MNPS Committee Recommends Charter Transparency

The Governance Committee of the Metro Nashville School Board met on Saturday and made recommendations for policy changes that will result in more financial transparency for all schools, including publicly-funded, privately run charter schools.

The changes require that private funds used to support a school be disclosed and that complaints about charter school operating procedures be handled in the same way as complaints about traditional schools are handled.

Board members who supported the change suggest that the new policy would lead to more transparency system-wide.

Board member Amy Frogge noted that the policy will allow for fiscal transparency and prevent potential financial mishaps.

For more, read Joey Garrison’s full story here.

 

DC Voucher Advocates OR Local School Boards?

State Representative Dawn White is receiving political support from the Washington, D.C.-based Tennessee Federation for Children in part because of her support for legislation that would have silenced some of the most vocal critics of school voucher programs.

The Tennessee Federation for children supports voucher programs and has been involved in primary campaigns this year in support of candidates who share that view.

The Murfreesboro Post reports that TFC sent a mailer in support of White and also donate $1500 to her re-election campaign.

The legislation TFC supported would have allowed County Commissions to veto school board budget funds used to hire lobbyists.  School Board lobbying organizations, such as the Tennessee School Boards Association, have been some of the most vocal and successful opponents of voucher programs.

Further, the legislation White supported would have given County Commissions unprecedented control over School Board budgets.

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

 

EduShyster Visits Tennessee

Noted education blogger EduShyster has a post up today regarding the fun and excitement that is Tennessee education policy.

The post talks about data-driven results… the TCAP score release delay, the competing petitions regarding Commissioner Huffman and his continued employment.  And much more.

She notes that voters will be pleased to learn that if they re-elect Governor Bill Haslam, they’ll get more Kevin Huffman.  Or, maybe not.  Haslam is saying he’ll decide more about Huffman AFTER the election.

Also discussed: Secret meetings and the Koch Brothers.

Read it all!

 

 

 

Cash vs. Kids?

The Union County School Board voted unanimously last night to allow 626 students to remain enrolled in the Tennessee Virtual Academy, a joint project between Union County Schools and K12, Inc.

The decision comes in the wake of a recommendation by Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman that the students be un-enrolled due to the poor performance of the TNVA.

Following that recommendation, parents and some state legislators appealed to the Governor’s office to ask that Huffman’s recommendation be reversed.

It’s worth noting that Union County Schools receives a 4% administrative fee for their part in the program.  Based on numbers in this article, that would mean a total of $132,000+ for Union County Schools if the students remain enrolled.

So, instead of giving the Virtual Academy time to improve its processes so that it may better serve future students, Union County took the money (from state taxpayers) and allowed the students to enroll in one of the worst-performing schools in the state.

What happens to those 626 students if they are served as poorly as the students enrolled in TNVA in previous years? Will any of the $132,000+ Union County collected for this decision be used to help them catch up?

This is definitely a situation to watch going forward.  One would hope that K12 will improve and provide a better service. But there’s certainly legitimate concern based on their track record.

 

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

K12, Inc. Faces More Tennessee Trouble

The Tennessee Virtual Academy, operated by K12, Inc. and Union County Schools, is facing trouble as it seeks to allow 626 students who have enrolled to begin classes there.

The problem is that Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman issued an order preventing TNVA from enrolling new students pending additional monitoring of the school. For the past two years, students at TNVA have been performing at among the lowest levels of any students in the state.

State education officials and legislators have expressed concerns about this performance and TNVA and K12 have indicated they are working to improve.

Until the school shows improvement, though, Huffman wants to prevent further enrollment.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has the full story on a group of parents and legislators who made an appeal to officials with the Governor’s office to reverse Huffman’s decision and allow the students to continue in the school this year.

If the decision by Huffman is not reversed, the students who signed up for TNVA may enroll in schools in their home districts or seek other educational options.

 

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

Interview with Congressman Phil Roe

Below is an interview with Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN), who is a member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education in the United States House of Representatives. He also serves on the full Education & the Workforce Committee. He represents the First Congressional District of Tennessee, which includes Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, Washington, Jefferson and Sevier Counties.

We really wanted to know what role the federal government can play in education in Tennessee, and we are glad that Congressman Roe agreed to an interview to answer our questions.

 

1.      Tennessee teachers hear a lot of what’s going on at the state level in regards to education. How can the federal government help Tennessee teachers?

I think that the federal government can best serve Tennessee educators by eliminating unnecessary layers of Washington bureaucracy and returning decision-making power to state and local officials who best know the needs of their schools.

 

2.      How should federal education policy be changed to be of most benefit to Tennessee school systems?

Again, I believe empowering educators and school administrators with flexibility and the ability to make decisions at the local level is one of the most important policy changes Congress can make. That is what the House did in H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which I worked on in my capacity as a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The Senate, unfortunately, has not acted on this important bill.

 

3.      Do you support the President’s early childhood education initiative?

Our children deserve a quality education. Research has shown that if we do not provide a quality education in the early elementary years any gains made in pre-K are quickly lost, so I believe before we consider expanding our early childhood education we should first focus our efforts on addressing the shortcomings in our K-12 system.  Devoting resources to new expensive programs will take away from this focus.

 

4.      Tennessee was an early winner of Race to the Top funds. Do you believe this program has benefitted teachers and students in Tennessee?

While there’s no question that receiving Race to the Top funds has helped Tennessee, one of the things that concerns me about the program is that the U.S. Department of Education has been able to coerce states into reforms that exceed the department’s authority. I think that the program could be strengthened significantly if we reauthorize ESEA programs so that there is explicit authorization as to what can – and can’t – be pursued for state reforms.   I look forward to seeing our state’s continued progress.

5.      Do you think it’s time to revamp Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)? Times have changed since it was first passed in 1974, and some people believe FERPA does not do enough to protect children’s privacy in the digital age.

 

FERPA protects students from their educational records from being shared for non-educational purposes without their—or, in the case of a minor, their parent’s—consent.  This basic principal has not changed even as the way in which data is stored and handled has changed. With that being said, there’s no question that data is being shared in ways that couldn’t have possibly been imagined in 1974, so I think it’s important for Congress to review how data is being used and determine if additional limits are warranted.

 

6.      As a member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, you must see a lot of bills that have been filed. If you could pass one piece of legislation today in regards to education, which bill would it be and why?

We know that 2,000 high schools in our country account for 75 percent of the dropouts nationwide.  We must focus our efforts to improve these schools, but in the meantime, students trapped in these so-called “drop-out factories” deserve a choice in where they get their education. I believe expanding the DC voucher program, in which students are given a voucher so they can choose where they get their education, is the most important reform to ensure an entire generation of students isn’t lost.

 

7.      Similar to the previous question, which law would you like to see repealed (or change) to help our education system?

According to the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) analysis and explanation of the latest rule for school lunch nutrition standards, the maximum number of calories a student in grades K-5 can have at lunch is 650. This is the first time in history the USDA has set a calorie cap on students. This rule is so overly prescriptive teachers are left with the challenge of teaching hungry students. Students and teachers aren’t the only ones suffering under this new rule. I have been contacted by a school director in my district that has had to resort to instructing his cafeteria staff to count out how many tater tots each student gets just so he’s in compliance with these regulations. I believe we should repeal the calorie caps on school lunches and focus more in providing nutritious meals for students that participate in school lunch programs around the country.

Koch Brothers, AFP Bring Voucher Debate to TN Campaigns

Koch-brothers-funded out-of-state group Americans for Prosperity hosted a forum this week featuring voucher advocate Steve Perry.

As WPLN reported, the forum comes after the second consecutive legislative session in which lawmakers rejected a voucher proposal.

Americans for Prosperity is also supporting candidates it believes will help advance its pro-voucher agenda.

This includes 45th District State Representative Courtney Rogers.

Rogers is no stranger to out of state special interests supporting her campaigns. In 2012, she unseated State Rep. Debra Maggart in a Republican primary with the help of thousands of dollars in out-of-state special interest money, most of it from the NRA and other gun rights groups.

The AFP sent out this flyer in support of Rogers:

 

Courtney Rogers AFP

 

The flyer awards Rogers an A+ rating for her unwavering support of vouchers.

It will be interesting to see if the AFP’s involvement in this year’s campaigns changes the outcome of future voucher debates.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TREE Talks School Board

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE), a statewide, grassroots group that formed in part in response to a push for a statewide charter authorizer, is talking School Board races. Specifically, they take a look at the races shaping up in Nashville.

From their email:

While much of education policy comes from the state level, local school board elections are critically important to the direction of your local public schools. School board elections will be held all over the state this summer. What do you know about the candidates running in your county?

In Nashville, special interests pushing unlimited charter school growth have invested lots of money in four particular candidates.

 From the Nashville Scene  “Those with the biggest war chests have something in common: a friendly, if not embracing, attitude toward charter schools. In the four races — touching the Antioch, Hillsboro, McGavock and Overton clusters — each features… challengers who want charters to play a bigger role in Nashville’s education system…

While people with deep pockets and a desire to see more charter schools have cut meaty checks in this race, they’ve done so individually. Two years ago, a trio of pro-charter activists created a political action committee called Great Public Schools that handed out some $20,000 to their candidates. But that strategy is a no-go this year, said Bill DeLoache, a leading charter advocate and member of the threesome. He declined to comment on why.

But his wife, Mary DeLoache, has spread $6,000 evenly among this year’s four charter favorites. Other former organizers of the PAC have given too, including Townes Duncan (who gave the maximum contribution of $1,500 to Pierce and $500 to Dixon) and John Eason (who split $1,000 between the same two). Both Duncan and Eason work for investment companies… Others in the business community have also spread their wealth, giving maximum or near max donations to all or most charter-friendly candidates.”

Be sure to look closely at your school board candidates, their financial supporters, and whose agenda they will carry. Will the candidate you vote for represent you, or special interests?

Local pro-public education groups that are covering local races include the following:

Williamson Strong http://williamsonstrong.org/candidates/

SPEAK: Students Parents Educators Across Knox County http://speaktn.com/school-board-candidates/

Strong Schools PAC (Sumner County) http://strongschools.org/candidates/

You can look at the full election calendar here.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

PET on Common Core Lessons

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) President Cathy Kolb and Director of Professional Development Bethany Bowman talk about lessons learned from Common Core implementation.
There are several words that are called “fighting words” these days, but “Common Core State Standards” may head the list in public education. The only other item that may come close is standardized testing.

Just the phrase “Common Core” can invoke passions, debate or a heated quarrel. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a battle about standards in the private sector.

Mark Twain popularized the adage that there were “three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Research, design of study, methodologies, sample selection, quality of evidence all determine how the statistics will be shaped. The use of the data will then drive the decision-making. Policymakers can justify any position for or against an issue based on their view of the available information. Toss in a political agenda, add some cash and you have a recipe to be persuaded for or against any issue. A political maxim is: “money changes behavior, lots of money changes lots of behavior.”

We should be weary of many education reforms, and generally opposed to a one-size fits all approach – especially when there is “lots of money” involved. There is always good and bad to most issues, and reasonable people can generally argue either side. A civil debate can serve a practical purpose in public policy. Common Core is an issue that makes sense in theory, and results may show it makes sense in practice. Time will determine that debate. As an organization, we support higher standards.

Who can be opposed to raising the standards in public education? Let’s face it, our economic strength as a state and a country is linked to the performance of our public schools. Yet, not all students are educated in a traditional public school. Traditional schools are wary of being accountable for students’ scores on standardized tests which do not give an accurate picture of teacher performance.

There are a growing array of education choice options available in America such as controlled open enrollment, charter schools, charter districts, online schools, lab schools, schools-within-schools, year-round schools, charter technical career centers, magnet schools, alternative schools, vouchers, special programs, advanced placement, dual enrollment, International Baccalaureate, early admissions, and credit by examination or demonstration of competency. If you can conceive it, more than likely some school, district or state will probably try it. But will all of these options include the use of Common Core State Standards, and if not, why not?

In Tennessee, for example, any cursory review demonstrates that Common Core State Standards were superior to the standards previously employed. But it is debatable whether recommending a common set of standards for all 50 states was necessary. In fact, Common Core could be properly viewed as a disruptor. In that regard, Common Core served a useful purpose of blowing up the status quo.

In education circles people are now discussing standards, curriculum and testing. Don’t believe for one minute that Common Core State Standards are a “be all, end all.” They were not an insidious plot by the Obama Administration, but they were not exactly crafted by real public educators either. Many of the elements of Common Core were a response that has been kicked around for a quarter-century. In fact, one could pinpoint the genesis of the national curriculum debate at the feet of Chester Finn, who proposed it in an Education Week article in 1989.     Nobody should be thrilled with watered down standards. Yet we must critically scrutinize the curriculum, textbook, and testing clique that have turned into profit centers for a few corporations that seem to have garnered an inside advantage. Bluntly, there may be too many education lobbyists and corporate interests driving manufactured problems in the name of education reform. It is definite that we have tilted the debate too far to the side of the federal government in harming state sovereignty and local control of public education.

The implementation of Common Core went better in Tennessee than in many other places in the country. The real problem was the failure of many policymakers to address the legitimate concerns of stakeholders on other peripheral issues. Organizations that were engaged to take the lead in addressing criticisms were viewed as impertinent and disrespectful and operated as if they themselves were the policymakers. In fact, it bordered on arrogance.

It is accurate that those for and against Common Core have taken liberties with the truth. However, if the debate exasperates people enough perhaps it will spark needed changes such as a real review of standardized testing and a focus back on student-centered instruction. The lesson learned is that the federal government is often too prescriptive in their participation in public education, and most decisions should be left to states, districts, schools and educators.

F0r more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Shiny, Happy Teachers

It seems the Knox County Board of Education wants only shiny, happy teachers to speak at public meetings.

That’s the implication from a Board policy discussed this week.

Here’s the basic thrust of the policy:

The policy says that an employee may come before the board after they have exhausted the normal chain of command.

The board says they want teachers and other KCS employees to put their concerns in writing, and document each step up the chain of command, so that if the process breaks down, they will know where the break down occurred and be able to address it at that point.

Essentially, an employee must demonstrate, in writing, that they’ve exhausted all other channels before appearing before the Board.

One Board member said they didn’t want the system to look bad because teachers raise concerns on TV.

Board member Karen Carson worried that “bringing concerns up, on TV, is not good for public education”

Perhaps the Board, which has seen some contentious meetings recently, wants to prevent scenes like this:

 

 

 

In any case, the policy certainly appears to be intended to chill discourse.  While citizens who are not teachers are free to complain about policy in public, teachers must have written documentation to justify their appearance.  This type of double standard for speakers at public meetings just might run into some constitutional issues.  If some citizens can speak without a note from the Board Chair and others must have permission based on written evidence, you create two classes of citizens for the purpose of speech.

If public comment is allowed at public meeting, the rules must be uniform for all participants.  It would seem the Knox County Board policy may violate that precept.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, is done with this policy in coming months.

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