A Late Call

Yesterday, the State Board of Education met and amended the state’s high school policy, including how End of Course exams factor into a student’s final grades.

As I reported earlier, this meeting happened just days before the semester ended for many students.

Here’s a note from Commissioner McQueen’s latest message to educators on the topic:

Yesterday, the State Board of Education voted on final reading to approve the department’s proposal to phase in EOC scores into high school students’ grades beginning this school year and continuing during the next few years. Also in the proposal, the department recommended to provide districts with students’ raw score points earned out of the total available instead of the conversion score that the department provided previously, commonly called quick scores. Please reference this memo (here) and FAQ document (here) for additional context. This policy becomes effective immediately for all 2016 fall block courses taking EOCs. The exams will account for 10 percent of students’ course grades this year.

Remarkably, the memo McQueen cites notes that the first reading of this policy change was in October. However, the special called meeting on adopting the change and making it official didn’t happen until yesterday. While the October meeting may have signaled the Board’s intent, there was no official policy change until just days before the semester ended.

Between October and now, of course, two large school districts have seen their boards pass resolutions asking the State Board and General Assembly to not count these tests in either student grades or teacher evaluations as we transition to a new test with a new vendor. Those concerns were apparently ignored at yesterday’s meeting.

The legislature could take action on the issue in 2017, but doing so may create confusion since students on block scheduling will have completed courses and received grades.

One provision of the change that is worth noting is that if EOC scores are not available to districts at least five instructional days before a course ends, the district may elect NOT to use those scores in a student’s final grade. For many districts, that day was yesterday.

If districts do decide to use the scores for this semester and next, they may only count for 10% of a student’s final grade.

I’d suggest that the more prudent course is for districts to not count the scores at all this year as we are in a transition year.

The late call (why not a special meeting a few weeks after the first meeting?) raises questions about the State Board’s responsiveness to the concerns of those officials doing the day-t0-day work of running a school district.

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


 

 

Conflict Call

The Tennessee State Board of Education meets on Thursday, December 15th via conference call to discuss the A-F school grading system and to take action on high school policy, specifically as it relates to grading.

The high school policy includes a proposed change to the way End of Course tests are factored in to student grades — which is pretty important, since the semester is ending very soon and high school students on block schedules will be finishing courses in the next few days.

The EOC grade policy is noteworthy as two of the largest school districts in the state (Nashville and Knox County) have passed resolutions asking the state NOT to count any TNReady test in student grades or teacher evaluations for the 2016-17 academic year.

Here’s the language of the proposed policy change as it relates to EOC tests:

Results of individual student performance from all administered End of Course examinations will be provided in a timely fashion to facilitate the inclusion of these results as part of the student’s grade. Each LEA must establish a local board policy that details the methodology used and the required weighting for incorporating student scores on EOC examinations into final course grades. If an LEA does not receive its students’ End of Course examination scores at least five (5) instructional days before the scheduled end of the course, then the LEA may choose not to include its students’ End of Course examination scores in the students’ final course grade. The weight of the EOC examination on the student’s final average shall be ten percent (10%) in the 2016-2017 school year, fifteen percent (15%) in the 2017-2018 school year; and shall be determined by the local board from a range of no less than fifteen (15%) and no more than twenty-five (25%) in the 2018-2019 school year and thereafter.

 

Note, the 2016-17 academic year is happening right now. Students have already taken these EOC exams and their semesters will be ending soon. But, the policy change won’t happen until Thursday, assuming it passes. Alternatively, the State Board of Education could be responsive to the concerns expressed by the school boards in Nashville and Knoxville and prevent this year’s EOC exams from impacting student grades.

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


 

 

The Call For A Charter School Moratorium Lacks Transparency

On Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board will vote on a charter school moratorium. The policy proposal is being brought by Will Pinkston. As of Monday morning, language of the resolution has still not been publicly shared on the MNPS website.

Will Pinkston calls for transparency for charter schools, but he should also be held to that same transparency. It’s unacceptable that the meeting is tomorrow, and the citizens of Nashville still can’t access the policy that will be discussed.

Sources within MNPS tell me there is a draft floating around, but language is still not finalized. It seems like this policy is being snuck in at the last moment so that the citizens of Nashville cannot give specific feedback before the vote. That’s not right.

If this is what Nashville wants, why does this resolution have to held in the dark?

Because of the lack of transparency, the Metro Nashville School Board should postpone voting on this moratorium until the people of Nashville can read and respond to it.

While on the issue of a moratorium, it should be noted that having a moratorium will give the State Board of Education more power. I wrote the same thing when Pinkston last tried to change charter school policy:

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals

The same is true with the moratorium. A moratorium will give the State Board a bigger hand in approving charter schools in Nashville. Nashville should continue to rigorously review and approve the charter schools that best meets the needs of MNPS.

A flat out moratorium on charter schools is not in the best interest of our Nashville schools or their students.

Update: As of 1:45pm, the resolution has been posted here.  

 

 

Rocketship Grounded

Zack wrote earlier about Rocketship Tennessee’s appeal of the decision by the MNPS School Board to deny an amended application to open a new charter school. The appeal goes to the State Board of Education, which has the power to overturn the local decision and authorize the school.

Rocketship says their application should be approved due to a technical defect — the Board met one day later than the 30 day limit to vote on an appeal. Note, Rocketship is not asserting that it has responded to the concerns raised when the initial application was denied, but instead is saying that because of a technicality, it should get to open new schools. To be clear, the amendment does cite self-administered test scores, but the MNPS team assigned to review charter applications found those scores unconvincing.

The MNPS Board voted 8-1 to deny Rocketship’s application on appeal. That’s not a vote down the supposedly predictable pro- and anti-charter lines. That’s a vote that says a solid majority of the board agreed with the charter evaluation team that a denial was appropriate.

Interestingly, Rocketship was also denied a charter expansion last year by MNPS. They appealed to the State Board. The State Board, on an 8-1 vote, denied that application on the same day they approved an appeal by KIPP.

Now, Rocketship is saying it doesn’t matter if they’ve improved their application, addressed the concerns of MNPS, or provided the necessary information to justify a new school — they should just get to do it because of a technical oversight.

MNPS already has two Rocketship schools — the board is clearly not averse to launching Rocketships.

So, why the denial now?

Here’s what the review team had to say:

The review team did not find compelling evidence that Rocketship had sufficiently analyzed their performance data or developed a plan to ensure stronger student outcomes.

In fact, Rocketship’s appeal to the State Board was rejected last year in part because of low performance:

“They did have a level 5 TVAAS composite, which is the highest score overall you can get in growth,” Heyburn said. “But their achievement scores are really low, some of the lowest in their cluster and in the district.”

The MNPS review team addressed this as well:

In summary, with no additional state accountability data to consider, and no compelling evidence presented that provides confidence in the review team, converting an existing low-performing school before Rocketship has demonstrated academic success on state accountability measures would not be in the best interests of the students, the district, or the community.

The MNPS review team did note Rocketship’s reference to the use of the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment to bolster claims of academic success in the absence of current state data. However, several problems arise from this claim. First, there is no way to compare the MAP data to other schools in MNPS or across the state. Second, there is no way for MNPS to know if proper testing protocol was followed in administration of the MAP. Finally, the state charter application requires relevant data from state assessments. The MAP does not meet that standard.

Let’s review. Rocketship was denied expansion by MNPS and the State Board of Education last year. Rocketship applied again. MNPS denied them. Rocketship appealed. MNPS denied the amended application by an 8-1 vote. Rocketship is now appealing based on a technicality instead of working with MNPS to find a satisfactory way to address concerns.

If Rocketship should be complaining to anyone, it’s Candice McQueen and the Department of Education for the botched TNReady rollout. Perhaps with test data from this year, we’d know enough to know whether an expansion of Rocketship is justified.

Simply asserting that we need another Rocketship when we’re not yet sure it can fly seems an irresponsible course.

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


 

 

 

Teachers! Deep Discounts! 30% off in TN!

A new study of teacher pay relative to pay received by other, similarly-educated workers reveals a growing gap. Not surprisingly, teachers are on the losing end, earning roughly 23% less than their peers in other professions. Here in Tennessee, teachers earn 29.3% less than similarly-prepared professionals.

Tennessee’s wage gap for teachers is among the worst in the Southeast, in fact. The average of 11 southern states is a 26.5% gap, leaving Tennessee nearly three points behind.

Here are the numbers (showing what percentage teachers earn relative to their peers) for states in our region:

Louisiana                              80.5%

South Carolina                    79.2%

Kentucky                              78.8%

Mississippi                           74.8%

Arkansas                               74.8%

Florida                                   74.6%

West Virginia                       74.6%

Alabama                                71.8%

Tennessee                             70.7%

Georgia                                  69.3%

Virginia                                  66.9%

North Carolina                     65.4%

The study also addresses what it calls the “benefits-bias.” This is the fact that teachers and other public employees tend to receive more generous healthcare and retirement benefits than their private sector peers. Currently, that number stands at around 6% nationally in favor of teachers. Tennessee doesn’t have the most generous pension or benefits plan, but it’s likely similar to states in our region. Even if you assume the full 6% for Tennessee teachers, though, our teachers are still paid 23.3% less than their professional peers.

The weighted average teacher salary in Tennessee according to the BEP Review Committee is just under $44,000 a year. To fully close the gap, Tennessee teachers would need an average raise of about $10,000 a year.

While the state legislature has passed four percent BEP salary increases in the past two legislative sessions, those funds don’t always make it into teachers’ paychecks due to the Huffman pay plan and action by the State Board of Education.  

The bottom line: Teacher pay matters. It may not be the only factor impacting who chooses teaching and who stays in teaching, but it certainly is an important one. This report notes the disturbing fact that the pay gap between teaching and other professions is widening. That makes it difficult to encourage college students to consider teaching and it also makes it challenging to keep experienced teachers in the profession. A gap of 5-10% can be offset by the benefits earned by teachers. A nearly 30% gap such as exists in Tennessee is unacceptable. Closing this gap will require a sustained commitment to fund teacher pay at the state level. Alternatively, the value proposition for teachers in Tennessee will continue to lag behind that of our neighboring states, not to mention other professionals.

For now, school systems and the state can continue to hire teachers at deep discounts — nearly 30% off! While that may seem like a good deal, it’s one that will exacerbate teacher shortages and shortchange our students. We must do better.

 

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


 

 

 

 

Now 4=3

Readers may remember that last year, after Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly provided funds equivalent to a four percent increase in the BEP salary allocation, the State Board of Education accepted Commissioner Candice McQueen’s recommendation to increase the state’s salary schedule by two percent.

As McQueen wrote at the time:

We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between maximum flexibility for school districts and the recognized need to improve minimum salaries in the state. For the large majority of districts, the proposal does not result in any mandatory impact as most local salary schedules already exceed the proposed minimums. For these districts, the salary funds must still be used for compensation but no mandatory adjustments to local schedules exist.

This year, Governor Haslam and the General Assembly commendably added another four percent increase to BEP salary funds. The adjustment to the state’s minimum salary schedule, however, is up to the State Board of Education upon recommendation of the Commissioner of Education.

This year’s recommendation was a three percent increase. Today, the State Board of Education adopted that recommendation, making $32,445 the new base salary for Tennessee teachers, effectively the minimum a teacher in the state can earn.

As the State Board of Education notes:

An estimated total of 29  school districts will be required to make
increases to at least one level of their local salary schedule resulting in a specific and earmarked salary expenses.

Admittedly, this year’s increase in funding and the State Board action represent progress.

Last year, I made the following recommendations representing a way to truly improve teacher compensation in our state while supporting local districts:

  • Set the minimum salary for a first-year teacher at $40,000 and create a pay scale with significant raises at 5 years (first year a TN teacher is tenure eligible), 10 years, and 20 years along with reasonable step increases in between
  • Fund the BEP salary component at 75%
  • Adjust the BEP to more accurately account for the number of teachers a district needs
  • Fully fund RTI2 including adding a BEP component for Intervention Specialists
  • Adopt the BEP Review Committee’s recommendations on professional development and mentoring so teachers get the early support and ongoing growth they need

While the General Assembly did pass some BEP reforms this year, more should be done. For example, the new BEP formula freezes funding for the BEP salary component at 70%. Also, an adjustment in the calculation for number of teachers is still needed.

Again, however, this year’s legislative action and today’s State Board of Education action represent measurable progress.

 

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

Sharing the Wealth

Last month, I wrote about ACLJ leader Jay Sekulow and his quest for financial gain based on the fear of Islam as one of the world religions covered in 6th and 7th grade social studies classes.

Now, it seems that Tennessee-based blogger and former radio host Steve Gill is getting in on the money grab.

Gill sent out a press release yesterday about an event in White County directed at removing textbooks that cover Islam. Gill is also listed as the media contact (and registered owner) of this website designed to keep the “controversy” going.  WPLN has this story which refers to the standards as new.

However, while the standards have been updated, the teaching of Islam as part of social studies in 6th and 7th grade is not a new practice in Tennessee. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen notes in a memo:

The content of religion in our social studies standards is not new in Tennessee, but the sequence has been revised. The content of the current Islamic World standards has been included in the state’s social studies standards for many years and what students are expected to know about the Islamic World is also consistent with years prior. The new standards have simply moved what was previously spread throughout the social studies standards prior to 2013 (those standards can be found here: http://tn.gov/education/article/academic-standards-archive) to one section in the seventh-grade World History course. Most of the current seventh-grade World History standards were previously contained in sixth-grade and can be found here: http://tn.gov/…/education/attachments/std_arch_ss_gr_6.pdf


The State Board of Education adopted the current social studies standards in July 2013. The standards were developed by a committee of Tennessee teachers and were available for the public and all Tennessee educators to review and provide feedback.

To be clear: The standards were developed and adopted more than two years ago. That process included Tennessee teachers developing the standards, a public feedback period, and the State Board of Education adopting the standards in a public meeting.

While updated, the standards continued the practice of covering the Islamic World in middle school social studies courses.

Where was Steve Gill in 2013 when the State Board adopted these standards that he now claims are responsible for “Islamic indoctrination?”

Why didn’t the ACLJ’s Sekulow cry out in 2013 when the State Board adopted standards he suspected would cause mass conversion of 7th graders to Islam?

And what about all the years prior to 2013 when the Islamic World was ALSO covered in middle school social studies? Was there mass indoctrination then? What about a slew of middle school students converting?

Gill and Sekulow don’t have answers to those questions … or, they haven’t been asked, it seems.

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

TREE Takes on Charter Expansion

As the State Board of Education considers overruling the MNPS School Board and possibly approving charter schools for Nashville originally denied at the local level, grassroots advocacy group TREE is calling on citizens to take action.

From the inbox:

Attention Nashville and Tennessee Education Advocates! We need you to write the Tennessee State Board of Education TODAY! Be a voice for local control. Metro Schools recently approved two of fourteen charter applications.  Among the ten who were denied were KIPP, Rocketship and The International Academy of Excellence.

The International Academy of Excellence filled out an incorrect form and should have not been considered at all but was for legal reasons. These three charter companies are asking the State Board of Education to overrule the Nashville school board and divert funds from the Metro Schools budget to pay for opening their six proposed charter schools.

If you would like to see the local school board retain the ability to decide how to spend local tax dollars, and what schools should operate in Nashville, you must speak up NOW. Public comments are being received until October 7. Please copy this email list into your email recipient box:
Fielding Rolston <frolston@ecu.org>
Mike Edwards <medwards@knoxvillechamber.com>
Allison Chancey <achancey@bradleyschools.org>
Lonnie Roberts <lroberts@trh.com>
Carolyn Pearre <cpearre@comcast.net>
Lillian Hartgrove <lhartgrove@cookevillechamber.com>

It is fine to be brief. A few points you might to make:

1. Note if you are a Nashville taxpayer and/or public school parent.
2. Nashville currently has 8,112 charter school seats and will open another 8,157 over the next few years, under current approved charter contracts, effectively doubling the amount of charter school seats without ever approving another charter.
3. There is no evidence of demand for more charters and in fact there are currently many empty seats in Nashville charter schools.
4. If the state board of education overrules the local school board, it will force our city to fund a privatized public school.  A school that can not be shut down by our locally elected board if problems arise.
5. Nashville must be free to put its schools budget to the best use to improve education for ALL students. Under the law MNPS must adhere to their contract with approved charters and fully fund them.  Whatever amount is left gets divvied up among the remaining schools in the district continuing the trend of systematic underfunding which means not meeting the needs of our schools.

Thank you for your time and quick attention. Your voice is needed TODAY!
TREE

For more on the charter debate in Nashville:

The True Cost of Charters

Mary Pierce on Closing Charters

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

 

An Interview with Allison Chancey

Allison Chancey is the 3rd District Representative on the Tennessee State Board of Education (SBE). She is the only member on the state board who also is a classroom teacher. Mrs. Chancey is a 2nd grade teacher in Bradley County, and is a member of Professional Educators of Tennessee. This article originally appeared in TREND (http://www.trendtn.com), a publication of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

LEADERS IN EDUCATION: ALLISON CHANCEY
Q: On behalf of our members, we thank you for taking time to share with our educators today. Tennessee’s SBOE develops policy and regulation on a wide variety of education topics. How does that work?

A: The State Board of Education meets at least four times a year. Often, we meet more than that as the need arises. We have a well-qualified staff that works hard and presents us with research they have done on current policies and educational topics on our agenda. Their findings are sent to us a week or two before each meeting for us to study and review. Before each board meeting we have a workshop where given items are discussed and questioned as needed. We are very fortunate to have the hardworking staff that we have. The nine board members bring different fields of experience that gives us a broad spectrum of educational needs. As a teacher, I get to present how things are from the front lines of the classroom.

Q: You are currently the only member of the state board of education that has actual classroom teaching experience – how has that experience helped you on the state board?

A: I believe our vice chair, Ms. Carolyn Pearre, at one time was also a classroom teacher. Currently I am the only board member to be teaching in the classroom. As a classroom teacher, I am able to tell how policies and regulations are affecting not only the teachers, but the administrations, students and parents. There are times when an item looks great on paper, although in reality it isn’t in the best interest to those directly involved. An example would be having TVASS scores tie in with teacher licenses. While in theory this looks great, in reality it is not fair to any teacher. I also know how our new standards are affecting our students as well as the parents involved. I basically am able to report firsthand how decisions we make are affecting the classroom.

Q: We made quite a few changes in public education in Tennessee the last decade. Some needed. Some debatable. What are we doing right?

A: We are raising standards and doing a better job of preparing students to be college and career ready. Job expectations are at an all time high, and it is our responsibility to prepare Tennessee students to meet the challenges facing them after high school. Tennessee education is meeting this challenge through the hard work of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. We have done this by adopting higher academic standards, holding teachers more accountable, and requiring students to meet academic gains. I am proud to be a part of the Tennessee team that is raising the bar and showing the nation that Tennessee students are second to none.

Q: In your opinion, what is the top 3 challenges still facing education in Tennessee?

A: The top three challenges still facing education in Tennessee? This is hard to narrow down. I could write a research paper on this! To narrow it down to three I would say time, money, and teacher morale. 1) Time. With all the wonderful updates going on in today’s education, a teacher is finding himself/herself working longer hours than ever to teach in the most effective manner possible. You will find teachers at school early, late in the evenings, and even on the weekends. Those not there you will find working crazy hours at home. We do this because we love our kids. But this has taken away from personal and family time. I don’t believe the average person has any idea how much time most teachers put into their jobs. Also, there is not a moment to spare while the students are with us in the classroom. To get the standards taught takes every second of every day for instruction. This means that time that use to be used to develop relationships with students is often lost
because of the ridged schedule. 2) Money. There never seems to be enough! How does this affect education? You find teachers that are trying to teach 21st century standards in a classroom built in the 1950’s. Technology is a key for student learning, but often is not funded adequately. Teachers who are working harder than ever may not see a pay increase for years. Schools need updating and replacing. 3) Teacher morale. As teachers, we love our jobs. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. But we are seeing more and more students that are coming from broken homes, poverty, and abuse. They come to school hungry, tired, and worried. These children desperately need us to be not only their teachers, but someone they can trust and look up to. These kids are held at the same standard as the ones that come from nurturing homes, where parents meet their emotional and physical needs. Trying to teach these kids, worrying about test scores, evaluations, and new material creates much stress.
There is little to no support given in many cases.

Q: What are the steps the state and local districts need to take to address the challenges you identified? And what impact will that have on classroom teachers?

A: What steps need to be taken? Funding education should be the goal of every American. Our children are the future. Every city and district should make every effort to fund education as much as needed. That being said, we need to use the money wisely and be accountable for money spent. As far as time goes, districts need to recognize how hard their teachers are working. No one expects overtime pay, but a thank you could go a long way. Perhaps helping hands to aid the teacher, such as volunteers. 3. Teacher morale. Just to be respected and appreciated would go a long way. Teachers need encouragement just like everyone else. Again, a thank you could go a long way. It should also be addressed that teachers are not the only one responsible for educating a child. Parents need to be responsible in getting their children to school on time, being sure they are fed and have the adequate tools for learning, and backing a teacher up with discipline and homework assignments. The goal is
to work together for the betterment of the child.

Q: Any final thoughts you would like to share with your fellow educators across Tennessee?

A: Final thoughts? Tennessee is a great state to be in as an educator. To continue with our success, we need to work hard and never give up. Never compromise. We need to put students first and have them ready to face the challenges that await them after graduation. As the wise Alex Haley once said, “Find the good and praise it.” There is much good going on in Tennessee currently. I am proud to be a part of it.

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

Fielding Punts

State Board of Education Chair Fielding Rolston wrote last week about Tennessee’s social studies standards in light of a “controversy” ginned up by the ACLJ and latched onto by state legislators like state Representative Andy Holt and state Senator Dolores Gresham.

What’s the problem? It seems teachers across Tennessee are indoctrinating their students with Islam.

Not really, of course. And Rolston goes into some detail about the Tennessee social studies standards, the process for creating them, and the upcoming review of those standards. The review process invites feedback from any citizen and includes Tennessee educators.

Then, he punts:

Local districts determine the curriculum and instruction, adapting what classroom instruction looks like for the students and teachers.

There are no State Board of Education requirements regarding the length of time to be devoted to any topic or guidelines on how that topic is taught in the classroom. 

It is always a local decision how long a particular topic is covered in the classroom and the textbooks and curriculum employed.

These statements, while accurately describing the process, also left a door open, and the ACLJ walked right through.

Now, local school boards are responding to broad, expensive to fulfill open records requests. Legal responses will be required.

Rolston suggests that while the state’s standards should be rigorous, a local district can spend less time on topics that may be the subject of the controversy of the day.

Tennessee’s social studies teachers might have appreciated a more vigorous defense.

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