Monday, October 31, 2005

Pop quiz

Nashville's police department pulled a pop quiz on local high school football attendees. The quiz had just one question and 4 young men failed.

Officers working Friday night’s football game at Whites Creek High School arrested a total of four persons for carrying guns after school administrators made the unannounced decision to use handheld metal detectors to screen persons coming through the gate. None of the four is a Whites Creek student.
“It is illegal to carry guns on school property at all times, and that certainly includes sporting events,” Chief Ronal Serpas said, noting that even persons with handgun carry permits cannot carry guns on school property. “School administrators have done exactly the right thing in arranging for this type of unannounced weapons screening.”

From MNPD Press release dated 10/31/05
Thanks guys.

It's past time for cyber schools

"Imagine if Tennessee's state legislators of yesteryear had banned overhead projectors in schools; prohibited educational filmstrips, movies and audio recordings in the classroom; or outlawed computers to supplement traditional holdings in school libraries. Unfortunately, Tennessee's legislators of today may have made a mistake of an even greater magnitude by forbidding cyber charter schools and precluding the use of a technological tool that can advance learning in our state."

All that from the latest Tennessee Center for Policy Research Policy Brief, Cyber Charters in the volunteer State: Education Options for Tennessee's Forgotten. Shaka Mitchell makes some excellent points and I encourage every educator, legislator and parent to consider her arguments for cyber charter schools. Maybe her best is:

"One reason alternatives to the conventional public school system have experienced little traction is that charter schools, vouchers and magnet schools are largely considered options for improving urban schools. Everyone feels good about providing education options for minority kids in Memphis, but this attitude leaves out a large percentage of the population. More than a quarter of the state's population is considered rural..."

and then goes on to pointing out that cyber charters could be just what families in Rhea County, and others like them, need. She's exactly correct.

"It's outrageous that people have to drive 40 miles one-way to find a high school that offers a full range of classes. In Rhea, there is only one high school. If, in a given year, there is little interest in taking Physics for college credit, then the course will probably not be offered. "

Go read the rest, it's only five pages, and then contact your legislators and ask them "Why not?" Ask the Governor, in light of the the recent Governor's Association study and his own trip to Japan and his bemoaning the lack of scientist coming out of Tennessee schools, "Why not?"

Policies that work

The National Governor's Association for Best Practices. "Providing Quality Choice Options in Education" says that the following are being used to increase student achievement and graduation rates across the nation.

Innovative school choice policies highlighted in the report include:

  • strengthening and broadening charter laws;
  • supporting transportation costs for low-income students;
  • expanding eligibility for students to take college courses in high school;
  • increasing the availability of virtual course offerings;
  • providing equitable funding for all education providers;
  • adopting school-based funding mechanisms; and
  • offering tuition assistance for students to attend non-public K-12 schools.
Tennessee has a long history of hindering many of these sorts of innovations. Our charter schools law is exceptionally constraining and seems designed to make them fail. Despite Al Gore inventing the Internet and helping inact a tax to provide online access to schools his own home state doesn't lead in e-learning which can be a very efficient and cost effective education delivery system. And we should surely understand by now that the folks best able to determine how to spend the money are usually those closest to its intended use.

The problem with most of these suggestions is that it requires someone to give up the power and authority they have. Power and authority that they've held for a long time and they will not give up easily.

Page 12 mentions our value-added system as being helpful.

This morning's Nashville City Paper has an article on this report. And for some odd reason their article left off the suggestion of offering tuition assistance for students to attend non-public K-12 schools.


Today's Tennessean contains a "Nashville Eye" column that needs to be read and responded to. Not responded to by printing an excuse in the next edition of the paper, but responded to with legitimate action. La Quita Martin writes what I've heard from parents over and over. No one is listening. This is basic folks. No business survives without making it's customers feel like they're valued. Every successful business knows that without customers you have no business. Ms. Martin explains in today's column why she's no longer a public school parent.

[Director of Schools Pedro] Garcia never has grasped one tried and true, critical ingredient for a successful school — the buy-in from parents.

Instead, he ignored the parents of the students. Personally, during my five years with the system, he did not answer one letter that I wrote to him, nor did he return even one phone call. Parent groups in which I participated requested meetings which fell on a deaf ear. At school board meetings I attended, I watched him leave the room when parents spoke.

I'm sure they'll be some good reasons for some of this 'ignoring'. Regardless, her overall impression is the impression of lots of parents and THAT should not be ignored another moment longer.

The school system can no longer assume that they have the support of the parents of the children enrolled there. Surely our recent tax referendum proved that. The system seems to be squandering the good will and earnest desire of the most involved parents. These are the very parents that want to make the case for public schooling. Many of them believe, with a nearly religious fervor, that this is the best way to educate children. Many are loathe to choose a private education. But eventually, what they cannot get around is that their children have needs that must be met.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sunday 10/30/05

It's Halloween, so bats in the attic seems appropriate--

Channel 9 is reporting bats and mold at Jasper Middle school in Chattanooga.

Indefinite sentences--

Those Dandridge boys who plotted to kill their middle school teacher and accidentally shot one of themselves in the leg were sentenced to "indefinite state custody".

An extracurricular distraction and tarnished star--

I've just got it stuck in my head that schools are for learning basic skills. But time and again the public schools are spending loads of time, money and other resources on the non-essentials. Memphis City Schools had to spend a good bit of time dealing with the suspension of and subsequent appeal of that suspension by a high school football star accordinig to the Commercial Appeal. The 'star' plead guilty to a misdemeanor assault of a 15 year old girl and he gets to stay on the team.

20% isn't nearly enough--

Mr. Scott Niswonger is quoted in the Greenville County paper during a teacher of the year ceremony.

“It’s believed that a student retains about 20 percent of what they learn in the classroom, but the life experiences will last for a lifetime

Speaking of life experiences---

The Lawrence County school system has a shop class that may be the ticket to breaking that 20% barrier.

Students in a Lawrence County school system masonry trade course will help build a new classroom facility for the program.

Something similar was done at my high school. The school was built on what was pretty much farm land. The shop classes OJT'd in new housing construction nearby. The guys (we were just on the cusp of the 'women's liberation' movement and my own appearance in drafting class was remarkable so yes, it's was just guys) learned construction trades and the city got an undeveloped area settled and on the tax roles.

Oh, the teacher of the year?

Dawn Werner of Fairmount Elementary.

Let's encourage this sort of fund raising--

The Nashville City Paper reports that a local rapper has donated a considerable sum toward local schools as a result of the efforts fo the Nashville Alliance for Public Education.
Rapper and Nashville native David “Young Buck” Brown recently donated $25,000 to Metro’s Advancement Via Individual Determination program, an initiative to help would-be first generation college students succeed in high school.
Buck, who did not complete high school, expressed interest in supporting dropout prevention programs, according to NAPE Co-Executive Director Kay Simmons.

Let me know when he really starts walking the talk and gets his high school diploma.

Oh, if rapper fans are looking for a real role model--

they might seriously consider being mentored by Sarah Moore Greene in Knoxville.

Let's hope this works--

Citing a study done by Vanderbilt university last year TennCare will try and reduce the amount of mental-health drugs given to our school children beginning in January of 2006.

"TennCare has seen dramatic increases in potentially harmful levels of utilization, with unproven therapies, to treat children living with depression or ADHD," Hickey said in a news release. From the Southern Standard.
There is certainly a need for some children to be medicated. But across the nation this trend is the same. What used to be considered normal wiggling and standard 'boy' behavior has morphed into a mental problem. So much so that legislation has been introduced in several states to come to the aid of parents who disagree with teachers who are demanding children be medicated.

See HB 1971 for a Tennessee example. Check with Bobbie Patray if you want to help her protect the children and parental rights.

Ludicris extra-curricular activities eat up more resources--

Finally, the band gets to play. Details in the Houston Chronicle, the Indianapolis Star, the UK, and the Booneville Daily News. Glad we got that cleared up.

Katrina, Rita & Wilma means more expensive schools--

according to this Knox News report.

Rising construction prices have hit all building projects, not just schools, hard. Over the last few months, costs have jumped more than 20 percent on projects across Tennessee, according to Lola Potter, spokeswoman for the state Department of Finance and Administration.
No. 1 reason teachers lose their license--

sexual misconduct. Probably because it's so difficult to fire them for failing to teach or general misconduct. But this is a step in the right direction.

New rules passed by the state board last week would also allow for administrators to lose their licenses if they fail to report teachers who resign after allegations emerge. From the Tennessean.


The rules still must be passed by the state attorney general and the Government Operations Committee. From WKRN


The Nashville City Paper outlines some of what the school board is doing to get citizen input into the budget cuts that must be made.

One of places the school board has gone for ideas is Minneapolis, MN. According to the City Paper article Minneapolis initiated an input process called 'repurposing'.

“This whole re-purposing project is about letting the community around that school … decide what’s going to be in that building,” Nevill said. “Their goal is to never leave an empty building in a community.”

Well, I'm all for that. But perhaps we need to rethink the old fashioned brick and mortar school. Perhaps we need to open up that whole facilities mindset and seriously consider some other ways of providing classrooms.

I'll blame the following on Phil Valentine. Some weeks ago on my way to and from I heard a snip of his program where he was discussing modular classrooms. the jist of it was that a central facility is build of brick and mortar. That hub contains the office, gymnasium, library and cafeteria. From that hub modular classrooms radiate, as needed. It's cheaper and quicker to add a modular classroom. It's quicker and cheaper to move these to districts that need extra classrooms. It's cheaper to upgrade modular classrooms as technology and safety and health issues change--and they always do.

Year after year we guesstimate how many students will be enrolled and hand wring when we discover we don't have enough classroom space for them. And while some folks are going to recoil at the thought of portable classrooms for every child we should give this serious consideration in our day and age of mobile societies and the reality that we're never going to get this attendance count 100% right. The next best thing may be to give ourselves the flexibility needed.

The American School Board Journal touched on this issue in June of 2003. They cited Caesar Chavez Elementary School in Corona, CA, Clark County, Nevada School District, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina's largest school district,

Setting up modular classrooms is also much quicker than building a new school from the ground up. Tom Duffy, a lobbyist for California's School Facility Manufacturers Association, says that planning, building, and inspecting a new elementary school takes about two years. But a similar number of modular classroom seats can be installed in just a few months.


The ready-made buildings, which are designed to last more than 50 years, are actually stronger than most traditionally constructed schools, he says.

"It'll stand up to Category 4 hurricanes and it's easily relocatable," Sanger says of his product. "A lot of the schools started using them as permanent buildings."

Because Royal builds its classrooms on an assembly line, the buildings are more cost-effective. Sanger says the total cost for putting in one of his buildings is $90 per square foot, compared to $120 to $140 per square foot for traditional construction.

and yes, there have been problems, but according to this report, most of those have been overcome.

Today's portable classrooms, however, look much more like traditional classrooms, at least on the inside. Most measure 35 feet by 35 feet and are built from far-sturdier materials. Many are wired for telephone, Internet, and cable TV access. The nicest models even have their own restrooms, water fountains, and sinks, meaning bathroom breaks don't interrupt lessons or force students to deal with bad weather.
We've only got so much money. Personally, I'd rather spend money on great teachers and excellent curriculum and resources instead waiting years for buildings to be built and then discover by the time the building opens the population has changed and district lines must be redrawn and neighborhoods disrupted. If the children are warm, dry and safe that's enough for me. Let the learning begin.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Buh bye

The morning media is making it pretty clear that Metro Nashville Public School Director Pedro Garcia is on his way out. This may be the first time I've agreed with my own school board member. She voted not to renew his contract at this time. I don't think this turn of events was a big surprise to anyone who's been watching or had a few conversations with parents of publicly school children in our town.

And like taxpayers who are demanding accountability for the dollars taken from them for public use and citizens who are demanding accountability from their legislators in regard to ethics, parents are also demanding accountability for the time their children spend in the care of the public school system.

The time of 'trust us, we're the professionals' is just gone. People are tired of excuses, run arounds, incoherent information and lack of basic respect for their being the bosses of council members, school board members and representatives of all flavors.

Telling is the amount of ink spent, again, on a sports issue. Since the days of Jamestown American's have been too distracted by entertainment and so again the news of what happened in the School Board meeting last evening which will impact 70 thousand of our children and a huge percentage of our tax dollars was cut up and pasted onto three different pages in the Tennessean. There was a couple of inches on the front page, a few more on page 8A and a few more inches, the bulk of the article, on 9A. You had to get to 9A for the money quote from Pedro Garcia:

"The cards are on the table. At this point in time, you would have to be very naïve to think that I'm going to be here in June 2007 to see what the (test) scores are." Tennessean

This reads to me like the man knows when to fold and walk. It reads to me like he doesn't have a lot of confidence in those '07 test scores.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fix this!

If I see the Tennessean publish this same map showing Evergreen as south of Joyce Lane again I guess you'll hear me all the way to Broadway. Please guys, this makes it look like not one of you has actually been to the property. Evergreen (and so the Jim Reeves Museum) was on the NORTH side of Joyce lane. Credibility hinges on the details.

My apologies for the lousy rendering of the graphic when I added the arrow. I don't have an expert graphics department supporting my efforts.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Government needs

And yes, I've seen the Tennessean editorial against the latest efforts of Tennessee Tax Revolt to require Nashville government to check with it's citizens before upping our taxes. I look around and see a representative system that needs a bit of a "slap", as the Tennessean calls it. It's my opinion that the editor falls right into the same pit as some of our representatives when they write:

Elected officials who make difficult decisions on taxes have to weigh the responsibility of managing revenues. When revenues don't meet the government's needs, those officials face decisions, including raising taxes or cutting services.

They have a responsibiliy to manage expenses and revenues. When the Tennessean only mentions the income and not the outflow they overlook at least half of the issue.

Further the government has absolutely no 'needs' except self-preservation. The citizens of the city do have needs, yes. And there is no way that the city can meet all the needs of the citizens. So we have to debate about which needs are handled by the city and which are handled by the citizens themselves and/or various charities. Every time the city decides that they need more of my money I have to decide how long my children can wear those same shoes or where I can get cheaper milk. What I need is a government that understands its limitations and has the backbone to say "This far and no further" to well-meaning advocates begging for more.

A real boost for development and safety

Advocates say afterschool programs can boost academic, physical, and social development of children while keeping them safe. From WATE in Knoxville.

What can really boost all of these is a parent who can stay home. Let's work at helping parents keep more of their income so they can do what they can do--should do. It makes no sense for the government to tax them to pay for taking care of their very own children. Can we get off this merry-go-round?

Check with the folks at Tennessee Tax Revolt. If you see me I'll have a copy of their latest petition in my purse ready for you to sign.

I feel your pain

From Anderson County:

The county schools contract with bus companies to provide bus service to county schoolchildren. The agreed-upon contract between the school system and contractors allows only a $30,000 supplement each year for increased fuel costs. Because of the jump in diesel prices, the six contractors have already received the full $30,000 allotment with no increase slated for the remainder of the year.

"We're sympathetic with the contractors," Stonecipher said. "(But) we're tight, real tight (on the budget). -- We don't have any place to go (for the money)." from the Oak Ridger

Give them all the sympathy you can.

Let's be honest

Governor Bredesen was recently in Japan. Thankfully someone was honest.

“In almost every meeting I go too, I ask what are the impediments to your expanding of this site and what can we do about it?” Bredesen said. “In one of them that I remember well and I won’t quote the company, they just said we can hire lots of good workers. We cannot find management.” Hearing that from a Japanese company “very much got my attention,” Bredesen said,...
And it should have. It's not about Pre-K or lottery scholarships it's about getting back to basics and accomodating real learning.

We have full pages in our newspapers with faulty logic being utilized to prevent our students from utilizing the thinking skills they should have learned to evalute the legitimacy of arguments about such things as what is science. It's all well and good to say you want a diverse and thinking student body that results in quality managerial employees but when you won't allow them the resources and opportunity to actually think diversely and come to their own conclusions, to utilize the skills managers must have, what do you expect?

Nashville school board member Lisa Hunt wrote: "Teaching intelligent design in public schools reaches beyond these bounds, narrowing our sense of both knowledge and truth." I don't understand how she cannot see, or even allow, that the exercise of discussing the topic is vital to create a thinking population. It's like saying we shouldn't discuss communism in America because we're a republic. Getting to know the other side's argument tests your own foundation and allows you to own your point of view in a way that no droaning lecture from anyone can accomplish.

The Governor bemoans the lack of real scientists coming out of Tennessee schools. Perhaps it's because no one has taught them that real scientists question everything in their quest for truth--including the established science.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Nashville politics from the inside

Those of you interested in what's going on in Nashville politics will want to bookmark (add to your RSS feed) Word on the Street.

Birthed on Wednesday I just heard about this and the flap over Evergreen's demolition in Inglewood and behind the scenes insight make up the first two posts.

Today's post says that for the first time in his six year tenure the mayor is calling department heads together.

"I don't know yet what's happening, but I do know that a lot of dept. heads are real nervous. I mean the throwing up kind of nervous."

I'm all for sunshine into the workings of our city. I certainly wish Word all the best and hope it'll be a factual and insightful peek into what's going on in Metro government.

Welcome to the blogsphere, Word.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Volunteer in school

Brittany at NashvilleIsTalking wondered about volunteering in schools. It's an awesome thing to do and I applaude her in this effort. AND I suggested she contact Love Helps. Cindy and Dean Baker have been going into schools for a while now and have already greased the skids, if you will. They are especially considerate and accomodating of folks who work and have just a small slice of time do to this. Check 'em out.

Another historic loss?

This article about preserving the old Murphy school reminds me that we still have the gymnasium portion of Litton High that needs to be preserved and utilized. And in the wake of losing Evergreen our neighborhood shouldn't suffer another serious blow to our heritage. If you have a heart for the task contact the Litton Alumni Association and ask how you can help. They've got very specific plans to refurbish the building and make it a viable community center to augment the work they already do with children via sports on the rest of the property.

The image above is a Phil Ponder rendering of the school in its heyday. The gym is the very right portion and that's all that is left. You can purchase a print from the Litton Alumni Association.

Oh, and the terrible condition of the Litton Gym is all on Metro this time.

On the road SB meetings

The Nashville Metro School Board will be taking their meetings 'on the road' according to the Nashville City Paper. What seemed really odd to me was that despite news reports that many of Inglewood's schools are under capacity there is no report of a meeting taking place in an area that could be very impacted by school closings.

One scenario is closing Isaac Litton and absorbing it into Dalewood and Bailey, which are also under capacity.

If Litton closes, the district could save about $1.5 million, and there are other schools in the same situation. Shwab elementary is at 66 percent capacity, Dan Mills Elementary is at 67 percent, Inglewood Elementary at 68 percent, and Rosebank Elementary, is only 53 percent full. From NewChannel 5

This is going to be a huge hornet's nest. I would not want to be School Board Member Lisa Hunt and have to face the neighborhood explaining why, AGAIN, Litton is being closed. The closing of Litton High School and sending students to Stratford is still a sore point in the neighborhood and a reason why our neighborhood schools are under capacity.

I believe that there are benefits to smaller neighborhood schools that need to be carefully considered. Bigger schools further away from parents is not a better solution.

Retirees more and less

GM retirees get less and retired teachers get more--

We're learning about the givebacks that are being required from GM employees and being demanded by other auto makers and yet retired teachers aren't suffering the same fate accourding to this Shelbyville Times article.

One item the retired teachers are interested in is Senate Bill 381, which deals with pension and retirement benefits and an increase in the state paid portions for active and retired educators.
Another bill that has already gone through the Education Committee would allow children of retired teachers up to age 24 to receive a 25 percent high education tuition discount in Tennessee collages. Currently, the children of active teachers already receive the discount, but retired educators' kids do not. [Perhaps HB0973]
A bill that provides an additional 5 percent for the pension funds for retired teachers was discussed. [Perhaps HB0338]
Of course, there are plenty of other bills providing benefits to current and retired teachers and staffers and their children in the legislative pipeline. HB0052, HB0117, HB0250, HB0669 (my personal favorite), HB0748, HB1535, HB1608. Those are just about tuition. There are more.

National report card questioned

The Nashville City Paper reports that Standard & Poor's thinks NAEP needs context.

“Our whole business is transparency,” [Director Paul] Gazzerro said. “It’s not as simple as just throwing one proficiency rate up against another.”
Here's the SchoolsMatter page for Tennessee.
Tennessee is analyzing how its standards correspond with national standards, but the argument remains whether a national curriculum or an individual state’s curriculum is better. From the Nashville City Paper
It's all about freedom. Should the feds tell us what to teach our children? No. It's not constitutionally mandated. The feds shouldn't even be involved, imo. Oh, yeah, there's that money issue. Well, tell 'em to keep their money and we'll keep our freedom.

Getting a real job--

From today's Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle comes the news that their Director of Schools Sandra Husk has been given a three year contract extension after all 30 of their schools met state standards. In the article she's quoted as saying:

"I would like to see more emphasis towards vocational subjects," Steeley said. "We need to do a better job of having students prepared for the world of work when they get out of school. Not all students need to go to college or want to go to college. Some need to go to work and do a trade."
And some of those college bound students could use a bit of vocational training too. They'll probably end up 'working' at some point in their lives too.

High priority takes a slow boat

Ten weeks after being notified by the state Department of Education that it fell short of the federal benchmarks for two consecutive years, the system finally got around to telling parents. Letters about the system's shortfall were sent out with students' report cards last week, two and a half months after the system received an e-mail from the Tennessee Department of Education about its "High Priority" status. From the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal
When will these folks learn that communication with parents, those very parents they say they want to partner with in the education of these students, must be a priority?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Offshore tutoring

There are plenty of folks that fuss about the lack of accountability in cyber schools. Many of those folks have worked very hard at preventing education choice in Tennessee. WHAT, oh what will they do with this gem?

Apparently, those smart folks in the Silicon Valley in California, having discovered how well Indians provide tech support, have begun to utilize them for tutoring students.

An increasing number of companies are seizing on cheaper labor abroad and the reach of the Internet to undercut the cost of U.S.-based tutors and take advantage of a vibrant Asian-born immigrant community passionate about their children's education. But critics of the approach say offshore tutors don't understand the subtleties of teaching American students. From the Mercury-News

We're #41

From the folks that gave us the most liveable states and most dangerous cities comes "The Smartest State Award" and it ain't Tennessee. We're number 41.

Oddly, all the 'smart' states are up in the northeast. what's up with that?

Rounding out the top five states with Vermont were Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maine. Bringing up the lower end of the rankings scale were Arizona in last place, Mississippi in 49th, New Mexico in 48th, Nevada in 47th and California in 46th.
This may be part of the problem with the list: the amount of money spent per student is factored in. The cost of living is less in the south so there's no way we could win unless we just threw money away. They also factor in the percentage of students actually in public schools. Since we've got a strong private school tradition around here we lose again.

Somehow, I think spending less and having education options might make us smarter, not dumber.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Saturday 10/15/05

The cost of higher education

includes embezzlement according to these Commercial-Appeal and Tennessean reports. $130K stolen from the school's dentistry program by some 70 friends, acquaintances and relatives.

The investigation began when officials with the UT Health Science Center's accounts payable department became suspicious about the number of reimbursement checks being issued to patients of the College of Dentistry between Aug. 15, 2002 and Nov. 3, 2003. From the AP via Kansas City Star.

I love bean counters. :-)

More money waste is outlined

in this opinion piece by Dr. Don Drennen-Gala in the and his solution is forthright:

"...we should do what Corporate America use to do with those who wasted money, terminate their employment. The next election should clearly show a strong vote for this termination from office."
This really only works well if better people are able and willing to run. It's a tough job and no one should consider taking this on without serious forethought. And once the decision is made, we mere voters, ought to support their candidacy with money and volunteer time.

What are they thinking

linking Cedar Bluff athletic funding to something as inappropriate as alcohol sales? AND, I assume, the school is vigorously educating those children about the evils of alcohol and wouldn't even consider a beer ad on the backfield wall. So on the one hand they want adults to drink so they can support the team but the team members better not get caught drinking or they're off the team, but their parents need to drink to support the team. And IF the school is successful in reducing the drinking rate in their students alcohol sales decline and the team withers. 'Round and round it goes. there wasn't a better plan--like increasing the sales tax rate?

A suckers game

Again we have a headline proclaiming the amount of money given to students via the lottery. This time the says it "$415 million for education." But the devil is in the details:

Nearly $1.5 billion in gross ticket sales
More than $843.8 million in prizes won by players
Nearly $96.5 million paid in retailer commissions
$25 million has been earmarked for pre-kindergarten programs

$1.5 BBBBBillion in gross ticket sales and we're supposed to be thrilled that 1/3rd of that is actually going to students.

Memphis Tomorrow

The news reader picked up this article from the Memphis Flyer about a little known group" called Memphis Tomorrow. Apparently their gig is to look at problems and find solutions. While the following goals looks hopeful. I like the charter school options. I always like options.
  1. Memphis Tomorrow members have supported the advancement of Charter Schools legislation, believing that Charter Schools offer choice to public school parents and create opportunities for the school system to try new education solutions.
  2. Memphis Tomorrow has also agreed to participate on the Mayor's appointed Community Task Force on Funding Public Education to help identify funding and governance solutions for our school system, and has also provided financial support for the coordination and administration of the effort at the request of the Task Force members.
  3. Memphis Tomorrow has produced, with the help of many community leaders, a Community Guide to Funding Public Education to provide a much needed source of information about how school funding works today.
According to the Nashville Flyer that "Community Guide to Funding Public Education" has been delayed and I don't see it on their web site yet.

Their Nashville counterpart was heavily behind the attempt at a sales tax increase in Nashville that was an embarrassing failure.

"Fundamental right to an education"

is the issue in this KnoxNews article.

Part of that fuzzy territory involves whether education is a "fundamental right" under state law. The courts here haven't definitively decided that issue, Fansler said. And so the fight continues over how best to handle educating students who break the rules.
We have a compulsory attendance law that doesn't require the parties to educate or be educated. If there's an instance where a school district was successfully sued for not educating a student, I've never heard of it.

At [plaintiff's attorney Dean] Rivkin's request, [Knox County Daryl] Fansler clarified the remedies Thursday: The district must allow students to take classes via computer for free if they need them to graduate on time. It also must allow students to request a waiver to pursue a GED at age 17.
This could get interesting.

"Rethinking Parent Conferences"

in the American School Board Journal seem to contain some pretty common sense advice about the issue.

Even when parents show up, they’re not necessarily satisfied. In a study by Boston’s family literacy project, several parents said schools should make meetings longer, ensure privacy, provide options for attending during the day or in the evening, and hold conferences more than twice a year.
We're a 24/7 society. It only makes sense that our government services start taking that into consideration.

Three things the article says should be kept in mind:

Family structure. A child’s caregiver and best home contact might be a parent, but it could also be a grandparent, stepparent, or foster parent.

Accessibility. Barriers to parent participation often include parents’ work schedules and home responsibilities, lack of transportation, and lack of telephones and home computers.

Trust. Parents are more likely to attend conferences and participate in their child’s school if they feel needed and welcomed.

Something to keep in mind

is that folks may actually utilize the options they have. While teachers in British Columbia are striking the parents are turning to homeschooling their children. What if parents discover they can actually do this and the result is that even fewer teachers are needed due to a loss of students?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Wednesday 10/12/05

I can relate

to Bill Hobb's situation when he explained the change in his blog:

"I am merely taking a break from what has become a rather time-consuming and uncompensated hobby..."
My own life has become much busier than I'd like lately, and thus my own sporadic postings. Thanks for hanging in there. And I wish Bill all the best blessings and am thankful for his efforts.


Why is a East Tennessee State University expending so much time and effort in accommodating this concert? Isn't education their focus? Not only does this get mentioned in Knox News but also it's on the BREAKING NEWS page of the San Jose Mercury News. Apparently, no earthquakes or Arnold news to report.

A woman's job

And speaking of Arnold it looks like Jackson Central-Merry High has their own sort of action hero in the form of their new principal Virginia Stackens-Crump. According to the Jackson Sun she's got a plan and she's getting it done.

"The whole atmosphere of the school has changed," said [parent Angela] Johnson, who believes student and parent morale have increased, more focus has been put back on the children, and the teachers and students have a mutual respect for each other.
She apparently realized that attitude was an important first step in education and is helping the students to focus on some basics that enable learning to actually take place. This article is full of little things that she requires that add up to a lot: using inside voices, walking on the left in the halls, in school suspensions mean in school chores (I really like that one), requiring athletes to also be academics, and bare midriffs are for after school. It's an encouraging read.

Powerball Fever

The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle reminds us where the money really goes.

But we still object to a government program that essentially redistributes wealth from the poor and lower classes to the middle and upper classes, pours money into corporate gaming empires, wastes money on enormous salaries for bureaucrats and offers a poor return on investment for the state's citizens.

Why do few parents know?

While legislators and educrats are working hard to kill the value added system and discredit Dr. William Sanders, it keeps leaking out that there is some valuable information in there.

Few parents know it, but school principals hold information that can predict the likely performance of their children on important tests. From the Tennessean.

The board considers...moving the deck chairs

A committee assigned to study converting Metro schools to a balanced calendar found no evidence that the alternative schedule overwhelmingly improves student achievement.

However, committee members polled at the end of their work were still in favor of the school board at least considering the switch, according to TITLE Rob Sasser. From Nashville City Paper
So changes have to provide 'overwhelming' improvement?

They also considered the impact on teachers and students with summer jobs, what area private schools would do, and how community organizations serving children would be affected.
A copy of the committee’s report is expected to be posted on the district Web site.
And according to a post made by BOE member Kathleen Harkey on the NashvillePTO Talk list she's requested that the report be posted to the web and a "response box" be included so that "parents and citizens could read the original without depending on the press as the communication function and give feedback."
Good move. Parents shouldn't have to depend on the press to get this information. They ought to be able to get original documents straight from the district. AND there should always be a readily accessible way to provide feedback. Maybe this will help more parents know.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A traveling companion

I was delighted to open today's Tennessean and find that they've added Julie Hunt to their roster of columnists. In today's newly redesigned Living Section you'll find her on D3.

I know Julie and consider her to be a delightful person to be around. She's been an encouragement to me over the several years I've known her. She's definitely been through some hard circumstances and come out, if not at the top, very near so. I've known her to be compassionate, knowledgeable, with a great sense of humor and the mom of two great children...errr, well, one's married now so not a child anymore, but you know what I mean. One of my children took her Babysitting101 class and all four have viewed and reviewed that video several times.

Anyway, I hope you'll check out her column called "Virtual Mom". She'll be a great read on Monday mornings.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The NEA Pyramid

Today's suggested reading comes from Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency. It's entitled "The NEA Pyramid: The View Changes As you Rise to the Top of the Nation's Largest Union'.

The NEA surveyed it's members and the results are pretty interesting. Mike observes that the larger the local the more it leans left.

Mike starts out by reminding us that 90% of the money the NEA donates goes toward Democrats. On page six we learn that while the percentage of conservatives and liberals is 44% to 49% in tiny unions there is a decided lean to the liberal with 82% self-identifying themselves as liberal and a mere 14% calling themselves conservative by the time you get to the jumbo sized unions.

Troubling is the lack of change in leadership.

"Of all NEA local affiliate presidents, 42 percent have been elected 4 times or more. Eighty-nine percent of NEA local affiliate presidents were unopposed in their last election."
The problem may be:
"One question asked members how involved they were in the union at either the local, state or national level. Thirty-six percetn of them said 'not at all.' Right away, you can writ eoff approximately 972,000 NEA members who do nothing to affect the union's direction one way or the other."
And there is little wonder when "new members were asked by they joined NEA, the top answer (20 percent) was that they had "no choice."'

In America, land of the free, they didn't feel like they had a choice. I guess they can relate to their students.

Empowering Statutes

The folks at American Destiny took the time to remind folks of what can be utilized in Tennessee classrooms.


Title 49. Education
Chapter 6. Elementary and Secondary Education
Part 10. Curriculum Generally

Section 49-6-1011. Historically significant or venerated documents; censorship

(a) No teacher or administrator in an LEA shall be prohibited from using or reading from, during the course of educational instruction, or from posting in a public school building, classroom or event, any of the following or any excerpts or portions of the following:

(1) The national motto;

(2) The national anthem;

(3) The Pledge of Allegiance;

(4) The Constitution of Tennessee;

(5) The Declaration of Independence;

(6) The writings, speeches, documents and proclamations of the founders or presidents of the United States or the founders or governors of Tennessee;

(7) Opinions of the United States and Tennessee supreme courts; and

(8) Acts of the United States congress and acts of the Tennessee general assembly.

(b) The list of historically significant or venerated documents, writings or records set out in subsection (a) shall not be construed to be exclusive, and the doctrine of ejusdem generis shall not be applied to prohibit the use, reading or posting of other such documents, writings or records.

(c) The use, reading or posting of the types of documents, writings and records authorized by this section shall be undertaken for educational purposes only and shall not be used to promote or establish any religion or religious belief.

(d) There shall be no content-based censorship of American or Tennessee history or heritage based on any religious references contained in such documents, writings or records.

[This statute was located on March 24, 2005 and may have been modified or amended since that date.]

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tuesday 10/4/05

How about some fervor over academics?

Numerous services rank the state's high school teams, providing fans with a Friday night fervor several Web sites to see just where their favorite teams rate. And many do.
A retired statistician and computer consultant at the nuclear research facilities in Oak Ridge, Nall works today as technology director for TSSAA. He began ranking high school football teams in 1993 as a hobby and has since gained a reputation for accuracy. From the Jackson Sun

Hamilton County needs a lawyer.

Sen. Ward Crutchfield has been serving as the school board attorney for many years. His annual charge was $53,985. Sen. Crutchfield stepped down from the schools post after his indictment in the Tennessee Waltz FBI bribery sting.

The board is discussing whether to keep current attorneys or make a change.

Board member Joe Conner said it appears there could be a savings by having in-house counsel. From

And here they mention the former senator's pension and insurance via the school system.
The big boys are crying foul.

The mayors of Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Shelby counties say their schools have a disproportionate share of the state's low-income students and those who have a limited proficiency in English. They said the state's Basic Education Program financing formula doesn't account for those factors. From WVLT

The state BEP Review Committee, made up of educators, state officials and two members of the Legislature is expected to recommend changes to the formula to Gov. Phil Bredesen by Nov. 1. From Southern Standard

Williamson County, which has the highest median household income in the state, received around $345 more per student than Knox.

"There's something really wrong when children from very wealthy counties are receiving more money than a child from Lonsdale or Beaumont" in Knox County, [Knox County Mayor Mike] Ragsdale said Thursday.

"There's no logic behind it. There's no reasonable explanation behind it," he said. "And if it requires it, we need to just start over with a new funding formula." From KnoxNews

And standing squarely in the middle:

Patrick Smith, the legislative liaison for Bredesen, said the governor would not support any plan that "had a drastic negative impact on any school system's funding." From KnoxNews

Another reason to bring back neighborhood schools.

Two teenage boys were arrested Monday afternoon in connection with a bomb threat at William Blount High School that resulted in an evacuation. From KnoxKnews

Legislation that worked.

Tennessee's charter school law was so narrowly written that the number of folks even willing to start through that 2 year gauntlet is becoming nil.

As of the Oct. 1 deadline, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) had not received any applications from parties interested in starting a charter school, according to Metro schools official Dr. Nancy Dill. From Nashville City Paper

Whose children are they?

Those of you in Nashville need to make a phone call or e-mail your council reps and the at-large reps about a resolution that is on the agenda for tonight's council meeting. In fact, go ahead and contact Superintendent Pedro Garcia while you're at it to let him know how you feel about the issue. Resolution RS2005-1017 (and below) encouraging MNPS to make materials available to parents before the lesson is presented to the children. It is NOT about the content of one video. It is about who gets to decide what information is appropriate for children.

I've always believed that it was the job of parents to know their own children and decide when is the right time to broach sensitive topics. With four of my own children I've realized that each of them had different maturity levels. Each of them had different interest levels about the subject. Each of them had different points at which it became 'too much information'. How anyone could make a blanket assessment that encompasses dozens of children is beyond my understanding. And I further believe that much of this sort of information is beyond the core mission of our public schools anyway and so all the more reason that the parents must be involved and consulted. Parents cannot make these decisions without information and first hand information is vital. Surely we can all agree on that, can't we? So make your voice heard. I support Councilman Gilmore's effort and hope that you can do the same.

Here is the phone number for the council office where you can leave a message: 862-6780 and here is the fax number: 862-6784. Unless you know your rep to be responsive to e-mail I'd phone.

I'll go a step further and say that these sorts of lessons should not be opt-out they ouoght to be expressly opt-in.


A resolution requesting the Metropolitan Board of Public Education to notify and afford parents an opportunity to screen videos and films before they are shown to students.

WHEREAS, films and videos are an effective supplemental education tool often used by teachers in the classroom; and

WHEREAS, although videos can be an effective learning tool, sometimes the subject matter of the video may be deemed by some parents to be inappropriate for viewing by their children; and

WHEREAS, T.C.A. §49-6-1303 expressly provides that a student may be excused from family life instruction if the school is notified by the parents that they find the instructional material objectionable; and

WHEREAS, Members of Council have received complaints from a number of parents regarding the subject matter of a video entitled "A Place at the Table", which was shown to students without advance notification to parents; and

WHEREAS, it is fitting and proper that parents be afforded an opportunity to view videos and films to be shown in the classroom in advance so that they can prevent their children from viewing any film they deem objectionable or inappropriate.


Section 1. That the Metropolitan County Council hereby goes on record as requesting the Metropolitan Board of Public Education to notify and afford parents an opportunity to screen videos and films before they are shown to students.

Section 2. The Metropolitan Clerk is directed to send a copy of this Resolution to Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia, and to each member of the Metropolitan Board of Public Education.

Section 3. That this resolution shall take effect from and after its adoption, the welfare of The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County requiring it.

Sponsored by: Carolyn Baldwin Tucker

[Thanks to Bobbie Patray.]

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Father Factor

So where are they? The fathers that is.

Today's Tennessean has a lengthy report with this hot button headline: "Black students have highest offense rate". In a week that included the comments of Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett the new week brought no relief from that muddied mess.

Some clarity to that issue was presented by the National Review when their Andrew C. McCarthy wrote:

He [Bennett] was dealing with life as it currently is — a life in which it is true not only that blacks commit crimes at a rate higher than the national average but that blacks are more likely to be victimized by crime than any other identifiable group.
And so here we have a full page of this morning's newspaper saying something very similar. I made an immediate connection to something I read over the weekend from Charles Murray at the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal

Why has the proportion of unsocialized young males risen so relentlessly? In large part, I would argue, because the proportion of young males who have grown up without fathers has also risen relentlessly. The indicator here is the illegitimacy ratio--the percentage of live births that occur to single women. It was a minuscule 4% in the early 1950s, and it has risen substantially in every subsequent decade. The ratio reached the 25% milestone in 1988 and the 33% milestone in 1999. As of 2003, the figure was 35%--of all births, including whites. The black illegitimacy ratio in 2003 was 68%. By way of comparison: The illegitimacy ratio that caused Daniel Patrick Moynihan to proclaim the breakdown of the black family in the early 1960s was 24%.
I've read about this same sad state of affairs in other publications for years and have watched several organizations strive valiently to turn the tide. I've watched some single moms do the same. So the further I read into this morning's Tennessean article the harder I looked for the word father. I never found it. There were plenty of charts and graphs comparing grades, race and schools but no where did anyone ask serious questions about home life. The closest thing to considering the lack of fathers in the lives of these children was this quote from Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services. He said:

"Let's look at the home," said Trump, who also pointed to poverty as a factor. "The real question is what type of discipline are children getting at home." It was no surprise to him, however, that males are responsible for most of the serious offenses in Tennessee because it's like that everywhere.
And it looks like the principal of Maplewood High, Darwin Mason, has a clue:

"A huge disproportion of teachers are white femails and, while I don't think the overwhelming majority have any ill will, they may not understand young men and they may become more intimdated by than a male teacher,"

I understand that intimidation. I understand that lack of undersanding. My own experience raising a son is that there came a point in my son's life when it became abundantly clear that it was now time for this mother to back down and let papa lead in the son rearing. While my son clearly loves and honors me there is no denying that he needed to hear from and see demonstrated by his father certain things that his mom just couldn't provide. I was raised in a very male dominated household as the only daughter. I spent two years in the Army. I've spent much of my life in male dominated jobs. I've been married to a man for 20 years. But for much of that time what rolls around in my brain is "What was he thinking?" There is a reason that women default to saying "It's a guy thing."

So where are the guys? Where are the fathers of these boys who are getting into trouble? I hope the Tennessean will take this report a step further and ask that same question. These children are too important to leave that stone unturned. Where are the fathers?