I was delighted to read in the Tennessean this morning that parents and supporters of education reform and school choice packed the meeting. A few weeks ago Jessie Register, Director of School announced a plan to deal with the failing "priority schools" in East Nashville. Priority schools are schools performing in the bottom 5% of schools in the state. Unless they show improvement, they will be taken over and managed by the State. Register's plan called for allowing parents to choose the school they wanted their child to attend and called for closing some schools, changing principals at some and allowing charter schools to take over others. It sounded like a great plan to me. If I would have been a parent with a child in one of those failing schools, I would have been excited and delighted with the proposal. Even if I was not a parent with a child in one of those failing schools, but just a resident of the community, I think I would have been pleased. Who wants to live in a community known as having the worst schools in Tennessee?
Instead of warmly greeting the proposal, there was immediate condemnation and anger from many in the community. I don't understand it but they must take pride in their failing neighborhood schools and think bad is good enough for east Nashville. They quickly formed a committee to oppose the reform effort called, "East Nashville United." The group is led by attorney and former candidate for school board John Haubenreich. For some weeks all we heard about this proposal was sniping from the usual anti-school choice school board members and criticism from members of the community.
Well, that faction may be loud, but they are not the only opinion. At last night's meeting a new group made their appearance at the school board in support of reform. About a hundred of them attended the meeting wearing identical light blue tee shirts. The new pro-reform group is called "East Nashville Believes." Members of the group took to the podium to praise the proposed reform and to argue in favor of school choice and praise charter schools. One speaker said she was “saved by KIPP,” and told the board she never would have been able to attend college without the mentoring and education she received at a charter school.
To read the Tennessean's report of last nights meeting see the following: East Nashville groups flood Metro Schools board meeting,.
At almost four hours long, this is a long meeting but a lot of really important things take place. The School Board produces great agendas; to get your own copy of the 110-page agenda, follow this link.
Amy Frogge shares benefits of recess. I seldom agree with Amy Frogge on very much of anything, but I am 100% with her on her advocacy of school recess. I am not a doctor nor do have a degree in education but common sense and my experience as having been a boy myself once upon at time, informs me that kids need recess. I firmly believe that if kids had a chance to run and let off steam during the day, then there would be less need to drug kids and fewer kids would be diagnosed with ADHD. If is unrealistic to expect kids to set and pay attention for seven or eight hours. See time stamp 0:1:17-0:3:44 where she reports on a recent event on children's health she attended and she shares what was said about the benefits of kids having breakfast and the benefits of recess.
Conexion Americas is an organization primarily focusing on services to the Hispanic immigrant community. Recently Metro Schools partnered with this organization to open a pre-K center at the Casa Azafran center. Director of Conexion Americas Renato Soto explains this new program and shares information on the organization. See 0:14:40- 0:22:00.
Public Presentation starts at 0:22:20 and ends at 1:07:39. Participants must preregister, but anyone may address the Board. Participants are given 3 minutes. Most of the participants are speaking about the proposed new plan to address the failing schools of east Nashville. Speakers who are advocates of the proposed plan wearing the blue "East Nashville Believes" shirts and those opposed are wearing the "East Nashville United" orange shirts. In my view the vision and passion of the "believes" speakers is more persuasive than the arguments of the "united" speakers. Both sides say they want better schools but the "united" speakers want to keep with the model of neighborhood schools and improve them. In my view, it is time for something bold. These schools have been failing forever. The same old way of doing things is not working. As one of the speakers says, "no community deserves a failing school" (0:53:52). This is the impressive young lady who is quoted in the Tennessean saying "Kipp saved me." Others also speak with passion and are inspirational when they talk of how their experience in charter schools empowered them to go on to college.
Board Chairman Sharon Gentry gives a presentation on what she learned at the Conference of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) conference. The speaker at this conference was the superintendent of Miami-Dade schools. This school system has shown tremendous improvement she reports. The superintendent advocated that school districts create their own charter schools and embrace what is happening with charter schools rather that fight them. He also had other insights that might be relevant to Nashville schools. (1:07:46-1:14:50)
Dr. Register discusses the effort to get rid of poor teachers and advances the firing of four. The Tennessean reports about it here: Metro moves forward on teacher firings. It is very difficult to dismiss a poor performing teacher as this segment shows. The board took four separate 5-3 votes that certified termination charges against four Nashville teachers who had scored a "Level 1" score on a evaluation in consecutive years. The range of the possible score was 1-5. This vote does not terminate the teacher but advances the process. While I would have supported the charges and advanced the firing had I been on the board, I do think the argument of those opposed to the firing have some merit. It does not seem quite right that a teacher's score is influenced by the score of students in subjects that that teacher does not teach. Also, I think there is merit to the argument that teachers will be hesitant to teach at low-performing schools knowing their rating is partially determined by things beyond their control. I think the current system is imperfect and too complex but until we come up with a better system, we should continue to try to force out or fire poorly performing teachers. If I was designing a system, I would greatly simplify it and give the principal the authority to hire and fire teachers much the way a boss can hire and fire in the private sector and then I would hold that principal responsible for the performance of that school. We know there are poor teachers and it should not be so difficult to identify and fire them. The three "no" votes are Pinkston, Jill Speering and Amy Frogge. This segment is very informative of the complexity of evaluating teachers and firing bad teachers. (see 1:17:47- 2:03:27)
The Director's academics performance framework report starts as 2:03:49. See the agenda at page 51 for more insight into this topic. This is more than I want to know about this topic, so I quickly skimmed it and am not giving any details.
The Director's Charter School performance update starts at 2:35:04. Details of the performance of each charter school is provided in the agenda starting on page 70. The arguments that charters do not take their share of low-income students or special needs students is shown not to be true in this segment. Also it is established that charters actually have less mobility than regular schools. Anyone who wants more information on the topic of charter schools in Nashville should watch this segment and examine the data included in the agenda. Most charters are out-performing regular public schools and they are not cherry-picking students.
The Directors Report on Priority Schools starts at 3:07:19. Priority schools are those schools that are among the worst 5% of schools in the state. Nashville has 13 schools on that list. Dr. Register discusses the plan to address the priority schools. Some of this is already know to people who have followed the east Nashville controversy. This discussion gives more details of the plans to turn around failing schools.