MNPS and A Few Good Men

Nashville resident David Jones takes a moment to compare the MNPS School Board to the movie “A Few Good Men.” In short, he’s arguing that some on the board “can’t handle the truth.” He raises concerns that have been brought up by board member Amy Frogge but have yet to result in a change of course.

Here’s his letter:

There’s a melancholy scene in “A Few Good Men” in which two officers are found guilty of conduct unbecoming a United States Marine and are dishonorably discharged. Exasperated, Pfc. Louden Downey asks, “What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong!” A somber Lance Corporal Harold Dawson explains, “Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves.”

Nashville schools currently find themselves at a crossroads. Though sitting in a city so vibrant and prosperous, MNPS has been clouded with controversy and disappointment. While many were hopeful when Dr. Shawn Joseph took over as director in 2016, that hope soon eroded and was replaced by fear due to the actions (and inaction) of the director.

Over the past two and a half years, teachers, parents, and students have watched as Dr. Joseph not only has turned a blind eye to the indiscretions of his coworkers, but has been complicit in covering up their crimes as well. When Dr. Sam Braden, principal of JFK Middle School, was accused of multiple charges of sexual harassment, it was Shawn Joseph who promised he would work to make those files confidential in the future. When Arnett Bodenhamer, a former teacher and coach at Overton High School, attacked a student, it was Shawn Joseph who overruled the suggested firing and allowed Bodenhamer to continue teaching in MNPS. When an allegation of sexual harassment was made against Mo Carrasco, executive director of priority schools, it was Shawn Joseph who ignored MNPS rules and bypassed human resources, instead going straight to Carrasco. And to top it off, Shawn Joseph has failed to report at least 20 instances of misconduct to the state, which is required by state law.

Shawn Joseph’s refusal to do what is right has created a culture of fear in Nashville schools. Teachers are now scared about what might happen if a colleague sexually harasses them. Teachers have even expressed that they might not report harassment because not only will their complaint not be taken seriously, but they might face retribution from Shawn Joseph if they file a complaint against one of his friends.

Yet in a time when teachers are fearful, employees are being harassed, and leadership is absent, our board members do nothing, pretending the problem will get better while it only gets worse. Like Harold Dawson explained, our community looks to the board to fight for the people who can’t fight for themselves. If our board truly puts children first, they should be demanding accountability, protection, and responsibility.

Instead, we’re given excuses. At a time when our schools desperately need leaders, at a time when teachers are scared their harassment claims won’t be taken seriously, at a time when a large portion of our students fail to read at their current grade level, at a time when priority schools have doubled and funding has all but disappeared, we’re left with enablers—enablers who give Shawn Joseph free rein to waste money, protect the powerful, and exploit the most vulnerable.

It’s time to put an end to this charade. We deserve better. We demand better. It’s time the Board of Education starts fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves. It’s time the board votes to remove Shawn Joseph as director and puts us back on a path to success.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Amy Frogge Speaks Out

MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge speaks out about the behavior of Director of Schools Shawn Joseph:

Take a moment and watch this interaction between Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and a female reporter. It’s important to note that this reporter was actually invited to the MNPS press conference, where she asked a perfectly reasonable (and pretty predictable) question: What would you tell the parents of children in priority schools?

Joseph is quick to put this female reporter in her place with a rude and unprofessional response. Rather than answering her question, he turns the tables on her, trying to bully her. After the press conference, Joseph’s fraternity brothers followed this reporter into the parking lot to harass her, telling her that her questioning of Joseph was not appropriate.

Joseph’s frat brothers had been asked to stack the press conference to show support for Joseph, lending a rather tone-deaf atmosphere to the event. Although the press conference was held to address the fact that the number of “failing” schools has more than doubled under Joseph’s watch, Joseph began the conference by saying, “Can I get an amen?!” The conference, which should have been quite serious, was strangely filled with cheers for Joseph himself. (Joseph, through fliers distributed with his photo on them, often requests that his frat brothers show up to board meetings and other events to cheer him on or to go after anyone who questions him.)

Certainly, people have bad days, and I would perhaps just disregard Joseph’s testy interaction with this reporter under another circumstance. But I have seen this sort of behavior repeatedly from our Director. While he can be very nice toward those to do not question him, he changes his demeanor toward those who raise questions about problems in the district. (It took me a long to time to see the problem, since I was very supportive of Joseph for the first year and a half of his tenure.) He particularly does not tolerate questions from females (no matter how professional or polite) and uses bullying tactics to avoid answering them. This sets a poor tone for the district, as it is his job to answer questions.

Joseph has tried to put my in my place (by threatening lawsuits, by telling me what I can and cannot say on the board floor and by inviting his frat brothers to meetings to call me out). He has tried to put Jill Speering in her place by cutting Reading Recovery (her favorite program that she championed for decades), thereby suddenly firing 87 Reading Recovery teachers, many of whom were Jill’s friends, with no plan in place to repurpose them. And Joseph is already starting to go after Fran Bush, the newest board member to question him. Joseph loves to use race as a weapon to protect himself, quickly labeling anyone who disagrees with him a “racist,” but I think he will find this tactic increasingly difficult to utilize as more begin to speak up.

This is the behavior of a bully, plain and simple. Joseph has banned employees from speaking to board members. And just yesterday, he actually banned employees from writing anything negative on social media about the district or its leadership. These are crazy times.

Since I have begun speaking up against problematic practices in the district, I have received hundreds of thank-yous from MNPS employees and parents, including flowers and gifts. Not a day goes by that I do not receive a call or message from a grateful employee. The usual message is: “We are hanging on by a thread. Please, please keep it up!” I have suggested that others must start using their own voices to address problems, but employees- and amazingly even parents- respond, “Oh, no- we know how vindictive he is!” Teachers, bus drivers, and other staff members know they will lose their jobs for voicing problems (they’ve seen what Joseph did with Reading Recovery as vengeance against Jill), and parents actually fear that Joseph will take funding from their schools or try to punish their children in some way if they speak up. Something is seriously wrong when we have arrived at this place.

Jill, Fran, and I am more than happy to keep standing up and to serve as a voice for the voiceless. I have stood up to bullies before; I have no fear and absolutely nothing to lose. I always outlast them. But for things to truly change, Jill, Fran and I cannot continue to be the only voices speaking for the community. We are doing all we can, but we need help. Please consider speaking up, even if you must remain anonymous and ask someone else to serve as your voice.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

The Amato Files

Last week, Nashville educator and ProjectLIT founder Jarred Amato posted a Twitter thread about “priority schools” just as the latest round of Tennessee “reward” and “priority” schools were being announced.

The link to the entire thread is above, but here is some of what he had to say:

When policymakers and ed leaders talk about “priority schools,” wish they’d acknowledge how hard those students, families, and educators are working to overcome a system that is designed for them to fail.

 

Wish they’d spend real time in those schools, not to place blame or intimidate everyone with their suits and clipboards. But, to listen, to support, to truly care. To recognize the greatness. To identify where resources are needed.

Wish they wouldn’t wait until schools fall onto some special list to provide them with the resources they deserve.

 

Wish they’d use their power and influence to call out the racist and oppressive systems, instead of working (intentionally or unintentionally) to maintain the status quo.

 

Wish they’d stop looking for quick fixes and shortcuts that may help them get promotions or cute headlines, but ultimately aren’t making any real difference in the lives of students or families.

Wish they’d stop focusing exclusively on test scores (especially from a test that still needs a lot of work) to determine if a school is a good place for kids.

 

Wish they’d stop blaming families for choosing charter schools. Never worked in one (and they’ve got their own flaws), but shoot, there’s got to be a reason, right? Let’s stop with all the politics and talk about why.

 

Wish they’d help us flood our “priority” schools (and all of our schools) with TONS of books and love and support and snacks and books and materials and counselors and teachers and computers and community partners and trust and books.

 

Wish they stopped searching (and paying) for “turnaround” consultants and BS programs that are bandaids at best, educational malpractice at worst. Instead, let’s invest in communities, in people committed to the work.

 

Wish they’d acknowledge that this work is hard, that not everyone in our country (or city) actually wants ALL children to be literate, to be successful. That there are lots of folks benefitting from this system who will do whatever it takes to protect it.

 

Read the entire thread.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

When it Comes to Discipline, Money Matters

Over at the Law Professors Blog Network, Derek Black offers some insight on the importance of funding to obtaining better school discipline outcomes. Specifically, Black looks at Nashville and the positive impact a state grant had on reducing discipline referrals.

He starts by referencing some past analysis regarding funding, achievement gaps, and suspensions:

A month ago, I tried to show how school quality and school discipline are intertwined.  I talked about my prior research, put up a fancy color-coded map of school funding and achievement gaps from Bruce Baker and another fancy color-coded map of school suspensions by the ACLU and UCLA Civil Rights project.  A rough mashing together of these two maps showed that the funding and achievement gaps had substantial overlap with school suspensions.

Then, he turns to a pretty clear piece of evidence from Nashville:

The Tennessean reports that “[t]he increased support for students has helped almost every school see a reduction in office discipline referrals, helping keep kids in the classroom.”  The first school to implement the trauma informed practices saw “the most promising results, with a 97-percent reduction in discipline referrals.”  All but one of the other schools also saw impressive reductions:

  • Fall-Hamilton Elementary — 97 percent reduction in year one and a 53 percent reduction in year two over the previous year.
  • Eakin Elementary — 73 percent reduction.
  • Waverly Belmont Elementary — 29 percent reduction.
  • Napier Elementary — 15 percent reduction.
  • Hermitage Elementary — 60 percent reduction.
  • Inglewood Elementary — One percent reduction.
  • Tulip Grove Elementary — 52 percent reduction.
  • Meigs Magnet Middle Prep — 37 percent reduction.

So if someone asks what money buys, it buys district and school coordinators for the program, reduced suspensions, and more time in the classroom. 

The bottom line: Spending on quality programs has an impact. Money matters.

While Black notes the specific impact of the grant-funded program at select Nashville schools, it’s worth noting that Tennessee fails to adequately fund school counselors, school nurses, and trained interventionists (though a small RTI component was just added to the state’s funding formula). While education experts have noted the shortcomings, little has been done to actually make improving funding a priority. In fact, Tennessee has remained relatively stagnant in terms of funding in recent years.

Tennessee policymakers have been told what works and now have a very clear example of an intervention that gets results. So far, they’ve not been willing to act on this knowledge.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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A Nashville Teacher Speaks Out

MNPS teacher Amanda Kail last night delivered a speech to the School Board detailing the needs of teachers in terms of compensation and support.

Here’s the full text of her remarks:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the board. My name is Amanda Kail, and I am an MNPS teacher.

I am here today as part of the #Red4Ed movement that began in West Virginia, and has since spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and now Nashville. In our city, teachers across the district have joined together by wearing red on Tuesdays. We are doing this for 2 reasons: First, to show that we are united in our desire to see our district fully-funded, and second, because we are no longer content to sit back and donate our own money and time to subsidize what state and local officials won’t fund. So we plan to be at BOE and Metro Council meetings on Tuesdays, keeping track of votes and demanding change.

We find our current situation intolerable. Our district is ranked 12th in the state for average wages, yet we have one of the highest costs of living in the state. It takes a teacher with a Masters Degree 11 years to earn $50,000. We have lost vital staffing positions like the psychologists and social workers that keep our students OUT of the school-to-prison pipeline. Our schools are enduring painful cuts to the very resources and programs that support our students social-emotional well-being the most: arts and music, after school programs, and field trips. Maplewood needs its auto shop reopened.

I would also like to say that teachers not only have been subsidizing the district by donating our labor at sub-standard wages, we have been subsidizing the needs of our students and families. Like many teachers, I have fed, clothed, taken to the hospital, paid prison fees, and paid for the funerals of my students.

We say this is intolerable, but we are not content just to complain. We are here to demand change. Because by joining #Red4Ed, we join teachers across the country in becoming warriors for the dignity of our profession, and for the needs of our students and their families.

To that end, we are asking you to do what you can within the powers of your office.

The compensation committee will meet tomorrow to begin the process of recommending raises for teachers. We ask you to join us by making the work of the compensation committee a priority, and immediately begin working with Metro Council for a short-term plan for the 2019-20 budget to include 5% raises for faculty and staff, along with step raises, and a long-term plan to increase wages by a minimum of 5% every year until MNPS ranks in the top 50% of The Council of the Great City Schools. We also demand a revision to the salary schedule that allows teachers to reach competitive salaries in a reasonable amount of time.

Second, BOE shift priorities from increased pay for outside vendors and top administrators to affording the men and women on the ground who are actually doing the work of educating our city’s children (because honestly, right now the city can’t afford us).

Do right by Nashville’s families. Start the process to fully fund #ItCitySchools NOW.

 

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The Speering Letter

On Friday, MNPS Board member Jill Speering sent a letter to her colleagues regarding transparency. Here’s the text of that letter:

Good afternoon colleagues,

I’m writing to remind the board that on 8/20/2018 at 8:52a, I sent an email to the entire board requesting a discussion of several pertinent issues. At the agenda planning meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4th, the harassment policy was still on the draft agenda.

Yesterday, I learned the harassment policyhad been deleted from the Sept. 11th agenda. Apparently Shawn Joseph pulled the item without permission or discussion with the Board Chair. Via telephone, Anna Shepherd assured me she was unaware the item had been deleted and promised she would return the item to the agenda. This did not happen. Unfortunately Anna did not returned my phone call nor has she responded in text, about a time to discuss the agenda. If this is a matter of legal concerns, I’m sure board members will work within established paramaters to ensure adherence to legalities.

I suspect we have all received emails from constituents voicing concerns as to why items on the news are not discussed on the board floor. Dr. Joseph apparently is unwilling to talk about the board’s harassment policy or other items of interests in a public venue and actually walked away from cameras when news media approached him as reported on Channels 4 and 5. What would we think if the Mayor of Nashville or the Commissioner of Education behaved in such a manner? In my opinion this is unacceptable. I’m convinced Nashville taxpayers have grave concerns. It is time to be fully transparent and hold the director accountable to the public.

When the audit discussion was on the 8/28 agenda, you may recall that Anna and Dr. Joseph attempted to stop any discussion or questions. In response to Amy Frogge’s concerns, Anna promised to place the audit back on the agenda and allow questions to be answered in a public forum–not through emails or behind closed doors. Again, the audit is not on the 9/11 agenda and there appears to be no attempt to offer a rationale why important topics of discussion are consistently omitted from the agenda. You will also notice that safe drinking water has never been discussed on the board floor despite repeated requests from multiple board members.

We will elect a new Board Chair at the top of the 9/11 meeting. At that time I hope we will have a frank and thorough discussion about how we will hold the Chair accountable to place items of public interests on the agenda. We need to hear how the Chair plans to hold the director accountable for his actions and responses to public questions and concerns. Dr. Joseph is the highest paid public official in our city and appears to be the least responsive to taxpayers. This must stop!

I’ve lost all tolerance for Dr. Joseph and the leadership of this board. As servants, elected by the people, we must ensure public accountability. Our students, teachers and parents deserve no less!

After seeking legal advice, I’m copying news media in an effort for full disclose and adherence to the Sunshine Law.

Kindest regards,
Jill

 

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Battle Lines Being Drawn

Last week, the School Superintendents in Memphis and Nashville wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen calling for a pause in TNReady. The letter indicated the leaders had “no confidence” in TNReady. Following the letter, the Knox County School Board voted 8-1 to send a letter to Governor Haslam stating they had “no confidence” in the Department of Education. Later that week, the Director of Schools in Maury County said he agreed with the idea of pausing TNReady and suggested moving to the ACT suite of assessments.

Today, Commissioner McQueen issued a response. According to Chalkbeat, her response indicates that pausing TNReady would be “illegal and inconsistent with our values as a state.”

McQueen cites federal and state law requiring test administration. Here’s the deal: The entity that determines the penalty for violating state law regarding testing is the Department of Education. The penalty they can use is withholding BEP funds. This is the threat they used back in 2016 to force districts to back down on threats to halt testing then.

Let’s be clear: The Tennessee Department of Education is the enforcer of the state testing mandate. The DOE could refuse to penalize districts who paused testing OR the DOE could take the suggestion made by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville and just hit the pause button for this year and work toward an effective administration of testing for 2019-20.

Next, McQueen cites federal law. I’ve written about why this is misguided. Here’s more:

There’s just one problem: The federal government has not (yet) penalized a single district for failing to hit the 95% benchmark. In fact, in the face of significant opt-outs in New York last year (including one district where 89% of students opted-out), the U.S. Department of Education communicated a clear message to New York state education leaders:  Districts and states will not suffer a loss of federal dollars due to high test refusal rates. The USDOE left it up to New York to decide whether or not to penalize districts financially.

That’s right, the federal government tends to leave decisions regarding punishment up to the states. Of course, Tennessee could also request a 1-year waiver of ESSA requirements in order to further clarify the need to get testing right. In short, the only problem now is McQueen’s unwillingness to admit failure and take aggressive steps to make improvement.

McQueen also says that halting testing is “inconsistent” with Tennessee values.

While in McQueen’s world, halting testing is inconsistent with our state’s values, lying about why testing isn’t working is apparently perfectly fine. Oh, and playing a game with testing vendors? No problem!

McQueen claims that we need the tests to help identify gaps in education delivery in traditionally under-served students. Yes, having a working annual assessment can be a helpful tool in identifying those gaps. But, when the test doesn’t work — when students get the wrong test, when the testing climate is not consistent — then we get results that are unreliable. That helps no one.

What should be consistent with Tennessee values is taking the time to get testing right. That means ensuring it’s not disruptive to the instruction process and the results are useful and returned to students, teachers, and parents in a timely fashion.

Will McQueen’s letter deter other district leaders from speaking out on TNReady? Will there be additional fallout from the DOE’s failure to effectively administer Pre-K/K portfolios?

Stay tuned.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

“No Confidence” in TNReady

Just days after members of the Knox County School Board took the Tennessee Department of Education to task for “incompetence” and an “abject failure” to measure student achievement or teacher performance, the Directors of the state’s two largest school districts, Nashville and Memphis, sent a letter to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Governor Bill Haslam stating they had “no confidence” in TNReady and asking the state to pause the test.

The letter, signed by Nashville’s Shawn Joseph and Shelby County’s Dorsey Hopson, says in part:

“We respectfully ask the State to hit the pause button on TNReady in order to allow the next Governor and Commissioner to convene a statewide working group of educators to sort out the myriad challenges in a statewide, collaborative conversation.”

The two leaders, whose districts represent 20 percent of all students in Tennessee, note:

“We are challenged to explain to teachers, parents, and students why they must accept the results of a test that has not been effectively deployed.”

The language from these two directors is the strongest yet from any district and the first to call for an outright stop to administration of the TNReady test while the state explores other options. Johnson City’s school board sent a proposal asking for a significant reduction in testing while Wilson County is exploring the possibility of administering a different test altogether. At the same time, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney expressed concern about the poor administration of this year’s test.

It seems clear there is growing concern among educators about the continued use of TNReady. As Joseph and Hopson note, taxpayer resources have been invested in a test that is poorly implemented and yields suspect results. Taking their suggestion of a pause could give the state and a new Governor and Education Commissioner time to actually develop a process for administering an aligned assessment that does not disrupt instruction and does return useful, meaningful results to teachers, parents, and students.

Here’s the letter:

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CLC Announces MNPS Endorsements

Nashville’s Central Labor Council has announced endorsements in the upcoming School Board races in Nashville. Here’s their announcement:

We are proud to announce that the delegates at last week’s Central Labor Council meeting voted to endorse Metro Nashville and Davidson County School Board candidates Thomas “TC” Weber of District 2, Tyese Hunter of District 6, and Gini Pupo Walker of District 8. Candidates submitted questionnaires pertaining to their commitment to students, workers, and support staff as well as met with local union delegates to discuss the candidate’s awareness and concern regarding our affiliates’ pressing issues. CLC is confident these school board candidates, once elected, will fulfill their commitment to prioritize the needs and well-being of Nashville students, workers, and the greater community.

Election day is August 2nd. Early voting runs July 13 – 28.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

An “It City” for Everyone

The Equity Alliance takes on the Nashville schools budget. Here’s their latest email:

The Equity Alliance advocates for African Americans and other communities of color to have a fair and just opportunity to realize the American dream. There is nothing more foundational to American success than obtaining a high-quality education. A free and public education should be the birthright for every child in our city.

Metro Nashville Public Schools serves 71% minority students with African Americans consisting of 42% of this population. If our goal is to ensure Nashville’s children have the best head start in life, then the equitable distribution of resources for public schools is a universal start. If Nashville is to really be the It City, we MUST be deliberate in supporting all communities, especially those who have historically been overlooked. This cannot happen if our schools are forced to continue operating without being fully funded.

MNPS will experience a budget shortfall for the 2018-19 school year. This is happening at a time when corporate interests are being catered to using taxpayer dollars, and the misappropriation of funds leads to high-dollar economic investments that benefit the few.

The proposed budget for MNPS is an additional $45 million, but Metro is offering $5 million to operate next year. In the past, Nashville’s public school system made up about 50% of the city’s budget. The proposal set to go before the Metro Council this month leaves schools at close to 41%. In fact, a piece of school property will be sold for $13 million to even meet that percentage. Schools are closing, academic programs are being cut, and even the free school lunch program is seeing major reductions if this happens. At a time when corporations and private entities are being financially supported by our city, why should our public schools be begging for coins?

Nashville’s children should have access to the best possible education, and Superintendent Dr. Shawn Joseph needs the support of the school board, Metro Council, and Mayor’s office to lead the district’s academic progress.

On Tuesday, the Metro Council will be taking public comments on the proposed budget. We urge our elected officials to find more funding for our schools.

Make Your Voice Heard

Metro Council Meeting
Tuesday, June 5
6:30 p.m.
Metro Courthouse Building
1 Public Square, Nashville, TN 37201 – 2nd Floor

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport