Posts

Haslam Wants to ‘Hold Our Place in Line’ for Federal Pre-K Expansion Dollars

The Tennessee Department of Education is sending a letter of intent to apply for a federal pre-kindergarten expansion grant. But it’s just a placeholder to ensure access to future federal funds, Gov. Bill Haslam said this week.

Haslam said he’s still not ready to start advocating the state expand its existing pre-k program, which now serves about 18,000 mostly lower-income kids.

His administration’s letter to the Obama administration is “basically a way for us to save our place for an application down the road,” the governor told reporters in Knoxville Wednesday.

The announcement that the state intended to apply for the funds comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s visit to Tennessee as a part of his 2014 Back to School Bus Tour to discuss education progress in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. One topic discussed at several stops was the recently announced expansion grants, funded as part of President Obama’s “Pre-k For All” initiative.

At an event in Chattanooga this month, Duncan said he hopes Tennessee will sustain its impressive climb in education quality. He said applying for the federal pre-k grants would bolster that effort, and “could mean as much as $70 million over the next four years” for the Volunteer State.

Haslam said he won’t be inclined to push for expanding pre-k in Tennessee until the final results are in from a Vanderbilt study on the long-run benefits that early-education provides students.  “You look at  academic progress that’s being made and the social progress that’s being made by the child, and then you make a decision based on that,” he said.

The governor said he’s “ultimately a data-driven person.” If the results of the study call into question pre-k’s overall effectiveness, he indicated he’ll be considering whether education funds would be used better elsewhere — such as improving teacher pay or expanding funding for higher education.

Those results are expected sometime in 2015.

“First, we get the date off the study, see the impact, and then decide, in a realm of possibilities for the state to fund, Should that take priority?” Haslam said.

Stewart Criticizes House GOP for Opposition to Federal Expansion of Pre-K in TN

Press release from the Office of Tennessee State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville; December 19, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) released the following statement following news that the Republican leadership in the House was going to oppose a federally funded expansion of Pre-K in Tennessee:

“Even in these hyper-political times, yesterday’s announcement by House Republican Leaders that they planned to give up $64.3 million in federal tax dollars freely available to expand Pre-K came as a shock and a disappointment.

“Sadly, Tennessee Republicans appear to be taking the lead from their national leaders, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who have made a profession of putting their narrow political needs before the good of the nation as a whole. Here we have a program – Pre-K – that has bi-partisan support and that has proven to be highly effective. Here in Nashville, Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute, working with the Tennessee Department of Education’s Division of Curriculum, recently conducted a “rigorous, independent evaluation” of Pre-K in Tennessee. The key finding? “[T[he Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten program produces significant improvements in the academic skills generally regarded as important for school readiness compared to the gains made by comparable children who did not participate in the program.”

“At one time, Tennessee leaders, whether Republicans under Governors Lamar Alexander and Don Sundquist or Democrats under Democratic Governors Ned Ray McWherter and Phil Bredesen, would not have thought twice about putting good policy before politics and bringing these millions of dollars in to help our neediest school children. What a disappointment that the same radical spirit that has so undermined our government in Washington is now seeping into Tennessee politics.

“Those of us elected by Tennesseans should remember that these federal funds are our citizens’ tax dollars at work. The money that we send to Washington can either be put to work in Tennessee or put to work in other states. Already this year we’ve seen the Republicans refuse billions of dollars in healthcare funding by refusing to expand Medicaid – a program that is already helping thousands of working families and seniors just over the border in Kentucky. Now they give up millions that would allow over seven thousand Tennessee kids a better start in life. Apparently, handing out our citizens’ money to other states is the New Math among Tennessee Republicans. It doesn’t add up – unless you care more about your radical base than about doing what’s right for Tennessee school children and working families.”

Vandy Poll Shows Tennesseans Doubt U.S. Gov’t’s Competence to Run Health Exchanges

Press release from Vanderbilt Univerity; December 12, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A new poll from Vanderbilt University shows that Tennessee voters prefer that the state run the online health care exchange required by the federal Affordable Health Care Act, with Republicans more adamant about the issue than voters as a whole.

That sentiment reflected by the Vanderbilt Poll conflicts with the actions of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. He informed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dec. 10 that Tennessee is declining to create and run the exchange, an online marketplace where state residents can shop for health coverage. That means the federal government will step in and do it.

“If a health care exchange must be created, the voters of Tennessee place more trust in the state than the federal government to do it,” said John Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt. “And Republicans are even more trusting of the state to run the health care exchange than Democrats. That may be a surprise to some, but it makes sense since Republicans have long had more faith in state governments than Democrats.”

The online exchange question was one of more than 45 asked of 829 registered voters using landlines and cell phones from Nov. 27 to Dec. 9 by the Vanderbilt Poll. Among all Tennesseans, 53 percent wanted the state to run the exchange and just 33 percent the federal government. Seventy-three percent of Republicans wanted the state to run the health care exchange, compared with 31 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents.

The poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Voters were also asked about a wide variety of other issues likely to impact the legislature during its next session, which begins in January. The database of findings will be available online at the website of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt.

“Elections can only reveal which candidates voters prefer,” said Josh Clinton, associate professor of political science and co-director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt. “The Vanderbilt Poll gives us a unique opportunity to explore what the voters think about the many important issues that confront our state and country. The poll offers extraordinary insights into what voters think and care about.”

Among the findings:

  • Tennesseans overwhelmingly want elected leaders to work with members of the opposing party even if it means they need to compromise on their values and priorities
  • Tennesseans give high marks to their U.S. senators and Gov. Haslam
  • Tennesseans are prepared to support tax increases for wealthy Americans, but not an increase in the eligibility age for Medicare
  • Tennesseans continue to see the economy as the top priority of the state, with education and health care vying for second place. Social issues such as guns, immigration, and gay rights are a distant fourth
  • Tennesseans strongly support charter schools
  • Tennesseans rate their local public schools higher than they do public schools in general
  • Tennesseans believe public school teachers are not paid enough money
  • Tennesseans narrowly support allowing individuals to carry guns in their vehicles while on their employer’s private property
  • Tennesseans overwhelmingly oppose having the state tell private entities how to operate and favor private entities being free to make their own policies.
  • Tennesseans favor letting citizens choose judges rather than the governor, but nearly a third of the state has not thought much about this issue
  • Tennesseans overwhelmingly oppose adopting “closed” primaries
  • The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt aims to foster an engaging intellectual environment to explore how political institutions shape political debate, ameliorate conflicts and influence public police.

For more information, see the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions website at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/csdi/.

TCPR: Many Benefits Would Result from Restricting ‘Lawsuit Abuse’

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, March 1, 2011:

NASHVILLE, TN – Tennesseans can expect to see job growth, more affordable health care insurance, greater access to health care (particularly in rural counties), decreases in property/casualty rates, and a more predictable civil justice system should lawmakers pass much-needed lawsuit abuse reform, a panel of legal experts recently stated at a public education forum held on the campus of Vanderbilt University.

The three-member panel of James Blumstein, a law professor at Vanderbilt University; Ted Frank, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute; and Charlie Ross, a former State Senator in Mississippi, presented their perspectives on how Tennessee businesses and citizens would benefit from lawsuit abuse reform, or tort reform. Their experiences are based on before-and-after findings in states where reform has passed, as well as academic research discussed in a newly released white paper called Lawsuit Abuse Reform in the Volunteer State.

Panelists agreed that Tennessee’s current civil justice system is both inconsistent and unsustainable. Senator Ross, who successfully led lawsuit abuse reform efforts in Mississippi, said “Reform brought more predictability to our civil court system. Our objective was never to take away the right of someone to file a lawsuit; our objective was to create more balance, and we did that.”

Other key points included:

  • Based on reforms in other states, lawsuit abuse reform could result in 30,000 jobs a year or 577 jobs each week in Tennessee.
  • Reform could mean 67,000 more Tennesseans would have health insurance.
  • Reform means greater access to medical care, particularly in rural counties.
  • Reform could lead to legal settlements that are more in line with actual harm done.

Representatives for Focus577, a recently launched campaign to educate citizens about the need for reform in civil lawsuits, say lawsuit abuse reform is quickly becoming a hot topic for the Tennessee General Assembly. The goal of Focus577, named for the potential of 577 new jobs created each week through reform, is to educate Tennesseans of the positive legal and economic impact that lawsuit abuse reform has had in other states.

February’s forum was sponsored by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan think tank committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee. For a detailed account of the forum, see the Tennessee Report at http://tnreport.com/2011/02/talking-tort-reform.

Through research and advocacy, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research promotes policy solutions grounded in the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government. For more information about lawsuit abuse reform, visit www.focus577.org or www.tennesseepolicy.org.

Vandy NCPI Study Questions Merit of Teacher Bonus Pay

Press Release from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College National Center on Performance Incentives, Sept. 21, 2010:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, does not raise student test scores, according to a new study issued today by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development in partnership with the RAND Corporation.

This and other findings from a three-year experiment – the first scientific study of performance pay ever conducted in the United States – were released at a conference on evaluating and rewarding educator effectiveness hosted by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt.

Paying teachers bonuses based on their performance has been a controversial issue nationwide since the 1950s, but until now the concept has never been scientifically researched.

“We tested the most basic and foundational question related to performance incentives — Does bonus pay alone improve student outcomes? – and we found that it does not,” Matthew Springer, executive director of the National Center on Performance Incentives, said. “These findings should raise the level of the debate to test more nuanced solutions, many of which are being implemented now across the country, to reform teacher compensation and improve student achievement.”

The Project on Incentives in Teaching, called the POINT Experiment, took place over the 2007 – 2009 school years with participation by mathematics teachers in grades 5 through 8 in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Nearly 300 teachers, approximately 70 percent of all middle-school math teachers in Nashville’s public schools, volunteered to participate. The complete study, including setup and analysis, began in 2005 and ended in 2010.

POINT tested no other types of incentives or systems of support for the teachers, such as professional development or guidance on instructional practices – many of which have evolved over the five years since POINT began.

“We designed POINT in this manner not because we believed that an incentive system of this type is the most effective way to improve teaching performance, but because the idea of rewarding teachers on the basis of students’ test scores has gained such currency,” Springer said. “We sought a clean test of the basic proposition: If teachers know they will be rewarded for an increase in their students’ test scores, will test scores go up? We found that the answer to that question is no. That by no means implies that some other incentive plan would not be successful.”

Here’s how the POINT experiment worked:

  • Following a year of detailed project design by a multi-disciplinary team from Vanderbilt and RAND, all middle-school math teachers in Nashville were invited to volunteer for the experiment. Approximately 70 percent of all middle-school math teachers in Nashville’s public schools stepped forward to participate.
  • Approximately half of the nearly 300 volunteers were randomly assigned to a “treatment” group, in which they were eligible for bonuses of up to $15,000 per year on the basis of their students’ test-score gains on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP).
  • The other half were assigned to a “control” group not eligible for these bonuses. Teachers were evaluated based on an historical performance benchmark for MNPS teachers, not on competition with one another. All teachers in the treatment group had the chance to earn bonuses. (The names of participating teachers – and which group they were in – have been kept confidential by the research team.)
  • The annual bonus amounts were $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000. Over the course of the experiment, POINT paid out more than $1.27 million in bonuses. Overall, 33.6 percent of the original group received bonuses, with the average bonus being approximately $10,000.

Teacher attrition occurred during the experiment. About half of the 296 teachers who initially volunteered remained through the end of the third year. The teachers who left the study either left the school system, moved to other grades or stopped teaching mathematics. Only one participating teacher specifically asked to be removed from the experiment.

While there was no overall effect on student achievement across the entire treatment group, the researchers found a significant benefit for fifth graders in Year 2 and Year 3 of the experiment: fifth graders taught by teachers who earned bonuses did show gains in test scores. However, the effect did not carry over to sixth grade when students were tested the following year. Springer said this finding raises questions about what is different about fifth grade and what factors –student development, curriculum, teaching and classroom structure – may have played a role.

He also noted that implementation of POINT went smoothly, with no complaints from teachers about the calculation of bonuses, the payment of awards, bonuses they did or did not receive or the fairness of the process. This in itself is a significant finding, Springer said, because historically, teacher associations have opposed performance or merit pay plans, particularly if the pay plan awarded teachers solely on their individual value-added score.

Springer attributed this smooth implementation of the POINT experiment to a broad partnership involving the Metropolitan Nashville School Board and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools administrators, the Mayor’s Office, the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, the Nashville Alliance for Public Education, the Tennessee Education Association and the Tennessee Department of Education. The POINT experiment team received guidance and support from these organizations, as well as the participating teachers, throughout the project.

“We believe there is an important lesson here: teachers are more likely to cooperate with a performance pay plan if its purpose is to determine whether the policy is a sound idea, than with plans being forced on them in the absence of such evidence and in the face of their skepticism and misgivings,” Springer said.

The full report is available at http://www.performanceincentives.org/. Archived video of the announcement will be available at that website Sept. 22.

The National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development partnered with the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit public policy research institute based in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2006 to complete the study. The POINT experiment was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Performance bonuses were funded by a private donor.

Springer is an assistant professor of leadership, policy and organizations at Peabody College. For more information about Peabody College, ranked the No. 1 education school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for the past two years, visit http://peabody.vanderbilt.edu. For more Vanderbilt news, news.vanderbilt.edu.

To read a copy of the report, please click here.