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The $3.4 Million Impasse

October 23, 2012

Late Sunday evening came news that the Chamber of Commerce has penned a letter to the MNPS School Board, chastising them for being responsible for a $3.4 million loss of funds in the wake of the Great Hearst dust-up.  Via the Tennessean:

Injecting itself squarely into Metro’s ongoing fight with the state over Great Hearts Academies, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is calling for the Metro school board to somehow resolve its loss of $3.4 million in state education funds without pursuing legal action.

In a sharply worded letter hand-delivered to school board members Friday and Saturday, the chamber expressed “deep disappointment” over the district’s deduction of state funds, a penalty Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman carried out last week following the board’s September rejection of Great Hearts’ charter school application.

The chamber, a key partner with Metro schools that had previously stayed out of the feud, characterized the board’s “mishandling” of its fiduciary responsibility as “especially galling” for those in the business community who have advocated for tax increases to “fully fund” the district’s budget.

“While we believe that all the parties share some blame for the recent impasse, ultimately the accountability for the school system resides with the Metropolitan Board of Education,” reads the letter, penned by businessman Orrin Ingram, who chairs the chamber’s Education 2020 program.

“Accordingly, the school board is responsible for the restoration of the $3.4 million to MNPS from the state in a way that does not waste further effort and taxpayer money.”

There’s a lot longer post to be written about the whole Great Hearts thing, and I’m really hoping to find the time sometime soon, but it feels necessary to comment on this development.

I am disappointed that the Chamber felt the need to pile on the Board, and baffled that no one at the Chamber thought it worth calling out the State Department of Education or the Governor on this one (well, maybe not that baffled).  It would be just as easy, and to my mind, a lot more fair, to pen a letter to Governor Haslam and Commissioner Huffman asking them why a political power match blown way out of proportion is worth punishing MNPS students.

I get it.  The State is pissed.  How dare the MNPS Board flaunt the directives of the State Board of Education.  Fine.  I’m sure that point has been made hundreds of times, in various ways and tones of voice, through direct and indirect channels.  That point has been made at face-to-face meetings, and, I’m sure, in heated phone calls and email exchanges (well, given the number of open records requests as of late, maybe not email).

Be that as it may, the Governor (because, ultimately the buck stops with him) and the Commissioner are acting petulantly.  Let’s not pretend that there’s not a legitimate argument to be had here.  As others have pointed out a number of times, the State Board had a Motion on the floor during the Great Hearts meeting that would have sent back an order to approve with NO contingencies, full stop.  That Motion was not approved.  What was approved was a remand with contingencies.  What that actually means is really anybody’s guess.  It’s about as clear as mud.

That being the case, it’s silly to pretend that this is all cut-and-dried and the Board is clearly and flagrantly in the wrong, deserving of censure.

To my mind, the mature thing to do would have been to have a closed door meeting to figure out a way that both parties could back away.  The State doesn’t need to be in the business of making up penalties for slapping down the locals when they don’t agree with what they’ve done, to the detriment of public school children.  The only reason there hasn’t been more fuss about this is because it’s Nashville, and many legislators/state bureaucrats have no problem kicking Nashville in the teeth every now and again.

So where do we go from here?

The bottom line is that this is an opportunity for the Board to re-take the narrative and be the adult in the room.  The State wants to punish us even though the statute is vague and the remand was oblique?  Fine.  We owe a duty to the students of Nashville to do what’s best for them – all of them.  That’s what we’ll continue to do.

It’s time for someone to take the high road (cost us though it may), and I think the Board has an opportunity to show that the State has been throwing a temper tantrum, but that we’ve determined to move on with the business of educating our children, since Governor Haslam has apparently changed his mind about that.  It’ll be an interesting Board meeting tonight.

Check out the new tumblr

September 5, 2012

ImageNot a replacement for the blog, but an addition.  Twitter for very small bites and live-tweeting.  Tumblr for link sharing and other interesting stuff.  The blog for more long-form writing which, I promise, I’ll be getting back to shortly.  Hope you’ll stay with me.

CONFIRMED: Great Hearts Appeals Charter Rejection to the State

July 6, 2012

As per the Tennessean story and my blog post from yesterday, Great Hearts Academies has officially appealed the rejection of its charter application by MNPS to the Tennessee State Board of Education.  Confirmation came by way of the State Board’s General Counsel, Dannelle Walker:

Under the statute, Great Hearts had 10 days from the final rejection by MNPS of its application to appeal to the state.  Yesterday was the 10th day, and so Great Hearts came in just under the wire.

Great Hearts Appealing Charter Rejection to State

July 5, 2012

Per the Tennessean this morning, Great Hearts has decided to appeal its rejection to the state Board of Education:

Great Hearts Academy, the controversial charter school operator seeking to bring a school to wealthy West Nashville, will ask the state for approval to open five K-12 schools in Davidson County after two rejections from the school board.

In an email to supporters, Great Hearts Academy CEO Daniel Scoggin and President Peter Bezanson said they would like to open their first of five schools in 2014. Great Hearts will submit its appeal to the state this week, Scoggin and Bezanson said.

“We remain committed to addressing the widespread demand we have received from families across Davidson County seeking more choices for a rigorous, public, and college preparatory education,” Scoggin and Bezanson said in their email sent late Tuesday night.

The school board voted 7-2 in June to reject Great Hearts’ revised application. School board member Ed Kindall was especially critical of the revised plan, saying it amounted to “locational diversity,” in which the overall student population at Great Hearts’ five schools would be diverse, but there would be a minuscule number of minority students at the West Nashville school.

Kindall said the proposal harkened back to segregated schools. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean implored the school board to approve Great Hearts’ revised application in June.

Scoggin initially said Great Hearts would not appeal to the state if it was rejected by the school board a second time. He said the state’s review process would take too long for Great Hearts to open its first school in 2013.

But in the email to supporters this week, Scoggin and Bezanson said the new plan would be to open the initial school in 2014. “We are very grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from the Nashville community,” the Great Hearts email stated. “It is this connection with the families that has fixed our resolve to continue with our quest to obtain charters to serve scholars across the city.”

The operative statute is T.C.A. 49-13-108 (available here — good resource to bookmark).  The pertinent passage is subsection (a)(3):

(3) A denial by the local board of education of an application to establish a public charter school may be appealed by the sponsor, within ten (10) days of the final decision to deny, to the state board of education. The appeal and review process shall be in accordance with this subdivision (a)(3). Within sixty (60) days after receipt of the notice of appeal or the making of a motion to review by the state board and after reasonable public notice, the state board, at a public hearing attended by the board or its designated representative and held in the school district in which the proposed charter school has applied for a charter, shall review the decision of the local board of education and make its findings. If the state board finds that the local board’s decision was contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district or community, the state board shall remand the decision to the local board of education with written instructions for approval of the charter. The grounds upon which the state board of education based a decision to remand the application shall be stated in writing, specifying objective reasons for the decision. The decision of the state board shall be final and not subject to appeal. The LEA, however, shall be the chartering authority.

Three key points:

  1. We’re going to have another public hearing.  Get ready.  Expect to see a lot of shirts and signs, plus some more press releases, letters, and statements.
  2. The state board has a lot of latitude either way — “contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district, or community” is a pretty vague standard.
  3. There is very little, if any, deference to the local decision.  Typically (though not in all cases), for appellate review of lower decisions (in a legal setting, anyway), you have something like an “abuse of discretion” standard, especially when it comes to factual and intensely localized questions like this.

So, who’s going to be making this decision (i.e., where do you direct your emails/letters/calls)?

Why, it would be these fine folks!

It’s a nine member Board (just like our own local Board) appointed by the Governor, and confirmed by the General Assembly, so we might see a 5-4 split.  Note: There are actually 10 members, one for each Congressional district plus a student member, but according to T.C.A. 49-1-301(a)(6), the student member is nonvoting (ex officio).

Interestingly, it appears that 6 members were appointed by Governor Bredesen (B. Fielding Rolston, Vernita B. Justice, Carolyn Pearre, Jean Anne Rogers, Melvyn Wright, Sr., and Teresa Sloyan), while only 3 members were appointed by Governor Haslam (Mike Edwards, Lonnie Roberts, and Janet Ayers).  Oddly, it appears as though Ms. Pearre’s term expired in 2011 — I don’t know if she has been reappointed or replaced, or maybe just overlooked.  If she’s been replaced, or the seat is vacant, we would have a 5-4 Bredesen/Haslam appointee split.  Who knows if this all means anything, but it could!

Expect to see a lot of coverage in the coming weeks, especially after the school board race is over.

Why I’m Running for School Board

June 25, 2012

Over the last few years, I’ve written a lot about education in Nashville, the state of Tennessee, and beyond.  I’ve been involved in education in a number of different ways (teacher, volunteer, graduate student, etc.), and have always striven to make a positive contribution to the dialogue, even if I’ve probably made some missteps along the way.

A few months back, I came to a decision (much like another blogger I read did a few years ago) that I needed to do more — I needed to put my money where my mouth is.  I have a daughter who is not yet school age, but who will be attending public schools in a scant few years.  Her mother and I both attended public schools and received excellent educations.  It’s time to do more than just talk and write.  Below is the “Issues” section from my campaign site.  Take a gander.  Tell me what you think.  Most of all, take a look at my campaign website, and drop me a line (call, email, tweet).  Election is August 2nd and early voting starts July 13th.  This is an incredibly important election, all across the city, so I hope you vote, wherever you are.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of posts — running a campaign is just as exhausting as I thought it would be.  Incredibly rewarding, but exhausting and time-consuming.  I’ll be back to posting at least semi-regularly after the election, though, if I win, not about school board activities.

P.P.S. If I have any super dedicated readers, I’m running a truly grass-roots and independent campaign (not accepting PAC contributions — and am the only candidate to be doing so, as far as I know), so if you’re interested, you can drop me a couple of bucks (campaign materials are expensive!). 

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From www.johnforschoolboard.com/issues

Public education in Nashville is at a tipping point.  For the last 20 to 30 years, the city and its student population have grown dramatically.  The public school system has been struggling to keep up.  We have bright spots in our public schools, but we also have too many schools failing to provide an education to those students who need it most. During my time as a high school teacher, I saw hundreds of students, many of whom were being failed by their public school system.

All of our students have enormous potential, and are capable of great things, not only in school, but with the rest of their lives.  The next small business owner, the next inventor, the next composer: these are the what our community is missing when we fail to educate our children.  Every year, we lose thousands of students because our public schools have not prepared them to go to college, or get a good-paying job.  We can do better.  We must do better, for the sake of our children, for the sake of our communities, and for the sake of our city.  We cannot be satisfied by incremental, top-down reforms that have failed to give communities high-quality and responsive schools.

It’s time for a change.

As a Board member, I will hold the administration, the Director of Schools, and the Board itself accountable to one goal: Is each decision we make in the best interests of our students?  This is the core value that will drive me as a Board member, and should drive every decision made for our public schools.

I have three key guiding policies that will shape me as a Board member, each of which is supported by research, and each of which is directly tied to students.

Community-Supported Schools

No student should get a worse education because of their wealth or zip code.  As research has shown, however, a student’s home life, socioeconomic status, and the health of their community have a strong correlation with that student’s ultimate academic success.  Research has shown the increasing importance of communities and community support to schools.  Professors Ellen Goldring, Lora Cohen-Vogel, Claire Smrekar, and Cynthia Taylor discussed this very issue in “Schooling Closer to Home: Desegregation Policy and Neighborhood Contexts,” a study specifically of Nashville schools and communities.  (American Journal of Education, Vol. 112, No. 3 (May 2006), pp. 335-362).  Cohen-Vogel, Goldring, and Smrekar also wrote an article entitled “The Influence of Local Conditions on Social Service Partnerships, Parent Involvement, and Community Engagement in Neighborhood Schools.”  (American Journal of Education, Vol. 117, No. 1 (November 2010), pp. 51-78).  Both of these articles shed light on this crucial issue, and support the idea of the importance of communities and community context in building strong schools and supporting student learning.

To a large extent, wealth and zip code determine student outcomes, but it doesn’t have to be this way.  We can and must do everything in our power to support the educators and staff in our most at-risk schools, and provide them the support they need to overcome the achievement gaps our at-risk students suffer.  Ultimately, this can only ever be an incomplete solution.  Our schools need to become the centers of their communities again, and I will work to connect our parents, churches, neighborhood associations, community groups, and local residents to our schools.  To achieve this goal, we need a board member involved with and connected to the community and community leaders so that we can tailor the resources and strategies needed in each school to fit the community those schools serve.

High Standards, Less Testing

High standards are excellent — there is no question that all children can learn, and that we do a disservice to them by lowering standards, or assuming they cannot think critically or master difficult concepts.  Unfortunately, one of the most unintended, but very real consequences of the standards movement was the massive increase in testing of our students.  These days, students spend up to several weeks out of their school year taking mandated tests.  As well, because these tests are “high-stakes,” often determining funding and local control over schools and school districts, together with a  focus of laws such as No Child Left Behind on reading and math skills, there has been a movement away from rich curriculum including science, art, music, physical education, and more.  (See, for example, Richard Rothstein, “The Corruption of School Accountability,” (School Administrator, Vol. 65 No. 6 (June 2008) pp. 14-15).  Good schools and good teachers constantly assess student progress, little by little, not just with a massive test at the end of every quarter or every year (if that even ends up being necessary).  Good assessment shows where students are learning, and where teachers need to spend more time.  Good assessment happens mostly in the background, and is supplemented by longer traditional tests like chapter tests and end-of-course tests.

As a school board member, I will push our district towards the latter concept of assessment, making use of technology such as Kickboard, so that, as a policy matter, we do not put massive, unwanted pressure on our schools, educators, students, and parents, with all the negative consequences that come with high-stakes testing, while still preserving the inherent good of standards-based learning and assessment.  We can accomplish this by committing, as a district, to moving towards a collaborative model of teaching, where teachers are highly trained to use assessment and data in the classroom, and have mentors, master teachers, and coaches to help them, both in the use of that data, and in responding to the needs of their students.

High-Quality Teachers

Teachers are the backbone of our public schools.  As discussed above, though non-school factors play a major role in predicting student success, schools all over Nashville and Tennessee have shown that committed schools, with the right people and resources, can overcome a child’s background Though it is not within the province of a school board member to recruit teachers to our system, we can put in place research-based policies that will lead to higher quality teachers who stay in our system.  When asked, teachers overwhelmingly identify school leadership and school culture as reasons they do or do not stay at their school.  For example, Tennessee’s own teacher survey, TELL Tennessee, shows the following results:

TELL Tennessee Results available from http://telltennessee.org/reports/detailed.php?stateID=TN

These results are typical — teachers want a strong school culture with a good principal, as well as support for good instruction.  These are policy choices as to where we spend our dollars, and the latter option, “instructional practices and support” is a crucial issue addressed above with respect to assessment and support.  As a school board member, I will support the district in finding school leaders who are quality instructional leaders, but who also reach out to and build connections with their teachers and the community around them.

Teacher turnover is also a problem, especially in an urban district like Nashville.  Paying teachers commensurate with our surrounding cities is a first step, and rewarding our excellent teachers must also be a priority.  However, Nashville has a gaping hole when it comes to developing its newest teachers, so that we support and retain them.  As I know personally, the first year of teaching is especially hard.  Many teachers leave the profession during or after their first year.  Again, it does not have to be this way.  Nashville needs to make a multi-year induction, evaluation, and support program a cornerstone of our practice.  The article, “What are the Effects of Induction and Mentoring on Beginning Teacher Turnover,” by Tom Smith and Richard Ingersoll, among others, shows that such programs can have an outstanding impact on developing and supporting excellent teachers, and retaining them in the district.  (American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 41 No. 3 (September 2004) pp. 681-714).  In fact, this is something beginning teachers are not being provided, though they want it (I certainly would have appreciated it during my first year teaching).

As you can see, though many teachers have a “formally assigned mentor,” a large majority of them do not have formal time to meet with that mentor during school hours, nor do they have time to observe other teachers, or have a reduced workload in order to learn how to be a good teacher.  During my time at the Mayor’s office, working on the ASSET program, I pushed for such an induction and mentoring policy, and I will continue to do so on the Board.

I believe deeply that we must support our teachers; we cannot fire our way to success.  The labor pool does not exist to replace a massive amount of teachers in our system, and the resources we would expend would be wasted.  There will always be some number of teachers who should not be teaching; I absolutely support removing such teachers.  However, the vast majority of our teachers want to be good teachers.  The vast majority are good people, committed to Nashville’s children.  I will put in place policies on the Board to support those teachers, and give them the tools they need to be better.

Elementary Schools Should Not Sell Knives to Children

February 29, 2012

Monday, from Slate: Why Elementary Schools Should Ban Energy Drinks.

My first reaction: Really?  There are elementary schools that are selling energy drinks to their students?  Where could this possibly be happening?  Red Bull City, Iowa, perhaps?  ‘Cause you would think, based on the title, and the art included with the piece (a close-up of a vending machine with energy drinks), that surely this must be the case, in order for the writer to feel the need to say something, nay, take a stance on the matter.  That’s aside from the question of whether anyone is really arguing that elementary schools should be selling energy drinks to kids (hint: no).

Then I actually read the article.

Last week, a friend told me that her son had gone to the school nurse in his elementary school because of dizziness, shakiness, palpitations, and nausea. Her first thought was that he’d come down with a stomach virus. It turned out that he’d sampled a new energy drink called MiO.

Many high schools and middle schools ban energy drinks (which are not the same as sports drinks or vitamin waters) because of the caffeine content. It’s less clear whether this is a widespread practice in elementary schools, but it should be. Young kids (and their parents, and their teachers) need to know caffeine’s potential health risks. We can’t count on the manufacturers, whose gimmicky ads designed to appeal to youngsters make me think of those ubiquitous Joe Camel ads back in the ’90s. Parents need to know the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks, and energy drink labels should clearly state the total caffeine content—including the amount in additives like guarana. Schools need to include information about caffeine-drenched energy drinks in their discussions of substances to avoid. Schoolkids and megadoses of caffeine are not a good combination, and, with products like the inhalable caffeine Aeroshot now hitting the market, the story is far from over.

What?  Really?  No mention of a story, much less a reference or a link, in which an actual elementary school has sold an actual child an energy drink?  “It’s less clear”?

This comes right on the heels of my “I need to feel a little bit more free to write posts without researching them like a dissertation” post from yesterday, but come on.  This is just silly.

Elementary schools should also not sell weapons-grade plutonium to children, in case you’re wondering.  We can’t count on the manufacturers to self-police.*

Kudos to all the commenters on the story on Slate who all said virtually the same thing I’m saying.

 

 

*Of course I recognize that somewhere, oh-so-tenuously connected, there’s a valid point to be made about marketing of unhealthy junk to kids in a captive setting, and marketing to kids in general.  This was just a very poor way of getting to that point. 

We’re Going to Try Something New

February 28, 2012

So, my current plan hasn’t been working.

It’s almost March, and this is my first post of 2012.  *sigh*

My thought process: I’ve got a ton to say, but not enough time, at least not enough time to write posts the way I want them to be written.  As I hope most of you out there who stumble across this site will appreciate, I try to research and source my posts fairly well.  I’ve always been a big fan of blogs with plenty of sourcing and citations, so I try as best I can to include that here.

Of course, that takes longer.

And that’s where I’ve run into problems.  I run across plenty of things every day that I’d like to post about, but don’t think I have time to write about them the way I want to, so I end up writing nothing.

Not good.

For now, then, predicated on the notion that some posts, perhaps not as exhaustively cited as I’d like them to be, are better than no posts at all, we’re going to try things a bit differently.  No promises that this is going to work out, but I want to try.

Because what I really don’t want is for this blog to wither away.

Stay tuned.

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