Moratorium?

Echoing a call made earlier this week by teachers in Shelby County, a group of House Democrats including gubernatorial candidate and Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh, said yesterday the state should place a three year moratorium on using TNReady scores in student grades and teacher evaluations.

The move comes amid the latest round of troubles for the state’s standardized test, known as TNReady.

Jason Gonzales of the Tennessean reports:

The call for a three-year stay on accountability comes after another round of TNReady issues, the state’s standardized assessment. This is the second year in a row that Tennessee House Democrats have called for such a moratorium.

“Right now, as it stands, Tennessee isn’t proficient in getting students assessed,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. “We encourage you (the Tennessee Department of Education) to put your pride aside … and give TNReady three years to be perfected.”

The group did not call for scrapping the test, and in fact, under their proposal, the test would still be administered. However, by not including the results in student grades or teacher evaluations, problems such as the missed deadlines that impacted report cards at the end of last school year and the missing students that are now impacting teacher TVAAS scores, could be avoided.

Additionally, taking three years to build a reliable base of data would help add to the validity of any accountability measure based on those scores going forward.

It’s not clear if there’s more momentum for a moratorium this year. What is clear is that the House will hold hearings on the latest TNReady problems next week. Those hearings may well indicate what the future holds for Tennessee’s troubled testing system.

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


 

 

Fitzhugh Wins Wild Poll

TC Weber posted an early poll over at his Dad Gone Wild blog on the 2018 Tennessee Governor’s race and Craig Fitzhugh — the Democratic Leader in the House, won handily.

Here’s how Weber reported it:

Next year is an election year for governor in Tennessee and since obviously the governor has a lot of influence on the state’s education policy, I though we’d do an early straw poll. This one wasn’t that surprising. Democrat Craig Fitzhugh was the winner, claiming 42% of the responses. Fitzhugh is my personal choice and one of the things that I find most appealing about him is the fact that no matter who you talk to, Republican or Democrat, they refer to him as someone who would be good for everyone. The runner up was Republican and former state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd with 26% of the vote. I don’t know to much about Mr. Boyd but by all accounts he’s a centrist in the mold of current governor Bill Haslam. Democrat and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Republican and Franklin businessman Bill Lee were up next tied in a virtual dead heat.

Two points worth noting: Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville wasn’t in the top three and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean finished third. Both are significant in my view because TC writes primarily about issues in Nashville’s schools or that directly impact Nashville. His audience is heavily Nashville-based. But, the former Nashville Mayor finished third and the Speaker of the House from Nashville wasn’t in the top three.

Fitzhugh has not made a formal announcement, but observers expect that’s coming. He took the time to speak to the recent TEA convention and his legislative work on education is likely to be a key element of his campaign platform.

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


 

Fitzhugh: Vouchers “Wrong Answer” for Tennessee Schools

State Representative Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley is the Democratic Leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Every one of us learns something new every day.  Whether it is in a classroom, something we read or hear through media, or just a new fact we get from a friend or family member, we are constantly learning new things about our communities, our state and country, and our world.

Being educated doesn’t mean you will always know the answers; it means you have the tools to go and find the answers.  As a young man growing up, there is no way that my friends and I could have imagined the technological advances that we see today.  But my teachers in tiny Ripley, Tennessee worked hard to make sure that we went out into the world prepared to learn throughout our lives, and I know our state is full of dedicated teachers who are continuing in this tradition.

HB 1049, the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act, is the latest version of the voucher program that we have discussed in the General Assembly.  On Monday, February 8th, members of the Tennessee House of Representatives will vote on whether or not to take money from our already underfunded public schools.  A state that is ranked 47th nationally in school funding cannot take more money from its students.  We must listen to the people of our state and vote no.

Consider this: the Tennessee School Board Association has 141 member boards.  I asked their representative in a committee meeting how many of their school boards are against vouchers.  His answer: 141.  Not one school board in our state is for this program, but the proponents of the bill would have you believe that there is a ground swell for vouchers; there is not.  School board members have some of the closest relationships with their constituents, and they are positively not for vouchers.

Vouchers are not only the wrong answer for Tennessee; they aren’t addressing the true question of why schools and districts are having problems.  Kids who struggle in school are almost always having a deficiency in some areas of their life: they may be hungry, their home life may not be stable, and they may struggle with the hurdle of a learning disability, or simply may need glasses to see the board.  Vouchers do not address these issues.  Changing the location where a child goes during the school day does not change the environment to which they return every night.  We have large-scale issues that must be addressed to improve our schools.  A child that is hungry, tired and not prepared for the school day cannot be a success, no matter where their classroom is.

Voucher programs leave kids behind.  We as a government, and as a society, are tasked with making sure each and every child receives a quality education.  And kids are left behind in two ways: the first is that a child that doesn’t receive a voucher is left to what voucher proponents label a failing school.  Second, the school district loses that portion of the Basic Education Program (BEP) funding that is delineated for each student.  If we are removing money from our schools—to the tune of $130 million under this voucher bill—how will our public schools ever survive?  To take money from our schools is akin to tying a milestone around someone’s neck, tossing them into a lake, and then ask them why they are drowning.

Public schools are the backbone of our society. They are what drive our communities.  Good public school systems attract businesses and homebuyers.  One of the first questions a prospective homeowner will ask—even if they aren’t parents—is the quality of the local schools.  Any fall Tennessee evening you will find thousands of our neighbors at the local high school, cheering on their kids: the future of our state.   Schools make our communities.

I do understand—and agree—that many of our schools and our students are struggling to achieve their goals.  I know that not every school is the best it can be, and that to get all our students scoring were we want them to will be a Sisyphean effort, one that every student, teacher, administrator, parent and officeholder will have to work together to achieve.  This is hard work, but not impossible work.  As I heard a Metro Nashville Public School parent say during a committee meeting on vouchers, his kids didn’t need a voucher: they need a new school building, instead of the portable classrooms they learn in today.

The answer for successful Tennessee schools is this: we have to fully fund our public schools, support our students, teachers and administrators, and realize that we have no greater responsibility as a society than to make sure our children are healthy and educated.  Our future literally depends on it.

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

Fitzhugh Talks Huffman

Shortly after it was announced that Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman is leaving his post, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh issued the following statement:

“In 2010 Democrats and Republicans passed Race to the Top. We had buy-in from teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders setting us on a path for real improvements in public education. While the hard work of our teachers has certainly produced some positive results, these outcomes would be much greater without the culture of hostility and mistrust created by the Department of Education.
Now we need to reset the conversation. Tennessee will never see real, lasting change until we stop blaming teachers and start addressing root problems. Our schools are underfunded, our teachers are underpaid and we aren’t talking about poverty and parental involvement–two key factors in student improvement. Our hope is that Governor Haslam’s new Commissioner of Education understands these issues and shares our commitment to addressing them going forward.
House Democrats stand ready to work with Governor Haslam, his new appointee and all those who value public education. Though we often disagreed, we thank Commissioner Huffman for his service and wish him the best as he returns to the private sector.”
Fitzhugh has been a frequent critic of the current education reform agenda pushed by Huffman.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 

Fitzhugh, Frogge Take on Tennessee Ed Reform

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh and Nashville School Board member Amy Frogge both had Tennessean op-eds this weekend that challenged the state’s education establishment to start listening to teachers when it comes to deciding what schools and students need.

Fitzhugh referenced a recent letter to teachers from Governor Bill Haslam and noted its very tone was insulting. Teachers have also responded to Haslam.

From Fitzhugh’s op-ed:

Tennessee teachers don’t need the governor to explain to them that too many students are unprepared for a postsecondary education — they see it firsthand every morning. Instead of lecturing on the issue, the governor should give our teachers the tools they need to succeed, starting with the raise they were promised in 2014 and working to increase per pupil spending beyond our woeful $8,600 a child.

Instead of talking down to our teachers, instead of blaming them for the state of our workforce, we need a new conversation.

We need to talk about a new evaluation system that grades teachers on students they actually teach and rates their performance in a fair, objective manner. We need to talk about per-pupil spending, teacher salaries and where our priorities are as a state. We need to talk about prekindergarten and the real effects of early learning.

In her article, Amy Frogge also pushes for more respect for teachers and argues that evidence-based practices chosen by teachers should be driving education policy:

As a community, we must ensure that every child comes to school ready to learn. Research confirms that poverty, not poor teachers, is at the root of sagging school performance. Indeed, the single biggest factor impacting school performance is the socioeconomic status of the student’s family. Nashville has seen a 42 percent increase in poverty in the past 10 years, and our child poverty and hunger rates remain alarmingly high throughout the U.S. Too many of our students lack basic necessities, and many suffer what experts have termed “toxic stress” caused by chronic poverty. Our efforts to address this problem must extend outside of school walls to provide “wrap-around services” that address social, emotional and physical needs of children through community partnerships and volunteers.

Other evidence-based, scalable school reforms include:

• excellent teacher recruitment, development, retention, and pay;

• socioeconomic diversity in schools;

• increased parental engagement;

• early intervention programs such as high quality pre-K, particularly for low-income children; and

• increased school funding. Let’s focus on these reforms, maintain local control of schools, and allow educators — not hedge funders — to have a voice in the direction of education policy.

 

Fitzhugh and Frogge offer an alternative vision from that dominating Tennessee’s education policy landscape. It is a vision of trusting teachers, investing in schools, and putting students first.

 

 

 

 

House Overwhelmingly Votes to Delay Common Core, PARCC

The Tennessee House of Representatives this morning voted to delay any further implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Tennessee and to delay the use of the Pearson Assessment of  Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) until July 1, 2016 — effectively a two-year delay in the process.

The vote in favor of the legislation was a resounding 82-11.  The vote was a surprise, as two amendments offered by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh were adopted.  An amendment to delay further Common Core implementation, including the adoption of new standards in science and social studies was approved by an 80-6 vote.

On delaying the PARCC testing, the vote was 88-0.

If Tennessee goes forward with a delay in PARCC participation, it will join Florida and Kentucky, who have already decided to stop using PARCC to assess their students’ mastery of the Common Core State Standards.

Procedurally speaking, the bill has already passed the Senate in a different form.  It will now be sent back to the Senate to ask that body to concur in House amendments.  The Senate can choose to adopt the House amendments, in which case the bill would be sent to Governor Haslam for his action.  If the Senate does not adopt the House amendments, the bill goes back to the House.  The House can then either 1) remove the amendments or 2) refuse to remove the amendments.  If the House refuses to back down from its original action (which passed with more than 80 votes), a conference committee will be appointed to sort out the issue.

The vote to delay Common Core and PARCC ended a particularly bad week for Governor Haslam’s education policy agenda.

First, the TEA announced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of TVAAS-based merit pay for teachers, a measure supported by the Haslam Administration.

Then, the House Finance Committee did not take up Haslam’s proposal for school vouchers, instead delaying consideration for one week.  The bill barely eked out of House Finance Subcommittee with Speaker Harwell having to break a tie vote.

A TEA-backed bill prohibiting the use of TVAAS in teacher licensure decisions also passed key committees in the House and Senate this week.

 

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

 

Haslam Appoints BEP Task Force

Governor Bill Haslam yesterday announced he’s appointed a task force to study the state’s education funding formula, known as the Basic Education Program (BEP). This is likely a response to some school districts, like Nashville, complaining that the current formula is unfair.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who will chair the group,  says the plan may need revision and updating and that this task force will provide recommendations about how to “distribute available resources in a responsible manner.”

Neither Haslam nor Huffman mentioned providing more resources to the formula as a means of further investing in Tennessee’s schools.

Someone probably ought to tell the Governor that there’s a group of people (school directors, city and county representatives, school board members, and other education stakeholders) that meet regularly to review and study the BEP.  It’s called the BEP Review Committee and it is required by law, specifically: Tennessee Code Annotated 49-1-302(4)(a).

This task force meets 4 times a year and makes recommendations annually for upgrades or improvements to the BEP.  Here’s the latest report, issued November 1, 2013.

The top recommendation of the task force is to continue the phase-in of BEP 2.0 — a revision to the formula developed by Governor Bredesen and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in 2007. The projected remaining cost of full implementation is $146 million.  The Committee is recommending a phase-in approach, so something along the lines of $50 million a year each year for the next three years could meet this goal.

Other recommendations of the BEP Review Committee include:

  • Reducing the class size ratio used to generate teachers for grades 7-12. This would have the impact of sending more dollars to districts for hiring teachers. The Committee recommends a reduction of 2-3 students at a projected cost of $81 million.
  • Providing funds for professional development of teachers at a rate of 1% of the total dollars spent on instructional salaries. This would cost $22 million.
  • Providing funding for a comprehensive mentoring program for all new teachers and principals with a  1:12 mentor/teacher ratio.  The mentoring program would cost $14 million.

The Committee makes recommendations about changing the ratio for funding school nurses and improving technology, including creating a funding element for technology coordinators.

The bottom line is, there’s already a BEP task force, it’s been doing it’s work for some time now, and it has made solid recommendations for improving the formula.

I suppose the first assignment of the task force could be to review the work of the BEP Review Committee.

Of course, one might expect legislative Democrats to take up the cause and fight for improvements to the BEP by way of legislative proposal or budget amendment.  Perhaps proposing a BEP 2.0 phase-in or championing mentoring for new teachers?

However, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh tells us that’s not going to happen. In an interview we published yesterday, he said:

There are a few proposals before the General Assembly that deal with BEP, primarily with the state’s portion of funding. At this time, I’m not aware of any other Democratic proposals that will change the BEP, especially in light of a tight budget cycle.

So, the task force will meet and report and the BEP might (or might not) be improved.  And the BEP Review Committee will continue to meet and issue reports that go largely ignored on Capitol Hill. Ignored so routinely, apparently, that the Governor forgot the Committee even existed.

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

 

PET Talks to Kevin Huffman

Professional Educators of Tennessee launched a new online journal today and it contains a wide-ranging interview with Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman. The full interview can be viewed here.

I’ve got some excerpts and analysis below.

PET:  You started in your post about 3 or 4 months into Governor Haslam’s term, after Tennessee was already several months into the Race to the Top (RTTT) Grant Award and after the new evaluation system was put in place.  Yet, many people seem to tie you to the changes in teacher evaluation which was actually included in the 2010 RTTT Application.  Is that fair?

Huffman: Yes and no. No in the sense that we committed to implement the system (including 50% student achievement for all teachers) through the First to the Top legislation and then through the grant. My first week on the job, the advisory committee (TEAC) completed its work which included the selection of the TEAM rubric and the format for the observations, so that was all done by the time I came, and it isn’t accurate to say that I created it.

What set us apart from other states, though, is that we didn’t back down. Other states committed to do evaluation too, and many delayed by a year or two, or kicked the can even farther down the road, and we stayed the course. If that means that I am tied to the evaluation system, I accept that, because I think the system has made instruction better and helped kids learn more. One of the things I think people miss in the evaluation discussion is that the real value is not in anything punitive: it is in ensuring that real feedback and conversations about instruction happen across the state with a common language. And I think that has happened.

What’s missing, in my view, is the attendant professional development and early career support.  Early career teachers need mentoring and support.  Teach for America, where Huffman got his start, places a heavy emphasis on targeted coaching and mentoring in the first two years. Even if the evaluation process is on balance a good one (and there’s debate about that), it’s difficult to see how it improves instruction significantly without supports and targeted professional development being provided to teachers. 

PET:  What changes do we need to make in teacher evaluations?  And what should the state have done differently in retrospect?

Huffman: We made a bunch of changes after the first year, which I think made the system better and certainly made educators feel the system was better in the second year. I think we have to keep looking each year at how to improve it. A couple of things over the long haul that I think we need to keep looking at: 1) adjusting language each year on the rubric so that it effectively matches the observations with the standards teachers are teaching. I think we have done a little of this but we have to keep looking; 2) the whole “15% measure” for achievement still doesn’t seem to be going very well. Many teachers and schools don’t feel like it accurately reflects teachers’ impact, so I want to keep looking at this.

In retrospect, I think the biggest piece missing was training and communication for teachers well in advance of the rollout. I think some teachers got strong communication from local schools and districts and others did not, and the communication piece was insufficient from the state. A good example of that was the initial “planning” strand. Some teachers spent hours and hours and wrote 20-page lesson plan documents, which was never the intent. Better communication way back in early 2011 would have made a big difference.

The evaluation process is an ever-changing one — and that’s frustrating for teachers.  Every few months, it seems, something new is decided or added or taken away from the evaluation process. No one objects to a sound evaluation of their performance.  What’s problematic is the implementation.  Further, the 15% measure for achievement is becoming more, not less problematic.  In some systems, teachers are forced to choose an “Annual Measurable Objective” connected to English/Language Arts or Math.  Rather than owning their own students (in the case of AP teachers, for example) teachers are sometimes tied to students they’ve never taught.  The State Board document on the 15% provides a number of choices and ample flexibility.  Revisiting this issue with the input of teachers from across the state would be a welcome policy change.

PET:  In your opinion, what are the top three current challenges facing education in Tennessee?

Huffman: This is a tough one. 1) Helping students with disabilities reach their potential. We have a huge gap in achievement and we are really focused on this at the state level right now. 2) Early grades reading. We heard all summer from teachers that they need and want more support for teaching reading and for intervening with students who are far behind their peers. We are offering a course through our regional CORE offices to thousands of teachers on reading instruction, and I hope it will help. 3) Integrating all of the changes. We have done a lot in the last few years, and we now have new assessments coming. Our focus is not on more change – it is on how to manage all of the change effectively.
I’m very bullish on our ability to navigate these challenges though.

One clear way to improve early grades reading is by ensuring access to high quality Pre-K programs.  Both the Comptroller’s study and the Vanderbilt study of Pre-K indicate its ability to help improve reading in early grades.  Governor Haslam, however, has indicated he’s not in favor of expanding a program that is proven to work to address what the Commissioner of Education identifies as a top priority for our state.
PET:  Any final thoughts you would like to share with Tennessee educators?

Huffman: I am deeply grateful for your service. Every time I visit a school, I am struck by the professionalism and commitment of our educators, and our students are lucky to have you.

I’m sure it’s nice for educators to hear those words.  But, you can’t buy groceries with gratitude.  So far, there hasn’t been a real commitment to improving the pay and support for the educators the Commissioner identifies as both highly professional and deeply committed.  We heard a lot about how important teachers were to the gains noted on this year’s TCAP’s.  What hasn’t been heard is how compensation and support will be improved to ensure Tennessee is attracting and keeping strong educators.  To be clear, it’s not just better pay, but more support and more resources that teachers need.

EDIT: Today (10/3/13) at 3:00 PM Central Time Haslam and Huffman announced a goal to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state when it comes to teacher salaries.”

More Huffman: “Too often we try to use gratitude as a substitution for compensation.” — is he reading as I write?

And he notes, “Tennessee ranks in the bottom 10 in terms of teacher compensation.”

It’s not clear what that means, exactly, but it should mean more than this.

And then, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh offers this response:

“Teachers in this state are overworked, underpaid, and deserve to be treated as professionals.

However, after listening to teachers across the state, we are increasingly convinced that Commissioner Huffman’s unproven, unreliable testing methods as a basis for teacher pay are hurting our public education system.

“….Basing teacher pay on scores, especially the scores of students they never teach, is going to further strain the system, lower morale, and detract from the progress we have made in Tennessee.”

For more on Tennessee education news, follow us @TNEdReport

 

 

Craig Fitzhugh Welcomes Back Tennessee’s Teachers

Last week Governor Bill Haslam released a video welcoming teachers back to the classroom. This week, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh makes his own video welcoming Tennessee’s teachers. I think teachers will really appreciate Fitzhugh’s message. Watch below.

Hi, I’m House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

Last week, Governor Haslam sent a message to teachers welcoming them back to another year of school. I too would like to extend a welcome back and a thank you for your service to our children and our state.

In his message, Governor Haslam said he “could imagine how challenging it is to teach in an environment with a variety of factors beyond your control.”

Quite frankly, I could not agree more.

That is why I have been so deeply disappointed in this Governor and his Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman. I’m disappointed in their continued refusal to fix an evaluation system that is driving quality teachers out of the profession. I’m disappointed in their push to cut teacher salaries, while asking them to contribute more to a less secure retirement plan. I’m disappointed in their work with the State Board of Education to revamp the process for licensing teachers—all without consulting the elected leaders in the General Assembly.

Like my wife, my sister-in-law, my niece & my daughter, I know most of you became teachers to make a difference in the lives of the children you encounter. Unfortunately, outside so-called “reform” groups have used their mounds of out-of-state cash to lobby the General Assembly and make your job more difficult. These groups are more concerned with standardized testing & fundraising for their PACs than they are about the future of our children.

As teachers, you are responsible for molding Tennessee’s most precious resources. Unlike Commissioner Huffman who taught for two years and moved on to the lucrative world of education reform, many of you have foregone more lucrative careers because of your passion and dedication to our students.  That is why teachers must always be at the center of our education reform efforts—because you are on the front lines. You know what works, and you know what doesn’t.

Thank you again for another year invested in our education system. Times are tough, believe me I understand that. But always know that you have a friend in our caucus on whom you can call anytime. Thank you.