Nashville school board member Will Pinkston released a retrospective on Tennessee’s Race to the Top experience earlier this week. The document outlines both the process involved in applying for and winning the funding and the subsequent implementation failures by the Haslam Administration.
Pinkston notes that 2013 NAEP results boosted Haslam and his misguided education policy team. Here’s more on that:
On November 7, 2013, the Haslam administration got a public reprieve of sorts. The U.S. Department of Education announced that Tennessee had become the fastest-improving state in the history the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card.
The results were impressive. Tennessee’s 4th-graders climbed from 46th to 37th in math, and 41st to 31st in reading. In terms of overall student growth, “we literally blew away the other states,” Haslam said during a celebratory news conference at West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., outside of Nashville.
The governor failed to acknowledge that Tennessee’s Race to the Top plan, which he initially refused to endorse, actually predicted steep gains on the Nation’s Report Card following implementation of more rigorous academic standards in the 2009-10 school year. The 2010 Race to the Top plan expressly noted: “On the NAEP, we know from experience that results are harder to shift, and that we will not likely see real gains until 2013 when students have had several years under the new standards.” Someone had a crystal ball.
While the Bredesen Administration team correctly predicted the 2013 growth, it’s also worth noting that some critics with at least a vague familiarity with statistics urged caution in getting too excited about the results. More specifically, I wrote at the time:
Yes, Tennessee should celebrate its growth. But policymakers should use caution when seeing the results from the last 2 years as a validation of any particular policy. Long-term trends indicate that big gains are usually followed by steady maintenance. And, even with the improvement, Tennessee has a long way to go to be competitive with our peers. Additionally, education leaders should be concerned about the troubling widening of the rich/poor achievement gap – an outcome at odds with stated policy goals and the fundamental principle of equal opportunity.
Turns out, I was correct — not that I’m bragging, anyone with a familiarity with how statistics actually work (meaning no one at the DOE at the time) would know that this type of bragging was misplaced. Of course, urging caution based on statistical reality isn’t good for the politics of oppression, but, let’s look at what had happened by 2017, years into the Haslam Administration’s incompetent management of state education policy:
First, notice that between 2009 and 2011, Tennessee saw drops in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math. That helps explain the “big gains” seen in 2013. Next, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade math, our 2017 scores are lower than the 2013 scores. There’s that leveling off I suggested was likely. Finally, note that in 4th and 8th grade reading, the 2017 scores are very close to the 2009 scores. So much for “fastest-improving.”
Tennessee is four points below the national average in both 4th and 8th grade math. When it comes to reading, we are 3 points behind the national average in 4th grade and 5 points behind in 8th grade.
All of this to say: You can’t say you’re the fastest-improving state on NAEP based on one testing cycle. You also shouldn’t make long-term policy decisions based on seemingly fabulous results in one testing cycle. Since 2013, Tennessee has doubled down on reforms with what now appears to be little positive result.
Did Haslam apologize for Candice McQueen’s failures or fire her? No. He doubled down on failed policy in spite of evidence. Students suffered through years of TNReady being not even close to ready. Now, that same Bill Haslam is poised to make a run for U.S. Senate. No thanks. We don’t need someone who can’t be honest about how his policies failed Tennessee’s kids.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport
Your support keeps the news coming!