After Huffman: Who Will Be the Next Commissioner of Education?

Kevin Huffman is leaving his job as Commissioner of Education to pursue private sector opportunties, it was announced yesterday.

In my initial post, I mentioned three names of potential candidates for Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education. Totally speculative on my part, but with good reasons for each. Today, I’ll talk a little more about each one and provide some background.

SCORE President Jamie Woodson

Woodson is a former member of the Tennessee General Assembly, first serving in the House, then moving on to the Senate, where she served as Chair of the Education Committee and later as Speaker Pro Tem, the number two job in that body. Woodson was intstrumental in the BEP overhaul known as BEP 2.0. So, she understands education issues and especially the BEP, which is getting lots of attention as districts seek more state funding.

Woodson is from Knoxville, where Haslam was Mayor. She understands the legislative process and has relationships that could be helpful to passing the Governor’s agenda in both bodies of the General Assembly. It’s also been rumored that she may someday be a candidate for Governor. Serving as Education Commissioner would give enhance her credentials for the state’s top job.

Here’s her bio from the SCORE website:

Jamie guides SCORE’s work as President and CEO and has been a leading figure in spearheading Tennessee’s efforts to better prepare students for college and the workforce. Prior to leading SCORE, she served for more than 12 years in the Tennessee General Assembly in both the House and Senate. As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and later as Senate Speaker Pro Tempore, Jamie was a key leader in efforts to identify and support effective teaching, overhaul Tennessee’s K-12 education funding formula, raise academic standards for Tennessee students, turn around low-performing schools, and expand high-quality public charter schools in Tennessee. In addition, she was a key leader in Tennessee’s work to transform public higher education by aligning Tennessee’s postsecondary system and the state’s economic goals through changes in academic, fiscal, and administrative policies. As a citizen legislator, she also served as general counsel for an East Tennessee manufacturing firm.

Jamie serves on numerous statewide boards, including Tennessee Business Roundtable, and is a member of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Jamie received a Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was selected as “Torchbearer,” which is the highest honor an undergraduate may receive from the university. Jamie attended public schools in Tennessee.

Deputy Commissioner of Education Kathleen Airhart

Airhart has served as Deputy Commissioner of Education Since late 2011. She is a former Tennessee Superintendent of the Year. She served as Director of Schools in Putnam County, where she worked with the local education association to design a differentiated pay plan.

Like Woodson, she is a Tennessean. She’s also an educator, which may placate the teachers and superintendents who have complained that Huffman doesn’t understand their jobs due to his limited experience in the classroom. Tapping Airhart makes sense as she’s been with the Department for most of Huffman’s tenure and she would have immediate credibility with educators.

Knox County Director of Schools Jim McIntyre

McIntyre, like Woodson, is from Knoxville. He and Haslam reportedly had a good relationship when Haslam was Mayor. While technically an outsider (McIntyre came to Knoxville from a post in Boston), he’s been in Tennessee for some time now and understands the state’s education landscape.

It was rumored that McIntyre was considered by Haslam’s for the job in 2011, but he was relatively new to Knox County then and chose to stay in that role. McIntyre now faces a School Board less friendly to his pro-reform agenda and may want to take the opportunity to exit rather than face a combative Board.

Here’s his bio from the Knox County Schools site:

Dr. Jim McIntyre has served in the field of education for more 20 years, with experience at both the K-12 and post-secondary levels.  He began his tenure as Superintendent of the Knox County Schools in July, 2008.  In his first year as Superintendent, Dr. McIntyre led the school system and the community through a process that produced a focused vision for the future of the Knox County Schools and a five-year strategic plan designed to achieve Excellence for All Children.

Prior to his appointment in Knoxville, Dr. McIntyre served as the Chief Operating Officer for the Boston Public Schools, where he was responsible for the day to day operations of the school district.  Jim had also served as the Budget Director for the Boston Public Schools for seven years. During Dr. McIntyre’s tenure, the Boston Public Schools was named one of the top performing urban school systems in the nation.

As a teacher at Vincent Grey Alternative High School in East St. Louis, Illinois early in his career, McIntyre taught English, anatomy, and physical education to a diverse group of at-risk students between the ages of 16-21.

McIntyre has served on numerous state-level working groups aimed at enhancing public education, and was also selected as a fellow in the prestigious Broad Foundation Superintendent’s Academy, an intensive ten month fellowship in the urban public school superintendency.

In 2010, Governor Phil Bredesen invited Dr. McIntyre and three others to join him in presenting Tennessee’s Race to the Top proposal to the United States Department of Education.  Tennessee was one of only two states in the country to be selected in the first round of this national competition, and was awarded $501 million for school reform and improvement.

As a parent of two Knox County Schools students, Dr. McIntyre is incredibly honored that the state-wide Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has named him the Tennessee Outstanding Superintendent of the Year for three consecutive years (2009, 2010, and 2011).

Dr. McIntyre holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Boston College, a Master of Science degree in Education Administration from Canisius College, a Master of Urban Affairs from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Massachusetts.

 

It’s entirely possible there are other names being considered, but these three seem to fit with support for the Haslam agenda and some connection to the Governor.

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

The Value of the Report Card on Teacher Training

Every year, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission issues a Report Card on the state’s teacher training program. To evaluate educator effectiveness, THEC uses the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System.

Which effectively renders the Report Card of little value.

Not included in the report is a teacher’s overall effectiveness score on the TEAM model. That would include both observed scores and value-added data, plus other achievement measures. That would be a more robust score to report, but it’s not included.

I’ve written before on the very limited value of value-added data.

Here are some highlights of why we learn almost nothing from the THEC report in terms of whether or not a teacher education program is actually doing a good job:

Here’s the finding that gets all the attention: A top 5 percent teacher (according to value-added modeling or VAM) can help a classroom of students (28) earn $250,000 more collectively over their lifetime.

Now, a quarter of a million sounds like a lot of money.

But, in their sample, a classroom was 28 students. So, that equates to $8928.57 per child over their lifetime. That’s right, NOT $8928.57 MORE per year, MORE over their whole life.

For more math fun, that’s $297.61 more per year over a thirty year career with a VAM-designated “great” teacher vs. with just an average teacher.

Yep, get your kid into a high value-added teacher’s classroom and they could be living in style, making a whole $300 more per year than their friends who had the misfortune of being in an average teacher’s room.

If we go all the way down to what VAM designates as “ineffective” teaching, you’d likely see that number double, or maybe go a little higher. So, let’s say it doubles plus some. Now, your kid has a low VAM teacher and the neighbor’s kid has a high VAM teacher. What’s that do to his or her life?

Well, it looks like this: The neighbor kid gets a starting job offer of $41,000 and your kid gets a starting offer of $40,000.

So, THEC uses a marginal indicator of educator effectiveness to make a significant determination about whether or not educator training programs are effective. At the very least, such a determination should also include observed scores of these teachers over time or the entire TEAM score.

Until then, the annual Report Card on teacher training will add little value to the education policy discussion in Tennessee.

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

Hamilton County School Board Member Explores BEP Lawsuit

A Hamilton County School Board Member is exploring the idea of a lawsuit that would force the State of Tennessee to fully fund the BEP, the state’s funding formula for schools.

Hamilton County Board Member Jonathan Welch argues that the school system loses $14.5 million a year because the BEP is not fully funded by the legislature.

Welch’s proposal comes on the heels of a resolution passed by the Shelby County School Board calling for increased BEP funding.

These proposals come in an environment where the current BEP leaves Tennessee schools funded at less dollars per student than Mississippi. Additionally, Tennessee teachers rank 40th in the nation in improvement in teacher pay over the past 10 years.

A deeper analysis of the BEP suggests the entire formula is broken and that the state needs an investment of nearly $500 million to fix it.

Of course, as noted in the Times-Free Press story on the issue, some in the General Assembly want to reduce sales taxes and end the Hall Tax on stock dividends and bond interest.

The question is: Will the 2015 session of the General Assembly see a serious move to improve the BEP or will it take a lawsuit to force lawmakers to act?

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

 

Memphis Teachers Organizing Against the ASD

Chalkbeat has the story on a group of teachers in Memphis organizing against the Tennessee Achievement School District’s takeover of schools there.

The ASD has faced a particularly challenging environment this year as it prepares to takeover 9 more Memphis schools.

The Shelby County Teachers Coalition, as the group is calling itself, points out that ASD schools are getting mixed or disappointing results and that the disruption ASD takeovers cause is bad for kids and their communities.

For his part, ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic says he welcomes the dialogue, even if it is rather intense:

“So much of this conversation is right—people asking great questions, voicing support for their schools, and expressing deep emotions about education, schools, and community,” ASD superintendent Chris Barbic said in an e-mail to his community Monday. “We don’t believe authentic community engagement is a neat and tidy process.  Not if it’s done right.  It’s totally understandable that last week’s meetings spurred people’s emotions and generated good, hard questions. We commit to standing with communities and, together with our operators, answering these questions and listening to parents’ input.”

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

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

 

 

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

From 40th to 1st?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does it even matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheatham Charter Fight Continues

The original application for a charter school in Cheatham County was denied.

Now, the group is back at a special meeting to appeal that decision.

State Senate candidate Tony Gross is encouraging opponents to attend.

Here’s his email:

Cheatham Co To Decide on Charter Schools

We must fight back.

Friends, I need your help.

In June, we defeated a measure that would bring a controversial charter school to Cheatham County – a charter school that would draw important funds and attention away from our public schools.
Tomorrow night, the Cheatham County school board will have a special meeting to discuss the appeal of that decision. All we’ve fought for could come undone if we do not throw our full support behind our public schools tomorrow evening.
If you are able, I strongly encourage you to attend the meeting, which will be at the Ashland City Elementary School cafeteria at 6 pm. To show the strength in our numbers, we will be wearing white in support of our schools.
Public schools are the foundation of our communities, and the teachers and faculty that work there are so important in our children’s lives.
Let’s not let them down.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport