For the first time in four years, Tennessee will have a new education commissioner in January, a position held by Candice McQueen since Jan. 1, 2015.
As McQueen exits from the top education post in the state to lead a national nonprofit, she offered advice for the person Gov.-elect Bill Lee selects as her successor.
McQueen will become the CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, a group focused on aiding in training, attracting and supporting teachers, on Jan. 15.
She’ll spend a brief time traveling with family before taking over the nonprofit that has sought to help craft strategies on how districts can support and retain teachers.
“The most important school factor for student growth is the teacher,” McQueen said in an interview with the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee. “This is an organization that from its inception has been about how to do we support teachers and have systems of support instead of one-off strategies.”
What are the biggest hurdles for your successor?
McQueen, who will leave as a new governor and host of new lawmakers take office, said her replacement will need to take the state’s education plans to new heights but also maintain high standards, expectations and accountability. She said increasing funding and resources for districts and teachers will be crucial.
She said building relationships will be a large part of the job and important to her successor’s overall success.
“When you are moving into any new administration where you have a new governor and you have a large number of new legislators when you are coming in as commissioner of the more high profile work, whether that is health care or education, you are going to have to get to know the legislators and administrators.
“You are going to have to build those relationships and that takes time.
“My advice is to get to know those that are surrounding the governor and the governor himself, as well as the legislators,” McQueen said. “Make sure there is an understanding of what is motivating them, what concerns they have and create capacity on your own end through your team so you are highly visible to them and certainly attainable.”
What does the new commissioner need to tackle in 2019?
The state’s literacy work will require an increased focus in 2019 and beyond, McQueen said.
“The literacy work is starting to have an impact,” she said. “We need to go deeper.”
Statewide, only 33 percent of students are proficient in the state’s reading and language arts tests. Under McQueen, the state launched the Read to be Readycampaign, which has focused heavily on early grade reading instruction.
McQueen said the state needs to further ensure teachers have a strong reading curriculum, books and the support to help connect kids to the teachings.
“We need to ensure teachers are supported in their own knowledge about how to teach reading and they have support on the remediation side,” she said.
Any other advice for your successor?
The advice McQueen said she wants to drive home to whoever takes over the job next is the same advice she received when she took over the job. McQueen replaced Kevin Huffman in 2015.
“I got a piece of advice when I started as commissioner and it stuck with me,” she said.
McQueen said the job is difficult, but making significant changes is one of the hardest challenges.
“It is going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done,” she said.
As commissioner, McQueen has supervised plenty of changes, including in state accountability in order to conform to a new federal education law and new education standards. She said the next commissioner will need to “listen a lot to make changes and continuously improve.”
“Try to be impactful with the time you have and, sometimes, that takes courage and takes thinking outside the box,” McQueen said. “But you have to bring people with you and listen to people.”
Is there something specific you don’t want your successor to back away from?
McQueen said she is asking that her successor stay the course on the state’s education standards and in its assessment and accountability model.
“We have some of the best standards in the country,” she said. “They have gone through multiple revisions, and we have moved from an ‘F’ 10 years ago and I am proud as commissioner (to have) moved those to an ‘A.’ “
She added that the state must “stay true” to an assessment that shows what students are learning in the classroom.
But that may not be easy. The administration of the TNReady statewide standardized test ran into numerous issues during McQueen’s tenure, with some voices calling for the state to reverse course on the test.
It was one of the most high-profile issues McQueen dealt with as commissioner.
She said not being able to provide a smooth TNReady test was one of her greatest regrets.
“We are so close to success on assessment,” she said. “I hope we can stay focused on what we can do to improve. I am confident we will have success.”
And she asked that the new commissioner stick to the state’s accountability model that looks at student, teacher and district results. The state uses that data to evaluate teacher and student performance on a yearly basis.
“One of the crucial pieces of success as a state is how we created accountability at all levels,” she said.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
Median income gains in Nashville lag peer cities, prenatal care is declining in nearly all Middle Tennessee counties, health insurance coverage has dropped and the percentage of residents living below the poverty line is on the rise.
New data released by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce in its annual Vital Signs report comes in stark contrast to the steady stream of economic wins the city has experienced in the past year: record low unemployment rates, expanded GDP and the recruitment of big name companies and organizations including Amazon, Alliance Bernstein, Ernst & Young and Major League Soccer.
While business headlines point to prosperity, many residents are not feeling the gains, based on data gathered over the past decade. Both the Nashville and Clarksville areas face increasing challenges in housing, health, education and infrastructure, in spite of — or because of — their rapid growth.
“A lot of the challenge has to do with not keeping up with critical infrastructure,” Ralph Schulz, CEO of the chamber, said. “In a lot of ways, we are now bumping up on what those challenges can mean to our future prosperity.”
Across all levels of education in the Nashville area, the percentage of those below the poverty line has increased between 2007 and 2016, even as unemployment rates have dropped across the board. More than 22 percent of Davidson County children live in poverty and more than half of the region’s counties saw an increase in the percentage of students participating in a free or reduced lunch plan in the past decade.
More recent data shows an improved trajectory. From 2014 to 2017, Nashville poverty rates have declined each year, dropping from about 15 percent to 11 percent, according to chamber officials.
Education is strongly linked to poverty rates and income levels, with 24 percent of those in the Nashville area who lack a high school diploma living in poverty, compared to 11 percent for those who graduated.
Compared to the nation, Nashville has a greater percentage of individuals without a high school diploma — 9.6 percent to 4.5 percent — but it also has a greater percentage of those with a bachelors, graduate or professional degree.
In-migration, which contributed to 70 percent of the region’s growth in 2017, is contributing to gains in educational obtainment. Among those moving to the Nashville area from other states, nearly half have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of those moving from another country, about 58 percent have those credentials. That compares to between 33 percent to 36 percent among those already in the Nashville area.
Tennessee has sought to boost education levels in recent years with initiatives such as Tennessee Promise, Drive to 55, Labor Education Alignment Program and Tennessee Reconnect Act.
Cost of living
In 2009, Nashville ranked below peer cities in cost of living, but by 2017 the area jumped above Columbus, Indianapolis, Charlotte and Raleigh. Meanwhile, median income gains are lagging. Median household income increased 5.3 percent, or by $3,042, between 2006 and 2016, but Nashville lagged many of its peer cities in income gains. Clarksville’s median income declined in that period.
“The change in wage growth, salary growth coming out of the Great Recession was a relatively modest change compared to previous business cycles,” Garrett Harper, vice president of research for the chamber, said.
While Nashville is known for its health care expertise, the city exceeds the national average in the percentage of those lacking health insurance. In Nashville, 9.5 percent of residents lack health insurance, compared to 8.7 percent nationally.
In 2016, 46 percent of employers offered health insurance, down from 69 percent in 2006. Other than Charlotte, Nashville had the most dramatic decline among peer cities in the percentage of employers dropping coverage.
From 2012 to 2016, the percentage of expectant mothers with adequate prenatal care, defined by the number of doctor visits during pregnancy, dropped in every Middle Tennessee county except Dickson and Montgomery. In Sumner and Cannon counties, the percentage fell by close to 11 percent.
“Good health starts with prenatal care and only about half of the infants born in the Nashville region have received adequate prenatal care,” the report said.
After birth, many Nashville-area children lack health care. Nashville has had significantly higher numbers of children without health insurance compared to peer cities in recent years. About 13,000 Nashville children lacked health insurance in 2016, compared to fewer than 5,000 in Raleigh, Austin, Cleveland and Seattle.
State lawmakers have rejected efforts to expand Medicaid in recent years, even as Gov. Bill Haslam proposed expansion plans. During his campaign, Gov.-elect Bill Lee said he would oppose Medicaid expansion and described the existing program as “fundamentally flawed.”
In Davidson County, more than 35 percent of students in public schools are obese. In Hickman, Smith, Maury, Robertson, Rutherford and Cannon, the percentage exceeds 40. The long-term costs of obesity include hospitalization, pharmaceutical expenses and work productivity losses, according to the report.
“It’s impacting our employers’ ability to get employees who can be there and be fully present,” Jennifer Carlat, the chamber’s chief policy officer said. “The labor market is tight enough that we are looking at all of these issues because they are important to all of our members.”
Housing, transportation costs
Nashville-area residents are increasingly cost-burdened, spending more than half their income on housing and transportation.
In Nashville, the median cost of housing increased by 54 percent from 2008 to 2018, climbing to $246,500 from $159,800. While Nashville offers competitive wages compared to the national average, residents are increasingly spending a majority of their earnings on housing and transportation, according to the report.
At issue is the available inventory, which has not caught up with demand, chamber officials said.
“The overall cost of living in the region remains lower than the national average,” Schulz said. “The increased cost of living, especially as it relates to housing, due to increased demand outpacing supply, is one of the most common challenges attributed to our growth.”
The cost of infrastructure needs in Davidson County alone totaled $5.7 billion for nearly 690 projects, including those related to education, transportation and health. Tennessee received “C” or lower grades on its inland waterways, school facilities, transit, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.
In recent years, the chamber has featured costs of commuting and congestion in its Vital Signs report. The chamber-backed Let’s Move Nashville initiative to fund $5 billion in public transportation upgrades under a plan called nMotion failed to gather Davidson County voter support in May 2018. Chamber officials said the next proposal could be created between 2022 and 2024.
“The referendum, when it failed, it said Davidson County wasn’t ready to put dedicated funding to this,” Carlat said. “The nMotion plan is still the plan, but now they know they have a constrained budget they have to implement that plan through. The next few years are going to be about, what are all the ways we can squeeze more efficiency from the system we have?”
As infrastructure projects pile up, the region’s population is growing. From 2007 to 2017, the Nashville area’s population grew by 25 percent, or 400,000 people, to 1.9 million people. In 2017, the area grew by 94 people a day, the chamber reported, citing U.S. Census data.
Nashville’s growth rate was ranked behind Charlotte, Austin and Raleigh.
“Our population growth exceeded what we were anticipating in the mid-2000s,” Harper said. “(We’ve) seen a resurgence of migration in the period since the Great Recession nationally and particularly here it has contributed to the population growth.”
[Read more at the Tennessean]
The longtime leader of one of Tennessee’s most influential education advocacy organizations is stepping down and will be succeeded by her chief lieutenant.
Jamie Woodson will leave her job as CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also known as SCORE, to become the group’s senior adviser.
David Mansouri, SCORE’s president for the past three years, will take over as both president and CEO with the new year.
The transition was announced Thursday in an email to SCORE’s supporters from former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, chairman of the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy and research institution that he founded in 2009.
Frist said Woodson requested the change after eight years at the helm. He credited the former state lawmaker, who championed public education during her 12 years in Tennessee’s General Assembly, for helping SCORE to become “one of the nation’s best-in-class, policy-focused nonprofits” advocating for students, families, and communities.
Earlier this week, the group’s board of directors voted unanimously to name Mansouri as SCORE’s new leader.
Mansouri joined the organization in 2010 and has had roles in communications, outreach, management, policy, and research, stepping increasingly into the limelight on SCORE’s advocacy work in recent years.
“He is uniquely positioned to lead SCORE as we support the transition of so many state and local leaders,” Frist wrote supporters, “and he will also launch and lead SCORE’s new strategic planning process to quickly set the course for where our organization will lead moving forward.”
Frist founded SCORE the year before a massive overhaul of Tennessee’s public education system in conjunction with the state’s $500 million federal award in 2010 from the Obama-era Race to the Top competition. At the time, Tennessee ranked near the bottom on national tests and was considered a laggard in public education.
SCORE produced a roadmap for improvement and convened state, local, and national partners to promote policies and practices aimed at greater student success. Since that time, Tennessee has become one of the nation’s fastest-improving states in student achievement.
Woodson, 46, recently was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to the board of trustees at the University of Tennessee, her alma mater, and also serves as national co-chair of the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, which seeks to restore civic discourse and public trust in leading democratic institutions.
She has been mentioned as possible state education commissioner under gov.-elect Bill Lee, but told Chalkbeat that she’s not a candidate for that job. She said the timing of the handoff at SCORE is “purely coincidence.”
“My goal right now,” Woodson said, “is to make sure that the next governor and the next commissioner get off to a great start and continue the momentum that’s been created by partners all across Tennessee and the nation to help Tennessee students achieve their full promise and potential.”
Mansouri, 34, previously worked in political consulting and public relations and once was an aide to the late U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee. He attended Tennessee public schools and earned degrees from Rice University and Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management and also is a founding board member of Nashville Classical Charter School.
He told Chalkbeat that he comes into the CEO job at a “unique moment,” as SCORE approaches its 10th year and as a new governor and General Assembly take office.
“Our No. 1 priority over the next six months will be making sure that the new administration and new members of the legislature and new leaders in public office have the right support, knowledge, and context about how we have made so much improvement in Tennessee, “ he said.
SCORE, which has a 20-member staff and offices in Nashville, is funded by private donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals. Among its supporters in Tennessee are the Hyde Family Foundation, the Ayers Foundation, and the Benwood Foundation. National supporters include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. (Chalkbeat, which is an independent and nonprofit news organization, also receives funding from some of these groups. You can find our full list of supporters here.)
The group’s engagement work includes the SCORE Prize to celebrate high-performing schools and districts and the Tennessee Educator Fellowship, which has developed more than 185 teacher-leaders across the state.
[Read more at Chalkbeat]Read More
Nashville is launching a new scholarship to make higher education completely free for many students. It’s one of the first local government efforts in the nation to target non-tuition expenses, and it will help students at two colleges in Nashville beginning fall 2019.
Nashville GRAD — or Getting Results by Advancing Degrees — will work alongside the state’s two existing initiatives that waive community and technical college tuition: the Tennessee Promise for graduating high school seniors and Tennessee Reconnect for adults.
Some recent studies — one by the Tennessee nonprofit Complete Tennessee, another by the Nashville Public Education Foundation — found even though tuition is covered through these programs, many low-income students still struggle to complete their degrees.
That’s because they can’t afford expenses like textbooks, transportation and certifications, says Indira Dammu, education policy advisor for Mayor David Briley.
“We are a city that has a lot of economic opportunities. But not everyone in our city has access to them. And Nashville GRAD would really level the playing field,” she said.
For the pilot next year, Metro government will budget $1 million and serve about 400 students at Nashville State Community College. In the pilot program, the scholarship will only be available to full-time Tennessee Promise students or those that are eligible for the Pell Grant, a type of federal financial aid.
But at full implementation, the city will provide $2.5 million to help 3,000 students annually, between Nashville State and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology. The goal is to make the scholarship available to part-time and full-time low-income students, and participants in Tennessee Promise and Reconnect.
Dammu says the city chose these schools to consider low-income and diverse students.
“We are thinking about equity as the primary lens when we are distributing funds,” said Dammu.
Mayor David Briley says this type of scholarship is key to helping more students from low-income backgrounds complete their degrees and find work.
“We know that obtaining a degree or credential after high school can raise a person’s lifetime income by one-third, and by 2020, 60 percent of jobs will require some type of postsecondary degree. Giving Nashvillians the assistance they need to successfully reach this goal is vital to Nashville’s long-term prosperity,” said Briley in a press release.
The city hopes Nashville GRAD will increase the number of graduates from Nashville State to at least 50 percent over three years and raise TCAT industry certifications to 66 percent by 2023.
[Read more at Nashville Public Radio]Read More
This Memphis teacher wanted to make learning physics more engaging, so he created a website. Now it’s used in 40 countries.
Three girls explode into laughter and cheers as they roll a small cart across the table, successfully getting a rubber band to launch the cart just fast enough to knock a washer off the back of the cart, but not quite fast enough to knock over two washers.
These high schoolers might look like they are just playing with toys inside their Memphis classroom, but they are actually in the middle of a physics lesson. That’s by design.
In his 12 years as a teacher in Memphis, Jack Replinger has worked on perfecting physics lessons that are easy to break down, accessible to students who may not be on grade level in reading and math, and, above all, fun for his students at The Soulsville Charter School in south Memphis. But he’s got another huge aspiration as well: to bring his increasingly popular physics website to as many students and teachers as he can, and to as many countries.
“I was trying to teach the way I had been taught,” Replinger said of his first years in the classroom. “It was boring and a bit of a disaster. Over winter break my second year of teaching, I blew up everything I had learned and said, ‘OK, I’m going to slow this down and move away from teaching long equations.’ That’s when I really started to enjoy teaching.”
Replinger came up with the idea three years ago to take his lessons, which were handed out in his classrooms as thick, paper packets, and turn them into an interactive website, for his students. It’s called Positive Physics. Software engineer Anthony Fizer, who played pick-up basketball with Replinger, helped him get the site running in 2015 and continues to work on the site.
Now, more than 6,000 students in 585 schools across 49 states and in 40 countries have used the free website to learn physics. Replinger grew the site’s reach through his postings in teacher-focused Facebook groups and on other social networks.
“I originally wanted to make this because I wanted a website where my students would work that had interesting problems and also didn’t punish them if they are behind in grade level,” Replinger said. “But I think it’s clear it’s hit on a need for teachers elsewhere.”
The website thus far has been mostly self-funded, though he has solicited small donations from friends, family, and via PayPal, and has received some help from the Soulsville Foundation. Replinger said he is now working to find outside investors to keep the website going into the future.
Replinger came to Memphis in 2007 from Seatle as a Teach For America educator, and he was recently named as the winner of the Barbara Rosser Hyde Alumni Leadership Award, a $5,000 award recognizing leadership among the program’s alumni in Memphis.
When Replinger started teaching at Kingsbury High School as part of the teacher training program, he said he struggled to engage his first classes of physics students. He said so much of his first years of teaching was writing problems and grading, that he had little time to design labs such as the rubber band cart experiment. Part of his goal for the website was to prevent other early career educators from going through the same slog.
“For me, this is a chance to say to other teachers, ‘Let me write the problems for you so you can focus on labs,’ he said. “It takes the burden off newer teachers so they can focus on the fun and creative stuff.”
Anna Krueger, a teacher at Hamilton High School, said that the site has taken a “huge load off of my shoulders,” while also guarding against cheating since each student gets different numbers to work with on the same type of problems.
“I feel like this prevents cheating really well and simultaneously encourages teamwork,” Krueger said.
For Replinger, he said the most rewarding part of the site goes back to how it impacts his students. The high schoolers can pace themselves and try homework problems as many times as they like without punishment.
He said one student story stands out as an example of how the site can boost confidence among his high schoolers.
“I had a student last year who saw herself completely not as a math person,” he said. “But she spent a lot of time practicing on the site, and she would even start on homework problems before I had assigned them. She started the class by getting a D on the first quiz. She ended it by getting As at the honors level.”[Read more at Chalkbeat] Read More
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen today released the new, redesigned state report card for 2017-18. This tool was developed over the past year with educators, parents, and community organizations and includes a number of new features based on that feedback, including school ratings, a Spanish translation of the site, and additional new data about the performance of different student groups.
The new report card is intended to help families better understand school performance and support student success. The updated design of the report card and information that is included in the tool, including the new rating system, is based on input the department received as it developed a plan to transition to the new federal K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and has several components that are unique to Tennessee.
“We want families to have easy access to information about their school’s performance and how it is meeting the needs of all students, and we want them to have that context on a variety of metrics that encompass success,” Commissioner McQueen said. “The report card provides parents and community members with an additional snapshot of information to understand how their school is performing, see successes, and know where to ask questions and get engaged.”
While the department has published a state report card for a number of years, the redesigned version includes a number of updates. For the first time, the report card provides schools with ratings on up to six indicators designated in Tennessee Succeeds, the state’s ESSA plan. These indicators capture different aspects of school performance and include academic achievement, academic growth, chronic absenteeism, progress on English language proficiency, and graduation rate. The report card also includes a new measure called the Ready Graduate indicator that that looks for students’ readiness for college and career to let families know how students are being prepared for life after graduation.
The rating system provides a score of 0.0 to 4.0 on each indicator, similar to a GPA, with 4.0 being the highest. Parents can click through to see more information behind each rating, including how both the full student population and different student groups are performing. Ratings are based either on how well the school is doing overall or how much it improved over the last year; the school receives the higher of the two. The department has shared more information about the rating system and indicators, as well as context on how schools were rated in 2017-18, here.
Additional new features include a new full Spanish translation of the website, an opportunity for principals and superintendents to share messages about their schools, and a wealth of new metrics, including new details on the performance of different student groups and new data in areas like discipline and attendance. The department will continue to update and improve this tool in future years as it receives additional feedback, which families can share via the report card home page. To view the new report card, click here.
[Read more at the TN Department of Education]Read More
One way that organizations improve is by making strategic decisions about their personnel: hiring good people, placing them where they can be most effective, supporting them, and holding on to them—or not, depending on their fit and their job performance. As two Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA) studies highlight, this thinking applies to schools and school districts as well.
First, as we describe in a recent TERA brief, school leadership plays an important role in teacher retention. To investigate this relationship, we merged information about teacher mobility in Tennessee with multiple measures of principal performance, including rubric-based practice ratings assigned to principals in TEAM and teachers’ assessments of leadership in their schools from the Tennessee Educator Survey.
The findings were stark. Tennessee teachers were more likely to “stick” in schools with highly rated leaders. But even more important: the most effective teachers were even more likely to stay under a strong leader, and, in contrast, the least effective teachers were actually more likely to turn over.
In other words, Tennessee’s most effective principals tend to strategically retain teachers. They do a better job of holding on to their best teachers, but they also find ways to remove struggling teachers or teachers who are not a good fit for the school, through “counseling out” or other means.
An interesting additional finding from our analysis is that the evidence of strategic retention was much stronger when measuring teacher effectiveness by classroom observation ratings than by value-added. We suspect that ratings are more informative for teacher retention because principals collect them themselves, and observation rubrics help principals think more specifically about which teachers are excelling and which are struggling.
Unfortunately, we find less evidence of this kind of strategic retention behavior in high-poverty, low-achieving schools—precisely the kinds of schools where exposure to a high-quality teacher can be especially meaningful for student outcomes. Being strategic is more challenging when finding replacement teachers is difficult. But a second TERA analysis points to another reason: districts also face strategic personnel challenges which lead them to place less effective principals in high-needs schools.
In this study, we examine the distribution of principal qualifications and performance measures across measures of school disadvantage (e.g., high poverty). Our clear conclusion is that principal quality is inequitably distributed in Tennessee. Districts tend not to place their most experienced and most effective principals in the highest need schools where they could potentially have the largest impact. Instead, across urban, suburban, and rural schools, we find that the least experienced, least effective principals are in the schools with the lowest achievement and highest concentrations of poverty.
This pattern arises in part because principals in the most disadvantaged schools turn over at higher rates and because districts tend to hire less experienced and less effective leaders into those schools when vacancies arise. For instance, schools with high poverty are much more likely to fill a principal vacancy with someone who has never been a principal before (principals typically are least effective in their first year when first learning the job). Across the state, more than 40 brand-new principals each year take over schools serving a student population that is more than 80 percent low-income.
Strategic personnel management in schools starts with strategic personnel management at the district level. Good teachers stay in schools with good principals. Recruiting and retaining excellent teachers in our highest-needs schools means ensuring that those school have effective leaders. And that means, first, getting strong leaders into high-needs schools a priority, then figuring out what incentives and supports they need to stay.
[Read more at SCORE]Read More
Tennessee’s black teachers are more likely to leave their schools than their white peers, but in most cases are not exiting the profession altogether, according to new research.
Data collected from 2011 to 2016 shows that the state’s black teachers, especially males, are transferring to other schools within the same district at a higher rate than white teachers.
The findings are a surprise and defy conventional wisdom about the challenges of achieving a racially diverse teacher workforce. U.S. data suggests that black teachers are leaving the profession just a few years into the job, which is why retaining teachers of color has been central to the national dialogue on this challenge.
“I just assumed that Tennessee would look like the national trend. But in fact, while our mobility rates were high, our exit rates weren’t as high,” said Jason Grissom, the study’s lead researcher and an associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University.
The patterns were outlined in a research brief released Thursday by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, a partnership between Vanderbilt’s Peabody College and the Tennessee Department of Education.
The research is important as Tennessee grapples with how to diversify its teacher workforce at the same time that its classrooms are quickly becoming more diverse. Only about 13 percent of the state’s teachers identify as people of color, compared to about 37 percent of Tennessee students.
“To put these results in context, a growing body of research indicates that students of color are more likely to succeed academically when taught by teachers of color,” said Grissom, “and yet we know that teachers in Tennessee are not representative of the state’s student population.”
There’s also evidence of positive impacts for white students who are exposed to teachers of color. Not only can teachers of color disrupt racial stereotypes, they can share invaluable insights with students who come from different backgrounds.
For any student population, research shows that high teacher turnover tends to diminish student achievement. But the rates of turnover are greater for schools with lower achievement and higher poverty. In Tennessee, about 75 percent of the state’s black teachers work in urban schools where that’s more likely the case.
And that’s the rub.
“Teachers of color are working in precisely the schools where we’d like to have the most stable workforce, yet they have the least stable workforce,” Grissom said.
The reasons for higher rates of mobility among Tennessee teachers of color appear to be twofold, but both can be explained by school environments.
First, more black teachers work in urban schools that are home to greater concentrations of poverty and lower student achievement. These schools tend to face more challenges with resources, parental involvement, discipline, and school leadership.
“There are systematically more challenging environments for teachers to teach in,” Grissom said. “When you account statistically for those factors, you start to see turnover gap between black and white teachers diminish. In other words, if white teachers taught in the kinds of schools that black teachers teach in, you would see much higher turnover rates among white teachers.”
Another big factor is who surrounds black teachers at work. The more racially isolated, the more likely they will transfer to another school. Conversely, as the number of black colleagues increase, the turnover rate tends to go down. Additionally, the race of the principal matters, with black principals retaining black teachers at higher rates than white principals.
“This highlights some of the challenges of diversifying the workforce when people are as residentially segregated as they are in Tennessee,” said Grissom, noting the state’s suburban districts tend to have few teachers of color and many rural ones have none.
“We know there are schools that feel pressure to hire more people of color. But our research suggests that it won’t be enough to keep them if you only have a couple of black teachers,” he said.
Researchers hope the findings will help Tennessee leaders strategize how to increase teacher diversity.
“Recruiting more teachers of color into the profession is a large factor, but the findings also indicate that we should prioritize policies and practices aimed at better supporting teachers of color across the state,” said Erin O’Hara, executive director of the research alliance. “For example, principal training and preparation efforts could incorporate more training and ongoing discussion specific to hiring and, just as critically, to supporting teachers of color.”
A separate report released earlier this month offers perspectives from teachers of color in Tennessee. That report, developed by the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance, includes policy recommendations on how schools and districts can support teachers of color.
[Read more at Chalkbeat]Read More
Not long after the last school buses leave Isaac Litton Middle School at the end of the day, the first buses from a dozen other East Nashville schools start to arrive for the after-school enrichment program, Backfield in Motion. Teacher Candra Clariette helps a double handful of boys slowly work through Peggy Kern’s book “No Way Out.” It’s always a tricky task, she said, to find a book that meets the interests, reading level, and curricular needs of middle schoolers from seven different local district and charter schools.
“I know I’m responsible for my students and I’m not in the classroom with them, but I can help their teachers by integrating literacy here,” said Clariette, who is also a literacy specialist at Haynes Middle School in her day job. “It’s kind of a mirror.”
While many after-school teachers across the country work to tailor their programs to students or to align to local curriculum, Clariette has an edge: Backfield in Motion gets detailed data from Nashville public schools on her students’ academic scores, behavior, attendance, and interests—along with the training to use the information to tailor instruction.
Backfield in Motion is one of dozens of groups in the Nashville After Zone Alliance. Known as NAZA, the partnership between the city and the Nashville district launched in 2009 to exchange student data during and outside the school day. The Nashville Public Library, which runs the alliance, coordinates training and support for schools and providers.
“Learning does not stop at 3 p.m., and it does not stop in June when kids are out for summer,” said Abby Cohen, a senior associate for policy and advocacy at the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit group which advocates for better use of education data and which has studied NAZA.
In a nationwide survey this year, the group found that 86 percent of parents would like their child’s school to share relevant academic information with his or her extracurricular providers.
In exchange for school data on student discipline, attendance, special education needs, and math, reading, and science scores, each after-school group provides data on participating students’ attendance and progress and undergoes an independent evaluation each year.
“This is a whole new way of doing business in after-school programs, and it’s a constant work in progress,” Bela Spooner, the manager of expanded-learning initiatives at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. “There’s this push and pull: ‘We want after-school to align with school!’ ‘We want school to look more like after-school!’ ”
Community groups and other after-school providers, she said, “are trying to … expand young people’s horizons—but there’s a lot of pressure on after-school providers to improve students’ academic achievement.”
Training for Exchange
The National League of Cities estimates that only about a third of cities that have after-school programs use common data systems with their schools. Nashville was part of the league’s 17-year Next-Generation Afterschool System-Building Initiative, which followed more than two-dozen cities attempting to create networks for after-school providers.
Even within those next-generation cities, “Nashville is unique,” said Spooner. “They’ve been able to move their work along faster than in some places because the city has been able to work closely with the school system; there’s often a problem of student-data privacy and trust between big systems,” she said. “Other cities like Denver are doing strategic data-sharing with school districts, but … in most places, it’s still one-sided.” Nashville, she said, is the only one training community groups and school staff to work together.
Although some community groups collected their own data or reached out to schools before NAZA, very few had training in how to collect and analyze data systemically or meet federal and state laws on keeping student data secure. Rather than trying to work around myriad federal and state privacy laws, parents are asked as part of extracurricular enrollment to sign a consent form to allow the school to share attendance, academic, and behavior data with after-school providers.
While it’s voluntary, parents rarely opt out. “They understand if they don’t [approve data sharing], the programs will be just kind of a one-size-fits-all approach, and parents really do want the personalized experience for their students,” said Laura Hansen, Metro Nashville public schools’ director of information management and decision support.
To join the network, providers undergo 12 hours of free training each year on positive youth development, understanding the evaluation system, and digging into data, among other topics. Twice a year, providers join district teachers for “data dives” to look at the needs and progress of students in their programs.
“It’s an excellent tool for after-school programs—12 hours of training every year at no cost to me,” said Micah Kimble, the vice president of Backfield in Motion.
The Nashville-based Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund supported community after-school programs long before NAZA was launched, but Kaki Friskics-Warren, the fund’s executive director, said the initiative’s required evaluations have helped the fund target its grants.
“So often with data, it can be used to beat someone up—you’re not doing this well or why did this program get more points than you got in a certain area—but NAZA was really about the rising tide floats all boats,” she said. “This is data that would motivate people to improve and would help people see, ‘Oh, this is where we’re putting our energy in one place when we really need to be putting it somewhere else.’ ”
For example, Backfield in Motion has always provided low-income boys in east Nashville with free supper, mentors, and an hour each of academics and sports each day. But Kimble said as a result of its data dives and discussions with schools, the group expanded its sessions to include science and art classes and incorporated more time during academic sessions for students to reflect on what they were learning and what they wanted to study. “We get to see exactly what our kids are interested in, what they love about the program, and what they didn’t,” he said.
While providers are not on planning teams for students with individualized education plans, Kimble said they now receive students’ IEPs and have hired a district special education teacher to help provide supports for students.
Data in Motion
Sharing data also helps the district respond more quickly to changing needs, Hansen said. In one year, a school administrator alerted the after-school network that new Somali immigrant students were clustered in one large apartment building. The apartment manager agreed to open a ground-floor apartment that year to be used for a short-term English-language-learning after-school program to help boost the students’ proficiency with their new language.
“It had curriculum from the district, had after-school providers looking more at good pedagogy,” Hansen said. “The impact of just that activity was huge for these students.”
Last year at Wright Middle School, Jennifer DeWall, the NAZA site coordinator, worked with 6th grade teachers who noticed a cluster of students struggling in math. DeWall helped the teachers connect their students to a local after-school program that generally provided homework help but was also able to tailor tutoring for the math concepts the teachers had found lacking.
“There’s great value in this [data-sharing] program,” said Sharada Deaton, the executive principal of Wright Middle School. “This is a school where students come in with many needs—high poverty, 34 percent are English-learners, 14 percent are both English-learners and have special needs. We cannot address all those needs during the school day.”
In an early evaluation of NAZA, the American Institutes for Research found “consistent evidence” that higher after-school attendance, particularly of programs rated as high-quality, was associated with small boosts to students’ math and science grades in 2012-13 and fewer discipline problems during the school day.
“The value of data sharing isn’t just about gaining knowledge but about collaboration,” Hansen said. “Data is the magnet that brings people together under a shared understanding of what needs to be done.”
Coverage of after-school learning opportunities is supported in part by a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
[Read more at Education Week]
Before Amazon’s announcement earlier this month to bring an operations hub to Nashville, college leaders rallied for months to sell the company on the city’s workforce training.
Belmont University’s Bob Fisher told the tech giant last year that there would be a collective effort from universities throughout Middle Tennessee to train future Amazon workers.
“Vanderbilt, Lipscomb and Tennessee State University are all valuable assets,” Fisher said, adding there are also other numerous colleges dotting the area.
With Amazon bringing thousands of jobs to Nashville, Fisher said the company won’t be able to fill those in a day.
“We will have to help train workers,” he said. “We can fill that need.”
Indeed, for Amazon to find the as many as 5,000 workers to bring to the downtown Nashville Yards development, college leaders will need to figure out how to adjust to, sustain and support the company’s workforce needs now and beyond.
That might mean colleges providing new programs or specialized job training for newly recruited Amazon employees. College leaders are unclear what types of programs they might need to add, but it could include technology and management programs.
Leaders of the area’s largest institutions agree that the influx of jobs — the largest single jobs announcement in state history — presents an exciting challenge for their schools and plenty of opportunity for students.
Each is working to understand its role as Amazon sets up shop within the city in 2019.
“As part of the process and putting together this application, it was not about one single institution, but about working together,” Nashville State Community College President Shanna Jackson said. “We are not just asking what we need as colleges but trying to come to the table as a partner. We want to deliver what Amazon needs.”
Amazon plans to recruit here and abroad
The announcement last week, while a tremendous investment in Nashville and Tennessee, was a third-place prize in the highly watched and competitive process to find Amazon’s new headquarters.
Amazon, based in Seattle, announced in September 2017 it was seeking a second headquarters location. Nashville was a top 20 finalist, but the company split the “HQ2” grand prize between northern Virginia and New York City.
The Nashville operations hub represents a $230 million investment from the company. Amazon plans to recruit jobs that will include management and tech-focused positions, including software developers, with earnings expected to average $150,000 a year.
Amazon is expected to recruit locally and abroad.
A pathway to Amazon
Nashville State, Jackson said, is working on new programs that are geared toward the growing tech industry.
“I want a way to have current Nashvillians find a pathway into Amazon,” Jackson said. “We have an opportunity where we can start right now getting students ready.”
But the city must make headway in training tech workers. The city lags behind other major cities in its concentration of tech workers, falling outside the top 20 in the country, according to a Brookings Institution report.
Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos said the investment by the company is one that promises to enhance the energy and spirit of an already thriving city but also signals new possibilities for students.
“We are proud to welcome our new neighbors and look forward to working with the Amazon team to unlock new opportunities and find creative ways to benefit our shared community,” Zeppos said.
And other area schools are ready to do their part.
Middle Tennessee State University was involved in the talks to bring Amazon to the city and President Sidney McPhee said the school’s supply chain management and internet technology programs drew interest. The school is also a large supplier of employees, McPhee said, graduating about 4,000 students a year.
But McPhee said with a growing number of Nashville-area tech jobs, the school must expand its programs. MTSU is considering a technology-focused school with its Data Science Institute as part of the offerings.
“While there is a challenge, MTSU and other area schools are up to meeting the needs of industry,” McPhee said.
Preparing for the unknown
Other college leaders also welcome the challenge.
Lipscomb University’s Susan Galbreath, senior vice president of strategy, said there are still plenty of questions to be answered about what jobs Amazon is bringing to Nashville.
While the school hasn’t had any formal talks with the company, Galbreath said the school is well positioned to meet Amazon’s needs.
Lipscomb’s tech offerings are growing, including its College of Computing and Technology. And the school offers programs in business management.
“It’s a large employment pool, and one university won’t meet all the company’s needs,” Galbreath said. “But we very much will do the best we can.”
Belmont’s Fisher also said he’s unsure what types of jobs Amazon will be looking to hire, but said he can imagine numerous, including management, marketing and public relations. But getting students ready is going to take a village, he said.
“We are in some ways a fragmented group,” Fisher said of the area’s colleges. “There are some large and some small, and we go about problems in a different way. But here is a case where we can get together on the front end and talk about what we are going to do now that we landed this fish.”
[Read more at the Tennessean]Read More