The NAEP Spin Room

Yesterday, I wrote about the very rosy interpretation of NAEP data being advanced by Tennessee leaders. Governor Haslam said:

“Today, we’re very excited to say that based on 2015 NAEP results, we’re still the fastest improving state in the nation since 2011. What this means is a new set of fourth- and eighth-graders proved that the gains that we made in 2013 were real.”

After analyzing the Tennessee results and putting them in context with national results (both of which essentially remained steady from 2013) , I noted:

It’s also worth noting that states that have adopted aggressive reforms and states that haven’t both remained flat. The general trend was “holding steady,” and it didn’t seem to matter whether your state was using a reform agenda (charters, vouchers, value-added teacher scores in teacher evaluations) or not.

Again, this makes it difficult to suggest that any one or even a package of educational practices drives change.

Then, I read the statement issued by SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) Executive Director Jamie Woodson. Here’s what she had to say:

Since 2011, Tennessee has made record-setting gains, held them, and progressed in state rankings because of a multi-faceted strategy of high standards, great teaching, accountability, and common-sense adjustments based on the feedback of educators and citizens.

Note that she assigns causality based on these results. I wonder, then, what to make of the states that didn’t adopt the multi-faceted strategy she references? Last year, a number of states showed significant gains on NAEP. Some, like DC and Tennessee were reform-oriented states, others were not.

Additionally, in a post about the NAEP results two years ago, I noted:

Kentucky and Tennessee have posted gains over time on NAEP — in most categories, Kentucky started out tied or very slightly ahead of Tennessee and today, Kentucky remains ahead.  Kentucky posted some pretty big gains in the mid-90s and again from 2003-2009.  Since then, they’ve held fairly steady.  That’s an expected result, by the way — a big gain followed by steady maintenance of the new level.  For Tennessee, that won’t be enough, but celebrating the big gain is certainly warranted.  It’s also important to take care in assigning causality.

Note here that what I suggested then was an expected result (big gain, followed by holding steady) is exactly what happened in Tennessee this year. That’s good news — it means we’re not declining. But it also means we can’t really say that 2013 was something special.  As I noted last year, Kentucky had a series of big gains in the 1990s and then again in the early 2000s. It wasn’t just a big bump one time. So far, Tennessee has had one banner year (2013) and this year, returned to normal performance.

However, the narrative of “fastest-improving” keeps being repeated. In fact, Bethany Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) released a statement that said in part:
Tennessee students are still the fastest improving in the nation since 2011 according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. “This year’s results from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that Tennessee has maintained the positive gains that we achieved in 2013.

We had one year in which we made a big splash and then, as I noted in 2013:

As the data shows, Kentucky and Tennessee in many cases posted similar net gains over time, with Kentucky seeing big jumps in the mid-90s and again in the early part of the last decade.

That is to say, over a 20-year period, both states saw similar net gains. This year’s scores, in which Tennessee remained steady relative to the 2013 scores suggest, if anything, that the 2013 jump was likely an outlier. Had the 2013 gains been followed by gains in 2015 and again in 2017, more could be suggested. And frankly, it is my hope that we see gains (especially in reading) in 2017. But, it’s problematic to suggest that any specific reform or set of reforms caused the one-time jump we saw in 2013. Saying we are the fastest improving state in the nation over the last 4 years when we only saw a jump in 2013 is like saying we started the first quarter of a football game way behind, scored a bunch in the second quarter, (so we’re not as far behind), and then scored the same number of points in the third quarter. The result is we’re still behind and still have a long way to go.

So, yes, let’s celebrate that we made a big jump and held it steady. But, let’s also put those results in context and focus on how we can move forward instead of using these results to advance our favorite plays. For example, I’m not a huge fan of vouchers, but NAEP data doesn’t really help me make the case for or against. Likewise, states with and without strong collective bargaining posted gains in 2013 and held steady in 2015 — that is, the presence or absence of bargaining has no impact on NAEP scores.

NAEP can be an important source of information — but, too often, the results are subjected to spin that benefits a political agenda. As that narrative gets reinforced, focus on progress can be lost.

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

 

 

 

NAEP: First Take

The 2015 NAEP results are out today and there is already discussion about what they mean both state-by-state and nationally.

Here’s what Governor Haslam had to say:

“Today, we’re very excited to say that based on 2015 NAEP results, we’re still the fastest improving state in the nation since 2011. What this means is a new set of fourth- and eighth-graders proved that the gains that we made in 2013 were real.”

That’s pretty strong language. Proved. Governor Haslam said this year’s results proved that the gains seen in 2013 were real.

Here’s what we know: Tennessee remained relatively flat – no significant growth, relatively small decline in reading scores. Basically, we are where we were in 2013.

Here’s what else we know: The entire nation remained relatively flat — no significant growth, some decline in math.

So, here’s what that means: In 2013, Tennessee gained faster than the national average. In exactly one testing cycle. In 2015, Tennessee didn’t do worse than the rest of the country. We also didn’t do better. Like the rest of America, we remained steady.

That is, it’s entirely possible the 2013 gains seen in Tennessee were a one-time occurrence. An outlier.

Had Tennessee again made gains that outpaced the nation, one could say the results suggest something special or different is happening in Tennessee that may be causing the gains. It’s important to be cautious until you have several years of data and more thorough analysis.

It’s also worth noting that states that have adopted aggressive reforms and states that haven’t both remained flat. The general trend was “holding steady,” and it didn’t seem to matter whether your state was using a reform agenda (charters, vouchers, value-added teacher scores in teacher evaluations) or not.

Again, this makes it difficult to suggest that any one or even a package of educational practices drives change.

Was Tennessee’s performance on NAEP in 2013 a blip or an indicator of actual progress? The 2015 results don’t provide much insight.

The good news: Tennessee held steady. The related news: So did everyone else.

I’ll be doing some more digging in to the data to examine trends over time and what more can be learned from 2015. Stay tuned…

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

 

 

 

Just Like Mississippi

This letter to the editor about the current school funding crisis in Mississippi reminded me of the funding issues faced in Tennessee as a result of a Governor and legislature so far unwilling to properly fund our public schools.

Of particular interest was this note:

Every citizen of Mississippi pays taxes; income tax, sales tax and others; and a portion of that tax is required to be used to fund public education in this state. Again, the law is known as MAEP. When the legislature fails to obey this law, two things happen: First, the legislature gets to use the money it did not spend for pubic education for other purposes, even for funding private education with public money. Second, the local school districts, because the functions of running a school district must continue, have to request more local funding from the boards of supervisors. This, in turn, causes the supervisors to have to raise local millage rates.

This is effectively double taxation to fund education.

Except for the fact that Tennessee does not have an income tax, this is exactly what is happening in our state. Citizens are paying state taxes, the state is underfunding schools, and local governments are raising property taxes in order to address the shortfall.

In fact, because of revenue issues, Clay County’s School Board recently voted to delay the re-opening of schools following Fall Break.

And, Tennessee’s school funding challenge can be met without raising taxes. Yes, we have a $600 million surplus for 2015 fiscal year. Are legislative leaders talking about using that money to invest in schools?

No.

Instead, they are talking about more tax breaks for the investor class or building roads.

When the state fails to adequately support public schools and then passes down expensive, unfunded mandates, local taxpayers end up footing the bill.

Let me say this again: Tennessee taxpayers paid more than $600 million more than was projected just last year. Revenue is up above projections again this year. And legislators are talking about using the extra money for roads and tax breaks, but not schools.

That means taxpayers will likely see local tax increases or that local schools will go without needed resources — or, in some cases, both.

The BEP — the state’s funding formula for schools, is broken. But, the legislature is not yet poised to fix it.

When it comes to support for schools, Tennessee’s General Assembly is a lot like Mississippi’s.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

The Great Heart of KIPP: The State Board and Charter Authorizing

The Tennessee State Board of Education today used authority granted to it by the General Assembly in 2014 to approve two KIPP charter schools that had previously been rejected by the MNPS Board of Education.

The decision means the State Board has decided which schools will be opened and funded by MNPS rather than that decision being left to the elected School Board.

The authority was given to the State Board because of the Great Hearts Controversy.

Back in 2012, MNPS rejected an application filed by Great Hearts to open a charter school. The State Board heard an appeal from Great Hearts and sent the issue back to the MNPS Board, recommending approval. MNPS refused. Then-education commissioner Kevin Huffman fined MNPS $3.4 million.

And legislators, ever eager to micro-manage public education to the point of absurdity, filed legislation.

As John noted at the time, a significant part of the legislation is:

This might actually be a better financial deal for charter schools.  Under this legislation, a charter school authorized by the state would get the full state, local, and federal share of per-pupil dollars, plus a “local match” from the LEA for capital outlay.  The latter portion, especially, may be a change from how things currently work when charters are authorized by an LEA.

Specifically:

(d) Funding for charter schools authorized by the state board shall be in accordance with § 49-13-112, except that the LEA in which the charter school operates shall pay to the department one hundred percent (100%) of the per student share of local funding and any federal funding in the custody of the LEA that is due to the charter school.  The department shall withhold from the LEA the per student share of state funding that is due to the charter school as well as any federal funding in the custody of the department that is due to the charter school.  The department shall then allocate and disburse these funds to the charter school in accordance with procedures developed by the department.

It will be interesting to see how MNPS reacts to this course of action. The State Board has authorized the expenditure of Nashville tax dollars in a very specific manner, directing that those funds go to support the opening and operation of two KIPP charter schools.

It’s not like MNPS is averse to charter schools. Many charter schools operate in the district and the Board did approve some charter applications this year.

In fact, in 2014, the Board signed off on a plan to give KIPP an elementary school. As Dr. Register proceeded, this action actually led to the formation of East Nashville United.

At that time, the focus of the possible takeover was Inglewood Elementary. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia even visited the school to build support for preventing a KIPP takeover there.

Ultimately, KIPP won the right to takeover Kirkpatrick Elementary.

All of this to say: The majority of the MNPS Board has not demonstrated a bias against charter schools or even KIPP.

Some, including Board Member Will Pinkston, have argued for smart growth when it comes to charters. Pinkston noted:

The school board took a fiscally conservative position. With 8,157 seats currently in the charter pipeline — including more than 1,000 yet-to-be-filed seats belonging to KIPP — that’s a total future annual cash outlay of $77.5 million.

What KIPP wants to do — expand the pipeline to more than 9,000 seats — would take our future annual cash outlays up to $85.5 million. None of this includes the $73 million in annual cash outlays for charter seats that already exist.

Pinkton’s argument and other analysis suggesting that charter schools do place a burden on the MNPS budget prompted Board Member Mary Pierce to respond with a straw man argument about the cost of closing all current metro charter schools.

The fact is, MNPS hasn’t been in the business of closing charter schools — they’ve been approving new charter applications nearly every year and have many more charter seats opening. It seems likely that the KIPP charter schools approved by the State Board today would have ultimately won MNPS Board approval.  But today, the State Board of Education decided they knew better than Nashville’s School Board when and how many charter schools should be opened in Nashville. They also obligated funds, including local funds, to the opening and operation of these schools.

One final note: The State Board now is accountable for the oversight and monitoring of the two KIPP schools it approved in Nashville:

Except as provided in subdivision (b)(3), oversight and monitoring of
charter schools authorized by the state board of education shall be performed by the state board. As requested, the department of education shall assist the state board with general oversight of any charter school authorized by the state board. (Public Chapter 850, 2014).

What happens next? Stay tuned…

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

Sharing the Wealth

Last month, I wrote about ACLJ leader Jay Sekulow and his quest for financial gain based on the fear of Islam as one of the world religions covered in 6th and 7th grade social studies classes.

Now, it seems that Tennessee-based blogger and former radio host Steve Gill is getting in on the money grab.

Gill sent out a press release yesterday about an event in White County directed at removing textbooks that cover Islam. Gill is also listed as the media contact (and registered owner) of this website designed to keep the “controversy” going.  WPLN has this story which refers to the standards as new.

However, while the standards have been updated, the teaching of Islam as part of social studies in 6th and 7th grade is not a new practice in Tennessee. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen notes in a memo:

The content of religion in our social studies standards is not new in Tennessee, but the sequence has been revised. The content of the current Islamic World standards has been included in the state’s social studies standards for many years and what students are expected to know about the Islamic World is also consistent with years prior. The new standards have simply moved what was previously spread throughout the social studies standards prior to 2013 (those standards can be found here: http://tn.gov/education/article/academic-standards-archive) to one section in the seventh-grade World History course. Most of the current seventh-grade World History standards were previously contained in sixth-grade and can be found here: http://tn.gov/…/education/attachments/std_arch_ss_gr_6.pdf


The State Board of Education adopted the current social studies standards in July 2013. The standards were developed by a committee of Tennessee teachers and were available for the public and all Tennessee educators to review and provide feedback.

To be clear: The standards were developed and adopted more than two years ago. That process included Tennessee teachers developing the standards, a public feedback period, and the State Board of Education adopting the standards in a public meeting.

While updated, the standards continued the practice of covering the Islamic World in middle school social studies courses.

Where was Steve Gill in 2013 when the State Board adopted these standards that he now claims are responsible for “Islamic indoctrination?”

Why didn’t the ACLJ’s Sekulow cry out in 2013 when the State Board adopted standards he suspected would cause mass conversion of 7th graders to Islam?

And what about all the years prior to 2013 when the Islamic World was ALSO covered in middle school social studies? Was there mass indoctrination then? What about a slew of middle school students converting?

Gill and Sekulow don’t have answers to those questions … or, they haven’t been asked, it seems.

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

Clay County and the Broken BEP

Citing budget difficulties, Clay County Schools have closed (temporarily) and may not reopen until mid-November.

The Director of Schools, Jerry Strong, notes that the budget issues have been building over the past three years and have finally reached the tipping point. The County Commission doesn’t want to raise property taxes (the county is relatively poor, so a property tax wouldn’t necessarily generate a lot of revenue) and has placed a wheel tax referendum on the March ballot.

It’s interesting to see a school system close due to insufficient funds at the same time school systems across the state are suing due to inadequate funding from the BEP formula.

Moreover, the lack of funds comes at a time when the state is passing down expensive, unfunded mandates like RTI2.

It’s also hard to imagine that a fully-funded BEP 2.0 wouldn’t help address this situation. Under that scenario, Clay County would see some $450,000 in new revenue each year from the state.

While the situation in Clay County may soon see at least a temporary resolution that will get students back to school, it points to a larger reality: The BEP is broken.

It’s time to use the surplus revenue our state has to begin investing in schools in a meaningful, sustainable way.

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

 

 

TREE Takes on Charter Expansion

As the State Board of Education considers overruling the MNPS School Board and possibly approving charter schools for Nashville originally denied at the local level, grassroots advocacy group TREE is calling on citizens to take action.

From the inbox:

Attention Nashville and Tennessee Education Advocates! We need you to write the Tennessee State Board of Education TODAY! Be a voice for local control. Metro Schools recently approved two of fourteen charter applications.  Among the ten who were denied were KIPP, Rocketship and The International Academy of Excellence.

The International Academy of Excellence filled out an incorrect form and should have not been considered at all but was for legal reasons. These three charter companies are asking the State Board of Education to overrule the Nashville school board and divert funds from the Metro Schools budget to pay for opening their six proposed charter schools.

If you would like to see the local school board retain the ability to decide how to spend local tax dollars, and what schools should operate in Nashville, you must speak up NOW. Public comments are being received until October 7. Please copy this email list into your email recipient box:
Fielding Rolston <frolston@ecu.org>
Mike Edwards <medwards@knoxvillechamber.com>
Allison Chancey <achancey@bradleyschools.org>
Lonnie Roberts <lroberts@trh.com>
Carolyn Pearre <cpearre@comcast.net>
Lillian Hartgrove <lhartgrove@cookevillechamber.com>

It is fine to be brief. A few points you might to make:

1. Note if you are a Nashville taxpayer and/or public school parent.
2. Nashville currently has 8,112 charter school seats and will open another 8,157 over the next few years, under current approved charter contracts, effectively doubling the amount of charter school seats without ever approving another charter.
3. There is no evidence of demand for more charters and in fact there are currently many empty seats in Nashville charter schools.
4. If the state board of education overrules the local school board, it will force our city to fund a privatized public school.  A school that can not be shut down by our locally elected board if problems arise.
5. Nashville must be free to put its schools budget to the best use to improve education for ALL students. Under the law MNPS must adhere to their contract with approved charters and fully fund them.  Whatever amount is left gets divvied up among the remaining schools in the district continuing the trend of systematic underfunding which means not meeting the needs of our schools.

Thank you for your time and quick attention. Your voice is needed TODAY!
TREE

For more on the charter debate in Nashville:

The True Cost of Charters

Mary Pierce on Closing Charters

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

 

Quickly Dropped?

Some members of the Knox County School Board are considering action that would result in removing standardized testing “quick scores” from a student’s final grades.

This follows a year of changes to quick score calculations that created confusion for school districts across the state.

Discussing the matter, board member Karen Carson said:

“I think it’s one of those laws that generally you do it to hold students accountable and motivate them to do their best, but frankly it only increases the stakes for students,” she said.

“I don’t see that it benefits our students in any way. I don’t think student test scores, this test, should impact a student’s grade.”

Because of the transition to TNReady, scores will not be ready in time to be included in student grades this year. This prompted the Knox County Board to ponder asking the General Assembly to remove the requirement altogether.

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

Should TN Abandon Pre-K?

The recently released results of a study of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt has some Tennessee policymakers suggesting the state back off support for or expansion of the early education program.

The results of this study are similar to those of a study on Pre-K commissioned by the Comptroller’s office.

And here’s the secret: Both studies come to the same conclusion — Pre-K works.

That is, the state’s voluntary Pre-K program sends students to Kindergarten better prepared. And the effects of the program last through first grade. That’s right, one year of intervention yields two years of results as demonstrated by two different Tennessee-specific, longitudinal studies.

Here’s another secret: There are no silver bullets in education. Pre-K is one specific, targeted intervention. But Pre-K alone can’t solve the challenges faced by Tennessee’s low income students.

In fact, Jim Shelton in Education Week notes:

Second, there is no single moment or intervention in the life of a child that guarantees success. But research has identified several milestones on the path to adulthood that especially determine success at later stages. This is where evidence-based programs can have the greatest impact.

We know that a healthy and secure start in life is critical to the development of social and cognitive skills and other indicators of well-being. Entering school ready to learn is another vital marker. Parental education and access to high-quality preschool have been shown to improve a range of life outcomes, from earnings to crime. And kids who aren’t reading proficiently by 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19. Kids living in poor neighborhoods and not reading proficiently by 3rd grade are around nine times less likely to graduate on time.

Entering school ready to learn is one vital marker on the path toward closing achievement gaps and giving children from low income families a shot at succeeding in school and life. But it’s just ONE of the several ingredients in a system that would actually put kids first and move the needle on educational attainment.

Mark Lipsy, one of the researchers in the Vanderbilt study, says:

This study was meant to monitor the effectiveness of Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program. But co-investigator Mark Lipsy says it really raises questions about early elementary grades.

“The biggest mystery here is what in the world is going on as these kids hit kindergarten, first, second, third grade, that is not building on what they seem to have come out of pre-K with?”

Raj Chetty, in a study of early grades education in Tennessee, offers some suggestions:

Chetty specifically points to improved teacher training, early career mentoring, and reducing class sizes as policies that could work to improve the overall quality of early (K-3) classrooms.

That is, it’s not enough to simply provide an intervention that sends kids to Kindergarten ready to learn and that has positive benefits through first grade, our state must also invest in the supports and resources necessary to allow early grade learning to build on the foundation established by Pre-K.

We know what works for our students.  We know how to close the achievement gap. We know that quality Pre-K is one piece of the puzzle. And we know that two different longitudinal studies have shown that Tennessee’s Pre-K program is effective. The question is: Will we invest in expanding Pre-K and also providing the resources necessary to make not only the early grades, but all of school an environment where all children can thrive?

Are Tennessee policymakers looking for the elusive silver bullet, or do they really want to find comprehensive policy solutions that help break barriers and close achievement gaps? More importantly, are Tennessee policymakers willing to invest in educational excellence from Pre-K through college in ways that are proven to have the most significant impact?

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

Schools Can Wait, We Need More Tax Breaks

That seems to be the message from state Senator Brian Kelsey of Memphis, who is suggesting using the state’s revenue surplus to eliminate the Hall Tax on investment income.

Kelsey’s plan would eliminate nearly $200 million a year in revenue. This at a time when school systems are suing the state due to grossly inadequate funding.

The push to provide tax breaks to the investor class comes as revenue is soaring above projections, as Rick Locker notes:

The state ended its fiscal year 2014-15 on June 30 with nearly $606 million more revenue overall than was projected and budgeted for the year, including $553 million more revenue in the government’s general fund than was projected. The general fund pays for most of state government’s non-transportation programs.

In addition to putting a call for tax breaks ahead of the need for improved investment in schools, Kelsey has also been a chief proponent of voucher schemes that would take millions of dollars from local school coffers. Not to mention there is scant evidence an expansive voucher plan like Kelsey’s would actually improve student outcomes.

Kelsey is not the only lawmaker whose priorities don’t include investing surplus dollars into public education. Earlier this year, House Speaker Beth Harwell suggested investing the surplus dollars into roads in order to avoid raising the gas tax.

What the General Assembly needs is a plan that would invest a significant portion of the surplus into schools and save the rest for future investment. Building a long-term, sustainable plan for improving the BEP (the state funding formula for schools) is critical, not just to avoid losing a lawsuit but also to support the excellent schools Tennessee families and communities deserve.

MORE on school funding in Tennessee:

Why is TN 40th?

Why Fix the BEP?

Why is he so angry?

 

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