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Press Releases

TCPR: State Must Start Using Available Data to Distinguish Good Teachers from Bad

Press release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Jan. 11, 2010:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today released a policy brief examining the education reform proposals currently sought by Governor Phil Bredesen.

The governor issued a proclamation last Thursday calling a special session of the General Assembly to address certain education laws so that the state could seek nearly $500 million in federal “Race to the Top” education funding. The special session will begin on Tuesday, January 12.

The main two proposals focus on reforming the process by which teachers are evaluated and restructuring the funding mechanism for post-secondary institutions. Because they will have significant long-term consequences for the state, TCPR analyzed the two proposals.

The brief, Evaluating Education Reforms for the Extraordinary Session (pdf), lays out a methodology for rating teachers that complies with both the governor’s wishes and the “Race to the Top” grant application requirements. The methodology was developed by the nonprofit Education Consumers Foundation, whose president, Dr. John Stone, is a member of the TCPR board of scholars.

“The state must start using the large amount of data available to it to distinguish good teachers from bad, and take the appropriate steps to ensure that students are learning,” said Justin Owen, TCPR’s Director of Policy. “The methodology outlined in the brief provides a unique opportunity to truly determine a teacher’s effectiveness.”

The second part of the brief scrutinizes the plan to tie higher education funding to graduation rather than enrollment rates and the negative impact that could have. TCPR also encourages lawmakers to use caution and fiscal responsibility during the special session, rather than make potentially devastating changes just to seize one-time federal money.

“It’s unfortunate that it takes the prospect of federal tax dollars to create meaningful education reform, but if done right, the legislature can revolutionize the way teachers are evaluated—and students, teachers, parents and taxpayers will all benefit,” noted Owen.

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Press Releases

Ramsey: Planned Parenthood Won’t Locate by Catholic High School

Press Release from Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville:

Nashville – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today announced that Planned Parenthood will not be allowed to place an abortion clinic next door to Memphis Catholic High School. The state Health Services and Development Agency voted to allow the move last month after the Catholic Diocese of Memphis formally protested the move. At the time, Lt. Governor Ramsey criticized the HSDA’s action as shocking and insensitive.

“I am very pleased that the nation’s largest abortion provider will not be allowed to set up shop next door to Memphis Catholic High School,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “The HSDA’s action showed extremely poor judgment and I am very pleased at this outcome.”

Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region had received approval from the HSDA in December to relocate to 1750 Madison Avenue in Memphis. The location would have housed two surgical rooms where over 700 abortions would have been performed annually. Memphis Catholic High School as well as a nursing home for retired priests is located two-tenths of a mile from the site.

After the HSDA vote, Lt. Governor Ramsey directed the Senate Government Operations Committee to bring the HSDA before the committee and explain the action. On December 23, the property owner of the building located at 1750 Madison Avenue assured his tenants in a letter that “negotiations with Planned Parenthood of Memphis to occupy the Sixth floor have ceased and they will not be moving into our building.”

Lt. Governor Ramsey was recently named Tennessee Right to Life Legislator of the Year. In the 2009 legislative session, he led the fight to deny state funds to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

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Education News Tax and Budget

Charter Schools Could Offer Ideas in Teacher Evaluation Talks

Charter school proponents are hopeful the governor and state lawmakers might take a page or two from their playbook as they discuss education reform in the upcoming special legislative session.

Gov. Phil Bredesen wants lawmakers to tie at least 50 percent of teacher evaluations to student performance, in order to qualify for additional federal stimulus dollars.

“This year we’ve had a couple of unique, unexpected opportunities drop in our lap that I believe will allow us to focus on the entire education pipeline in one fell swoop and hopefully make some changes that will be felt for years to come,” Bredesen said in a press release.

During the Jan. 12 special session, Bredesen wants lawmakers to find a way to tie K-12 teacher tenure to student performance in order to line the state up for a chunk of $4.35 billion in federal “Race to the Top” grant dollars. He also wants to see changes in higher education funding.

The legislation needs to be approved by the time the state files its federal application on Jan. 19.

Charter school principals and teachers already use student performance data, said Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Association of Charter Schools.

But charter schools, which act as experimental teaching labs, use those statistics to drive instruction and improve teacher development, Throckmorton said, which is not always tied to teacher evaluations.

Giving teachers those data tools help them stay on top of student performance. Teachers regularly give frequent but short tests to measure student comprehension and help identify which strategies better reach the class, Throckmorton said.

He said this creative use of student performance data will take education “to the next level.”

Twenty-two of the publicly-funded, privately-run schools are currently operating across the state. Another school will open in Nashville next summer and as many as six more new schools are being founded in Memphis.

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are evaluated based on how well they meet student achievement goals outlined in their charter contract with the local school district. Schools that fall short risk losing their charter.

The schools are filled with students who were attending failing schools, came from poor families or were failing in school them self, said Janel Lacy, spokeswoman for Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. The city announced in early December it would open a charter school incubator, a program that takes a hands-on approach to training future principals how to run a school.

The Tennessee Education Association says strongly tying student performance to teacher evaluations is a bad idea because teachers can’t control all of the factors that go into a successful test score.

Parents have to be held accountable, too, said union president Earl Wiman.

“We understand that student performance may need to be a part of a teacher’s evaluation. But what we’re saying is it doesn’t need to play a major role in the evaluations,” said Wiman.

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Press Releases

Special Session on Education Scheduled for Jan. 12

State of Tennessee Press Release, Dec 15, 2009:

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen today announced plans to exercise his constitutional authority to call for a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly focusing on education, including both K-12 and higher education.

The special session will be set to begin January 12, 2010, to coincide with the start of the regular legislative session, placing education first on lawmakers’ agenda as they return to the Capitol.

Bredesen acknowledged this year’s tight budget environment but noted, “Sometimes the stars line up to create an opportunity that no one expected. And when you’re in public office, you’re obligated to seize the moment when that happens. This year we’ve had a couple of unique, unexpected opportunities drop in our lap that I believe will allow us to focus on the entire education pipeline in one fell swoop and hopefully make some changes that will be felt for years to come.”

The federal government’s Race to the Top competition is one of those opportunities, as states will compete for a share for more than $4 billion in Recovery Act funds. Race to the Top applications are due on January 19, 2010, and the U.S. Department of Education has said the states that will be the most competitive will be those that already have policy changes in place at the time of application.

The second part of the Governor’s call for a special session will involve higher education. “In 2010, it’s only natural that we focus on the entire education pipeline as we look to create a more skilled workforce,” said Bredesen. “As we all know, it’s not just about getting kids through high school anymore. It’s also about students completing their degrees or certificates so they can get high-quality jobs and have a decent quality of life.”

Among changes Bredesen will call on lawmakers to consider is modernizing the state’s funding formula for higher education to make it substantially based on performance, such as higher degree completion rates.

The Governor urged lawmakers to join with him to take advantage of these unique opportunities to accomplish good things for Tennessee schools and students.

“I’ve said often that in public life, it’s easy to say ‘I’m for education,’ but it’s much harder to step up and demonstrate that in a meaningful way,” said Bredesen. “At a time when we’re facing an otherwise difficult budget, I believe we have a unique opportunity to step up to the plate and get some things done.”

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Education News

Education Group says State Drink-Vending Rules Too Strict

A rule designed to prevent children from gulping down too many liquid calories at school is having the impractical effect of banning all but bottled water in some campus vending machines, says the Tennessee Association of Middle Schools.

Currently, the state Board of Education, with input from the Department of Education and the Department of Health, passes regulations governing “nutritionally sound portion sizes” for food and drink products sold to students of middle-school age or younger.

The result has been that schools are prohibited from selling any drinks in containers larger than 8 oz., and it is preventing schools from selling juices — not to mention costing districts money in vending sales to children, complained Richie Stevensen, principal of Lake Forest Middle School in Cleveland.

Stevensen, testifying before the House Education Committee this week, said his school district, located about 30 miles west of Chattanooga, is losing out on as much as $6,000 a year in vending machine income as a result of the ban.

“We can’t sell an orange juice or an apple juice or anything because none of the manufacturers with the Minute Maid Corporation, PepsiCo, manufacture a product either 10 or 12 ounces,” said Stevensen, who also represented the middle schools association before the committee.

The state Department of Public Health opposes the proposal, saying that with one in ten Tennesseans suffering from diabetes, increasing portion sizes will weaken the state government’s fight against fat.

The smaller bottles help teach children portion sizes, says Nan Allison, a registered dietitian and lobbyist for the Tennessee Dietetic Association. Larger sizes mean an extra 100 calories a day or an extra five to ten pounds a year.

Nationally, 7.8 percent of people have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Tennessee’s rate is 10.3 percent, according to the Department of Public Health.

The Senate voted 30-1 in favor of its version of the bill back in March.

A minor political kerfuffle flared at the time after the sponsor of the legislation, Republican Sen. Dewayne Bunch, made a comment about “nutritional Nazi police on school campuses” during the brief Senate floor discussion.

State Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester later seized on Bunch’s remark, calling it “the height of insensitivity.” Bunch later apologized and indicated he was merely channeling Seinfeld’s “The Soup Nazi” episode.