Doing the Right Thing

Shelby County’s Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson announced that all teachers will receive a three percent raise this year, not just those who meet certain scores on the state’s flawed value-added evaluation system.

More from Chalkbeat:

Hopson told the district’s educators in an email Thursday that they’ll see the raise reflected in their Nov. 18 paychecks. The pay hikes will be retroactive and will also go to librarians, counselors, instructional facilitators, coaches, social workers, physical/speech therapists and psychologists.

The decision came after Hopson learned that the district won’t receive the state’s testing data until December.

The decision by Hopson came about as a result of last year’s TNReady debacle. It also came in the same week that Knox County’s School Board asked the state for a waiver from included this year’s TNReady test results in student grades and teacher evaluations.

Hopson made the right decision — it is unfair to ask teachers to wait to receive pay raises because of the state’s mistakes with TNReady. It’s also unfair to use data from last year’s mess of a test administration to evaluate teachers. While I’ve expressed doubts about the usefulness of value-added data in evaluating teachers, even those who haven’t should acknowledge that using data from last year (or this year) is problematic.

Shelby County educators will all see a raise this year. The next question: Will the school board there join Knox County in requesting a waiver from using test data for students and teachers this year?

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


 

Knox County Takes a Stand

Last night, the Knox County School Board voted 6-3 in favor of a resolution calling on the General Assembly and State Board of Education to waive the use of TCAP/TNReady data in student grades and teacher evaluations this year.

The move comes as the state prepares to administer the tests this year with a new vendor following last year’s TNReady disaster. The lack of a complete testing cycle last year plus the addition of a new vendor means this year is the first year of the new test.

The Board passed the resolution in spite of Governor Haslam warning against taking such a step.

In his warning, Haslam said:

“The results we’ve seen are not by accident in Tennessee, and I think you have to be really careful about doing anything that could cause that to back up,” Haslam said.

He added:

Haslam attributed that progress to three things, including tying standardized tests to teacher evaluations.

“It’s about raising our standards and expectations, it’s about having year-end assessments that match those standards and then I think it’s about having assessments that are part of teachers’ evaluations,” Haslam said. “I think that you have to have all of those for a recipe for success.”

Haslam can present no evidence for his claim about the use of student assessment in teacher evaluation. In fact, it’s worth noting that prior to 2008, Tennessee students achieved at a high level according to what were then the state standards. While the standards themselves were determined to need improvement, the point is teachers were helping students hit the designated mark.

Teachers were moving students forward at this time without evaluations tied to student test results. Policymakers set a mark for student performance, teachers worked to hit that mark and succeeded. Standards were raised in 2008, and since then, Tennessee has seen detectable growth in overall results, including some exciting news when NAEP results are released.

To suggest that a year without the use of TVAAS scores in teacher evaluations will cause a setback is to insult Tennessee’s teachers. As if they’ll just relax and not teach as hard.

Another argument raised against the resolution is that it will somehow absolve teachers and students of accountability.

Joe Sullivan reports in the Knoxville Mercury:

In an email to board members, [Interim Director of Schools Buzz] Thomas asserted that, “We need a good standardized test each year to tell us how we are doing compared to others across the state and the nation. We will achieve greatness not by shying away from this accountability but by embracing it.” And he fretted that, “This resolution puts that at risk. In short, it will divide us. Once again we could find ourselves in two disputing camps. The pro-achievement folks on the one side and the pro-teacher folks on the other.”

Right now, we don’t know if we have a good standardized test. Taking a year to get it right is important, especially in light of the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience.

Of course, there’s no need for pro-achievement and pro-teacher folks to be divided into two camps, either. Tennessee can have a good, solid test that is an accurate measure of student achievement and also treat teachers fairly in the evaluation process.

To be clear, teachers aren’t asking for a waiver from all evaluation. They are asking for a fair, transparent evaluation system. TVAAS has long been criticized as neither. Even under the best of circumstances, TVAAS provides a minimal level of useful information about teacher performance.

Now, we’re shifting to a new test. That shift alone makes it impossible to achieve a valid value-added score. In fact, researchers in the Journal of Educational Measurement have said:

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.

Changing to a new type of test creates value-added uncertainty. That means results attributed to teachers based on a comparison of this year’s tests and the old tests will not yield valid results.

While insisting that districts use TVAAS in teacher evaluations this year, the state is also admitting it’s not quite sure how that will work.

From Sullivan’s story:

When asked how these determinations will be made, a spokesperson for the state Department of Education acknowledges that a different methodology will have to be employed and says that, “we are still working with various statisticians and experts to determine the exact methodology we will use this year.”

Why not at take at least a year, be sure there’s a test that works, and then build a model based on that? What harm would come from giving teachers and students a year with a test that’s just a test? Moreover, the best education researchers have already warned that testing transitions create value-added bumps. Why not avoid the bumps and work to create an evaluation system that is fair and transparent?

Knox County has taken a stand. We’ll soon see if others follow suit. And if the state is listening.

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


 

 

Whatever It Takes

This story on Community Schools offers an interesting look at what it takes to overcome the impact of poverty on education. The bottom line: It takes patience and creativity. It requires an investment of resources.

From the story:

Though the Washington Heights principal firmly believes in the idea that students can only learn if their basic needs outside the building are met — a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach to struggling schools — he is also wary of the argument that infusing schools with social services will immediately lead to academic payoffs.

“Turning a kid’s lights back on on doesn’t make their test scores go up,” House said. “It’s the precondition for learning.”

House knows that firsthand. His community school, serving grades 6-12, was built a decade ago, but changes in key metrics like graduation rates and test scores haven’t come quickly. CHAH, which is 92 percent Hispanic and roughly 90 percent poor, has only recently come off the state’s “priority” list of low-performing schools.

The challenge, according to the principal, has not been finding agreement on the importance of addressing student needs:

I think most people probably don’t need to be convinced that access to health care or eyeglasses or mental health supports is a good thing for kids who might otherwise struggle to have access to those things—

I would argue with that though. I think people see that as a common-sense solution, [but] they’re not interested in paying for it.

I think House (the principal) has it right. People generally agree that kids need to have basic needs met as a precondition to learning. Unfortunately, the will do to whatever it takes is lacking.

Instead, we play at the margins. I appreciate the SCORE recommendations on teacher preparation. Improving the way we prepare teachers and providing them with early career support and mentoring is important for teachers and can improve outcomes for students.

I’ve long advocated for better pay for teachers. Not only do they deserve a professional salary, research indicates that better pay can improve outcomes for students.

Some in our state push vouchers while others suggest expanding the presence of charter schools will make a lasting impact.

Here’s the deal: None of these changes matter to a hungry kid who doesn’t have access to healthcare. The child who goes home to a house with no power or who attends seven schools in ten months because they are moved from one temporary housing solution to another or who has never seen a dentist — that child doesn’t care that teacher prep is a little better or that there’s a new way to evaluate teachers or that grading is now “standards-based.” Sure, these ideas may have merit and may provide some improvement to the school climate, but unless basic needs are met, learning will be difficult.

As House notes, there is often broad agreement on that point. What’s missing is the willingness to invest the money.

Here in Tennessee, we are not even adequately funding the number of teachers we need — we’re coming up $400 million short on that score. Instead of thinking of ways to provide critical social services to students, our General Assembly has eliminated the inheritance tax and the Hall Tax — foregoing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue so that those who have can have more.

We currently have around $900 million in a budget surplus from the 2015-16 fiscal year and we’re $140 million above projections for this fiscal year. How much of that will be invested in schools? Of that new investment (if any), how much will go to provide the wrap-around services students require to ensure basic needs are met?

We understand the challenge. We know the need. Will we do whatever it takes?

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


 

You’ve Been Warned

MNPS Board Members Will Pinkston and Christiane Buggs wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution urging voters in Georgia to reject that state’s effort to create an Opportunity School District modeled after Tennessee’s struggling Achievement School District.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

Under this hostile approach, the ASD rips schools from their communities and hands them over to charter operators that convert them into taxpayer-subsidized private schools. Rather than sticking to a limited scope with a baker’s dozen schools, as originally envisioned, the ASD now has nearly 30 schools in its purview — and it’s expanding every year in ill-advised ways.

They also pointed to a recent Vanderbilt study to note the ASD’s lack of results:

If the ASD actually was working, some of it might be defensible. But research by Vanderbilt University shows the ASD is failing. The online news outlet Chalkbeat recently reported that a locally led school-turnaround initiative in Memphis has “sizable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are marginal.”

Tennessee’s ASD came about as a result of legislative approval of the (ultimately winning) Race to the Top application. As Buggs and Pinkston note, in its current form, the ASD has moved beyond the original vision. In doing so, the ASD has encountered problems that include troubling audit findings and a struggle to demonstrate results.

Georgia voters get to weigh-in on whether or not their state creates an ASD clone. Buggs and Pinkston offer a cautionary tale of well-intentioned reform gone wrong.

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


 

Learning 1, Imaginary Menace 0

Despite the best efforts of Jay Sekulow and Steve Gill, it seems Tennessee’s 7th grade social studies standards will still include learning about Islam in the world religion portion of the course.

The Tennessean reports:

In total, the department’s social studies review team has cut down the number of 7th grade standards, where Islam is taught, from 75 to 67.
The process has included a name change of standards under the “Islamic World, 400 A.D/C.E.–1500s” to “Southwest Asia and North Africa: 400-1500s C.E.” Some references to the “Islamic World” have been changed to “Africa.”
And under the new draft standards, students are asked to learn the origins, spread and central features of Islam. These include the founder Mohammed, sacred texts The Quran and The Sunnah and basic beliefs like monotheism and The Five Pillars. The diffusion of Islam, its culture and Arabic language are also still included in the standards.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about Sekulow and his fear-mongering for profit around Tennessee’s social studies standards. Citing one of his emails, here’s what I wrote about the alternate reality in which Sekulow apparently lives:

Hundreds of seventh grade students all across Tennessee converting to Islam after their world history class. It’s happening everywhere. In rural and urban communities. It’s happening because Tennessee teachers are not just teaching world religions, they are specifically focusing on Islam and indoctrinating our children. They must be, with so many conversions happening every single week.
Actually, so far, no one has reported a single conversion of any student to Islam after taking a seventh grade history class.

Despite the lack of any actual problem, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen called for an early review of the state’s social studies standards. And, State Board of Education Chair Fielding Rolston punted on the issue. That’s what prompted the changes noted in the Tennessean story cited above.

The good news is the standards (as proposed) leave the teaching of Islam as part of a broader curriculum on world religions largely intact.

It’s not clear (yet) if Sekulow and Gill will find a new way to gin up fear and pad their wealth as the state enters a comment period for the proposed revisions.

The comment period for the standards has been extended to December 15th. Those wishing to review the standards and offer feedback can do so here.

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


 

 

 

Show Us the Money

WSMV reports state revenues came in at $108 million above projections in September:

Corporate franchise and exercise taxes came in at $76 million more than expectations in the month, which reflects economic activity in August. Sales taxes collections were $24 million higher than the amount budgeted for the month and reflect a 4.5 percent growth rate compared with the same year-ago period.

The surplus from September alone would be enough for the state to add 3500 teachers using the current funding formula. That’s 25% of the total needed to properly fund our state’s schools according to a recent report from the Comptroller’s office.

The report indicated:

The state is considerably underestimating the number of educators needed to run Tennessee schools according to its own requirements, says a state comptroller’s report released Wednesday.
And local governments are paying the difference. Statewide, districts employ about 12,700 more educators than the state funds, according to the comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, or OREA.

We are now in our third consecutive year of revenue growth well above projections. It’s time for the state to step up and invest in schools. Three more months with surpluses like September would provide enough revenue ($400 million) for the state to adequately fund teaching positions through the BEP. And don’t forget, we have more than $900 million in surplus funds from the budget year that ended on June 30th.

The money is there. Will it be invested in our schools?

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


 

 

That’ll Be $400 Million

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability is out with a new report that suggests Tennessee is underfunding its schools by at least $400 million. That’s because the BEP (the state’s funding formula for schools) fails to adequately fund education personnel.

Grace Tatter has more:

The state is considerably underestimating the number of educators needed to run Tennessee schools according to its own requirements, says a state comptroller’s report released Wednesday.
And local governments are paying the difference. Statewide, districts employ about 12,700 more educators than the state funds, according to the comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, or OREA.

Back in March, I wrote about this, and estimated the state was underfunding teachers by about 15%:

If districts only hired the BEP number of teachers, they could reduce local costs, but they’d also likely have some pretty unhappy parents on their hands. So, yes, the Governor’s proposed changes do direct additional funds to districts. But the changes do not address the underlying problem with the BEP. Doing so would cost another $250 to $300 million. That would be the cost of adjusting the ratios by 10-15% for teachers. That’s not to mention nurses, counselors, and other positions. And it doesn’t include capital funding.

Turns out, I underestimated the problem. The real number is around 22%, as Tatter notes:

The median percentage of additional teachers funded with local money was 22 percent. That translated to 686 more teachers in Knox County and 499 more in Rutherford County in 2014-15.

So, what does this mean? It means the state is underfunding local districts by about $394 million. That’s because the updated BEP formula funds teachers at $44,430 per unit. The state pays 70% of this cost.

That doesn’t include the cost of insurance for the additional 12,700 teachers. Nor does it include a salary adjustment to begin making up for the teacher wage gap. That cost is about $500 million.

So, to add proper state funding for needed teachers and provide adequate salaries, we’d need $894 million.

Then, there are the additional priorities identified by the BEP Review Committee. These priorities include providing teachers and schools the resources they need to adequately educate Tennessee’s students.

If your local property taxes have gone up recently to cover the cost of schools, you can blame the state for shorting our state’s school districts by nearly $900 million.

Incidentally, our state has a $925 million surplus — we could invest every dime of that into schools, meet the current need, and not raise state taxes one cent. Oh, and doing so would both improve public education and keep your local property taxes low.

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


 

 

 

Tennessee Ranks 33rd in Climate for Teachers

WalletHub is out with a ranking of Best and Worst states for teachers based on factors including salary and work environment. Here’s how they describe their methodology:

In order to identify the teacher-friendliest states in the U.S., WalletHub’s analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across two key dimensions, including “Job Opportunity & Competition” and “Academic & Work Environment.” Because competitive salaries and job security are integral to a well-balanced personal and professional life, we assigned a heavier weight to the first category.

Tennessee received an overall rating of 33, about in the middle for neighboring states. Our neighbors in Virginia and Kentucky come in at 6th and 15th, respectively, while Mississippi is ranked 47th.

See the full map:

 

Source: WalletHub

WalletHub notes:

Most educators don’t pursue their profession for the money. Despite their critical role in shaping young minds, teachers across the U.S. are shortchanged every year. In fact, education jobs are some of the lowest-paying occupations that require a bachelor’s degree, and their salaries consistently fail to keep up with inflation.

Tennessee should aspire to be among the best in our region, and we have the resources to make it happen — including a $925 million surplus for the recently-ended fiscal year. Using this surplus to close the teacher wage gap would improve our rankings and improve the quality of life for teachers. Additionally, the state would do well to heed the priorities outlined by the BEP Review Committee.

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


 

Haslam: Haters Gonna Hate

Governor Bill Haslam this week lamented school funding lawsuits while also admitting that Tennessee has a history of under-funding schools.

From the Tennessean:

“Now if you’re an educator saying, ‘Well, you’re not putting enough money in’ … you’re right, as a state we historically have not put enough money — but we’re changing that,” Haslam said.

When asked about pending lawsuits claiming the state is failing to live up to its responsibility in terms of school funding, Haslam said:

Asked about the validity of the school funding suits as a result, Haslam said, “obviously anyone can sue over anything they want.”

“But it’s kind of strange when we’re making historic investments in K-12 education, it feels like it sends the wrong message to do that,” he said.

Haslam doesn’t seem to understand why supporters of public education may doubt his commitment. Here are three reasons:

1) Haslam promised in 2013 to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state in teacher salaries.” By April of the next year, the promise was gone. Additionally, the BEP Review Committee noted in its 2015 report that weighted average salaries in 2015 were lower than in 2013 as a result of the Haslam-Huffman elimination of the state minimum salary schedule. At the same time, the gap in pay among the highest-paying and lowest-paying districts in the state remains at an unacceptable 40%. Meanwhile, Tennessee suffers from one of the largest teacher wage gaps — that is, the gap between salaries paid to teachers and salaries paid to professionals with similar educational preparation.

2) In response to a lawsuit from Metro Nashville Public Schools, the state’s attorneys have said the state is not bound to follow the school funding formula Governor Haslam proposed and the General Assembly adopted. Grace Tatter reported the state’s response:

Attorneys for the state say Tennessee isn’t obligated to follow through with its own spending plan — and that Nashville doesn’t have the grounds to seek the order in the first place.

3) The state has a $925 million surplus as of the close of the 2015-16 fiscal year. That’s enough money to fully close the teacher wage gap and still leave more than $400 million for funding other important state projects. A more conservative approach would at the least meet the state’s funding obligations under the revised BEP formula, as Nashville is demanding in its lawsuit. From there, the state could phase-in further investment and do so without increasing taxes one cent. The current surplus comes after a year in which the state’s surplus topped $1 billion. During that budget year, Haslam and the General Assembly failed to adopt a salary proposal that would have provided teachers and state employees raises if revenues exceeded projections. They did, of course.

So, while Haslam is saying the right things and while there has been some investment in schools in recent years, it’s not hard to guess why school districts are filing lawsuits to get the money they need. Bill Haslam is right. Tennessee has historically under-funded schools. But he’s leaving out an important point. The only thing that seems to get the attention of the state-level policymakers — and get money into schools — is a court order.

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


 

A Fond Farewell

Our friends over at Bluff City Ed announced this week they are saying goodbye.

Jon even had a brief stint with us as his blog was transitioning. He’ll be keeping the content up – and there’s lots of good content.

BCE started about 6 months after we started TNEdReport. Jon, Ezra, and the other writers were often my source for information on what was happening in Memphis.

As Jon points out, Chalkbeat is here now, and they provide very solid coverage of the education landscape. But the insider perspective and the in-depth analysis from BCE will be missed.

To that end, I’d like to extend an invitation to teachers and education activists in Memphis seeking an outlet to publish about what’s happening in the education landscape there. If you have story ideas or an article to pitch, get in touch. Just email me at andy AT spearsstrategy DOT com

In the meantime, I want to wish Jon and friends well. A great blog that provided a great service — and one that will remain a great source of information and historical context.

 

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