A report from one of Tennessee’s nonprofit voices on education says Tennessee needs to rethink what it means for students to be ready for college and careers.
The priority from the State Collaborative on Reforming Education is one of four priorities for 2019 the group released during a Tuesday event. The priorities are released yearly by SCORE, an organization that seeks to increase academic success among students.
Its top priority falls closely in line with Gov. Bill Lee’s goals to increase vocational and technical programs for students, especially in rural areas.
Despite improvements, SCORE President and CEO David Mansouri said it hasn’t been enough to propel the state into the top in the nation in education.
“The next frontier in our work is helping to ensure that every single student discovers a route to college, career and opportunity,” Mansouri said.
The nonprofit also is pushing on Tennessee’s leaders to do more for teachers overall, including providing higher compensation for educators. Mansouri said that is necessary to keep the best teachers in districts. BY REGIONS BANKManage Your MoneySee more →
And the priorities calls for the state to continue its accountability measures for teachers and students, as well as for the state to innovate to improve student access. It calls for expanded access to quality schools — particularly charter schools — and innovations in school finance.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the founder of SCORE, said the innovations the organization wants to see are ones that are unique and individual to communities.
As well, Mansouri said Mansouri said the organization isn’t advocating for any certain changes to the state’s funding formula. There are lawsuits against the state by districts seeking more money for underfunded schools.
Instead, he said “the call is for flexibility for districts to use the money that the state gives them.”
A news release said the priorities were developed after statewide feedback from teachers, school and district leaders, policymakers, students and community and education advocates.
“These priorities come from the people of Tennessee and are for the benefit of the students of Tennessee,” Mansouri said. “Our state’s educators and new leaders will be integral to addressing these priorities, but we call on all Tennesseans to add their support in helping students be ready to achieve the American Dream after they graduate.”
- Reimagine College And Career Readiness — SCORE’s report calls on the state to create more options for career exploration and work-based learning across. The report also recommends redesigning high school to include more rigorous courses and more personalized career and college advising.
- Tennessee’s Foundations For Student Success — The group says that after a decade of improved student achievement, the state should focus and maintain policies that have benefited students, including maintaining student assessments and teacher evaluations
- Teachers, Teaching And School Leaders — SCORE’s report says that every Tennessee schools should offer excellent teaching, learning opportunities and leadership. The report says the state must better prepare leaders and emphasized schools must recruit and retain more strong educators, including through teacher pay.
- Innovate For Improvement — The report says Tennessee should look at how to accelerate student achievement and address long-standing disparities. It specifically recommends expanded access to high-quality schools, particularly public charter schools, as well as improvement of the lowest-performing schools and new ways to think of school finance.
Among students who started at a community college or four-year institution in 2010, 60.4 percent graduated by 2018, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which tracks all but a small percentage of college students. That national eight-year completion rate is 5.6 percentage points higher than the six-year rate of 54.8 percent for the same group of students.
Today’s college students are taking longer to graduate, the center said, as many transfer, leave college or switch to part-time status to work or care for family members. Yet many get to graduation over a longer period of time.
“This report shows that to be particularly true for minority and underrepresented students, who we observe narrowing the gaps in completion rates over time, compared to white students,” Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive director, said in a written statement.
For example, the eight-year completion rate for Hispanic students who started at four-year institutions was 63.3 percent, which was 8.3 percentage points higher than that group’s six-year rate of 55 percent.
The center also found similar increases for community college students compared to their peers who started at four-year institutions. The completion rate for students who started at four-year public institutions increased by 6.4 percentage points, to 68.8 percent from 62.4 percent. The rate for community college starters — to earn either an associate or bachelor’s degree — increased by 6.0 points, to 45.3 percent from 39.3 percent.[Read more at Inside Higher Ed] Read More
From students in the classroom to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Penny Schwinn introduced herself as Tennessee’s education commissioner this week by praising the state’s academic gains over the last decade and promising to keep up that momentum by supporting school communities.
Schwinn toured seven schools in Middle and East Tennessee during her first three days on the job to get a firsthand look at what’s behind the academic growth that she’s watched from afar as chief accountability officer for Delaware’s education department and more recently as deputy commissioner over academics in Texas. She plans to visit schools in West Tennessee next week.
The goal, she said, is to “listen and learn,” and she told a statewide gathering of superintendents at midweek that Tennessee’s successes can be traced to the classroom.
“It has to do with the hard work of our educators … every single day getting up, walking in front of our children, and saying ‘You deserve an excellent education, and I’m going to be the one to give it to you,’” she said.
On policy, she affirmed Tennessee’s decade-long blueprint of setting rigorous academic standards, having a strong assessment to track performance, and holding school communities accountable for results.
“If we can keep that bar high … then I think that Tennessee will continue to improve at the rate that it has been,” she told legislators during an appearance before the House Education Committee.
Schwinn was the final cabinet member to start her job after being hired by Republican Gov. Bill Lee just days before his inauguration on Jan. 19. Her whirlwind first week began with school visits on Monday and concluded on Friday by attending a policy-heavy session of the State Board of Education.
But perhaps the biggest introduction came on Wednesday before district leaders attending a statewide meeting of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, also known as TOSS. These are the local administrators she’ll work with most closely to try to improve student performance.
The superintendents group had stayed neutral about who should succeed Candice McQueen in the state’s top policy job but hoped for a leader with extensive experience both in the classroom and as a Tennessee school superintendent. Schwinn is neither, having started her career in a Baltimore classroom through Teach For America and later founding a charter school in her hometown of Sacramento, California, where she also was a principal and then became an assistant district superintendent.
She appeared to wow them.
“Our job at the state Department of Education is to figure out what you all need to help your teachers be the best that they can be for our students. My job is to lead this department to ensure that this happens,” she told the superintendents.
Schwinn shared a personal story about adopting her oldest daughter, now age 6, and the “powerful moment” at the hospital when the birth mom said she loved her baby but couldn’t provide her with the future she deserves. “I think you can,” she told Schwinn, “and so I’m giving you my baby.”
“When I think about my responsibility as a teacher or a principal or as commissioner of the state of Tennessee, I think about all of our parents … who pack up lunches, pack up backpacks, drop them off at the door and they give us their babies,” she said.
“That is the most powerful and important responsibility that we have as educators,” she said, “and I take that very, very seriously.”
Several superintendents stood up to thank her.
“I am encouraged. I feel like you have the heart that we all have,” said Linda Cash, who leads Bradley County Schools in southeast Tennessee.
“What she did most is she listened,” said TOSS Executive Director Dale Lynch of his earlier meeting with Schwinn. “As superintendents and directors, that’s very important to us.”
Here are other things we heard Schwinn say this week:
On whether Tennessee will continue its 3-year-old literacy program known as Read to be Ready:
“It is incredibly important that we have initiatives that stick and that have staying power. I think we’ve all had the experience of having … one-and-done initiatives that come and go. … From [my early school] visits, it was underscored time and time again the importance of initiatives like that.”
On the role of early childhood education:
“I think that early education — and that’s both academic and social development — is incredibly important to ensure that we get kindergartners who are ready to learn and ready to be successful.”
On the state-run turnaround district for Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools:
“High expectations are the vision of the Achievement School District, but I think there’s a lot of work to be done candidly. There are good conversations to be had and some questions to be asked. But I will say that I am committed to ensuring that our lowest-performing schools achieve and grow at a much faster rate than they have been.”
On Texas’ academic growth in the 1990s that later flattened:
“They got very comfortable. It was, ‘We’re just doing just fine, we’re doing a great job,’ and then slowly some of the big reforms that they put into place in the ’90s started peeling back little by little. … It’s hard to get things done, but it’s really hard to hold the line.”[Read more at Chalkbeat] Read More
Tennessee lawmakers hope a newly formed Senate and House caucus can take a focused look on strategies that increase the state’s stubbornly low third-grade math and reading scores.
The Tennessee Early Education Caucus, an informal assembly announced Wednesday, will focus on early education policy and strategies to increase the improvement of third-grade students.
The goal is to ensure the state continues to improve after increasing its national standing in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to House Education Chair Mark White, R-Memphis.
“Our focus is to make progress with the goal of improving our early education system by having more effective early education programs all the way through third grade,” White said.
About 37 percent of the state’s third-grade students read on grade level. And in math, 39.7 percent score proficient on the state’s test.
Those woefully low numbers deserve action, and Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said the caucus will focus on bringing in experts so lawmakers can find avenues for improvements.
“We owe it to our children to give them the best we can offer,” Gresham said.
The Early Education Caucus plans to meet regularly during and outside of the legislative session and is open to any member of the legislature.
It is expected that along with bringing in expert testimony on early education topics, the caucus will highlight promising local and national programs, according to a news release on the announcement.
Tennesseans for Quality Early Education, a group that advocates for statewide access to strong birth through third-grade programs, praised the caucus’ formation.
“Because improving and expanding high-quality early childhood education is the most important action Tennessee can take to improve public education, this is tremendous news,” said Mike Carpenter, TQEE executive director. “The caucus will have the ability to evaluate and pursue, with the administration, the best national practices that can be applied here to positively impact learning outcomes for young Tennesseans.”
White said the group will take a look at voluntary pre-kindergarten, which has been studied heavily in the state, but also bring a more intense focus on what is going on in grades K-3.
A Vanderbilt University study found Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K programs varied in quality and students that attended lost gains by third grade. Researchers also added that there needs to be a focus on what happens to those students in subsequent grades.
With the formation of the committee, White said lawmakers will also continue on some of the early education initiatives that were a hallmark under former Gov. Bill Haslam and his Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
With 2 Years Left in Congress, Senator Lamar Alexander Lays Out His Road Map for Reauthorizing America’s Higher Education Act
Simplified applications for financial aid, fewer loan repayment options, and a new accountability system for colleges are Sen. Lamar Alexander’s top priorities for a pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, he said Monday.
Alexander, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, also said he is committed to working with Democrats to address hot-button issues surrounding federal Title IX regulations that govern how schools handle allegations of sexual misconduct, though he acknowledged that resolving the issues might prove difficult.
Rewriting the nation’s more than 50-year-old higher education law has long been a priority for Alexander, the current chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a former education secretary, governor, and university president.
His appearances — often, like this one, accompanied by a printed version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which he unfurls like a scroll to emphasize the absurd length of the questionnaire required for grants and loans — amount to a marker of sorts of another attempt at reauthorization, an effort that has been active on and off for about five years.
This year, though, Alexander’s under a ticking clock to finish the rewrite. He’ll retire at the end of his current term in 2020, he said last year, and big policy changes are always harder to accomplish during an election season.
Alexander said he wants his HELP committee to finish a rewrite by the spring and the Senate to consider the bill in the summer. That would give time to work out differences with the House in order to finish a bill by the end of the year. It’s also the general schedule under which he crafted the deal that became the Every Student Succeeds Act.
On Title IX, Alexander praised the Education Department for putting forward a rule that will be considered in the formal notice-and-comment process. The Obama administration’s use of a “Dear Colleague” letter rather than the rulemaking procedure was a common conservative criticism.
“Universities and students deserve to have certainty about what the Title IX rules are, but it’s my belief that Congress can also address a number of these issues, and I am committed to working with Sen. Murray to trying to do just that,” he said of his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
Simplifying college aid, but devil’s in the details
The first pillar of Alexander’s reauthorization agenda would be to reduce the number of questions on the FAFSA. He mentioned two proposals, one that would reduce the number of questions from 108 to about 15 to 25, and another that would allow students to fill in many of the existing questions by answering just one, by importing information already held by the IRS.
On repayment of loans, Alexander would reduce the current number of options from nine to two. He believes most students would choose a plan that would automatically deduct 10 percent of their discretionary income every month until the loan is repaid. Otherwise, they would have automatic deductions of equal amounts to repay the loan over 10 years.
“Students will have a manageable payment, most will completely pay off their loans … and it should end the nightmare that may students have worrying how they’re going to pay off their student loans,” he said.
Under Alexander’s plan, borrowers who don’t make any money would not have to make payments, and failing to make payments would not harm borrowers’ credit scores. Current law forgiving loans after 20 years of payments should be maintained, he said.
Finally, Alexander’s school accountability program would judge schools, at the program-specific level, based on whether their students can repay their loans.
The idea, commonly called “gainful employment,” is currently applied to all programs at for-profit colleges and job-training programs at community colleges and other nonprofit schools that don’t lead to a degree. It has gone through several iterations through court challenges and changes in administrations. Alexander would apply the rule, which aims to measure whether students are getting well-paid jobs after graduation, more broadly to link programs from English to pre-med to how well students taking them repay their loans.
“It would apply to every program and it would apply to every college, public, private, and nonprofit, and the measure would be much simpler,” he said. It could provide schools with an incentive to lower tuition and help students find jobs, he added.
How each of those broad proposals is specifically crafted into legislation will matter a great deal, higher ed advocates said during a panel discussion after Alexander’s speech.
How, for instance, would employers know to automatically withhold loan payments, asked Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at AEI.
Lanae Erickson of Third Way, a centrist Democratic group, wondered how Alexander’s proposed income-based repayment plan would interact with his idea to measure schools based on whether graduates are repaying their loans. If, for example, the accountability provision measured only loan defaults, it would seem not to count students in the income-based payment system who aren’t making payments but also aren’t defaulting on their loans, she said.
And colleges are sure to kick up a fuss at the broader application of gainful-employment-style regulations.
Sarah Flanagan, vice president for government relations and policy development at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said calculating loan repayments by program could lead some schools to charge less for majors that don’t pay well. And, she said, lower-income students could be pushed toward those cheaper, and lower-paying, programs.
“When we look at the outcomes it would have for equity and choice on campus, we’re alarmed about it,” she said.[Read more at The 74] Read More
A growing group of Nashville educators has been quietly taking professional development into their own hands. Through regular meetings and summer workshops they’re helping one another improve at their jobs, and intentionally cutting across the private-public school divide.
It all began when sixth-grade English teacher Greg O’Loughlin left Metro for a private school in Nashville. He says he was naively surprised at how few educators from the two sectors knew one another.
“The answer was honest,” he says. His co-workers asked, “‘Where would I have met her? How would I have met her? Under what circumstances? There’s not like a teacher hangout.'”
So in 2016, O’Loughlin created one. The Educators Co-operative now has 80 members from all types of schools, including librarians, school psychologists and instructional coaches.
Monthly meetings rotate in each other’s schools and begin with members sitting in a circle, sharing introductions and updates. In traditional teacher development, one expert passes on information to a group. Here, members break into smaller groups to discuss topics suggested that day.
The conversations are always candid, and productive, Co-op members say, sometimes in unexpected ways.
In November, one discussion centered on issues of equity and social justice in the education system, titled “Teaching While White.”
In another room, educators discussed collaboration, and started out talking about how to best work with all types of colleagues. At one point, public school special-education teacher Jennifer Ferguson was shown a picture of a one-legged stool meant to help restless kids concentrate. When she said she’d love something like that for her students, that immediately got Mike Mitchell fired up. An art teacher at a private Catholic high school, he said his class could make a prototype.
Two months later, they’ve made stools several Co-op teachers, including Ferguson, and eventually want to make them available throughout Nashville.
Another exchange common to the Co-op is classroom observation. Teachers usually dread that because another adult in the room is typically there for evaluation. But among members, it’s an opportunity to learn, says Amy Nystrand, a fourth-grade public school teacher.
Two years ago she was struggling with a class of nearly 30, she says, “ranging from kids who those who couldn’t add two-digit numbers to kids who could divide huge numbers in their heads. And I had 12 IEPs in that classroom, so students with special needs.”
Nystrand observed a math coach, at a different school, who had kids ask each other, “What’s a mistake a student could make here?” The next day she introduced the deceptively simple question to her own kids. She says they now lead morning work sessions — and enjoy it.
Nystrand says it creates a community for students, and teaches them, “No one’s perfect, we’re all going to make mistakes. What’s important is how are you going to learn from that mistake.”
Co-op members say these are the kinds of tools they need to learn from one another — as well as broader issues of education reform, like segregation and schools.
In that “Teaching While White” discussion, public middle-school teacher Alecia Ford suggested educators like herself carve out more time for students who bear the brunt of social inequity.
“White people are not comfortable anymore saying, ‘This is a black person’s problem,'” she shares with the group. “It’s not, it’s our problem, we have to fix it.”
Co-op members say these conversations can be hard, because they require being vulnerable. Teachers aren’t used to admitting insecurities or asking for help, even though they expect that of their students.
But when they really bare themselves, says charter school teacher Marc Anthony Peek, they have a safety net. He says just having a judgement-free space for uncomfortable discussions is “monumental, because nowhere else am I having these conversations, with educators, especially about topics surrounding class and race.”
The Co-op continues to attract new educators — another 30 are joining this year. They’re getting grants, they’ve launched a book club, a blog, even a podcast.
Marcy Singer-Gabella, the chief of staff at Metro Public Schools, says she doesn’t know of any other group like it nationally. But she also says the city will not — and should not — implement the innovative model. She thinks individual schools can help foster networks, but that this kind of group works only if administrators stay out of it.
“Unless teachers lead that work, and are the agents in positioning, it’s not the same,” says Singer-Gabella. “You can’t force a group of people to trust one another.”
She also praises the Co-op for its cross-section of schools — and isn’t worried that Metro teachers may get poached by private institutions. Singer-Gabella says when teachers grow, so do students, and that’s the goal at every school.
Founder Greg O’Loughlin says that’s why he wanted to bring educators together in this way. So he’s happy that new members have so far all had the same reactions. Starting with: “I found my people, I knew you existed, I assumed you existed and I had no idea you were all waiting for me, this feels so good. I found my teaching family.”
O’Loughlins ays the other refrain he hears often is, “‘I no longer feel like I’m a teacher in this classroom, or a teacher in this school, I feel like a teacher in Nashville.’”
All based on the motto that they are each other’s best resource.[Read more at Nashville Public Radio] Read More
Tennessee’s least effective principals are more likely to work in schools with students who are lower-achieving and live in poverty, according to new research.
And the pattern exists in both urban and rural districts.
The findings are outlined in a research brief released Thursday by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, which is looking closely at school leadership through a partnership between the state’s education department and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College.
Tennessee has paid a lot of attention to teacher quality since launching a teacher evaluation system tied to student achievement in 2011. But the state has only recently begun to focus more on principal quality by examining administrators’ years of experience and their ratings under the state’s evaluation system for school leaders.
The research is important because high-quality principals drive school success,including academic growth, retaining effective teachers, and improving school climates.
“We’d like to see the best leaders going into high-needs schools because those are the schools that would most benefit from great leadership. But that’s not what’s happening,” said Jason Grissom, associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt.
“Instead, we see that relatively advantaged schools with lower poverty and high achievement levels are getting the best and most experienced principals.”
The findings document another layer of inequity faced by students who already struggle under the weight of significant disparities.
“If you’re a student in poverty in Tennessee, you’re not only more likely to be in a high-poverty and low-achieving school but you’re also more likely to have a principal in his or her very first year in that job,” said Grissom, the study’s lead researcher.
Moreover, that new principal likely won’t stay long enough to improve leadership skills to the point of making a long-term positive impact on the school community. A typical principal in a high-poverty school leaves at the end of his or her third year.
“The time that you are least effective as a leader is your first year, and then you build effectiveness the longer you’re in the position,” Grissom said. “So with high principal turnover, a high-poverty school has to reset often.”
State data also shows that districts tend to hire less effective administrators to fill openings at high-needs schools. Often the new leaders were assistant principals coming out of other schools where their ratings were not as high as those placed in leadership jobs at low-poverty schools.
“So we have both a principal turnover problem at our high-needs schools and a problem with our processes to fill those jobs,” Grissom said.
The patterns matter, in part, because great teachers want to work with great principals.
“The quality of the leader may be the most important factor in determining if an effective teacher stays at school,” Grissom said. “If I’m a great teacher and the principal in my building is mediocre, then I have lots of other options.”
The study’s findings could help to shape how Tennessee compensates and supports its school leaders.
“This research further underscores that to close achievement gaps, Tennessee must implement policies at the state and district levels that encourage a more equitable distribution of great principals across Tennessee schools,” said Erin O’Hara, executive director of the research alliance.
You can find the research brief here.[Read more at Chalkbeat]
The initial look at the Tennessee’s proposed education budget includes increases to areas that have been priorities in the past, including the state’s ACT retake program and money for charter school facilities.
So far, it’s unclear how Gov. Bill Lee will put a stamp on education funding going forward, and changes to the department’s proposed budget could be possible.
Education officials went before Lee on Monday during a budget hearing to outline its spending plan for the 2019-20 year.
Lee said last week education is one of his five key areas he wants to focus on in his upcoming spending proposal. After the hearing, Lee said he wants to invest in the classroom and suggested there might be an increase for teachers, although the new governor stopped short of committing to either proposal.
The proposed budget from the Tennessee Department of Education includes $69 million in spending increases in the 2019-20 fiscal year. The department also outlined $7 million in possible cuts.
The majority of the funds — $46.2 million — will cover the costs of student enrollment growth and overall inflation.
The education department is also looking to continue supporting projects that have been in place for a number of years, including funds for priority schools, charter school facilities and the ACT retake program.
In total, the three would cost the state about $12.8 million.
Interim Tennessee Education Commissioner Lyle Ailshie said the ACT program, in particular, provides a big return for students.
“Not only did … it raise scores for more to access the HOPE scholarship, but those with lower scores that did raise them were able to avoid remediation in college,” Ailshie said.
The state is also looking to provide funding for early college and career opportunities in high school, which drew interest from Lee. Most of the money will be for grants, Ailshie said, and would look to help low-income and rural students.
Other priorities include:
- $8 million for a program that provides services to kids with disabilities and developmental delays.
- Creating a new charter schools position and portfolio project coordinator by repurposing funding from other positions. This wouldn’t cost the state any money.
- The State Board of Education is also requesting $50,000 to help with its licensure discipline hearings and $284,000 for new positions.
During the hearing, Lee also asked the department about school security.
“We have to keep our kids safe; that is the reason that I asked about the way school safety funding was distributed and how it is we do an even better job of that,” Lee told reporters after the hearing.
He also said his administration doesn’t yet know where it is on the issue of school choice, including education savings accounts, which provide public money for parents to pay for private school or home school.
Ahead of Monday, Lee and his finance commissioner Stuart McWhorter said their estimated $37.8 billion proposal will prioritize five key areas.
That included education as well as criminal justice, mental health, health care and rural economic development.
Absent during the hearing was Lee’s newly appointed Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, who begins the job on Feb. 4.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
Alabama’s high school graduation rate was one of the lowest in the country in 2011. Today, it’s one of the highest.
Over that same period, though, Alabama students have continued to perform among the worst in the nation on federal math and reading tests.
That leaves the state with a jarring disconnect between its students’ academic skills and the share of diplomas it hands out. And while Alabama’s numbers are outliers, that disconnect exists in many other states.
States with low test scores don’t necessarily have low graduation rates, and vice versa, data released last week for the class of 2017 shows. And state test scores are less pegged to graduation rates than they were several years ago, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.
It’s the latest indication that the nation’s graduation rate gains may have more to do with changes in graduation standards than with how much students are learning. The U.S. graduation rate rose from 79 percent to 84.6 percent from 2011 to 2017, even as test scores stayed largely flat.
“The high school graduation rate numbers have been going up and up and up, which I do think is a good outcome,” said Anne Hyslop, a former Department of Education official now at the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit that focuses on improving high schools. “But it also calls into question whether all of those diplomas mean the same thing, whether they are as meaningful a credential as it once was.”
Some states, like Massachusetts and New Jersey, have relatively high test scores and graduation rates. Others, like New Mexico and Louisiana, are low on both counts. But many others have a mismatch. Washington and Colorado, for example, have high test scores and low graduation rates, while in Texas and West Virginia, students score poorly on tests but have among the country’s highest graduation rates.
Overall, there is a correlation between states’ test scores and graduation rates — but it’s a modest one.
Why is there this disconnect?
For one, states simply have different graduation standards. Some — though increasingly few — require students to pass a set of exams to graduate, for example.
The numbers may also miss something about the quality of a state’s high schools or students skills. Eighth-grade scores don’t account for what happens in later grades, and test scores aren’t perfect gauges of students’ abilities.
Whatever the reason, the disconnect is growing larger. Six years ago, eighth-grade NAEP scores were more closely tied to a state’s graduation rate. That’s true for both math and reading scores.
In 2011, high-NAEP states had graduation rates nearly 15 percentage points higher on average than those with low scores. Last year, the difference was less than 10 percentage points.
What explains this? In general, graduation rates are rising fast, and states that started with low graduation rates had more room to grow.
Some of those gains might be because schools are juking their graduation numbers.
“If states and local districts allow all sorts of other factors to come into play (credit recovery, lower standards, outright fraud), then over time high school graduation rates will grow more removed from academic achievement,” Mark Dynarski, a researcher who has questioned rising graduation rates, wrote in an email.
A series of stories from NPR in 2015 found that fast-track credit recovery programs, which allow students who fall behind to graduate on time, were one of several factors behind rising graduation rates between 2001 and 2013. Others included schools helping students stay on track early in their high school careers and schools gaming the numbers by miscategorizing dropouts.
The news isn’t all bad, though. More kids staying in high school and earning diplomas may be beneficial for them as individuals and for society as a whole. And even flat 12th-grade test scores might be an encouraging sign, since students who might have dropped out were taking those tests.
Hyslop said it’s not clear where all this leaves policymakers. One potential response would be to raise the bar to graduate through high school exit exams. But research has shown that this approach has few clear benefits while increasing dropout rates, particularly among black and Hispanic students.
“Denying someone a high school diploma is a really weighty decision and one that we have been reticent to make,” she said.[Read More at Chalkbeat] Read More
Jamie Woodson: Education Success Isn’t the Responsibility of Any One Sector. We Are All Accountable — The ‘A’ Word
Jamie Woodson served from 2011 through the start of 2019 as the executive chairman and chief executive officer of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a Tennessee-based nonprofit and nonpartisan education research and advocacy organization. Before that, the Republican served six years as a Tennessee state senator, including as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. She likewise served in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005.
The University of Tennessee graduate elaborates in this ‘A’ Wordconversation why accountability is needed to make sure students receive a full year of learning for a year in the classroom. At the same time, accountability needs to create a sense of urgency about getting the right supports to help students receive that full year of learning. She explains in this exchange with us how Tennessee is attempting to make its accountability system and the data it produces work better for the state’s students.
How do you define accountability in education? And tell us if that definition has changed over time.
Accountability has to be centered on what’s best for our students. For us in Tennessee, the purpose of accountability has been to measure whether students are receiving a year of learning for a year in the classroom. Accountability is also about creating support and urgency, so that we can encourage schools and districts to move with a sense of urgency when students aren’t learning.
The definition has changed over time. States now have more flexibility in their accountability measures. The Tennessee Succeeds Plan, which is essentially our [Every Student Succeeds Act] plan, does a better job shining the light on academic growth and achievement of underserved students. And our accountability ratings now more clearly show the stark disparities in achievement in schools and districts. Our plan also had consistent and considerable public input that included six town halls attended by over 1,000 Tennesseans and over 5,000 comments from the public.
The evolution of accountability includes how we identify where we can support educators in the classroom as well at the school and district level. That way, they can meet their students’ needs in a changing environment.
“Our republic’s success depends on our citizens being critical thinkers and problem solvers…. this is a keystone to our nation’s success or failure.”
Whether as a state legislator or in leading SCORE, you had to make decisions and recommendations that impacted students and adults. How did you use accountability practices or policies in guiding those decisions and recommendations?
We think of accountability as a framework in Tennessee. We know it’s essential to raising student achievement, so first we set high expectations for all students, grades, and subjects. And we scaffold those standards so students graduate from high school ready to succeed in postsecondary education and their chosen career.
Second, we use assessment to measure how well our kids are meeting those expectations. And third, accountability is acknowledging when students aren’t meeting the bar and taking steps as communities, districts, and schools to serve them better.
In some ways, this requires us to not blame the background or circumstance of a child but rather focus on what adults should be doing differently with policies and practices. Our teacher evaluation process is an example. We began that process in 2011. It has been refined over time, but we have preserved its focus on ensuring students are learning and growing every year.
Probably 36 percent of our educators in 2011 felt like the evaluation system was improving instruction. That is now up to 72 percent. And 69 percent of our teachers believe that the process improves learning in classrooms, which is what this is all about.
It is not too far back in the rearview mirror to a time when we were very publicly called out for Fs in truth-in-advertising. We were saying that our students were prepared and our standards were up to snuff. And they simply weren’t, compared to our peers across the country. As a result, we facilitated an outside review to determine whether our new standards were as rigorous and challenging as previous standards. We’ve had a pretty sharp lens on making sure that the accountability system has support, both within the public sector and the private sector.
You had a great line about “a year of learning for a year in the classroom.” So how does Tennessee get data to teachers fast enough so they can make sure students get that year of learning for a year in the classroom?
We put student achievement data at the heart of all the policy and advocacy decisions. As an example, our teacher preparation report card showed that only a few of our 40 teacher prep providers were producing candidates who were positively impacting student achievement. So SCORE presented a proposal to improve teacher preparation.
We know that principals are the No. 1 factor in retaining great teachers. We also started thinking about what the data says about our principals and how they spend their time. Tennessee principals self-reported that most of their time is spent on issues that aren’t even related to leading instruction or leading people and the talent in their building. We used data to think about how we could help principals change their focus.
We also know that 34 percent of our kids enter the workforce right after high school. The average salary for those citizens is a little less than $11,000 a year. A citizen clearly cannot be economically independent and participate fully in their community if their annual salary is that low. That data shows why all the component parts of education need to be working well so students can move into postsecondary education and a career.
Tennessee’s data is the envy of many states, but is there any data point you wish you had?
I love that question. The data point that we are seeking, and I’m not sure that it’s going to be a singular data point, has to do with completing high school successfully. How do we know whether a citizen has a successful chance at gainful employment and economic independence? We know that completing high school is critical. So is access to higher education. But does a citizen have the skills to pursue an independent life full of choice?
Is there a data point or multiple data points that show what true independence for a citizen looks like? We are seeking answers to that question in Tennessee.
So much of this makes sense, but there’s been a lot of pushback against accountability. Where do you think we’ve gone wrong in building support for its concepts? What would help now?
Anybody who’s been in this work has learned many lessons. A big lesson has been that the critical and tough work comes in the classrooms and the schools after a policy is put in place. It is important to ensure that educators’ use of the policy is working for students.
We have tried to honor the important school-level and classroom-level view in thinking about leadership programs. As an example, we have a Tennessee educator fellowship through SCORE, and the Hope Street Group has an educator fellowship. Both have been essential in elevating the voice of student-focused teachers. These programs and others have allowed teachers to be integrated into decision-making more than ever before.
That includes the Teachers’ Cabinet within the governor’s office. The State Board of Education has engaged classroom teachers and school leaders in a variety of policies. And we have a liaison between the schools and the state on our assessment program.
Many of us tend to approach accountability from the head perspective, but accountability touches the heart so much. Many data points can show if a school is persistently failing, but individual students will be hurt the most. So will families who receive report cards that say their child is getting As and Bs, but they realize after high school that she or he may not have the skills needed to succeed.
Our work in Tennessee is not perfect, but we are committed to a cross-sector philosophy of leadership. Education success isn’t the responsibility of any one sector, whether education, government, or philanthropy. There is a genuine belief that we are all accountable.
“Many of us tend to approach accountability from the head perspective, but accountability touches the heart so much. Many data points can show if a school is persistently failing, but individual students will be hurt the most.”
As you consider the state plans ESSA requires, including the continuous improvement process, what are you hopeful about? And what does the continuous improvement process look like in Tennessee?
We’ve seen historic gains, yet so much work remains. We’ve taken ownership through the Tennessee Succeeds Plan to drive improvements and student outcomes.
For us, continuous improvement plans aren’t simply a reflection of a mandate or accountability requirement. Continuous improvement is critical for how we get from where we are to where we want to be for students.
We are excited about how our plan embeds success measures for every school and how they give parents, teachers, and community members greater clarity on whether students are being served well. Schools will have new and clearer data about the academic success of students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and students who are English learners. That will help inform their decision-making.
We’re excited about the Ready Graduate initiative we spoke of before. We still think there’s room for clarity and being sure we get what we need out of it. But the initiative increases opportunities for a high school student to earn college credit and industry certification and gain skills that will help them beyond high school.
We’re also excited about the clearer, more comprehensive approach towards turning around chronically low-performing schools. It will be interesting to see how the new collaborations evolve between districts and state-level partners. We are watching that closely.
This work is hard, but we are optimistic because of what we accomplished in the last decade in Tennessee. We have stayed focused on students and tried to let that lead the conversation, even when that means a hard conversation among adults.
If we hold ourselves accountable as partners, that will keep us moving students forward.
Why do you think that ecosystem exists the way it does in Tennessee? It doesn’t necessarily exist in all states.
I can’t speak to the context in other states, but I can about ours. This is about leadership. It has been critical in our research, accountability structures, and school factors that drive student outcomes.
And the leadership has come from different areas. Former governor [Bill] Haslam and Governor [Phil)] Bredesen before him provided strong leadership from the governor’s office. And the talented commissioners and teams at state’s education department have been very important.
Philanthropic and business leaders, as well as policymakers at every level, also have focused on identifying common horizon points, taking the best research and data and using it frequently to inform our decisions, having an appetite for continuous improvement, and holding each other accountable.
That is a unique recipe, but it is possible in any state. It takes leadership at the highest levels to not only serve their own organizations or populations but to also think about the whole and drive forward with partners.
Policies matter, too. Preserving high expectations for students and adults through standards, aligned assessments, and a meaningful educator evaluation system are important. Leadership and policies with a focus on continuous implementation have been at the core of our work and success.
All of those things are good advice for new governors and policymakers around the country. Is there anything else that you would say to them as they contemplate their education priorities?
After saying “congratulations,” I would say there is no more important job for a governor than the opportunities that exist in education and how they can improve a state and life for its citizens.
In making education a signature issue, I would start with putting students’ interests at the center of all decision-making. That will keep the conversation focused even though important adults also are impacted.
My other advice includes investing well in the policies that will most dramatically advance student achievement growth. Communicating well with the education experts — at the state department of education and in the schools — also matters. Talk to them about how you value them and, most important, listen to their feedback and ideas.
Finally, reach beyond education to build solutions-oriented coalitions. Government has its role, but there are leaders from business and philanthropy who are interested in supporting a strong education vision.
What is at stake for us as a country to get these education issues right? What’s at stake for Tennessee?
What’s at stake is whether we have one decade of success or success for multiple generations for students. It is more important than ever for education to give all young adults and citizens the capacity and freedom to pursue a life of financial and personal fulfillment.
The future of the education profession is at stake as well. We need to recruit the best talent to teach and then support them. After all, they have the most important role in a community. Our republic’s success depends on our citizens being critical thinkers and problem solvers. Not to be overly dramatic, but this is a keystone to our nation’s success or failure.
Is the achievement gap solvable? If so, what it will take?
There is no silver bullet, but there are two areas that stand out in Tennessee. First, we need outstanding preparation programs for teachers and principals and compensation strategies that incentivize the best teachers and leaders to serve in schools where they’re needed most. That particularly includes in economically distressed areas. And we need deeper, more targeted support for teachers and leaders early in their careers.
Second, we need to believe that students can do challenging work. The TNTP report on “The Opportunity Myth” shows how we have failed as adults to believe in them. The report details how students spent more than 500 hours in the school year on assignments that were below grade level. That was because the instruction didn’t ask enough of them. Eighty percent of the teachers surveyed supported standards for college and career readiness, but only half of them thought their students could reach that bar.
That is an expectations gap, and that’s fixable. But it will take a cultural change. We’ve clearly learned in Tennessee that, if you set the bar high, students will meet that bar or exceed it.[Read more at the 74] Read More