Parents, Educators Challenge Over-Reliance on Testing

Stories out of Shelbyville and Knoxville over the weekend indicate a growing pattern of frustration on the part of parents and teachers about the amount of testing forced on Tennessee students and the use of those students (and now, student surveys) to evaluate teachers.

Jason Reynolds at the Shelbyville Times-Gazette reports that the currently used TCAP tests are coming under increasing scrutiny. Reynolds reported that Nashville parent  and education activist Jennifer Smith, suggests Tennessee students are subject to too much testing and it is having negative consequences:

“Children are being denied valuable classroom instruction, experiencing undue anxiety and stress, and receiving little — if any — recess time so they can prepare to take a test that is ‘not very strong,'” she wrote. Smith said she would like to see Tennessee follow the lead of California, which recently discontinued its version of TCAP so teachers could prepare to implement PARCC.

Reynolds also notes that J.C. Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) says Tennessee students are overloaded with tests.  Bowman has also expressed concern with the use of value-added scores to evaluate teachers.  His organization has called for a suspension of the use of TVAAS in evaluations until the PARCC test is implemented, which seems to echo Smith’s concern.

Teachers are speaking out as well.  A Knox County teacher recently addressed her School Board about the pressures teachers are facing.

And in this story out of Knoxville, parents and teachers both express concern over excessive testing.

One PTSO leader in Knox County noted: 35 days during the year at the elementary level were devoted just to math assessments, “and that’s not including the other four subjects.”

Concern from parents and teachers over testing combined with serious questions about the ability of value-added scores to actually differentiate between teachers seem to be behind the school systems of both Bradley County and Cleveland passing resolutions recently opposing the use of TVAAS data for teacher evaluation and licensure.

The same parent noted she is concerned about the use of student surveys to evaluate teachers. This is practice underway in Knox County, Shelby County, and Metro Nashville.  It’s called the TRIPOD survey and uses student answers on a battery of questions to evaluate teacher performance.  This year, the surveys count for 5% of a teacher’s overall evaluation score.  It’s not clear how the surveys are scored or what a teacher needs to do to earn the top score of 5.

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

 

Memphis Makeover, Blogging Commissioner, and Drinks for Schools

Just a few quick hits today from education news around Tennessee.

While we tend to be Nashville-centric in many of our posts – either coverage of MNPS or state policy happenings in Nashville, Bluff City Ed offers an interesting look into the transformation of public schools in Memphis.

Now, back in Nashville, it seems the Commissioner of Education will now also be a blogger. Maybe this is how he intends to improve communication with all those Superintendents who aren’t happy with his leadership style.

Finally, over in Sumner County, Fox 17 has an interesting take on what turned out to be a fairly reasonable solution to a sticky tax problem.

MNPS Talks Testing, Charters

Andrea Zelinski has the story in Tweets

You might remember that not long ago, Board members asked for a work session to learn more about how much time, money is spent on standardized testing.

Looks like they didn’t get much in the way of answers.  Though Paul Changas did indicate that as more regular assessment occurs, there is less need for standardized tests.

I’d suspect Frogge and Speering (who brought the issue up) will want more than that, so this issue may continue to get some attention.

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

 

 

A Plea for Caution from Russia

A Plea for Caution From Russia

What Putin Has to Say to Tennesseans About Education

By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN

Published: September 12, 2013 

MOSCOW — Recent events surrounding education policy in Tennessee have prompted me to speak directly to the people of Tennessee and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

0912OPEDmunday-popup

Oliver Munday

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The potential rebalancing of the education policy debate — towards more thoughftulness, critique, and effective collaboration — despite strong opposition from many education organizations and major political and education leaders, will result in more innocent victims.

Russia must ask: What about the children?

Any effort to depart from your current reform path, and embrace countervailing viewpoints, would undermine effective, unilateral efforts to resolve the pressing teacher evaluation, pay, and licensure issues, as well as the Charter schools-Traditional schools conflict.  Departing from the current reform path could also destabilize Metro Nashville Public Schools and Memphis City Schools. It could throw the entire emerging system out of balance.

Tennessee, and these school systems, are not witnessing a battle for public education, but the equivalent of an armed conflict between defenders of the status quo and those worried more about the children, rather than adults.  There are few champions of education reform in Tennessee. But there are more than enough defenders of the status quo and extremists of all stripes. The Tennessee Department of Education should consider formally designating certain groups, fighting with the defenders of the status quo, as education terrorists.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue — that is, a positive and collaborative tone — enabling those truly dedicated to public education in Tennessee to develop a plan for their own future.  We do not advocate protecting any particular set of policies, but rather the law itself, as passed by the Tennessee legislature and the Tennessee Board of Education.  Russia believes that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep education policy from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not, even if it sometimes means issuing harsh sanctions.

No one doubts that spurious character attacks, politically-motivated statements, articles, op-eds, blog posts, and tweets, and selective use of research and anecdote have been used during education debates in Tennessee. But there is every reason to believe these were used not by the those truly dedicated to the cause of education, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful patrons.

It is alarming that debate in policy discussions is becoming increasingly commonplace in Tennessee. Is it in Tennessee’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around your country increasingly see Tennessee, not as a state making innovative, cage-busting strides towards high-quality seats under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us,” but rather as a model of collaborative debate and democratic critique and discussion.

But discussion and debate have proved ineffective and pointless. Memphis is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after state oversight withdraws. Metro Nashville Public Schools is divided into tribes and clans, and the civil war continues, with dozens Tweeting at each other, incessantly, each day.

No matter how targeted the discussions or how sophisticated the debate, casualties are inevitable, particularly of students left without high-quality seats, whom the debates are meant to protect.

We must stop using the language of deliberation and collaboration, and return to the path of urgent, rigorous, and innovative educational reform.

A new opportunity to avoid thoughtful debate has emerged in the past few days. Tennessee, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and all members of the educational community must take advantage of both sides’ willingness to destroy any possibility of collaboration on the issues of charters.  Judging by the statements of many in the state, both sides see ramping up the rhetoric as a good alternative to considered and thoughtful debate and policy solutions.

I welcome the any Tennessean’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on education policy. We must work together to keep this hope alive, and enforce the law, as written.  We must keep moving forward.

If we can avoid any slowdown of progress and any deliberative, community- and state-wide discussions, this will improve the education atmosphere in Tennessee and strengthen the respect of others within the United States, and around the world.

My working and personal relationship with education and political leaders in Tennessee is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I have carefully studied their public (and private) statements over the last several years. And I would rather disagree with a recent case made on Tennessee’s deliberative and collaborative spirit, stating that Tennessee’s efforts at honest and thoughtful discussion, and true collaboration is “what makes Tennessee different. It’s what makes Tennessee exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to be thoughtful and deliberative, whatever the motivation. There are big school systems and small school systems, rich and poor, those with long education reform traditions and those still finding their way to true education reform. Their policies differ, too, though Russia is happy to help in fixing this. We are all different, unfortunately, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God wants every child to have a high-quality seat, and does not care how we get there, so long as we do it quickly.

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

MNPS to Study Testing

Andrea Zelinski had this story last week on MNPS Board Member Jill Speering and a possible resolution challenging the current climate of testing.  Instead of the resolution passing, MNPS Director of Schools recommended a study session where many of the questions raised by the resolution can be addressed.  Speering and fellow Board Member Amy Frogge (a frequent critic of the current testing emphasis) agreed and the Board will now examine in study session the number of hours students spend taking tests, test prep hours, cost of tests, etc.

Perhaps more interesting, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has had this to say about testing:

“We at the state level feel like we need to measure results and we need to know how we’re doing. There’s no way to know what areas you need to improve in if you aren’t measuring something,” Huffman told reporters last month.

This is of note because it implies that without testing at every level and in every subject, it is impossible to tell if teachers are doing well or if schools are meeting the mark.

Huffman added:

“I think we can’t live in a world where we pretend that everybody is doing OK, so it’s necessary to measure and see whether we’re making progress, what are the things we do well, what are the things we have to do better. If you don’t measure, you don’t really have a sense of how you’re doing,” he said.

Huffman failed to indicate how he knows that Harpeth Hall, where one of his own children attended school, is doing OK.  There’s no state mandated standardized testing there, no TVAAS scheme.  How, exactly, did Huffman know his child’s teachers were doing ok? Because he paid money for it? Because other people say it’s good?  Or is it that good teaching and learning is about more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

Could it be that the music teacher gets a kid so excited about school that they soar in all their other subjects? Could the history teacher who is not the strongest in content be the one who serves as a mentor to children with no other adult role models?  Could it be that Huffman can observe (just as other parents do) that his child is excited about school, is improving from the first day to the last?  What about the kid who works hard and gets a C in Algebra just so he can keep playing football? How do you measure that? Was it the Algebra teacher’s inspiring lessons or the coach’s mandate to get good grades that “added value” to that kid’s education?

Is it worth the time and expense it takes to test in every single grade across multiple subjects — taking time away from instruction and growth?  Would a simpler, streamlined set of tests be both more cost effective AND better for kids?

As MNPS studies the issue further, parents and the community will at least gain a better understanding of how often and for what purposes their kids are tested.  And we’ll know more about the costs.  Perhaps the next step will be to move forward with an agenda that’s good for kids (and works at Harpeth Hall), even if all the policy-making adults in Nashville aren’t happy.

 

A Look at Charter Attrition Rates

After WSMV and The City Paper ran stories on charter schools losing “struggling students” to zoned schools in time for TCAP exams, outrage has ensued among parents and charter advocates. While some parents are upset that charter students are being sent back into the school system weeks before the TCAP exam, some charter advocates believe MNPS mislead the news station because “their own scores must not be that hot this year,” “data was skewed & manipulated,” and that MNPS does not care about individual students.

After I read the WSMV article, I emailed MNPS to ask for the same information they gave the WSMV reporter. I received seven documents from the communications office including attrition rates for MNPS and some individual school reports of attrition 9 weeks before the TCAP. Though, after my first communication with the schools, I was told that MNPS and the principal from KIPP Academy met and the school system sent me an updated attrition document that was changed after their meeting. The numbers were a little different, but the top attrition schools were still the same.

UpdatedAttrition

The first chart shows charter schools leading the way in attrition. As others have noted, if you have a smaller set of students, your percentage is higher than larger schools if a few students leave.

But, as you can see from the chart, there are a lot of people leaving all schools, zoned schools included. For Smithson Head Middle, out of an 11th day enrollment of 324, 89 students left while they have taken on 8 students throughout the year. The number of 81 for attrition equates to a -25% attrition rate. They now only enroll 243 students.

For Boys Prep, they had a smaller 11th day enrollment of 100 students. The school lost 39 students, or 39% of their student body this year. They took on 16 students for an attrition of 23 students and a -23% attrition rate. They now only enroll 77 children.

When looking at KIPP Academy, a well known charter, nationally, for it’s high standards and performance, they had an 11th day enrollment of 337. We see that 64 left while 13 came to the school during that time.

KippWDWhile looking at the school specifically, you can see that 20 students left KIPP Academy nine weeks leading up to TCAP. All but one of those 20 students that left had been suspended multiple times. Eight of those 20 are considered “special needs disability” students.

 

LeadWD

 

 

LEAD Academy lost 20 students in the nine weeks leading up to TCAP. Fourteen of those students had been suspended during the year.

 

 

 

 

Drexel1Drexel2

 

 

 

Drexel had 33 students leave within the nine week period, which means that over half of the exits took place within a 9 week period.

 

 

 

 

While more charter schools are on the way, we should be looking at attrition both in charter and in zoned schools. We need to keep more kids from changing schools. As many zoned schools see a large number of students leave their schools, I believe charter schools and zoned schools are different for one main reason: Charter students are not randomly chosen. While families zoned for schools aren’t technically randomly selected for their schools, it’s the best way to describe it. For charters, you have to go out of your way to attend the schools. Parents have to agree to longer schools day, to read to their kids, or other agreements along those lines. For zoned schools, it’s the exact opposite. The parents do nothing and the kids are sent to the school they are zoned to. So while many people are leaving zoned schools, it looks strange to see that parents would go out of their way to enroll their children in a new program to only move to a different school at a later time.

Antioch2

I wanted to show the numbers from my high school for two reasons. One, because there are many people coming and going from zoned schools, as I said earlier. Two, to show people that I attended a school with a graduation rate of 66.9% and a dropout rate of 19.6% the year I graduated. I hear continued arguments that those families who may come from nicer areas of Nashville should not have a point of view on this topic because they go to nicer schools. First, all families should be able to voice their opinions without getting attacked for where they live. I went to a school where over half of the students are considered “Economically Disadvantaged” and hallways were lined with gangs. Does that mean my opinion matters more than those who went to (fill in the school that you always site as being better than others)? No, they don’t.

When more people, both with children in the school system and not, care about our education system, it will get better. That is everyone’s goal here. We want the education of Nashville’s children to be better, some just want to get there a different way. The goal is still the same. But when people start attacking others based on where they live or where they went to school, you are undermining your whole argument. You want to give all students a chance to learn and succeed, but you won’t give all parents a right to express their ideas.

Let’s continue to talk about issues that are facing our education system. Let’s continue to meet and talk with people whose idea’s are different. Let’s continue to exchange ideas between us. Let’s continue to improve our children’s education. But let’s not continue the harsh tones and attacks that we all are doing. The only way to fix our education system is working together.

While I have written a post that may seem “anti charter,” (hint: it’s not) it doesn’t not mean I won’t work with charter schools to see what they are doing better than zoned schools. We can all question what zoned schools are doing or what charter schools are doing. The only thing we can do to help our education system is to be involved.

Here are a few organizations you can check out to get involved in your local education system.

State Collaborative on Reforming Education

TEA Teachers – Tennessee Education Association

Professional Educators of Tennessee

Tennessee Charter Schools Association


 

The Life of an Adjective or The Many Faces of Great Hearts

Following yesterday’s House Education Subcommittee meeting covering HB 0702/SB 0830, which creates a state-level charter school authorizer, most news outlets related this particular piece of legislation to the rejected application of Great Hearts Academies in their desire to open five charter schools in Nashville.  We did too.  It got me thinking about the nomenclature, having referred to the Great Hearts story more than once myself.  Without further ado, a working list (the first two are me):

There’s a dissertation here somewhere, I’m sure of it.

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.