Polling: Tennesseans Oppose Vouchers

As I mentioned last week, the issue of school vouchers will again be a hot topic at the Tennessee General Assembly. Today, the Tennessee Education Association is out with polling suggesting Tennessee residents oppose vouchers.

Here’s the press release:

Tennesseans strongly reject private school vouchers, according to the largest and most comprehensive polling data on the subject. TEA extensively surveyed rural, urban and suburban voters in all three Grand Divisions of the state, with an oversample of highly-likely Republican primary voters. The polls were conducted May through October of 2016.

Of the 6,510 respondents, 59.5 percent rejected private school vouchers, 29 percent approved. The two-to-one negative opinion was consistent across geographic and demographic groups. The polling margin of error is +/- 4 percent.

“I’ve rarely seen such a strong negative opinion. It is clear Tennesseans do not like or want school vouchers,” said Jim Wrye, TEA Government Relations manager. “We are a conservative state that values our local traditions and institutions. Vouchers are a radical idea that attack and weaken the foundation of our communities — our public schools.”

During the 2016 primary and general elections, TEA conducted numerous polls in districts to help defend legislators from attacks by pro-voucher groups and determine where new attacks could happen. Polling was conducted by a respected Republican firm used by Tennessee GOP entities and candidates.

While TEA’s polling asked basic national and local “horse-race” questions and demographic information, the polling also asked a voucher question about using taxpayer funds for private school tuition. The simple and accurate question was asked in every poll commissioned by TEA and now provides the best voter opinion data on vouchers.

“It was important to keep the question simple, and to stay away from leading or flowery language seen in other polling and surveys,” said Wrye. “Vouchers use public school funding for private school tuition. It was important to ask voters in the most simple and accurate way whether they support such a thing. Overwhelmingly, they do not.”

Rejection of vouchers was remarkably consistent across the state. Rural voters tended to be more against vouchers (64.17 percent no, 24.54 percent yes; 2,995 voters) than urban and suburban (54.01 percent no, 34.43 percent yes; 3,536 voters). No area or legislative district saw vouchers receive more support than opposition.

“I strongly encourage any legislator to vote their district and listen to folks back home. There are a lot of special interest lobbyists and money floating around the capitol, pushing things that are not of Tennessee’s great traditions and values,” said Wrye. “No matter the special interest threats or demands, you can be sure voting with your folks back home is always good politics.”

When it comes to vouchers, it is not what voters want in any district.

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


 

Testing Time

While Tennessee teachers are raising concerns about the amount of time spent on testing and test preparation, the Department of Education is lauding the new TNReady tests as an improvement for Tennessee students.

According to an AP story:

However, the survey of nearly 37,000 teachers showed 60 percent say they spend too much time helping students prepare for statewide exams, and seven out of ten believe their students spend too much time taking exams.

“What teachers recognize is the unfortunate fact that standardized testing is the only thing valued by the state,” said Jim Wrye, assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

“Teachers and parents know there are so many things that affect future student success that are not measured by these tests, like social and emotional skills, cooperative behaviors, and academic abilities that do not lend themselves to be measured this way.”

Despite teacher concerns, the Department of Education says the new tests will be better indicators of student performance, noting that it will be harder for students to “game” the tests. That’s because the tests will include some open-ended questions.

What they don’t mention is that the company administering the tests, Measurement, Inc., is seeking test graders on Craigslist. And, according to a recent New York Times story, graders of tests like TNReady have, “…the possibility of small bonuses if they hit daily quality and volume targets.”  The more you grade, the more you earn, in other words.

Chalkbeat summarizes the move to TNReady like this:

The state was supposed to move in 2015 to the PARCC, a Common Core-aligned assessment shared by several states, but the legislature voted in 2014 to stick to its multiple-choice TCAP test while state education leaders searched for a test similar to the PARCC but designed exclusively for Tennessee students.

Except the test is not exactly exclusive to Tennessee.  That’s because Measurement, Inc. has a contract with AIR to use test questions already in use in Utah for tests in Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee.

And, for those concerned that students already spend too much time taking standardized tests, the DOE offers this reassurance about TNReady:

The estimated time for TNReady includes 25-50 percent more time per question than on the prior TCAP for English and math. This ensures that all students have plenty of time to answer each test question, while also keeping each TNReady test short enough to fit into a school’s regular daily schedule.

According to the schedule, the first phase of testing will start in February/March and the second phase in April/May. That means the tests are not only longer, but they also start earlier and consume more instructional time.

For teachers, that means it is critical to get as much curriculum covered as possible by February. This is because teachers are evaluated in part based on TVAAS — Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System — a particularly problematic statistical formula that purports to measure teacher impact on student learning.

So, if you want Tennessee students to spend more time preparing for and taking tests that will be graded by people recruited on Craigslist and paid bonuses based on how quickly they grade, TNReady is for you. And, you’re in luck, because testing time will start earlier than ever this year.

Interestingly, the opt-out movement hasn’t gotten much traction in Tennessee yet. TNReady may be just the catalyst it needs.

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

 

 

The Sweet Sixteen

Round 1 of Education Commissioner Madness is over and Round 2 — The Sweet Sixteen – is well underway.

The Round of 16 includes former legislator Gloria Johnson, Deputy Commissioner of Education Kathleen Airhart, and Williamson County Superintendent Mike Looney, who edged out Tullahoma’s Dan Lawson with a late surge.

The Sweet Sixteen also features PET’s JC Bowman and TEA’s Jim Wrye.

Head on over to Bluff City Ed and vote NOW for who should advance to the Elite Eight.

For more on education issues in Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

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