PET on TCAP

An editorial on the TCAP delay by Cathy Kolb, President of Professional Educators of Tennessee and Samantha Bates, Director of Member Services for Professional Educators of Tennessee

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Education announced that 3rd through 8th grade Quick Scores, the portion of students’ final grades that come from TCAP testing as mandated by state law, would not be available until May 30th. This means that elementary and middle schools across the state will either fail to follow the legal reporting standards or will be required to distribute final report cards twice in one month.

“We are extremely disappointed in the Tennessee Department of Education. The ‘rules’ associated with testing did not change between this year and last. But, while results available last year were returned in a timely manner, the same could not be accomplished this year. This delay will impact teachers, parents and students with scheduling classes and placing students in appropriate classes,” said J.C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Additionally, many systems have released for the summer. This decision by the state will require many teachers to return to school to recalculate final grades and release report cards again, adding costs at the end of the school year when money is the tightest.

A concern of many educators, though, is why the scores are delayed. The official reasoning from the state is that the scores are being “post-equated.” Statistically speaking, this process ensures that any given test is valid and serves its intended purpose. In years prior, this process was done after Quick Scores are reported and final report cards are distributed. This raises doubts for educators about the validity of this year’s assessment, given the number of changes made to testing for this school year. The number of tested SPIs and overall number of test items dropped, making it harder for students to score proficient on tests where the proficiency cut off has been gradually rising over the past five years. What do the scores look like that requires this process to be done now and not later?

Another concern is the fact that districts are required to apply for waivers from the state. When a good teacher makes a mistake or changes the parameters of an assignment, he or she gives students the extra support that they need to complete their tasks with the new information.

“That’s what leaders do,” according to Director of Tullahoma City Schools, Dan Lawson. “When the state fails to provide test scores in a timely manner consistent with Tennessee statute, they should waive the accountability requirements for this reporting cycle automatically without requiring school districts to jump through any additional hoops,” posits Lawson.   Placing extra work on systems for a state error is the height of poor leadership. Where is the accountability for this situation? Where is the leadership from the DOE? Where is the support for districts? Where is the support for educators? It seems that there are many questions that this situation raises, but the most pressing is this: when Commissioner Kevin Huffman said earlier this week that adults needed to work harder, did he mean educators or his staff?

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

TEA Takes on Huffman Over TCAP Delay

The Tennessee Department of Education advised school district directors yesterday that TCAP “quick scores” would not be available this year in time to factor them in to final grades for students in grades 3-8. This left districts with a choice: delay the issuing of report cards until the scores are available “sometime this month” OR seek a waiver from state law mandating that TCAP scores count toward a student’s final grade.

Some districts issued statements explaining what the delay means for students.

And now, TEA is out with a statement on the matter.  From the TEA press release:

The Tennessee Department of Education informed directors of schools that TCAP scores will not be available before the end of the school year, as is typically the case for calculation of students’ final grades. The state’s decision to delay the release of the scores has serious implications for students, families, teachers and administrators statewide.

“This delay is unacceptable and further illustrates the many consequences of making a one-time standardized test the be-all, end-all for our students and teachers,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher. “School districts being unable to calculate final grades creates a domino effect of problems for everyone from the local director of schools right down to the students.”

“Test-related anxiety and distrust are already high among students, parents and educators in our state because of Commissioner Huffman’s insistence on placing more and more weight on these tests,” Summerford continued. “The state cites a change in assessments this school year as the reason for the delay. Why are districts just now being informed about something that the department has known about for months?”

“If TCAP was used as a diagnostic tool, rather than as a punitive measure, our schools would not be in the absurd position of deciding whether to send students home without report cards or send home grades that may change once the state chooses to release the scores,” the TEA president said.

“Teachers face a tremendous challenge in providing the best education for all students, particularly when forced to spend so much time focused on standardized tests. The mishandling of this entire situation should be enough to cause legislators and communities to reevaluate, and correct, the ‘reform’ path the commissioner is leading our students down,” Summerford concluded.

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

 

 

 

McKamey to Host Education Forum Friday in Knoxville

Democratic candidate for Governor John McKamey will host a forum on public education on Friday, May 16th at 4:30 PM at State Representative Gloria Johnson’s campaign headquarters located at 311 Morgan Street in Knoxville.

McKamey is the former County Mayor of Sullivan County and a long-time Sullivan County educator.  In 2004, he challenged Ron Ramsey in a state Senate race.

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

 

Is Disruption the Answer for Education Policy?

Ezra Howard over at Bluff City Ed has some thoughts on whether disruption ought to be the goal of education reformers.  In short, the answer is no.  But, here are some more of Howard’s thoughts from his recent article:

Disruption Commodifies Children:

Disruption is a term largely borrowed from economics and market theory. I personally don’t like applying market theory to education. It lends itself to the commodification of children, perceiving communities as markets, and turning families into consumers. In short, it dehumanizes the very personal and communal experience of teaching and learning. As a result, when disruption is applied to education it often has a very different and negative effect on students and communities than that seen in free market business.

Disruption Has Been Problematic in Tennessee:

At the local level we’ve seen several cases of disruption run amok here in Tennessee, the most prominent example being the disastrous results of virtual charters run by K12 Inc.,a for-profit out-of-state company. And this isn’t limited to virtual schools; it’s starting to happen in brick-and-mortar schools, most notably with the California-based Rocketship Education. Rocketship advertises the blended learning model of instruction proposed by Horn. Rocketship rotates students between computer-based lessons monitored by non-certified instructors and direct instruction led by certified teachers at a 30+ student-to-teacher ratio. While arguing their approach is cost effective, the charter company has come under fire in Nashville for its questionable business practices and its test scores, which since its decision to expand have dropped . It is also experiencing a steady decline in achievement that is directly correlated with its expansion, from 80.5% proficiency in ELA to 51.0% and 91.3% proficiency in Math to 76.7%.

An Alternative to Disruption

I argue for an alternative business model to disruption, known as sustaining innovation. It’s used predominantly to discuss the strategies of established enterprises seeking to remain current by evolving their services and products. Emphasizing sustainability, local school districts can provide innovative approaches to instruction that are intentional, results-oriented, and research-based. Local school districts should expand upon initiatives proven to increase not only students’ long-term achievement but also their quality of life. Some examples are Pre-K, instruction in the arts, early and persistent instruction on foreign languages, and participation in after-school programs and extra-curricular activities

 

Howard’s arguments are sound — when we experiment on kids, and the experiment fails, kids don’t get those years of school or life back.  When we disrupt a community by altering or eliminating its school, we forever change the face of that community.

And, the solutions proposed are sensible — sustaining (and sustainable) innovation make sense for schools.  Thinking of education policy in the long-term — 10 to 20 years — makes sense.  Focused, incremental results over time better serve communities than short-term gains that are not sustainable.  Or, worse, short-term experiments that fail, leaving kids and communities behind.

For all of Howard’s thoughts on disruption, read here.

 

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

 

PARCC Delayed is PARCC Denied?

The Conference Committee Report on HB 1549/SB 1835 — legislation that would delay Common Core implementation — is out.

While the report does NOT recommend a delay in implementation per se, it does set out requirements for legislative notification prior to adoption of Common Core standards in science and social studies. Which may ultimately mean those standards are not adopted.

Perhaps most interesting is the section related to PARCC — the Pearson test associated with Common Core.

The Conference Committee Report contains language that would DELAY PARCC tests for one year — so, they wouldn’t start in 2015 as planned.  It goes further by requiring that the Department of Education accept bids for a test of Tennessee’s standards, including the Common Core in English/Language Arts and Math.

It’s possible, of course, that PARCC could still be the chosen option in Tennessee.  Then again, the state could go the way of Kentucky and Florida and drop out of PARCC altogether and contract for a different test.

Unless the General Assembly wants to stay in session for a few more days, it seems likely that this report will be adopted as the compromise position — allowing Tennessee to proceed with the Common Core as currently adopted and taking a step back to assess which test best meets the state’s needs.

Read the full Conference Committee Report.

Tennessee Solution?

In response to Governor Bill Haslam’s betrayal of his promise to improve teacher pay, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House is proposing a series of budget amendments they are calling the “Tennessee Solution.”

The plan costs $90 million and provides teachers and state employees a one-time bonus and adds a 1% raise to that bonus if state revenues reach certain targets.

Here are some details provided by the Tennessee Education Association:

Amendments to the governor’s budget plan will be presented this Thursday. The bipartisan plan includes a raise and bonus for teachers. Please contact your legislators immediately to show support for this plan.
The governor’s proposed changes to the budget – including the removal of his promised raise to teachers – passed both the House and Senate Finance committees yesterday. It is scheduled for floor votes this Thursday. Please contact your legislators immediately to ask for their support of the plan to reinstate the pay increase for teachers and state employees.

The bipartisan group of House legislators plan to propose two amendments they are calling the “Tennessee Solution.” The amendments include the following:

  • One percent raise for teachers and state employees, contingent upon revenue collection. A portion of the raise will be included in the current budget to be paid-out if and when revenue numbers reach the total required amount for the raise. 
  • One-time bonus for teachers and state employees, possibly for employees with three or more years of service

 

While it seems unlikely the raise portion of the plan will be met unless underlying revenue concerns are addressed, the plan does provide a one-time bonus that would, at least for this budget cycle, boost teacher and state employee pay.

A more ambitious plan would have addressed long-term revenue concerns and/or provided for cuts in other departments in order to fund investments in education.

As the plan details became available, the House broke into Caucus meetings with Republican leadership stressing that the conservative stance was to oppose the “Tennessee Solution” and support the betrayal of Tennessee’s teachers and state workers.

A vote on the proposed amendments is expected Thursday.

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

Helping Haslam

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, has some advice for Governor Haslam:

The critic, Niccolo Machiavelli, taught us that assertions of virtue and integrity in politicians are often grinning masks of deception. So we are not surprised when politicians routinely over-promise and under-deliver. State leadership must coherently articulate K-12 Education Policy to citizens in a truthful manner.

By state leaders continuing to ignore legitimate concerns, such as a vocal opposition to the Common Core State Standards and PARCC Assessments, policymakers and stakeholders across Tennessee have now been negatively impacted. This message has largely fallen on deaf ears at the highest level of state government, who continue to believe all is well. Members of the Tennessee General Assembly have listened and we are grateful to those legislators. Many citizens share the opinion that school teachers, principals, and superintendents are regarded by the administration as impediments to school improvement rather than partners.

As an organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee have embraced higher standards, with the caveat that we should always seek higher standards and a commitment to student achievement. We were very enthusiastic when Governor Haslam pledged to make Tennessee the fastest growing state for teacher salaries in October 2013 and again in the State of the State in February 2014. We intend to help him keep his word.

Governor Haslam has justly boasted “we are one of only six states in the country that has consistently increased state spending on K-12 education as a percentage of our total budget.” He has added that since 2011, “we’ve had the fourth largest increase in education spending compared to the rest of the country.” The questions we need to ask:  How much of this has been Race to the Top Funds?  Where were all those funds allocated?  How much money was actually earmarked to the classroom?

If policymakers boast that Tennessee is the fourth largest state for increase in education spending, then funds from RTTT need to factor into that calculation. Our estimation is that roughly $252 million of the RTTT grant was retained by the Tennessee Department of Education and never saw the inside of a school or classroom. These dollars went toward consultants’ contracts and partnerships.

Our belief is that every dollar earmarked for education should be spent to benefit Tennessee school children. A teacher’s working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. If Tennessee had the most ‘growth’ of any state on the latest NAEP results led by our state teachers, why were their promised salaries a lower priority than unproven PARCC Testing or adding Media/Marketing and Event Coordinators at the Tennessee Department of Education?

We support a delay and/or for the state to rescind the mandate for LEA’s to create a differentiated pay plan. Without the state’s increased financial contribution this creates an unfunded mandate on our local school systems. If the state mandates a requirement they should subsequently provide the necessary funding to facilitate that obligation at the local level. Unfunded mandates fly in the face of conservative orthodoxy and sound public policy.

Teacher attrition is a serious issue. We must keep experienced educators in our classrooms. Tennessee colleges and universities are very adept at meeting the demand for producing quality educators in this state. Historically, approximately 50% of the teachers that graduate with a degree in education do not find a teaching job.

We would suggest a review and delay for all Teach for America (TFA) contracts. Researcher Elaine Weiss revealed that Tennessee spends more money per Teach for America recruit than any other state. Some reports state that total compensations ranging from $5,000 to $9,000, to as high as $15,000, have been paid to Teach for America for their recruits. If this is true, we should turn to our own graduates of traditional colleges of education looking for an opportunity to teach in their own state.

Teaching is higher calling for professionals, not a pre-career placeholder. Therefore, it makes little sense to employ temporary teachers and spend scarce tax dollars and resources then watch a teacher leave after two years. Our goal should be hiring and retaining quality teachers that want to live, play, and worship in our communities long-term, instead of marking off days until a loan is forgiven and entrance to graduate school is accomplished.

We do not seek to be unduly critical of Governor Haslam. We recognize that there are many competent people in the Department of Education and administration. However, the media may be the only hope to reach the Governor. We encourage the Governor to confront issues directly, answer emails timely and regularly meet face-to-face with education stakeholders on a consistent basis, not through intermediaries. Governor Haslam, you need our help and we want to extend our hand to offer the assistance you need.

More on how Tennessee came to be short on revenue.

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

 

Larry Proffitt Wants to Give TEA a Hug

Larry Proffitt is a middle school teacher and a baseball coach.  He’s also on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Education Association.

He’s a friendly guy, with the enthusiasm and energy indicative of someone who spends his days relating to 11-14 year-olds.

Proffitt says that when he first got involved in TEA, he appreciated the organization because when he was down, he could also go to a TEA meeting and get a hug.

Now, he says, TEA needs a hug.

The organization has been battered recently, losing collective bargaining early in Governor Bill Haslam’s tenure.

Since then, Tennessee teachers have faced the implementation of new evaluations brought on by the Race to the Top win under Governor Phil Bredesen.  While TEA leaders signed-off on the provisions of RTTT, they now say the implementation process hasn’t gone as planned.  And that teachers are losing their voice on policies that impact them.

Proffitt is sensitive to this and says the organization needs to branch out.  It’s a new day in Tennessee politics and TEA needs to try new collaborations, according to Proffitt.

Profitt is also a member of the BATs, short for Badass Teachers Association. It’s a national group with a strong Tennessee presence that is focused on calling attention to the most egregious of education policies. BATs don’t pull punches.  Instead, they are relentless in their pursuit of what they believe is sound education policy.  According to Proffitt, it’s tough to find sound policy among those currently making the rules in Tennessee.  He says he spent every snow day this past winter at the legislature, advocating for positive education policy – and mostly, educating legislators on what’s gone wrong in the current education environment.

Proffitt is not following the typical path to the TEA Presidency.  Historically, a member of the Board of Directors of TEA gets elected to the position of Vice President.  That individual then runs for President (usually unopposed) after serving under the organization’s President.  The current VP is Barbara Gray, and she is running for TEA President, too. Proffitt is undeterred by the typical process. He’s running and running hard. He has a very active social media presence and he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind.

He’s also worked side-by-side with parents and citizen lobbyists like those in TREE — Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence. TREE opposes vouchers and a state charter school authorizer and has been active in the past two legislative sessions voicing concerns over these and other popular tenets of the current education reform movement.

Proffitt is not openly critical of those in current leadership at TEA.  Instead, he says TEA must expand its vision.  They must collaborate with outside groups and gain public support.  They must provide a reason for teachers to join again, even without the lever of collective bargaining.

The TEA President is chosen by members of the organization’s Representative Assembly.  Those delegates are chosen at the local level. Proffitt indicated about 800 or so TEA members will decide on the organization’s next President.  He’s hopeful about his chances, even if he’s ruffling feathers along the way.

“If the teachers I talk to from around the state every single day are talking to their delegates, I have a shot at this,” he said.  “And if not, I’ve learned a lot in the process.”

Those who support his candidacy say he’s the “Proffitt who can’t be bought or sold.” The play on words is indicative of his outside-the-box candidacy and his willingness to speak out, even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.

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

The Governor, The Budget, and Making Teacher Salaries a Priority

This article was written by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

By now Governor Haslam is aware of the disappointment by educators in his decision to remove increases in teacher salaries. In reneging on this promise, making Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation when it comes to teacher salaries, it is clear his priorities have shifted. This pay raise was promoted with great fanfare.

In October 2013, Professional Educators of Tennessee applauded Governor Haslam’s decision to make Tennessee the fastest growing state for teacher salaries. We must be equally concerned about the abandonment of this pledge and reneging on this statement within such a short period of time.

Public school teachers do incredible work across the state of Tennessee and the nation. They are often not recognized for their tireless dedication to a very demanding job, in which most educators identify as a calling. It has been fashionable to lay all the ills of society at the feet of teachers, but it is not fair. Every intelligent debate on student achievement would be wise to consider factors beyond the control of most teachers and schools.

No generation of educators in the history of the world has been asked to do what we now demand of our public schools. The challenge and responsibility has grown, yet public schools gladly commit to teach all children who enter their classrooms.

Everyday teachers are challenged by a wide-ranging mixture of social, psychological, and physical problems that impede the improvement of so many students entrusted into their care. You cannot reduce salaries or fail to reward Tennessee Educators and hope to attract and retain the best teachers to prepare students for the jobs of the future. This must be a legislative priority.

We need to take a very close look at teacher attrition. It is difficult to create a stable and world class education with a highly unstable teaching workforce. You cannot continue to make teachers, or state employees for that matter, a non-priority. When legislative priorities are more focused on the results of a test given at the end of a school the year, rather than those educating children then we have lost our focus as a state. We have made textbook companies and test publishers prosperous while we engage in a rigorous debate over a 2% raise for a teacher. People deserve a higher priority.

I understand Governor Haslam’s conundrum; business tax revenues are roughly $200 million less than projections. However, educators cannot understand how the Haslam Administration could have changed course so quickly and made educators bear the brunt of his decision making. In a political environment rampant with ideological conflict and tainted by partisanship, surely no policymaker of either party can be satisfied by the decision to abandon minor raises for teachers and state workers.

Policymakers understand that state policies and budget decisions affect the lives of Tennesseans. Any budget proposed must decisively connect tax dollars to state priorities. When teacher salaries are cut from the state budget you may well be creating another unfunded state mandate on LEA’s due to the state mandated differentiated pay plan. We encourage policymakers to discuss this directly with LEA’s in their community.

Like many policymakers, we feel disconnected when we hear of decisions impacting public education through the media, and not from the governor or his staff directly. Stakeholders should have a chance to weigh in on the cumulative effects of a policy change. This is poor leadership and lacks transparency.  We would maintain that when confronting a calamity of this nature, government needs to be transparent about the situation, the people, and the decisions which must be made. Transparency breeds accountability, accountability leads to trust, and trust will allow Tennesseans to know their tax dollars are used wisely.

Research clearly and consistently demonstrates that the quality of the classroom teacher is the number one school based factor in student learning. This is not what is reflected in Governor Haslam’s budget. It is up to policymakers and constituents to ask the Governor why teacher salaries are not a priority.

More on Governor Haslam’s broken promise here.

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

Prioritizing Education

Gov. Bill Haslam tweeted on October 3, 2013: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

The first hint that being fast-improving might take some time came in the Governor’s 2014 budget presentation, when he proposed a 2% pay raise for the state’s teachers.  By way of comparison, Kentucky’s Governor also proposed a 2% raise for his state’s teachers. It’s tough to be the fastest improving when you move at the same rate as your competition.  It’s like being down 40-30 at halftime of a basketball game.  Then, in the second half, you match the other team and score 40 points.  You end up losing 80-70.  To be fastest-improving, you have to score more points, but maybe Haslam’s not a sports fan.

Then, comes yesterday’s news that Haslam’s budget is facing trouble because state revenues are down.  So, surely he’s going to focus on keeping those all-important teacher raises and commitment to K-12 education, right? Wrong.  Haslam is balancing the state budget by denying promised raises to teachers and state employees and ditching his proposed increases to higher education. What’s worse, Haslam’s Commissioner of Education convinced the state Board of Education to mandate that Tennessee school districts adopt differentiated pay scales.  The 2% increase in salary money available to districts was to help them meet this goal.  Now, the districts still face the mandate but will lack the state support to make truly meaningful change.

Below Mississippi? The Tennessee Education Association was quick to jump on the proposed cuts as unacceptable.  Citing research by the National Education Association, the TEA notes in a press release that Tennessee will now invest less per student than Mississippi.  According to the research, Tennessee’s per pupil investment is 45th in the nation and below every neighboring state but North Carolina. TEA President Gera Summerford said, “In order to attract and retain the best teachers, it is critical that the state properly fund teacher salaries.”

Where’d the Money Go? Governor Haslam blames the $160 million hole in the budget on lower than expected corporate taxes.  However, no mention is made of the $46 million in lost revenue from a 1/2 cent decrease in the state portion of the sales tax on food.  While removing or reducing the sales tax on food is a laudable goal, doing so without finding revenue to replace it is irresponsible.  The sales tax on food is the most reliable portion of state revenue. Additional revenue is lost by the gradual phase out of Tennessee’s estate tax, previously impacting estates over $1 million.  The plan is to phase that out entirely by 2016, with an estimated revenue loss of around $30 million this year and around $97 million in 2016-17’s budget. So, that’s roughly $76 million, or close to half of the projected shortfall for the upcoming budget cycle. To his credit, Haslam says he wants to hold off on efforts to repeal the Hall tax on investment income – a tax paid by a small number of wealthy Tennesseans with investment income.  However, he has also said reducing or eliminating the Hall tax is a goal. Phasing out the tax, as proposed in legislation under consideration this year at the General Assembly, would mean a loss of $20 million in the 2015-16 budget year and an ultimate loss in state funds of $160 million a year and in local revenue of $86 million a year.

Other options? It’s not clear, what, if any other options were considered.  In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear proposed a budget that included 5% cuts to most state departments while raising teacher pay and increasing investment in K-12 education. So, while his state faces a tight budget situation and difficult choices, he chose to put forward a budget that increased spending on public education and invested in Kentucky’s teachers, who are already better paid than Tennessee’s. The Kentucky General Assembly passed a version of that budget this week. Tennessee’s General Assembly may make changes to Governor Haslam’s proposals, of course. But it’s difficult to claim that Bill Haslam is putting education first.  Of course, that tweet back in October could also have been a set up for a rather cruel April Fool’s Day joke.   For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport