After RTP’s earlier posting on the resignation of Huffman’s incompetent education data czar (Erin “TCAP” O’Hara) one of our crew stumbled across a news article from the Greeneville (TN) Sun that ran last weekend.
The Sun story revealed the incompetence of the state Dept. of Education in general and Ms. O’Hara’s shop in particular.
The Greeneville Sun
Education Dept. Error Raises Questions About Accountability
Apparent errors made by the Tennessee Department of Education in the first version of recently released 2014 School Accountability Lists have local educators questioning whether the labels the measurement system places on schools are doing more harm than good.
On Aug. 14, the Focus and Priority lists were first sent to superintendents statewide but embargoed from public release.
Greeneville City Director of Schools Dr. Linda Stroud saw that GHS and Tusculum View Elementary School were on the Focus list.
“Those are two of our highest performing schools,” she said.
“We knew we wouldn’t have any schools on Priority or Focus because we know the data of our schools, and they’re knocking the top out of it,” Stroud said.
With that data in hand, on Friday, Aug. 15, the city schools team reached out to Assistant Commissioner of Education Erin O’Hara, who serves as director of data and assessment for the state.
By Monday morning, Aug. 18, Stroud had not received a return call from O’Hara, so the decision was made to inform the schools’ principals in preparation for the list’s public release the following morning.
En route to GHS, Stroud received O’Hara’s return call. Bryant and Shelton participated in the conversation.
“She said, ‘Well, we looked at your data, and both of your schools are still on the list,'” Stroud recalled.
“I said, ‘Explain that to us. What are you looking at, because what we’re looking at, we’re in safe harbor. Why are we still on this list?'”
“We said, ‘Wait a minute. What are you doing? That’s not what the waiver says,’ and she [O’Hara] said, ‘What are you talking about?'”
Stroud pointed out the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind — called the ESEA Flexibility Request — which includes in it guidelines for accountability and how safe harbor should be applied.
“There was a long silence. I didn’t even know if we were still connected. She just said, ‘I’ll have to have further discussions,'” Stroud said.
Stroud heard nothing else from the State Department of Education for the rest of the day, and the two schools’ principals operated as if they were going to be placed on the Focus list.
REVISED WITHOUT EXPLANATION
But on Tuesday, Aug. 19, when the School Accountability lists were released to the public — several hours after the scheduled release time, prompting an investigation by The Greeneville Sun — neither GHS nor Tusculum View Elementary School were included on the Focus list.
Stroud said that a comparison of the two versions showed a change in status for approximately 40 schools.
Although individual districts were apparently contacted to discuss the changes, no overall explanation for the changes was given to directors across the state, Stroud said.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has not communicated with superintendents statewide “about why this happened or why the lists were changed,” Stroud said.
Department of Education Communications Director Kelli Gauthier confirmed to the Sun that the school districts received a preliminary embargoed list, and that safe harbors were applied, which changed the list.
Several questions from the Sun about how the safe harbor parameters were initially applied were not answered.
An Open Records request for the initial embargoed list had not received a response as of press time.
“It’s so hard to get people to understand how [accountability] is formulated anyway. But when you put a one-word label on somebody, that’s easy to understand,” Fraley said.
“It’s really hard to express. It sets a tone of distrust from here to Nashville. We don’t want our children labeled,” Donaldson said.
Stroud said she is relieved to have clarified the issue for Greeneville City Schools, but feels the state Department of Education needs to be held accountable.
“I don’t want people thinking that GHS and Tusculum View were on a list and I somehow got them off of a list. They should have never been on in the first place. They didn’t deserve to be on the list. They didn’t earn to be on the list,” Stroud said.
“This shows the lack of confidence that those in the field can place in our current data and accountability system.”
Stroud said she told Department of Education officials her thoughts about the situation.
“The Tennessee Department of Education needs to be held to the same high standards of accountability to which they are holding our teachers, students and school districts.
So Miss Erin really screwed up and it appears the Haslam Administration had no choice but to fire her, er, announce her resignation. And that begs the inevitable question:
Why does her arrogant, doofus boss still have a job?
[Editor’s Note: Typically, the major media completely ignored this story. Kudos to Sun reporter Sarah Gregory for a thorough job of producing an actual in-depth news story at a time when the large news outlets balk at writing more than a couple of hundred words on any subject. Sarah, you have a job waiting for you at RTP just as soon as we can get the Koch Brothers to write us a big check. That may take a while….]