A Pleasant Surprise from a Politician

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2166450_300As I travel along on this journey of educating myself on and advocating for education policy, I come into contact with quite a few politicians. The ones who I would count as friends of public education are usually pretty rare. In Tennessee, we are fortunate to have Representatives Craig Fitzhugh, Bo Mitchell, Joe Pitts, Mike Stewart, and a handful of others. We used to have Gloria Johnson, but she was a little too liberal. (Psst… we miss her). For the most part, what you get from politicians is the same old, same old platitudes and promises like “A quality school for every child no matter what the zip code” and “I promise every child a quality teacher.” But every once in a while, you get surprised.

Nashville is currently in the midst of a mayoral battle. The crop running have all established education as a priority. All, save one, have decried the sordid state of affairs that is Nashville public education. David Fox, for example, has said we need more charter schools. Megan Berry argues for the middle ground but doesn’t exactly embrace the work done at our public schools. Then you have former LEAD Public Schools founder Jeremy Kane, who says education is important but is a little vague on what that looks like. Bill Freeman has offered praise of our public schools, and in looking at his policy piece on education, I am guardedly optimistic. The rest of the field tries to strike a balance between calls for improvement and too many details. Yesterday, though, Freeman put a flag in the ground.

With his press release announcing his support of community schools, Freeman signals that he is willing to rise above the same old, same old conversation on education in Nashville and embrace a progressive version of education reform, one that would not financially drain the Nashville school district as some other proposed efforts potentially would. In his statement, he recognizes the issue of poverty, not as an excuse, but as a reality, and outlines a method to combat it. He points out that community schools are already being implemented across the country and producing quality results. Community schools are a means for the community to come together and address their education challenges without handing their schools over to outsiders.

Furthermore, this support of community schools demonstrates a willingness to not accept the status quo and prescribe more charter schools, as is the policy of the current mayor, but instead to do the research and find ways that empower the community. Freeman is a businessman and not a politician, and in some areas this might be a deterrent. However, with the concept of community schools, he could prove to be a valued asset, since the model calls for the involvement of local businesses. His relations with the business community could very well prove to be the impetus needed to get local business to fully embrace our local school system, not just financially but through increased personal interaction as well.

If you are not familiar with Community Schools, let’s see if we can’t get you up to speed. The Community Schools initiative produces a partnership between a community and a school. They integrate academics, health, and social services in order to provide opportunities for whole families. Schools remain open every day for longer hours for everyone, not just students, so that they truly become centers of the community. Businesses, parents and community members work together to find solutions to each schools unique challenges. This idea is huge because it addresses in a real-world manner many of the barriers that keep our children from truly excelling. It also puts us at the forefront of a reform movement that is being embraced nationwide. In Tennessee we take pride in our ability to lead.

In 2013, Cincinnati started the movement towards embracing the idea of Community Schools. In Ohio, they are referred to as “community learning centers” because “community schools” is the legal name for charter schools in Ohio. The success is already starting to be seen in the reduction of grade retention and dropout rates and increased attendance. One example is Oyler School, a tough school in a tough neighborhood that has seen real progress by making the conversion and engaging the community. Achievement tests have shown mixed results, but they are getting to a point where kids’ needs are finally being met so they can focus on achievement. It’s classic Maslow’s Hierarchy.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is aiming to have 200 community schools in place by 2017. In part, this means committing the resources to existing schools that have already embraced the transition. Providing resources does not mean throwing money at the program; it means committing to the concept, selling it to the community, and allowing them to take full ownership. It also means selling the idea to local businesses to get them involved in the communities where they do business.

Philadelphia has begun to explore the idea of community schools to tackle some of the problems they face in their high-poverty schools. Utilizing “high expectations with high support” as a mantra, community school advocates are working to bring the concept to even more schools. It only makes sense that if we can remove barriers, success will come more readily. If you don’t believe that, I’ll make arrangements to come over to your house the night before you have a big presentation at work and every time you start to drift off to sleep, I’ll slam two metal garbage lids together. I guarantee that your presentation the next day will suffer. Many of our children are rarely afforded that luxury due to the effects of poverty. Community schools can help alleviate those barriers created by poverty and empower the student to focus on learning.

Here in Nashville we’ve already begun the process of creating Community Schools. Community Achieves currently has a presence in 14 schools and in the coming school year will see that number grow to 20. I have to admit, their success is a big source of pride for me because it has grown out of the incredible work done at my neighborhood school, Glencliff High School. Our community is fully vested in Glencliff and their success resonates through out the whole community. Recently the alumni group, made up of primarily graduates from the 60’s and 70’s, opened an alumni room on site so that they could be even more involved in school activities. They also made a financial commitment to furnish uniforms for the boys and girls basketball teams. There is no reason to believe that this success can not be replicated city wide.

Some might argue that the academic success of community schools has been limited. I would acknowledge that, but argue that research is just beginning and the results have been very promising. A recent study by Child Trends, a nonpartisan nonprofit research center, reached the following conclusion: “Well-implemented ISS programs meet policymakers’ and funders’ desire for approaches that are research-based, data-driven, cost-effective, and powered by local communities.”

The key phrase there is “powered by local communities.” I personally can not see a downside to any policy that increases community interaction. We should welcome reform that allows communities to take responsibility for their own solutions and not force them to accept proposed solutions by outside agents. This is especially true in our communities of color and  low-income. Our wealthier whiter communities would never accept solutions that did not center around their input. As Jitu Brown, the national director of Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of community, youth, and parent-led grassroots organizations in 21 cities, recently stated, “We want what our friends in other communities have. They don’t have contract schools, they don’t have charter schools in middle class White communities. They have world-class neighborhood schools.”

That, to me, is the essence of why I embrace the concept of community schools. It puts the onus to face a community’s education challenges squarely where they should be, in the hands of the community. There is no call for a white-hatted savior to ride in and dictate to a community what they need to solve their school dilemmas. The concept doesn’t call for the taking of public property and turning it over to private entities. A community school serves to unite communities, not divide them.

The foundation of democracy is based on the tenet that there is nothing we cannot do as a collective where we all have a voice. Don’t tell that to my Republican friends – they’ll argue that it’s based on the individual. It’s not important how you perceive it. The bottom line is empowering people and communities to solve their own problems. Bill Freeman seems to grasp that concept. So often politicians tell us how they are going to solve our problems. Seldom does one promise to give us the tools to solve our own. That, I must say, is a pleasant surprise and one makes Bill Freeman a very appealing candidate.

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Here We Go Again

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learnHere we go again. In Tennessee, like many states in the Union, we test our students using standardized tests every April. In May and June, the results come out and the questioning begins. The last couple of years have seen the questioning get louder and louder. Last year, it was over a delay in test results. This year, teachers are taking to social media, questioning the quick scores because they seem abnormally high. Are they, though?

Well, if you are like most parents, you probably don’t know what a quick score is. I certainly didn’t. So I went to the Tennessee Department of Education website for a definition. I didn’t find a definition, but I did find this:

Q47: Should I use my district’s/school’s quick scores for accountability determinations?

Due to post equating and psychometric reviews on assessment data, quick scores might look different from final accountability results. Districts may aggregate their numbers for their own data analysis; however, these are merely estimates. There is always the potential for changes in scoring. In all cases, we do not keep a record of students for whom scores change. Quick scores are embargoed which means they are not meant for public dissemination.

So that sounds pretty serious, but no more clear than it was before I checked. One thing was clear – that in order to interpret the quick scores you needed to know the cut scores. You got it, back to the web site.  That’s where I found this: The index cut scores are an estimate of the number of items the student would be expected to answer correctly to achieve basic, proficient, and advanced designation if there had been 100 such items for each category.

Okay, that’s not much clearer, but it’s clear that I needed the cut scores in order to assess the value of the quick scores. Clearly, this isn’t like Ms. Johnson’s 5th grade class where there were 50 questions and each one you got right earned you two points, and if you got between 80 and 90 points you got a “B,” 90 to 100 an “A,” and so on. Under the state scenario a student receives a score, say an 87, and what ever number the cut score is set at determines whether the student is proficient or advanced. If the cut score is set at 88, the child would be considered basic. If the cut score is 86, they are proficient. Sounds fairly simple, but there are questions about how cut scores are derived at.

But let’s put aside any suspicions and ask, where are the cut scores? Well, they aren’t available yet because arriving at them means some additional calculations need to occur. Well of course they do, didn’t we have a similar issue last year? Instead of releasing the cut scores, on Friday, Education Commissioner McQueen released this cryptic letter explaining why they weren’t available:

Directors,

I want to thank you for your work in finalizing student demographic and teacher claiming information to close this year’s TCAP cycle. I know many of you have received your quick scores for student grading and are anxious to understand more about your district’s overall performance. Though the department made the decision in 2014 to stop associating TCAP performance levels with quick score results, we do want to provide information as accurately, transparently, and quickly as possible.

To that end, the division of data and research will provide a detailed communication regarding quick score use and interpretation in our May 27 Director Update, followed by a release of preliminary data regarding quick score relationships to raw scores and cut scores to determine proficient (versus non-proficient) on June 1. For now, I caution you to avoid communicating any results regarding proficiency rates based on the 2015 quick scores using performance level relationships that were last calculated and communicated in 2013.

Quick scores are generated for use in student grading only. As such, there will not necessarily be a consistent relationship between quick scores and performance levels for achievement from year to year. Performance levels are determined first by raw score to scale score conversions and then through cut-scores defined by the standards setting process. Over the next couple of months, we will engage our TOSS working group for accountability in further conversation about how we address quick scores during the transition to TNReady. In the meantime, please look for the memo in the May 27 Director Update and the follow-up information on June 1. As a reminder, we will also include this timeline in today’s Director Update.

Best,

Candice

(I like the way she signs her memos “Candice.” After all, she’s just one of us, right?)

I’m not going to try and decipher exactly what all that means. It is obviously way more complicated than I can handle, so I’ll leave that to smarter minds than mine. However, I do have a couple thoughts on our student testing system that I’d like to share. Some things that I do understand and I don’t believe can be said enough.

Critics often say that we should run our school system like a business. Well, you can pick up any number of business books, and they will stress the value of having an evaluation system that stake holders all buy-in to. Without that buy-in, there is no value. If people don’t believe in the fidelity of the system, it becomes too easy to attribute outside factors to the results. In other words, they start to feel that data is being manipulated to augment an agenda that they are not privy to and not included in. I’m not saying results are being manipulated or not being manipulated when it comes to our student evaluation system, but I am saying that there seems be a growing belief that they are, and without some kind of change, that perception will only grow. I’ve always maintained that perception is nine-tenths of reality.

Candice is the one person who has the ability to reclaim that belief in the system. Imagine if she were to announce, that based on her listening tour, she is calling for a complete review of our testing process and its timelines. She recognizes that in its current configuration, the testing process is not meeting the needs of parents, administrators, teachers, or students. Timelines could be adjusted to ensure that when scores are delivered, all components are delivered and no one will have to speculate what they mean. Definitions and processes could be clarified so that all could understand the results without relying on “experts.” Because as it stands, nobody can give you a clear picture of what it all means, yet we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the test. (The below chart was created by a parent.)

calender

That’s a lot of focus on something that nobody can give a clear concise explanation of. What if parents were given copies of the test their children just took and were permitted to review these tests with them? What if teachers were permitted to see tests and judge the strength of the test questions? What if teachers were given Unless the process was truly flawed, greater transparency could only increase confidence in the way we test our children. Perhaps if we spent as much time defending stakeholder’s proprietary rights as we did testing companies, some faith would be restored.

Which leads me to my second thought and one that cannot be understated. We need to make sure that the public has a full understanding of exactly what a bell curve is and that it serves as a base for our measurement system. In a new posting, Jersey Jazzman, an education researcher and blogger, does an exceptional job of explaining how it all works. A bell curve is applied to the test results, and that means that some students will fall to the exceptional end of the scale and some students will fall to the other side, but the majority will fall in the middle. Let me spell that out further. While we are demanding that students do exceptional work, we are utilizing a measurement system that guarantees the majority of them will do average work. Because if too many of them do exceptional work, we’ll just make the test harder so that the majority fall back in the middle.

Let’s take it a step further. Since the evidence is pretty strong that standardized tests are a better measurement of socio-economic status than actual learning, who do you think will fall to the lower end of the curve? That’s right, our low income children and our children of color. Reformers will latch on to these scores to create strategies like charter schools, extended school days, and no-excuse discipline policies.  They will apply these strategies predominately to our low income children and children of color.

I recently brought a magician to a high-poverty elementary school to entertain the children. A teacher came up to thank me and made the comment that they don’t often get opportunities like this one due to the testing scrutiny they are subject to. Kids in poverty get more focus on what is measurable while wealthier kids enjoy a more well-rounded education. When was the last time you heard a call for longer school days in a wealthy district? What about the need for a no-excuse discipline policy? A test that just reinforces socio-economic status will just serve to create two separate and unequal education systems.

At a listening session for the upcoming Project RESET in Nashville a roomful of education professionals offered very insightful assessments of our educational system when the owner of a local charter school spoke up and proclaimed that we can talk about engagement, parental involvement, and diversity all we want, but we need to focus on achievement because 13 percent of students are not proficient in reading and to her that was unacceptable. To me, it sounds like she has a lack of understanding of how the system is designed, and that based on that design, the system is working. Because if that 13% ever became proficient, we would just adjust the test to make sure that either they or some other students fell back into that non-proficient status. Starting to feel like it’s a rigged system? It should.

At a luncheon the week before, in front of hundreds of civic leaders, Nashville Public Education Foundation, a main sponsor of Project RESET, president Shannon Hunt proclaimed that all students have the identical potential to achieve. Apparently, she hasn’t looked too closely at our measurement system because under that system, only a few have the chance to achieve at a high level, lest we, again, adjust the test. Many in the room will use those words to justify further privatizing a system that is already under attack, and again it will be our poor children and children of color who will be affected.

In Tennessee, we have the Achievement School District, which has the mission of taking the bottom 5% of schools up to the top 25% while ignoring the fact that there will always be a bottom 5%. The use of a bell curve goes one step further and insures there will always be below average schools and teachers. Or, as the reform movement likes to label them, failing schools and failing teachers. How many parents and community members are aware of this, and how many take the results at face value? Since NPEF is sponsoring Project RESET to reset the educational conversation in Nashville, this discussion of test scores and failing schools might be the area to start the reset. Perhaps we could have an honest conversation about what standardized test tell us.

Students are not alone in being held to a higher standard in a system that only allows a high output for a few students. Countless articles have been written about the need to have a great teacher in front of every class, yet each of those teachers will only be allowed to produce average outcomes. Because again, if all those teachers produced great outcomes, we’d have to redo the test to make sure those outcomes were average. I can hear the critics shaking their heads now. You’re oversimplifying it, they’ll say. They’ll point out that’s why there is an observational portion and a growth element added to the teacher evaluation system. And what happens when that observational portion produces results different than the test? We say the observations are biased and we re-address the scores.

It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out this summer. I don’t know if Tennessee needs high test scores to fortify the narrative that reform is working or low test scores to reinforce the need for the move to Common Core. I suspect I’ll know by the end of the summer. I do know that at some point the state will have to address the growing lack of faith in our evaluation system. At some point we will have to stop demanding that children produce at a high level in a system that guarantees the majority will produce at an average level. We will have to face facts that our evaluation system aids in the creation of inequalities and fails to give us a true picture of student outcomes. That is perhaps Candice’s biggest challenge.

UNION STRONG

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unions matterEnter into any conversation on education these days and you can bet it won’t be long until someone brings up the teachers unions. Some will try and evoke the image of the union as a mythical beast capable of bending all to its will. Despite efforts to paint the teachers unions as the evil empire, teachers, and those who support them from home, know this to be a false narrative. A narrative designed to draw attention away from the efforts of privateers to take our public schools out of the public. There are union members that will try to cling to past victories and act as if the unions still wield the weight they once did. Which is also a false narrative. The truth is, the teachers unions, like all unions, have seen their power and membership decrease dramatically over the last several decades. There are many reasons for this, both external and internal, and how to reverse the trend is cause for debate. Despite that I believe that now is a prime time for the teacher’s unions to reassert themselves.

There are a couple of things I want to clarify before I dive into this discussion. First, I am a big believer in unions and not ashamed to admit it. When others accuse the unions of supplying resources to an initiative, I more often than not say, thank God. It’s my belief that the system works best when corporations push their agenda at full power and unions push theirs at full power as well. It keeps everybody honest and prevents one side from taking advantage of the system. Currently, corporations are at full power and unions are at a diminished level, and we are witnessing daily how that leads to exploitation of the system.

Secondly, the role of a union is to protect the profession, not the system. That’s a hard concept for people to grasp. They get mad at the MLB players union when they defend players in situations where the public perceives the player’s alleged actions as detrimental to the game. The MLB Players Association’s job is not to protect or better the game of baseball. It’s to create a work environment where the players can focus solely on honing their craft, which usually results in a better product. That’s it in a nutshell, and the job of the MLB Players Association is no different than the job of the teachers unions. They work to allow teachers to work in an environment that allows them to focus on teaching, which, in turn, tends to produce better results.

As a semi-outsider looking in (full disclosure: we are a dues-paying family), I believe that this is a pivotal time for the unions, and one I believe they have the resources to seize. There are untapped sources in play which, if they were recognized and taken advantage of, could be game changers. The three areas I would look at for re-invention are parent groups, technology, and the BATs. Let me explain.

One thing that the education reform movement has succeeded in doing is energizing parents. Over the last five years, there has been a groundswell of parent groups formed to fight against the reform agenda. Whether it be against Common Core, vouchers, or charter schools, parents are becoming engaged in record numbers despite the challenges – and the challenges are formidable. The problem is, finding direction can be difficult because there is no one book or blueprint on how to become knowledgeable on education reform issues. Parents have to design their own curriculum and pursue knowledge through self-discovery, reliance on other parents, or just attrition. Connecting the dots becomes very daunting, and it can take several years for us to become confident in our knowledge.

Imagine if the teachers unions were to embrace these parent groups in a collaborative effort. If there were resources available to educate parents on the issues and why they are important, parents could become fluent in education initiatives so much quicker than they do now. It could be done in a non-partisan manner, because I personally believe that the facts are so clear that if you just laid them out, people would pick the right path. Educating the public would produce a parent corps ready to stand up for the tenets that serve as the foundation of our school system. Some may argue that parent and teacher concerns don’t really align, but to that I say hogwash.

Do you think parents celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week because they think teachers are putting their needs above students’ needs? Do you think parents rate their relationship with their child’s teacher as “great” because they are at cross purposes? Do you think parents are willing to just bring cupcakes to teachers and leave it at that? Yeah, I don’t think so. Parents understand why class size is important. They understand the importance of paying a living wage. Parents understand that creating a quality environment for teachers translates to a quality experience for children.

Do you know who wants you to think teachers and parents are at cross purposes? Education reformers, that’s who. They realize that if parents and teachers unions ever fully united to defend the attacks on public education, the privatization movement would be finished. To ensure that never happens, they continually attack the unions as fundamental to every problem our schools face, and in large part, the reformers have been successful. It’s kind of like the 1%ers. They know that if white people and black people ever realized they are not that different and that they are both economically disadvantaged, there would be some resource redistribution. So instead, the 1%ers keep both races focused on differences, and they hold on to their money.

I’ve never understood why it is all right to take money from special interests groups like the Gates Foundation, the Koch Brothers, or American’s for Prosperity, yet it’s the unions input that is all about self interest. Hmmmm…Gates owns a technology company and pushes policy that would require more technology. Hedge Fund manager pour millions into an education agenda and we are supposed to believe it all altruistic. Yet, mention that the teacher’s union, an organization that represents the individuals who daily support our children, is behind a policy and its depicted as self interested hogs trying to feed at the trough. Trust me, they may not be perfect, but the teachers union has less money and is more closely aligned with the needs of our children then any of the fore mentioned. That point needs to be a part of every conversation.

Next, I would like to see teachers unions start to embrace technology. Have a larger presence on Facebook and Twitter. I can’t get away from tweets from Teach for America or Stand for Children, but I seldom see postings from NEA or AFT unless it’s to tell me how it’s okay for them to take Gates money. Use social media to trumpet the good you and your members are doing. Tell me why it’s important to contact my legislator, and then give me the tools to do it. TREE, a parent advocacy group in Tennessee, had a tool this last legislative session that enabled someone to email an entire committee with one click of the mouse every time a critical issue came up for a vote. What if TEA (the Tennessee Education Association) had made a similar tool available to all of its members and then coordinated with the parent groups across the state on when to have a call to action? I think I just felt some reform groups shudder.

Lastly, please embrace and unleash the BATs. The Badass Teachers Association is a nationwide organization with chapters in every state. They were formed predominately by teachers through social media because they were tired of not being included in the conversation. They have become increasingly organized and increasingly effective. I hear rumblings that senior union leadership is less than enthusiastic about their rise. To that I say, get over yourself. They are here, they are loud, and they are proud. Maybe they get a little unruly, but as Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You don’t go to war with the army you want, you go to war with the army you have.” Personally, they inspire me. Union leadership needs to realize it’s not the 90’s, and we need some new ideas and new blood.

I truly believe that if the teachers unions took these humble suggestions to heart, it would be a game changer. The reformers would be far outnumbered and we wouldn’t have to fight against things, we could fight for things. Things that would mean real reform, like a living wage for teachers, fully funding the BEP, employing more support services, and working on anti-poverty issues that would allow children to focus on learning. I guess my overarching message to NEA and AFT – and locally in Tennessee, TEA and MNEA, and you too PET – is this: we are here, so let’s join together.

 

Watch Yer Back

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iStock_000018501506_LargeETHICS12_4129884969341364387As a person who often says bad things about people with money, I’m always a little wary of the reaction my writing may have on others. Being married to a teacher and considering that the majority of the stuff I write is about education, I’m doubly careful. Education is a subject where passions run especially high. Still, I often leave the house without my filters on, so it’s not uncommon that someone gets offended by something I express. Sometimes, those people deserve to be offended. But down in Williamson County, Tennessee, concern is growing that something is not right and I feel compelled to comment because it could eventuall affect us all.

Williamson County is the adjacent southern county to Nashville’s Davidson County. It’s a wealthier county with a conservative bent. If you are in the Northeast, think Bucks County, but with Civil War money instead of Revolutionary War money. As expected, the schools are excellent and the school superintendent exceptional. But that doesn’t mean that in today’s hyper-sensitive culture they are immune from the wackiness that is going on.

This will probably get me in hot water, but it’s all too crazy not to talk about. Things started getting interesting during the last school board race, which may or not have been influenced by the Koch Brothers, but did see a large influx of cash nonetheless. The challengers defeated the incumbents and quickly got to work on the important issues like passing resolutions on Common Core, carrying guns on campus, limiting speaker participation at meetings, and increasing rigor. Oh, I almost forgot, the person initially chosen to be chair of the school board had to resign for his role in marketing a bottle opener modeled after a woman’s posterior. I think it’s safe to say the ground was more than fertile for the growing of insanity.

 

On June 26, 2014, or thereabouts, a group called Williamson Strong sprung up. They were a parent group who valued the public education system they had and wanted to preserve it. They figured the best way to do so was to advocate for people to vote and, hopefully, vote for people who supported the policies favored by Williamson Strong. They were not a PAC or even a non-profit. In fact, they didn’t even have a treasurer. They were just a parent group wanting to support the school system that was supporting their children. This led to a costly mistake because they didn’t register as an official group.

 

Where or what they were supposed to do officially is a bit of mystery to me. I’ve talked to a number of different people and all had different recommendations. Some say they should have registered as a non-profit. Others say as a 501c4, or is it a 501C3, or maybe it’s a PAC. Truth is, nobody is sure, and the rules are quite vague. Laws are written to protect the election process from skilled operators, not concerned parents. As such, it creates a lot of room for error with very serious consequences.

It didn’t take long to ruffle some feathers in the land of the red. A conservative blog wrote a piece trying to immediately discredit WS, though they’d only been in existence for a month. I’m always a big fan of the hit pieces that use phrases like “believed to be.” Apparently, you are also not supposed to be able to design a slick website either, unless you have union backing or a 12-year-old in the house. Interestingly enough, this hit piece advised readers to “hold on to their wallet,” yet nowhere on the WS site is there a place to donate money. But don’t think things slow down there – apparently Victoria Jackson had one more Saturday Night Live skit in her, as she was willing to offer her opinion on what was going on. I’ll let you read about it and make your own jokes.

 

If it was Jackson who wore the mask of comedy, it was newly-elected board member Susan Curlee who donned the mask of tragedy. She filed an open records request that included all correspondence between Superintendent Looney and the private citizens who made up the leadership of Williamson Strong. Curlee claimed they were unfairly targeting her as an agent working for privatization, even though Americans for Prosperity had put out an informational flier with a high resolution picture of her and she was on record supporting vouchers. She also accused members of Williamson Strong of harassing her family. In an effort to clear the air and clarify their objectives, WS published an open letter to Ms. Curlee. Apparently, it wasn’t enough because in December 2014, Curlees filed ethics charges. The verdict came down this week.

 

The Registry of Election Finance voted to fine Williamson Strong a total of 5K for failure to register as a PAC and failure to file campaign expenditures. That’s right – an organization that doesn’t have a treasurer nor a fundraising mechanism was fined for not declaring themselves a PAC. Either they are the worst PAC ever or there is something a little skewered here.

 

Now just like I’m not a teacher, I’m also not a lawyer. But as it’s been explained to me, in order to be considered a PAC, you have expend money to support a candidate. If I don’t have a treasurer or a fundraising mechanism, how am I going to extend monies to a candidate? That’s the part that is completely baffling and troubling to me and other parent activists in the state.

If you extend this ruling out, then any time you have two people get together and offer free cookies to educate the public about a certain candidate, you could be considered a PAC. A couple riding in a car with a bumper sticker for a candidate on their car could be considered a PAC. There is supposedly a threshold of $250 that can be spent, but that was ignored in this case. So what’s to lead an activist to think it won’t be ignored in the future?

 

It is often pointed out that the most significant indicator of student success is parental involvement. Democracy itself is based on the principle of the citizen activist. This ruling has the potential to limit people from engaging in either role. This negative engagement between the newly elected board members and Williamson Strong may be coming from a place of personalities, but it setting a precedent that has the potential to limit parental involvement by making parents reticent to get involved if the result of failing to navigate a complex set of rules means potential financial punishment. Some may find this as it should be, however citizens are not attorneys and should not be expected to engage one in order to participate in the governing process.

The threshold on the average citizen should be higher than that on an elected official, who by their pursuit of elected office should be expected to be more versed in the regulatory aspects of the process. I would also argue that an elected official should seek to help constituents navigate the system, not seek to punish them for expressing views that run counter to their own. It’s almost the American way to be misinformed and to hurl accusations at politicians based on the opinions borne from this misinformation. Just ask George Bush and Barack Obama. It’s not the way it should be, but it’s up to elected officials to counter these arguments through their words and deeds, not litigation. In short, they should be inviting citizens to participate, not raising the bar to curtail it.

 

This past week, I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking to people in Williamson County about these events. What emerges is a convoluted picture that seems to have as much to do with past politics as it does with the current issues. Much of it also seems to be tied to personalities as much as policies. That should not be a surprise to anyone who has been involved with politics. It would take King Solomon to weed through all that has transpired and assign accountability. That’s a task well above my pay grade and not really the point I’m looking to make.

What is important here is to recognize and possibly prevent the use of personal issues to circumvent the democratic process. Parents should absolutely have the right to band together and champion issues they deem important. They should have the right to educate the public without fear of retribution. I obviously don’t endorse slander, but politicians should understand that reaping the benefits of certain entities also means suffering the disadvantages. To argue that there are not outside forces seeking to influence our democratic society through their financial injection, on both sides of the aisle, is either naïve or willfully ignorant.

Parents should not have to go through a cryptic bureaucracy to get involved in policy making that directly affects their children, unless they are actively raising money and financially supporting candidates at a reasonable threshold. Purchasing a domain name, making a records request, and holding a meeting should not qualify as meeting that threshold. Education policy conversations are ones that need to be held by all, not just those who aren’t afraid of the financial risk or are capable of deciphering complex regulatory language. Our representatives need to be leaders of all their constituents and not just the ones who share their views. Ms. Curlee and her supporters may feel like they’ve won a victory this week. Maybe they have in the short term, but at what cost in the long run?

UPDATED on 5/19: So I couldn’t resist, I had to add an up date. If you look above you’ll see where I mentioned an elected official carrying a gun on campus. I should correct my self, it was not a school board member but county commissioner Barbara Sturgeon. What struck me most about this whole incident was the lack of any kind of remorse for carrying a gun on campus. Her tone was immediately defensive and there was never a statement of “Hey my bad, should have left it at home.”

Superintendent Mike Looney took exception to someone carrying a fire arm on campus and sent her a letter notifying her that she would not be permitted on campus with out his written permission. When the superintendent suspended her privileges she immediately filed suit. She and her attorney apparently felt that this was about politics and not that she CARRIED A GUN ON CAMPUS.  The suspension was lifted but the lawsuit continues. Today the Williamson County School Board asked for an additional 30k because this lawsuit could cost upwards of 60K. Think about what our poorer districts could do with 60K. You can’t make these things up.

UPDATE 2 on 5/19: Yes you can’t just make stuff up. WilliamsonStrong put out an update today on what was heard by the commision in their case. It’d all be good for a chuckle if it wasn’t so damned serious. Here’s my favorite part though, it comes from Ms. Curlee’s testimony, “Talking points from other locations around the country, especially with regard to other candidates, seem to be consistent. So things like privatization, outside big money coming from out of state, supposed to be nonpartisan, these are just stepping stones for other things, um, they all claim to be grassroots but then again there seems to be a template that’s being replicated.”

Once again people assume they are the only ones with access to the internet. All you have to do is a Google search and you’ll discover that these ARE the things that are transpiring across the country. Read my blog posts and you’ll see it. Trust me, I get no union funding. So if there is a template it’s one established by others. I encourage you to read the rest so you can get an idea of what we as parents potentially face.

 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Reset

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Nashville business leaders have decided that the education conversation, for whatever reason, is in need of a RESET. To begin this “reset,” the Nashville Public Education Foundation has commissioned a group out of Boston, the Parthenon Group, to do a study of Nashville’s education system. In NPEF’s words, in order to have a real conversation it’s important that we are all looking at the same data. They’ve also lined up a slew of respected voices, from Vice-Chancellors at respected universities to local school board members and respected business leaders, to help facilitate the conversation. All of it sounds very noble, but with the main event just three weeks away, something funny has happened. People have started to take a look at the players.

One of the most baffling traits of the reform movement is how they apparently think they are the only ones with access to the internet. They often try to sell stuff like it’s completely original only to have it debunked by a basic Google search. That’s what happening here. A simple search reveals some disturbing information about the group that is doing the study that will produce the data that we all will be looking at when they release their Benchmark Study this month. Data that will come through their lens.

The Parthenon Group is a worldwide organization out of Boston that consults in a variety of fields, education being one of them. A perfunctory look at their website reveals an education team lacking education experience. Almost all have an MBA and what little education experience there is comes from time spent with… wait for it… Teach for America. Okay, that’s a little troubling, but not necessarily a deal breaker. Let’s take a look at the things they’ve been involved in.

Again, just perusing their website reveals a propensity to look at avenues for their clients to make money off public education systems. In fact they seem to be quite thrilled with being able to find shortcomings in the current system. I will give them credit – they are not just trying to exploit public education here in the United States, but worldwide, including Dubai and India as well. One of the U.S. success stories touted on their site is their work with the New York City school system and the attempts to improve dropout rates. There is even a Time magazine article trumpeting this success.

Readers of Diane Ravitch are probably a little more familiar with this story. You see, this was part of the Gates Foundation’s foray into education reform. They paid the Parthenon Group to conduct a study that revealed a cause of increased dropout rates was kids attending large high schools, and they concluded that if those large schools were broken into smaller schools then dropout rates would decrease. An estimated two billion dollars was dedicated to this directive, and guess what? It failed, in their opinion. Did the perpetrators stick around and help solve the new issues they created? Nope, they just scampered off to their next data-revealed crisis: teachers and the Common Core standards.

Let’s make no mistake about the goals of the Parthenon Group: to make money for its investors. Here’s a PowerPoint Parthenon_20Perspectives_Investing_20in_20Education presentation they gave to potential investors back in 2009. It lays out clear as day how the education sector is ripe for some money making. Are we to believe that these dyed-in-the-wool capitalists have suddenly had a change of heart? Suddenly they are all about the kids and not the Benjamins? Color me skeptical.

To see more local evidence of the Parthenon Group’s work, we don’t even have to get on the internet. We just need to talk to the folks in Knoxville. That’s Rob Taylor of Knoxville talking about the Parthenon Group in the video above. In Knoxville, the school board commissioned the Parthenon Group to study their system and share their recommendations for improvement. Those recommendations included increasing class size and eliminating around 300 positions that included guidance counselors, psychologists, and librarians. It also produced the stunning comment that not all students are the same; some are more profitable than others. Knoxville paid over a million dollars for this brilliant advice.

In case you don’t want to look to the eastern part of the state, we can also look to the west in Memphis. Where a school district already $142 million in the red paid roughly $350k a month for the Parthenon Group’s expertise. The recommendation in Memphis? Merit pay for teachers with no added compensation for higher levels of education. A plan that has been proven ineffective countless times and that Memphis rejected as well. Starting to notice a pattern? Momma Bears, a Tennessee parent group, certainly did. So did another parent group Tennessee Parents.

The Parthenon Group’s missteps are not relegated to just K-12 education though. Some of you may be familiar with the Corinthian Colleges scandal. The Santa Ana company, one of the world’s largest for-profit college businesses, allegedly targeted low-income Californians through “aggressive marketing campaigns” that inaccurately represented job placement rates and school programs. Who touts Corinthian Colleges as one of their success stories and strongly recommended them to their investors? Why, none other than the Parthenon Group. Still not noticing a pattern? The pattern seems to be one of presenting ill conceived plans to clients.

Let’s be clear here, I’m not saying the Parthenon Group is the wrong group for providing data to RESET a conversation (well, I guess I am), but at the very least there is enough here that surely warrants a little digging by the local paper. But nope, they are not interested. When Nashville School Board member Amy Frogge brought these concerns to their attention, The Tennessean responded by writing a piece that focused on her not having read the Parthenon Group’s report – a report that is not yet complete and can only be read by scheduling an appointment and going down to their offices and watching a PowerPoint presentation. Numerous other Tennessean staff members negatively engaged her on social media attempting to deflect any criticism of the Parthenon Group by making her appear incompetent for not having read the report.

I personally called Tennessean reporter Jason Gonzales to discuss his article and asked him point blank if The Tennessean had a sponsorship role in Project RESET. He emphatically answered no, they are just producing a series of articles on the Nashville education system. Articles that all bear the Project RESET logo and have been a mixture of negative and calls to put aside petty politics. You know, politics that call for an equitable system for all kids. Today there was a positive article on Pre-K but it focused almost exclusively on Casa Azafran, and keep in mind Casa Azafran is a sponsor. Let me be clear, I am not questioning their work; by all accounts it’s exceptional. I just think there should be more transparency from The Tennessean. When I asked Jason if he thought that information surrounding the group conducting the study was relevant he answered with an equally emphatically no. The data from the study is important, he said, but not the conductors. Is this what investigative journalism has been reduced to?

I disagree with the position of the reporter, Jason Gonzales, and by proxy, The Tennessean. To RESET a conversation there has to be a level of trust between all parties and that requires transparency. In order for it to be a truly productive conversation, all parties need to feel there is no hidden agenda. That’s why you research the people with whom you are entering a discussion. What’s revealed shouldn’t necessarily prevent the discussion from taking place, but it certainly allows for the recognition of clues should an agenda start to be revealed. I don’t think asking our local news organization to do due diligence on the company that is providing the groundwork for the conversation is unreasonable. I am just a citizen, not a journalist, and was able to uncover the information presented here. Imagine what could be revealed by the trained eye of an investigative journalist. I understand the financial challenges news organizations face, but I can’t help but believe the readers want more information and less PR when it comes to the news.

Most citizens of Nashville trust The Tennessean. They believe the majority of things written there. They believe that the agenda set is a reflection of their own agenda, not one being driven by outside interests. They look for our local news media to connect the dots, not just write an article imbedded with random links and expect us to figure it all out.

Many moons ago, while pursuing a communications degree at Penn State, I got to cover the press conference for the search for the first journalist in space. The event was attended by the likes of Walter Cronkite, Geraldo Rivera, and such. I was fortunate to be allowed a question and asked, “The role of a journalist is to cover the news, not make it. By sending a journalist into space, are we not, in effect, subverting that role?”

Later in the day, the then Head of the Science and Technology Department came up to me and complimented me on the question. He said that he and his wife had spent the lunch hour discussing it and were unable to reach a conclusion. Tragic events with the Space program prevented the journalist- in-space initiative from proceeding, but I think the question I posed then is now more relevant than ever. I think it’s an internal discussion The Tennessean probably needs to have.

As far as the Project RESET event itself, I think as many Nashvillians as possible should attend. But they should do their research first. Then they should listen and evaluate who is saying what and is there agenda truly what’s best for Nashville. We do owe it to our children and our communities to pursue every avenue to improve a system that does remarkable work but is always in need of more solutions. I am not sure, based on the evidence readily available, made Nashville Public Education Foundation think the Parthenon Group was the right group to perform a study for this conversation and hopefully they’ll learn from it. The conversation on education is always saturated with calls for a system that holds people accountable.  In that sense we need to make sure that it’s a system that doesn’t just hold schools, teachers, and students accountable, but also politicians, consultants, and foundations. The Tennessean needs to play take an active part in that process and not just produce PR pieces for the influential.

TN ASD: Brand on the Run

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091111_WEB_b_Barbic_t618I figure the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) and its superintendent, Chris Barbic, are feeling pretty good these days. The legislative session is over in Tennessee, and they’ve managed to beat back the forces of darkness that wanted to abolish, or at least limit, them. (Disclaimer: I consider myself a proud member of those aforementioned forces). In fact, they won the right to go out and recruit extra students. Now, it’s summer time, and people’s attention starts turning to more enjoyable subjects, leaving the ASD ample opportunity to plot their fall shenanigans. But not so fast, my friends.

The newly-won ability of the ASD to enroll students in out-of-zone neighborhoods is a big deal. It allows for the ASD gang to go out and find some kids who will help raise those test scores in ASD-managed schools. Barbic likes to downplay this and say that we’re only talking about maybe 400 students. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re familiar with how small the sample size for the annual achievement tests are, you began to understand what a big deal this actually is. Studies have shown that standardized tests do more to measure socio-economic status than student achievement.  Just a handful of the “right” students (i.e., impoverished minority students with highly involved parents) can make results look a whole lot different and give the appearance that the ASD is doing something our public schools can’t.

The other win for the ASD in the recent legislative session is the ability to charge its charter operators an authorizer fee of up to 3 percent for each school’s per-pupil funding from the state. So much for that tag line of “100% going to the student.” Furthermore, this creates the incentive for the ASD to authorize more charters rather than administer schools themselves. Can’t take 3% out of your own wallet now, can you? This becomes especially important because the Race to the Top money, which helped fund the founding of the ASD, is going away, but those large administrative salaries are here to stay.

Fresh from these wins, the ASD is ready to get cracking on expansion. Funny thing, though, is that half of these charter applications are for Nashville. I guess when you start to wear your welcome out in one neighborhood, you have to pick up and move elsewhere. Unfortunately for the ASD, I don’t believe they will find Nashville anymore welcoming than Memphis. But that will not deter Barbic because he’s discovered a new benefit of coming to Nashville. Nashville’s demographics’ more closely resemble Houston’s than Memphis’. Apparently Barbic believes that these are demographics’ that make gains a little easier.

In a recent interview with Chalkbeat, Barbic made this interesting comment: “I think a second lesson is around the depth of the poverty in Memphis and the obstacle that creates in educating our students. Obviously, when we looked at the info on our kids before bringing a school into the ASD, we knew most of the kids we serve are living in poverty and that poverty plays a factor at school. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and every single school I’ve worked with has been in a community dealing with poverty. But the poverty in Houston, where I worked before coming to Tennessee, compared to the poverty in Memphis, is different. In Houston, it was more of an immigrant poverty. In Memphis, it’s more generational poverty. I think that the depth of the generational poverty and what our kids bring into school every day makes it even harder than we initially expected. We underestimated that.”

This is, frankly, quite shocking coming from a man who subscribes to the “citing poverty is just an excuse” and “all kids can learn” schools of thought. To my admittedly untrained ear, what he seems to be saying is that poverty does matter and some kids are more prepared to learn than other kids. That also seems to run counter to his theory of a “Belief Gap.” Sounds like he believes that children who live in “immigrant poverty” are much more capable of learning than children living in “generational poverty,” as he puts it. Nashville has less generational poverty and more immigrant poverty, so he should be able to test that theory out. Personally, I find it a little reprehensible. Poverty is poverty and needs to be addressed, but at least he’s finally recognizing the role it plays.

The ASD’s attack on Nashville started in earnest last year, and the effects their intrusion has on all schools needs to be recognized, not just the ones that they take over. Take, for example, Inglewood Elementary School in Nashville. Due to test scores, they were on the priority list and subject to potential takeover. But they had a strong principal in place, an extremely talented and committed teaching staff, and increasing parental involvement. In short, they had a plan and were working on it as a community. They were successful in fighting off the ASD but at what cost?

This is what that success looks like. The principal has, because of the uncertainty with the future, transferred to another school. The teachers, again, because of the uncertainty, have explored other options. Parents who were fully committed to sending their children to school there have been scared off by the uncertainty. What you have left now is a school that has been willfully gutted of its resources and is primed to be taken over and turned over. Even though the school fought off the ASD, they’ve been robbed every bit as much as if someone had shown up and held them at gun point. The ASD will tout their supposed successes but nobody will discuss the cost or the lives affected so that they could rack up their data points. It’s my opinion that every politician who failed to rein in the ASD in this past legislative session should have to talk to the administrators, teachers, and parents of that school to see the damage done. That means you as well, Commissioner McQueen.

Fall will be here soon enough and the cold weather will bring new attacks by the ASD, but Nashville will be prepared. We will collect the stories, gather the data, and educate communities about why the intrusion of the ASD is an unwelcome one. While they spend the summer hatching their plots, we will work just as hard to defend our schools and our communities.

One of the best ideas I’ve heard is that we ought to spend the summer emulating the “Occupy” protests and take up residence for the summer in front of Mr. Barbic’s house. He lives in a neighborhood unaffected by either “immigration” or “generational” poverty, so I don’t believe that intrusion would be any more welcome than his into our community schools. Maybe if he learned what it feels like to have your world possessed by unwelcome guests, he’d be a little slower to do the same. Perhaps, if there is enough interest.

I am not making the claim that all is perfect with our schools. Being an urban school district with high poverty and an incredibly diverse population brings a never ending source of challenges. The thing I am claiming is that the best-suited people to meet those challenges are the ones who live in the community. If the state wants to assist in improving their schools, I’ve got a way they can do that: fully fund the BEP. As Mr. Barbic says, “This is hard work, and I think we need to honor the folks who have raised their hands and said, ‘You know what? I want to go into schools and work with some of the most vulnerable kids in the state.’ We need to give the teachers and leaders in the building the space and time to be successful.” Amen, brother, amen.

 

RESET?

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reset-button-bell-01Like many of you, I spend a great deal of time thinking about education. Once I started blogging, I was always thinking about things to write about and what I wanted to say. After 50-some posts, I still don’t have a system for deciding what I want to write about. Sometimes I think it’s going to be one thing, and then I sit at the keyboard and it turns to something else.

This post was going to be about the Tennessee Achievement School District and their intent to further invade Nashville. How that’s what happens when you get kicked out of one community and you have to go find another to annoy. Then I was going to write about Charter School Week which, coincidentally, is the same week as Teacher Appreciation Week. But there was one thing that just kept sticking in my head, and so this time, I’m going to go local and tell you about a new extravaganza coming to Nashville.

The name of this event is RESET (Reimagining Education Starts with Everyone at the Table). How long do you think they had to fiddle with words before they got a sentence to fit the acronym? A major driver of this initiative is the Chamber of Commerce. Apparently, the business community is frustrated because too much of the conversation is being focused on the good of the child and the community when it should be focused on finding cheap labor that is adequately prepared for the uses of business.

They’ve got a fancy website, with a fancy survey, that is going to produce a fancy report. I took the survey and noticed the hallway that it walked me down. I am pretty confident that the report will show how we all want good schools, with good teachers, and our kids to be college and career ready. We may differ a little on the definition, but that’s going to be our starting point to work together, and anybody who is not willing to compromise, well…. that’s just putting adult needs first. This may or may not be true, but I do have some concerns about this new project.

My first problem is with the large amount of reform-type folks who are rallying around this “reset.” You’ve got the head of KIPP Nashville and the head of Valor Collegiate Academy, two local charters, all touting the glories of collaboration. I’m pretty familiar with how collaboration with the charter crowd works. You allow us to do what we want, adopt our policies, and don’t ask too many questions, and we are all good. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a charter school operator say, “Oh, we observed such-and-such in a public school and then thought, what a great idea. So we adopted it.” So their enthusiasm dampens mine.

Case in point: Randy Dowell of KIPP Nashville is quoted as saying, “I look forward to the day when Nashville takes on the larger issue of how to share lessons from great schools and apply them broadly so we can put more of Nashville’s students on the path to opportunity-filled lives. Every child and every parent – no matter where they live or what their resources are – deserves that. I’m hopeful that Project RESET will help bring that sort of focus to the discussion.” He is saying this at the same time he’s working with the state Achievement School District to take over one of our MNPS schools. If the state takes over a school and turns it over to KIPP, that school is no longer responsible to the community. It’s responsible to the state and the community of its creation. So which conversation are we resetting?

My next concern is the strong backing by the business community. These are the people who are always talking about how schools are failing to produce enough qualified workers to fuel a growing economy. Yet somehow the economy keeps growing and new businesses keep opening. About the only thing that remains stagnant is wages. Which you would think, based on the law of supply and demand, would be exploding. If there is a dearth of qualified workers, then companies must be willing to pay top dollar to retain them, right? Yeah, not so much it turns out. Wages continue to remain stagnant. Perhaps we can reset the conversation about a living wage as well.

The big thing, though, is the title of this project. According to the dictionary, reset means to set again. In other words, starting all over. Usually when I reset something it’s because it’s reached a stage where everything is so wrong that I have to start over. A couple weeks ago, my iPhone got so out of whack that I had to reset it back to factory settings. Am I to believe that MNPS is in the same position as my iPhone and the conversation needs to be completely reset?

We seem to be doing well enough that the President of the United States decided to come tout our high schools. Our pre-K expansion is worthy of a $33 million federal grant. Our graduation rates have risen 20 percentage points in 10 years, twice as fast as the state’s. We have, perhaps, due to being a refugee destination, the most diverse student population in the country. This presents several unique challenges and opportunities, certainly not a reset.

Things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. We do have a majority of students failing to earn a score of 21 on the ACT (even though we force every junior in the state to take this college admissions exam), if that kind of thing is important to you. We do have schools that are in need of resources and more stability. If you take a close look at our lower achieving schools, you’ll see that they all share a high turnover rate in leadership roles. That needs to be addressed. But while we have kids and schools that are underperforming (based on test scores), we also have teachers, administrators, and students who are performing heroic feats every day. So forgive me if I don’t embrace a reset.

Here’s what I would embrace: an actual evidence-based conversation. One that is transparent on both sides. For example, LEAD Public Schools has been touting their upcoming graduation class having 100% college acceptance. A laudatory feat. However, how big was this class in 10th grade, and what happened to those who are no longer in this class? How are these kids going to pay for college, and are they potentially taking on debt that could have a future negative impact? What is LEAD’s actual spending per child compared to our community public schools?

In order to find answers to these questions, I have to file an open records request, and then I have to pay for copies of these records. When I get them, they are as opaque as if they’d been scratched on a napkin.  Looking at their budget, I can see they spend $12,401,257 on personnel, but what personnel? How much is spent on administration? Teachers? Teacher’s aides? School nurse? I don’t know, so once again I’m forced to file another open records request for a supposed public school. The same holds true if I try to obtain the actual number of students they serve. LEAD Public Schools touts themselves as a system of public schools, but they are clearly not-look at their funding, their selectivity of students, and their lack of transparency. Will that be part of the RESET.

Maybe I’m being a little jaded and guarded, but I’ve seen how this all plays out before. While we engage in conversation, the reform crowd continues dismantling public education. This upcoming extravaganza on May 30 is painted as a local event and not focused on national educational reform, but is that true? As leading reform advocate Neerav Kingsland points out, the reform movement has become more local. There was a time when all reform initiatives were led nationally by recognized leaders. Unfortunately for them, people caught on to the rhetoric and rejected it. So now reformers attack the system under guise of it being a local issue, when clearly it’s a coordinated national effort.

Jersey Jazzman, an education blogger from New Jersey, points out the rise of the “reasonable reformer.” He references EduShyster’s (Jennifer Berkshire, another education blogger) recent conversation with Peter Cunningham, creator of Education Post. Education Post was created so that we could supposedly have a better conversation about education. Sound familiar? Problem is that a better conversation seems to be putting aside opposition to policy that has been proven to be wrong and in some cases detrimental (i.e., unchecked charter growth, over testing, merit pay, etc.) It’s like trying to have a better conversation about democracy while abandoning the principle of one vote for each citizen.

In the reform world, what has happened with the decimation of public education in New Orleans and Washington, DC has been deemed a success. Denver is well on its way to the same end, so for the reformers, it’s time to expand. The problem is how to convert districts and get rid of public education fast enough without a natural disaster. Is RESET a potential method to speed that along? After all, Nashville has 13 new charter applications this year, to add to the 27 charters in Nashville we will already have. I don’t know, but I can’t say it’s not since we seem to be speeding along. I do know that a lot of money is being spent on Project RESET. Money that could really make a difference in our less fortunate schools. LEAD Public Schools has received a total of $1.3 million this year. I promise you my child’s school doesn’t receive even 5% of that. Can we reset that conversation?

I’m signed up to attend the big event at the end of the month, and I’ll let you know what it brings. I plan to listen but be vigilant. We’ll dialogue and see what the business community thinks a reset looks like. But don’t think for a moment if this turns out to be another one of those reform movement bait and switches that I won’t be ready. I fully expect to be painted as one of those negative types who are fueled by self-interest.

My wife is a teacher, so they’ll say I want to preserve the status quo to protect her job. Sure, that’s it, I’m afraid that my wife, with an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt and a Master’s degree from Tennessee State, won’t be able to get another $40k-a-year job. That argument is insulting, yet even during Teacher Appreciation Week it’s repeated ad nauseam. Come to think of it, that might be a good place for a reset.

Despite it all – the frustration, the fear, and the disagreements – I still love our public schools, and I still believe in our system. I still believe that community public schools are a cornerstone of our democracy and need to be preserved, not closed, torn down, or replaced by temporary housing. One of the comments in the article about the upcoming Project RESET event compared public policy to a marriage. When your marriage doesn’t work, you don’t just dump it and start over with a new one. You begin with the parts that are working and try to replicate them in the parts that aren’t. In other words, you don’t reset – you reclaim.