Its been awhile since I’ve written anything. Partially because work has been overwhelming and partially because the education policy landscape in Tennessee and specifically Nashville has been overwhelming. These are some surreal times we are living in. You have the superintendent of Nashville schools retiring in June but acting like he’s going to be here for 10 more years. There’s a plan to turnaround the priority schools by employing a mythical band of turnaround specialists. The superintendent is planning to turn over a priority school to KIPP despite the overwhelming protests of local parents and community members. Last, but certainly not least, you’ve got the traveling comedy troop known as the ASD circling two Nashville schools that have better scores then theirs. Hey, thats one way to raise scores. Let’s see if I can break these down.
Dr Register is coming to the end of his tenure as superintendent of MNPS. I believe his contract expires in June. Now normally that would mean some house cleaning and getting things ready for the next guy or girl. However, even though they’ve ignored these schools for years we have a moral imperative to enact a plan now. I’ve actually heard him use those words. The best though is when he stated “I’m implementing this plan now so that when the next superintendent starts he can hit the ground running. He won’t have to waste time getting up to speed.” That sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief from all the potential candidates for the job.
I imagine that a few were wavering on the job because they might have to come up with a plan of their own, but now that Dr. Register has created one, I’m sure they’re just relishing to enter a job where their hands are tied for the first several years. It’s going to be hard enough as it is this year to find a rock star superintendent. Nashville joins Los Angeles, Austin, Boston, Seattle, Fort Worth, andAlbuquerque in looking for a new director. I may be wrong but I suspect that the highest qualified candidates are not looking at districts where they are going to start off with their hands tied. Nashville is currently known as one of the “it” cities in the country. That should be a huge recruiting benefit but not if whomever accepts has to disengage themselves from a number of short term plans. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to focus on just gathering data, housecleaning and focusing on truly attracting the best candidate here.
Instead we get short sighted plans like the current recruiting pitch to hire 100 teachers in 100 days to focus on the priority schools. They’ve given the teachers a fancy moniker like the “turnaround squad” or something. (http://mnpschildrenfirst.com/2014/10/27/metro-schools-launches-campaign-to-recruit-100-turnaround-teachers/) Now the one thing that this plan gets right is the importance of teachers. Numerous studies show that the most important factor in the quality of a childs education is the quality of the teacher. What they leave out is the sentence “of in school factors”. That changes things a bit.
The whole turnaround concept baffles me. It gives the impression that these schools just happened to take a wrong turn somewhere and now we are going to get them on the right path with out acknowledging any of the challenges that got them there. Which begs the question, when is a school turned around? Is it after 2 years or 5 years or is it when the state takes it off the list and the administrator writes turn around specialist on their resume. I have a novel idea. Why don’t we just make all schools priority schools and give them the resources they need? Why don’t we just focus on creating good schools. If we formed a good school squad we wouldn’t need a “turn around battalion” and the soon to be named “maintenance troops”.
There are so many things wrong in this PR stunt that I could write a whole series of posts on it. Here’s the part that makes it personal though. My daughters school is a borderline priority school based on demographics. I’m in this school every couple weeks and have witnessed first hand the quality of education the children are receiving. However, when you have a population that is 71% English learner getting great test results is always going to be difficult. Currently three teachers at the school have applied to the Turnaround Brigade. Three teacher’s in a school that is already challenged could be devastating. Human Capital’s response, “Teachers are free to choose. You can’t tell them where to go.” So as you can see the plan isn’t about creating quality schools for everybody and serving every kid, its about scratching names off a list. If some schools show up on that list in 3 years, we’ll just point to the success we’ve had with this years list and promise to focus like a laser. Now where did I put that moral imperative?
Another part of Dr Register’s plan is to turn one of the struggling schools over to the charter operator KIPP. Parents and community member have shown up and stated over and over thats not a path they desire. Dr. Register responds that its not a forgone conclusion and nobody’s made a plan yet, well except the one discussed with KIPP three months ago. That wasn’t a plan though, that was a series of potential actions that could hypothetically transpire. I say “quack, quack.”
One thing everyone needs to remember here is that once you give away public entities to private entities, they are gone. That school will will continue to be managed not by the public but a private board forever. It will never be turned back over to the public. In my eyes that is huge and something that should not be entered into just to cross names off a list. Dr. register claims his hands are tied because the board approved this strategy. However, back in the summer his hands weren’t tied by the same directive when he went against it and recommended the approval of STRIVE Academy. (http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2014/08/21/in-stunning-reversal-strive-charter-approved/14420441/) See what I mean by it being a little coco for cocoa puffs out here.
Then there is my absolute favorite. What happens when you get hit by a 20 million dollar law suit, people start noticing that the schools right next door to the ones you took over are doing better, and the general public is in open revolt against you? Why you take your act on the road of course. The Achievement School District is coming to Nashville. Their target? Two schools in Madison that are already performing at a higher level then the ASD schools. Its a great idea because that’s something people will forget this time in two years when they are commenting on the amount of growth the ASD has made.
The ASD hasn’t decided which school they won’t yet though so they are holding two meetings to discuss. Two meetings scheduled on the exact same day at exactly the same time. When questioned about this the Director Mr. Barbic claimed that since the staff was coming from Memphis for the meeting they really didn’t have the budget to get hotels for two nights. That’s the same district that somehow has enough cash to pay Mr. Barbic a healthy six figure salary. Yep, coco for cocoa puffs.
I’m not sure how any of this is going to turn out but I will tell you I have a very real fear for my children. I believe public education has the potential to play a huge role in the development of who they will be as children. However that choice is being taken away from me. The thing that nobody talks about with choice is its not the parents that get the choice. Choke off the public school system and all I’m left with is a choice between private and charter. I don’t want to send my children to a private school but I most certainly will not turn them over to a private entity focused on building a portfolio vs developing future citizens. That’s why on December 4th you’ll see me suiting up and showing up at one of the ASD meetings. I urge you to as well.