Candice Clarifies

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen issued an email to teachers today clarifying an email she sent Monday regarding Tennessee standards and the upcoming TNReady tests.

It seems there was some confusion about what standards to teach in the 2015-16 academic year and what Tennessee standards may look like going forward.

Below is today’s email followed by the one sent Monday:

Teachers,

I’m writing to clarify information I shared on Monday about the standards review and development process. We have received several questions about which standards teachers should use during the 2015-16 school year. We want to make sure that your questions are answered quickly, so you can move into summer with clear expectations for the upcoming school year.

Tennessee teachers should continue to use the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not the previous SPI’s. The current state standards are available on our website.

TNReady, the state’s new and improved TCAP test in English language arts and math, will assess the state’s current academic standards in English language arts and math, not SPI’s.

As we shared on Monday, the standards review and development process that Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education established last fall will continue. Teams of educators will work to review public input and will then recommend new sets of math and English language arts standards to the State Board of Education to be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year. TNReady will evolve as our math and English language arts standards do, ensuring that our state assessment will continue to match what is being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

Please feel free to reach out with additional questions or clarifications. We look forward to sharing more information about TNReady and the standards review and development process in the coming weeks.

Best,
Candice

_________________________________________________________________
From: Commissioner.McQueen@tn.gov
Date: Monday, May 11, 2015 3:20 PM
To: Tennessee teachers
Subject: Update on Standards Review Process

Teachers,

The Tennessee General Assembly recently voted to support our administration’s efforts to ensure that Tennessee students graduate from high school ready for post-secondary education or the workforce.

The vote complements the academic standards review and development process established by Gov. Haslam and the State Board of Education last October, and it will maintain the participation of Tennessee educators and parents in the process.

At the conclusion of the review process, Tennessee’s new academic standards, which will include public input and are established by Tennessee educators, will replace the existing set of standards in English language arts and math. These standards will be fully implemented during the 2017-18 school year.

In addition to the teams of educators established by the State Board of Education that will review the existing standards, the adopted legislation also provides for a 10-member standards recommendation committee appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House. This committee will review the recommendations of our educator groups and will then make a final recommendation to the State Board of Education for consideration and approval.

In addition, the state’s academic standards in math and English language arts will also inform and help guide the state’s new assessment, TNReady. TNReady begins during the 2015-16 school year, and it will be aligned to the state’s existing academic standards in math and English language arts. TNReady will then evolve as the standards do, ensuring that our state assessment matches what is actually being taught in Tennessee classrooms.

As I travel around the state listening to teachers, I continue to hear teachers’ confidence in Tennessee’s higher standards and the positive impact they are having on students. I also continue to hear your desire for stability and alignment, so teachers and school leaders can make informed decisions about what works best for your students. We hope this process encourages you to continue on the path that you boldly started – great teaching to high expectations every day – as we all continue to work together to improve the standards during the review process.

We are proud that Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement, and your work this year to ensure that Tennessee stays on a path of high academic standards to help continue that success has been critical. Thank you to those that commented on the math and English language arts standards on the review website, www.tn.gov/standardsreview.

I am confident that the process that the General Assembly has now adopted will only enhance our efforts to improve outcomes for all of our students.

We look forward to sharing more updates with you as the standards review and development process continues this summer. Thank you again for all you do in support of Tennessee families and students.

Best,
Candice

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

Trust Us and Stop Complaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Voucher Week

 

This week is voucher week at the Tennessee General Assembly.

Yes, the voucher legislation has been scheduled for a hearing and vote in the House Finance Subcommittee. Should it pass that hurdle, it will be heard in the full House Finance Committee and then on to the House Floor.

Because the House has passed “Flow Motion” which suspends the normal notice requirements, all of this COULD happen this week.

Of course, the legislation could also fail at the committee level or be amended somewhere along the way.

But, whatever the fate of vouchers in 2015, it will likely be decided this week.

I’ve consistently written about or shared articles about why vouchers should be defeated. Vouchers are bad public policy – they don’t improve student outcomes and they do increase costs to taxpayers.

Here are some highlights of articles urging a rejection of vouchers:

Vouchers can be susceptible to fraud

A voucher program designed for Tennessee students with IEPs has been proposed and is modeled after similar programs in Florida and Arizona. The Florida program has been particularly susceptible to fraud and also keeps expanding, taking more and more public dollars with it to private schools of questionable value.

Read more about the failures of the Florida voucher model.

Vouchers mean big government expansion

Samantha Bates of PET argues that a voucher program would expand the scope and reach of government — purportedly the antithesis of what leading voucher proponents are seeking. She writes:

A voucher program will also inevitably lead to continued growth and power by the Tennessee Department of Education over local education. Vouchers will not eliminate or substantially reduce the state’s role in education, and it will take significant resources to oversee the program. If you like big government, this will increase the size and scope of the Tennessee Department of Education.

For some, vouchers are a means to eliminate public education. Looking at the argument for a moment, do we really want a massive system of government contractors, albeit private schools, approved by the state, who in turn will themselves lobby and demand larger subsidies? Vouchers will also likely drive up the cost for parents in private schools whose children do not use or qualify for vouchers.

Read more about why vouchers won’t work.

Vouchers create accountability problems

The Tennessee School Boards Association makes several points about why vouchers should be opposed. Here are two key points they make:

1. Vouchers use your money to help pay for a student to go to a private school that answers to private administrators and not you the taxpayer.  Public schools must answer to the people and are held accountable for the use of local, state and federal educational tax money.

2. Article XI, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution specifically states “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.”  Nowhere in our constitution is the General Assembly directed to take taxpayer money and use it for a voucher system so parents can use public money to send their children to private schools.

Read more on the TSBA’s opposition to vouchers.

Vouchers increase costs to taxpayers and could result in school closures

Here’s what I wrote about the Fiscal Note on the voucher bill — a Fiscal Note from the fantasyland world of the Friedman Foundation:

This analysis suggests two things: First, that the Fiscal Note assumptions about cost “relief” may be suspect and second, that the only way to gain true cost savings from a voucher program would be through school closures.

That’s right, to get true savings from a voucher program public schools would have to close. If they don’t, the cost shift noted in the fiscal analysis would mean increased costs to districts who then operate with decreased revenue.

Read more about the true cost of a voucher program.

Even some school choice advocates oppose vouchers

Jon Alfuth, publisher of Bluff City Ed and an advocate of school choice, and specifically, of adding more options for students by way of charter schools, says vouchers are the wrong way to go if you want to advance choice in a way that helps kids. He cites data from recent studies of voucher programs to note that they simply don’t improve student outcomes.

In 2010, the Center on Education Policy reviewed 10 years of voucher research and action and found that vouchers had no strong effect on student achievement.  The most positive results come from Milwaukee County’s voucher program, but the effects were small and limited to only a few grades.

Read more about why vouchers are the wrong way to advance a school choice agenda

Finally, voters aren’t all that concerned about school choice.

A recent poll of Tennessee voters found that:

Additionally, the poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, found that voters ranked lack of school choice dead last among issues of concern on education. That’s particularly relevant given the advancing voucher legislation at the General Assembly.

Voters simply aren’t talking about or thinking about vouchers or other methods of expanding school choice.

It’s voucher week, and there are some very solid reasons why Tennessee legislators should be casting votes against vouchers this week. Here’s the bottom line: Vouchers don’t work to improve academic outcomes for students and they do cost taxpayers lots of money. If that’s not enough, legislators can rest assured knowing that voters aren’t beating down the doors begging for vouchers — probably because they haven’t worked elsewhere and there’s no reason to believe they will start working if they hit Tennessee.

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

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.


 

The End of the ASD?

State Representative Bo Mitchell of Nashville has filed a bill that would abolish the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

The Bill (HB 508/SB 975) would give control of schools run by the ASD back to the LEA in which they are located. Charter schools authorized by the ASD would now be under the authority of the LEA in which they are located. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Thelma Harper, also of Nashville.

One reason the two Nashville lawmakers may be looking to rid the state of the ASD is a particularly nasty episode involving Neely’s Bend Middle School and Madison Middle School. Ultimately, Neely’s Bend lost the battle and is now being taken over by LEAD Academy per arrangement with the ASD.

The ASD has struggled of late, with PR challenges in school takeovers in both Memphis and Nashville. Additionally, some early data suggest the ASD has a lot of work to do to reach its once lofty goals.

It seems unlikely the ASD will be closed at the end of 2015-16, but the filing of the legislation suggests the ASD will have some explaining to do and the path forward won’t be easy.

MORE on the ASD:

Our Interview with the ASD’s Chris Barbic

Take a Walk, ASD

ASD Flexes Muscles in Memphis

The ASD Responds to Critics

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

 

Hamilton County School Board Member Explores BEP Lawsuit

A Hamilton County School Board Member is exploring the idea of a lawsuit that would force the State of Tennessee to fully fund the BEP, the state’s funding formula for schools.

Hamilton County Board Member Jonathan Welch argues that the school system loses $14.5 million a year because the BEP is not fully funded by the legislature.

Welch’s proposal comes on the heels of a resolution passed by the Shelby County School Board calling for increased BEP funding.

These proposals come in an environment where the current BEP leaves Tennessee schools funded at less dollars per student than Mississippi. Additionally, Tennessee teachers rank 40th in the nation in improvement in teacher pay over the past 10 years.

A deeper analysis of the BEP suggests the entire formula is broken and that the state needs an investment of nearly $500 million to fix it.

Of course, as noted in the Times-Free Press story on the issue, some in the General Assembly want to reduce sales taxes and end the Hall Tax on stock dividends and bond interest.

The question is: Will the 2015 session of the General Assembly see a serious move to improve the BEP or will it take a lawsuit to force lawmakers to act?

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

 

Koch Brothers, Haslam Gang Up on Gloria Johnson

The race for Tennessee’s 13th District House Seat features incumbent Democrat Gloria Johnson versus an army of out-of-state special interest groups who have teamed up with Governor Bill Haslam to unseat one of the most outspoken defenders of public education in the General Assembly.

Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity has sent mailer after mailer comparing Johnson to such horrible figures as Lane Kiffin and Barack Obama (it is difficult to tell which of the two is viewed less favorably in Knoxville).

The Tennessee Federation for Children has spent $100,000 against Johnson. The outfit is curiously named, since it is based in Washington, DC, and doesn’t have a Tennessee presence until it is time to push for risky and expensive voucher schemes at the General Assembly. Thanks in part to Johnson’s leadership, the TFC’s voucher plans have failed in two consecutive General Assemblies. Now, they’re coming after Johnson.

Joining (leading?) the parade of attacks against Johnson is Governor Bill Haslam. His Advance Tennessee PAC is spending $50,000 on a new TV attack ad against Johnson.

What’s Haslam’s beef against the Knoxville teacher-legislator? Gloria Johnson has routinely criticized Haslam for his lack of leadership and general failure to communicate, especially when it comes to education issues.

Johnson correctly warned that Common Core would die in Tennessee unless Haslam did a better job of talking with teachers and parents about the merits of the program.

The good news for Johnson is that Haslam and the Koch Brothers teamed up with TFC in the primary in August to challenge Republicans who weren’t sufficiently in support of privatizing public schools, and they lost many of those races.

Of course, a teacher and defender of public schools can’t compete dollar-for-dollar with such intense spending. But the focus on House District 13 when the GOP already holds a big majority in the General Assembly makes one wonder what exactly these groups want for their money.

I wrote a piece about the GOP 2013 legislative agenda on education that I think is exactly what these groups want to see pass in 2015. If only they can get Gloria Johnson out of the way.

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

Why is TN 40th?

Recently, I wrote about Tennessee’s history of not investing in its teachers. Specifically, Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation in overall teacher pay and 40th in growth in teacher pay over time. So, Tennessee teachers are paid low salaries and those salaries don’t improve much as teachers advance in their careers.

Now, I’d like to take a look at why Tennessee teacher pay is low and is not improving.

The simple answer is this: The BEP is broken.

The BEP is the Basic Education Plan which is the state funding formula for public schools. The formula includes a number of components, including funding for teaching and staff positions based on district size as well as allocations for teacher salaries and insurance. It is the mechanism by which the state fulfills its constitutional responsibility to provide a free public education to all Tennessee students.

The BEP is not the sole funding source for public schools. Instead, the BEP generates dollars that are sent to local districts and each district is also asked to pay a share of the cost of providing education to the students there. The formula includes a mechanism which identifies a district’s “ability to pay” and districts receive a percentage of the total anticipated education funding needs based on that ability. Small, rural counties typically receive a much larger percentage of their total education budget from state BEP dollars than do large, urban districts or wealthy suburban districts.

The idea behind the formula is to introduce an element of equity to Tennessee schools. That is, no matter where a child lives, he or she should have access to a high quality education. Sure, wealthier districts will likely always spend more to enhance the basic program, but at a fundamental level, a child in Hancock County should be able to access the same basic educational opportunities as a child in Williamson County.

One key indicator of equity historically has been disparity in teacher pay across districts. Yes, a teacher in Shelby County has a higher cost of living than one in Perry County. But, fundamentally, the gap between salaries should not be such as to deprive rural districts of the opportunity to compete for teaching talent.

Back in 2002, the small school systems that originally banded together to sue the state to create the BEP sued the state again. This time, arguing that because of the widening disparity in teacher pay, education funding in the state was no longer equitable. At that time, the highest-paying districts in the state were paying salaries nearly 46% higher than the lowest-paying districts (based on numbers from the TN Department of Education). The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the small schools and ordered the state to move toward funding fairness. As a result, the state made teacher salary a formal component of the BEP and funded it at a fixed percentage.

In the years following this adjustment, the pay disparity among districts dropped from 46% to 35%. The parties to the equity lawsuit agreed this was progress and from 2004-2009, the disparity hovered in the 35-36% range.

Following the economic recession of 2008-2009, however, investment in the instructional component of the BEP stagnated. This enabled wealthier districts to continue investing in their teachers while poorer districts could not keep up.

In 2014, the salary disparity among districts is just under 42%. Yes, that’s not far from the 46% ruled unconstitutional back in the 2002 case. And, the trend is heading in the wrong direction for equity, having worsened some 7 percentage points since 2008.

Why does this keep happening? The BEP is broken.

As I mentioned, the BEP includes an instructional component which provides districts funding for teacher salaries. The current instructional component sets a salary number of $40,447. The state then funds this component at 70%, leaving districts to pay 30% of the salary cost for that teacher.

There are a few problems with this. First, nearly every district in the state hires more teachers than the BEP formula generates. This is because students don’t arrive in neatly packaged groups of 20 or 25, and because districts choose to enhance their curriculum with AP courses, foreign language, physical education, and other programs. This add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP.

Next, the state sets the instructional component for teacher salary at $40,447. The average salary actually paid to Tennessee teachers is $50,355.  That’s slightly below the Southeastern average and lower than six of the eight states bordering Tennessee. In short, an average salary any lower would not even approach competitiveness with our neighbors.

But, this gets to the reason why salary disparity is growing among districts. The state funds 70% of the BEP instructional component. That means the state sends districts $28,333.90 per BEP-generated teacher. But districts pay an average of $50,355 per teacher they employ. That’s a $22,000 disparity. In other words, instead of paying 70% of a district’s basic instructional costs, the state is paying 56%.

There’s an easy fix to this and it has been contemplated by at least one large school system in the state. That fix? Moving the BEP instructional component to the state average. Doing so would cost just over $500 million. So, it’s actually NOT that easy. Another goal of those seeking greater equity is moving the BEP instructional match from 70% to 75%, essentially fulfilling the promise of BEP 2.0. Doing so would cost at least $150 million.

Oh, and there’s one other problem with the BEP as it currently functions that impacts equity. The BEP insurance component. The BEP provides funds (45%) for teacher insurance. But, the BEP only funds teacher insurance for 10 months. Teachers receive insurance for 12 months. This creates a gap that MUST be filled by local districts. Wealthier districts are better able to absorb this cost while continuing to offer competitive pay. Poorer districts often keep salaries low in order to make up the money needed to cover the state-mandated insurance match.

Taking the state’s insurance match from the BEP from 10 months to 12 months would cost $64 million. It would also free up funds that could be used to close the salary gap among districts while easing the burden on local taxpayers. While addressing the salary issue will take creativity and some patience, the insurance issue is one that can be fixed with the exertion of some reasonable effort. That is, someone willing to find a way to allocate $64 million to the BEP in a state budget that is over $30 billion. It may mean less money in reserves. It may mean making different choices in terms of budget priorities.

The BEP is broken. It can be fixed. Doing so will require a commitment to investing in teachers and schools. It will require an adjustment in the state’s priorities. But, the broken BEP can be fixed.

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

Is Common Core Dead in Tennessee?

That seems to be the message Tennessee leaders are sending about the controversial Common Core State Standards.

After a legislative session which saw the House of Representatives strongly denounce Common Core and ultimately the entire General Assembly vote to delay the PARCC tests, Governor Haslam convened an Education Summit to “reset the conversation” around education policy in the state.

In Williamson County, Americans for Prosperity spent tens of thousands of dollars on School Board races to elect new members who oppose the Common Core State Standards.

Just this weekend, Scott Stroud of the Tennessean wrote:

If Common Core education standards come crashing to earth next year when the legislature reconvenes — and it looks as though they might — Gov. Bill Haslam will need to look no further than his campaign for re-election to figure out when he lost that fight.

Haslam appears now to be shifting to a conversation of why higher standards matter rather than advocating in favor of the Common Core.

And, Speaker Beth Harwell is joining him. In an interview with Chalkbeat, Harwell said:

I really think Tennessee is going to get to the point where they’ll just develop their own standards and try to make them some of the best standards in the nation.

So, it seems likely that Tennessee will shift away from Common Core. But will Tennessee policymakers use the Common Core as a guideline for new standards? And how will development of Tennessee’s own standards impact the already-issued RFP for tests aligned to the Common Core in math and reading? Will there be yet another delay in the use of assessments aligned to Tennessee standards? Will teachers be sent yet another set of standards to teach students? And how will these new standards be developed?

The shift away from the CCSS may be politically expedient, but it leaves many questions unanswered. It also presents an opportunity: To reset the conversation by involving teachers, parents, and communities in a discussion about what’s best for Tennessee.  That conversation was missing in the initial build-up to Common Core in Tennessee and it is likely among the reasons why the standards are facing challenging times now.

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

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Receives Top Marks from TREE

Parent advocacy group TREE – Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence – released a legislative report card ranking lawmakers based on votes on education-related isues.

Votes that made up the Report Card included:

  • Charter Authorizer. TREE opposed this bill, which passed.
  • For-Profit Charters. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.
  • Vouchers. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.
  • Charter Conversion a/k/a Parent Trigger. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.
  • Testing Notification. TREE supported this bill, which passed.
  • Teacher Pay Restoration: TREE supported this bill, which passed.
  • Elimination of School Board Representation. TREE opposed this bill, which failed.

Legislators were ranked from A+ to F based on their votes on the issues of importance to TREE.

Senators receiving top grades: Charlotte Burks (D-15), Lowe Finney (D-27), Thelma Harper (D-19), Jim Kyle (D-30), Becky Massey (R-6), Doug Overbey (R-2), and Ken Yager (R-12).

Of those, Senators Burks, Finney, and Kyle will not be in the General Assembly in 2015 due to retirement.

Representatives receiving top grades: Raumesh Akbari (D-91), John Forgety (R-23), Gloria Johnson (D-13), Bo Mitchell (D-50), Joe Pitts (D-67), and Mike Stewart (D-52).

TREE billed the release as a means of informing voters ahead of the November elections.

View the full report card.

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