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
Penny Schwinn is scheduled on Feb. 4 to take the reins of Tennessee’s education department, where she’ll oversee 600 full-time employees and work on new Gov. Bill Lee’s agenda for public education.
Schwinn is now winding down her obligations in Texas, where as chief deputy commissioner over academics she has been responsible for the work of about 350 employees and half of the programs of the Texas Education Agency.
“As you would want with any public official, I want to make sure we have a really strong transition so that my team is taken care of and the work moves forward in Texas without massive disruption,” she said.
She plans to pack and move to Tennessee next week and expects her family to join her in the spring.
“My husband and I have a 6-year-old and 3-year-old at home, so we’re helping them through this transition and making sure they feel supported in our move,” she said of their two daughters, who eventually will attend public schools in Nashville.
Schwinn, 36, was the final cabinet appointment announced by Lee before the Republican governor took office over the weekend. She is a career educator who started in a Baltimore classroom with Teach For America, founded a charter school in her hometown of Sacramento, California, and has worked as a top state administrator in Delaware and Texas.
In an interview Wednesday with Chalkbeat, she described how she’s straddling two states and getting up to speed for her new job.
She plans to dig into details to prepare for testing that begins on April 15 under current vendor Questar. Simultaneously, she’ll scrutinize the state’s request for proposals outlining what Tennessee wants from its next testing company when the assessment program moves to a new contract next school year.
The request for proposals is expected to be released in the next few weeks.
“I’m going to be the person who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the new vendor is incredibly strong for Tennessee students, so I want to see everything we’re requesting, ask questions, and make last-minute changes if that’s necessary,” she said.
Tennessee has struggled to deliver its own assessment cleanly since transitioning in 2016 to TNReady, which is aligned to new academic standards and was designed for most students to take online. Three straight years of problems either with online administration or scoring have dogged the state and seriously undermined its accountability work, putting everyone on edge with testing.
In hiring Schwinn, Lee touted her assessment work in two states, including cleaning up behind disruptions that marred testing in Texas soon after she arrived in 2016.
In Tennessee, Schwinn promises tight vendor management, whether it’s with Questar this school year or multiple companies that take over this fall.
“It’s incredibly important that we have accurate data about how our children are performing in Tennessee,” she said of TNReady. “This is my background both in Delaware and Texas in terms of assessment. It’s a good space for me to dig into the work and become an integral part of the team.”
In Texas, Schwinn came under fire for a $4.4 million no-bid award for a contract to collect special education data. A state audit released last September found that she failed to disclose having received professional development training from the person who eventually won a subcontract, which later was canceled at a cost of more than $2 million to the state, according to The Texas Tribune.
While Schwinn said she didn’t try to influence the contract, she told Chalkbeat that she and her department “learned a lot” through that experience, prompting an overhaul of the state’s procurement process.
“It’s important to have transparency when you’re a public official,” she said. “I believe strongly about that.”
As Tennessee’s education commissioner, it’s unlikely that she’ll serve on the evaluation committee that will choose its next testing company, but she plans to be “heavily involved” in the process as she works with programmatic, assessment, and technology experts.
“From a 30,000-foot view, commissioners typically aren’t on those selection panels. They’re able to ask questions and provide direction for the team,” she said.
Schwinn was in Nashville last week when Lee announced her hiring.
Until she is sworn in, interim Commissioner Lyle Ailshie is in charge, and he attended the governor’s first cabinet meeting on Tuesday.[Read more at Chalkbeat] Read More
NASHVILLE, TN — The United Way of Metropolitan Nashville has been selected as the lead organization to manage the implementation of the “Blueprint for Early Childhood Success,” the first-of-its-kind citywide literacy plan to double the number of Nashville third-graders reading on grade level by 2025. The ambitious Blueprint combines the thought leadership of literacy groups, faith and volunteer partners, parents, students, and educators to create a shared implementation framework to address Nashville’s early literacy deficit.
Using technical support provided by the Center for Nonprofit Management’s Collective Impact Accelerator program, the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success Steering Committee assembled a panel to select a lead organization to manage implementation going forward. The panel, which included representatives from the Nashville Mayor’s Office, Metro Nashville Public Schools, the juvenile court system and other top education nonprofits, unanimously selected United Way of Metropolitan Nashville to serve as the Blueprint’s backbone partner.
“The Blueprint is one of the most comprehensive literacy plans in the country, and I’m confident that United Way’s vision will bring it to life,” said Mayor David Briley. “I look forward to seeing how they accelerate progress on the plan in 2019.”
As the backbone partner, United Way is tasked with managing all of the moving parts of this complex plan, which includes aligning the activities of Blueprint partners, sharing learnings across partners and sectors, and ultimately ensuring that all 29 Blueprint recommendations are successfully implemented to the benefit of Nashville’s children.
“Early literacy is one of the greatest investments you can make in a child’s future, and one of our top priorities at United Way,” said Erica Mitchell, chief community impact officer of United Way of Metropolitan Nashville. “That is why we are honored to lead the Blueprint efforts into the future, and are committed to doing the hard work necessary to ensure that every student, regardless of background or school zone, has the chance to develop the reading skills necessary for success in school and in life.”
The Blueprint was first unveiled in October 2017 by a community working group of more than 20 civic, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations convened by the Nashville Mayor’s Office, Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph, the Nashville Public Library and the Nashville Public Education Foundation. Currently, two in three of Nashville’s third-graders cannot read on grade level, a challenge the city has faced for more than two decades.
The Nashville Public Education Foundation, the current interim backbone partner, will oversee the transition for the next six months, at which time United Way will manage the Blueprint in full.
To view the full Blueprint and learn more about its progress to date, visit blueprintforearlychildhoodsuccess.com.[Read more at The Tennessee Tribune] Read More
Twenty-three legislators in Tennessee’s House of Representatives and another nine in the Senate will serve as the gatekeepers for hundreds of bills dealing with public education over the next two years.
The highly anticipated committee assignments were announced Thursday by House Speaker Glen Casada and Senate Speaker Randy McNally to close out the first week of the 111th General Assembly.
Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville will return as chairwoman of her chamber’s education committee, while Rep. Mark White of Memphis will lead a newly combined House panel.
Both Republican leaders are strong advocates of Tennessee’s score-driven accountability systems for students, teachers, schools, and districts. And with 24 years of legislative experience between them, their appointments are viewed as stabilizing forces as Tennessee transitions to a new administration under governor-elect Bill Lee and a large class of freshmen in the House.
The Senate lineup doesn’t look significantly different from the previous session, but the House panel is markedly changed in both membership and structure.
Casada consolidated two House committees that have handled education since 2015. He also named four subcommittees to manage the heavy flow of legislation related to K-12 and higher education, which last year numbered more than 400 bills.
“The purpose of the subcommittees will be to vet the bills from the beginning,” said White. “If a bill isn’t written well or it’s not a good idea, the subcommittee should get rid of it.”
With this year’s legislature under another Republican supermajority, the GOP dominates membership on all committees. For Senate education, Raumesh Akbari of Memphis is the only Democrat, while Democrats comprise only a fourth of the membership of the House committee.
Each legislator files preferences for committee assignments, but the speaker of each chamber makes the final call on membership and leadership.
White’s elevation to chair the House panel was anticipated, since he was the only one of four education leaders in his chamber to return this year following the retirements of Harry Brooks and Roger Kane of Knoxville, and John Forgety of Athens. Last year, White chaired his chamber’s education subcommittee on administration and planning.
But the rise of Rep. David Byrd to chair a new subcommittee raised some eyebrows. A former teacher and principal, the Waynesboro Republican has been accused of sexual misconduct by three women when he was their high school basketball coach 30 years ago. Last fall, Casada defended Byrd, likening him to then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was also facing allegations of sexual assault from decades earlier. Byrd eventually sailed past his Democratic opponent to secure a third term in office.
The committees will get to work the week of Jan. 28, and you can learn about their schedules on the General Assembly’s website.
Newly named members and chairs are:
House Education Committee
- Mark White, R-Memphis, chair
- Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, vice chair
- Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro
- David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, chair, Administration Subcommittee
- Scott Cepicky, R-Colleoka
- Mark Cochran, R-Englewood
- Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, chair, Higher Education Subcommittee
- John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis
- Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville
- Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville
- Jason Hodges, D-Clarksville
- Chris Hurt, R-Halls
- Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington
- Harold Love, D-Nashville
- Debra Moody, R-Covington, chair, Curriculum, Testing and Innovation Subcommittee
- Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis
- John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, chair, K-12 Subcommittee
- Iris Rudder, R-Winchester
- Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station
- Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville
- Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster
- Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville
- John Mark Windle, D-Livingston
Senate Education Committe
- Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, chair
- Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, first vice chair
- Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, second vice chair
- Mike Bell, R-Riceville
- Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City
- Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville
- Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin
- Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald
- Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol
Skandera: From 240 Winning Proposals From Around the Country, 4 Key Themes Emerge for Building a Pathway 2 Tomorrow
With a new year, new opportunities present themselves. This week, Pathway 2 Tomorrow: Local Visions for America’s Future announced its new $100,000 Innovation Award as part of its $430,000 investment in 24 locally responsive education solutions, spanning 17 states and the District of Columbia. With the support of more than 75 partner organizations, P2T solicited proposals from around the country and garnered 240 bold education solutions from all types of stakeholders — parents, entrepreneurs, researchers, and education leaders — from rural, suburban, and urban communities in 39 states.
Despite this diversity of geography and voices represented in the submitted proposals, four clear themes emerged that are informing our path forward.
1. Disrupt the Traditional Education Pathway
Within the numerous proposals submitted to P2T, and in policy conversations across the country, there is a clear push to blend K-12 and higher education and/or workforce preparation opportunities to blur the traditional system lines. There is a recognition that our siloed systems are failing to consistently deliver on the promise of college and career readiness for all students. Winning proposals from the Austin Chamber of Commerce, “Opportunity Austin: College and Career Readiness and Placement,” and YouthForce NOLA, “Real-World Skills for Real-Life Success,” are just two examples of efforts to prepare students for the successful pursuit of and placement in high-wage, high-demand career pathways or postsecondary education.
2. Put Each Learner at the Center of His or Her Education
Personalized learning, education of the whole child, and new instructional models focused on high-quality curriculum are emerging — and at least one of these is featured at nearly every major education gathering. Within the P2T proposals were numerous solutions for all learners along the continuum of education and a newfound focus on orienting the return on investment not solely toward core academic subjects but also on preparation of students as productive, contributing citizens. As an example, within this theme, the winning proposal from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy utilizes a curriculum tool to enable leaders to make the best curricular decisions in English language arts for the students they serve by mapping knowledge domains and providing critical analysis and reports to identify potential gaps.
3. Elevate the Education Profession
We have seen a surge in conversation, policy, and action that highlights how important teachers are when it comes to student success — whether in terms of salary pay, teacher voice in shaping policy, or preparation and professional development — and the imperative to keep teachers front and center in education transformation cannot be overlooked. As teacher shortages continue — and, in many regions, worsen — the need to re-envision the role and stature of educators must be deliberate and aligned with the value we know they bring to the classroom. For example, a winning proposal by The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, “Neuroteach Global,” provides an innovative approach to professional development through a series of micro-learning experiences, using technology to revolutionize how educators develop their understanding of the science of learning and their ability to translate research into action.
4. Leveraging Resources and Relationships
Failure over the past few decades to include those most affected when it comes to policy and practice has been clearly recognized. Numerous proposals captured this mandate and went even further in pushing for a broader tent. For example, P2T’s Innovation Award co-winners, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence’s Student Voice Team and the Iowa Department of Education, illustrate the authentic engagement of students as partners in education policymaking.
In addition to these themes, a few noteworthy observations emerged within the 240 P2T proposals. First, an increase in the public and private sectors working together to initiate more entrepreneurial ideas and solve problems. And, second, a shift away from quality control (Do you have a diploma?) to quality assurance (How can you assure me you can do the job?). These are important trends to acknowledge as we continue to look for new ways to deliver on education’s promise. While we cannot abandon the foundational work of the past 20 to 30 years — a call for higher standards, greater transparency, and accountability, and increased equity and opportunity via choice — we cannot ignore the need for our system to be agile and adaptable, and proactively develop new ways to prepare the next generation in an ever-changing world.
As we look ahead, we should continue to challenge ourselves to chart a path that is locally and regionally responsive, doesn’t abandon the necessary and courageous work of the past few decades, and is relentlessly committed to building and delivering a better education for future generations. We all know education transformation is not for the faint of heart. It is hard work. It requires a commitment to work together and courage to see it through. These themes and the game-changing ideas represented in P2T proposals and emerging across our country are by no means a silver bullet; however, they can provide a framework for moving forward, for doubling down on our commitment to deliver on education’s promise.
In 2019, P2T and its partners will support the winning ideas, transforming them from three-page proposals into scalable impact plans. Through partnership, these ideas will be shared and matched with leaders, communities, states, and regions for implementation across the country.[Read more at The 74] Read More