Studies tout Metro Schools’ Common Core & PARCC readiness

America’s education experts have taken notice of what’s happening in Metro Schools.

It’s not something parents might notice just by looking at their child’s school, but over the last several years, a great deal of change has been building in the district. It’s all led up to the launch of Education 2018: Excellence for Every Student, the strategic plan to become the highest-performing urban district in the nation, and the transformation that plan is bringing to every Metro classroom.

That transformation is being held up as an example of how to successfully implement the Common Core State Standards and prepare for the online assessments they bring. Metro Schools is featured as a case study in a new white paper, showing how a district can successfully transition into 21st century teaching and learning.

The white paper, called Raising the BAR: Becoming Assessment Ready, comes from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), eLearn Institute and Education Networks of America (ENA).

MNPS is clearly making the human and financial investments to ensure its students, teachers, administrators and parents are prepared not only for the upcoming CCSS online assessments, but also for the digital learning transformation that is necessary to implement its personalized learning initiative. MNPS has specific and measurable metrics in place to monitor its progress during its three-year implementation plan.

Another major study, Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, also looks at Metro Schools’ Common Core preparation and calls the district the “Urban Bellwether.”

Uniquely poised going into the transition, Metro Nashville Public Schools has drawn on dedicated funding, good partnerships with the state, and strong local leadership in its early rollout of the Common Core. High levels of communication and a culture of trust among educators, the district, and the central office have helped Metro Nashville to move forward with the Common Core without major opposition, despite emerging pushback in other areas of the state. The transition to the new standards has not been without challenges in the district, and the early adoption of the standards—prior to the state’s textbook adoption timeline—presented a particular challenge as teachers struggled to find and create high-quality transitional curricular materials. But the district believes the short-term challenges and at times rocky transition have deepened teacher learning about the demands and details of the new standards, improving conditions for quality implementation in the long run. Metro Nashville’s continued implementation challenge now lies in navigating the complexities of integrating teacher evaluation reforms with the ongoing transition to new Common Core-aligned assessments.

The full Raising the BAR white paper is on the ENA website, while Common Core in the Districts can be found on EdExcellence.net.

Raising the BAR: Becoming Assessment Ready

Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers

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Facts on fund balance & why we must spend on technology

UPDATE (Jan. 17, 3:25 p.m.): Mayor Karl Dean will file legislation with the Metro Council for $6 million in capital funding to purchase technology needed for PARCC testing.

Read the full press release from the Mayor’s Office.

PREVIOUSLY:

What is a fund balance?

The amount of money we receive from Metro Government is based on a projection of county revenue. When revenue is more than expected, the difference goes into a “fund balance,” a pot of extra money set aside for a rainy day. Likewise, if we do not spend all of the money in a given year’s budget, the remaining funds go into the fund balance.

Metro Government policy dictates we keep the fund balance high enough so that it’s equal to at least 5% of our operating budget, a number we’ve beaten handily for several years.

Are charter schools part of this fund balance?

Interestingly enough, no, even though they are funded according to the same methods we are. Any extra money they receive is readily available for spending. They do not need special authorization from the Metro Council as the district does.

What is the fund balance spent on?

The Metro Council must approve any use of the fund balance, usually based on a recommendation from the Mayor.

Earlier this fall, the Board of Education approved a plan to use some of the fund balance. The Board sent a request to the Mayor to use parts of its fund balance for big, one-time expenses including:

  1. Retirement incentives for 30+ year employees
  2. Technology and teacher training to prepare for state-mandated PARCC testing for Common Core State Standards
  3. A newer, more efficient timekeeping service that will help us better keep track of employee hours, attendance and pay

The Mayor recommended to Council to allow us to tap the fund balance for item #1, and we are grateful for that. The retirement incentives could save our district between $2-7 million per year in employee costs.

The Mayor did not recommend our requests for funding for timekeeping services and to buy technology and properly train teachers for upcoming PARCC tests.

What are PARCC tests and why do teachers need to be trained?

PARCC testing is the online testing that goes hand-in-hand with the new Common Core State Standards. It will take the place of TCAP and End-of-Course tests very soon. The entire state is moving to PARCC testing, along with most other states. Just like Common Core State Standards, PARCC assessments have been developed by the states, not by the federal government.

Huge portions of PARCC testing are only done online. That means our classrooms and teachers need to be technology ready before we can even take the tests, much less score well.

That gives us three big, immediate needs:

  1. Buy 8-9,000 laptops, enough to allow every student in the largest grades of every school to all take online tests simultaneously.
  2. Prepare our schools with strong enough wifi to handle all the simultaneous traffic.
  3. Train teachers on using the new technology for classroom instruction and on the specifics of PARCC testing and the technology to administer PARCC.

Need #2 is finished. That’s a project we proudly capped off this semester. Needs #1 #3 are still needed. We need to buy more laptops and train some 6,000 teachers and staff to ensure proper administration.

As you can imagine, that costs money. Our hope was to use some of the fund balance to pay for this, and incorporate future technology needs and upgrades into future operating and capital budgets.

Why didn’t you just ask for this money in the operating and capital budget process this year?

We did.  For the last few years, the Board of Education requested millions of dollars in technology funding from the Mayor and Metro Council, but those requests have only been partly met, if they were met at all.

We haven’t made a substantial investment in technology since the 2007-2008 school year, when we received $14 million for technology spending. Every year since has been $10 million or less, and some years have been $0. Our ten-year plan calls for $15-20 million every year in technology spending just to keep up.

What will you do without the funding for this technology and training?

We will have to find the money elsewhere. We must provide the technology for students to take PARCC assessments and must train teachers to use the technology and administer the assessments.

Just like the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce recommended, we intend to be the leading district in Tennessee in implementing and communicating Common Core State Standards. And nothing has changed about the need to buy more technology for PARCC testing.

Four big reasons behind our budget increase

It’s that time again. Budget time.

Work on the 2013-14 Metro Schools operating budget has been going on for months. Department heads and officials from the district business office have been going through budgets line item-by-line item, looking at each expense and its purpose in fulfilling our mission.

A draft of the budget is ready and available for review online. It calls for $764 million in funding, an increase of nearly $44 million over this year.

What’s behind the increase?

  • Fixed & Unavoidable Costs
    As is the case every year, certain cost increases are unavoidable. Salaries, insurance and pensions cost more. Utilities cost more. Just like in your family’s budget, inflation means it takes more money to provide the same services year over year.
  • Serving More Students
    Our student population is going up, too. We’re one of the very few urban districts in the country with increasing enrollment. That means more teachers, more support staff and more services provided to them.
  • New Schools
    Then there are the new schools opening up next year. We will add four new charter schools to our district, with an added cost of $14 million attached to them, as well as the cost of planned enrollment increases at current charter schools. There’s a lot of debate about charter schools, but what isn’t debatable is the impact they have on the district budget. In 2013-14, $40 million will flow directly to 19 charter schools. Because there are no comparable offsets to district expenses at traditional schools, that means sizeable increases to our operating budget.
  • Vital Technology Needs
    Our technology needs are more pressing now than in years past. Moving to the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career readiness) assessments means many students have to start taking tests online. This means our technology infrastructure must get the upgrades it needs. We need the computers and internet backbone to allow thousands of students to take these computerized tests simultaneously.

Those four items make up the bulk of the budget increase. There aren’t a lot of major new programs or initiatives included. But there are needs in our Nashville schools that cannot be met without added funds.

Join the Board of Education for a public hearing on this budget on Tuesday, April 2, at 6:00 p.m. in the Board Room.