Still Opposed

After mistakenly suggesting that she might actually be listening to the teachers in her district on education issues, Dolores Gresham quickly issued a clarifying statement today setting the record straight.

The confusion began when Gresham reportedly told the Associated Press  she was “OK” with the Common Core State Standards.

The AP reported that Gresham said:

“I have talked to teachers who have told me in so many words, at last, we are no longer dumbing down our children,” she said. “That kind of encouragement is very important when other people are not so enthusiastic.”

Gresham’s statements appeared to be a reversal of position, as she is the prime sponsor of legislation that would repeal Common Core in Tennessee and replace it with Tennessee Standards.

Gresham has historically been more responsive to her donors than to teachers in her district, carrying legislation that authorized K12, Inc.’s failing Tennessee Virtual Academy and supporting a voucher scheme backed by Koch-brothers funded Americans for Prosperity.

Just this summer, she seemed to be on the hunt for an attack on teacher tenure when she requested an Attorney General’s opinion on the issue.

However, when it appeared she might be asking for and responding to educator input on education policy, Gresham was quick to put out a statement saying she still opposes Common Core and wants it repealed in Tennessee.

According to the Tennessean, Gresham wasn’t available to further clarify her statement. But it seems her momentary intimation that she may actually be further considering her stance may have been a verbal lapse rather than a thoughtful reflection.

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

 

Ravitch: Ed Reform is a Hoax

Education scholar and activist Diane Ravitch spoke at Vanderbilt University in Nashville last night at an event hosted by Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE), the Tennessee BATs (Badass Teachers), and the Momma Bears.

Ravitch touched on a number of hot-button education issues, including vouchers, charter schools, teacher evaluations, and testing. Many of these issues are seeing plenty of attention in Tennessee public policy circles both on the local and state levels.

She singled out K12, Inc. as a bad actor in the education space, calling the Tennessee Virtual Academy it runs a “sham.”

Attempts have been made to cap enrollment and shut down K12, Inc. in Tennessee, but they are still operating this year. More recently, the Union County School Board defied the State Department of Education and allowed 626 students to remain enrolled in the troubled school. The reason? Union County gets a payoff of $132,000 for their contract with K12.

Ravitch noted that there are good actors in the charter sector, but also said she adamantly opposes for-profit charter schools. Legislation that ultimately failed in 2014 would have allowed for-profit charter management companies to be hired by Tennessee charter schools.

On vouchers, an issue that has been a hot topic in the last two General Assemblies, Ravitch pointed to well-established data from Milwaukee that vouchers have made no difference in overall student performance.

Despite the evidence against vouchers, it seems quite likely they will again be an issue in the 2015 General Assembly. In fact, the Koch Brothers and their allies spent heavily in the recent elections to ensure that vouchers are back on the agenda.

Ravitch told the crowd that using value-added data to evaluate teachers makes no sense. The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) has been around since the BEP in 1992. It was created by UT Ag Professor Bill Sanders. Outgoing Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman made an attempt to tie teacher licenses to TVAAS scores, but that was later repealed by the state board of education. A careful analysis of the claims of value-added proponents demonstrates that the data reveals very little in terms of differentiation among teachers.

Ravitch said that instead of punitive evaluation systems, teachers need resources and support. Specifically, she mentioned Peer Assistance and Review as an effective way to provide support and meaningful development to teachers.

A crowd of around 400 listened and responded positively throughout the hour-long speech. Ravitch encouraged the audience to speak up about the harms of ed reform and rally for the reforms and investments our schools truly need.

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

Cash vs. Kids?

The Union County School Board voted unanimously last night to allow 626 students to remain enrolled in the Tennessee Virtual Academy, a joint project between Union County Schools and K12, Inc.

The decision comes in the wake of a recommendation by Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman that the students be un-enrolled due to the poor performance of the TNVA.

Following that recommendation, parents and some state legislators appealed to the Governor’s office to ask that Huffman’s recommendation be reversed.

It’s worth noting that Union County Schools receives a 4% administrative fee for their part in the program.  Based on numbers in this article, that would mean a total of $132,000+ for Union County Schools if the students remain enrolled.

So, instead of giving the Virtual Academy time to improve its processes so that it may better serve future students, Union County took the money (from state taxpayers) and allowed the students to enroll in one of the worst-performing schools in the state.

What happens to those 626 students if they are served as poorly as the students enrolled in TNVA in previous years? Will any of the $132,000+ Union County collected for this decision be used to help them catch up?

This is definitely a situation to watch going forward.  One would hope that K12 will improve and provide a better service. But there’s certainly legitimate concern based on their track record.

 

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

K12, Inc. Faces More Tennessee Trouble

The Tennessee Virtual Academy, operated by K12, Inc. and Union County Schools, is facing trouble as it seeks to allow 626 students who have enrolled to begin classes there.

The problem is that Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman issued an order preventing TNVA from enrolling new students pending additional monitoring of the school. For the past two years, students at TNVA have been performing at among the lowest levels of any students in the state.

State education officials and legislators have expressed concerns about this performance and TNVA and K12 have indicated they are working to improve.

Until the school shows improvement, though, Huffman wants to prevent further enrollment.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has the full story on a group of parents and legislators who made an appeal to officials with the Governor’s office to reverse Huffman’s decision and allow the students to continue in the school this year.

If the decision by Huffman is not reversed, the students who signed up for TNVA may enroll in schools in their home districts or seek other educational options.

 

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

Is Disruption the Answer for Education Policy?

Ezra Howard over at Bluff City Ed has some thoughts on whether disruption ought to be the goal of education reformers.  In short, the answer is no.  But, here are some more of Howard’s thoughts from his recent article:

Disruption Commodifies Children:

Disruption is a term largely borrowed from economics and market theory. I personally don’t like applying market theory to education. It lends itself to the commodification of children, perceiving communities as markets, and turning families into consumers. In short, it dehumanizes the very personal and communal experience of teaching and learning. As a result, when disruption is applied to education it often has a very different and negative effect on students and communities than that seen in free market business.

Disruption Has Been Problematic in Tennessee:

At the local level we’ve seen several cases of disruption run amok here in Tennessee, the most prominent example being the disastrous results of virtual charters run by K12 Inc.,a for-profit out-of-state company. And this isn’t limited to virtual schools; it’s starting to happen in brick-and-mortar schools, most notably with the California-based Rocketship Education. Rocketship advertises the blended learning model of instruction proposed by Horn. Rocketship rotates students between computer-based lessons monitored by non-certified instructors and direct instruction led by certified teachers at a 30+ student-to-teacher ratio. While arguing their approach is cost effective, the charter company has come under fire in Nashville for its questionable business practices and its test scores, which since its decision to expand have dropped . It is also experiencing a steady decline in achievement that is directly correlated with its expansion, from 80.5% proficiency in ELA to 51.0% and 91.3% proficiency in Math to 76.7%.

An Alternative to Disruption

I argue for an alternative business model to disruption, known as sustaining innovation. It’s used predominantly to discuss the strategies of established enterprises seeking to remain current by evolving their services and products. Emphasizing sustainability, local school districts can provide innovative approaches to instruction that are intentional, results-oriented, and research-based. Local school districts should expand upon initiatives proven to increase not only students’ long-term achievement but also their quality of life. Some examples are Pre-K, instruction in the arts, early and persistent instruction on foreign languages, and participation in after-school programs and extra-curricular activities

 

Howard’s arguments are sound — when we experiment on kids, and the experiment fails, kids don’t get those years of school or life back.  When we disrupt a community by altering or eliminating its school, we forever change the face of that community.

And, the solutions proposed are sensible — sustaining (and sustainable) innovation make sense for schools.  Thinking of education policy in the long-term — 10 to 20 years — makes sense.  Focused, incremental results over time better serve communities than short-term gains that are not sustainable.  Or, worse, short-term experiments that fail, leaving kids and communities behind.

For all of Howard’s thoughts on disruption, read here.

 

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

 

Democrats Introduce Legislation to Repeal Virtual Schools

In the wake of K12 Inc.’s broadly publicized failures, and the dust-up on Capitol Hill about them, two Democrats, Representative Mike Stewart and Senator Lowe Finney, have filed legislation (HB 0728/SB 0807) to repeal the Virtual Public Schools Act.  Many folks may not be aware that the Virtual Public Schools Act (T.C.A. 49-16-201 et seq.) is actually self-repealing.  Section 216 of the Act reads:

This part is repealed effective June 30, 2015.

Rep. Stewart/Sen. Finney’s bill simply changes the repeal date from June 30, 2015 to June 30, 2013.

There’s a good bit of frustration with K12 Inc. and virtual schools right now, even by members of the Republican majority.  That being said, however, Sen. Gresham, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has signaled that she’s not ready to do away with virtual schools just yet, as has Governor Haslam.

Virtual Schools in Tennessee

In the wake of the renewed K12 dust-up, Andy Sher over at the Times Free Press has another good article out this morning highlighting a new bill put forward by the Haslam Administration to cap online school enrollment.  By the way, let it be known that the Times Free Press (and Andy Sher) have had consistently excellent coverage of this issue over the past year.  Whether it’s because Chattanooga native (and almost certainly next Mayor) Andy Berke started the anti-virtual schools crusade (and then homed in on* K12 as its dismal performance became public), or because K12’s Tennessee “home” is in Union County, just a ways down the road from Chattanooga, who knows.

Here’s the important point to take from Sher’s article today:

Haslam’s legislation would apply to the Tennessee Virtual Academy and any other online schools that come down the path. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who is carrying the administration’s package of bills, said Tuesday he had not been fully briefed on the measure.

Huffman spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said in an email, “This bill is meant to enhance the accountability for virtual schools, and to base their future growth on demonstrated performance.

“This is not about K12; this is a matter of learning from the first year of implementation of the Virtual Schools Act and making improvements with a focus on student achievement,” she said.

The bill restricts new operators of online schools to no more than 1,500 students. After students demonstrate they are indeed learning through state achievement tests, they can enroll no more than 5,000. That cap also applies to K12 Inc.’s operation, Gauthier confirmed.

Another provision in the bill restricts a county online school’s ability to accept students from outside the local district.

That initially would not apply to K12 Inc.’s current student population in Union County. But Gauthier confirmed that in the future it would apply to new students.

That’s right.  K12 is not on its own here.  Aside from the prospect of future virtual schools, there is already at least one other virtual school operating in Tennessee.  Did you know that Metro Nashville Public Schools has its own virtual school?  It’s true!

For all of the protesting by the spokeswoman for Commissioner Huffman, this most certainly is about K12 and the Tennessee Virtual Academy.  What the response signals, however, is that the current legislature (and Governor and Commissioner) appear to be unwilling to backtrack on virtual schools entirely, as many K12 critics would like.  Instead, the measure put forward would be a compromise, while still preserving the opportunity for growth in Tennessee of (1) virtual schools and (2) for-profit school operators.**

*It is unclear whether the correct usage is “home in on” or “hone in on.”  I have used the former, because it appears to make more sense grammatically.

**The New York Times did an extensive piece on for-profit online school operators in 2011.

K12 Inc. Making the Rounds

Though this year’s legislative session isn’t yet running at full steam, there are a few trends already emerging.  As Andy mentioned, vouchers, charters, and the new parent trigger legislation will certainly be featured.  However, there is almost certainly going to be action on virtual schools as well.

If you haven’t heard before, the Tennessee Virtual Academy, run by the for-profit company K12 Inc., got into some hot water last year for its dreadful performance (even the New York Times dipped its toe in).  Tennessee, by the way, isn’t the only place that K12 has been having issues.  These troubles may explain why K12’s stock price has been plummeting over the last few years.

With that in mind, K12 has sent some emissaries to the legislature this year.  In the first official kick-off meeting for the Senate Education Committee, K12 made a presentation and faced (a few) tough questions regarding its performance (click below to see Sen. Campfield get sassy).  If you missed it the first time ’round, never fear: There’ll be a matinee performance tomorrow for the House Education Committee.  Be sure to tune in.

Get Microsoft Silverlight