NASHVILLE’S LAST SCHOOL BOARD RACE

“One person presents their story each day; no one has to be Sigmund Freud to figure out these were men who grew so tired of being wounded, they went out and wounded something else.”
Stephen Reid, A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden

 

It may sound hyperbolic, but it’s entirely possible that Nashville’s first partisan school board race will be Nashville’s last school board race. Let me explain.

Nashville was incorporated into a Metropolitan area in 1963. At that time Metro Nashville Public Schools was formed by combining the two existing districts, Davidson County Schools and Nashville Schools, Former Nashville mayor David Briley’s grandfather Beverly Briley as then-Mayor oversaw the transformation of Nashville’s government and the formation of a new school district. It was his vision that schools and city government should remain separate entities in all areas but funding. A vision not shared by his opponents.

The commissioning of  Nashville’s charter was held up for several months while sides wrangled over how the governing body of the new school district should be constructed. Eventually, it was decided that the mayor would appoint and the council would approve members. This was agreed upon in an effort to move things along.

In subsequent years, Briley’s opponents would frequently attack the school system and make claims that an independent school board was impossible, Briley stuck to his beliefs and vowed that as long as he was mayor the school board would operate as an independent entity from the mayors’ office. To his credit, the city has remained true to his vision.

The idea of an elected school board first surfaced in 1972 when it was defeated at the polls by a narrow margin. History repeated itself in 1972,

In 1980 an amendment, to the charter was voted on by the city’s residents making the board an elected body, The Mayor at the time, Richard Fulton, was opposed to the idea, because he feared it would lead to a board devoid of women and minorities, A glance at today’s MNPS board is evidence that he should have placed more trust in Nashville voters.

Upon accumulating the required 10% of signatures required to place the proposed amendment on the ballot, supporters engaged in little lobbying. They spent a whopping $80 on literature, but little else.

On the other hand, opposition came out in force. With the usual suspects taking center stage. The Tennessean wrote a scathing editorial that would have made current editor David Plaza proud. Both the League of Women Voters and local chapters of various civil rights groups came out in strong opposition. Ironically, the father of current state representative Harold Love was among the naysayers.

The primary concern of Love, and the advocacy groups, again, was that an elected board would not be inclusive of women and minorities. Concerns that initially were born out, however, the current MNPS board serves as a reminder of how hard Nashville has worked to make the governance body truly representative. For that, the city deserves props, not another threat.

When voters showed up at the polls, fueled by concerns over looming federal demands to create a desegregation plan and the closing of several schools, they pulled the lever for the amendment by a large margin. The first elected school board took office in 1982. Among its members, a relation of current board member Abigail Tylor.

Over the ensuing decades, various mayors have tried unsuccessfully to exert more control over the board. The standard argument is, mayoral performance is judged by the performance of schools, therefore they should have more influence on how schools are governed. It’s an argument rejected by Nashvillians at every turn.

For some reason, politicians continue to have more faith in their abilities than in those of the people who elect them. Once again the voting rights of Nashville residents are under attack, and the state, working at the behest of the same bad actors from 40 years ago, are conspiring to suspend those rights when it comes to school governance.

Introduced this week was an amendment to SB 2021(SB2021 HB2092 Amendment 014843) The bill is being carried in the House Education Sub-Committee by Chairman Mark White, who claims the bill is a caption bill on hold if needed. His hands are a little full with TISA, the state school funding reform bill,  right now…but…

So what does this nasty little bit of legislation do? It sets a trigger that if an LEA that has 10 or more schools on the state’s annual Priority School List for three years running, the county mayor must begin replacing elected board members with appointed members. As terms end, appointments are made. A mayoral appointed board remains in place until such time as the LEA has less than 10 schools on the list.

Considering that last year, 7 out of 29 schools exited, that could be a while.

So how does a priority school list get crafted? Despite all the fancy language constructed by the TNDOE, it simply means that a school is in the bottom 5% for achievement on the state-administered the big old test. . So like everything else in education, we’ve reduced school evaluation to a number. One that is easily manipulated.

Over the last decade, Nashville has had anywhere from 10 to 21 schools on the state’s priority list. Currently, MNPS is home to 21 schools. And while that should be concerning, some of it shouldn’t be surprising.

Nashville currently has roughly 160 schools, At a minimum, half the schools in Tennessee contain less than 10. schools. When you factor in the high level of students with unique learning needs, it feels like the odds are definitely tilted towards the large urban school district.

Here’s another math problem for you, if a school is sitting just outside the 5%, and a similar district closes three priority schools, guess who’s next man up? As a result, a school may enter priority status through no fault of its own. One minute they aren’t a priority and the next they are.

This past year, we saw schools exit priority status, not because they did marginally better, but because other schools performed marginally worse on TNReady.

A question that instantly springs to mind when looking at this proposed bill is, how does this bill not suffer the same fate as the recently passed voucher legislation, as it is clearly targeting certain districts while eliminating others? Maybe White is carrying this bill in an effort to retain the General Assembly’s quota of at least one lawsuit over constitutionality a session.

Equally concerning, is the willingness to override the desires of local constituents to craft their own local governing policies. In 1980 the citizens of Nashville voted to have an elected school board. Not one that would remain elected as long as it met certain criteria. Not one democratically elected based on the oversight of the state and the whims of a governor. They voted for an elected school board, fully aware of the potential challenges such a process brought forth.  Why should somebody from another part of the state get the right to override that decision?

I was raised that local control and less government interference were core conservative principles. Yet once again, a supposedly conservative governor is acting in a manner opposite of those principles. How does growing government and robbing a community’s right to elect its leaders hold up those principles of small government and self-governance?

This bill is the brainchild of Nashville’s Chamber of Commerce. Forty years after the fact, the Chamber is still attempting to flex its muscle at the expense of the city’s residents. They didn’t trust the populace back in 1980, and they don’t now.

.Ironically, it was less than a month ago they held their annual self-congratulatory event, the Report Card. While the city’s teacher principals did meaningful work in Nashville’s classrooms, they and other elites, worked the room, eating donuts, and bragging about the success stories they had little to do with. All the while waiting like vultures in the trees, for an opportunity to pounce on Metro Schools and seize the reins of control.

To add fuel to the fire, on Capitol Hill this bill is being advertised as the Cooper bill, and it’s widely believed that he is in strong support and wants it to happen. Something he denies.

Color me skeptical, every Mayor in recent memory has wanted more control of the school system, why would Cooper be different. His quotes in a Tennessean article certainly don’t speak to strong opposition,

Nashville Mayor John Cooper stated Tuesday he “appreciates the collaborative role that Nashville’s elected school board plays in governing the school system, guiding priorities, and representing Nashville’s parents.”

His statement in an emailed response to council members requesting his official position is slightly stronger, but still leaves wiggle room,

The Mayor supports Dr. Battle and an elected school board and does not see the need for the bill.

I’m often critical of MNPS board chair Christianne Buggs, but she’s spot on with her words and I applaud them,

“The continuous targets being placed on the backs of the most diverse school systems across the state should anger us all. How dare our supposed partners in the work to support our youngest students be the same groups working the hardest to dismantle our public schools. How dare those who claim to champion our students to our face be the same enemies fighting against us behind our backs.”

Yes, how dare they?

Nashville stakeholders have repeatedly said they don’t want more charters and are content with the current approval process and growth plan.  The expectation is that their elected representatives will uphold that view. Speculation is that Hal Cato is entertaining a run for mayor. If he chooses to do so, he’ll be a formidable candidate,

Cato has also been a strong proponent of charter schools in the past. If he’ is mayor when this trigger kicks in, its not hard to imagine that he would stock the board with individuals that share his support for charter school expansion.

The bill as written, only stipulates that appointed board members reside in the county. It says nothing about existing district divisions. What’s to stop a mayor from appointing just West Enders, or those from the East Side.

I find it amazing that at a time when the question of parent access is at an all-time high, Governor lee is using Mark White to pass legislation that would limit parent voice. It’s hard enough to get an elected official to respond let alone one secure in the knowledge that they only serve one master.

You need further evidence, look no further than the current state Commissioner of Education. I guarantee that if she was an elected figure or had to be approved through the General Assembly, it’d be a very different conversation today.

As I look through all of this, once again I’m brought back to a quote from Professional Educator of Tennessee Executive Director J.C. Bowman in a piece he wrote several years ago, His words were written in response to then-Mayor Briley’s effort to exert more control over MNPS Schools,

If the Mayor of Nashville feels that the trained professionals at the Metro Nashville Public Schools and the elected School Board cannot address the issues of the lowest-performing schools in the district, why does he think the unelected “Kitchen Cabinet” he selected can do a better job?  What can these nonprofit leaders and community advocates accomplish that professional educators in the MNPS system are not already doing?  And why are those “leaders and advocates” not already doing it?   Honestly, I think it is insulting.

If Mark White was truly speaking the truth when he described this bill as one that would be brought forth only if needed, then I can say with conviction this bill is not needed, and therefore, no need to bring it forward.

I hope everyone in Nashville enjoys this year’s school board race, it may be our last.

THE ANATOMY OF A REALLY BAD BILL

I don’t think Governor Lee gives himself nearly enough credit for being the great uniter that he is. Case in point, while Tennessee is oft recognized as one of the most partisan states in the union, currently you can walk up one aisle and down another and hear the same chorus, “This TISA bill sucks.”

Doesn’t matter if you are on the left or on the right, everybody sees it for what it is, a big old re-arranging of the furniture in order to facilitate the safe passage of vouchers in the future. The only thing worse than the bill itself is the supporting materials that are being rushed out by the TNDOE, materials like the unique learning needs crosswalk that apparently they are not even taking the time to proofread before posting.

In this one, they show that they are dividing English learners into three tiers, tiers that currently do not exist and are products of the TNDOE’s creative minds or more likely, cribbed from elsewhere. According to this graphic, an EL student under pathway 1 could remain in tier iii, collecting a 70% weight for up to 4 years. Once they pass WIDA, the EL exit exam, they would drop into tier 1 and collect 29%. Or they could remain tier III  for the full term, and just drop down to tier II and collect a 60% weight for another 2 years.

So what is the incentive to pass WIDA and exit EL service prior to year 3? In the past, with MNPS there has been since of urgency to have students graduate from EL services as quickly as possible and transition into general education classes. Studies show that EL students soar once they exit EL services. This graphic seems to make an argument for retaining students in EL services as long as possible. Now this m

This could be an important conversation, but what renders this discussion moot is the fact that the formula only applies until funds hit the district door. Once that happens, LEAs are still free to allocate money as they see fit. So the real question isn’t on this fancy graphic. The real question is, is TISA funding EL services at a higher rate than the BEP or not/? And nobody but Ms. Schwinn and Governor Lee know the answer to that.

The other interesting graphic presented is the one on proposed student outcome rewards. Let’s look at this one paragraph from the sheet,

The TISA is designed to support students reading on grade level by 3rd grade and post-high school success. As a result, the outcomes section prioritizes proficiency on the 3rd grade Reading TCAP, a college-ready score (21) on the ACT or significant improvement on the retake, and students who earn a Tier II or Tier III industry credential. The outcomes bonus is higher for those students who are economically disadvantaged as a way to acknowledge the additional support that may be needed for those students. Further, by providing a pathway in high school for the ACT or industry credentials, the outcomes component of the formula equally prioritizes those students who are on-track for a four-year uversity, a TCAT, or directly to a career.

If we are rewarding proficiency, why are we rewarding economically disadvantaged at a higher rate? While I understand the greater challenges in reaching that goal for ED students, this reward is based on achievement and both groups are proficient. So shouldn’t the reward be equal?

Secondly, what are districts supposed to use these financial rewards for? They are unpredictable and non-reoccurring, so you can’t use them on reoccurring expenses. They are designated after the local budget process is complete, so they do not become budget items. The only viable uses I see, are teacher bonuses or a giant pizza party for everybody. In that case, sign me up for pepper

Instead of playing games, everybody would be better-served f the state just front-loaded the funds and left the financial rewards off the table.

In talking to superintendents, I find that they are universally unsure of what this bill will mean in regards to their funding. They are unsure of what the local match will look like down the road. While the emails sent out by the department detailing the increased funding most districts will receive in the initial year are heartening, they would love to see a similar form depicting what 5 years from now will look like. That’s something that the TNDOE is so far unwilling to put forth.

The last thing I need to draw your attention to is this statement at the bottom of the Outcomes one-sheeter,

The department has also completed a five year projection that assumes a 150% increase in reading for non-economically disadvantaged (68.85%), doubling reading for economically disadvantaged (43.46%), doubling college and career readiness for non-economically disadvantaged seniors (69.54%) and tripling that same metric for economically disadvantaged seniors (20.79%). Assuming 50% of students matriculate to college or their aligned career, the total state investment would be $150.8M.

Ask yourself, when has there ever been this kind of growth? Then ask yourself, in 5 years, where will Commissioner Schwinn be? And where will Governor Lee be?

The former I suspect will be back in California, living off of the bounty from her Tennessee adventure. swapping stories with Michelle Rhee about crazy times in the volunteer state. Remember Ms. Rgee’s husband served as a political mentor for a young Ms. Schwinn.

Lee, well he has visions of being in the White House in 5 years. In reality, he’ll be lucky if he’s welcome in White House Tennessee.

That does it for today. Sorry for the delay, but we’ll see you Friday.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

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If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.

 

 



Categories: Education

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