PARCC Delayed is PARCC Denied?

The Conference Committee Report on HB 1549/SB 1835 — legislation that would delay Common Core implementation — is out.

While the report does NOT recommend a delay in implementation per se, it does set out requirements for legislative notification prior to adoption of Common Core standards in science and social studies. Which may ultimately mean those standards are not adopted.

Perhaps most interesting is the section related to PARCC — the Pearson test associated with Common Core.

The Conference Committee Report contains language that would DELAY PARCC tests for one year — so, they wouldn’t start in 2015 as planned.  It goes further by requiring that the Department of Education accept bids for a test of Tennessee’s standards, including the Common Core in English/Language Arts and Math.

It’s possible, of course, that PARCC could still be the chosen option in Tennessee.  Then again, the state could go the way of Kentucky and Florida and drop out of PARCC altogether and contract for a different test.

Unless the General Assembly wants to stay in session for a few more days, it seems likely that this report will be adopted as the compromise position — allowing Tennessee to proceed with the Common Core as currently adopted and taking a step back to assess which test best meets the state’s needs.

Read the full Conference Committee Report.

Helping Haslam

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, has some advice for Governor Haslam:

The critic, Niccolo Machiavelli, taught us that assertions of virtue and integrity in politicians are often grinning masks of deception. So we are not surprised when politicians routinely over-promise and under-deliver. State leadership must coherently articulate K-12 Education Policy to citizens in a truthful manner.

By state leaders continuing to ignore legitimate concerns, such as a vocal opposition to the Common Core State Standards and PARCC Assessments, policymakers and stakeholders across Tennessee have now been negatively impacted. This message has largely fallen on deaf ears at the highest level of state government, who continue to believe all is well. Members of the Tennessee General Assembly have listened and we are grateful to those legislators. Many citizens share the opinion that school teachers, principals, and superintendents are regarded by the administration as impediments to school improvement rather than partners.

As an organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee have embraced higher standards, with the caveat that we should always seek higher standards and a commitment to student achievement. We were very enthusiastic when Governor Haslam pledged to make Tennessee the fastest growing state for teacher salaries in October 2013 and again in the State of the State in February 2014. We intend to help him keep his word.

Governor Haslam has justly boasted “we are one of only six states in the country that has consistently increased state spending on K-12 education as a percentage of our total budget.” He has added that since 2011, “we’ve had the fourth largest increase in education spending compared to the rest of the country.” The questions we need to ask:  How much of this has been Race to the Top Funds?  Where were all those funds allocated?  How much money was actually earmarked to the classroom?

If policymakers boast that Tennessee is the fourth largest state for increase in education spending, then funds from RTTT need to factor into that calculation. Our estimation is that roughly $252 million of the RTTT grant was retained by the Tennessee Department of Education and never saw the inside of a school or classroom. These dollars went toward consultants’ contracts and partnerships.

Our belief is that every dollar earmarked for education should be spent to benefit Tennessee school children. A teacher’s working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. If Tennessee had the most ‘growth’ of any state on the latest NAEP results led by our state teachers, why were their promised salaries a lower priority than unproven PARCC Testing or adding Media/Marketing and Event Coordinators at the Tennessee Department of Education?

We support a delay and/or for the state to rescind the mandate for LEA’s to create a differentiated pay plan. Without the state’s increased financial contribution this creates an unfunded mandate on our local school systems. If the state mandates a requirement they should subsequently provide the necessary funding to facilitate that obligation at the local level. Unfunded mandates fly in the face of conservative orthodoxy and sound public policy.

Teacher attrition is a serious issue. We must keep experienced educators in our classrooms. Tennessee colleges and universities are very adept at meeting the demand for producing quality educators in this state. Historically, approximately 50% of the teachers that graduate with a degree in education do not find a teaching job.

We would suggest a review and delay for all Teach for America (TFA) contracts. Researcher Elaine Weiss revealed that Tennessee spends more money per Teach for America recruit than any other state. Some reports state that total compensations ranging from $5,000 to $9,000, to as high as $15,000, have been paid to Teach for America for their recruits. If this is true, we should turn to our own graduates of traditional colleges of education looking for an opportunity to teach in their own state.

Teaching is higher calling for professionals, not a pre-career placeholder. Therefore, it makes little sense to employ temporary teachers and spend scarce tax dollars and resources then watch a teacher leave after two years. Our goal should be hiring and retaining quality teachers that want to live, play, and worship in our communities long-term, instead of marking off days until a loan is forgiven and entrance to graduate school is accomplished.

We do not seek to be unduly critical of Governor Haslam. We recognize that there are many competent people in the Department of Education and administration. However, the media may be the only hope to reach the Governor. We encourage the Governor to confront issues directly, answer emails timely and regularly meet face-to-face with education stakeholders on a consistent basis, not through intermediaries. Governor Haslam, you need our help and we want to extend our hand to offer the assistance you need.

More on how Tennessee came to be short on revenue.

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

 

A Letter on Common Core from Bluff City Ed and TN Ed Report

As adults, we constantly need to master new skills and adjust our thinking to new information to solve the many challenges facing our world.  Our schools should be designed to empower our children to accomplish the same.  To accomplish this, it’s essential that our teachers have a rigorous set of standards to guide them.  Currently our existing standards don’t adequately prepare students for these challenges.  They don’t push our kids to fully build the critical thinking skills necessary for college and career readiness, let alone to lead the next generation.

That is why the Tennessee Education Report and Bluff City Education jointly support the adoption of the Common Core state standards here in Tennessee.  These standards represent a dramatic improvement over our existing state standards.  They reduce the amount of content required for teachers to cover and give teachers more time and freedom in how to pursue their goals.  This in turn empowers educators and schools to push their kids to higher levels of critical thinking every day throughout the year.

These standards also represent a crucial transition for our state’s future.  In recent months we’ve focused on increasing the number of students with access to a college degree through Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative.  However, college access is not enough if our students are not prepared for the rigors of a post-secondary education.  We believe that the Common Core standards should be viewed as a crucial component of this effort.  If we want our state to be truly competitive in a global economy, we cannot afford to allow our public education system to linger in the limbo of the status quo any longer.  Failing to do so will ensure that we fall compared to others raising their academic standards.  In this way, the fight to adopt Common Core represents a fight for Tennessee’s future.

However, we have some serious questions about the common core standards as it relates to testing.  We are concerned about the implementation of the new PARCC tests and their potential impact on teachers and schools, particularly in the area of evaluations.  Other states that have enacted the common core have seen dramatic declines in test scores.  This is to be expected if we are truly holding students to a higher level of critical thinking.  Over time we expect these scores to rise as teachers and schools become more comfortable with these standards and the state continues to support their implementation.

However, this becomes a concern when these scores are used to evaluate teachers and schools in the existing evaluation system.  Teachers and schools will likely see their scores drop dramatically for the first few years.  This will impact their evaluation scores and by association is likely to cause a decline in support for these important standards.  We are also concerned that we may see strong schools placed on the failing list in these first few years of common core implementation simply by virtue of the fact that they have not had the time to fully adjust to the new standards and their accompanying assessments.

Another concern is that while these tests have been field tested throughout this year, there will still be kinks that need to be worked out of the system in regards to data and implementation.  For example, test questions will likely need to be dropped, added or modified and the standards themselves may need to be tweaked to improve them as time goes on.  Additionally, over the years we’ve given students their yearly assessments in paper form.  They will need time to adjust to taking assessments online, which is a crucial component of the PAARC assessments.  Lastly, the entire TVAAS system will need to be adjusted from analyzing a complete multiple choice assessment to a mixed multiple choice-open response assessment.  Teachers and schools should not be held accountable for these factors which are outside of their control.

We propose three modifications to the current process to ensure a successful Common Core implementation.  First, we propose that the state board of education issue a moratorium stating that the first year of tests scores will not be used on teacher evaluations.  In the second year, test scores would increase to 15% of evaluation score and in the third year they would return to the full 35%.  This would allow teachers adequate time to adjust their instruction to the new standards and their accompanying assessments and give students a full three years to accustom themselves to the higher level of thinking demanded by the common core.

In addition, during the moratorium year, the state Department of Education should seek feedback on the TEAM model from teachers around the state and make necessary changes as it relates to common core. These could include a broader rollout of portfolio-based assessments for teachers in related arts, for example.  It could also include ways to factor in teachers in non-tested, academic subjects, such as using AP scores in place of whole school value-added data.  If teacher evaluation is to be tied to student performance data, we should ensure that data represent students taught by the teacher being evaluated.

Second, we propose that the state place at minimum a one year moratorium on using these test scores to evaluate schools.  This should give schools additional time to adjust to these new tests and adequately prepare their teachers and students for the new format.  We would never teach students the entirety of calculus in a month and then penalize schools when they fail to pass the advanced placement exam.  We shouldn’t do the same to schools.  Students need time to adjust to the new content and the new ways of thinking demanded by the standards before schools are assessed on their performance, which a one year moratorium will provide.

Third, we also propose that the state of Tennessee leave open the possibility of switching tests if it appears that PARCC is not working by including an exit clause in any new contract created with PARCC to hold it accountable for continuing to provide a high quality assessment. After the second year of PARCC, the State Board of Education should issue a report on its effectiveness in meeting the goal of assessing achievement of Common Core State Standards.  Factors for making this judgment should include the cost of PARCC relative to similar tests that also assess the standards. To facilitate this, the governor should appoint a committee to establish metrics which would be used to evaluate the effectiveness of PARCC as an assessment tool in meeting the academic goals established by the common core state standards.

A comparison of new tests in states like Kentucky and Florida is also warranted. We should not be locked into a test if it is found that PARCC has not met the state goals.  If in a worst case scenario Tennessee decided to continue to delay or even pull out of PARCC, including such a clause would mean we would not need to end our use of the Common Core State Standards.  Other states, notably Kentucky to our north, continue to strongly support Common Core implementation in their state but have chosen to create their own assessments.

We support Common Core and sincerely hope that PARCC is successful in our state.  Above all, we should constantly evaluate both the quantitative data gleaned from the new PARCC assessments and the qualitative data we hear from teachers, students and parents.  Common Core represents a necessary change for our state, but there will be challenges along the way that demand adjustments.  Only by listening carefully to those directly impacted by these new standards will we truly be able to fully implement them and alter the trajectory of the future of public education here in Tennessee.

Tennessee Education Report Endorsers: Andy Spears, Zack Barnes, John Haubenreich

Bluff City Education Endorsers: Jon Alfuth, Ryan Winn, James Aycock, Tamera Malone, Elana Cole, Casie Jones

Follow these Tennessee education writers on Twitter @BluffCityEd and @TNEdReport

 

Interview with Speaker Beth Harwell

We had the pleasure to interview Speaker Beth Harwell again.

1) You have been quoted as saying that districts might need more time to absorb current reform before a voucher plan is enacted. Do you support the adoption of a voucher plan in this legislative session?

I think we need to be mindful about the changes we have already made, and certainly ensure any changes can be as seamless as possible. Most of the proposals that have been brought forth are limited in some way, so I think there is a desire to ease into it.

2) If a voucher program is implemented, would you consider independent funding of the voucher students, i.e. funding their tuition through new state funding rather than by redirecting BEP and local funds that would have gone to the LEA?  If the voucher program is limited, as Governor Haslam would like, this could be a relatively inexpensive way to test whether vouchers can raise student achievement without penalizing LEAs for the experiment.

I want everyone’s voice to be heard throughout the process, and welcome all ideas. However, we are already anticipating a tight budget due to revenue shortfalls, so a new funding source may not be possible at this time.
3) Under Republican leadership, Tennessee expanded access to charter schools beyond the original limitations based on students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, as well as those in currently failing schools.  Currently, access to pre-kindergarten is limited along similar lines, with free and reduced-price lunch students eligible first, and others eligible if there is enough space.  Why not follow the same path as charter schools, and make pre-K available for more students?

I believe we should keep Pre-K funding in place for those at-risk children that are currently eligible for the program. I am not for an expansion, however, because I think our focus right now needs to be on K-12 and making sure those public schools have the resources they need at their disposal. If there is additional money available, I would like to see it go to remedial programs in our K-12 schools.

4) There has been some recent discussion from MNPS and other districts about the state needing to fix the BEP. Perhaps along the lines of the reform started under BEP 2.0. Do you support moving forward with new BEP investment at this time?

The Governor just announced this week that he has formed a task force to take a hard look at the BEP funding formula, including the changes that were made with BEP 2.0. I applaud that approach, because even BEP 2.0 was passed seven years ago. I think allowing the stakeholders come to the table and have a serious discussion about the future of the BEP and what, if any, changes need to be made is important.
5) Some groups have called for the suspension of the use of TVAAS data in teacher evaluations until PARCC is fully implemented. Would you support this?

There are bills that have been proposed this year to take a look at a delay. While my personal preference is not to suspend or delay the use of this data, I will let the legislative process work and a full and healthy debate happen. I understand the concerns, and I’m listening, but I believe it is very important to use the data we are collecting to ensure Tennessee students are getting the education they deserve.

6) TNEdReport interviewed you last June, what has changed in the educational landscape of Tennessee since then?

I don’t know that much has changed, but there has been a lot of healthy discussion on the direction of education in Tennessee, and I think that is a positive thing.

7) What do you tell the teachers who are upset with the constant changes in education policy in Tennessee?

I value the work our teachers do, and I am pleased the Governor has committed to make Tennessee’s teacher salaries the fastest growing in the nation. They deserve that recognition and compensation. We share the same goal: to see that every child in Tennessee has the opportunity to succeed.


 

Want to know who is “responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement” in TN?

Today is the first day of the Tennessee Principals Association annual conference. The topic of this year’s conference is Leading in the Common Core Era. The conference will have three keynote speakers to discuss Common Core. Emily Barton, Assistant Commissioner for Curriculum and Instruction, is one of those keynote speakers. The first line of her biography tells a lot (see picture below).

“Emily Barton is responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement through many strategies including implementation and success of Tennessee’s evaluation system and the adoption of Common Core State Standards.”

Looks like Emily Barton is solely responsible for the gains in achievement. That’s a huge claim to make at a conference filled with educators.

 

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Charter Schools May Hurt Credit Ratings

According to Moody’s, the credit rating agency, charters are hurting urban school systems and threatening to create a negative credit pressure.  The Washington Post and Bloomberg covered the release of the report.  The press release from Moody’s listed an example of towns in Michigan facing credit trouble.

For example in Michigan, the statutory framework emphasizes educational choice, and there are multiple charter authorizers to help promote charter school growth. In Michigan, Detroit Public Schools (B2 negative), Clintondale Community Schools (Ba3 negative), Mount Clemens Community School District (Ba3 negative) and Ypsilanti School District (Ba3) have all experienced significant fiscal strain related to charter enrollment growth, which has also been a contributing factor to their speculative grade status.

The Washington Post picked up on three factors that are causing these problems.

 1. Demographics and financial shifts.

And some urban districts face a downward spiral driven by population declines. It begins with people leaving the city or district. Then revenue declines, leading to program and service cuts. The cuts lead parents to seek out alternatives, and charters capture more students. As enrollment shifts to charters, public districts lose more revenue, and that can lead to more cuts. Rinse, repeat.

2. Districts can’t adapt quickly.

And then there’s the very nature of the problem. Charter schools don’t suck up enrollment from just one school. They pull from schools across a district, meaning each takes a slight hit while none loses enough students to justify substantial restructuring. “There is no critical mass of empty classrooms or schools,” the Moody’s report authors write. In Philadelphia, cost-cutting began in fiscal 2011, but it wasn’t until this year that a significant number of schools were closed.

3. State policy supports charters.

State policy can dictate not only who can authorize a new charter school, but the pace at which they grow.In Ohio, for example, students in charter schools account for more than 20 percent of total enrollment in five districts, even though state policy limits the pace of charter-school growth. But the impact varies by district. A Columbus district fares well thanks to stable demographics, while districts in Cleveland and Toledo are struggling in the face of population declines.

The credit rating will be something to keep an eye on as Nashville and Memphis open more charters each year. It is also something I believe our state legislators should look at before they take up a revised state charter authorizer bill next year.

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


 

Craig Fitzhugh Welcomes Back Tennessee’s Teachers

Last week Governor Bill Haslam released a video welcoming teachers back to the classroom. This week, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh makes his own video welcoming Tennessee’s teachers. I think teachers will really appreciate Fitzhugh’s message. Watch below.

Hi, I’m House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

Last week, Governor Haslam sent a message to teachers welcoming them back to another year of school. I too would like to extend a welcome back and a thank you for your service to our children and our state.

In his message, Governor Haslam said he “could imagine how challenging it is to teach in an environment with a variety of factors beyond your control.”

Quite frankly, I could not agree more.

That is why I have been so deeply disappointed in this Governor and his Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman. I’m disappointed in their continued refusal to fix an evaluation system that is driving quality teachers out of the profession. I’m disappointed in their push to cut teacher salaries, while asking them to contribute more to a less secure retirement plan. I’m disappointed in their work with the State Board of Education to revamp the process for licensing teachers—all without consulting the elected leaders in the General Assembly.

Like my wife, my sister-in-law, my niece & my daughter, I know most of you became teachers to make a difference in the lives of the children you encounter. Unfortunately, outside so-called “reform” groups have used their mounds of out-of-state cash to lobby the General Assembly and make your job more difficult. These groups are more concerned with standardized testing & fundraising for their PACs than they are about the future of our children.

As teachers, you are responsible for molding Tennessee’s most precious resources. Unlike Commissioner Huffman who taught for two years and moved on to the lucrative world of education reform, many of you have foregone more lucrative careers because of your passion and dedication to our students.  That is why teachers must always be at the center of our education reform efforts—because you are on the front lines. You know what works, and you know what doesn’t.

Thank you again for another year invested in our education system. Times are tough, believe me I understand that. But always know that you have a friend in our caucus on whom you can call anytime. Thank you.

 

 


 

Our Interview With Speaker Beth Harwell

Tennessee Education Report had the chance to interview Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) on education issues facing our state. We want to thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk about such an important issue.

Tennessee ranks low in the per-pupil funding of our public schools. Do you think we are doing enough to fund our schools?

This year the legislature fully funded the BEP and increased funding in specific areas; namely, we committed more resources to technology in our schools, which is a vital component of ensuring our students can compete for 21st Century jobs. The most important thing about funding is making sure we are spending those dollars with maximum efficiency to support students and teachers.

Do you support full funding of the bipartisan changes to the BEP that started under BEP 2.0? Will we see a move in that direction in 2014?

Fully funding the BEP is always a top priority. I am always open to discussing ways we can improve the system so we can give our schools the support they need.

Do you support expansion of the state’s voluntary Pre-K program either with federal dollars or through the formula established for expanding Pre-K under the Bredesen administration?

With regards to Pre-K, I think we have struck a good balance thus far. I don’t see expansion in the near future, because I think our priority right now is focusing on K-12 education and making sure we are committing time and resources to that.

Nashville recently changed their starting teacher salaries to $40,000 with great success. Do you support state-level funding to move starting teacher salaries in Tennessee to $40,000 a year?

I think each system should have the flexibility to determine the compensation that makes the most sense for them. In recent years, there has been more of a focus on differentiating pay to some degree based on positions that are traditionally difficult to fill—primarily, STEM positions and lower performing schools. If we can use that as a tool to attract the best and brightest, we should.

Do you support efforts to provide (and state funding for) robust early career mentoring to teachers in their first and second years of teaching?

Any training and mentoring programs we can improve or consider that will give teachers the support and assistance they need is a conversation worth having. As a former professor, I know it is incredibly beneficial to have a network you can reach out to and find out the latest methods and best practices.

After being withdrawn in the Senate on the last day of session, will you work with Sen. Gresham to pass the current charter authorizer bill (HB 702) next session? Would you like to see a revised bill pass?

I do hope we can reach a consensus on the authorizer, because I really do believe it will assist the state in attracting the very best public charter school operators from around the country. This is a critical component, and another tool in the toolbox, to giving students every opportunity to succeed.

Next session, would you support a limited Voucher plan, like Governor Haslam has proposed, or a more expanded plan that has been discussed in the Senate?

I look forward to a continued discussion of vouchers. I think we had a healthy debate last year. While I do not believe they are a silver bullet to ‘fix’ education, I do think it can be a tool. I expect the House and Senate to continue to weigh the pros and cons and find a solution that is right for Tennessee.

Forgive me, I have to ask: Are you planning to run for Governor years down the road? 

I sincerely enjoy being the Speaker of the House—it is an awesome responsibility I do not take lightly, and a great honor. Right now, my focus is on the legislature and what we can do to keep moving this state forward.


 

The Hidden Cost of Campfield’s Welfare Bill

The much debated welfare bill may have some hidden costs for the LEAs. Jared Barrett, a member of the Murfreesboro School Board, has this to say about the proposed bill (which Haslam has threatened to veto):

 I am writing you as a concerned school board member to urge you to vote no on SB0132. There are a few unintended consequences to this bill that will end up adding more costs to already strapped local school boards. One part of this bill would allow a student to attend summer school in the subject area in which the student has failed or has scored below proficient in order to demonstrate competency. Many questions and costs arise from this part of the bill as presented. The first costs shouldered by local school boards would be that the  district would be required to offer multiple content areas over multiple weeks and possibly over multiple locations during the summer.  Again, this would add to the overall cost of operating the district. And how would the kids get there? This would be a major concern for Murfreesboro City Schools, having to provide transportation to these students.

Another hidden cost to this legislation is regarding parent sessions?  When?  Where?  Who would conduct? Cost?  Transportation? Not only does this add additional costs to already strapped local school districts (like Murfreesboro), but it also takes away time from educators who are already trying to implement Common Core standards and keep up with other Federal and state mandates.

So while I understand these types of issues are not included in the fiscal note, the fact that this implies little cost is a false reality. I’m all for parental involvement and local school districts across the state struggle on how to implement that, but this bill is the wrong approach.

 


 

 

TNEdReport Interviews Rep. Joe Pitts

We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rep. Joe Pitts for the Tennessee Education Report. He is a member of the House Education Committee and the House Education Subcommittee. He is a vocal voice in both committees. We thank him for taking the time to answer our questions.

Let’s start with Vouchers:

What impact will vouchers have on local school districts in terms of budget and tax burden?

A:  Vouchers will have an immediate impact on local government’s budgets and the potential impact on local property tax is significant.  The voucher will further dilute public education funding currently going to the local school district which has an extensive infrastructure – buildings, supervisory staff, transportation, etc. that supports ALL students residing in their jurisdiction.  It is a delicate balance of funds that can be turned upside down if a sudden shift in funding policy, like vouchers, is made.

Do you believe that even if a limited voucher plan passes, the ultimate goal is statewide vouchers with broad qualifications? 

A:  If the past is prologue to the future, then one only need to look at the Charter school authorization passed many years ago by the General Assembly.  The original concept was to address at-risk students in schools within specific geographic boundaries, and we even had a limit on the number of charter schools within those communities. Now, despite evidence to the contrary, Charter schools are available statewide for every student regardless of academic need.  While Charter schools certainly have their place, given the right circumstances, it should be a tool at the LEA’s disposal.

An amendment recently passed to make private schools provide school lunches to those who come to the school via vouchers. Does that help your concern about students choosing free lunch or a private school?

A:  Requiring a school participating in the voucher program to offer a school lunch program makes a flawed proposal less objectionable but still not one I can support.  We don’t need a voucher program for at-risk students in failing schools.  Currently if a student is in a failing school, the parents can raise their hand and request their student go to another, non-failing school, in the same district without sacrificing basic human needs like breakfast and lunch, and transportation, and special needs students get access to the services they need.

Why do you think the GOP is focused on vouchers/charters instead of fully-funding BEP 2.0?

A:  Take a look around the country.  Vouchers seem to be the “cause de jour.”  It appears our education system is the last bastion of public funded services that haven’t been co-opted by the for-profit sector; sadly, not anymore.

Finally, do you think there will be transition problems when taking a child out of a public school and placing them in a private school? Do you think the child may fall behind from the start?

A:  When the child moves from one public school to another public school, or in this case, a private school, it will present some challenges.  Children are resilient though, but I am concerned about the moving back and forth between and among systems since not all private school curriculum lines up with the public school system.

Let’s more on to charters.

Do you believe the recent charter authorizer bill is taking away local control from local education boards?

A:  Yes.  Sadly, as amended, the bill would establish a non-elected group of people appointed by both Speakers and the Governor, to decide how and how much local tax money could be obligated for a state authorized charter school. That’s like the state deciding how big your police force should be and sending you the bill. This is just plain wrong.

Are you supportive of charter schools that get local approval or would you rather limit how many charter schools can open in the state?

A:  I do believe charter schools are a good option for LEA’s who need to try something different for students with specific academic needs.  Being a member of a local school board is a difficult task.  You are required and responsible for the academic achievement of all students in your district but have no say in the funding allocated by any of the funding entities.  I am not a fan of establishing limits on schools if the LEA has control of the authorization.

General Education Questions

If you were the commissioner of education, what would be the first thing you would do to improve public education in Tennessee?

A:  Three things simultaneously:  I would implore the Governor to make it our policy that no new changes would be sought or implemented for two years or until we can sort out the changes enacted in the last two years.

Next I would meet with the school directors and school boards, individually, of every district with a failing school and let them know we are going to become partners.  Instead of a shotgun marriage, it would be a partnership based on putting our resources where are mouths are and helping the failing schools first and immediately.  Students struggling in schools are very often victims of their home environment.  I would deploy an intervention team consisting of master level social workers, health professionals and academic coaches to these schools immediately to provide intensive work and support.

Lastly, I would work with the Charter schools to create a bold new platform for turning around these schools in our districts not meeting expectations.  We need to look beyond the numbers and think about year round charter schools, extended hours, or other non-traditional means to address the needs of the students and their families.  A charter school that mirrors a traditional public school hardly seems worth the effort.

I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of our LEA’s are performing at a high level, given the meager resources we allocate to them, and are open to our help, be it public or private, to give our students the best education experience possible.

Certain reform groups like Democrats for Education Reform and StudentsFirst have very specific policy agendas for reforming education. Some of the typical policies associated with these groups include vouchers, charter schools, pay-for-performance, and ending seniority rules.

What’s the counter-argument?  What are the marquee policies Democrats embrace?  If there aren’t a set of marquee proposals everyone is on board with, why not?  What’s being done to get the Democrats on a united front, to have a set of counter proposals instead of just playing defense?

A:  The reform movement initiatives, added to the self-inflicted policy crush imposed on LEA’s over the past three years, is contributing nothing to the public discourse about improving student performance.  If you think about it, we made significant changes to public policy in education in 2010 as a part of our First to the Top agenda proposed by Gov Bredesen – a Democrat, followed by nightmarish changes to the teachers’ environment in 2011 by eliminating collective bargaining, tenure, and removing TEA from their seat at the table, all in the name of “reform.”

On top of all that we approved virtual schools, unlimited charter schools, put undue pressure on teachers and principals by adopting an assessment tool that is unnecessarily bureaucratic, adopted the Common Core, and are preparing to implement a new assessment called PARRC.  Now, we are attacking our teacher preparation programs by looking at putting artificial thresholds on ACT and SAT scores for students who wish to go through their respective College of Education.  I’ve said it before; we are giving our education system whiplash with these rapid-fire changes and creating massive confusion.  Who can blame more seasoned teachers from deciding to retire instead of continuing in a system that does not appreciate their significant achievement and experience in the classroom and will subject them to the latest reform experiment?

Perhaps the corporate robber barons of the reform movement need to be asked to leave the room and let the education professionals do their jobs.  I have complete faith in our school districts across our state if we can offer our help instead of the cram down policies that have little to no basis in fact or success.

 

Andy, John, and I want to thank Rep. Pitts for his time. Please follow us on twitter @TNEdReport and like us on Facebook.