By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Democratic leaders said Wednesday that they plan to talk with Gov. Bill Haslam about expanding pre-kindergarten classes after the state’s education commissioner said he doesn’t plan to request funding for an expansion.
Commissioner Kevin Huffman spoke earlier this week during the governor’s budget hearings. Haslam has asked state departments to develop plans for a 5 percent cut in spending as a fallback.
The Commercial Appeal reported Huffman said expanding enrollment in schools and inflation will require an additional $2 million in routine cost increases.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner told The Associated Press on Wednesday that pre-K is needed and that he plans to talk to the governor and consider legislation to expand it.
“Pre-K has been successful here in Tennessee,” Turner said. “I think it’s time to expand it again. I think you’ll see legislation coming from us to do that, and I’m sure we’ll talk to the governor about it.”
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s high school graduation rate is up and assessment tests taken by elementary and middle school students improved last year, according to data released Thursday by the Education Department.
The figures show the graduation rate for the class of 2012 increased from 85.5 percent to 87.2 percent, and that elementary and middle school students grew in 23 out of 24 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program measures.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he’s pleased with the improvements, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“We feel good about our progress last year, but we also feel there is a long way to go before we would feel close to satisfied by the way things are going,” Huffman said.
For instance, he said many school districts did not successfully narrow achievement gaps, and there were declines among particular student subgroups.
Huffman said one gap he plans to focus on closing this year is the one between students with disabilities and the students who are in special education, and their peers.
State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has visited all 136 Tennessee school districts and now has a goal of visiting 10,000 teachers in settings where they can ask questions, reports The Tennessean. And he has reorganized the education department’s regional offices into a school district support network instead of eight offices that tell districts whether they’re complying with state policy.
“I’ve become obsessed with how do you spread the best practices on the ground?” Huffman said.
…He constantly sees districts of the same size with the same issues and same amount of money, but one will have a better academic record than the other.
“People are reinventing the wheel; the connection (communication between the districts) has to be made,” he said.
About three months ago, Huffman reorganized the eight regional offices and hired new leaders who meet once a week to help districts meet their goals.
Their evaluations will be based on whether the districts in their region have met academic goals, so they have a vested interest in helping as much as possible, Huffman said.
“Historically, they focused on compliance and would go and make sure the rules were followed and the paperwork was done,” Huffman added. “People often incentivize the wrong actions. We’re trying to get into the support business.”
He thinks districts will react favorably to the plan because of the gratitude they showed during his visits.
In some districts, Huffman would be surprised when he walked through a door to find 100 or more community members ready to ask questions. In other districts, it was top central office administrators and principals.
“Tennessee is still one of those places where shaking a hand and looking people in the eyes is important,” he said.
A “task force” appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam is supposed to draft final recommendations this month on how a Tennessee school-voucher program should operate, reports Richard Locker.
The “Governor’s Task Force on Opportunity Scholarships” held its fourth meeting Wednesday and although differences among its members continue, its chairman, state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, made it clear that the panel’s charge from the governor is not to debate whether to have a voucher program but rather how a program should operate — its legal parameters — if lawmakers create one.
Key issues include when to launch a program; whether to put family-income limits on participation; whether to limit participation to students from low-performing public schools; the size of the “scholarships” — the amount of public money diverted to private schools per student; whether to start a program on a limited, experimental “pilot” basis in a few districts; whether to allow for-profit private schools to participate; and what kind of accountability measures should be put in place, if any, for the private schools accepting the public money.
In addition to limiting eligibility to low-income students, the bill senators approved in 2011 would have limited the program initially to Tennessee’s four largest counties, Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton, on a trial basis. School districts in those counties have formed a Coalition of Large School Systems, which has opposed vouchers because they divert public funding away from their districts and to private schools.
Advocates of vouchers say they promote school choice by allowing students from low- and moderate-income families to attend private schools that will accept them.
Despite the governor’s assignment for the task force, he said he’s still not sure if he will fully support a voucher plan. “A lot of it depends on what it looks like,” he said.
Long before he became Tennessee’s education commissioner, Kevin Huffman penned an article on charter schools that a reader points out as interesting in light of his recent decision to withhold $3.4 million from Nashville’s schools because the local school board rejected a Great Hearts Academy application.
A key reason for the Metro Nashville board’s rejection of Great Hearts application was concern that it would be lacking in diversity. Huffman’s 1998 article for the October, 1998, New York University Law Review focuses on the possibility of litigation over school choice legislation.
In doing so, Huffman observes that a charter school can be designed to effectively exclude enrollment of poor students, either by location, which without provisions for transportation restricts availability to those in the neighborhood, or by limiting dissemination of information on the schools to the children of “quick-acting, better-informed parents… leaving children of poor and ill-informed parents behind, consigned to suffering the deterioration of neighborhood schools.”
“In such a scenario, the children of informed and quick-acting parents have a choice while those “out of the loop” have no choice at all,” he writes.
Here’s the article’s “conclusion” section:
Charter schools will play a prominent role in public education during the coming decade. They suit the political agendas of many and hold great promise for developing innovative approaches to public education.
Charter schools have the potential to reinvigorate the public schools in districts that desperately need a boost. However, as states quickly move forward with charter school legislation, they risk establishing a process that merely provides further opportunities for well-informed families while ghettoizing the poor and uninformed.
The movement toward deregulation allows schools to exclude the neediest students, either through explicit policies or simply through lack of adequate information. .Ultimately, plaintiffs will have a difficult time showing that charter schools or state enabling acts violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment….However, state constitutions and successful school finance litigation in state courts indicate that state challenges to charter school legislation have a higher chance of success.
Most significantly, several policy changes would allow states to mandate a strong, autonomous charter school movement without depriving access to the schools. Greater state oversight of admissions policies and dissemination of information would close potential avenues of litigation while maintaining the legitimacy of charter schools.
These changes would add some costs to charter school legislation, but they would ultimately allow charter schools to reach greater numbers of at-risk students.
It would be a terrible waste of resources if charter schools were consistently tied up in litigation. It would be an even greater waste, though, if the charter school movement failed to reach the neediest public school students.
Meanwhile, Joey Garrison has written a detailed analysis of people and politics involved in the Great Hearts flap.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is calling last year’s student performance at Union County public schools’ new, privately run Tennessee Virtual Academy “unacceptable,” reports Andy Sher.
“Its performance is demonstrably poor,” Huffman said in an interview last week about the online academy, which under a 2011 law passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly began operations in the 2011-2012 school year, enrolling 1,783 students from across the state.
The school is operated by K12 Inc., the nation’s largest publicly traded online education company, under contract with the tiny Union County Public Schools system. State taxpayers are footing the bill through Tennessee’s Basic Education Program funding formula. This fall’s enrollment is some 3,000 K-8 students.
K12 officials blame last year’s performance on a variety of factors, including students having to adapt to online learning and the fact that more than half the students started the school late.
Still, the academy’s head, Josh Williams, said improvements the school is taking will raise student performance.
“We do have many plans in place that we are doing this year and have shared this [with] the state,” he said in an email.
Students attending the academy sit at home and learn via their computers, which K12 provides free to low-income children. The school has boosted the number of its teachers from 60 to 121 in response to the higher enrollment.
Union County Trustee Gina Buckner said that as of July 1, her office had responded to K12 Inc.’s 2011-2012 invoices and paid the company $5.04 million out of state funds sent to the Union County school system.
“I think there still may be one more payment,” said Buckner, who noted it’s difficult to say how much that would be because the budget submitted to county officials by the Union County Public Schools system didn’t address the issue.
…Under K12’s contract with Union County, the company gets 96 percent of the state portion of the BEP funding. Union County, which has struggled with local funding for years, gets 4 percent as the fiscal agent
Sen. Andy Berke is calling on lawmakers to conduct a “thorough review” of a for-profit virtual school operating in a Northeast Tennessee school district, citing state student testing results he charges show “dismal” results, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
Berke, D-Chattanooga, is a frequent critic of K12 Inc.’s Tennessee Virtual Academy, which in the 2011-12 school year opened its online school under contract with the Union County Public Schools system.
According to best estimates from K12, about 1,800 K-8 students from across the state signed up last school year to sit at their home computers and take courses online with support from K12 teachers. The company operates in states across the country.
In a letter Wednesday to Senate Education Committee Chairman Delores Gresham, Berke says state Education Department testing data for the 2011-12 school year show Tennessee Virtual Academy students “performed in the bottom 11 percent of schools statewide.
“As the [school] is advertising on television — and the state anticipates shifting millions of additional tax dollars to [the school] this school year — it is important that we examine K12 Inc.’s performance,” wrote Berke, whose efforts to require an audit of K12’s Tennessee school went nowhere in the Republican-controlled General Assembly last session.
Berke said in an interview Thursday that “if we’re going to use taxpayer dollars … we should ask for real achievement. K12 doesn’t give it to us.”
Gresham, R-Somerville, was the primary Senate sponsor of the 2011 law authorizing local school systems to contract with for-profit online schools. She did not respond Thursday to a reporter’s request to comment on Berke’s criticisms.
Tennessee Virtual Academy’s head, Josh Williams, said in an email that 2011-12 was the school’s first year of operation, suggesting it was unfair to judge results solely on that basis.
“All students were in their first year and most transferred from another district in the state,” he said. “The modality for learning and the school itself were new to every student.”
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, is asking state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to conduct an independent review of the operations of a for-profit virtual school operating under contract with the Union County school system, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.
In a letter to Huffman, sent Wednesday, Berke cites a study released this month by the National Education Policy Center that is critical of K12 Inc.’s national operations based on 2010-11 data.
K12 officials, which opened an online K-8 school with Union County for the 2011-12 school year, take issue with the center’s study. Company spokesman Jeff Kwitowski called it “deeply flawed” and filled with “numerous errors and wrong assumptions.”
Berke, a persistent critic of K12, noted in the letter that Tennessee’s First to the Top Act of 2010, which he co-sponsored, targeted several areas of education reform, including teachers and leaders, data, standards and assessment as well as “school turnaround.”
“The findings in the report indicate that schools operated by K12 Inc. fail in each of these four areas,” Berke said.
…”It will also be subject to the same accountability as other schools” such as priority and focus, Gauthier said. “So when we have school level results” which are likely this fall, “it will [be] part of that puzzle.”
“We think Sen. Berke’s request has merit, and we intend to look closely at the results and report back to him,” she said. “We don’t think AYP is the appropriate indicator, but we do think that we should look at value-added scores and overall achievement scores, and will do so in the coming weeks.”
K12 said the National Education Policy report “provides no evidence backing up this claim” that students managed by K12 are “falling behind” and “more likely to fall behind” in reading and math scores compared to brick-and-mortar schools.
A federal court judge Wednesday denied the City of Memphis’ request for an immediate order to force Shelby County election officials to accept the new public library photo identification cards for voting purposes.
Further from Richard Locker:
However, U.S. Dist. Judge Kevin H. Sharp did schedule a full hearing on the issue for Aug. 2 and also encouraged state officials to notify election officials that they should not discourage people with the new library photo cards from casting provisional ballots in the Aug. 2 elections and its early voting period, which ends Saturday.
Lawyers for the city told the judge that they took two people with the library cards to vote at three different early voting precincts and they were discouraged from casting provisional ballots at all three but were finally allowed to vote after about 20 minutes of discussion at each location.
Deputy state Atty. Gen. Steve Hart acknowledged that out of 35,963 early votes cast in Shelby County, only two have been by provisional ballot.
But people who cast provisional ballots must go to the election commission within two business days after the election — in this case, by Aug. 6 — to present valid photo IDs as required by state law this year for the first time, or else the votes will not be counted.
The City of Memphis and a Memphis resident, Daphne Turner-Golden, filed a lawsuit in federal court here Tuesday arguing that the new Memphis-Shelby County Public library photo ID cards should be valid for voting purposes because they are issued by a “state entity,” as required in Tennessee’s new voter photo ID law, which went into effect this year.
“The library is a state entity. The municipality is a state entity,” Deputy City Atty. Regina Morrison Newman told reporters after the 50-minute hearing. The plaintiffs asked for a temporary restraining order to force the election commission to accept the library cards as a valid photo ID for voting purposes.
Judge Sharp denied that request, saying the plaintiffs did not prove there would be immediate and irreparable harm if the order was not issued. He said that as long as people are allowed to cast provisional ballots until a full hearing can be held Aug. 2 — election day — whatever harm there is won’t be irreparable.
But the judge also added that he is “concerned” that the Tennessee legislature “decided to fix a problem that doesn’t appear to exist and made it more difficult for people to vote.”
Note: A statement from Secretary of State Tre Hargett is below.
Three Tennessee 3rd House District GOP candidates addressed jobs, tourism and K-12 education during a Bristol Chamber of Commerce forum Thursday night, reports Hank Hayes.
Blountville businessman Timothy Hill, former Mountain City Mayor Kevin Parsons and Bluff City Republican Thomas White fielded questions drawn from a glass bowl during the event held at Bristol Motor Speedway.
All three are seeking to win the Aug. 2 GOP primary, defeat Democrat Leah Kirk in the November general election, and take the state House seat held by retiring state Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City.
When asked how they would strengthen K-12 education, Parsons indicated he favored tying teacher pay to performance.
“I think more needs to be looked at in what the teachers are actually producing,” Parsons explained.
White said the state needs to attract higher quality teachers.
“They should shine like a new penny. … Unfortunately we can’t afford to pay for that,” he said.
Then White changed the subject to talk against red light traffic cameras.
“In 2008, all the Democrats and all the Republicans decided we needed red light cameras. … Then during election time in 2010, the same fellows that made the law decided someone had implemented a bad law and wanted to get to the bottom of it. … I thought that since this is an election year, they would want to look at it again. … To me, it’s still a major issue,” White said.
Hill stuck to the K-12 question and said lawmakers need to continue to look at teacher evaluations.
“We’ve got to look at bold ideas where the money is sent with where the children go (to school),” Hill said. “We don’t need to be afraid to look at those types of options. … We need to look at vocational training. … A university education is not for everybody.”