Nashville Voices: “No matter what I had to sacrifice, my son was going to make it.”

Contributed by Teade Tagaloa, a single mother living in Nashville. She works with parents in the Nashville Rise network of schools to improve the education system for her son and all students.

In 2005, I had my son and I was terrified. I already knew that, because he was a Black male born to a single mother, society had already put a label on him. I wondered if I would be able to care for him, would he love me, how would he be when he grew up? What was I going to do with a child?

I didn’t want the world to see my son as a number, so from that day forth I vowed to myself that no matter what I had to sacrifice, my son was going to make it.

Once my son started school in Lexington, Kentucky, I saw that it wasn’t working—and I wasn’t satisfied. I thought to myself, “There has to be something better than this.”


The schools in our area weren’t getting better, only worse. So, I packed our bags and made the tough decision to leave everything in Kentucky behind. We were Nashville-bound.

Once we arrived, I realized that while Nashville was a much bigger city than Lexington, bigger doesn’t always mean better.

Every child in Nashville does not have access to a quality education, and the only kids who attended good schools lived outside the city.

There were no support systems available to help me navigate the school system, so I had to research and tour schools on my own. After months of research and trial and error, I found a school that fit all of my son’s academic needs. However I noticed that while my son loved the academic structure of his school, there was still something missing. My son enjoys playing basketball, but the school he attends does not have a strong athletic team.

My son began to get in trouble, which frustrated me a lot. I knew sports motivated him, but I could not (and still can’t) seem to find a school that has a great academic program and athletics.

This struggle made me feel defeated.


Being a single mother to a Black male is like a balancing act in the circus. You have to balance finances, education and a household, and you can’t let any of those fall. In doing all that, I lost myself. I got so caught up in trying to make it that I forgot to stop and spend quality time with my son.

I felt so guilty.

Until one day I had the opportunity to meet the Nashville Rise team.

Nashville Rise provided me with the opportunity to meet other parents who were facing the same issues. Through attending their meetings and engaging in community activities, I became empowered. I learned things about the school system I never knew. I became an even bigger advocate for my son’s school, as well as for schools in my area.

I started attending parent meetings at my son’s school and challenged other parents to think outside the box. I became a part of figuring out how to fix our broken system. Doing all these things felt good. Not only that, the good feeling trickled down to my son, who felt motivated as well.

Although I haven’t found that perfect school with the athletic and academic balance, I’m able to be a part of an organization that is advocating for change, elevating parent voices and empowering parents to grab a seat at the table during the conversation on reform.

And for that I will forever be grateful.

Nashville Parent Leader Allison Simpson Discovers Her Power, Helps Others Find Theirs

Not all parent-shaming is created equal. As a society, we expect anyone with any degree of wealth to assign their resources to goods and services that will yield the greatest return on investment.

In Nashville, in certain zip codes, you might get shamed for attending public schools. Some parents get shade for choosing a school out-of-zone. But no group gets the burden of being responsible for the downfall of an entire district like parents who choose charter schools. This group, mostly families of color and poor, are shamed for participating in the middle-class act of selection. 

Nashville Rise leader Allison Simpson has a powerful message for parents. Take heed.

My mom used to say, “Allison, you have two things against you, you’re female and you’re Black—and because of that, you’ll have to work harder than your peers your whole life.” And she was right.

In school, I was an average student while my sister made straight A’s. I remember hearing someone say little Black girls like me would never amount to anything but a baby mama.

With that statement running through my mind I worked my butt off and on June 1, 2002, I walked across the stage and accepted my high school diploma—making me one of the few in my family to graduate from high school.

Both of my parents are college graduates. As a result of that, they always made sure my sister and I went to the best schools so that we could both go to college.

I can remember my mom stressing the importance of finishing school, doing well and going to college. And with their voices in the back of my mind, I took my parents’ advice, attended and graduated from Auburn University in May of 2007.

Two years later, August 13, 2009, I had my daughter. That was the scariest time of my life. When she entered into this world, I realized that I held her success in the palm of my hand. I didn’t want that responsibility.

I worried everyday about how I would provide. I wondered what she would be like when she grew up, and if I could be a good mother to her. I had questions and needed answers, but soon realized that there was no perfect recipe for parenting—I’d just have to rely on my instincts and focus on providing the best life for my daughter that I could.

I HAD HEARD BAD THINGS ABOUT THE SCHOOLS AROUND US, SO I KNEW I WOULD NEED TO LOOK FOR OTHER OPTIONS.When I began my search for a quality school in Nashville for my soon-to-be kindergartner, I knew nothing about the school process. I had heard bad things about the schools around us, so I knew I would need to look for other options. That year I toured what seemed like thousands of schools. I even considered moving out of Davidson County, but my budget would not allow me to do that.

One day I stumbled upon a community event for parents at Tennessee State University. At this event, I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel after meeting with a school leader who, in minutes, walked me through options I didn’t even know I had.

I rushed home, got on the computer and spent the entire night searching for high-quality options for my daughter. After touring about five schools, I found a great option for my baby.

Because of all the volunteer opportunities and time I spent at my daughter’s school, I was introduced to Nashville Rise. I couldn’t believe there was an organization out there empowering parents and advocating for kids. So, I joined. And because of Nashville Rise, I was able to engage and empower parents around school quality and choice.

I’m dedicated to this work to elevate the voices of parents who, like me, felt like they didn’t have a voice. Parents who, maybe at one time, were told that they would never amount to anything and believed it.

I’m here to let the lady who said that little Black girls like me would be nothing more than a baby mama know that I’m more than that. I’m a doctor when my kids are sick, I’m a taxi cab driver, I’m a counselor when there’s meltdowns at home, and I’m a cheerleader.

But most importantly, I’m an engaged parent and no one can take that away from me.

Back to School Nashville: Parents Got 99 Problems…The Type of School Ain’t One

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 6.05.17 AMGuest Blogger Shani Jackson Dowell shares her thoughts about a world where parents are doing the best for their children while navigating systemic isms and the age-old battle against others’ judgment. 

I hear ya, sis.

Parents, you know we’ve got all kinds of problems to worry about. But feeling judged for the kind of school we choose for our children shouldn’t be one of them.

Just last week I had an issue that sucked up my time and attention for the better part of the week.

It was the third day that week my eldest child claimed sickness so she didn’t have to go to her summer program. She is a talented actress, I should say—so good that I was doubting myself. Maybe she actually was sick? Maybe I should keep her home?

The program she is in seems like it should be perfect — academically stellar, beautiful setting. But for some reason that week she had been struggling and claiming to be sick for much of it.

By day 3 of this parenting fiasco I was enlisting help — asking the person I was meeting with at 10 am for his wisdom on the subject as the father of three. Should I make her go to school? How should we handle this?

And as a parent I was stressed. Is something wrong? Is it social? Is it a teacher? Is it the content? The truth is, it was probably a little bit of all of it to some degree. As we dug into it was a little bit of everything. And eventually, she got passed it.

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No Time For Judgment

The more I talk to other parents about the issues they’re dealing with and the more I read stuff about school choice all over the news, the more I realize that nobody’s got time for the added stress of feeling judged for the kind of school we choose for our kids.

As parents, we have somehow created a space where we have forced each other to feel guilty about our school choices. Parents who send their kid to their zoned district school are judged. Parents who send their kid to a charter school are judged. Parents who send their kid to a private school are judged. Parents who send their kid to a magnet school are judged. Parents who homeschool their kid are judged.

We have to change this. I have had the disheartening experience of talking to multiple parents who told me when they were looking for schools, “I really thought this option would be the best for my kid — but we just don’t want to be known for sending our kid to a [insert type] school.”

“We Don’t Have Many of Those Here”

And I just think about if my parents had heard a chorus of judgment weighing on their minds when they were considering the best school options for me. When we moved to Houston they called around for the best public elementary schools. The one that we ended up going to was going to be a 90 minute bus ride each way from our house — and when my mom called the school to find out what the experience would be like for a Black child there, the coordinator of the program I was entering misunderstood the question and replied, “you don’t have to worry about that. We don’t have many of those here.”


My parents had enough stress trying to determine which would be the least damaging option to their kids — an academically weak school (that could also have been not welcoming to a Black child) or an academically strong school (that likely would not be welcoming to a Black child). To then layer on some kind of social stigma to their decision making would create unneeded pressure. Yet this is what we do to parents all the time — perhaps most to those with the least options.

A Little Grace, Please

The jobs of parenting and schooling are hard enough. Let’s give each other grace on the school type judgment. It reminds me sometimes of the shaming that can happen around feeding your child in the first year (breastfeeding or formula) or parents who choose to stay at home full time with their kids or work full time.

Let’s just assume that everyone is doing the best they can for themselves and their families.

And leave the rest of the time to stress about figuring out if our kids are actually sick or not.

Shani Jackson Dowell, an alumna of Howard University and Stanford University, currently works for Relay Graduate School of Education.

“We Believe Black People Must Seek That Education By Any Means Necessary.”

During the most recent Tennessee legislative session, the subject of vouchers was indeed the star of the show. While the existence and proliferation of charter schools is a hot topic around here, the discourse on using public dollars for private schools (vouchers) is transitioning from slow burn to a full-blown fire. Even though several bills were introduced during the 2017 session, only one passed, but there’s more to come in 2018. Here’s my take on the 2017 session.

What’s Up With Vouchers?

The argument for and against vouchers is very similar to that of charters. Supporters believe vouchers provide additional choices to families, particularly to the traditionally underserved. Meanwhile, the opposition believes the motivation behind vouchers is an agent of privatization and, therefore, will administer the final blow to public education. Sound familiar?

In this The 74 article, three great minds leading the national education debate joined forces to state the case for vouchers for Black children. Whether you love ’em or loathe ’em, this case for vouchers cannot be easily dismissed. You be the judge.

Check out Howard Fuller, Marquette University professor, Derrell Bradford of EVP of 50CAN, and Chris Stewart, CEO of Wayfinder Foundation:

Critics of school choice programs find the politics of empowering Black families with the wider range of options available to wealthier families difficult, but we don’t. Some may find it radical to believe that we should use every school available to ensure our children are educated. We don’t. Some may believe that the quest for “choice” and the historic role of private schools in education is a moral and historical inconvenience. Indeed, the opposite is true: It’s a necessity. Some believe vouchers and other forms of parent choice are a threat to democracy. The real threat to democracy is an uneducated populace. We believe Black people must seek that education by any means necessary.

Changing the Game: 26 NEW Rules for the Ed Reform Debate

Originally posted on Citizen Education by Citizen Contributor on March 23, 2017.

Chris Stewart of Education Post and blogger extraordinaire gives us food for thought about how to approach the ed reform debate; and it happens to fits nicely with the March 29th Volume and Light post  “They Planning for Our Future, None Of Us Involved.”

Buckle up.
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The narrative of people who oppose ‘school choice’ is well documented. The same talking points are brought up again and again and usually dominate the conversation.  It’s time to re-frame the narrative, get real about the misinformation being spread and lead these conversations with a children-first line of thought. Here are Citizen Stewart‘s 26 new rules for the education reform debate:


1. If you’ve never agonized about selecting a school for your kid, don’t oppose choice.

2. If you aren’t currently responsible for closing the achievement gap, shut up about those who are – you are not an expert. Just listen.

3. If you don’t believe that poor children and children of color can learn at high levels, don’t teach in their schools.

4. If you benefited from a private school education, don’t come up with fancy reasons to deny others the same.

5. If your only experience in teaching low-income students is bad experience, don’t write a book about education.

6. Do not oppose School Reform until you are willing to put your child in the worst performing school in your city.

7. On Twitter, don’t start none, won’t be none.

8. If your public school is so exclusive that it might as well be private, don’t rail about privatization in education.

9. If you’ve never raised a black child, don’t argue with black parents about what’s best for black children.

10. There are no experts on teaching black students in America. At best you are all students of teaching black students.

11. Don’t exchange studies written by people who have failed schools in their past.

12. If your doctorate is in Amazonian trees with an focus on intersectionality, don’t argue with economists about education statistics.

13. Union funding is as suspicious as any funding. You are not pure and neither is your agenda. Don’t be a tool.

14. Great instruction, great teachers, and great schools make a difference. All children can learn.

15. There is nothing liberal about demanding historically oppressed people to turn their children over to the state to be educated.

16. Only a damn fool looks to their enemy for ideas about educating their own children.

17. Public education and public schooling are two different concepts

18. There is nothing Democratic about selecting education leaders through low-turnout elections overwhelmed by public worker money.

19. Any meeting of education professionals that doesn’t touch on student outcomes is the wrong meeting.

20. An employee occupies a classroom. To call your self an “educator,” you must have observable results.

21. Stop hoping for one-best-system to educate “all kids.” It sounds like a compassionate goal, but given the unique needs of kids it’s not

22. Yes, poverty matters, which is why you should teach your ass off, or quit.

23. The revolution will be literate and numerate. Test scores matter.

24. Black achievement is not dependent on proximity to whiteness. Integration is not a panacea, and sometimes it’s social suicide.

25. America has thousands of half-empty urban schools. Let’s not “talk” about integration or evil school closures. Solve both, enroll now.

26. Concerned about schools “choosing their students”? Call your Congress members and ask for a ban on using addresses to enroll students.

Coffee Talk:”Integrated Schools Raise Achievement That Fuels Social Mobility”


Coffee Talk with Peter Cunningham, executive director of Education Post and Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation. Originally posted on Education Post 3/16/17.

Screenshot 2017-03-16 at 2.26.50 PMRichard Kahlenberg is perhaps the nation’s leading proponent of the idea that for kids to succeed, schools must be places where families of all economic backgrounds come together. A senior fellow at The Century Foundation, he is also a leading authority on many other aspects of K-12 and higher education.

His most recent book, co-authored with Halley Potter, “A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education,” examines two myth-busting strategies in a small but growing number of charter schools: promoting economic diversity in enrollment and amplifying teacher voice. He talked with us about innovative ways schools of all kinds can increase economic diversity in their schools and why that’s important for children in poverty.

Are you a tea or coffee drinker? How do you take it?

Even with a new testosterone-driven administration in power, I’m not afraid to say I drink tea with sugar.

You’ve focused a lot of your recent work on economic integration of public schools. Why is it important, where is it happening and how does it work?

The 1966 Coleman Report—the granddaddy of education studies—found that the biggest predictor of academic achievement is the socioeconomic status of the family a child comes from and the second biggest predictor is the socioeconomic status of the school she attends. Low-income students given a chance to attend middle class schools are as much as two years ahead of low-income students stuck in high-poverty schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in math. Sophisticated studies using random assignment find very powerful positive effects on student achievement when low-income students attend middle-class schools.

What’s frustrated me is that while there is a social science consensus that poverty concentrations are bad for education, there is also an outdated political consensus that there is nothing we can do about it. We’ve learned a lot about how to integrate schools since the days of compulsory busing for racial desegregation that fostered such a backlash.

Today, most districts use choice and incentives—like non-selective magnet schools—to promote diversity. And the trend is to emphasize socio-economic as well as racial diversity because using economic status avoids the legal problems associated with using race and because social science research suggests it is the economic status of classmates that most powerfully correlates with academic achievement.

Today, 100 school districts and charter schools in 32 states have adopted conscious plans to allow rich and poor kids to go to school together and learn from one another. In places like Cambridge, Massachusetts, which uses choice to achieve economic diversity in its schools, graduation rates for low-income, Black and Hispanic students are as much as 20 percentage points higher than for comparable groups in nearby Boston. And White students do better in Cambridge, too. Indeed, a growing body of research suggests middle-class and White students benefit because diverse learning environments make us all smarter.

EdBuild has done some work on how economic classes are segregated by school boundaries. What would it take to have economically-integrated schools at scale? Would urban and suburban districts ever consolidate?

I’m on EdBuild’s research advisory board and I think they’re doing fabulous work exposing economic segregation. EdBuild has noted that there are glaring economic inequalities even between some jurisdictions that sit right next to one another.

TAKING ECONOMIC INTEGRATION TO SCALE, ULTIMATELY REQUIRES THAT WE MOVE BEYOND ARTIFICIALLY SET BARRIERS AND WALLSTaking economic integration to scale, ultimately requires that we move beyond artificially set barriers and walls that have been constructed between cities and suburbs in the minds of policymakers. Several metropolitan areas, including Hartford, Connecticut; St. Louis, Missouri; Boston, Massachusetts; Omaha, Nebraska; Rochester, New York and Minneapolis, Minnesota, have longstanding and successful school integration programs that reach across traditional school district lines.

Other districts, like Wake County (Raleigh), North Carolina and Louisville (Jefferson County), Kentucky, have successful school integration programs that encompass city and suburb within a single jurisdiction. We’ve heard a lot about building new walls in the election season, but we really should be knocking down artificial school district walls that separate kids by race and class.

Are public charters one tool to achieve this outcome or are they impeding economic integration? Broadly speaking, do parents need more choice in public education?

Yes, yes and yes. Charters, in theory, and sometimes in practice, can be a powerful engine for economic school integration. As my colleague Halley Potter and I note in our book, Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, proposed charter schools in 1988 as places where teachers could experiment with new ideas and where students of different backgrounds could learn from one another. His model was a school in Cologne Germany where Turkish immigrant and German native students sat side by side and both groups benefited.

Unfortunately, many charter schools today are even more segregated than traditional public schools—which is a pretty difficult thing to be. Having said that, we profile in the book a small but growing number of charter schools that are intentionally diverse—the Denver School of Science and Technology, High Tech High in San Diego, City Neighbors in Baltimore, Morris Jeff in New Orleans, Blackstone Valley Prep in Rhode Island, Capital City and E.L. Haynes in Washington, D.C., Community Roots in Brooklyn and Larchmont in Los Angeles.

There are two ways to integrate schools: through public school choice that overcomes neighborhood segregation by race and class; and through housing integration that makes neighborhood schools integrated institutions. We need to push forward on both fronts.

You’ve argued in defense of teachers unions, who have been both partners in improving schools, but also opponents of reforms like accountability and choice. On balance are unions helping more than hurting? What’s their likely posture in the Trump/DeVos era?

Teachers unions are one of the most misunderstood institutions in American society. In writing Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy, I came to realize what life was like before unions had any real power. Teachers were even more poorly paid than they are today and had very little dignity, which was not good for students. Teachers unions changed that. The highest-quality studies suggest that achievement among students is stronger in places where teachers unions are strong.

One silver lining in the Trump/DeVos era is that progressives may finally wake up and come to realize the importance of teachers unions in standing up against the privatization of American education. There will be lots of important allies in the defense of public education—superintendents, principals, public school parents and students, civil rights groups—but only the teachers unions have the political muscle to defend the institution of public education that is so vital for our democracy.

I recently wrote a piece lamenting resegregation by race of public education and asking if it is worth the fight. School boundaries mostly align with segregated housing patterns and efforts to integrate schools—like busing—have stalled. And there’s some evidence that people of color care less about integration than educational quality. What are your thoughts about integration, especially in today’s political environment?

It’s false to suggest that educational quality and integration are disconnected ideas. Middle-class schools are 22 times as likely to be high performing as high-poverty schools, in part because disadvantaged students face extra obstacles, but in part because economic segregation has an independent, negative effect on student achievement.

INTEGRATED SCHOOLING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER.In today’s political environment, integrated schooling is more important than ever. Integrated schools make it more difficult for demagogues to run for office by scapegoating minorities. Integrated schools raise achievement that fuels social mobility.

After one of the most divisive elections in memory, we desperately need integrated schools that remind school children what they have in common as Americans.

Donald Trump will likely set back federal efforts for school integration, but the 100 school districts promoting economic diversity mostly created their plans on their own and school districts can continue to do so in the age of Trump. I worked with Michael Alves and John Brittain to help Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools develop an economic integration program for their dozens of magnet schools. The day after Trump was elected, the Charlotte School board voted 9-0 in support of a plan to move beyond “separate but equal” schooling and adopted an economic diversity program that is good for students, good for teachers and good for the community.

Progressives should seize upon the rhetoric of Trump and DeVos—that poor kids trapped in failing schools deserve something better—to advocate on behalf of public school choice that intentionally promotes integrated schools. Five decades of research suggests this approach will be far more effective in helping kids than private school voucher plans that are receiving so much attention.


The President-Elect’s School Choice Platform Aligns With His Own World of Grandeur

Less than a week after #Election2016, half the country sifts through the psychological wreckage resulting from the unexpected victory of political neophyte Donald Trump over career politician Hillary Clinton.

Although the decision to vote for Hillary caused many sleepless nights and her stance(s) on education was sound as whispers in the wind, I was prepared to continue my work fighting for school choice for families in the margins. Hoping that once in office the lifelong champion of families would return to her public service roots fighting for vulnerable children. There would be no shortage of blogging content and valuable information to  disseminate to Nashville families.

Boy, What a Dream!

Then I awoke the morning of November 9, 2016 to The News. The businessman and reality TV star won the Electoral College while Hillary won the popular vote. Breathe.


There, I wrote it.

Personal feelings aside, there are serious matters that urgently need to be addressed. The issues of which I’m speaking are — well, all of them, but most specifically, education. It’s a safe assumption to think the Trump Mr. Trump will support school choice because, after all, that’s what Republicans are known to do. So I take a trip to his website for confirmation:


  • Immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice. This will be done by reprioritizing existing federal dollars.
  • Give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend. Distribution of this grant will favor states that have private school choice, magnet schools and charter laws, encouraging them to participate.
  • Establish the national goal of providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school aged children living in poverty.
  • If the states collectively contribute another $110 billion of their own education budgets toward school choice, on top of the $20 billion in federal dollars, that could provide $12,000 in school choice funds to every K-12 student who today lives in poverty.
  • Work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for the federal tax breaks and tax dollars.
  • Ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education, will be easier to access, pay for, and finish.

Lipstick on a Pig

The manner in which I process information pares down the most accessorized verbiage to two or three words – and this case I was given very little to process. However, the words that stretched out and smacked me down were located in the first two bullet points “$20 billion” and “grants”, respectively. The remaining bullet points are like decorative pillows on an old couch serving no substantive purpose.

First, where to search and successfully find $20 billion? Let’s be clear, I’m in love with the edict “immediately add an additional federal investment of…” It’s a beautiful thing and some fairy tales do come true, but I’m guessing we needn’t hold our breath.

Second, the use of grants as code word for vouchers is dishonest. We will monitor the populations and institutions earmarked to receive these “grants”.


But At Least One of Us Believes

According to Rudy Giuliani in Monday’s New York Post, “President-elect Trump is going to be the best thing that ever happened for school choice and the charter school movement.” More superlatives and grandiose thought bubbles! But the vice chair of Trump’s transition team boasts the support for more charter schools, not better.

Because children in poverty lack time and money, we certainly want every child to have access to a school of their choice; a school that fits – a school exceeding expectations and leaving standards in the dust.

At the heart of my fight lies the right of families to choose the educational institution that provides the best opportunity for success for that child. I’m not looking for designer knock-off charters to temporarily appease families by offering lies while stealing dollars from other schools. “Bigly” thinking without proper filters is a recipe for disaster. Failure is not a option.

Big, Lazy Promises

Because Trump’s education campaign platform is lazy, it’s up to us to work harder and yell louder. We must ensure our children aren’t political pawns exploited every four years to cement partisan power.

Trump must understand that our fight includes ALL children – Muslim, Mexican, with disabilities, GIRLS, the Blacks, Whites – ALL means ALL. That we are not builders of walls, but futures. Finally, we can’t be satiated with promises of big and more, we revel in results kids winning every day.