Changes Are Coming To Nashville Middle Schools

Dr. Joseph heard a lot of critiques about Metro Nashville’s middle schools when he arrived in Nashville. He later found out that those critiques were spot on, according to Nashville Public Radio.

The newly-hired administrative team held 30 parent listening sessions over the first few weeks. And moms and dads kept talking about middle schools and how they’d like to see them add rigor, more advanced courses and even just a bit more homework.

As a former middle school principal, superintendent Shawn Joseph thought maybe parents were just misunderstanding their pre-teen children. But then he visited many of the district’s middle schools, and the concerns about academics were “validated.”

As a middle middleprepschool teacher, I’ve clearly seen the need for the transformation of middle schools. The district spent so much time transforming high schools that it felt like they forgot about middle schools.

While elementary schools are now getting more resources, middle schools got a new name in 2014 (Middle Preps) and were left alone. It’s like needing stitches and throwing a bandaid on it. It’s time for a real transformation and not just a quick fix. It didn’t work in 2014 and it won’t work now.

As I wrote in September following the release of ACT scores,

Preparing our students for graduation starts before the students even get to the high school level. MNPS transformed our high schools years ago towards the academy model. I think it’s time to start looking at the transformation of elementary and middle schools.

Elementary and middle schools need more supports in place to help close the gaps before students move on to high school. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope MNPS will be looking into ways to give more support to our lower grades.

It looks like Dr. Joseph is answering this call. I think too many students are still coming to middle school without basic skills that middle school teachers are not usually equipped to handle. I hope Dr. Joseph will continue to add more support to elementary schools while he is working to transform middle schools.

So when will these changes start to take place?

“Now is the time to give middle schools the love and attention they need to help strengthen our high school programs,” Joseph says.

Joseph cautions that he doesn’t anticipate any “mid-year, shoot-from-the-hip shifts.”

“We’ll take a bite at the apple next year with more comprehensive plans in year two and three,” he says.

Good luck, Dr. Joseph.

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


 

Nashville Teachers Vote for Conferencing

Teachers in Nashville overwhelming voted to enter into contract negotiations by way of Collaborative Conferencing according to a press release from the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA).

According to the release, 85% of teachers selected MNEA as the bargaining agent, meaning no other organization will represent Nashville teachers at the bargaining table. Under the rules for collaborative conferencing, any organization representing teachers that earns the support of at least 15% of teachers can play a role in the bargaining process.

MNEA President Erik Huth described the vote as an “overwhelming” victory for teachers and MNEA and noted that his organization has represented Nashville teachers for over 50 years, pre-dating collective bargaining.

According to MNEA, the next step in the process is training for both board members and teacher negotiators.

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


 

 

Red Flags Rising

MNPS parent and blogger TC Weber has written several pieces about new Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph. His latest compares Dr. Joseph’s start to that of former MNPS Director of Schools Pedro Garcia. It’s an interesting approach and well-researched. No matter your thoughts on TC’s conclusions, the parallels are worth considering.

Here’s how he starts:

It has been an interesting couple of months here in Nashville. Back in July, we got a brand new Director of Schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph. Everybody broke their arms clapping themselves on the back because it appeared we had a found a good old fashioned champion of public education for a superintendent. While in some ways that may be true, it appears that we may have gotten something else. The jury is still out on exactly what kind of director we’ve hired, but it’s safe to say that a number of red flags have arisen.

Over the last several months, I’ve written several posts outlining these red flags that have arisen since Dr. Joseph was hired.

Read more to see the issues TC identifies as potential red flags.

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


 

TFA Donates $1.3 Million Worth of Printers to MNPS

Wow! Teach For America has donated $1.3 million worth of HP printers to MNPS. That’s a lot of printers for teachers to use! From the MNPS blog:

On Oct. 10 2016, Teach for America announced that they would be donating $1.3 million worth of printers from Hewlett Packard (HP) to Metro Nashville Public Schools. Why? To help offset the amount of out-of-pocket spending that teachers do every school year.

“Across the district, our children will benefit directly from this donation, which provides essential educational tools to boost student achievement,” said Ken Stark, executive officer for operations of Metro Schools. “We thank Hewlett Packard and Teach for America for their support.”

According to Time magazine, a report from the Education Market Association says that on average, teachers spend around $500 on supplies for their classrooms, with one in 10 spending $1,000 or more. Teach for America arranged the donation from HP to reinforce the resources needed in Metro schools every day.

Printers started being delivered to every Metro school on Oct. 10, 2016.

“We are grateful for the incredible investment HP has made to better the educational opportunities of thousands of public school children throughout the Greater Nashville area,” said Ben Schumacher, Teach for America-Greater Nashville Executive Director.

Teach for America has been a partner of Metro Schools since 2009, working to close the opportunity gap for students in low-income communities. Today, 670 Teach for America alumni call Nashville home, with 75 percent of those working full-time in education. Others are working in education policy or for education technology companies like GoNoodle and LiveSchool.

“Collaboration is critical for advancement, and we are thankful for our partnerships with HP and Metro Schools, to name a few,” said Shumacher. “Our collective investments allow us to serve more Nashville students and prepare them for success beyond high school graduation.”

Thanks to HP and TFA for the printers!

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

 


 

Four Reasons Why We Need Later Start Times For High School Students

The Metro Nashville school board will begin investigating later start times for their high school students. Right now high schools start at 7:05 in the morning.

We know teenager’s body need more sleep (over 9 hours each night) and they also tend to go to bed later and sleep later, which is known as delayed phase preference. Their bodies have a preference to go to bed later.

When looking at this issue, we should be asking: What is best for the student?

What’s best for high school students are later start times. Here are four reasons why.

  1. Students are prepared for school with a later start time. A longitudinal study found when high schools changed their start times from 7:15 am to 8:40 am, students had “improved attendance and enrollment rates, less sleeping in class, and less student-reported depression.”
  2. Students are safer drivers. Researchers investigated the rate of high school students involved in car crashes in a county where high school start times were pushed back one hour. The results showed that there was a 16.5% decrease in car crashes after the school start time was changed. While the state’s rate of crashes went up, this county saw a decrease. Another report found that “the number of car crashes for teen drivers from 16 to 18 years of age was significantly reduced by 70% when a school shifted start times from 7:35 AM to 8:55 AM.”
  3. Students may have better attention and creativity. High school students will accumulated sleep debt throughout the school week. Allowing them to sleep more each day will help alleviate that debt. According to researchers, “Sleep debt (cumulative sleep loss) also has been shown to contribute to an inability to concentrate, memory lapses, difficulty in accomplishing tasks that require planning or following a complex sequence of actions, and a decrease in creative thought” They go on to say, “it would seem plausible that setting early school start times for adolescents sufficiently impairs their ability to effectively perform school-related tasks.”
  4. Later start times are correlated with higher achievement. Researchers spent three years following 9,000 high school students in three states. When the start time was later, students showed improved academic outcomes. “Academic performance outcomes, including grades earned in core subject areas of math, English, science and social studies, plus performance on state and national achievement tests, attendance rates and reduced tardiness show significantly positive improvement with the later start times of 8:35 AM or later.”

We all know that it will be difficult, and even expensive, to change the start times for our high schools. If it’s in the best interest of our students, we must do everything possible to make it work. The evidence is out there, so let’s make the policy change and do what’s best for our students.

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


 

Is the MNPS Charter Proposal Illegal? This State Lawyer Says Yes

We learned this past week in a committee meeting that Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston will ask for a policy change to require charter school proposals to list their location in their application. That would add difficulty to the proposal process because it would require a charter operator to secure a location before they even know if their application is approved by the district.

Many charter schools know the area they will open, but have not secured a location because it’s left to the will of an elected body to approve or deny their application. You can’t get financing to lease or buy a facility before your proposal has been approved.

According to a tweet by Nashville Scene reporter Amanda Haggard, Metro Legal said “if MNPS denies a charter based on not having location,  that (the) state could give them appeal if they chose to.”

School Board Member Sharon Gentry brought up the same fact in the committee meeting that this requirement could result in the State Board of Education overturning the denial decisions from the district.

The State Board of Education agrees, and says that it’s illegal to require charter applicants to have a specific location in their application.

The State Board of Education’s legal counsel, Elizabeth Taylor, said this past week during a State Board meeting that Tennessee law does not require a charter school to have a facility in place when they apply to open a charter school. The law, TCA 49-13-107, lists all the requirements that a charter application must contain, and a facility is not one of those requirements. “No, an exact brick and mortar address is not required at time of application,” Taylor added.

When asked if a local district denied a charter school application because they did not provide a location, would the state board uphold that?

“That would not be legally permissible as the only reason to deny an application,” said Sara Heyburn, the State Board of Education Executive Director.

The proposal brought forth by Will Pinston passed out of committee on a 5-3 vote. The five members voting to send the proposal out: Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, Anna Shepherd, and Christiane Buggs.

With 5 members voting this proposal out of committee, there is a good chance that this legislation will pass and become school board policy.

If members vote for this policy change, they are voting for a policy that is possibly illegal and will end up having charter schools approved at the state level more often because of it.

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals.

This policy proposal should be voted down.

One Google Search Could Have Helped the MNPS Chair

Anna Shepherd, the chairwoman of the Nashville school board, wrote an editorial in today’s Tennessean asking the State Board of Education to reject Rocketship’s appeal to the state.

I don’t want to discuss Rocketship in this post, but I do want to talk about her inaccuracies about the State Board of Education.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-12-20-05-pmThe nine members of State Board of Education are appointed by the Governor, approved by the General Assembly, and serve five year terms. Each member represents their congressional district. Nashville is part of the 5th congressional district (Jim Cooper’s seat).

In the editorial, Shepherd says,

Gov. Bill Haslam appoints members to the state board. The only state board member who nominally represents Nashville is Wendy Tucker, co-CEO of Project Renaissance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the number of charter schools in Tennessee.

Except that’s not the case. Wendy Tucker represents the 7th congressional district (Marsha Blackburn’s seat), which does not include Davidson County or Metro Nashville Public Schools. She’s not Nashville’s representative on the board. It’s right there on the state’s website if you google it.

Shepherd goes on to say that no board members live in Nashville.

Hopefully, the appointed members of the state board — none of whom live in Nashville — will see through Rocketship’s ruse and uphold the judgment of the local elected school board.

Again, not the case. Carolyn Pearre, the Vice Chair of the State Board of Education who is currently serving her 14th year on board, lives in Nashville, TN (according to the Tennessee Education Association) and represents the 5th congressional district.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-12-28-54-pm

Maybe it’s time for our school board to actually meet Nashville’s representative on the State Board. She’s only been there 14 years.

As chair of the Nashville school board, you need to know who actually represents you at the state level.

Blame the state board for a lot of things, but don’t blame them for not representing Nashville because you didn’t look it up.

Facts matter. Google helps.

Diane Ravitch Calls for the Termination of Shawn Joseph’s Contract. Do others agree?

Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education and education historian, believes that the Nashville School Board should terminate the contract of Dr. Shawn Joseph just three months into his tenure.

If you need a refresher, Diane Ravitch is an anti-reformer who teaches at New York University. Although never being a K-12 teacher herself, she is a hero to many teachers around the country because of her anti-testing, anti-accountably, and anti-charter school stances.

She regularly blogs about the happenings in Nashville. In the latest blog post, she uses a post from Nashville blogger T.C. Weber, who has been featured on this blog, as proof to call for the termination of Dr. Joseph’s contract:

If the elected board can’t straighten out this mess and revise Dr. Joseph’s contract to assure that he works for the board–the board does not work for him–then it’s time to cut their losses and terminate his contract. Don’t accept excuses for his wasteful spending, his ill-advised hires, his importing of the same aides involved in the scandal in Prince George’s County. If he won’t comply, say goodbye. It’s imperative to admit it when you have made a mistake. Cut your losses sooner rather than later.

Diane Ravitch is close allies of Nashville school board members and many anti-reformers in Nashville. School Board Members Amy Frogge and Will Pinkston have regularly posted articles from Ravitch and have been featured on Ravitch’s national blog. Frogge has previously said that Ravitch “simply speakscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-29-49-pms the truth.”

Here is Amy Frogge with Ravitch at an event in Nashville in 2014 that was put on by TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence—TC Weber is recording secretary of TREE), an anti-school reform organization. TREE has also put on other events where Pinkston and Frogge have attended.

It’s time we ask Pinkston & Frogge if they agree with Ravitch’s call for Joseph’s contract termination. We need to know.

Another education blogger who has been featured on this blog, Mary Holden, commented that she believes that “the board needs to admit its mistake and make it right. Now. Before it’s too late.”

While Weber doesn’t think Joseph’s contract should be terminated, he does believe other staff members should be fired because their “hirings are morally wrong.”

Do others believe that Joseph should be terminated? Vesia Hawkins, education blogger and former school board administer, believes this is just the start. On Twitter, she says, “The witch hunt to our Nashville’s first African American director of school after only 3 months on the job has gone national.”

Hawkins goes on to remind everyone that Nashville came together to hire Joseph. “The city identified the man they wanted in a director. Remember the committee? What about the community meetings? The many welcome mats?”

Those welcome mats are long gone.

I think it’s time to ask our school board members and education leaders if they think Joseph and his staff should be fired three months in. Are these the opinions of extreme bloggers or are these the represented opinions of the anti-reform crowd in Nashville? We need to know.

Three months in, are people already starting to work against our Director of Schools? This has happened before…I hope it’s not happening again.

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t think it would be so soon into Joseph’s contract when the calls for firing would start up. Nashville came together to hire an amazing new leader, so let’s give him time to show us what he can do.

But there is another person who “liked” the Diane Ravitch blog post calling for the termination of Joseph…Dr. Jay Steele. Maybe he is hoping for a second chance to become Director of Schools.

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


 

TC Weber Shares His Anger

Blogger TC Weber has some anger to share and raises some interesting and valid points about public school advocacy in his latest post.

Here are a couple highlights:

We all seem to be willing to work harder when there is a boogeyman to face. Charter schools make for a convenient boogeyman in the same way that the cartels do for the war on drugs – now before everybody loses their mind, know that I am not equating charter schools to drug cartels in any way but in their use as scapegoats. There wouldn’t be cartels in the illegal drug trade if there were no demand, and the same goes for charter schools in that there wouldn’t be charter schools if the demand wasn’t there. I do have to ask, though, what if the boogeyman is really us and our inability to provide equitable educational opportunities for all children? Case in point: have we expended as much energy in improving our schools as we have in fighting against their takeovers? Can we look at parents who are considering sending their children to a charter school and honestly say we’ve done everything to make the public option better? It is time to get beyond this single hot-button issue and focus on the inequities that exist in our schools.

Later, he adds:

It is vital that as we fight off corporate attacks on our public schools that we are not just focusing on the supply, but have an equally diligent focus on the demand. We need to make sure that we are not falling into the trap of rewarding perks to adults while children are asked to make sacrifices. We need to ensure that we are applying every possible resource to directly impact the educational opportunities for our children

Weber has done his homework, analyzing current MNPS spending trends and highlighting some disturbing inequities. Read more about why he’s so angry.

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


 

About Jill Speering

TC Weber recently interviewed MNPS Board Member Jill Speering and it’s up on his blog.

Here’s an excerpt about what makes Jill Speering want to serve:

Well, a community representative came to me and said she was aware Mark North was not going to seek reelection, and a group of Madison residents were trying to think who might be a good school board representative. My name came up and so they called me and asked if I would consider running for school board. I really didn’t know what that would entail, but as I pondered it, I thought, well, I could make a difference in reading for children. My experience with board members was they wanted to talk with teachers but then would easily dismiss any advice given. For example, I suggested that we needed a common definition of reading so that we could pick and choose the programs that work with what we believe reading is, and a board member said, “that will never happen.” But my first year being on the board, that’s exactly what did happen. In looking back on things, that’s what made me decide, Yes! I want to run. I can make a difference in the lives of kids!

Read more of this interview and learn more about one of Nashville’s school board members.

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