He went on to roll out his plan to counteract the pandemic's disruption to learning. He proposed a 3rd grade reading gate where students would be held back if literacy goals are not met. He also proposed targeted interventions which would come as early as this summer with camps. In addition, the Governor plans to implement a phonics based literacy program with screening tools to identify struggling students.
But not everyone is happy with the Governor's proposals. Former MNPS Board Member, Amy Frogge took to Facebook ahead of the Governor's address to explain the real ramifications of the Governor's plan:
1. Senate Bill 7001: This testing waiver/hold harmless bill would require school districts to test 80% of students in-person (with pen and paper) in exchange for exemption from the A-F district grading system, placing districts into the Achievement School District, and placing schools on the state priority list (bottom 5%). It is unclear how this bill will effect teacher evaluations. The question to ask here is why we are even testing at all this year, during a pandemic and so much chaos. (Hint: follow the money.)
2. Senate Bill 7002 addresses "learning loss" during the pandemic. (This, by the way, is a political- not an education- term.) It would require districts to create in-person, summer mini-camps to help children who are struggling this year. While these camps could be helpful to students, the state is creating another unfunded mandate, because only $67 million will be allotted statewide for the initiative, not nearly enough for implementation. The administration also envisions paying for the camps with stockpiled Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds, which is likely illegal.
BUT here's the biggest concern about the "learning loss" bill: It will require districts to hold back third graders who are not deemed "proficient" in standardized testing. (Proficiency rates can be manipulated by the state through cut scores.) If you google the term "Mississippi miracle," you will find that Mississippi used this very same trick to create the appearance of a sudden increase on NAEP test scores. Holding back low-performing third graders creates the illusion of huge one-time testing gains, and implementation of the bill would take place just in time for the 2023 NAEP tests. This is not about best serving the children of Tennessee; it's about gaming the system. Furthermore, the costs for holding back large numbers of third graders, as mandated by this bill, would be astronomical.
3. Senate Bill 7003 would implement a phonics-based literacy program that proponents claim helped Mississippi's test scores. In reality, holding back low-performing students caused the increase in scores, as I've explained above. Aside from the ruse to game NAEP scores, this bill is problematic, just like the "science of reading" literacy bill that Commissioner Schwinn pushed last year. It opens the door to more school privatization. Schwinn, a graduate of the Broad Academy, has been pushing preferred vendors and no-bid contracts (just like our former superintendent). Reducing the complex art of teaching reading to a marketable, scripted phonics curriculum allows school districts to hire cheaper, inexperienced teachers and allows for vendors to make a lot of money by controlling the curriculum. District should instead be embracing balanced literacy, of which phonics is just one component.
The Governor also promised a 4% pay raise for every teacher. But our advice to teacher friends is not to hold your breath. Remember last year's promise and how easily the Governor reneged.