Finally 4=4

Over the past three years, Governor Haslam has proposed and the General Assembly has approved significant increases in funds for teacher compensation. Unfortunately, those dollars haven’t always made it into teacher paychecks. There are a number of reasons for this. One of those is the State Board of Education’s decision in the past two years to approve smaller adjustments to the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers.

Today, the State Board of Education met and voted on the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers for 2017-18. This year, the Board approved a 4% increase in the minimum salary and also adjusted each step on the scale by 4%. This matches the appropriation of the General Assembly, which passed a budget that included a 4% increase in BEP funds for teacher compensation.

According to the state’s analysis, this change will require 46 of the state’s 141 districts to raise teacher pay. These are mostly rural districts on the low end of the state’s teacher pay range. This will mean a number of teachers across the state should see meaningful increases in their paychecks in the coming year.

The new minimum salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $33,745. The top of the scale for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 years of experience (the scale includes only 4 steps for teachers with bachelor’s degrees, just three if you have an advanced degree) is $40,595. For advanced degrees, salaries must start at $37,300 and step three (11 years experience or more) requires a minimum of $45,075.

That $40,595 figure after 11 years of teaching seems disturbingly low. In fact, I’ve argued before that Tennessee should aim for a starting pay for teachers of at least $40,000.

That said, this year’s State Board of Education represents real progress that will result in significant pay increases for teachers in nearly a third of the state’s districts. Perhaps the upward pressure will also encourage other districts to push their pay up. We’ve already seen Metro Nashville move toward a 3% raise, as one example.

Here’s how the Tennessee Education Association viewed today’s salary move:

For the first time in four years, the Tennessee State Board of Education voted Wednesday to apply the full raise budgeted by the General Assembly for teachers to the State Minimum Salary Schedule. TEA has pushed the legislature and the state board for years to reinstate the practice of applying the full amount to the salary schedule as it is the best way to ensure all Tennessee teachers receive the raise promised to them by the governor and their legislators.

“When the board moved away from applying the entire raise percentage to the salary schedule, disparities in teacher pay and stagnant wages increased statewide,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “While Governor Haslam and the state legislature have done their part to increase teacher salaries, only a fraction of the budgeted raises were actually trickling down into teacher paychecks. The state board action this week should begin to remedy that problem.”

The recommendation by the Department of Education and the vote by the state board to increase the salary schedule and each step by 4 percent are in direct response to TEA’s advocacy efforts. Hundreds of TEA members have contacted legislators to let them know their teachers back home were not receiving the raises passed in the General Assembly. Members and TEA staff worked closely with the administration and legislators to find a way to correct the issue.

“Teachers statewide are increasingly struggling to support their own families on the stagnant wages of a public school teacher,” Gray said. “It is unacceptable for teachers to have to choose between the profession they love and their ability to keep the lights on at home or send their own children to college. The pressure applied by state elected officials was critical to reversing the State Board’s pattern of diminishing the raise passed by the General Assembly, a move which should finally make our teachers whole and help them support their families.”

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


 

 

TEA on New Voucher Program

The state launched a voucher program this week aimed at students with disabilities.  The IEA voucher program was created legislatively in 2015 and the vouchers are available this year. The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) expressed concerns about the program during the legislative fight and continues to express concerns as the program launches.

Here’s the statement from TEA:

The Tennessee Education Association again expressed concern over the state’s new IEA Voucher program and urged parents to proceed with caution.

“Programs like the one the Tennessee Department of Education is launching today have been subject to fraud and abuse in other states,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “This is of even greater concern to TEA because this program is targeted toward our most vulnerable children who need strong educational services.”

The new voucher program came about after legislative action in 2015. The program is designated for certain students with disabilities. A similar program in Florida has been subject to millions of dollars in fraud, mostly by way of individuals establishing schools that don’t adequately serve the disability population.

“Parents should proceed with extreme caution. This program will create large financial incentive for vendors to seek this public money, and may attract unscrupulous providers who do not have children’s best interests at heart,” said Gray. “Likewise, we ask that the state exercise strong oversight to ensure children and families are protected.”

One portion of the legislation indicates that when parents accept this voucher, they forfeit certain protections under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

“By removing these kids from public school, parents may not understand the huge ramifications of surrendering their child’s rights under IDEA to free, public education. The state of Tennessee also loses a portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance currently educating Tennessee’s children with special needs. This lost federal money will have a ripple effect throughout the state and will harm all special education students, even those who stay in public school,” said the TEA president.

“Every effort must be made to protect children and ensure the viability of programs approved to accept these new vouchers. Fraud in programs like this hurts both taxpayers and those whom the program is intended to serve.”

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


 

 

TEA on TNReady

The Tennessee Education Association is out with a statement on TNReady:

“Tennessee teachers and students have lost countless hours of instruction time this school year preparing for the new TNReady assessment,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “The call to cancel this year’s test should have come more than two months ago when the first phase was such a disaster.”

“The state is so focused on testing that it overlooked the opportunity to salvage what was left of the school year and let teachers get back to educating our students. Instead, the state placed gathering data above the best interests of Tennessee students.”

“Moving forward, we have serious concerns about the state’s ability to find a new vendor and have an assessment ready to go next school year,” Gray continued. “It is time to slow way down on the state’s testing craze and make sure we are doing what is best for our students.”

“The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act at the federal level gives Tennessee a chance to reevaluate how it measures student and teacher performance. The new law allows for the development of innovative assessments, giving states a way out of the test-and-punish system we have operated under for many years. It will also allow us to look at other success indicators, as opposed to relying on a single test to determine if a school is meeting students’ needs.”

“We have the opportunity now to not just continue with the way things have always been done, but instead explore the opportunities afforded to us through ESSA to make sure every student receives a quality education.”

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

 

(NOT) Ready on Day One

It’s campaign season and candidate after candidate is telling voters they are the clear choice because they will be “ready on day one.”

Likewise, it’s the beginning of statewide testing season in Tennessee and districts have been told the state’s new system would be ready on day one.

Except it wasn’t.

Brian Wilson at the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reports:

A technology failure from a state vendor halted standardized testing across Tennessee on the first day that TNReady, the state’s new online exam program, was set to be administered on a widespread basis.

The state’s testing platform “experienced major outages across the state” Monday morning because of network issues with Measurement, Inc., who is contracted to administer the standardized exams, according to a memo Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent to schools directors across the state.

Don’t call us, we’ll call you …

As problems began this morning, the Department of Education sent the following notice to school districts:

At 8:25 a.m. CST the MIST platform experienced major outages across the state. These outages were caused because the network utilized by Measurement Inc. experienced a failure. We are urgently working with Measurement Inc. to identify the causes and correct the problem. At this time, we are advising that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes. Please do not begin any new additional testing you had planned for today until the department provides further information. However, if you have students that are successfully testing, please allow them to complete the current session.

Note, this problem affects both the MICA and MIST platforms. 

The MIST Help Desk is aware of the problem and will be not accepting additional phone calls on this issue. Please encourage your technology directors to call the department’s TNReady Focus Room.

We will provide frequent updates as information becomes available. Thank you for your patience.

It’s not clear how today’s delay will impact testing schedules across the state or whether the TNReady platforms will be ready tomorrow.

Williamson County Schools had already pushed the start of their TNReady testing back to Wednesday as a precaution against the sort of testing glitches that occurred today.

A Call for Fairness

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement from their President, Barbara Gray, calling for fair treatment of teachers in light of the TNReady problems:

TEA has long had concerns about this transition to a statewide online  assessment. We have seen problems with pilot assessments and practice tests in the past, and unfortunately the first day of TNReady resulted in more issues and frustrations for our students and teachers.

 

Leading up to today’s testing, we have heard from educators and parents statewide about concerns with the state’s capacity to handle so many students on the server at one time, as well as concerns about local districts having enough resources to complete the testing with so little funding from the state.

 

It is unacceptable to have this kind of statewide failure when the state has tied so many high-stakes decisions to  the results of this assessment. Our students and teachers have enough stress and anxiety around these assessments without adding additional worries about technical issues.

 

The state must grant a one-year waiver – at a minimum – from including TNReady scores in teacher evaluations. It is unfair and inappropriate to stake our teachers’ professional standing on flawed, unreliable test scores in any year, but there are even greater implications and uncertainty while implementing a new assessment.

School Boards Expressing Concern

Ahead of the TNReady tests, several school boards have expressed concern about the use of the results in teacher evaluations this year.

MNPS and Knox County are among those asking the state to waive the results this year.

No word on whether state officials are still perplexed about why teachers are wary having TNReady count toward this year’s evaluations.

Again, it’s not clear when we’ll actually be TNReady, just that it wasn’t on day one.

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

 

Teacher Groups Respond to Haslam Raise Proposal

After Governor Bill Haslam addressed education, and specifically, raises for teachers last night, groups representing teachers responded with cautious optimism.

The Tennessee Education Association noted that they have been advocating for a six percent raise in order to restore teacher pay to 2010 levels and provide a slight raise. Four percent moves in the right direction, the group said. TEA also noted that Haslam is addressing revenue issues by proposing a revenue modernization act to create a level playing field between Tennessee businesses and multi-state corporations.

For their part, Professional Educators of Tennessee applauded the efforts on salary and raised concerns about the Governor’s plan to provide liability insurance.

Here’s the statement from TEA:

Just two months after TEA called for a six percent state raise for teachers, Gov. Bill Haslam announced he would propose a four percent increase in the budget. The total earmarked for raises totals approximately $100 million, and would be the largest pay increase in more than a decade.
At four percent, the average Tennessee teacher pay increase would be approximately $2,000 annually, not including step raises.
“The governor’s proposal to putting these funds into teacher salaries is a great first step to fulfilling his promise to make Tennessee the fastest improving in teacher salaries. Now it is our job to make sure this raise stays in the budget,” said TEA president Barbara Gray.
Last year a two percent teacher raise was cut from the budget when corporate excise taxes—a tax on profits—dropped unexpectedly. TEA has been working to find fixes for the holes in the corporate excise tax and other revenue problems in order to increase investment in schools and improve educator salaries. The Haslam administration is now on the same page.
“After presenting our budget last year, there was a sharp decline in revenue collections, and we weren’t able to do some of the things we initially proposed in the budget,” Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly on February 9. “Most of the drop was in our business tax collections. We’ve spent a lot of time working internally and with outside experts to analyze what happened.” Haslam wants the General Assembly to create the “Revenue Modernization Act” that would close some loopholes used by multi-state companies and level the playing field for Tennessee-based businesses.
“In order for us to ensure raises actually get passed this go round, every teacher needs to be ready for the fight on revenue. We never want repeated what happened last year,” said Jim Wrye, TEA Director of Government Relations. “And we should not stop at just four percent. If revenue continues to rebound, we should add more funding to salaries. There is a reason we asked for six percent, and that is the lack of raises most teachers have had in the past two years.”
Last year there was no raise. In 2013-14, most teachers did not receive the 1.5 percent raise passed by the General Assembly due to the gutting of the State Minimum Salary Schedule by the State Board of Education at the request of then commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.
“Increasing salaries in the state budget is our number one priority. Without a state raise, most teachers won’t see an increase. We’ll work on it every day of the session,” said Wrye.
The large figure for teacher salary increases proposed by the governor was a strong first step. There are also critical budget areas TEA is working on, including health insurance costs, classroom supply money, and pay equity funds that need to be added to the state budget. TEA is the only organization in the statehouse working to find revenue for education funding, and is ready to assist the administration in their goal.
“The increase really shows that the governor is listening to teachers and beginning to understand the economic hardships they have been facing. It is an encouraging start to a new legislative session to see the administration working hard to find a way to support our hardworking educators,” said Gray. “To attract and retain the best teachers, it is crucial that Tennessee stay competitive with neighboring states in teacher pay, something we have been unable to do in recent years.”
Here’s the statement from PET:
We always welcome a focus on education by our policymakers, especially when they engage stakeholders in the process.

Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen have started on a good foot this session by reaching out to us.  We must bridge the gap between policy and practice.  This will require bold, sustained leadership and input from classroom educators.

We have worked hard together on teacher salaries, and I am very pleased with the result. We hope the Governor stays the course this year.  Teachers have worked hard and deserve to be recognized and compensated for their efforts. We are somewhat concerned that it might not reach classroom teachers, if strictly left to districts.

We do not support the Governor’s  proposal to provide liability insurance.  While his intentions may be noble, Tennesseans know insurance provided by the private sector is always preferable to government run insurance like InsureTeach. We would prefer that he work to address frivolous lawsuits and protect teachers.

You never want anyone who has any interest in the outcome of a liability claim, whatever that interest may be,to also be the one to administer the program.  We would ask policymakers to save the $5 million and move those dollars into salaries.

We do appreciate his open dialogue and hope we can continue the discussion moving forward.

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

 

 

Lily Brings the Fight

National Education Association President Lily Garcia was in Nashville yesterday and visited Ingelwood Elementary School. Earlier this month, she visited Shwab Elementary. Inglewood has been caught up in a controversy over whether or not it will be handed over to KIPP for a charter school conversion.

Upon entering the school, Garcia stopped and greeted teachers and guests who had gathered to meet her. MNPS School Board member Jill Speering was among those in attendance, as was Tennessee Education Association President Barbara Gray.

Garcia said she had a simple message for the teachers and parents at the school:

“We’re here today because we are on your side.”

Two students took Garcia on a tour of the school, including the library and a number of classrooms.

In one class, Garcia asked the students what was special about Inglewood. The students told her they were very excited because the school has a debate team.

Teacher after teacher greeted Garcia and thanked her for her visit. Some were crying, citing the criticism the school has received and the potential that it will be handed over to KIPP.

Some teachers cried as they talked about their love for students and the needs the families at the school face. At an earlier forum at Litton, one Inglewood teacher expressed a desire to provide more support for both the children she teaches and their parents. She told the group that Inglewood is heading in the right direction, but needs the ability to provide additional meals and other services for families.

One teacher nearly broke down when he told Garcia and those accompanying her that he “loved these kids” and that they need teachers who not only teach them, but love and support them every single day.

An active group of parents at the school has been resisting a charter conversion, writing letters to Dr. Register and conducting surveys demonstrating support for options that do not include handing the school over to KIPP. A survey of parents recently published by the group shows that nearly 80% of Pre-K families oppose a conversion of the school to KIPP and that none of the Kindergarten families surveyed want KIPP.

A decision is expected this week on whether or not Inglewood will be converted.

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

 

TCAP Results Show Growth

After a delay in releasing TCAP “quick scores” that led to TCAP results not being included in final grades for students in a number of Tennessee school districts, the results are finally in and they look positive.

The Department of Education Reports:

  • While  it was a year of transition for Tennessee teachers and students as they fully  implemented the state’s new standards in math and English, scores increased on the majority of  assessments.
  • Nearly 50  percent of Algebra II students are on grade level, up from 31 percent in 2011. More than 13,000 additional Tennessee  students are on grade level in Algebra II than when we first administered the  test in 2011.
  • High school English scores grew  considerably over last year’s results in English I and English II.
  • Achievement gaps for minority students narrowed  in math and reading at both the 3-8 and high school levels.
  • Approximately  100,000 additional Tennessee students are on  grade level in math compared to 2010.
  • More than 57,000 additional Tennessee students are on grade  level in science compared to 2010.

In response to the release of the results, JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) issued the following press release:

Data from TCAP should continue to be analyzed and evaluated. It is unclear from a cursory glance of results exactly what this means to Tennessee educators.
 
We are pleased to see the gains in High School Math. That is a good sign. We must sustain that effort, and it bodes well for STEM programs in our state.
 
“It is clear we need to carefully consider the consequences of making a one-time standardized test the be-all, end-all for our students and educators” according to JC Bowman, Executive Director.  
 
He added, “some evidence suggests improvements in student performance. But credit should also be given to school district policies and programs, as well as to educators focused on test-based accountability.”
 
“While performance is improving, the contribution of high-stakes testing to that effort remains unclear. It is critical we use data to improve instruction — but the verdict on the value of assessments this year is mixed” Bowman stated.
 
He concluded: “This year data provides general information about student performance, but lacks the nuance to provide any real instructional guidance for educators. Most educators believe TCAP or any state assessment should be used as a diagnostic tool, rather than as a punitive measure.” 

Bowman echoes the concern of many educators when he urges caution regarding how the scores are used in the teacher evaluation process.

Additionally, Bowman has written recently about a possible moratorium on the use of testing data in teacher evaluations during the transition to Common Core-aligned tests.

Similarly, new Tennessee Education Association (TEA) President Barbara Gray lamented the over-reliance on standardized testing in a recent interview.

Finally, there’s the experiment of Performance-Based Assessment in at least one Kentucky school district. It’s an experiment set to expand and some are suggesting replacing standardized tests with performance-based assessment.

As Tennessee transitions to Common Core and puts out a bid for a test to assess the standards, now is a critical time to consider the type and frequency of testing in Tennessee and also to have a conversation about how that data is used for both teachers and students.

 

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

An Interview with TEA President-elect Barbara Gray

Below is an interview with incoming TEA President Barbara Gray who will take over from Gera Summerford on July 1st.

 

What are your goals for TEA during your term?

My goal as TEA president is to continue advancing the association’s mission to promote, advance, and protect public education by:

  • Educating the public about the good things happening in public schools;
  • Continuing to build positive relationships with legislators, the state board of education and other key policy makers whose decisions impact students, public educators (this include ESPs, teachers, administrators) and our profession; and
  • Organizing our members to work together to reverse decisions made by elected officials that have been detrimental to public education and the teaching profession.

 TEA membership has been declining since the loss of collective bargaining. What are your plans to reverse this trend?

In recent months, TEA has begun a shift to more of an organizing culture. This move, prompted by the hiring of a new executive director at the end of 2013, will help us engage our members in a new way. We will be placing more emphasis on organizing members around issues which affect our profession at both the local and statewide levels.

TEA will continue to be a vocal advocate and provide the high quality legal and professional development services that helped us become the largest professional association for educators in the state.

 

 Do you foresee TEA fighting to restore collective bargaining rights for teachers in the near future?

Collective bargaining is an important tool in protecting students’ learning environment and the rights of our teachers. I do believe TEA will fight to restore bargaining rights for Tennessee’s educators in the future, but it is not a top priority right now. TEA was advocating for teachers’ rights long before collective bargaining was implemented and will continue to do so.

 

Outgoing TEA President Gera Summerford has talked about de-emphasizing the importance of standardized tests.  Do you support that stand? Do you believe Tennessee should explore deployment of alternative models of assessment?

Yes, I share President Summerford’s belief that there is too much emphasis on standardized tests in Tennessee. The state continues to tie more and more high-stakes decisions to these tests, and it is simply inappropriate. We need to take a serious look at alternative models of assessments and how multiple measures can be implemented to ensure fair, reliable results.

I do not believe, and I know many educators share this belief, that a one-time test at the end of the school year accurately tells me how much a student learned in my classroom. Teachers assess students throughout the year in many different ways – common formative assessments (CFA), projects, teacher-made assessments, student portfolios and more. These methods are far better indicators of student achievement and teacher effectiveness than standardized tests.

 

TEA has taken a strong stand against the use of TVAAS data in teacher evaluation. What do you propose as an alternative method of teacher evaluation?

TVAAS is a flawed, unreliable and inaccurate way to measure teacher effectiveness. TEA is leading the fight against the inappropriate use of TVAAS in our state, but we are hardly its only critic. It seems every week there is a new study coming out about the inaccuracies of value-added measures nationwide.

TEA proposes basing teacher evaluation on a system that includes multiple measures of student achievement, instead of relying only on the unreliable TVAAS estimates. I believe a pre-test/post-test assessment would be a more accurate indicator of the effectiveness of a teacher. Measuring how much a student learned during the school year by testing the student’s knowledge at the beginning of the year and then again at the end of the school year would show the true impact of a teacher.

As I mentioned above, teachers evaluate their students in many different ways to determine academic achievement. Teacher evaluation should be approached in the same way.

 

Could you foresee TEA supporting an evaluation system along the lines of Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) which has had some success in Ohio and Maryland?

I am not very familiar with the Peer Assistance and Review program. From what I have read, it does sound like an evaluation model worth exploring. TEA supports learning from other states’ best practices. The ultimate goal is to get an evaluation system in place that is fair and clearly understood by educators. A solid evaluation system will support teachers and provide quality professional development to help those who are struggling, which is not being accomplished by what Tennessee currently has in place.

What would you say will be TEA’s top 3 legislative priorities in 2015?

TEA’s number one priority will be pay raises for teachers. The governor promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in teacher salary and we plan to hold him to it. To recruit and retain the best teachers, we must make sure that promise becomes a reality and our teachers receive a well-deserved raise.

Another priority for the association will be to increase per-student funding from the state. It is unacceptable to be below Mississippi in what the state invests per child. Tennessee educators are performing miracles in their classrooms every day. In order to sustain and improve on that success, the state must properly fund our schools.

The third legislative priority will be to continue the fight against privatization. Vouchers, for-profit charters and less restrictive parent trigger laws are all schemes that threaten the livelihood of public education in Tennessee. Out-of-state organizations are funneling millions of dollars into Tennessee because they mistakenly believe there is an opportunity to make a profit off of our students. TEA, along with the help of some new parent and teacher grassroots groups, had great success last year in defeating these bills and will continue the fight in the upcoming session.

 What’s your view of the education landscape in Tennessee? What would you do differently?

The education landscape in Tennessee is constantly changing. First, let me say that there are a lot of things going right in Tennessee schools. Our students are graduating in record numbers. Our classrooms are filled with qualified, committed educators who work tirelessly for their students. Parents and teachers are uniting in the fight against over-testing and privatization.

It feels now like we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel after years of negative changes. This legislative session we saw groups of angry, engaged educators, parents, students and even legislators standing together to say, “Enough!” Enough with the unproven reform initiatives, enough with placing the weight of the world on our students and teachers, and enough with making a one-time test the center of the public education universe.

We pushed back together and we won on numerous issues.

Part of the landscape that I would love to see change is the public perception of Tennessee schools and teachers. TEA research has shown that people think their local public schools are doing great. However, when asked about the performance of public schools statewide, the response is often negative.

I want to change that perception. Commissioner Huffman is so often in the news saying negative things about our students, teachers and schools. I want to do everything in my power to combat the image he paints of public education in our state by educating Tennesseans about the many great things happening inside our schools.

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

 

TEA Elects New Leadership

From a TEA press release:

Nearly 800 educators from across the state gathered at the Nashville Convention Center this weekend to elect a new president and vice president of the Tennessee Education Association. This year marked the 81st annual Representative Assembly for the state’s largest professional association for educators.

Barbara Gray, a Memphis-Shelby County Schools administrator, was elected TEA president. Gray has served as the association’s vice president for the past four years. She has been in the education profession serving Shelby County Schools since 1972, where she currently works as an assistant principal at Northaven Elementary School. Gray has been an active member of the Shelby County, Tennessee and National Education Associations for many years.

Beth Brown, an English teacher at Grundy County High School, was elected TEA vice president. Brown has been an active member of the Tennessee Education Association since she began her career. She has served in numerous leadership roles at the state and local levels of the association.

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