• NH GOP leader pushing school tax credit option
    Powerful Republican lawmakers are getting behind legislation that would divert business taxes into private organizations to issue as scholarships to New Hampshire schoolchildren to attend private or religious schools. House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt is co-sponsoring a House bill to make New Hampshire the ninth state to adopt a tax credit program.
  • Ed. Policy Reality Check (Now with More Reality!)
    Florida’s k-12 scholarship tax credit is raising academic achievement at less than half the per pupil cost of the traditional state-run schools. That’s according to academic studies commissioned by the state of Florida and by the state’s own spending and enrollment data.
    Figlio and Hart, 2010, found that the scholarship tax credit program improves academic performance in public schools; and Figlio, 2011, found that students using the scholarships to attend independent schools are also benefiting academically. As for cost, the average scholarship is about $4,000. For comparison, the state’s public school districts spent $27 billion in 2009-10 (bottom of page 21, first column), for 2.6 million students, for per pupil spending of just over $10,000.
  • Education Notebook: After the Super Committee: “Massive” Education Cuts? Think Again
    The “super committee’s” failure to reach an agreement to reduce federal spending is supposed to trigger automatic spending cuts—some of which could decrease funding for the Department of Education beginning in 2013. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, stated that this decrease in funding represents “drastic across-the-board cuts to vital programs” resulting in “massive reductions to education programs.” “Massive”? Let’s put this in perspective.
  • National Standards Shows Cracks
    The ALEC anti-Common Core measure will be important for mobilizing opposition as those next hurdles have to be jumped.  Even if the nationalization effort successfully runs this gauntlet, which they may do, the probability that national standards and assessments will actually produce the end goal — significantly improved student achievement over the long term — is near zero.  If nationally setting goals and ordering progress toward those goals were the path to success, the Soviet Gosplans would have produced their economic triumph over the West.  We all know how well that turned out.
  • Needed in Tennessee: An Early Reading Revolution
    Raising the percentage of 3rd graders who are profi cient in reading is the single most cost-effective step that schools can take to raise student achievement across the board – and to improve outcomes for students later in life. Currently, only 43% of Tennessee 3rd graders meet that standard. Roughly an hour a day of Direct Instruction in preK-3 can raise that number to 90%, but it will take a board-level commitment to reach that goal.
  • Under NCLB waiver, schools able to celebrate accomplishments
    According to this year’s Adequate Yearly Progress results, however, about half of Tennessee’s schools fell short of meeting current NCLB standards. The state estimates that next year about 80 percent of schools won’t meet the goals.
  • Putnam schools on state target list
    Results for the 2011 Tennessee Department of Education Report Card are in and though the Putnam County School System is listed as “targeted,” students are still performing at or above the level of their peers across the state.
  • Local schools get graded
    Rutherford County Schools ranks among the best school districts in the state, while Murfreesboro City Schools improved in key areas, according to the 2011 Tennessee Report Card on K-12 Education, which was released Friday.
  • Tenn. teachers dropping union memberships after lawmakers strip collective bargaining rights
    Hundreds of Middle Tennessee educators have dropped union memberships since state lawmakers stripped the organizations of collective bargaining rights earlier this year. Rutherford County seems to be an exception with all but 100 teachers there sticking with their union.
  • County report card is ‘good’
    Bradley County Schools received a “good standing” rating on its Tennessee Department of Education Report Card this year.
  • James P. McIntyre Jr.: Teacher evaluations essential to school reform momentum
    The power of the new evaluation model is its focus on professional growth: teachers continuously work on improving their instructional skills. The model gives educators the structure and support to be reflective about their teaching and to work toward being ever more effective at educating our kids.
  • Best and Worst in American Education, 2011
    In an effort to inform the public and shape education reform in the upcoming year, members of the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education released their second annual list of the top five best and top five worst events in American education in 2011. This list indicates that several positive developments led to greater parental choice, system transparency and teacher accountability; however, “the worst” events indicate that there remains considerable room for improvement. Take our poll to vote for what you think is the best and the worst event in education in 2011.
  • HCREO Event Highlights Need for School Choice in Southwest
    The event, hosted by the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), brought together reformers from around the country, elected officials from several states in the Southwestern U.S., and local parents and students eager to discuss how they could all get more involved in providing Hispanic children with educational options.
  • Franklin has plan to dissolve big clusters of poor students
    Franklin Special School District board members, principals and parents for more than a year have been trying to solve a problem that large, urban school districts have wrestled with for decades. The district serves about 3,800 students in its seven schools, but two of those schools have a significantly higher concentration of poorer children. School officials have been trying to figure out a way to more evenly distribute those students. Because of the relatively compact geography of the district, the prospect of long bus rides is not a factor. But achieving balance, nonetheless, has proven to be a challenge since the process began in October 2010. School board members now say they have at least three good options, with maps that show how realigned attendance zones would better serve all students. The maps, found on the district’s website, will be up for public input at 6:30 p.m. today at Freedom Intermediate School.
  • Nashville school repairs linger in limbo
    The school board in January asked the city for $82 million for building improvements and land for the 2011-12 fiscal year, after paring the list to the worst cases of damage and overcrowding. City officials, wrangling with leaner coffers, won’t present a citywide improvement spending plan to the council until the spring or summer. It’s possible the money for improvements may not be available. It’s not unheard of. Over the past two decades, there have been a handful of years when there was no capital improvement funding. Last fiscal year, the city approved $80 million for district improvements.
  • TN students’ improved math scores show turnaround is working
    Tennessee students made big strides in math this year, with more than half of those in high school mastering the tougher curriculum launched two years ago. That figure may sound grim, but national observers say the state’s learning gains show that its bold move to better prepare students is paying off. After a dramatic drop in the first year of testing, students are posting gains — from 49 percent to 55 percent passing high school math, for example, and from34 percent to 41 percent passing the subject in grades 3-8.
  • Metro’s graduation rate drops with new diploma requirements
    Metro Nashville Public Schools received plenty of praise from political and education leaders last year when the graduation rate spiked to 83 percent, a 10-point climb from 73 percent in 2009. But the district’s 2011 graduation rate –– as revealed in the Tennessee Department of Education’s 2011 Report Card, released Friday –– has dropped back down, with 76 percent of Metro students graduating in 2011. The state’s graduation rate for 2011 is 85.5 percent. Metro’s dive had been expected. New state high school graduation standards now require English Language Learners and students with disabilities to graduate in four years. Previously, these two groups had five years to earn a diploma.
  • Joe Biden and the Myth of Local Government Layoffs
    During the debate this fall over President Obama’s American Jobs Act, the White House released a study suggesting some 280,000 teacher jobs were at risk as part of a vast downsizing of local governments across America. Take local education workers. Hiring has far outpaced the growth in student enrollment, driving down the number of students per teacher in American public schools to 15.6 in 2010 from 26.9 in 1955, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Robust hiring has continued even during periods of enrollment declines, including from 1971 through 1984, when the number of public-school students fell virtually every year, declining in total by 15%, while the ranks of teachers grew by 7%. Local districts have also bulked up on other workers—from instructional aides to administrative personnel to social workers and counselors. In 1955, teachers constituted about 65% of local education workers; today, despite years of rapid gains in teacher ranks, they amount to only about 40% of the eight million local education workers. Per-pupil spending in public schools has grown to $10,500 today from $2,831 (in 2010 dollars) in 1961, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Has the spending paid off? Mean scores on the SAT’s reading test are down 7% since 1966, while reading scores for 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, administered since 1971, are flat over that time. It’s important to keep the long rise in local government employment in mind amid the debate over sending more federal aid to cities and states. Steadily increasing municipal-government payrolls, combined with sharply higher employment costs—including rich pension benefits and soaring health-care outlays—have made many local budgets unsustainable. The National Governors Association recognized as much last year when it issued a report predicting a long period of fiscal “austerity” that local governments must solve in part by better controlling personnel costs. That almost certainly means that more layoffs are coming. But hyperbolic talk aside, local governments are well-staffed by historical standards and have the troops to do the job at hand.
  • State releases 2011 education report card
    The Tennessee Department of Education released results of its 2011 school report card Friday. Math skills in grades K-8 statewide improved from a “D” last year to a “B” in 2011. Improvements were not made in reading, social studies and science. “Data-driven education reform only works when numbers and information can be used to make informed, timely decisions,” Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said.
  • Schools merger is ‘unique opportunity’
    The team charged with working out the details of how Memphis and Shelby County schools will merge spent time Thursday talking with the person who will judge the final plan. Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman outlined state reforms that will have a bearing on what the newly merged district will look like, including treatments state law prescribes for the 68 Memphis schools now performing in the bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools.
  • Letter: The school board’s role on charters
    The role of the board should be to hold charters and district schools accountable for their results and to create policies that ensure that when the education “pie” is divided, both charters and districts have the information they need to make wise decisions about resources.
  • Charter school denials draw criticism from state education commissioner
    It’s “bad policy,” says the state commissioner of education, for school districts to systematically deny charter school applications, whether for financial reasons or because the community is in upheaval over a pending school merger. “We need to get out of the business of believing that (the per-pupil) funding belongs to the school system, that our goal is to preserve funding for that school system,” Kevin Huffman told The Commercial Appeal editorial board Thursday.
  • Taking Over Lousy Schools
    But for those parents who neither have choice nor parents’ unions to count on, they can look to Dr. Steve Perry and his new book, Push Has Come to Shove, for help. Perry offers a step-by-step guide on how to negotiate through the school bureaucracies and force school boards to pay attention. A few well-timed e-mails and tweets, for example, will do more to force superintendents to meet with a group of parents and pay them heed than attending a school board meeting (by which time the proverbial fix is already in); as Perry notes, “no district is equipped to combat e-organized parents.” He also instructs parents on how to deal with principals, teachers, and bureaucrats who conveniently blame parents for not being engaged enough in schools — even as they do plenty to alienate them.

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