Mary Pierce: The Centralized vs. De-Centralized Debate

Nashville School Board Member Mary Pierce recently shared her opinions on the upcoming MNPS budget. The budget conversations have turned into a philosophical centralized vs. de-centralized debate. These conversations are much needed in Nashville. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, these conversations allow us to make our education system better for our students. Some budget items need to be centralized, like payroll, transportation, and maintenance. Others not so much.

I think Mary Pierce is saying that she is not against XYZ program, but she is in favor of the principal to make the decision what is best for their school.

So why the debate? As you saw, while $454M is sent directly to schools, some $356M is still managed at central office, but for much more than daily operations such as school buses, utilities or building maintenance  Roughly  $117M or almost $1,600 per pupil is managed by central office for academics in areas like Literacy, English Learners, Advanced Academics, Special Education, Family and Community Support, and more. It’s in this space where we see the philosophical divide. Does centralizing these services align with our strategic plan or should we allow our principals more flexibility in areas like these by giving them more dollars to drive outcomes for the students they serve?  My personal belief is that central office can best support our schools by making thoughtful and intentional hires of principals for each school community, and then allowing them the budgetary freedom to make staffing and academic decisions for their specific school communities.

While the 2016-17 proposed budget is still in draft form, we have had two meetings to walk through the overall budget and the proposed changes or expansions of programs. Of the requests totaling around $22M in new funding from departments within central office, roughly $6.4M will be sent directly to schools via student based budgeting for teachers supporting students learning English, but the remaining $16M will be managed by central office. This does not mean that the teachers or staff paid for by these initiatives won’t be out in schools directly working with students, but it does mean the principals will not have programmatic or budgetary discretion over the programs. While the programs are not mandated, schools will not receive funding for support unless principals agree to follow the central office plan.

To be clear, the questions raised by board members have not been about the merits of a particular program or service, but rather about who is in the best position to make the best decisions on the behalf of students and does this align with our strategic plan.
What do you think about this philosophical debate?


 

The Re-Segregation of Our Schools

tumblr_nz435mE3NM1qgl0t5o1_1280No one talks much about segregation anymore, which is a shame since America (and especially the South) has been steadily been re-segregating its schools over the last few decades. The re-segregation is a consequence of a lot of things, including (chiefly) the Supreme Court’s Seattle/Louisville decision, many districts (like Nashville) coming into unitary status, and a decline in satisfaction with busing.

It turns out (surprise!), that this is not a good thing. There’s a lot of discussion nationally (and locally) about diversity as an important goal, but almost no focus on why it’s so important.

Turns out, diversity (and integration) makes you smarter (and more empathetic, and more well-rounded, and better adjusted . . .). We should be having this conversation, but we aren’t.

Via Scientific American, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter”

The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers.

Via The New York Times, “Diversity Makes You Brighter”

The findings were striking. When participants were in diverse company, their answers were 58 percent more accurate. The prices they chose were much closer to the true values of the stocks. As they spent time interacting in diverse groups, their performance improved.

In homogeneous groups, whether in the United States or in Asia, the opposite happened. When surrounded by others of the same ethnicity or race, participants were more likely to copy others, in the wrong direction. Mistakes spread as participants seemingly put undue trust in others’ answers, mindlessly imitating them. In the diverse groups, across ethnicities and locales, participants were more likely to distinguish between wrong and accurate answers. Diversity brought cognitive friction that enhanced deliberation.

The bottom line is that, except for a few isolated cases (good job, Rutherford County!), we’re not taking integration seriously as a lever of reform/school improvement.

We should be.

A version of this post appeared on the Nashville Jefferson tumblr page

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