Thursday, January 17, 2008

Focus on the message

I attended most of the Save Our Students State of Schools report to the Metro Council's Education Committee on Monday evening. Unfortunately, I had to leave about 45 minutes into that meeting to rescue my husband whose car had broken down in Greenbrier. I did really want to hear the rest of Councilman Eric Crafton's presentation.

Before the SOS presentation was a discussion of Crafton's Resolution 2008-137 . What I got out of the discussion was that the Governor has the authority to remove a superintendent of schools (and the entire school board) but there doesn't seem to be any specific 'line in the sand'. That's a problem. How bad do schools have to be before the Governor steps in? No one seems to know. It appears it's entirely subjective.

So here's what I saw and heard regarding the SOS presentation:

We were told that the BOE members and MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia were unable to attend this meeting as they were attending Nashville Mayor Karl Dean's education meetings instead. Since the SOS presentation was made at the regular meeting of the Council Education Committee I expect it was an unavoidable conflict of schedules. There were several people from Garcia's Cabinet in attendance though to include Chris Henson, Business & Facilities; Ralph Thompson, Student Services; and Woody McMillan, Public Information. Sharing the second row pew with Thompson & McMillan was Ralph Smith MNEA staffer.

There were less than a dozen councilmen there, some left early, some spent a good bit of time talking to others during the presentation (and should have been more quiet) some were in the hall. Crafton began by saying:

"3 1/2 years ago...I started hearing that our schools were woefully underfunded, but that they were making tangible progress. But this just didn't ring true with what parents and other constituents were telling me... So I decided to do some unbiased, independent research to see if in fact we were underfunding our schools and see if real progress could be measured."

"I started by sending over 10
simple questions to Metro's school administrators. The only response I got was that they were too busy preparing their budget that was coming up later that spring to answer my question. So I founded the Save Our Students organization..."

"Why do I bring this information before you? Because I truly believe that both our education system and our children's futures are at an irreversible tipping point if we don't make dramatic, meaningful, measurable
changes. Without change, our children will suffer. Irreparable harm will be done."

And he made the specific point that the:
"information is not being represented to usurp the School Board's authority, but rather offered in a spirit of cooperation and a shared interest in our children's success."
Regarding money:
"In my opinion however, it is fiscally irresponsible for the Metro Council to send 35% of Nashville's budget...around $600 million a year, to the School Board without expectations of measured achievement and without providing some oversight."
And so out came the slides. Unfortunately the larger screen was not working and so we had to peer at the much smaller TV screens instead.

I remember several years back Garcia stating very clearly that his goal was to have the best school district in the nation. Folks, we don't even have the best district in the state. These red and blue slides follow the same class from 3rd (blue) grade to 8th (red). They fall further and further behind as they advance in grade level. This is all on Garcia's watch, by the way.

Average Percentile 2002 3rd grade 2007 8th grade
Math 44 36
Rdg/Language 45 41
Science 37 33
Social Studies 40 36

Regarding that same class there was some growth but the growth didn't keep pace with the growth of the rest of the state so we fell behind the rest of the state. Read these slides. Is a 1.3% growth rate (while sliding back .5%) good enough? No. I remember Mebinin Awipi (formerly on the MNPS BOE) say that at these rates there is no way we're going to achieve NCLB benchmarks. He was assured the growth would greatly increase. It hasn't.

Blogger won't let me add the reading graphic. I'll do so when they've figured out the problem.


And do you think MNPS children are qualifying for lottery scholarship? Think again. There is a reason we have a huge excess of funds. Those two tall spikes above the red line are Hume Fogg Magnet and Martin Luther King Magnet. Hillsboro almost makes the qualifying red line. Take out Hume Fogg and MLK and the average SAT score was 17.94. I added a bright green line to the SOS slide to show that point on the chart. Removing the rest of the magnet high schools doesn't really impact the average much. It then becomes 17.86.

There are 35 slides altogether. They included demographic breakdowns, funding and even personnel ratios. Most of those won't render well in this small space. I'm asking if they're all online somewhere and will post a link as soon as I hear back.

SOS suggests we do several things to make improvements. They include what they call a Student Lifeline Program where student progress is tracked using computer software and more money is put into reading a math tutoring; increase magnet opportunities and provide academic magnets in every area of town as well as create a disciplinary magnet; and a revised No Pass No Play provision which would suspend students falling behind from non-academic extracurricular activities and provide a tutor so they can catch up.

It's heartbreaking to read through these statistics and know there are children and families behind these numbers. So many lives without what they need, educationally. Crafton was right when he said:
"I know that sometimes I may be considered a bit controversial. But in this case, whether you like me personally or not, I urge you to listen to the message, not the messenger. "


"As some children's only opportunity to rise above their current station, it (MNPS) must work."
The lives of these children and our community is too important to ignore the message because of the messenger.


Nashteach said...

The implications of the data are unacceptable.

I will add it's a little deceiving to do the individual graphs differently; that is, the first several side by side graphs have a range of 1-50, then the Science and Social studies graphs are essentially a 10 point range, distorting the differences by, what, 500 percent? The point of graphs is for easy viaual comparison. It seems the difference in the lower graphs (sci and ss) is more stark. Social Studies shows a drop of 4 percentile points, but visually, the 3rd grade graph is three times the size of the 8th grade graph, distorting the drop.

The ranges on the graphs should really be consistent.

Do we think these are the same students or have some high performers been lost to private, homeschooling, or outlying counties. Not that it excuses it, but does this attrition to alternatives increase with the students' age? Do we know that?

Kay Brooks said...

They should be consistent. But it may not be purposeful. Assuming they use Excel it has default settings for those lines. It may be that they just didn't change that. Frankly, I'm thoroughly impressed at their dedication to the effort that pushes them to go through all the minutiae at the DOE site to find this information.

Great point: attrition to alternatives. I truly doubt they are exactly the same students. It'd be great if it were but that would be a HUGE task. No, I don't know it to be fact, though.

We do know that people see their elementary schools more favorably than their middle and high schools.