Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hardaway punts

Yesterday's House Education Committee's Special Initiatives sub-committee was very well attended by parents, children and others interested in stopping HB2795 mandating state tests for all students sponsored by freshman legislator Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis). I'd estimate at least 100 people were crowded into the room with many waiting in the cloakroom and hall. They came, despite the snow, from across the state, literally from Sevierville to Memphis, such was their concern about unnecessary interference in the education of children. People in suits and blue collars some with children in tow. They were determined to make their voices heard. It was very clear from statements made by legislators in the hearing that they had each received thousands and thousands and thousands of calls and emails about the issue--and they didn't want a repeat of that.

Not surprising to those of us familiar with the legislature the Education Committee meeting went very long. Then it was decided that Rep. Tommie Brown's (D-Chattanooga) Higher Ed committee would be slipped in before the Special Initiatives Committee. Despite that the crowd remained fairly quiet and patient until the meeting started and hour after the advertised time.

The bill was introduced and there was a moment or two while we waited for a motion in order to even hear discussion on the bill. Unfortunately, Rep. Tommie Brown (D-Chattanooga) provided it and later when he finally arrived Rep. Joe Towns (D-Memphis) provided the necessary second.

Amazingly, Hardaway spoke at great length about his bill but people were still unclear as to why non-public schoolers were involved. Hardaway seemed to be saying that he was concerned about the unfairness in public school testing and was using this as a tool to highlight that and push improvements. He acknowledged that the State Board of Education was reworking testing and that while Gateway's had been very high stakes they now accounted for only 25% of the graduation requirement. Observers wondered: If this is a public school problem, why are all these non-public schoolers being impacted? Interesting comments considering Hardway's relationship with a Memphis Charter school, Memphis Academy for Health Sciences.

Brown asserted that she was a supporter of homeschooling and the legislature granting us the right to do so. She also stated that she was working toward making the public schools so good that we wouldn't want to homeschool anymore. These comments only pointed out how differently many of us view our 'right to homeschool' and our reasons for doing so. We appreciate the support, but this isn't the way to show it.

Committee Chair Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) was very helpful to attendees making sure they knew how much longer they'd have to wait, assuring them HB2795 would be heard today and allowing several to speak to the committee. But, frankly, since the intent of the legislation was so fuzzy, it was very hard to rebutt. A homeschooling dad who testified came closest to expressing our collective point of view when he essentially said: We're not broke. We don't need fixing.

Rep. Les Winningham (D-Huntsville) was obviously displeased with the way this bill had been handled and confessed he wasn't sure what Hardaway's intent was. Winningham wasn't alone. Winningham, who is not just another committee member but a long time chair of the House Education Committee strongly suggested, several times, that Hardaway put the bill 'off notice' (off the calendar entirely), figure out what he wanted to do, consult with his fellow sub-committee members and homeschoolers and give everyone a week's heads up before putting it on the calendar.

But Towns, who was late to the discussion, spoke up and suggested that Hardaway just roll (postpone) the bill three weeks instead and so he did. In the meantime, after Winningham's comments, it's expected that Hardaway will come back with something much more concrete, that can actually be discussed. 45 minutes of talk, hundreds of man hours, travel time and untold other resources expended for this. It was very frustrating.

The fiscal note for this legislation says HB2795 it will cost $2 million plus to test non-public students next year and some $4 million and up in succeeding years. The assumption is there will be 20,000 non-public students taking these tests. I know no one did much research on that 20K number. As if thousands of outraged parents, frustrated legislators and staff who were unnecessarily inconvenienced, the lack of a clear goal and proof that pulling in non-public schoolers into public school testing was necessary 'for the public good' it'll be tough to sell expending $4 million that could be much better used elsewhere.

Tennessean coverage, such as it is.


Eric H said...

I watched the video stream. It sounded to me as if Hardaway and Brown thought some public school students were being denied a shot at college because not all students were required to pass the Gateway exams - i.e., the non-public students were "stealing" lottery scholarships even though they may obtain them via standardized, equal playing field, ACT scores. If the state didn't make the Gateways part of their NCLB measuring stick, then the private and home school students wouldn't be specifically exempted from them since they are used to obtain federal tax funds.

Bottom line, none of this has any effect on those public school students Brown went on and on and on about that "we" give a slip of paper to instead of a diploma. She nor Hardaway ever got around to explaining how making non-public students take a gateway test (that has a 45% passing score) would improve anything for those public school students. For Hardaway to claim empathy with the private or homeschoolers because of his charter school ties is comical. Only one of these groups doesn't receive thousands of public tax dollars.

This ain't our first rodeo.


Kay Brooks said...

I'm glad you got to watch, Eric. Your comment about 'stealing' scholarships makes sense. And from the beginning Memphis has been frustrated by the fact that many of their students weren't likely to qualify for them.

You're right, :-), it may be Hardaway's first rodeo...but it's not ours.

diogenes99 said...

Homeschooled students are held to a higher ACT score (23 vs 19) for the HOPE scholarships. If we a going to equalize, then raise the public school ACT cutoff score to 23! And public school children have a second chance using GPA. I can't believe HOPE is the issue.

Perhaps Hardaway's unspoken sense of injustice is that many impoverished Memphis students do not have the same family support structure and stimulating home environment of most homeschooled students.

I'd like to see the (unrealistic) proposal made that all public school children be educated until they meet a certain cutoff on the ACT. I think that cutoff would be so low that any homeschool family would accept it.

Martin Kennedy said...

Good report Kay. I am mystified why the Tim Tebow law doesn't get more support. It doesn't look like it is going anywhere in either chamber. I appreciate that many homeschoolers don't want to get involved with public school extra-curriculars but many do want that option. For the life of me I can't see any reason, aside from ideology, for not pushing this through.

Buckley said...

Brown went on and on and on about that "we" give a slip of paper to instead of a diploma.

If it's not too involved, could someone explain what this means? Or, let me ask: I've always wondered about diplomas and homeschooling. Are they given or is the goal an equivalency exam?

On homeschoolers and extra-curriculars, there might actually be benefit to public school students if more of this is allowed. While MNPS has many thriving sports teams, some ECs, like chess and debate, could really use more involved students to make the programs more competetive. As a teacher who has sponsored both, I'd like to see more involvement and a raising of the bar.

Kay Brooks said...

Homeschoolers registered with the LEA do not get diplomas---despite any TCAP or Gateway exams they may have taken.

Homeschoolers registered with a church-related school are awarded diplomas from those schools and their requirements vary. For the most part they require the student follow a college path and get the credits required for entrance to a Tennessee state college.

There is no law that prohibits homeschoolers from participating in public school extra-curricular activities. Homeschool Code TCA 49-6-3050(a)(1) "In the case of special needs courses, such as laboratory sciences, vocational education, special education, etc., premises approved by the local superintendent of education may be used. Public school facilities may be used by home school participants with the approval of the local superintendent, but this permissive authority shall not be construed to confer any right upon such participants to use public school facilities. If approved, such use shall be in accordance with rules established by the local board of education."

It's not terribly unusual for smaller elementary schools to allow homeschoolers in. The biggest hurdle has been the TSSAA. Their protectionist attitude, and that of some professional educators, unfortunately, seeps over onto all activities. "You've opted out of OUR system so you can't have any of it." Never mind these parents pay taxes and may live in a small community where there are NO reasonable options.

din819go said...

I agree with M Swanson's comment on needing to raise the bar on the ACT for the Hope Scholarship. As a mother of a high school senior (private school) who did make it in to UT-K (only 25% of applicants do) I am amazed that a 19 on the ACT qualifies students for the Hope scholarship. I do not believe it gets them into any Tennessee state college/university. I imagine a 19 on the ACT gets students into two year colleges? Does anyone know?

Sadly, if the minimum ACT score were raised to even 20 or higher, the only high schools with an average ACT score high enough to hurdle are Hume Fogg and MLK (avg ACT is 26 +). Hillsboro and NSA squeak into the list with an average ACT of 20.5 and 20 respectively. If you have not seen the data on the state of MNPS schools from the Chamber Report Card, I encourage you to check it out -- while some improvement has been made, the data continues to tell a very sad tale --

Eric H said...


Rep. Brown was talking about public school students that are being shuffled out the door with "a slip of paper" instead of a diploma - not about private or homeschool students.

That's what made it all the more bizarre and off-topic.