Dear Jim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

SPEAK Members Seek KCEA Posts

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

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

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

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

Here is the video that helped launch Hopson:

 

SPEAK Members Marching:

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

TCAP, Poverty, and Investment in Schools

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

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

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

The Top 10

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

FSSD                   44.94%                     n/a                                63

Rogersville         19.83%                     n/a                                60

Newport             14.51%                      n/a                                62

Maryville            33.8%                      23.8                               65

Oak Ridge          37.23%                    23.1                               58

Williamson       20.5%                       22.9                             67

Greeneville      27.47%                      22.1                             58

Johnson City  26.77%                       22.1                             61

Kingsport        31.85%                       22                               59

Shelby              17.32%                       20.8                           58

AVERAGE    27.42%                    22.4                         61.1

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

The Bottom Ten

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

Lake                5.07%                       18.1                                 41

Union             4.91%                       17.9                                 45

Madison         14.22%                    17.9                                 46

Campbell       3.4%                        17.7                                  44

Haywood       6.48%                     17.5                                  41

Hardeman    11.58%                    17                                      46

Hancock       4.49%                     16.6                                   44

Memphis      19.15%                   16.4                                    38

Fayette         9.83%                    16.3                                     42

Humboldt   13.5%                     16.2                                    43

AVERAGE 9.26%                 17.16                                43

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

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

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

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

The TN Poverty Test

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

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

Here’s why:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtually Unchecked

The Virtual Public Schools Act, which authorized the creation of the Tennessee Virtual Academy run by K12, Inc. is set to expire this year.

Already, legislation (HB 4) has been filed to extend the Act until 2019. No Senate companion yet exists, but it seems likely that K12, Inc.’s top legislative champion, Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, will carry the bill in the Senate.

The Tennessee Virtual Academy has come under fire the last several years as its students have posted the lowest scores in academic achievement in the state. The situation is so bad that this year, former Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman recommended the school not be allowed to enroll additional students.

The Union County School Board (the system that hosts TNVA) denied that request and collected a check from K12, Inc.

I’d anticipate significant pushback this year against any unchecked continuation of K12, Inc.’s operation in Tennessee. That said, both legislators and Governor Haslam have expressed concerns in the past only to see K12, Inc. continue with business as usual.

Will K12’s lobbyists be successful this year, or will this legislative session finally put a cap on the unchecked growth of TNVA?

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

Will Haslam Raise Teacher Pay?

He’s not saying.

Yet.

Blake Farmer over at WPLN has the story.

Basically, both Haslam and incoming Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen say they are committed to improving teacher pay, but make no commitment about a specific raise this year.

Haslam does think he should be given credit for giving teachers raises early in his term, though.

Here’s what he said:

“What gets lost in there is we were one of the few states, in our first three budgets, who actually did give teachers raises,” Haslam said in an interview with WPLN.

What he failed to mention is that Tennessee ranks near the bottom in the nation in rate of improvement of teacher pay as well as total teacher compensation. And the disparity among districts in terms of teacher pay is reaching proportions previously rule unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

In short, a failure to address both the level of teacher pay and the resources provided to schools could result in more than just angry teachers. Some are even beginning to suggest a school funding lawsuit is in order.

Will 2015 be the year Bill Haslam makes a serious attempt to both improve teacher pay and provide needed resources to Tennessee schools?

He just won’t say.

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

RTI Rollout Rushed?

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has a story about Tennessee’s RTI2 program implementation in which she notes that the program’s mandates have come largely unfunded by the State of Tennessee.

The Response to Intervention and Instruction program is designed to identify students who are struggling and get them extra assistance before they fall too far behind.

In practice, the program means many students miss related arts or even social studies and science in order to spend extra time in remediation for math and reading, the two subjects tested on the state’s TCAP test.

Additionally, many districts report they lack the funding to provide subject-matter teachers and so individuals not certified in math or reading may be in charge of certain remediation classrooms.

Tatter notes:

Districts have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on assessments, and don’t have the money to hire educators with the expertise required to work with the highest needs students. Some schools are using their general education teachers, already stretched thin, and others are using computer programs.

The state’s RTI2 policy identifies the intervention levels for students:

According to the state RTI2 policy, students should be divided into three groups: the majority, on grade level, are in Tier 1, students in the bottom 25th percentile of students across the country  are in Tier 2, and students in the bottom 10th percentile are in Tier 3.

All students, regardless of tier, get an hour of intervention time a day. For Tier 2 and Tier 3, intervention time is spent in small groups, ideally of fewer than five students, working on specific skills, while for kids in Tier 1 it might be enrichment activities.

Tatter notes that Metro Nashville Public Schools is among the districts taking advantage of the flexibility offered by the state to serve a smaller pool of students.

Essentially, if a district feels it lacks adequate resources to provide services to the bottom 25 perfcent of students, it can shift down to a smaller number, 16% in Tier 2 in MNPS for example, and the bottom 7% in Tier 3.

The shift at MNPS means they can focus on a smaller pool, but it also highlights the challenge faced by districts across the state. That is, those districts with higher concentrations of poverty (and likely to have higher numbers of students needing intervention) also have the least resources available to assist students.  The poorest districts, then, are left further behind as a result of a well-intentioned unfunded state mandate.

Tatter notes that education researchers and practitioners believe RTI2 can work and work well, but without proper support, many districts are struggling to make that happen.

More on RTI2 from our friends over at Bluff City Ed

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

 

 

Little Value Added?

 

That’s the conclusion teacher Jon Alfuth draws about Governor Bill Haslam’s recently announced changes to teacher evaluation and support.

Alfuth notes with frustration that Haslam appears happy to support teachers in ways that don’t involve any new money.

Reducing the weight given TVAAS on a teacher’s evaluation, for example, doesn’t cost anything. Adding a few teachers to a “cabinet” to give feedback on tests is welcome change, but also doesn’t carry a price tag.

Haslam’s changes still unfairly assess teachers in non-tested subjects, in Alfuth’s view:

While reducing the percentage from 25 to 15 percent achievement data for non-EOC teachers is a step in the right direction, I don’t feel that it goes far enough. I personally think it’s unfair to use test scores from courses not taught by a teacher in their evaluation given the concerns surrounding the reliability of these data systems overall.

And, Alfuth says, the financial support teachers and schools need is simply not discussed:

Consider the teacher salary discussion we’ve been having here in Tennessee. This is something that Tennessee Teachers have been clamoring for and which the governor promised but then went back on this past spring. There’s no mention of other initiatives that would require extra funding, such as BEP2.0, which would provide millions of additional dollars to our school districts across the state and do much to help teachers. There’s also no mention of expanding training Common Core trainng, which is essential if we’re going to continue to enable teachers to be successful when the three year phase in of growth scores winds down.

In short, while the proposed changes are step forward, at least in the view of one teacher, much more can be done to truly support teachers and their students.

More on the importance of investing in teacher pay:

Notes on Teacher Pay

More on the state’s broken school funding formula, the BEP:

A BEP Lawsuit?

The Broken BEP

What is BEP 2.0?

For more from Jon Alfuth and education issues in Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

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

And the Winner Is …

Jason Vance, Director of Schools in Loudon County.

Jason claimed victory in Education Commissioner Madness.

The contest was a fun way to take a look at who might be Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education.

Vance posted a brief statement after his victory about what’s important in the next Commissioner.

He mentions the need for increased teacher compensation, improved professional development, and clear and direct communication between the Department of Education and school district leaders.

As the candidate who emerged as the finalist from the policymakers and advocates side of the bracket, let me say that I’m honored to have received support round after round. I also want to congratulate Jason on his victory.

I believe the next Commissioner of Education should be a Tennessee educator who is committed to putting students first and who understands the challenges teachers face every day. Jason definitely meets that standard.

The contest also allowed me to learn more about the outstanding work going on in schools all around Tennessee. It has been exciting to hear about what so many of Tennessee’s school leaders are doing every single day to improve the quality of education in our state.

It is my belief that when these leaders are supported with investment in their schools and in the personnel that staff them, Tennessee students will achieve amazing results.

It is long past time to fix Tennessee’s broken BEP.

Adjusting the funding formula is not enough. New investment must be made in order to give our students the resources they need to succeed.

The next education commissioner should be a tireless advocate for our schools and students. It has been great to see so many outstanding leaders who make this their life’s work.

 

For more on education commissioner madness and other education issues, follow @BluffCityEd

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

ASD vs. Nashville Middle Schools

The Tennessee Achievement School District is holding meetings this week at Madison Middle and Neely’s Bend Middle to determine which of those two schools it will takeover and likely hand to a charter operator in 2015.

Back in October, it was announced that five Nashville middle schools were on the potential takeover list. They included Jere Baxter, Bailey, and Joelton.

Now, it’s down to Madison and Neely’s Bend.

As the discussion moves forward, it’s worth noting how these schools have been doing relative to the ASD average.

In Reading/Language Arts, Neely’s Bend and Madison Middle outperform all ASD schools except LEAD Academy at Brick Church. While the two year gains are slightly lower than the ASD average, the number of students scoring proficient or advanced is nearly 7 points higher than the ASD average.

Dist School Name 2012 2013 2014 2 year gains
Achievement School District Brick Church – LEAD 23.7% 12.8% 37.20% 13.50%
Davidson Neely’s Bend Middle School 25.0% 21.60% 24.30% -0.70%
Davidson Madison Middle School 23.0% 23.60% 24.00% 0.98%
ASD C1 – Humes Upper 15.2% 27.6% 18.8% 3.6%
Achievement School Distrit Achievement School Distrit Average 15.60% 13.60% 17.00% 1.40%
ASD C2 – Whitney Elementary 18.7% 9.6% 16.3% -2.4%
ASD C1 – Westside Middle 16.9% 14.2% 15.5% -1.4%
ASD C1 – Cornerstone Prep (Lester) 10.0% 4.3% 15.4% 5.4%
ASD C1 – Corning Achievement Elementary 20.6% 12.1% 12.4% -8.2%
ASD C1 – Frayser Elementary 13.1% 4.8% 8.9% -4.2%
ASD C2 – Georgian Hills 11.1% 15.9% 8.4% -2.7%
ASD C2 – Hanley Elementary 11.2% 10.4% 5.0% -6.3%

 

In Math, Madison Middle is slightly below the ASD average while Neely’s Bend is slightly above. Again, LEAD at Brick Church outperforms all others.

Dist School Name 2012 2013 2014 2 year gains
Achievement School District Brick Church – LEAD 17.5% 24.20% 41.20% 23.70%
ASD C1 – Corning Achievement Elementary 18.3% 32.8% 31.0% 12.7%
ASD C1 – Cornerstone Prep (Lester) 8.3% 10.6% 25.3% 17.0%
ASD C2 – Whitney Elementary 17.7% 18.5% 24.1% 6.4%
Davidson Neely’s Bend Middle School 15.7% 23.20% 23.70% 8.00%
ASD C1 – Humes Upper 18.6% 17.9% 22.1% 3.5%
Achievement School Distrit Achievement School Distrit Average 15.1% 19.60% 21.80% 6.70%
ASD C1 – Westside Middle 18.6% 18.8% 16.6% -2.0%
Davidson Madison Middle School 16.20% 12.30% 16.30% 0.10%
ASD C1 – Frayser Elementary 10.8% 13.3% 14.6% 3.8%
ASD C2 – Georgian Hills 10.6% 23.6% 11.6% 1.0%
ASD C2 – Hanley Elementary 15.4% 22.7% 8.1% -7.3%

 

When compared with Jere Baxter, Bailey, and Joelton, both Neely’s Bend and Madison Middle score higher than the other three in RLA

 

Dist School Name 2012 2013 2014 TVAAS 2014 Enrollment
Davidson Neely’s Bend Middle School 25.0% 21.60% 24.30% 2 548
Davidson Madison Middle School 23.0% 23.60% 24.00% 1 756
Davidson Bailey STEM Magnet Middle 17.30% 17.10% 16.20% 1 445
Davidson Jere Baxter Middle 24.00% 17.70% 15.80% 1 435
Davidson Joelton Middle School 15% 21.40% 21.50% 4 277

Neely’s Bend is solidly in the middle in Math, while Madison is at the bottom there.

 

School   Name 2012 2013 2014 TVAAS 2014 Enrollment
Neely’s Bend Middle School 15.7% 23.20% 23.70% 2 548
Madison Middle School 16.20% 12.30% 16.30% 4 756
Bailey STEM Magnet Middle 11.40% 11.80% 19.90% 3 445
Jere Baxter Middle 24.70% 26.10% 25.50% 5 435
Joelton Middle School 19.70% 25.10% 25.80% 5 277

The data analysis raises some questions in my mind:

1) Why were these two schools targeted for potential takeover when other schools in MNPS show a lower performance?

2) Why would parents want their schools, which outpeform the ASD average, to be taken over by the ASD?

3) Why is LEAD an ASD anomaly? What’s going right at LEAD that can be replicated? Or, is it even practical to replicate what LEAD is doing across Metro Schools?

4) In Shelby County, iZone schools outperform ASD schools. Why not consider an iZone conversion for these Nashville schools?

5) What are the plans to provide resources/assistance to Jere Baxter, Joelton, and Bailey? These schools clearly need help and the ASD takeover in Madison won’t make that happen.

For more on Tennessee Education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport