- Once again I want to point out that we have some excellent schools, teachers and administrators in public education in Tennessee. We also have some excellent colleges and universities with some excellent faculty and staff. And we have some excellent departments, as I personally know that the Department of Computing at ETSU is the best computer and information science department that anyone can find for the cost. So where are things going wrong? I believe that while parents and students have to accept their share of the blame, many laws and policies in Tennessee have the wrong emphasis and using funding as both a stick and a carrot can have very bad results. The same can be said for the performance of our community colleges and univesities.
- I think the number 1 problem facing Tennessee is education - or maybe I should say the "lack of education", and the number one priority should be education at both the K-12 levels and at our colleges and universities. According to the states own numbers, in a press release from August of 2013 (https://news.tn.gov/node/11216) only 15% of our high school graduates meet the ACT's college readiness benchmarks - in other words 85% of our high school graduates are not completely ready for college. The reality of what is happening should be enough to shock you and create such a passion for justice in you, that you can't refrain from acting any longer. We cannot continue to have Tennessee consistently near the bottom in education within the US.
The response from the state:
or what not to do!
- TN Requires 4 years of high school math when only 27% of high school graduates are even proficient in two years of algebra.
- TN Adopted the higher standards of the Common Core without bothering to see what it means - once again we raise standards but don't help students achieve these standards. We also agree to the Standardized PARCC test when our school systems don't even have enough computers for our students to take the computerized tests on. All the time ignoring the one standardized test that I feel shows the most about our high school graduates - which is the ACT exam.
- TN Cut funding to higher education: from 2008 - 2013 funding for higher education in Tennessee has been cut 30.1% while tuition has increased by 30.1% (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/03/a-truly-devastating-graph-on-state-higher-education-spending/274199/)
TN Passed laws, including the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 and the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act, - both supported by Rep. Hill. No one can deny that these laws certainly sound like something you would want to vote for. Who would vote against "Completing College" or a "Promise Scholarship"?
- Complete College Tennessee Act: result is ETSU losing $1 Million for the upcoming year. Performance-based funding may be a good idea if it is implemented properly. However, we can't ignore the college readiness level for our high school graduates. While ETSU has some excellent programs and some excellent students, ETSU also accepts a disproportionate number of lower income and at-risk students. Do you think that could have something to do with the graduation numbers compared with a university like MTSU that is only 30 miles from Nashville and some of the wealthiest areas of the state? MTSU also has higher admission requirements than ETSU and I would expect them to have a higher graduation rate.
- I also want to point out that if performance based funding is good enough for state colleges then why don't we apply it to the rest of the state government. Tennessee State revenues were down by $264 million year to date as of the end of March (http://www.chattanoogan.com/2014/4/15/274354/Tennessee-State-Revenues-Down-Over-4.aspx) It sounds to me like the entire Executive branch is not doing their job and they should be subject to the same performance based restrictions and cuts. SARCASM!
- The Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 - which Rep. Matthew Hill supported, prohibits universities from teaching developmental courses. To avoid losing students to community colleges, TBR changed the name of these courses to "Learning Support" and changed the system to allow students to complete several semesters or even years of remedial work in only a single semester. Anyone with the slightest idea of how the educational process works would not have unrealistic expectaions.
- The Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act: may provide free education at community colleges but it also lowers the amount of the HOPE scholarship for freshmen and sophomore students at ETSU and other 4-year schools. This will further increase the number of students passing up on ETSU for the better financial award of staying at their local community colleges.
- These two bills alone are going to do a lot of damage to ETSU which is in the heart of the 7 District. Take $1 million out of the ETSU budget and then several thousand students out of Johnson City and send them to community colleges and see what the economic impact is going to be to this town. I don't feel that Representative Hill has the understanding or attention to detail to fight for laws that will strengthen, instead of damage, one of the largest contributors to our local economy. Anyone know how much ETSU and its students, faculty and staff contribute to the local economy?
- If these bills were designed to work, that could possibly be worth the cost to ETSU and the local economy. However, nothing has been done to strengthen the skills of our Tennessee Students and until this problem is addressed, all of these other bills are just a waste of money. Free community college is not going to increase the graduation rate in Tennessee when 85% of our high school graduates don't meet college entrance requirements. Cutting funding to ETSU won't help increase the chances for success for the 15,000 students who attend ETSU anually.
- ACT exams are the most common entrance exam accepted in educational institutions in the state of Tennessee. While many are calling for exams based on the Common Core, so that we will have a standard to compare our students to students from other states, we already have this ability for high school graduates in the ACT scores.
- According to the state's own press release (https://news.tn.gov/node/11216) Tennessee "public high school graduates slightly improved their performance" on the ACT raising the average score from 19.2 to 19.3 in 2013. This number is embarassing and Tennessee is actualy ranked 4th from the bottom.
- In addition, this "increase" is only an increase because some students in the 25-30 range have improved. In reality, the percent of students scoring below 19 has increased from 53% to 54%. (Data from http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2013/pdf/profile/Tennessee.pdf and http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2012/pdf/profile/Tennessee.pdf}
- This news release also included that "The percentage of test-takers meeting all of the ACTís college readiness benchmarks rose from 14 percent to 15 percent in Tennessee as scores increased in 2013" (https://news.tn.gov/node/11216). Which, as mentioned above, is another way of saying that 85% of Tennessee high school graduates DO NOT meet the ACT's college readiness benchmarks.
- I have heard of special classes, tutoring and other prgrams to get students to the point of graduating from high school, but was also told that these students did not have the ability to attend college and the rational was that they wouldn't be attending college.
- A parent of a college student directly told me that her son graduated from high school (with a regular diploma) having only completed 8 credits, even though state law requires high school graduates to complete at least 22 credits.
- This same student was accepted at a TBR school with a 1.2 high school GPA and math and English test scores that were at the level of a junior high student.
- I recently heard from a state university employee that there is pressure coming from the "top" to graduate college seniors who have not completed all of their program requirements. It's amazing what reaction a $1 million cut to funding can provide.
- The bottom line is that Nashville passes ineffective education reform on a continual basis and creates funding policies that encourage public K - 12 schools, colleges and universities to act in a manner that is incompatible with sound education policies. In an effort to survive, I believe rules are being broken at all levels.
Other Educational Issues1. We insist on basing teacher evaluations on standardized testing while ignoring the results of the ACT test - which are probably the best predictor of student success I have seen. Why not conduct public school teacher's evaluations similar to the way that it is done in colleges and universities? We have systems in place that include credit in the areas of teaching, service and research. If college professors were evaluated the way public school teachers are, the there would be a revolt at our colleges. I have stated elsewhere on this site that if colleges and universities as a whole should have performance based funding, then I believe the politicians who make these rules should also be subject to the same standards. We can also add standardized testing as another evaluation tool that we should consider using in the General Assembly and in the Administrative branch. If these tools are good enough for education, then why aren't we applying them to the annual evaluation of state employees? The performance of state employees in each department could be used to determine the budget for that department. If this were actually implemented, I am sure we would have surplus funds in the bank. I am being sarcastic with this statement but the question is a valid one.
2. The state is spending more money on the wrong initiatives - 3 new software systems in the last two years at TBR schools - and then they force state colleges to spend less time and less money addressing the high school deficiencies that these students have when they enter college.
3. Nashville passed the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act (who could vote against a bill with a name like that?) which promises free community college to high school graduates, but once again doesn't bother to see that these graduates are actually prepared to do the college level work. Another little known fact is that this is partly paid for by reducing scholarship funds for freshmen and sophomores who choose to go to 4-year colleges.
4. The lottery scholarship funds can only be accessed for use as college scholarships so I see this as an election year payoff and a form of legal money laundering. At one point the state paid 65% of the cost of a student's education and the student paid 35% through tuition. Now the state only pays 30% - so tapping the lottery funds is a way to continue to decrease funding of education from the general fund by paying the students off with lottery funds. Then colleges and universities have to depend more heavily on recruiting, even if students don't have the needed skills, because this (the student) is where the bulk of the education money now comes from.
5. Giving free associate degrees to students will not make them miraculously be ready for college level work.
6. Most in Nashville are not even aware that our public schools are doing so badly, that many have no-fail policies, and that throwing lottery money at the students, and not even the institutions, won't make it go away. Many students attend college immedeately after graduating high school because there is money in it for them. The money (including the HOPE Scholarship) entices many students to go to college when they really have no desire, no plan and not enough maturity to attempt college level work. Many receive financial aid and then take out loans, which they will probably not be able to repay, and just hang out for a few semesters until they get suspended.
More to come...