To say the results from this weekend’s poll were surprising, would be an understatement. They certainly were not what I would have predicted. I appreciate all of you who shared their views with us. Overall we had 265 people respond. I think that’s a pretty decent number and a large enough sample size to make some inferences. Before diving in and looking at the results I’d like to make a few points.

In starting these polls, the purpose has never been to establish a definitive answer but rather to facilitate conversation. In this process I’ve learned just how difficult it is to write questions that don’t lead people to specific answers. It’s something I think I’m improving at, but like everything else, it’s a journey. It is really important to me that people walk away from these polls thinking a little deeper rather than just confirming an opinion.

It has been brought to my attention that some teachers or administrators feel a trepidation in participating in the polls for fear of their responses being traced back to them. Please rest assured that all responses are confidential. I never look at IP addresses unless I see a trend that indicates someone is trying to game the process – a bot voting. This only happened during the first couple of polls when the Dad Gone Wild team noticed a flury of answers come in simutaneously with the same opinion. I have worked very diligently over the past several years to earn the trust of Nashville’s educators and hold that trust sacred. You may not always agree with me, but hopefully you know I would never do anything to jeopardize someone’s employment.

Every week I struggle with the question of whether or not to print the write in answers. For me, it always comes down to the position that if this blog is going to be a vehicle for people to express their opinion, then it’s not my role to censor those opinions. Even angry comments have validity, because if somebody is angry enough, or uninformed enough, to post those thoughts, we need to try and figure out why they are feeling that disinfranchised. I’ve always said perception is nine-tenths of reality. It’s important to analyze what people’s perceptions are and how they are arriving at those perceptions. Especially if those perceptions run counter to the message that we are trying to send. Often times it’s something we are doing, without realizing it, that is causing these perceptions and potentially making our work even more difficult. Often it’s something easily correctable through better communication.

Last point before looking at the results. This week’s questions deal with racial bias, and people I respect have raised the argument that results may be tilted because the majority of my readers are white. I don’t know what the actual numbers are, perhaps that should be poll question. I’m sure that I have less African-American readers then Vesia Hawkins , but it’s something I continue to work on. However, not everybody who answers the poll questions is neccesarily a reader. Poll posts are distributed, when Nashville-centric, through various neighborhood groups throughout the city – Bellevue, 12 South, 16th District, Antioch, Bradford Hills, Inglewood, East Thompson Lane – as well as through the normal avenues. I greatly appreciate those groups allowing me to occasionally post and I always try to be very sensitive to making sure that when I post, it’s relevant. It’d be great if I could get access to even more groups and I am constantly trying to make readership more diverse. With that said, I would argue that minority representation is higher then perceived, but still not overwelming and therefore should be a caveat. Let’s get to the questions now.

Question 1 asked, Do you believe that criticism of MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and his leadership team is racially motivated? Ever since the first stories critical of Dr. Joseph emerged,  there has been a narrative generated that the only reason he was being criticized was because he was a black man. Proponents of this narrative pointed to past transgressions by previous administrations. The argument utilizing past tragressions is a pet peeve of mine. We should evaluate policy on whether it is good or bad, not on what transgressions previous administrations committed. History is important in the context of what’s worked and not worked and why policy might have failed. It’s not a defense for bad policy.

The majority of repondents felt that either there was no racial motivation, or that any racial bias was due to Joseph and his administration’s framing of the conversation. That opinion was held by a total of 83% of the respondents. It shocked me, to be honest, that only 12 people out of 263 responded that the criticism was racially motivated. I would have expected the numbers to be much closer to a 60/40 split. I think part of the disparity results from how insidious institutional racism can be. It is easy for us to claim no individual bias while ignoring how ingrained racial biases are in our institutions. Here are the write ins:

Dr. Joseph hates white people 1
This is going to give Vesia Hawkins about 1000 more things to complain about 1
They have caused the racial issues in MNPS . 1
I believe Dr Joseph and his team wants people to believe it is racially motivat. 1
I think it’s due to their policies. But I can’t say “racial bias plays no role.”

Question two attempted to flip the table and ask, Do you feel that Dr. Joseph and his team show a bias toward African Americans in their policies?  There is a comment on this question that I need to respond to. It asked why I used the word “Unfortunately” in the response affirming this percieved bias. It’s a great question and I wish I had a better answer for why I used it. The truth is, I tried to soft pedal an answer that I was a little scared of getting. Despite my many criticisms I still hold out hope that I’m wrong in my interpretations and that Dr. Joseph will turn out to be the leader we all envisioned. Accusing someone of racial bias is a severe accusation. I assumed that nobody choosing that response would do so with joy and therefore I tried to offer what I percieved as softer answer. I shouldn’t have and I apologize.

“Unfortunately, I do blieve that they do” was the number one response. It got 57% of the votes. Coming in second was “I think they don’t value experience and since the majority of our employees are white, some people have gotten that perception” at 23%. Extremely troubling to me was that only 8 people out of 263 answered “I believe that they are committed to having the most qualified people, regardless of race or sexual orientation, in place.” That’s a little scary and if I was part of the MNPS administration I’d put that on my radar. Maybe  a series of blog posts over the summer interviewing people in leadership highlighting their qualifications would be in order. Here  are the write in answers:

Yes. They’re the racists. 1
both Central Office and Charters just playing the race card now 1
His kind are what have ruined our schools 1
Black LIves Matter. 1
Yes!!! And rightfully so!!! #blacklivesmatter 1
They don’t value experience and are rewarding friends with positions power 1
Many white principals will be removed this summer 1
Dr. Joseph is a racist. 1
It didn’t start with dr Joseph. promotions go to dr majors frat bros 1
Isn’t increasing black leadership & teachers a district goal? 1
I think they show bias toward former PG County cronies

The last question had to do with the state not having quick scores ready in a timely manner again this year. It seems to be a statewide issue but in a report by channel 5 they shared MNPS’s response that seemed to indicate that the delay was caused by MNPS getting their materials in late. I must say that every administrator I talked to said it was clearly a state issue. Andy Spears does a great job covering the constantly evolving story over on TN ED Report.

It was quite surprising to me that 75% of respondents were willing to assign at least some of the blame to MNPS, with 49% willing to put the blame squarely on MNPS’s shoulders. That speaks to a bit of a credibility problem to me. It also speaks to the ability of the communication department. A situation where blame, by most accounts, should rest squarely on the state gets shifted to the district. Is the lack of quick scores being available due to MNPS’s failure to meet a deadline? Or rather a statewide failing? MNPS’s communications department leaves that up to interpretation and I would say that’s a problem. Here’s question 3’s write in answers:

t’s not the end of the world. This is the first year taking this new test, so 1
FAST MCAP WIDA tests are real problem 1
Affirmative action 1
RACISTS Trying to make a strong black man look bad 1
RACIST white people 1
Dr. Joseph

I would say that the answers to all these questions indicates a lack of buy-in by stakeholders to Dr. Joseph, his team, and their policies. A prime opportunity to increase buy-in was missed during the latest budgeting process by attempting to lower teacher salary increases from 3% to 2%. The administration caved and retained the 3% but only after teachers braved rush hour traffic and traveled cross town to strongly recommend keeping it at 3% at a 5pm budget hearing. Despite their words, this administration seems to value programs and consultants over the actual people doing the work. As I recently told a central office adnministrator, you can fund programs at 200% but if you don’t have buy-in, they will fail every time. I hope Dr. Joseph and his team will take a look at these results and use them for what they are intended for, a place to start the conversation. A conversation that can put us on the path to success.

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