RTTT Had Everything to do With Charter Schools

PinkstonComment

I was sent a Facebook comment by Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston in regards to the Race to the Top grant that Tennessee won in 2010. Pinkston claims that Race to the Top had nothing to do with charter schools. Race to the Top had everything to do with charter schools.

PinkstonComment

 

Before I break down the Race to the Top application, let’s revisit the Will Pinkston of 2013 after he was elected to the school board. In 2013, Pinkston praised Kevin Huffman and Bill Haslam for their work in continuing the reform started under Bredesen. Pinkston also endorsed Haslam in 2010, around the time he worked for Bill Frist’s State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

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Pinkston also advocated for charter schools.

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I remembered that Will Pinkston as I read through the Race to the Top application that was submitted by the state of Tennessee. Let’s remember that Will Pinkston helped write the application while he worked for Governor Phil Bredesen.

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You can read through the application here. The Race to the Top grant application mentions “charter school” 108 times. The Achievement School District was mentioned a lot in this grant application. Will Pinkston has said that he was in the room when the Achievement School District was created.

According to the grant application, the ASD would pull together an “unprecedented set of non-profits” to open charter schools in the ASD and other schools. The ASD was created, from the beginning, to partner with an unprecedented amount of charter schools.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 8.54.57 PMThe application, which Will Pinkston helped write, gushed over how great charter schools are. It also shows how Tennessee wanted to use charter schools to help in the turnaround of failing schools. The application shows Tennessee’s love of charter schools by showing that Governor Bredesen signed an updated charter school law in 2009.

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The application goes on to say that the state is actively recruiting charter school leaders to the state. While the state itself will help recruit, the ASD specifically will help charter schools find facilities in Tennessee.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.10.48 PMThe current landscape of Tennessee’s charter schools was mapped out years ago in this Race to the Top application. The ASD has partnered with charter schools to help turnaround school districts and state and city leaders have gone out to recruit charter school leaders. We have seen both of those items happen right here in Nashville.

If we move back to the start of the application, we see that the application is pushing for more charter schools. The application reads, “In this application, we describe how the atmosphere in the state encourages fresh ways of thinking, opens the education market to charter schools…”Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.54.58 PM

If the Race to the Top application had nothing to do with charters, why was so much of the application about charter schools? The state, and their grant writers, knew what they wanted. They wanted more charter schools in the state of Tennessee. They got their wish.


 

 

Virtually Unchecked

The Virtual Public Schools Act, which authorized the creation of the Tennessee Virtual Academy run by K12, Inc. is set to expire this year.

Already, legislation (HB 4) has been filed to extend the Act until 2019. No Senate companion yet exists, but it seems likely that K12, Inc.’s top legislative champion, Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, will carry the bill in the Senate.

The Tennessee Virtual Academy has come under fire the last several years as its students have posted the lowest scores in academic achievement in the state. The situation is so bad that this year, former Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman recommended the school not be allowed to enroll additional students.

The Union County School Board (the system that hosts TNVA) denied that request and collected a check from K12, Inc.

I’d anticipate significant pushback this year against any unchecked continuation of K12, Inc.’s operation in Tennessee. That said, both legislators and Governor Haslam have expressed concerns in the past only to see K12, Inc. continue with business as usual.

Will K12’s lobbyists be successful this year, or will this legislative session finally put a cap on the unchecked growth of TNVA?

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

Investing in Priority Schools

The Tennessee Department of Education today announced $5 million in grants to 5 school districts to be used to address priority schools in those districts. It should be noted that the funds are from federal dollars and do not represent new state investment in schools.

From the press release:

The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded nearly $5 million in federal funds to five districts to plan for how to best support their Priority Schools, the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state, in terms of academic achievement.

“We believe this additional financial investment will help districts provide our Priority Schools with specific supports,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “For the past several years, our state has been focused both on improving overall performance of all kids in Tennessee, while closing achievement gaps and supporting students that are the farthest behind; we have seen results from these efforts and are excited to help districts plan for additional interventions.”

A new list of Priority Schools was identified last summer (see the complete list at http://www.tn.gov/education/data/accountability/schools_2014.shtml). These planning grants will provide resources for districts to plan for how to best support their Priority Schools, beginning in the 2015-16 school year. These funds can assist districts in engaging the community, recruiting teachers and leaders, and exploring additional resources that may be needed for Priority Schools.

Districts were awarded the following amounts:

  • Metro Nashville Public Schools, $1.3 million
  • Knox County Schools, $1 million
  • Shelby County Schools, $900,000
  • Jackson-Madison County Schools, $400,000
  • Achievement School District, $1.3 million

Additional funds will be made available through a competitive grant process in the spring of 2015 to further assist districts with implementation of their turnaround plans.

 

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

Why TN Teachers Didn’t Like Kevin Huffman

Kevin Huffman announced yesterday he’s leaving his post as Commissioner of Education. The news was met positively by many teachers around the state. But, why didn’t Tennessee teachers care for Kevin Huffman? Why did a number of local teacher associations vote “no confidence” in Huffman in 2013? Why did Directors from across the state sign a letter telling the Governor that Huffman needed to do a better job?

I wrote a post for a different blog back in 2011, Huffman’s first year, about his remarks on teacher evaluation. In short, he got off to a bad start in terms of communicating with and about teachers, and never recovered.

Here’s that post from 2011 in its entirety, with some notes about what has happened since then included:

Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, offered his thoughts today on the state’s new evaluation system for teachers which takes effect this year.

 

While I certainly agree that the evaluation system needed significant improvement, I have some concerns about the Commissioner’s statements.

 

Specifically, he notes:

 

Tennessee is now a few weeks into a new era of evaluation. The new system is strong, though not perfect, and it represents a dramatic leap forward over the past system that told nearly all teachers they had succeeded, even when students had failed.

 

This statement assumes that the poor performance of Tennessee students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was solely or primarily the result of bad teachers. By his calculations, since 70 percent of students failed to meet satisfactory progress on the NAEP, 70 percent of Tennessee teachers must not be performing up to par.

 

What’s missing from his analysis, however, is the reality that until 2010, Tennessee had incredibly low standards relative to the NAEP. In fact, nearly 87% of students were deemed proficient on TCAPs despite only 27% testing proficient on the NAEP. Here’s the deal: Tennessee schools were held accountable under NCLB for hitting TCAP benchmarks. Tennessee policymakers set the standard. And Tennessee teachers were hitting the mark they were told was important. In fact, data suggest more and more Tennessee students were marching toward TCAP proficiency each year. By that indicator, Tennessee teachers were doing a fine job. Policymakers set a target, and Tennessee teachers hit it year after year. Since curriculum and accountability were not tied to NAEP, it seems unreasonable to expect that teachers would be helping students hit NAEP benchmarks.

 

Huffman’s remarks also ignore this reality: Tennessee spends less per student than most of our neighboring states. 8 states test 100% of graduates on the ACT. Tennessee ranks 7th in that group, below every other state that spends MORE per pupil than Tennessee. Kentucky spends about $1500 more per student than Tennessee and gets significantly better results on the NAEP year after year. The point being: teachers can only do so much with limited resources and our state has done a pretty good job of limiting the resources.

 

Huffman also notes:

 

As new student assessments are developed and vetted by Tennessee educators and experts, we expect that next year, it will be possible for 70 percent of teachers to be evaluated by their own student-assessment results. Eventually, more than 90 percent of teachers will have such options.

This dream still hasn’t been realized — Portfolios are available for some non-tested subjects, but are not in wide use due to cost.

So more teachers will have their own value-added data. This means more assessments (TESTS) for Tennessee students. Will there now be TCAP-like tests in grades K-2? As the parent of a Kindergartener, I certainly hope not. What about related arts? Will there be a written test for an instrumental music course? Or is the value-added that a student who previously struggled with the flute now excels? How is that measured? In performance-based art, music, and theatre classes, will more time be spent drilling on concepts so a kid can pass a written test rather than on actually improving one’s ability to draw, sing, or perform?

 

Finally, the new evaluations are time-intensive and do provide regular feedback. That’s a good thing. However, there’s no indication of available funding for meaningful professional development tied to the evaluations. There is yet to be a serious discussion of funding for mentors for early career teachers to help them get up to speed on key concepts and improve their technique. Teach for America (where Huffman worked as a teacher and then as a national organizational leader) relies heavily on intensive support for their Corps members. Lessons are video-taped, coaches are provided, feedback is regular and strategies for improvement are offered. Research suggests that intensive mentoring in the first two years of a teacher’s career not only improves their practice and increases retention, but also results in higher student achievement.

 

Tennessee’s new evaluation system for teachers is no doubt an improvement. But unless that system is coupled with meaningful support for teachers and adequate classroom resources, we’ll still find ourselves far behind the rest of the country.

There’s been no significant commitment to professional development or intensive mentoring by the state. Teachers didn’t get a promised raise this year.

So, Tennessee teachers started off hearing from Huffman that they had failed. Then, resources for support didn’t materialized and the transition to Common Core wasn’t well-communicated. Huffman suggested the same flawed, value-added based evaluations were responsible for a 2013 NAEP boost, and then a promised pay raise was taken away.

Is it any wonder Tennessee teachers aren’t too sad to see Huffman go?

 

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

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

 

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

Toward Tennessee Standards

In September, Governor Bill Haslam hosted an “Education Summit” designed to help “reset the conversation” around education policy, and specifically, Common Core. Since that time, policymakers have been suggesting that Common Core is dead in Tennessee and that the state will move toward its own set of standards.

Today, Governor Haslam took a major step in that direction, announcing a review of Tennessee standards in Math and English/Language Arts. He is essentially accelerating the normal review process for Tennessee standards and using that acceleration as an opportunity to review (and potentially revise) the Common Core standards that guide Tennessee’s standards.

Haslam also announced the development of a website that will allow Tennesseans to review the Common Core State Standards and offer comments. Additionally, review committees comprised of educators will be a part of the process.

Here’s the release from Haslam’s office:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the process for a public review of
the state’s K-12 academic standards in English language arts and math.  The
process is in partnership with the State Board of Education and will include
input from educators and citizens from across the state.

Academic standards are typically reviewed in Tennessee every six years.  With these
standards now in their fourth year, and with the discussion happening in Tennessee and across the country about Common Core state standards, Haslam believes this is the appropriate time to take a fresh look.

“One thing we’ve all agreed on is the importance of high standards in Tennessee,” Haslam
continued.  “This discussion is about making sure we have the best possible
standards as we continue to push ahead on the historic progress we’re making in
academic achievement.”

In the coming weeks, a website  will be available to every Tennessean to go online, review each current state standard and comment on what that person likes, doesn’t like, or would suggest should be changed about that particular standard.

The Southern Regional Education Board, as a third party, independent resource, will collect the data in the Spring and then turn that information over to be reviewed and analyzed by professional Tennessee educators.  The governor has asked the State Board of Education to
appoint two committees, an English Language Arts Standards Review & Development Committee and Math Standards Review & Development Committee, as well as three advisory teams for each of those committees.

The advisory teams will review Tennessee’s current standards and gather input to make
recommendations to the two committees, which will then propose possible changes
to the State Board of Education.

The two standards review committees will each be made up of six Tennessee K-12 educators and two representatives from Tennessee higher education institutions for a total of 16 Tennessee professional educators.

The two committees will receive input from three advisory teams each, for a total of six.  The advisory teams will be grouped by K-5th grade, 6th – 8th grade and 9th – 12th grade, and each team will be made up of six Tennessee K-12 educators and one representative from a
Tennessee higher education institution for a total of 42 Tennessee professional
educators.

The following have been appointed to serve:

Math
Standards Review & Development Committee
•        Committee Chair: John Prince, McNairy County Schools, director of schools
•        Jamie Parris, Hamilton County Schools, director of secondary math and science
•        Julie Martin, Williamson County Schools, assistant principal
•        Cory Concus, Tipton County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Michael Bradburn, Alcoa City Schools, kindergarten teacher
•        Holly Anthony, Tennessee Technology University, associate professor of mathematics education
•        Stacey Roddy, Hamilton County Schools, director of elementary math and science
•        Stephanie Kolitsch, University of Tennessee Martin,
professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Math Advisory Team
K-5
•        Advisory Team Leader: Stacey Roddy, Hamilton County Schools,
director of elementary math and science
•        Kimberly Osborne, Murfreesboro City Schools, assistant principal
•        Jamelie Johns, Hamilton County Schools, elementary math coach
•        Michael Bradburn, Alcoa City Schools, kindergarten teacher
•        Theresa Feliu, Kingsport City Schools, fourth-grade teacher
•        Brandy Hays, Lebanon Special School District, 3-5 math teacher
•        Jo Ann Cady, University of Tennessee, associate professor of math education

Math Advisory Team
6-8
•        Advisory Team Leader: John Prince, McNairy County Schools,
director of schools
•        Amber Caldwell, Bradley County Schools, mathematics coordinator
•        Sherry Cockerham, Johnson City Schools, district math coach
•        Darcie Finch, Metro Nashville Public Schools, numeracy coach
•        Angela Webb, Putnam County School System, seventh-grade math teacher
•        Holly Pillow, Trenton Special School District, math coach and interventionist
•        Emily Medlock, Lipscomb University, assistant professor, College of Education

Math Advisory Team
9-12
•        Advisory Team Leader: Stephanie Kolitsch, University of
Tennessee Martin, professor, Department of Mathematics and
Statistics
•        Rory Hinson, Gibson County Special School District,
assistant principal
•        Chelsea Spaulding, Rutherford County Schools,
assistant principal
•        Joseph Jones, Cheatham County School District,
district math coordinator
•        Cory Concus, Tipton County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Kimberly Herring, Cumberland County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Beth Morris, Lincoln County School System, 9-12 teacher

English Language Arts Standards Review & Development
Committee
•        Committee Chair: Shannon Jackson, Knox County Schools,
supervisor of reading and English language arts for secondary schools
•        Susan Dold, Shelby County Schools, literacy advisor
•        Jami Corwin, Sullivan County Schools, secondary English language arts curriculum coordinator
•        Jaime Greene, Hamblen County Schools, 6-12 instructional coach
•        Tony Dalton, Hamblen County Schools, pre-kindergarten-first-grade district instructional coach

Shannon Street, Cannon County School District, sixth-grade English language arts and science teacher
•        Susan Groenke, University of Tennessee, associate professor of English education
•        Candice McQueen, Lipscomb University, dean of education

English Language Arts Advisory Team
K-5
•        Advisory Team Leader: Candice McQueen, Lipscomb University, dean
of education
•        Debra Bentley, Johnson City Schools, supervisor of instruction
•        Stacy King, Greenville City Schools, instructional specialist
•        Tony Dalton, Hamblen County Schools, pre-kindergarten-first-grade district instructional coach
•        Kerri Newsom, Lake County School System, first-grade teacher
•        Cathy Dickey, Greenville City Schools, first-grade teacher
•        Kelsea Cox, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, first-grade teacher

English
Language Arts Advisory Team 6-8
•        Advisory Team Leader: Shannon Jackson, Knox County Schools, supervisor of reading and English language arts for secondary schools
•        Jaime Greene, Hamblen County Schools, 6-12 instructional coach
•        Meghan Little, Metro Nashville Public Schools, chief academic officer for KIPP Nashville
•        Terri Bradshaw, Blount County Schools, literacy leader
•        Jessica Daigle, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, eighth-grade English language arts teacher
•        Tequila Cornelious, Franklin Special School District, instructional facilitator
•        Terri Tilson, Tusculum College, assistant professor

English Language Arts Advisory Team 9-12
•        Advisory Team Leader: Susan Groenke, University of Tennessee, associate professor of
English education
•        Brandi Blackley, Tipton County Schools, assistant principal
•        Elaine Hoffert, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, English language arts curriculum consulting teacher
•        Autumn O’Bryan, Cleveland City Schools, principal
•        Tammy Marlow, Macon County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Jessica Mitchell, Hardeman County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        TJ Wilson, Williamson County Schools, 9-12
teacher

Recommendations are expected to be made to the State Board of Education by the end of 2015.

And here’s an email sent from Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman to all teachers in the state:

Dear teachers,

We are writing to give you some more detailed information about an announcement that Gov. Haslam is making today about our standards for English language arts and math.
As you know, while our schools have been implementing the Common Core State Standards for the past several years, we have seen significant academic progress. At the same time, we have heard many assertions about the standards, their origin, their implementation and their effectiveness.
The governor has asked the State Board of Education to lead a process of reviewing our standards in ELA and math, gathering feedback and seeking recommendations for improvement. In the normal course of business, the State Board reviews academic standards every six years in different subject areas, so this accelerates the normal process given the level of discussion about the Common Core State Standards.
The process will include:

  • An opportunity for public feedback on each standard via a website. This website will be launched as soon as possible, and no later than December 1. Kentucky is in the middle of a similar process, and you can see the website here (http://kentucky.statestandards.org) to have a sense of how this may look.
  • A review of public comments by standards review committees and advisory teams. These teams will be composed of educators from K-12 and higher education, built around grade level and subject bands. The governor’s office, working through the State Board of Education, has announced the committees and teams today, and they are built around input from Tennessee educators.
  • Submission of recommendations on the standards to the State Board of Education, led by the review teams and facilitated by the Southern Regional Education Board, which has agreed to help the State Board.
This process will take time; we need to allow significant time for public comment to ensure everyone is heard, and reviewing comments and recommendations similarly will be a lengthy process. It is important to understand we will proceed with the current, state-adopted ELA and math standards and these standards will remain in place until any revisions are made by the State Board. The review process should not have any impact on your plans for instruction this year.
As you know, Tennessee previously issued an RFP for a new ELA and math assessment. The assessment selected through this process will be Tennessee’s ELA and math assessment beginning in the 2015-16 academic year. As part of the RFP process, the vendor must commit to align assessments to state standards, meaning any revisions to standards would result in appropriate adjustments to the applicable state assessments in the future. Changes to the assessment would of course have to allow for sufficient time to train teachers and field test new items.
We recognize that any time there is a standards review process, there is the potential for confusion in the field. While this process could result in revisions to the standards, we continue to hear from all parties that Tennessee must have standards that are the strongest and most rigorous in the country. In particular, we know from our employers and our universities that Tennessee’s standards must include:

  • A focus on basic skills, particularly in lower grades, with special emphasis on literacy and on math facts, and on eliminating the calculator reliance prevalent on the TCAP in younger grades.
  • An emphasis on reading complex and authentic texts.
  • Renewed focus on writing across all grade levels, with a particular emphasis on ensuring our students can defend their arguments in written communication.
  • A focus on critical thinking and problem solving in math.
  • Assessments that de-emphasize multiple choice questions, include writing at all grade levels, and measure expectations that meet or exceed the expectations of students anywhere in the country.

We have attached here a fact sheet about this process. We will continue to communicate through local school districts about the process.

Please know there is widespread recognition of the volume of work that educators have put into raising academic standards. Our state leaders are in agreement that our standards must always represent the next step forward and we want to avoid retreating from the great work of Tennessee teachers that has led our students to such significant academic progress.
In addition, we hope that many of you will submit comments and thoughts in this process. After all, you have the expertise that comes from working with Tennessee students every day. Your input can have a significant impact on the direction of standards in future years.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Tennessee BATs Attend DC Rally

The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) is a nationwide group of teachers who aggressively argue against the status quo in education — that is, the current education reform agenda. Recently, the BATs held a national rally in Washington, DC and even had a chance to meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. A group of BATs from Tennessee joined the national event and TN Ed Report interviewed two of them about the experience.

Lauren Hopson is a teacher in Knox County and Lucianna Sanson is a teacher in Franklin County.  Here’s what they had to say:

1)      Why do you choose to affiliate with the BATs?

Hopson: I discovered the BATS purely by accident when I was checking to see who was posting the video of my October 2013 school board speech. I have always been a bit of a rebel, so the name fit me. At the time, I had no idea how seriously BATs took advocating for our students. Realizing that only solidifies my desire to be part of this group.

Sanson: BATs is a grassroots organization that is a support network for public schools across the nation. In TN, teachers from all areas of the state are able to network and communicate with each other about reforms that are taking place in the state of TN. This is a difficult time for public schools, teachers and students. BATs not only discuss the injustices taking place on the state level, BATs also address these issues and actively seek for positive ways to problem solve and make our public schools better for all students.

 

2)      What was the purpose of the DC BAT Rally?

Hopson: There were several purposes for the rally. Of course, the main purpose was to get the attention of the Department of Education and draw national attention to the destructive nature of current educational reform efforts. However, it also set up a place and time for educators across the country to network and share the experiences with ed reform in their own states.

Sanson: The purpose was multi-faceted. The National BATs Association wrote and delivered specific demands to the DOE and Secretary Arne Duncan- chief among them were demands to stop the over-use of Standardized testing and to halt the privatization and spread of Charter Schools across the United States.

3)      What did you learn from other BATs around the country while you were in DC?

Hopson: Surprisingly, I learned what an appreciation and admiration teachers in other states have for the TN BATs. Along with the Washington, Chicago and New York groups, we have been some of the most vocal and active BATs in the entire country during the last year. I think our own Secretary of Education’s close relationship with Arne Duncan has caused us to feel the effects of education reform more immediately than other states. However, I also think we just have a strong group of vocal teachers who have the Southern backbone to fight these destructive policies.

Sanson:  I learned that TN is not the only state that is going through these same types of reforms. I also learned that racism and socioeconomics play a large role in the take-over of our urban school systems. Basically, the suspicion that re-segregation is happening via Charter school take-overs, “parent trigger laws,” “school choice,” and “Vouchers,” was confirmed by speaking with other BATs across the country. Memphis, and the takeover of their schools by the Achievement School District (ASD), is especially troubling since it is patterned after the New Orleans Recovery School District. I learned that there are only five Public Schools left in the city of New Orleans, and, according to the Fordham Institute, Memphis is directly patterned after New Orleans.

 

4) What were the highlights of your trip to the rally?

Hopson: Singing “Lean on Me” with hundreds of teachers arm in arm in the DOE courtyard was an emotional experience. However, getting to watch my friend and our own legislator, Representative Gloria Johnson, speak during the rally about the positive effects of the “community schools” initiative was a seminal moment. She was able to share the details of a bill she is sponsoring dealing with this concept with educators from across the country who were excited to take this idea back to their home states. It even received interest during the meeting our delegation had with DOE officials at the end of the day.

Sanson: The highlight, for me, was finally meeting all of the people I have been collaborating with on a daily basis for over a year and watching our plans unfold. The Rally on Monday was a true celebration of our students and our public schools, complete with music and dancing, student performance, and spoken word. It was a visual representation of what BATs symbolizes: a holistic approach to learning and the assertion that school should be student-centered and FUN, not testing-centered and a CHORE.

 

5) Do you feel the rally and associated events accomplished anything for teachers? If so, what?

Hopson:  We did get to send in a small delegation to meet with officials in the DOE, and even briefly with Arne Duncan himself. It remains to be seen whether the ideas shared in that meeting will be taken seriously, although TN Teacher Larry Proffitt who was a part of the delegation, seemed optimistic. I do think we drew attention to the plight of students and teachers in America, and at least in my community, I heard from lots of teachers who wish they had been a part of it. Hopefully, this will lead to greater numbers at the next rally. For those of us that did go, we got to feel a sense of connection to a larger power which instilled a new sense of commitment and determination in us all.

Sanson: Yes. On Monday, the all-day celebration for public education ended with a committee meeting inside the U.S. DOE with Secretary Arne Duncan and his team. Our BATs team- which consisted of six members- one of them Larry Proffitt from TN, outlined our concerns and were heard by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and his team. The BATs have another meeting at the U.S. DOE scheduled for later this fall. We look forward to continued dialogue and discourse with the U.S.DOE.

 

6) What do you see as the future for BATs in Tennessee and nationally?

Hopson:  I hope to see BATs become a driving force in changing the direction of education reform. I want to be part of a group that politicians have to take seriously if they want to get elected. BATs should also be a group they will go to for information. With TN being in the Bible Belt, I know it will be hard for the public to get past the name Badass Teachers. Hopefully, however, they will come to see the mission behind the name and realize these Brave Activist Teachers are fighting to protect their children.

Sanson: TNBATs will continue to be the state branch of the National Group. We will continue to network and align ourselves with other parent and citizen groups across the state and nation. We will continue to work with local legislators and policy makers to bring about change. We will continue to work with the Tennessee Education Association to support equality for our teachers, support staff and students.  We will continue to educate and speak truth to power about the reality of Ed Reform and the Privatization movement; we will continue to take a stand for our students and public schools. After all, BATs exists to fight for our students and public schools.

7) How would you describe the current education climate in TN?

Hopson: Toxic. We have toxic levels of testing. We have toxic levels of stress on our students and teachers. Students and teachers have been dehumanized and reduced to nothing more than numbers and data points. There is a complete lack of trust between teachers, administrators, and politicians. Using our students as pawns to further the interests of big money, big power groups is NOT the way to improve our schools.

Sanson: Current ed climate in TN: war zone

Teachers in TN are, in the words of Lauren Hopson, “tired” of not being heard and taken seriously. We are tired of being told how to do our jobs by people who have never taught and who know nothing about teaching. We are tired of seeing our students over-tested. We are tired of teaching to a test. We are tired of being treated like second-class citizens instead of highly trained professionals. We are tired of being “excessed” and replaced by inexperienced TFA green recruits who are ill-equipped with only five weeks of training. We are tired of groups like Micheel Rhee’s Students First giving money to people running for office. We are tired of Governor Haslam and his Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, who have done nothing to help our public schools, but who have done much to sell them to the highest bidder. Most of all, we are tired of being afraid and being bullied into compliance by people threatening our livelihoods. Tired we may be, but being on the front lines and in the trenches means that you get up and go to battle every day. That is what we will continue to do for our Public Schools and our Students: Fight for Them.

 

8) Why should other teachers affiliate with BATs?

Hopson: BATs will provide a sense of community for them and a structure around which they can organize and regain their power.

While I was touring the Civil Rights section of the American History Museum in DC, I saw a quote from A. Phillip Randolph which said, “Nobody expects ten thousand Negroes to get together and march anywhere for anything at any time….In common parlance, they are supposed to be just scared and unorganizable. Is this true? I contend it is not.”

Nobody expects that of teachers either, but I think BATs will change that!

Sanson: TNBATs is a group that helps and supports teachers, parents, and public schools so that we can be better teachers for our students. We are invested in our students and schools and we are determined to bring positive change back into the TN public school systems. BATs are tough, resilient, trustworthy, caring, and willing to go the distance for our students and our profession. I think the better question should be “Why wouldn’t other teachers affiliate with BATs?”

 

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