Saturday, April 18, 2009

2009-04-18 Education Round up

Filed under 'DUH' is this report that the TBI will now check for warrants when doing background checks on MNPS teacher applicants.

Warrants were not included in background checks because state law requires a fingerprint-based check, according to TBI officials. To search for warrants, the applicant's name — not a fingerprint — must be searched in the National Crime Information Center database.
Wonder if the MNPS has found Google, Facebook and/or MySpace yet. MNPS' first responsibility is to ensure the safety of the children. No excuses.

I will never complain about that prohibition again. Some 25% of the time Metro Police pull someone over for a minor traffic violation there's an outstanding warrant or criminal activity. Petty people who think the police have better things to do with their time than hassle folks for trivial traffic crimes need to remember this instance. This time that annoying traffic law regarding the 4th Ave exit caught someone who definitely needed catching. This catch wasn't petty or trivial:
Instead, Ronald Boykin Jr.'s teaching career ended on March 22 when he disobeyed a traffic sign. Metro police caught Boykin, 40, trying to merge onto Interstate 24 from the Second Avenue ramp. Tennessean

And further, I'm glad to read there is some accountability coming down:

Metro schools asked three employees to resign for failing to properly vet Boykin's application — [Melissa] Mundy, who as senior account clerk had first approval; her supervisor, Darilyn Mason, a registrar who was responsible for reviewing Mundy's work; and Jo Patterson, who was the director of the department and responsible for making sure procedures were being followed. Mason and Anderson plan to appeal the decision. Mundy could not be reached for comment.

Another district employee, Gene Foster, director of 9-12 grade human resources, was suspended without pay for not catching the errors when Boykin made the transition into a certified teaching position. He also requested the district get Boykin a special permit, according to school officials. Tennessean

And on the heels of the arrest of MNPS substitute teacher Lewis Levine's arrest let's hope this gets the attention of paper pushers throughout the system. It's not just paper---it could have serious implications for children.

Let's just cut out the middle man, eh? MNPS BOE Chairman David Fox (District 8-Hillsboro-West End) wants to incorporate experts from various areas to consult with the BOE as they manage the Nashville public school system. Maybe, some serious recruiting of good candidates for school board might be a better plan. How about instead of making the first qualification likely endorsement by the Metro Nashville Education Association or the SEIU we examine and debate their expertise and abilities in those 'various areas'?

And from that same article the voice of experience: Considering that he reports he was unaware of his own daughter's actions managing his law firm's finances this quote from MNPS BOE member Ed Kindall (District 7-Downtown-Glencliff) is rich.

“The board of education has the responsibility by law to manage … the general welfare of the school system,” Kindall said. "My experience is that you have to be very careful with how you charge [others]." City Paper
No mercy for Arne: If you haven't been following the blog posts at spend some time there this weekend and catch up with the blistering they're giving Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan especially in regards to the new study showing charter schools work and DC's charters are going to be shut down. If you read nothing else read Jay's WSJ article: "The Union War on Charter Schools". Here's a snip:
When charter schools unionize, they become identical to traditional public schools in performance. Unions may say they support charter schools, but they only support charters after they have stripped them of everything that makes charters different from district schools.
Rezoning and digital TV. It appears that like the folks that still haven't figured out that television is going digital there are MNPS parents who have not figured out that their job is to pay attention and participate in the education of their child.
Metro parent Rasheedat Fetuga spoke at the board meeting and pleaded with the board to create a new plan with more community input and a marketing plan to help parents understand the changes. Tennessean
Both the rezoning and digital television have been marketed enough. We're down to an irreducible number of folks who just aren't paying attention or don't care. Let's move on.

From that same article we learn that 60% of parents chose the school closest to them. Neighborhood schools work for most families, it strengthens neighborhoods and saves transportation costs for the district and families. Can we now focus on ensuring all the schools are providing the children with a good solid education instead of what color they all are?

Don't spend it yet. The City Paper provides these inconvenient details about the windfall misnamed "stimulus package":
Metro officials have learned in the last two weeks that MNPS stands receive a total of $24.6 million in federal stimulus Title I dollars (snip)

MNPS will have a longer wait for Title I funds than most other Tennessee districts, due to years of being out of compliance with federal programs spending. Federal Title I dollars intended for Metro have been frozen since December due to non-compliant spending on the part of MNPS. Most money that will reach schools through the federal stimulus package will flow through Title I, and until Metro resolves its federal spending troubles, Title I stimulus money will be frozen along with the rest.
Anyone else tired of the ACLU 'demands'? Can anyone explain how any website addressing hetro, homo, bi, or trans issues can be 'non-sexual'??? I'm telling you it's stuff like this that drives families from public schools. How does access to these website ensure good reading, writing or math skills? Focus, folks. Let's focus on the essentials...mastery of skills necessary for life. Being polite and valuing all people is certainly one of them but it doesn't take Internet access to accomplish that. Wonder if the ACLU would complain if access to Focus on the Family was blocked?

They need to do more picking up after themselves anyway. The Tennessean tells us that some 66 custodians might lose their jobs. I feel for them--really I do. A big upside to this might mean that students will have to do a better job of keeping their own schools neater and cleaner. There's no good reason that they can't push a broom every now and then, or empty a trash can or refill the paper towel dispenser. Usually that results in children who respect their space and honor the folks who have had to clean up after them heretofore. Reminds me of the joke about the girls who thought it funny to kiss the mirror and leave lipstick prints for the janitor to clean until one day he demonstrated that he used toilet water to wash the mirror. It's trendy and hip to organize an event around 'saving the planet' and carefully using resources. Let's see them walk the talk in their schools.


N.S. Allen said...

What, exactly, are you defining as "sexual," here?

For instance, when I was a student in MNPS and had free time during study period to sit down and read the news, I often swung by GLBTQ-themed sites (many of which I found blocked) that were essentially news sites. They discussed legislation, court cases, political statement, reports of discrimination, etc., with regards to GLBTQ individuals.

Likewise, there are a lot of sites out there centering on the support of GLBTQ students - telling them where they can go or who they can talk to if they feel harrassed - that, though they appeal to an audience of certain sexual orientations and gender identities, don't deal with sex.

This is the difference between, say, Andrew Sullivan's blog or an ACLU site and Dan Savage's sex column. One deals with issues related to sexual orientation and gender; the other talks a lot about sex. The former are no more "sexual" in any prurient sense than your blog post was.

Also, the issue of such sites being blocked is entirely separate from whether students need to visit them during school hours. Obviously, most do not. But there are schools where students have occasion for free internet access. And, moreover, there are students who wouldn't have a chance to access these resources anywhere else. If Metro's blocking program weeds out GLBTQ sites specifically, that's discrimination. Is rectifying it less important than, say, improving students' reading skills? Undoubtably. But that doesn't mean it's not important. This is an easily correctable issue; it should be dealt with quickly and without fuss.

One other point:

If Focus on the Family had a legitimate complaint about their religious civil liberties being oppressed, I doubt they would go to the ACLU. But, if they did? I think the ACLU would take their case. The ACLU has a long history of defending political and religious speech of all types, even those that it's traditionally thought of as opposing.

See, for instance, here. Note in particular the letter the ACLU sent in 2007, complaining about restrictions of protests against a gay pride parade in St. Petersburg, Florida. Note also the complaint filed on behalf of the ACLU in the same year in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, noted vehement, anti-gay, religious nuts.

And then, of course, there's the famous Nazis in Skokie case, in which the Nazis received support from the ACLU, despite their obviously despicable beliefs. If the ACLU's willing to back Nazis when their civil liberties are being infringed, I think they'd be able to handle Focus on the Family.

Nashteach said...

Well, a few things on the LGBT (and when did the "L" and "G" switch places?). I disagree with Kay that the sites mentioned are "sexual" in nature. But here's my question: are they suing because they are blocked system wide? Remember, the company has to set parameters for the sytem as a whole, not just high schools, so if they want the entire phrase removed from filters, kindergartners would have access, too. Schools can request for specific sites to be unblocked, or sites can be unblocked on the machines teachers and counselors use. For example, at my school we have sites like "cliff notes" or "enotes" blocked because we consider the use of them cheating in reading assignments, but our tech folks have them unblocked on teacher computers so we can check for plagiarism.

Another related question I have: has any school or school official asked for any specific LGBT sites to be unblocked? I see the parent quoted is a former parent with a specific group- have any current parents asked the school to request an unblocking and been denied? Are there any school officials who want the phrase unblocked?

Basically, I think this needs to be decided by school officials and the parents of each school. I'd hope schools would have a plan to maturely help students if they are struggling with these personal issues, as the proponents seem to argue is the need for the unblocking. Let's remember the internet is not the only way to disseminate info. Also, while some students might be able to handle the sites maturely, Mr. Allen included I'm sure, many students are not, and I could see the sites as an impetus that leads to ridiculing and embarrassing others as well. So, I'm not convinced removing the block from all schools and all computers is the best move.

On custodians, my personal experience is less sympathetic. In high schools with over a half dozen custodians, my experience has been that they have a lot of free time. Or, to put it another way, some work really hard and some very little. Some are experts at the places the security cameras can and cannot see their activity. Some years back, I wondered why the TV/VCR in my room (which I use like 3 times a year) kept being moved overnight. I learned that folks (with keys) could enter the back of my room since one hallway had no cameras, and hang out for periods undetected. So, quite frankly, we could lose a third of the folks in our building and probably still do fine if MNPS had the guts to define what is an appropriate work load in an eight hour shift. Indeed, the students could help keep the building cleaner, but I guarantee you we'd have some parents asking: How does sweeping ensure good reading, writing or math skills? Focus, folks. Let's focus on the essentials.

Absolutely on the fingerprinting, background checks, all of it. Not sure what you mean about facebook and should be a parent's job to monitor their children's use of the internet (these sites are blocked by mnps). School personnel should absolutely not socialize with students on these sites, and I don't mind a rule stating as such but, unless there are accusations we are violating it or some other similar rule, they should not be monitoring something that has nothing to do with our employment, just as our personal email is private and our school email is not. Similarly, schools shouldn't monitor students' facebook or myspace; that's a parent's job.

Lastly, I hope these men rot in prison for what they have clearly done.

din819go said...

On the school board committee suggestion -- Kay, I think this is a good idea. May 501(c)3 do this. They bring in non-board members but experts in their field to serve on the finance committees and others.

Large corporate boards set up audit committees, compensation committees, etc. The members serving on these committees tend to be knowledgeable in those fields.

The school board job is a thankless job. We get people who are, for the most part, hard working and really want to try to make a difference. Yet, like most every other local, state and federal elected office you rarely get the ones most qualified to run. They would never tolerate the nonesense that goes on in politics.

I congratulate David Fox for throwing out this idea. I hope he is successful. MNPS moves at less than a snails pace. Countless generations of students have fallen through the cracks...this might be one way to get the district to move a little to do something about the union and the ineffective teachers and oh yes, the lack of equity in terms of resources and effective teachers in all classrooms and administrative positions.

The fact that Register wants to send people from the central office to each school scares the tar out of me. Aren't these the very same people who ALLOWED the district to get in the mess it is in today?

I liked your comments about the kids having to do more to keep their schools clean. Something about pride in ownership? I am all for it...

N.S. Allen said...


First of all, the complaint is with regards to a system-wide block on these sites. I don't believe that it's turned into a full-fledge lawsuit, as of yet.

However, I think it's important to keep in mind a few things.

1) A lot of sites are covered under the GLBTQ filter. One article I read on the subject noted that students had encountered the block while doing everything from searching for scholarships to researching papers for class. So unblocking select sites or unblocking sites on request would still be highly restrictive.

(And, of course, unblocking on request would mean that students who didn't feel comfortable discussing these issues with faculty would remain cut off from them, despite needing them the most.)

2) Also, according to the fltering company MNPS uses, explicit content and pornography are weeded out of the system by an entirely separate category. So, the sites being blocked by the filter are otherwise unobjectionable - there's just no reason to block them, to begin with.

3) The filtering company that Metro uses has customers in only two states - Tennessee and Indiana - that choose to enable filtering of GLBTQ sites. The vast majority of their customers get by with those options turned off; there's absolutely no reason why we can't, as well.

With regards to the issues of kindergarteners and harrassment: these are reasonable concerns, I think, but not ones that ought to be answered by a filter. The fact of the matter is that, if you have elementary school students wandering far enough afield on the internet that they find such sites, the problem isn't the filter but the faculty supervision. Any filter is going to leave open a wide swath of sites that elementary school students shouldn't be visiting. That's why you don't let them fool around unsupervised on the internet.

Likewise, if you have students being harrassed for going on such sites, the issue isn't that they were on the site. It's that they're being harrassed! It's the faculty's job to help stop such bullying and discrimination - which will occur whether or not access to these webpages is open.

Nashteach said...

Something's changed with the filter- I believe sites that were blocked are now unblocked. I hadn't searched for LGBT stuff before today, but learned that reparative therapy (therapy to turn gay folks straight) sites were allowed, which, if allowed and other LGBT sites are blocked, does seem to be discriminatory.

So, I checked just to see what kinds of things I couldn't get to, and after a few searches for general "LGBT issues" and "LGBT support Nashville," I found most sites were not blocked, including a few the ACLU named specifically in their letter. Maybe two out of 15 or so were blocked. So something has changed I believe. If they've unblocked it, who thinks MNPS will issue a press release?

N.S., I agree with a lot of what you've said, though your examples do point out a balancing act we have to do between supervising students and at times giving them some privacy. (Of course, no one really has privacy on a government computer.) Anyway, I do believe on filtering in general as well as other issues (clothing comes to mind) simply on principle it is better for schools of 850 to make decisions for its population than a system of nearly 80,000 to make one decision.

Further, what I've learned about the filtering issue from several folks is that no one has any clue who made the decision to block the categories or tags that mnps blocked, nor are there any justifications for the choices, which they should be accountable for. I think there would be more accountability to students and parents if these decisions were made at the local school.