The NAEP Spin Room

Yesterday, I wrote about the very rosy interpretation of NAEP data being advanced by Tennessee leaders. Governor Haslam said:

“Today, we’re very excited to say that based on 2015 NAEP results, we’re still the fastest improving state in the nation since 2011. What this means is a new set of fourth- and eighth-graders proved that the gains that we made in 2013 were real.”

After analyzing the Tennessee results and putting them in context with national results (both of which essentially remained steady from 2013) , I noted:

It’s also worth noting that states that have adopted aggressive reforms and states that haven’t both remained flat. The general trend was “holding steady,” and it didn’t seem to matter whether your state was using a reform agenda (charters, vouchers, value-added teacher scores in teacher evaluations) or not.

Again, this makes it difficult to suggest that any one or even a package of educational practices drives change.

Then, I read the statement issued by SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) Executive Director Jamie Woodson. Here’s what she had to say:

Since 2011, Tennessee has made record-setting gains, held them, and progressed in state rankings because of a multi-faceted strategy of high standards, great teaching, accountability, and common-sense adjustments based on the feedback of educators and citizens.

Note that she assigns causality based on these results. I wonder, then, what to make of the states that didn’t adopt the multi-faceted strategy she references? Last year, a number of states showed significant gains on NAEP. Some, like DC and Tennessee were reform-oriented states, others were not.

Additionally, in a post about the NAEP results two years ago, I noted:

Kentucky and Tennessee have posted gains over time on NAEP — in most categories, Kentucky started out tied or very slightly ahead of Tennessee and today, Kentucky remains ahead.  Kentucky posted some pretty big gains in the mid-90s and again from 2003-2009.  Since then, they’ve held fairly steady.  That’s an expected result, by the way — a big gain followed by steady maintenance of the new level.  For Tennessee, that won’t be enough, but celebrating the big gain is certainly warranted.  It’s also important to take care in assigning causality.

Note here that what I suggested then was an expected result (big gain, followed by holding steady) is exactly what happened in Tennessee this year. That’s good news — it means we’re not declining. But it also means we can’t really say that 2013 was something special.  As I noted last year, Kentucky had a series of big gains in the 1990s and then again in the early 2000s. It wasn’t just a big bump one time. So far, Tennessee has had one banner year (2013) and this year, returned to normal performance.

However, the narrative of “fastest-improving” keeps being repeated. In fact, Bethany Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) released a statement that said in part:
Tennessee students are still the fastest improving in the nation since 2011 according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. “This year’s results from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that Tennessee has maintained the positive gains that we achieved in 2013.

We had one year in which we made a big splash and then, as I noted in 2013:

As the data shows, Kentucky and Tennessee in many cases posted similar net gains over time, with Kentucky seeing big jumps in the mid-90s and again in the early part of the last decade.

That is to say, over a 20-year period, both states saw similar net gains. This year’s scores, in which Tennessee remained steady relative to the 2013 scores suggest, if anything, that the 2013 jump was likely an outlier. Had the 2013 gains been followed by gains in 2015 and again in 2017, more could be suggested. And frankly, it is my hope that we see gains (especially in reading) in 2017. But, it’s problematic to suggest that any specific reform or set of reforms caused the one-time jump we saw in 2013. Saying we are the fastest improving state in the nation over the last 4 years when we only saw a jump in 2013 is like saying we started the first quarter of a football game way behind, scored a bunch in the second quarter, (so we’re not as far behind), and then scored the same number of points in the third quarter. The result is we’re still behind and still have a long way to go.

So, yes, let’s celebrate that we made a big jump and held it steady. But, let’s also put those results in context and focus on how we can move forward instead of using these results to advance our favorite plays. For example, I’m not a huge fan of vouchers, but NAEP data doesn’t really help me make the case for or against. Likewise, states with and without strong collective bargaining posted gains in 2013 and held steady in 2015 — that is, the presence or absence of bargaining has no impact on NAEP scores.

NAEP can be an important source of information — but, too often, the results are subjected to spin that benefits a political agenda. As that narrative gets reinforced, focus on progress can be lost.

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

 

 

 

After Huffman: Who Will Be the Next Commissioner of Education?

Kevin Huffman is leaving his job as Commissioner of Education to pursue private sector opportunties, it was announced yesterday.

In my initial post, I mentioned three names of potential candidates for Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education. Totally speculative on my part, but with good reasons for each. Today, I’ll talk a little more about each one and provide some background.

SCORE President Jamie Woodson

Woodson is a former member of the Tennessee General Assembly, first serving in the House, then moving on to the Senate, where she served as Chair of the Education Committee and later as Speaker Pro Tem, the number two job in that body. Woodson was intstrumental in the BEP overhaul known as BEP 2.0. So, she understands education issues and especially the BEP, which is getting lots of attention as districts seek more state funding.

Woodson is from Knoxville, where Haslam was Mayor. She understands the legislative process and has relationships that could be helpful to passing the Governor’s agenda in both bodies of the General Assembly. It’s also been rumored that she may someday be a candidate for Governor. Serving as Education Commissioner would give enhance her credentials for the state’s top job.

Here’s her bio from the SCORE website:

Jamie guides SCORE’s work as President and CEO and has been a leading figure in spearheading Tennessee’s efforts to better prepare students for college and the workforce. Prior to leading SCORE, she served for more than 12 years in the Tennessee General Assembly in both the House and Senate. As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and later as Senate Speaker Pro Tempore, Jamie was a key leader in efforts to identify and support effective teaching, overhaul Tennessee’s K-12 education funding formula, raise academic standards for Tennessee students, turn around low-performing schools, and expand high-quality public charter schools in Tennessee. In addition, she was a key leader in Tennessee’s work to transform public higher education by aligning Tennessee’s postsecondary system and the state’s economic goals through changes in academic, fiscal, and administrative policies. As a citizen legislator, she also served as general counsel for an East Tennessee manufacturing firm.

Jamie serves on numerous statewide boards, including Tennessee Business Roundtable, and is a member of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Jamie received a Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was selected as “Torchbearer,” which is the highest honor an undergraduate may receive from the university. Jamie attended public schools in Tennessee.

Deputy Commissioner of Education Kathleen Airhart

Airhart has served as Deputy Commissioner of Education Since late 2011. She is a former Tennessee Superintendent of the Year. She served as Director of Schools in Putnam County, where she worked with the local education association to design a differentiated pay plan.

Like Woodson, she is a Tennessean. She’s also an educator, which may placate the teachers and superintendents who have complained that Huffman doesn’t understand their jobs due to his limited experience in the classroom. Tapping Airhart makes sense as she’s been with the Department for most of Huffman’s tenure and she would have immediate credibility with educators.

Knox County Director of Schools Jim McIntyre

McIntyre, like Woodson, is from Knoxville. He and Haslam reportedly had a good relationship when Haslam was Mayor. While technically an outsider (McIntyre came to Knoxville from a post in Boston), he’s been in Tennessee for some time now and understands the state’s education landscape.

It was rumored that McIntyre was considered by Haslam’s for the job in 2011, but he was relatively new to Knox County then and chose to stay in that role. McIntyre now faces a School Board less friendly to his pro-reform agenda and may want to take the opportunity to exit rather than face a combative Board.

Here’s his bio from the Knox County Schools site:

Dr. Jim McIntyre has served in the field of education for more 20 years, with experience at both the K-12 and post-secondary levels.  He began his tenure as Superintendent of the Knox County Schools in July, 2008.  In his first year as Superintendent, Dr. McIntyre led the school system and the community through a process that produced a focused vision for the future of the Knox County Schools and a five-year strategic plan designed to achieve Excellence for All Children.

Prior to his appointment in Knoxville, Dr. McIntyre served as the Chief Operating Officer for the Boston Public Schools, where he was responsible for the day to day operations of the school district.  Jim had also served as the Budget Director for the Boston Public Schools for seven years. During Dr. McIntyre’s tenure, the Boston Public Schools was named one of the top performing urban school systems in the nation.

As a teacher at Vincent Grey Alternative High School in East St. Louis, Illinois early in his career, McIntyre taught English, anatomy, and physical education to a diverse group of at-risk students between the ages of 16-21.

McIntyre has served on numerous state-level working groups aimed at enhancing public education, and was also selected as a fellow in the prestigious Broad Foundation Superintendent’s Academy, an intensive ten month fellowship in the urban public school superintendency.

In 2010, Governor Phil Bredesen invited Dr. McIntyre and three others to join him in presenting Tennessee’s Race to the Top proposal to the United States Department of Education.  Tennessee was one of only two states in the country to be selected in the first round of this national competition, and was awarded $501 million for school reform and improvement.

As a parent of two Knox County Schools students, Dr. McIntyre is incredibly honored that the state-wide Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has named him the Tennessee Outstanding Superintendent of the Year for three consecutive years (2009, 2010, and 2011).

Dr. McIntyre holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Boston College, a Master of Science degree in Education Administration from Canisius College, a Master of Urban Affairs from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Massachusetts.

 

It’s entirely possible there are other names being considered, but these three seem to fit with support for the Haslam agenda and some connection to the Governor.

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

Huffman Resigns as TN Ed Commissioner

Controversial Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman is leaving his post, the Tennessean is reporting.

The paper cites a press release from Governor Haslam’s office noting that Huffman is leaving his position for a post in the private sector.

There was no immediate word on who might succeed Huffman as Commissioner of Education.

Huffman led a Department of Education that claimed credit for improved achievement on NAEP while downplaying widening achievement gaps and a lack of investment in the BEP formula.

Huffman also took criticism for his failure to communicate about new teacher evaluations and for his lack of communication regarding implementation of the Common Core, which resulted in Haslam holding an education summit and “re-setting” the conversation around standards.

Around this time last year, Directors of Schools from around the state were signing a letter expressing a lack of confidence in Huffman’s leadership.

While Haslam has not yet said who may replace Huffman, two potential candidates are Deputy Commissioner and former Putnam County Director of Schools Kathleen Airhart and former Senate Speaker Pro Tem and now SCORE Executive Director Jamie Woodson.  Another potential candidate is Knox County Director of Schools Jim McIntyre, a supporter of the Haslam education agenda.

More on who may replace Huffman.

Here’s House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s statement on Huffman leaving.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Time to Fix the BEP?

The Metro Nashville School Board this week suggested that the state revise and improve its funding formula for schools, known as the BEP.

A resolution drafted by board member Amy Frogge and passed unanimously by the MNPS board indicates that the current formula does not allow districts to properly implement rigorous news standards and provide improved salaries for teachers.

If legislators and Governor Haslam want to take a look at improving the BEP, they need only take a look at the BEP 2.0 formula developed under Governor Phil Bredesen with significant input from then-state Senator Jamie Woodson, who now heads SCORE.

Of course, current Metro board member Will Pinkston was a key Bredesen staffer when the BEP 2.0 formula was developed, so he’s quite familiar with how it would improve the funding situation not just for MNPS but for most districts in the state.

Fully funding BEP 2.0 may take incremental steps and perhaps could be complete in two to three years with some focus and budget prioritization from the General Assembly and the Governor.

If the current formula is not re-examined and improved, it seems likely that districts large and small will continue to complain of mandates coming from the state without adequate funding for their implementation.

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

What is BEP 2.0?

I’ve written before about the importance of fixing Tennessee’s school funding formula (the BEP) and doing so by fully-funding BEP 2.0.

But, what is BEP 2.0? And what would it mean if fully-funded?

Well, here’s Governor Bredesen’s 2007 speech outlining the BEP 2.0 changes (developed with then state Senator Jamie Woodson).  It also includes a spreadsheet explaining the fiscal impact of funding BEP 2.0 at various levels.  This was, of course, back in 2007 and so the dollars are 2007 dollars and would need a slight adjustment to reflect 2013 reality.  Of course, it’s also likely the demographics of some districts have changed, so their numbers in the formula today would be slightly different.

As I recall at the time, the proposal would have meant an investment of nearly $500 million in new money for schools.  What passed was a plan to fund roughly half of that in 2007-08 and then to phase-in the remaining dollars over time.  Then, the 2008 financial crisis hit and BEP 2.0 was not fully-funded.

Now, of course, our state has seen revenue collections tick upward.  It seems that 2014 would be a good time to re-examine BEP 2.0, determine its relevance, and begin a path to full-funding.

According to these numbers, MNPS would see roughly $20 million new dollars every year if the plan were fully-funded.  That would certainly make a difference in the current debate MNPS is having over funding, school closures, charter schools, and teacher pay.

Neighboring Sumner County, which saw the opening of school delayed by 2 weeks due to a budget squabble over roughly $7 million in 2012, would see a bit more than $10 million in new money.  Which would mean they could fund their budget and not raise property taxes.

Other counties benefit as well.  It seems unlikely that the formula can be fully-funded all at once in 2014.  But a phase-in plan combined with an updating of the formula is long overdue.

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

 

 

The Value Proposition for Teachers

I applaud SCORE CEO Jamie Woodson and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman for their column advocating a sharper focus on teacher quality in Tennessee.  They point out that Tennessee’s colleges should be more selective in terms of who enters teacher preparation programs and also that teacher licensure should be a more rigorous process.  These are both laudable goals.

Their basis for making this argument is research suggesting that a child’s teacher is the number one school-based factor influencing student achievement.

Let’s be clear about what this means before we go further.  Most research suggests that school-based factors account for roughly 50% of the impact on student achievement.  Non-school factors (home life, poverty, education level of parents, etc.) account for the other 50%.  Of school-based factors, a child’s teacher can impact up to 50% of student achievement.  That makes it the biggest school-based influencer on student achievement.  But it also means teacher quality accounts for 25% of the impact on student achievement.  75% is beyond the teacher’s control.  At that level, you could have amazing teachers and get the other 75% wrong and the student will still struggle and likely fail.

That said, school systems can only really control school-based factors and of those, teacher quality is the one with the biggest potential for influence.  So, it makes sense to focus attention there.  Of course, it also makes sense to ensure that schools are clean and safe, that class size is optimized, that principals are instructional leaders, and that the overall environment is conducive to learning.  But focusing on teachers from a policy perspective is a sensible approach to impacting student achievement.

So, let’s examine the specific proposals put forth by Huffman and Woodson.  First, they propose a more selective process for admission into teacher preparation programs.  Next, they suggest making licensure a more rigorous process.

Again, both are sensible proposals.

Here’s the challenge in Tennessee.  In order to be more selective about who becomes a candidate for a job or who is admitted to a program, the overall value proposition has to be high.  Fields like law and medicine lure academic high achievers because the outlook for successful completers is positive. Career satisfaction, good pay, prestige.  By contrast, teaching has a low value proposition.  Many teachers in Tennessee will retire never earning what even the average lawyer or doctor makes.  The attrition rate for teaching is high.  Nearly 50% of teachers leave the field in their first five years, according to Richard Ingersoll.  That means teaching is tough and the field weeds out those who can’t or don’t want to do the demanding work involved on the front end.

So, why would a college student choose to submit to a highly selective process for admission to a teacher education program only to enter a field where there’s a good chance they won’t make it past the first five years and if they do, they’ll earn far less than other professionals?  They simply won’t.  Which is why the bar for admission right now is relatively low.

To change this, Tennessee policymakers must stop talking about what they can do TO teachers and start talking about what they can do FOR teachers.

John covered the issue of performance pay in some depth.  However, this plan appears to rely solely on a reallocation or infusion of local dollars to fund a new pay scheme.  There’s no mention of additional state dollars or a revamping of the BEP to allow for the performance pay envisioned in the bill.  Plus, as John points out, a study of performance pay by Vanderbilt of teachers in Tennessee shows such a scheme is not likely to be effective.

What does work, as indicated in this London School of Economics study, is paying teachers more.  The study indicates that raising teacher pay has a clear link to student achievement.  Raise pay 10%, student performance goes up roughly 10%.  Why? Making the field more attractive does two things:  It encourages people to pursue teaching and stay in the field AND it adds to the prestige of the profession (which also helps with retention of high performers).  Metro Nashville Public Schools has some experience with this as when they moved to a new pay scale setting a minimum salary of $40,000 ($6,000 more than it had been) and enabling teachers to reach the top of the scale in 15 years rather than 25, they saw three times as many applicants for teaching jobs than they had in the past.  The value proposition went up and MNPS was able to choose among applicants for the best fits for open positions.

Of course, changing the value proposition is not just about paying teachers more.  It is also about ensuring they have the support they need to succeed.

One area of support is meaningful induction.  That means a focused mentoring program in the first two to three years of a teacher’s career.  Research at the New Teacher Center suggests that a meaningful induction program improves both teacher retention AND student learning.  Tennessee has no comprehensive teacher induction program and no funding on the table to support such a plan.

Yes, we should accelerate our efforts around teacher quality in Tennessee.  But if we focus solely on doing to instead of for teachers, we’ll run out of gas (and teachers) before we get very far down the road.