Parents: Ignore Shiny Distractions, Focus On Student Progress and School Performance

“What parents really want to see are high-quality schools.”

The above quote is attributed to Jana Carlisle, Metro Schools’ Chief of Staff in a Tennessean article by Jason Gonzalez.  And if you listen, the same words can be heard in four-part harmony throughout Davidson County’s 525 square miles. 

I’ve talked with a number of parents in recent weeks who just want a school that will enhance their child’s greatness. And they care little about the kind of school it is. Yet, the subject of charter schools owns the airwaves and internets, whether they are being trashed by school board members or being blamed for the problems of traditional public schools by — ahem, school board members.

Parents: in the words of my ‘hood – don’t fall for the okey doke!

Shiny Objects With No Substance

Dr. Shawn Joseph, Nashville’s director of schools is now 13 months into his tenure and is naturally looking for things on which to hang his hat, successes. Unfortunately, I’m unable to tie any real outcomes to the current administration. That isn’t easy to write or admit after going to bat for the director last year after a most unfriendly welcome early in his tenure.

While I’m coming to grips with the truth, it’s equally troubling to witness accessorized distractions in the form of innovative ideas that are no more than a band-aid when a cure is sorely needed. For instance, according to this article, Metro Schools is dropping the plan to remove 5th grade from middle schools which currently holds grades five through eight. The article also looks at the twenty under-enrolled schools under the threat of closures.

When the director first introduced the rehashed idea of reconstructing middle school, I offered no energy, because we’ve done that. Twice in the last decade. It yields no tangible results.


Now we are reading about the possibility of closing schools. Really? School leaders are keen to the response of parading such propositions around for public consumption. Especially closing schools. Closing a school, even one that’s is not doing well by children academically and woefully under-capacity will create the worst kind of acrimony thereby creating the best kind of distraction.

I know you’re thinking I’m an old crazy lady who sits around the house with her cat and dog dreaming up wild conspiracy theories about education in Nashville. You would be right. But check this out anyway.

Stay Focused On What Matters

TNReady scores are out. We are waiting to get district and school-level results and we know already the state, on the whole, did poorly. Remember the chart distributed by the TNDOE celebrating End-of-Course “increases across all subjects?” It was a “creative” representation of student performance across the state setting the stage for the results we are seeing today. BOLO (be on the lookout).

As always, stay woke. Don’t get distracted by anything unrelated your child’s achievement because:

“What parents really want to see are high-quality schools.”



DREAMers Don’t Have Time For Barren Platitudes, They Need Congress to ACT Today

What happens to a dream deferred?

Over the past 72 hours, Langston Hughes’ words have latched onto my every thought, informed the majority of my tweets, and served as the source of my tears.  

Does it dry up

     like a raisin in the sun?

While Americans were preparing for a long weekend of fun and fellowship, the president of these United States leaked a late Friday night hatement declaring an end to the Obama-sponsored Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Friday night memo was followed up by a Monday morning presser with well-known foe to people of color Attorney General Jeff Sessions, driving the proverbial nail into the coffin where dreams of 800,000 children and young adults now lay.

DACA allows children of adult illegal immigrants to remain in the United States through a deferral program and work permits. DACA recipients, better known as DREAMers, are here through no fault of their own and after spending most of their lives in the United States the ending of the program will force them to “go back” to a land unfamiliar and likely unwelcoming to them. 

Or fester like a sore—

     And then run?

I’m sad for the parents who sacrificed life and limb for a better tomorrow for their families. I’ve watched Nashville’s non-English speaking immigrant parents lineup along school sidewalks to participate in Reading nights to support their children. Braving the unfriendly streets to walk their children to school. Communicating a relentless dedication to their child’s education by always showing up.

But I’m also devastated for the DREAMers. My own children are the peers of thousands of DREAMers and though they have their own hurdles to clear as a Black woman and Black man in America, they, at the very least, can dream freely.

Does it stink like rotten meat?

     Or crust and sugar over—

     like a syrupy sweet?

This blog post fails to accurately reflect my feelings, but I had to do something. Check out a few DREAMer facts provided Conexion Americas, The Education Trust, and Education Leaders of Color:

  • Ending DACA will affect 800,000 young contributing members across the country
  • Tennessee could lose 8,000 workers
  • Rescinding DACA will impact 65,000 seniors set to graduate high school next summer
  • Ending DACA would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national GDP over the next decade
  • One-third of DACA recipients are enrolled in high school
  • One-fifth of DACA recipients are enrolled in college
  • One-fourth of DACA recipients are juggling college and work



“Many of these children and young adults who are DACA recipients have only ever known the United States as their home. They deserve the chance to gain an education, earn a living, and continue contributing to our community without fear or threat of deportation. I would urge Congress to recognize this and immediately pass legislation that restores DACA as the law of the land.” – Megan Barry, Mayor of Nashville

“Ending DACA is a mistake.” – Nick Zeppos, Chancellor Vanderbilt University

“100% of Dreamers have no criminal record and 91% have jobs.” – Kaivan Shroff

“I’m sad for #Dreamers living in fear. Sad we have a lame excuse for a President. Sad Congress didn’t act b4 to avoid this. Sad for America.” – Ana Navarro, Conservative CNN Contributor

“Dreamer dies while trying to save victims of hurricane.
Trump wants to end DACA. Hurts our country.
#DefendDREAMers” – Arne Duncan, former Secretary of Education

“To reverse course now and deport these individuals is contrast to fundamental American principles and the best interests of our country.” – U.S. Chamber of Commerce

With my #Jesuit brothers and with the @USCCB I support #DACA youths and deplore the turning away of the stranger, contrary to the Gospel.” James Martin, SJ, Jesuit Priest

“Donald Trump is saying in every way possible that power in America is white, straight and male and all else are targets. #DACA” – Charles M. Blow, NYT Columnist

Maybe it just sags

     like a heavy load.

     Or does it explode?


From Renata Soto, Co-founder and CEO of Conexion Americas:

  1. Please call our Senators today and urge them to step up to protect the thousands of immigrant youth that call Tennessee home. Ask them to condemn President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA and move quickly to enact legislation to protect DACA recipients.

Senator Lamar Alexander 202-224-4944

Senator Bob Corker 202-224-3344

Please also thank U.S. Representative Jim Cooper for standing up for DREAMers 202-225-4311.

  1. Do you know a DREAMer who is a DACA recipient? Please help us spread the word and share this information and resources.

DACA Resources

DACA family gathering Sunday, Sept 10 3pm-5pm


“As African-American and Latinx Educators, We Are the Dream Keepers.”

Originally posted on Education Post, September 1, 2017 by D. Nigel Green, Halleemah Nash, and Nina D. Sánchez.


“The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources, because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.”
—Lyndon B. Johnson

How does the American Dream end? How do we tell our students that the fertile soil that was the United States is now a barren land that refuses to flourish?

As African-American and Latinx educators, we are the dream keepers. As 2017 Surge Fellows, we are The Guardians, called to protect the promise of our country. Who holds the promise, if not our children?

Over the past week, the whispers have been getting louder: The end of the DACA program may be imminent. We come together in response to this possibility and ask that educators across the country to join us in voicing their support for the DACA program.

The economic evidence is compelling. Think tanks across the political spectrum have produced research that points to a loss of approximately $460.3 billion to our Gross Domestic Product should the DACA program be discontinued.

The presence of DACA recipients across our economy as business owners, employees at Fortune 500 companies, and taxpayers is the best example of the power and promise of inclusion that our country can offer.

DACA RECIPIENTS HAVE EARNED BACHELOR’S DEGREES AT A RATE HIGHER THAN THE NATIONAL AVERAGEThe data shows that DACA recipients have earned bachelor’s degrees at a rate higher than the national average and are propelling growth of the record-high number of college undergraduates in the United States.

DACA recipients have leveraged their status, along with their gifts, talents and tenacity to give our country a boost as we continue to compete with the world and lead with innovation.

But make no mistake—these young people have not been given a free pass or an unfair advantage through their attainment of DACA status. Ask David, a sophomore at Wooster College, or Joselin, a recent college graduate, how easy it has been for them.

They will tell you about the countless hours invested in their studies, the search for scholarships that required an investment of time equal to at least a part-time job, and the resourcefulness necessary to access and acquire the time and people needed to support them on their journey.

When you speak to them, what you will hear is gratitude. You will see what it means to fulfill potential. You will see that they are not here to take away your opportunities or replace you but that they are here to make you better.

As Black and Brown educators committed to changing the game in education, we view DACA as not solely a Latinx issue, just as we view police shootings of unarmed Black men as not solely a Black issue. We commit to seeing these issues through one community lens and join our voices.

Somos una communidad.

Together, we assert our claim that ending the DACA program amounts to the United States becoming the land of missed opportunity. To our students and colleagues—we’ve got you. To our legislators and government officials—we urge you to support the continuation and expansion of the DACA program.

We call on you to tend our soil so that we may all reap a bountiful harvest.


D. Nigel Green
Halleemah Nash
Nina D. Sánchez
2017 Surge Fellows, The Guardians

TN-ESSA: This Ego Trip Doesn’t Help Kids But…Told You So

I will beat a drum to its death. And through this platform, I’ve beat several drums and lucky for you they still have a lot of life left in them. 😉

Let’s see, there’s the drum designated for Nashville’s marginalized families. A drum for children of color consistently on the wrong side of the achievement, opportunity, and belief gaps. Then there’s the drum for Nashville’s increasing homelessness amongst the shadows of dozens of cranes, taunting those without a bed to lay their head.

You get the point.

In this post, I’m pulling out the BHN drum. You know the super subgroup Black-Hispanic-Native American designated by Tennessee’s Department of Education? Well, if you’re not familiar, here’s a brief primer:

As part of Tennessee’s strategic plan, TN Succeeds (which has just been approved by DeVos & Co.), as directed by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Black, Hispanic, and Native American students will be combined into one group for reporting purposes. You don’t need a degree in education to know these groups are different, with unique challenges requiring customized attention and remedy.

I have sat through multiple presentations led by state officials and asked any number of questions about the super subgroup trying to make sense of it. The state insists ALL MEANS ALL as it relates to student success.

As mentioned several times in this blog, Tennessee’s ESSA plan is a good plan according to every external organization that assesses state plans. In this Chalkbeat article, TN Succeeds gets high marks from another independent reviewer in nearly every area. Can you guess the area with the greatest weakness?

“The state’s lowest rating — a 2 out of a possible 5 — was for how Tennessee plans to identify and rate schools in need of targeted support for certain groups of students. Reviewers questioned whether the state’s system might mask the performance of some by proposing to combine the scores of black, Hispanic and Native American students into one subgroup.”

Yeah, I told ya so.

Read the Chalkbeat article on Tennessee’s ESSA plan.

2018 School Board Race: Using Battle Scars to Chart the Path to Victory for Every Public School Student

Remember how vulnerable and scared you felt watching the nuclear war tough talks between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea? It was reminiscent of playground bullies battling to control all areas in and around the monkey bars and seesaw while the other children stand on the sidelines too fearful to play until one of the bullies backs down or gets the crap beat out of him.  

From the White House to city government, we are vulnerable to the decisions, (good, bad, and evil) made by our elected officials. This is why your vote matters.

2018 School Board Race

In one year, Nashville will be preparing to swear in newly elected members of the school board. If history serves as a guide, the newly elected and re-elected members will be exhausted and bloodied, but full of false pride that their “side” won. (what about the kids, though?)

Look, we have an opportunity to learn from the political slugfest that was the 2016 Nashville school board race. Over the next four weeks, Volume and Light will go on a journey in hopes of offering a path to victory for those standing on the sidelines.

Because we must do it differently this time. Many charter schools parents feel vulnerable to the vicious attacks on their children’s schools. Traditional public school parents believe too much attention is lavished upon such a small percentage of the total school population. They are right. 

We must never forget how it makes us feel to watch our leaders fight for control of our future without our permission or best interest.

The four-part series will begin with a look back at the School Board Battle of 2016 with a blog I wrote just after the election, one that I have not been able to revisit. It was that bad.

Next week we will look at the districts up for grabs.

The Friendliest City in America Got Downright Mean in Its School Board Elections This Summeroriginally posted on Education Post August 23, 2016

Nashville. The city of It. This summer Nashville overflowed with It, as we celebrated the arrival of wine in grocery stores, the largest firework display in America, and a never-ending stream of music, which, like the Cumberland River, courses through our hometown. Oh, yeah, we’re friendly as all get-out, too. Like, the friendliest.

A visitor might hardly believe there are deep civic divides in such a shining city. But this summer we saw painful polarization in our education community. If we don’t find a way to tamp down the vitriol of this summer’s school board elections, it will tarnish It City. Worse, we will slide farther from our goal of better educating our young people.


Summer got off to a collaborative start, when the school board, mayor and a posse of politically plugged-in Nashvillians appointed Dr. Shawn Joseph, 41, director of schools, the first African American to hold the position in Nashville.

Leaving Maryland’s affluent Prince George’s County to tackle Metro’s socio-economically diverse system, which is plagued more by a fractious school board than by actual district performance, Joseph wisely negotiated a clause in his contract to set the tone for communication going forward:

…the Board, individually and collectively, shall promptly refer to the Director, orally or in writing, for his study and recommendation any and all criticisms, complaints, suggestions, communications or other comments regarding the Director’s performance of his duties of the operation of the MNPS.

In other words, you got a problem, you bring it to me. The end.

But what looked like the beginning of our happily-ever-after came to a screeching halt as school board races revved up and Nashville, the friendliest town in America, got downright mean.

The issue? Charter schools. I won’t bore you with the sordid details, and, honestly, I’m not confident in my ability to provide an unbiased account due to my participation in some of the campaigns. However, there is no shortage of reporting on this subject in local and national media.

It was this podcast by national education blogger Citizen Stewart and national education writer Peter Cook, whose granular color commentary of our election forced me to look at our dysfunction from an outsider’s perspective. That’s when I realized that Nashville’s It-ness is like a beautifully manicured lawn. It tells only part of the story, while we work like hell to keep our guests from seeing our dirt.


Depending on which side of the charter argument you embrace, the dirt of this election cycle was either loads of “outside” money dumped into school board races or middle-class leaders working to kill educational opportunity known to benefit Black and poor children.

When the votes were cast and the slate of charter-friendly candidates was vanquished, the refrain “dark money loses and public schools win” littered my social media timelines. The language implied that the thousands of students in Nashville’s charter schools were not part of our public school community.

What does that headline say to the parents of students in charter schools? It says their voices and choices don’t matter.

In an election cycle that was infamously dirty, that message may be the dirtiest part of all.


After a long hot summer knocking on doors, making hundreds of phone calls, and speaking with parents in schools of all stripes, I’m more certain than ever that the voices of choice are missing from the conversation. If we are to make lasting and profound change in our schools—to meet the needs of all families—we must hear all their voices.

So we must ask what accounts for the silence. Is it because we’re not inviting these voices into the conversation? Is it because we are drowning out voices we don’t agree with? Is it because we are not welcoming enough? Is it because we are making half-hearted attempts to engage in meaningful ways? Or is it—gasp—because we really don’t believe these voices are valuable to the discussion?

Until we answer these questions, battle lines will remain in place and our children will lose.


To ensure success, we must bring all parents from the margin into the fold. We must believe in our hearts that their voices and experience matter.

A parent armed with information is an empowered parent, a ready-made partner in an educational process that leads to the success of students and schools. Furthermore, parents should absolutely seek out learning centers that best fit their children’s needs, and they should be celebrated for their efforts rather than criticized for their choice.

Metro Schools is rich with options, and parents understand the importance of finding the right fit with a healthy acceptance of charters’ role in this narrative.

At Metro Schools, there is a school for EVERY family in our district, no matter what children want to learn, how they want to learn, where they want to learn or when. There is a choice for everyone, and with one application, the vast array of school choices are at your fingertips.

From this point forward, I pledge to do my part. Gone are the days of sitting on the sideline complaining while participating in meaningless Twitter battles that serve to boost egos rather than student achievement.

So, I’m looking for a few good voices. Voices of choice who will have the courage to promote a parent’s right to choose, encourage others to exercise this right, and serve as a support system.

If we truly believe in public schools, then we believe in the role parents play—no matter their choice.


Fifty-Four Years Later, the “Bank of Justice” Is Still in the Redlining Business

Have you taken an opportunity to marinate on the words in the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr on August 28, 1963?

Dr. King speaks explicitly of injustices of police brutality, voting rights breaches, and severe poverty. This speech is 54 years old and the only thing not relevant today is the reference to “Whites Only” signs. They are no longer seen, just understood (see neighborhoods, schools, corporations).

Indeed, we have seen beautiful efforts toward realizing Dr. King’s dream since 1963, from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the election of the first black President of the United States.

Still, institutionalized racism makes the journey to the mountaintop a most challenging one.

Please take in Dr. King’s words.

At the end, ask yourself, what is your role in making this a dream a reality?

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Fisk University and KIPP Nashville: The Partnership of a Lifetime

What do you get when a distinguished Historically Black College or University (HBCU) partners with a school that serves and succeeds with traditionally underserved students? A marriage made in heaven!

Congratulations Fisk University and KIPP Nashville on this partnership of a lifetime!

Read more here.

“Fisk University has done an outstanding job supporting KIPP Nashville alumni over the years, and we are excited for more KIPP students to join the Fisk community,” Randy Dowell, KIPP Nashville Executive Director, said. “It is significant to have a university partner just a few miles away that shares our vision that students will not just excel in college, but also graduate with the skills and connections needed to lead successful and impactful lives. We have several Fisk alums who are KIPP teachers, and we are looking forward to building on this partnership in the years ahead.”