500 Here, 500 There

So, the state keeps taking in more revenue — a lot more than it planned — and it’s starting to add up to real money, some $500 million and the year’s not over yet.

Andrea Zelinski has the story:

Nearing the end of state government’s fiscal year, Tennessee has collected nearly one half billion dollars more than expected, according to state officials.

Revenues totaled $974 million for May, when $50.5 million more than expected pouring into state coffers. Overall, the state has collected $495 million more than anticipated in the first 10 months of the budget year, with $452 million overcollected for the general fund, according to the Department of Finance and Administration.

What’s interesting about this story is that the total amount of over-collection represents almost exactly the dollar amount needed to satisfy school systems suing the state for inadequate K-12 funding.

$500 million appears to be the magic number:

Achieving a level of adequate funding as contemplated in the lawsuit would cost an estimated $500 million. Should the motion be granted, all 141 school systems in the state would effectively become a party to the suit — an unprecedented show of strength in what has historically been small school systems suing over equity. This suit differs from the previous “small schools” suits in that it focuses on the inadequacy of the funding formula rather than on any inequities that may exist.

So, we have $500 million in revenue over anticipated collections on the one hand and school systems suing to restore adequacy to the BEP to the tune of $500 million on the other.

Seems like someone (legislators, Governor Haslam, anyone…) ought to be able to work with these numbers and find a positive solution.

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

 

 

Merit Pay Fails

That’s not exactly what JC Bowman and PET had to say when the Tennessee Board of Education gutted the state minimum salary schedule at the recommendation of Kevin Huffman back in 2013, but it comes pretty close. Here’s what PET said back then:

Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Franklin, Tn., comments on pay policy that requires each district to create a merit pay system by the 2014-15 school year. The state board is taking this action to fulfill the requirements of Public Chapter 376 (2007), Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-3-306(h), the State Board of Education has developed guidelines for the establishment of differentiated pay plans by local education agencies.

J.C. Bowman, executive director of PET, said, “Our experience with differentiated pay/merit pay is that it is never funded appropriately. If the state is the source of funding it will eventually go away.  We have watched programs implemented in our state and other states simply be discontinued.  The state needs to reassure educators this will not happen.  It can be argued that this is more of a political issue and not an education issue. If this is the case, it may serve politicians more than educators.  It is imperative that PET works with policymakers and local systems to come up with a system that is fair for teachers.  It is our job to make sure that teachers have a seat at the table in working toward an effective and just policy. Therefore, we want to clearly articulate our position as outlined below, and look forward to the discussion.

“Professional Educators of Tennessee believes the common ground can be found by financially rewarding educators for their expertise and their excellence.  This will attract and retain the best and brightest to the teaching profession.  However, Professional Educators of Tennessee opposes the use of student test scores as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, as the determining factor for a teacher’s compensation or as the primary rationale for an adverse employment action.  Rewarding teachers for their performance has been discussed in education for decades but has been a particularly heated issue of late.

“This may well work at the campus level as a campus score as long as the local teachers are involved with development. However, the critical question is can we create a fair system that works at the individual teacher level? There is no valid instrument or value added model that reflects all the outside factors affecting a student’s education that a teacher controls.  We understand that whoever controls the test literally controls the entire system.  There is no stronger tool to defeat the freedom to teach, than by boiling it all down to a test.

“PET believes that teachers should be rewarded for a variety of reasons, including rewarding teachers experience and advanced degrees.  PET opposes incentive or performance pay programs, unless they are designed in an equitable and fair manner.   PET supports a career compensation and benefits package for all certified, licensed and contracted public school employees that mandates competitive salaries that are equal to or greater than the national average and competitive with private industry.  The state should still include a minimum salary schedule that provides for step increases to recognize longevity in the profession.  PET supports the creation of a statewide set of evaluation standards for campus administrators that includes a survey of classroom educators and staff regarding the professional performance of the campus administrators.

“In addition to experience and degrees, we expect to see salary increases targeted at performance (merit), market, equity, or retention.  General financial parameters and guidelines should be established each year as part of the budget development process at the state and local level.   In addition, below are a few additional talking points on the subject:

• Merit salary increases may be composed of many  differing components, but two components – a base salary percentage increase (specified in budget) and a percentage increase in recognition of above satisfactory (or exceptional) performance.  This will be mostly tied to increases in student achievement/performance.
• Adjustments to salaries may also be made when there is an issue resulting from market or other equity factors
• Equity factors exist from internal pay disparities and are not related to individual performance

• Retention bonus should occur in hard to fill positions like foreign language, special education and higher level math and science.”

 

This is particularly relevant given the State Department of Education’s recommendation to the State Board of Education regarding the state salary schedule.

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

 

Can We Retire the Bad Teacher Narrative Already?

This article was submitted by Becca Leech, a Tennessee teacher with more than 20 years of experience. Read more about her here.

There’s an old story that goes something like this: American schools are in trouble. Our students lag so horribly behind the rest of the world academically that soon we won’t be able to keep pace. And why? Because our schools are full of bad teachers: lazy, mean, stupid teachers who don’t care about students and just want a cushy job where they have summers off. Unions protect these bad teachers so that schools can’t fire them and replace them with better ones, so our schools have become permeated with useless teachers who ruin the whole system and hold our students down.

I’ve taught special education in public schools since 1993, from inner-city Nashville to suburban Murfreesboro to rural McMinnville and, while every school has a few ineffective teachers, most of the teachers I have worked with have been smart, dedicated, and hard-working. These teachers continue to work every day to improve our schools, despite the demoralizing wounds of repeated volleys of the “bad teacher” narrative, so easily lobbed at us by the media, parents, students, and administrators. Last week, I even read it repeated by (of all people) a fellow special educator, in (of all places) this blog that I believed to be pro education – the Tennessee Education Report. Here is what Zack Barnes wrote:

“I am a special education teacher at a North Nashville middle school. Our fifth graders come into fifth grade already behind. It’s our job to catch them up during the middle school years before we send them off to high school. That shows me that we have dropped the ball along the way to middle school. We have come to a point where it’s okay that students come in to middle school behind. That shouldn’t be okay.

There are bad teachers and they should not be in the classroom. There isn’t more I can say about this. Every career field has bad workers, and the teaching profession is no different.”

This from a teacher who has been hired for the sole purpose of helping students with disabilities. When he accepted his position, was he unaware that students are only referred for our special education services when they have academic delays that cannot be addressed by the general curriculum? Was he unaware that student achievement, like all other human characteristics, spans a broad spectrum?

Our job as special education teachers is to accept the students referred to us – all of them, as they are – to assess their strengths and weaknesses, and to develop and implement appropriate educational plans to help them all learn. It’s not our job, and is counterproductive for our schools, to look for someone to blame for student delays. We don’t blame the persistence of illness in our communities on the bad doctors (although we know that some exist), so how do we find it so easy to blame all academic delays on bad teachers?

 

The Origins of the Narrative

Most of us were once students, and teachers were the face of the educational system to us. We experienced schools and teachers through immature eyes and often developed misperceptions of the roles and motivations of the teachers who taught us. Students who didn’t have good school experiences often caricaturized teachers as mean task-masters who didn’t like kids and just wanted to make them work hard or get them into trouble. Although it was often the structural problems with our educational system that we found frustrating or unfair as students – problems that were at least equally frustrating for our teachers – it was the teachers we saw as the cause. It’s easy for those who want to undermine public education for political or personal gain to play on these unconscious prejudices and transfer the problems with our educational structure directly into the laps of teachers as individuals.

 

In recent years, there has been a growing effort underway to undermine public education for just such purposes, and it is taking the form of a direct attack on teachers. The documentary Waiting for Superman brought the “bad teacher” narrative into our public consciousness. Politicians and news commentators have repeated the story as fact, ignoring all evidence offered against it. I have only recently begun to hear a backlash – teachers, parents, and students stepping forward to question the truth and usefulness of the tale.

 

How the “Bad Teacher” Narrative is Harming Education

The narrative of the bad teacher diminishes respect for the profession of teaching and gives ammunition to those working to decrease job security and protections for teachers. With less respect and job security, our schools have even more difficulty attracting and retaining qualified teachers. We have recently seen an increase in the number of experienced teachers leaving the profession and a decrease in applicants to new teacher education programs. In fact, many of these teachers and would-be teachers cite the lack of respect and poor job security as reasons for staying away from the classroom. When schools don’t have a pool of strong applicants to fill teaching vacancies, they must resort to hiring unqualified or less qualified candidates. This situation creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where students are more likely to fall behind, and critics find even more examples of “bad teachers” to further blame and diminish teaching.

 

Our Responsibility as a Community

It is true that there are some ineffective teachers among us and some teacher training programs that are not adequately preparing teachers for the classroom, but blame, judgement, and punitive accountability measures are not the answers. Most of the ineffective teachers I have taught with were either new teachers who needed more on-the-job guidance and mentoring from experienced teachers, or were teachers who had once been dedicated to their craft, but were now exhausted and weakened by the difficult environments they taught in and felt powerless to change.

 

There is no time in our school schedules to provide the support, mentoring, and quality training to help teachers in these situations to improve. Our school systems must find ways to make more non-teaching time in our school day for teachers to collaborate and support one another. Opportunities for teacher creativity, growth, and leadership will also raise teacher quality and improve working conditions.

 

To make real change, we must recognize that the problems with education are much broader than simply problems of teacher quality. We have to address poverty and inequality as the greatest challenges to education. We have to reorganize our funding structures to provide environments that attract and retain teachers. Most importantly, though, our communities must recognize teachers as the experts who can provide solutions for our schools – not the problems to be solved. If we are to improve the overall quality of education, we, as individuals and as a community, have a responsibility to support and defend the profession of teaching.

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

We welcome submissions from educators — if you have a story idea, send it to andy@spearsstrategy.com

 

 

 

A Call for Testing Transparency

Advocacy groups from across the state have issued a call for testing transparency, even starting an online petition calling for the ability to review questions and answers after standardized tests are administered.

Here’s the latest email from TREE:

Tennessee’s public education system finds itself mired in TCAP controversy for the second year in a row. The Tennessee Department of Education’s (TDOE) release of seemingly inflated quick scores, without clarification on how they were calculated, left educators and parents befuddled and upset. After considerable questioning of the TDOE’s actions they released a statement attempting to clarify the situation, claiming a lack of communication on their part as the culprit, but didn’t actually address the gross deficits of a testing system that is completely lacking in transparency and accountability. The TDOE continues to move the goal posts of a high stakes testing system that remains off limits for public scrutiny. Tennesseans are tired of blindly accepting TCAP results from the TDOE. So, TREE has joined with more than a dozen grassroots organizations that support strong public schools across Tennessee to demand accountability from the TDOE in the wake of confusion created by the latest release of “quick scores” and associated raw “cut scores” from recent TCAP tests. [view press release]

We also want to draw attention to another concerning problem with standardized testing: Our children are losing immeasurable amounts of instruction time due to test preparation and administration. Please review the graphic attached to this post, based on the 2014-15 school year. (story continues below graphic)

The TN Department of Education’s state testing calendar and information from teachers were used as reference.

The TN Department of Education’s state testing calendar and information from teachers were used as reference to create this calendar. 2015-16 TDOE testing calendar>>

As you can see, our children are spending the large majority of their school year taking or preparing for tests. It is unfair to our children, teachers, and our society that data collection and high stakes testing has trumped instruction time. Public education was created to provide our society with a well-educated electorate and work force. It is the single most important factor in making our country the world leader it is today. But our nation’s leaders are fixated on excessive data collection with a focus solely on subjects covered on high stakes tests. This has led to the devaluation of a well-rounded education and in some instances the removal of arts, language and music education in our schools. Our reputation for being the most creative and innovative country in the world is in jeopardy as our nation now values honing test scores over fostering critical thinking and creativity. There are ways of evaluating the academic growth of a student that do not limit instruction and enable our teachers to hone their education delivery in turn fostering student achievement. Some examples include portfolio reviews, research projects, peer review committees, and standards-based evaluations, etc.


Sign the petition to demand transparency. E-mail Commissioner McQueen and Governor Haslam and tell them you want our tax dollars to go to teaching, not testing. Commissioner McQueen – Commissioner.McQueen@tn.gov Governor Haslam – bill.haslam@tn.gov Then contact your legislators and send them a copy of this testing calendar and post. Tell them why you are concerned about the excessive testing and demand transparency for the standardized tests that our state’s legislature and department of education require our students to take. Let them know you are holding them accountable and urge them to explore alternatives to boxing in our students and schools with high stakes testing. With their and your help, we can take back our schools and turn them into breeding grounds for a level of creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving that has never before been seen in human history.


Thank you to our growing number of grassroots organizations coming together to support strong public schools across Tennessee and demand accountability from the TDOE. Groups participating in this network include:

Strong Schools (Sumner County)

Williamson Strong (Williamson County)

SPEAK (Students, Parents, Educators Across Knox County)

SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment)

Momma Bears Blog

Gideon’s Army, Grassroots Army for Children (Nashville)

Advocates for Change in Education (Hamilton County)

Concerned Parents of Franklin County (Franklin County)

The Dyslexia Spot

Parents of Wilson County, TN, Schools

Friends of Oak Ridge Schools (City of Oak Ridge Schools)

TNBATs (State branch of National BATs)

East Nashville United

Tennessee Against Common Core (Statewide)

**For full disclosure, I’m a co-founder and the volunteer Executive Director of Strong Schools, a co-signer of the call for testing transparency.

More on TNReady, next year’s standardized test replacing TCAP

An Alternative to Standardized Testing

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

MNEA Backs Freeman

In a rather lengthy press release that features links to campaign ads and videos and touts endorsements from other labor groups, the Metro Nashville Education Association’s PAC announced its endorsement of Bill Freeman for Mayor of Nashville yesterday.

Freeman’s support for Community Schools and for expanded access to Pre-K are cited as reasons for the endorsement.

It’s worth noting that Freeman joined the majority of candidates for Mayor in saying he opposed the idea of MNPS suing the state for more BEP funds. Only Megan Barry and Charles Robert Bone have expressed support for that approach.

Here’s the release in its entirety:

Bill Freeman, candidate for Mayor of Nashville, was endorsed today by the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association as he launched a new television ad with a companion web video focused on his support of teachers, families and students in Davidson County.
“I am so happy to have received the endorsement of Nashville’s teachers, Freeman said. “These are the women and men who get up every day and dedicate themselves to teaching our children the skills and behaviors that will make them successful in the future.”
In the new television spot, Freeman said, “Nashville has the big downtown projects, but now we need to focus on the basics for our families and for all of our neighborhoods. On education, I will support Pre-K for all of our children, use incentives to keep and attract world-class teachers, innovate with community schools and better after school programs. For all our schools in all our neighborhoods we need the right strategy for Nashville to grow the right way.”

Schools Right: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAr_byDZksA

Bill Freeman on Education Companion Web Video:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4tJr–bAFE
MNEA’s endorsement caps a week where Freeman has received major endorsements from SEIU, that represents more than 3,000 Metro workers and the fire fighters that work to keep Davidson County residents safe.
MNEA President Stephen Henry said, “In spite of the fact there are seven candidates for mayor, we believe Bill Freeman is Nashville’s best choice for mayor.”

“Bill Freeman will be a champion for our public schools. He knows the challenges we face and appreciates the successes we’ve had.”

“Bill Freeman is an innovator at heart. His support of community schools indicates a deep understanding of what is needed to make Metro schools better and stronger for parents, teachers and all of our neighborhoods.“

“We’re behind Bill Freeman because we believe he will be the best advocate for students, teachers and all of us who believe every child has a right to an excellent education that prepares them for the future.  Bill Freeman will be a mayor who stands up for all children to get a great education no matter where they come from or what challenges they face.”
In the companion video that will run online at the same time as the new television commercial, Freeman goes into more depth about his belief that with more resources and the focus of the next mayor the image of Metro schools can be improved.
“Schools impact everybody. The biggest reason that families are moving outside of Davidson County into Williamson, Rutherford, Wilson County is because their school systems are deemed to be better than ours. Now, the fact is, that’s just not the case. There’s a reason the President of the United States came to Nashville and spoke at a public school. There’s a reason the First Lady came to Nashville, Tennessee and spoke at a public school. We have a fantastic public school system, we just need to do a better job selling it, make sure it has all the resources that it needs, and do everything we can to lift up and improve our public school system,” Freeman says in the web video.
Freeman Backs Community Schools
Community Schools offer wraparound services for students and families. They include before and after school programs, tutoring, mentoring, classes for students and adults who are learning English and classes for adults to earn their GED.
“I believe community schools offer an innovative solution to many of the challenges that Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) are facing,” Freeman said. “We need to move past the public school versus charter school argument, and get to real solutions that help our public schools. Currently, there are over 150 languages spoken by students in Metro schools and nearly 13,000 students are English language learners and 72 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged.”
“Community schools are not unusual around the country and the statistics speak for themselves,” explained Freeman.  “In Cincinnati they have converted 34 of their 55 public schools into community schools and the achievement gap between African American students and white students has shrunk dramatically, while graduation rates for all students have skyrocketed.”
The achievement gap between African American and white students in Cincinnati has dropped from 14.5 percent to just 4 percent, while graduation rates for all students have risen from just 51 percent to 82 percent.
Ruth Stewart, a doctor of family medicine in Nashville, as well as wife of State Representative Mike Stewart, is a huge proponent of community schools.

“I see it all the time in the kids I treat,” she said, “kids with poor health often do worse in school.  They’re out all the time because of something like asthma and their school doesn’t have a nurse that they can go to for help.
“What we need are more services that are inclusive for multi children families, that way those families don’t have to split up their kids between schools because one has services that make sense for one child and one has services that make sense for another.  We need to introduce community schools in all neighborhoods of Nashville, not just in impoverished areas.  The model has been proven to work in every area, and every child, and every neighborhood should be able to benefit,” she said.
“Nashville already has a Community Achieves program where they are slowly transitioning traditional public schools into the community school model,” said Bill Freeman.  “I plan to work with the program and monitor its progress and how it impacts student achievement and I would ultimately like to triple the number of schools participating in this process.”
“I will continue to encourage non-profit and for-profit organizations in Nashville to participate in the program as many are doing currently,” said Freeman.

Bill Freeman is the co-founder and current chairman of Freeman Webb Inc., a real estate management company.  Bill grew up in Donelson with five sisters and is a devoted husband to his wife, Babs Tinsley Freeman, father to their three sons, and grandfather to two girls. His first job was as a maintenance man and he built his company from the ground up with his partner and one employee who still works there today. His company has been voted a “Best Place to Work” three years in a row. He is a decade long board member of the Tennessee State University Foundation and has been an active supporter of the Sexual Assault Center as well as continuously working to provide housing for Nashville’s homeless along with the 10,000 Homes Campaign.
About the Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Community Achieves Program:
Currently, there are 14 MNPS schools are in the program. ●      3 elementary schools ●      6 middle schools ●      5 high schools
The participating schools serve 11,865 students. Five more schools will be added this fall. The program is built on community partnerships, and more than 80 nonprofit and for-profit organizations in Nashville are participating.
Community Achieves is overseen by 14 full-time coordinators who manage the program across the 14 schools.
The programs focus on four areas of need:
1. Family Engagement — A family resource center, “parent university,” family suppers, events for dads and male role models
2. College and Career Readiness — FAFSA Night (to help college-bound students and their parents navigate all the federal student loan documents; tutoring and mentoring; reading clinics; and ACT programs
3. Health and Wellness — Mental health counseling; nutrition classes; health checkups
4. Social Services — Food pantries; workforce development and GED classes; financial classes
Bill Freeman’s goal will be to greatly expand the program to more MNPS schools and monitor its progress, not only in how it lifts families in need, but in how it impacts student academic achievement.
About the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association:  The Metropolitan Nashville Education Association represents Nashville’s teachers and is at the forefront of education reform. Through collaborations with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and the Nashville community, MNEA helps to provide the highest level of education to ALL children and adults of MNPS.

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

 

That’s a Big Class

According to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:

Every school district in Tennessee could be part of the Hamilton County Department of Education’s lawsuit against the state’s Basic Education Program school funding formula if a judge grants a motion to grant it class-action status.

“While the larger districts have been the ones voicing concerns about the underfunding of education, this underfunding has ramifications literally everywhere,” school district attorney D. Scott Bennett said.

Hamilton County Schools and six nearby school districts — Bradley, Coffee, Grundy, Marion, McMinn and Polk — are plaintiffs in the lawsuit Bennett filed on March 24 in Davidson County Chancery Court.

The suit claims the state has “breached its duty under the Tennessee Constitution to provide a system of free public education for the children of this state.”

Achieving a level of adequate funding as contemplated in the lawsuit would cost an estimated $500 million. Should the motion be granted, all 141 school systems in the state would effectively become a party to the suit — an unprecedented show of strength in what has historically been small school systems suing over equity. This suit differs from the previous “small schools” suits in that it focuses on the inadequacy of the funding formula rather than on any inequities that may exist.

That’s money House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick says the state can’t afford:

“They are suing the taxpayers, that’s who they are suing,” said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

Fully funding the BEP has been estimated to cost $500 million. McCormick said that would have to come out of existing programs, such as funding colleges and universities, because the state constitution mandates K-12 education but not higher education. And Tennesseans don’t want higher taxes, he said.

Of course, McCormick also supported legislative efforts designed to keep local school systems from suing the state for adequate funding.

A look at three revenue issues reveals that McCormick is just plain wrong in his assertion that addressing BEP funding inadequacy would necessitate higher taxes.

First, state revenues are continuing a trend of coming in over projections.  Andrea Zelinski notes:

Year to date nine months into the fiscal year, state revenues are $444 million more than anticipated.

So, if Tennessee invested 100% of these over-collections into K-12 education, we’d come very close to the $500 million needed to adequately fund the BEP and provide more resources to local school systems to educate their students. Of course, it’s wise to save some of that money, but even a 25% investment would mean an additional $111 million a year for our schools. All with no new taxes.

Next, it’s important to protect the existing tax base. Governor Haslam took a small step on this front this year for the first time in his administration. The Revenue Modernization Act is projected to result in $20 million in new revenue by closing loopholes and helping the state collect the taxes it is owed. This is a start, but by way of comparison, the Bredesen Administration collected $500 million in revenue by aggressively protecting the tax code and ensuring that taxes owed were taxes paid. That is, they went after corporate tax avoidance strategies in smart, effective ways, year after year. It’s estimated that between $30 and $50 million a year in revenue can be protected each year by closing loopholes.

Add the mid-range, $40 million, to the low estimate of new revenue coming in over projections available for use and you’re looking at over $150 million in new money each year for schools over and above current funding levels.

Finally, I wrote in 2014 about the state’s planned loss of revenue. More specifically, the state is phasing out the inheritance tax – a move that has limited benefits but has a definite impact on the bottom line in terms of revenue collection. Specifically:

Additional revenue is lost by the gradual phase out of Tennessee’s estate tax, previously impacting estates over $1 million.  The plan is to phase that out entirely by 2016, with an estimated revenue loss of around $30 million this year and around $97 million in 2016-17’s budget. So, that’s roughly $76 million, or close to half of the projected shortfall for the upcoming budget cycle. To his credit, Haslam says he wants to hold off on efforts to repeal the Hall tax on investment income – a tax paid by a small number of wealthy Tennesseans with investment income.  However, he has also said reducing or eliminating the Hall tax is a goal. Phasing out the tax, as proposed in legislation under consideration this year at the General Assembly, would mean a loss of $20 million in the 2015-16 budget year and an ultimate loss in state funds of $160 million a year and in local revenue of $86 million a year.

If the estate tax was returned to its previous level, it would mean some $97 million in available revenue next year. Policymakers could tinker with this formula to ensure some taxes are collected, but the rate is lower and easily collect $50 million a year in revenue.  Adding these three items together and being conservative, Tennessee could easily invest $200 million more a year in its public schools.

That means Gerald McCormick is wrong. Making significant new investments in Tennessee schools DOES NOT require raising taxes or implementing new taxes. It does require political will and a little hard work.

MORE ON THE BEP:

Money Talks

Shelby County Votes to Sue

Why is he (Gerald McCormick) so angry?

Why is TN 40th?

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

 

That was Quick

The Tennessee Department of Education is out with an apology for miscommunication that caused confusion regarding this year’s standardized testing “quick scores.”

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has the story, and this quote from a letter sent to Directors of schools from Assistant Commissioner Nakia Towns:

“Our goal is to communicate early and often regarding the calculation and release of student assessment data. Unfortunately, it appears the office of assessment logistics did not communicate decisions made in fall 2014 regarding the release and format of quick scores for the 2014-15 school year in a timely manner. . . . 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.”

As Tatter notes, this is the second year in a row that release of quick scores has been a problem for the Department of Education.

Read her full story and see the complete text of the letter sent to Directors.

It remains to be seen whether the “commitment to transparency” referenced in the letter from Towns will mean that parents and teachers can see the test questions and answers after next year’s TNReady test is administered.

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

Quick and Confusing

Over at Bluff City Ed, Jon Alfuth digs into the questions surrounding this year’s release of TCAP quick scores and their correlation to student performance on the TCAP.

This year, the way quick scores were calculated in relation to raw scores was shifted so that grades 3-8 (TCAP) scores matched the EOC scores students see in high school.

One key question is why make this change in the last year of TCAP? Next year, Tennessee students will see TNReady — so, making the calculation change now doesn’t seem to serve much purpose.

Alfuth does a nice job of explaining what’s going on and why it matters. Here are some key highlights:

Lack of Communication

They (TN DOE) didn’t make it clear to teachers, parents or students that they were changing the policy, resulting in a lot of confusion and frustration over the past few days as everyone grapples with these new quick scores.

An Explanation?

From the second memo, they note that they changed to raw scores because of concerns about getting final quick scores out on time during the transition to a new test, stating that if they did it based on proficiency, it would take until the middle of the summer to make them happen.

I’d buy that…except that the Department of Education has always been able to get the quick scores out on time before. And last I checked, we weren’t transition to TNReady this year – the transition occurs next year. So why mess with the cut scores this year? Is this just a trial run, an experiment? It feels like we’re either not getting the whole story, or that if we are there is some serious faulty logic behind this decision that someone is just trying to explain away.

It’s worth noting that last year, the quick scores weren’t available on time and most districts received a waiver from including TCAP scores in student grades. I note this to say that concern about getting quick scores out on time has some merit given recent history.

To me, though, this raises the question: Why are TCAP scores factored into a student’s grades? Ostensibly, this is so 1) students take the tests seriously and 2) how a teacher assesses a student matches up with the desired proficiency levels on the appropriate standards.

Of course, quick scores are only available for tested subjects, leaving one to wonder if other subjects are less important or valuable to a student’s overall academic well-being. Or, if there’s another way to assess student learning beyond a bubble-in test or even a test with some constructed response, such as TNReady.

I’d suggest a project-based learning approach as a means of assessing what student’s have actually learned across disciplines. Shifting to project-based learning with some grade-span testing would allow for the accountability necessary to ensure children are meeting state standards while also giving students (and their teachers) a real opportunity to demonstrate the learning that has occurred over an academic year.

Trust

The Department has also opened itself to some additional criticism that it is “massaging” the scores – that is, trying to make parents happy by bringing grades up in the last year under the old testing regime. We can’t say for certain that this is the motivating factor behind this step, but in taking this step without more transparency the Department of Education has opened itself up to this charge. And there will definitely be some people who accuse the state of doing this very thing, especially given the reasons that they cited in their memo. I personally don’t ascribe any sinister motives to the state, but you have to admit that it looks a little fishy.

In fact, TC Weber is raising some important questions about the process. He notes:

If people don’t believe in the fidelity of the system, it becomes too easy to attribute outside factors to the results. In other words, they start to feel that data is being manipulated to augment an agenda that they are not privy to and not included in. I’m not saying results are being manipulated or not being manipulated when it comes to our student evaluation system, but I am saying that there seems be a growing belief that they are, and without some kind of change, that perception will only grow. I’ve always maintained that perception is nine-tenths of reality.

As both Alfuth and Weber note, the central problem is lack of communication and transparency. As we shift to a new testing regime with uncertain results, establishing confidence in the system and those administering it is critical. After last year’s late score debacle and this year’s quick score confusion, establishing that trust will be difficult. Open communication and a transparent process can go a long way to improving perception and building support.

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

Who will lead MNPS?

With the initial round of applications coming to a close, some 50 people are expected to be candidates for the job of Director of MNPS.

But, according to a story in the Nashville Scene, those candidates don’t include many “heavy hitters.”

“There aren’t any heavy hitters — by that I mean people with real experience in large urban districts, and that’s what we’re still working on,” says Bill Attea, founder of Chicago-based superintendent search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates.

Instead, people are applying to upgrade from small or mid-sized school districts such as Bridgeport, Conn., Eugene, Ore., and Tallahassee, Fla. — places where Nashville would double or triple the size of their current student body. Candidates who do hail from the large cities Nashville strives to compete with may come from a district’s headquarters, but not necessarily as superintendents.

Andrea Zelinski does include a list of all 34 individuals who have completed applications thus far. Among them, current MNPS Chief Academic Officer Jay Steele. Another local candidate is Office of Innovation Executive Director Alan Coverstone, a former School Board Member.

Here’s our interview with Steele from 2013.

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

Adequate and Equitable

That’s what the Shelby County Schools are seeking from the state — adequate and equitable school funding. As the state currently provides neither, the Shelby County School Board voted Tuesday to hire legal counsel to pursue such funding, an action which may ultimately result in filing a lawsuit against the state, the Commercial Appeal reports.

Recently, Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed suggested that Shelby County should join the 7 other Tennessee districts already suing the state over inadequate school funding.

According to the report, Board members referenced the 2007 funding formula update known as BEP 2.0 and noted that if it were fully and properly funded, Shelby County would receive $103 million in additional funding next year.

Rather than push for full funding of BEP 2.0, Governor Haslam has appointed his own task force asked to redistribute the pie rather than increase its size.

Other than chastising districts for asking for the full and equitable funding they deserve, the General Assembly did little this past session to address the BEP situation.

Three previous lawsuits against the state seeking improved school funding have all been successful and all resulted in significant cash infusions to local school districts.

More on the BEP:

Money Talks

Why is TN 40th?

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