Tipton County vs. Common Core

The Tipton County Board of Education passed a resolution last week calling on the Tennessee General Assembly to repeal the Common Core State Standards and replace them with Tennessee Standards that ensure students are prepared for college, career, and/or the military.

The resolution notes that the Common Core Standards, currently guiding Tennessee schools, were developed without input from Tennessee educators.

The Board is asking the state to develop its own standards and include Tennessee educators in the process. Governor Haslam has essentially promised the same thing, calling for a review of the Common Core and the development and implementation of Tennessee standards developed with input from a group of Tennessee educators.

Here’s the resolution:

Tipton Resolution

 

 

 

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

Will Haslam Raise Teacher Pay?

He’s not saying.

Yet.

Blake Farmer over at WPLN has the story.

Basically, both Haslam and incoming Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen say they are committed to improving teacher pay, but make no commitment about a specific raise this year.

Haslam does think he should be given credit for giving teachers raises early in his term, though.

Here’s what he said:

“What gets lost in there is we were one of the few states, in our first three budgets, who actually did give teachers raises,” Haslam said in an interview with WPLN.

What he failed to mention is that Tennessee ranks near the bottom in the nation in rate of improvement of teacher pay as well as total teacher compensation. And the disparity among districts in terms of teacher pay is reaching proportions previously rule unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

In short, a failure to address both the level of teacher pay and the resources provided to schools could result in more than just angry teachers. Some are even beginning to suggest a school funding lawsuit is in order.

Will 2015 be the year Bill Haslam makes a serious attempt to both improve teacher pay and provide needed resources to Tennessee schools?

He just won’t say.

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

RTI Rollout Rushed?

Grace Tatter over at Chalkbeat has a story about Tennessee’s RTI2 program implementation in which she notes that the program’s mandates have come largely unfunded by the State of Tennessee.

The Response to Intervention and Instruction program is designed to identify students who are struggling and get them extra assistance before they fall too far behind.

In practice, the program means many students miss related arts or even social studies and science in order to spend extra time in remediation for math and reading, the two subjects tested on the state’s TCAP test.

Additionally, many districts report they lack the funding to provide subject-matter teachers and so individuals not certified in math or reading may be in charge of certain remediation classrooms.

Tatter notes:

Districts have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on assessments, and don’t have the money to hire educators with the expertise required to work with the highest needs students. Some schools are using their general education teachers, already stretched thin, and others are using computer programs.

The state’s RTI2 policy identifies the intervention levels for students:

According to the state RTI2 policy, students should be divided into three groups: the majority, on grade level, are in Tier 1, students in the bottom 25th percentile of students across the country  are in Tier 2, and students in the bottom 10th percentile are in Tier 3.

All students, regardless of tier, get an hour of intervention time a day. For Tier 2 and Tier 3, intervention time is spent in small groups, ideally of fewer than five students, working on specific skills, while for kids in Tier 1 it might be enrichment activities.

Tatter notes that Metro Nashville Public Schools is among the districts taking advantage of the flexibility offered by the state to serve a smaller pool of students.

Essentially, if a district feels it lacks adequate resources to provide services to the bottom 25 perfcent of students, it can shift down to a smaller number, 16% in Tier 2 in MNPS for example, and the bottom 7% in Tier 3.

The shift at MNPS means they can focus on a smaller pool, but it also highlights the challenge faced by districts across the state. That is, those districts with higher concentrations of poverty (and likely to have higher numbers of students needing intervention) also have the least resources available to assist students.  The poorest districts, then, are left further behind as a result of a well-intentioned unfunded state mandate.

Tatter notes that education researchers and practitioners believe RTI2 can work and work well, but without proper support, many districts are struggling to make that happen.

More on RTI2 from our friends over at Bluff City Ed

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

 

 

Message from McQueen

New Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent a message to teachers today. In it, she noted that she is a Tennessean (from Clarksville) and that she has years of classroom teaching experience, including teaching in Tennessee. These two items differentiate her from her predecessor.

Here’s her message:

I wanted to send you a brief note during this holiday season to express how much I look forward to working with you in the months ahead.

 

I am honored Governor Haslam has asked me to serve as Commissioner of Education, and I am pleased I will have the opportunity to listen, learn, and work with you in support of the children and families of Tennessee.

 

This is a very exciting time in our state.  We know we are headed in the right direction.  We are the fastest improving state in the nation in student achievement.  Most importantly, thanks to you, we are making a real difference in the lives of our children and the future of our state.  I also know you share my belief that we have more work to do.

 

We want every child in our state to have access to a great school and to great teaching in every classroom.  We want every graduate to be college and career-ready so they can succeed in the future.  We want Tennessee to continue to set the pace and lead the nation in the reforms and innovations that are making a real difference in the lives of our students. We will do that by supporting strong school leaders and great teachers, like you, in every school in our state and by staying focused on high standards and assessments that align with and work with those standards.

 

I grew up in Clarksville, and like you have served as a classroom teacher – in both public and private schools – at the elementary and middle school levels — in Tennessee and outside our state – and I have spent most of my career focused on developing and supporting educators to help our students succeed. We both know that’s where the magic and hard work takes place – in classrooms – between great teachers and eager children.

 

Now I look forward to traveling our state to listen and learn from you and other teachers, principals, parents, and other school leaders who are working so hard every day to help our children succeed.

 

I can commit to you that I will always put children first in making decisions about policy or practice.  Every decision we will make at the department will be made through the lens of what is best for our students.  We know this work is hard, but if we continue to put students at the center of the conversation I am confident we can build on our progress.

 

The future of our state – and of our children – depends on the work we will do together in the coming months and years.  I’m excited to get started, and I look forward to working closely with you.

 

Thank you for your leadership, and best wishes during this holiday season.

 

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

Commissioner McQueen

Though she didn’t make it to the Final Four in Education Commissioner Madness, Lipscomb University Senior Vice President Candice McQueen looks to be Governor Haslam’s choice to serve as Tennessee’s next Commissioner of Education. This according to Joey Garrison at the The Tennessean.

In addition to serving as Senior Vice President at Lipscomb, McQueen is the Dean of the College of Education at the school.

Here’s more on McQueen from her bio at Lipscomb:

Dr. Candice McQueen was appointed as a Senior Vice President at Lipscomb University in January 2014 where she also serves as the Dean of the College of Education.  In her new senior role, McQueen serves on the executive leadership team of the university and oversees both her college and the 1,300 Pre-K-12th grade students in three schools at Lipscomb Academy – the largest private school in middle Tennessee.

McQueen’s college and teacher preparation programs have been highlighted at both the state and national levels for excellence in both teacher preparation design and teacher candidate outcomes.  The programs in McQueen’s college have been consistently highlighted as one of the top teacher training programs in the state of Tennessee for quality and effectiveness based on the Tennessee Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs and was most recently pointed out as the second highest ranking program in the nation by the National Council on Teacher Quality.  In addition, in her six years as dean, the college has grown by 54% with 72% growth at the graduate level while adding 15 new graduate programs, including a doctorate, and creating innovative partnerships that focus on collaborative design and delivery for coursework and programming.

In 2012, McQueen and the College of Education partnered with the Ayers Foundation to initiate The Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation.  The institute has a focus on supporting higher academic standards, embedded professional learning and new approaches to leadership training and support.  The institute initially partnered with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to create pre-service teacher resources and web-based videos on teachers modeling the usage of college and career readiness standards.  Tennessee’s higher education institutions and alternative preparation programs are currently utilizing the resources to prepare new teachers and leaders.  Also, many Tennessee school districts and other states are using the resources for professional development.  In addition, the institute’s innovative MOOCs (massive open online courses) in teacher preparation were recently released.  The first three MOOCs released in September and October 2014 already have almost 10,000 users.

Before coming to Lipscomb and serving as a department chair, Dr. McQueen taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools where she was awarded multiple awards for both her teaching and the curriculum design of a new magnet school. Dr. McQueen has a bachelor’s degree from Lipscomb, a master’s degree from Vanderbilt, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas.

 

McQueen has been a strong supporter of Common Core, testifying before state legislators on the issue. She also spoke about the standards and their importance at Governor Haslam’s Education Summit held earlier this year.

Tennessee Education Association statement on McQueen:
“TEA looks forward to working with Dr. McQueen to provide a quality public education to every student in Tennessee,” said Barbara Gray, Shelby County administrator and TEA president. “We hope she will listen to veteran educators in the state when making important policy decisions. The people who work with children in the classroom every day are the real experts and should have a significant voice in decision-making at the state level.”

“TEA is hopeful she will use this new position to forcefully advocate within the administration to improve per student investment in Tennessee,” the TEA president continued. “As a former educator herself, I’m sure she agrees that it is unacceptable for our state to rank below Mississippi in what we invest in our children.”

Professional Educators of Tennessee statement on McQueen:

We look forward to working with Dr. McQueen on critical education issues facing Tennessee Educators. Dr. Candice McQueen is well versed in the hard work teachers’ face every day as she has taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools. She is familiar with Tennessee, one of our major concerns. “We have admired Dr. McQueen’s work from afar, and are looking forward to working with her more closely,” said Executive Director J. C. Bowman. Priorities for a new commissioner must first be student-centered. Our students must have the resources and innovative instruction to compete in a world-class economy right here in Tennessee. We are reminded that the working conditions of our educators become the learning environment of our students, therefore teachers must also be a high priority in the new commissioner’s agenda. Finally, Tennessee will need to continue to allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have maintained, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators. In this season of hope, we truly look forward to working with Dr. McQueen to move our state forward.

 

 

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

 

Report Card on MNPS

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its annual Report Card on Metro Schools yesterday. The group made 5 policy recommendations, including asking the MNPS School Board to wait until after the new Mayor is elected in August of 2015 before finalizing a Director of Schools.

Here are the recommendations from the Chamber press release:

  • The Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card Committee should annually monitor the implementation of MNPS’ strategic plan through 2018.
  • MNPS’ pay supplement system should be reformed to financially reward teachers who assume a leadership position at their school.
  • MNPS should highlight issues which impede school-level autonomy to identify needed policy or statute changes.
  • The Metro Nashville Board of Education should take action to recommit itself to policy governance and professional development in order to establish steps toward developing consensus moving forward.
  • The school board should hire a new director of schools after the election of a new mayor in 2015.

Here’s how Report Card committee members explained the suggested delay on a Director choice until after the Mayor’s election:

“The director of schools reports to the Metro Nashville Board of Education,” said Committee Co-chair Brian Shaw. “But our committee felt it will be critically important for both the educational leadership and the political leadership of our community have strong working relationships, and the upcoming election for mayor and Metro Council is critical to that.”

“The school board has a tremendous amount of work to do to get to the point where they are ready to hire a new director, so we understand the need to go ahead and begin the search process soon,” said committee Co-chair Jackson Miller. “We believe knowing who our next mayor is before the finalists are identified eliminates a big question mark in the minds of the quality candidates we are trying to recruit.”

The Metro Nashville Education Association weighed-in on the Report Card, essentially agreeing with the core recommendations but adding that teacher input is needed going forward and that funding for teacher pay must be a priority. The MNEA agrees that a new Director should not be hired until the new mayor has been elected.

Here’s what MNEA had to say, from their press release:

  • In addition to the annual monitoring by the Chamber’s Report Card committee, the success of MNPS’ strategic plan, Education 2018, a plan to become the highest performing urban school district in the United States, will be dependent on the support of all of Nashville, especially its students, teachers, and leaders.
  • MNEA has long supported more pay for teachers who assume leadership responsibilities. However, its implementation will be contingent upon the district making it a funding priority.
  • Both nationally and internationally, highly success schools exist where there is teacher autonomy. Yet experience tells us that in the absence of an accountability structure and/or the will to create one, school-level, or principal autonomy, will lead to chaos and injustice.
  • In 2002 the MNPS Board of Education adopted policy governance. No member of the current board served during 2002, nor did any member vote to adopt this form of governance. The current elected board should either recommit to policy governance or choose a form of governance that best serves their needs, and most importantly, best serves the needs of Nashville’s students.
  • The hiring of the next MNPS Director of Schools should not occur without input from Nashville’s students, parents, teachers, and new mayor.

 

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

 

Interview with Beacon Center’s Justin Owen

Below is an interview with Justin Owen, President and CEO of Beacon Center of Tennessee. The Beacon Center is helping push voucher legislation in Tennessee.

 

Some of our readers may not know much about the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Can you tell us about your organization?

Most people refer to the Beacon Center as a “free market think tank,” but what that really means is that we come up with ideas to empower Tennessee to reclaim control of their lives, and we put those ideas into action so that those Tennesseans can freely pursue their version of the American Dream.

During the past legislative session, your organization helped push a measure to create a voucher program in Tennessee. Are you bringing about the same legislation this year? Can you tell us about it?

Beacon supported legislation last year that would provide a voucher, or opportunity scholarship, to low-income children zoned for districts containing failing schools. We believe that parents, not ZIP codes, should decide what school their child attends. We owe it to Tennessee families to ensure that each child in our state gets the best education, tailored to his or her unique needs, and we will support similar legislation to do just that in 2015.

Many of our readers are public school teachers. Why should teachers be in favor of sending money away from public schools to private schools?

Teachers consistently point to the need for higher per-pupil funding and smaller class sizes. Opportunity scholarships will give them both. As a recent Beacon study [http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/fiscal-impacts_web.pdf] shows, only a portion of the amount we already spend would follow a child via a scholarship. The rest would remain with that public school to be reinvested in those children. Some districts – like Memphis and Nashville – would not only cover the fixed costs, but save an additional $1,300 to $1,500 for every child that leaves. And while there will be no mass exodus of children from the system (as most families will continue to choose the public school option for their children), those who do leave with a scholarship will reduce classroom sizes, allowing teacher to increase their focus on those who choose to stay in the school.

Is using a voucher system been proven effective?

Yes, studies show that both children who use vouchers and those who choose to remain in their public school benefit. Nine of 10 random assignment studies show gains among opportunity scholarship students. And of 23 studies conducted on vouchers’ impact of public school students, 22 found positive gains in their performance as well. Not one single study has ever found a negative impact on voucher students or those who remain in public schools. Thus, these programs represent a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Besides vouchers, what other education initiations does the Beacon Center promote?

Beacon sees opportunity scholarships as another tool in the education toolbox, and part of a broader movement to empower parents with more choice in education. Our focus is on advancing the various options parents have at their fingertips.

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


 

 

PET Looks to 2015

A response to Governor Haslam’s recently announced teacher support initiatives by JC Bowman and Samantha Bates of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

 

The announcement by Governor Bill Haslam addressing testing, evaluations, local control and teacher input was a much needed statement, as Tennessee is heading into the 2015 legislative session. Keeping in mind that each branch of government has a distinct and separate role, it is appropriate for Governor Haslam to identify changing priorities. As always, the key is in implementation of policies. Many policies sound good. They simply have to be executed correctly.

It is always good to step back and put some political philosophy behind the policy. However, the real message educators need to hear from elected leaders is that they are trusted. We need to start a fresh conversation on evaluating how we assess our educators, which may mean a change in the way we measure engagement.

When did test results became the be-all and end-all of our education experience? Is standardized testing so reliable that it has ended the search for something better to determine the quality of our education experience? And while numbers may help us understand our world, we recognize that they do not tell us the entire story.

Most local school districts understand that ability of their instructional personnel is the only real differentiator between them and other local districts. Therefore, it is imperative that we start treating our educators like one of our most important assets. And it is only common sense that one of the key items policymakers need to address in 2015 will be teacher salaries.

However, educators do not enter this field of public education for the income; they are there for the outcomes. If the perception within Tennessee is that teaching is not a celebrated profession, we certainly will not get the young talented people to pursue a career in public education as a profession.

We have steadfastly maintained that requiring school districts to simultaneously implement new standards, new teacher evaluations and perhaps a new curriculum, as well as new testing demands, will continue to place enormous pressure at the local level. More information and feedback on state assessments to help teachers improve student achievement is a welcome addition to the discussion. The use and/or overuse of testing remain a conversation worthy of public debate.

Tennessee will need to continue allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have argued, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators.

The key item we took away from Governor Haslam’s latest proposal is his willingness to hear teacher concerns. It has taken us a long time to get to that point. However, it was a welcome relief to many educators, as we are now positioned to reset the dialogue. The area of improved teacher communication and collaboration has long been needed. We hope a new commissioner of education will truly embrace this concept.

If the right people are brought together for the right purpose, we believe anything is possible for Tennessee children and those who choose to educate our students. Dreaming big should not be just for the children in our classrooms, it should be for the stakeholders and policymakers in our state as well.

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

TEA, MNEA Issue Statement on Neely’s Bend Takeover

The Tennessee Education Association and Metro Nashville Education Association issued a joint statement on the takeover of Neely’s Bend Middle School by the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD).

From the statement:

“The state takeover model has proven to be an ineffective solution for struggling schools. Schools in the Achievement School District in Memphis on average are doing no better or worse than before the takeover. The ASD method of ‘do less with more’ is already harming our students in Memphis. Increasing its presence in Nashville is irresponsible and reckless.

“Nashville students, teachers and schools need support and resources from the state, not a heavy-handed, unwanted takeover of one of our community schools. Neely’s Bend parents and teachers made it very clear at the Dec. 4 ASD meeting that they believe in their students, their school and their community.

“Just this week Governor Haslam spoke of the need for greater local control and decision making in public education. This must extend beyond teacher evaluations to decisions about how to improve struggling schools. The ASD and its charter operators do not know this community. Strangers do not understand what this school needs more than the students, parents and educators who make up the Neely’s Bend family.

“Instead of continuing to funnel money into a program that has failed to deliver on its promises, the state should instead invest that money in struggling public schools to allow educators and parents to determine how to improve public education for their students.

“Measuring a school’s value by student performance on one standardized test given one day during the school year does not provide a clear picture of the school, its students or its teachers. The only thing standardized test scores measure effectively is poverty. Impoverished, minority communities deserve the same quality education available in other parts of the city. That can be accomplished by the state increasing its investment in our students to provide the resources needed for student success.”

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

 

Interview with ASD’s Chris Barbic

Below is an interview with Achievement School District’s Superintendent Chris Barbic. Please note that this interview took place before the announcement of Neely’s Bend as the school that the ASD will take over.

 

In your view, how is the Achievement School District doing overall?

 

We are basically in our third year of having schools in the system. Our first year is really just the planning year. There are a lot of ways to answer that question. The short answer is we are certainly seeing schools that are making really strong gains.

If you look at our schools last year, that finished their second year, that’s our oldest cohort of schools we have. If you look at those six schools, there is a group that averages about 6 point gains composite. If you just look at the charter schools, the three charter schools, they average about 11 point gains, which is that double digit gains that we like to talk about and we like to see. Three of our charter schools who are in the second year, last year, were level five growth. Two of the three made if off the priority list in just two years time.

I know there are lots of people that want to be quick to judge on how we are doing, I think what’s important for people to remember is that of the 17 schools that we have last year, two-thirds were in their very first year. I think it’s a little quick to judge on the entire body of work because the vast majority of schools last year were in their first year.

So when you look at our second year schools, you are seeing lots of promising signs, especially our charter schools, are doing well. On the flip side, there is certainly room to improve. We are trying to come at this with the appropriate level of humility. The schools that we are going into, there were lots of teachers, principals, and dedicated folks who cared a lot about the kids.

Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into the progress and gains that we wanted to see. We understand that this is not easy work. We really try and highlight that this isn’t about a one principal or a group of teachers, what we are really trying to highlight is that this is about how you build a new type of system.

When I took this job, the charge was to build a school district from scratch. The first thing anybody would do would be to look around and find who was doing this well. We wanted to model ourselves off a large or medium urban school district. If you look around the country, to see who the districts are that we want to build ourselves after, there wasn’t one example we could point to. There wasn’t one urban district in the country that was getting it done with all kids. I think when you can’t point to one example, that says to me it’s a systemic problem.There is a problem with how the system is set up.

We tried to take advantage of the opportunity to build a new type of school system. Trying to reform an existing school district that was structured and set up almost a hundred years ago, it’s trying to make a model T work better. It’s an outdated system. What we are trying to put forth is how do we build a car for the 21st century? How to build a car for 2015?

How do you build a district that is more aligned with things that we know work in schools around finding great educators and giving them economies and putting resources down in the building level and not a top down bureaucracy that mandates excellence, but an organization that bottom ups and tries to release excellence. That’s the organization that we are trying to build and why we have chosen to partner with high performing charter organizations to do the work.

 

 

What do you think about all the parental feedback that you received from the meetings at Madison and Neely’s Bend?

 

Unfortunately, we did not hear enough of it. I think the purpose of those meetings was to hear from parents. I think instead what happened was we heard from a few parents. A lot of the people in the meeting were folks that either weren’t from the school community at all or were elected officials that unfortunately chose to put information out there that was, at best, misleading. It wasn’t really until after the meeting was over that we got to really sit down and talk to parents.

Fortunately for us, beside the parent meeting, one of the things we have done in the community is that we had a team of folks out knocking on doors and block walking. The weekend leading up to the parent meeting, they knocked on all the fourth graders doors in the elementary schools that cede into Neely’s Bend and Madison. That’s really the group of kids that are going to be impacted the most by this decision.  LEAD will only be serving fifth grade next year.

What we found was interesting. A lot of the parents, especially the ones that were the most engaging in their kid’s education, already decided that they were not going to send their kids to Madison or Neely’s Bend. They were already looking at other options to send their kids outside the neighborhood because of the reputation of the schools.

Another group of parents that were a little less engaged and more open to the idea of what LEAD was proposing to do. But, had there not been this conversation about the dramatic change that could potentially happen at one of the schools, they were much more inclined not to send their kids to those schools either.

The reason I bring this up is because we think there should be a great neighborhood option that kids and families can access that is right in their own backyard. They shouldn’t have to choose options outside of their community for them to go to a good school. If you look at most of the schools in the low-income parts of Nashville and Memphis, where we do most of our work, the fact is there aren’t enough good neighborhood options. If you look at kids in the priority list, two in ten of those kids can’t read. That’s just not an acceptable number on anyone’s measure. We can all debate data, but no one can agree that’s acceptable.

I think there are a good number of parents who don’t understand and are skeptical about it. That’s understandable. This is new. This is a change. There are just as many parents, if not more, that are open and excited for a great school in their neighborhood. That’s all we are trying to do. To deliver a great school to kids in either Neely’s Bend or Madison because we believe that’s what they deserve.

 

How does the ASD on the whole is dealing with literacy?

 

If you look at our data, in our first year we saw growth in math and science. Our proficiency scores in reading dipped the first year. Last year we saw that trend reversed. We actually grew faster than the state average in reading and math last year if you look across all of our schools. That’s an important measure for us, most of our kids are behind grade level, and our kids need to catch up. If our kids aren’t growing faster than the state average, we are never going to close the gap. That’s an important number to look at. Last year, our kids grew faster than the state average and both middle, elementary, and high school.

I think it gets to how we set up our organization. If you would ask someone in the district how they handle reading, they would tell you that we use XYZ program and the central office pushes that out to the schools to implement that program. Maybe there is some flexibility for teachers and schools to build things on their own, but it’s probably more that they don’t feel like they are getting supports form the central office and they are left to figure things out on their own.

I think the way we approach that is that we believe that teachers and principals who are in schools closest to kids need to make the decisions that matter most in what academic programs should look like. We all have to teach the same standards. The standards are the standards. How we teach those standards should be up to the people that are closest to the kids. That’s the principals and teachers.

Our whole philosophy is that we are not going to tell you which literacy program to use. We are not going to tell you how to teach literacy. What we are going to do is having a rigorous application process for you to get a charter with us. We are going to go through your academic program and we are going to look at your track record and results.

Once you have been approved to open your school, we are going to let you make the decisions around curriculum that you think will be best for your kids. We are going to agree on some benchmarks for progress. We are then going to hold you accountable for results. We just believe that folks sitting in a central office are not the ones in the best positions to make decisions bout what’s best for kids. The people who are in the best position are folks in the classroom.

I think too many times that we see these big top down bureaucracy that lots of decisions get made by people in the central office. Sometimes they get rolled out well. Sometimes they don’t. We don’t lean on people in the schools to make the decisions that matter most. I think that’s where these big top down traditional districts get it flat out wrong. It’s why we have tried to approach this in a different way.

 

Do you think the decorum of the education debate is gone?

 

We stopped listening to each other. I have been painted all sorts of ways in Twitter and Facebook. At the end of day, I taught for six years. I taught sixth grade in an elementary school. The whole reason why I got out of the classroom to start a middle school was because I was tired of watching my elementary school kids go off to local middle schools and have a terrible experience.

I was listening to one horror story after another when my kids would come back to visit my classroom. It broke my heart. I can complain about the middle school, the system, or everything that’s not working, or I could try and do something about it. I chose to start a charter school that served kids in that neighborhood. It grew into a network of schools and thirteen years later I am taking a job and moving to Tennessee.

I say all that because it’s not like anybody on either side of the debate woke up with horns growing out of their heads. Most of the people that are engaged in this debate and conversation genuinely care about kids and genuinely want to see schools get better. I think that when you see some of the misinformation that was spread at the meeting in the Nashville, like when the union passed out flyers. The ironic things about the flyers are that they said “Facts” and it had statements after it and there wasn’t one fact following the statements on that flyer.

When I see that, I tend not to give the people the benefit of the doubt that they are doing this for kids. I think most people are. I think where people get hung up and where we start to fight is while we agree on the what. We want better schools. We disagree on the how.

I think that’s okay because the debate is going to make us all better. We lose a lot when we stop listening to either other. You go to Twitter and each side puts something up that will benefit their side of the argument. Everyone yells in their little echo chambers. I think the other thing, which is unfortunate, is that we don’t come after this with the appropriate level of humility and recognizing that maybe not all of our answers are right. Maybe, there is actually some merit to what the other side has to say.

I think until we are able to listen and agree that no one has a monopoly on good ideas, we are going to continue to lob on to each other. I don’t think that’s helpful. I tried to really reach out and talk to people on both sides of this thing. Sometimes I get fired up and passionate and that is what it is. That happened at the meeting last week. But I think we all have to do a better job of listening to each other. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt that we are coming at this with the same end goals and that is better schools. We have to keep talking about the how.

 

Where people chanting at the meeting you were leading?

 

Jill (Speering) tried to get a chant started. What was unfortunate was that there were parents trying to speak. It wasn’t even a parent in favor of the ASD being there. When you got school board members leading chants and shouting down parents who are trying to talk, it’s not helpful. None of us are evil people. We are all trying to do good work.

I just think a little more decorum or a little more humility and willingness to listen to the other side would benefit all of us. I don’t know where things got off track. Maybe that started to happened before I even go here. It sure would be refreshing to try and get things back on track so we can have productive conversations about kids.

 

Is there anything that is being overlooked in the current education debate?

 

I do think, unfortunately, that we don’t talk nearly enough about kids. We also don’t talk about what works and what hasn’t. I don’t think we talk enough about our willingness to be innovative. Innovation can be reckless. We can’t run social experiments on children. That’s not what we are trying to do. But there is a place for innovation.

If you time warp someone who was alive 100 years ago. Walked him through a normal day. Take him to the grocery store. They look different than they did 20 years ago, you can check yourself out now. Take him to an airport, or a bus stop, or any place that he would be used to a 100 year ago would look completely different.

Except, if you took him into a school and it would look pretty much the same. There would be a hallway with classrooms, and the classroom will either be in rows or tables. We have whiteboard instead of chalkboards. By in large, they would probably feel most familiar walking through the halls of a school. That’s crazy.

To think of all the technology and changes and advances that we have made as a society in the last 50 years. For that innovation to completely steer clear of most of what’s been happening education today, there’s a problem with that.  There is not enough conversation about kids. There is not a conversation about what works and what doesn’t and how we innovate as a profession.

 

Will the ASD have a bigger presence in Nashville?

 

I think that you can’t ignore the fact that the number of priority schools in the city grew from 6 to 15. You can’t ignore the fact the number of kids attending priority schools in Nashville doubled within the last two years from 3,000 to 6,000. That’s a fact.

If we can find partners like LEAD that are willing to do turnarounds in priority schools in Nashville and have a track record and the quality team we believe LEAD has, then yeah, we will expand and we will grow. We will only do it when we feel like we can partner with high performing organizations that will do good work. Assuming we can do that, then we plan to grow our presence here.

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