Doing the Right Thing

Shelby County’s Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson announced that all teachers will receive a three percent raise this year, not just those who meet certain scores on the state’s flawed value-added evaluation system.

More from Chalkbeat:

Hopson told the district’s educators in an email Thursday that they’ll see the raise reflected in their Nov. 18 paychecks. The pay hikes will be retroactive and will also go to librarians, counselors, instructional facilitators, coaches, social workers, physical/speech therapists and psychologists.

The decision came after Hopson learned that the district won’t receive the state’s testing data until December.

The decision by Hopson came about as a result of last year’s TNReady debacle. It also came in the same week that Knox County’s School Board asked the state for a waiver from included this year’s TNReady test results in student grades and teacher evaluations.

Hopson made the right decision — it is unfair to ask teachers to wait to receive pay raises because of the state’s mistakes with TNReady. It’s also unfair to use data from last year’s mess of a test administration to evaluate teachers. While I’ve expressed doubts about the usefulness of value-added data in evaluating teachers, even those who haven’t should acknowledge that using data from last year (or this year) is problematic.

Shelby County educators will all see a raise this year. The next question: Will the school board there join Knox County in requesting a waiver from using test data for students and teachers this year?

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


 

Teacher Shortage Hits Tennessee Cities

Chalkbeat reports on the state’s big cities missing a significant number of teachers at the start of the school year:

About 100 Shelby County Schools classrooms still lack full-time teachers, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Monday, the first day of school, after a tour at Bruce Elementary.

And the problem wasn’t limited to Shelby County:

And it’s not the only district with vacancies left open. Metro Nashville, a slightly smaller district, lists nearly 80 open teaching jobs, and the third-largest district in the state, Knox County, needs more than forty. Across the board, districts are most hurting for special education teachers, though there are vacancies in nearly every subject.

The shortage noted in the big districts tracks information reported at TNEdReport back in 2014:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

While there are many reasons for the shortfall, it’s worth noting that the first days of school set the tone for the entire year. So much so that incoming MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has said it’s critical that every classroom have a full-time teacher on day one.

UPDATE: MNPS reports that the actual number of unfilled vacancies on Day 1 was 34.5, a better number than they’ve had in recent years.

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


 

 

 

Memphis Schools Closing Large Achievement Gap

According to a new index created in partnership with Education Cities and Great Schools, schools in Memphis have an achievement gap that is among the largest in the nation. However, data indicate a closing of the gap in recent years.

Here’s the press release:

According to the Education Equality Index (EEI), a first-of-its-kind tool released today, the achievement gap between students from Memphis’ low-income families and their more advantaged peers is significant, but also narrowing at one of the fastest rates in the nation. Between 2011 and 2014, Memphis’ achievement gap narrowed by 19 percent, meaning significantly more students from low-income families now have access to a more equal playing field.

“There is much to celebrate in Memphis, as the achievement gap is narrowing more quickly than in 90 percent of major U.S. cities,” said Ethan Gray, founder and CEO of Education Cities. “While we, as a nation, have a long way to go to ensure our most vulnerable children have the opportunities they need to thrive, we celebrate the many schools in Memphis that are closing the achievement gap, proving that greater equality is possible.”

The Education Equality Index is the first national comparative measure of the achievement gap at the school, city, and state levels, and identifies the regions where children from low-income communities are most likely to attend schools usually only available to their more advantaged peers. Funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and developed in partnership by the foundation, Education Cities, and GreatSchools, the EEI features school, city and state-level data covering the nation’s 100 biggest cities in 35 states.

The Education Equality Index also identifies the top 10 schools in Memphis with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families. Power Center Academy Middle School and High School both rank among Memphis’ top 10 schools.

“Closing the achievement gap for me is knowing my daughter can attend college without taking remedial classes, without being challenged with social and study life,” said Memphis parent Angela King, whose daughter attends Power Center Academy Middle School.  “She received a safe and nurturing education while focusing on her deficits.  We feel privileged and honored to have been a part of a program that has holistically met the needs of my daughter and every scholar at PCAMS and PCAHS.”

Key findings from the Education Equality Index include:

  • Memphis’ EEI score of 28.3 puts the city 70th out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. for which data is available.
  • The achievement gap in Memphis narrowed by 19 percent between 2011 and 2014, a pace quicker than 90 percent of major U.S. cities.
  • Tennessee’s EEI score of 41.5 indicates that its statewide achievement gap is smaller than in 24 of 35 states for which data is available — including Kentucky and Missouri.
  • The achievement gap in Tennessee narrowed by five percent between 2011 and 2014, meaning that today more students from low-income communities have access to schools that are helping them achieve at similar levels to their more advantaged peers.

The top 10 Memphis schools with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families are:

  • Delano Elementary School
  • Ford Road Elementary School
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy
  • Hollis F. Price Middle College High School
  • Jackson Elementary School
  • John P. Freeman Optional School
  • Middle College High School
  • Oakshire Elementary School
  • Power Center Academy (High School)
  • Power Center Academy (Middle School)

As detailed in the EEI, there are hundreds of schools across the nation where low-income students are achieving at levels that match or even exceed their more advantaged peers — proving that all children can excel in school when given the opportunity.

“Equality of opportunity is an American ideal,” said Ethan Gray, founder and CEO of Education Cities. “The Education Equality Index shows that while we, as a nation, have a long way to go to ensure our most vulnerable children have the opportunities they need to thrive, there are schools in almost every city proving that equality is possible.”

This is the first in a series of releases intended to identify the practices that are closing the achievement gap at the quickest pace. To see more data from the Education Equality Index and use the interactive online tool, visit www.educationequalityindex.org.

About Education CitiesEducation Cities is a non-profit organization that convenes, advises, and supports a network of cities in their efforts to increase the number of great public schools. Learn more at www.education-cities.org.

About GreatSchools

Founded in 1998, GreatSchools is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit helping millions of parents find high-quality schools, support great learning, and guide their kids to great futures. GreatSchools offers thousands of articles, videos, and worksheets to help parents support their children’s learning. Last year, GreatSchools had more than 56 million unique visitors, including more than half of all U.S. families with school-age children. Headquartered in Oakland, California, GreatSchools partners with cities and states across the country to promote access to school quality data to families, particularly those in high need. Through its GreatKids program, GreatSchools promotes parenting for education success and teacher-parent collaboration.

About the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation 

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of children living in urban poverty around the world. Headquartered in Austin, TX with satellite offices in New Delhi, India and Cape Town, South Africa, the Dell family foundation funds programs that foster high-quality public education and childhood wellness, and improve the economic stability of families living in poverty. The foundation has committed more than $1.2 billion to global children’s issues and community initiatives to date. Learn more at www.msdf.org.

 

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

Memphis to Join NAEP TUDA

Shelby County Schools is among six districts joining the “Nation’s Report Card” via the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) program.

Here’s the press release:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will include six more urban school districts from around the country after a unanimous vote Saturday by the National Assessment Governing Board to expand the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) program.

The six districts — Clark County School District (including Las Vegas); Denver Public Schools; Fort Worth Independent School District (Texas); Guilford County Schools (including Greensboro, North Carolina); Milwaukee Public Schools; and Shelby County Schools (including Memphis, Tennessee) — volunteered to be part of NAEP administration starting in 2017. TUDA is a special part of the NAEP program that provides results of how fourth- and eighth-graders perform in reading and mathematics in some of the nation’s largest urban school districts. The vote of the Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, brings the total number of TUDA districts to 27.

 

The idea for a big-city version of NAEP, also known as The Nation’s Report Card, originated in 2000, when the Council of the Great City Schools — a coalition of the nation’s large urban public school districts led by Executive Director Michael Casserly — requested that the Governing Board conduct a trial NAEP assessment for large urban school districts that volunteered to participate. Congress first authorized funding for TUDA in 2002, and increases in funding over time have enabled the Governing Board to expand the program.

 

“The Governing Board values Mr. Casserly’s foresight and leadership and the bipartisan support from Congress, the president and the Department of Education to support the expansion of this program,” said Governing Board Chair Terry Mazany. “TUDA provides school district leaders, parents and civic leaders with objective and comparable data to measure the progress of student achievement over time in many of the country’s largest school districts.”

 

“The addition of these six new cities to the Trial Urban District Assessment of NAEP is a major step forward for the program and will help sustain efforts to improve the nation’s large-city public schools well into the future,” Casserly said. “We are thrilled that 27 cities will be participating in 2017.”

 

TUDA tests representative samples of students and it reports district-level student achievement results, including trends over time. To be eligible for TUDA, a district must be in a city with a population of 250,000 or more, and at least half of its student population must include minority racial or ethnic groups or must be eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. New TUDA districts must be large enough to support testing three NAEP subjects per year in grades four and eight. The six districts join these other school systems:
  • Albuquerque Public Schools
  • Atlanta Public Schools
  • Austin Independent School District
  • Baltimore City Public Schools
  • Boston Public Schools
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
  • Chicago Public Schools
  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District
  • Dallas Independent School District
  • Detroit Public Schools
  • District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, Florida)
  • Fresno Unified School District (California)
  • Hillsborough County Public Schools (Florida)
  • Houston Independent School District
  • Jefferson County Public Schools (Kentucky)
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools
  • New York City Public Schools
  • School District of Philadelphia
  • San Diego Unified School District
“We now have an ever-greater geographic representation in TUDA, with four more states included. This will provide the nation with an objective picture of the achievement spanning the diversity of our nation’s students, recognizing that the majority of students in our nation’s schools is now composed of minority populations,” Mazany said.

 

View a list of current and eligible TUDA districts at www.nagb.org/policies/list-tuda-districts.html.

 

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The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the only nationally representative, continuing evaluation of the condition of education in the United States. It has served as a national yardstick of student achievement since 1969. Through The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP informs the public about what American students know and can do in various subject areas and compares achievement among states, large urban districts, and various student demographic groups.

 

The National Assessment Governing Board is an independent, nonpartisan board whose members include governors, state legislators, local and state school officials, educators, business representatives, and members of the general public. Congress created the 26-member Governing Board in 1988 to oversee and set policy for NAEP.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

RESOLVED: No More ASD

The Shelby County School Board last night passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on ASD expansion in the district until the ASD can show evidence it is improving student progress.

The statement about the ASD was part of a broader resolution calling for a comprehensive strategic plan for the district.

Here’s the full resolution:

RESOLUTION REQUESTING THE SUPERINTENDENT TO DEVELOP A COMPREHENSIVE SHORT-TERM STRATEGIC PLAN  IN SUPPORT OF DESTINATION 2025
WHEREAS, Shelby County Schools (SCS) is currently faced with an ever-evolving landscape – including, but not limited to fiscal inadequacies, consistently changing state mandated academic standards, and declining enrollment, etc. – impacted by a community facing persistent socio-economic challenges that require the District to realign and shift its focus in order to best serve this dynamic student population; and
WHEREAS, according to 2014 Census data, approximately 33.2 percent of Shelby County’s school aged children live in poverty, with over 80 percent of them attending SCS schools, which in turn directly impacts a student’s academic and behavioral performance, requiring development and implementation of solutions designed to appropriately and adequately address these potential impediments for our students’ educational and life success; and
WHEREAS, SCS faces a number of fiscal challenges from different fronts – OPEB liability, projected budget shortfall and diminishing revenue due to the loss of students to ASD schools and charter schools; and
WHEREAS, To ensure the academic welfare of its’ students, SCS’ focus is on investing in strategies that create a fair and equitable learning environment for all students in Shelby County; and
WHEREAS, although the challenges seem daunting, SCS continues the work of educating students as demonstrated by an increase in the graduation rate to 75 percent; achievement of District TVAAS Level 5 status; and solid results in the iZone (Innovation Zone), where a recent study by Vanderbilt’s Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development found that SCS iZone schools showed moderate to large positive effects in reading, math and science as opposed to the State’s ASD model who’s ability to effectively drive student academic achievement is questionable at this point; and
WHEREAS, the Shelby County Board of Education wishes to continue to propel the current forward momentum to a larger scale effort by developing short-term strategies to achieve the District’s long-term objectives under its Destination 2025 Strategic Plan.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED That the Shelby County Board of Education instructs the Superintendent to develop a Comprehensive Short-Term Strategic Plan to present to the Board that explores and/or considers strategies and/or opportunities to address the District’s challenges – fiscal inadequacies, consistently changing state mandated academic standards, declining enrollment, high poverty among its students, etc. – which include, but are not limited to the following:
– Equitable Distribution of OPEB Liability

– Expansion of the iZone Model –

School Capacity and Utilization –

Grade Configurations/Programmatic Structures –

Collaboration with Charter Operators –

Co-existence with the ASD and a moratorium on the ASD takeover of additional schools until they show consistent progress in improving student academic achievement - (emphasis added)

Strategic Legislation –

Wrap-Around Service Model –

Additional school choice options  –

Equitable Learning Environment
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED That the Shelby County Board of Education requests that the Superintendent present a timeline for the implementation of the proposed Comprehensive Short-Term Strategic Plan.
Submitted by:
Stephanie Love District 3
December 15, 2015

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

Adequate and Equitable

That’s what the Shelby County Schools are seeking from the state — adequate and equitable school funding. As the state currently provides neither, the Shelby County School Board voted Tuesday to hire legal counsel to pursue such funding, an action which may ultimately result in filing a lawsuit against the state, the Commercial Appeal reports.

Recently, Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed suggested that Shelby County should join the 7 other Tennessee districts already suing the state over inadequate school funding.

According to the report, Board members referenced the 2007 funding formula update known as BEP 2.0 and noted that if it were fully and properly funded, Shelby County would receive $103 million in additional funding next year.

Rather than push for full funding of BEP 2.0, Governor Haslam has appointed his own task force asked to redistribute the pie rather than increase its size.

Other than chastising districts for asking for the full and equitable funding they deserve, the General Assembly did little this past session to address the BEP situation.

Three previous lawsuits against the state seeking improved school funding have all been successful and all resulted in significant cash infusions to local school districts.

More on the BEP:

Money Talks

Why is TN 40th?

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

Should Shelby County Schools Sue the State?

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed says YES!

Here’s the basic reason why:

Education funding has been creeping up slowly, but its not enough. We’re at a critical juncture in urban districts like Shelby County, and the only realistic way we are going to find the funds to adequately support our schools is from the state. Local taxes are tapped out and the district has cut to the bone. And at the same time, the state has indicated very little willingness to adequately fund BEP 2.0.

More on BEP Funding:

Why is He So Angry?

Money Talks

Hungry for BEP Reform

Of Poverty and Teacher Pay

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

 

 

TN ASD: Mission Creep or Just Creepy?

Tennessee’s Achievement School District has come under fire recently for both lackluster performance and poor community communication.

The Achievement School District was designed to help provide a focused turnaround to schools persistently struggling.

Tennessee’s Race to the Top application outlines the proposed ASD strategy. The relevant details begin on page 120.

Here are the basics: The ASD was originally conceived to provide highly focused turnaround attention to 13 schools.  Additional schools might be added beginning in 2014-15.  There’s even a handy chart on page 130 that details the anticipated timeline and strategy.

The ASD currently operates 23 schools, according to its website. And, it is slated to takeover more schools in both Shelby County and Nashville in 2015-16.

The original plan seems sensible: Work with the 13 most persistently low-performing schools, get them on track, and then use strategies learned in the process to help other schools. Meanwhile, Renewal Schools would be operated by districts and implement other turnaround models (think the iZone in Memphis and Nashville).

Instead, the ASD has followed a rather bumpy path, growing while struggling to meet performance goals. The ASD needs growth of 8-10 points a year in the schools it operates in order to hit its targets — and it is well below that number now. That may be in part due to the rapid growth beyond original expectations.

In one particularly unpleasant episode, the ASD pitted two Nashville middle schools against each other in a fight for survival.

Here’s something that should give policymakers pause: According to the most recent State Report Card, the ASD spends more than $1000 per student MORE than district schools and yet gets performance that is no better than (and sometimes worse) the district schools it replaced.

By creeping beyond its admirable mission, the ASD has become an example of good intentions gone awry. Focusing on the original goal of using highly focused effort to both improve struggling schools AND learn new strategies to help other schools would be a welcome change.

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

Do Your Job, Get Less Money

Over at Bluff City Ed, there’s an article analyzing the new pay scale for teachers in Shelby County Schools. The scale is weighted toward TVAAS data and the evaluation rubric, which rates teachers on a scale of 1-5, 1 being significantly below expectations and 5 being significantly above. A teacher earning a 3 “meets expectations.” That means they are doing their job and doing it well.

Jon does a nice job of breaking down what it means to “meet expectations.” But, here’s the problem he’s highlighting:  Teachers who meet expectations in the new system would see a reduction in their annual step raise. That’s right: They do their job and meet the district’s performance expectations and yet earn LESS than they would with the current pay system.

Jon puts it this way:

But what the district outlines as meeting expectations exemplifies a hardworking and effective educator who is making real progress with their community, school and students. If a teacher is doing all these things, I believe that they should be in line for a yearly raise, not a cut. At its core, this new merit pay system devalues our teachers who fulfill their professional duties in every conceivable way.

I would add to this argument that to the extent that the new pay scale is based on a flawed TVAAS system which provides minimal differentiation among teachers, it is also flawed. Value-added data does not reveal much about the differences in teacher performance. As such, this data shouldn’t weigh heavily (or at all) in performance pay schemes.

Systems like Shelby County may be better served by a pay scale that starts teachers at a high salary and rewards them well over time. Increasing pay overall creates the type of economic incentives that both attract strong teachers and encourage school systems to develop talent and counsel out low performers.

Shelby County can certainly do more to attract and retain strong teaching talent. But the new pay scale is the wrong way to achieve that goal.

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

 

ASD Flexes Muscles in Memphis

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed has an update on the ASD and its actions in Memphis and in Nashville.

Alfuth’s report includes information on the teacher group organizing against ASD takevovers and concerns expressed by Shelby County Schools Superintenent Dorsey Hopson.

Most troubling is the notes about Chris Barbic’s remarks asserting the ASD could take all 85 schools on the priority list and noting that the ASD has been essentially playing nice up to this point.

Here’s the excerpt:

The most interesting and worrisome part of the last article for me are two quotes from Chris Barbic, the ASD’s Superintendent. First, Roberts quotes him as saying

“I think its important to remind everyone that a lot of things we are doing are by choice. If we wanted to, we could take over all 85 schools next year (bold added by me for emphasis).”

Second, he also states that they don’t have to do a matching process but that they have chosen to do so, and laments that they are being “beaten up” for what they are doing. He also says that they (presumably the community) “would be beating us up for not doing it (the matching process).”

These quotes trouble me because they perpetuate the message Memphians have been getting that “we (the ASD) have the power, and you should be thankful that we’re including you.” While I don’t know what else was said in the interview, it worries me that this is the type of rhetorical language that we’re seeing in the wake of a strong anti-ASD outpouring. Barbic does qualify his first quote by stating that they’ve chosen to work with SCS instead of pursing the total takeover course of action, but the lead sentence makes it clear who really has the decision making power.

In the end, the ASD opposition is all about who has the power to improve our schools, and quotes like this don’t do anything to alleviate the idea growing locally that the ASD is engaged in a hostile takeover of Memphis.

The entire update is worth a read.

I tend to agree with Jon that the challenge to the ASD is essentially about power. Parents, teachers, and even SCS leaders feel like they lack the power to make decisions about the schools.

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