Finally 4=4

Over the past three years, Governor Haslam has proposed and the General Assembly has approved significant increases in funds for teacher compensation. Unfortunately, those dollars haven’t always made it into teacher paychecks. There are a number of reasons for this. One of those is the State Board of Education’s decision in the past two years to approve smaller adjustments to the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers.

Today, the State Board of Education met and voted on the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers for 2017-18. This year, the Board approved a 4% increase in the minimum salary and also adjusted each step on the scale by 4%. This matches the appropriation of the General Assembly, which passed a budget that included a 4% increase in BEP funds for teacher compensation.

According to the state’s analysis, this change will require 46 of the state’s 141 districts to raise teacher pay. These are mostly rural districts on the low end of the state’s teacher pay range. This will mean a number of teachers across the state should see meaningful increases in their paychecks in the coming year.

The new minimum salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $33,745. The top of the scale for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 years of experience (the scale includes only 4 steps for teachers with bachelor’s degrees, just three if you have an advanced degree) is $40,595. For advanced degrees, salaries must start at $37,300 and step three (11 years experience or more) requires a minimum of $45,075.

That $40,595 figure after 11 years of teaching seems disturbingly low. In fact, I’ve argued before that Tennessee should aim for a starting pay for teachers of at least $40,000.

That said, this year’s State Board of Education represents real progress that will result in significant pay increases for teachers in nearly a third of the state’s districts. Perhaps the upward pressure will also encourage other districts to push their pay up. We’ve already seen Metro Nashville move toward a 3% raise, as one example.

Here’s how the Tennessee Education Association viewed today’s salary move:

For the first time in four years, the Tennessee State Board of Education voted Wednesday to apply the full raise budgeted by the General Assembly for teachers to the State Minimum Salary Schedule. TEA has pushed the legislature and the state board for years to reinstate the practice of applying the full amount to the salary schedule as it is the best way to ensure all Tennessee teachers receive the raise promised to them by the governor and their legislators.

“When the board moved away from applying the entire raise percentage to the salary schedule, disparities in teacher pay and stagnant wages increased statewide,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “While Governor Haslam and the state legislature have done their part to increase teacher salaries, only a fraction of the budgeted raises were actually trickling down into teacher paychecks. The state board action this week should begin to remedy that problem.”

The recommendation by the Department of Education and the vote by the state board to increase the salary schedule and each step by 4 percent are in direct response to TEA’s advocacy efforts. Hundreds of TEA members have contacted legislators to let them know their teachers back home were not receiving the raises passed in the General Assembly. Members and TEA staff worked closely with the administration and legislators to find a way to correct the issue.

“Teachers statewide are increasingly struggling to support their own families on the stagnant wages of a public school teacher,” Gray said. “It is unacceptable for teachers to have to choose between the profession they love and their ability to keep the lights on at home or send their own children to college. The pressure applied by state elected officials was critical to reversing the State Board’s pattern of diminishing the raise passed by the General Assembly, a move which should finally make our teachers whole and help them support their families.”

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


 

 

Russo on Tennessee’s Alternative Graduation Facts

Much has been made about a state report seeming to indicate that one third of Tennessee’s high school graduates finished school without meeting state minimum requirements.

The initial release of the report caused alarm, of course. Then, the state walked back the numbers after admitting a data error.

Alexander Russo takes a look at the report and the surrounding news coverage and comes to this conclusion:

The state issued  a bad number without carefully considering its flaws or making them clear to reporters and board members, then belatedly realized its mistake and walked the initial figure back. But news outlets contributed to the problem by rushing to report the initial figure without questioning just how iffy it might be, unintentionally delivering inaccurate information to the public. The end result has been widespread confusion that will take a long time to clear up – if it ever is.

While Russo suggests media outlets should have done a better job of both raising questions and seeking clarifying information, he notes the state bears the brunt of the responsibility:

To be clear, the state department should have checked with the districts before presenting this information to the board and to the public. The state should also have anticipated that the graduation rate number would attract enormous amounts of attention and include additional warnings and caveats about the preliminary nature of the number. The primary responsibility was theirs.

The Tennessee Education Association pointed to the state’s responsibility to release accurate data and noted that the initial claims may have helped advance the arguments of school privatization advocates.

From a TEA press release:

Organizations backing privatization schemes like private school vouchers, rapid charter expansion and high-stakes testing, need people to believe that public schools are failing. Undermining confidence in public schools is an important step to build support for radical and dangerous proposals to destroy public education.

“As a state that consistently ranks at the bottom in student investment, we are consistently in the top 10 for graduation rate because of the commitment of Tennessee educators. Our students and teachers already often have the odds stacked against them, they don’t need damaging misinformation piling anything else on,” [TEA Executive Director] Crowder said.

To be sure, both the initial data release and the subsequent reporting created a sense of alarm in the state’s education policy community. Taking just a few extra steps could have prevented what turned into a rather messy scene.

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


 

 

Polling: Tennesseans Oppose Vouchers

As I mentioned last week, the issue of school vouchers will again be a hot topic at the Tennessee General Assembly. Today, the Tennessee Education Association is out with polling suggesting Tennessee residents oppose vouchers.

Here’s the press release:

Tennesseans strongly reject private school vouchers, according to the largest and most comprehensive polling data on the subject. TEA extensively surveyed rural, urban and suburban voters in all three Grand Divisions of the state, with an oversample of highly-likely Republican primary voters. The polls were conducted May through October of 2016.

Of the 6,510 respondents, 59.5 percent rejected private school vouchers, 29 percent approved. The two-to-one negative opinion was consistent across geographic and demographic groups. The polling margin of error is +/- 4 percent.

“I’ve rarely seen such a strong negative opinion. It is clear Tennesseans do not like or want school vouchers,” said Jim Wrye, TEA Government Relations manager. “We are a conservative state that values our local traditions and institutions. Vouchers are a radical idea that attack and weaken the foundation of our communities — our public schools.”

During the 2016 primary and general elections, TEA conducted numerous polls in districts to help defend legislators from attacks by pro-voucher groups and determine where new attacks could happen. Polling was conducted by a respected Republican firm used by Tennessee GOP entities and candidates.

While TEA’s polling asked basic national and local “horse-race” questions and demographic information, the polling also asked a voucher question about using taxpayer funds for private school tuition. The simple and accurate question was asked in every poll commissioned by TEA and now provides the best voter opinion data on vouchers.

“It was important to keep the question simple, and to stay away from leading or flowery language seen in other polling and surveys,” said Wrye. “Vouchers use public school funding for private school tuition. It was important to ask voters in the most simple and accurate way whether they support such a thing. Overwhelmingly, they do not.”

Rejection of vouchers was remarkably consistent across the state. Rural voters tended to be more against vouchers (64.17 percent no, 24.54 percent yes; 2,995 voters) than urban and suburban (54.01 percent no, 34.43 percent yes; 3,536 voters). No area or legislative district saw vouchers receive more support than opposition.

“I strongly encourage any legislator to vote their district and listen to folks back home. There are a lot of special interest lobbyists and money floating around the capitol, pushing things that are not of Tennessee’s great traditions and values,” said Wrye. “No matter the special interest threats or demands, you can be sure voting with your folks back home is always good politics.”

When it comes to vouchers, it is not what voters want in any district.

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


 

Wilson County Teachers to See Raises

The Wilson County Commission recently passed a budget that includes funds to build a new middle school and provides a pay raise for educators.

From the Tennessee Education Association:

Thanks to the efforts of the Wilson County Education Association, the Wilson County Commission passed a pay raise for educators and approved funds to build a new Gladeville middle school.

The approved raises include $1,000 dollars to teachers with one to five years of experience, $2,000 to teachers with six to 10, and $3,000 for teachers with 11+ years. The district is required to use the allocated money exclusively for teacher raises.

WCEA President Melissa Lynn and other WCEA members lead the push to get the increase passed, securing raises and construction funds to ease serious over-crowding issues.

WCEA President Lynn was given an opportunity to address the commission to make the case for teacher raises and new schools. Her remarks are included below.

Good evening. My name is Melissa Lynn. I am a mother, public school teacher and life-long resident of Wilson County.

Having raised a child on a teacher’s salary, I know how important every penny is to a family’s budget. So asking for a property tax increase is not something I take lightly. But as an educator, I know first-hand how critical this increase is for our students, our schools and the future of this community we all love. We simply cannot afford to not do this.

Wilson County is growing at an incredible rate. New homes and businesses are being built every day. If we want our community to continue to be a desirable place for families and businesses, we must have a strong system of public schools. A strong local economy is built upon a foundation of strong public schools – which requires investing our resources in updating facilities and attracting the best educators for our students.

Wilson County Schools are bursting at the seams with over-crowded classrooms and hallways. In order to keep class sizes down and keep our students safe on campus, we really need to build more schools. To date, the growth of our school system has not kept up with the growth of our community.

The second main concern in addition to over-crowded schools, is the county’s ability to attract and retain the most qualified and committed educators. It is our responsibility to our children to ensure every student has an excellent teacher in their classroom. We will not attract the best and brightest educators without competitive pay and benefits. While the county does a good job of providing quality benefits to those teachers who take advantage of the health insurance offered, a teacher cannot put food on her table or pay her bills with health insurance premiums.

Wilson County faces some stiff competition from other districts in Middle Tennessee who offer better salary and benefits packages AND better facilities for educators. Teachers who live here in Wilson County, and would prefer to work here, are choosing to work in other districts because of these things. We need to bring these educators home, and attract the best of the best from other districts, by offering a salary and benefits package that enables educators to provide for their families.

I know you share my belief that our kids deserve the very best. It is up to us now to step up and invest in the future success of our children and our community. That is why I am here tonight to ask that you please vote “YES” to approve the budget and proposed property tax increase before you.

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


 

 

TEA on New Voucher Program

The state launched a voucher program this week aimed at students with disabilities.  The IEA voucher program was created legislatively in 2015 and the vouchers are available this year. The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) expressed concerns about the program during the legislative fight and continues to express concerns as the program launches.

Here’s the statement from TEA:

The Tennessee Education Association again expressed concern over the state’s new IEA Voucher program and urged parents to proceed with caution.

“Programs like the one the Tennessee Department of Education is launching today have been subject to fraud and abuse in other states,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “This is of even greater concern to TEA because this program is targeted toward our most vulnerable children who need strong educational services.”

The new voucher program came about after legislative action in 2015. The program is designated for certain students with disabilities. A similar program in Florida has been subject to millions of dollars in fraud, mostly by way of individuals establishing schools that don’t adequately serve the disability population.

“Parents should proceed with extreme caution. This program will create large financial incentive for vendors to seek this public money, and may attract unscrupulous providers who do not have children’s best interests at heart,” said Gray. “Likewise, we ask that the state exercise strong oversight to ensure children and families are protected.”

One portion of the legislation indicates that when parents accept this voucher, they forfeit certain protections under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

“By removing these kids from public school, parents may not understand the huge ramifications of surrendering their child’s rights under IDEA to free, public education. The state of Tennessee also loses a portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance currently educating Tennessee’s children with special needs. This lost federal money will have a ripple effect throughout the state and will harm all special education students, even those who stay in public school,” said the TEA president.

“Every effort must be made to protect children and ensure the viability of programs approved to accept these new vouchers. Fraud in programs like this hurts both taxpayers and those whom the program is intended to serve.”

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


 

 

TEA on TNReady

The Tennessee Education Association is out with a statement on TNReady:

“Tennessee teachers and students have lost countless hours of instruction time this school year preparing for the new TNReady assessment,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “The call to cancel this year’s test should have come more than two months ago when the first phase was such a disaster.”

“The state is so focused on testing that it overlooked the opportunity to salvage what was left of the school year and let teachers get back to educating our students. Instead, the state placed gathering data above the best interests of Tennessee students.”

“Moving forward, we have serious concerns about the state’s ability to find a new vendor and have an assessment ready to go next school year,” Gray continued. “It is time to slow way down on the state’s testing craze and make sure we are doing what is best for our students.”

“The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act at the federal level gives Tennessee a chance to reevaluate how it measures student and teacher performance. The new law allows for the development of innovative assessments, giving states a way out of the test-and-punish system we have operated under for many years. It will also allow us to look at other success indicators, as opposed to relying on a single test to determine if a school is meeting students’ needs.”

“We have the opportunity now to not just continue with the way things have always been done, but instead explore the opportunities afforded to us through ESSA to make sure every student receives a quality education.”

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

 

Ready to Waive

Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen announced today that in light of difficulties with the administration of the TNReady test, they are proposing that TNReady data NOT be included in this year’s round of teacher evaluations.

The statement comes after the Knox County Board of Education made a similar request by way of resolution in December. That resolution was followed by a statewide call for a waiver by a coalition of education advocacy groups. More recently, principals in Hamilton County weighed in on the issue.

Here’s Governor Haslam’s press release on the waiver:
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he would seek additional flexibility for teachers as the state continues its transition to the TNReady student assessment.

Under the proposal, teachers would have the choice to include or not to include student results from the 2015-2016 TNReady assessment in his or her evaluation score, which typically consists of multiple years of data. The proposal keeps student learning and accountability as factors in an educator’s evaluation while giving teachers the option to include this year’s results if the results benefit them. The governor will work with the General Assembly on specific language and a plan to move the proposal through the legislative process.

“Tennessee students are showing historic progress. The state made adjustments to teacher evaluation and accountability last year to account for the transition to an improved assessment fully aligned with Tennessee standards, which we know has involved a tremendous amount of work on the part of our educators,” Haslam said. “Given recent, unexpected changes in the administration of the new assessment, we want to provide teachers with additional flexibility for this first year’s data.”

Tennessee has led the nation with a teacher evaluation model that has played a vital role in the state’s unprecedented progress in education. Tennessee students are the fastest improving students in the country since 2011. The state’s graduation rate has increased three years in a row, standing at 88 percent. Since 2011, 131,000 more students are on grade-level in math and nearly 60,000 more on grade-level in science.  The plan builds upon the Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act proposed by the governor and approved by the General Assembly last year. This year is the first administration of TNReady, which is fully aligned with the state’s college and career readiness benchmarks.

“Providing teachers with the flexibility to exclude first-year TNReady data from their growth score over the course of this transition will both directly address many concerns we have heard and strengthen our partnership with educators while we move forward with a new assessment,” Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “Regardless of the test medium, TNReady will measure skills that the real world will require of our students.”

Most educator evaluations have three main components: qualitative data, which includes principal observations and always counts for at least half of an educator’s evaluation; a student achievement measure that the educator chooses; and a student growth score, which usually comprises 35 percent of the overall evaluation

 

While the release mentions last year’s changes to teacher evaluation to account for TNReady, it fails to note the validity problems created by an evaluation system moving from a multiple choice (TCAP) to a constructed-response test (TNReady).

Here’s the Tennessee Education Association on the announcement:

“TEA applauds Gov. Haslam on his proposal to give teachers the flexibility to not use TNReady test data in their 2015-16 evaluations. It is encouraging to see the governor listen to the widespread calls from educators, parents and local school boards for a one-year moratorium for TNReady data in teacher evaluations.”

 

“It is important that schools are given the same leniency as students and teachers during the transition to TNReady. These test scores that Gov. Haslam is acknowledging are too unreliable for use in teacher evaluations, are the same scores that can place a school on the priority list and make it eligible for state takeover. All high-stakes decisions tied to TNReady test data need to be waived for the 2015-16 school year.”

 

“While the governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction toward decoupling standardized test scores with high-stakes decisions, these measurements have proven to be unreliable statistical estimates that are inappropriate for use in teacher evaluations at all. TEA will continue its push to eliminate all standardized test scores from annual teacher evaluations.”

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

(NOT) Ready on Day One

It’s campaign season and candidate after candidate is telling voters they are the clear choice because they will be “ready on day one.”

Likewise, it’s the beginning of statewide testing season in Tennessee and districts have been told the state’s new system would be ready on day one.

Except it wasn’t.

Brian Wilson at the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reports:

A technology failure from a state vendor halted standardized testing across Tennessee on the first day that TNReady, the state’s new online exam program, was set to be administered on a widespread basis.

The state’s testing platform “experienced major outages across the state” Monday morning because of network issues with Measurement, Inc., who is contracted to administer the standardized exams, according to a memo Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent to schools directors across the state.

Don’t call us, we’ll call you …

As problems began this morning, the Department of Education sent the following notice to school districts:

At 8:25 a.m. CST the MIST platform experienced major outages across the state. These outages were caused because the network utilized by Measurement Inc. experienced a failure. We are urgently working with Measurement Inc. to identify the causes and correct the problem. At this time, we are advising that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes. Please do not begin any new additional testing you had planned for today until the department provides further information. However, if you have students that are successfully testing, please allow them to complete the current session.

Note, this problem affects both the MICA and MIST platforms. 

The MIST Help Desk is aware of the problem and will be not accepting additional phone calls on this issue. Please encourage your technology directors to call the department’s TNReady Focus Room.

We will provide frequent updates as information becomes available. Thank you for your patience.

It’s not clear how today’s delay will impact testing schedules across the state or whether the TNReady platforms will be ready tomorrow.

Williamson County Schools had already pushed the start of their TNReady testing back to Wednesday as a precaution against the sort of testing glitches that occurred today.

A Call for Fairness

The Tennessee Education Association issued a statement from their President, Barbara Gray, calling for fair treatment of teachers in light of the TNReady problems:

TEA has long had concerns about this transition to a statewide online  assessment. We have seen problems with pilot assessments and practice tests in the past, and unfortunately the first day of TNReady resulted in more issues and frustrations for our students and teachers.

 

Leading up to today’s testing, we have heard from educators and parents statewide about concerns with the state’s capacity to handle so many students on the server at one time, as well as concerns about local districts having enough resources to complete the testing with so little funding from the state.

 

It is unacceptable to have this kind of statewide failure when the state has tied so many high-stakes decisions to  the results of this assessment. Our students and teachers have enough stress and anxiety around these assessments without adding additional worries about technical issues.

 

The state must grant a one-year waiver – at a minimum – from including TNReady scores in teacher evaluations. It is unfair and inappropriate to stake our teachers’ professional standing on flawed, unreliable test scores in any year, but there are even greater implications and uncertainty while implementing a new assessment.

School Boards Expressing Concern

Ahead of the TNReady tests, several school boards have expressed concern about the use of the results in teacher evaluations this year.

MNPS and Knox County are among those asking the state to waive the results this year.

No word on whether state officials are still perplexed about why teachers are wary having TNReady count toward this year’s evaluations.

Again, it’s not clear when we’ll actually be TNReady, just that it wasn’t on day one.

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

 

A Matter of Fairness

A coalition of education advocacy groups released an online petition today calling for a one year waiver from using student test scores in teacher evaluations in Tennessee.

Here’s the press release:

A coalition of groups supporting public education today launched an online petition asking the Tennessee General Assembly and Governor Bill Haslam to grant teachers a grace period from the use of student test scores in their evaluations in the first year of new TNReady tests. The petition tracks language adopted unanimously by the Knox County School Board, which passed a resolution last week opposing the use of student test scores in teacher evaluation for this academic year.

“The state has granted waivers so that TNReady scores aren’t required to be counted in student grades for this year,” said Lyn Hoyt, president of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE). “If TNReady won’t count in student grades, it’s only fair that it shouldn’t count for teacher evaluation.” Hoyt noted that the transition to the new test means entering uncharted territory in terms of student scores and impact on teacher evaluation scores. As such, she said, there should be a one year or more grace period to allow for adjustment to the new testing regime.

“TNReady is different than the standardized tests we’ve had in the past,” Hoyt said. “Our students and teachers both deserve a reasonable transition period. We support the Knox County resolution and we are calling on the General Assembly to take notice and take action. Taking a thoughtful path transitioning to the new test can also build confidence and trust in the process.”

Hoyt also cited a recent policy statement by the American Educational Research Association that cautions against using value-added data in teacher evaluations and for high-stakes purposes. “Researchers who study value-added data are urging states to be cautious in how it is used to evaluate teachers,” Hoyt said. “The transition to TNReady is the perfect time to take a closer look at how test scores are used in teacher evaluations. Let’s take a year off, and give our students and teachers time to adjust. It’s a matter of fundamental fairness.”

Groups supporting the petition include:

Strong Schools (Sumner County)
Williamson Strong (Williamson County)
SPEAK (Students, Parents, Educators Across Knox County)
SOCM (Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment)

Middle TN CAPE (Coalition Advocating for Public Education)
Momma Bears Blog
Advocates for Change in Education (Hamilton County)
Concerned Parents of Franklin County (Franklin County)
Parents of Wilson County, TN, Schools
Friends of Oak Ridge Schools (City of Oak Ridge Schools)
TNBATs (State branch of National BATs)
TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence)
TEA (Tennessee Education Association)

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

Trust Us and Stop Complaining

That seems to be the over-arching message from the Tennessee General Assembly as they continue to advance legislation designed to prevent those who disagree with the current “ed reform” agenda from having a strong voice.

The latest example is the so-called Educator Protection Act (HB645/SB604) designed to offer liability insurance to teachers at state expense. But, as Jon Alfuth notes over at Bluff City Ed, it seems the legislation has other implications:

 I can only speculate, but this looks like a quiet effort to continue the drive towards making the TEA irrelevant in the state. Pass this and one of the big draws of union membership, legal protection in the case of a law suit, suddenly becomes less important. The TEA does contend that teachers would still have to rely on them for legal fees according to the link cited above, but teachers wouldn’t need the liability coverage under the TEA any more as the state would provide it. It just removes one additional reason for teachers to join the union.

Weakening TEA and also Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) weakens the organized opposition to much of what passes as education reform – evaluations based on suspect statistical methods and vouchers, as just two examples.

This effort comes after just last week, an amendment was added to the state budget that was designed to limit local school boards in their efforts to seek more funding from the state.

The General Assembly seems to be sending a clear message to those who disagree with prevailing education policy: Trust us, and stop complaining.

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