Data Wars

Candice McQueen has set up a showdown with the state’s two largest school districts over student data sharing and charter schools.

McQueen sent a letter to Shelby County Schools and shared the same letter with MNPS. In the letter, she notes a new state law requiring school districts to share student data with charter schools upon request. The data is used so that charter schools can market to potential students.

Here’s how Chalkbeat reports on the Shelby County issue:

Commissioner Candice McQueen directed Superintendent Dorsey Hopson on Monday to immediately share the information requested by Green Dot Public Schools. She said the district’s refusal violates a new state law by withholding information that charter operators need to recruit students and market their programs.

Shelby County Schools has not yet said they will comply with McQueen’s request.

The primary sticking point seems to be with the charter schools that are now part of the Achievement School District (ASD). The ASD’s experience in Shelby County has been troubled, at best. From communication challenges to struggling performance, the ASD has not lived up to expectations.

For its part, MNPS is beginning to take steps to restrict the data available to the ASD.

Jason Gonzalez reports in the Tennessean:

The practice of providing charter schools with student contact information has been common in Nashville, but board members bristled on Tuesday over the sharing of information with the Achievement School District.

While not a final vote, the board took a crucial step forward with a new policy that will not release contact information to the Achievement School District.

The policy moved out of committee with 7 board members in favor, Jo Ann Brannon abstaining and Mary Pierce voting against the proposal.

The key question now is: What happens if Shelby County and MNPS refuse to share this data? What penalty might they face?

Gonzalez notes:

In 2012, Metro Schools decided to reject the Great Hearts Academies charter schools application — after the state directed it not to do so — and then-Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman docked Nashville $3.4 million in education funds.

Similarly, during the TNReady testing fiasco, McQueen threatened districts with a funding penalty.

It’s not yet clear what will happen this time, but it seems like a financial penalty will ultimately be on the table if the two districts fail to comply.

Stay tuned, the data wars are beginning.

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


 

Charter Schools May Hurt Credit Ratings

According to Moody’s, the credit rating agency, charters are hurting urban school systems and threatening to create a negative credit pressure.  The Washington Post and Bloomberg covered the release of the report.  The press release from Moody’s listed an example of towns in Michigan facing credit trouble.

For example in Michigan, the statutory framework emphasizes educational choice, and there are multiple charter authorizers to help promote charter school growth. In Michigan, Detroit Public Schools (B2 negative), Clintondale Community Schools (Ba3 negative), Mount Clemens Community School District (Ba3 negative) and Ypsilanti School District (Ba3) have all experienced significant fiscal strain related to charter enrollment growth, which has also been a contributing factor to their speculative grade status.

The Washington Post picked up on three factors that are causing these problems.

 1. Demographics and financial shifts.

And some urban districts face a downward spiral driven by population declines. It begins with people leaving the city or district. Then revenue declines, leading to program and service cuts. The cuts lead parents to seek out alternatives, and charters capture more students. As enrollment shifts to charters, public districts lose more revenue, and that can lead to more cuts. Rinse, repeat.

2. Districts can’t adapt quickly.

And then there’s the very nature of the problem. Charter schools don’t suck up enrollment from just one school. They pull from schools across a district, meaning each takes a slight hit while none loses enough students to justify substantial restructuring. “There is no critical mass of empty classrooms or schools,” the Moody’s report authors write. In Philadelphia, cost-cutting began in fiscal 2011, but it wasn’t until this year that a significant number of schools were closed.

3. State policy supports charters.

State policy can dictate not only who can authorize a new charter school, but the pace at which they grow.In Ohio, for example, students in charter schools account for more than 20 percent of total enrollment in five districts, even though state policy limits the pace of charter-school growth. But the impact varies by district. A Columbus district fares well thanks to stable demographics, while districts in Cleveland and Toledo are struggling in the face of population declines.

The credit rating will be something to keep an eye on as Nashville and Memphis open more charters each year. It is also something I believe our state legislators should look at before they take up a revised state charter authorizer bill next year.

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


 

Our Interview With Speaker Beth Harwell

Tennessee Education Report had the chance to interview Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) on education issues facing our state. We want to thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk about such an important issue.

Tennessee ranks low in the per-pupil funding of our public schools. Do you think we are doing enough to fund our schools?

This year the legislature fully funded the BEP and increased funding in specific areas; namely, we committed more resources to technology in our schools, which is a vital component of ensuring our students can compete for 21st Century jobs. The most important thing about funding is making sure we are spending those dollars with maximum efficiency to support students and teachers.

Do you support full funding of the bipartisan changes to the BEP that started under BEP 2.0? Will we see a move in that direction in 2014?

Fully funding the BEP is always a top priority. I am always open to discussing ways we can improve the system so we can give our schools the support they need.

Do you support expansion of the state’s voluntary Pre-K program either with federal dollars or through the formula established for expanding Pre-K under the Bredesen administration?

With regards to Pre-K, I think we have struck a good balance thus far. I don’t see expansion in the near future, because I think our priority right now is focusing on K-12 education and making sure we are committing time and resources to that.

Nashville recently changed their starting teacher salaries to $40,000 with great success. Do you support state-level funding to move starting teacher salaries in Tennessee to $40,000 a year?

I think each system should have the flexibility to determine the compensation that makes the most sense for them. In recent years, there has been more of a focus on differentiating pay to some degree based on positions that are traditionally difficult to fill—primarily, STEM positions and lower performing schools. If we can use that as a tool to attract the best and brightest, we should.

Do you support efforts to provide (and state funding for) robust early career mentoring to teachers in their first and second years of teaching?

Any training and mentoring programs we can improve or consider that will give teachers the support and assistance they need is a conversation worth having. As a former professor, I know it is incredibly beneficial to have a network you can reach out to and find out the latest methods and best practices.

After being withdrawn in the Senate on the last day of session, will you work with Sen. Gresham to pass the current charter authorizer bill (HB 702) next session? Would you like to see a revised bill pass?

I do hope we can reach a consensus on the authorizer, because I really do believe it will assist the state in attracting the very best public charter school operators from around the country. This is a critical component, and another tool in the toolbox, to giving students every opportunity to succeed.

Next session, would you support a limited Voucher plan, like Governor Haslam has proposed, or a more expanded plan that has been discussed in the Senate?

I look forward to a continued discussion of vouchers. I think we had a healthy debate last year. While I do not believe they are a silver bullet to ‘fix’ education, I do think it can be a tool. I expect the House and Senate to continue to weigh the pros and cons and find a solution that is right for Tennessee.

Forgive me, I have to ask: Are you planning to run for Governor years down the road? 

I sincerely enjoy being the Speaker of the House—it is an awesome responsibility I do not take lightly, and a great honor. Right now, my focus is on the legislature and what we can do to keep moving this state forward.


 

A Look at Charter Attrition Rates

After WSMV and The City Paper ran stories on charter schools losing “struggling students” to zoned schools in time for TCAP exams, outrage has ensued among parents and charter advocates. While some parents are upset that charter students are being sent back into the school system weeks before the TCAP exam, some charter advocates believe MNPS mislead the news station because “their own scores must not be that hot this year,” “data was skewed & manipulated,” and that MNPS does not care about individual students.

After I read the WSMV article, I emailed MNPS to ask for the same information they gave the WSMV reporter. I received seven documents from the communications office including attrition rates for MNPS and some individual school reports of attrition 9 weeks before the TCAP. Though, after my first communication with the schools, I was told that MNPS and the principal from KIPP Academy met and the school system sent me an updated attrition document that was changed after their meeting. The numbers were a little different, but the top attrition schools were still the same.

UpdatedAttrition

The first chart shows charter schools leading the way in attrition. As others have noted, if you have a smaller set of students, your percentage is higher than larger schools if a few students leave.

But, as you can see from the chart, there are a lot of people leaving all schools, zoned schools included. For Smithson Head Middle, out of an 11th day enrollment of 324, 89 students left while they have taken on 8 students throughout the year. The number of 81 for attrition equates to a -25% attrition rate. They now only enroll 243 students.

For Boys Prep, they had a smaller 11th day enrollment of 100 students. The school lost 39 students, or 39% of their student body this year. They took on 16 students for an attrition of 23 students and a -23% attrition rate. They now only enroll 77 children.

When looking at KIPP Academy, a well known charter, nationally, for it’s high standards and performance, they had an 11th day enrollment of 337. We see that 64 left while 13 came to the school during that time.

KippWDWhile looking at the school specifically, you can see that 20 students left KIPP Academy nine weeks leading up to TCAP. All but one of those 20 students that left had been suspended multiple times. Eight of those 20 are considered “special needs disability” students.

 

LeadWD

 

 

LEAD Academy lost 20 students in the nine weeks leading up to TCAP. Fourteen of those students had been suspended during the year.

 

 

 

 

Drexel1Drexel2

 

 

 

Drexel had 33 students leave within the nine week period, which means that over half of the exits took place within a 9 week period.

 

 

 

 

While more charter schools are on the way, we should be looking at attrition both in charter and in zoned schools. We need to keep more kids from changing schools. As many zoned schools see a large number of students leave their schools, I believe charter schools and zoned schools are different for one main reason: Charter students are not randomly chosen. While families zoned for schools aren’t technically randomly selected for their schools, it’s the best way to describe it. For charters, you have to go out of your way to attend the schools. Parents have to agree to longer schools day, to read to their kids, or other agreements along those lines. For zoned schools, it’s the exact opposite. The parents do nothing and the kids are sent to the school they are zoned to. So while many people are leaving zoned schools, it looks strange to see that parents would go out of their way to enroll their children in a new program to only move to a different school at a later time.

Antioch2

I wanted to show the numbers from my high school for two reasons. One, because there are many people coming and going from zoned schools, as I said earlier. Two, to show people that I attended a school with a graduation rate of 66.9% and a dropout rate of 19.6% the year I graduated. I hear continued arguments that those families who may come from nicer areas of Nashville should not have a point of view on this topic because they go to nicer schools. First, all families should be able to voice their opinions without getting attacked for where they live. I went to a school where over half of the students are considered “Economically Disadvantaged” and hallways were lined with gangs. Does that mean my opinion matters more than those who went to (fill in the school that you always site as being better than others)? No, they don’t.

When more people, both with children in the school system and not, care about our education system, it will get better. That is everyone’s goal here. We want the education of Nashville’s children to be better, some just want to get there a different way. The goal is still the same. But when people start attacking others based on where they live or where they went to school, you are undermining your whole argument. You want to give all students a chance to learn and succeed, but you won’t give all parents a right to express their ideas.

Let’s continue to talk about issues that are facing our education system. Let’s continue to meet and talk with people whose idea’s are different. Let’s continue to exchange ideas between us. Let’s continue to improve our children’s education. But let’s not continue the harsh tones and attacks that we all are doing. The only way to fix our education system is working together.

While I have written a post that may seem “anti charter,” (hint: it’s not) it doesn’t not mean I won’t work with charter schools to see what they are doing better than zoned schools. We can all question what zoned schools are doing or what charter schools are doing. The only thing we can do to help our education system is to be involved.

Here are a few organizations you can check out to get involved in your local education system.

State Collaborative on Reforming Education

TEA Teachers – Tennessee Education Association

Professional Educators of Tennessee

Tennessee Charter Schools Association


 

TNEdReport Interviews Rep. Joe Pitts

We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rep. Joe Pitts for the Tennessee Education Report. He is a member of the House Education Committee and the House Education Subcommittee. He is a vocal voice in both committees. We thank him for taking the time to answer our questions.

Let’s start with Vouchers:

What impact will vouchers have on local school districts in terms of budget and tax burden?

A:  Vouchers will have an immediate impact on local government’s budgets and the potential impact on local property tax is significant.  The voucher will further dilute public education funding currently going to the local school district which has an extensive infrastructure – buildings, supervisory staff, transportation, etc. that supports ALL students residing in their jurisdiction.  It is a delicate balance of funds that can be turned upside down if a sudden shift in funding policy, like vouchers, is made.

Do you believe that even if a limited voucher plan passes, the ultimate goal is statewide vouchers with broad qualifications? 

A:  If the past is prologue to the future, then one only need to look at the Charter school authorization passed many years ago by the General Assembly.  The original concept was to address at-risk students in schools within specific geographic boundaries, and we even had a limit on the number of charter schools within those communities. Now, despite evidence to the contrary, Charter schools are available statewide for every student regardless of academic need.  While Charter schools certainly have their place, given the right circumstances, it should be a tool at the LEA’s disposal.

An amendment recently passed to make private schools provide school lunches to those who come to the school via vouchers. Does that help your concern about students choosing free lunch or a private school?

A:  Requiring a school participating in the voucher program to offer a school lunch program makes a flawed proposal less objectionable but still not one I can support.  We don’t need a voucher program for at-risk students in failing schools.  Currently if a student is in a failing school, the parents can raise their hand and request their student go to another, non-failing school, in the same district without sacrificing basic human needs like breakfast and lunch, and transportation, and special needs students get access to the services they need.

Why do you think the GOP is focused on vouchers/charters instead of fully-funding BEP 2.0?

A:  Take a look around the country.  Vouchers seem to be the “cause de jour.”  It appears our education system is the last bastion of public funded services that haven’t been co-opted by the for-profit sector; sadly, not anymore.

Finally, do you think there will be transition problems when taking a child out of a public school and placing them in a private school? Do you think the child may fall behind from the start?

A:  When the child moves from one public school to another public school, or in this case, a private school, it will present some challenges.  Children are resilient though, but I am concerned about the moving back and forth between and among systems since not all private school curriculum lines up with the public school system.

Let’s more on to charters.

Do you believe the recent charter authorizer bill is taking away local control from local education boards?

A:  Yes.  Sadly, as amended, the bill would establish a non-elected group of people appointed by both Speakers and the Governor, to decide how and how much local tax money could be obligated for a state authorized charter school. That’s like the state deciding how big your police force should be and sending you the bill. This is just plain wrong.

Are you supportive of charter schools that get local approval or would you rather limit how many charter schools can open in the state?

A:  I do believe charter schools are a good option for LEA’s who need to try something different for students with specific academic needs.  Being a member of a local school board is a difficult task.  You are required and responsible for the academic achievement of all students in your district but have no say in the funding allocated by any of the funding entities.  I am not a fan of establishing limits on schools if the LEA has control of the authorization.

General Education Questions

If you were the commissioner of education, what would be the first thing you would do to improve public education in Tennessee?

A:  Three things simultaneously:  I would implore the Governor to make it our policy that no new changes would be sought or implemented for two years or until we can sort out the changes enacted in the last two years.

Next I would meet with the school directors and school boards, individually, of every district with a failing school and let them know we are going to become partners.  Instead of a shotgun marriage, it would be a partnership based on putting our resources where are mouths are and helping the failing schools first and immediately.  Students struggling in schools are very often victims of their home environment.  I would deploy an intervention team consisting of master level social workers, health professionals and academic coaches to these schools immediately to provide intensive work and support.

Lastly, I would work with the Charter schools to create a bold new platform for turning around these schools in our districts not meeting expectations.  We need to look beyond the numbers and think about year round charter schools, extended hours, or other non-traditional means to address the needs of the students and their families.  A charter school that mirrors a traditional public school hardly seems worth the effort.

I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of our LEA’s are performing at a high level, given the meager resources we allocate to them, and are open to our help, be it public or private, to give our students the best education experience possible.

Certain reform groups like Democrats for Education Reform and StudentsFirst have very specific policy agendas for reforming education. Some of the typical policies associated with these groups include vouchers, charter schools, pay-for-performance, and ending seniority rules.

What’s the counter-argument?  What are the marquee policies Democrats embrace?  If there aren’t a set of marquee proposals everyone is on board with, why not?  What’s being done to get the Democrats on a united front, to have a set of counter proposals instead of just playing defense?

A:  The reform movement initiatives, added to the self-inflicted policy crush imposed on LEA’s over the past three years, is contributing nothing to the public discourse about improving student performance.  If you think about it, we made significant changes to public policy in education in 2010 as a part of our First to the Top agenda proposed by Gov Bredesen – a Democrat, followed by nightmarish changes to the teachers’ environment in 2011 by eliminating collective bargaining, tenure, and removing TEA from their seat at the table, all in the name of “reform.”

On top of all that we approved virtual schools, unlimited charter schools, put undue pressure on teachers and principals by adopting an assessment tool that is unnecessarily bureaucratic, adopted the Common Core, and are preparing to implement a new assessment called PARRC.  Now, we are attacking our teacher preparation programs by looking at putting artificial thresholds on ACT and SAT scores for students who wish to go through their respective College of Education.  I’ve said it before; we are giving our education system whiplash with these rapid-fire changes and creating massive confusion.  Who can blame more seasoned teachers from deciding to retire instead of continuing in a system that does not appreciate their significant achievement and experience in the classroom and will subject them to the latest reform experiment?

Perhaps the corporate robber barons of the reform movement need to be asked to leave the room and let the education professionals do their jobs.  I have complete faith in our school districts across our state if we can offer our help instead of the cram down policies that have little to no basis in fact or success.

 

Andy, John, and I want to thank Rep. Pitts for his time. Please follow us on twitter @TNEdReport and like us on Facebook.