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


Rhetoric vs. Reality: ASD Edition

Over at Bluff City Ed, Ezra Howard is back with some pointed criticism of the way the TN Achievement School District (ASD) is doing business.

Specifically, Howard notes:

I find the rhetoric to be a deflection from real and valid criticism of the ASD and its approach to school turnaround. While collaboration is certainly a virtue in education, a hard look should be taken at the ASD’s approach. All this nice talk about collaboration avoids these courageous conversations. I think people will find that there are some serious flaws in the way in which the ASD and its operators are taking on the arduous task of school turnaround. I agree with Mr. Manning that working together is important, but if the ASD’s has fundamental flaws and does not address them then no amount of collaboration will help.

Howard notes that schools in Shelby County’s iZone significantly outperform ASD schools and that the ASD is now taking credit for iZone’s success. Rather than address it’s own disappointing numbers, the ASD suggests that it “caused” the iZone and therefore, changed education in Memphis.

Howard offers some interesting, data-based comparisons and proposes a way forward. But the bottom line is, the ASD needs to approach education with a dose of reality, not more hyperbolic rhetoric.

More on the ASD:

Quest for Answers

The ASD’s NAC for Problems

So, About the ASD

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

Welcome Jon Alfuth

We are pleased to announce the addition of our newest writer, Jon Alfuth.

Jon is a teacher and administrator in Memphis and has done outstanding writing at Bluff City Ed. He’ll bring coverage of education issues as they impact Shelby County to Tennessee Education Report.

He’s written about the BEP and how it impacts Shelby County and he’s written about TVAAS and how misusing it can negatively impact both teachers and students. He’s done so much more in his time at Bluff City Ed and we are delighted to have him on board.

Here’s his official bio:

Jon Alfuth is a teacher and administrator at the Soulsville Charter School in Memphis, TN. He previously worked as a teacher in legacy-Memphis City Schools. Jon blogged previously at bluffcityeducation.com and contributes regularly to print and online publications including the Commercial Appeal and the Huffington Post. Jon is an alumnus of Teach for America as well as Teach Plus and SCORE’s policy fellows programs. He earned his B.S. and M.P.A from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Follow him at @jwalnuth and @bluffcityed


Just Another School Funding Lawsuit

Bluff City Ed reports that Shelby County Schools will file a lawsuit today claiming the state’s school funding formula (BEP) is inadequate and inequitable.

The Shelby County suit is separate from the suit filed by Hamilton County and six other districts — that suit suggests the state funding formula is inadequate to the tune of $500 million a year.

Why are districts suing? Because the BEP Review Committee — a state group set up (by law) to review the state’s school funding formula each year and report on any deficiencies – has consistently reported that the state is under-funding schools. Interestingly, the BEP Review Committee was set up to alert the legislature of funding disparities in a timely fashion so the state could avoid the kind of lawsuit that originally resulted in the BEP.

Funny thing about that: Tennessee has been sued twice since the original lawsuit and lost both times.

Not so funny thing: The General Assembly still appears to be reluctant to seriously address lack of funding for schools. In fact, some leaders are downright hostile to the idea.

Perhaps one (or several) of these lawsuits will be successful and the General Assembly will be forced to address the serious funding shortfall facing districts across the state. There’s even a way to start investing in schools without raising any taxes.

More on the BEP:

TCAP: Proficiency or Poverty

Money for Roads, but Not for Schools?

Why Fix the BEP?

That’s a Big Class

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Quickly Inflated

Jon Alfuth has a piece over at Bluff City Ed that answers the question: Did this year’s method of calculating quick scores on TCAP result in grade inflation? The short answer is yes.

The post is complete with math and graphs that explain the two different methods for calculating quick scores and the possible grade inflation that resulted this year when the TN Department of Education switched to the cubed root method.

Here’s an excerpt that explains the point difference that would be expected based on the different methods for calculation:

The cube root method yielded on average a quick score, the score that goes for a grade, of 4.46 points higher. In other words, a student scoring basic with a raw score of 30 or higher would, on average, receive an extra 4.46% on their final quick score grade, which goes on their report card. A student who scored a 70 last year could expect to receive a 74 under the new quick score calculation.

The additional points do drop as one goes up the raw score scale, however. For the average basic student grades 3-8 with a raw score between 30 and 47, they would receive an extra 5.41 extra points under the new method.

The average proficient student grades 3-8 with a raw score between 48 and 60 would get 4.32 extra points under the new method.

The average advanced student grades 3-8 with a raw score of between 61 and 67 would receive an extra 1.97 extra points under the new method.

The difference varies much more widely for below basic students, but the difference can be as much as 25 points in some cases.

In short, final grades in subjects required to factor in TCAP scores were higher this year than they have been in the past. In some cases, these “extra points” would have moved a student up a full letter grade.

Commissioner McQueen has indicated that this method will be used going forward as the state transitions to the TNReady test, starting next year. Of course, that test is entirely different from TCAP, so comparisons between the two are of limited value — at least until there are multiple years of TNReady data to use for comparative analysis.

More on Quick Scores:

A Call for Testing Transparency

That Was Quick

Quick and Confusing


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


Adequate and Equitable

That’s what the Shelby County Schools are seeking from the state — adequate and equitable school funding. As the state currently provides neither, the Shelby County School Board voted Tuesday to hire legal counsel to pursue such funding, an action which may ultimately result in filing a lawsuit against the state, the Commercial Appeal reports.

Recently, Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed suggested that Shelby County should join the 7 other Tennessee districts already suing the state over inadequate school funding.

According to the report, Board members referenced the 2007 funding formula update known as BEP 2.0 and noted that if it were fully and properly funded, Shelby County would receive $103 million in additional funding next year.

Rather than push for full funding of BEP 2.0, Governor Haslam has appointed his own task force asked to redistribute the pie rather than increase its size.

Other than chastising districts for asking for the full and equitable funding they deserve, the General Assembly did little this past session to address the BEP situation.

Three previous lawsuits against the state seeking improved school funding have all been successful and all resulted in significant cash infusions to local school districts.

More on the BEP:

Money Talks

Why is TN 40th?

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

Should Shelby County Schools Sue the State?

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed says YES!

Here’s the basic reason why:

Education funding has been creeping up slowly, but its not enough. We’re at a critical juncture in urban districts like Shelby County, and the only realistic way we are going to find the funds to adequately support our schools is from the state. Local taxes are tapped out and the district has cut to the bone. And at the same time, the state has indicated very little willingness to adequately fund BEP 2.0.

More on BEP Funding:

Why is He So Angry?

Money Talks

Hungry for BEP Reform

Of Poverty and Teacher Pay

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



The End of an Era

Over at Bluff City Ed, Jon Alfuth celebrates the end of the EOC testing era. Those tests will be replaced with TNReady next year.

Alfuth notes that there are many challenges with the current testing regime, including gaming the system and misalignment with current standards.

Here’s what he says he hopes the new tests provide:

First, I’d personally like to see aligned pre- and formative assessments to allow teachers to track tests throughout the year. These could be given to the districts and used to develop a benchmark for where students are starting and track their progress throughout the year. These should be designed by Measurement Inc. to ensure close alignment to the actual test.

Second, we need to see shorter tests. Asking students to sit for between 2 to 4 three hour assessments in a four day period is a lot, and it does stress kids out. I’d like to see the number of questions reduced on the new TNReady assessments to reflect this reality.

Third, we need better special education and special needs accommodations. I’m not a special education teacher myself, but from talking to some of my colleagues my understanding is that the accommodations for the EOC regime aren’t the greatest. Hopefully a technologically advanced test like TNReady (it can be given on paper or on a computer) could include better accommodations for kids with special needs. I also hope it makes automatic adjustments for students who, say, speak English as a second language.

Fourth, we need to see a substantial increase of resources aligned to the new assessments and SOON. Teachers need time to internalize the format at the types of questions that students will be asked to complete on the new assessments. That was one of the failings of PARCC and one reason I believe we no longer have it in Tennessee – teachers didn’t have enough supporting resources and backed off support for the assessment. Lets hope that TNReady doesn’t make the same mistake.

More on TNReady:

TNReady to Borrow Questions from Utah

Transition to TNReady Creates TVAAS Problems

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Trust Us and Stop Complaining

That seems to be the over-arching message from the Tennessee General Assembly as they continue to advance legislation designed to prevent those who disagree with the current “ed reform” agenda from having a strong voice.

The latest example is the so-called Educator Protection Act (HB645/SB604) designed to offer liability insurance to teachers at state expense. But, as Jon Alfuth notes over at Bluff City Ed, it seems the legislation has other implications:

 I can only speculate, but this looks like a quiet effort to continue the drive towards making the TEA irrelevant in the state. Pass this and one of the big draws of union membership, legal protection in the case of a law suit, suddenly becomes less important. The TEA does contend that teachers would still have to rely on them for legal fees according to the link cited above, but teachers wouldn’t need the liability coverage under the TEA any more as the state would provide it. It just removes one additional reason for teachers to join the union.

Weakening TEA and also Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) weakens the organized opposition to much of what passes as education reform – evaluations based on suspect statistical methods and vouchers, as just two examples.

This effort comes after just last week, an amendment was added to the state budget that was designed to limit local school boards in their efforts to seek more funding from the state.

The General Assembly seems to be sending a clear message to those who disagree with prevailing education policy: Trust us, and stop complaining.

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


Who is Sara Heyburn?

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed has an interview with the former teacher who is now the Executive Director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

One note that struck me in the interview was her expressed desire to hear more from teachers in the policy making process. Here’s what she had to say:

“We need to hear from teachers who are interested in policy making. Continue to persevere and look for those opportunities and find ways to make your voices heard.”

She also speaks to the strengths of existing policy outlets, and advises teachers to take part in them.

“The outlets we have now in our state are great. There are lots of opportunities for teachers to get involved.” However, she also emphasizes that teachers aren’t seeing what they want, they should work to create additional opportunities.

I absolutely agree that policymakers should look to teachers for guidance and insight on education policy decisions. Heyburn’s words sound like a welcome invitation for teachers to offer their perspective as policy is being made.

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