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Tennessee: Knoxville School Board Votes “No Confidence” in State Education Department

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Tennessee has one of the most intrusive, micromanaging, incompetent state education departments in the nation. So says the Knoxville school board, and so agrees the school boards of Memphis and Nashville.

The problem right now is the state’s failed teacher evaluation program, but there are many reasons to lose trust in the State Education Department.

Problems with pre-K and kindergarten teacher portfolio evaluations became the issue that pushed board Chairwoman Patti Bounds to say the department “still takes no ownership” of its mistakes. Portfolios are used to evaluate educators who teach pre-K, kindergarten, and subjects not included in TNReady standardized testing. Portfolios can include videos showing student progress during the year.

Earlier this week, the superintendents of the state’s two largest districts, Memphis and Nashville, wrote to Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to pause state testing until after the election because “educator and public trust in TNReady has fallen to irretrievably low levels.”

Tennessee has taken pride in the progress of its students on national tests and has toughened up its requirements for student learning and evaluating teachers. But the foundation for its analysis, the state’s new online test, TNReady, has been fraught with technical setbacks since it was introduced in 2016.

State lawmakers were so concerned about the problems with TNReady that they passed legislation ensuring the scores would not be used to negatively impact teachers, students, or schools. School-level scores could be released as early as late next week.

Some Knoxville board members wanted to echo the sentiment of Memphis and Nashville superintendents about TNReady, but settled on highlighting the more timely portfolio issue, Bounds said.

“The portfolio system is a mess,” she told Chalkbeat. “The Department of Education has had multiple years of failure.”

The board will likely meet Tuesday in a special meeting to approve a letter, she said.

First-year problems for the teacher portfolios have resulted in error messages or questionable low scores for teachers. It is unclear how many teachers across the state are affected, but a spokeswoman for the department said about 7 percent got the lowest overall score. The state department attributed the problems to user error while one of the state’s teacher organizations blamed a system glitch.

“Every time something fails, the Department of Education blames it on the teachers. And some of their reasons are just not valid,” Bounds told Chalkbeat.

But wait. There is more.

Year after year, state testing has been a disaster. The state has changed vendors but nothing goes write.

Governor Haslam, who is on his way out, fortunately, has been a disaster for public education.

The State Education Department has been pushing charters, trying to to override the wishes of local school boards.

The Achievement School District was a total failure, wasting $100 million and destroying community schools by handing them off to charter operators, who were unable to help the kids.

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