Archives for category: Tennessee

The night before I addressed the Kentucky School Boards Association, I had dinner with a group of teachers and parents from Tennessee. The group included Mama Bears, BATS, and TREES.

One of the BATS was Lauren Hopson from Knox County, who teaches third grade children. She is smart, strong, experienced, and wise. She is also outspoken, as I learned by watching this video, in which she let the board know what teachers really think: They are tired of being pushed around. They are tired of an evaluation system tied to test scores. They are tired of pointless training. They are tired of foisting test after test on little children. They are tired of getting training from consultants with less experience than they have. They are tired of the charade foisted upon them by the state of Tennessee. They want to teach. What an idea!

When Lauren gave her talk, she had no idea it would be posted on YouTube. In a week, it had tens of thousands of views. Now it is over 100,000.

Help this video reach every parent and teacher. We can be the change. Social media can counter the billionaires who are trying to destroy our public schools and demoralize our teachers.

This blogger has gathered the latest wave of bad news from Tennessee, showing the emptiness of the Republican Governor Bill Haslam’s efforts to outsource everything public to whoever wants to make money.

Even though President Obama praised red-state Tennessee as a prime example of the success of Race to the Top, conveniently ignoring the other Race to the Top winners where NAEP scores stagnated, things are not going well for corporate-style reform in the Volunteer State.

Haslam and his TFA Commissioner Kevin Huffman (ex-husband of Michelle Rhee) have the support of a far-right legislature, but their plans are still in disarray.

Nearly half the superintendents bravely signed a letter protesting Huffman’s heavy-handed mandates (seems to be the custom with corporate reform superintendents, brooking no dissent from the peons). Now parents have formed a new organization to fight Haslam and Huffman’s plans to outsource as many public schools to private corporations as possible. And, of course, Chris Barbic, imported from Houston to perform a miracle, promised to gather up all the state’s lowest-performing schools and move them to the top of the state’s rankings within five years (the clock is ticking–better to make your utopian promises fuzzy, not so concrete).

Now comes Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence, organized by parents across the state, and they injected an unknown quantity into educational debates in Tennessee: Facts. Facts!

….on Monday, the top-down, one-size-fits-all education policies Haslam has been pushing through the legislature met a formidable roadblock — a TREE.

As has been custom the past few years, corporate education organizations have trotted out their privatization policies at the beginning of each legislative session. Their glossy, well-funded presentations always grab headlines and typically re-affirm Republican efforts that privatize public schools, divert money from our students’ classrooms and devalue educators.

This year, however, a new group, Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, kicked off the week with some analysis that threw cold hard facts into the discussion of reforms trumpeted by Haslam’s administration.

Several points of interest:

Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, was TREE’s featured presenter. From

“Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality. She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.”

The beauty of TREE’s press conference was two fold — one; they took some media coverage away from corporate education groups, and, two; they empowered our reporters with facts that have largely been missing from the education debate in Tennessee. Hopefully this presser will pay dividends for the weeks to come.

Roy Turrentine, an experienced teacher of mathematics in Tennessee, explains why the Common Core standards are misdirecting the teaching of his subject. The creators of the CCSS did a disservice to the standards and to American education by refusing the test the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and real students. By failing to field test the standards, there was no feedback from the world of reality and no opportunity to correct errors. Instead, the standards were sent forth with instructions that they were encased in concrete. Any business that released products that had never been tested in the real world, that had never been subject to make corrections based on experience, would soon be bankrupt. That is why I strongly recommend that every state and every district create committees of its best teachers to review and revise the standards to remove the bugs. Forget the “copyright.” What nonsense! How dare any private organizations assert the right to create national standards and then to exercise a copyright over them! Let them sue.

Roy Turrentine writes:

I would like to relate my experience with Common Core. I am a classroom teacher in Tennessee. I have advocated more rigor in education for over thirty years.

In Geometry,which is my main focus, Common Core seeks to unite the Cartesian approach and the traditional approach to the topics studied. The unfortunate aspect of this approach is twofold.

First, the development of the traditional Euclidian approach to Geometry goes back to Euclid himself. His uniting of these concepts created a body of knowledge that has remained intact for centuries. Common Core essentially rejects topics that may only be approached in a Euclidian fashion. Not that they say this. To read the standards you wouldn’t think so. But all the testing depends on the Cartesian approach.

Due to this approach, and due to the nature of the testing, only topics that may be approached in the Cartesian manner are treated. Teachers will surely be teaching less, not more. This brings us to the second point. High stakes testing will restrict teachers to practicing in a very specific way. In our training in Tennessee,the emphasis is more on technique in the classroom than it is on what is to be taught.

Those of us who teach in high schools across America have long desired rigor. To go to meetings where people seem to feel that this rigor is their idea is nothing short of insulting to those of us who have been trying to unite the disciplines for decades. Every good teacher knows what the ideal is. We have been trying to do this for all of our careers. Having Bill Gates give me his opinion does no one any good. Having his opinion become national policy will not serve anyone.

Roy Turrentine

Please support this wonderful new organization of parents and other citizens in Tennessee, organizing to reclaim public schools from bad policy and corporate takeovers.

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence





Quality Investment

We believe Tennessee must make high quality investments that reach all students by:

Fully funding BEP 2.0 (Basic Education Program 2.0), the funding formula set by the legislature to fund Tennessee schools.
Since the adoption of BEP 2.0 in 2007, Tennessee schools have not received the full amount of funding which the law requires.
Reducing spending on standardized tests and redirecting those funds to classrooms.
Developing compensation, evaluation, and support plans for teachers that make Tennessee a top destination for professional educators.
Providing the student services and support needed for students to achieve.
Providing all students with the arts, physical education, music, and learning opportunities that are essential to a quality educational experience.
Refusing to divert scarce taxpayer dollars away from already underfunded public schools into a bailout program for struggling private schools via vouchers.
Ensuring manageable class sizes.
Funding universal, voluntary public pre-kindergarten programs.

Transparency & Accountability

We believe Tennessee must ensure transparency and accountability by:

Requiring all taxpayer funded schools and entities, including the state Department of Education and related offices to make public all their funding sources, budgets, and expenditures, so that the taxpayers have a clear understanding of:

how public dollars are being spent,
what influence private donors/interests may have on publicly funded institutions,
the true per pupil cost of services being provided.
Examining whether Tennessee’s school accountability systems are based on appropriate and reliable data.
Providing a full accounting of the determination of achievement test proficiency cut scores and value-added scores, so that citizens and parents know how accurate those data are.
Requiring all schools to provide parents with information regarding standardized testing, including what tests are given, when the testing occurs, the purpose of such tests, and the costs associated with the tests.
Informing parents of what educational and personal data are being shared with third party corporations.

Local Control

We believe Tennessee should keep decisions regarding local public schools in the hands of local citizens by:

Allowing each community to determine whether and where to open schools funded by its local property tax money.
Keeping public schools accountable to local voters, rather than remote, unelected/unaccountable state-level bureaucrats.
Ensuring that Tennessean communities, not corporate out-of-state special interest groups, direct Tennessee children’s educations.
Limiting top-down, underfunded, and untested mandates.
Ensuring that parents and teachers have meaningful input into education decision making.

Post Office Box 218554 · Nashville, Tennessee 37221 · (615) 295-8733

©2014 Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence

Nashville is in the cross hairs of the “reform” (AKA privatization) movement.

Here is a good overview of the situation.

With a respected superintendent nearing the end of his contract, with a mayoral election in the offing, with the school board majority up for grabs in the next election, Nashville is looking like a tasty prize for the privatizers.

And there are so many of them! Start with State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, who spent two years in TFA but otherwise has no experience as a principal or a superintendent. His major passion seems to be turning public dollars over to charter schools and passing laws to reduce the security and status of teachers. Then there is Governor Haslam, a reactionary who seems to despise public education and has the support of a compliant legislature. And don’t forget Karl Dean, the mayor of Nashville, who is eager to see private interests take control of public education in his city.

Nashville has been ripped asunder by the aggressive demands of the charter school crowd. The district has only 23 charters but those charters have “sucked up almost all the air” out of all public discussion of education, as if they and they alone held the key to success.

Although the district has chartered some 23 privately run schools to operate using district money, the role these charter schools play has sucked up almost all the air at Metro’s Central Office on Bransford Avenue over the past year-and-a-half.

The topic of charter schools — which have the autonomy to operate without the strings normally attached to traditional schools, including issues like how teachers are hired and fired or what class schedules look like — has polarized the district.

The division has created camps of pro-charter advocates, who argue that many of their schools are outperforming the district and MNPS should be more welcoming to the innovation. That has galvanized an equally entrenched anti-charter camp, which warns of the private investors and interests behind such schools and the taxpayer dollars the district must siphon from traditional public schools to fund these new ones. There has been little discussion trying to find a meeting ground in the middle.

The conflicts between the two are seemingly endless, starting in earnest with the district’s school board refusing a charter school targeted to open on the more affluent west side of town; the state fining MNPS $3 million for said rejection; battles with Gov. Bill Haslam, state education commissioner Kevin Huffman and House Speaker Beth Harwell over approval and costs of charter schools; a fight over leaked data showing charter schools kick out students weeks before state test time; embarrassing spats on Twitter and Facebook between board members and charter school advocates; the school board threatening to sue the state for its charter school law; a noisy protest by charter school advocates on the district’s front lawn; holding charter schools’ growth responsible for the district’s money problems; blaming under-capacity schools on the charter-school boom; and most recently, redirecting new charter schools to South Nashville or to convert select failing schools.

Four seats on the school board will be up for grabs in an election in seven months. The school board elections will attract some of the nation’s most notorious corporate reformers, including Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst (Rhee is the ex-wife of State Commissioner Huffman). The charter school advocates will spend heavily to gain control of the school board, in hopes of expanding the charters and transferring public funds to their own operations.

Make no mistake. This is a well-funded raid on the public treasury, intended to take money away from the public system and hand it over to the friends of those providing the money for the election:

“Democrats for Education Reform is excited to support candidates who will increase the capacity of our public school system to better serve Nashville’s children, whether those candidates are running for school board or in the upcoming mayoral race,” says Alex Little, chair of the Nashville steering committee for the pro-charter-school group, which has been quietly combing the city for board candidates.

Charter school and reform groups are no strangers to investing in politics, dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars into local and state races here in recent years.

At the state level, education-reform lightning rod Michelle Rhee’s Students First organization poured more than $200,000 into legislative races and some local ones, without being shy about throwing massive checks to key candidates.

Last cycle, Metro’s school board races attracted an unprecedented $400,000 among five races and funders of all stripes. Gathering sums more suitable for a bid for state representative than the local school board, Ingram Industries’ Margaret Dolan amassed more than $115,000 for the MNPS board seat she lost to underdog Amy Frogge from Bellevue. In the same cycle, former Teach for America executive Elissa Kim raised some $85,000, largely from fellow TFA types, to beat out the school board’s then-chairwoman, Gracie Porter, in East Nashville.

The biggest players last cycle included the pro-charter crowd, with Mayor Karl Dean and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce bringing influence and some money, and locally organized Great Public Schools and StudentsFirst dishing out dollars. Democrats for Education Reform, working out of Nashville, plans on joining the effort this year. That group is led by Natasha Kamrani, wife of Tennessee Achievement School District head Chris Barbic, whose job duties include taking over or hiring charters to turn around the state’s weakest 5 percent of schools.


Jill Speering, a retired teacher and reading specialist, is a member of the Metro Nashville school board and its most outspoken critic of high-stakes testing. She led a successful effort to block a Pearson contract to test reading by use of nonsense words. The test was intended to test decoding skills without the need for understanding. Speering pointed out that the committee that approved the contract contained no classroom teachers.

“In outlining her disapproval, Speering said a panel of 23 administrators used to recommend the assessment included no classroom teachers. “That’s one more reason why we have low teacher morale, ” she said. “When we ask teachers to administer an assessment we give them no voice in choosing the assessment.”

“She also took aim at the assessment’s definition of fluency — which emphasizes reading with speed — and its use of what are known as “nonsense words.” Those call on students to identify the phonetics and sounds of words not found in the dictionary. Speering believes employing them is a poor way to evaluate how well a child is understanding what he or she reads.”

The contract was deferred, not defeated. It is worth $357,200 to Pearson.

Some very smart public school parents in Tennessee who calls themselves Momma Bears have figured out the game plan of the education industry.

Here is their plain and simple 10-step plan about how to cash in on the public school marketplace and get stinking rich.

These are the first three steps (read the post to learn about the other seven steps that will make you a millionaire):

Times are tough, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a buck in education right now. No qualifications or experience? No problem! In fact, it is actually works better if you have zero classroom experience (so you won’t have any compassion for the hardworking teachers and innocent students you’ll be profiting from).

You could pay $1,395 to attend a workshop (like this one) to learn how to get rich in the education industry, but Momma Bears already did the homework and figured it all out. And Momma Bears is all about sharing knowledge with other concerned folks. So, save your money and read about the easy 10-step program to getting rich with other people’s money through America’s public school system…

10 steps to hitting the jackpot in education:


Step #1: Start a consulting business or organization. It doesn’t really matter if it is profit or non-profit. Non-profit organizations will seem more trustworthy and innocent to the public (but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you won’t get a nice paycheck.)Step #2: Create a catchy name for your organization. Acronyms work especially well. Don’t forget a logo. You cannot go wrong with an apple logo, they are very much in style right now.

Step #3: Make a website with pretty pie charts and lots of catchy buzz-words like these:

  • achievement gap
  • data driven benchmarks
  • human capital
  • Common Core aligned
  • education strategies
  • global citizen
  • rigorous, relevant, and robust

Keep reading, and you too will hit the jackpot.

It is hard to believe that President Obama understands the damage that his education policies are doing to children, teachers, principals, and schools. Ultimately, the massive demoralization that his policies cause will hurt our society.

This teacher in Tennessee wrote a letter to President Obama. Would you write the same letter? What would you say to him if you thought he was listening? If you had his full attention for 15 minutes?

Please take five minutes and watch this wonderful student in Tennessee give an impassioned speech about how current “reform” policies are ruining education.

He blasts the Common Core because of its emphasis on standardization.

He expresses his respect for teachers. He says “Standards-based education Is ruining the way we teach and learn.”

He says bluntly “Why don’t we just manufacture robots instead of students?”

He says, “The task of teaching is never quantifiable.”

He says twice, for emphasis: “If everything I have learned in high school is a measurable objective, I haven’t learned anything.”

I am once again convinced that this younger generation, raised under the harsh. soulless NCLB regime, rejects standardization. They refuse to be mechanized. They are rebels against the federal effort to stamp out their individuality. They will save us from the adults who hope to shape and silence them. They may well be our greatest generation.

Race to the Top placed a $4.45 Billion bet that the way to improve schools was to tie teachers’ evaluations to their students’ test scores.

As it happens, the state of Tennessee has been using value-added assessment for 20 years, though the stakes have not been as high as they are now.

What can we learn from the Tennessee experience. According to Andy Spears of the Tennessee Education Report, well, gosh, sorry: nothing.

Spears has a list of lessons learned. Here are the key takeaways:

“4. Tennessee has actually lost ground in terms of student achievement relative to other states since the implementation of TVAAS.

Tennessee received a D on K-12 achievement when compared to other states based on NAEP achievement levels and gains, poverty gaps, graduation rates, and Advanced Placement test scores (Quality Counts 2011, p. 46). Educational progress made in other states on NAEP [from 1992 to 2011] lowered Tennessee’s rankings:

• from 36th/42 to 46th/52 in the nation in fourth-grade math[2]

• from 29th/42 to 42nd/52 in fourth-grade reading[3]

• from 35th/42 to 46th/52 in eighth-grade math

• from 25th/38 (1998) to 42nd/52 in eighth-grade reading.

5. TVAAS tells us almost nothing about teacher effectiveness.

While other states are making gains, Tennessee has remained stagnant or lost ground since 1992 — despite an increasingly heavy use of TVAAS data.

So, if TVAAS isn’t helping kids, it must be because Tennessee hasn’t been using it right, right? Wrong. While education policy makers in Tennessee continue to push the use of TVAAS for items such as teacher evaluation, teacher pay, and teacher license renewal, there is little evidence that value-added data effectively differentiates between the most and least effective teachers.

In fact, this analysis demonstrates that the difference between a value-added identified “great” teacher and a value-added identified “average” teacher is about $300 in earnings per year per student. So, not that much at all. Statistically speaking, we’d call that insignificant. That’s not to say that teachers don’t impact students. It IS to say that TVAAS data tells us very little about HOW teachers impact students.”

Read the whole article.

It is one of the best, most sensible things you will read on value-added assessment. It is a shame that Tennessee has wasted more than $300 million in search of the magic metric that identifies the “best” teachers. It is ridiculous that Congress and the U.S. Department of Education wasted nearly $5 billion to do the same thing, absent any evidence at all. Just think how many libraries they might have kept open, how many health clinics they could have started, how many early childhood programs initiated, how many class sizes reduced for needy kids.

But let’s not confuse the DOE with actual evidence when they have hunches to go on.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 95,457 other followers