From 40th to 1st?

Around this time last year, Governor Haslam stated his intention to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher salaries. He even tweeted it: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

And, at the Governor’s request, the BEP Review Committee included in its annual report the note:

The BEP Review Committee supports Governor Haslam’s goal of becoming the fastest improving state in teacher salaries during his time in office…

Of course, Haslam wasn’t able to pay the first installment on that promise. Teachers then and since then have expressed disappointment.

But, what does it mean to be the fastest improving? How is Tennessee doing now?

Well, according to a recent report by the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center, Tennessee ranks 40th in average teacher pay and 40th in teacher salary improvement over the past 10 years.

That means we have a long way to go to become the fastest improving state in the nation. Bill Haslam will certainly be re-elected in November. And that means he has about 5 years left in office. What’s his plan to take Tennessee from 40th in teacher salary improvement to 1st in just 5 years?

Does it even matter?

Yes. Teacher compensation matters. As the ARCC report notes, Tennessee has a long history of teacher compensation experiments that typically fizzle out once the money gets tight or a new idea gains traction.

But the report points to a more pressing problem: A teacher shortage. Specifically, the report states:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

So, we face a teacher shortage in key areas at the same time we are 40th in both average teacher pay and in improvement in salaries over time. Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed notes that a recent analysis of teaching climate ranked Tennessee 41st in the nation. Not exactly great news.

Moreover, an analysis by researchers at the London School of Economics notes that raising teacher pay correlates to increased student achievement.

The point is, Bill Haslam has the right goal in mind. Tennessee should absolutely be aiming to improve teacher salaries and do it quickly. The question remains: What’s his plan to make that happen?

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

Is Common Core Dead in Tennessee?

That seems to be the message Tennessee leaders are sending about the controversial Common Core State Standards.

After a legislative session which saw the House of Representatives strongly denounce Common Core and ultimately the entire General Assembly vote to delay the PARCC tests, Governor Haslam convened an Education Summit to “reset the conversation” around education policy in the state.

In Williamson County, Americans for Prosperity spent tens of thousands of dollars on School Board races to elect new members who oppose the Common Core State Standards.

Just this weekend, Scott Stroud of the Tennessean wrote:

If Common Core education standards come crashing to earth next year when the legislature reconvenes — and it looks as though they might — Gov. Bill Haslam will need to look no further than his campaign for re-election to figure out when he lost that fight.

Haslam appears now to be shifting to a conversation of why higher standards matter rather than advocating in favor of the Common Core.

And, Speaker Beth Harwell is joining him. In an interview with Chalkbeat, Harwell said:

I really think Tennessee is going to get to the point where they’ll just develop their own standards and try to make them some of the best standards in the nation.

So, it seems likely that Tennessee will shift away from Common Core. But will Tennessee policymakers use the Common Core as a guideline for new standards? And how will development of Tennessee’s own standards impact the already-issued RFP for tests aligned to the Common Core in math and reading? Will there be yet another delay in the use of assessments aligned to Tennessee standards? Will teachers be sent yet another set of standards to teach students? And how will these new standards be developed?

The shift away from the CCSS may be politically expedient, but it leaves many questions unanswered. It also presents an opportunity: To reset the conversation by involving teachers, parents, and communities in a discussion about what’s best for Tennessee.  That conversation was missing in the initial build-up to Common Core in Tennessee and it is likely among the reasons why the standards are facing challenging times now.

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

Start Over! Slow Down! Review the Report!

In response to MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposal to redesign schools in East Nashville into an “All-Choice” zone with more charters and schools turned over to the struggling Achievement School District, a group of parents in East Nashville calling itself East Nashville United is now asking for a review of a consultant’s report on Metro Schools.

ENU has previously called on Register to start over with any plan for East Nashville schools and more recently has asked for more time in order to allow for broader community input before a plan goes into place.

Register’s announcement of changes in East Nashville comes amid a report detailing the increased costs charter schools impose on MNPS and reports out of Memphis that rather than turn more schools in that district’s Innovation Zone, the Director of Schools there is seeking to “double down” on what’s working: District management of schools with increased investment, support, and flexibility.

Here’s East Nashville United’s latest press release, calling on Register to revisit the report of the Tribal Consulting Group as a basis for any new plan for East Nashville schools:

An organized group of East Nashville residents is calling on Nashville schools to re-examine a consultant’s series of reports on some of the city’s struggling schools.

The request by East Nashville United—the parent-led coalition formed in September after the abrupt announcement of sweeping changes to East Nashville schools—asks Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register to brief the school board and the public on how, or if, MNPS addressed the detailed findings laid out in the reports.

MNPS paid the Tribal Group, a British Consulting Group, $3.5 million to study nearly 40 schools, including Bailey, Jere Baxter and Gra Mar Middle Schools and Stratford and Maplewood High Schools. Although the reports provide a wealth of information on the challenges each school faces, MNPS has been noticeably silent on the Tribal Group’s evaluations. In fact, last year MNPS rejected media efforts to obtain a copy of one of the group’s reports assessing the central office.

http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2013/09/06/foia-friday-the-tribal-reports

John Haubenreich, the chair of East Nashville United (ENU), says that MNPS can’t dismiss the findings of its own paid consultant.

“We’ve heard so much talk of school closings, charter conversions and a rash All-Choice plan that would divide neighborhoods,” Haubenreich said. “What we’re asking for instead is a serious look at the needs of our schools and how we can provide them. The Tribal reports provide as good a starting place as any.”

Haubenreich says that Dr. Register must address the problems underscored by the group’s findings. For example, at last week’s community meeting at Jere Baxter Middle School, a teacher spoke of how the school, which hired a new principal this year, lacked stability. With the school in a constant state of transition, she said, it was difficult to develop plans to meet the needs of its students.

The Tribal report on Jere Baxter observed the same problem. In fact, the report, conducted in 2011, noted that a recent shift to a new education model “brought considerable uncertainty to the school.” The report also noted that it was challenging for the school to “develop continual improvement against a background of significant change.”

Haubenreich says East Nashville United welcomes an East Nashville plan, as long as it builds on genuine community input and critical information already available.

“What we have asked for from Day 1 is a methodical, community-driven blueprint for our schools,” Haubenreich says. “We think the Tribal reports offer useful information from our teachers and students, both about their schools and central administration. Why would we develop a plan that doesn’t take advantage of that?”

The Tribal reports provide distinct portraits of each school. They show the effectiveness of the leadership, the concerns of the teachers and, in general, the culture of the school. They also examine the quality of instruction, the use of data and the distinct behavioral issues each school faces. Most of all, the Tribal reports lay out detailed “areas of improvement” that could shape a strategy to close the performance gap of low-income children.  (You can read the reports here.)

In light of the renewed attention focused on the consultant’s reports, Jai Sanders, one of the founding members of East Nashville United, says that MNPS should brief the school board and the public about the findings of the Tribal Group.

“We’re actually stunned this hasn’t been done already. We have detailed reports about several East Nashville Schools and we don’t know how MNPS addressed these findings,” says Sanders, a parent at Inglewood Elementary.

“Sometimes we feel like the leadership at MNPS is juggling ideas around with no real strategy, moving on whatever it heard last,” he says. “Revisiting the Tribal reports is a good way for MNPS to regain credibility.”

Last week East Nashville United called on Dr. Register to push back his plan to reorganize schools in East Nashville. Register has said his plan will be finalized by January 1st. ENU wants MNPS to use remainder of the school year to develop a thorough, transparent plan that addresses the diverse needs of its unique schools.

 

NOTE: John Haubenreich, Chair of East Nashville United, is a contributor to TN Ed Report.

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

 

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Receives Top Marks from TREE

Parent advocacy group TREE – Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence – released a legislative report card ranking lawmakers based on votes on education-related isues.

Votes that made up the Report Card included:

  • Charter Authorizer. TREE opposed this bill, which passed.
  • For-Profit Charters. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.
  • Vouchers. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.
  • Charter Conversion a/k/a Parent Trigger. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.
  • Testing Notification. TREE supported this bill, which passed.
  • Teacher Pay Restoration: TREE supported this bill, which passed.
  • Elimination of School Board Representation. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.

Legislators were ranked from A+ to F based on their votes on the issues of importance to TREE.

Senators receiving top grades: Charlotte Burks (D-15), Lowe Finney (D-27), Thelma Harper (D-19), Jim Kyle (D-30), Becky Massey (R-6), Doug Overbey (R-2), and Ken Yager (R-12).

Of those, Senators Burks, Finney, and Kyle will not be in the General Assembly in 2015 due to retirement.

Representatives receiving top grades: Raumesh Akbari (D-91), John Forgety (R-23), Gloria Johnson (D-13), Bo Mitchell (D-50), Joe Pitts (D-67), and Mike Stewart (D-52).

TREE billed the release as a means of informing voters ahead of the November elections.

View the full report card.

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

 

Hopson: Turning iZone over to Charters “Absurd”

Amid reports that the Shelby County Schools iZone may turn over some of its schools to charter operators due to financial concerns, Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson told the Memphis Daily News, “That’s absurd. I just want to be clear on that.”

Instead, Hopson indicated he plans to seek additional grants and/or private funding to continue the successful iZone efforts.

A recent analysis indicates that iZone schools are outperforming their Achievement School District counterparts. In short, the iZone is working. And Hopson’s comments acknowledge that while also making clear his commitment to find a way to stick with what’s working to help improve outcomes for students.

 

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

Charter Zone Not Planned Years Ago

Andy Spears posted an article titled, East Nashville Charter Planned Years Ago? The blog post was based on and cited an op-ed by Dr. Kristen Buras, a Georgia State professor.

I am here to tell you that is not true, in my opinion.

For starters, I don’t know how much someone outside of Tennessee (Buras) can tell about what’s happening in our school system. People in Nashville are still trying to find out about this plan because it’s came about so quickly. For someone outside Nashville to know this has been planned for years, but not anyone in Nashville, is something else altogether. What really happened is that very soon after the priority list was released, Dr. Register held a meeting with a variety of high level staffers. This happened relatively shortly before a school board meeting. Dr. Register decided to tell the public as much as he knew about the plan. One thing was clear: It was not a clear plan.

Dr. Buras’ article made it seem like you can only have community meetings before you have a plan. To have a community meeting, one must have a plan in the first place. What will you present to the community if not a loose idea of a plan? After a fluid plan was announced, Dr. Register announced meeting with all the priority list schools, which he is currently in the midst of doing.

Another way you can tell this hasn’t been planned? Dr. Register stumbled out of the starting blocks. The announcement was messy, it wasn’t clear, and there were a lot of misconceptions. But that means this was a plan that was formed at a fast pace so that it could be quickly disseminated to the public.

Additionally, we are Nashville. We are not Chicago. We are not New Orleans. We are not New York. Comparing what is happening in other cities is like comparing apples to oranges. We are a very specific district with very specific needs. We have a school board that does not approve all charter schools, closes down charter schools, and has a good discussion while doing that.

Of course we should take what happened in other cities and make sure it doesn’t happened here, but that’s totally different argument. I may not agree with what all charter schools are doing in Nashville, but I am totally confident in our elected officials and our central office staff to make sure that we don’t get run over with charters.

Finally, this is what we should actually be discussing: We are failing students. You may not agree with that statement, but I wholeheartedly agree. I see it everyday when I teach in North Nashville. I think we are failing students at the elementary level. If we cannot teach kids how to read in elementary school, they will be behind for the rest of their life. I understand all the dynamics that a child comes with when they reach elementary school. Parents don’t care, no books in the household, SES, etc. But that shouldn’t stop a child from learning to read. There are research proven ways to teach kids to the read, and we are not doing that.

Something needs to change.

What change should that be?

I don’t know, but it looks like MNPS is trying to find out.

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


 

East Nashville “Charter Zone” Planned Years Ago?

Amid pleas from some East Nashville parents to start over or at least slow down, Dr. Jesse Register appears poised to move forward with a plan to turn the Maplewood and Stratford clusters in East Nashville into a “Charter Zone,” with information unveiled regarding what happens to which schools in those zones by January 1, 2015.

This in spite of a recent report presented to MNPS that details the increased cost to the district if the growth of charter schools is not carefully managed. That report came to light following another report noting that the Achievement School District model has so far produced unimpressive returns.

In an OpEd released today by Kristen Buras of Georgia State University, questions are raised about how long the East Nashville plan has been developing and if there is really any choice being afforded local parents seeking more answers.

Buras draws parallels between the New Orleans Recovery School District and what’s now happening in Nashville. She notes:

In 2010, New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO), the city’s leading charter school incubator, received a $28 million federal grant to expand charters in New Orleans as well as Nashville and Memphis. NSNO worked with Louisiana’s RSD and Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD), designed after the RSD, to “scale” the model in urban areas beyond New Orleans.

Around this same time, Mayor Karl Dean and Director of Schools Jesse Register welcomed the newly formed Tennessee Charter School Incubator (TCSI). TCSI was led initially by Matt Candler, NSNO’s former CEO, and planned to launch 20 new charter schools in Nashville and Memphis within five years.

And:

Register’s open letter says education officials are “coming up with new ideas” to solve Nashville’s problems. The ideas are not new; they were incubated in New Orleans. The plan is not in “early stages of development”; charter school entrepreneurs have been laying groundwork for years. The task force formed and “big news” dropped before community input was invited. In New Orleans, schools were seized and chartered before communities returned to the city.

Buras also points out that the New Orleans RSD faces several problems, including:

Neighborhood schools were closed without genuine community input. Meanwhile, charter school operators have paid themselves six-figure salaries, used public money without transparency and appointed unelected boards to govern the schools.

Community members have filed civil rights lawsuits, including one by Southern Poverty Law Center alleging thousands of disabled children were denied access to schools and federally mandated services in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Moreover, there are charter schools in New Orleans with out-of-school suspension rates approximating 70 percent.

She suggests parents in East Nashville should be concerned about a district following the same model as New Orleans. Perhaps public meetings on the topic and continued engagement by groups like East Nashville United will lead to questions being answered or more time being given to consider all options.

 

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

 

East Nashville United: Give Us More Time

East Nashville United, a parent group formed in response to MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register’s plan to reorganize schools in East Nashville, has issued a call for Register to push back his proposed timeline.

Register has said his plan will be finalized by January 1st. The parent group wants to use the remainder of the school year to collect input and develop a plan.

From the press release:

“If we’re going to do this well, and do it right, we must push back the deadline to the end of the school year,” said John Haubenreich, the chair of ENU. “We don’t want to sprint, just to realize at the end that we sprinted to the wrong place. This gives the task force time to do its work, to marshal community resources, look into grant materials, and integrate plans with the budget which isn’t voted on until the end of the school year.”

Haubenreich points to the sheer size of MNPS as an argument in favor of an urgent, but methodical approach. Using MNPS’ own per-pupil expenditure number ($11,012), the Maplewood cluster represents a $44 million system, while the Stratford cluster represents at $55 million system. Combined, Register seeks to reorganize a $100 million entity.

“Dr. Register has proposed much too fast of a timeline, “ Haubenreich said. “No business in the world would ever attempt such a huge undertaking, with such a valuable set of assets, in such a short amount of time. Getting it done right cannot be sacrificed on the altar of getting it done fast.”

Jai Sanders, a parent at Inglewood Elementary School, says that MNPS needs to use the remainder of the school year to put together a thoughtful, effective plan for the clusters. One of four priority schools in East Nashville, Inglewood Elementary School initially looked like it was fated for a charter conversion or even a closure. But Register appeared to back away from both options in the face of widespread opposition from parents at last week’s meeting at Inglewood Elementary School. Instead, Register has discussed other options including making Inglewood a STEM or Padeia school.

“We applaud Dr. Register for recognizing the strong parental and community support Inglewood Elementary has earned from all of us,” said Sanders, one of the founding members of ENU and an active member of his school’s PTO. “We now need him to take the time to see what our school is doing well and what it needs to continue to improve. We can get there but not if MNPS tries to throw together a complex, untested plan in a matter of weeks.”

Less than one month after Register announced his East Nashville plan to the Metro School Board, he has largely abandoned the plan’s centerpiece — the ‘All-Choice’ mandate for the Stratford and Maplewood clusters.

Haubenreich applauds Register for reaffirming his support for zoned schools.

“We believe that an all-choice zone, with no zoned schools, is the wrong path for East Nashville,” Haubenreich said.  “Dr. Register has confirmed at community meetings that he has no intention of doing away with zoned schools, and we support that decision.”

Overall, ENU commends Dr. Register’s focus on the Stratford and Maplewood clusters. “The area’s diversity, population density and strong support for public schools of all shapes and sizes, creates an opportunity for successful reform,” said Ruth Stewart, the vice chair of the group and parent at Lockeland Design Center.

We do not need to choose between an unacceptable status quo and a plan that is the product of a hastily-assembled committee,” she added. “Rather, we demand that a community-driven task force have enough time to evaluate and ultimately recommend a range of approaches that reflect the needs of individual schools.”

“This doesn’t have to be a long process, but it shouldn’t be rushed either. You don’t improvepublic education on the fly.”

 

NOTE: John Haubenreich, identified in the press release as Chair of East Nashville United, is also a contributor to TN Ed Report.

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

Failure to Communicate

It seems Governor Bill Haslam is having some trouble advancing his education agenda.

But why? Why is a governor with a supermajority from his own party not able to advance key pieces of his legislative agenda?

He hosted an Education Summit last week designed to “reset” the education conversation in the state. More than anything, it seemed an attempt to save Common Core from a potential political demise. That summit failed to address one key education topic. And he received a response from a teacher (TEA Vice President Beth Brown) indicating he may be missing the point when it comes to what matters to students and teachers.

Earlier this week, a report from a Vanderbilt study indicated support for Common Core among Tennessee’s teachers has dropped dramatically. Teacher Lucianna Sanson explained it this way:

“What you’re seeing in that survey is the difference between what we were told it was and a year of implementation,” Sanson says. “And that is why you have that drastic, drastic change. Because you start implementing it, and you’re like, ‘What is this?’”

Back in August, Haslam sent a note to teachers welcoming them back to school. But, teachers were not amused. Instead, they reminded him that he’d broken his promise to dramatically improve teacher pay in the state.

Of course, during the legislative session, Haslam suffered a major setback as the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests were delayed by the General Assembly.

Before that, Directors of Schools from around the state sent a letter to Haslam complaining that Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman wasn’t listening.

What do all of these issues have in common? Here’s a video that briefly illustrates the problem:

 

 

 

Shelby County’s iZone May Seek Expensive Charter Bailout

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that Shelby County’s iZone schools may be handed over to charter operators in the manner of the Achievement School District. This is because a federal grant is running out and the continuation of the iZone under its current operating format may be too expensive an investment for Shelby County Schools.

The iZone is getting good results, the schools are managed by the district, the teachers receive pay incentives and additional support, and the district is thinking about abandoning the program for a model similr to the ASD – a model the iZone beats in head-to-head comparisons.

It seems that perhaps the district ought to be considering ways to expand the iZone to reach more Shelby County Schools in need of additional support. Instead, they are looking at leaving behind what’s working for model that’s not getting great results.

Moreover, a recent report out of Nashville indicates that the growth of charter schools there also leads to increased costs for the district. So, the proposed solution to the dilemma of continued iZone funding may actually result in a net increase in costs to Shelby County Schools if not managed properly.

Finally, the type of disruption of taking the iZone schools and handing them over to various charter operators can also be disruptive to student learning.

Perhaps Shelby County Schools will ultimately decide to keep its iZone as it is or even expand it. For now, the question is: Why are they looking at a costly, unproven solution when they’ve got a good thing going?

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