East Nashville High School Students #Resist Tweeting Teacher* Through Self-Love

I can’t stop thinking about it. Instead of cultivating and celebrating, Lyn Rushton, an art teacher* at East Nashville Magnet High School used an alternative Twitter account to mock and spew hatred for her students. I imagine some of you will protest my use of the word hate and I get it — it is a strong word. So, I’ll do you a solid by providing you a set list of this teacher’s* greatest hits and allow you to decide:

“The ghettoness of some of my students just sickens me beyond belief.”

“I wish I could carry around a stamp at school to put “worthless a*******” across their heads.”

“I take fashion advice from my students. If they wear it, I don’t.”

According to a friend, a parent at East Nashville, a student discovered the art teacher’s* tweets after a search revealed his name as the subject of one of her hate storms. This particular tweet went after students with creative names like, say, Vesia.

A little background: East Nashville Magnet High School is one of Nashville’s shining examples of success with an annual graduation of 100%. The student population is 45% economically disadvantaged and 85% Black. I only mention the last two data points to inform my earlier assertion of hate.

The Problem

If you are black or poor or black and poor, society does its dead-level best to devalue you. How many advertisements promoting social, physical, and financial success include brown women, men and children? Then add a layer of community distress where there are few, if any, glimmers of hope, examples of resurrection.

But when society and the community lets them down, generally, the babies can count on their schools to get it right for them. After all, schools are safe places filled with adults who are there because they choose to be, because they love working with children.

Malpractice

Teachers have enormous power over students’ personal and educational lives. We all have a story within us about the teacher who pushed us toward success and loved us in spite of ourselves. So if a great teacher has the potential to have a lifelong positive influence, imagine the power of a dud.

I can’t shake the idea of those students entering Rushton’s art class fully expecting an adult who will help them realize their greatest potential and provide the instruction to get them there. Instead, they were saddled with a fraud who used them as some kind of social experiment to mock and use for Twitter content. How effective a teacher could she have been?

The Students, Though

In an authentic act of resistance (unlike the hashtag), the students did something rarely seen or celebrated. Those beautiful babies realized the very power the teacher* worked so hard to extinguish and called out her hate by celebrating their worth.

“I don’t want a name like everybody else! I love my name… I don’t care if I walk into a job interview and they don’t like my name because it’s a black name. I love my name!”

And that gets a resounding AMEN from this chick named Vesia.  A loving shout out to the students at East Nashville Magnet High.

 * denotes that the teacher is both fraudulent and former. 

Nashville’s Prosperity Rests on Backs of Unhoused, Over-Jailed, and Undereducated

In recent years, Nashville has been at the top of many lists: friendliest, best music life, growing food scene, and one of the best places to live and work. Yes, from the looks of it, Nashville is the place to be, the It City (another list); the kind of place big cities want to emulate and small towns want to become. Thanks to these lists Nashville’s welcome mat is worn to shreds from the 100 relocations per day.

But a stroll out to the margins and one is smacked with the reality of people and places in the shadows that fail to make it the glossy pages.

In early April, Metro Social Services released its annual Community Needs Evaluation to show people a city they might never see otherwise. The 200-page report is a shocking revelation of the underbelly of the Nashville we see on TV and in magazines. If a city is only as good as it’s weakest population, Nashville has serious work to do.

Nashville, the Beautiful

File_000Entering the core of Nashville, one can’t help but take in the breathtaking skyline with the Batman Building at its peak surrounded by dozens of cranes signifying growth, hope. But below the cranes in the area immediately surrounding the core, the flags of poverty are impossible to avoid.

We know poverty does not discriminate, but people of color are suffering disproportionately and the city has been successful concealing these exemptions from prosperity.

The greatest barriers to Nashville’s promised land for too many of its residents are housing, mass incarceration, and failure to an excellent education to every child.

Housing Crisis

Nashville is the sixth-fastest gentrifying city in the nation and 12.9% of its families live in poverty, which is higher than both state and national averages. As a result, the city suffers under the weight of an affordable housing crisis (better known as a “shortage”) forcing families to pay higher rents or experience varying degrees of homelessness.

In the Grassroots Community Survey provided in the Metro Social Services report, nearly 60% of respondents believe the greatest gap between services offered and services needed was housing. This result is not surprising when the median gross rent is $924 attached to an ever-decreasing supply and burgeoning demand. Meanwhile, the vast majority of renters are people of color who also tend to earn significantly less.

The family that spends 30% or more of its income in housing expenses is cost burdened which includes nearly 45,000 households earning under $35,000. Not to mention approximately 25,000 of those families spend 50% or more on housing expenses. These families become nomadic, moving often in search of cheaper rent, sacrificing their children’s educational attainment, safety, and proximity to social services.

Incarceration

File_000 (2)We’ve become comfortable with using “school-to-prison pipeline” to label our society’s fascination with throwing the book at black men and women for the smallest infractions. At the Metro Social Services report release, public defender Dawn Deaner aptly called it the “birth to prison” pipeline. It certainly looks that way. This culture of incarceration is not unique to Nashville but in no way is the “it city” exempt.

In Tennessee, 43% of the felony population is Black, a group that makes up 16% of the state’s population. Though unable to find actual data on Nashville’s incarceration stats, all one has to do is look to local media to get an idea of who is being locked up at an alarming rate.

Part of the problem of mass incarceration is that it negatively impacts other areas such as family strength, employment, earning potential, healthy communities, and children’s educational attainment.

Education

img_0993Yes, education is the civil rights issue of our time, but there’s no time to wait for everyone to agree to disagree. While teachers fight for respect, unions strike for salaries, ed reformers battle for validation, and parent’s scrap to be heard, children’s educational possibilities are circling the drain.

In 2016, only 11 percent of Nashville’s students were college-ready and only 34 percent of 3rd graders could read at grade level. At an event announcing the launch of a new literacy initiative in March, Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry said, “Reading at grade level is a major indicator for a child’s academic success, and a child’s academic success is a strong indicator for the future of Nashville.”

Unfortunately, literacy is not the worst of the issues within Nashville’s schools. Around the country, schools are plagued by the dysfunction of the communities around them. Education is the lone institution where every societal ill gathers under one roof, turning schools into social service centers while trying to be high-achieving places of learning.

Children take to school the situations in which they live. Metro Schools’ poverty rate is more than 70 percent and we’ve established a few of the issues within our disenfranchised populations. In addition to the lack of affordable housing and mass incarceration, our schools must also work with high student mobility, food insecurity, mental and physical illnesses, acculturating new Americans, and abused children—just to list a few.

The Great Paradox

File_000 (1)Is it possible for Nashville to be one of the greatest cities in the United States when its marginalized citizens are not only becoming more vulnerable, but increasing in number? Our city is experiencing the largest apartment construction in America while our homelessness population spiked by 10 percent in 2016 – the 6th largest increase in the nation.

We have nationally ranked high performing magnet schools and schools where 85% of children struggle to read at grade level. The city is a virtual revolving door, welcoming new thousands of new residents per month while rolling out the undesirables to jails and other counties.

Don’t misunderstand me, these issues are not being completely ignored.  For instance, the Barnes Housing Fund and literacy initiative created by Mayor Barry are valiant efforts to mitigate affordable housing and reading deficiencies. Schools are working more intentionally with discipline in an effort to dismantle to the school-to-prison pipeline and programs can be found around the county to help with recidivism and inmate education. Finally, Metro Schools’ openness to offering non-traditional options (charters, alternative graduation and curriculum programs) has been good for students.

Something’s Amiss

Urgency. My frustration and impatience are at a tipping point because of my daily interaction with the other side of Nashville where many of my loved ones reside. The baby whose brilliance is scheduled to be extinguished by a list of odds experts are sure he can’t surmount. A close family member who fell on hard times and cannot find housing. The cousin who has spent his entire adult life caught up in the web of the criminal justice system creating a nearly impossible situation for his children and parents.

I wish I had the salve to quickly heal the ails of the marginalized and march them toward the middle. I wish Nashville’s greatness was felt by all of its citizens. I wish decisions were fueled by the same urgency and compassion when considering the fate of family member. I wish every school offered a nationally ranked education. I wish…

 

Nashville (and Memphis) School Choice Advocates Make Appeal to School Board – Vote No Moratorium on Charters

The pro-school choice community in Nashville and even Memphis has spoken! We understand that charter schools are providing a need and without them as viable options we are hijacking opportunities from families in vulnerable circumstances.

Check out these voices for choice in Nashville:

Thank you, Memphis!

But we are listening. And we are praying. And we are standing tall with our fellow Tennessee families in Nashville.

Maya M. Bugg, CEO Tennessee Charter School Center

It is exaggerated to call this growth “unabated” when MNPS has been nationally recognized for their careful and considerate management of charter school approval and has only approved an average of approximately two new public charter schools per year since 2014.

We are fortunate in Tennessee to have strong charter school accountability policies, many great schools and an active support base of education partners that even the local NAACP leadership has agreed is a leading positive example.

 

Zack Barnes, Nashville Education Blogger

 

Miranda Christy, Nashville Attorney and former School Board candidate

  • Over 10,000 students currently exercise a choice to attend a charter school, which as of 2015 comprised six of the district’s 14 highest performing schools.
  • Our board is voluntarily proposing to eliminate the possibility of additional choices for families and take the option for future charter schools out of its toolbox despite our city’s rapid growth in both population and diversity and a persistent increase in achievement gaps.
  • All families have a right not only to receive adequate public notice of this discussion under the law, but also to have the opportunity for their voices to be heard and to grapple with the purpose and implications of this type of action by the board, e.g., its fundamental legality, whether it will practically achieve its purported purpose, or most importantly: how this action will improve the quality of the education currently available to 87,000 MNPS students.

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.

 

 

 

 

Dollars and Sense

Rounding out his first 90 days, director of schools Dr. Joseph is on a search and find mission to eliminate waste. Led by numbers wonk Chris Henson, an internal committee loaded with MNPS staff, Metro Government finance staffers and a Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce representative will perform exploratory surgery on the $800 million dollar budget. The committee is also charged with auditing every contract $100,000 and greater. Sounds like a blast.

According to MNPS’ blog, the motivation behind the assessment is to align dollars with priorities of the current administration.  Makes sense.

“My first day in Metro Schools was also the first day of the fiscal year, and my team and I found ourselves in charge of a budget we didn’t design that was built around priorities we didn’t set,” said Dr. Joseph.

I’m particularly impressed to see this taking place in the October as opposed to January!  I like the good doctor’s direction.

We may even confirm or deny the played out narrative of charter schools’ drain on traditional schools. We’ll be waiting…

ACT Struggles Revisited

As mentioned  in yesterday’s post, “achievement gaps are neither new nor unique,” particularly as it relates to race and class. What’s troubling is that for more than a decade we’ve unsuccessfully aligned, boosted, and restructured standards to ensure every student exiting Metro Schools’ doors leaves with a minimum of 21 on the ACT.

Unable to sleep, I googled my way down memory lane to refresh the old thinker on the district’s ACT struggles from the not too distant past. Take a look:


Blog post from Kay Brooks who served a brief stint as school board member – May 1, 2006:

“Regarding College Entrance the goal is to have 65% of the students meeting the college entrance requirement (mostly via ACT score of 19 and above) by 2007. It’s only at 57% to date with new data not available until the fall. It became obvious that it was unlikely, considering the past rates, that this goal was going to be met.”

2001 46%
2002 46.2%
2003 49.2%
2004 48.7%
2005 51%

 

Nashville Scene’s Liz Garrigan article March 22, 2007:

“…the recently released Citizens Panel Report Card, researched and written by a diverse group of Nashvillians under the auspices of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

…it offered a mild dressing down of the system for the widening gap in achievement between rich and poor, white and black, and “the lag of academic success at the high school level and the high rate of suspensions of African American students,”

 

Local blogger ElyssaD whose 2010 Reality Bytes post is surprisingly similar to my “solemn story” entry:

“If, as stated in Wednesday’s article, the ACT is a curriculum-based measure of readiness in English, mathematics, reading and science, then all these scores show us is that we have failed in our mission to provide an adequate education for all our citizens.
I am not sure exactly what readiness is, but I am certain that our schools are failing miserably at educating those children who need us the most. Let’s level the playing field for a change and start talking about equity in education if we truly expect teachers to leave no child behind, we must first give them the tools they need to move forward.”

Let that marinate.  To be continued…

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.

“Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.” – Thurgood Marshall