Vouchers: Done for Now

Rep. Harry Brooks today rolled his controversial Shelby County school voucher pilot project legislation to 2018. This means the bill won’t move beyond the House Finance Subcommittee this year.

Grace Tatter from Chalkbeat reports:

Many had thought that the plan to limit vouchers to Memphis would give the proposal the necessary support to become law, winning over lawmakers who have wavered in their support for the school choice measure in recent years. They also hoped to benefit from national attention to private school choice efforts. President Donald Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, have both used their platforms to advocate for vouchers and other similar programs.

But in the end, disagreements over how private schools should be held accountable for academic results — as well as legislators’ exhaustion after passing a hotly debated gas tax — caused the measure to stall.

 

More on vouchers:

The Verdict on Vouchers

Voucher Backers vs. Facts

The Voucher School District

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


 

 

Haslam to Kids: Be Ready, Even Though TN Hasn’t Been

In a letter sent home to students ahead of TNReady testing season, Governor Bill Haslam encourages them to do well and tells them, “Tennessee is behind you.”

Here’s the full text of the letter:

IMG_3182

These words of encouragement as well as a handy number 2 pencil were paid for by SCORE.

Here’s the thing: For the past few years, Tennessee hasn’t exactly been “behind” kids. Not in terms of delivering an annual test in an effective manner.

I wrote last year about the new “Rite of Spring.” Here’s what I said then:

Lately, this season has brought another ritual: The Tennessee Department of Education’s failure to deliver student test scores. Each of the last three years has seen TNDOE demonstrate it’s inability to get state testing right (nevermind the over-emphasis on testing to begin with).

Back in 2014, there was a delay in the release of the all-powerful “quick scores” used to help determine student grades. Ultimately, this failure led to an Assistant Commissioner losing her job.

Then, in 2015, the way “quick scores” were computed was changed, creating lots of confusion. The Department was quick to apologize, noting:

We regret this oversight, and we will continue to improve our processes such that we uphold our commitment to transparency, accuracy, and timeliness with regard to data returns, even as we experience changes in personnel.

The processes did not appear to be much improved at all as the 2016 testing cycle got into full swing, with a significant technical failure on Day One.

When it comes to actually getting test administration and subsequent details right, Tennessee hasn’t exactly been “behind” the kids taking the tests.

But this year, armed with a letter from the Governor and a new pencil, the kids are ready. Haslam wants them to do their best, even though the state has been letting them down.

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


 

Shelby County Passes TNReady Resolution

The Shelby County Commission last night unanimously passed a resolution calling on state lawmakers to suspend use of TNReady data for student grades and teacher evaluations this year.

Here’s what they had to say:

RESOLUTION URGING THE TENNESSEE COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION, GOVERNOR BILL  HASLAM, AND THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO ELIMINATE THE TENNESSEE READY SCORES AS A COMPONENT OF TEACHER EVALUATIONS AND STUDENT SCORES.  SPONSORED BY COMMISIONER DAVID REAVES

 

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee has invested heavily in the development of educational standards known as Tennessee (TN) Ready, and

WHEREAS, standardized testing has become the cornerstone of measuring mastery of the TN educational standards, and

WHEREAS, TN Ready should be meant to be diagnostic in nature and help teachers and administrators understand and develop an educational plan to help students close the achievement gap in proficiency; and

WHEREAS, the TN Ready test has become a final exam for children instead of a continual diagnostic view; and

WHEREAS, the TN General Assembly has chosen to hold teachers accountable by linking student performance on the TN Ready exam to a teacher’s evaluation; and

WHEREAS the unintended consequence of such action has led to teachers teaching children to score high on a test versus teaching real mastery of subject matter; and

WHEREAS, while giving off the appearance of a better education, this type of teaching to the test behavior actually limits the amount of quality content in deference to test taking strategies; and

WHEREAS, the TN General Assembly has now also tied student scores to the results of standardized testing creating an unfair playing field for students and their college scholarship prospects with private school students who do not count standardized tests as part of their grade point average (GPA); and

WHEREAS, parents, students, and teachers are all impacted by the State of TN placing so much emphasis on testing instead of instruction; and

WHEREAS, record numbers of quality teachers are leaving the teaching profession and school districts are struggling to recruit and retain quality teachers due to the TN standards imposed in regards to standardized testing.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SHELBY COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, that we urge the TN General Assembly to suspend the use of TN Ready Results as part of the teacher evaluations and as part of the students’ GPAs.

MORE on TNReady:

Will TNReady Yield Valid Data for Teacher Evaluations?

Washington County Joins Waiver Wave

State Board Makes Late Call on TNReady Data

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


 

 

TREE: A Takedown of Vouchers

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) is out with an email detailing the latest efforts to pass vouchers at the Tennessee General Assembly. The message is clear: Vouchers don’t work and they’re pretty expensive.

Here’s the text:

The “Ever-Expanding Universe of Vouchers” was a blog post https://treetn.org/expanding-vouche… TREE did last year warning Tennessee about school voucher intentions. In that blog we stated, “Voucher supporters, along with money from outside interests, will stop at nothing to expand voucher programs in Tennessee, effectively creating a privatized black hole for taxpayer dollars. Tennessee ranks 47th in funding for public education, leaving schools to tread water while legislators look for ways to fund private schools.” And where are we AGAIN this year? Fighting back multiple attempts to expand public school vouchers.

One bill will expand the TN IEP voucher. Only 38 out of 20k qualifying families bothered to sign up for the current version of this voucher. But, it is not about what families want. It is about expanding. This new version wants to qualify more disabilities to wave their IDEA rights and take the money even though we have no idea if the pilot works. This IEP expansion is modeled after Arizona. The Arizona Legislature created its ESA program in 2011 for special-needs students and has since expanded it to allow children from poor-performing schools, from military families, and others. Watch for this pattern in Tennessee. It is all intentional.

MEMPHIS IS THE TARGET
The other voucher bill (HB126) left progressing through committee is squarely and unfairly aimed at Memphis as a pilotAnd Memphis parents, school boards, and elected officials have not been silent in their objection. Here is what we know about urban pilots. Every time a voucher starts as an urban pilot for a small number of students, it expands across the state. Flashback to charter schools as an urban pilot solution. And now several rural districts are seeing charter school intent letters. The playbook is followed in every state where privatized solutions proliferate. Vouchers will not stop at a pilot. Isn’t the point of a pilot to see if something works? The word pilot is a sham. We don’t even know if the IEP disability pilot is working and it is already expanding.

This Memphis pilot bill is stuck on whether it will even use the TNReady to see if the pilot works.  How is that fair? How do you show a voucher pilot improves educational outcomes for children if they don’t take TNReady? Then what kind of overreach will we see private school curriculum to make sure “the test” is addressed? It is a slippery slope.

THANK YOU COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Concerns are growing fast as the County Commissioners Association published a spreadsheet (shown above) that TREE obtained via email, sent to Association members outlining a rough idea, county by county illustrating “[H]ow a k-12 voucher program might impact county budgets, particularly if you compare revenue lost when a student transfers out of a school district and into a private school.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6… ) The chart shows the amount of county property tax needed to offset a 10-percent decrease in student population. [The Association] research has cross-checked many of the systems and, for the most part, it appears to be accurate. ” Of note: Carroll County sets its districts differently, so the formula used does not translate for that county.

The property tax increases to offset vouchers seen on the spreadsheet is not something any county commissioner wants to pass on to property owners. Lauderdale County loses the most with an 84.23 cent increase per year. Davidson is looking at a 30.36 cent increase. The Tennessee Ed Report did a post that outlined skyrocketing taxes in Indiana and some potential scenarios for Tennessee. http://tnedreport.com/2017/03/the-v…

School vouchers become a parallel school system to fund. One Tennessee cannot afford.

Parents feel vouchers are an empty promise. Study after study show they do not work to increase achievement. https://www.brookings.edu/research/… Without transportation and the ability to cover all the extras, a voucher is not really in reach of most public school families. The private schools most familiar won’t be taking vouchers. And in the end, voucher school choice is the choice of the private school to accept a student and to keep a student. It opens the door to discriminatory practices that leave Shelby County parents in doubt this is little more than a religious school subsidy with tax dollars that experiments on their children.

Our government needs to invest in neighborhood schools, invest in RTi2 small intervention classes, time with a teacher, community schools coordinators to coordinate wrap-around services and discipline supports. Fund opportunities to engage in learning. Not siphon off public dollars into private, unregulated hands. We must support Shelby County Schools, not public money for vouchers. Former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey confirmed that he supported intentions to expand the program statewide when he recently spoke to a group of Shelby County Republicans in Bartlett. These pilots are nothing more than seeds for state voucher program growth and higher taxes.

And here’s a breakdown of those costs at a 10 percent level:

TREE Vouchers 2017-1

 

TREE Vouchers 2017-2

In fairness, the Indiana experience has shown about a three percent rate of students taking vouchers. Still, that’d add up to a pretty hefty tax increase in many places. All to support a second school system. The Indiana experience shows that creating a voucher school system means an education funding deficit.

This is a key week for vouchers, as the Shelby County pilot bill is going before the House Finance Subcommittee.

Stay tuned to see if legislators will advance a voucher scheme.

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


 

 

KCEA President Questions Budget

Knox County Education Association President Lauren Hopson is questioning a proposed 2017-18 budget that she says doesn’t live up to promises made.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

The president of the local teacher’s union on Monday criticized Knox County School’s proposed budget for offering teacher raises below the-agreed-upon goal of 4 percent despite an estimated $18 million revenue increase.

Hopson said of the framing of the budget decision:

“The choice should never be between a raise for certified staff and a raise for classified staff,” said Lauren Hopson, head of the Knox County Education Association. “Knox County Schools needs to prioritize their budget so that the memorandum of understanding (with the union) can be honored and our classified staff can be given a raise to show that they are an invaluable part of our school system as well.”

The budget issue will be before the Knox County School Board for a vote tonight, and Hopson plans to bring her concerns directly to the board.

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


 

Vouchers: A Warning from Arizona

Arizona just expanded its voucher program so that every child in the state will be eligible for a voucher.

This is worth noting as Tennessee continues to debate adopting a voucher “pilot program” this year. We’re told by voucher advocates this will be limited to Shelby County and won’t expand unless is “works.”

The evidence in states like Indiana and now Arizona, however, suggests that once voucher programs get started, they don’t stop. Instead, they grow and comprise more and more of a state’s education budget. Indiana’s voucher program grew from 7500 students to more than 30,000 in just five years and now costs the state $131 million.

Derek Black describes the Arizona situation this way:

 If one understands the facts, one understands that this voucher program is not about helping kids in Arizona “win.”  It is about raw politics and continuing the longstanding trend of depriving public schools of the resources they need to succeed.  If parents in Arizona want vouchers (or charters), it is not because those policies are normatively appealing.  It is because the state has been robbing them of the public education they deserve.  Many families now surely believe they have no other realistic option.  In short, the state has created the factual predicate of failing public schools to create the justification for its own pet project of privatizing education.

And here’s what’s going on in Indiana:

Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

Vouchers don’t work. And those small programs quickly grow out of control — costing taxpayers more money and yielding disappointing results.

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


 

That’s Not What You Said Last Week

Earlier this legislative session, voucher bill sponsor Brian Kelsey said TNReady was a “disaster” and he wouldn’t want to force it on private schools accepting public funds by way of vouchers.

Then, last week, he changed his tune.

Here’s how Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat reported it:

Sen. Brian Kelsey, the architect of Tennessee’s voucher bill, said he would prefer requiring students who use vouchers to take nationally normed tests, like they do in Florida and several other states with voucher programs.

But he said he understands why policymakers want to make “apple to apple” comparisons between public schools and private schools accepting government dollars. “If that gives policymakers greater comfort to vote for the bill, then I am all for that,” said the Germantown Republican.

And, with Kelsey’s blessing, the bill was amended in the House Government Operations Committee last week to include a requirement that students receiving vouchers take the TNReady test. Yes, the one Kelsey called a disaster.

Exactly one week later, this happened:

The panel voted narrowly to amend the bill so that voucher participants could take tests in their private schools that are different from what their counterparts take in public schools. But lawmakers stopped short of sending the amended bill to their finance committee after Rep. Mike Stewart, who opposes vouchers, moved to adjourn.

So, is TNReady a disaster, but one that’s worth risking in order for private schools to get public money? Or, should private schools choose their own tests?

Here’s what we do know: In states like Indiana and Louisiana, students receiving vouchers must take state tests. The results in those states paint a picture of vouchers as an education reform that not only doesn’t help kids, but also pushes them further behind. Yes, students in Indiana and Louisiana who received vouchers actually lost ground academically when they went to private schools.

For now, voucher legislation in Tennessee is stalled in the House Government Operations Committee. The Senate version is sitting in the Finance Committee there, still not scheduled for a vote.

To test or not to test? That seems to be the core question and the final answer may determine whether a voucher bill passes this session.

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


 

DeBerry’s Dollars

Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis is one of the most ardent supporters of school vouchers in the General Assembly. Voucher proponents (mostly Republicans) like to use DeBerry to show “bipartisan” support for their plan.

Here’s the deal: DeBerry may well be a “true believer” in vouchers. He often bashes public schools and their teachers in speeches in legislative committees. But, he’s also a top recipient of dollars from pro-voucher groups.

Here’s some information on the funds spent in support of DeBerry by various groups backing vouchers:

DeBerry Vouchers PIC

 

Students First (now Tennessee CAN) has spent over $100,000 keeping DeBerry in office. Betsy Devos‘s American Federation for Children has spent nearly $100,000.

It’s expensive to keep John DeBerry on your side.

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


 

It May Be Ready, But is it Valid?

In today’s edition of Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Educator Update, she talks about pending legislation addressing teacher evaluation and TNReady.

Here’s what McQueen has to say about the issue:

As we continue to support students and educators in the transition to TNReady, the department has proposed legislation (HB 309) that lessens the impact of state test results on students’ grades and teachers’ evaluations this year.

In 2015, the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act created a phase-in of TNReady in evaluation to acknowledge the state’s move to a new assessment that is fully aligned to Tennessee state standards with new types of test questions. Under the current law, TNReady data would be weighted at 20 percent for the 2016-17 year.

However, in the spirit of the original bill, the department’s new legislation resets the phase-in of growth scores from TNReady assessments as was originally proposed in the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act. Additionally, moving forward, the most recent year’s growth score will be used for a teacher’s entire growth component if such use results in a higher evaluation score for the teacher.

We will update you as this bill moves through the legislative process, and if signed into law, we will share detailed guidance that includes the specific options available for educators this year. As we announced last year, if a teacher’s 2015-16 individual growth data ever negatively impacts his or her overall evaluation, it will be excluded. Additionally, as noted above, teachers will be able to use 2016-17 growth data as 35 percent of their evaluation if it results in a higher overall level of effectiveness.

And here’s a handy graphic that describes the change:

TNReady Graphic

 

 

Of course, there’s a problem with all of this: There’s not going to be valid data to use for TVAAS. Not this year. It’s bad enough that the state is transitioning from one type of test to another. That alone would call into question the validity of any comparison used to generate a value-added score. Now, there’s a gap in the data. As you might recall, there wasn’t a complete TNReady test last year. So, to generate a TVAAS score, the state will have to compare 2014-15 data from the old TCAP tests to 2016-17 data from what we hope is a sound administration of TNReady.

We really need at least three years of data from the new test to make anything approaching a valid comparison. Or, we should start over building a data-set with this year as the baseline. Better yet, we could go the way of Hawaii and Oklahoma and just scrap the use of value-added scores altogether.

Even in the best of scenarios — a smooth transition from TCAP to TNReady — data validity was going to be challenge.

As I noted when the issue of testing transition first came up:

Here’s what Lockwood and McCaffrey (2007) had to say in the Journal of Educational Measurement:

We find that the variation in estimated effects resulting from the different mathematics achievement measures is large relative to variation resulting from choices about model specification, and that the variation within teachers across achievement measures is larger than the variation across teachers. These results suggest that conclusions about individual teachers’ performance based on value-added models can be sensitive to the ways in which student achievement is measured.
These findings align with similar findings by Martineau (2006) and Schmidt et al (2005)
You get different results depending on the type of question you’re measuring.

The researchers tested various VAM models (including the type used in TVAAS) and found that teacher effect estimates changed significantly based on both what was being measured AND how it was measured.

And they concluded:

Our results provide a clear example that caution is needed when interpreting estimated teacher effects because there is the potential for teacher performance to depend on the skills that are measured by the achievement tests.

If you measure different skills, you get different results. That decreases (or eliminates) the reliability of those results. TNReady is measuring different skills in a different format than TCAP. It’s BOTH a different type of test AND a test on different standards. Any value-added comparison between the two tests is statistically suspect, at best. In the first year, such a comparison is invalid and unreliable.

So, we’re transitioning from TCAP to TNReady AND we have a gap in years of data. That’s especially problematic — but, not problematic enough to keep the Department of Education from plowing ahead (and patting themselves on the back) with a scheme that validates a result sure to be invalid.

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


 

That’s NOT a PAC

Melanie Balakit of the Tennessean reports that an Administrative Law Judge has ruled that Williamson Strong was not a political action committee (PAC) in the 2014 election cycle:

Williamson Strong was not a political action committee in a past school board election, according to an order released Thursday from an administrative law judge.

The order, written by Michael Begley, dissolves a fine that Williamson Strong had for failure to register as a PAC during a 2014 school board election.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance issued a $5000 fine, later reduced to $2,500, to Williamson Strong in 2015.

Williamson Strong posted this response on their Facebook page:

A former school board member filed a campaign finance against Williamson Strong in December 2014. 28 months later, we have been vindicated!

We’re still digesting the 19-page order from the Administrative Law Judge, but you can read it along with us.

“After consideration of this entire record in this matter, it is determined that the Respondents did not constitute a political campaign committee with respect to the 2014 election. It is therefore ORDERED that the Registry’s charges against the respondents are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.”

The order from the ALJ indicates the Registry failed to meet the burden of establishing Williamson Strong constituted a PAC for three reasons: The “express advocacy” standard, the functional equivalency test, and the media exception.

To summarize, the judge found that Williamson Strong did not engage in any “express advocacy” — they didn’t encourage the public to vote for or against any specific candidate or candidates. The judge also found that Williamson Strong did not act as the “functional equivalent” of a PAC. Finally, the judge found that Williamson Strong’s activity may have fallen under the “media exception.” That is, Williamson Strong was providing information to the public via a website and Facebook page just as a media outlet may do during an election cycle.

This order becomes final unless the Registry appeals within 15 days.

The ruling in this case is clear: Williamson Strong is not a PAC and certainly was NOT a PAC in 2014, despite claims by Susan Curlee and others to the contrary.

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