Nashville’s Charters Sidestep Chatter and Run Up the Score

My grandmother would always say, “I can show you better than I can tell you.” It was a mantra she lived by, which meant, in practical terms, that if someone crossed her, she might not say much, but you could bet your bottom dollar swift and decisive action was sure to follow.

I think the charter school leaders and parents might be taking a page from my grandmother’s playbook.

For a while, I’ve watched in frustration as, Nashville school board members and privileged “pro-public school” parents have executed all-out attacks on public charter schools in our city. I’ve seen effective and passionate charter leaders of color ousted, and good schools get their petitions to recharter denied.

All along I was even more frustrated by the fact the those under siege almost never raised a voice in protest. They wouldn’t fight back!

It wasn’t until I got to know Mia Howard that I started to realize what might be going on. It was Howard, the founder and executive director at Intrepid charter schools, that pulled the little chain on the light bulb in my brain and made me realize that charter leaders and supporters might be taking a page out of my grandmother’s playbook.

Last July, the Nashville Scene published a story celebrating the silence of charter backers after a series of “losses.” Angry, I tweeted “my guess is that the charter backers are quiet because they are SCARED AS S%$! And the media only exacerbates their fears. Sponsors it.” Howard, wasting no time, replied, “Not scared. Some of us are just here to educate children at the highest level. Disrupting inequity by design takes focus. No distractions.”

In other words, “I can show you better than I can tell you.”

While I was angry-tweeting about fearful charter supporters, Mia Howard’s Intrepid Schools were in the throes of flipping the narrative for Hispanic and Black students which make up the majority of their enrollment. Script-flipping statistics like: “Intrepid scholars placed #5 in the district for ELA achievement in grades 6-8.” Further, Black students placed #4 in the district for ELA in the same grades.

Compare that to the district-wide average: only 17 percent of minority students are reading in grade level.

And then there’s Math: 100% of black and brown students scored On-Track or Mastered in Algebra I and ELL students were #1 in Math achievement for grades 6-8. Anyone would be hard-pressed to ignore these life-changing achievements, but, to my knowledge, they’ve received no recognition from the school board, media, Metro Council, or even the mayor.

Just silence.

For more of Intrepid’s inequity-disrupting statistics, click here.

And speaking of silence. Do you ever hear from Valor Collegiate? The growing charter management organization of schools that prides itself on its racially and socio-economically-balanced student population that sits atop a hill above a bustling corridor in South Nashville. It seems they work very hard to avoid the city’s volatility toward charters and, like Intrepid, focuses intently on doing what they do. And what is it that they do, you ask?

Well, while I was sitting around pondering the whereabouts of Valor reps during times of distress on the edu-battlefield, Valor Voyager and Valor Flagship were busy becoming #3 and #4, respectively, in the state in composite growth. Let’s put it this way, CEO Todd Dickson and CCO (chief culture officer) Daren Dickson are fighting the haters on their own terms and Valor scholars are the reigning champs. For instance, “Our economically disadvantaged scholars inverted the achievement gap, meaning that they outperformed non-economically disadvantaged scholars in Nashville and the State of Tennessee!” Can you say #FliptheScript?

Message received and they didn’t have to say a word.

Finally, there is a Teach for America-generated graphic that keeps making an appearance on Twitter by NashvilleEdReform. It shows every middle and high school in the district and its placement on the growth chart. I am no fan of school comparisons–it’s difficult for me to celebrate schools in the face of less successful ones. Maybe it’s the socialist in me.

But to ignore this picture is to join forces with those who refuse to acknowledge the success charters schools are having in this city. I simply cannot be on the wrong side of silence. I will celebrate those who subdue their naysayers without using words, but with student successes.

Note: the three top-ranked growth schools are mentioned in this post.


Tennessee, You Do Nobody Favors by Hiding How Many of Our Students Are Struggling

Last week I posted a blog about my wobbly hope in Tennessee’s education future, only to declare two hours later that my hope took a nosedive after receiving “good news” from the Tennessee Department of Education about our students’ latest standardized test scores.

Just because it glitters…

Don’t Fall for the ‘Good News’ Graph

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This is the first and only graphic state education officials pushed out for our consumption. “Look, y’all, we’re moving on up!”

If you are a visual learner your eyes will likely fixate on the height of the bars. If you are an optimist, your attention may be drawn to the growth between 2016 and 2017. If this type of reporting doesn’t interest you then you are subject to take the state’s word as bond.

The Whole Truth and Nothing Less

First, it’s always important to recognize and celebrate growth—and that’s clearly the aim of the state’s announcement. Thousands of teachers and leaders across Tennessee execute back-breaking work to ensure students get what they need and these efforts must be acknowledged.

But what are we sacrificing when we report out only part of the story? Who really gets hurt?

I want you to go on a journey with me through graphland where things are perfectly packaged and presented with a glossy finish. The graph presented above is well done, easy-to-understand and downright deceptive.

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First, the graph (as seen above) only goes as high as 55%. Hold that thought for a moment.


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Second, the reporting focuses solely on students scoring in two categories: On Track (Level 3) and Mastered (Level 4). Third, look at the graph in its entirety and check out the growth numbers. Again, all growth is important, but…

So, let’s talk about it.

I could be wrong, but I think most people expect measurements to range from 0 to 100. So if you’re looking at a graph and a bar goes halfway to the top, one automatically thinks 50% i.e., out of 100 students, 50 students made a passing grade.

But the state’s “good news” graph goes from 0 to 55 (using a really small font), accessorized with bright colors and bars that are seemingly headed toward the heavens. To put it in perspective, if the bars only go halfway in this graph, we’re talking only 27.5% of students.

Stay with me.

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Take a look at this graphic showing growth from 2016 to 2017. So, in 2017, 21.5% of students (up less than a point from 2016) taking these high-stakes math exams are either on track or have mastered the standards.

This means more than three-fourths of Tennessee’s high school math students are not even on track! I don’t know about you, but to me this is feeling less and less like good news.


Remember, the graph only represents students who score in Levels 3 and 4, the highest performing students. But it’s the students they don’t show us that concern me. What’s not shown in this graph are the 78.5% of students who are scoring in Levels 1 (Below) and 2 (Approaching).

And that’s just in math. The percentage of students underperforming across the board is staggering:

  • English 66.6%
  • Math 78.5%
  • Science 49%
  • U.S. History 70.1%

Further, we have no data about the groups represented in these percentages. If tradition serves as a guide, we will discover Black, Brown, and low-income students disproportionately represented in Levels 1 and 2.

So spare us the smoke screens. The deception will create acrimony and distrust reversing the goodwill the state has produced in recent years. Celebrate the growth but amplify the deficits, to do the former without the latter is dishonest and our families deserve better.

Here’s to keeping hope alive.

Remembering the Lens of Hope…

Just two hours ago I published a short post on Tennessee’s plan to educate every child through innovative strategies and how the state is leading the nation in changing the game. I wrote of belief in our state officials and of hope (though cautious).

Then this happened.

What do you see? Or better question, what’s missing?


Click here for more information on the initial analysis of TNReady scores.

2017 Testing in Tennessee Is Off to a Great Start…Whether We Like It or Not

It’s Day 3 of TNReady, Tennessee’s renamed standardized test, and so far, so good! You may remember last year’s fatal glitches, but by all accounts, this year’s tests are smooth sailing. Check out Commissioner Candace McQueen below:

Standardized Tests or Nah?

Let’s be real, nobody loves standardized tests. But name another way to find out if our children’s performance is better (or worse) than the year before? Or how groups of children perform in comparison to others? (Why State Tests? Click here)

Like brussel sprouts, standardized tests fall at the bottom of my list.  Funny looks aside, there is no amount anything that can drown out its natural flavor. But here’s the kicker, those baby cabbages are loaded with protein and I sorely need healthier options rather than my go-to cheeseburger.

Think of it this way, you know how important education people (politicians, too) love to talk about the Achievement Gap? Well, from those pesky standardized test results performance gaps are revealed allowing schools to correct teaching and learning for children of color, poor children, students with disabilities, and English Learners. The information gleaned from test results in invaluable to educators and parents alike.

So while testing may not be good TO us, it’s certainly good FOR us. Accountability is never a bad thing where children are concerned!

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.