Archives for category: Tennessee

In the New York Times, Motoko Rich reported Arne Duncan’s scathing criticism of Arne Duncan’s policy of test-based evaluation for teachers. The story shows that Duncan dreamed up this policy, that he promoted it in Race to the Top, and in the waivers he offered states to avoid the onerous conditions of No Child Left Behind. Rich points out that Duncan borrowed the rhetoric of his most scathing critics in offering states a delay. The story includes an excellent quote from Anthony Cody, recommending that the federal government butt out and leave decisions about teacher evaluation to states and districts.

Kevin Huffman said that Tennessee will continue with Duncan’s policy, even though Duncan has denounced it. “In Vermont, by contrast, the state board of education recently adopted a resolution saying formulas based on test scores would not be included in teacher evaluations.”

It is a good story about the politics of the issue.

The only point missing from the story is that the policy has failed to make a difference wherever it has been tried, that teachers in states like Florida are rated on the performance of students they never taught, and that the American Statistical Association warned that teachers affect only 1-14% of test score variance. In short, the policy doesn’t work. It demoralizes teachers to be judged by a false metric. It has failed. But its advocates can’t bring themselves to admit failure.

The school board of rural Cheatham County, Tennessee, voted 6-0 against opening a charter school.

The research is clear: schools in rural and semi-rural districts work best when they have the support of the entire community.

Cheatham County, Tennessee, doesn’t need competing schools–one that picks its students, the other legally required to accept all students.

Stick together. Act as a community. Don’t divide your community.

When your board meets on August 18, tell them you support public education. Tell them you want your school to be governed by an elected board, not an unaccountable corporation.

Tell them you support your community public school. Your school needs parental involvement and community support. It needs collaboration, not competition. Don’t let the elites push you around for their benefit. Schools are not a hobby or a plaything. They belong to the community. Don’t let them take it away. It is yours.

In their rush to privatize public education in Tennessee, the Governor and the legislature enacted legislation in 2011 authorizing the Tennesee Virtual Academy, an online charter school run by K12 Inc.

K12 is a for-profit corporation started by Michael and Lloyd Milken. It is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It earns millions for its owners but has received bad reviews in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The National Education Policy Center wrote a devastating critique of its academic results, as did CREDO in a report about Pennsylvania. In that state, virtual charter schools do worse than either public schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools.

Nonetheless, Tennessee wanted to be in the vanguard of the privatization movement. K12 partnered with Union County public schools, which collect 4% of K12’s proceeds. K12 pockets the other 96%, which is drawn from public schools across the state. The K12 virtual school is one of the lowest performing schools in the state, but Commissioner Kevin Huffman lacks the grit to shut it down. Despite its poor results, enrollment continues to grow. The company uses public dollars for recruiting, marketing, and advertising, and parents are persuaded by the sales pitch and the free computer to try homeschooling. Unfortunately, students often lack the motivation to stick with the program, and many drop out and return to their local public school, minus the state tuition grant.

Instead of shutting the school down, after three years of poor results, Commissioner Huffman announced that he would not permit the next entering class of 626 students to enroll. If the TVA were a public school, it would have its doors nailed shut. But Huffman decided to give TVA more time and to ignore its dismal results.

In a pattern that is typical for virtual charter schools, the students at the TVA have low test scores and high attrition. When the students return to their public schools, they have low proficiency. Meanwhile, their home district loses money, and K12’s bottom line grows.

Meanwhile a Washington-based organization that advocates for school choice blasted Huffman. The Center for Educational Reform said:

“The Center for Education Reform strongly condemns the recent directive by the Tennessee Education Commissioner to un-enroll 626 students from the Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA), denying them their school choice rights.

“It’s an outrage that these 626 legally enrolled students are now being forcefully turned away, just two weeks before the start of the school year,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform. “This represents an unreasonable attempt by Commissioner Huffman to virtually block the schoolhouse door.”

To CER, school choice is far more important than school quality. No matter how low the test scores or the graduation rate, no matter how high the attrition rate, CER will fight for students’ right to choose low-quality schools. How this is supposed to improve U.S. education is a mystery.

Except for a small number of students with compelling reasons to stay home instead of going to school, virtual charter schools are a waste of public funds.

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Poor Tennessee! It is locked in the embrace of fake reformers who promise miracles, and a far-right legislature that wants to believe them. Worse, having won a Race to the Top grant, it has to produce miracles, even if they are fabricated out of whole cloth.

One of the alleged miracles-to-be is the Achievement School District, led by Chris Barbic of TFA and YES Prep. Barbic came to Tennessee to take charge of the lowest-performing schools and promised to raise them up to the top 25% in the state in only five years.

Now come the lies. Gary Rubinstein here unravels the manipulation of data to show how unimpressive the gains are as contrasted to the miracle claims.

Gary writes, after analyzing the numbers:

“Suddenly, it’s not so good anymore. The ASD grew by 1.1% more than the state in that period while the ASD actually went down by .7% more than the state went down. At this rate of losing .35% of ground each year to the state, the ASD will never get out of the bottom 5% in reading, and for math where there is a 30% difference between the ASD and the Tennessee average, if they creep up at .5% a year it will take 60 years for them to get to the 50% mark, let alone the top 25%.”

As Gary shows, there were no miracles, other than the miraculous tales told by the reformers to their true believers.

The clock is ticking. Three years to go until the bottom 5% is in the top 25% of all schools in Tennessee. Anyone want to place bets?

Carol Burris, principal of south side High School in Rockville Center, New York, writes here about the multiple flaws of test-based teacher evaluations.

At an Ed Trust celebration, Duncan told the crowd, “But we can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We can’t let the utopian become the enemy of the excellent. And we can’t let rhetorical purity become the enemy of rigorous practice.” I do not have any idea what the third admonishment means, but I doubt Arne needs to fear that his rhetoric is pure.

So it came as no surprise that when he spoke of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation plan, Mr. Duncan praised the state for “not letting the perfect become the enemy of the good”. The teachers of Tennessee, however, are not seeing the new system as “the good”—they are, for the second time, suing the state because the system is, in their eyes, arbitrary and flawed. And it is.

When it comes to the new teacher evaluation systems, it is not a dispute between perfect and good. We are now forbidding the good to be the enemy of the lousy. The use of students’ scores is becoming more and more indefensible. In New York State, teachers despise APPR, and it is equally unpopular among principals who, for the most part, see it as a headache that does nothing to improve teacher performance. Teacher and principal scores, by district, were supposed to be released in the winter. It is the end of July and they have not appeared. That is not a surprise. If they were released, it would be an embarrassment, especially for districts that actually tried to engage in the Las Vegas pursuit of predicting student growth from pre-tests to post-tests. The New York State Education Department is stalling, and Governor Cuomo is letting it happen.

There was one state, Massachusetts, that created a plan that was more sensible than most. It did not use numbers, but rather was rubric based. It was phased in over time and applied to everyone, including central administrators. But now that the time has come to phase in the test scores, the trouble begins.

In his July 17 memo to Superintendents and Charter School leaders, Commissioner Mitchell Chester states he is pleased that the Bay State has not chosen “an algorithmic approach,” only to later explain in detail the algorithm by which teachers should be evaluated by test scores. To go further down the path of the lousy, he explains how the state will generate growth scores from PARCC exams for participating schools, and then attempt to show “growth” from the prior year student MCAS scores. Please say it isn’t so. That is not a growth measure. That is comparing students with similar scores on one test with each other the following year on an entirely different test. New York did the same thing last year. Can you do it? Of course you can—there is very little that you cannot do with numbers. It is easy to create a formula that is intimidating enough that eyes will glaze over. But that does not make it valid, reliable, fair or useful. It will be one more silly system that will result in a lawsuit, no doubt.

Chiefs for Change, including State Superintendents Huffman and Skandera, took the NEA and AFT to task for having the guts to back away from the test-based teacher evaluation systems they once supported. They accused them of ‘evading accountability’ like horse thieves running from the posse. They wanted union leaders to sit compliantly with hands folded, in the face of mounting evidence that the test-score evaluation systems are not working. These Chiefs for ‘change at any cost’, do not understand. True accountability means having the courage to speak the truth when facts come to light, even when it contradicts what you once supported. To keep one’s mouth shut as the lousy marches forward is wrong.

The Koch brothers arranged a panel discussion about vouchers and why they are beyond wonderful. It wasn’t a debate. All four members of the panel supported vouchers. No one was there to say that voucher schools have never outperformed public schools, that voucher schools promote segregation, and that voucher schools divert money from public schools. The controversial Steve Perry from Connecticut, a state which has no vouchers, strongly endorsed them.

Fortunately, a few brave souls joined the audience and asked questions. One of them was a parent who went right to the heart of the matter. He was not intimidated by the stacked panel.

“Some were there to offer a counter view. T.C. Weber, a Metro Nashville school parent, questioned the “end game” of diverting funding from public schools.

“Are you looking to destroy the public system that we already have and build a new one based on your ideas?”

T.C. Weber is a hero of public education. I am delighted to add him to our honor roll for his courage and his commitment to democratic institutions.

A group funded by the notorious conservative Koch brothers will host a school choice forum in Nashville on July 22.

Here are their panelists:

“Moderating the talk will be Shaka Mitchell, who works for Rocketship Education, a California-based charter school organization with an East Nashville location set to open this summer. A second Rocketship school in Nashville has been approved to open in 2015.

“Panelists are Jonathan Butcher, education director of the Goldwater Institute; Stephanie Linn, state programs and government relations director of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice; Justin Owen, president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee; and Steve Perry, principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School, a Connecticut-based charter school.

“In a statement announcing the forum, the organization applauds Tennessee’s 2010 move to an outcomes-based funding formula for public universities that’s supposed to reward institutions that meet benchmarks. The group says Tennessee’s K-12 public schools, however, have some of the “most high-profile problems in its urban school districts.”

“It alludes to last year’s failed push for school vouchers that would allow public funds to be used for private schooling.”

You can be sure that the panel will not mention Rocketship’s plummeting scores, nor the fact that neither vouchers nor charters outperform public schools. And the word will be mum on recent charter scandals in Connecticut, Ohio, and Michigan.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick of the test score obsession. I think our schools need to have a prolonged testing moratorium so we can figure out what education should be about and how to reduce our dependence on testing.

But since that has not happened yet, we are compelled to look at the rise and fall of test scores. .

When Tennessee’s scores went up on NAEP last year, Arne Duncan speedily pointed to Tennesssee as a shining star of Race to the Top, and the state even got a shout out from the President in his State of the Union.

Now the state scores are in, and there won’t be any boasting. If there is, it is simply spin.

Gary Rubinstein reports that Tennessee’s state scores were flat. they were up a wee bit in math, grades 3-8, and down a bit in reading, same grades. The biggest drops were in third grade, the kids most exposed to reform magic, where the reformers should be showing big gains.

Don’t expect to hear anything about Tennessee’s state scores from Arne Duncan or the President.

I posted about a week ago about efforts by members of Teach for America to open a charter school in rural Cheatham County in Tennessee.

The Cheatham County school board voted to deny the application for the Cumberland Academy Charter School, 5-0, with one member absent.

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