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

 

What is BEP 2.0?

I’ve written before about the importance of fixing Tennessee’s school funding formula (the BEP) and doing so by fully-funding BEP 2.0.

But, what is BEP 2.0? And what would it mean if fully-funded?

Well, here’s Governor Bredesen’s 2007 speech outlining the BEP 2.0 changes (developed with then state Senator Jamie Woodson).  It also includes a spreadsheet explaining the fiscal impact of funding BEP 2.0 at various levels.  This was, of course, back in 2007 and so the dollars are 2007 dollars and would need a slight adjustment to reflect 2013 reality.  Of course, it’s also likely the demographics of some districts have changed, so their numbers in the formula today would be slightly different.

As I recall at the time, the proposal would have meant an investment of nearly $500 million in new money for schools.  What passed was a plan to fund roughly half of that in 2007-08 and then to phase-in the remaining dollars over time.  Then, the 2008 financial crisis hit and BEP 2.0 was not fully-funded.

Now, of course, our state has seen revenue collections tick upward.  It seems that 2014 would be a good time to re-examine BEP 2.0, determine its relevance, and begin a path to full-funding.

According to these numbers, MNPS would see roughly $20 million new dollars every year if the plan were fully-funded.  That would certainly make a difference in the current debate MNPS is having over funding, school closures, charter schools, and teacher pay.

Neighboring Sumner County, which saw the opening of school delayed by 2 weeks due to a budget squabble over roughly $7 million in 2012, would see a bit more than $10 million in new money.  Which would mean they could fund their budget and not raise property taxes.

Other counties benefit as well.  It seems unlikely that the formula can be fully-funded all at once in 2014.  But a phase-in plan combined with an updating of the formula is long overdue.

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

 

 

PET’s Core Principles

As the Senate Education Committee conducts hearings today on the Common Core State Standards, Professional Educators of Tennessee has released a set of principles that they hope will guide policymakers on the Common Core implementation and on education reform in general.

Here they are:

  1. Keep Common Core State Standards in Language Arts and Math in place.
  2. Common Core is a starting point.  The standards that are currently adopted are the minimal baseline and we must keep moving forward to increase these standards.
  3. Evaluate Tennessee’s role in PARCC. 
  4. Delay using student test results for Teacher Evaluations, at least until 2016-2017 at the earliest.
  5. Make individual student data-mining in Tennessee illegal.   Schools and schools systems need better policies in regard to school personnel having access to an educator’s personal summative and evaluation scores.
  6. Textbook selection and purchasing must be completely transparent. 
  7. Conduct a public review of All Race to the Top Expenditures. 
  8. Evaluate Tennessee’s No Child Left Behind waiver. 
  9. Clarify the role of the State Board of Education. 
  10. Keep all stakeholders at the table.  

 

Several points are worth noting.  First, PET is made up of educators and is expressing support generally for the Common Core State Standards.  That’s important for parents and policymakers to know – the standards are, as PET says, a starting point.  They are an important starting point and a definite improvement over Tennessee’s previous standards.

Next, PET is calling for a delay in the use of the PARCC tests for teacher evaluations.  This makes some sense.  Transitioning Tennessee’s value-added date from TCAP to PARCC make take some time and adjustment (it’s not entirely clear how TVAAS will handle the transition from all bubble-in tests to constructed response tests, for example).  Delaying the use of this data in evaluations will give everyone time to see how the tests work and how to best fit them in to the TVAAS model.  Meanwhile, the teacher evaluation system itself can be improved — it seems it has changed often in the early phases of implementation and an opportunity to reflect and improve seems warranted. Further, for those who insist that some student data be included on evaluations, there are certainly other data points which might be included in a teacher’s performance evaluation.

I have been asked a lot about #7 — basically, what happened to all that Race to the Top money? How was it spent? Tennesseans deserve to know how the RTTT dollars were spent and what (if any) impact those dollars had on teachers and students.

Finally, in light of a recent letter from Superintendents to Gov. Haslam, it seems #10 also deserves some attention.  Intentionally including all stakeholders and ensuring their concerns are heard and questions are answered is a critical element in both Common Core implementation and in education reform in general.

Stay tuned for updates from the hearings today and tomorrow.

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

 

Haslam Backs Huffman

After ending last week silent on the brewing controversy surrounding Education Commissioner, Governor Bill Haslam has issued a letter to school superintendents telling them to essentially “back off.”

From the Tennessean:

“The bottom line is that we are at a critical point in the implementation of key reforms that I believe will lead to continued progress in education, and this work is simply too important to get sidetracked,” Haslam wrote in a letter addressed to school system superintendents and dated Monday.