After a Brutal 2016, Miranda Christy is On a Peace Waging Mission

Miranda Christy, a Nashville attorney, has previously appeared on Volume and Light sharing nuggets of wisdom after surviving a uniquely challenging school board election. 

I asked my friend if she would again be so kind to contribute by offering a message of hope for the new year after a brutal 2016 and  a 2017 that has already waged war on the moral collective.

Suffering. The word and feeling weighed heavy on my spirit as I got ready for church on Sunday morning.
The day before I’d volunteered for a monthly clinic where I met with veterans, non-citizens, and other decent folk to discuss their legal problems. Despite the difficulty that brought them there, we were able to laugh and share stories about our lives, work, and families.
As I reflected on my time with those folks and prepared for church Sunday morning, I got word that a young man I came to know through my campaign had been shot and was in critical condition. My heart sank. Because he is a formidable young man with his whole life ahead of him. Because his mother is an extraordinary person. Because the young man I mentor had been shot the week before, though he’d been much luckier.
I went to church with a smile on my face. But between feeling the human suffering of those I’d met the day before, knowing yet another family in our community had been affected by senseless violence, and watching political events rapidly unfold before I can get my mind around them, I was on edge.
I sat there, mindful of these feelings, and realizing that 2017 will be another year spent in the trenches.
I have always committed to and fought for causes that are important to me, but in 2016, the fighting was more public than private, prompting many friends to ask how I was able to handle it.
Over the years, I have learned to take care of my insides before anything else – because without some self-awareness and inner balance, I can’t do anything well, much less “wage peace” for an extended period of time.


I wanted to share this passage from one of my go-to books because judging from my social media feeds, I have not been alone in feeling “on edge.”
It is my hope, as we confront events in the days and weeks ahead that promise to affect each of us differently, that we will look inward, then get about the business of easing suffering and waging peace.
✊🏽

Director of Schools Lays Down the Law and Welcome Mat for Nashville’s Children

Originally appeared on MNPS’ website Monday, January 30

We have a diverse and wonderful group of students, families and employees at Metro Nashville Public Schools. We welcome anyone from any nation, culture, religion and ethnic background.
President Trump’s executive orders on immigrants and refugees have had a real effect on the MNPS community. The President’s actions have understandably caused a tremendous amount of concern for our foreign-born families and staff, as well as the broader community who care about our fellow human beings. Our families and staff need accurate information and we want to be a resource for you. Please let us know what questions you have and how we can support you.

Also, please be reassured to know that Metro Schools will remain a place where all students – regardless of where they came from or how they got here – can be educated, find a safe place and dream for the future. Our schools do not and will not monitor the immigration or citizenship status of our students. As a public school district, it is our responsibility to ensure that our schools are safe spaces where all children are supported not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well.

Along those lines, I want to remind our students and staff that while free speech and free expression are protected in our country and in our schools, hate speech and hateful acts are not. Our Board of Education passed a resolution in October 2016 condemning violence and hate speech specifically against Muslims and Muslim students. As stated in the resolution, hateful rhetoric is especially harmful to children, as it has a negative impact on their psychological well-being and their ability to thrive in school. With that in mind, we will do everything in our power to protect students and staff in our schools from hateful words and actions, and anyone participating in such behaviors will be disciplined appropriately.

I share Mayor Barry’s sentiments about the city of Nashville being a welcoming city that embraces immigrants and refugees. The United States is supposed to be a country of opportunity. Immigrants bring a richness to our country that we should maximize – and that starts by giving them a high quality education.

In the interest of children,

Shawn Joseph, Ed.D.

Director of Schools

Screw You, Imma Do Me Thanks for Writing. Sincerely, Lamar

Y’all remember when I made an appeal to the distinguished gentleman from the great state of Tennessee, Sen. Alexander? Here’s the very canned response:

January 30, 2017

 

Ms. Alvesia Wilson-Hawkins

Hermitage, TN 37076-1370
Dear Alvesia,

Thanks very much for getting in touch with me and letting me know what’s on your mind regarding President Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos to become the next Secretary of Education.

Betsy DeVos is an excellent choice. The Senate’s education committee will move swiftly in January to consider her nomination. Betsy has worked for years to improve educational opportunities for all children. As Secretary, she will be able to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new law fixing No Child Left Behind, just as Congress wrote it, reversing the trend to a national school board and restoring to states, governors, school boards, teachers, and parents greater responsibility for improving education in their local communities. Under the new law, the federal government may not mandate or incentivize states to adopt any particular standards, including Common Core.

I also look forward to working with her on the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, giving us an opportunity to clear out the jungle of red tape that makes it more difficult for students to obtain financial aid and for administrators to manage America’s 6,000 colleges and universities.

Improving our schools has been one of my top priorities in public service, both as a U.S. Senator and during my earlier service as governor, president of the University of Tennessee, and U.S. Secretary of Education. Better schools mean better jobs, which is why I have worked to support states and school districts in improving education so that our students have the tools they need for success.

We are unleashing a new era of innovation and excellence in student achievement—one that recognizes that the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability is classroom by classroom, community by community, and state by state—and not through Washington, D.C. I appreciate your taking the time to let me know where you stand. I’ll be sure to keep your comments in mind as this issue is discussed and debated in Washington and in Tennessee.

Sincerely,

Lamar

So here’s how I see it, DeVos is happening whether we like it or not. Which means now more than ever we must stay vigilant in the educational environment we currently find ourselves. No Child Left Behind has been – ahem – left behind and is now the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is the product of a colossal bi-partisanship effort that can be boiled down to three words – increased state authority. Scary.

Think of it like this, if someone like Betsy DeVos becomes the queen of education and you’re in a state that champions her ideology (and as in TN’s case serves as the power to the throne) against the backdrop of increased state control, we have ourselves a very real game of royal cat and mouse.

While the cat’s off ensuring photo opportunities have the perfect balance of children of color and poverty, the mice will be busy distributing vouchers to their deep-pocketed peers and holding the door open for money-hungry for-profits. We cannot stand for it.

Sen. Alexander states in his letter:

“…real accountability is classroom by classroom, community by community, and state by state—and not through Washington, D.C.”.

The president’s nomination of DeVos coupled with the good senator’s fervent push for her confirmation is in stark contrast to the statement above. DeVos is far from being the poster child for accountability and without robust oversight, we lose.

Hey Black People, It’s Getting Real In These Streets –Are You Paying Attention?

This is specifically for black people. In the spirit of the great el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (formerly Malcolm X) when speaking at length on white people’s interest in participating in the civil rights movement: “the black man has got to help himself.”

America, the Bully

Have you heard the saying “when America gets a cold, black America gets pneumonia?” Or MLK’s “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?”

Well, as you read this, there is an all-out, unbelievably real attack on Muslims in the United States. Of course, this government-led domestic terrorism is nothing new to black people as we’ve been accessorized with targets on our backs for more than 400 years. 

Still, we cannot turn a blind eye to our immigrant and Muslim sisters and brothers. We simply cannot ignore injustices to other groups, first because it’s just wrong, but also, you gotta know we’re next. 

Stay Woke, My Pretties

For some of you, your comfy middle-class life could very easily lull you into thinking you are different, protected. Sorry, sweet pea, you are not! 

Sure, you are zoned to great schools with unlimited access to a robust variety of fresh and healthy food choices, and may even have the means to emigrate. Still, there are infinitely more black people who are tied to failing schools, live within vast food deserts, and barely have cash for a meal. Alas, I’m not speaking hypothetically.

Do I need to mention the daily attacks er, state-sponsored terrorism against black males? Trump has already called for federal intervention in Chicago to “deal with” the city’s murder rate. Who do you think will be crushed, no decimated, under arbitrary and heavy-handed federal intervention? 

So even while some of us have ‘made it’ others of us have not escaped the mental, economic, and political bondage first imposed on our shackled ancestors. Let’s be clear, when some of us suffer, so does the rest of us. 

Complicity Sleeps With The Oppressor 

God help us if we abandon our own. Love thy neighbor and fight like hell for your village. 

Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Black Families Have a Long History of Using School Choice as Resistance to Racist and Inadequate School Systems

Originally appeared on Education Post January 25, 2017. Sharif El-Mekki, Philadelphia charter school principal and USDOE principal fellow, gives us a valuable black history lesson. 
For Black families, school choice has always been intertwined with our self-determination, liberation and education. While forces always have tried to limit our options in America, we, in turn, have always resisted and pushed for the ability to create our own opportunities for quality education.
Despite some of the rhetoric about charter schools, school choice has long been a staple in Black communities. For us, this journey did not begin 25 years ago. And, just as the notion that Black Lives Matter isn’t new, Black families exercising school choice is rooted in our trek for liberation itself. Although we can go as far back as the 1860s to highlight the inadequacies of the schools established in Black communities, for now, let’s just fast forward 100 years.

People find it surprising that Malcolm X, in the 1960s, advocated for community schools—schools wholly apart from the traditional public schools in Harlem. Black Panther Party members also created schools to ensure that Black students were receiving the quality of education they deserved.

Activists, including teachers, launched over 40 Freedom Schools in Mississippi to respond to the wholly inadequate and racist school systems thrust onto our communities. The Freedom Schools’ mission was to create a choice, a real choice, that was:

The school is an agent of social change.

Students must know their own history.

The curriculum should be linked to the student’s experience.

Questions should be open-ended.

Developing academic skills is crucial.

Later, under the leadership of Marian Edelman Wright, the Children’s Defense Fund was established to relaunch the concept of Freedom Schools.
EDUCATION AS THE NORTH STAR

Financially strapped parents—like both sets of my grandparents—who saw education as the North Star to liberation scraped together meager earnings to send their children to private school, even while paying taxes for a persistently failing neighborhood school.

My mother exercised school choice for similar reasons that her mother did. Black families pursuing educational justice cannot be bound to neighborhood schools that have struggled to properly educate children for generations.
I attended a full-time Freedom School in Philadelphia, Nidhamu Sasa (Discipline/Freedom Now), established to ensure students were highly educated with a focus on nurturing a strong positive racial identity and a lasting commitment and accountability to community. Nidhamu Sasa was one of several local and national examples of entire communities exercising school choice.

I never attended a traditional public school in the United States until my 10th grade year. As a teenager, I grew to love several aspects of my traditional neighborhood public school, but it didn’t take me long to realize why my family did not view our neighborhood schools as transformative experiences. My siblings were homeschooled after my mother pulled them out of the neighborhood elementary school that would, over 20 years later, become a charter school.

We study history to learn from it, but it also warns and inform us. We know that if we allow people to restrict our school choice for generations, we do it at our children’s peril.

And, just like #BLackLivesMatter, so do Black children’s school choices.

We MUST Keep Eye on State Accountability In Trump Era

An original version of this post appeared on New York School Talk as Beyond Staples: How Parents Benefit from School Accountability.

By Laura Waters

If you’re a parent like me, at the start of each school year you eagerly learn all about the course content your child will study, the enrichment opportunities available, the field trips your child will take and the school supplies your child will need as you brace yourself for that evening’s trip to Staples.
If you’re a taxpayer like me, you know how much of your money goes to public education.

HOW MUCH DO YOU REALLY KNOW

In other words, you are well-informed about everything that goes into your child’s educational experience, which we can call “input.” But what about the output? How much do you really know, outside of parent-teacher conferences and the quarterly report card, about your child’s learning outcomes?

The answer is likely “not much,” and that’s true across America, both at the micro-level of your specific child and at the macro-level of schools, districts and historically under-served subgroups like English-language learners, students with disabilities, students of color, and students from economically-disadvantaged homes.
Yet, according to federal law—once called No Child Left Behind (NCLB), now called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—schools and states are responsible for both inputs and outputs in order to ensure adequate school quality and equity.
Another word for this sort of responsibility is “accountability,” a much-maligned word in the education arena, often clustered with other imprecations like “No Child Left Behind,” “Race to the Top,” “standardized tests,” and “value-added teacher evaluations.”
But accountability simply means that states are responsible not only for adequate inputs like sufficient funding, ambitious course content standard and high-quality instruction, but also for outputs like accurate measures of student learning and teacher effectiveness. They are also responsible for intervening in the lowest-performing schools through extra funding, new leadership and other turnaround strategies.
These strategies, of course, are mere inputs. If student achievement—the ultimate output—remains stagnant then those initiatives represent wasted resources and, more urgently, wasted time for that school’s students.

FEDERAL AND STATE ACCOUNTABILITY LEGISLATION HAS COME UNDER ATTACK

Over the last several years federal and state accountability legislation has come under attack from a duo of strange bedfellows: Tea Party/Trump-ish acolytes who wave the banner of local control and teacher union leaders who disdain objective measurements of student learning, at least when they’re tied to teacher evaluations and job security.

ESSA, America’s new federal education law, provides wiggle room to accommodate this political pressure, a kind of NCLB-lite, extracting federal teeth to gum onto the cachet of hands-off government.
Yet states still must, like under NCLB, administer annual standardized tests to students in grades three through eight, intervene in the lowest-performing schools, report progress for historically under-served subgroups, and submit accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education.
But states can also play limbo (how low can you go?) with tying student outcomes to teacher evaluations and with how they measure school quality.
Daria Hall of Education Trust warns:
“We have to be really cautious because we know that states have a long track record of not making tough decisions when it comes to the interest of low-income students, students of color, English-language learners. If states are going to walk away from those students, we are going to lose whatever progress we’ve made with those students, who now make up the majority of our public school population.”

Clear and sober data can help parents make informed school choices and learn more than what goes on that Staples shopping list. That’s a key goal of accountability systems. Now if only states could accept responsibility for the elements necessary to ensure that all students have access to the input of effective instructional services and the output of developmentally-appropriate proficiency.
PHOTO BY @VGARDNER32, TWENTY20-LICENSED.

Dear Senator Alexander—Don’t Get It Twisted…Sir

Originally posted on Facebook in response to Sen. Alexander’s Facebook post admonishing Democrats for opposing Betsy DeVos’ nomination to be the next Secretary of Education.

Dear Sir,

I (respectfully) resent the notion that only Democrats believe DeVos is unqualified. Some of us not married to partisan politics see clearly through the fluff you’ve paraded as qualifications.

You should also know that while I’m traditionally suspicious of superfluously rich people, I along with many others gave DeVos ample opportunity to make her case. She did not.

Hour after hour, waiting for the moment, the moment when the tables turn and DeVos responds with the passion and institutional knowledge that comes with working on behalf of children. Alas, that moment eluded us.

Again, with all due respect, please don’t belittle your constituency by making it a partisan issue. I know that’s how it is in your world, but down here, below the Ivory Tower, and more specifically, east of your West Nashville digs, it’s about the children. The children are born with neither liberal nor or conservative care labels, but we know they rely on us to get it right.

DeVos failed to provide the requisite foundational know-how necessary for a job interview of that magnitude. Frankly, she just flat out didn’t give us a reason to believe in her.