Archives for category: Tennessee

Jessica Fogarty is a parent, a former teacher, and a school board member in the Tullahoma, Tennessee, school district.

She sent me this message and asks for your help:

“Shortly after my daughter experienced major anxiety taking the state’s practice MIST tests, I realized that I needed to research testing in my state.

“My superintendent, Dan Lawson, has been extremely supportive in my efforts to appeal to the TN DOE to reduce testing and to allow our district to select an alternative to TNReady. I requested meetings with the commissioner (she finally met me the week before Part 1 was administered but despite all the facts presented and an all-out plea on my daughter’s behalf-she has continued with this tragedy of a test), I have sat on the floor outside legislators’ offices and written countless letters (our local Senator sponsored an education bill, SB 1984, but it was opposed heavily by the state and killed in committee), and I attempted to attend any feedback session offered to me (the state scheduled them in December and cancelled these sessions a week later “due to low registration numbers”).

“My district and fellow school board members have fought so hard for our students, however all the reasonable facts and pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

“I am desperate to help the teachers and students of my district and those across the state as well. With the blessing of my superintendent, I started a petition on Change.org. It is titled: “Stop Part 2 of TNReady”. In 48 hours, the petition has over 500 signatures. It is the amazing comments under the petition being made by parents, teachers, and even a student that demonstrates the need for the TN DOE to respond.

“However, I have a limited social media presence. I am just a concerned mother. I am reaching out to any and all that can help spread the word. I understand that this petition is just a “statement move”, but thousands of signatures and comments will make a powerful statement. I have to know that I did everything I could possibly do to help my daughter.”

Jessica, here is my advice: Refuse the test. Your daughter doesn’t have to take it. If enough parents join you, the state will listen. Your daughter belongs to you, not the State Education Department.

Thank you,

Jessica Fogarty

Please consider making a donation to Amy Frogge, a great friend of public schools, who is running for re-election to the Metro Nashville school board. Amy is a lawyer whose children attend public schools in Nashville. She ran for school because are as a mom and a citizen, knowing nothing of corporate reform. Her opponent was well-funded and had a 5-1 advantage over Amy. Amy went door to door, and she won!

 

As a board member, she has fought for public schools. She has opposed privatization and high-stakes testing. She is on the honor roll of this blog for her courageoussupportfor the children of Nashville.

 

 

Amy needs our help. The “reformers” want her gone. Please donate whatever you can.

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Thomas of Furman University in South Carolina knows that elected officials are intrigued with the idea of “turnaround districts,” although they know surprisingly little about the research or experience associated with such districts. The idea is simple: if a school has low test scores for x number of years in a row, or if it ranks in the bottom x% of all schools in the state, fire the principal and the teachers and give the community’s public school to a private charter operator. Kind of like declaring bankruptcy, but forgetting that a school is not a business like a chain store.

 

Thomas points out that there are good reasons to be wary of turnaround districts. He cites research about what has happened to them.

 

First, advocacy for takeovers is mostly political cheerleading, and second, a growing body of research has revealed that takeovers have not achieved what advocates claim and often have replicated or even increased the exact problems they were designed to solve, such as race and class segregation and inequitable educational opportunities.

 

New Orleans is a low-performing district that has become even more segregated and stratified than it was before the takeover.

 

He writes:

 

Takeovers in several states—similar to embracing charter schools and Teach For America—have simply shuffled funding, wasted time, and failed to address the root causes of struggling schools: concentrated poverty and social inequity.

 

Yes, SC must reform our public schools, and we should shift gears to address our vulnerable populations of students first. But charter takeover approaches are yet more political faddism that our state and children cannot afford.

 

Continuing to double-down on accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing as well as rushing to join the political reform-of-the-moment with clever names is inexcusable since we have decades of evidence about what works, and what hasn’t.

 

SC must embrace a new way—one committed to social policies addressing food security for the poor, stable work throughout the state, and healthcare for all, and then a new vision for education reform built on equity.

 

All SC students deserve experienced and certified teachers, access to challenging courses, low class sizes, fully funded schools, safe school buildings and cultures, and equitable disciplinary policies and practices. These are reforms that must be guarantees for every public school student regardless of zip code, and they need not be part of complex but cleverly named programs.

 

You will want to read the post in full to gain access to its many excellent links to news and research.

 

Those who continue to advocate for already failed fixes are stalling, delaying the day that we must address the root causes of educational failure. They should be held accountable for their neglect of the real needs of children, families, and communities. And some day, they will.

 

The blogger known as “Dad Gone Wild” lives in Chattanooga, and he is astonished by the Tennessee Department of Education’s inability to schedule and complete the state testing. First, it was all going to be online, but the platform crashed. Then, it was back to paper-and-pencil, but unknown numbers of schools never received the tests. Kids were scheduled to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday by reading, but that was canceled for testing. Now, school trips scheduled long ago will be canceled, because the testing window has moved again.

 

Remember when they said that “reform” was all about the kids? This dad thinks that none of this is for the kids or about the kids.

 

 

All the lectures I’ve received over the last couple of years about how the kids come first and now that we are in the midst of a fiasco that is basically robbing our kids of the last two months of their school year, nobody can address them. Here’s a newsflash: you only get one 4th grade March. You only get one 7th grade April. What the Tennessee Department of Education is essentially saying is that these tests supersede their needs and their right to an actual education, and that it’s not even necessary to ask kids if they are okay with giving up that time. As a parent, that angers me. As a kid, it would incense me.

 

And what about the teachers? The instructional time lost due to test preparation aside, teachers have been scrambling to create new lesson plans for all of these shifts in testing schedules. I guarantee teachers would prefer to not have to deal with this incompetence from the DOE and instead have the authority to plan lessons that would be truly beneficial to their students. It’s maddening and very time-consuming to constantly be changing the schedule. But hey, Governor Haslam and TNDOE are saying these tests won’t count, or well maybe they’ll count, but hey…let’s just take them and we’ll figure out what they count for after we have the results. Have you ever heard of such a thing? It’s insanity.

 

 

Tennessee is testing the Common Core for the first time this year, but the tests are not cooperating. First, the state tried to give them online but the computer breakdowns were so numerous that the entire test was delayed. Then the state ordered tests to be available on paper, but several districts didn’t receive them.

 

The original testing period was supposed to begin on February 8 and March 4.

 

This schedule, which is common across many districts, raises one big question:

 

The tests are supposed to assess nine months on instruction, but the tests are offered after only five months of instruction. This means that the tests are not correctly aligned with what children learn.

 

To make matters worse, the test results are not reported until the fall, when the student has a new teacher.

 

 

PublicSchoolsFirst in North Carolina–a parent-led organization– has produced a short video urging the public and the legislature to reject an “achievement school district” modeled on the ones in New Orleans, Tennessee, and Michigan. The video accurately says that none of these models has succeeded. New Orleans is controversial; the one in Tennessee has produced negligible or no gains in test scores; the one in Michigan was an abject failure.

 

The legislature is considering a bill that would select the lowest performing schools in the state and put them into a non-contiguous district, where they would then be turned over to charter operators, some of them for-profit charter chains from out of state. This model has no record of success. The goal of this model, which is promoted by ALEC, is to privatize public schools and eliminate local control.

 

The video recommends that North Carolina continue to implement its home-grown turnaround model, which has shown promising results, protects local schools, and keeps out for-profit charter operators.

 

 

Amy Frogge is a member of the Metro Nashville school board. She was elected despite being outspent 5-1 by the corporate reformers who are trying to take over local and state school boards. Amy didn’t know anything about corporate reform when she decided to run for school board. She is a mom of children in Nashville public schools, and she is a lawyer. She went door to door and won her race.

 

Once she became a school board member, she realized that much was wrong. The charter industry was targeting Nashville, threatening to skim off the students they wanted and to reduce the funding for public schools. State-mandated testing, she discovered, was completely out of hand, a time-wasting burden to children and an unnecessary financial drain on the district’s schools.

 

This post has been widely shared on Facebook. Here, she explains why parents must get involved and act to defend their children from the unnecessary and excessive standardized testing to which they are subjected.

 

She writes:

 

So to clarify the problem, let’s consider some facts:

 
1. The average school in Nashville will lose 6-8 weeks of valuable instructional time to standardized testing this year.

 
2. My 9-year-old third grader will spend more time taking standardized tests this year than I spent taking the LSAT to get into law school.

 
3. This year, children in grades 3-5 will be expected to sit still for two and a half hours on one day alone to fill in bubble tests.

 
4. This year, third graders will be expected to type multi-paragraph responses to essay questions and perform sophisticated manipulations on the computer screen in order to even complete the tests.

 
I have to pause here to ask: Do the people who developed these policies have children- or have they even spent any time around real children? I don’t know about you, but my third grader does not yet have proficient typing skills, and he’s among the lucky MNPS students who use a computer at home. Over half of MNPS students do not have home computers, and because of ongoing funding deficits, public schools do not have all of the technology they need to allow every child time to practice as necessary.

 
Furthermore, as for all the so-called “accountability” generated by standardized testing, here are a few more facts:

 
1. The results of this year’s standardized tests will not be available until NEXT YEAR, when the students who took the tests have moved along to the next teacher and grade level- and sometimes the next school.

 
2. Test questions and responses are not available for review by teachers, parents, or students. In other words, the standardized tests upon which we are basing EVERYTHING are like a black box. How do we know the tests are even correct or appropriate when only the testing company has access to the information contained in them? (Luckily, a new bill is pending that might change this.)

 
3. About 70% of Tennessee teachers will be evaluated using test scores of children they have NEVER taught. (Stop and read that one again. Yes, it’s true.)

 
4. There’s plenty of research questioning the validity of using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Research demonstrates that test scores are primarily influenced by out-of-school factors; only 7-13% of variance in test scores is due to teachers. (Haertel, 2013)

 
Why do I know all of this is wrong? Is it because I am a lawyer? Is it because I am a sitting board member who has spent years now considering education policy? Is it because I’m a genius?
No, it’s because I’m a mom. Also, I would like to think I have some common sense.

 

Those who say the tests help teachers help children are wrong. The results are not reported until the student moves on to another class. Furthermore, the results tell how children rank, but that does give the teacher useful information. Those who want to rank teachers by test scores don’t know that 70% of the teachers don’t have annual test scores and will be judged by the scores of students they never taught.

 

What can parents do?

 

OPT OUT. Refuse the tests. Tell the school that you will not allow your child to take the tests. They do not help your child. They do not improve teaching and learning. They make big money for testing companies, and they label most children as failures.

 

JUST SAY NO!

 

 

 

 

 

The Memphis NAACP called for an end to the state’s educational experimentation. 

 

The Memphis branch opposed vouchers, which have been under discussion in the legislature, and called for a freeze on the Achievement School District.

 

“We respectfully request that there be a statewide moratorium on the addition of schools to the ASD model until sufficient improvement can be demonstrated by the existing schools,” [Memphis Branch NAACP Executive Director Madeleine] Taylor said.

 

State officials, including the director of the ASD, defended the ASD, and said that the experimentation should continue even though Vanderbilt released a study recently showing that the charter schools in the ASD have made no significant progress since the ASD started in 2012. In effect, they defended the status quo even though it has shown no results.

 

This excellent article in the Nashville Post explains why the proposal for vouchers didn’t go anywhere.

 

Republicans control both houses of the legislature, and the voucher proposal passed easily in the state senate. But it has stalled for four years in the house of representatives. The main sponsor of the bill is Bill Dunn, a Republican from Knoxville. His bill could be introduced later in this session but if he had the votes, he would have introduced it now.

 

Democrats opposed it, but they didn’t have the votes to derail it. The most important opposition came from rural legislators, even after the sponsor agreed to limit vouchers only to Shelby County, where Memphis is located. The rural legislators know what a foot in the door looks like.

 

 

The fight over school vouchers has gone on for the better part of a decade, arguing that low-income kids in failing schools should be able to pursue a private, and presumed better, education using public dollars. But opponents argue such a system would drain money from already struggling public school districts and use that government money to fund tuition at parochial schools.

 

With the Senate having passed a school voucher bill easily last year, the House version for the first time managed to claw its way through the committee system — including the House Finance subcommittee, done with the help some membership changes and a key absence — and made its way to the House floor for the first time Thursday.

 

Vouchers has become one of the most heavily lobbied bills on the Hill, with at least a dozens lobbyists working largely in its favor — including seven just from StudentsFirst, the education advocacy group launched by Michelle Rhee. Organizations like StudentsFirst and other interest groups have not been shy donating to political campaigns.

 

Of course, there is no evidence that vouchers help kids with low test scores thrive; it didn’t happen in Milwaukee or Cleveland or DC or anywhere else, but voucher proponents are undeterred in their determination to allow children to attend religious schools, even if those schools have no certified teachers.

 

Democrats were jubilant over the bill’s assumed demise. Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini said, “It’s abundantly clear that all public schools in Tennessee simply do not have the same resources. Some are palaces with the most up-to-date technology available while others cannot supply a textbook to every child. Until this inequity is addressed and every child in every Tennessee ZIP code has access to an an equal, quality public education, diverting public dollars away from public schools is not be [sic] an option.”

 

The House Speaker said she favors the bill because, as everyone knows, private schools have a higher graduation rate than public schools. Note: Private schools do not enroll the same numbers of children from low-income homes, the same number of students with disabilities, or the same number of English language learners, as public schools. The private schools with the highest graduation rates are those that enroll students from high-income families where both parents are college graduates.

 

 

 

 

Conservative Republicans have been eager to bring vouchers to Tennessee but they have gotten significant pushback from rural legislators, who don’t want vouchers to destroy their local public schools.

 

So the sponsor of the voucher legislation has scaled back his bill to make it vouchers for Shelby County only, that is, Memphis.

 

As usual, the most extreme of the Republicans, who never cared a fig about poor children before, are eager to help poor kids “escape” from failing public schools and go to religious schools where they can study creationism.

The BATS and the Momma Bears are fighting this bad legislation.

 

Do you think they know or care that vouchers haven’t provided better education anywhere? The first evaluation of the new Louisiana voucher program came out recently and reported that children in the voucher program lost ground during their first year. They were not saved.

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