Failure to Communicate

It seems Governor Bill Haslam is having some trouble advancing his education agenda.

But why? Why is a governor with a supermajority from his own party not able to advance key pieces of his legislative agenda?

He hosted an Education Summit last week designed to “reset” the education conversation in the state. More than anything, it seemed an attempt to save Common Core from a potential political demise. That summit failed to address one key education topic. And he received a response from a teacher (TEA Vice President Beth Brown) indicating he may be missing the point when it comes to what matters to students and teachers.

Earlier this week, a report from a Vanderbilt study indicated support for Common Core among Tennessee’s teachers has dropped dramatically. Teacher Lucianna Sanson explained it this way:

“What you’re seeing in that survey is the difference between what we were told it was and a year of implementation,” Sanson says. “And that is why you have that drastic, drastic change. Because you start implementing it, and you’re like, ‘What is this?’”

Back in August, Haslam sent a note to teachers welcoming them back to school. But, teachers were not amused. Instead, they reminded him that he’d broken his promise to dramatically improve teacher pay in the state.

Of course, during the legislative session, Haslam suffered a major setback as the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests were delayed by the General Assembly.

Before that, Directors of Schools from around the state sent a letter to Haslam complaining that Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman wasn’t listening.

What do all of these issues have in common? Here’s a video that briefly illustrates the problem:

 

 

 

“Tennessee Solution” a Viable Option?

Back in April, when Governor Haslam betrayed teachers and state employees and took their proposed pay increase out of his budget, a bipartisan group of legislators proposed what they then called the Tennessee Solution.

The plan had a price tag of $90 million and used reserve funds to pay out a one time bonus to teachers and state employees. The plan also called for a 1% raise to be provided only if state revenues exceeded budgeted targets.

By doing so, the plan put money in the pockets of teachers (essentially delivering a portion of Haslam’s promise) and also offered hope of more funds should the state find the money. Essentially, it said that if there is extra money, the first priority for those funds should be our teachers.

Ultimately, Haslam’s forces prevailed and that idea was rejected.

Now, there’s news that August revenues were far above projections. More than $30 million ahead, to be specific. The increase is due to the highest sales tax collections in more than two years. And, despite a negative growth number for non-corporate taxes, collections there were $6.1 million over budget.

If this type of revenue growth continues, delivering on the Tennessee Solution would be very doable. Except that the legislature decided against it at Haslam’s urging.

Yes, it’s still early in the revenue cycle, but making education a priority was the right thing to do in April and early revenue numbers show it fiscally feasible as well.

Next up, tomorrow’s Education Summit in Nashville. Where Haslam and friends should be talking about how best to use any unexpected revenue growth to invest in Tennessee’s public schools.

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

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.

Prioritizing Education

Gov. Bill Haslam tweeted on October 3, 2013: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

The first hint that being fast-improving might take some time came in the Governor’s 2014 budget presentation, when he proposed a 2% pay raise for the state’s teachers.  By way of comparison, Kentucky’s Governor also proposed a 2% raise for his state’s teachers. It’s tough to be the fastest improving when you move at the same rate as your competition.  It’s like being down 40-30 at halftime of a basketball game.  Then, in the second half, you match the other team and score 40 points.  You end up losing 80-70.  To be fastest-improving, you have to score more points, but maybe Haslam’s not a sports fan.

Then, comes yesterday’s news that Haslam’s budget is facing trouble because state revenues are down.  So, surely he’s going to focus on keeping those all-important teacher raises and commitment to K-12 education, right? Wrong.  Haslam is balancing the state budget by denying promised raises to teachers and state employees and ditching his proposed increases to higher education. What’s worse, Haslam’s Commissioner of Education convinced the state Board of Education to mandate that Tennessee school districts adopt differentiated pay scales.  The 2% increase in salary money available to districts was to help them meet this goal.  Now, the districts still face the mandate but will lack the state support to make truly meaningful change.

Below Mississippi? The Tennessee Education Association was quick to jump on the proposed cuts as unacceptable.  Citing research by the National Education Association, the TEA notes in a press release that Tennessee will now invest less per student than Mississippi.  According to the research, Tennessee’s per pupil investment is 45th in the nation and below every neighboring state but North Carolina. TEA President Gera Summerford said, “In order to attract and retain the best teachers, it is critical that the state properly fund teacher salaries.”

Where’d the Money Go? Governor Haslam blames the $160 million hole in the budget on lower than expected corporate taxes.  However, no mention is made of the $46 million in lost revenue from a 1/2 cent decrease in the state portion of the sales tax on food.  While removing or reducing the sales tax on food is a laudable goal, doing so without finding revenue to replace it is irresponsible.  The sales tax on food is the most reliable portion of state revenue. Additional revenue is lost by the gradual phase out of Tennessee’s estate tax, previously impacting estates over $1 million.  The plan is to phase that out entirely by 2016, with an estimated revenue loss of around $30 million this year and around $97 million in 2016-17’s budget. So, that’s roughly $76 million, or close to half of the projected shortfall for the upcoming budget cycle. To his credit, Haslam says he wants to hold off on efforts to repeal the Hall tax on investment income – a tax paid by a small number of wealthy Tennesseans with investment income.  However, he has also said reducing or eliminating the Hall tax is a goal. Phasing out the tax, as proposed in legislation under consideration this year at the General Assembly, would mean a loss of $20 million in the 2015-16 budget year and an ultimate loss in state funds of $160 million a year and in local revenue of $86 million a year.

Other options? It’s not clear, what, if any other options were considered.  In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear proposed a budget that included 5% cuts to most state departments while raising teacher pay and increasing investment in K-12 education. So, while his state faces a tight budget situation and difficult choices, he chose to put forward a budget that increased spending on public education and invested in Kentucky’s teachers, who are already better paid than Tennessee’s. The Kentucky General Assembly passed a version of that budget this week. Tennessee’s General Assembly may make changes to Governor Haslam’s proposals, of course. But it’s difficult to claim that Bill Haslam is putting education first.  Of course, that tweet back in October could also have been a set up for a rather cruel April Fool’s Day joke.   For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Shielding our Teacher and Student Data

This article was submitted by JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

Since the passage of First to the Top legislation in 2010, as our organization has travelled across the state, we have heard from both parents and educators with concerns about the collection, use and potential misuse of student and teacher data.  While it is correct that the newly adopted PARCC exams will not collect any more additional data than TCAP that is not the concern of Tennessee parents or educators.

 

In 2009 an audit raised concerns about the state education department vendor Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) using prisoners to count, inventory and shred various materials in bulk quantities. According to the audit, included in the files were students’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and test performance data, all of which was handed over without prior consent from parents. The access of highly sensitive information to maximum security prison inmates is a significant security risk according to the report.  We must take steps to make sure this never happens again.

 

Therefore, those who are trying to make this debate about Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are misinformed and misleading policymakers and stakeholders about the issue.  The public has sent a very strong message that policymakers must make individual student data-mining in Tennessee illegal.   Schools and schools systems need better policies in regard to school personnel having access to an educator’s personal summative and evaluation scores.  Any legislation adopted must clearly set out the conditions and restrictions on the use of confidential student and teacher data.  We must prohibit intrusive data tracking, which is an invasion of the rights of students and their families.  Any data collected should be used for the sole purpose of tracking the academic progress and needs of students by education officials at the local and state level.

 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)[1] is a Federal privacy law that gives parents certain rights with regard to their children’s education records, such as the right to inspect and review your child’s education records.  In December, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education revised its regulations governing the implementation of FERPA by schools, districts, and States. These revisions change several of the exceptions to FERPA’s consent rule.  What parents and educators are seeking is a guarantee from the state that they are putting additional measures in place to protect students and educators.   Some legal experts believe that according to FERPA, the district, not the state, is the controlling party for the use of personal student data.

 

The 2011 changes permitted schools to disclose information on students if it has been properly designated as directory information. By law, directory information includes things that would generally not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed, such as name, address, photograph, and date of birth. Directory information may not include things such a student’s social security number or grades. State policymakers may wish to go further than federal law in protecting student information. Why would a 3rd Party need photographs of children for example?   Why any individual, personalized student data is necessary is questionable, since comparisons are commonly done and are already widely available through de-identified aggregated student data.

 

Before a single child’s information is turned over to any 3rd party, policymakers should give assurance to parents and educators that no harm will come to Tennessee school children by adopting the following principles:  The state and districts should be required to publish any and all existing data sharing agreements in printed and electronic form, and include a thorough explanation of its purpose and provisions, and make it available to parents and local school authorities statewide;  The Department of Education should hold hearings throughout the state or testify before the legislature to explain any existing data agreement, and answer questions from the public or their representatives, obtain informed comment, and gauge public reaction;  All parents should have the right to be notified of the impending disclosure of their children’s data, and provide them with a right to consent or have the right to withhold their children’s information from being shared;  The state should have to define what rights families or individuals will have to obtain relief if harmed by improper use or release of their child’s private information, including how claims can be made; and finally, any legislation must ensure that the privacy interest of public school children and their families are put above the interests of any 3rd Party and its agents and subsidiaries.

 

We must be committed to protecting student and teacher data.  There are several pieces of pending legislation being considered by the General Assembly that can be used to accomplish this task.  Representatives Kevin Brooks, Bill Dunn, Vance Dennis, Jeremy Faison and Senators Dolores Gresham and Farrell Haile have been leading on this issue.  We strongly support these efforts, and encourage passage of legislation to address parent and educator’s concerns.

 

 

Footnote:  [1] For more information about FERPA, please see “FERPA General Guidance for Parents” on the Family Policy Compliance Office Web site: www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/parents.html. If you have a question or wish to report a potential FERPA violation, contact FPCO at: 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327).

 

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

 

A Case Against Vouchers

Memphis teacher Jon Alfuth writes a compelling piece arguing against the adoption of vouchers in Tennessee.

Here’s an excerpt providing some very good reasons why vouchers should be looked at skeptically by Tennessee lawmakers:

Voucher programs also struggle to achieve their mission of providing low-income students with a way out of failing schools.  For example a critical study of the Milwaukee program found that it overwhelmingly helped those already receiving education through private means.  Two thirds of Milwaukee students using the voucher program in the city already attended private schools.  Instead of increasing mobility for low-income students, the program primarily served to perpetuate status quo.

Voucher programs have also caused to students inadvertently attending failing schools, thereby maintaining the very problem they are meant to solve.  It’s often difficult to determine the quality of the schools serving voucher students because private schools are not required to make public the same amount of student data as public schools.  An example of this occurring can be found right next door in Louisiana where approximately 2250 students were recently found to be attending failing schools through the state’s voucher program.

Alfuth writes from the perspective of a teacher at a charter school who supports much of the current education reform agenda, including expansion of school choice.  His concerns about vouchers are reasonable, fair, and insightful.

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

 

 

PET Agenda

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) recently released their 2014 legislative agenda.  They have three key areas of focus for the upcoming legislative session.

1) Teacher Licensure. PET is asking for a straightforward, common sense appeal process to address concerns regarding the proposed changes to teacher licensure. PET has also been asking for the suspension of the use of TVAAS data until Common Core is fully implemented. The group also mentions a need to focus on teacher remediation and targeted professional development.

2) Student/Teacher Data. PET is seeking legislation that will ensure the privacy of both student and teacher data.  Specifically, they want to ensure no personally identifiable data on students and their families religion, political affiliation, psychometric data, biometric information, or voting history is collected or otherwise tracked and that such data is not provided to either the federal government or private vendors.  They are also seeking limits on who may access teacher evaluation data.

3) Testing. PET notes the “overuse of testing in our schools” as a key area of concern.  While PET notes that testing comes with good intentions, the result of an increased focus on testing is now a “detriment to public education.” PET suggests policies that find a balance between the need to assess in order to gain knowledge about what’s working and what’s not working for kids and the over-reliance on tests for uses beyond their intended, useful purpose.

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

 

 

Roane County Resolution

As I understand it, the Roane County School Board recently passed the resolution below. Basically, it says they like education reform in general, but that it is going too fast and the money coming to the district is not keeping pace with the mandates of reform.  It’s frustrating teachers and creating a negative climate.

I’m wondering if more districts will pass similar resolutions ahead of the 2014 session of the General Assembly.

Here’s the Resolution:

RESOLUTION

 

Whereas,  the Roane County Board of Education recognizes Governor Bill Haslam’s commitment to education and appreciates additional funds provided by the state and the efforts to raise the academic standards for our students, and

Whereas, the Roane County Board of Education strives to provide a quality education for every student of the county,

Whereas, Roane County’s teachers are diligent, motivated and capable, and

Whereas, teachers and administrators are frustrated by the time restraints placed upon them to implement mandated programs, and

Whereas, required additional funding is not provided for such mandated programs, and

Whereas, the system’s leaders welcome open dialogue with those on the local and state level concerning issues that impact education, and

Whereas, the concerns of the educators and system administrators are not being heard by the Commissioner of the State Department of Education.

Therefore, be it resolved that the Roane County Board of Education, on behalf of students, parents, teachers and administrators, ask the Governor and the General Assembly  to address the disconnect that currently exists with the State Department of Education.

 

 

____________________     _________                  __________________      _______

Chairman of the Board             Date                          Director of Schools           Date

 

For more Tennessee education news, follow us @TNEdReport

Common Core Hearings Thursday and Friday

The Senate Education Committee is holding hearings on the Common Core State Standards this Thursday and Friday — the Thursday hearings begin at 1 PM.

According to Andrea Zelinski of the Nashville Post, 5 of the 14 speakers are having expenses paid by right-wing groups the Tennessee Eagle Forum and the 9.12 Project.  Those five and two additional speakers are identified as being hand-picked by the Tea Party to discuss opposition to the new standards.

Here’s the full story, including the slate of speakers.