PET Talks Parent Engagement

Bethany Bowman, Director of Professional Development at Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), talks about the importance of parent engagement.

Make the 2014-2015 academic year an opportunity to open a door to a healthy dialogue with parents about the day-to-day events in their child’s classroom. Research reveals that when parents are more actively engaged and informed about their children’s education a more positive result can occur for everybody involved in a child’s education.

Parent engagement is an attitude, not just a list of activities, materials or a curriculum. It is interaction that respects parents and treats them as equal partners with the school and teachers. That does not mean conversations about curriculum or subject matter does not matter. They are very important.

Creating a receptive environment and developing constructive relationships with parents, can lead to needed support for your good work in the classroom. Maintaining and sustaining a dialogue on the importance of education with parents is also critical to the success of your classroom, as well as a key to student progress and academic success.

We know that students perform better in school if their parents are more involved in their child’s education. However, out of the almost $600 billion that will be spent on the education of students in the United States, very few dollars are actually spent on teacher-parent communication.

Yet, with today’s technology, being an informed parent has never been easier. Nearly every school has a portal where parents can log in and see what going on in their child’s classroom. Many teachers have their own webpages. Some sites even link directly to your child’s grades in the teacher’s electronic gradebook.  Even if the school doesn’t provide you this access, you can always email the teacher(s) to see exactly what projects are due/when and what is happening at the school.

But don’t forget your physical presence. Just showing up to volunteer once or twice a semester will show your child and your child’s teacher that you care. If you work and absolutely can’t get away in the day, volunteer at after-school events. You can help organize a party or field trip even if you aren’t available to attend.

Regardless of your method, your child can sense your presence. Stay in touch with your child’s school/teachers and there will be few surprises. This will lessen the stress level for the parents, the teachers and the students. It truly is a win/win for everyone.

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

 

Interview with Congressman Phil Roe

Below is an interview with Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN), who is a member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education in the United States House of Representatives. He also serves on the full Education & the Workforce Committee. He represents the First Congressional District of Tennessee, which includes Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, Washington, Jefferson and Sevier Counties.

We really wanted to know what role the federal government can play in education in Tennessee, and we are glad that Congressman Roe agreed to an interview to answer our questions.

 

1.      Tennessee teachers hear a lot of what’s going on at the state level in regards to education. How can the federal government help Tennessee teachers?

I think that the federal government can best serve Tennessee educators by eliminating unnecessary layers of Washington bureaucracy and returning decision-making power to state and local officials who best know the needs of their schools.

 

2.      How should federal education policy be changed to be of most benefit to Tennessee school systems?

Again, I believe empowering educators and school administrators with flexibility and the ability to make decisions at the local level is one of the most important policy changes Congress can make. That is what the House did in H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which I worked on in my capacity as a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The Senate, unfortunately, has not acted on this important bill.

 

3.      Do you support the President’s early childhood education initiative?

Our children deserve a quality education. Research has shown that if we do not provide a quality education in the early elementary years any gains made in pre-K are quickly lost, so I believe before we consider expanding our early childhood education we should first focus our efforts on addressing the shortcomings in our K-12 system.  Devoting resources to new expensive programs will take away from this focus.

 

4.      Tennessee was an early winner of Race to the Top funds. Do you believe this program has benefitted teachers and students in Tennessee?

While there’s no question that receiving Race to the Top funds has helped Tennessee, one of the things that concerns me about the program is that the U.S. Department of Education has been able to coerce states into reforms that exceed the department’s authority. I think that the program could be strengthened significantly if we reauthorize ESEA programs so that there is explicit authorization as to what can – and can’t – be pursued for state reforms.   I look forward to seeing our state’s continued progress.

5.      Do you think it’s time to revamp Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)? Times have changed since it was first passed in 1974, and some people believe FERPA does not do enough to protect children’s privacy in the digital age.

 

FERPA protects students from their educational records from being shared for non-educational purposes without their—or, in the case of a minor, their parent’s—consent.  This basic principal has not changed even as the way in which data is stored and handled has changed. With that being said, there’s no question that data is being shared in ways that couldn’t have possibly been imagined in 1974, so I think it’s important for Congress to review how data is being used and determine if additional limits are warranted.

 

6.      As a member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, you must see a lot of bills that have been filed. If you could pass one piece of legislation today in regards to education, which bill would it be and why?

We know that 2,000 high schools in our country account for 75 percent of the dropouts nationwide.  We must focus our efforts to improve these schools, but in the meantime, students trapped in these so-called “drop-out factories” deserve a choice in where they get their education. I believe expanding the DC voucher program, in which students are given a voucher so they can choose where they get their education, is the most important reform to ensure an entire generation of students isn’t lost.

 

7.      Similar to the previous question, which law would you like to see repealed (or change) to help our education system?

According to the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) analysis and explanation of the latest rule for school lunch nutrition standards, the maximum number of calories a student in grades K-5 can have at lunch is 650. This is the first time in history the USDA has set a calorie cap on students. This rule is so overly prescriptive teachers are left with the challenge of teaching hungry students. Students and teachers aren’t the only ones suffering under this new rule. I have been contacted by a school director in my district that has had to resort to instructing his cafeteria staff to count out how many tater tots each student gets just so he’s in compliance with these regulations. I believe we should repeal the calorie caps on school lunches and focus more in providing nutritious meals for students that participate in school lunch programs around the country.

Shiny, Happy Teachers

It seems the Knox County Board of Education wants only shiny, happy teachers to speak at public meetings.

That’s the implication from a Board policy discussed this week.

Here’s the basic thrust of the policy:

The policy says that an employee may come before the board after they have exhausted the normal chain of command.

The board says they want teachers and other KCS employees to put their concerns in writing, and document each step up the chain of command, so that if the process breaks down, they will know where the break down occurred and be able to address it at that point.

Essentially, an employee must demonstrate, in writing, that they’ve exhausted all other channels before appearing before the Board.

One Board member said they didn’t want the system to look bad because teachers raise concerns on TV.

Board member Karen Carson worried that “bringing concerns up, on TV, is not good for public education”

Perhaps the Board, which has seen some contentious meetings recently, wants to prevent scenes like this:

 

 

 

In any case, the policy certainly appears to be intended to chill discourse.  While citizens who are not teachers are free to complain about policy in public, teachers must have written documentation to justify their appearance.  This type of double standard for speakers at public meetings just might run into some constitutional issues.  If some citizens can speak without a note from the Board Chair and others must have permission based on written evidence, you create two classes of citizens for the purpose of speech.

If public comment is allowed at public meeting, the rules must be uniform for all participants.  It would seem the Knox County Board policy may violate that precept.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, is done with this policy in coming months.

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

Charter Growth Should Be Looking Down (Not Up)

Charter schools are formed on the idea that the traditional public schools are not doing what they need to do to help kids succeed. Charter schools are there for a choice for the parents. Charter leaders will tell you that they have to catch the kids up when they get them in middle school. The students have fallen so far behind that it will take years to get the students back on track. Their goal is get them on track when they leave for high school. Charters are opening high schools so their middle school students can continue on until the student graduates.

For a system that decries that students are behind out of elementary school are not doing much to fix that. If the students are failing in elementary school, go and open elementary charter schools to fix that problem. If charters are truly helping students, they should start at kindergarten (or even pre-k!). At risk students are already coming in behind when they start kindergarten. If charters can get them in kindergarten, they won’t be behind when they head to fifth grade. This is a method that can really work to improve the outcomes of at risk children. It will also show if charters are really successful in helping students more than traditional zoned schools.

This is what baffles me about the charter growth in Nashville. Currently, there are five charter elementary schools, thirteen middle schools, and two high schools. Two of the charter elementary schools were recently opened and only have kindergarteners. If more charter schools opened up in elementary schools, there wouldn’t be so many students falling behind at the middle school years. The question is why aren’t there more charter elementary schools?

Elementary schools are the time when you can really find the struggling students. There are many tests and assessments to know if a student is on track or needs extra help. You won’t have to wait around to 5th grade to help a struggling reader or find out that a student has a learning disability if you have a great school. You can start the intervention there. You can help catch the student up before they head into 5th grade.

So I asked Greg Thompson, CEO of the Tennessee Charter Center, why there aren’t more elementary charter schools.

Charter growth has been driven by education entrepreneurs proposing promising new education models to help students achieve at a higher academic level.  Many charter founders in Tennessee have gravitated toward middle/high school models (typically because those grade levels fit with their experience and skill set as educators).  Why middle/high school education leaders make up a larger percentage of charter applicants and leaders is up for debate.  But, there is a trend developing in which charter operators are creating K-12 feeder patterns within their network of schools (recognizing that it is essential to have a strong academic program from Kindergarten through high school to prevent students from falling behind).  KIPP and LEAD are good examples of that in Nashville (when one looks at their growth plans).

The Center has focused its efforts on finding talented leaders who can create great schools, and we have been mostly agnostic on the type of school created (elementary, middle, or high).  The need is so great in Nashville in terms of the number of students who need better academic options, that we have been supportive of all models.”

I understand that many of the school leaders have experience in the upper grades, but let’s not forget the students in the lower grades. They need strong leadership with teachers who can use evidence-based methods to help kids succeed. If we can catch failing students earlier, the rest of their lives will be much better. I think this could be an avenue to see a charter take over a failing elementary school. We know that Metro Nashville Public Schools are trying to pinpoint certain locations for charter growth. Maybe it is time to give up another schools to a charter, like they did with Cameron. But with an elementary school, you need experienced and high quality teachers and administrators to lead the way. It will be interesting to see how the charter growth continues in Nashville.

 

TEA Elects New Leadership

From a TEA press release:

Nearly 800 educators from across the state gathered at the Nashville Convention Center this weekend to elect a new president and vice president of the Tennessee Education Association. This year marked the 81st annual Representative Assembly for the state’s largest professional association for educators.

Barbara Gray, a Memphis-Shelby County Schools administrator, was elected TEA president. Gray has served as the association’s vice president for the past four years. She has been in the education profession serving Shelby County Schools since 1972, where she currently works as an assistant principal at Northaven Elementary School. Gray has been an active member of the Shelby County, Tennessee and National Education Associations for many years.

Beth Brown, an English teacher at Grundy County High School, was elected TEA vice president. Brown has been an active member of the Tennessee Education Association since she began her career. She has served in numerous leadership roles at the state and local levels of the association.

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

Jamie Woodson: Higher Standards, Better Assessments, and Why They Matter

This article is written by Jamie Woodson, President and CEO of SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education). Prior to leading SCORE, she served for more than 12 years in the Tennessee General Assembly in both the House and Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and later as Senate Speaker Pro Tempore.

When I came to the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) in 2011, Tennessee had just put into policy a set of bold education reforms. Policymakers were appropriately excited about their work. Yet we all know that education policy changes are only words on paper until these policies are brought to life by leaders in schools and teachers in classrooms. That same year I left my role as a member of the Tennessee General Assembly with the goal of contributing to helping Tennessee turn these important policies into practices that boost student achievement.

Over the last year, some have been questioning – and at times attacking – Tennessee’s decision to raise academic expectations for students by raising academic standards, one of several foundational policies that have helped launch our students to historic and unprecedented gains in English and math. Others have tried to put the brakes on new assessments which seek to more authentically and accurately measure how our students are doing. While the debate has been lively and sometimes loud, it hasn’t always been enlightening. Quite simply, misinformation about how Tennessee chose this path has been widespread.

To put it bluntly, Tennessee decided in 2007 to start being honest with parents, policy makers, and students. We had been measuring our students by our homegrown academic standards and assessments, which were low in rigor compared to other states. While our state test results said nearly nine out of ten Tennessee eighth-graders were proficient in math, the national measuring stick said it was barely two out of ten. This disconnect earned us an F in truth and advertising and an F for postsecondary and workforce readiness in the 2007 Leaders and Laggards report card on education effectiveness.

Those failing grades, plus sound research showing how higher standards help lead to higher proficiency rates, spurred our leaders to raise Tennessee’s rock-bottom academic expectations. The first step came in 2008, when the Tennessee State Board of Education approved the Tennessee Diploma Project, a multi-state effort to improve college and career readiness. Schools began implementing the Diploma Project standards in August 2009, when students who would participate in the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were in the first or fifth grade.

Just as Tennessee began moving forward, new opportunities emerged to accelerate our momentum. One of them was the Common Core State Standards, which like the Diploma Project grew from state policymakers looking to work together to address the fact that schools in the U.S. were falling behind other nations. Already committed to helping our students advance, Tennessee took the logical next step by joining the Common Core effort in 2009 and adopting these new standards in 2010.

Tennessee began using the new standards in grades K-2 in August 2011. After summer training for 13,000 math teachers, schools began using the higher math standards in grades 3-8 and a pilot of the English language arts standards in August 2012. The NAEP assessments were administered in early 2013 to a sample of fourth- and eighth-graders, and in November we learned that the gains they showed made Tennessee the fastest-improving state for academic achievement.

This history shows the flaw in the claim that Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards are moving us forward too fast. We have been incrementally raising standards since 2007, longer than most of us have had our smartphones. This timeline also shows why it is not practical or wise to pause or roll back our progress in raising standards. We have trained more than 43,000 educators; we have fully implemented Common Core; and our students are seeing early signs of progress.

With the standards in use in all grades and schools, educators and parents need assessments that accurately measure student learning, and our schools will be ready to take that step this fall. The Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) assessment will replace the current TCAP test for math and English in grades 3-11. PARCC goes far beyond the usual multiple choice test to measure student comprehension in multiple ways. It will includes questions that require students to provide an answer by writing an essay or graphing a problem, rather than simply picking an answer. To try a sample set of PARCC questions in both math and English, click here and then go to Sample Items at the top of the page.

PARCC is also a unique test in that Tennessee has helped build the assessment and representatives of our state have had a seat at the table for every important decision. Postsecondary and K-12 educators from Tennessee have had unprecedented input in helping to write the assessments, and Tennessee public colleges and universities have agreed to accept the PARCC assessment results as indicators of college readiness.

Most Tennesseans are not as engaged in the discussion about Common Core and PARCC as the readers of this blog. Parents, in particular, deserve to know the real history and to understand how these higher standards and new assessments are designed to help their students.

The bottom line is that Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards are designed to prepare students for success after high school by teaching them to be lifelong learners: how to read and comprehend complex material, how to think through problems and show the evidence that led to their conclusions, and how to write clearly and persuasively. I believe our state’s new assessments will provide a better, fairer, and more authentic measure of whether students are meeting the standards. Altogether it means that for the first time, parents can rest assured that when Tennessee tells them their students are proficient, it’s the truth.


 

Our Interview With Rep. Craig Fitzhugh

Here is our interview with State Representative Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), the Democratic Leader in the House.

What are the top education priorities for Democrats in the 2014 legislative session?

House Democrats are focused on creating quality public schools for every child. Education reform has been the buzzword at legislative plaza for a number of years, but we remain concerned that these changes have been more about style than substance.

We remain concerned about teacher evaluations and the negative impact they have on teacher moral and retention.

We have concerns about common core, not so much the standards, as the speed with which they have been implemented. We want to make sure that our schools are technologically ready for Common Core testing, especially where our rural schools are concerned with bandwidth and our urban schools with computer availability.

Democrats also strongly support a universal pre-k program. Currently, there is $64,000,000 in federal funding available to Tennessee for this purpose. We have legislation, HB 291, that would allow us to take advantage of this program and extend pre-k to thousands of Tennessee children.

What’s the Democratic view on the role of the State in public education?

Tennessee has two constitutional responsibilities: a balanced budget and a free system of public education. On the latter, we believe Tennessee must do better.

Depending upon which study you read, Tennessee ranks near the bottom in funding for public education. While we are proud of what our teachers and parents have done with little funding (in particular the spectacular improvement in graduation rates we’ve seen over the last number of years), we believe that we have to be careful in preserving these precious public dollars. Now is not the time to take public money and send it to untested charters or private institutions. This will only serve to take more money from the already small pot of funding we have for our public schools.

Will there be a move to address and improve BEP funding along the lines of BEP 2.0?

There are a few proposals before the General Assembly that deal with BEP, primarily with the state’s portion of funding. At this time, I’m not aware of any other Democratic proposals that will change the BEP, especially in light of a tight budget cycle.

Will Democrats support efforts to limit or remove TVAAS scores from teacher evaluation?

Democrats remain concerned about the teacher evaluations and their deleterious effect on teacher moral and retention. At a minimum, we believe there needs to be a moratorium on teacher evaluations as they currently stand, while a review is undertaken by the Department of Education, in consultation with educators.

Will Democrats attempt to address the state board’s action on teacher pay?

Democrats opposed the unusual decision of the State Board of Education to do away with the state minimum salary schedule. We are particularly concerned that this decision was made without any input from legislators and at a time when the General Assembly was not in session.

The State Board of Education is a group of unelected individuals who have had an outsized impact on education policy over the last year. While we don’t have a caucus position yet, I anticipate a lively discussion concerning their role.

The Democrats will be introducing legislation to require the Commissioner of Education to have teaching experience. Can you describe that bill? Is it a shot a Commissioner Huffman, who only has a few years of teaching experience?

In order to be a judge, an individual must have been a practicing lawyer for five years. We think that those who are charged with the education of our children should be held to an even higher standard.

This bill is not about any individual person, it is about a fundamental lack of respect we’ve seen for those who teach during this administration. Part of the problem is that senior officials at the Department of Education lack the in-classroom experience necessary to understand the ramifications of their policies. This legislation hopes to address the growing gap we see between public policy and practical application.

We saw last session that some rural Republicans were not happy with some of the education bills coming from the administration. Do you think the Democrats can pair up with certain Republicans to oppose vouchers and state-authorizer?

As I’ve said before, if there is one issue that unites Democrats it’s a commitment to public education. With that in mind, I would tell you that we are happy to partner with whomever we need to in order to achieve the best outcomes possible for our students, our teachers and our communities.

What is the counter argument on vouchers? If students are stuck in failing schools, and those schools aren’t going to turn around immediately, why make them stay there? Isn’t even a small lifeline for some kids better than nothing?

Vouchers are not a lifeline, they are at best a band-aid: they are only available to a limited number of students and studies have shown that those students do no better than the counterparts they leave behind in public schools. Meanwhile, what they will accomplish is a wholesale defunding of public schools. As I said earlier, we have a very limited pot of money for public education. When you start pulling funds out for virtual schools, charter schools and now vouchers, you take that limited pot of funds and make it even smaller. If we were like Ohio and were in the mid-thirties or lower on per pupil funding, I’d be in favor of this program. As it stands now, however, we can’t justify taking money from our already cash-strapped public education system.


 

The Need For Nonsense

Recently, the Metro Nashville School Board had a discussion about nonsense word assessments. Since I had recently learned the evidence around these assessments, I listened closely. I didn’t like what I heard. Many people believe these types of assessment are harmful to children. I don’t think so. A nonsense word assessment is a way to remove the effects of word exposure from the child. It also lets us see how the child will decode new words. It’s important to use these measures in early literacy. These measures can predict the reading proficiency of children.

While I wish the Tennessean asked someone outside of Pearson to comment on nonsense words, I totally agree with the Pearson scientist:

Mark Daniel, senior scientist for research innovation at Pearson, said AIMSweb draws on more than 30 years of research to accurately predict achievement and growth. The company defends the use of “nonsense words.”

“Nonsense-word fluency uses pseudo-words instead of real words to require the student to engage in decoding rather than relying on sight-word recognition,” Daniel said.

 

Let’s look at some research. A 2008 study by researchers at the University of Oregon and the Oregon Research Institute looked to see if Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF) was a predictor of future reading. In their introduction to the study, the researchers explained the importance of NWF. (Fien et al., 2008)

Measures such as NWF and other pseudoword reading measures (e.g., Woodcock Reading Mastery Test—Revised Word Attack subtest; Woodcock, 1987) specifically isolate how well students apply their understanding of phonics rules in learning to decode. That is, NWF is designed to measure how well a student has learned the underlying letter–sound correspondences and phonological recoding skills of the alphabetic principle. The measure expressly avoids tap- ping student skills in reading real words be- cause it may not be clear what strategies the student is using to accurately read real words (e.g., actually reading a word by deciphering the constituent letter–sound correspondences instead of recalling the whole word from memorization without knowledge of the constituent letter sounds).

And the researchers found that NWF was correlated with other reading measures.

Concurrent correlations between NWF administered in kindergarten, first, and second grade were consistent and moderately to strongly related to performance on ORF (Oral Reading Fluency) and the SAT-10. Also, the relations between NWF and criterion measures of reading were typically as strong for ELs as ESs.

And since Metro Nashville got rid of DIBELS, let me show you this quote from the research article:

Regarding DIBELS generally, it has been suggested that DIBELS measures reflect superficial indicators of reading, little more than students “barking at print” (Samuels, 2007, p. 563). Decades of research on ORF has established the consistent association between reading fluency and comprehension. In the vast majority of these studies, fluency is defined as a combination of speed and accuracy of reading connected text, which is precisely the definition of ORF that the developers of DIBELS used when they constructed their measures. ORF is also highly correlated with prosody (Miller & Schwanenflugel, 2006). Indeed, the relationship between ORF and comprehension appears stronger than the association between prosody and comprehension, and there is only minimal evidence that reading with prosody mediates comprehension (Schwanenflugel, Hamilton, Kuhn, Wisen- baker, & Stahl, 2004). There are fewer studies on NWF than there are on ORF, and empirical investigations of these measures adjudicated through a peer-reviewed process should drive serious considerations of their quality. In this regard, we would like to further encourage the examination of DIBELS in the context of intended and actual use in education settings.

After collecting reading data from schools in Oregon:

Evidence from this study supports the use of NWF in the early grades to screen students for reading problems. Using data to intervene early and strategically is a major assessment activity expected by schools in Reading First as well as schools using RTI to assist in making decisions about instructional effectiveness and special education.

Additionally, here are some quotes from research abstracts on the topic.

“Slope of progress through the first semester of first grade on NWF was a strong predictor of first-grade reading outcomes, especially for students at risk of reading difficulty.” – Good, Baker, & Peyton (2009)

“Strong, positive relations were found between NWF gains and ORF and RC (reading comprehension) scores for students who began the year with low to moderate and relatively high decoding skills. For students at the highest end of the distribution (5% of the sample), NWF gains were not associated with ORF or RC scores. In addition, early gains on NWF more strongly predicted reading outcomes than later gains for students at the low end of the initial NWF distribution.” – Fien et al., (2010)

I completely agree that fluency does not equal comprehension. Reading something quickly does not mean that child understands what they read. But knowing if they can take a brand new word and sound it out correctly by blending the sounds together can really help the teachers know the reading proficiency level of their students. We need to find the students who need extra help and give it to them as quickly as we can. I spent over a week giving nonsense word assessments to fifth graders. After explaining the directions, the student gets 45 seconds to read a list of words. You can see a difference for those who struggle to read and those who don’t. Some of those who struggle with nonsense words also struggled with reading real words. Some did not struggle with real words but did with nonsense words.

For younger students, where this is really used, you can see if the child has trouble blending sounds. As I walk the hallways of the school where I have been working, I see the younger students receiving help with blending their sounds together and reading aloud. I think nonsense word assessments are one way to help students.

References

Fien, H., Baker, S. K., Smolkowski, K., Smith, J., Kame’enui, E. J., & Beck, C. (2008). Using nonsense word fluency to predict reading proficiency in kindergarten through Second grade for English learners and native English speakers. School Psychology Review, 37(3), 391-408.

Fien, H., Park, Y., Baker, S. K., Smith, J., Stoolmiller, M., & Kame’enui, E. J. (2010). An examination of the relation of nonsense word fluency initial status and gains to reading outcomes for beginning readers. School Psychology Review, 39(4), 631-653.

Good, R., Baker, S. K., & Peyton, J. A. (2009). Making sense of nonsense word fluency: Determining adequate progress in early first-grade reading. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 25(1), 33-56.

Dr. Register, Tear Down Those Data Walls

Or, what a progressive Karl Dean might have said at yesterday’s Nashville Chamber education report card “party.” If you’d like to read his defense of charter schools and warning to MNPS, read this.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean yesterday took on the education establishment and challenged the city to do more for its children and families. The remarks came as stunned members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce looked on in disbelief.

Dean first suggested that Metro Nashville Schools stop its over-reliance on testing in spite of state mandates.  He noted the practice of data walls as emblematic of the current emphasis on test-based measures of student success and suggested that the schools might try focusing on the whole child.

With his voice raised and fist clenched, Dean said, “Dr. Register, tear down those data walls.”

Dean seemed to be suggesting that School Board member Amy Frogge has a point when she continues to ask about how much all the spending and preparation for tests costs Metro Schools.

He further added that a teacher’s value is about more than the points she might add to her students’ test scores.

Dean proceeded to challenge the popular and oft-repeated notion that Nashville is home to failing schools.

“It’s not the schools that are failing,” Dean said. “MNPS teachers work hard every single day to reach the children in their care.  But too many of those students arrive hungry and without access to health care or basic shelter.  It’s our community that has failed the families of these children.”

Dean noted that nearly 3 of every 4 MNPS students qualifies for free or reduced price lunch.  He went further to note that 7500 Davidson County families with school age children earn incomes below the federal poverty line (Source: American Community Survey of the U.S. Census).

“We’re simply not supporting the ENTIRE community,” Dean said. “When so many families are working hard and can’t make ends meet, there’s a fundamental problem in the local economy.  Rising income inequality is bad for Nashville.  We must work to address it together now.”

Dean pledged to push for changes in state law to allow Nashville to adopt a living wage and also pledged to use his considerable clout with the General Assembly to advocate for a $10 an hour state minimum wage.

“When Nashville families are struggling, their children struggle,” Dean said.  “It’s hard to focus on school when you don’t know where your next meal will come from or what to do when you can’t see to read and can’t afford glasses.

“Quite simply, Nashville must do a better job of reaching out and lifting up all our citizens.”

Dean said he would work with the staff at Music City Center to turn the nearly $600 million facility into a community center and transitional housing for the working poor.  He noted that it would include free dental and vision clinics for children and an urgent care center for basic medical needs.

“This facility will set Nashville apart as a city that puts people first and will no longer fail its children and families.”

Dean also said he will be asking Metro Council to expand the hours at all the city’s libraries so students can have access to its materials and computers.

“Our children need consistent, reliable access to our magnificent library facilities.  They should be centers of learning and excitement and they will be open to serve that need.”

Following Dean’s speech, he walked to the park across from the downtown library to meet the homeless men and women he’d be spending his nights with until January, when he’ll take them to their new rooms at MCC.

Alas, Dean’s actual remarks are chronicled here.

 

Want to know who is “responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement” in TN?

Today is the first day of the Tennessee Principals Association annual conference. The topic of this year’s conference is Leading in the Common Core Era. The conference will have three keynote speakers to discuss Common Core. Emily Barton, Assistant Commissioner for Curriculum and Instruction, is one of those keynote speakers. The first line of her biography tells a lot (see picture below).

“Emily Barton is responsible for the dramatic improvement of student achievement through many strategies including implementation and success of Tennessee’s evaluation system and the adoption of Common Core State Standards.”

Looks like Emily Barton is solely responsible for the gains in achievement. That’s a huge claim to make at a conference filled with educators.

 

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