To My Beloved School District: It’s Time We Have a ‘Come to Jesus’

Here’s what’s not going to happen: we are not about to be that school district. You know that district that shirks its responsibility for weaknesses by conjuring up ridiculous excuses, assigning blame, and withholding responses?

So far, the district has masterfully tap-danced around issues of water quality, dismal test scores, and sexual assaults. It’s time to stop dancing. These are mammoth issues that must be addressed proactively and earnestly.

Water is Life

I am dedicating this post to the two-year-old water quality issue. For as long as I’ve been in and around Metro Schools, I’ve never known the district to drag its feet on a matter that could harm the health of students. According to reports from NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams, many schools have had and still have dangerous amounts of lead in the water. This after the school district celebrated the fact they lead the state in testing for lead in the water.

Williams has expended an unbelievable amount of time on this issue and if I was still working at MNPS I’d be miffed at his unrelenting meddling. Still, his most recent report, Some MNPS Students Still Drinking Lead Contaminated Water, is revealing in that it exposes a school district with misplaced priorities. Even though the district tested fountains in every school, there are still schools with unsafe levels of lead in the water. Parents were not informed and, worse, our babies are still drinking the water.

So much time is spent on charging charter schools with taking money from traditional public schools, efforts to curb marketing to families, disputing building agreements, downplaying stellar testing results, attacking school leaders, and, yes, having fake parents. Meanwhile, a sort of environmental racism and classism is taking place in schools with the most poverty and children and color.

Y’all gotta stop playing with our kids, man.

Shout out to Phil Williams and blogger Thomas Weber for sticking with this story. Also, mad love to another MNPS parent who was so outraged she created a Facebook page Get the Lead Out dedicated to informing families about water quality issues in our schools.

Where I’ve been willing to give the district a pass, Weber always been very clear about the current administration’s handling of certain issues, water quality leading the list. I don’t regret giving the administration time to get acclimated to their new digs. but that grace period has long since passed.

Check out Weber’s most recent post No, The Water At MNPS Is Not Safe.

MNPS took the commendable action of having the water tested in its oldest buildings 2 years ago. Predictably, results came back that showed high levels of lead in several of our older schools. Schools that are made up of children from immigrant and impoverished homes. Schools like my children’s school.

Instead of taking these numbers, acknowledging the problems, and rectifying them, the district chose to issue a press release that disclosed none of the results and served as a congratulatory letter for merely testing the water. When they were challenged on the results and the lack of action, they issued another statement that claimed “The drinking water in the district’s oldest buildings meet all federal and state lead drinking water standards.” Sounds great, huh?

As Summer Fades, Education Stories in Tennessee Heat Up and Urban Districts Are on the Hot Seat

And all at once summer collapsed into fall. – Oscar Wilde

I seriously cannot keep up with all the stuff going on in edu-world today – like Wednesday today, not the universal today. I’ve scrolled through a number of articles that forced a pause only to be preempted by the next pause-worthy story. It seems a perfect storm of good-to-great and bad-to-worse is converging upon us as the school year settles in and long-awaited test scores make an appearance. Let’s dig in, shall we?

A bit of good news…

Nashville’s crack edu-watcher and writer Zack Barnes recently went on a data bender and tweeted out the amazing growth outcomes for many of our schools – traditional and charter. The most fascinating chart shows a list of schools achieving the greatest growth (level 5) for the 2016-2017 school year.

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 10.51.35 AM

Great for these schools!

Note to ponder: every level 5 performing school on this list is a magnet or charter except for the dual-enrollment Middle College.

Follow @zbarnes for more chart love!


Not so good news…

Did you see the story “Regular Public School Teachers Miss More School Than Charter School Teachers?” 

A study performed by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that on average traditional public school teachers miss 10 more of school than charter school teachers. The EdWeek article explores two possible reasons for this gap in teachers showing up to work — collective bargaining and school culture.

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 9.57.47 AM

Teachers in traditional public schools are protected by unions that negotiate sick leave while the majority of charters are not unionized. For instance, Tennessee’s teachers are greatly protected by the Tennessee Education Association (MNEA in Nashville) while not one of Tennessee’s charter schools has union influence. Could that be the reason our traditional public school teachers miss 25.3% of school while charter teachers miss 7.6%?

Of the 6,900 charter schools nationally, about 1 in 10 have teachers’ unions. According to the report, 18 percent of teachers in unionized charter schools are chronically absent. It’s about half that in charter schools without unions.

Culture is the other possible explanation. Charter schools pride themselves on creating a culture of exceedingly high expectations for students, parents, and faculty.

Teachers who work in charters “agree to go there as an at-will employee in most cases,” said Miller, who once served as a president of his local teachers’ union in Palo Alto, Calif. “This means you’re buying into a school culture and a way of doing business. That doesn’t include the elaborate leave policies you can often find in a collective bargaining agreement.”

But the million dollar question is “does teacher chronic absenteeism affect student achievement?” The article briefly touches on a study by Raegan Miller, a Georgetown University researcher quoted in the article, that concludes math students fall behind and are less engaged when their teacher is chronically absent. I’m no researcher, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest the “less engaged” part of his conclusion is pretty important.

For the past two years, Tennessee (and Nashville, specifically) has been plotting and planning to triage the chronic absenteeism problem within our schools — for students. Maybe they are following the examples set before them? Don’t misunderstand me, parents need to be sure their child is in her seat, but if we have a problem with teachers showing up, then let’s make it, too, a prominently acknowledged and measured indicator for student success.


Downright ugly…

But most students in three of the state’s four largest districts — in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga — aren’t growing academically as they should, and neither are those in most of their “priority schools” in the state’s bottom 5 percent.

Tragically, the districts with the greatest number of vulnerable students are not growing. Hamilton County has gotten unwanted attention after scoring ones across-the-board except in one area. There is no shortage of articles about Memphis and their academic struggles, but Nashville has avoided the spotlight – until now.

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 11.07.00 AM

An overall score of one is a sure-fire way to regain exposure – whether you want it or not.

Admittedly, I’ve been generous to the district that educated my entire family and helped me provide a nice life for us. Additionally, working hard every day are Metro School staffers I care for deeply making it more difficult for me to call foul when foul clearly needs to be screamed.

But where I’ve failed to acknowledge weaknesses in our district, fellow blogger Thomas Weber of Dad Gone Wild (norinad10) has been on the case- for years. While we tend to see things differently, I understand the importance of respecting different points of view

You never know, there might come a time when the two points of view converge.

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 11.38.56 AM

You Wanna Fight About Education? Meet Me Outside… For Coffee

I was one of those people. You know, the obnoxious, self-righteous tweeter who tries her darnedest to pack a power punch of snark in 140 characters or less. Chasing the high that comes from that little blue circle with a number in a center. The bigger the number the greater the validation, amirite?

No. It’s exhausting and worse you end up emotionally bloody without reward or solution. At my core, I do not like conflict. But I detest what I perceive to be injustices, particularly as it relates to education, upon those who can’t or don’t know how to fight for themselves. Real talk, I can’t think of one knock down, drag out Twitter battle that led to a positive outcome.

Unless you think getting blocked and unfollowed is a positive outcome. This seems to happen only after I’ve defended myself. It’s troubling to think that an adult believes they can say whatever they want to me and I not respond. For instance, just this past weekend, a precious Rhode Island ELL teacher (I tagged her because I’m still a little petty), who often trolls my tweets, called me ignorant among other things and when I asked about her obsession with me she blocked me. 

 

girlbye
Still a little petty. And I like to channel Beyonce’ whenever possible.

 

I’ve also been disconnected from many former Nashville friends who don’t like or buy into my “choice” advocacy. Some think I’m bought by Ed Reformers while others think I have an ax to grind because of a certain school board member. Go ahead and question my motives, just don’t mess with the babies or their families.

And therein lies my Twitter transformation. I’m out here for mamas, daddies, and grandparents who are doing what they do for their children. What’s insane is that most of the people I’m targeting are not even on Twitter. Talk about an exercise in futility!

Olive Branch

While I’m not looking to restore social media frenemies on the whole, I am looking at one such former Twitter-ship with local blogger Thomas Weber, author of Dad Gone Wild. During last year’s school board elections, the two of us went head-to-head leading to our Twitter break-up. However, in the months since, Weber has experienced a bit of a transformation of his own.

I say pivotal because the election was quickly framed as being the defenders of public education vs. the privateers. People quickly fell into one camp or the other with defenders making the argument that nothing worse could befall our school district than to be taken over by private interests, while the privateers made the argument that the status quo had to go. Much to my chagrin, I must admit that I quickly grabbed a uniform and joined a team. And for that, I owe an apology to Jane Grimes-Meneely, Miranda Christy, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.”

It takes a big person to publicly admit wrongs, extend an apology, and announce an ideological shift, of sorts — all this following a highly publicized battle where he played a significant role.

Cooler Heads…

But in recent months, I’ve detected a mutual respect for each other’s platform to inform our respective target audiences. He has not been shy about referring to my blog (usually with disclaimer “we don’t always agree, but”) and I have zero problems with what he publishes these days. Weber admits he is kinder to the choice crowd in Nashville even as he remains relentlessly loyal to traditional public schools. I get it, I love MNPS, too, but I’ve curtailed that devotion for the sake of the kids.

Still, it appears that Thomas and I have more in common than that on which we disagree. So, maybe it’s time swallow our pride, erase the lines in the dirt, and lift our Twitter blocks. Or maybe just have coffee?

Our children deserve better than what we’ve given them. They deserve adults who fight poverty, underperforming schools, racism, and classism. Not adults who fight each other.