately reflects teachers’ impact, so I want to keep looking at this.

In retrospect, I think the biggest piece missing was training and communication for teachers well in advance of the rollout. I think some teachers got strong communication from local schools and districts and others did not, and the communication piece was insufficient from the state. A good example of that was the initial “planning” strand. Some teachers spent hours and hours and wrote 20-page lesson plan documents, which was never the intent. Better communication way back in early 2011 would have made a big difference.

The evaluation process is an ever-changing one — and that’s frustrating for teachers.  Every few months, it seems, something new is decided or added or taken away from the evaluation process. No one objects to a sound evaluation of their performance.  What’s problematic is the implementation.  Further, the 15% measure for achievement is becoming more, not less problematic.  In some systems, teachers are forced to choose an “Annual Measurable Objective” connected to English/Language Arts or Math.  Rather than owning their own students (in the case of AP teachers, for example) teachers are sometimes tied to students they’ve never taught.  The State Board document on the 15% provides a number of choices and ample flexibility.  Revisiting this issue with the input of teachers from across the state would be a welcome policy change.

PET:  In your opinion, what are the top three current challenges facing education in Tennessee?

Huffman: This is a tough one. 1) Helping students with disabilities reach their potential. We have a huge gap in achievement and we are really focused on this at the state level right now. 2) Early grades reading. We heard all summer from teachers that they need and want more support for teaching reading and for intervening with students who are far behind their peers. We are offering a course through our regional CORE offices to thousands of teachers on reading instruction, and I hope it will help. 3) Integrating all of the changes. We have done a lot in the last few years, and we now have new assessments coming. Our focus is not on more change – it is on how to manage all of the change effectively.
I’m very bullish on our ability to navigate these challenges though.

One clear way to improve early grades reading is by ensuring access to high quality Pre-K programs.  Both the Comptroller’s study and the Vanderbilt study of Pre-K indicate its ability to help improve reading in early grades.  Governor Haslam, however, has indicated he’s not in favor of expanding a program that is proven to work to address what the Commissioner of Education identifies as a top priority for our state.
PET:  Any final thoughts you would like to share with Tennessee educators?

Huffman: I am deeply grateful for your service. Every time I visit a school, I am struck by the professionalism and commitment of our educators, and our students are lucky to have you.

I’m sure it’s nice for educators to hear those words.  But, you can’t buy groceries with gratitude.  So far, there hasn’t been a real commitment to improving the pay and support for the educators the Commissioner identifies as both highly professional and deeply committed.  We heard a lot about how important teachers were to the gains noted on this year’s TCAP’s.  What hasn’t been heard is how compensation and support will be improved to ensure Tennessee is attracting and keeping strong educators.  To be clear, it’s not just better pay, but more support and more resources that teachers need.

EDIT: Today (10/3/13) at 3:00 PM Central Time Haslam and Huffman announced a goal to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state when it comes to teacher salaries.”

More Huffman: “Too often we try to use gratitude as a substitution for compensation.” — is he reading as I write?

And he notes, “Tennessee ranks in the bottom 10 in terms of teacher compensation.”

It’s not clear what that means, exactly, but it should mean more than this.

And then, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh offers this response:

“Teachers in this state are overworked, underpaid, and deserve to be treated as professionals.

However, after listening to teachers across the state, we are increasingly convinced that Commissioner Huffman’s unproven, unreliable testing methods as a basis for teacher pay are hurting our public education system.

“….Basing teacher pay on scores, especially the scores of students they never teach, is going to further strain the system, lower morale, and detract from the progress we have made in Tennessee.”

For more on Tennessee education news, follow us @TNEdReport

 

 

Our Interview with Dr. Jesse Register

We had the great opportunity to interview Dr. Jesse Register, the Director of Schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools. We hope you enjoy the interview.

1) Is MNPS moving towards school-based budgeting and budgetary control? If so, what’s the timeline? What elements of the budget will schools be free to spend as they wish? What elements will be outside a school’s purview?

Yes. We currently have 15 schools in a pilot program for school-based budgeting. We expect to have 50-60 schools in the program next school year, with a goal of going district-wide by 2015-16.

Schools in our pilot group get an average of around $6,300 per student on their school budgets. The rest of the per-pupil money goes to central services like transportation, food, human capital, textbooks, building services, etc. Of that $6,300, principals have direct control over 92%. Those numbers are expected to go up every year.

We’ve also seen a big, big increase in the amount of Title I money going directly to schools – rising from 49% two years ago to 85% today.

And of course we are looking at a weighted student funding formula that would funnel resources to schools more equitably, based on the kinds of students they serve. That could mean different levels of funding for English learners, exceptional education, gifted or others who might need more dedicated resources.

 

2) Is MNPS moving towards school-based hiring? Same questions as above — how fast, what are the parameters, etc.?

As you know, the entire Human Capital department was completely restructured. We’re looking at them as a strategy and support system more than a group that does hiring and firing.

So principals select and interview their own candidates right now. That’s district-wide. They assess the needs for teachers in their schools, select candidates from the available pool, interview them and recommend them for hire.

I say “recommend them for hire” because Human Capital needs to run background checks and actually process the hire, but principals are selecting teachers for their schools based on their specific needs.

That means we are greatly reducing the number of forced transfers. In fact, we hope to eliminate them entirely. That means principals can hire teachers, but they also have to deal with their problems and weaknesses. We don’t want inadequate performers just transferred from school to school.

The autonomy principals have also comes with accountability, and that includes staffing.

 

3) Will we see any more movement/changes to the salary structure?


We have a strategic compensation committee that is working on developing recommendations that link part of teacher compensation to performance. We expect those recommendations to be ready in before winter break. Our goal is to implement this plan for the 2014-15 school year. We expect to reward high-performing teachers while also continuing to pay teachers for additional education from quality programs – if it contributes to their work.

 

4) Given the lengthy waitlists for schools like Hume-Fogg, Meigs, and MLK, why hasn’t MNPS opened more academic magnet schools?  Understanding that other non-academic magnets (such as Rose Park, East Lit and Nashville School of the Arts) exist, why has MNPS not moved to meet that demand?

A quarter of our students attend a school by choice rather than by geography. That’s an important statistic for people to understand because it represents the diversity of attractive programs in our district, not just academic magnet schools.

Yes, the academic magnets have terrific track records and reputations. We are extremely proud of Hume-Fogg, MLK, Meigs and all of their feeder schools. But our thematic magnets and improving zoned schools can offer strong, challenging academics that meet every student’s needs.

The question we must face in Nashville is this: do we want to take our highest achieving students out of neighborhood schools and separate them into just a few academic magnets? I believe that is counterproductive. Instead let’s build the capacity in our zoned schools to challenge the high achievers while also serving the broad spectrum of all our students.

We want to improve the quality of all our schools, and we are making progress in doing that. Academically talented students can get a great education at any of our schools. If you look at our high schools, you see that in action. We have advanced academic tracks in each of our zoned high schools: Cambridge, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, STEM courses, Vanderbilt Scientists in the Classroom and more. No matter where you live in Nashville, you can attend a school that challenges you and gives you the education you deserve.

 

5) Is MNPS planning implementation of a comprehensive new teacher induction program that includes dedicated mentors?


We are in discussions for that right now, but it is very early in the process. It will all come down to funding.

There is a lot of research touting the positive impact of high-quality teacher mentors on student achievement. This year we are finishing up a three-year mentor-training program with Trevecca where teachers are moved into high-priority schools to act as teacher mentors. This will be a great pool of talent to pull from to get our mentor program started if it takes off.

 


6) Memphis is moving forward with additional Pre-K classrooms despite a stop in state dollars for expansion.  Will MNPS move ahead with a Pre-K expansion plan?


I believe strongly in universal pre-K. I intend to pursue increased funding at the state and local levels. It is long-term the best strategy for eliminating achievement gaps between disadvantaged children and those who are not.

 

7) How would you describe the relationship between MNPS and the TNDOE? Commissioner Huffman?

It’s well known at this point that we don’t always see eye-to-eye.

However, we both recognize the absolute necessity of having a professional working relationship that supports improving student achievement at the local level and state level. It’s important that we have an honest dialogue in those areas where we may disagree.

 

8) What would you like to see as the state’s top education priority?

This is a difficult question because there are so many top priorities, as far as I’m concerned: recruiting and retaining great teachers, developing great school leaders, implementing common core, adequately preparing for PARCC testing.

But if I had to zero in one just one, it has to be funding universal pre-K. We serve a very large population of economically disadvantaged children, many of them also English learners. They must be given a jump-start on kindergarten so they are ready to start school. We generally have about 1,500-2,000 applications for pre-K every year that we can’t accommodate.

 

9) Dr. Register, you were quoted in the Tennessean that the district was not able to give step increases because of the rising cost of charters. Do you believe the district is reaching a tipping point in regard to charter school costs?

We need to have a conversation about the fiscal impact of charter schools. The Board of Education has already begun the budget planning process for 2014-15 because the members are concerned about the fiscal effect of charter schools on the district as a whole. Funding follows students, but fixed costs do not. The district continues to experience enrollment growth overall, so we have the same infrastructure and some increases in variable costs for teachers, transportation and other budget items, but when the transfer to charter schools is taken into account, our funding was flat this year and may even be reduced next year.

At the same time, we are moving ahead with the RFP for additional charter schools. Going forward, we might ask charter school applicants to meet specific needs. For example, a charter school in southeast Nashville could help address the tremendous growth in that area.

 

10) I recently toured Cameron College Prep. It was very fascinating to see a charter school slowly take over a zoned school grade by grade. Is the district looking to replicate this in other zoned schools?

We are also doing this at Brick Church Middle/Brick Church College Prep, though that is through the Achievement School District. Without our partnership with LEAD Academy through the Office of Innovation, Cameron might have also been in the ASD. We do not have any other charter school conversions on the table now.

For more Tennessee education news, follow us @TNEdReport


 

Marshall County Joins the Revolution

We reported last week on Roane County’s School Board passing a resolution urging Gov. Haslam and the State Department of Education to slow down the pace of education reform, collaborate more with district leaders, and provide adequate funding to move schools forward.

Now, Marshall County is joining the fray.

It will be interesting to see how many districts pass similar resolutions before the start of the 2014 session of the General Assembly.

Even more telling will be how the respective legislative delegations respond.

Stay tuned to Tennessee Education Report and follow us @TNEdReport for more details.

 

Roane County Resolution

As I understand it, the Roane County School Board recently passed the resolution below. Basically, it says they like education reform in general, but that it is going too fast and the money coming to the district is not keeping pace with the mandates of reform.  It’s frustrating teachers and creating a negative climate.

I’m wondering if more districts will pass similar resolutions ahead of the 2014 session of the General Assembly.

Here’s the Resolution:

RESOLUTION

 

Whereas,  the Roane County Board of Education recognizes Governor Bill Haslam’s commitment to education and appreciates additional funds provided by the state and the efforts to raise the academic standards for our students, and

Whereas, the Roane County Board of Education strives to provide a quality education for every student of the county,

Whereas, Roane County’s teachers are diligent, motivated and capable, and

Whereas, teachers and administrators are frustrated by the time restraints placed upon them to implement mandated programs, and

Whereas, required additional funding is not provided for such mandated programs, and

Whereas, the system’s leaders welcome open dialogue with those on the local and state level concerning issues that impact education, and

Whereas, the concerns of the educators and system administrators are not being heard by the Commissioner of the State Department of Education.

Therefore, be it resolved that the Roane County Board of Education, on behalf of students, parents, teachers and administrators, ask the Governor and the General Assembly  to address the disconnect that currently exists with the State Department of Education.

 

 

____________________     _________                  __________________      _______

Chairman of the Board             Date                          Director of Schools           Date

 

For more Tennessee education news, follow us @TNEdReport

Have a Drink on Us

If you happen to be a young, hip, TFA-type teacher.  Non-TFA types not allowed.  The video says it’s an ASD event and the video clips appear to have been filmed inside classrooms.  It’s not clear who is paying for the event or why only TFA teachers are invited to attend.

Edit: ASD took down the video, but some nice people have added it to Youtube. 

Happy Hour Welcoming TFA Teachers from Achievement School District on Vimeo.

Expect more, but not too much more…

So, all the advocates of Common Core are part of the Expect More, Achieve More coalition.  I support the general principles of Common Core. The higher standards, the expectations, the value placed on critical thinking.

I’m carefully watching the implementation, however, as Tennessee’s track record of getting education right is well, missing.

That said, the State Department of Education has been talking a lot about expectations.  About being direct and honest with students and families about their achievement.  About what it takes to demonstrate content mastery.  About grade level appropriate learning progress.

All of which sounds good.  And, if done correctly, is good.

And then, I read that the Achievement School District has released a new grading scale for some of the K-8 schools in its control.

Here it is:

ASD Grades

And here’s the explanation from ASD.

Basically, they are aligning grades with TCAP cut scores.

Which means, you can receive a passing score in school and only demonstrate knowledge/mastery of 47% of content.

Also, there’s a huge range of scores for a B.

I’m not sure that if someone goes into the workforce and gets 59% of their work done well, they’ll have a job for very long.

And doesn’t this contradict the whole concept of high expectations?

And if these grades are aligned to TCAP cut scores, maybe we should strengthen the cut scores?

What about the students who “pass” their grade level with a 48? Really? Isn’t that setting them up to fail by telling them they “passed” even though they demonstrated mastery of less than half of the material?

It’s great to reward effort.  And nice to see students grow over a year.  But high expectations means high standards.

I’d expect to see stories soon about the ASD’s improved GPAs and promotion rate.

For more education policy news, follow us @TNEdReport

MNPS Talks Testing, Charters

Andrea Zelinski has the story in Tweets

You might remember that not long ago, Board members asked for a work session to learn more about how much time, money is spent on standardized testing.

Looks like they didn’t get much in the way of answers.  Though Paul Changas did indicate that as more regular assessment occurs, there is less need for standardized tests.

I’d suspect Frogge and Speering (who brought the issue up) will want more than that, so this issue may continue to get some attention.

WCS Superintendent Explains Why He Signed Huffman Letter

A group of 56 Tennessee School Superintendents sent a letter to Governor Haslam this week encouraging him to ask his Education Commissioner, Kevin Huffman, to be more inclusive and collaborative in his approach on education reform.  The letter stirred up a bit of controversy and no doubt created headaches for Huffman last week and into this one.

Now, one of those who signed the letter, Williamson County’s Mike Looney, is explaining why he did.

Looney notes that he is a supporter of common sense education reform.  He indicates that his concern is with both the speed at which reform has been implemented and the lack of collaboration.

Here are a couple of important points made in Looney’s letter:

Our state secured and has spent $500,000,000 in Race to the Top grant funds in the last three years.  At the same time, Tennessee has realized small incremental improvements in student results.  One might argue that the dizzying rate of education reforms in Tennessee is the result of the huge influx of federal dollars rather than a careful, measured understanding of the needs of students.  Others believe these pockets of improvement are a result of implementing The Tennessee Diploma project, which preceded Race to the Top initiatives.  In reality, as most any researcher would concede, it is difficult to know which reforms have been beneficial because we have manipulated too many variables.

Perhaps most discouraging is the fact that 50% of the $500,000,000 was kept by the Tennessee Department of Education.  I wonder for what purpose and to whose benefit?  The district I serve received less than $400,000 which did not come close to covering the cost and burden of implementing these reforms.

This is likely why organizations like Professional Educators of Tennessee are asking for an audit of Race to the Top expenditures.

Looney continues:

Based on the number and pace of reforms, their strategy seems to be to throw as many darts as possible at the problem in hopes that something, anything, will hit the bull’s eye and stick.  Meanwhile, many teachers and administrators have encouraged a more deliberate, reflective and inclusive approach, which I believe will yield long term sustainable results.  In short, Tennessee students, educators and families are not well served by rapid-fire reform efforts that ignore the importance of collaboration and thoughtful implementation.

This is a thoughtful letter raising very legitimate concerns that should certainly be addressed by the Governor and Commissioner Huffman.  If Dr. Looney’s urging won’t encourage their response, perhaps some legislators will raise these very same questions.

Tennesseans deserve excellent education for all children.  They also need to know the reform strategy being pursued is being implemented thoughtfully and is efficiently using the state’s limited funds.

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