#BacktoMNPS Problems

The first day back to school is always an exciting time! But for MNPS, there are some problems lingering over it.

Overton

MNPS announced late last week that Overton High School would start two days late because construction was not completed at the school. News came out today that Overton may push back the first day again. I was at Overton late this summer, and there were literally no exterior walls on parts of the building. A plan of action should have been put into place earlier. On July 26th, someone tweeted school board member Will Pinkston about the delays at Overton. He responded, “Don’t like it, call the charters.”

Lead in the water

Friday news dumps are used to avoid the media. MNPS used a Friday news dump to let the city know about the results of the lead testing. As one would expect, there was lead found in numerous buildings across the district. Here’s part of the report:

With results in for 138 buildings, 119 buildings had no lead levels above the public drinking water standard.  Of the more than 4,000 samples taken during the past three weeks, only 38 showed lead levels above the standard of public water systems (15 parts per billion) – that is just less than one percent of the total tested. All 38 of those sample locations, which are in 19 schools, have been disconnected and taken out of service until repairs can be made and water retested.

Hunters Lane

A family filed suit last week alleging Hunters Lane violated Title IX. From The Tennessean:

According to the lawsuit, the girl was “subjected to unwelcome sexual contact by a male student” April 17 in an unlocked classroom while another student recorded it on video.

“This practice was so widespread within the Defendant’s school system that the students nicknamed the activity ‘exposing’ the individual involved,” the lawsuit says. The videos prompt ridicule as they are circulated around the school and internet, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says when the school learned of the video, it violated Title IX by suspending the 15-year-old girl and doled out no discipline intended to stop the spread of the video. The two other students involved were also suspended, according to the lawsuit.

Teacher Shortage

It’s a yearly problem felt across the country. WKRN reports that MNPS is short 140 teachers. Most of shortages are for math and special education. We need our leadership, both central office and school board, to focus on ways to retain our teachers.

Metro Schools says it has about an 80 percent retention rate. That means in a school district with about 6,000 teachers, about 1,200 teachers leave each year. Half of those teachers leave after only a year or two of teaching.

LEAD Public Schools released the news that their CEO, Chris Reynolds, was resigning days before the start of the new school year. Without missing a beat, Will Pinkston wrote an open letter attacking the school and paid for it to be advertised on Facebook. In his letter, Pinkston wrote,  “I am writing to demand a detail explanation of the reasons behind Reynold’s departure.”

Parent and blogger TC Weber had the perfect response detailing the scores of people that have left MNPS in just the past few weeks. According to Pinkston, the loss of MNPS staff is nonsense.

I agree with TC.  Let’s spend the necessary time and effort to make our school system better before we go off attacking others.

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


 

Memphis, Cincinnati, Louisville

These three nearby cities — similar in size and demographics to Nashville — pay teachers significantly more and have lower cost of living.

How can Nashville begin to close the gap?

Certainly, there’s a local responsibility. MNPS should work closely with Mayor Barry and Metro Council to make investing in teacher pay and support a top priority. There’s no reason these cities should be able to afford to pay significantly more than Nashville.

Next, leaders in Nashville should press the state to fund teacher compensation through the BEP formula at a rate that matches the actual cost of hiring a teacher. Doing so would mean an additional $21 million a year for MNPS. Invested and distributed equally, those funds could mean a raise of over $3000 per teacher. That’s not enough, but it’s a start toward improving pay.

Of course, Nashville’s policymakers can’t get away with just blaming the state — Memphis also deals with Tennessee’s inadequate BEP and still manages to offer a pay rate that is better than Nashville’s with a cost of living that is lower.

Shelby County pays teachers about $6000 more per year than Nashville. Teachers in Cincinnati and Louisville can expect to earn around $7000 more per year than Nashville teachers after 10 years and about $15,000 more per year after 20 years of experience.

Tennessee should definitely step up and invest in teachers across the state, and that would certainly benefit Nashville. But Nashville leaders must making teacher compensation and support a top priority.

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


 

Teacher Turnover in MNPS

It is a problem. A big one. The Tennessean reports:

Over 50 percent of the teachers leaving Metro Nashville Public Schools are within their first three years of teaching, according to district officials.

The article notes the district is taking some steps to address this:

Due to the high turnover, district leaders said they hope to expand retention initiatives in the coming year by making mandatory a new teacher introductory program, as well as ensuring all new teachers have a seasoned mentors to guide them.

Those are both important. Mentoring can be a great way to help new teachers navigate their first years in a very challenging profession.

School Board member Amy Frogge also raised the issue of teacher pay. It’s certainly worth examining.

As I noted earlier this week, teachers in Nashville aren’t paid as well as their counterparts in similar urban districts, like Louisville. They also face a city with a rising cost of living.

This fact should be of concern:

The salary to live comfortably in Louisville is $49,000. Teachers in Louisville hit that pay rate by year 5. A teacher in Nashville isn’t making $49,000 even after 10 years of experience. The pay scale in Nashville simply isn’t moving up quickly enough.

Teach your heart out in MNPS for 10 years and you still don’t make $50,000 a year. Is it any wonder teachers leave early on to pursue other, more financially rewarding careers?

No, it’s not all about money. But when teachers in Nashville can’t even earn enough to live comfortably in the city, we have a problem. When teachers in Nashville earn $15,000 less than teachers in Louisville after 20 years of experience, we have a problem.

Leaving behind the comparison to Louisville, one big problem is teacher pay relative to cost of living:

Imagine working for 25 years in the same profession, earning an advanced degree in your field, and making $7000 less than the “comfortable living” salary for your city? That’s what’s happening in MNPS.

Another part of the problem with teacher pay in Nashville can be attributed to a state government that has historically kept teacher pay relatively low. In fact, teachers in Tennessee earn roughly 30% less than similarly educated professionals.

Certainly, a number of factors contribute to high teacher turnover among early career teachers. Teaching is a difficult job and doing it well requires resources and support. Teacher pay is certainly a part of the equation. Adding mentors and mandating an introductory program may help, but addressing pay is also essential. As the Tennessean article notes:

Last year, the district faced more than 100 vacancies by the end of July and with about a week until school started. That was higher than in previous years, given the district has averaged about 40 teacher vacancies at the beginning of the school year.

It’s difficult to sign people up for a challenging job that pays 30% less than other professions requiring similar preparation. It’s clearly challenging to keep people in those jobs once they’ve taken them.

How long will MNPS’s relatively low pay for teachers be sustainable?

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


 

Not Nearly Enough

How much are MNPS teachers paid relative to their peers in similar districts? This was a question I attempted to answer two years ago. The results then were discouraging. They clearly indicated MNPS needed to do much more in terms of compensation for educators.

The question of the adequacy (or, rather, inadequacy) of MNPS teacher compensation is relevant again in light of a recently published study in Business Insider. Here’s the key finding:

It takes a salary of $70,150 to live in Nashville today.

Here’s how they came up with that number:

Live comfortably factors include housing, groceries, utilities and health insurance premiums. Monthly costs were totaled and multiplied by 12 to get the annual dollar cost of necessities in each city. This dollar amount for necessities was then doubled to find the actual annual income needed to live comfortably in the city, assuming a person is following the 50-30-20 budgeting guideline, which requires an income double the cost of necessities. This study also compared the amount of income needed in each city to each city’s actual median pretax household income, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. The amount of money specified for savings is equal to 20 percent of the total income needed, and the amount specified for discretionary spending is equal to 30 percent of the total income needed.

And, I’m going to point out again:

It takes a salary of $70,150 to live in Nashville today.

So, how are Nashville’s teachers doing in the “live comfortably” index? Not so good.

Teachers in Nashville will receive a 3% raise this year, so that’s positive. Getting to that point did take some back and forth between the School Board and Mayor Barry, but it got done. However, it’s not nearly enough to get them to a “comfortable” salary. Or even one that is competitive with similar cities.

In my 2015 analysis, I compared Nashville to a number of similar cities. For this case, we’ll look at Louisville, Kentucky. It’s roughly the same size, has slightly more students, and is just a few hours away. A teacher graduating from MTSU or Western Kentucky could reasonably look at jobs in Nashville and Louisville and be close to friends and family in either city.

Teachers in Nashville start at $42,100 with a bachelor’s degree. In Louisville, they start at $42,700. So, starting pay in Nashville is competitive. But, let’s look longer term. That same teacher after 10 years in Nashville will earn $47,000. In Louisville, it’s $54,974.

Oh, and let me note this: The salary to live comfortably in Louisville is $49,000. Teachers in Louisville hit that pay rate by year 5. A teacher in Nashville isn’t making $49,000 even after 10 years of experience. The pay scale in Nashville simply isn’t moving up quickly enough.

So, what about after 20 years? A Nashville teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 20 years experience makes $56,000. In Louisville, that teacher makes $71,000. A teacher working in Louisville with 20 years experience earns $22,000 more a year than that city’s “comfortable living” salary. In fact, they earn more than Nashville’s “comfortable” salary.

How about the top of the pay scale? At year 25, a Nashville teacher earns $57,000. In Louisville, it’s just over $72,000.

Some may note that teachers often earn advance degrees over the course of their career and that boosts pay. That’s true. So, a teacher with a master’s degree working in Nashville earns $62,600 at the top of the scale. In Louisville, it’s $78,000.

Imagine working for 25 years in the same profession, earning an advanced degree in your field, and making $7000 less than the “comfortable living” salary for your city? That’s what’s happening in MNPS.

One more note: If Nashville teachers want to come closer to the comfortable living salary, they could make their home in Nashville and commute to Williamson County, where teachers at the top of the scale with a bachelor’s degree earn just over $61,000 — or $4000 more than Nashville teachers. Got a master’s degree? You can earn just over $65,000 at the top of Williamson County’s scale.

Attracting and retaining teachers will become increasingly more difficult if MNPS doesn’t do more to address the inadequacy of it’s salaries. The system was not paying competitively relative to its peers two years ago, and Nashville’s rapid growth has come with a rising cost of living. Does Nashville value it’s teachers enough to pay them a comfortable salary? Or, will Nashville let cities like Louisville continue to best them in teacher compensation?

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


 

MNPS Hosts Early Childhood Summit

From a press release:

Metro Schools brought together early childhood educators, community partners and businesses to connect and collaborate at MNPS’ Excellence in Early Education Summit 2017 on June 21.

Attendees learned about MNPS’ pre-K program developments throughout this past year, and the program’s work towards building quality pre-K across Davidson County.

The summit also highlighted the milestones met through the federal Preschool Development Grant – Expansion (PDG-E), which has provided MNPS the opportunity to expand access to high quality pre-school programs by adding new classrooms and strengthening the quality of existing classrooms.

Dr. Shawn Joseph and Mayor Megan Barry provided remarks during the summit focused on the importance of building a strong learning foundation to support and develop Nashville’s youngest learners. Dr. Elizabeth Alves, assistant commissioner for the Office of Early Learning and Literacy at the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE), provided the keynote and discussed the importance of quality pre-K programs throughout Tennessee.

MNPS Pre-K community partners participated in a round table discussion, including: Conexión Américas, Global Education Center, KinderCare, Nashville Public Library, MNPS Pre-K Comprehensive Services, MNPS Plant the Seed, MNPS Pre-K Coaching and Instructional Support, The Headstart Program (Metro Action Commission), United Way of Metropolitan Nashville and Vanderbilt Peabody Research Institute. During their presentations, they provided attendees with an overview of their organization, and discussed their work through the PDG-E grant and the impact they have had on Metro’s pre-K program and students.

This is the second Excellence in Early Education Summit hosted by Metro Schools. The event was sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Education with Preschool Development Grant-Expansion Funds.

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


 

Finally 4=4

Over the past three years, Governor Haslam has proposed and the General Assembly has approved significant increases in funds for teacher compensation. Unfortunately, those dollars haven’t always made it into teacher paychecks. There are a number of reasons for this. One of those is the State Board of Education’s decision in the past two years to approve smaller adjustments to the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers.

Today, the State Board of Education met and voted on the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers for 2017-18. This year, the Board approved a 4% increase in the minimum salary and also adjusted each step on the scale by 4%. This matches the appropriation of the General Assembly, which passed a budget that included a 4% increase in BEP funds for teacher compensation.

According to the state’s analysis, this change will require 46 of the state’s 141 districts to raise teacher pay. These are mostly rural districts on the low end of the state’s teacher pay range. This will mean a number of teachers across the state should see meaningful increases in their paychecks in the coming year.

The new minimum salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $33,745. The top of the scale for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 years of experience (the scale includes only 4 steps for teachers with bachelor’s degrees, just three if you have an advanced degree) is $40,595. For advanced degrees, salaries must start at $37,300 and step three (11 years experience or more) requires a minimum of $45,075.

That $40,595 figure after 11 years of teaching seems disturbingly low. In fact, I’ve argued before that Tennessee should aim for a starting pay for teachers of at least $40,000.

That said, this year’s State Board of Education represents real progress that will result in significant pay increases for teachers in nearly a third of the state’s districts. Perhaps the upward pressure will also encourage other districts to push their pay up. We’ve already seen Metro Nashville move toward a 3% raise, as one example.

Here’s how the Tennessee Education Association viewed today’s salary move:

For the first time in four years, the Tennessee State Board of Education voted Wednesday to apply the full raise budgeted by the General Assembly for teachers to the State Minimum Salary Schedule. TEA has pushed the legislature and the state board for years to reinstate the practice of applying the full amount to the salary schedule as it is the best way to ensure all Tennessee teachers receive the raise promised to them by the governor and their legislators.

“When the board moved away from applying the entire raise percentage to the salary schedule, disparities in teacher pay and stagnant wages increased statewide,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “While Governor Haslam and the state legislature have done their part to increase teacher salaries, only a fraction of the budgeted raises were actually trickling down into teacher paychecks. The state board action this week should begin to remedy that problem.”

The recommendation by the Department of Education and the vote by the state board to increase the salary schedule and each step by 4 percent are in direct response to TEA’s advocacy efforts. Hundreds of TEA members have contacted legislators to let them know their teachers back home were not receiving the raises passed in the General Assembly. Members and TEA staff worked closely with the administration and legislators to find a way to correct the issue.

“Teachers statewide are increasingly struggling to support their own families on the stagnant wages of a public school teacher,” Gray said. “It is unacceptable for teachers to have to choose between the profession they love and their ability to keep the lights on at home or send their own children to college. The pressure applied by state elected officials was critical to reversing the State Board’s pattern of diminishing the raise passed by the General Assembly, a move which should finally make our teachers whole and help them support their families.”

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


 

 

Pinkston: Charter Industry Unraveling

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston argues in today’s Tennessean that Nashville’s charter school industry is unraveling.

To make his case, he cites a federal class action lawsuit against RePublic charter schools, a state finding that Rocketship isn’t following the law when it comes to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, and a significant financial deficit at LEAD Public Schools.

Of Rocketship, Pinkston notes:

Despite failing to serve its current students, Rocketship routinely makes end-runs around the local school board to seek state approval of more charters. That’s because Rocketship’s growth isn’t driven by what’s best for kids but rather by its real-estate deals with Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, a for-profit investment fund co-managed by tennis star Andre Agassi.

Taken together, Pinkston says, the problems faced by these three charter operators show an industry not living up to its hype.

Add to that the expense of charters, and Pinkston says we should exercise caution. He previously noted based on the findings of an audit of MNPS:

Briefly: The new audit acknowledges that unabated growth of charter schools does, in fact, have a fiscal impact on existing MNPS schools. The operative language in the audit relative to charter fiscal impact can be found on Page 3-16, which states: “The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

While some call it a distraction, the charter debate is alive and well in MNPS.

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


 

MNPS Responds To Large Number Of Bus Driver Complaints

Jason Gonzales at the Tennessean has a report out today that shows that there have been almost 400 complaints on MNPS bus drivers from August to January. These complaints range from not picking up students at the correct bus stop to some very serious accusations.

One case in the six-month span included an allegation against a bus driver of inappropriate communication with a student.

“Mom wants to report what she thinks may be suspicious activity between her 17-year-old daughter and her bus driver ‘Mr. Q.’ Mom says the driver bought her daughter a cell phone. Mom has the phone and found text messages between the two saying: ‘I’m thinking about you’ and ‘what are you doing,'” the January complaint reads.

“Also, she says that the driver has given her daughter money.”

MNPS doesn’t track the resolutions to these complaints so there is no information on if theses accusations were dealt with. Another accusation seems to read like the bus driver was okay with students fighting.

“(Parent) states when her son was on the bus in the afternoon route … three male students told her son they were going to jump him. The driver told the students, ‘whatever you do off the bus is up to you.’ Parent states after students got off the bus they jumped her son and busted his head. She feels the driver encouraged the students to jump her son, and didn’t do anything to prevent the incident,” a parent complaint to Metro Schools file in September says.

The board and district must act quickly in finding a solution to this problem and investigate all complaints. If bus drivers are having inappropriate relationships with students and encouraging violence, the punishment should be swift and harsh.

Thousands of students ride the bus each and every day. Their safety should be the top priority. This will now be the district’s top priority thanks to the reporting of Jason Gonzales. It shouldn’t have taken this long.

Palacios said the request of records for bus driver complaints “has been enlightening and identified as a serious priority” by the district. The management tool to monitor how resolutions came about from complaints would also be able to monitor discipline trends and how many drivers were disciplined, she said.

You can read the full article here.

Update (10:20am)

School board member Will Pinkston responded to the story on twitter.

Uncharacteristically good reporting by . I’ve been complaining about stuff like this since 2014. I’m glad is under new management. The new team is fixing broken processes and creating new processes where none existed. Logical follow-up reporting would be: Jesse Register systematically cut wages and hours bus drivers, causing many of the most experienced drivers to go elsewhere and leaving the remaining drivers overworked and stressed out. He left behind a mess.

The blame Register excuse is getting old from the school board. Jesse Register left Metro Nashville Public Schools on June 30, 2015. MNPS has been without Register for 633 days. The fault from this falls squarely on MNPS and the school board. Acknowledge the issue, fix it, and move on to the next set of issues facing our school system. Don’t spend time blaming others when you have the power to make changes yourself but failed to do so.

Blaming the problems of now on a leader who left 633 days ago is poor leadership.

Update (11:55am)

Nashville school board member Pinkston has responded via twitter:

Sounds like the nitwits are coming unglued and trying to blame the bus driver stuff on me. Let’s be clear about who did what and when. Let’s not forget who attacked for meeting with bus drivers to discuss their poor working conditions.

 

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

 


 

 

Walkout!

A large group of students at Antioch High School walked out Friday morning due to a number of issues they say need to be addressed at the school.

Here’s the list of grievances from the students:

  • Administration’s decision to deny all applicable students the opportunity to take the PSAT, ruining their chances to qualify for National Merit Scholar scholarships
  • Extremely strict dress code that removes students from their learning environment based on what they are wearing
  • The fragmentation of school clubs and activities due to the denial of fundraising
  • Cancelation of Senior Week and all senior activities
  • Lack of adequate facilities
  • Vacancy of teachers for crucial classes
  • Unorganized administration
  • Failure to involve students in the decision making of school policies
  • Unfair and unequal treatment of staff members
  • Failure of administration to respond to student concerns in a timely manner
  • Cafeteria food that is moldy or undercooked and therefore unable to be consumed
  • Lack of fair discipline
  • Having an unlicensed principle for half of the school year
  • Discontinuation of Fee Waivers for students in tough financial situations
  • Tardy Policy that is extremely strict and unwarranted

NewsChannel5 also reports that a number of teacher have already or will be leaving the school:

Teachers there told NewsChannel 5 more than half the staff has already decided not to return next year. In fact, many teachers have already left.

MNPS offered the following response:

“A few hundred students at Antioch High School participated in a peaceful walkout today in response to a personnel issue involving the football coach. Personnel matters at schools are at the discretion of the principal. We are working with the administration at Antioch High School to resolve this issue with the community.”

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


 

Will Pinkston on the Nashville Chamber Education Report Card

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston had this to say about yesterday’s release of the Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card:

After digesting the news accounts of yesterday’s 2016 Education Report Card staged by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, I am more convinced than ever that the Chamber is an enemy of public education — and frankly, it has been for a long time. Consider this passage in Nashville Public Radio’s report, taken directly from the Chamber Report Card: “Over the past two decades, Metro Schools has launched various district reading and literacy initiatives, with no discernible impact on overall reading results.” This is true. However, this line could easily be rewritten to read: “Over the past two decades, the Chamber has meddled constantly in the affairs of Metro Nashville Public Schools, with no discernible impact on overall results.”

The reality is: The last two directors of MNPS — Jesse Register (2009-15) and Pedro Garcia (2001-08) — were the Chamber’s hand-picked superintendents who presided over stagnant growth in reading proficiency and, in Register’s case, a proliferation of struggling schools and lack of innovation to assist English learners, who represent the fastest-growing segment of our student population. I know this because I serve Nashville School Board District 7, where 43% of our students are struggling to learn English. Our lack of progress in helping these kids was a big reason why I led the charge in 2014 to exit Register from the school system and install new management that can think and act strategically.

What was the Chamber’s response? Not surprisingly, the Chamber did not step forward and agree that a leadership change was needed at MNPS. To the contrary, the Chamber and its rubber-stamp Report Card Committee instead attacked me and other board members who actually were confronting problems, versus turning a blind eye to the situation. The fact is the Chamber, through its lack of understanding of public education and lack of leadership in this community, helped to enable poor-performing superintendents for the better part of two decades — while at the same time trying, mostly ineffectively, to destabilize the school board in local elections. Adding insult to injury, the Chamber has advocated to strip the school board of local control while vigorously endorsing vouchers and the unabated growth of charter schools, which drain finite resources at a time when MNPS is now universally considered to be an under-funded school system. If the Chamber and the Report Card Committee aren’t happy with the lack of progress, perhaps they should take a look in the mirror and do some soul-searching. I daresay they won’t see any profiles in courage.

All that said: I’m optimistic that MNPS is finally headed in the right direction. This year, the school board exerted overdue independence and sidelined the Chamber during the search for our new MNPS director. In typical passive-aggressive fashion, Chamber leaders pouted throughout the months-long search process, then tried to take credit for the favorable outcome, and then attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to oust from elected office one-third of the school board — members who played key roles in ushering in the new leadership. Our new director of schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, now is doing yeoman’s labor getting his arms around years of problems that have been either created or exacerbated by the Chamber. Thankfully, the Mayor, the Metro Council, and the school board are finally on the same page. We’re all working together to lead public education forward, no thanks to the Chamber.

So now let me send the same message to Ralph Schulz and the Chamber that I sent to former Tennessean columnist Frank Daniels (whose sycophantic and obsequious support of the Chamber helped perpetuate some of this mess): MNPS is going to succeed despite you, not because of you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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