Thursday, October 3, 2013

MLK Magnet issue is example of the "old school" way of thinking about Public Ed.

From Lipstick on a Pig, Posted: Oct. 1, 2013

If you've been following the Edu-news in Nashville over the past two weeks, MNPS proposed that they eliminate grades 7 & 8 of MLK, a 7-12 school, infuriating a number of Nashville parents.

MLK is a magnet school, top 100 high schools in the country, and is known as one of the top public schools in Nashville.  MLK routinely sees many more applications than available seats in a given year (read, parental demand is high).

The MNPS proposal of cutting off 7th & 8th grade would have eliminated roughly 400 high quality seats.

MLK is fed by Head and Rose Park as pathway schools, and a fewer number of students would be able to get in via the county wide lottery as more students qualify academically from these pathway schools, so the problem was explained.

(MNPS didn't ever seem to consider the shift to the PARCC assessment from TCAP coming soon, and how that would likely lower the number of students qualifying via the pathway route, but that's another matter).

Recently, MNPS announced they would reverse course, in part because of "parental pressure." The "new" plan (crafted over a few days time it appears) calls for the addition of 10 classrooms for $3 million in new capital expenditures.

I think the MLK example we've just seen is the perfect example of the "old school" way of thinking about public education.

The old school way of thinking prioritizes the inputs to schooling first, buildings, teacher/staff ratios, number of textbooks, etc. without thinking about the ideal outcomes FIRST (a high quality seat for every public school student), and then coming up with a way to get there.

School buildings exist to serve students; limiting the number of students who can receive a high quality education because of the size of a building is not the way to be thinking about and allocating scarce resources.

The MLK building was getting crowded, yes. But parents in Nashville clearly demand the high quality level of education at to me, the logical question should first be "how do we get more of these high quality seats for Nashville students?"

If I were superintendent, I'd push to create an MLK Middle School Campus at the Vaught building off White Bridge Road near Charlotte Pike, and eliminate the Big Picture high school program that's currently housed there.  Big Picture only enrolls 182 students, uses roughly half of the facility, and is a very high cost per pupil program.  Big Picture HS is not a very strong academic program.  In sum, it's a high cost, low return on public investment school.

If people want to complain that Big Picture offers high school students a different experience, my response would be that there are now plenty of high school Academy options for those 182 students.

Creating an MLK middle school campus would also help you avoid spending $3 million dollars based on some very quick planning for the current MLK campus, and also be faced with the lengthy time and process it takes to construct those 10 classrooms. The Vaught building is already in good shape, having been recently remodeled.

Net, this proposal gets more high quality seats for the district (more capacity with the MLK 7-12 program, just on two campuses),  and eliminates some low performing, high cost seats.

So why doesn't MNPS take a demand responsive approach to public education and maximizing seat quality? i.e. that they actually listened to "parental pressure" - all the time - and parental pressure that comes from low-income as well as middle income parents.

There's a clear parallel with this "old school" way of thinking in the district's moratorium efforts on public charter schools, who as a whole are serving Nashville public students, mainly low-income, quite well.  The charter governance type also gives the school board a cleaner way to eliminate low performing seats. If a charter isn't living up to it's agreement with the district, the district can, and should in the best interest of students, revoke the charter.

While charter models have their benefits, they certainly aren't the silver bullet and won't provide the scale needed to provide every student in Nashville a high quality seat.

At the end day, I don't care if it's a magnet seat, charter seat or district seat.  I'm a zealot for public education and making sure every student gets a great education. I think we ought to be maximizing a scarce set of resources to do that.

That means creating more high quality seats, and getting rid of our low quality seats.

Lipstick on a Pig is an insightful local blog focusing on education issues. I highly recommend this site. Rod

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1 comment:

  1. I just came across this article as I was searching for news about my alma mater. While I believe your proposal could be viable in the long run, splitting up the school into two campuses would require a lot more capital that I can see MNPS giving the school. Most of the teachers teach both middle and high school students, so there may be a need to hire more teachers to teach solely at the new campus. Furthermore, there might be a disconnect between the middle school and high school teachers regarding expectations. Since most of the teachers do teach multiple grade levels, they can more aptly prepare younger students for the demands that they will expect later on. I'd like to add that some of my greatest learning experiences as a 7th and 8th grader at MLK came from the ability to learn from those who were older than me. Students would lose out on a valuable maturing process if the school divided.