Mary Pierce on the ASD Resolution

Nashville School Board Member Mary Pierce took to Facebook to discuss the passage of a resolution calling for a moratorium on school takeovers from the ASD. Her comments are below.

After getting a few confused questions about the ASD Resolution passed on Tuesday night, I’m posting the YouTube link of the meeting & this discussion begins around 1:53 mark. The initial stated purpose of the proposed resolution called for a moratorium of ASD takeovers based on the first year of TN Ready Scores. Given that the state has acknowledged TN Ready issues and excluded use of scores in teacher evaluations, this type of resolution made sense to me.

However, when I received our agenda packet, I read the resolution presented as one that went well beyond this call for a one-year moratorium. It is my opinion that it made subjective allegations against the ASD, referenced that MNPS *might* implement the same type of IZone as Shelby County Schools and asked for funding to do just that (yet our board has never discussed this), and generally was written with a tone of which I did not agree. And, as I stated Tuesday night, it must be owned that there was nothing preventing Shelby County from implementing an iZone prior to the external pressure applied by the presence of the ASD. I also find it ironic that the gains heralded by many about the SCS iZone are based on the very same TCAP/TVAAS scores deemed flawed by those same people when used on district schools that are not performing as well. But that’s a whole other topic.

I amended the resolution (below with the original and my tracked changes) which still requested a one year reprieve from ASD takeovers based on the first year TN Ready scores, and also asked for local education agencies (LEAs) to be included in the legislative committee summer study the TN DOE has announced for “ASD Clean-Up,” including plans to return the takeover schools back to the LEAs as soon as practicable. (Edit: Click here to see original post with picture)

This amended version failed in a 4:4 vote (Dr. Gentry had left for a community meeting) and then Mr. Pinkston’s original resolution passed 5:3 with Elissa Kim, Tyese Hunter and I voting against.

By the way, resolutions are simply statements of resolve and often a request–like this one–but they have no binding authority.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfq6F4Q8d6k


 

Decoding Dyslexia Opposes MNPS Reading Recovery Initiative

Today, members of Decoding Dyslexia – Tennessee wrote to the Nashville School Board in opposition of the budget investment in Reading Recovery. Decoding Dyslexia has four major points in their letter.

  1. We feel that MNPS should not spend so much money funding a program that is not evidence-based and is known not to work for the very kids (those with dyslexia) who struggle most to read.
  2. We feel strongly that MNPS should spend its money training teachers in the Orton-Gillingham method, which will soon be required by law, which has been proven by years of research to teach the most troubled readers how to read
  3. We strongly feel that MNPS should heed the guidance of the TNDOE (who worked tirelessly with dyslexia advocates from TN STEP, Decoding Dyslexia – Tennessee, Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia and Tennessee chapter of the International Dyslexia Association to craft this guide) and spend its money on the Orton-Gillingham program contained in the guidance from the State. 
  4. We feel strongly that your district should follow the United State Congress’ lead and give students an evidence-based program to help all students read.

I hope you will read the full letter below. Decoding Dyslexia – Tennessee makes a push for using evidence-based reading interventions for all students. Let’s hope MNPS takes their advice.

 

April 5, 2016
Dear Metro Nashville School Board Members,
We, members of Decoding Dyslexia – Tennessee, would like to voice our opposition to the School Board’s proposal to invest a large amount of money into the “Reading Recovery” literacy program in MNPS.  Although we are pleased with your district’s focus on literacy, we strongly urge you to consider using a program that is evidence-based that will address the needs of ALL struggling readers. We urge you to fund a multi-sensory, evidence-based literacy program, such as Orton-Gillingham, which is proven to work for ALL students, not just those with dyslexia. Here is why:
1. Science knows that students with dyslexia make up 20% of our student population and 80% of the kids who ultimately end up in special education for learning disabilities.  Students with dyslexia are a huge percentage of our struggling readers. Scientists and dyslexia experts also know that students with dyslexia need an evidence-based program, like Orton-Gillingham, to learn to read. Leading dyslexia experts agree that Reading Recovery does not work for students with dyslexia and some, such as Lousia Motts, go as far to say its harmful and that it is “indefensible to keep spending money on this.” Sally Shaywitz, of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity writes “We have come too far and made too much progress to allow anything less than valid scientific evidence to be used in determining if, indeed, a program is effective in improving students’ reading.” We feel that MNPS should not spend so much money funding a program that is not evidence-based and is known not to work for the very kids (those with dyslexia) who struggle most to read.
2. Tennessee Legislature is about to pass the Say Dyslexia Bill which will require districts to screen students for dyslexia in kindergarten and will require districts to provide dyslexia-specific interventions, like Orton-Gillingham, to be put into general education in the RTI Tiers. Specifically, the Bill says “The LEA shall: provide student with appropriate dyslexia-specific intervention through the RTI framework.” We feel strongly that MNPS should spend its money training teachers in the Orton-Gillingham method, which will soon be required by law, which has been proven by years of research to teach the most troubled readers how to read.
3. The TN DOE has issued, in January 2016, the “Understanding Dyslexia: a Guide for Parents and Educators” which clearly states that: “It is not necessary for a student to be diagnosed with dyslexia in order to receive appropriate intervention. Once a school identifies that a student shows characteristics of dyslexia, it is important to provide the right interventions…These principles of instruction are often referred to by the following terms: Orton-Gillingham based, a Multisensory Structured Language, or Structured Literacy. Interventions must be aligned to individual students’ needs. For students with dyslexia or for students with the characteristics of dyslexia, the intervention should address the specific phonological deficits identified through targeted assessments.” We strongly feel that MNPS should heed the guidance of the TNDOE (who worked tirelessly with dyslexia advocates from TN STEP, Decoding Dyslexia – Tennessee, Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia and Tennessee chapter of the International Dyslexia Association to craft this guide) and spend its money on the Orton-Gillingham program contained in the guidance from the State. 
4. The United States Congress has recently passed the Research Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia (READ) Act which instructs the National Science Foundation to create best-practices on evidence-based educational tools for children with dyslexia.  To pass the bill, the Congress held extensive testimony from dyslexia experts which, again, highlighted the need for evidence-based interventions for students with dyslexia.  We feel strongly that your district should follow the United State Congress’ lead and give students an evidence-based program to help all students read.
We urge you all to look deeply at this issue before dedicating such a large amount of money on something that is not proven to work for ALL students.  Dr. Michael Hart, an international dyslexia expert of 25 years, is willing to come present to your board on our behalf once he returns from an international dyslexia conference in India the week of April 18th.  Thank you for your attention on this most important issue. Thank you further for focusing your attention on literacy, which is hugely important for the success of ALL our students.
Sincerely,
Anna Thorsen
Eillen Miller
Julya Johnson
Lori Smith
Melissa Tackett
Suzanne Roberts
Rachel Doherty
P.S. If you would like more information about the details listed above, here are some resources:
  1. “Cautionary Note – Show me the Evidence” – by Sally Shaywitz, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. http://dyslexia.yale.edu/ABOUT_Shaywitz_MajorStepForward.html
2.  The text of the whole Tennessee #SayDyslexia Bill can be found here: https://decodingdyslexiatn.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/hb2616-sb-2635-dyslexia.pdf
3. Full text of “Understanding Dyslexia: a Guide for Parents and Educators” https://tn.gov/assets/entities/education/attachments/sped_understanding_dyslexia.pdf
4. Congressional testimony about evidence-based vs. research-based practices https://youtu.be/nbQ9wAtTxlU.
5. A short, general informational TEDed Video “What is Dyslexia.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zafiGBrFkRM

 


 

 

Tyese Hunter: Let’s Accept The Facts

Nashville School Board Member Tyese Hunter is out with an editorial in the Tennessean where she discusses facts around Nashville’s charter schools.

Tyese Hunter breaks down some statistics on charter schools, including a recent report that showed that many Nashville charter schools are closing the achievement gap while MNPS schools are seeing the gap widen.

She compared this recent report to the data from the MNPS Academic Performance Framework, which showed that many charter schools were labeled as high performing.

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She also discusses a report that showed that charter schools are teaching more students of color, more economically disadvantaged students, and more students with disabilities than the typical public school. Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 8.09.32 AM

But more than just laying out the facts, Tyese Hunter calls out her fellow school board members who ignore any data or study that doesn’t fit their belief system.

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Read more of here editorial here.

RTTT Had Everything to do With Charter Schools

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I was sent a Facebook comment by Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston in regards to the Race to the Top grant that Tennessee won in 2010. Pinkston claims that Race to the Top had nothing to do with charter schools. Race to the Top had everything to do with charter schools.

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Before I break down the Race to the Top application, let’s revisit the Will Pinkston of 2013 after he was elected to the school board. In 2013, Pinkston praised Kevin Huffman and Bill Haslam for their work in continuing the reform started under Bredesen. Pinkston also endorsed Haslam in 2010, around the time he worked for Bill Frist’s State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

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Pinkston also advocated for charter schools.

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I remembered that Will Pinkston as I read through the Race to the Top application that was submitted by the state of Tennessee. Let’s remember that Will Pinkston helped write the application while he worked for Governor Phil Bredesen.

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You can read through the application here. The Race to the Top grant application mentions “charter school” 108 times. The Achievement School District was mentioned a lot in this grant application. Will Pinkston has said that he was in the room when the Achievement School District was created.

According to the grant application, the ASD would pull together an “unprecedented set of non-profits” to open charter schools in the ASD and other schools. The ASD was created, from the beginning, to partner with an unprecedented amount of charter schools.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 8.54.57 PMThe application, which Will Pinkston helped write, gushed over how great charter schools are. It also shows how Tennessee wanted to use charter schools to help in the turnaround of failing schools. The application shows Tennessee’s love of charter schools by showing that Governor Bredesen signed an updated charter school law in 2009.

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The application goes on to say that the state is actively recruiting charter school leaders to the state. While the state itself will help recruit, the ASD specifically will help charter schools find facilities in Tennessee.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.10.48 PMThe current landscape of Tennessee’s charter schools was mapped out years ago in this Race to the Top application. The ASD has partnered with charter schools to help turnaround school districts and state and city leaders have gone out to recruit charter school leaders. We have seen both of those items happen right here in Nashville.

If we move back to the start of the application, we see that the application is pushing for more charter schools. The application reads, “In this application, we describe how the atmosphere in the state encourages fresh ways of thinking, opens the education market to charter schools…”Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.54.58 PM

If the Race to the Top application had nothing to do with charters, why was so much of the application about charter schools? The state, and their grant writers, knew what they wanted. They wanted more charter schools in the state of Tennessee. They got their wish.


 

 

McQueen: We Are Listening

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen published a letter to parents and families about the TNReady roll out. The letter discusses how the Department of Education is also disappointed in the roll out. I’m going to break down her letter with my thoughts. The letter was posted with the attached bolded sentences.

You have probably heard a lot about testing recently as schools have started the annual TCAP assessments, including the new TNReady in math and English. I want to thank you for your patience and support during this transition. As we always see in education, parents and teachers have gone the extra mile to put students first.

As you know, our goal was to administer TNReady online this year. However, due to unexpected issues with our test vendor, students are instead taking the exam on paper. While this is not how we had hoped students would first take TNReady, the paper version of TNReady was created alongside the online version, so it is reliable with questions that have been reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers. 

As you can see, Commissioner McQueen is using this letter to literally highlight the talking points on TNReady. It is a good reminder that all TNReady questions were reviewed and approved by Tennessee teachers.

We know the shift has brought challenges for our schools. We too are frustrated and disappointed by our inability to provide students with an online test this year and by the logistical difficulties. We have been working tirelessly to provide a positive testing experience as much as is within our control and to reduce anxiety. Districts already have the option to exclude TNReady and TCAP scores from students’ grades. In addition, the governor proposed to give teachers the flexibility to only include scores from this year’s TNReady and TCAP tests within their evaluation if it benefits them. If you want to learn more about the paper test transition, please visit our website and our blog.

We fully believe that our students are more than test scores. TNReady provides one – but just one – way to help parents and teachers make sure students are ready for the next step by showing how they are progressing. It will give you better information about what your student is learning and retaining because it includes more complex questions that look for how students think and analyze problems.

Yes, the rollout of TNReady has caused a lot of challenges. It was a nightmare for many schools to have to keep updating their testing schedule to prepare for TNReady (plus everything the schools did up until that point to get ready for a computer assessment). Our school had to change the schedule multiple times before testing began. While our testing went very smoothly, there were times when we did not have enough answer sheets for our students. We also had to postpone one grade level’s test because we lacked testing materials.

I know teachers across the state cheered when they heard that Governor Haslam is offering flexibility in regards to using scores in our evaluations. MNPS has already emailed all teachers about this proposed changed to keep the teachers updated. TNEdReport will keep you updated on this proposed legislation.

As we all know and agree with, students are not just data points. But the data provided can be helpful.

Parents should be able to clearly understand what their students know, how they are meeting grade-level expectations, and how they are performing compared to their peers. In the past, parent reports were often difficult to interpret and offered little guidance on how you could support your child, but TNReady allows us to provide parents with more specific and thorough information.

To assure we are creating parent reports that will best inform you, we ask for your feedback as we finalize the design of these reports. You can provide your thoughts on specific pieces of the proposed parent reports through this online form.

While we have not see the scores for TNReady, I am excited to hear from parents once they receive this information. I am cautiously optimistic that the state will provide better information for our parents and teachers. We have been let down before, and I hope it doesn’t happen with the scores.

We are fortunate to have incredible leaders in our communities: parents, principals, and teachers who face challenges every day while leading remarkable work on behalf of kids. Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed firsthand the character, focus, and teamwork in so many communities across the state. Thank you again for leading the team in your own household and working in partnership with our schools to seek continuous improvement even in the midst of challenges.

I think the best thing Commissioner McQueen can do is to communicate with teachers, parents, and the public as often as she can. Teachers need to know that the state cares about what is happening in schools across the state. I like how the state has provided a way for citizens to ask questions of the state. I have submitted a question to the state, and I hope there is follow through from the state.

What are your thoughts on McQueen’s letter? Have you submitted a question to the state? If so, have you heard back? Tell us below in the comments.


 

Mary Pierce: The Centralized vs. De-Centralized Debate

Nashville School Board Member Mary Pierce recently shared her opinions on the upcoming MNPS budget. The budget conversations have turned into a philosophical centralized vs. de-centralized debate. These conversations are much needed in Nashville. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, these conversations allow us to make our education system better for our students. Some budget items need to be centralized, like payroll, transportation, and maintenance. Others not so much.

I think Mary Pierce is saying that she is not against XYZ program, but she is in favor of the principal to make the decision what is best for their school.

So why the debate? As you saw, while $454M is sent directly to schools, some $356M is still managed at central office, but for much more than daily operations such as school buses, utilities or building maintenance  Roughly  $117M or almost $1,600 per pupil is managed by central office for academics in areas like Literacy, English Learners, Advanced Academics, Special Education, Family and Community Support, and more. It’s in this space where we see the philosophical divide. Does centralizing these services align with our strategic plan or should we allow our principals more flexibility in areas like these by giving them more dollars to drive outcomes for the students they serve?  My personal belief is that central office can best support our schools by making thoughtful and intentional hires of principals for each school community, and then allowing them the budgetary freedom to make staffing and academic decisions for their specific school communities.

While the 2016-17 proposed budget is still in draft form, we have had two meetings to walk through the overall budget and the proposed changes or expansions of programs. Of the requests totaling around $22M in new funding from departments within central office, roughly $6.4M will be sent directly to schools via student based budgeting for teachers supporting students learning English, but the remaining $16M will be managed by central office. This does not mean that the teachers or staff paid for by these initiatives won’t be out in schools directly working with students, but it does mean the principals will not have programmatic or budgetary discretion over the programs. While the programs are not mandated, schools will not receive funding for support unless principals agree to follow the central office plan.

To be clear, the questions raised by board members have not been about the merits of a particular program or service, but rather about who is in the best position to make the best decisions on the behalf of students and does this align with our strategic plan.
What do you think about this philosophical debate?


 

MNPS Budget Invests in Salary, Literacy, and EL.

MNPS recently released their proposed budget for the next school year. The budget shows that MNPS is investing in some very important areas, including teaching pay.

Teacher Salary: All teachers will receive a pay raise, but it will not be the same across the board. The pay raises will be dependent on years of experience. This shows that MNPS is prioritizing experienced teachers in the system. We need to retain our experienced teachers.

The vast majority of funding for employee pay raises will go toward changes in the certificated salary schedule. It is being completely rewritten to correct issues where our teacher pay is below market levels, particularly for teachers with 5-10 years of experience.

All teachers will receive a pay increase, though amounts will not be the same across the board as they have been in years past. The pay increase teachers can expect will depend on their years of experience.

While we are competitive in starting teacher salaries, market data shows we’re not increasing teacher pay quickly enough during the first half of a teacher’s career to be competitive with how similar cities in our region pay more experienced teachers.

The revised certificated salary schedule has not been finalized. We’re in the process of seeking input from various stakeholders, including MNEA.

Literacy: Literacy scores have been stagnant across the state. We need more support for literacy intervention in Nashville. MNPS has heard the call for more resources and is proposing just that. The proposed budget includes:

  • 48 more Reading Recovery teachers plus 2 additional teacher leaders to assist with training Reading Recovery teachers.
  • 15 part time reading interventionists that will be trained in the Comprehensive Intervention Model and work with elementary students who are two grade levels behind in reading.
  • Expands the literacy coaching partnership with Lipscomb. This expanded partnership will include 14 more schools and allow 16 EL coaches to participate.
  • 4 more reading clinics.
  • 10 summer school sites to work with struggling readers.

Wow. I am so excited for the investment in literacy intervention by MNPS. This is awesome.

English Language: Those working in MNPS know the importance of our EL teachers. Fifteen percent of MNPS students receive direct EL services. This budget proposal includes:

  • 88 more teachers that will “bring EL teacher-student ratios to 1:35. Lowering ratios would help the district meet state compliance, under the allowed maximum of 1:40.”
  • 12 bilingual tutors will be hired for a new program that will focus on refugee students.
  • 2 registrars and 6 part time assessors to help with registering students.
  • Pay raises for parent outreach translators.
  • The addition of mentor teachers and model classrooms. (This is a great addition. My school will see this in our building, and we are very excited to have a teacher model for other schools while also mentoring teachers within the building.)

The budget proposal also adds more community achieves site locations and stipends for teacher leaders.

As a teacher, this is a very exciting budget proposal. Go here to find more information on the budget proposal. This is far from a done deal, but it’s a great start.

What do you think of the proposed budget?


 

The Attacks on PET

Since September of last year, an anti-Professional Educators of Tennessee website has been up and running. The website, PETExposed.com, was started by Chattanooga activist Chris Brooks. I found this website after the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus shared a post from PETExposed.

Chris Brooks is a former Tennessee Education Association employee. When reached by TNEdReport, TEA responded that PETExposed “is not a TEA product. Chris Brooks no longer works at TEA, nor is he affiliated with the association.” I contacted TEA because I found Chris Brooks still listed on their website as an employee. I asked TEA when he was last affiliated with TEA because the PETExposed site was created six months ago, but they did not respond back.

The website largely attacks PET as a fake union and explicitly goes after the record of J.C. Bowman.

Bluff City Education ran a post from Bowman’s daughter to respond to the attacks from Chris Brooks.


 

 

In Defense of Standardized Testing

A recent op-ed in the Boston Globe discusses how standardized testing is not the enemy. The two professors who wrote the piece made some really great points that I wanted to share with everyone, especially teachers. I am going to break down each section of the op-ed, but please read through the whole article.

The testing effect

The act of testing students will allow them to retain more information.

The testing effect is the idea that trying to remember something leads to greater learning than just re-reading information. In one famous experiment, participants tried to learn information from a textbook either by repeatedly re-reading, or repeatedly writing out everything they could remember after reading the information only once. The strategy of writing from memory led to 60 percent correct recall of the material one week later, compared to only 40 percent in the repeated reading condition.

But despite its effectiveness as a learning strategy, the testing effect had to be rebranded to the less scary/more fun-sounding “quizzing” and we have had to come up with more and more subtle ways to produce the effect without students realizing that they are being tested — somewhat akin to hiding broccoli in brownies.

 

Testing anxiety

Testing anxiety is talked about a lot when discussing standardized testing. Having more tests, which would be lower stakes, may make students less anxious about taking these tests. Additionally, the professors noted that informing the students that the anxiety they feel will be helpful on the test will ease the student’s concern.

Researchers have found one promising method in which students are told that the anxiety they feel before a test is actually helpful – not harmful – to their test performance.

Could teachers and parents be the problem with test anxiety? I hope someone will research this soon.

Finally – and this is something that ought to be examined empirically – the negative views of testing repeated by teachers and parents may be feeding into kids’ anxiety and test-aversion. Just like public speaking, tests are an aspect of education that kids tend not to like even though it’s good for them. Our job as parents is to realize that the benefits of testing outweigh the inconvenience of dealing with kids’ complaints.

Teaching to the test

This section talks about how many teachers feel they are preparing for a test that is made by outside forces that do not have any classroom experience.

 This may be based on the myth that “teachers in the trenches” are being told what to teach by some “experts” who’ve probably never set foot in a “real” classroom. What these defiant teachers fail to realize – or simply choose to ignore – is that these experts are groups of carefully selected individuals that always include well-seasoned “real classroom teachers”, who guide the decision-making on what material should be assessed by the tests.

Standardized tests are biased

I hear this one a lot from teachers. If you think a test that is carefully crafted by teachers and researchers is biased, your own teacher assessments are much more biased.

Standardized tests are not the great equalizer that will eliminate discrimination. But it is highly unlikely an individual teacher alone could create a more fair, unbiased test than many experts with access to a lot of resources, a huge amount of diverse data, and the ability to refine tests based on those data.

The lack of prompt feedback

The lack of prompt feedback is always on teacher’s minds. It usually takes a long time to get feedback from these assessments, and we need to find a better way to receive prompt feedback on these assessments. With the rise in computer assessments, I hope we will be able to get feedback very quickly in the coming years.

In the absence of direct measures of learning, we resort to measures of performance. And the great thing is: measuring this learning actually causes it to grow. So let’s reclaim the word testing, so that the first word that comes to mind when we see it is “effect”.

I am so glad that I stumbled across this op-ed. I hope you will read the rest of the op-ed.


 

Looney Turns Down MNPS

Today, Mike Looney turned down the contract from MNPS and will stay with Williamson County Schools. Here is the statement he put out:

My family and I are humbled by the support and prayers we have received over the past few weeks.

The support from the Williamson County community, including parents, former parents, students, Williamson Inc. and the business community, and Williamson County Schools employees has been overwhelming. I also appreciate the support of the Williamson County School Board members who have worked with County Mayor Rogers Anderson and Williamson County Commissioners.

I want to thank the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Board of Education for allowing me to get to know them and for allowing me to explore the opportunity of working for boys and girls in Nashville. I was impressed with the warm reception I received. It is evident the Board’s focus is on student success, and I am encouraged about the future of MNPS.

After careful consideration, I have made the decision to remain in Williamson County Schools in order to continue our journey to becoming a district recognized nationally in the academics, athletics, and the arts.

MNPS will most likely start the search process over. I would assume they would hire a new search firm and start the process after the upcoming elections. This will cost the district (and taxpayers) more money.

While MNPS will have to wait for to see what’s next, Mike Looney will sign his WCS contract and make more money than ever before.

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I think I speak for many when I say that it feels like our district was used and our time wasted.

It’s time to hit the reset button on this director search and hope that the next batch of candidates are stronger than the last. Let’s get to work!

A press conference by both WCS & MNPS will be held today. Updates will follow.