Are Ideology & Double Standards Harming Nashville Schools?

Is ideology holding us back from improving education in Nashville? TC Weber thinks so. In his latest post, Weber lays out his argument that we in Nashville quickly rush to our fighting corners (Charters vs No Charters) before we even really delve into an issue. We saw this take place during our last school board election in Nashville. I’m going to break down some of his thoughts with some of my own. 

People quickly fell into one camp or the other with defenders making the argument that nothing worse could befall our school district than to be taken over by private interests, while the privateers made the argument that the status quo had to go. Much to my chagrin, I must admit that I quickly grabbed a uniform and joined a team. And for that, I owe an apology to Jane Grimes-Meneely, Miranda Christy, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.

Now I’m not saying that I would have voted for them nor campaigned for them. I still have a lot of disagreements with them on issues and take exception to a lot of strategies they employed during the election. What I am saying is that I quickly grabbed onto a dogma and stopped listening. Charter schools are bad, and they supported charter schools; therefore, they are bad. I’ve since learned the hard way that the world is a much more complex and nuanced place than that, and while we are busy building the wall at the front door, the wolf can slip in the back door.

Weber goes on to discuss the problems that he sees are facing our district right now, including policy governance, transparency, and double standards. But he comes back to the point that we must all come to: We must understand why parents want to go to a charter school.

I myself have been guilty of talking past charter supporters. Interesting enough, while I’m not an overly religious person, it’s been my experience that whenever I say I would never do something, the Lord puts me in a situation that helps me understand why I just might. This school year has been such an experience. The lack of transparency and the failure of the  district to provide equitable resources has led me consider alternatives. At this point, I can say I understand why parents consider charter schools.

I think anyone who is a part of this debate knows that many of us do not sit around and discuss ideas with someone from the other side. We have all set up a hostile environment, but even those who have not set a hostile environment join in by just picking a side in the debate. The hostile environment takes place inside schools, on twitter, or at events around town.

I’ve been yelled at in hallways of my school by a teacher, I’ve had teachers tell other teachers not to talk to me, and myself and others have felt silenced in our schools because of our views. That must stop.

Having people step up to make it stop will be the hardest part. It’s hard to break the cycle that we have found ourselves in. Think of how amazing our system would be if we actually collaborated with everyone. I think it would be wonderful.

That is how ideology blinds us and hurts us. Instead of making decisions based on the merits of individual arguments, we make them based on an alignment with ideology. How many board members voted for Dr. Joseph because he wasn’t a charter person? How many failed to question his actions because they were afraid of it opening the door for charter proponents? How many would publicly protest if his actions this year were committed by the head of a charter school?

Weber says something that will get a lot of charter school fans excited (bet you didn’t think you would hear that phrase). The double standard between if a charter school did something or if a district school did the same thing is staggering. There are many times a charter school may get dragged in the mud when a district school does the same thing. Before I started teaching, I remember hearing complaints that charter schools made their students walk silently in a line around the building. I started teaching in MNPS and guess what? We all get students in a line and walk them around school quietly.

I heard that charter schools kick out misbehaving students. I then worked at school that was able to do that same thing at the end of the school year because it was a choice school.

When I mentioned that tidbit years ago on twitter, an anti-charter school board member called for an investigation on that claim and said that it must be stopped. MNPS came back and said that students can be revoked from certain schools. The reply back to that member said, “This is also done at other schools such as East, Hume Fogg, MLK, Meigs, and Lockeland and several other MNPS schools.  Any school that has an option out of zone student at their school who does not follow rules can be ‘revoked’.” They cited a school board policy, which is voted on and approved by the school board, that allows the practice. I never heard that issue brought up in publicly after that. 

If we really want to stop charter school proliferation shouldn’t we follow the leads of Dr. Mike Looney and former Maplewood principal and current director of pupil services for Maury County Ron Woodard, both who say you don’t have to worry about charter schools if you make your school the most attractive option. The only ideology they subscribe to is to make better schools and the same should be true for all of us.. Yet we still fight the same arguments over and over and MNPS becomes less and less responsive to stakeholders.

I just want what is best for students and families in Nashville. That means that I am fine with students attending zoned, magnet, charter, or private schools.

You can read Weber’s full post here.

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


 

 

Haslam To Fully Fund BEP

During the State of the State address on Monday, Governor Haslam announced that he is fully funding the Basic Education Program (BEP). Here’s what chalkbeat had to say:

In conjunction his seventh State of the State address, Haslam released a $37 billion proposed budget for 2017-18, including almost $230 million more for schools following a historic increase last year. Haslam said it’s one of the largest education funding increases in the state’s history and amounts to fully funding schools under the state’s funding formula known as the Basic Education Program.

Here’s what Haslam said during his address:

We’re fully funding the Basic Education Program including $22 million in additional dollars to help schools serve high need students and $15 million for career and technical education equipment. One hundred million dollars ($100 million) is included for teacher salaries, bringing the three year total since FY 16 to more than $300 million in new dollars for teacher salaries and more than $430 million in new dollars for salaries since 2011. Tennessee has shown it will not balance the budget on the backs of teachers and students. In fact, under the legislature and this administration, Tennessee has increased total K-12 spending by more than $1.3 billion.

It’s great the Governor Haslam is finally fully funding the BEP, which will allow for more resources going into the classrooms to help our students and teachers. For years, legislators, parents, bloggers, and local education officials have asked the Governor to fully fund the BEP. He finally listened.

Thanks for finally coming through, Governor Haslam.

Where do the funds go?

  • $100 million more for teacher salaries
  • $22 million more for English Language Learners
  • $15 million more for career technical education
  • $4.5 million more for the Read to be Ready initiative
  • $6 million (one time) for charter school facilities

I know many teachers will be extremely happy when they read the news. I know I am.  Now that it is fully funded, it’s time to make sure it’s fair.

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


 

Stand for Children Looking Forward to New Year

Stand for Children was recently dragged through months of hearings after a politically motivated complaint was filed alleging they broke campaign finance laws. Earlier this month they were unanimously cleared of wrongdoing.

According to a new editorial by Daniel O’Donnell, it seems likes Stand for Children is looking ahead to a new year where they can return their focus on improving Nashville’s education.

There is a lot to be optimistic about in Nashville’s public schools these days. But the fact remains that a great public education remains out of reach for far too many Nashville students. In recent years, the achievement gap between kids from low-income families and their privileged peers has widened significantly; only 11 percent of Nashville graduates are considered “college-ready.”

Let that sink in. Behind those numbers are real kids with real lives – kids who deserve urgency and focus from adults.

Nashville spends an enormous amount of time debating public charter schools, and that debate no doubt colored the recent school board races. The prevailing charter narrative notwithstanding, Stand advocates for strong public schools, regardless of type.

Our record here has been consistent: In recent years we’ve fought for high-quality pre-Kindergarten expansion, high academic standards and topnotch district leadership. As a city, we should be doing more to support and learn from some of our incredible charter schools, while doing a lot more to lift up the schools that the other 90 percent of students attend. It’s really not that complicated.

Since the August election, we’ve been working with hundreds of parents in North and East Nashville to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing our school system: below-average third-grade literacy rates. Ensuring more third-graders are on track is one critical component of a larger effort to close Nashville’s achievement gap.

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

I agree with O’Donnell that we spend too much time fighting over charter schools when we could be spending that same amount of time on the abysmal literacy rates of our students. Let’s focus on all the students in our district and work together to make MNPS better.

Teachers collaborate every day to do what’s best for students. It’s time for organizations, school board members, and district leaders to collaborate to help all of our students.

 

 

Test Scores Are In! How Did Our Nashville Students Do?

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released TNReady results for individual districts. The data only show results for high schools because elementary and middle schools did not take the full assessment last school year.

For those of you who just want the gist of it, Nashville’s public high schools are struggling to get kids to proficiency, and they’re particularly struggling with math.

Let’s dig a little deeper, using some screenshots from the state’s Report Card website.

ACT Achievement

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I have written previously about the ACT scores of the district. TNReady is trying to be more aligned with the ACT.

Math and ELA Achievement 

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The data show that our high schools are struggling more with math than English language arts (ELA), though each section has only a small percentage of students who are scoring within the top two tiers of TNReady.

Here’s the more in-depth breakdown of the data, including individual subjects. As we see from the graph below, we have new terminology to use when discussing the data.

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The data clearly show that too many high school students are not “on track” nor have achieved mastery of the subjects. We have given our high schools a makeover, but has that makeover really improved the achievement of our students? That will be hard to tell because this is a brand new assessment.

The achievement of high school students are more than just a problem with high schools. We need more support in lower grades to give students the skills they need to achieve in high school so that they can graduate and move on to college or a career.

Growth

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It’s great to see that we are showing growth in literacy, but we have to do better in math.

We Have to Do Better

Our district has to do better. We have too many students not achieving at the level they should be. I hope our school board will really delve into this issue, instead of spending so much time on petty resolutions that will only hurt the district in the long run.

Turning around our district is not something that will make the newspaper tomorrow. It’s not something that you can brag about in your monthly email in a few weeks. Turning around our district takes time, resources, and a vision to help all students achieve. It means that everyone involved in the education system must work together, which can be hard for some.

It’s results like this that draw people away from Davidson county and into the suburbs and private schools. We can’t let it continue.

Let’s get to work!

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


 

The Call For A Charter School Moratorium Lacks Transparency

On Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board will vote on a charter school moratorium. The policy proposal is being brought by Will Pinkston. As of Monday morning, language of the resolution has still not been publicly shared on the MNPS website.

Will Pinkston calls for transparency for charter schools, but he should also be held to that same transparency. It’s unacceptable that the meeting is tomorrow, and the citizens of Nashville still can’t access the policy that will be discussed.

Sources within MNPS tell me there is a draft floating around, but language is still not finalized. It seems like this policy is being snuck in at the last moment so that the citizens of Nashville cannot give specific feedback before the vote. That’s not right.

If this is what Nashville wants, why does this resolution have to held in the dark?

Because of the lack of transparency, the Metro Nashville School Board should postpone voting on this moratorium until the people of Nashville can read and respond to it.

While on the issue of a moratorium, it should be noted that having a moratorium will give the State Board of Education more power. I wrote the same thing when Pinkston last tried to change charter school policy:

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

The same is true with the moratorium. A moratorium will give the State Board a bigger hand in approving charter schools in Nashville. Nashville should continue to rigorously review and approve the charter schools that best meets the needs of MNPS.

A flat out moratorium on charter schools is not in the best interest of our Nashville schools or their students.

Update: As of 1:45pm, the resolution has been posted here.  

 

 

Stand For Children Unanimously Cleared

Today, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance unanimously dismissed two complaints filed against Stand for Children by a group named Tennessee Citizen Action.

It should be noted that fellow TNEdReport blogger, Andy Spears, is the executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

The complaints alleged illegal coordination between Stand for Children and four school board candidates: Thom Druffel, Jane Grimes Meneely, Jackson Miller, and Miranda Christy. The Registry unanimously dismissed those allegations because there was no evidence for them.

Dark Money or Charter Schools?

But were these complaints really against “dark money” as Tennessee Citizen Action claimed or more about charter schools? Sources who attended the press conference after the hearing stated that Gerard Stranch, attorney for Tennessee Citizen Action, brought up how Stand for Children wanted to bring more charter schools to Nashville. These school board candidates weren’t even calling for more charter schools.

The complaint had nothing to do with charter schools, so it was surprising to hear that’s what Tennessee Citizen Action’s legal counsel wanted to discuss. On Twitter, Stranch believes “pro charter folks” are treated differently by the bipartisan registry.

This was about the fight for charter schools disguised as a campaign against dark money. And Tennessee Citizen Action lost overwhelmingly.

Political Payback

It should be noted that anyone can file a complaint through the Registry. While the Registry can only hand down civil penalties, Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston told Stand for Children’s Nashville Director Daniel O’Donnell on Twitter: “Post election, we’re talking about your orange jumpsuit.”

Will Pinkston is advocating and hoping for the jailing of his political opponent. I feel like we are back in the presidential campaign.

Of course Will Pinkston knew (I would hope) that this was only a civil matter, but Pinkston wanted to make this complaint look more than it really was. The press went out of their way to cover these hearings as huge breaking news, with the Tennessean using large breaking news banners to discuss each hearing.

Early on in the Registry’s process, a commissioner said that they thought there wasn’t enough evidence to go on, but allowed Stand for Children more time to make a defense. If you ever look at the Registry’s monthly agenda, you will see there are so many cases in front of the Registry at one time. The media picked up on this one and really ran with it.

Everything is Rigged

After the unanimous decision by bipartisan Registry, Andy Spears called the Registry “rigged” because they did not vote the way he wanted them to. Is the system rigged when it doesn’t go your way?

We just finished an election where Trump said everything was rigged…until it went his way, and it wasn’t rigged anymore.

The bigger implication is when you have a coordinated effort against a group of candidates, it may discourage others from running. Even though there was no evidence of law breaking, these candidates had to retain legal counsel. Try talking a middle class parent into running for school board if there is a chance you will need a lawyer. Miranda Christy says it best:

Our city needs good people to step up and throw their hat in the ring without having to worry whether they might have to hire a lawyer or whether they might have to publicly endure false accusations of wrongdoing.

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

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,


 

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.