Nashville Mom Shares Story of Inconsistency of Reading Standards from State to Local

We are in the throes of the fight of our lives to move our children toward a chance at having even a slice of the American Dream.

In Nashville, TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT of all students in grades 3-8 are reading proficient. That’s eight points below the state average of less than THIRTY-FOUR PERCENT. 

A demographic look into Nashville’s number reveal a staggering EIGHTY-TWO POINT FIVE PERCENT OF black and brown students are NOT reading proficient. Not even proficient. 

For two weeks, I’ve been on a desperate search to find answers. From Reading the state’s guide on teaching literacy to soliciting answers on Facebook. 

Before we received the news about Nashville’s scores and still operating on the state’s average of less than 34 percent, I asked on Volume and Light’s Facebook page “am I the only one freaking out about this?” and this Nashville mom of four responded:

Maybe there is no reaction because the parents are not really aware. In my experience, I had a child that was making very good grades, “reading” above grade level, and showed no signs of deficiency. It was not until they were tested for entrance into another school that I found out they were two grades behind in their comprehension skills, which is an essential part of reading. Even when I spoke to my child’s current teacher, I was told they were on the path to surpass the grade level standard. So when you consider their grades, their abilities even in your presence and the reassurance of a teacher that the child is on track, you have no reason to believe that your child falls into the 66% of students who are not succeeding thus creating an extreme gap in accountability and problem solving. You shouldn’t blame a child for not learning something they are not being taught. You shouldn’t blame the parent for not recognizing a problem that is not being presented. I don’t even know if it is a teacher problem if they are just following the guidelines which they are being given. 34% is cause for alarm. Based on my experience, I believe the foundation needs to be re-evaluated. Any improvements made to the building will be for naught if the foundation is still weak.

His First Five Minutes As A Teacher Tells Metro Schools Everything It Needs To Know About Protecting Its Young

Well into the school year Metro Schools found itself searching high and low for teachers. Though the new school year scramble is not unusual for an urban district, for years MNPS has been charged with hiring too late, missing out on the highly sought after newbies. While missed opportunities is an easy fix (better planning), there are other systemic human resource deficiencies that must be identified, addressed, and remedied.

In his recent blog Does MNPS Have A Teacher Attrition Problem?, high school AP History teacher Josh Rogen does what he does best by taking the reader on a journey through data in an effort to arrive at the truth. In this case, it seems the data takes him to a conclusion in opposition to his “pre-research” suspicions. The first half of the blog takes the reader through the numbers of teachers of all experience levels leaving Metro Schools. On par with the nation, the largest group of teachers leaving their posts is first-year teachers. And according to Rogen, there is a good reason for it in Nashville.

That entire first year, my principal saw me teach maybe two times. The vice principal, maybe two times. My literacy coach never entered the room. I had no explicit mentor…

The remainder of Rogen’s post is a generous account of his first five minutes as a teacher and the lessons that remain with him today. What I appreciate about Rogen’s blog is the invaluable consultation he offers for free to MNPS when they are notorious for lavishing tax dollars on over-priced consultants who provide lean advice and questionable outcomes.  But I digress.  He provides an important lens into the heart of the teacher attrition issue that is rooted in a culture of poor or absent in-school supports for new teachers, particularly in schools with a high concentration of poverty and where the teacher’s race stands out from the student population.

 Let’s also be real that race and class played a huge role in my experience. I was an upper-class, privately schooled white kid who was teaching in a very different environment. The teaching movies lied to me! J Were I a teacher of color, I think my experience might have been different, which really underscores just another reason that principals should be trying to hire teachers of color. But most of my friends within the district experienced something quite similar, including teachers of color.

From my perspective, teaching is not one of those gigs where a “go get ’em, Tiger!” will do. Think about it — new teachers are generally very young, experiencing new cultures and working with adults as an adult for the first time, and then suddenly solely responsible for dozens of little minds for 6 hours a day. We owe them titanium supports.

Check out Rogen’s blog Teach Run Eat Repeat follow him on Twitter @RogenJH.

Commissioner McQueen Celebrates Innovation and Calls Out Culture Issues While On Capitol Hill

Note: I wrote this before the news that less than 6% of Tennessee’s 3rd-8th graders are meeting the state’s reading standards. Currently, I am in a RESIST state of mind, but the commissioner’s testimony on Capitol Hill is still worth sharing.


Maybe I need a life or maybe you should stop judging me, but I thoroughly enjoyed Commissioner Candice McQueen’s testimony to a group of senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Dr. McQueen was invited to speak about Tennessee’s exemplary Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan submitted in April and approved in August.

At the start of her testimony (at 29:28), Commissioner McQueen rightly and not so timidly points out that Tennessee’s strategic plan Tennessee Succeeds was ESSA plan before ESSA was even a thing. And with that, the Tennessee commish’s “just sayin’” moment set the tone for the remaining ninety-five minutes.  

After burning up a minute of high-fiving the Tennessee’s innovation and public engagement efforts, McQueen gradually arrives at the part of the plan that some find controversial. Some, meaning me and a few others who are minorities or work for civil rights. “Here we go”, I think as the hair on my arms stand at attention and the pride of watching my commish testify before the United States Senate takes a backseat. But not for very long.

I dunno, maybe it was the sheer number of seconds she spends explaining the bane of my existence – BHN – the combination of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students into one super subgroup. I’ve blogged and tweeted endlessly about my thoughts about the state’s statistical creation of combining these three very different groups of students. I’m neither a statistician nor education professional, so my conclusions are mostly anecdotal but solid as a rock. Because as I’ve stated too many times “You don’t need a degree in education to know these groups are different, with unique challenges requiring customized attention and remedy.” (Yes, I just quoted myself)

Still, I appreciate Dr. McQueen’s effort to allay concerns (or end the discussion once and for all) about this issue using as much time as a five-minute testimony on innovation will allow. The gradual transition from celebration to ‘oh, by the way, we did this subgroup thing and here’s why you should like it ” was so crafty I almost forgot my grandiose opposition to the super subgroup. She says the department is committed to equity for every student and illustrates her point using the demographics in a small school in rural Tennessee.

“An example is Camden Junior High in Benton County. There are 31 total students across three individual racial/ethnic groups, so it can be held accountable for all 31 students under the combined group. But it only has 19 Black/African-American students, 11 Hispanic students, and one Native American student – none of which are high enough counts to be included in our accountability system. Because of the combined racial/ethnic group, Camden Junior High is now held accountable for the performance of these students.”

Further, “…we will also publicly report the performance of every individual racial/ethnic student group, provided it meets an n-count of 10. This will equip educators, parents, community members, and advocates to hold each school accountable for how they serve every child. We believe all of these approaches will help to shine a spotlight on all students’ performance and drive a conversation about the needs of individual students, which is our goal, and we are doing more than ever to ensure that ALL students, particularly historically underserved students, are making progress.”

We will have to wait and see.

I’m convinced there is not much, if anything, one can throw at the former Lipscomb University dean and not be met with a swift, perfectly-delivered uncrafted response. The woman knows her stuff. I’m not here to be the good doctor’s cheerleader, because, you know, the kids… I will, however, shout her praises for acknowledging Tennessee’s decades-old problem of disproportionately suspending black males in response to a question about accountability (1:06).

She could have easily swept that tidbit of Tennessee’s unsavory history and culture under the rug, but she put it out there – for America to see. She put it out there in a room full of rich white men and women who are so far removed from public schools they speak of them as if they are little third-world countries. She put it out there against a backdrop of heightened racial tension. When we know better, we do better.

Senator Petty Warren

Finally, I’ve just got to put this in the universe. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the resident smart-aleck brazenly repping Massachusetts was given her time at the mic. She never fails to ask spite-dipped questions accompanied by body language that would not go over well in the hood. After she and the senator from Tennessee had a brief but heated back and forth, she asked those questions. She knew the answers making the targets look like a punchline. But what ticked me off was the not-so-gently lady’s reference to “Ms. McQueen” and one second later addresses the very-male “Dr.” Steiner.

Senator Warren, that’s Dr. McQueen, sis.
Hearing on ESSA innovations in Tennessee, Louisiana, and New Mexico.