What are We Talking About?

“It’s an odd thing but when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale they are indignant not with the teller but with you. They don’t want to have their ideas upset. It rouses some vague uneasiness in them, I think, and they resent it. So they reject it and refuse to think about it. If they were merely indifferent it would be natural and understandable. But it is much stronger than that, much more positive. They are annoyed.

Very odd, isn’t it.”
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time


It’s been an interesting one this week. Earlier in the week I toured Hume-Fogg with my daughter as an option for her high school years. For those who don’t know, Hume-Fogg is the academic magnet option for Nashville students. It is routinely ranked at the top of the list for Tennessee’s high schools. Critics, often point to it as being a beneficiary of academic segregation. Though that argument doesn’t hold much sway with me, as admission is dependent upon a lottery system for which a student qualifies by maintaining an 80 GPA. Qualifications that I feel should be the expectation for all students, and too low for an academic magnet.

My daughter, and her friend who accompanied her, have an intense desire to attend Hume-Fogg. Both have a GPA in the high 90’s. There are roughly 125 seats available through the lottery. Because entry is based on a combination of lottery and a guaranteed pathway, neither may get in. So much for the work hard and you’ll reap what you sow motifs.

I’m routinely told of the shortcomings of the academic magnet school, and how a child can achieve just as much, and have the same opportunities, at a zoned school as they can at a magnet. It didn’t take but 10 minutes of standing in the office at Hume-Fogg for me to think, we really have to stop lying to people.

I’ve been in enough schools that I can tell a difference. As my daughter said to me while walking the hallways, it would be nice to attend a school where the majority of students want to be there, instead of the opposite.

Her comment sparked a realization in me, Hume-Fogg is different because it’s a school governed by policies aimed at supporting students who want to be there. Whereas the majority of zoned schools are governed by policies aimed at supporting students who don’t want to be there. I understand that necessity, but in order to better serve all students, there needs to be a little more of the former and less of the latter.

Is Hume-Fogg a better school than others? For some students it is. I don’t understand why recognizing that is an affront to every other school. For some, the zoned school is the best option. For others, it may be a local charter school. For others, it may be a private school.

Full disclosure, for my son, I’m beginning to undertake the search for a private school option. He’ll likely attend his local zoned school, but I want to make sure that is the best option.

He’s an athlete, and I don’t know how far his skills will take him, but I want to make sure that the opportunities are available for him to reach his full potential. In other words, when his athletic pursuits come to an end, I want it to be his choice and not because his development was limited by his options. No different than what I wish academically for my daughter. Or what every other parent wishes for their child.

That brings me to the other part of my internal discussion – how do we define success?

There is an endless conversation about the pursuit of student success? Educational non-profits pay CEOs six-figure salaries to influence local districts in adopting policies that will purportedly increase student success. Politicians run campaigns rooted in a promise to promote student success. Teachers are retrained because they are teaching in a manner that supposedly limits student success. But what does that mean?

Does it mean being able to secure a high-paying job? I don’t know about you but in my adult life, I’ve had both high-paying and low-paying jobs. Sometimes it was the high-paying one that made me feel bad about myself, while the low-paying option brought more self-fulfillment.

Does success mean a mythical happy life? Because I’m here to tell you that throughout my life, I’ve experienced both the highs and the lows, and the highs were higher because I was able to compare and contrast. Surviving life’s challenges brings an immeasurable level of accomplishment to one’s self-evaluation.

Is success the ability to pass a test on a certain day? A test that shows no alignment to future success. I raised the question this week with a Tennessee lawmaker, how do we talk about preparing students for life and career, and then measure them with a test that is unlike any they’ll face during their adult life?

Every assessment taken in adulthood is centered on mastery. Whether it’s your bar exam or your hairdresser license, the only consideration is whether you mastered the requirements or not? Nobody cares if you are in the top 90, 80, or even 60 percent of those who take the test. You either hit the threshold or you don’t, and you are always given multiple opportunities.

So when I get a benchmark assessment that says my daughter is in the top 96% in 8th grade ELA, other than giving me something to brag to friends about, what is its real significance. (And yes, I am aware that I am bragging right now)

Now I will say that when the same assessment shows that she is in the top 90% districtwide for phonetic awareness but in the lower 60% nationally, we might want to rethink the effectiveness of our phonetics instruction district-wide. But that’s another subject for another day.

Anecdotally we hear stories about struggling students who went on to achieve great success, and about those who never overcame the shortcomings in their childhood schooling. But even in those stories, the definition of success is varied.

Is serving 20 years in the military a successful life? Is starting your own business considered successful? How about being married for 20 years and raising a family? If it’s financial security that serves as the yardstick, then we are all shit out of luck, because few of us will achieve and maintain that status throughout the course of our lives.

When you consider the variation in the definition of success, it becomes ludicrous to consider that there is only one pathway to its achievement.

Peter Greene, is one of my favorite writers, he’s also an adamant opponent of school choice. As much as I admire him, I think his latest serves as a key illustration of the misconception held by combatants in the school choice war. They see school choice as an “us” vs “them” proposition. Those looking for choice are viewed as destroyers, racists, and other individuals with intentions fueled by ill intent. In short, they see school choice as a cultural war.

I wish I could say that I still believe that, but I can’t. Sure there are malicious elements on both sides, but for every one of them, there is a parent whose child is not being served. A parent who is just looking to get their child what they perceive they need. In his analysis Greene offers:

“The culture warriors are not interested in choice or freedom; they are the embodiment of Wilhoit’s definition of conservatism— Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

I think it’s an adage that can be applied to both sides of the coin. In that case, the battle is over who is considered the “in-group” and who falls into “out-group” consideration.

Is the argument really about what’s best for kids, or rather is it about what aligns with adult ideology? Asking for a friend.

Reading Between the Lines

I’m chuckling over news coverage of State Senator Gardenhire’s bill to expand vouchers to Chattanooga passing out of committee this week. Reports like to bring up past battles and try to compare the progress of this bill as if it is moving in a similar fashion. It’s not. It’s meeting very little resistance.

Sure, Democrats are offering a modicum of opposition. Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) was one of the few committee members to offer any comment on the committee floor this week.

“Our pilot program has already been put in place. I don’t think there’s been enough time to even see if it will be successful,” said Akbari, who also opposed the program’s establishment in Davidson and Shelby counties. Committee members shrugged and voted to pass the bill out of committee with a 6-2 vote. Akbari was joined by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) in casting a nay vote. Senator Rusty Crowe R-Johnson City) abstained.

I didn’t time it, but the whole process took less time than me running out to my mailbox and back.  Somewhere right now former House Speaker Glen Casada is leaving his lawyers office, reading a news account, and thinking, “Damn! Why couldn’t it have been this easy for me?”

More Third-Grade Hijinks

WPLN has a story about parents flooding a public meeting on the 3rd-grade retention law. Now I may be splitting hairs, but the accompanying photo looks like a well-attended meeting, but far from a flood. I maintain it is a little in the game to be expecting changes to the bill.

For what it is worth, here’s my take. There will be lots of conversation around amendments, coupled with little action. In the House, there may be a bill passed, but remember Mark White (R-Memphis) still heads the House Education Committee. White carried this bill originally, and it wasn’t an easy task. White is on record saying that he’s open to amendments to making the bill better, but returning control to the locals is a non-sequitur. They had their chance they botched it.

White is an amicable fellow, but he’s also the guy who’ll tell you, “I’m very open to hearing what you have to say, but can you call me next week so we can give dates to my secretary so she can back to us with a date next month that works for us?” In other words, he’s very good at running out the clock.

In the Senate, most education legislators I talk to are unhappy with how the bill is presented by critics. They don’t feel that they are painting an accurate picture and that due to off-ramps they’ve embedded into the bill, there won’t be nearly as many students retained as opponents claim. Their displeasure is of such a level, that I doubt they’ll approve significant changes without a near of data.

At some point, we’ll realize the value of hyperbole isn’t near what we think and that vilifying people ain’t exactly the best strategy either. But that won’t be this year.

Quick Hits

Last Friday, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) released its version of the annual Tennessee Educators Survey. In their accompanying press release, they touted that just over 39K educators had participated. I don’t know if that is worth bragging about when you consider that last year’s version had over 40K participants, or that prior to the pandemic nearly 45K participated. In fact, by scanning the survey results it becomes apparent that teacher dissatisfaction continues to grow in Tennessee.

It appears that tales of TDOE’s Charlie Bufalino’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Despite several sources telling me that he was leaving, he’s still holding court. I’m not sure what the hold-up is, maybe he’s waiting for Mom to make an appearance so he can turn in his key.

I’d give you an update on the  TDOE 360 Reading Summit, but Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons has me blocked on Twitter – is that even legal – and I doubt she’d return a call, so you’ll just have to take to social media yourself.

Metro Nashville Public School’s board meets on Valentine’s Day. A perusal of the agenda shows little opportunity to talk about charter schools, so I suspect it will be a short meeting.

My feelings on Teacher of the Year awards are well documented. Blogger Nancy Flanagan, a career educator,  has her own take on the awards. It’s a worthy read, and I agree with her take that, ‘Teachers in America get so little in the way of acknowledgment and perks that every single teacher honored for their excellent work richly deserves the spotlight and whatever rewards come with it.”

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Categories: Education

19 replies

  1. Lots to challenge MNPS on from your post:

    Re: “Hume Fogg is routinely ranked at the top of the list for Tennessee’s high schools. ”

    > Indeed, many in our Chamber of Commerce claim that Hume Fogg and MLK are Nashville’s ONLY quality high schools. If segregating out students is the definition of quality, then of course every high school should be segregated. I challenge you to look through the US News rankings (totally debunked with a quick google) and find integrated schools that are ranked about segregated schools. Last I checked, Merol Hyde ranked about Hume Fogg. Why? It’s even more academically segregated. Do we want “rankings” or education? Those are two entirely decoupled concepts.

    Re “Critics, often point to it as being a beneficiary of academic segregation.”

    > I don’t know of any critics of Hume Fogg. My own criticism is simply that MNPS will not tell us _why_ we have the school in 2023. Federal grants for score-segregated magnet schools stopped decades ago. We’ve not opened one in a long time. Why not?

    Re: “Though that argument doesn’t hold much sway with me, as admission is dependent upon a lottery system for which a student qualifies by maintaining an 80 GPA. Qualifications that I feel should be the expectation for all students, and too low for an academic magnet.”

    > By this reasoning, our school system is a total failure. Only 1/3 of the kids reach these academic levels. Next year we are holding back 2/3 of third graders in TN based on your reasoning that all students should score in the top third. How many more experiments would it take to convince you that all students _must_ place somewhere on a bell curve when reading and mathematics are seriously tested? Every bell curve can be divided into 9 “stanines” and, yes, every student in stanines 7, 8, and 9 can be identified, and re-routed to a different school. If that rerouting accomplishes anything measurable, I’d love to learn about what it is accomplishing. Simultaneously, we need to seriously answer what should become of the bottom 2/3 of kids scoring in 1-6, who disproportionately are left behind in our zoned/integrated high schools.

    Re: “My daughter, and her friend who accompanied her, have an intense desire to attend Hume-Fogg. Both have a GPA in the high 90’s. There are roughly 125 seats available through the lottery. Because entry is based on a combination of lottery and a guaranteed pathway, neither may get in. So much for the work hard and you’ll reap what you sow motifs.”

    > The lottery is ridiculous, the auto-pathways more so. If segregation of kids in stanines 7/8/9 “helps” academic performance (it thrills families, and students, as you note), then it is criminal to subject higher performing kids to the lottery. We should also provide transportation. And, we should put the schools in affluent West Nashville, closer to the highest densities of wealthier and higher performing kids. What is it, _exactly_, that simply cannot be provided to kids in stanines 7/8/9 without removal of kids in stanines 1-6? I just don’t see it. If you place Maplewood and HumeFogg together, does Hume Fogg collapse? If you open the wall a little, and some Maplewood kids come through the opening at lunch time, does that kill Hume Fogg? Do the thought experiment. What is it about the presence of kids who “do not want to learn” (your latest rhetoric) that crushes the aspirations of “kids who do”…

    Auto-pathways are the biggest insult of the system. Why should an 8th grader at Oliver or JT Moore or Wright essentially forfeit a 9th grade seat at Hume Fogg, as reward for attending an integrated middle school for grades 6-8? What is _that_ accomplishing?

    Re: “I’m routinely told of the shortcomings of the academic magnet school, and how a child can achieve just as much, and have the same opportunities, at a zoned school as they can at a magnet. ”

    > By whom? I’ve never heard of a shortcoming of the magnet schools per se. Rather, their existence undermines community confidence in and support for the rest of the district. The lotteries create stress. The flight across town undermines antiquated (obviously) aspirations for racial integration. The quiet halls of the score-segregated magnet schools and stable teacher populations are in significant contrast to our zoned high schools, where turnover is higher, and reports of violence and discipline referrals far more frequent. I would not call any of that that a shortcoming of Hume Fogg. It is an _impact_ of Hume Fogg.

    I do claim with the small minority in Nashville, that AP Chemistry and AP Calculus are the same at zoned schools. As long as the same information is being presented, the same labs and supports are in place, then the same students _must_ score well, whether or not they walked past a noisy zoned school hallway to arrive in the classroom.

    Re: It didn’t take but 10 minutes of standing in the office at Hume-Fogg for me to think, we really have to stop lying to people.

    > Wow! 10 minutes. That’s shorter than the last Chamber of Commerce tour. What data did you gather in 10 minutes of “standing in the office” that could begin to inform you that integrated schools cannot offer AP courses of the same caliber as Hume Fogg? Was it simply the observation that folks were friendly and helpful, and that things did not seem as chaotic? _That_ is all a deliverable of the academic-segregation. There are no affluent or score screened schools that do not feel this way. If that is “quality”, then why should MNPS continue to hide this experience behind a lottery?

    Re: “I’ve been in enough schools that I can tell a difference. As my daughter said to me while walking the hallways, it would be nice to attend a school where the majority of students want to be there, instead of the opposite.”

    > Me too. The hallways in Scarsdale NY, Brentwood TN, USN, Harpeth Hall, and our $30K private schools are just as quiet. This was exactly the argument of the Great Hearts charter team. “We want to provide an education for kids who want to learn with us”. Their schools in Arizona and Texas have long waitlists, and quiet hallways too. How does creation of more waitlists and lotteries create a better district? Are test scores in Austin and Phoenix increasing district-wide because of more segregation? No.

    Re: Is Hume-Fogg a better school than others? For some students it is.

    > You claim that “it is” “for some students”. GREAT! Which students? How do _you_ know? Why can’t we _all_ know? There is nothing more important than a public education that strives to educate every child to their full potential. And so I ask you seriously: How is the reduced teacher turnover, lower levels of discipline infractions and violence, increased counts of AP courses “better” for “some students”? How can that be measured? Taxpayers in Nashville have a right to know the answer, to know what good is accomplished when “their kids” are denied a seat due to the whims of the roll of the dice…

    Re: I don’t understand why recognizing that is an affront to every other school.

    > It is insulting to families who get the letter “Sorry, your kid is in stanine 6, not quite there” Or, “sorry, you are lottery #392. Your zoned school is great though. You’ll be fine”. We are all taxpayers. We all deserve a system where _every_ child who has the potential to do college prep is given every opportunity to do that work, where _every_ child can walk past the noisy hallway and enter a quiet classroom and achieve maximally. Draining our zoned high schools of academic talent, and playing lottery games with or kids, should be offensive to every taxpayer in this city. The AP course offerings across Williamson county schools are quite comparable, and we should demand nothing less in Davidson.

    Re: “For some, the zoned school is the best option. For others, it may be a local charter school. For others, it may be a private school.”

    > With no data, with no analysis, with no reasoning, and no “why”, you can stick anything after a “may” and it will be true.

    We need to do better. Every taxpayer needs an answer why. Every lottery loser certainly deserves one.

    In the mean time… while neither MNPS nor myself nor you has any answers to the fun “why” questions…… To re-dedicate to educating EVERY child, regardless of dice rolls and stanine tests, we should allow kids to delay the Hume Fogg decision to 9th grade, instead of jamming the 9th grade lottery with the Meigs auto-pathway kids (which cuts the open slots to 125 or so as you note). That would be a brilliant improvement to the system we have, a huge step forward for civic confidence, and help return Hume Fogg to its _original_ mission – it’s _original_ why: Fostering racial diversity….

    • Chris where did you daughter go to school? So you know it’s about more then just course offering. And maybe it’s not others that we are lying to, maybe it’s ourselves? Thanks for the lengthy feedback, I always appreciate the time invested to respond. Maybe it’s an argument that will resonate with some, it doesn’t with me anymore when I have children that have been negatively impacted by the system.

      • Son went to Hillsboro. Daughter went to Hume Fogg. I’m writing _somewhat_ from the perspective of having experience both schools, as parent. (I never substitute taught at Hume Fogg, as they do not hire from the normal open substitute teacher pool (luxury of score-segregation #19)).

        Not a lie #1: Much more important than “my perspective” or “my child” or “your child” … is that in the business of policy journalism and comment, we have a responsibility to dig much deeper than our own personal experience and feelings. I’ve conducted deep parent surveys with PTO, and done lots of deep analysis of migration patterns of students through our system. I’ve honestly tried to figure out why we are put through the wringer in Nashville.

        Not a lie #2: The Meigs pathway, which passed in 1999 by only one very contentious vote, robs too many middle school families of that sense of “my kids are getting a best experience”. That remains the one most senseless, purposeless, and pustulent sore on the structure of MNPS.

        Not a lie #3: No one wants a pat on the head while being told… “There there… Our random lottery has placed your kid in a school for the B group – but – trust us – things are gonna be OK for her.”. That’s precisely the message of the MNPS lottery machine. And no amount of zoned school “rah rah” marketing will ever overcome that fundamental MNPS message. No amount of MNPS’ “Hume Fogg is not that segregated, the B option is pretty good.” As long as MNPS clings to that lottery, we can ONLY assume that MNPS is lying to us when we lose. After all, if they _really_ believed what they are telling us, they would stop the lottery tomorrow.

        Today, it’s even worse of course. MNPS says today, “Oh, you don’t like that you lost out on our A school? No worries! Valor will still take your application to their special lottery still to come. Did you see Valor high school (which by the way has few kids from public housing) is now *ranked* in the top 5 – way above that B school we told you was OK….? Valor had a huge billboard right above Hillsboro High school just a couple of months ago.”

        Not a lie #4: That feeling we all get, from the “10 minutes of standing in the office of the score-segregated school” … triggers the strongest of all biochemical responses in great parents who want ‘the best’ for kids. We had it 20 years ago on the Ensworth tour. “WOW! EVERY kid should have a school like THIS!”

        I’m not remotely suggesting that _any_ parent should not play the menu lotteries that MNPS has created to split us into winners and losers. Good luck with parenting and navigating MNPS! It’s all hard, however the dice come up, and whatever you (or any parent) decides.

        My fantasy remains that MNPS will one day see how ridiculous all the spaghetti is, how it undermines taxpayer confidence, how it does nothing to foster racial integration or academic performance, and how it mainly creates anxiety for so many of our families. After all, ‘not a lie #5’ remains that the last time I checked, only 1 in 9 4th graders in our cluster arrived at HIllsboro High for 9th grade. A decade has lapsed. Hopefully things are better. But, as my 3rd child wraps 8th grade, the stories of friends taking off in every direction for 9th grade seem about as prevalent as ever…..

      • Responsibility to who? My primary and overwhelming responsibility is to my child. As it is for most and has been since the dawn of time. I’d have no problems with the guaranteed pathway if the standards were more rigorous. We play baseball and regularly interact with Valor families, I got no issues with any of them and I’ve considered sending Peter. Again you are underestimating the difference between being surrounded with those who want to be versus a majority that don’t. Culture matters, I would argue more than any other factor.

      • Our responsibilities as _parents_ are to our families.

        However, our responsibilities (as transparent and tireless journalists, energetic PTO leaders, thoughtful School Board reps, generous taxpayers, visionary legislators) are to perform our rolls as best we can for our communities. Mixing those two things, invoking “My Child”, instead of “our kids” or appealing to “My impression of…” instead of “The score/flight/attrition/turnover/absence/staffing/bus-performance data are (or are not!) telling us…”… that mix-up is where leaders fail.

        If “culture” matters more than any other factor, then our leaders are especially myopic (evil?) when they create taxpayer funded pathways (via zoning, charter, or magnet schools) for us wealthier parents to walk away and isolate our poorest neighbors away from our “cultures” of academic success.

        Obviously when our leaders create the exit ramps, we will consider them. “Culture” after all…

        Hopefully, as winning parents, we’ll still reflect now and then on the the kids out-of-sight, and not let them be entirely out-of-mind as we write our property tax checks.

  2. Okay so now I will chime in. I did sub at Hume Fogg quite a bit.. I passed the rigor test I guess. That says nothing as I now where I currently live sub in the HF equivalent which again is ranked high..

    Let me assure you within these schools there is segregation of sorts as well. The Academics are heavy on AP and that is it. I loved MLK of all the schools as well that school is diverse and well it has an archive that is to be seen to be believed. I saw kids of all kinds of levels and with that you had rooms where kids who were achievers mixed with less so. It sort of weeds out over time as the school at the time I was there discreetly held the feet to the fire.. so you see the same issues in 9th grade that you do at other schools but less so. But with that they know over time they need to move up.

    HF is a calm school. Start there. It is smaller than you Mall sized high schools where you get lost going to the bathroom. The sense of entitlement and privilege is high. I used to think really? Been to the private schools that charge 30K to walk in the door, so shut the door!

    I subbed at Meigs it was the feeder and it was a mixed bag of calm and normal MS kids and compared to Oliver which forgive me TC I literally walked out mid day and that was what five years ago. I saw the writing on the wall.

    You want the best for your kids but in reality this nonsense is really not right at all. Not in the least. I see it here in another shiny key city where million dollar condos are built and the public schools don’t have clean water and aging buildings over 100 years old.. Things change and don’t.

    Sometimes I forget I am not in Nashville when I walk into the public schools here. Then I hate myself all over again. I truly wonder why I ever became a Teacher it is that bad.

    • From your lips to gods ear. So much of what you said…from 10 year ago to here did not happen by accident

    • Thanks for sharing that.

      Given your experience at Oliver and Meigs, is there any reason why 8th graders at Oliver should not be given the same shot at calm Hume Fogg for 9th grade, as 8th graders at Meigs? Why is it so important for Meigs kids, based on 3rd grade test scores, to land a place at Hume Fogg automatically in 9th grade? Should all kids at noisy Oliver be written off?

      The best funded public schools, were far fewer teachers walk away, are in super-affluent suburbs of northern cities, where per-pupil funding routinely exceeds $20,000, property taxes are high and dedicated to public education, teacher salaries routinely cross $100K, and there are absolutely zero charter or magnet schools to distract the attention of their boards. There is much that is not healthy about this affluence segregation, but as long as MNPS tells parents to run after 4th grade, that they are losers in the endless lotteries, I don’t see our integrated middle schools ever succeeding, and I don’t see Nashville taxpayers thrilled to cut checks in response to the latest “sorry you lose -but your kids’ friend won” letters.

      From the court-order of score-segregated magnet schools in 1981 (with dual lotteries then for African American and white students), until 1999, all eligible 8th graders had the same shot at a seat at Hume Fogg. It costs nothing to make this tiny adjustment, to return to the reduced flight of 1981-99 Why not? Why must we endlessly lament our schools, and take zero action to change the structure of our distr]ict, even a little?

      • You could give them a shot if you raised the admission requirements. I got not problem with automatic pathways as long as we employ a high standard.

      • The present admission requirements to Meigs and Hume Fogg, roughly, eliminate 2/3 of Nashville’s children from attending those schools. Kids scoring below stanine 7 are not allowed to set foot in these schools. (Yes, yes, a student can get an 8 in reading and a 6 in math and be eligible… The stanine results, set in place by the courty order of 1981, are approximated by GPAs and so forth). Again, here they are:


        How much more screening is necessary to satisfy your aspirations for “culture”? And what purpose does the screening serve? Numbers and reasoning behind them, please. I’d LOVE to hear these answers from MNPS too, if anyone there might know.

        Rutherford county implemented a much higher screen at Central Magnet, and has “enjoyed” much higher “rankings” than Hume Fogg. The school is praised endlessly in media. Are the 9th stanine students at Central doing better for not being exposed to the bottom 88% of kids? If so, we’d expect to see Rutherford district averages bump up. We’ve not seen that.

        As for “culture”, Central Magnet seems as white as Nashville’s private schools. https://central.rcschools.net/apps/staff/

        It is super-easy to segregate out the top 5% or 10% of kids, note they all take AP courses, and head off to selective colleges. But what about the losers? Is this _really_ your model of public school success?

        Make no mistake, the “winners” in Rutherford county love the school. Predictably however, the long list of losers have started to ask for charter schools in Rutherford county, after Central Magnet was installed. I claim again that “you lose” is not a message that any parent wants to hear. And I claim again that “you lose” is fuel on the fire of privatization. “What about my kids? Don’t we deserve a segregated school too?” is exactly the right and rational question we parents should be asking when the district sends home the “bad luck” letter.

        It’s past time for Nashville and MNPS to dial back on the “you lose”. We should at least delay the “you lose” until 8th grade. Picking winners of score-segregated high school seats ,based on 3rd grade test scores, cannot be the right way to structure this district. We waited until 8th grade to declare losers, from 1981 to 1999. It’s the better way.

      • So…you are willing to die on the hill that 2/3 of MNPS can not maintain an 80 GPA and score meets expectations? If so, that is certainly not an endorsement for MNPS

      • YES. The hill to die on exactly is that “all the students cannot score about average”. Or, more precisely, “2/3 of the kids will score in the bottom 6 stanines”. The MNPS GPA is somewhat decoupled from the stanine scores… but changing the GPA range from 80 to 100 to get all kids “above 80” would be as senseless as the the present model that grades on the interval 50-100 The bell curve (whether you set the left edge at 0, 50, or 80) is the inescapable mathematical truth of the way testing works in contet of student variability. In a test that distributes kids on a curve (the ACT as example), roughly half must score below average, or the test is worthless. Look at average ACT scores in our surrounding counties, where there is a central high school serving all students.


        Outside of Nashville, you will find little exceptions from the 19 to 21 ACT averages that dominate the landscape, but those are readily explained by concentration of affluence, “college towns”, or test-score intake screens on academic magnet students. I wish these were not the “true facts of the mythical tale”. But, I have found no exceptions anywhere. All exceptions, all the silly “rankings”, on second glance, have uninteresting explanations (test score screens, affluence zoning, transportation hurdles, first-gen immigrant populations).

        Where the “right” fails is in claiming the bell-curve is a product of variable teacher quality, and sets about firing teachers, exactly the wrong thing to do to our poorest kids.

        Where the “left” fails, historically, is in not offering advanced academics at schools serving higher proportions of poor students. Our Board’s initial response to the KIPP charter proposal, essentially that there was not a large population of students needing rigorous academics on that side of town, is a tragic case in point. (To your point about “culture”, I also personally believe the left fails here in our obsession with self-expression over the comforts of the larger group)

        We should rebuild our system so that no student is denied access to the most rigorous of college prep, and no student on different tracks is short-changed. We must not fret for a second if the average ACT scores of our integrated high schools is, well…, about average. We must ring the alarm bells loudly if the standard deviation of the scores does not give us the bell curve, the evidence that all students at a school are being well served. No child’s destiny should be determined by a roll of the dice. No parent should get a “bad luck, you lose” letter home.

        That rebuild could start with giving all eligible 8th graders the same shot at a 9th grade seat at Hume Fogg. Until we stop all the flight at 4th/5th grade, we cannot hope to reduce it into 9th grade.

  3. Apologies for not responding sooner. The issue is testing. There is nothing wrong with testing kids to see how they are academically and students on both ends need attention. The highly academic and the kids struggling. That said why do you have to go to a MS or HS and be isolated from your peers. Why are we putting the pressure all the pressure on kids to get into the “right” school. And all of it falls to them, to be better, to do better to be in the best schools, have the right grades and be the “right” kid. Be a kid. Fail, succeed.

    Sadly we try the all sizes fit model in designing education but funding will not permit it. But we have kids who need to be pushed, kids who will wander and find their way, kids who want college and kids who don’t. We finally may be coming to a point with the SOU where Biden addressed dropping that skill from State jobs. PA has already. The reality is we continue to push Meritocracy as it if is real. It is a unicorn. Kids who are disabled, kids who are ESL are not given any chance to go to HF or MEIGS. In fact there is none I recall at MLK . They exist in MNPS.

    We should design schools that have the band, the football team and basic ed. Then have the schools that for funding reasons are bi-lingual but in turn enable those to learn another language.. And then Tech/Voch schools and lastly of course Music/Drama as you tap into what Nashville does best and all of these can have internships, guest teachers and others to actually support the schools. But this idea that testing into a school, shoving them in there, testing them and retesting them and one mistake, one poor score and SEE YA! Is absurd. Living where I am is like Nashville only with more languages and faces of color but just as tribal and inefficient in educating kids. They are dumps times 10, water problems? We got them too. Buildings falling apart? Yep. Violence? Yep. Poverty? Yep. We have one working swimming pool at a high school and an elementary has leased theirs out to a third party.

    But we force kids to CHOOSE. Really? Why? They are not capable of it, they just want to learn, play the flute, build robots, cry, fall down. A girl in a NJ school killed herself last week over bullying. We have real problems with children their mental health and we are banning books. Wow those are not priorities? But no lets worry over school “choice” . That is nonsense. And it is plain wrong.

  4. I don’t know that I’d call myself an adamant opponent of school choice, but I have lots of complaints about school choice as currently proposed and instituted by many of the supporters thereof, and that gets complicated because the choicer crowd is not a homogenous whole, but contains everything from folks who sincerely believe in the power of the marketplace to the current crop of DeSantis style culture warriors who aren’t really interested in choice at all.

    They “us versus them” dynamic is the direct result of current choice policies. Real choice would cost a bunch of money; for example, what would it cost to increase HF capacity, either by creating new schools on the same model or increasing the size of the school itself?

    The big fallacy in the foundation of modern school choice is that we can give everybody choice while not spending a cent more. We can’t. As long as many families and students and schools and school districts have to compete to get a slice of a tiny pie, it will be some version of “us versus them.”

    Tiny Croydon NH actually had a fully functional model for school choice, because they have no 7-12 school of their own, so students could pick the school of their choice, and the district would pay their tuition, whatever it was. The local Libertarians tried to shut it down so they wouldn’t have to pay so much in taxes.

    • Always an honor sir, I got to tell you that as a parent of two middle schoolers, and this is the age where it starts to get real, I’ve got less faith whenever in our public schools.That doesn’t stem from racism, limiting books, LBGQT issues, marketing plans from charter schools or the plethora of other issues that suck up the conversation. Its not a funding issue, sure everybody needs more, that never changes, but I could point you tobloat ad naseum. It comes from policies that don’t keepchildren safe and it comes from having to fight for what my child needs because it doesn’t fit a desired narrative. I watch my wife sacrifice her health to met every new initiative that serves the ambitionof district leaders with no benefit to kids. Its all unsustainable unless we somehow get the courage to have anhonest conversation. What happens in the statehouses and district offices, the research labs and the education blogs is so disconnected from what happens in the classroom.

      You argue that HF could “either create new schools on the same model or increase the size of the school itself” both of which is based on the fallacy that all kids have the same wants, needs,and desires. Pursuing either strategy fundamentally changes the offering. Is our goal excellence or “hypothetical equity”? We might as well pick onebecause we ain’t succeeding at either.

      Again, thank you for the input. Over the years there is much I’ve learned from you and my respect is immeasurable, but if this is a true war for public education,we ain’t winning.

      Luckily, neither is the other side.In fact I’d argue that they are becoming part of the status quo, but that doesn’t mean change a happening and parents aren’t pursuing other options.

    • Hope that response made some kind of sense, I should learn not to write when tired and pressed on all sides by parenthood.

      • “Tired and pressed on all sides by parenthood” is the only way to fly.

        I read the HF model as one that meets students needs, so I don’t think we disagree there. And there is no doubt in my mind that public schools are, in many places, absolutely cracking under the weight of years of one damn fool idea after another (certainly in places where the champions of reformy ideas have gotten themselves positions of responsibility). Public schools asked for a lot of this by staying in their bubbles and assuming that they didn’t really have to make a case for themselves.

        I believe you can get to both equity and excellence if you get rid of the premise that all students need to run the same race to the same finish line. Once you assume that each child is running along their own path to their own goals, then you can start trying to provide equal opportunities for each to move toward their own sort of excellence. Ironically, I think small school districts like mine are better able to do this than larger urban districts, but until I score my big think tank consultant contract, I’ll probably never get to test my theory.

        Thanks for this piece and for kicking a few things loose in my brain.

      • Thanks for this piece and for kicking a few things loose in my brain.” – the biggest compliment you could give

    • With apology for slow reply, but cost per pupil is much lower at score-segregated schools. This is clear in the district budgeting for Hume Fogg, which is obviously lower with so very few special-ed kids attending. Your reasoning over cost should drive us to increase score segregation in the district. Indeed, when we make the decision to close all high schools, except for 9-12 programs for qualifying kids, we’ll save a fortune in taxes. But, I shudder to estimate the societal costs on that one.

      To your appeal to Croydon.


      Median family income in Croydon is $100,000 – and _still_ programs are being cut as a result of the voucher approach.

      I have _always_ said that _if_ we could get a voucher for $35,000 per child in Nashville, and index the promised increases to 2x the rate of inflation, AND private schools must accept all applicants, then I would be 100% pro-voucher. Our legislature as yet to propose that. If we could get that, I am all in with you to shut down the district, as Croydon has.

      I am fascinated that so many on this thread are both

      1) claiming “Hume Fogg (score-segregated school) is needed because there is a type of student who needs it” (I utterly disagree with that, because I see nothing that precludes academic college-bound coursework inside the walls of score-integrated high schools)

      and then

      2) not simultaneously expressing enthusiasm for the natural corollary that _every_ eligible 8th grader in Nashville should have the same chance at landing a slot at Hume Fogg in 9th grade.

      Why is it _so_ important that our 4th graders be awarded 9th grade Hume Fogg seats via 3rd grade test scores on the Meigs auto-pathway? What in heaven’s name is _that_ setup accomplishing? Surely we should return to chilling out until 8th grade. That’s how our district worked from 1981 to 1999 – and there was a lot less anxiety in that setup.

      Cost? The cost of driving across town for the autopathway is ludicrious. The cost of flight of families after 4th grade is stunning. We are not clinging to the “you lose after 4th grade” because of cost concerns. It has to be something else.

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