Teachers Aren’t Dumb. Their Training May Be.

Daniel Willingham has a great piece in the New York Times today that discusses the notion that teachers are dumb. Of course they are not dumb! They just may have not been trained properly. This is totally true when it comes to reading:

Consider reading. In 2000, a national panel of experts concluded that reading teachers need explicit knowledge of language features that most people know only implicitly: syntax, morphology (how the roots of words can combine with one another or with prefixes or suffixes) and phonological awareness (the ability to hear parts of spoken language like syllables and individual speech sounds). Yet many undergraduates preparing to teach, fresh from their coursework in reading instruction, don’t know these concepts. In one study, 42 percent could not correctly define “phonological awareness.”

 

It could be that the professors don’t know it as well.

Of greater concern, those who educate future teachers don’t know them either. Emily Binks-Cantrell of Texas A&M University and her colleagues tested 66 professors of reading instruction for their knowledge of literacy concepts. When asked to identify the number of phonemes in a word, they were correct 62 percent of the time. They struggled more with morphemes, correctly identifying them 27 percent of the time.

Willingham makes the point that it is hard to evaluate the teachers on test scores of students when the teachers are not properly trained in the first place. They have been left in the dark. Let’s not leave our future teachers in the dark. Let’s get to work improving our teacher prep programs.

Much of what makes a teacher great is hard to teach, but some methods of classroom instruction have been scientifically tested and validated. Teachers who don’t know these methods are not stupid; they’ve been left in the dark.


 

 

 

Close a School Because of a Reading Assignment? That’s What One Nashville School Board Member Wants.

Ravi Gupta, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of RePublic Charter Schools, wrote a blog post about Nashville School Board Member Amy Frogge complaining to MNPS about a book that seventh graders at Nashville Prep are currently reading. Amy Frogge wants to close down Nashville Prep because they are reading City of Thieves, a book she does not want in middle schools. This is what censorship looks like.

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If you want to close a school because they are reading a book you don’t like, you may be closing a lot of schools in Nashville. We hear so much of autonomy in MNPS schools, but some involved in education are still afraid to give up all that power. Nashville Prep agrees with the teaching of City of Thieves. That’s all that matters. If parents disagree with that decision, they can take it up with Nashville Prep and their board.

Seventh graders can handle mature content. When you work with these students everyday, like I do, you know what type of content they can handle. The seventh graders I have worked with in MNPS can handle mature content.

Teachers & schools know their students. That’s what we are trained to do.

Nashville Prep knows how to educate their students. What can the Nashville School Board do to Nashville Prep?

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As a literacy educator, I hate seeing books attacked while students are actually reading. City of Thieves could be the turning point for many of the middle schoolers to stick with reading. While we are spending time discussing the merits of the books, Nashville Prep is making growth while other schools are not.

 

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Nashville Prep must be doing something right.

Please read the rest of the blog post that was posted by RePublic Charter Schools to hear about the claim that City of Thieves was too high of a lexile for the students at Nashville Prep and how Amy Frogge & Chelle Baldwin were for Nashville Prep before they were against Nashville Prep.

 

UPDATE: Amy Frogge has responded to Ravi Gupta with a lengthy Facebook post that you can read here.  She lists many allegations against Nashville Prep that she has heard over the years. You can read those at her Facebook page.

Since my post deals with the issue of the book, City of Thieves, here is what she as to say on that topic.

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This book currently resides in high schools in Nashville. This may be the start of at least one book being banned in MNPS.


 

Just Another School Funding Lawsuit

Bluff City Ed reports that Shelby County Schools will file a lawsuit today claiming the state’s school funding formula (BEP) is inadequate and inequitable.

The Shelby County suit is separate from the suit filed by Hamilton County and six other districts — that suit suggests the state funding formula is inadequate to the tune of $500 million a year.

Why are districts suing? Because the BEP Review Committee — a state group set up (by law) to review the state’s school funding formula each year and report on any deficiencies – has consistently reported that the state is under-funding schools. Interestingly, the BEP Review Committee was set up to alert the legislature of funding disparities in a timely fashion so the state could avoid the kind of lawsuit that originally resulted in the BEP.

Funny thing about that: Tennessee has been sued twice since the original lawsuit and lost both times.

Not so funny thing: The General Assembly still appears to be reluctant to seriously address lack of funding for schools. In fact, some leaders are downright hostile to the idea.

Perhaps one (or several) of these lawsuits will be successful and the General Assembly will be forced to address the serious funding shortfall facing districts across the state. There’s even a way to start investing in schools without raising any taxes.

More on the BEP:

TCAP: Proficiency or Poverty

Money for Roads, but Not for Schools?

Why Fix the BEP?

That’s a Big Class

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

MNPS, Annenberg, and Magnets

Last night, the MNPS School Board approved a set of standards to govern charter schools and agreed to also apply them to traditional district schools (though most already do apply).

Andrea Zelinski has the story:

Breathe easy. No one is changing rules for magnet schools, at least when it comes to selective enrollment.

The Metro Nashville Public School board approved nearly three dozen new requirements for regulating charter and traditional schools Tuesday night, like requiring regular reports on student mobility, posting school budgets and publishing details for any contracts over $10,000.

But the rules include banning schools from excluding or discouraging certain students from enrolling, such as is done at academic magnet schools like Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School and Hume Fogg Magnet High School or the Nashville School of the Arts — all district crown jewels with entrance requirements. The board ultimately exempted academic magnets and performing art schools from the new enrollment standard.

There’s more detail in the piece, including Zelinski’s play-by-play of the meeting.

More on the Annenberg Standards:

Annenberg May Apply to Magnets

Does TN Need Annenberg?

MNPS and Annenberg

A Call for Accountability

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

 

We Need Long Term Planning for Charters

The Tennessean has an op-ed by Harry Allen, an executive with Avenue Bank and board president of Purpose Preparatory charter school. He calls for a long-term plan for the future of our district in regards to charters. I think we sometimes get lost in the details about being pro/anti charter and forget to plan for the long term.

Charter schools are here to stay in Nashville. Thousands of students are served in charter schools throughout Nashville, and if you think that all of them are magically going to disappear, you need to rethink that notion.

Mr. Allen starts out with a great opening sentence:

The most successful organizations adapt to the changing environment around them in order to overcome challenges and remain effective.

Mr. Allen goes on to discuss findings of a study that was recently released in partnership with the Tennessee Charter School Association.

The study’s key findings include:

Charter schools in 2013-14 academically outperformed district-managed schools and are funded at similar levels, which means charters yielded a higher return on investment for taxpayers and families.

Though MNPS today is a choice-based system, the MNPS infrastructure — buildings, services and associated cost structure — reflects the past for which it was designed, one with limited parental choice.

It recommends an updated system that accounts for a future that includes a mix of district- and charter-managed public schools.

The majority of district financial expenses are variable in the long term and should be adjusted to reflect anticipated shifts in enrollment.

(Yes, commenters, how dare the Tennessee Charter School Association commission a study about charter schools. I know, it’s crazy that an organization would research a topic that they work in. While I am on the topic of studies, let’s not accept with open arms the Comptroller study on the ASD while saying the Comptroller study on MNPS was conducted by biased individuals. Hint: the same people did both studies. They are both flawed or both acceptable.)

Anyways, Mr. Allen goes on to quote Dr. Register as his conclusion.

“It is clear that shifts in student enrollment will require adjustments to our budgets that can only be made over multiple years,” he (Register) recently said. “Planning for these adjustments requires a long-term and collaborative approach that is responsive to parent demand and student enrollment decisions. We should take the time and make the effort to formulate the long-range impact.”

Dr. Register is spot-on — it’s imperative that MNPS adjust to the changing times. All organizations, whether for-profit or nonprofits, must occasionally adjust their planning to remain competitive. In this case, our city’s future depends on it.

Check out the oped, and let’s do some meaningful work in this area. We can spend hours every week in a doomsday scenario, or we can spend hours every week trying to come to a solution that will help lead our district into a prosperous future.

I would rather help lead our district into a prosperous future.

Wouldn’t you?


 

Why Fix the BEP?

I’ve written recently about the growing state revenue collections and the corresponding request (in the form of a lawsuit) from school districts that the BEP (state school funding formula) be adequately funded – to the tune of some $500 million in new money.

But, some might ask: Why even fix the BEP? It’s a complex formula and besides, don’t our schools already have enough money?

The short answer is no. No, Tennessee schools do not have enough money.

I have gone so far as to suggest the BEP is broken and to explain the reasons for its current inadequacy.

Now, more evidence suggesting the need to fix the BEP. Essentially, it’s this: Since 2008, Tennessee’s “effort” in terms of percentage of state revenue devoted to school funding has fallen. I’ll show you a hand graph on that from the Education Law Center:

Source: "Is School Funding Fair?" by the Education Law Center

While an number of states began making improvements after 2011, Tennessee was not among them. Recent investments may have returned Tennessee to pre-recession funding levels, but not by much.

And then, there’s a recent report from Rutgers that suggests that when it comes to school funding, Tennessee gets an “F.”

From the Commercial Appeal:

The annual report card out of Rutgers University that grades states on how they fund public education shows Tennessee at the “bottom of the barrel” in fairness. Besides being one of 16 states earning an F for percentage of state resources allocated to K-12 education, family incomes of children attending its public schools on average are half that of children in private schools or being home-schooled.

“That’s a warning signal,” says David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center.

“It becomes difficult to get the kind of forward-thinking reform in legislation if you have more affluent families not invested in this system,” he said.

The study looks at “fairness” in funding, including whether states allow more resources for districts with high numbers of students in poverty. Tennessee earned a B in the category, but Sciarra says even that is misleading.

“Because spending is so low, it really does not amount to much,” he said.

So, why fix the BEP? Because school funding in Tennessee is both inequitable and inadequate. Of course, making the needed investments would normally be a heavy lift, but with recent rosy revenue news, fixing the BEP (and improving the future for our students and entire state) requires only a little hard work and some political will.

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

My First Year Teaching

I made it!

I completed my first year of teaching. It was an eye opening experience that has helped mold my views in education in a variety of areas.

I am a special education teacher at a North Nashville middle school. Our fifth graders come into fifth grade already behind. It’s our job to catch them up during the middle school years before we send them off to high school. That shows me that we have dropped the ball along the way to middle school. We have come to a point where it’s okay that students come in to middle school behind. That shouldn’t be okay.

There are bad teachers and they should not be in the classroom. There isn’t more I can say about this. Every career field has bad workers, and the teaching profession is no different.

The TEAM evaluation made me a better teacher. The rubric was really helpful in my growth as a teacher. The feedback I received from my principal and assistant principal really helped. I knew what my principal expected from me and I met those expectations. I was glad that I was being held accountable.

(Don’t get me started on teacher prep programs.)

In regards to TCAP testing, I did not see the scary testing chamber where we take the fun out of education and force the students to bubble in answer sheets for days at the time. We hit the standards that needed to be hit during the year, and we cycled back through a review when we got closer to TCAP. We still taught new concepts, read new books, started new projects, and had fun. Schools decide their climate, and my climate was not like any of the scary stories that I read online. Assessments are an important tool in the education of our students. They are needed to make sure that I am doing what I am supposed to as a teacher. I am glad that the accountability is there.

 

I did a lot this school year:

I’ve broken up fights.

I’ve had to stop students from harming themselves.

I had to use our school’s resources to get a student clothing so he didn’t have to wear the same clothes every day.

I have given a legislative update to teachers.

One of our students was shot in the head while standing in the doorway to his home.

Student’s parents have been murdered.

I have seen a mother cry tears of joy that her son was receiving a quality education.

I have seen parents beam with pride about how well their student is doing in life.

A parent has yelled at me.

I’ve read all the Common Core State Standards for 7th grade.

I have taken to twitter to get someone to donate books to my class.

I have been sick. A lot.

I have given a tour to a school board member.

I have written an op-ed in the Tennessean about our school board.

I have gotten pushback from school board members about my op-ed.

After my op-ed, people inside my school told me to watch what I say in public about my school board.

I have been mad, frustrated, sad, happy, joyful, excited, and angry.

I have seen a student do better by getting more special education services.

I have seen a student grow by reducing the amount of special education services.

I have read a loud many different types of texts.

I’ve made others cry when describing students at my school.

I’ve become frustrated when teachers tell me it’s okay that students are behind because everyone else in behind.

I got students to read and enjoy books.

I’ve heard a teacher say that you can only teach a student for so long before you need to give up and help the other kids.

I have seen teachers work mornings, nights, and weekends so that our students could succeed. One teacher would teach during the day, tutor after school multiple days, tutor on Saturday, and teach Sunday school the next day.

 

No matter where our students grow up, they can all learn and succeed in our education system. I have seen students come into our school that are so behind. We have failed that child along the way. Someone dropped the ball and that makes me really sad. But we need to accept blame for dropping the ball.

 

Everyone wants to blame someone else for a child being behind:

“They came from charter.”

“They are special ed.”

“They come from a bad part of town.”

Before that student left for a charter, they were most likely in a zoned school first. All students can learn, including students with disabilities. No matter where you come from, you are able to learn at the hands of great teachers.

We want to blame everyone but ourselves. I’ve made mistakes this year, but I know that I will come back next year and fix those mistakes. I will admit that there are problems that still need to be fixed in my teaching method, in my personality, and in the school system as a whole. Sugarcoating issues in life doesn’t make it better. I would rather be honest about education than to sugarcoat and lie about the state of our education system.

Getting the facts straight on Individualized Education Accounts

This is a guest post by Jonathan Butcher, a Senior Fellow on Education Reform at the Beacon Center of Tennessee. He serves as the Education Director for the Goldwater Institute.

Tennessee lawmakers brought hope to thousands of children with special needs by passing SB27/HB138 and creating Individualized Education Accounts. With an account, the state deposits a child’s portion of the school funding formula into a private bank account that parents use to buy educational products and services for their child. These accounts are already available to students in Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi, and existing research demonstrates that participating families are highly satisfied with the new accounts and children have more access to flexible learning opportunities.

Here are the facts about Tennessee’s new options for children with autism, that may be deaf or blind, or who have other cognitive or physical needs:

1. Quality educational choices. Individualized Education Accounts provide students with special needs the chance to attend a school that specializes in helping children that struggle in a traditional classroom. It also allows their parents to find other services such as personal tutors or educational therapists. While some have labeled these accounts as vouchers, they are different in that they give families access to more educational opportunities than vouchers might.

2. Constitutional. In 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that an account system similar to Tennessee’s was constitutional. The court upheld an opinion from Arizona Appeals Court Judge Jon W. Thompson, in which he wrote, “The specified object of the [accounts] is the beneficiary families, not private or sectarian schools. Parents can use the funds deposited in the [account] to customize an education that meets their children’s unique educational needs.

3. Transparent. The accounts protect against financial fraud and require that parents measure student progress. When families receive an account for their student, the state deposits funds onto the debit card that accompanies the account on a quarterly basis. If the Tennessee Department of Education finds that a parent has intentionally or unintentionally misused the card, the department and state board of education must develop rules to resolve the discrepancy that may include withholding the next quarterly deposit, as is the current practice in Arizona. Parents must also keep receipts proving that their purchases are for qualifying services. Arizona and Florida have developed rules for the accounts in those states. The account handbook for Arizona is available here, and Florida’s handbook is here. In addition, students using an account in Tennessee must take a nationally norm referenced test annually. Parents will have ready access to information about how well their children are learning.

4. Cost savings. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Tennessee taxpayers spend approximately $9,000 per student in traditional schools. However, students using an Individualized Education Account will be funded at $6,500. Beacon Center research finds that each account could save local school districts an average $1,000, even after fixed costs are considered.

Individualized Education Accounts hold tremendous promise for children across Tennessee. Research from Arizona and Florida provides evidence that families take advantage of the option to customize their child’s education and that families are highly satisfied with their accounts. Tennessee families can look forward to the same success for their children.

My Time at the State Capitol

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the halls of Legislative Plaza at the State Capitol. I also visited the capitol a few weeks ago with members of the Tennessee Reading Association’s Advocacy Committee. Unlike some, I highly enjoy my time on the hill. Here are a few of my takeaways.

There were a lot more people in the education committees then there were in 2012 when I last worked on the hill. As many already know, more and more people are concerned about education in Tennessee. That means there are more advocates and stakeholders when it comes to education. While many people crammed into education committee rooms, other committees sat almost empty. This really shows you how important education is in Tennessee. A lot of time, energy, and lobbying are taking place in the education world.

I spoke to numerous people about Dr. Candice McQueen, the newly appointed Commissioner of Education. Everyone I spoke with only had praise for Dr. McQueen. With Commissioner McQueen at the helm of the department, I believe these next four years will be systematically different than the last four years. Commissioner McQueen was already highly revered in the education world before she became Commissioner, and I believe she will leave the Department of Education in an even higher regard. From the looks of social media, Commissioner McQueen is traveling around the state at every chance she gets. I like that.

With the Tennessee Reading Association, we visited with the education committee chairs. Each chair, Representative John Fogerty, Representative Harry Brooks, and Senator Dolores Gresham, were very receptive on our message of staying on course to retain high standards. While we were advocating for Common Core, we understood that the standards would most likely change names. I think everyone agrees that Common Core will go away, but with a high quality Tennessee State Standards left in Common Core’s place. Too much money has been spent on teacher training to just get rid of the standards all together.

Legislators are already reviewing comments that stakeholders are making through the Tennessee Education Standards Review. https://apps.tn.gov/tcas/ I hope that everyone will go online and take part in this review process. They need to hear from teachers!

If you don’t know who your legislators are, go to this site to find out. http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/ It’s important that you know who represents you at the state capitol. When contacting your member, tell your legislator that you are a constituent and a teacher.

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