Last Monday during the BOE work session, Dr. McIntyre asked to defer his superintendents’ report to Wednesday’s meeting, saying “I have a flight to catch to Washington.” Dr. McIntyre was referring to his scheduled meeting the next day to speak before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
The topic of discussion was Senator Alexander’s fast-track bill known variously as the “Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA),” the “Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind,” and the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015.”
McIntyre participated in a round table discussion on ESEA/NCLB on February 3. Prior to his trip, he invited Board of Education members to share their thoughts with him, which at least one member did.
Amber Rountree distributed a memo to Dr. McIntyre and media outlets in which she said, “I know you will share the wonderful innovation happening in Knox County Schools, but I implore you to provide a realistic picture of how NCLB (and its waiver) has impacted our schools.”
She listed a number of concerns about the current state of our schools, including developmentally inappropriate high-stakes testing, the need to return decision making to the state and local boards of education, use of limited funding for “teacher incentives,” and the use of charters and vouchers to funnel public dollars into private ventures.
Did McIntyre take this advice? No. But McIntyre, a graduate of the Broad Superintendent Academy, is a favorite of the education reform folks in Washington, and Nashville. We can count on Jim McIntyre to promote the agenda of the education reform crowd.
The roundtable discussion centered around two questions: “What are we doing to implement innovative approaches to improve academic outcomes for students,” and “How can we improve the federal law to enhance innovation?” McIntyre’s written testimony is available at: http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/McIntyre1.pdf.
McIntyre’s testimony reads like the “Cliff Notes” of the KCS 2020 Strategic Plan. In fact, he begins his discussion by saying, “First, our visionary School Board has adopted a five year strategic plan, entitled Excellence for Every Child, that articulates and embraces the concept of “multiple pathways to success.”
He cites examples including the L&N Stem Academy and Career Magnet Academy; the IB program, etc., and adds, “These multiple pathways to success have helped the Knox County Schools to increase our four-year high school graduation rate from 79.3% in 2008 to 88.7% for the class of 2014.”
(Well, that and generous “credit recovery” programs, allowing students to retake tests until they pass them, and other “blitz” and “dash” innovations that have artificially inflated the KCS graduation rate over the past few years).
McIntyre mentions innovative practices in teacher professional development and support, citing strategies such as Teacher Leadership (Mentor, Master, Lead Teacher and Instructional Coaches); Teacher Collaboration (Professional Learning Communities, Teacher-led Professional Development, Teacher Peer Excellence Groups, etc.); A Developmental Teacher Evaluation and Accountability System; and Strategic Compensation.
These are, for the most part, the laundry list of the things teachers cite as the LEAST helpful to them. But that’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.
He mentions the “exciting new Personalized Learning Environment (PLE) initiative, which has begun to transform teaching and learning in several of our schools with the support of comprehensive instructional technology.”
McIntyre praises our Community Schools, citing them as a way to address the dynamics that contribute to “pernicious gaps in achievement that are defined by income, race, disability and/or language.”
And of course, where would KCS be without the Principal Leadership Academy, the result of a partnership with the University of Tennessee. McIntyre adds, “Go Vols, Senator Alexander!”
On improving federal law to enhance innovation, McIntyre says, “I believe that the federal role in public education should be limited but effectual…first and foremost, that means greater autonomy for states and school districts in spending federal dollars.”
McIntyre mentions his mentor Dr. Rod Paige. In addition to scandals while he was Superintendent of Houston Schools, and conflict of interest violations while serving as U.S. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, Paige also infamously compared the National Education Association to a “terrorist organization” because of the way it was resisting many provisions of the NCLB law.
He continues, “Second, I believe there should be a federal role in ensuring that all states have both high standards and appropriate accountability systems.” He adds, “I unequivocally believe the federal government should NOT suggest or require any particular set of standards,” although he has voiced strong support for Common Core standards in the past.
And then he addresses what he calls the “thorniest issue: assessment.” He says, “I believe the federal requirement for annual state-wide assessment of students has been a necessary pre-requisite to educational improvement, and should be continued.”
Contrast that to the testimony given by another Tennessean, Hunters Lane High School (Metro Nashville) principal Susan Kessler, who said of assessments, “This is one of the most destructive unintended consequences of a well- intentioned public policy in the history of our country. The reality is, kids are more than a test score.”
She said the testing pressure created by NCLB and waivers has stifled innovation. “If we truly want schools to be centers of innovation where school personnel can develop new answers to problems then we must re-focus our emphasis on serving students rather than testing them.”
“Until we stop publishing lists of so called good school or failing schools, we will not provide an environment where educators have freedom to innovate, to learn from best practice, to approach things differently, because they are held captive by the fear of how every initiative will impact test scores.”
Kessler concludes, “Educators have been maligned, criticized and blamed in communities across the country in political circles. This can be stopped with a recognition that what teachers contribute cannot be measured by a mere test score.” You can read her entire testimony here: http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Kessler1.pdf.