Haslam on K-12 Education

Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual budget address tonight. Here are his remarks on K-12 education as prepared for delivery:

Right now, the spotlight is on Tennessee. Who would have thought a decade ago that Tennessee would have significant positive attention around education? Strategic investments, increased accountability, and higher standards have changed the game.

We’ve always known that post-secondary education was not just about access. It’s really about success. And we knew that our students couldn’t succeed if they weren’t prepared when they left our high schools. It’s why we’ve worked so hard to improve student outcomes in our K-12 schools. And why it’s important that Tennessee students are still the fastest improving students in the country since 2011.

In Tennessee our public schools have roughly 1 million students. Since 2011, 131,000 more students are on grade-level in math and nearly 60,000 more are on grade-level in science. For the third straight year, Tennessee public high school students improved on their ACT. Our graduation rate has increased for the third year in a row and now stands at 88 percent.

We need to stop and take a moment – not to pat ourselves on the back – but to let all of that sink in.

A lot of you in this chamber remember when this state continually ranked near the bottom in national rankings, and you understand the progress Tennessee has made in just a few short years. Think about the teachers who continually rise to the challenges their students might bring through the door every day. Teachers and students are doing more than ever before, and their achievements must be recognized. We’ve raised our expectations and our standards. Through the process approved by the General Assembly last year we are well on the way to having in place our new Tennessee Standards that we spent so much time discussing over the last two years. Teams of educators have been working to review each standard, and their work is being reviewed by other professional educators with input from thousands of Tennesseans. The new standards should be voted on by the Board of Education this April.

While much of the rest of the country is still arguing about what to do on Common Core standards, Tennessee went to work developing our standards that continue to raise the bar of expectations. This is what we do. We respond to a changing world and make sure our students are prepared for tomorrow.

I personally believe that investing in education is the smartest thing we can do for economic development. But I also believe it’s a smart long-term investment. One of the things I want to make certain that we do with this budget is invest money that will save us money down the road. The facts are clear: a more educated population will spend less money on health care. Less money on incarceration. If we’re going to be about anything, it has to be about opportunity for all Tennessee students.

One of the things I think we should be the most proud of is that Tennessee – working together – has been a national leader in investing in K-12 during this administration. Tennessee is in the top 10 for elementary and secondary state education expenditures in the nation. We are also outpacing the national average increase in teacher salaries, and that’s before this year’s investment.

Hear me now, our commitment to education continues in a big way tonight. This budget proposal includes the largest investment in K-12 education in Tennessee’s history without a tax increase. We’re funding the Basic Education Program (BEP) portion of teacher salaries with $105 million. Between the current fiscal year’s $153 million and this year’s proposed $261 million investment in K-12 education, Tennessee state government will invest more than $414 million new dollars in our schools, more than $200 million of those additional dollars for teacher salaries.

We’re also including nearly $30 million for the 12th month of health insurance so teachers are offered year-round insurance through the state. And we’re doubling the state investment for a total of $30 million in recurring state dollars going to technology needs at our schools.

Our TCAP tests this year showed that we are making great progress in math and English in our high schools and that proficiency in math and science is increasing in all grades. However, those same tests showed that we are not making the kind of progress that we would like to see in third through eighth grade reading. Because of that, we’re investing $9 million to create a network of literacy coaches and regional coordinators supporting literacy efforts all across the state. Our students have shown incredible growth, but reading remains a challenging area that we have to get right.

What’s important in all of this is that we’re not investing in the same old public education system in Tennessee. We’ve raised our standards. We’ve linked teacher evaluations to student performance. And we’ve expanded education options for children. We are showing historic progress, and we can’t back up. We are a system that is committed to the basic premise that all children should have access to a quality public education regardless of zip code, and we are shrinking the achievement gap for historically underserved and low-income students. None of us should want to go back to ranking in the 40’s. This state will continue to do what has brought our students success: investing more in education while raising our standards and making certain that how well students are learning is reflected in teacher evaluations. I’m grateful to no longer be in the 40’s, but I’m not satisfied to be in the 30’s.

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

 

Of Hope and TNReady

Natalie Coleman is a 7th grade language arts teacher in Sumner County and a 2015-16 Tennessee Hope Street Group Fellow.

Are we ready?

This question is front-and-center in the conversation surrounding education in Tennessee.

This is the question ringing in classrooms across the state, the question plaguing teachers working tirelessly to adjust instruction to more rigorous expectations, striving to help students reach heights monumentally higher than they’ve ever been asked to, much less prepared to, before.

This is the question of parents, nervous their children’s scores will not be as high as they’re accustomed to, worried that everything they’ve heard about the standards and Race to the Top and the over-testing is true, worried that the changes happening in our state may not be good for our children.

This is the question of students whose target has been moved each year, who have been told TCAP counts as a grade (and that it doesn’t), that it’s the last year for TCAP tests (and that it’s not), and that now it is time for us to be TNReady. As a state, we have even branded our new test with a name that echoes our question—Are we ready? Are we TNReady?

For anyone in the state closely connected to education, TNReady is a name that carries with it fear of the unknown, of unrealistic standards, and of unwarranted pressures on teachers, parents, and students. At the same time, though, it resonates with the hope of what we as a state want to achieve—readiness in our students.

We want them to be ready for the next steps in their educations and in their lives. We want them to be prepared to succeed. We do not want to continue reading that students in the first Tennessee Promise cohort aren’t making it, even when college is free, because it’s “too hard.” We do not want to continue hearing from employers that Tennessee’s young workforce is simply not ready.

I will admit that, as a teacher, I am nervous about TNReady because of the pressure it puts on my students. I fear that my classroom will progressively become more and more of a test preparation center and less of a place where students can cultivate creativity, curiosity, interest, and wonder. I am concerned that the testing may take too much of our time and focus, may not be developmentally appropriate, may not be amply vetted, may overwhelm our low-budget school technology resources. I believe that teacher and parent groups are right to raise questions and concerns, right to warn that TNReady may not itself be ready and that its incorporation into student grades and teacher evaluations is problematic and potentially unfair.

Yet, the prospect of TNReady also fills me with hope because of the aspiration it represents. As a state, we have said that it’s time for our students to be ready, time to stop selling them short with watered-down standards and bubble-sheet assessments, time to do what’s necessary for our students to be able to read and write at levels that will make them ready for the literacy demands of college and careers.

In the previous six years I’ve taught, I’ve felt a great tension between what I believe has always been the heart of our language arts standards and how those standards were ultimately assessed. At first, I idealistically believed that teaching language arts the way I learned to teach—authentically and deeply rooted in reading and writing—would automatically translate to test success as well. My achievement levels and TVAAS scores told a different story. Over time, I learned that achieving the desired results required shifting gears to TCAP-specific strategies and drills as the test approached. Test scores improved greatly, but I don’t know what my students actually gained, besides a good score, from those weeks of lessons.

Now, though, my students are preparing for TNReady Part I, a test that will require them to read rigorous texts and synthesize the information from them into a sophisticated essay. This new test has the potential to be one that matches the authenticity I strive for in my classroom.

When I tell my students that the writing we are doing in class right now is to prepare not only for TNReady Part I but for many kinds of writing they will need to do in the future, I can mean it. The skills we are honing to prepare for this test are skills that will help them write successfully in high school, on AP exams, for college admissions essays, in college classes, and even in their careers.

Right now in Tennessee, because of our raised standards and the assessments that come with them, our students are learning skills that will make them ready. I believe this and hope for more growth because of the amazing growth that I’ve already seen.

As our state has undergone massive educational shifts, our students have borne the changes and adapted. When we first began piloting text-based essay prompts a few years ago in my district, many of the students in my class stared at them blankly, merely copied the text word-for-word, or wrote a half-page “essay” that displayed a complete misunderstanding of the task. The writing was often missing the basic components of topic sentences, indention, or even separating paragraphs at all. As I worked to help my students prepare in those early days, for tests that were pilots, my students groaned when we were “writing again.” Even though I worked to make writing fun and to give students opportunities to write for genuine purposes throughout the year, writing assessment preparation was an arduous task for everyone, and students were often frustrated.

Each year, though, the frustration has diminished a bit. In the beginning, just making sure students learned the basics of an essay format seemed an impossible task; now, they come to me knowing how to tackle prompts and organize their thoughts into paragraphs. There is still much room for growth, but where my students start every year and where they end are both well beyond those markers for the class before. Each year is better and better, and—best of all—the groaning is gone. Put two complex texts and a writing prompt in front of my students now, and they set right to work, staying focused for over an hour at a time, writing away. They’re open to revision and work to make changes. They ask for help, and they take pride in making their writing the best they can.

This is progress I would have considered miraculous three years ago, yet it is commonplace now, and I am grateful for the growth I see in students’ abilities each year.

When February comes and brings with it text-based writing tasks for my seventh graders that look more like something I would have learned to do in pre-AP classes in high school, when April comes with a second computer-based test, this one filled with rigorous and lengthy texts to read and a large dose of an entirely new breed of multi-select, drop-down box, click-and-drag multiple choice questions, will my students be ready?

I am not sure that they will be completely ready. Yet.

No matter how my students score on TNReady this year, though, they are undoubtedly stronger for what we’ve done. No matter what problems we encounter with the test and what we need to do to fix it, I hope we never lose sight of the goal behind it. I hope we keep our standards high, I hope we keep striving to make our assessments authentic measures of the skills we want our students to attain, and I hope we see that the end result is students who are ready.

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

Tipton County vs. Common Core

The Tipton County Board of Education passed a resolution last week calling on the Tennessee General Assembly to repeal the Common Core State Standards and replace them with Tennessee Standards that ensure students are prepared for college, career, and/or the military.

The resolution notes that the Common Core Standards, currently guiding Tennessee schools, were developed without input from Tennessee educators.

The Board is asking the state to develop its own standards and include Tennessee educators in the process. Governor Haslam has essentially promised the same thing, calling for a review of the Common Core and the development and implementation of Tennessee standards developed with input from a group of Tennessee educators.

Here’s the resolution:

Tipton Resolution

 

 

 

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

Toward Tennessee Standards

In September, Governor Bill Haslam hosted an “Education Summit” designed to help “reset the conversation” around education policy, and specifically, Common Core. Since that time, policymakers have been suggesting that Common Core is dead in Tennessee and that the state will move toward its own set of standards.

Today, Governor Haslam took a major step in that direction, announcing a review of Tennessee standards in Math and English/Language Arts. He is essentially accelerating the normal review process for Tennessee standards and using that acceleration as an opportunity to review (and potentially revise) the Common Core standards that guide Tennessee’s standards.

Haslam also announced the development of a website that will allow Tennesseans to review the Common Core State Standards and offer comments. Additionally, review committees comprised of educators will be a part of the process.

Here’s the release from Haslam’s office:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the process for a public review of
the state’s K-12 academic standards in English language arts and math.  The
process is in partnership with the State Board of Education and will include
input from educators and citizens from across the state.

Academic standards are typically reviewed in Tennessee every six years.  With these
standards now in their fourth year, and with the discussion happening in Tennessee and across the country about Common Core state standards, Haslam believes this is the appropriate time to take a fresh look.

“One thing we’ve all agreed on is the importance of high standards in Tennessee,” Haslam
continued.  “This discussion is about making sure we have the best possible
standards as we continue to push ahead on the historic progress we’re making in
academic achievement.”

In the coming weeks, a website  will be available to every Tennessean to go online, review each current state standard and comment on what that person likes, doesn’t like, or would suggest should be changed about that particular standard.

The Southern Regional Education Board, as a third party, independent resource, will collect the data in the Spring and then turn that information over to be reviewed and analyzed by professional Tennessee educators.  The governor has asked the State Board of Education to
appoint two committees, an English Language Arts Standards Review & Development Committee and Math Standards Review & Development Committee, as well as three advisory teams for each of those committees.

The advisory teams will review Tennessee’s current standards and gather input to make
recommendations to the two committees, which will then propose possible changes
to the State Board of Education.

The two standards review committees will each be made up of six Tennessee K-12 educators and two representatives from Tennessee higher education institutions for a total of 16 Tennessee professional educators.

The two committees will receive input from three advisory teams each, for a total of six.  The advisory teams will be grouped by K-5th grade, 6th – 8th grade and 9th – 12th grade, and each team will be made up of six Tennessee K-12 educators and one representative from a
Tennessee higher education institution for a total of 42 Tennessee professional
educators.

The following have been appointed to serve:

Math
Standards Review & Development Committee
•        Committee Chair: John Prince, McNairy County Schools, director of schools
•        Jamie Parris, Hamilton County Schools, director of secondary math and science
•        Julie Martin, Williamson County Schools, assistant principal
•        Cory Concus, Tipton County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Michael Bradburn, Alcoa City Schools, kindergarten teacher
•        Holly Anthony, Tennessee Technology University, associate professor of mathematics education
•        Stacey Roddy, Hamilton County Schools, director of elementary math and science
•        Stephanie Kolitsch, University of Tennessee Martin,
professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Math Advisory Team
K-5
•        Advisory Team Leader: Stacey Roddy, Hamilton County Schools,
director of elementary math and science
•        Kimberly Osborne, Murfreesboro City Schools, assistant principal
•        Jamelie Johns, Hamilton County Schools, elementary math coach
•        Michael Bradburn, Alcoa City Schools, kindergarten teacher
•        Theresa Feliu, Kingsport City Schools, fourth-grade teacher
•        Brandy Hays, Lebanon Special School District, 3-5 math teacher
•        Jo Ann Cady, University of Tennessee, associate professor of math education

Math Advisory Team
6-8
•        Advisory Team Leader: John Prince, McNairy County Schools,
director of schools
•        Amber Caldwell, Bradley County Schools, mathematics coordinator
•        Sherry Cockerham, Johnson City Schools, district math coach
•        Darcie Finch, Metro Nashville Public Schools, numeracy coach
•        Angela Webb, Putnam County School System, seventh-grade math teacher
•        Holly Pillow, Trenton Special School District, math coach and interventionist
•        Emily Medlock, Lipscomb University, assistant professor, College of Education

Math Advisory Team
9-12
•        Advisory Team Leader: Stephanie Kolitsch, University of
Tennessee Martin, professor, Department of Mathematics and
Statistics
•        Rory Hinson, Gibson County Special School District,
assistant principal
•        Chelsea Spaulding, Rutherford County Schools,
assistant principal
•        Joseph Jones, Cheatham County School District,
district math coordinator
•        Cory Concus, Tipton County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Kimberly Herring, Cumberland County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Beth Morris, Lincoln County School System, 9-12 teacher

English Language Arts Standards Review & Development
Committee
•        Committee Chair: Shannon Jackson, Knox County Schools,
supervisor of reading and English language arts for secondary schools
•        Susan Dold, Shelby County Schools, literacy advisor
•        Jami Corwin, Sullivan County Schools, secondary English language arts curriculum coordinator
•        Jaime Greene, Hamblen County Schools, 6-12 instructional coach
•        Tony Dalton, Hamblen County Schools, pre-kindergarten-first-grade district instructional coach

Shannon Street, Cannon County School District, sixth-grade English language arts and science teacher
•        Susan Groenke, University of Tennessee, associate professor of English education
•        Candice McQueen, Lipscomb University, dean of education

English Language Arts Advisory Team
K-5
•        Advisory Team Leader: Candice McQueen, Lipscomb University, dean
of education
•        Debra Bentley, Johnson City Schools, supervisor of instruction
•        Stacy King, Greenville City Schools, instructional specialist
•        Tony Dalton, Hamblen County Schools, pre-kindergarten-first-grade district instructional coach
•        Kerri Newsom, Lake County School System, first-grade teacher
•        Cathy Dickey, Greenville City Schools, first-grade teacher
•        Kelsea Cox, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, first-grade teacher

English
Language Arts Advisory Team 6-8
•        Advisory Team Leader: Shannon Jackson, Knox County Schools, supervisor of reading and English language arts for secondary schools
•        Jaime Greene, Hamblen County Schools, 6-12 instructional coach
•        Meghan Little, Metro Nashville Public Schools, chief academic officer for KIPP Nashville
•        Terri Bradshaw, Blount County Schools, literacy leader
•        Jessica Daigle, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, eighth-grade English language arts teacher
•        Tequila Cornelious, Franklin Special School District, instructional facilitator
•        Terri Tilson, Tusculum College, assistant professor

English Language Arts Advisory Team 9-12
•        Advisory Team Leader: Susan Groenke, University of Tennessee, associate professor of
English education
•        Brandi Blackley, Tipton County Schools, assistant principal
•        Elaine Hoffert, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, English language arts curriculum consulting teacher
•        Autumn O’Bryan, Cleveland City Schools, principal
•        Tammy Marlow, Macon County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        Jessica Mitchell, Hardeman County Schools, 9-12 teacher
•        TJ Wilson, Williamson County Schools, 9-12
teacher

Recommendations are expected to be made to the State Board of Education by the end of 2015.

And here’s an email sent from Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman to all teachers in the state:

Dear teachers,

We are writing to give you some more detailed information about an announcement that Gov. Haslam is making today about our standards for English language arts and math.
As you know, while our schools have been implementing the Common Core State Standards for the past several years, we have seen significant academic progress. At the same time, we have heard many assertions about the standards, their origin, their implementation and their effectiveness.
The governor has asked the State Board of Education to lead a process of reviewing our standards in ELA and math, gathering feedback and seeking recommendations for improvement. In the normal course of business, the State Board reviews academic standards every six years in different subject areas, so this accelerates the normal process given the level of discussion about the Common Core State Standards.
The process will include:
  • An opportunity for public feedback on each standard via a website. This website will be launched as soon as possible, and no later than December 1. Kentucky is in the middle of a similar process, and you can see the website here (http://kentucky.statestandards.org) to have a sense of how this may look.
  • A review of public comments by standards review committees and advisory teams. These teams will be composed of educators from K-12 and higher education, built around grade level and subject bands. The governor’s office, working through the State Board of Education, has announced the committees and teams today, and they are built around input from Tennessee educators.
  • Submission of recommendations on the standards to the State Board of Education, led by the review teams and facilitated by the Southern Regional Education Board, which has agreed to help the State Board.
This process will take time; we need to allow significant time for public comment to ensure everyone is heard, and reviewing comments and recommendations similarly will be a lengthy process. It is important to understand we will proceed with the current, state-adopted ELA and math standards and these standards will remain in place until any revisions are made by the State Board. The review process should not have any impact on your plans for instruction this year.
As you know, Tennessee previously issued an RFP for a new ELA and math assessment. The assessment selected through this process will be Tennessee’s ELA and math assessment beginning in the 2015-16 academic year. As part of the RFP process, the vendor must commit to align assessments to state standards, meaning any revisions to standards would result in appropriate adjustments to the applicable state assessments in the future. Changes to the assessment would of course have to allow for sufficient time to train teachers and field test new items.
We recognize that any time there is a standards review process, there is the potential for confusion in the field. While this process could result in revisions to the standards, we continue to hear from all parties that Tennessee must have standards that are the strongest and most rigorous in the country. In particular, we know from our employers and our universities that Tennessee’s standards must include:
  • A focus on basic skills, particularly in lower grades, with special emphasis on literacy and on math facts, and on eliminating the calculator reliance prevalent on the TCAP in younger grades.
  • An emphasis on reading complex and authentic texts.
  • Renewed focus on writing across all grade levels, with a particular emphasis on ensuring our students can defend their arguments in written communication.
  • A focus on critical thinking and problem solving in math.
  • Assessments that de-emphasize multiple choice questions, include writing at all grade levels, and measure expectations that meet or exceed the expectations of students anywhere in the country.

We have attached here a fact sheet about this process. We will continue to communicate through local school districts about the process.

Please know there is widespread recognition of the volume of work that educators have put into raising academic standards. Our state leaders are in agreement that our standards must always represent the next step forward and we want to avoid retreating from the great work of Tennessee teachers that has led our students to such significant academic progress.
In addition, we hope that many of you will submit comments and thoughts in this process. After all, you have the expertise that comes from working with Tennessee students every day. Your input can have a significant impact on the direction of standards in future years.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport