Tag Archives: education

Stand for Children PAC dumps $700K into TN campaigns

Stand for Children, a political action committee focused on promotion on charter schools, sent more than $700,000 from its Portland, Ore., headquarters and then spent it attacking or supporting Tennessee candidates from July 1 through July 25, according to the group’s new disclosure statement.

The Tennessean has a report on the disclosure, focusing on $200,000 spent in Metro Nashville School Board races. But it also notes:

The organization also spent big in Republican primaries at the statehouse level.

Having already spent more than $65,000 on advertising and mailers in June in support of Sam Whitson — who’s running against embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham for a seat representing parts of Williamson County — the group spent another roughly $15,000 on fliers in July for Whitson. It also spent roughly $9,000 on ads and mailers attacking Durham.

They spent similar amounts either attacking Reps. Courtney L. Rogers and Judd Matheny or supporting their GOP primary opponents, Beth Cox and Will Lockhart.

Some further notes: It appears the biggest beneficiary is Christy Sigler, seeking the House District 34 seat vacated by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale. She’s listed as supported in independent expenditures totaling more than $120,000.

The blog Rocky Top Politics, published anonymously with a strong Republican right-wing inclination, had a recent post — before the new disclosure — declaring Stand for Children the “new Advance Tennessee.” Advance Tennessee got widespread conservative criticism in 2014 after six-figure spending in legislative races — the money coming mostly from supporters of Gov. Bill Haslam. Advance Tennessee dissolved in January of this year, according to the Registry of Election Finance.

TN student testing time reduced by 30 percent

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Education officials say changes in standardized testing in Tennessee are expected to reduce testing time for students and teachers by about 30 percent.

The state has cut the first part of spring standardized testing to create only one assessment window at the end of the school year, The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/2a3kAh5) reported.

The changes stem from the Tennessee Department of Education’s two-year, $60 million contract with Minnesota-based Questar Assessment, which was finalized Thursday.

The changes mean that in grades 3-8, students will spend about three-and-a-half hours less time on state-mandated standardized testing each year. High school students will also see a cut in year-end tests with a typical 11th-grader seeing about the same reduction in testing time. Continue reading

State picks Questar for new student testing contract

News release from state Department of Education
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced today that the department intends to award Questar, a national leader in large-scale assessment, a contract to develop and administer Tennessee’s annual state assessments for the 2016-17 school year.

In addition, McQueen announced that Tennessee will phase in online administration over multiple years to ensure state, district, and vendor technology readiness. For the upcoming school year, the state assessment for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar to provide an online option for high school End of Course exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for their high school students. Continue reading

Nashville suing state for more school funding, too

The Metro Nashville Public Schools board voted Tuesday evening to sue the state for a greater share of education funding, reports The Tennessean. Members said Tennessee is not providing enough money to help teach English to children for whom it is a second language.

The board approved the lawsuit, with six members in favor and two — Elissa Kim and Mary Pierce — abstaining. Board member Jo Ann Brannon was unable to attend the meeting.

The subject of suing the state for education funds has been a topic for the past year, and the issue came to a head after Metro Law Director Jon Cooper sent a letter June 1 asking the state why Nashville received less money for its English language learners, or ELL, this year.

In a June 3 response, Maryanne Durski, the Tennessee Department of Education’s local finance office director, notified Cooper that the funding allocation through the fiscal year general appropriations act provided adequate funds.

Board Vice Chairwoman Anna Shepherd said the letter was the last straw for her.

“This is state law, and they are just being flippant about it,” she said. “And I don’t think this is a flippant topic.”

Board member Will Pinkston, who has advocated to sue the state for the past year, said Nashville schools have the highest ELL population in the state and the district has a unique opportunity to teach those students.

“The idea that these schools — which literally sit in the shadow of the state Capitol — are getting intentionally short-shrifted by the state is frankly maddening,” he said. “Local taxpayers are doing our part, and the state Department of Education sends us a blow-off letter.”

…With the district suing the state for education funding, it joins Shelby County Schools and seven Hamilton County-area districts in their pursuit of more Basic Education Program funds.

Legislators grill education commissioner on TNReady foulup

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen spent a lot of time Wednesday explaining what went wrong with the state’s $108 million TNReady contract for online testing of public school students, reports The Tennessean.

McQueen said she hopes to have a new contract in place within weeks… the department will not need any approval from lawmakers for the contract.

That alarmed Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, one of several lawmakers on the Fiscal Review Committee who repeatedly referred to the past year’s testing problems as a “debacle” and pressed McQueen and Mike Perry, Tennessee’s chief procurement officer, to explain what went wrong.

“My personal opinion is $105 million is a lot of money for an agency to be making a decision on without public scrutiny,” Gilmore said, citing the need for transparency after such a massive failure.

Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan, said he had received a lot of feedback from constituents in his home district, who hold lawmakers accountable for the testing problems.

“We can’t be proud of this,” Wirgau said. “My question is: Did we move too fast making this transition? And now that we have had this debacle, are we trying to move too fast again?”

In response to repeated questions about what went wrong, McQueen outlined in detail the missteps leading to the canceled contract.

…”We believed by Feb. 8 most of those fixes had been done,” McQueen said. Then, she said, “multiple new problems” emerged on Feb. 8.

“At the end of the day, this was about a vendor who said they could do certain things and could not do those things,” she said.

ACLU files civil rights complaint against transgender bathroom policy

News release from American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee
NASHVILLE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stating that Sumner County Schools’ policy prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity violates the requirements of federal anti-discrimination law and the United States Constitution. The complaint was filed on behalf of a transgender high school freshman and her parents.

“No student should have to endure the stigma and marginalization of being segregated from the rest of the student body,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Abby R. Rubenfeld of the Rubenfeld Law Office, PC. “These kinds of blanket bans prevent transgender students from being treated fairly and equally at school. This policy is not only misguided, it’s a direct violation of Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The complaint was filed on behalf of the Sumner County public high school student and her parents using pseudonyms, in order to avoid further stigmatization and bullying of the student because of the school district policy. The complaint seeks the Department of Education’s assistance in enforcing federal law regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools. Continue reading

Pearson gets contract to handle TNReady test scoring this year

Pearson Education has landed an $18.5 million contract with the state to score TNReady assessments this year, reports The Tennessean. The previous vendor company had been fired and state officials took advantage of a law that says the state can enter into non-competitive bidding in cases of emergencies arising from any unforeseen cause.

“After we terminated the contract with Measurement Inc. on April 27, we began quickly collaborating with state central procurement in securing an emergency vendor,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “It is usually done with someone that has prior experience in the state.”

Pearson previously administered the state’s standardized tests from 2003-14 and is used in Tennessee for an optional test in kindergarten through second grade.

“Pearson, known for scoring NAEP (The National Assessment of Educational Progress) for three decades, is currently partnering with 25 states across the country, including Kentucky, Virginia, and Indiana,” McQueen said in a letter to schools directors.

The company was also set to be the state’s test vendor through the PARCC Consortium, which administers a Common Core State Standards-aligned test, before lawmaker backlash led to the five-year, $108 million contract with Measurement Inc.

But that move didn’t work out for the state after Measurement Inc.’s online testing platform in February couldn’t meet the testing demand. The state switched to paper tests, but the company then couldn’t deliver all of the materials needed.

The state canceled its contract with the company in April and has paid about $1.6 million of the contract for the company to develop the tests. The state was expected to pay about $30 million of the $108 million contract with Measurement Inc. to score tests.

“The state budgeted a total of $30 million for Measurement Inc. this year; therefore at this point, we anticipate being well under budget on assessment (costs),” Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Ball said in an email.

Note: A Department of Education handout on Pearson’s scoring process is HERE. An email sent by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to school directors across the state, as provided to media by her office, is below. Continue reading

Rep. Daniel’s ‘social justice’ comments criticized by Democrats, GOP opponents

State Rep. Martin Daniel’s complaints about the civil rights movement as a theme in a Knox County Schools fourth-grade reading exercise have ignited debate on social media and drawn criticism from Democrats and from his Republican opponents in the Aug. 4 state primary.

Further from Georgiana Vines:

“It is unbelievable that Rep. Martin Daniel wants to roll back the clock to pre-civil rights era,” Knox County Democratic Party Chairman Cameron Brooks said… “Saying that we should not teach this historic (civil rights) movement to our children is outrageous. Tennessee Republicans once again want to force their extremist ideas on our youth by erasing our country’s rich history.”

Daniel wrote to the Knox County school board — with copies sent to state education officials and Gov. Bill Haslam — that the reading exercise in his daughter’s class at Sequoyah Elementary School deals with “social injustice.” He asked whether it was appropriate for a fourth-grader and said he was “shocked” by the content.

..Former state Rep. Steve Hall, who is running in the GOP primary to regain the 18th District House seat from Daniel, said he thought the class exercise was appropriate.

“Maybe I didn’t realize it was in a reading class, but we don’t instruct now in just reading. It’s not like back when I was a kid. As long as it’s a truthful statement or could have been, it probably was a fairly accurate statement. I think our children need to be aware of that kind of stuff,” Hall said.

Another opponent, James Corcoran, referenced Daniel’s remarks in March during a state House debate on a proposed “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act,” in which Daniel said campuses could be used to recruit for any group — even ISIS, “so long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus.” The bill was removed from consideration for the rest of this year.

“So, the incumbent that would have protected ISIS’s ‘right’ to recruit at public universities wants to fight against fourth-graders learning about civil rights,” Corcoran wrote on Facebook.
Continue reading

Legislator protests ‘social justice’ theme in 4th grade textbook

State Rep. Martin Daniel has complained to education officials and Gov. Bill Haslam about a fourth-grade reading exercise that incorporates themes from the civil rights movement into English and language arts activities, reports Georgiana Vines.

Daniel, a Republican representing the 18th District in the West and North Knoxville areas, said the exercise deals with “social injustice” and asks whether this is appropriate for children at a young age.

The exercise describes a student whose textbook is “worn and missing a dozen pages.” The student is in a black community where schools receive old, damaged books while those in white areas get new textbooks. Through a court case, the school board agrees to revise the system for providing materials to schools.

In the exercise, the fourth-grade student is asked to explain the cause (why something happens) and effect (what happens).

Daniel has a fourth-grade daughter at Sequoyah Elementary School who brought the exercise home. He said he was “shocked” at the content. Otherwise he is “very happy” with the school, he said.

He discussed his concern with Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre, who wrote to Daniel to say the unit was part of a series, “Reading Street,” adopted by the Tennessee Board of Education upon recommendation of the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission and of the Knox County school board “through a vigorous process that includes teacher recommendations and opportunities for public review and input.”

Daniel wrote to the county school board — with copies to Haslam, the chairs of the state House and Senate education committees, the state textbook commission and the state Board of Education — that he is concerned the subject matter “subtly, but unnecessarily, injects a dose of ‘social justice’ into our impressionable youth.”

Note: The Nashville Scene’s Cari Wade Gervin offers critical commentary, more comments from Daniel and a link to the full letter.

TN featured in AP report on migrant children barred from schools

By Garance Burke and Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Candelario Jimon Alonzo came to the U.S. dreaming of becoming something more than what seemed possible along the rutted roads of his hometown in Guatemala’s highlands. This was his chance: He could earn a U.S. high school education and eventually become a teacher.

Instead, the 16-year-old spends most days alone in the tumbledown Memphis house where he lives with his uncle, leaving only occasionally to play soccer and pick up what English he can from his friends.

Local school officials have kept Jimon out of the classroom since he tried to enroll in January. Attorneys say Jimon and at least a dozen other migrant youth fleeing violence in Central America have been blocked from going to Memphis high schools because officials contend the teens lacked transcripts or were too old to graduate on time.

The Associated Press has found that in at least 35 districts in 14 states, hundreds of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been discouraged from enrolling in schools or pressured into what advocates and attorneys argue are separate but unequal alternative programs — essentially an academic dead end, and one that can violate federal law.

Instead of enrolling Jimon and the other minors in high school, their cash-strapped district routed them to an adult school in East Memphis that offered English classes a few hours a week. But before Jimon could even register, the state shut the GED and English-language programs over concerns that few students were graduating, effectively ending his chances for a formal education.
Continue reading