Hungry for BEP Reform

School Boards in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Memphis have all voted to begin the process of exploring a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the state’s school funding formula, the BEP.

This challenge is different from the previous Small Schools challenges in two ways. First, it is being initiated by the large school systems, with some support from smaller districts. Second, it’s about adequacy, not equity. That is to say: The point of this potential lawsuit would be to say Tennessee’s school funding formula does not provide enough funding for ALL districts.

Past suits, focused on equity, argued that smaller and poorer districts lost out because the formula didn’t give kids from all districts an equal opportunity. There’s certainly evidence that the BEP is approaching (or already at) unacceptable levels of inequity. One noteworthy example is teacher pay, which shows a disparity of 42% between the top paying and lowest paying districts. The last Small Schools suit found a disparity of 45% unconstitutional. It’s not at all a stretch to suggest that 42% is also unconstitutional or that Tennessee will very soon be at the 45% disparity level.

This time, though, systems are suggesting that overall funding for schools needs to increase — likely to the tune of $500 million or more.

A story from June of last year might explain why. The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported on changes to rules governing school nutrition, including what can be sold in vending machines at school. Here’s an interesting note from that article:

Before the change to diet sodas, Soddy-Daisy High School’s vending machines would pull in nearly $40,000 a year — money that helped pay the monthly phone bill or purchase copier paper. Now that revenue is down to about $9,000 annually…

…In Hamilton County, the school district funds teaching positions, maintains building and pays utility bills. But for other costs of running a school — including copiers, phone bills and school supplies — the schools have their own budgets, which often don’t come close to covering annual expenses. That’s why money from school fees, vending machines and fundraisers is so important.

Yes, that’s right. Schools are counting on money from selling unhealthy snacks to teenagers to meet their budgets. Existing funds aren’t enough to pay the phone bill or provide adequate school supplies.

The problem with the BEP now goes beyond equity — the inputs simply aren’t adequate to meet the needs of Tennessee’s public schools.

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

 

Of Poverty and Teacher Pay

Recently, I wrote about the correlation between poverty, investment in schools, and student achievement test scores.

To summarize, wealthier districts with lower levels of poverty tended to both invest more in their schools AND get higher scores on achievement tests.

On the flip side, school districts with higher levels of poverty had less money to invest in schools and also saw lower student achievement scores.

Now, I’ve broken down the top and bottom 10 districts from those posts and I’m highlighting their average teacher salaries. Here’s the data:

TOP 10

District                                    2014 Average Teacher Salary

Franklin Special                   $52,080

Rogersville                             $44,906

Newport                                $42,962

Maryville                               $52,076

Oak Ridge                             $54,039

Williamson                           $48,471

Greeneville                          $45,386

Johnson City                       $52,222

Kingsport                             $51,425

Shelby County                   $56,180

Average for Top 10 Districts: $49,974

 

Bottom 10

District                                   2014 Average Salary

Lake Co.                                 $42,547

Union Co.                               $42,027

Madison Co.                          $45,282

Campbell Co.                        $41,563

Haywood Co.                        $43,318

Hardeman Co.                      $43,556

Hancock Co.                          $39,777

Memphis                               $56,000 (Shelby Co. number, as Memphis is now part of SCS)

Fayette Co.                            $41,565

Humboldt                             $42,072

Average for Bottom 10: $43,770

The salary disparity among the top 10 and bottom 10 districts in terms of academic performance is $6204 — or 14.2%.

These numbers roughly correlate with the districts most able to pay and with the greatest investment over the BEP.

It’s important to note that high pay alone does not represent high student achievement. It is also important to note, though, that those districts with the most consistent high performance on student achievement indicators also consistently pay more than districts that are lower-performing.

Wealthier districts invest more funds in their schools, invest more in their teachers, and see better overall outcomes than low-income districts. Teacher pay is a part of that overall equation.

MORE on Teacher Pay:

A 4% Raise for Tennessee Teachers?

Do Your Job, Get Less Money

Pay Teachers More … A Lot More

Why is TN 40th in Teacher Pay?

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

 

Killing K-12, Inc.

I wrote earlier about legislation filed this session that would extend the life of failing Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) operator K-12, Inc.

Now, legislation has been filed that would effectively kill K-12, Inc. in Tennessee.

HB 1331/SB 1363 by Rep. Mike Stewart and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, both of Nashville, would have the effect of ending K-12, Inc.’s reign as an unchecked operator of a failing virtual school.

Here’s the basic language of the bill:

Local Education Agencies – As introduced, prohibits an LEA from contracting for services with a nonprofit or for-profit operator or manager of a virtual school if the contract requires the LEA to pay more per pupil for students in the virtual school than the operator or manager charges individual students for its services. – Amends TCA Title 49, Chapter 16, Part 2.

Union County is the LEA “home” of the Tennessee Virtual Academy, a school that has been among Tennessee’s lowest performing since its opening. K-12, Inc. operates the school and does so at an apparent profit.

Interestingly, in Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting, Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga brought up virtual schools during a presentation on Pre-K that had nothing to do with virtual schools.

Gardenhire repeatedly asked if online instruction, such as that offered through a virtual school, would be the most appropriate option for a student diagnosed with Autism. When the representative from the Tennessee Department of Education said that it would depend on the quality of the virtual program, Gardenhire persisted, accusing the TN DOE of hedging on the issue.

Gardenhire asked if it was appropriate to close a virtual school that might be the only option for an Autistic child.

This line of questioning was interesting not just because it was irrelevant to the topic at hand. It also outlines a likely line of argument proponents of K-12, Inc. such as Gardenhire and Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham will use in defending the school’s continued operation in the state.

To be clear, the legislation filed by Stewart and Yarbro will not close all virtual schools. Districts are free to operate their own virtual schools that comply with the legislative language. The virtual school operated by MNPS would qualify, for example. But, the bill would close the TNVA — an entity that has both drained taxpayer dollars and failed to serve students during its time in operation.

More on K-12, Inc. in Tennessee:

Cash vs. Kids?

K-12, Inc. faces Tennessee Trouble

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

A (Sort of) 4% Raise for Teachers

Governor Bill Haslam delivered his State of the State address tonight and outlined his budget and policy priorities for the coming year.

Among the proposals he outlined was $100 million to provide raises for Tennessee teachers. That equates to enough money to provide all teachers with a 4% raise.

But.

Haslam’s plan doesn’t increase teacher compensation by 4%. Instead, it provides the money to districts and encourages them to use it to reward the “best performers.” Districts could give all teachers 4% or they could provide 6% raises for some teachers and 2% raises for others. Or they could, as they did the last time an increase in salary money was provided, give a smaller raise to more instructional staff. In 2013-14, Haslam provided funds for a 1.5% raise but the average Tennessee teacher saw only .5% — or 1/3 of what was available. Districts used the remaining funds to cover other instructional costs.

Let me be clear: Haslam is to be commended for finding the resources to provide districts with these funds. $100 million for a teacher pay increase is the biggest pot of money for that purpose to be provided in many years.

Additionally, Haslam is dealing with revenue issues by proposing a modernization of the tax code. It’s plan that will introduce fairness and protect small, Tennessee-based businesses.

But it’s not a 4% raise for all teachers. Not yet. And Tennessee teachers are facing growing pay inequity and overall pay that lags the rest of the country.

Adding 4% to all teacher salaries, by, for example, increasing the BEP instructional component, could go a long way toward making Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay.

Haslam’s proposal is an important first step down that path. With some help from the General Assembly, Tennessee could make Haslam’s 2013 promise on pay a reality.

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

 

Is THAT even legal?

That’s the question the Tennessee Education Association is asking about the use of value-added data (TVAAS) in teacher evaluations.

The TEA, joining with the National Education Association, has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee’s use of TVAAS data in teacher evaluations.

According to a press release, TEA is specifically concerned about teachers who receive value-added scores based on students they have never taught. A significant number of Tennessee teachers currently receive a portion of their evaluation score based on TVAAS scores from school-wide or other data, meaning teachers are graded based on students they’ve never taught.

The release states:

More than half of the public school teachers in Tennessee receive evaluations that are based substantially on standardized test scores of students in subjects they do not teach. The lawsuit seeks relief for those teachers from the arbitrary and irrational practice of measuring their effectiveness with statistical estimates based on standardized test scores from students they do not teach and may have never met. 

While Governor Haslam is proposing that the legislature reduce the impact of TVAAS scores on teacher evaluations during the state’s transition to new standardized tests, his proposal does not address the issues of statistical validity with the transition. There is no way to determine how TCAP scores will interface with the scores from a test that has not even been developed yet. To hold teachers accountable for data generated in such an unreliable fashion is not only statistically suspect, it’s disrespectful.

Finally, it’s worth noting that value-added data doesn’t do much in terms of differentiating teacher performance. Of course, even if it did, holding teachers accountable for students they don’t teach defies logic.

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

 

Do Your Job, Get Less Money

Over at Bluff City Ed, there’s an article analyzing the new pay scale for teachers in Shelby County Schools. The scale is weighted toward TVAAS data and the evaluation rubric, which rates teachers on a scale of 1-5, 1 being significantly below expectations and 5 being significantly above. A teacher earning a 3 “meets expectations.” That means they are doing their job and doing it well.

Jon does a nice job of breaking down what it means to “meet expectations.” But, here’s the problem he’s highlighting:  Teachers who meet expectations in the new system would see a reduction in their annual step raise. That’s right: They do their job and meet the district’s performance expectations and yet earn LESS than they would with the current pay system.

Jon puts it this way:

But what the district outlines as meeting expectations exemplifies a hardworking and effective educator who is making real progress with their community, school and students. If a teacher is doing all these things, I believe that they should be in line for a yearly raise, not a cut. At its core, this new merit pay system devalues our teachers who fulfill their professional duties in every conceivable way.

I would add to this argument that to the extent that the new pay scale is based on a flawed TVAAS system which provides minimal differentiation among teachers, it is also flawed. Value-added data does not reveal much about the differences in teacher performance. As such, this data shouldn’t weigh heavily (or at all) in performance pay schemes.

Systems like Shelby County may be better served by a pay scale that starts teachers at a high salary and rewards them well over time. Increasing pay overall creates the type of economic incentives that both attract strong teachers and encourage school systems to develop talent and counsel out low performers.

Shelby County can certainly do more to attract and retain strong teaching talent. But the new pay scale is the wrong way to achieve that goal.

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

 

Dear Jim

Tomorrow, Knox County’s Director of Schools, Jim McIntyre, will testify before the Senate HELP Committee as part of ESEA reauthorization hearings being held by Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Ahead of his testimony, 9th District Knox County School Board member Amber Rountree sent McIntyre her thoughts on what he should say. This is her letter:

Dear Jim:
Thank you for the opportunity to give input on your upcoming testimony regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”).

As you stated in your email to the Board, you have been bestowed an honor to represent our students, our staff and the great state of Tennessee. I know you will share the wonderful innovation happening in Knox County Schools, but I implore you to provide a realistic picture of how NCLB (and its waiver) has impacted our schools.  I hope as you prepare your testimony you find courage to speak hard truths about the current state of our schools, including the following points:

More accountability≠better education. While we need a way to measure student progress, we must discontinue high-stakes testing that is not developmentally appropriate.  Punishing students, teachers and schools for results of these tests is simply unethical, especially while companies like Pearson profit from this punishment.

Restore local control.  Top down mandates from the federal government via NCLB have not led to a better outcome for students.  In fact, in our own district the achievement gap is widening.  Return the decision making to the hands of our state and local boards of education, along with controls to ensure punitive high-stakes testing does not continue.

Rethink the “Teacher Incentive Fund.”  Would you pay a firefighter based on the number of fires they successfully extinguished? Merit pay does not directly correlate to increased student performance.  A wiser choice would be to use the funding for smaller teacher-student ratios, which directly improve student outcomes.

Public dollars, public schools.  Vouchers and charters are a path to privatize public education.  When President Johnson signed ESEA into law, his intent was to help public schools succeed, not see those dollars funneled into private ventures which are not held to the same rigorous standards as public schools.
I concur with President Johnson’s remark that “there is no higher ground than a schoolroom or a more hopeful place than a classroom.”  The brightness of hope for our students and teachers has dimmed under the oppressive mandates of NCLB.  You’ve been given a gift to help restore that hope; my wish is that you use it wisely.
Yours in education,
Amber Rountree,  District 9 Representative

 

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

SPEAK Members Seek KCEA Posts

Lauren Hopson, whose remarks at a Knox County School Board meeting gained national attention, is seeking the Presidency of the Knox County Education Association. Hopson is joined in campaigning by Amy Cate, who is seeking the Vice Presidency, and Linda Holtzclaw, running for Secretary.

Hopson’s speech was the catalyst for a movement that become SPEAK: Students, Parents, and Educators Across Knox County.

The group speaks out on education issues and even recruited and supported some successful candidates in the recent school board election.

Hopson sought to draw attention to Knox County Schools policies that she believed harmed both teachers and their students. Now, SPEAK keeps Knox County citizens informed of relevant education issues and regularly engages local policymakers in discussions about how to improve Knox County Schools.

Here is the video that helped launch Hopson:

 

SPEAK Members Marching:

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

TCAP, Poverty, and Investment in Schools

Recently, I wrote about the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment of Poverty, or TCAP. In that piece, I talked about how concentrated poverty combined with low investment in schools led to poor educational outcomes. I also mentioned how the broken BEP impacts districts because it is inadequate to meet the needs of Tennessee’s schools.

Now, I want to share the data I used to make those claims.

This data will show % of investment above BEP requirements, 3 year average ACT score (where applicable) and average TCAP scores.

The Top 10

District                % above BEP           3 yr ACT avg.             TCAP avg.

FSSD                   44.94%                     n/a                                63

Rogersville         19.83%                     n/a                                60

Newport             14.51%                      n/a                                62

Maryville            33.8%                      23.8                               65

Oak Ridge          37.23%                    23.1                               58

Williamson       20.5%                       22.9                             67

Greeneville      27.47%                      22.1                             58

Johnson City  26.77%                       22.1                             61

Kingsport        31.85%                       22                               59

Shelby              17.32%                       20.8                           58

AVERAGE    27.42%                    22.4                         61.1

The Top 10 districts in terms of student achievement invested nearly 28% above the BEP requirements and had an ACT average well above the state average.

The Bottom Ten

District          % above BEP          3 yr. ACT avg.              TCAP avg.

Lake                5.07%                       18.1                                 41

Union             4.91%                       17.9                                 45

Madison         14.22%                    17.9                                 46

Campbell       3.4%                        17.7                                  44

Haywood       6.48%                     17.5                                  41

Hardeman    11.58%                    17                                      46

Hancock       4.49%                     16.6                                   44

Memphis      19.15%                   16.4                                    38

Fayette         9.83%                    16.3                                     42

Humboldt   13.5%                     16.2                                    43

AVERAGE 9.26%                 17.16                                43

The bottom ten districts in terms of student performance invest less than 10% above the BEP formula and have an ACT average well below the state average.

The top 10 districts spend an average of 3 times more than the bottom 10 in terms of investment over the BEP formula. They also have an ACT average that is 5 points higher and a TCAP average that is nearly 20 points higher than the bottom ten.

Interestingly, even the bottom 10 districts spend just over 9% more than the BEP formula on average. That’s a sure sign that districts can’t run on the funds and funding levels established by the current BEP. The BEP is simply inadequate to meet Tennessee’s educational needs.

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

The TN Poverty Test

TCAP is Tennessee’s standardized test for grades 3-8.  At least until next year, when it is replaced with something designed by Measurement, Inc. that meets new Tennessee Standards.

TCAP stand for Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.  But, it could just as easily stand for Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment of Poverty.

Here’s why:

An analysis of TCAP performance over time indicates that those school systems with consistently high levels of poverty tend to have consistently low scores on TCAP. Likewise, those systems with the least amount of poverty tend to have consistently higher scores on TCAP.

Much attention was focused on Tennessee and our “rapid gains” on the NAEP. Less celebrated by state officials was the attendant expansion of the achievement gap between rich and poor students.

One possible explanation for the expanding achievement gap is the investment gap among districts. That is, those districts with lower levels of poverty (the ones scoring higher on TCAP) also tend to invest funds in their schools well above what the state funding formula (BEP) generates. The top ten districts on TCAP performance spend 20% or more above what the BEP formula generates. By contrast, the bottom 10 districts spend 5% or less above the formula dollars.

It’s no accident that the districts that spend more are those with less poverty while the districts with less investment above the BEP have higher poverty levels. And, I’ve written recently about the flaws in the present BEP system that signal it is well past time to reform the formula and increase investment.

Of further interest is an analysis of 3-year ACT averages. Here again, 9 of the top 10 districts on ACT performance spend well above the state average in per pupil spending. The top 10 districts in ACT average spend an average of $900 more per student than the state’s average per pupil expenditure.

And, on ACT scores again, those districts with the highest poverty rates make the least investment above BEP dollars and typically see results below the state average ACT score.

While Tennessee may be moving to a new test in 2016, it’s not clear yet whether that test will do more than identify the poverty level and education investment of the state’s school districts.

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