Nashville Can’t Keep Whitewashing Its Problem Educating Black and Brown Students

Interested parties have known about it for weeks. Many people have sat in front me over coffee referring to the “rumors” about the “potential” number of schools on the dreaded Tennessee Department of Education’s priority list. But they already knew. They knew the list of Nashville schools performing in the state’s bottom 5 percent would reach into the twenties. That every single school on the list is located in a minority and/or low-income neighborhood. They were painfully carrying the knowledge that each school, filled almost entirely of Black and Brown children, is a tragic extension of the issues disproportionately affecting Black and Brown families in this city. They knew all along and what would happen in the days since, well, let’s just say it’s business as usual.

Since the Friday, September 21 release, I’ve observed parents, teachers, advocates, and district and leaders predictably and very publicly offer up a defense on behalf of the district or themselves. Like clockwork, the anti-charter school crowd blamed charters for stealing resources from schools, parents and city leaders with kids not on the list blamed a lack of resources, education advocates ready to send Dr. Joseph packing now have another feather in the “he’s gotta go” fedora, and Dr. Joseph and school board chair Dr. Sharon Gentry along with big leaguers like the MAYOR and the influential Nashville Public Education Foundation launched a “together, we got this” campaign.

Meanwhile, I’m over in my little corner of the world believing what I’m seeing. I’m not surprised at the amount of Nashville Twitter/Facebook traffic conflating personal agendas with inferior district performance. I’m even somewhat desensitized to the statement “there will always be a bottom five percent.” I mean, we’ve been down this road so many times and the response is always the same: “We will do better. More resources for underperforming schools. Hey, let’s celebrate these other schools.” Repeat. And as my friend Kate says, “what’s new to be said?”

Using Kate’s blunt and on-point statement as my guide, six days later I attempt to blog about something that in the public’s mind is old news, but still very raw and real to me. But, she’s right, what’s new to be said when we’ve seen our schools on these lists for nearly twenty years? Since 2001, I’ve watched the state funnel additional resources to struggling schools at which point the district controls the resource decisions and distribution sometimes resulting in school improvement and eventual removal from the list. But once any hint of success is realized resources are withheld and schools reclaim their spot on the list. Repeat.

Sure, I’m cynical. I’ve seen too many iterations of the school/district accountability script. I watched the state steamroll their way into our schools and central office when the district was placed in corrective action in 2008. And now, ten years later, the district finds itself “in Need of Improvement,” another designation and an additional reminder of our deficiencies. But I/we must remain steadfast in our fight against complicity in our community’s failure to do what’s right by kids. I’m reminded of last week’s blog where I talk about being as real in how we talk about education as we are about sports.

So, keeping that in mind, what’s new to be said?

  • The city’s priority schools are overwhelming filled with Black, Brown and low-income children.
  • Roughly 10,000 students attend these priority schools located in Nashville’s last-to-be-gentrified neighborhoods.
  • Well-to-do parents and school board members have expended an enormous amount of energy trying to kill charters. Meanwhile, twenty-one schools with approximately the same number of students as in our charters, are hemorrhaging.
  • Many of the schools on the 2018 priority list can also be found on the 2001 “on notice” list, the 2007 AYP “high priority schools” list, and the 2014 priority list.
  • Also, check out my friend, Jarred Amato’s twitter sermon sharing something new to be said. If anyone paid attention, one could find on full display this overworked and underappreciated teacher’s frustration with working in schools that are no stranger to the list.

But, perhaps, the most criminal of it all, is the notion that entire feeder patterns are performing in the bottom five percent. For instance, Alex Green, Cumberland, and Robert Lillard elementary schools feed into Joelton Middle which feeds into Whites Creek High and each one of these schools is on the priority list. Also, a child currently attending Tom Joy Elementary will be zoned to Jere Baxter Middle and Maplewood High — all schools on the priority list. All schools no stranger to the priority list.

The New Nashville with its glitz and soccer and Bro-country bars and drunk bridesmaids parties and $1,400 average rent, the rich people’s playground, hides in plain sight entire communities where kids are condemned to schools that fall criminally short of the it-ness of this city.  Then, those with the economic, social, and political capital to enjoy the Nashville benefit package, are the very ones strong-arming their networks to work against the very kids crushed under the weight of the privileged’s bounty.

It’s systemic, folks, and the magic isn’t found in programs or more money. Our leaders and community must first care enough to have high expectations, then be brave enough to do it differently. Whatever it is.

In the meantime, acquaint yourself with the list of struggling schools in our community. Don’t run from them.

Also, congratulate the Reward Schools. You can access each list here.

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