Congratulations for MNPS are in Order

11796412_10207559130401199_6536072867039905966_nLast week, Metro Nashville Public Schools MNPS) were left at the altar by their choice for Director of Schools, but today’s news should help ease that sting. Test scores were released for the district this morning, and they show that when Mayoral candidate Bill Freeman says that the narrative of Nashville schools struggling is overblown, he is correct. The Tennessean may not be impressed, but todays results are among the best ever for MNPS.

These are results that should be pasted on the front page of the paper instead of stories about social media spats. Our public school system is one that we can be proud of. It is not one in need of a “reset” but rather one that needs a continued firm hand on the wheel as we continue to make an upward trajectory. Some will try to spin a false tale of our schools being in crisis and failing to meet the needs of our children, but the truth is that we are systematically attacking our challenges and our children are working hard; proving that when the time comes, they’ll be ready to lead and maintain Nashville’s status as an “it” city. They are doing things the Nashville Way.

Here are results for grades 3-8. They show math jumping from 44.6 percent proficient/advanced to 47.4. Science jumped to 49.1 percent. Reading did dip slightly, as it did for the whole state.

Taking a look at grades 9-12 End of Course (EOC) exam scores and this becomes even more impressive. In English I (9th grade), students scoring proficient/advanced increased to 63.7 percent and English II (10th Grade) increased to 56.3. English III (11th grade) soared to 29.8. These are incredible gains.

scores1

Math is the same story, but with even greater gains.

Out of 11 categories, MNPS hit the mark in 10. That’s pretty damn impressive. Especially considering all the turmoil that we’ve seen this year.

scores3

I think we can draw several conclusions from these results. First and foremost, we have an incredible group of teachers and administrators who work with and are dedicated to the children of Nashville. They don’t get nearly enough appreciation. We need to remember that every time we say or hear things like, “Our school system is in crises,” or “We are plagued with failing schools.” That just reinforces a false narrative that is not borne out by the data, and therefore disparages the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice of these professionals. We owe them a debt of gratitude and support, not unfounded criticism. Hat’s off to each and everyone of you.

Second of all, why was MNPS Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jay Steele not considered a finalist for Director of Schools again?? African American leaders are currently calling for the school board to reconsider an offer to Dr. Angela Huff for the position of director of schools, yet not a word about Dr. Steele. Like him or not, and there are plenty that don’t, you can not dispute these results. There will be an attempt to add these to Dr. Register’s legacy, but anybody who’s watched Dr. Register up close this last year knows that his hand was rather loose on the wheel this year. The majority of his time was spent battling crisis’s of his own making.

Dr. Steele joined MNPS in 2010 in the position of associate superintendent for high schools and since then, test scores have seen a steady increase. His results were strong enough to attract the attention of the White House and led to a visit by President Obama. This year, he became more involved in middle schools, and once again, the scores have gone up. We say we value data but then we chose to ignore it when it tells us a story we don’t like.

Dr. Huff by all accounts, is a wonderful talented woman, but she’s never been a director, nor has she ever been directly in charge of instruction for a district like Nashville’s. Yet, for some reason her potential is valued more then the body of work Dr. Steele has helped facilitate.  If we are not careful, he may be facilitating that growth for someone else. It’s no small feat that almost 19,000 more students are scoring advanced or proficient today than they were in 2010. Calling attention to these results should not be seen as a slight of Dr. Huff but rather an indictment of the search firm Hazard, Attea, and Young and the job they did – or failed to do.

I talked to a gentleman recently who told me about being at a conference with a group of our principals. His assessment was, “You all got a bunch of rock stars.” Yes, we do. Ask yourself though, who do you think recruited them, led them, and is supported by them? Yet we are willing to give credibility to a search firm that said Dr. Steele was not prepared to lead. Take the personality out of the equation and look at the results. They speak for themselves. This should not be seen as a slight of Dr. Huff but rather an indictment of the search firm Hazard, Attea, and Young and Associates and the job they did or failed to do.

Thirdly, I hope State Education Superintendent Candice McQueen takes notice of these numbers and lets the Achievement School District know that we don’t need their help. We have challenges and our schools definitely have room for improvement, but as these score continue to show, we know how to make those improvements and we are making them. Rumors continue to swirl that they have targeted two more Nashville schools. Those actions need to stop and Neeley’s Bend needs to be returned to MNPS. The ASD’s time would be better spent planning Chris Barbic’s retirement party.

Bill Freeman is absolutely right when he says Metro Schools need a cheerleader. It’s obviously not going to be the Tennessean. The work our children are doing is going to ensure a brighter future for all of us. The people guiding them are doing so in an exemplary manner. These results need to be celebrated for what they are: a testimony to the hard work and dedication of Nashville’s students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. Let’s all get together and show how proud we are of Metro Nashville Public Schools success.

Test scores are not a complete indication of a schools quality and lord knows, these results come with plenty of questions. However, they are what most people use for a measurement and they have been sanctioned by the state. To not celebrate them would rob us of a day to hug our children and say “job well done”. To not celebrate would deprive us of a day to slap a high five to teacher or administrator. That’s makes today a day of celebration.

 

Advertisements

The Runaway Bride Hits Nashville

8

flaming_bag_of_poop_answer_7_xlargeWhen I was a kid, we had a game we liked to play. You’d take a brown paper lunch bag, fill it with dog poop, place it on some unsuspecting person’s porch, light it on fire, ring the doorbell, and then run. The unsuspecting person would answer the door, see the flaming bag, and quickly move to stamp it out. You can guess the rest. Essentially, that’s the game Dr. Mike Looney played with Nashville last week.

Over the last several months, the Metropolitan Nashville Public School System (MNPS) has engaged in a search for a new director of schools. It’s been an extremely difficult search process and one fraught with a plethora of challenges. The slate of candidates brought forth by the search firm Hazard, Young, and Attea left many unimpressed. School board chair Sharon Gentry played personal politics by utilizing an ethics complaint to overturn a vote on an interim director while never actually addressing the ethics complaint and also ignoring two other ethics complaints. Through some kind of miracle, though, once the process moved on to actual interviews, a path forward started to emerge.

First of all, Dr. Angela Huff, the candidate from Cobb County, Georgia, proved to be much more impressive than she looked on paper. However, Dr. Looney, the current superintendent of Williamson County Schools, proceeded to demonstrate why the people of Williamson County love him. This is where the paper bag got lit up.

In these interviews and through personal interviews with individual board members and community members, Dr. Looney began to construct a grand vision of what MNPS could look like under his leadership. It was a vision that could unite all elements within a community that often found itself at odds. So much so that he was able to generate a vote of 8-1 from the school board to offer him the position. The lone holdout being Tyese Hunter.

Hunter supported Dr. Huff and had concerns that another finalist, Dr. Covington, had been disqualified, in her opinion, due to internet rumors. She also felt we weren’t holding Dr. Looney to the same level of scrutiny. It’s a position that I disagree with, as the evidence on Dr. Covington was pretty overwhelming, and the charge against Dr. Looney was one that had been proven false, but in hindsight, perhaps we should have paid it more heed. However, the reviews of Dr. Looney were so glowing, the feedback so positive, and the desire for optimism so strong, that people started to buy the hype.

That’s when the bag got stomped on. Looney elected to stay in Williamson County despite having signed a letter of intent to come to MNPS, and with that, debris started to fly. The fallout was instantaneous. In declining the MNPS job and selecting the Williamson County job, Looney cited reasons that ran directly counter to things he said to me just two days earlier over lunch. It’s extremely disheartening because this world is so devoid of people with true integrity, and I left that lunch feeling like I’d met one. Today, however, I am unsure. I look forward to hearing a more detailed explanation from Dr. Looney about his decision.

It’s important to understand that Dr. Looney was not pursued by MNPS. In fact, several school board members tried to dissuade him from applying. Once he became a finalist many thought this was all a ploy to get more money from Williamson County and neutralize his political enemies, a charge a vehemently denied . Watching him navigate the interview process, though, was a textbook case on how to win over votes. It was clear that he had done his homework, and he managed to turn that into talking points that appealed to each board member. It was impressive and it was successful.

It’s hard to reconcile that kind of calculation with a sudden change of heart due to an outpouring of emotion from Williamson County. After all, the ones begging him to stay were the ones who had always begged him to stay. Nobody really changed their mind because of this charade. His supporters just got a louder voice. It’ll be interesting to see in the coming year if those detractors don’t regain their volume.

In declining the job, Dr. Looney talked about it being a family decision and the need to do right by his family. This argument is indicative of a larger problem in public education. It’s a position that says my family and my child trump all else. If my child’s individual needs are being met, then all is good. Dr. Looney sold Nashville on the belief that he had a set of skills that could, in his words, move the needle for all our students. He talked of the potential of creating a public education system that could be a national model. One that showed how all types of schools – traditional, charter, and magnet – could interact together. In the end, though, it’s his family and his children’s needs that he chose to address, leaving the others to look for hope elsewhere.

Can he be faulted for that? That’s not my judgment to make. All I can do is compare it to my personal situation. Both of my children are in a high poverty school. The instruction is excellent, but the inequalities children in these schools face have been mind numbing. Often I consider pulling them out and putting them in a school that provides every opportunity. We have the means to do so. The problem is, that won’t end the inequality. True, my children would be in a better situation, but those other children would still be under served. My children would also suffer from the lack of exposure to children who are different from them. And that’s why I stay and advocate. Because my children won’t live in a world by themselves, and it’s important that they learn early on that all people are important, not just us.

The burning bag is going to spray everywhere for a while. It’s already hit the school board. The Tennessean didn’t even wait a day to jump in with an editorial blaming the school board for the rejection. Choosing instead to try and push the paper’s agenda instead of taking a moment to acknowledge the hard work of the board, whose members sacrificed personal time away from their families to make the process as transparent as possible to the general public. The newspaper chose to once again take a shot at the board’s initial vote to instill chief academic officer Jay Steele over current interim director Chris Henson, claiming that Gentry’s actions were justified. But I think there may be some rethinking of that position once test scores are released this week. Nowhere did the paper acknowledge that despite all the turmoil, the board had come together and made the right choice.

Instead they chose to chide the board by saying they need to “grow up” and leave behind their petty arguments. It’s insulting to label legitimate discourse as “petty.” I don’t understand why people fail to grasp the concept that democracy consists of people with disparate views coming together and finding a common solution. Nowhere is it written that we can’t disagree in getting to the solution. I helped to elect my school board representative to defend the right of public education for our communities children, not to make new friends.

We claim to want to teach children critical thinking skills, but chastise the board when they model those very skills. As observed by Dr. Looney, the topics of our board are focused around children and the delivery system of their education. He advised that Williamson County’s board could learn from this. The Tennessean editorial chose to ignore this observation and went further by making the declaration that our board wasn’t ready for a director like Dr. Looney, but he was a good fit for Williamson County.

The African-American community is pushing for an offer to be made to the runner-up candidate, Dr. Angela Huff. That would be a mistake. There was a reason she was not the first choice, and we need to remember history and not rush off to instantly hire someone. The last time we did that, we paid dearly for it and almost ended up with a state takeover of Nashville’s public schools. Their voices need to be heard and their concerns recognized, but the process needs to be restarted entirely. A new search firm needs to be hired. Dr. Huff should be encouraged to resubmit her application. If she truly is the best candidate, she will rise to the top again.

Dr. Looney’s decision to stay in Williamson County also robs the Nashville community of the ability to buy-in to a new director 100 percent. He very calculatingly created an air of excitement in MNPS. People who had given up on public education were suddenly ready to give MNPS a second look. But that won’t happen again. We’ll get a great director, but he or she is going to be greeted with a little skepticism, because after all, we got dressed up once already and watched the carriage drive away without us. We won’t be so trusting a second time.

During the courtship of Dr. Looney, a comment was made to me that the problem with Williamson County was their sense of entitlement to the things they wanted. This episode reinforced that. If Dr. Looney had left, Williamson County Schools would have been just fine. They have the demographics and the resources to always provide a world-class education system. A large urban district doesn’t have that luxury. Once again, this is an example of the rich getting richer. As a child of poverty, how does Dr. Looney rectify that with his life experiences? With MNPS Dr. Looney would have had a chance to really make a name for himself, change the trajectory of children’s lives, and demonstrate true transformational leadership on the national stage. I doubt he will ever have that opportunity again.

Time will tell where else the splatter goes. Ultimately, though, it’s the children of MNPS who will suffer. This will be a year spent in a holding pattern. Which is a shame because children don’t get another senior year in high school or another 4th grade year. They get one shot at that experience, and we as adults, by failing to keep that in mind, have made this coming year more difficult from the start. Fortunately, we are blessed to have some of the best teachers and administrators in the country to lean on. I have complete faith that they will guide our children through all the turmoil to a place of not just maintaining, but excelling. We need to make sure that we don’t take them for granted either. We need to do everything we can to support them.

I left my lunch with Dr. Looney last week extremely impressed. I thought to myself, here is a man so comfortable with himself that he is open to discuss anything. No subject is off limits because he knows his brand and he lives his brand. Well, this week that brand took a hit. It’ll be interesting to see this year how things play out and if Dr. Looney truly neutralized his detractors or if they are going use this drama as fuel to come back harder then ever.

The strange thing is, that even after all of this heartbreak, I still want to believe. I still want to have faith in the things he said. As cynical as I can be, I truly want to believe that all of this is about children and communities. We need people of integrity. We don’t need more heroes with clay feet. Time will tell whether this was a brilliant ploy or a dumpster fire. Hopefully Dr. Looney will do the children of Williamson County a better service than he’s done the children of Davidson County. Right now though we’ve got some heroes in Nashville that need our help. So lets rolls up our sleeves and bring on the new school year. We have some work to do.

Politics over Children

3

 

If this were an episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” it would open with a shot of the kids on the couch and the voice of the father saying, “Today I’m going to tell you the story of how I lost complete faith in your school board.” That, unfortunately, is where I am at right now. I’ve been engaged in these so-called education reform battles for a number of years now, and every time I think I’ve seen it as bad as it can get, I get proven wrong.
Currently, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) is involved in a search for a new Director of Schools. June 30th was the last day of employment for outgoing director Dr. Jesse Register. The original timeline called for a new director to be in place by 7/1/15. However, since leadership failed to lay out a proper timeline, that deadline had to be postponed. This postponement necessitated the appointment of an interim director. Luckily, the district is blessed with two talented individuals who are fully capable of filling the position, Chris Henson and Dr. Jay Steele.
Chris Henson is the district’s well-respected Chief Financial Officer and has previously filled the position of interim director. Dr. Steele is the Chief Academic Officer, who, in this role, has helped create the career academies in our high schools, which led to recognition from no less than President Obama. School Board Chair Sharon Gentry voiced support for Henson, but when nominations were made on June 23rd, board member Jill Speering also nominated Dr. Steele. Dr. Gentry did not allow discussion, so a vote followed the nomination, and Steele was approved by a vote of 5-4. The howling immediately followed.
The next day an MNPS teacher, who, as evidenced by his tweets, watched the meeting on public access TV with sound problems, filed an ethics complaint stating there had been a violation of the state’s Sunshine Law. Nashville Scene journalist Andrea Zelinski, who regularly cover’s the education beat, also raised the specter of impropriety. The evidence seemed flimsy at best, but to a school board chair who was openly seething over being countered, it was enough. Despite the comptroller’s office not having a chance to review and respond to the ethics complaint, nor any formal vetting, Dr. Gentry called an emergency special meeting for June 30th.
At the emergency meeting this past Tuesday, things got really interesting really fast. First, Gentry is quoted as saying, “There has been an open meeting violation claim filed with relation to that so we gotta address it.” I challenge you to review the embedded video from the special meeting and share with me where she addresses the so-called ethics complaint. She doesn’t. Because the meeting is all about reversing the decision to hire Dr. Steele and replacing him with her desired candidate. If these ethics complaints were so serious that they warranted a special meeting, shouldn’t they have been the primary focus of the meeting? And after a violation was confirmed, there would have been a discussion on how to make things right?
The other omission from the meeting is that board member Dr. Jo Ann Brannon never really addresses the alleged ethics violation. There’s a vague rambling statement she makes about “taking the gamesmanship out” of the vote and a weird tale about how this relates to a previous board she was on, but never any explanation or denial of the ethics violation. So are we to assume that the allegations are true, or did someone convince her just to go ahead and change her opinion? We’ll never know because as of late, Dr. Brannon hasn’t been really accountable to her constituents. Last month, she declined to show up for a meeting on a potential zoning change for the Overton cluster of schools, which she represents, and had also bowed out of previous Overton cluster meetings.
The point is, none of this was about an ethics violation or about selecting an interim director of schools. It was all about executing a personal agenda one that includes hiring a director of schools that will facilitate the expansion of charter schools. Dr. Gentry runs the school board like it’s a vehicle for her personal whims. Proposals that align with those whims pass on, those that don’t get regulated to the back shelf. Recently when two independent studies showed that expansion of charter schools would have a negative financial impact on the district she conspired behind the scenes to produce a study that would appear to counter those findings. To secure this study she divided the cost up into two contracts that fell below the required threshold needed to secure board approval.
I first ran up against Dr. Gentry when I worked with an organization to bring Diane Ravitch to town last year. We’d secured a historic Baptist church in Nashville that had been very active in the Civil Rights movement. The church has an entire wall of pictures featuring Rep. John Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., depicting their role in the fight for civil rights. It would have been a perfect opportunity to educate people on both civil rights history and current education issues.
Problem was, this was Dr. Gentry’s church and she wasn’t having it. She used her personal relationships to get the pastor to cancel use of the venue a week ahead of the event. I still remember my discussion with the pastor, where he told me that he’d been falsely informed that “Dr. Ravitch doesn’t believe all kids can learn.”
As the special meeting began, Dr. Gentry acknowledged that she’d erred by not opening up the floor for discussion at the meeting when Dr. Steele was voted in as interim director, and therefore, she helped create this fiasco. However, that doesn’t go far enough. You see, Dr. Gentry doesn’t just run board meetings based on her personal agenda, she runs them in an inept manner as well. Often absent, seldom adhering to parliamentary procedure, and rarely prepared, Dr. Gentry frequently appears to not know what she is doing. This has led to the whole search process for a new director becoming one series of blunders after another, all leading to the mess we are in now. That falls at the feet of leadership. As I discussed recent events with a local charter administrator before the special meeting, there was little we agreed upon other than the fact that board leadership was not good.
This special meeting also illuminated another elephant in the room: the integrity of the search firm, Hazard, Young and Attea, hired to secure high quality applicants for the director position. In May, they claimed that they didn’t have enough “heavy hitters” applying. Despite this, they claimed that Dr. Steele is not qualified to make the final cut. Then, when he’s made interim director, they cry foul that the board is hamstringing the process, despite their admission that they’ve never experienced an internal applicant as a candidate. Some questions started to arise in my mind about whether the search firm is attempting to shape the process to their benefit and whether they are even capable of conducting this search successfully.
At the special meeting, Dr. Gentry read a letter from Bill Attea, one of the search firm’s partners, where he attempted to lay out the challenges of this search. In doing so, he gave the impression that these were unique challenges to MNPS. But I would beg to differ.
First off, he pointed to lack of confidentiality. Once applicants turned in their paperwork, their names would become public record. Sunshine Laws are state laws and not just Nashville laws. A firm conducting a search for Memphis, Chattanooga, Cleveland, or any other district in the state would encounter the same challenge.
Secondly, he pointed to the dissension of the school board as a challenge. Really? Nashville is the only city where charter school discussions are taking place at a volatile level in school board meetings? They are not happening in Chicago? What about Celina? Hoboken, NJ? How about the Douglas County School Board, which has been one hot mess after another. The point is, school board politics are messy and whoever is hired as director better have some experience navigating those waters. To act as if this is a unique challenge is disingenuous at best.
What I’m also curious about is that it was earlier reported that once a finalist list was selected, only then would names be turned over to the board. Yet according to board member Mary Pierce’s newsletter sent out today, she states that on May 31, “Bill Attea, partner of our executive search firm, Hazard, Young and Attea, makes phone calls to individual board members to let them know that internal candidate and Chief Academic Officer, Jay Steele, would not be included on the recommended slate of candidates to be presented to our board.” Why? Why is Jay’s privacy not as valuable as other candidates’ privacy? Were other names of non-finalists revealed? Dr. Steele certainly does not need me to defend him; his record speaks for itself. But I have to question whether or not he was ever given a fair opportunity, and if not, by whose direction?
Pierce goes further in her newsletter, stating that at the special meeting, “Just before sitting down at the board table, I was made aware of rumors that a surprise motion would be made to nominate Dr. Jay Steele for interim and that he had told some staff members that he had the votes. With no discussion, this rumor proved true, but accounts of the surprise vote don’t align, and many questioned whether or not this appointment had been pre-arranged.” If Ms. Pierce had heard a “rumor” and it suddenly appeared true, then why was there no mention of it before this? Why did she not let Dr. Gentry know at the time of the nominations that discussion was required and utilize that time period to alert people of what she’d heard? Why did Ms. Pierce not raise this rumor for discussion at the special meeting about an ethics violation connected to this rumor? Because this was never about ethics in the first place.
Nothing made that clearer than the exclusion of board member Anna Shepherd from last night’s vote. Ms. Shepherd had a pre-scheduled surgery on Tuesday and couldn’t be in attendance at the meeting. She notified Dr. Gentry and begged that the meeting be moved. Dr. Gentry failed to respond because according to her metro legal had instructed board members to stay off personal email. During the special meeting, several board members appealed to the board that the meeting be moved to the following Tuesday so that Ms. Shepherd could be in attendance. Dr. Gentry refused, and the majority of the board agreed with her. Ms. Shepherd, who has been the one board member repeatedly demanding focus on the search for a new director, may not have changed the outcome, but Dr. Gentry was so focused on following her agenda that she refused to accommodate a fellow board member who had a legitimate reason for missing the meeting.
The special meeting went as scripted. Dr. Brannon called for a re-vote, and then flip-flopped her original vote with no explanation. This time, however, there was discussion before the vote. In fact, there was plenty of discussion about why Dr. Steele was a fine candidate for interim director. But there was zero discussion about why he wasn’t a good candidate. To the public, there was no discernible reason why Dr. Steele should be removed as interim. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened. Dr. Steele’s appointment was rescinded, and Mr. Henson was put in place. Dr. Gentry delivered another lecture calling on all board members to now focus on the search committee’s soon-to-be-released recommendations for a new director. But is that even possible with all the hidden agendas floating around? What’s to say the finalist’s names won’t have to be rescinded and then resubmitted? Every other action has had to be done at least twice.
The bottom line is, this has become a mess. Due to a lack of leadership, I, along with many others, have no confidence that when the list of candidates is released, we will be truly presented with the best candidates who applied for the job. Due to a mixture of incompetence and personal agendas, the integrity of this search has been compromised. I have no doubt whatsoever that Chris Henson is capable of leading this district for another year, and hopefully he is prepared for the task, because that’s what’s going to be required.
Dr. Gentry is fond on sermonizing to the board the importance of putting children first and leaving adult politics on the sideline. If these sermons at the end of board meetings truly have meaning, then the current board leadership will recuse themselves from their positions and allow for competent leaders to take the reins. Who that would be I have no idea, but any other board member would be an improvement. It’s way past time to up the professionalism level and put this school board in competent hands. If leadership can’t do it for the community, then please do it for the kids.

Both Andy Spears and Steven Hale do a good job of adding to the coverage of this train wreck.

Well, That’s Clear As Mud

5

Clear-as-MudLast week, I wrote about what has become an annual event in Tennessee: the botching of the release of TCAP results. Last year, they came out late, which prevented many schools from being able to include them, as is required by state law, in students’ report cards. This year, they released the quick scores on time but failed to mention that the method of calculation had changed. Last year, we learned the term post equating. This year, we are learning about cube root formulas. Unfortunately, both are adding up to more questions than answers.

I want to clarify something right from the beginning here. I am not a statistician nor do I play one on TV. I am just a parent, who, while my children are currently not subject to these tests, is looking for an equitable and accurate way to gauge our students’, teachers’, and schools’ performance. Personally, I believe that it shouldn’t be a system that fails to report timely results on a regular basis, nor one that needs outside counsel to interpret how scores are determined, but that’s just me. Apparently, though, this is a view quite a few parents and teachers share as well because Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen felt enough pressure that she issued some communication on the confusion caused by the release of “quick scores.”

In a posting on Classroom Chronicles, a TNDOE blog, disseminated through social media, McQueen mainly spends time thanking teachers for all their hard work and efforts. She also addresses the change in the method of calculating quick scores. She chalks it up to it being a decision made by the previous regime and then not communicated effectively after the decision was made. Fair enough. But… there is this line: “I became aware of the issue after quick scores were released and have been working to communicate about the issue since that time.”

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that there would have been some inter-department communication in regards to the scores before they were released? Would there not have been some kind of evaluation and a general discussion about the level of scores and how they reflected on ongoing processes? Would this not have lead to someone making sure Ms. McQueen completely understood the methodology of the scores and what their results meant? I guess my real question is this: Wouldn’t somebody have raised the same questions that teachers across the state are asking? And I’m not talking one or two teachers – I’m talking the vast majority. Apparently not and that’s a little disconcerting.

In her post, Ms. McQueen links to another TNDOE blog, Educator Update. Here’s where things get real interesting. Under “Quick Score Clarification” is this passage:

Quick Scores Not Tied to Proficiency

It’s important to note that while quick scores are the first indicator parents and students receive about TCAP results, quick scores are not tied to TCAP performance levels (i.e., a quick score of 85 is not equivalent to the cut score for proficient). Quick scores are not the percent correct or a percentile rank. Quick scores are only used for one purpose; they are created to be factored into a student’s grade, as required by law. Quick scores are designed on a 100-point scale to match district-grading systems. Please see the TCAP Scoring Flow chart, and you’ll notice that quick scores inform no other part of the scoring process. Quick scores are not intended to be a parent or teacher’s primary window into student performance.

So walk me through this. Quick Scores are not intended to be a true representation of a student’s performance. However, they are factored into a student’s report card, which I assume is supposed to be an accurate representation. That absolutely baffles me. In my non-education related life, if you add something inaccurate into a report, then it tends to make the whole report inaccurate, but it seems that doesn’t hold true here. Then there is this passage:

Based on feedback from superintendents, principals, and teachers, the department has provided additional information for districts regarding quick score methodology options. Because there is no standard grading scale for grades 3-8, districts can utilize the information we provide to make decisions about which methodology option is best for them. Most districts are using the current methodology, including the cube root calculation method for grades 3-8, due to timing of these options and grade releases. Some districts are using the same quick score methodology as we did for grades 3-8 last year. All districts have received the raw student scores. Data for all calculations have been made available to each district for their use.

So if I’m reading this right, all districts are not even using the same methodology in applying these scores to kids’ grades. How is that not completely distorting the picture? But we are not done yet.

Regardless of the method used to calculate quick scores, the bar for student proficiency has not changed. However, we are providing more information than in previous years to ensure local leadership and educators have the information they need to best understand and use their scores. It’s important to remember that quick scores have no impact on district, school, or teacher accountability and changing the methodology to calculate quick scores will in no way impact the number of your students that are proficient on TCAP. Quick scores are developed for the sole purpose of inserting a grade on a report card, as required by state law.

Again, my interpretation of this passage is this: Hey, those scores don’t mean a thing. They are just giving you a number to plug into the grades so they can comply with the law. Later in the summer, when that pesky law requirement thing is out of the way, we’ll let you know what it all really means. Until then, stay calm and input those grades. Is that not a problem? The piece closes thusly:

In summary, we apologize for the communication failure on the quick score methodology shift that occurred in the fall. We will be creating protocols and processes that avoid this in the future. We want to continue to celebrate our progress as a state and our educators’ role in this success. You have made progress every year on the state tests since 2010. You are raising expectations and getting results. We look forward to working with you as we serve our students.

In other words, the state is saying these meaningless scores show what a great job you are doing. Well, at least until the summer, when they give you a true evaluation. Maybe I’m the only one who finds this whole process alarming, but based on the teacher responses I’ve heard, I don’t think so.

I haven’t even touched on questions of why the methodology for K-8 was changed. Since we aren’t going to a new test until next year, why did the TNDOE make the decision to make the change? Is it going to change again next year? Nobody feels the necessity to explain why the change was made, just that it was made and then poorly communicated.

With so much riding on these test scores – student grades, teacher evaluations, the way we determine whether or not a school is “failing” and might need to be closed – we desperately need to examine why so much emphasis is placed on what is clearly a confusing and meaningless system. Imagine if you are a student who has heeded the mandate to “rock ” the test only to find out that your score doesn’t mean what you thought it did. What a shame for our students and teachers. Our obsession with test scores has got to stop.

That’s the one thing that this whole fiasco reiterates, we need a new process with new timelines and new guidelines. If we are just generating numbers to meet a mandate, and the numbers aren’t accurate or easily interpreted, perhaps the law needs to be changed. In one Facebook posting I read, an explanation of cube rooting was given, but it took several paragraphs and plenty of reflection to get even a minimal amount of understanding. Does the process really have to be this complex?

Regardless, we need a system that all stakeholders can easily understand. One that we don’t have to depend on people with doctorates in math and statistics to explain. One that the explanation of why we apply it can be easily communicated to everyone. One that doesn’t leave parents so baffled that they afraid to question it. I have a saying that if the apology takes as long as the offense, then you’ve committed a second offense. It’s safe to say that rule easily applies here.

In response to this years debacle, a dozen parent and educator groups across the state have banded together to demand action by creating a petition calling upon the state to address our testing issues. Improving the process is essential and I urge everyone to sign the petition. Candice McQueen just finished a listening tour of the state’s school districts and has shown a willingness to listen. It’s important that she receive a little extra feedback. Transparency and trust in the system is imperative, and right now, we have neither.

A Pleasant Surprise from a Politician

4

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.

Here We Go Again

10

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.

Watch Yer Back

13

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

12

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

6

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?

2

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.