That’s Not What You Said Last Week

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

Then, last week, he changed his tune.

Here’s how Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat reported it:

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

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

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

Exactly one week later, this happened:

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

DeBerry’s Dollars

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

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

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

DeBerry Vouchers PIC

 

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

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

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


 

It May Be Ready, But is it Valid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TNReady Graphic

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they concluded:

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

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

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

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


 

That’s NOT a PAC

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

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

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

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

Williamson Strong posted this response on their Facebook page:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Vouchers: The Ultimate Non-Solution

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen expressed frustration recently at years of ineffective education reform efforts. Specifically, she said:

“We can’t keep throwing $10 million, $11 million, $12 million, $15 million at solutions that are not solutions,” she told legislators on House education committees.

McQueen was lamenting the lack of progress made in school turnaround efforts and pointing lawmakers toward proven solutions. In fact, she noted the state’s ESSA plan focuses on strategies that have gotten results:

While McQueen didn’t single out specific turnaround initiatives, she stressed that Tennessee needs to focus on what has worked — specifically, at 10 schools that have been moved off the state’s priority list so far and have undergone case studies. McQueen named common themes: strong school leaders, quality instruction, and community and wraparound supports, such as mental health care services.

Candice McQueen is frustrated, and rightly so. As a result, her Department of Education is using ESSA to focus Tennessee’s school improvement efforts and even rein-in the Achievement School District (ASD).

What’s interesting in all of this, then, is that some state lawmakers seem intent on pushing through a voucher program for Shelby County.

McQueen told lawmakers they can’t keep throwing millions of dollars at solutions that are not solutions. But, according to the Fiscal Note on SB 161/HB 126, the bill will result in spending nearly $9 million on the voucher “solution” next year and more than $18 million per year once fully implemented. Of course, those estimates assume the program doesn’t expand beyond Shelby County.

A voucher program that started small in Indiana just five years ago now costs that state $131 million per year.

Talk about an expensive non-solution. In fact, the most recent research indicates that vouchers actually can have a negative impact on student academic achievement.

Kevin Carey summarizes:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

So, we have an Education Commissioner pleading with the General Assembly to focus on what works AND we have evidence from other states telling us vouchers don’t get the job done. At the same time, we have evidence from schools right here in Tennessee that tells us what IS working.

It’s time for the Tennessee General Assembly to heed the advice of Candice McQueen and stop attempting to throw millions of dollars at “solutions that are not solutions.”

pile-of-cash-1024x576

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


 

Voucher Opposition Growing

I reported last week on the Sumner County School Board passing a resolution opposing vouchers.

Here’s more from the Hendersonville Standard on that vote:

“We are just trying to keep it from ever getting implemented in the state to begin with because there’s no telling where it would go (from there),” board member Ted Wise said.

Board member Sarah Andrews agreed.

“I appreciate us looking at this,” she said. “I have been disappointed to see the number of bills coming up in the legislature concerning vouchers. To take money away from local schools is just very frustrating.”

The story noted that school systems impacted by the voucher proposal currently advancing in the General Assembly could stand to lose $37.2 million.

A program that started small in Indiana now costs $131 million, creating an education funding deficit of $54 million.

green-dollar-sign-clipart-green-dollar-sign-4

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


 

 

Senate Majority Leader Says Vouchers are “Problematic”

Senator Mark Norris, who has supported school voucher bills in the past, calls this year’s voucher plan “problematic.” The plan advancing this year is sponsored by Brian Kelsey — like Norris, from Shelby County — and it is a “pilot” program just for Shelby County.

The Nashville Ledger reports:

“It’s problematic,” Norris said when asked about the legislation in light of a Shelby County Commission vote opposing the voucher bill. The measure targets Shelby County because it has some 30 schools in the state’s lowest 5 percent for student performance.

But the measure is “problematic” for a combination of reasons, Norris said, mainly because of opposition by the Shelby County Commission and concerns about holding private schools “accountable” to the same standards as public schools.

Some opponents point out students who attend private schools as part of the program won’t be required to take the TNReady assessment, as public school students will.

School voucher advocates have failed in each of the last four legislative sessions to advance enabling legislation.

Now, they are trying to start their program only in Shelby County. Even before voucher proponents narrowed their focus to Shelby County in hopes of securing enough votes to advance the bill to the House floor, emerging research warned vouchers could actually be detrimental to student achievement. Those facts didn’t stop a House subcommittee from advancing the legislation, however.

Now, though, it seems the legislation is facing problems as lawmakers face the reality of a community not excited about Kelsey’s plan.

The Ledger notes:

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who opposes the legislation, commended Norris “for seeing” problems with the measure.

“There’s pressure building and people are sacrificing, taking off from work to be here, because they’re passionate against the fact that they targeted Shelby County, as if Shelby County caused all of the problems with regard to education,” Parkinson said. “It’s becoming personal for a Shelby County legislator to be carrying legislation like that.”

Parkinson pointed out Hamilton County has low-performing schools but is not included in the pilot program legislation, which he termed a “great experiment.”

A program in Indiana that started out six years ago as a small voucher plan has expanded rapidly and now costs $131 million. Research there suggests that while some advocates argued vouchers would save school systems money, they have actually created a $54 million funding deficit:

A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million.

“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” [Researcher Molly] Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”

Vouchers, then, create $54 million in new expenditures — an education funding deficit — in Indiana.

Evidence says vouchers don’t work. Research shows they are expensive. The Senate Majority Leader calls them “problematic.” It’s time for vouchers to go.

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


 

Sumner School Board Takes a Stand Against Vouchers

The Sumner County School Board tonight unanimously voted in favor of a resolution opposing school vouchers in Tennessee. The move comes as legislative debate over vouchers is heating up.

One member of Sumner County’s legislative delegation, state Senator Ferrell Haile, is a co-sponsor of the “Opportunity Scholarship” program targeted at Memphis.

Here’s the resolution:

WHEREAS, the Sumner County Board of Education is responsible for providing a local system of public education; and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee General Assembly in the 2017 legislative session will entertain legislation that would create a voucher program allowing students to use public education funds to pay for private school tuition; and

WHEREAS, more than 50 years have passed since private school vouchers were first proposed, and during that time proponents have spent millions of dollars attempting to convince the public and lawmakers of the concept’s efficacy, and yet, five decades later, vouchers still remain controversial, unproven, and unpopular; and

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee requires that the Tennessee General Assembly “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools”, with no mention of the maintenance or support of private schools; and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee, through work of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee Department of Education, the State Board of Education and local school boards, has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers eliminate public accountability by channeling tax dollars into private schools that do not face state-approved academic standards, do not make budgets public, do not adhere to open meetings and records laws, do not publicly report on student achievement, and do not face the public accountability requirements contained in major federal laws, including special education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers have not been effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap, with the most credible research finding little or no difference in voucher and public school students’ performance; and

WHEREAS, vouchers leave many students behind, including those with the greatest needs, because vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that are not required to accept all students, nor offer the special services they may need; and

WHEREAS, vouchers give choices to private schools, not students and parents, since private schools decide if they want to accept vouchers, how many and which students they want to admit, and the potentially arbitrary reasons for which they might later dismiss a student; and

WHEREAS, many proponents argue these programs will increase options, when in fact several options currently exist within public school systems; and

WHEREAS, voucher programs divert critical dollars and commitment from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students, including many who already attend private schools; and

WHEREAS, vouchers are an inefficient use of tax payer money because they compel taxpayers to support two school systems: one public and one private, the latter of which is not accountable to all the taxpayers supporting it; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Sumner County Board of Education opposes any expansion of the special education voucher program as well as any new legislation that would divert money intended for public education to private schools.

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


 

Walkout!

A large group of students at Antioch High School walked out Friday morning due to a number of issues they say need to be addressed at the school.

Here’s the list of grievances from the students:

  • Administration’s decision to deny all applicable students the opportunity to take the PSAT, ruining their chances to qualify for National Merit Scholar scholarships
  • Extremely strict dress code that removes students from their learning environment based on what they are wearing
  • The fragmentation of school clubs and activities due to the denial of fundraising
  • Cancelation of Senior Week and all senior activities
  • Lack of adequate facilities
  • Vacancy of teachers for crucial classes
  • Unorganized administration
  • Failure to involve students in the decision making of school policies
  • Unfair and unequal treatment of staff members
  • Failure of administration to respond to student concerns in a timely manner
  • Cafeteria food that is moldy or undercooked and therefore unable to be consumed
  • Lack of fair discipline
  • Having an unlicensed principle for half of the school year
  • Discontinuation of Fee Waivers for students in tough financial situations
  • Tardy Policy that is extremely strict and unwarranted

NewsChannel5 also reports that a number of teacher have already or will be leaving the school:

Teachers there told NewsChannel 5 more than half the staff has already decided not to return next year. In fact, many teachers have already left.

MNPS offered the following response:

“A few hundred students at Antioch High School participated in a peaceful walkout today in response to a personnel issue involving the football coach. Personnel matters at schools are at the discretion of the principal. We are working with the administration at Antioch High School to resolve this issue with the community.”

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


 

Rocketship Down?

A visit to the Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary revealed the school was not adequately serving English language learners, students with disabilities, and homeless students, according to a report on WSMV:

According to the Metro Schools letter, Rocketship is not providing services to children with special learning needs, like English language learners and students with disabilities.

The notice was sent from Metro Nashville Public School’s top administrators after a monitoring team with the Tennessee Department of Education came in to conduct a routine audit of special services, primarily programs adhering to The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The letter from MNPS notes a plan of improvement for Rocketship.

In response to the findings, Rocketship’s principal, Shaka Mitchell, cited test score results and then said:

We are proud of the results Rocketship achieved in its first few years but are always striving to improve. We appreciate and value the constructive input from our colleagues at MNPS and the state. We worked with the District as recently as yesterday and today, and continue to collaborate to resolve the technical issues noted in the most recent monitoring visit

rocketship image

Rocketship has faced difficulty with the state and MNPS in the past, as in two consecutive years it sought to expand its presence in Nashville only to be denied by both the MNPS school board and the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Here’s what the MNPS charter review team had to say last year when Rocketship appealed the board’s decision to deny expansion:

In summary, with no additional state accountability data to consider, and no compelling evidence presented that provides confidence in the review team, converting an existing low-performing school before Rocketship has demonstrated academic success on state accountability measures would not be in the best interests of the students, the district, or the community.

As was noted in the WSMV story, the problems identified at Rocketship are not acceptable at any school, regardless of what kind of scores they are posting. Mitchell and his colleagues should work quickly to deliver on the promise of resolving these issues and striving for continuous improvement.

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