TC Has Had Enough

Some notes on gun violence and schools from a recent post by Nashville education blogger and possible School Board candidate TC Weber:

Some of you may argue that this is the new norm. I refuse to accept that. This country is made up of way too many good people to concede to a culture of fear. Because let’s face it, fear is what is at the heart of this whole argument. Fear that someone will come take what is yours. Fear that you will be injured by a fellow human being. Fear that a loved one will be hurt. Fear that you will be oppressed by the government.

 

We forget that schools are not just about reading, writing, and arithmetic. I don’t expect my kids’ teachers to function as surrogate parents, but I do expect them to help open their eyes to the wonders of the world. We need to understand that like it or not, schools and the environment they foster get translated into a definition of our society. As those children exit school and enter the adult world, they take with them outlooks and philosophies shaped by their K-12 experiences. It’s one of the reasons schools were started in the first place. So we need to constantly ask ourselves, is my kid’s school creating an environment I’d like to see replicated in society?

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


 

From Blogger to Board Member?

That’s the leap Nashville education blogger TC Weber is trying to make.

He notes in his most recent post:

I am going to do my best to focus on why I am the best candidate  – the level of my current involvement, the network I’ve built, my knowledge of the system, willingness to be a teacher voice – and not on why the other candidates are not worthy. As far as I am concerned, they are all worthy candidates and I look forward to spirited conversations about the issues. How my opponents choose to campaign is entirely up to them. As I tell my children, do not focus on what others do, but rather on your own actions. That is my intention and time will tell if I’m successful.

Do not expect to hear me engaging in charter school rhetoric. My position on charter schools is well documented and all you have to do is read my writings. I see no need to spend a summer rehashing those positions. Those who hold different positions are not my enemies, but just people with a different opinion.  I don’t have to embrace their opinions to learn from them, I just have to respect them and I must say I’ve enjoyed our interactions over the past year.

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


 

Open Seats

TC Weber reports that there could soon be as many as four open seats on the MNPS School Board.

He notes:

Pierce’s decision (not to run), along with an earlier announcement by District 6 Representative Tyese Hunter, means that at least two seats will change hands next go round. Word on the street has long been that District 2 Representative JoAnn Brannon also will not be seeking re-election. District 4 Representative and current Board Chair Anna Shepherd announced late last year that she intends to seek re-election.

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


 

TC Ready

In his latest post, TC Weber takes on the Tennessee Department of Education blog Classroom Chronicles and the apparent disconnect from reality evident in a recent post on TNReady.

Here’s TC’s take:

So here’s the rub, the example she links to is nice, but so is a picture of a unicorn. As far as I know teachers at all grade levels don’t have access to individual scores yet and nor do parents.  So where are these reports coming from? Later she mentions using these reports to plan before the semester starts. What semester? Winter? Because results by schools just arrived recently and we are still waiting for individual results.

What happens when I read these TNDOE writings is I end up thinking up is down and I’m missing something. I call other activists and they confirm my thoughts and then we all end up confused. It’s  like we’ve fallen through the looking glass.

Here’s the thing, I don’t think this writing is intended for activists and educators. Its aimed squarely at parents who don’t know better and trust the TNDOE. When questions arise about the usefulness of TNReady people will pull this blog post out and say, “Nope, nope, you are wrong. It says right here that teachers are getting timely useful reports. You just hate all testing.” Mission accomplished.

The post closes with an admonishment for teachers “to remember that teacher attitude influences the classroom environment.” So buck up buttercup. Toe the line and remember…”The more I can emphasize TNReady’s worth as a tool for teachers, as well as parents and students, the better!”

It’d be great to emphasize TNReady’s worth as a tool for teachers, parents, and students — but in the case of students in grades 3-8, the results aren’t yet available. Maybe TNReady will provide me with some amazing insights about my child’s learning. But, by the time I have the results, she’ll be finished with the first semester of her 6th grade year. Those insights might have been helpful in August or maybe September. Now, though, they will likely add little value.

Maybe that’s why legislators like Bill Ketron are calling for a TNReady moratorium. 

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


 

Supposedly

Recently, Chalkbeat asked readers to pose questions about TNReady given the latest round of trouble for the state’s standardized test. One particular question asked about the validity of the scoring given that “scorers are hired off Craigslist.”

Here’s what the Tennessee Department of Education had to say:

“Questar does not use Craigslist. Several years ago, another assessment company supposedly posted advertisements on Craigslist, but Questar does not. We provide opportunities for our educators to be involved in developing our test, and we also encourage Tennessee teachers to apply to hand-score TNReady.

So, good news: scorers for the new vendor are not hired off of Craigslist. But, disturbing that the TDOE used the hedge “supposedly.” Back in 2015, I wrote about Measurement, Inc.’s ads on Craigslist:

Certainly, quality scorers for TNReady can be found for $10.70-$11.20 an hour via ads posted on Craigslist. I’m sure parents in the state are happy to know this may be the pool of scorers determining their child’s test score. And teachers, whose evaluations are based on growth estimates from these tests, are also sure to be encouraged by the validity of results obtained in this fashion.

My post even included a copy of the ad being used by Measurement, Inc. Then, in 2016, WSMV ran a story on scorers being hired via Craigslist ads.

Another response from the TDOE also caught my attention. This one dealt with the validity of comparisons between the old TCAP test and the new TNReady. The TDOE suggests this is like a group of runners changing from running 5Ks to running a 10K.

Runner and blogger TC Weber has a good response.

Then, when the issue of students not taking the tests seriously due to the perennial problems with returning data, the TDOE engages in more blame shifting:

“We believe that if districts and schools set the tone that performing your best on TNReady is important, then students will take the test seriously, regardless of whether TNReady factors into their grade. We should be able to expect our students will try and do their best at any academic exercise, whether or not it is graded. This is a value that is established through local communication from educators and leaders, and it will always be key to our test administration.

So, the fact that testing data has been returned late or that the quick score calculation method has changed has nothing to do with how students understand the test. If only those pesky school districts and their troublesome teachers would get on board and reinforce the right “values,” everything would be fine.

Here’s a hint, TDOE: Take some damn responsibility. TNReady has been a dumpster fire. Before that, you couldn’t get TCAP scores back in a reliable fashion. When districts told the TDOE that TNReady’s online administration wasn’t going to go well in 2016, the TDOE ignored them. Now, some students are wary of the test and whether or not it has any impact on their grades or any relevance to their learning. The TDOE simply responds by telling districts that if they just stopped asking so many questions and started drilling in the right messages, all would be well.

The disconnect is real.

As I noted in an earlier piece, accountability is a one way street when it comes to TDOE. This message is worth repeating:

How many warning signs will be ignored? How important is the test that it must be administered at all costs and the mistakes must be excused away because “accountability” demands it?

How can you hold students and teachers and schools accountable when no one is holding the Department of Education accountable? How long will legislators tolerate a testing regime that creates nightmares for our students and headaches for our teachers while yielding little in terms of educational value?

Apparently, according to Governor Haslam, everything is fine.

Still, the legislature meets again starting in January. And, there’s a Governor’s race on next year as well. Perhaps the combination of those events will lead to an environment that produces real answers.

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


 

TC Talks Testing

Nashville education blogger TC Weber talks about testing (and a lot of other things) in his latest post.

Specifically, he talks about the release of data on TNReady tests and the comparisons being made to previous TCAP tests.

Keep in mind: We didn’t have a complete administration of TNReady in 2016. Which means the 2017 test was the first year for TNReady. It also means the comparisons being made are based on different tests taken two years ago. So, you have analysis of 5th grade results and “growth” on TNReady being made in comparison to 3rd grade results on TCAP.

It’s apples and oranges. 

Here’s what TC has to say:

Let’s approach this in a different manner though. Say I annually run a 5k race and each year my timing goes up a little bit, so I’m feeling like  I want something different. After year 5 I change to a 10k race. My time for that race is substantially lower. What conclusions can I draw from that difference in time? Am I really not that good a 5k runner? Is the course really that much harder than the 5k I was running? Is my training off? Am I not that good a runner?
I’d say there are very few conclusions, based on comparing the results between my 5k and my 10k time, that can be drawn. It could be that the length of the course was a bigger adjustment than anticipated. It could be that conditions were worse on the day I ran the 10k vs the 5k. It could be that one course was flatter and one was hillier. A kid could be good at bubble in questions but not write ins. How do we know that improvement isn’t contingent just on familiarity with the course? Or the test?
I know people will argue that we should all be training to run hills instead of a flat races. But does running hills well really indicate that I am a better runner? Terrain is just another variable. My liberal arts education always explained to me that in order to get the most accurate measurement possible you need to remove as many of the variables as possible.
One year of data is not a real indication of anything other than, kid’s are not very good at taking this test. In order to draw any meaningful conclusions, you would have to have a set of data that you could analyze for trends. Simply taking a 10k race and comparing it’s results to a 5k race’s results, just because both are races, is not a valid means to draw conclusions about a runners abilities. The same holds true for students and testing.
If TNReady really is the amazing test we’ve all been waiting for, why not take the time to build a reliable set of data? The results from year one don’t really tell us much of anything. Because we skipped* 2016, it’s even MORE difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about the transition from TCAP to TNReady.
TC talks about these challenges and more issues. Check it out.
*We didn’t actually skip the 2016 test. Instead, many students attempted to take the test only to face glitches with the online system. Schools then were given various new times for testing to start only to have those dates changed and ultimately, to see the test cancelled. 
Kids were jerked around with messages about how the “important test” was coming up next week only to have it not happen. Teachers were told they’d be proctoring tests and instead had to quickly plan lessons. Our schools and students adapted, to be sure. But, there is no way to give back the instructional time lost in 2016.
Now, we have students taking THE test in 2017 only to see a slow drip of data come back. Students are told the test matters, it will count toward their grades. Teachers have growth scores based on it. Schools are assigned ratings based on it. But, getting it right doesn’t matter. Well, unless it does.
Oh, and we spend a lot of money on a testing system that produces questionable results with data coming back at a time that reduces usefulness.
What’s next? This year, we’ll try again to administer TNReady online across the state. That didn’t work so well with the previous vendor, but maybe it will this time. Of course, online administration adds another variable to the mix. So, 2018 will be the first time many students have taken a fully online TNReady test. Assuming it works, online administration could address the challenges of getting results back in a timely fashion. But, the transition could impact student performance, once again calling into question the legitimacy of growth scores assigned to students and schools.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

TC Talks Chattanooga

Nashville-based education blogger TC Weber takes some time to explain a bit more about what’s happening with Chattanooga and the state’s Achievement School District in a recent post.

Here’s how he explains what’s happening since the threat of an ASD expansion team in Hamilton County became more real:

Let’s take a quick trip down to Chattanooga where last night a historic vote took place. The Hamilton County School Board voted 7 -2 to continue the conversation about creating a partnership zone with the Tennessee Department of Education. In case you are not familiar with the Partnership Zone plan, it’s the latest quick fix scheme developed by the TNDOE because people have started to catch on to the dumpster fire that is the Achievement School District. Under the Partnership Zone plan, both the county and the state would work together to improve underperforming schools in the district.

The plan calls for the a creation of an appointed board that would oversee the Partner Zone. This creates a bit of a conundrum. Under current law, schools governing boards can only be elected entities. So this would require a change in legislation. A change that could open a virtual pandora’s box because what’s to stop other districts from switching to an all appointed board, a hybrid, or turn control over to the mayor or other appointed officials?

The term partner is a little bit of a misnomer. The state is making it perfectly clear who wears the pants in this relationship right from the out set. The HCS Board was told that they could choose not to pursue the “Partnership Zone” but if they didn’t State Superintendent Candice McQueen would take all 5 of the priority schools plus two more schools and dump them in the Achievement District. If this is in fact a threat she was prepared to follow through with, it’s a little troubling and a clear sign that she’s willing to play politics with kids. The ASD is an unmitigated failure that should be ended this legislative session not used a stick to ensure district compliance.

As Weber points out, McQueen is using the threat of aggressive state action (takeovers, fines) to attempt to get her way lately. So far, that has not resulted in yielding in Nashville or Memphis. It will be interesting to see how the Partnership Zone plays out in Chattanooga.

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


 

#BacktoMNPS Problems

The first day back to school is always an exciting time! But for MNPS, there are some problems lingering over it.

Overton

MNPS announced late last week that Overton High School would start two days late because construction was not completed at the school. News came out today that Overton may push back the first day again. I was at Overton late this summer, and there were literally no exterior walls on parts of the building. A plan of action should have been put into place earlier. On July 26th, someone tweeted school board member Will Pinkston about the delays at Overton. He responded, “Don’t like it, call the charters.”

Lead in the water

Friday news dumps are used to avoid the media. MNPS used a Friday news dump to let the city know about the results of the lead testing. As one would expect, there was lead found in numerous buildings across the district. Here’s part of the report:

With results in for 138 buildings, 119 buildings had no lead levels above the public drinking water standard.  Of the more than 4,000 samples taken during the past three weeks, only 38 showed lead levels above the standard of public water systems (15 parts per billion) – that is just less than one percent of the total tested. All 38 of those sample locations, which are in 19 schools, have been disconnected and taken out of service until repairs can be made and water retested.

Hunters Lane

A family filed suit last week alleging Hunters Lane violated Title IX. From The Tennessean:

According to the lawsuit, the girl was “subjected to unwelcome sexual contact by a male student” April 17 in an unlocked classroom while another student recorded it on video.

“This practice was so widespread within the Defendant’s school system that the students nicknamed the activity ‘exposing’ the individual involved,” the lawsuit says. The videos prompt ridicule as they are circulated around the school and internet, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says when the school learned of the video, it violated Title IX by suspending the 15-year-old girl and doled out no discipline intended to stop the spread of the video. The two other students involved were also suspended, according to the lawsuit.

Teacher Shortage

It’s a yearly problem felt across the country. WKRN reports that MNPS is short 140 teachers. Most of shortages are for math and special education. We need our leadership, both central office and school board, to focus on ways to retain our teachers.

Metro Schools says it has about an 80 percent retention rate. That means in a school district with about 6,000 teachers, about 1,200 teachers leave each year. Half of those teachers leave after only a year or two of teaching.

LEAD Public Schools released the news that their CEO, Chris Reynolds, was resigning days before the start of the new school year. Without missing a beat, Will Pinkston wrote an open letter attacking the school and paid for it to be advertised on Facebook. In his letter, Pinkston wrote,  “I am writing to demand a detail explanation of the reasons behind Reynold’s departure.”

Parent and blogger TC Weber had the perfect response detailing the scores of people that have left MNPS in just the past few weeks. According to Pinkston, the loss of MNPS staff is nonsense.

I agree with TC.  Let’s spend the necessary time and effort to make our school system better before we go off attacking others.

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


 

Weber, Hawkins, & Rogen Take On The Charter Debate

I wanted to highlight three good blog posts about charter schools that came out this weekend from those for and against charter schools.

This weekend the Tennessean posted an article about how two charter schools acquired bonds from the Nashville government to help fund the cost of renovating or building new schools. Seeing how MNPS does not give money for charter facilities, charter schools have to find ways to fund remodels, expansions, etc. As the Tennessean previously reported, the city of Nashville is spending millions for renovations and land for new buildings for traditional MNPS schools.

  • $46 million for the renovation of Hillsboro High School, the second part of an $86 million makeover
  • $10.2 million for land acquisition for Hillwood High School’s relocation to Bellevue
  • $9 million for land acquisition for a new school of the arts

Charter schools don’t have the luxury of the Mayor funding new buildings for them, and many traditional schools have to wait years and years to get renovated or a new school. Two charter schools used perfectly legal measures to gain bonds from the city of Nashville, and that made some anti-charter elected officials upset because they didn’t know it took place.

This was just another attack on charter schools that blogger Vesia Hawkins calls the “Summertime Strategy.”

The grand plan to dismantle charter schools is becoming more clear, particularly with the partnership with certain reporters, asinine accusations resulting from “intense scrutiny” of lease agreements (somehow there’s time for this), and let’s not forget the targeted personal attacks on certain charter school leaders—so far, only on those of color. See my recent post about Shaka Mitchell (who, as of last week, is no longer with Rocketship), Ravi Gupta, and John Little.

I mean, Rocketship attacks have been on repeat for a year now, so no surprises there, but Purpose Prep? Purpose Prep, the elementary school that intentionally seeks out students from the North Nashville area and operates with the expectation that every child will be eligible for Martin Luther King, Jr. magnet high school and, ultimately, the college of their choice. Purpose Prep, a school in its third year of existence with a student population comprised of 98% students of color, 74% economically disadvantaged and nearly every child is reading at or above grade level. So, what’s the problem here? (Shout out to Lagra Newman and her team!)

TC Weber, who is no fan of charter schools, wants to know how this latest attack solves the problem of families flocking to charters:

My position on charter schools is well documented. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of public education as a cornerstone of our democracy. But, I am baffled by people who can recognize the futility of the drug wars and its basis in attacks on the suppliers who fail to see the paralles playing out in the fight for public education. Repeatedly attacking suppliers while ignoring why there is demand is a strategy that has demonstrably failed to achieve success in the drug war and offers a preview of what to expect if we employ the same strategy in the fight against charter school proliferation. If we don’t address demand, parents will continue to search out alternatives regardless of how had we try and paint that alternative.

Earlier in the year, several hundred Antioch HS students staged a walkout over conditions in their school. An action that was never oppenly addressed by the school board.

Last week I recieved documentation that shows over 60 teachers have left Antioch HS this year and that the Principal non-renewed 10 more. I’m told that they have roughly 115 teachers total. After the student walkout Dr. Joseph held a restorative justice circle with the teachers. They told him that if he didn’t do something about the principal he was going to lose a lot of teachers. Joseph’s reported response was that the principals was not going anywhere and the teachers could either get on the bus or get run over by the bus. Antioch HS is not the only school in the district facing huge teacher turnover – Sylvan Park, Warner, Overton, Joelton, to name a few. I ask you, which story, charter school building finance or high teacher turnover,  do you think has greater impact on student outcomes?  Which story has the ability to affect charter growth? If I’m a parent in a school with that kind of teacher turnover and my only choice is enrolling in a school that appears more stable but uses dubious means to fund its capital investments, where do you think I’m going?

We need to be asking why parents are heading to charter schools and make changes so that parents don’t want to leave their zoned school. Teacher and blogger Josh Rogen addresses this very issue in his latest blog post. Josh does a great job graphing numbers to show a clear picture of why some families decide to leave a traditional school. He breaks down the achievement of schools based on the percentage of students of color in the school.

The answer is clear. If you are a Black, Hispanic, or Native American parent, and your zoned option is predominantly Black, Hispanic, or Native American, your best option is to send your child to a charter school if you value their overall growth, excellence, and the culture of the building they are being educated in.

In fact, if you are sending your child to a school with 80%+ Black, Hispanic, or Native American, you can basically throw a dart at any charter school in Nashville and be confident that you are doing much better than your zoned option. (That bottom one is Smithson Craighead, which is getting shut down. Closing bad schools…an interesting idea.)

On the other hand, middle-class white people are not touched by charter schools, and so they don’t support them. I will say that it is awfully easy to hate charter schools when you have a good zoned option. It’s a lot harder to oppose them when your child is locked into a failing school because of their zip code. A little empathy might change the conversation.

Josh hits on something about middle class people who are not touched by charter schools. I recently ran across a comment that TC Weber wrote that said,

It’s really easy to fight for public education when your kids are not the ones sitting in the seats at our poorest schools. I’d love to look around and see all these education warrior’s children’s sitting in seats next to my kids and perhaps then we could get equity.

I also saw a comment someone made that said it was a “disgusting insult to the teachers, students, and parents in the system” when someone was disparaging MNPS. If that is what some people think, the same should be true for charter school. There are students, teachers, and families that have decided to work and/or send their kids to a charter school. The conversation has now turned into one where one cannot speak ill of MNPS and one cannot speak good things about charter schools. We need to have these conversations about both of them in a more collaborative way.

Instead of spending time attacking charter schools, we should be working to improve our district so that families don’t feel the need to leave their zoned school. 374 parents sent a letter to the school board about these attacks, but the board never responded to those concerns. The silence shows that the board doesn’t want a dialogue with charter school parents. If we want to improve our district, we must communicate with all parents.

So let’s come together and figure out why parents are leaving for charters. I don’t know if it’s already been done, but each parent should fill out a short exit interview when they withdraw their student for a charter. Let’s start focus groups with these parents. Let’s do more to find the concerns, fix the concerns, and see what happens. We already know what some concerns are: literacy rates, ACT scores, and behavior. 

Let’s spend more time listening and collaborating instead of attacking. As a teacher, I want success for all students. All students includes students who attend private, home, magnet, charter, or traditional public school.

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


 

 

Fitzhugh Wins Wild Poll

TC Weber posted an early poll over at his Dad Gone Wild blog on the 2018 Tennessee Governor’s race and Craig Fitzhugh — the Democratic Leader in the House, won handily.

Here’s how Weber reported it:

Next year is an election year for governor in Tennessee and since obviously the governor has a lot of influence on the state’s education policy, I though we’d do an early straw poll. This one wasn’t that surprising. Democrat Craig Fitzhugh was the winner, claiming 42% of the responses. Fitzhugh is my personal choice and one of the things that I find most appealing about him is the fact that no matter who you talk to, Republican or Democrat, they refer to him as someone who would be good for everyone. The runner up was Republican and former state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd with 26% of the vote. I don’t know to much about Mr. Boyd but by all accounts he’s a centrist in the mold of current governor Bill Haslam. Democrat and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Republican and Franklin businessman Bill Lee were up next tied in a virtual dead heat.

Two points worth noting: Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville wasn’t in the top three and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean finished third. Both are significant in my view because TC writes primarily about issues in Nashville’s schools or that directly impact Nashville. His audience is heavily Nashville-based. But, the former Nashville Mayor finished third and the Speaker of the House from Nashville wasn’t in the top three.

Fitzhugh has not made a formal announcement, but observers expect that’s coming. He took the time to speak to the recent TEA convention and his legislative work on education is likely to be a key element of his campaign platform.

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