Opt-Out Movement Grows in Tennessee, Gov. Lee Seeks to Continue Failed School Takeover Model

Vouchers in Florida, Teacher Attrition in Michigan

Despite the Biden Administration’s stubborn insistence on state testing this year, there’s a growing movement to opt-out of Tennessee’s TNReady test this year.

Here’s more on that movement:

Yes, you can opt your child out of this year’s TNReady test. This is true in spite of misleading guidance offered to school districts by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Fortunately, the advocates over at Save our Schools PAC offer some key insight into just how to accomplish this. Here’s a quick rundown:

There are only eight states that allow you to opt your child out of testing. Tennessee is NOT one of those states. However, there are no state laws in TN that require your child to take any TNReady test, so you and your child can refuse the test.

To refuse the test, you’ll need to make your request in writing and explain to your child why they will not be taking the test and to not be pressured into taking the test.

About a week prior to the testing window, send a confirmation email to the school principal. In this email, ask what your child will be allowed or not allowed to do during testing. We found this differs with schools and even with teachers within the schools. Most of the time, children will be allowed to read. You may also wish to hold your child out of school on test days. This could impact truancy reports, so be sure you speak to your child’s school about the impact of this decision. One parent who refused all tests was happy to keep her children home on testing days, knowing that if the school or state tried to punish her child for this decision, it would make a great news story.

If teachers, principals, or district leaders tell you can’t “opt out” because it hurts the school or district, you might share this with them:

There’s just one problem: The federal government has not (yet) penalized a single district for failing to hit the 95% benchmark. In fact, in the face of significant opt-outs in New York last year (including one district where 89% of students opted-out), the U.S. Department of Education communicated a clear message to New York state education leaders:  Districts and states will not suffer a loss of federal dollars due to high test refusal rates. The USDOE left it up to New York to decide whether or not to penalize districts financially.

See, no big deal. Except, well, Penny Schwinn wants to make it a big deal. Just like the previous Commissioner of Education wanted to make it a big deal.

Meanwhile, despite the failure of Tennessee’s turnaround school district (the so-called Achievement School District), Gov. Bill Lee is seeking ways to extend the program:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is no fan of public schools as he makes clear time and again. Whether it is advancing voucher schemes, creating charter school slush funds, or refusing to invest in our underfunded public schools, Lee is working tirelessly to undermine public education in our state.

Now, Lee is seeking to reward charter schools in Memphis and trap more schools in the failed Achievement School District.

Chalkbeat has more:

When Tennessee started taking over low-performing schools and matching most with charter operators in 2012, the plan was to return the schools to their home districts when they improved in an estimated five years.

Now Gov. Bill Lee is proposing other options for schools that have remained in the state’s turnaround program for nearly 10 years — most notably to let some of the higher-performing ones move from one state-run district to another.

Under legislation introduced this week, Lee proposed letting some charter schools bypass their original district when leaving Tennessee’s Achievement School District, also known as the ASD. Instead, they could apply to move directly to the state’s new charter school commission, which the governor helped to create.

It’s not like we couldn’t see this coming. In fact, warnings about Lee’s aggressive stance about privatization came early. In 2018, I noted:

Even though as early as 2016, Bill Lee was extolling the virtues of school voucher schemes and even though he’s a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children and even though he has appointed not one, but two voucher vultures to high level posts in his Administration, it is somehow treated as “news” that Bill Lee plans to move forward with a voucher scheme agenda in 2019.

In addition to the failure of the ASD to do, well, anything there’s also ample evidence of the failure of charter schools. Never mind the facts, though, Lee is committed to privatizing at all costs.

Vouchers in Florida, A Teacher Crisis in Michigan

News 4 in Jacksonville has the story of the pushback against the state’s $1.3 billion voucher program:

There was a massive online rally on Tuesday hosted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, the state-wide PTA and more than a dozen other organizations.

The groups all say the use of school vouchers diverts badly-needed funds from public schools.

“What we are fighting for is to keep public schools money in the public schools,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP.

Chalkbeat reports on the teacher crisis in Michigan:

The problem is especially profound in Michigan. Amid stagnant school funding and growing disillusionment among teachers, more than 1 in 6 left for another school or left the classroom entirely in the 2018-19 school year, a higher rate than the most recent available national average. This isn’t for lack of well-documented solutions: Better training and mentorship, stronger principals, and higher pay are just some of the policies that have been shown to increase teacher retention.

A Chalkbeat analysis of more than one million rows of teacher workforce data sheds new light on the extent of the teacher movement in Michigan, how many students are affected, and the toll borne by students of color and students from low-income families.

In schools with a teacher turnover rate of 30% or more, nearly three quarters of the students were from low-income families in 2018-19, the analysis found. Black students accounted for 18% of statewide enrollment but 45% of enrollment in the schools where teachers were most likely to leave.

Kentucky Joins States with Voucher Schemes

Both the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate voted to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a school voucher bill there. Now, the state will move forward with implementation of the scheme.