Diane Ravitch Calls for the Termination of Shawn Joseph’s Contract. Do others agree?

Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education and education historian, believes that the Nashville School Board should terminate the contract of Dr. Shawn Joseph just three months into his tenure.

If you need a refresher, Diane Ravitch is an anti-reformer who teaches at New York University. Although never being a K-12 teacher herself, she is a hero to many teachers around the country because of her anti-testing, anti-accountably, and anti-charter school stances.

She regularly blogs about the happenings in Nashville. In the latest blog post, she uses a post from Nashville blogger T.C. Weber, who has been featured on this blog, as proof to call for the termination of Dr. Joseph’s contract:

If the elected board can’t straighten out this mess and revise Dr. Joseph’s contract to assure that he works for the board–the board does not work for him–then it’s time to cut their losses and terminate his contract. Don’t accept excuses for his wasteful spending, his ill-advised hires, his importing of the same aides involved in the scandal in Prince George’s County. If he won’t comply, say goodbye. It’s imperative to admit it when you have made a mistake. Cut your losses sooner rather than later.

Diane Ravitch is close allies of Nashville school board members and many anti-reformers in Nashville. School Board Members Amy Frogge and Will Pinkston have regularly posted articles from Ravitch and have been featured on Ravitch’s national blog. Frogge has previously said that Ravitch “simply speakscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-29-49-pms the truth.”

Here is Amy Frogge with Ravitch at an event in Nashville in 2014 that was put on by TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence—TC Weber is recording secretary of TREE), an anti-school reform organization. TREE has also put on other events where Pinkston and Frogge have attended.

It’s time we ask Pinkston & Frogge if they agree with Ravitch’s call for Joseph’s contract termination. We need to know.

Another education blogger who has been featured on this blog, Mary Holden, commented that she believes that “the board needs to admit its mistake and make it right. Now. Before it’s too late.”

While Weber doesn’t think Joseph’s contract should be terminated, he does believe other staff members should be fired because their “hirings are morally wrong.”

Do others believe that Joseph should be terminated? Vesia Hawkins, education blogger and former school board administer, believes this is just the start. On Twitter, she says, “The witch hunt to our Nashville’s first African American director of school after only 3 months on the job has gone national.”

Hawkins goes on to remind everyone that Nashville came together to hire Joseph. “The city identified the man they wanted in a director. Remember the committee? What about the community meetings? The many welcome mats?”

Those welcome mats are long gone.

I think it’s time to ask our school board members and education leaders if they think Joseph and his staff should be fired three months in. Are these the opinions of extreme bloggers or are these the represented opinions of the anti-reform crowd in Nashville? We need to know.

Three months in, are people already starting to work against our Director of Schools? This has happened before…I hope it’s not happening again.

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t think it would be so soon into Joseph’s contract when the calls for firing would start up. Nashville came together to hire an amazing new leader, so let’s give him time to show us what he can do.

But there is another person who “liked” the Diane Ravitch blog post calling for the termination of Joseph…Dr. Jay Steele. Maybe he is hoping for a second chance to become Director of Schools.

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


 

Interview With Senator Steve Dickerson

dickersonToday, we welcome Senator Steve Dickerson to the blog. Steve Dickerson is currently running for state senate in District 20 against Erin Coleman.

You can read Erin Coleman’s interview here.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are running for office?

I am an anesthesiologist and father of three. My wife and I have lived in Nashville for 20 years. I am running for re-election to continue to expand prospects for Tennesseans to live the American dream. I believe this is accomplished by creating an environment that fosters economic development, enhances educational opportunity and provides government services in an efficient and cost-effective manner. As a city and state, we have made great strides over my first term but there will always be room for improvement. Our best days are ahead of us.

What role should the legislature and the state play in the education system?

There is a dynamic relationship between local school boards, local governments, the General Assembly and the federal government. Overall, the General Assembly has a role in aligning curricula with workforce needs; funding and setting overall state standards. There will always be some tension between all of those stakeholders so it is important to have representatives who understand this, will try to build consensus and advocate for good policy.

What is one thing that the state is doing well in regards to the education system?

I think the best thing we have done is to continue to discuss the importance of education. While virtually everyone would agree as to the key role education plays, over the last several years we have really re-focused on education’s essential contribution to the future of our city and state. As far as specific, tangible policy, the state has increased funding at an unprecedented rate without increasing taxes.

What is one thing that the state is doing that needs to be changed or improved?

I believe there is widespread “over-testing.” Recently, the state decreased requirements for standardized testing. While this is a good start, I think we need to continue to look for ways to decrease the volume of testing and the reliance on “high stakes” testing. This process involves LEAs, school boards and the General Assembly and is one of our areas where we all need to work together. I have toured dozens of MNPS schools over my term and the burden of testing and test-preparation has been the most common concern voiced by teachers.

If reelected, what education policies will you advocate for at the legislature?

I will support a more nuanced agenda of educational reform. Six years ago, when Governor Haslam took office, there was universal concern over our state’s performance on national tests. As a result, our state undertook an aggressive reform package. Now, it is time to take stock of where we are and how to get where we need to be. I view this somewhat from my perspective as a physician. If a patient is in critical condition, one needs to be aggressive. But, once the patient is stabilized, a more long-term, balanced approach is required. I believe we are at that point in our current wave of education reform. In my first term, I sponsored numerous education bills. Two of note were the “Quality Pre-K Act” and the “Charter Accountability Act.” I will continue to seek these same sort of policies that look for data-driven solutions that are supported by advocates all across the spectrum.

How will you support Metro Nashville Public Schools as a state senator?

I have enjoyed a very solid relationship with MNPS over my first term and expect that it will only grow stronger over the next four years. There are three specific actions I will pursue on behalf of MNPS. First, I will be an advocate for MNPS in and out of the General Assembly. I am proud of the work we are doing in Nashville and will make sure everyone knows it. Second, I will continue to sponsor bills on behalf of MNPS. Third, I will continue to look for ways to enhance funding. MNPS has one of the most diverse student populations in the state. This is a strength that adds vibrancy to our city but also entails additional costs.

Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add? Where can readers go to find more about your campaign?

I have spent the last four years learning how to build coalitions and I have sponsored bills that have gained support from a wide range of groups and individuals. In my next term, I will continue to seek thoughtful solutions to help enhance educational opportunity for all Tennesseans. For more on my campaign, please visit my website at www.votestevedickerson.com

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


 

 

Interview With Senate Candidate Erin Coleman

colemanToday, we welcome Erin Coleman to the blog. Erin Coleman is currently running for state senate in District 20 against Senator Steve Dickerson.

You can read Steve Dickerson’s interview here.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are running for office?

I am a mother of three young children, a small-business owner, an attorney, and a U.S. Army veteran. Currently, there are no mothers of young children in the Tennessee Senate, and that viewpoint is sorely lacking. The state legislature has gotten sidetracked on wedge issues and bad behavior. The only way to change the culture of the state legislature is to change who serves in the state legislature. Senate District 20 deserves a senator that will put Nashville first. Let us decide issues and stop the state legislature from overriding our wishes every chance they get.

What role should the legislature and the state play in the education system?

The state legislature plays a huge role in funding education, in approving textbooks, in curriculum oversight,and in setting teaching licensure standards. In terms of funding, the state must get the BEP right and ensure that our large urban systems are getting the funding they need, especially for ELL. On the other issues, the legislature should work to ensure that the state is a productive partner with local officials. The state shouldn’t simply dictate to LEA’s. For example, the state should not have the authority to override local decisions on which charter schools are approved and which are not. Local officials are on the ground and know better than the state what is best for their districts.

What is one thing that the state is doing well in regards to the education system?

The state has two primary responsibilities- funding and assessment – and it is doing neither well. Prior to 2011, Tennessee was a national leader in education reform. Due to a lack of leadership, the state has since thrown that away. The responsibility for this failure falls most heavily on the members of the legislature’s Education Committees. They have led the race to the bottom in education in Tennessee.

What is one thing that the state is doing that needs to be changed or improved?

The state should not have the authority to override local decisions on charter schools. Charters have a valuable place in our education system, and locals know best what that place is. We should let our elected school boards do their jobs and keep the state out of it.

If elected, what education policies will you advocate for at the legislature?

Getting the BEP right. In order to thrive, school systems need financial resources. Nashville has a tremendous need for ELL funding. That must be taken into account in the BEP. I will also work to further expand Pre-K. There is no single education investment that can have as much of an impact as quality Pre-K.

How will you support Metro Nashville Public Schools as a state senator?

Over the past year, I have developed strong relationships with our MNPS Board members. I will meet with them regularly to determine their needs and how best I can help them in the Senate. I will also keep an open door for any parent, student, teacher, administrator, or school staffer that wants to talk to me. As a mom to three young children, I know how important a quality education is. In fact, I believe that educating our children is the single most-important thing our government does.

Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add? Where can readers go to find more about your campaign?

Visit erinfornashville.com or facebook.com/erinfornashville or twitter.com/ErinCforSD20 for the latest information about my campaign. This election presents a contrast between two distinct visions of what Nashville and Tennessee should be. I believe that our public education system is an essential building block in our community and it should be fully funded and supported. Our state legislature works to undercut public education at every turn. Unless we change who serves in the General Assembly, that will continue.

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


 

 

How Did MNPS High Schools And Subgroups Do On The ACT?

I recently wrote about the release of ACT scores for the state and specifically for Nashville. We learned that only 11% of MNPS students were college and career ready according to the ACT. 

Today, MNPS released more in depth information on the individual high schools as well as information on specific subgroups in Nashville. 

According to MNPS, 4,376 seniors took the ACT with the average score of 18.2. Seniors need to have a composite score of 21 or above to qualify for the HOPE scholarship. While the percent of high school students qualifying for HOPE scholarship decreased, the number of students qualifying for the scholarship actually increased from from 1,131 to 1,219 students.

Achievement Gap

Before we look at the scores of individual high schools, I want to look at the ACT scores based on subgroups. Below we see the gap between Black (16.7), Hispanic/Latino (16.9), and White (20.7) students. That’s a 4 point different between Black and White students and a 3.8 point difference Hispanic/Latino and White students.

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How did individual high schools do?

The top traditional high schools for ACT achievement are Hume-Fogg (26.8), MLK (26.3), and Nashville School of the Arts (20.5). The lowest traditional high schools are Pearl Cohn (14.5), Whites Creek (15.7), and Maplewood (15.7). Obviously, the top three schools are all magnet schools.

MNPS points out a few things about this year’s data:

Stratford tested many more students in 2016 and had an increase of 0.5 points. East Nashville, Whites Creek and Metro Nashville Virtual School saw test score increases while having modest increases in the number of test takers. LEAD Academy tested slightly fewer students but saw an increase in scores.

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How do we improve?

MNPS is working with Alignment Nashville to give free ACT preparation classes to students who cannot afford them. Last year, Alignment Nashville worked with Hunters Lane, Hillsboro, Maplewood, and Overton. Additional schools may be added this year.

I am so glad that Alignment Nashville is partnering with our schools to prepare our students for the ACT. We are doing a disservice to our students who graduate from high school not prepared for college or career. It breaks my heart that thousands of students are missing out on the HOPE scholarship. More must be done to help these students, and all of that shouldn’t be left to our high school teachers.

Preparing our students for graduation starts before the students even get to the high school level. MNPS transformed our high schools years ago towards the academy model. I think it’s time to start looking at the transformation of elementary and middle schools.

Elementary and middle schools need more supports in place to help close the gaps before students move on to high school. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope MNPS will be looking into ways to give more support to our lower grades.

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


 

MNPS Sues The State

MNPS has now officially filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee in regards to underfunding for English language learners.

The petition, which was filed Thursday, comes after the school board voted to sue in June and a recent letter that 30 Metro Council members signed in favor of the lawsuit.

Amanda Haggard at the Nashville Scene:

The lawsuit argues that the state should follow code, which outlines that “funding shall be provided by the state at a ratio of 1:20 for teachers and 1:200 for translators.”

Currently the state is only funding ELL at an estimated ratio of 1:25 for teachers and 1:250 for translators.

Before the lawsuit was filed, the state agreed about the code and ratio, but referred Metro Legal to another section of the code, which says “the changes in components or factors of the BEP implemented by this at shall be implemented in accordance with funding as made available through the general appropriations act.”

In response to the lawsuit, Nashville Mayor Barry commended the school board.

I commend our School Board for seeking to use every tool available to them to ensure that our teachers have enough resources to provide a world-class education for our students. We have the opportunity to be a leader in the nation for providing high-quality ELL services for our students, but we need to ensure that the State of Tennessee is providing Davidson County with our fair share of tax dollars as required by law.

You can read the lawsuit here.

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


 

 

More Needed For Gifted Students

According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Tennessee scores low on tracking accountability for gifted students. Tennessee received one out of four stars in the report. Grace Tatter and Nic Garcia at Chalkbeat:

To improve accountability, Tennessee should give additional points to schools that boost student scores to the highest possible level on state tests, the report said. It also should report gifted and talented students’ scores separately, as it does for racial minorities, English language learners, and other subgroups of students.

Fordham’s report asserts that an unintended consequence of previous accountability systems is that high-performing students, especially those at struggling schools, were left without support to push them even further in their academic pursuits.

Specifically, the report says that Tennessee “includes high-achieving students in its growth model but does little else to encourage schools to pay attention to them.”

You can read the full report here.

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


 

Rocketship Claims MNPS Took Too Long To Act on Appeal and Schools Should Have Been Automatically Approved

Rocketship Tennessee is appealing to the State Board of Education to open a new charter school in Nashville after Metro Nashville Public Schools denied their application on appeal earlier this month in an 8-1 vote.

But in a letter to the State Board of Education, Rocketship Tennessee claims that Metro Nashville Public Schools took longer than the 30 day period to act on the appeal, which would mean the two schools should have been automatically approved. The Tennessee Public Charter School Act of 2002 clearly explains how the appeal works.

The local board of education shall have thirty (30) days either to deny or to approve the amended application. Should the local board of education fail to either approve or deny the amended application within thirty (30) days, the amended application shall be deemed approved.

Rocketship Tennessee claims they submitted their amended application on July 7th. Based on the 30 day rule, Rocketship Tennessee says the Metro Nashville School Board had until August 8th to deny or approve the appeal. The school board did not meet until August 10th, outside of the 30 day time limit, which Rocketship says should mean both of their applications should have been approved.

That is just a small portion of the appeal to the State Board of Education. Rocketship Tennessee currently has over 1,100 students in their two Nashville locations. Unlike most charter schools, Rocketship opened a full K-4 school at once instead of the grade by grade expansion that other charter schools do. Rocketship Tennessee has a waitlist of over 200 students for their Nashville schools.

With the lack of TNReady assessment data, Rocketship is providing their own normative assessment data to show that the school should be approved.


Our confidence in our Rocketeers’ continued growth is grounded in their performance on the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, a nationally norm-referenced exam that evaluates both math and reading/language arts proficiency. On MAP last year, 63% of our students moved up one or more quartiles (or remained in the top quartile). Our first-year Rocketeers in Nashville grew 1.5 years in math and 1.4 years in reading.

This is powerful proof that our personalized learning model is meeting the unique needs of each and every student. By meeting students where they are academically, we are putting them on the gap-closing path.

This is the second time that Rocketship Tennessee has appealed to the State Board of Education, with the original appeal being rejected in October 2015.

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


 

The ACT Results Are In. How Did We Do?

Tennessee tracks if students are career and college ready by requiring all students to take the ACT. On the ACT, college and career ready is determined by a score of 21. A score of a 21 allows students to qualify for the HOPE scholarship, and students will be able to skip remedial courses in college.

How did the state do? Chalkbeat has the answer:

Tennessee held steady with an average score of 19.4 out of a possible 36, increasing its standing from eighth to seventh among the 18 states that require students to take the ACT. The national average score was 20.8, down from 21 last year.

Even so, state officials celebrated that nearly 1,300 more Tennessee public school students hit the college-ready mark this year than last.

In 2016, only one-fifth of Tennessee public school students taking the ACT met all four subject benchmarks for being considered college-ready. English drew the best showing, with about 55 percent meeting that benchmark, followed by 34 percent in reading, and 27 percent each in math and science

What about individual districts? In Nashville, only 11% of students are college and career ready. The Tennessean has the Nashville numbers:

Metro Schools tallied an 18.4 composite score, marking a 0.3 point drop over the 2015 year‘s 18.7 composite score across all students tested, according to 2016 ACT numbers released to districts Tuesday. Only 11 percent of all Metro Schools students are ready for college, a three-point dip over last year.

We must do better in preparing our students for college and career state-wide, but especially in Nashville. The average MNPS student will need remedial courses if they go to college. That means MNPS students and their families will be paying more money to take courses that may not even count towards their post secondary degree. That’s a disservice to our students.

How does MNPS with the rest of Middle Tennessee?

  • Cheatham County: 19.6 composite; 17 percent college ready
  • Dickson County: 19.4 composite; 16 percent college ready
  • Metro Nashville: 18.4 composite; 11 percent college ready
  • Robertson County: 19 composite; 14 percent college ready
  • Rutherford County: 20.2 composite; 21 percent college ready
  • Sumner County: 20.8 composite; 23 percent college ready
  • Williamson County: 23.8 composite; 45 percent college ready
  • Wilson County: 20.3 composite;  19 percent college ready

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


 

 

Assessment Update: Eliminating Part I, Reducing Testing Time, and Online Assessment Rollout

In an email to all Tennessee teachers, Commissioner Candice McQueen had the following updates to give regarding the upcoming year’s assessment, which includes eliminating Part I, reducing testing time, and a rollout of online assessments:

This summer we announced how we’re streamlining our assessments to provide a better testing experience for you and your students. Below are several changes to our assessment structure for the coming year.:

  • We’ve eliminated Part I. All TCAP tests will be administered in one assessment window at the end of the year, which will be April 17–May 5, 2017. High school students on block schedule will take fall EOCs November 28–December 16.
  • We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200–210 minutes shorter than last year; in high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes.
  • We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar, our new testing vendor, to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history & geography exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
  • In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place during the operational testing window near the end of the year. Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window.

You can find more detailed information in our original email announcement (here) and in our updated FAQ (here). 

Breaking Down the 2016 Educator Survey Results

The Tennessee Department of Education released the results of their annual educator survey. The 2016 Educator Survey was taken by over 30,000 educators across the state, which is about half of the state’s educators. This large sample of teachers allows us to see what teachers are really feeling out in the trenches, and the vast majority of teachers feel appreciated.

Working Conditions

Throughout the country we hear that many teachers do not feel appreciated as a teacher. But Tennessee’s classroom climate is different. 78% of teachers say: “I feel appreciated for the job that I am doing.”

The graphic below shows that Tennessee’s teachers give high ratings to their working conditions and to their colleagues.

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It should be noted that “we still see about 10 percent of schools across the state where the majority of staff report that they are dissatisfied with their work environment.” I hope that those schools are aware of their teacher’s views on the work environment. In Nashville, the district uses the TELL survey data to get a glimpse of how teachers view their working environment and administration.

My middle school in Nashville reviews the TELL survey results each year, discusses those results with their teachers, and makes necessary adjustments based that feedback. It’s a process that I hope all schools are doing in Nashville.

Student Discipline

The next area of the Educator Survey was about student discipline. This was the area that teachers and administers really disagreed on, as you can see below. Teachers also believe that we need to be spending more professional development on how to address student’s non-academic needs.

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As a teacher, I can really understand the disagreement between administrators and teachers on this issue. Chalkbeat easily breaks down the issue:

Tennessee teachers are more concerned than principals about discipline at their schools, according to a new survey that shows a similar disconnect over the amount of feedback that teachers get from their administrators.

About 69 percent of teachers surveyed say their schools effectively manage student behavioral problems, while 96 percent of administrators say their schools handle discipline just fine.

The gaps in perception suggest that school administrators may not be aware of their teachers’ concerns on discipline.

The findings come as high suspension rates for poor students and students of color are getting more national attention. They also indicate that Tennessee needs to start making discipline policies a bigger priority, says Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

“This points to specific areas where we need to take more concrete actions,” McQueen said during a conference call with reporters. She added that teachers are asking for more support to meet their students’ non-academic needs.

Teacher Evaluation

More teachers than ever before say that the teacher evaluation system is improving teaching and student learning. That’s great to hear.

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The results show that 71% of teachers saw improvement in teaching thanks to the teacher evaluation process. Personally, I had a great evaluator last year and my teaching skills grew because of it. I have really grown as a teacher over the last two years thanks to the teacher evaluation system.

This year’s result is a huge increase from 2012.

Seventy-one percent of teachers report that the teacher evaluation process has led to improvements in their teaching, up from 38 percent in 2012. Similarly, two- thirds of all teachers report that the process has led to improvements in student learning, up from about one quarter in 2012.

What do teachers want more of? Collaboration, of course! I work at a school with a really collaborative nature, and it shows both in the teachers and in the students. 

Change Over Time

I really enjoyed looking at the chart below to see how the teacher’s responses have changed over time on the evaluation process. This chart shows that a over two-thirds of teachers believe that the teacher evaluation improves their teaching and student learning.

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Tennessee is on the right course toward making teachers feel appreciated, and it’s great to see the teacher evaluation process improving teaching performance. Let’s not stop now. I hope the Department of Education will use these results to continue to improve the teaching environment for Tennessee’s teachers.

 

You can read the full report here.

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