Teacher voice

Here’s what one Tennessee teacher will be listening for in Haslam’s State of the State address

Erin Glenn teaches U.S. history at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts in Chattanooga. She is a Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

When eighth-grade history teacher Erin Glenn hears Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State address Monday night, she’ll be listening closely for what he says about education — not only for her own eighth-grade students in Chattanooga but for future teachers attending Tennessee’s teacher training programs.

A teacher at a Title I magnet school serving inner-city students, she’s especially interested in what Haslam will say about investments in career readiness, including state partnerships with business leaders to ensure that her students have the skills they’ll need after graduating from high school.

She also wants to know the progress of the state’s Ready to be Ready initiative, as well as how the state is using public feedback to improve its schools proposal under the new federal education law, the Every Students Succeeds Act.

Glenn has taught for a decade at the high school level and now teaches middle school U.S. history at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts in Hamilton County Schools. A Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, she spoke with Chalkbeat over the weekend about Haslam’s upcoming address, in which he’ll set administration priorities for the upcoming year.

What specifically would you like to hear the governor say to Tennessee parents, educators and students about K-12 education?  

I would like the governor to remind listeners of the big picture — (how Tennessee’s) revised standards and assessment equips students with the skills and knowledge needed for post-secondary success. … Parents, educators, community leaders, business partners and stakeholders have a common interest — the success of all students beyond high school graduation. Recognizing the need to ensure our students’ preparedness, we are fortunate to have a statewide assessment, TNReady, that measures students’ proficiency and growth each year. Not only does this assessment reveal a student’s achievement from one year to the next, it is an assessment of skills needed for the workforce and military interests. Statewide accomplishments that enabled us to become the fastest growing state in the nation and rank 16th in science on the National Assessment of Education Progress will only continue with rigorous classroom instruction and examination of data provided in TNReady.

What are the most important ways that Gov. Haslam and the state legislature can improve our schools?

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his 2016 State of the State address.

Equitable outcomes are not easily attained for underrepresented groups. Given the achievement gaps among demographic groups and sub-categories, additional supports are needed to address this population of students. In order to prepare rising educators to effectively address our underrepresented (students), targeted teacher preparation and supports are needed. As rising educators develop their teaching philosophies to prepare for their own classrooms, additional considerations are needed to equip them with the tools, strategies and practices critical to equity of underrepresented students.

What would you like Gov. Haslam to know specifically about your classroom and your school when setting the budget and policy for Tennessee public schools?

In years past, my eighth-grade students were the recipient of a “Know How To Go” grant that allowed them to tour one of four college campuses across the state. While this grant no longer exists, a renewed interest in firsthand college and career experiences beginning in middle school will provide early exposure for these considerations. It is during eighth grade that students apply to high schools aligned to specific subjects and possible career paths. As a result, this is an ideal time to allow them to tour college and career opportunities available within their communities and possibly the state. Financial supports that afford exposure to college and career possibilities, as early as middle school, will enable students to determine which high schools are best aligned to their long-term goals.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”

 

money matters

Why so negative? Colorado lawmakers seek to rebrand controversial tool that limits spending on schools

A student works at Tollgate Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Nic Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Colorado lawmakers are tired of hearing about the “negative factor.”

So they changed its name — at least in statute.

Going forward, the tool that budget writers will use to spend down the state’s financial obligation to public schools to balance the state budget officially will go by its original name: the “budget stabilization factor.”

The change was made when lawmakers passed the state’s annual school funding bill earlier this month.

The negative factor “has been used as a pejorative,” said state Sen. Kevin Priola, the Henderson Republican who put forth the idea of the name change. “The budget is never perfect. But these are the economic realities we have to deal with.”

Some education funding advocates are rolling their eyes. The term, they say, has become so well known and accepted that any attempt to change it will be difficult.

“You can change the name, but the debt’s the same,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, a nonprofit that advocates for more school funding.

The negative factor — oh, sorry, we mean the budget stabilization factor — is just one part of a much larger and complex formula used to determine school funding.

The budget tool was first created in 2009 when state lawmakers were forced to slash the budget after the Great Recession.

School advocates knew they couldn’t escape the cuts the rest of the state was facing. So a team of lawmakers, lobbyists, superintendents and financial officers helped developed the tool.

Here’s how it works: After lawmakers determine how much funding schools should receive based on a formula developed in 1994, they compare that amount to available tax revenue. The difference is that year’s “stabilization factor.”

At the time the tool was created, the group wanted the cuts to be systematic — applied equally across all schools — and transparent. As part of the compromise, the state was required to track how much money it was withholding from schools.

In 2014, funding advocates sued the state, claiming the negative factor was unconstitutional. But the state Supreme Court disagreed.

Since then, Republican lawmakers have become more critical about the provision that requires them to track how much money the state isn’t giving schools. They argue that other state services such as roads, hospitals and parks all share a burden when it comes to balancing the budget.

Lawmakers have withheld about $5.8 billion from schools since the budget balancing tool was created. However, funding has slowly crept up each year, just not as fast as school leaders would hope.