Stand for Children Looking Forward to New Year

Stand for Children was recently dragged through months of hearings after a politically motivated complaint was filed alleging they broke campaign finance laws. Earlier this month they were unanimously cleared of wrongdoing.

According to a new editorial by Daniel O’Donnell, it seems likes Stand for Children is looking ahead to a new year where they can return their focus on improving Nashville’s education.

There is a lot to be optimistic about in Nashville’s public schools these days. But the fact remains that a great public education remains out of reach for far too many Nashville students. In recent years, the achievement gap between kids from low-income families and their privileged peers has widened significantly; only 11 percent of Nashville graduates are considered “college-ready.”

Let that sink in. Behind those numbers are real kids with real lives – kids who deserve urgency and focus from adults.

Nashville spends an enormous amount of time debating public charter schools, and that debate no doubt colored the recent school board races. The prevailing charter narrative notwithstanding, Stand advocates for strong public schools, regardless of type.

Our record here has been consistent: In recent years we’ve fought for high-quality pre-Kindergarten expansion, high academic standards and topnotch district leadership. As a city, we should be doing more to support and learn from some of our incredible charter schools, while doing a lot more to lift up the schools that the other 90 percent of students attend. It’s really not that complicated.

Since the August election, we’ve been working with hundreds of parents in North and East Nashville to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing our school system: below-average third-grade literacy rates. Ensuring more third-graders are on track is one critical component of a larger effort to close Nashville’s achievement gap.

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

I agree with O’Donnell that we spend too much time fighting over charter schools when we could be spending that same amount of time on the abysmal literacy rates of our students. Let’s focus on all the students in our district and work together to make MNPS better.

Teachers collaborate every day to do what’s best for students. It’s time for organizations, school board members, and district leaders to collaborate to help all of our students.

 

 

Nashville Preschool to be National Model

Chalkbeat has the story of Cambridge Early Learning Center and a U.S. Department of Education grant on discriminatory school discipline practices.

Here’s more:

Cambridge Early Learning Center, a pre-kindergarten program operated by Metro Nashville Public Schools, is one of two schools nationwide selected for $1 million grants from the Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week.

READ MORE>

MORE ON PRE-K:

Ron Ramsey, Pre-K, and a Chevy Tahoe

Should TN Abandon Pre-K?

 

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


 

 

Ron Ramsey’s Coming to Get Your Pre-K and He’s Driving a Chevy Tahoe

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has earned his brand new Chevy Tahoe through smart choices and hard work, just ask him, as reported by Andrea Zelinski:

You know what, if they work hard and set their goals high, you decide tomorrow that I want to go back to college and and I’m going to make a proper sacrifice, when I hear stuff like, I do get a little upset. Nobody ever gave me a dime. When I was 21 years old, I knew what I wanted to do in life, I made my steps toward that. And yes, now I can afford to drive a Tahoe. The same people I went to high school with decided they didn’t want to go to college, they decided they wanted to go to Eastman. They decided they wanted to be off at 5 o’clock and go fishing. I didn’t. So yes, I made some choices in my life to where I can now afford a Tahoe and other people didn’t. Yes.

It’s all about smart choices, you see. And, since no one ever gave him a dime, why should anyone else get the chances Ron Ramsey had. Ramsey is among those who think that the state’s voluntary Pre-K program should be scaled back. The program is designed to provide Pre-K to children from families who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Families who maybe can’t afford a brand new Chevy Tahoe — no doubt, Ramsey would say that’s their own choice, of course.

Here’s what Ramsey had to say on Pre-K:

“I’ll leave it up to the governor: he’ll have to propose it. There’ll probably be bills in the Legislature to pull back,” Ramsey said. “Do I think we should pull back? We probably should start systematically pulling back on that. Education is a limited pot of money, a finite pot and any dollar you put into pre-K is a dollar you took away from K-12 education. I would like see it begin, absolutely. I don’t know what the amount would be.”

But then, since “no one ever gave (him) a dime,” why should the state be paying for programs that might help the children of those families get a leg up on school?

First, the idea that Pre-K is “not working” is simply not supported by the evidence (a recent Vanderbilt study and an earlier study by the Comptroller’s office). In fact, analysis of the results of those studies indicate that Pre-K yields two years of clear academic benefits for a one year investment in a child. That’s a pretty good ROI.

Second, Ron Ramsey is one of the most powerful men in Tennessee public policy. He presides over a Senate with 28 Republicans and rules it as forcefully as Jimmy Naifeh once controlled the House. So, when he says “education is a limited pot of money,” he’s a big reason why that pot is so limited. If he wanted to put more money into public education, he could certainly push through such an initiative, even over the Governor’s objection. The fact is, he hasn’t.

And, it’s not like Tennessee doesn’t have available funds. In the recently concluded fiscal year, we had over $600 million in surplus revenue. That’s money that could be used to expand the “finite pot” of education dollars that Ramsey and other legislative leaders have built for our schools.

Some school systems are even suggesting (by way of lawsuit) that the pot of money being provided to them is simply not adequate to meet the needs of their students. And of course, by continuing to let the problem fester, as Ramsey has, Tennessee taxpayers are suffering a sort of double taxation.

Anyway, Ron Ramsey has a cool new Chevy Tahoe. Which he earned. All by himself. 4-year-olds from low income families should just be more like Ron. They don’t need Pre-K, they just need more grit and determination.

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

 

Should TN Abandon Pre-K?

The recently released results of a study of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt has some Tennessee policymakers suggesting the state back off support for or expansion of the early education program.

The results of this study are similar to those of a study on Pre-K commissioned by the Comptroller’s office.

And here’s the secret: Both studies come to the same conclusion — Pre-K works.

That is, the state’s voluntary Pre-K program sends students to Kindergarten better prepared. And the effects of the program last through first grade. That’s right, one year of intervention yields two years of results as demonstrated by two different Tennessee-specific, longitudinal studies.

Here’s another secret: There are no silver bullets in education. Pre-K is one specific, targeted intervention. But Pre-K alone can’t solve the challenges faced by Tennessee’s low income students.

In fact, Jim Shelton in Education Week notes:

Second, there is no single moment or intervention in the life of a child that guarantees success. But research has identified several milestones on the path to adulthood that especially determine success at later stages. This is where evidence-based programs can have the greatest impact.

We know that a healthy and secure start in life is critical to the development of social and cognitive skills and other indicators of well-being. Entering school ready to learn is another vital marker. Parental education and access to high-quality preschool have been shown to improve a range of life outcomes, from earnings to crime. And kids who aren’t reading proficiently by 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19. Kids living in poor neighborhoods and not reading proficiently by 3rd grade are around nine times less likely to graduate on time.

Entering school ready to learn is one vital marker on the path toward closing achievement gaps and giving children from low income families a shot at succeeding in school and life. But it’s just ONE of the several ingredients in a system that would actually put kids first and move the needle on educational attainment.

Mark Lipsy, one of the researchers in the Vanderbilt study, says:

This study was meant to monitor the effectiveness of Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program. But co-investigator Mark Lipsy says it really raises questions about early elementary grades.

“The biggest mystery here is what in the world is going on as these kids hit kindergarten, first, second, third grade, that is not building on what they seem to have come out of pre-K with?”

Raj Chetty, in a study of early grades education in Tennessee, offers some suggestions:

Chetty specifically points to improved teacher training, early career mentoring, and reducing class sizes as policies that could work to improve the overall quality of early (K-3) classrooms.

That is, it’s not enough to simply provide an intervention that sends kids to Kindergarten ready to learn and that has positive benefits through first grade, our state must also invest in the supports and resources necessary to allow early grade learning to build on the foundation established by Pre-K.

We know what works for our students.  We know how to close the achievement gap. We know that quality Pre-K is one piece of the puzzle. And we know that two different longitudinal studies have shown that Tennessee’s Pre-K program is effective. The question is: Will we invest in expanding Pre-K and also providing the resources necessary to make not only the early grades, but all of school an environment where all children can thrive?

Are Tennessee policymakers looking for the elusive silver bullet, or do they really want to find comprehensive policy solutions that help break barriers and close achievement gaps? More importantly, are Tennessee policymakers willing to invest in educational excellence from Pre-K through college in ways that are proven to have the most significant impact?

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

TN to Pursue Pre-K Funds for Memphis, Nashville

From the Tennessean:

Tennessee is asking for $70 million in federal money to expand pre-kindergarten programs in Davidson and Shelby counties, but not for other communities around the state.

The Tennessean reported for Friday’s editions that the state Education Department would act as a pass-through agency for the money to go toward adding 1,600 pre-K seats in Nashville by 2018, and 3,580 slots for the Shelby County Consortium, which includes schools in Memphis and suburban districts.

Haslam has previously stated he will wait until the results of a muli-year Vanderbilt study are available before he decides on spending more on Pre-K.

Others have called for a broader expansion of Pre-K as a part of a larger education agenda.

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

Haslam: Pre-K MAY Be Ok

Tennessee took the first step toward applying for federal dollars to expand its voluntary Pre-K program yesterday, notifying the federal government of its intent to apply for funds.

Haslam’s office was careful to caution that this does not mean Tennessee will definitely apply for federal Pre-K dollars. Instead, as he has said before, Haslam wants to wait until further information on the program’s effectiveness is available. Namely, a study underway at Vanderbilt.

Exanding access to quality early education is a key element of an alternative education agenda proposed in 2013.

Under the parameters of the program, Tennessee could receive up to $17.5 million a year for the next four years to expand access to Pre-K. That could mean as many as 3000 additional students accessing the state’s Pre-K program each year.

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

A Broader, Bolder SCORE Report

Today, newly-formed education advocacy group TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence) hosted a presentation by Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.

Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality.  She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.

Later in the day, SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) released its annual State of Education in Tennessee Report.

Both reports indicate Tennessee has much work to do to improve educational outcomes.  There were some similarities and some differences in the approaches presented, however.

The SCORE report outlined five specific priorities for Tennessee education policy in 2014.  I’ll examine those and note where the Broader, Bolder Approach supported by Weiss matches up and where there are differences.

Here are the SCORE priorities:

  • Maintaining a commitment to rigorous standards and assessments. The report says Tennessee must push forward with the continued implementation of the Common Core State Standards. It also points out that measuring student success with higher standards is needed for effective instruction, so Tennessee must continue its commitment to implementing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments.
  • Strengthening schools through effective leadership. As Tennessee continues to implement student-centered initiatives it is crucial to have strong instructional leadership in every school, the report concludes. To build a pipeline of strong leaders, the state focus should be on creating an aligned, rigorous system for recruiting, training, evaluating and providing ongoing support to school leaders.
  • Expanding student access to great teaching. The report specifically calls for providing teachers with the tools and resources – including instructional coaching, collaborative planning time, and targeted professional learning – that will enable them to be experts in their profession. The report also calls for helping teacher preparation programs implement more selective admissions processes and rigorous curriculum requirements that prioritize the skills and knowledge teachers need to support students in the classroom.
  • Investing in technology to enhance instruction. The report says that although the upcoming online PARCC assessments are a catalyst for increasing technological capabilities in schools and school districts, investing in technology must be an ongoing priority and not just a one-time purchase. Students and teachers need daily access to technology and must be trained on using it, the report says.
  • Supporting students from kindergarten to career. The report points out that in today’s economy most careers require training after high school. It specifically calls for creating a data-rich environment that equips leaders, educators, and parents with the information and tools they need and a data-driven approach to making decisions about policy and practice that will advance student success. It also recommends expanded opportunities for more students to take AP, International Baccalaureate, dual-credit, and dual-enrollment courses and to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects.

And here is some analysis in light of the Broader, Bolder presentation:

Standards/Assessment: Weiss suggests that higher standards alone do not improve student achievement.  She points to persistent achievement gaps over time in spite of increasing standards, particularly in the NCLB era.  She also notes the stress caused to students and parents due to increased testing.  She notes that in some cases, as much as 30 instructional days are lost to testing and test prep. She suggests that raising student achievement over time must not simply be a function of high standards but also must include a commitment to supporting students and families outside of school.

Strengthening Schools Through Effective Leadership: Here, SCORE focuses on providing support for the development of effective school principals.  Weiss also suggests the importance of providing support and development to teachers and school leaders.  She would note that having an effective leader alone won’t close the gap, but that having supported leaders along with strong community supports can make a difference.

Expanding Student Access to Great Teaching: Weiss notes that Tennessee’s teachers are among the lowest paid in the country.  SCORE does not specifically address teacher pay in its report.  SCORE does call for improved professional development and additional collaboration with teachers going forward.  SCORE also calls for continued use of TVAAS to identify quality teachers.  Weiss is clear that value-added modeling is inconsistent and unreliable as a tool for evaluating teachers.  At the same time, SCORE calls for adding growth measures to additional teachers (these may or may not be in the form of tests that feed into the TVAAS formula).

Access to Technology: While Weiss might also place value on technology, she’d also suggest that access to summer learning opportunities and enriching extended learning is important.  She points to research suggesting that low-income students tend to proceed at a rate comparable to their peers but lose significant ground over the summer.  That is, what teachers are doing is working, but outside supports are lacking.  Adding meaningful time to the school calendar is one way to address this.

Supporting Kids from Kindergarten to Career:  Weiss absolutely states that kids need a variety of supports throughout school to ensure their success.  She’d likely expand this recommendation to include supporting kids from Pre-Kindergarten through career.  In fact, Weiss notes that while Tennessee was once moving quickly to grow a high-quality Pre-K program, the state has not added a single Pre-K seat since winning Race to the Top. Weiss explicitly recommends continuing the growth of the state’s Pre-K program in order to provide a proven intervention that closes opportunity gaps.

With the exception of TVAAS, it seems the Broader, Bolder Approach outlined by Weiss would generally be in agreement with the SCORE recommendations.  However, as the name indicates, the approach favored by Weiss would be broader and more expansive.  It would include expanded access to Pre-K. It would provide both targeted support to teachers AND significantly better pay for teachers.  It would examine ways to add valuable learning time to the school calendar.  And it would seek a more balanced approach to administering tests in order to avoid an over-reliance on test-based assessments.

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

 

 

Why are Teachers So Unhappy?

The results of the Survey of the American Teacher for 2012 are out and guess what?  Teachers aren’t very happy.  Teacher job satisfaction is at an all-time low and has dropped 23 points over the past five years, including a 5-point drop between 2011 and 2012.

Guess what happens to people who aren’t very satisfied with their work?  1) They don’t do it very well and 2) They end up leaving that job and finding something more satisfying.

But why? What might be making teachers so dissatisfied?

Well, the value-proposition for teachers is not a great one, for starters.  Pay is not great and support is not great and so teachers don’t feel good about their relative value.

Specific to Tennessee, a number of “reforms” have taken shape in recent years that no doubt contribute to the unhappiness of the Tennessee teacher.

First, there was the successful effort to end collective bargaining in Tennessee.  This in spite of the fact that no evidence was shown that this would improve student outcomes.  Collective bargaining in Tennessee was mostly about giving teachers a seat at the table when budgets and salaries and resources were discussed.  Rarely did teachers strike and they certainly never held Boards hostage for huge pay increases.  In fact, many local teacher’s associations bargained for textbooks and other resources for students in place of raises for the teachers.  One middle Tennessee district’s teachers offered to forego a raise for the length of a 3-year contract in exchange for keeping the health insurance match intact.  Instead, the teachers saw their portion of health insurance increase and have so far gone without a local raise for six years.  Now, with no seat at the table at all, teachers across Tennessee have even less input into district operations and resources.  And it’s not like Tennessee’s state or local governments are lavishing high pay and impressive resources on teachers.

The same year that collective bargaining ended for Tennessee teachers, the state implemented a new evaluation system.  Policymakers seemed to think it was more important to get the evaluations in place than to get them right.  And there have been changes in the first two years and more changes coming.  Imagine being told by your boss that there are certain standards you have to meet.  Then being told that all of that will now change.  And then change again next year and the year after that.  How secure would you feel about your job?  That’s what Tennessee teachers are facing.

This year, instead of focusing on boosting teacher pay or increasing support through mentoring or coaching programs or adding more resources to schools, legislators are focused on an unproven (and in the case of one Vanderbilt study — proven NOT to work) performance pay schemes.

And the Governor is focused on adding an even less proven and likely expensive voucher scheme to the mix.

This is a state that truly took a step forward with the BEP back in 1992.  Then stopped fully-funding it when it got too expensive about six years later.  Then, Pre-K was expanded.  And the expansion has stopped because finding the money became too difficult.  And possibly because it became trendy to suggest that we could improve our schools without making new investments in the people in them.  Four classes of 4-year-olds have become kindergarteners since the last expansion of Pre-K.  This in a state with one of the lowest rates of college degree attainment.  That’s four years worth of students who are significantly less likely to graduate from high school.  And for those who do, they are far less ready for college than they would have been if they had enjoyed access to the high-quality Pre-K program Tennessee offers a fraction of its families.

The BEP was reformed as BEP 2.0 around 2007.  That reform, too, proved too expensive.  Many districts around our state would have seen significant increases had the new BEP been fully-funded these last few years.  Instead, budget challenges (and unwillingness to raise revenue) at the local level have meant stagnation in teacher pay and a lack of resources for students.

Tennessee’s education policy history is fraught with examples like these.  Well-meaning reforms and investments thwarted when the going gets tough and finding money for schools gets too difficult.

And now, we’re asking more from our teachers than ever before with less pay, no seat at the table, and few resources.  Is it any wonder they are dissatisfied?