Archives for category: Tennessee

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.








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.

Tennessee is still Racing to the Top although they are still far away. So, of course, the state switched to online assessment for its Common Core testing, at a cost of $108 million.


Yesterday was the first day, and the system crashed.


There was a “major outage.” The state commissioner, a huge fan of Common Core, blamed the vendor. She told schools to go back to the “worst case scenario,” that is, pencil and paper testing.


Since we learned not long ago that students who took the PARCC tests on paper instead of on a computer tend to get higher scores, this may have a bright side.



Rep. Mike Stewart and his wife Ruth decided to opt their child out of state testing. The MommaBears of Tennessee were overjoyed. Tennessee has no law permitting opt out. The MammaBears hope that the Stewart’s decision will make the voices of other parents heard by state officials.



This is the letter that Ruth Stewart sent to the school and made public:



Please accept this letter as a record of my decision to refuse for (name redacted for privacy) to participate in TN Ready/TnReady TCAP test and pretests at (school name redacted for privacy) for the remaining school year. My refusal to allow (child’s name) to participate is because I believe standardized high stakes testing take away time from the instructional experiences my child might otherwise receive. I want more teaching and learning, and less testing! I am aware that there is no “opt out” clause in the state of Tennessee. But the state has yet to provide any legal documentation that my child may not exercise his or her right to refuse the tests.


I understand that it is state and local policy to require all students to are to be evaluated for proficiency in various subject areas at each grade level. However, I believe that testing is not synonymous with standardized testing and request that the school and my child’s teacher(s) evaluate her progress using alternative measures including project-based assignments, teacher-made tests, portfolios, and performance-based assessments.


(Child’s name) is prepared to come to school every day during the testing window with alternative meaningful, self-directed learning activities that support the essential curriculum, or is willing to participate in other meaningful activities as determined by the school or her teachers during testing times. Please let me know beforehand what I can expect as far as instructional experiences (child’s name) will experience during testing windows. I am happy to develop material for her if the teachers believe this is appropriate. I have a tremendous respect for (child’s name)’s teachers and her school. My issue is with frequent high-stakes standardized testing and the harm it does to children, teachers, and our public schools.



Respectfully yours,
Ruth Stewart

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the determination of North Carolina’s Tea-Party dominated legislature to allow charters, including for-profit ones, to take over low-scoring schools, a proposal modeled on Tennessee’s Achievement School District. My post was a refutation of an editorial in the Charlotte Observer, which endorsed the idea of using the ASD as a model for North Carolina. My post was titled “North Carolina: Yes, Let’s Copy a Failed Experiment.” Pamela Grundy, a public school champion in North Carolina, also complained to the newspaper and proposed that NC should try reducing class sizes.


The author of the editorial, Peter St. Onge, is associate editor of the editorial pages. He didn’t like my post at all. He says that the Tennessee ASD has not failed; it hasn’t had enough time. This follows on a Vanderbilt report about the ASD that concluded the program had “little or no effect” on student achievement. (Here is the link to the report.) NPR summarized the finding of the Vanderbilt study thus:


While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.


St. Onge says the Vanderbilt study didn’t say the experiment failed, it just hasn’t succeeded yet. That is true. The Vanderbilt study did not propose closing down the ASD; it said reform takes years. But please recall that Chris Barbic, who led the ASD, said he could turn around the lowest-performing schools in five years and make them among the state’s highest-performing schools. Clearly that will not happen. Of course, a child attends an elementary school for only four-six years, so they can’t wait ten years. So if we take the original promise of the ASD, it will fail to reach its goal of turning low-performing schools into high-performing schools in five years.


One of the lead researchers in the Vanderbilt study, Professor Gary Henry, was in North Carolina this week, where he spoke to a public policy forum. The legislature happened to be holding hearings on the NC version of ASD, but Professor Henry was not invited to testify. Why didn’t the legislature want to hear from him? He told the forum that the model sponsored by the public schools, called the iZone, had significant improvements, but the ASD did not. He said the study was based on only three years of data, so cautioned not to jump to conclusions.


So, yes, Peter St. Onge is right. It is too soon to declare the ASD a failure. But it is certainly not a success. Usually, when you look to copy a model tried elsewhere, you copy a successful model. Why should the state of North Carolina copy a model that has thus far shown little to no significant effects and has not shown success? A track record like that of the ASD does not lend itself to being called “a model.” A model for what? For throwing millions into an experiment that alienates parents and communities and after three years has little to no effect on student achievement?


When Chris Barbic resigned as leader of the ASD, following a heart attack, he made a statement boasting about gains that included this interesting observation:


Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.


This is a sage observation. A brand new charter school can choose its students. Even with a lottery, the families are applying and informed and motivated. That is very different from taking over a neighborhood school, where parents resent that their school was “taken over” by outsiders without their consent. Charter schools have been notoriously unsuccessful at taking over neighborhood schools. KIPP, for example, took over Cole Middle School in Denver, and abandoned it a few years later. KIPP claimed it couldn’t find “the right leader,” but the reality is what Barbic said. It is much harder to take over an existing school than to start a new charter.


The Charlotte Observer, or more accurately, Mr. St. Onge, scorns those he calls “public education advocates” as if all those in favor of the model in which the public is responsible for the education of all children are self-interested and impervious to evidence. I think it is fair to say that in the North Carolina climate, those who promote charters are self-interested and impervious to evidence. The charter operators are in many cases operating for-profit, which is certainly not the motive of public education advocates. Those who claim that the ASD is a worthy model for North Carolina, despite its lack of success, are impervious to evidence.


If you can’t call the ASD a failure, you surely can’t call it a success. As the subtitle of the editorial states, “Judging Should Be Based on What Works.” We agree. Children should not be subjected to experiments that do not have a track record of success. Do what works, based on evidence and experience. Reduce class sizes where there is concentrated poverty and segregation; recognize that poverty and segregation are root causes of poor school performance and act to address root causes; make sure there are school nurses and social workers; make sure there is a library; hire experienced teachers, with school aides. Add classes in the arts. Give poor children what all parents want for their children. If you want to see the research base, read my book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Or closer to home, call Helen F. Ladd at Duke University and get her advice.










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