AG Issues Tenure Opinion

This summer, in response to the Vergara v. California decision on teacher tenure in that state, Tennessee State Senator Dolores Gresham asked the Attorney General for an opinion on whether Tennessee’s tenure laws violated the state constitution’s protection of a student’s right to a free education of the state or federal equal protection clauses.

The short answer: No. The state’s teacher employment laws do not violate a student’s right to a free education.

Here’s the full opinion.

On the equal protection issues, the AG noted that Tennessee’s laws require a longer probationary period before tenure is awarded and that Tennessee’s dismissal process for tenured teachers is clear, fast, and relatively inexpensive.

Thanks to Tennessee Education Matters for their coverage of this issue.

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

East Nashville United Plans Town Hall Meeting

East Nashville United is holding a Town Hall Meeting on schools on November 9th at 3:45 PM at East Park Community Center.

From their media advisory:

After weeks of contradictory and confusing statements from Metro Schools about its proposed “Third Way” proposal, East Nashville United (ENU) will host a town hall meeting to raise concerns about the future of the Stratford-Maplewood cluster. This open meeting will be held on Sunday, November 9 at 3:45 p.m. at the East Park Community Center, 600 Woodland Street, 37206.

ENU, a parent-led coalition formed after the announcement of sweeping changes to the Stratford-Maplewood clusters, invites all members of the community to join this discussion around the lack of community input into the school plan. The group has also invited MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register, Executive Director of the Office of Innovation Dr. Alan Coverstone, and School Board Member Elissa Kim to share their thoughts on the district’s proposed changes and to take questions from the community.

“The district’s plan will affect every public school parent in East Nashville,” says John Haubenreich, ENU’s chair. “We’d like to invite parents and all stakeholders to our town hall meeting to learn more about the district’s actions and what it all means to them.”

ENU would like to particularly discuss the district’s plans for Inglewood Elementary and Kirkpatrick Elementary, particularly in light of the apparent agreement to turn Inglewood over to KIPP that surfaced last week. This news broke after the Nashville Scene published emails from Coverstone revealing that the district engaged in detailed negotiations to hand over Inglewood to KIPP weeks before Register’s announcement of his “Third-Way” proposal. The plan for Inglewood is in direct contradiction to comments made by both Coverstone and Register to Inglewood parents. Both had said no plan is set for the school, with Register telling Inglewood parents he would recommend against a charter conversion.

“Dr. Register appears to be making this stuff up as he goes along. That’s not exactly comforting to those of us who raise our kids here,” Haubenreich says. “From everything we can tell, his plan will close down some schools, convert others to charters, and affect pathways for students throughout both clusters. So far, there has been no real community input whatsoever.  Any plan like that is simply going to destabilize our schools instead of improving them.”

Dr. Register has pledged to put his sweeping plan before the school board in December. As of publication, Metro has yet to announce the members of the task force it agreed to create last month.

For more on this issue:

East Nashville Parents Call on Register to “Start Over”

East Nashville United Asks for More Time

MNPS and East Nashville United Debate the Meaning of Some Emails

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

What Can Nashville Learn from New Orleans?

That was the theme of an event last night sponsored by Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence (TREE) and Gideon’s Army for Children and held at the East Park Community Center.

The event featured parent activist Karran Harper Royal of New Orleans and Dr. Kristen Buras, a professor at Georgia State University who has studied the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Between 60 and 70 people were in attendance for the event, including MNPS School Board members Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, and Anna Shepherd.

The event coincides with a discussion happening in East Nashville regarding MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposal to create an “all choice” zone for schools there. Parent advocacy group East Nashville United has been critical of the plan and continues to ask for more information. For their part, MNPS says it wants to continue dialogue on the issue.

Royal spoke first and outlined the systematic takeover of schools in New Orleans by the Recovery School District. The Recovery School District is the nation’s first charter-only district. The takeover began with a state law that allowed for the takeover of low-performing schools, similar to a Tennessee law that allows the Achievement School District to takeover low-performing schools.

As schools were taken over, they were handed over to charter operators or reconstituted with charter management. Entire staffs were fired and replaced and students were moved to different locations.

Royal said some of the successes claimed by the RSD are deceptive because the district would close schools, move out the students, and bus in new students. Then, the RSD would claim they had improved the school when achievement numbers were released even though those numbers were not from the students who had been attending when the school was taken over.

Royal also claimed that the choice of a neighborhood school was foreclosed for many families, but that in two majority-white ZIP codes, families are still able to choose a school close to their home.

Buras used her time to expand on an op-ed she wrote earlier this year about the parallels between New Orleans and Nashville. She pointed to data suggesting that the RSD has done no better than the previous district in terms of overall student achievement. This point is especially important because the RSD has had 9 years to show results. Tennessee’s ASD has also shown disappointing results, though it is only now in its third year of operation.

Among the statistics presented by Buras:

  • In 2011-12, 100% of the 15 state-run RSD schools assigned a letter grade for student achievement received a D or F
  • 79% of the 42 charter RSD schools assigned a letter grade recieved a D or F
  • RSD schools open less than three years are not assigned a letter grade
  • Studies of student achievement data have shown no impact on overall student achievement and some even show a widening of the achievement gap

Buras also noted that the RSD was used as a tool to bust the teachers’ union. The district fired some 7500 teachers and new teachers in the RSD report to charter operators. The resulting turnover means nearly 40% of the city’s teachers have been teaching for 3 years or less.

Both Royal (who was at one time on the RSD Advisory Board) and Buras noted that the RSD started with the mission of improving existing schools in New Orleans. However, like the ASD in Tennessee, the RSD began gradually acquiring new schools before data was available to indicate success.

The presentations served as a warning to parents in Nashville that while reform and innovation can be exciting, it is also important to closely monitor school takeovers and choice options to ensure they meet the community’s needs.

It’s also worth noting that the experiment in New Orleans and the ASD’s experience in Memphis on a smaller scale both indicate that just offering more choice does not solve education problems or improve student achievement. Any plan or innovation must take into account community input and feedback. Additionally, while choice plans are often sold on the perceived benefits, it is important to be mindful of potential drawbacks, including disruption and instability in communities that badlyneed stability and support.

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

 

 

Koch Brothers, Haslam Gang Up on Gloria Johnson

The race for Tennessee’s 13th District House Seat features incumbent Democrat Gloria Johnson versus an army of out-of-state special interest groups who have teamed up with Governor Bill Haslam to unseat one of the most outspoken defenders of public education in the General Assembly.

Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity has sent mailer after mailer comparing Johnson to such horrible figures as Lane Kiffin and Barack Obama (it is difficult to tell which of the two is viewed less favorably in Knoxville).

The Tennessee Federation for Children has spent $100,000 against Johnson. The outfit is curiously named, since it is based in Washington, DC, and doesn’t have a Tennessee presence until it is time to push for risky and expensive voucher schemes at the General Assembly. Thanks in part to Johnson’s leadership, the TFC’s voucher plans have failed in two consecutive General Assemblies. Now, they’re coming after Johnson.

Joining (leading?) the parade of attacks against Johnson is Governor Bill Haslam. His Advance Tennessee PAC is spending $50,000 on a new TV attack ad against Johnson.

What’s Haslam’s beef against the Knoxville teacher-legislator? Gloria Johnson has routinely criticized Haslam for his lack of leadership and general failure to communicate, especially when it comes to education issues.

Johnson correctly warned that Common Core would die in Tennessee unless Haslam did a better job of talking with teachers and parents about the merits of the program.

The good news for Johnson is that Haslam and the Koch Brothers teamed up with TFC in the primary in August to challenge Republicans who weren’t sufficiently in support of privatizing public schools, and they lost many of those races.

Of course, a teacher and defender of public schools can’t compete dollar-for-dollar with such intense spending. But the focus on House District 13 when the GOP already holds a big majority in the General Assembly makes one wonder what exactly these groups want for their money.

I wrote a piece about the GOP 2013 legislative agenda on education that I think is exactly what these groups want to see pass in 2015. If only they can get Gloria Johnson out of the way.

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

Heyburn Named to Lead State Board of Ed

From a News Release:

The Tennessee State Board of Education announced Friday morning that Sara Heyburn will become the board’s executive director upon the retirement of current executive director Gary Nixon.

Nixon, set to retire at the end of this year, was recognized at Friday’s board meeting for his decades of service to Tennessee students.

“Dr. Nixon provided excellent leadership over the last decade, and we believe that Dr. Heyburn is the right person to follow in his footsteps,” Fielding Rolston, chairman of the state board, said. “The board was impressed with Dr. Heyburn’s leadership in key areas over the past years. We also have been impressed with her ability to build consensus among different education groups and her willingness to meet with and listen to all stakeholders.”

Heyburn has served as the assistant commissioner for teachers and leaders at the Tennessee Department of Education since 2011, where she leads the state’s efforts related to increasing teacher and leader effectiveness. Prior to that, she served as an education policy adviser for the state and also worked for Vanderbilt University as a policy analyst at the National Center on Performance Incentives. Heyburn holds a B.A. in English and a master’s degree in teaching, both from the University of Virginia, and she earned an Ed.D. from Vanderbilt University in 2010. She began her work in education as a high school English teacher in Jefferson County Schools in Kentucky and Williamson County Schools in Tennessee.

“I am humbled by the board’s decision,” Heyburn said.  “It is an honor to work on critical issues affecting Tennessee children, and I will work diligently to ensure that the board continues to pursue student-centered policies.”

Wayne Miller, executive director of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS), added, “Dr. Heyburn has always been very easy to work with and open to the ideas that TOSS brings to the table. I look forward to many opportunities to collaborate with her and the state board as we continue to improve the academic experience for all of Tennessee students.”

Heyburn will assume the role early next year.

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

In Response to the Response: An East Nashville Story

Yesterday, I reported on a clash between East Nashville United and MNPS over emails purportedly revealing a plan to turn Inglewood Elementary School over to KIPP, a local charter operator.

Essentially, MNPS says that the emails and other communications are about an ongoing dialogue. In a statement, MNPS said it appreciates the passion around the issue of East Nashville schools and that no final decisions have been made about charter conversions or other options.

For their part, East Nashville United remains skeptical.

In a response posted today on the group’s blog, East Nashville United says that MNPS is playing word games. The group calls into question the credibility of MNPS Innovation Zone Director Alan Coverstone and MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register.

The post includes a timeline of events and lays out the case that members of the East Nashville community may not be getting the full story from MNPS.

Read the full story from East Nashville United’s perspective.

The bottom line: This story is just getting started.

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

 

Deception or Dialogue? MNPS, Inglewood Elementary, and KIPP

One day after East Nashville United blasted district leaders for emails related to the future of Inglewood Elementary, including a possible charter conversion, a spokesperson for MNPS said in a written statement that the emails referenced by ENU only reinforce that no final decision about Inglewood’s future has been made.

In a press release issued Tuesday, East Nashville United called on MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register to “back away from his backroom deal to hand over the management of Inglewood Elementary School to KIPP, a local charter school operator.”

In response, district spokesperson Joe Bass wrote that MNPS is “considering all of the potential options” and “discussing those options with leaders at KIPP and with parents at the schools.”

Here’s the full press release from East Nashville United:

East Nashville United is calling on Jesse Register to back away from his backroom deal to hand over the management of Inglewood Elementary School to KIPP, a local charter school operator.

On September 24th, Nashville Schools Director Jesse Register hosted a community meeting at Inglewood Elementary to discuss his recently announced East Nashville schools’ plan. Nearly every parent at the meeting voiced unbridled support for their zoned school, prompting Register to tell the Nashville Scene that he was not inclined to hand over Inglewood to KIPP.
“It sounds like this community does not want this school to convert to a charter school. So, we need to hear that,” said Register. “I would be very hesitant to recommend a conversion here. There are some other places where a conversion might work, but I don’t think so in this community.”
On Monday, however, it was revealed that Register had already made a deal with KIPP for Inglewood Elementary, despite repeated assertions to the community that “there was no plan” and statements to Inglewood Elementary parents confirming that he was not going to convert the school to a charter. Recently released emails confirm that the district’s central office had already settled on Inglewood as a location for the next KIPP location, weeks before Register announced his 3rd Way Plan to the school board.
“We made it very clear to Dr. Register that we were not in favor of a charter conversion and he appeared to listen,” says Jai Sanders, an Inglewood parent and one of the founding members of East Nashville United. “But now it’s clear that the fix was already in to flip our school to KIPP and that his meeting with parents was a charade.”
Although East Nashville United has repeatedly signaled its support for the existing charter schools in the Stratford and Maplewood clusters, John Haubenreich, the chair of the parent-led group, affirmed yet again that his group’s opposition to the district’s dealings is not over the role of charter schools in public education.
“Had the parents at Inglewood expressed any interest in handing over their school to KIPP, we would not oppose a charter conversion,” Haubenreich says. “But the parents made it clear that they did not want a charter to run their school. What they wanted–and still want–is for their zoned school to stay intact, only with MNPS providing it with the resources it needs to succeed.”
Haubenreich says he is mystified how Register could hedge his position after hearing from so many Inglewood parents.
“Our message all along has been that any East Nashville plan can be created only after listening to parents and educators,” he said.  “We thought that’s the direction we were all headed, but now it appears we’re back to square one, fighting a cram-down scheme concocted in back rooms by people who don’t live in our neighborhoods and don’t have kids in our schools..”
Ruth Stewart, the vice chair of ENU, says that the recently released emails raise serious questions about whether Register has any plans to listen to the community task force. The task force, pushed for by East Nashville United, was supposed to help devise a plan by listening to parents and educators and researching the best options for each school.  Stewart, however, says the recently released emails suggest that district officials and charter officials were already engaged in serious policy discussions well before anyone else knew an East Nashville plan was afoot.
“We were told over and over that there was no plan, but the emails show the exact opposite.” Stewart says. “Before the task force begins its work, we want to know details of this secret plan. We’re not sure what the point of having a task force is if the district is already making decisions behind closed doors, with no community input.  Who knows what else they’ve already decided and haven’t told us about.”
Here is the full text of the written response from MNPS spokesperson Joe Bass:
The emails and public comments referenced by East Nashville United only reinforce what we have consistently said all along – that no final decision about the KIPP conversion has been made. What these comments show is that we are considering all of the potential options, discussing those options with leaders at KIPP and with parents at the schools.

 

The feedback we are receiving is helping to inform our decision, and we want to receive more input before a final decision is made. It’s not just the loudest voices that should be heard in this decision-making process, but all voices.

We want to hear from parents with children currently enrolled in the schools under consideration for conversion, as well as parents who are already choosing other school options for their children and parents who have young children who will be entering the school system in the future.

We appreciate the passion that is being shown by parents across East Nashville – their involvement in this process is key to creating a stronger network of schools in that part of our city.

 

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

ASD Faces Memphis Challenges

Bluff City Ed has the story of how Memphis teachers, parents, and students are standing up and resisting the Achievement School District.

The story chronicles recent events in summary format and demonstrates that what the ASD is selling is not being well-received. It could be because there are real questions about the effectiveness of the ASD’s work in Memphis.

From the story:

If the last few days are any indication, Memphis is close to an open revolt against the Achievement School District.

It doesn’t take much more than a cursory look at the news since the announcement of the ASD’s nine new takeovers to reach this conclusion.  The revolt is coming every quarter, both from within the schools being taken over and from those outside the schools in the community. It’s even coming from district leaders and, one can infer, from the charter operators themselves.

What make it notable is that it’s all much more intense than what we’ve seen in previous ASD takeovers. Its no longer bordering on dissent – it appears we’ve moved now into open revolt.

Read the whole story to understand the resistance and what it might mean for the ASD’s future in Memphis.

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

Why is TN 40th?

Recently, I wrote about Tennessee’s history of not investing in its teachers. Specifically, Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation in overall teacher pay and 40th in growth in teacher pay over time. So, Tennessee teachers are paid low salaries and those salaries don’t improve much as teachers advance in their careers.

Now, I’d like to take a look at why Tennessee teacher pay is low and is not improving.

The simple answer is this: The BEP is broken.

The BEP is the Basic Education Plan which is the state funding formula for public schools. The formula includes a number of components, including funding for teaching and staff positions based on district size as well as allocations for teacher salaries and insurance. It is the mechanism by which the state fulfills its constitutional responsibility to provide a free public education to all Tennessee students.

The BEP is not the sole funding source for public schools. Instead, the BEP generates dollars that are sent to local districts and each district is also asked to pay a share of the cost of providing education to the students there. The formula includes a mechanism which identifies a district’s “ability to pay” and districts receive a percentage of the total anticipated education funding needs based on that ability. Small, rural counties typically receive a much larger percentage of their total education budget from state BEP dollars than do large, urban districts or wealthy suburban districts.

The idea behind the formula is to introduce an element of equity to Tennessee schools. That is, no matter where a child lives, he or she should have access to a high quality education. Sure, wealthier districts will likely always spend more to enhance the basic program, but at a fundamental level, a child in Hancock County should be able to access the same basic educational opportunities as a child in Williamson County.

One key indicator of equity historically has been disparity in teacher pay across districts. Yes, a teacher in Shelby County has a higher cost of living than one in Perry County. But, fundamentally, the gap between salaries should not be such as to deprive rural districts of the opportunity to compete for teaching talent.

Back in 2002, the small school systems that originally banded together to sue the state to create the BEP sued the state again. This time, arguing that because of the widening disparity in teacher pay, education funding in the state was no longer equitable. At that time, the highest-paying districts in the state were paying salaries nearly 46% higher than the lowest-paying districts (based on numbers from the TN Department of Education). The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the small schools and ordered the state to move toward funding fairness. As a result, the state made teacher salary a formal component of the BEP and funded it at a fixed percentage.

In the years following this adjustment, the pay disparity among districts dropped from 46% to 35%. The parties to the equity lawsuit agreed this was progress and from 2004-2009, the disparity hovered in the 35-36% range.

Following the economic recession of 2008-2009, however, investment in the instructional component of the BEP stagnated. This enabled wealthier districts to continue investing in their teachers while poorer districts could not keep up.

In 2014, the salary disparity among districts is just under 42%. Yes, that’s not far from the 46% ruled unconstitutional back in the 2002 case. And, the trend is heading in the wrong direction for equity, having worsened some 7 percentage points since 2008.

Why does this keep happening? The BEP is broken.

As I mentioned, the BEP includes an instructional component which provides districts funding for teacher salaries. The current instructional component sets a salary number of $40,447. The state then funds this component at 70%, leaving districts to pay 30% of the salary cost for that teacher.

There are a few problems with this. First, nearly every district in the state hires more teachers than the BEP formula generates. This is because students don’t arrive in neatly packaged groups of 20 or 25, and because districts choose to enhance their curriculum with AP courses, foreign language, physical education, and other programs. This add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP.

Next, the state sets the instructional component for teacher salary at $40,447. The average salary actually paid to Tennessee teachers is $50,355.  That’s slightly below the Southeastern average and lower than six of the eight states bordering Tennessee. In short, an average salary any lower would not even approach competitiveness with our neighbors.

But, this gets to the reason why salary disparity is growing among districts. The state funds 70% of the BEP instructional component. That means the state sends districts $28,333.90 per BEP-generated teacher. But districts pay an average of $50,355 per teacher they employ. That’s a $22,000 disparity. In other words, instead of paying 70% of a district’s basic instructional costs, the state is paying 56%.

There’s an easy fix to this and it has been contemplated by at least one large school system in the state. That fix? Moving the BEP instructional component to the state average. Doing so would cost just over $500 million. So, it’s actually NOT that easy. Another goal of those seeking greater equity is moving the BEP instructional match from 70% to 75%, essentially fulfilling the promise of BEP 2.0. Doing so would cost at least $150 million.

Oh, and there’s one other problem with the BEP as it currently functions that impacts equity. The BEP insurance component. The BEP provides funds (45%) for teacher insurance. But, the BEP only funds teacher insurance for 10 months. Teachers receive insurance for 12 months. This creates a gap that MUST be filled by local districts. Wealthier districts are better able to absorb this cost while continuing to offer competitive pay. Poorer districts often keep salaries low in order to make up the money needed to cover the state-mandated insurance match.

Taking the state’s insurance match from the BEP from 10 months to 12 months would cost $64 million. It would also free up funds that could be used to close the salary gap among districts while easing the burden on local taxpayers. While addressing the salary issue will take creativity and some patience, the insurance issue is one that can be fixed with the exertion of some reasonable effort. That is, someone willing to find a way to allocate $64 million to the BEP in a state budget that is over $30 billion. It may mean less money in reserves. It may mean making different choices in terms of budget priorities.

The BEP is broken. It can be fixed. Doing so will require a commitment to investing in teachers and schools. It will require an adjustment in the state’s priorities. But, the broken BEP can be fixed.

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

Experts on New Orleans Ed Reform to Speak in Nashville

As debate continues over an education reform model for Nashville’s public schools, two local groups have teamed up to offer an event that will highlight the reform experience of the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

From a press release:

As Nashville continues to reform its public school system, it must look to the successes and failures of particular reforms in other cities as a guide. Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) and Gideon’s Army: Grassroots Army for Children have invited Karran Harper Royal and Dr. Kristen Buras to discuss the impact of education reform on the students, teachers, and schools of New Orleans, La.–the nation’s first all-charter school district.

Kristen Buras is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. She is the author of Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance, which chronicles the past decade of education reform in her hometown of New Orleans.

Karran Harper Royal is an education advocate in New Orleans. She has been a public school parent for the last 23 years and has has worked with various community groups uplifting parent and community voices in public education.

“On Tuesday, October 21, the State of Louisiana released their RSD (Recovery School District) performance scores,” reports Karran Harper Royal. “While the state average rose from 88.5 in 2013 (on a 150-point scale) to 89.2 in 2014, the RSD New Orleans average dropped from 71.9 to 71.2 during this same time period.  Does Nashville really want to follow this model?”

NOTE: These results seem somewhat similar to the so-far disappointing results coming out of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

The speaking event “Is School Choice an Empty Promise? What Nashville Can Learn from New Orleans” will be an informative discussion about the real outcomes of charter school expansion. It will also provide an opportunity for concerned community members in Nashville to raise questions about access, achievement, equity, and accountability. The chance to dialogue across cities is a unique opportunity and is well timed in light of recent proposals to create an all-choice zone in East Nashville.

The event will be held at the East Nashville Recreation Center, 700 Woodland Street, Nashville, TN 37206 on Sunday, November 2. The speakers will begin at 3 p.m. and a question and answer period will follow. This event is free and open to the public.

Seating is limited. RSVP online is recommended.

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