SCORE on the Common Core

Yesterday, Tennessee SCORE sent a series of myth-busting tweets related to the Common Core.

I’ve collected them here because they are helpful in understanding what the Common Core is (and isn’t).

Myth #1:  The Common Core is a Curriculum

Fact:  The Common Core is a set of standards which set expectations for what students should know.

Myth #2: Common Core = Dumbing Down. 

Fact:  Common Core is more rigorous than Tennessee’s old standards.

Myth #3: Common Core Compromises Student Data.

Fact:  Information tying student to data cannot be released.

Myth #4: Common Core Means Students Won’t Read Mark Twain

Fact: Teachers will teach classics, as they always have.

This is a well-done rebuttal of some of the more common anti-Core arguments.

SCORE has done a more thorough myth/fact sheet and you can find it here.

Groups and individuals from across the political spectrum have endorsed the Common Core as the basics our students need in order to be college and career ready.  It’s got bipartisan support and buy-in from 46 states.

How each state implements the Common Core will make the difference in its success there, but the guiding principles are solid and the potential for positive change is strong.

 

 

Teacher Merit Pay is on the Way in Tennessee

The Tennessee State Board of Education met today and gave approval on first reading to two proposals that essentially mandate teacher merit pay starting in the 2014-15 school year.

The first proposal, effective in the 2013-14 year, removes the automatic step increases now mandated for each additional year of service.  Instead, teachers would earn a mandated base salary plus an additional amount in years 1-5, 6-10, and 11-15.  Teachers with an advanced degree would earn a higher additional amount in essentially the same time blocks.  Here are the details.

This proposal is somewhat similar to the pay plan adopted last year by Metro Nashville Public Schools that front-loaded pay, making starting salaries about $6000 higher and raising pay for most all teachers in the system, but capping any years of service increases at year 15.

The plan guarantees that no teacher may see their salary go down as a result of the adoption of this pay plan. Some teachers, however, would likely be at or above the new mandated ranges and so may not see any pay increases for a few years, depending on how their local school systems handle the pay issue.

The idea is to free up funds currently used for step increases for teachers so those funds may be used to differentiate pay among teachers.

To that end, the Board adopted another proposal effective in 2014-15.  It mandates that all systems develop a differentiated pay plan to be approved by the Department of Education.  The plan is to be merit-based and essentially must depend on either 1) filling hard to staff schools or hard to fill subjects and/or 2) rewarding performance as determined by the state’s new and ever-evolving teacher evaluation system.

Aside from the fact that performance pay doesn’t seem to work that well, there’s no indication of how districts will locate the funds necessary to make these pay adjustments work.  That is, aside from the funds that may be freed up from ending mandatory step increases, there’s no movement to add state funds to the pot to allow for significant incentives.  In fact, the base pay plan adopted by the Board simply doesn’t go far enough toward establishing an effective base.  Moving the base closer to $40,000 is part of an education agenda designed to make a meaningful impact on Tennessee schools.

Performance pay plans almost always cost more money than the step/level plans.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be pursued, but it does mean money is necessary to make them work.  Metro Nashville’s compressed pay plan cost $6 million in year one.  In Denver, where a performance pay plan has been in effect for a number of years (ProComp), the average teacher now makes $7000 more per year than they did under the old plan.  Paying teachers more is a good thing and a key component of investing in teachers to help improve schools.  But absent state dollars, it’s unclear where or how local districts will find the money to make this proposal work.

Further, because local teachers’ associations no longer have the power to bargain collectively, there is no requirement of input on new plans by teachers.  Local Boards may consult any party they wish or simply adopt an approved plan and impose it on the teachers of their district.  Of course, consulting those whose pay you are about to change about how they’d like to see it improved makes sense, but that doesn’t mean local districts will do that. And the State Board doesn’t require such collaboration.

Some (StudentsFirst) have indicated that because of this year’s teacher and state employee pension reform, there will be more money available in the state budget.  They’ve suggested using that money to improve teacher pay.  The first savings should be realized in 2014-15.  So, it will be interesting to see if there are legislative proposals that incorporate the savings from pension reform into funds available to districts for the performance pay scheme that will soon be mandated from the State Board of Education.  It will also be worth watching to see if the Board makes any movement on giving teacher base pay a meaningful increase.

Tennessee has experimented with performance pay before.  The Career Ladder program was implemented by Governor Lamar Alexander.  It was funded for a time, then became expensive, then was stopped, and is now being phased out — with fewer and fewer Career Ladder teachers remaining in service each year.

The point is, without careful planning and implementation, the proposals adopted on first reading today and likely headed for final approval in July may do nothing but put added financial pressure on local governments.  Local school districts should watch cautiously and should ask their legislators to put forward plans to use state money to fund these proposals.  While it is not clear performance pay will even have the intended positive results, it will surely fail if there is no commitment in the form of investment from those backing the plan.

The Hidden Cost of Campfield’s Welfare Bill

The much debated welfare bill may have some hidden costs for the LEAs. Jared Barrett, a member of the Murfreesboro School Board, has this to say about the proposed bill (which Haslam has threatened to veto):

 I am writing you as a concerned school board member to urge you to vote no on SB0132. There are a few unintended consequences to this bill that will end up adding more costs to already strapped local school boards. One part of this bill would allow a student to attend summer school in the subject area in which the student has failed or has scored below proficient in order to demonstrate competency. Many questions and costs arise from this part of the bill as presented. The first costs shouldered by local school boards would be that the  district would be required to offer multiple content areas over multiple weeks and possibly over multiple locations during the summer.  Again, this would add to the overall cost of operating the district. And how would the kids get there? This would be a major concern for Murfreesboro City Schools, having to provide transportation to these students.

Another hidden cost to this legislation is regarding parent sessions?  When?  Where?  Who would conduct? Cost?  Transportation? Not only does this add additional costs to already strapped local school districts (like Murfreesboro), but it also takes away time from educators who are already trying to implement Common Core standards and keep up with other Federal and state mandates.

So while I understand these types of issues are not included in the fiscal note, the fact that this implies little cost is a false reality. I’m all for parental involvement and local school districts across the state struggle on how to implement that, but this bill is the wrong approach.

 


 

 

The Alternative Education Agenda

As the 2013 legislative session got underway, I reported on the “tricks and gimmicks” education agenda being offered this year.

At the time, I was hopeful a more reasonable agenda would emerge. An agenda embracing the Tennessee Constitution’s requirement (Article XI, Section 12) that the General Assembly provide for and support a system of free public schools.

So far, in spite of much (well-deserved) criticism of the gimmicks posing as serious education policy, no alternative agenda has surfaced.

Tennessee ranks near the bottom in both investment in public education and key indicators of student achievement.  A correlation I suspect is no accident.

Certainly, we must do something to improve those numbers.  And those offering vouchers, performance pay schemes, and other unproven policies should not be faulted for at least making an effort to change the numbers.

However, none of the current agenda items results in a new investment in Tennessee’s public schools.  So, I’m proposing here the outlines of a new education agenda for Tennessee.  A true path forward that if fully implemented will get positive results.

PRE-K — Tennessee should expand its high-quality, voluntary Pre-K program so that it serves the entire at-risk (Free and Reduced Lunch) population of four-year-olds in the state.  We currently serve just under half of that population in a program started under Governor Don Sundquist and rapidly scaled-up under Governor Bredesen.  The program works.  Kids who complete the Pre-K program are far less likely to drop out of high school or encounter the criminal justice system than their counterparts who don’t have access.  The kids start school ready to learn and stay on track.  Some have criticized the program for “fade-out” — but even the most negative findings show that kids who have Pre-K end third grade working at grade level.  That means the kids end third grade on-track.  And teachers will tell you that a child who is on-track at the end of third grade has a far better chance of succeeding in school than a child who starts Kindergarten behind.  That said, a number of other studies (Tulsa, Chicago) indicate the effects last well beyond third grade.  We’re in a state with a shamefully low number of college graduates — we can’t change that unless more students graduate from high school college ready.  And Pre-K is a long-term, proven policy solution that will help Tennessee meet that goal.

We should expand the Pre-K program to serve all at-risk four-year-olds by 2017. 

 

Improve the BEP.  The Basic Education Program (BEP) is Tennessee’s funding formula for public education.  It’s how the General Assembly proposes to provide for that system of free public schools the Constitution requires.  Of course, the legislature had to be forced into creating the BEP by the state Supreme Court back in 1992 because the system of school funding at the time was ruled inequitable and thus, unconstitutional.

To put it simply, the current BEP is broken.  Most systems hire a number of teachers well beyond the number generated by the BEP formula.  Ask any parent and they’ll tell you textbooks aren’t free.  There are fees for lockers, classroom supplies, and other basics necessary to operating a school.  Some of this is the fault of local governments unwilling to raise sufficient revenue to fund schools adequately.  But in other cases, a local government could increase taxes all day and still not generate sufficient additional revenue to fund a truly free system of public schools.  This is the system our General Assembly allows to persist.  And it’s not working — just look at the results.

The BEP should be adjusted to allow for a more accurate funding of the number of teachers needed in local school systems.  It should account for the importance of school nurses and physical education.  It should be adjusted so that the funds sent to districts for teacher salaries more accurately reflect the dollar amounts needed to attract and retain excellent teachers.

Governor Bredesen and then-Senator Jamie Woodson made some progress on improving the BEP in 2008.  This effort, dubbed BEP 2.0, resulted in significantly greater dollars flowing into many districts, especially those with surging at-risk and ELL (English Language Learners) populations.  However, that plan was never fully-implemented.  Starting with BEP 2.0, lawmakers should build a NEW BEP.

Tennessee policy-makers should build and launch a new BEP formula in time for the 2015-16 academic year.

Invest in early career teachers. It is absolutely imperative that early career teachers receive adequate support and assistance so they develop into excellent teachers.  It’s also critical that those teachers are encouraged to stay in the field.  High teacher turnover costs districts (and taxpayers) money and deprives students of the valuable benefits of strong, stable teachers.  One proven method of retaining new teachers that also results in improved student learning is early career mentoring.  Research at the New Teacher Center suggests that placing a trained mentor with a new teacher in the first two years of teaching both improves teacher retention and shows a positive impact on student learning.

Tennessee policy-makers should build a new teacher mentoring program and ensure every new teacher has a trained mentor by the 2016-17 academic year.

Improve teacher compensation. Tennessee’s teachers are among the lowest-paid in the Southeast. Attracting strong employees and keeping them in the profession requires an investment in those employees.  Beyond early career mentoring and support, teachers should expect to be well-compensated for the important work they do.  Tennessee has a new, more rigorous evaluation system.  It also now takes five years and consecutive strong evaluation scores before a teacher can receive tenure.  That is, there’s more accountability and more being expected of Tennessee’s teachers.  Attracting and keeping teachers in this environment requires a strong compensation plan.  Adopting a state teacher pay scale that ensures that the starting pay for Tennessee teachers is no less than $40,000 in any district is a critical first step.  By using compression, like Metro Nashville Public Schools did, the cost for such a move can be lessened.  Make no mistake, it will take a commitment to investing in teachers to make this dollar amount happen – but our students are worth it.  Following the improvement of starting pay, teacher pay increases should be designed in a smarter way.  Changing the step increases from every year to every 3 years, for example, could yield savings to the state on the front end while also ensuring higher overall pay for teachers throughout their careers.  Metro Nashville teachers now reach the highest step in year 15 — but they will also see higher lifetime earnings because of raises given by the district over time.  It’s a win-win for teachers and for those managing budgets.  While the initial cost of raising teacher starting pay to $40,000 may be significant, it’s also a matter of budgeting priority.  Making teachers a priority tells our kids that education matters and that Tennessee is going to do what it takes to attract and keep the best teachers right here.

Tennessee policy-makers should raise the starting pay for all teachers to $40,000 and adjust the pay scale to improve overall compensation by the 2015-16 academic year.

 

These four items can and should form an alternative education policy agenda for Tennessee.  One that is smart, progressive, and moves our state forward.  Putting schools first is not about party or geographic region, it’s about doing what’s best for our communities and our entire state.

 

 

 

 

 

TNEdReport Interviews Rep. Joe Pitts

We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rep. Joe Pitts for the Tennessee Education Report. He is a member of the House Education Committee and the House Education Subcommittee. He is a vocal voice in both committees. We thank him for taking the time to answer our questions.

Let’s start with Vouchers:

What impact will vouchers have on local school districts in terms of budget and tax burden?

A:  Vouchers will have an immediate impact on local government’s budgets and the potential impact on local property tax is significant.  The voucher will further dilute public education funding currently going to the local school district which has an extensive infrastructure – buildings, supervisory staff, transportation, etc. that supports ALL students residing in their jurisdiction.  It is a delicate balance of funds that can be turned upside down if a sudden shift in funding policy, like vouchers, is made.

Do you believe that even if a limited voucher plan passes, the ultimate goal is statewide vouchers with broad qualifications? 

A:  If the past is prologue to the future, then one only need to look at the Charter school authorization passed many years ago by the General Assembly.  The original concept was to address at-risk students in schools within specific geographic boundaries, and we even had a limit on the number of charter schools within those communities. Now, despite evidence to the contrary, Charter schools are available statewide for every student regardless of academic need.  While Charter schools certainly have their place, given the right circumstances, it should be a tool at the LEA’s disposal.

An amendment recently passed to make private schools provide school lunches to those who come to the school via vouchers. Does that help your concern about students choosing free lunch or a private school?

A:  Requiring a school participating in the voucher program to offer a school lunch program makes a flawed proposal less objectionable but still not one I can support.  We don’t need a voucher program for at-risk students in failing schools.  Currently if a student is in a failing school, the parents can raise their hand and request their student go to another, non-failing school, in the same district without sacrificing basic human needs like breakfast and lunch, and transportation, and special needs students get access to the services they need.

Why do you think the GOP is focused on vouchers/charters instead of fully-funding BEP 2.0?

A:  Take a look around the country.  Vouchers seem to be the “cause de jour.”  It appears our education system is the last bastion of public funded services that haven’t been co-opted by the for-profit sector; sadly, not anymore.

Finally, do you think there will be transition problems when taking a child out of a public school and placing them in a private school? Do you think the child may fall behind from the start?

A:  When the child moves from one public school to another public school, or in this case, a private school, it will present some challenges.  Children are resilient though, but I am concerned about the moving back and forth between and among systems since not all private school curriculum lines up with the public school system.

Let’s more on to charters.

Do you believe the recent charter authorizer bill is taking away local control from local education boards?

A:  Yes.  Sadly, as amended, the bill would establish a non-elected group of people appointed by both Speakers and the Governor, to decide how and how much local tax money could be obligated for a state authorized charter school. That’s like the state deciding how big your police force should be and sending you the bill. This is just plain wrong.

Are you supportive of charter schools that get local approval or would you rather limit how many charter schools can open in the state?

A:  I do believe charter schools are a good option for LEA’s who need to try something different for students with specific academic needs.  Being a member of a local school board is a difficult task.  You are required and responsible for the academic achievement of all students in your district but have no say in the funding allocated by any of the funding entities.  I am not a fan of establishing limits on schools if the LEA has control of the authorization.

General Education Questions

If you were the commissioner of education, what would be the first thing you would do to improve public education in Tennessee?

A:  Three things simultaneously:  I would implore the Governor to make it our policy that no new changes would be sought or implemented for two years or until we can sort out the changes enacted in the last two years.

Next I would meet with the school directors and school boards, individually, of every district with a failing school and let them know we are going to become partners.  Instead of a shotgun marriage, it would be a partnership based on putting our resources where are mouths are and helping the failing schools first and immediately.  Students struggling in schools are very often victims of their home environment.  I would deploy an intervention team consisting of master level social workers, health professionals and academic coaches to these schools immediately to provide intensive work and support.

Lastly, I would work with the Charter schools to create a bold new platform for turning around these schools in our districts not meeting expectations.  We need to look beyond the numbers and think about year round charter schools, extended hours, or other non-traditional means to address the needs of the students and their families.  A charter school that mirrors a traditional public school hardly seems worth the effort.

I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of our LEA’s are performing at a high level, given the meager resources we allocate to them, and are open to our help, be it public or private, to give our students the best education experience possible.

Certain reform groups like Democrats for Education Reform and StudentsFirst have very specific policy agendas for reforming education. Some of the typical policies associated with these groups include vouchers, charter schools, pay-for-performance, and ending seniority rules.

What’s the counter-argument?  What are the marquee policies Democrats embrace?  If there aren’t a set of marquee proposals everyone is on board with, why not?  What’s being done to get the Democrats on a united front, to have a set of counter proposals instead of just playing defense?

A:  The reform movement initiatives, added to the self-inflicted policy crush imposed on LEA’s over the past three years, is contributing nothing to the public discourse about improving student performance.  If you think about it, we made significant changes to public policy in education in 2010 as a part of our First to the Top agenda proposed by Gov Bredesen – a Democrat, followed by nightmarish changes to the teachers’ environment in 2011 by eliminating collective bargaining, tenure, and removing TEA from their seat at the table, all in the name of “reform.”

On top of all that we approved virtual schools, unlimited charter schools, put undue pressure on teachers and principals by adopting an assessment tool that is unnecessarily bureaucratic, adopted the Common Core, and are preparing to implement a new assessment called PARRC.  Now, we are attacking our teacher preparation programs by looking at putting artificial thresholds on ACT and SAT scores for students who wish to go through their respective College of Education.  I’ve said it before; we are giving our education system whiplash with these rapid-fire changes and creating massive confusion.  Who can blame more seasoned teachers from deciding to retire instead of continuing in a system that does not appreciate their significant achievement and experience in the classroom and will subject them to the latest reform experiment?

Perhaps the corporate robber barons of the reform movement need to be asked to leave the room and let the education professionals do their jobs.  I have complete faith in our school districts across our state if we can offer our help instead of the cram down policies that have little to no basis in fact or success.

 

Andy, John, and I want to thank Rep. Pitts for his time. Please follow us on twitter @TNEdReport and like us on Facebook.


 

 

 

Rep. Pitts fires back at out of state speaker

Today, the California based Parent Revolution sent Ryan Donohue to Nashville, TN to speak in favor of a parent trigger bill. For an out of state interest, Mr. Donohue makes some broad statements about our public schools here in Tennessee. Please watch what Representative Joe Pitts had to say about that.

 

 

Study Finds Perfomance Pay Does Not Affect Teacher Motivation

A new study released this month in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis found that pay-for-performance programs do not affect teacher motivation. The article, “Incentive Pay Programs Do Not Affect Teacher Motivation or Reported Practices: Results From Three Randomized Studies,” looked at three schools that were testing pay-for-performance programs. Metro Nashville Public Schools took part in this study. The study was conducted with five researchers from the RAND Corporation and professors from University of Southern California and Vanderbilt University.

The abstract of the paper lays out the major findings of this project:

“This study drew on teacher survey responses from randomized experiments exploring three different pay-for-performance programs to examine the extent to which these programs motivated teachers to improve student achievement and the impact of such programs on teachers’ instruction, number of hours worked, job stress, and collegiality. Results showed that most teachers did not report their program as motivating. Moreover, the survey responses suggest that none of the three programs changed teachers’ instruction, increased their number of hours worked or job stress, or damaged their collegiality.” (emphasis mine)

When reading the article, the authors do a great job of explaining the three main rationales behind pay-for-performance.

  1. Performance pay will improve student achievement by motivating teachers to improve or innovate their teaching practices.
  2. Performance pay will improve student learning by changing the work environment of teachers.
  3. Changes the supply of teaching candidates and retain high performing teachers.

The research took place at three different schools systems.

  1. Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT) – Metro Nashville Public Schools
  2. Pilot Project on Tea Incentives (PPTI)- Round Rock Independent School District- Texas
  3. School-Wide Performance Bonus Program (SPBP) New York City Public Schools

The researchers wanted to answer two research questions:

  1. Did teachers find these three incentive pay programs to be motivating?
  2. In response to the implementation of these programs, did teachers report changes in their practices or their working conditions?

 

Results

-The majority of POINT and SPBP teachers agreed that rewarding teachers based on student test scores were problematic because those scores did not “capture important aspects of teaching performance.”

-Half of POINT and PPTI teachers said that they believed teachers were limited on what they could do because family environment played a larger role in student achievement.

-A little over 40% of POINT teachers and 20% of PTTI teachers reported that the chance of a bonus would energize them to improve their teaching.

-“In addition, the majority of incentive eligible teacehrs in all three programs reported that their programs had no effect of teaching, 85% POINT, 78% in PTTI, and 90% SPBP.”

We see that these pay-for-performance programs won’t change how teachers teach or even motivate these teachers to change their teaching styles. The majority of teachers who were participating in this program thought standardized test scores were a bad way to measure the bonus and half of the teachers believed home environment played a bigger role than teachers. If teachers don’t agree with the measurement, they won’t agree with the program.

The authors believe that the way pay-for-performance is designed right now is not the best.

“The lack of program impact on teacher’s practices suggest that more careful thinking about the logic model of incentive pay programs is necessary.”

The authors suggest that based on this study and others with weak effects, that policy makers should be looking at other ideas of reform.

If bonus-based policy is pursued, policymakers need to recognize this lack of evidence and take steps to monitor program implementation and evaluate program impact on targeted outcomes.

We know that some people are trying to bring pay-for-performance to Tennessee. Will this latest research slow them down? Doubtful, but at least we can show these people the research and open their eyes to some programs behind pay-for-performance.

 


 

 

 

Voucher Debate Heats Up With 800k Ad Buy.

The voucher debate now looks like campaign season with a huge advertising purchase by the American Federation for Children, a DC based education group that promotes vouchers. The Tennessee Journal (not available online) first reported on Friday that the Federation was buying ad spaces.

The Tennessee Federation for Children has been running cable TV ads in Tipton and Rutherford counties, declaring that Reps. Debra Moody (R-Covington) and Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro), both members
of the Education Subcommittee, can make a difference on the issue. The ads do not mention a specific bill.

This weekend, the federation is adding cable and digital ads in the districts of Reps. Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville), and Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville). Williams is on the Education Committee.

By Friday afternoon, the Associated Press reported an 800k ad buy the group.

An official familiar with the plans tells The Associated Press that the state chapter of the American Federation for Children is spending $800,000 on broadcast television, cable and radio advertising – a vast amount for political advertising or issue advocacy in the state.

Tennessean Reporter Joey Garrison has heard pro vouchers ads since January on 92Q, a radio station located in Nashville.

This isn’t the first time that the American Federation for Children has thrown thousands of dollars into Tennessee. The group spent almost $36,000 to help reelect Representative John Deberry during the last campaign season. We knew this was coming once the Federation hired Chip Saltsman to promote school vouchers in Tennessee. Saltsman is the former chief of staff for US Representative Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), former chair of the TNGOP, and served as campaign manger for Huckabee’s 2008 presidential run.

The Federation isn’t the only group that is running TV ads. Again from The Tennessee Journal:

Meanwhile, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, formerly the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, has been airing a TV ad on broadcast stations in Nashville and Knoxville promoting “scholarships and choice for K-12 students.” It also doesn’t mention a particular bill.

This comes at a time when some legislators (specifically Sen. Brian Kelsey) want to see a bigger voucher bill than what has been proposed by Gov. Haslam. The Tennessee Education Report will keep you update on any changes to the current voucher bill.

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