“For convenience, history is often viewed as a conflict between the instinct for order and the impulse toward chaos. Both are necessary: both are manifestations of the need to survive. Without order, nothing exists: without chaos, nothing grows. And yet the struggle between them sheds more blood than any other war.”
Today I did something that I haven’t done in nearly a year. I kissed my wife good-bye as she headed out for school. Quite a bit different than the past couple of months when I’d so the same, but she’d head back to her corner of the bedroom where she’d deliver instruction to students remotely.
I can’t even imagine what is going through her head as she makes the 8-mile drive this morning. She’s missed her students terribly over the past months, but there still has to be some fear as the pandemic is still ongoing.
Today is just a planning day. A chance to get the classroom ready and prepare for the arrival of students tomorrow. By the end of the week, MNPS will have students attending at every grade level. And with that will come more unique challenges.
The conversation around schools has been rightfully centered on teachers, but let’s not forget principals and other building administrators. The number of students returning for in-person instruction vs those remaining virtual is pretty evenly split across the district. What this translates to is principals being tasked with running two different schools simultaneously. Two different schools with very different needs.
The responsibilities of those teachers working in buildings and those who will remain virtual will be very different. Too often we think about a teacher’s job as only being one of teaching, unfortunately, there is a whole lot more that goes into it. Somebody is going to have to work the car line. Somebody is going to have to supervise bathroom breaks and keep an eye on the cafeteria while students have lunch. Principals will have to cover those duties with a reduced staff.
Remote teaching has its own time demands and to deem it easier would be a mistake. Conflicts between which teams working harder are inevitable, Principals will have to ensure that unrepairable schisms between their staff don’t develop.
In-person schooling, by nature, will personally confront principals on a daily nature. The challenge will be to not let the building needs overshadow the needs of those attending virtually. It is going to be a delicate balance and one that some principals are undertaking with little previous experience.
All of this puts principals in an unenviable position, and I wish them all goodwill I can muster. Sixty-two days, that is what is left of this year’s school year. May all navigate it with as much success as possible.
On Friday I had mentioned looking at the numbers for MNPS Schools(MNPS_Enrollment_2020-21_January_schools copy). My initial read was that numbers in Nashville’s traditional schools are up, and that holds true when you look at the numbers from the beginning of the school year and compare them to those counted on January 7th. During that time period, MNPS has increased enrollment by about 834 kids. That’s promising news.
The not so promising news comes when you compare last year’s January 7th enrollment to that on this January 7th. Despite gaining those 834 kids since the beginning of the year, MNPS is still down 4285 kids. That is significant and could hold some very detrimental consequences.
When I look at numbers for individual schools, the biggest losses seem to come from schools out of the Western Quadrant. It’s not uncommon to see losses of 75 to 100 students for these schools. It is not an unreasonable assumption that many of these students, like their peers from across the district, come from families that have the means to entertain other options. Exercising those options could translate to a double hit financially for the district.
There is the obvious loss of direct per-student funding, but it’s also likely that these students are less impacted by poverty and require fewer special services, thereby increasing the financial need for the district.
Looking at the tier levels, it appears that most of the losses come from the elementary level – 2508 or 59% of students lost. In all fairness, 1601 of those students are at the pre-S, pre-K to Kindergarten level.
Looking at Middle School – 441students – and high school – 331 students – things don’t appear quite as dire. But the trick will be attracting those Elementary families back once the pandemic has truly receded.
Where are the families going? Here speculation is mainly based on the anecdotal. Catholic School enrollment, along with other private schools, is reportedly up. Possibly home school numbers as well. Charter school’s numbers don’t appear significantly on the rise, only increasing by 641 students. A number not out of line with past growth rates.
I would argue that the threat of charter schools overtaking the district is on the decline. I’d be surprised if we ever see the volume of applications that once faced the school board. Time has shown that charter schools are subject to the same challenges as traditional schools, and as such, suffer similar limitations. They are certainly not the silver bullets once promised.
The charter schools that have maintained, have done so in a manner that doesn’t encourage competition. Who wants to try and compete against a Valor or a Nashville Classical? A lack of wait lines makes it an especially unappealing idea. So I think the market has balanced itself out.
Now an untapped resource is private schools, and the challenge there will hinge on how the State Supreme Court rules on Governor Lee’s voucher plan. Should the court overrule the initial ruling of the legislation being unconstitutional, it’ll be open season, with little regulation on the local level. That’s something that could make the job of both traditional and charter schools more difficult.
One last caveat here, obviously these attrition numbers have been acerbated by the ongoing health crisis. While some parents have successfully navigated online learning, for many it has been an insurmountable challenge. This has lead to a very emotional and at times volatile debate about the reopening of schools. Out of this fight has risen a tendency to dismiss those parents arguing hardest for the re-opening as primarily white, wealthy, and privileged and I’d caution against that.
As the conversation plays out nationally, a picture of exactly who urban school districts serve has also emerged. In Chicago less than 10% are white and over 76% are economically disadvantaged. In Philadelphia it’s 14% and an equal number from economically disadvantaged homes. In both Los Angeles and San Francisco, around 14% of students are white. In order for public schools to really be public schools, they need to serve all of the public, not just those without options to go elsewhere. Otherwise, we are just resegregating schools and that should be considered unacceptable by all.
I do think that the upward trend this year between August and January bodes well for MNPS. Hopefully, next year will see an increase in enrollments. But in order to see that happen, MNPS needs to ensure that they are serving the needs of as many families as possible. A challenge that they have arguably fallen short on this year.
AT THE STATEHOUSE
The General Assembly was shut down last week due to weather-related concerns, but action returns to the hallowed halls this week. Much of the focus to date has been on the bad bills, but there are some positives coming this week.
On Tuesday, in the House K-12 Subcommittee, HB0046 will be heard. The bill requires the department, instead of local boards of education, to develop a water testing program to reduce potential lead contamination in drinking water in public schools; requires child care programs to implement the water testing program required for public schools; changes, from 20 to 15 parts per billion, the lead level at which a school or child care program is required to take certain protective and remedial steps under the program.
This is a good start, but I would argue for lower limits. The 15 ppb threshold is often presented as being a safe level when the reality is that no level of lead is safe. The 15 ppb is merely the level at which the EPA requires corrective action. Still, 15 is better than 20, so I’m happy to see this bill.
Also up is HB0016, which establishes a process for a teacher to request the removal of a student from the teacher’s classroom if the student’s behavior violates the LEA’s or school’s student discipline policy or code of conduct and repeatedly or substantially disrupts the class. Some have argued that this bill if enacted, will make it easier to remove children who require special education from the classroom. That is not entirely correct.
This bill merely serves to provide a process for the removal action. One that currently does not exist in many districts. Applying this process may facilitate a student getting the services required sooner than they have in the past. It also serves to potentially protect students from losing valuable instruction time due to a child who consistently disrupts the class. It’s important to ensure that all children are getting the services they need. This bill should help in that regard.
But of course, no day on the hill would be complete without the ludicrous. Once again HB0003 is up for discussion. This is the one that requires that a student’s gender for purposes of participation in a public middle school or high school interscholastic athletic activity or event be determined by the student’s sex at the time of the student’s birth, as indicated on the student’s original birth certificate. You know, to address the large volume of transgender students or male students expressing a desire to play female sports. At last count, in Tennessee, that was zero. But somewhere, someone may be thinking about it and feel a need to cut the potential invaders off at the pass.
I really am baffled as to why this needs to be codified. School sports are already governed by an independent body. By all accounts that body has not fallen short in its efforts to maintain a level and fair playing field, so why do lawmakers feel the need to step in? An article in today’s Tennessean may shed some light on that.
In looking at the language of Tennessee’s bill we discover that it is remarkably similar to that of language in bills pending in 13 different states. Wow, imagine that coincidence. Per the Tennessean,
With legislative sessions under way, lawmakers across the country have introduced at least 28 bills to restrict or ban trans athletes from competing in school sports under the gender identity they align with, a Tennessean analysis found. In Congress, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also filed similar legislation, which is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee.
Being that this is a conservative state, this is a head-scratcher. I was under the impression that independent thinking was a core conservative tenet. Transgender student-athletes may be a problem in other parts of the country, though there is scant evidence to support that, but they are not in Tennessee, so why are we focusing on a national issue as opposed to issues that pertain to Tennesseans? What did Governor Lee say the other night in his State of the State speech?
Across the world this pandemic has exposed that when the government feels unprepared, it’s a natural temptation to think growing the size of government and reaching for the nearest mandate will save everything.
But not in Tennessee.
The worldwide data on government’s success is mixed, but Tennessee’s approach has been consistent: maintain local control whenever possible, rely on people more than the government, and keep a primary focus on what we can directly impact.
I don’t see how embracing the ideals of a national think tank possibly aligns with these sentiments, but then again I’ve often found myself scratching my head over the alignment of Governor Lee’s actions and conservative principles.
Hopefully, this week’s convo will be a little less ridiculous than it was last time. Better yet, hopefully, lawmakers will let it slip away knowing that Tennessee citizens are better equipped to address this issue than outside forces and we’ve got other priorities.
THE NASHVILLE PLAYBOOK
Last month, former MNPS number 2 guy Sito Narcisse assumed the reins at East Baton Rouge Public Schools. It hasn’t taken him but a minute to dust off the Nashville playbook. Not surprisingly, Narcisse was looking to immediately revamp EBR’s Central office, but the board only gave him 4 positions instead of the desired 24 positions. But have no fear, the Arbinger Institute has got themselves a new client.
The Institute was brought here to Nashville by Narcisse’s boss Dr. Joseph upon his arrival. Despite earning a hefty payday, the Institute’s success was always limited. In a letter to the ERB school board, Arbinger touts a lot of success but fails to mention that Joseph did not complete his initial contract. I’m not sure if board member Sharon Gentry is still employed by Arbinger, but perhaps she could go down and conduct some training. At the least, if anybody needs any used copies of Leadership and Sel-Deception, I could likely dig some up.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that under Narcisse’s urging, ERBS has rejoined Great City Schools. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Now we just have to find a gig for the wife.
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