Teachers’ Union is the Real MVP at School Board Meeting

The Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education is making big statements on behalf of the local teachers’ union these days. At Tuesday night’s business meeting, the group of nine voted unanimously on several key items, chief among them are establishment of collaborative conferencing and resolution to oppose use of TCAP in 2016-17 teacher evaluations.

Collaborative Conferencing

For decades, MNPS staff and teacher union reps battled it out in what was known as  “negotiations,” but in 2011 the GOP-controlled Tennessee legislature flipped the script by eliminating The Education Professional Negotiations Act and replaced it with The Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act.

Collaborative conferencing severely minimizes the union’s menu of items from which to negotiate, putting a cap on their long-held power. I’m guessing the items removed that stings the most are differentiated pay and staffing decisions. But something is better than nothing– which is what Nashville teachers had their disposal prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

Teacher Evaluations Sans Student Achievement

Tennessee messed up “bigly” (we’re a red state, so…). Our schools experienced a huge dust-up last winter with the rollout of the new testing system. Dust-up is generous, it was an outright failure. Ironically, Tennessee Department of Education officials traversed the state for months campaigning for the new test tragically named TNReady. It wasn’t ready.

Ultimately, blame was placed on vendor Measurement, Inc., but TNDOE commish Candace McQueen accepted responsibility, sent them packing, and awarded accountability waivers to TN districts for 2015-16.

Fast forward to the current school year with new vendor Questar hired July 2016 and testing in progress as I write this post. Hence, the Nashville board’s resolution.

The board voted on a resolution to oppose the use of 2016-17 TCAP data as part of teacher evaluations. As mentioned above, the TN commish granted waivers for 2015-16. There are a couple of things sitting quite uncomfortably with me.

First, someone has to be accountable for student outcomes. The resolution’s language is exceedingly pro-adult with no source tapped to take responsibility. We cannot relax accountability, not now, not ever.

Second, requesting a waiver for a second year doesn’t say sense of urgency. As I have said before, children do not have the luxury of time, but as mentioned above the resolution is in no way about them.

So, after winning a hard-fought school board election, the fruit of the local union’s labor is ready for harvest.





Counseling Session: Betsy with the Good Heir (Trying to Make Lemonade)

I cannot tell a lie. The news of President-elect Trump’s nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos as the next secretary of education gives me pause. Grave pause. I mean, come on, her story begins filthy rich and then she marries stinking rich — with not a hint of public schooling in sight. Trust issue duly justified.

It’s not that Billionaire Betsy went to parochial school, married Amway heir Dick DeVos, Jr., sent their children to private schools, has no practical experience in education or public service, or even the fact that she’s a high-powered bundler for the GOP. Maybe these things should produce anxiety, but, for me, not so much.

The critics lashed out true to form. Teachers union leader Randi Weingarten and the right reverend of “public education”Diane Ravitch, hissed worn out platitudes ‘public ed hater’ and ‘privatizer.’ So predictable, but, maybe not completely unfounded. Billionaire Betsy has for years promoted vouchers, charter schools, and tax-free tuition for private schools in Michigan.

At the other end of the spectrum is my own senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) offering high praise, calling her an “excellent choice.” However, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP–interesting) committee, is eager to distribute power to the states which is a subject that requires a separate counseling session. But, I digress.

I should be ecstatic that Billionaire Betsy believes in school choice and knows the right things to say:

Still, I struggle.

If I’m totally honest with myself, I’d have to admit my belief that her billionaire status precludes her from serving families dependent upon the public school system. That her silver spoon status somehow steels her compassion or worse, prohibits it. Further, I have no guilt about discriminating against billionaire Betsy because, well, she has enough cash to insulate her from pettiness.

Yes, I’m no different from the employer trashing a resume after making a rash judgement based on an applicant’s name or the loan officer making plans to reject a family only seconds after they walk through the door. I’ve given billionaire  Ms. DeVos no benefit of the doubt and I know better.

I also know that our children, America’s children, cannot afford even one of us to give up on them. We must be relentless and aim to work together. So, I will use and honor the words of brilliant comedic talent Dave Chappelle:

“I’m going to give him (her) a chance, and we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he (she) give us one, too.” (parentheses added)


Breaking from Tradition with Reverse Thanksgiving List 

On this day, tradition suggests we acknowledge and list our blessings which is not a bad idea after the series of unfortunate events that make up 2016. And while I’m grateful for my bounty–my family and friends, America’s pain is too present to sidestep. 
So, I’ve decided to break from tradition and list really selfish wants, sort of a reverse Thanksgiving list. 

I want every child to have a world-class education available to them. Free and exceedingly appropriate!

I want President-elect Trump to have a heart. 

I want Prince back. David Bowie, too.

I want the hatred breeding in our communities to stop now. 

I want the families of the deceased and critically injured children in Chattanooga to experience a peace that surpasses earthly understanding.

I want all those grieving the loss of a loved one during the holiday season to find great comfort from memories of the deceased.

I want love to rule this nation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Children Killed in #ChattanoogaBusCrash Identified 

Rest In Peace…

D’Myunn Brown, 6

Zyanna Harris, 10

Cordayja Jones, 9

Z’yara Mateen , 6

Zoie Nash, 9

Keontae Wilson, 8 (passed away November 23)
For more information about the babies, click here

To help families impacted by the crash, donate here.

Emotional video message from CEO of bus company Durham School Services 

picture from FOX17 

Dear Nashville School Board: A Moratorium on Charters is Unnecessary and Harmful to Families

The election. The cast of characters tapped to lead our nation. The soul-crushing tragedy in Chattanooga.  

There is no shortage of bad things to distract us from the business at hand, but I’d like to take this opportunity to guide us back to our reality within Nashville’s education landscape. 

Our school board will be considering a resolution to place a moratorium on Nashville charter schools following in the misguided footsteps of the NAACP. 

Prior to the NAACP’s October 15 vote on the moratorium, I penned a letter to my local NAACP branch explaining why the moratorium is unnecessary in Nashville. 

The contents of the letter is still applicable, but I’m re-routing from the NAACP to the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education.

“Dear NAACP-Nashville:
The Nashville chapter of the NAACP has always positioned itself on the right side of history through its efforts to uphold its mission to advance African Americans. Today, the local chapter is confronted with another opportunity to honor its legacy. Nashville’s public school children and parents need you on their side; which, arguably, is always the right side.

Charter School Moratorium

The National NAACP will be voting later this fall on a referendum to call a moratorium on the creation of charter schools across the country. The strongly-worded resolution roots its rationale in, among other things, charters’ targeting of poor and communities of color, differential enrollment practices, and increasing segregation.

After listing a litany of issues, the document promises to uphold the NAACP’s 2014 resolution opposing the privatizing of public schools. The subsequent superfluous statements threaten to oppose federal legislation that seek to divert public funds for private entities and support funding that “would strengthen local governance and transparency of charter schools.” While the grievances have merit, under no circumstances do they represent what is happening in Nashville.

We’re Good, Thanks

Since the very beginning, Metro Schools has assembled groups of smart, capable professionals to assess charter applications. Then, in response to the pressing need for increased oversight and administrative demands, Metro Schools created an office of Charter Schools. The office leadership would go on to receive national recognition for its effectiveness.
For these reasons and others, Metro Schools is not a district with a charter problem. In fact, for more than a decade charters have provided a great assist to the district. Numbers provide a more inspiring narrative:

Authorization and accountability: From 2003 to 2016, MNPS has opened approximately 33 charter schools (an average of 2.2 school starts per year) and closed four.
Academic Success: According to the district’s academic performance framework, in 2015, 8 of the 15 highest performing K-8 schools were charters (denoted by the highest designation “excelling”)

Further, using the same tool, all but one charter school entered the 2016 school year in good standing.

Charter schools students make-up: 66% black, 22% Hispanic, 11% white, 86% Economically Disadvantaged; 11% ELL, 13% Students with Disabilities

This is Nashville’s story, and, for thousands of charter school families, it’s a good one.

Go to the Voices

Nashville parents are blessed with a bounty of solid choices and Metro Schools does a great job marketing its menu of school options. Additionally, charter schools’ face-to-face marketing of beliefs and successes, though unpopular amongst traditional education types, is a proven winner with parents. To this end, parents are making choices and it is incumbent on the city’s leaders to extract the narrative from these decisions.
So my ask is quite simple: As you consider the resolution to support a moratorium on the proliferation of charters, please keep in mind that Nashville is vastly different from other cities and, more importantly, fold into your decision voices of choice.

I implore you to please go to parents, take in their stories, and make the decision accordingly. Their side is the right side.

Thank you for your service to the Nashville community. Much respect.”
Thank you.