Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Wednesday 11/30/05

Enclave reports on the proposal to close MNPS Jones Paideia School--

and includes "a few details that might daze and discombobulate you as well"

The Red Pen--

Nathan Moore has some great first hand information from Councilwoman Tucker about her thoughts on this whole Nashville school budget process. She pulled out her own red pen. Glad to see it. Miscellaneous and Other columns are lazy and need to be outed.

In a seemingly common sense manner, Councilwoman Tucker focuses on 1) new items from this year’s budget and 2) items cryptically marked as “Other Expenses.” My sources say that the school board has not yet granted her the opportunity to speak to them.

On the Curve--

I was out of town when the Nashville Scene published this piece on the rising Metro Nashville test scores. It's definitely worth a read.

When you take off the rose-colored glasses, turn off the local press boosterism, tune out the Bransford Avenue spin, and look with care and skepticism at the numbers, a different picture emerges. It’s not a contrary picture—higher TCAP scores aren’t imaginary—but there’s a good deal less than meets the eye to the “dramatic” gains that many credit Garcia for achieving.

Nashville is Talking blog has some additional links--

regarding the Oak Ridge High School student papers that were confiscated. Including a link to a copy of the actual article. Pity it's nearly illegible.

News of the weird and, apparently, unwell--

A Fayetteville principal finally fessed up to attacking himself.

"Mr. Steelman is very sorry for what he's done," the school director said. "He needs some help. Anybody thinking rationally would not have done that." From the Tennessean

The cussing jar on steroids--

There will be no more f-words, b-words or s-words spoken, yelled or hissed in classes at Hartford Public or Bulkeley high schools.

Not for free, anyway.

Students who dare utter words of the sort are paying dearly for their vocabulary. In a bid to rein in out-of-control language - and behavior - city police officers assigned to the schools have started doling out tickets with $103 fines. They have charged about two dozen students over the past few weeks with creating a public disturbance, an infraction. From the Hartford (Ct) Courant

If this comes to Nashville, expect to hear students complain about how school resource officers have a "cussin' quota" and are only writing tickets to accumulate enough money to finish pimping Superintendent Garcia's SUV.

Stranger than fiction

Sometimes ya just gotta laugh. I've long thought that too many of our schools were looking more and more like prisons with their smaller windows, regimenting bells, hall passes, metal detectors and school 'resource' officers and less and less like fun places for young children to learn. I know that many parents welcome 'back to school' time and some already stressing about what to do with the darlings over Christmas vacation. And so I laughed out loud at my own self when I read:

ATTICA—A group of disgruntled sign-carrying parents are expected protest a proposal by the Lapeer Community Schools Board of Education to close Attica Ele-mentary School... From the County Press in MI

Can you think of a more badly named school for young children? Or am I the only on that read Attica and immediately pictured the New York maximum security prison?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Where did I hear this before...

From a recent article by Jay Matthews

Parental involvement is often cited as vital to raising student achievement. The best schools usually have the most school-oriented parents, many experts say. So doesn't it make sense that all schools need that kind of support at home?

But a new study of low-income public schools in California has concluded that several other factors, including teaching the state's rigorous academic content and getting experienced teachers, have much more influence on achievement than does parents' involvement. The findings have inspired a national debate on the subject, with some parents like Allen saying the study is correct and others saying parental influence should not be so quickly dismissed. From the Detroit News

Oh yeah, now I remember. Dr. William Sanders has been saying this for years.

A recent report by the national nonprofit group Education Trust, based in part on Sanders' analyses, found that the achievement gap that separates low-income and minority students from other students could be eliminated if the low-income and minority students were assigned to the best teachers. 1998 The Tennessean

The report, Good Teaching Matters - How Well-Qualified Teachers Can Close the Gap, goes on to assert that the academic achievement gap - the gap in standardized test scores and other measures of achievement that separates low-income students and students of color from other students - could be entirely eliminated if these students were systematically assigned the most highly qualified teachers, rather than the least qualified teachers. August 1998 Education Trust

And back to the newest study:
The four practices most closely associated with high student performance were
  • putting greater emphasis on student achievement,
  • tightening the curriculum to fit the state academic standards,
  • using student assessments to identify and remove weaknesses in instruction, and
  • assembling certified and experienced teachers and principals with the best educational equipment.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

He who pays the piper...

Some folks are pretty upset that a school principal has confiscated copies of the Oak Ridge High School student paper. Cries of "Censorship!" and "First amendment rights!" and "Free speech" are being shouted by various supporters of the students. What is being overlooked so far is that old adage:

He who pays the piper calls the tune.

For this current discussion the real lesson here, for these students and the rest of us, is that he own owns the press (or pays for the printing) gets to decide whether or not it gets printed.

The fact is that journalists since before Gutenberg have had their words censored by editors, publishers and even advertisers. Persuading those entities that the article is worth the ink and paper, the paper's good will in the community or the potential loss of advertisers or subscribers is just a part of the job. There is no Constitutional right to force a press owner to print your free speech. The reality is that free speech isn't really fee. At minimum it comes with an invoice from the printer, web host or soapbox supplier.

I suffered some of this reality check in my own high school years. I hope that the adults in this situation will not use the students as pawns for their own political agenda as was done to my high school journalism classmates and myself long ago. That would be a form of abuse that I can tell you still stings.

In the few articles available at this time I have yet to read if there was an adult advisor to these students. I wonder where they were. Why they didn't prevent this debacle? Were they given authority and then had it snatched out from under them by their higher ups? Will we end up with frustrated students who were betrayed by their authority or will they be encouraged to gather together the financial resources necessary to print their own papers?

From my point of view, a school newspaper is an extracurricular activity that falls outside any mandate the state may have to educate children. But, if the schools are going to provide this activity the lessons should be how to decide what to write, the fundamentals of writing for that particular audience and the mechanics of putting together a good publication. Somewhere in there it should also be touched on that unless you own the press you're going to have to compromise.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Metro as landlord

S-town Mike expands on my post yesterday about Metro's stewardship of property.

The frightening and ironic prospect of empty, unused public buildings and land allowed to rot in an otherwise vital neighborhood ought to startle even the most complacent or apathetic neighbor to some sort of response to school administrators. If nothing else it ought to prick the instinct to protect their quality of life. Sitting on one's hands is destructive.

He's right. Read the rest at his blog. Then write and call school board members.

Friday, November 25, 2005


I finally got around to reading Enclave's blog entries here and here regarding Jones Paideia. I should have been paying attention. It's hard to believe that the timeline wasn't arranged. It's hard to believe that in the 30 years or so since they closed Litton High in Inglewood the school board has, apparently, learned nothing about stewardship of community resources.

Here's what S-town Mike wrote:

As I told you, the destruction done by closing these schools also rips like shrapnel across the fabric of urban neighborhoods. The closure of neighborhood schools represents the closure of neighborhood centers and the closure of the familial dimensions of those neighborhoods.

Inglewood knows what that ripping is like. We're still suffering from it decades later. Once again Litton is on the chopping block. The Litton Alumni Association is doing what it can to rally support but it's an uphill fight. Our own school board representative has her children at Jones. If it comes down to Jones or Litton--which will she vote for?

The photo here is one I took of the Litton Gym on Wednesday. The inside is disgusting, to say the least. Metro has not taken care of the physical building all these years. windows have been open for years and the aviarial mess is...well, you can imagine. Every day the building will be harder to rehab. Metro has not very cooperative with those that do want to utilize and care for it.

Right behind this remnant of the old Litton gym is the newer Litton Middle School. If that closes, I've no hope that the MNPS will be a better steward of that property than it has been to the pictured gymnasium. Acres of wasted land left to rot in the middle of Inglewood along our main street. Surely we don't need to replicate this situation in Salemtown.

I understand we've only got so much money. If they need to be closed...let's make sure they are passed on to organizations and businesses that will be good stewards of the property and will enhance the neighborhoods. Metro is a lousy absentee landlord.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sales tax for the children

Ben Cunningham guest blogging at links to a Macon County vote that looks like deja vu all over again to those of us in Nashville.

This is the second time a sales increase has been put to a vote and the second time it has failed. (snip) Macon’s sales tax increase was designated for school building projects that the school board says will be needed because of population growth. From the Macon County Times.

Plain speaking

Dave Shearon has some things to say about a recent Tennessean editorial regarding the teacher's union's demands for arbitration after the defeat of the sales tax referendum 'for schools'.

Has anybody got a clue what the Tennessean is trying to say in today's editorial (copy below)? It looks like they're blaming the school board that the MNEA leadership is demanding arbitration.

It's a shame that neither the MNEA nor the Tennessean can read and understand plain English.

[And someone hand a clue to the MNEA webmaster. When I Google to find your site for shouldn't come up as the fourth entry and certainly not, disturbingly, behind the Metro Public school and Metro Government sites. And change that meta tag from 'index' to a more professional looking 'Welcome to the MNEA' or something similar. In fact, your whole set of meta tags needs an overhaul.]

Education and business

Good for Williamson County. They managed to persuade Nissan executives that their schools were an asset. I wish Davidson County and every other county in the state, had as much to work with.

Something that state legislators need to keep in mind in their own efforts to attract business is that education choice--especially among higher paying white collar workers--is an important aspect of why families choose to move to Tennessee. I routinely field inquiries from folks who are deciding to move to Tennessee vs. one of our 8 border states and they are concerned that our laws covering homeschooling, charters and online schooling aren't as accomodating as others. I can't tell you how many times I've had to deliver the disappointing news that Tennessee doesn't allow the freedom and options they want for their children's education.

And speaking of options high school is good--

[The Bristol] Board of Education unanimously approved a partnership with the Niswonger Foundation, a charitable trust for education in Eastern Tennessee.

The lion’s share, $30,000, will be used as stipends for teachers to develop curricula for online courses. The remaining $20,000 will buy software and hardware to upgrade the computers used to provide the courses.

Not sure why they need to re-invent the wheel. There are already online options that could be replicated but at least its not my money their spending. This is certainly a step in the right direction. Interestingly,

"Right now, we’re limited by the state Department (of Education) as to what we can teach," Henley said. "After that, we can make it bigger."

Eating an elephant

This could be the answer. More and more schools are labeling students as special need, for which they get additional funding, but the follow through with actual programs that effectively meet those special needs hasn't kept up. So, if what the lawmakers in Indiana have proposed starts moving across the nation it could mean freedom for millions of children, options for their parents and a huge wake up call for the public school system.

From the Indianapolis Star:

Republican lawmakers have revived a stalled push to create school vouchers that would give students public money to transfer to private schools. But this time, they'll target only one small group: autistic children.

The plan is a natural fit because the number of autistic students has multiplied to about 5,500 statewide while public schools often lack the expertise to teach them effectively, according to supporters who are at work on a bill for the legislative session.

"There's a moral imperative of assisting these families in the way that they believe is best and, second, it has the added benefit of being a very fiscally sound program," said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis,..

Rep. Bosma gets it. It's parents that know their children best. It's parents that ought to have the options and the freedom to access them. Let's move this on to the special needs of students who cannot read, write or do math.

Ya gotta pay attention in class

In their efforts to defeat Arnold the California Teacher's Association decided to start collecting extra 'dues' from their union members.

Lead plaintiff Judy Liegmann, a fifth-grade teacher from Sunnyvale, said she found out about the three-year increase in late June from the CTA representative at her school. The union never formally notified her or told her of her constitutionally guaranteed options.

"Assessing dues for political purposes without asking permission [from members] ahead of time is very strange," Liegmann said. "That's money that has to do with our convictions. The union has done nothing to let teachers know they voted in an arbitrary way to dip into every teacher's paycheck to fight a political battle whether the teachers liked it or not."

It's not so strange. And I've heard this before from other union members. If you're a member of one, you may want to check on what your's is spending your hard earned dollars on. If you're a teacher consider the Professional Educators of Tennessee.

NCLB unnecessary?

And what was the NEA's Mr. Weaver saying about NCLB not improving education--

"These are extraordinary results that are getting attention across the country. These nine schools are among the lowest 20 in the state of Tennessee for the last three years they've out gained 90, 95 percent of all schools in Tennessee. They are closing the achievement gap and just making exceptional gains." From WDEF in Chattanooga

I'm not persuaded that we'd really know there is/was a problem or that there had been improvement if someone hadn't pushed some sort of accountability on schools. NCLB isn't perfect, by a long shot, but it's better than nothing.

Unfunded NCLB upheld

Unfunded NCLB upheld--

The NEA loses another court battle. What I can't figure out is where they got the idea that
Washington had to provide the money to comply with the laws they've written. Anyone ever get a check for being law abiding? More at Bill Hobbs

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

And what good will that do?

A second grader enrolled at Nashville's Tom Joy Elementary school will probably be transferred to another school after he hit a pregnant teacher hard enough to knock her down.

Discipline Coordinator Ralph Thompson says he will not recommend putting the second grader in an alternative school.

He says the child will more than likely end up at another elementary school. From NewsChannel5

And what good will that do? Will he have learned remorse, to make amends or to control himself by being transferred to another school? Seperating the parties won't redeem the situation and isn't likely to teach him manners and respect. Hopefully, his parents are on this and they'll ensure he's better behavior.

And then--what's a second grader doing with a lighter in his pocket in the first place?

Brave or desperate?

Bill Hobbs has asked me to be part of the tag team of guest bloggers at his site for the rest of the week. I've posted my first entry "Patterns" only to discover that MoveableType doesn't react the same as Blogspot in regard to apostrophes and quotes. So the post is a bit messy. But I've put out a call for help and hopefully it'll get fixed soon.

Come visit and read what U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Tax Revolt's Ben Cunningham, and Voluntarily Conservative's Rob Huddleston have to say. Their posts are easier to read than mine--and pretty interesting.

Monday, November 21, 2005

I'm with Jay Greene

Jay Greene has it right. He's quoted in the KnoxNews today. According to the paper:

State officials are considering a tiered system of high school diplomas that would help lower-achieving students graduate and could boost the state's graduation rate.

and so Jay says:

"A high school diploma is a symbol that represents skills that students acquire," Greene said. "Lowering the standards to acquire pieces of paper with new names does nothing to improve skills and may mislead people about what a diploma represents."
This is, as Rush would say, symbolism over substance. If we can't actually teach them the basic skills let's just move the goal posts and call it a score. No. No way. That's not what I'm paying taxes for. Stop right there and figure out why these children aren't achieving. Change your teaching methods...don't change the goal. Call Chester County, they've got some suggestions that work.

It can be done

There are several things in this article about Chester County schools that were encouraging to me.

I've always maintained that it's one thing to work for the system, it's another to work for the system and have your children subjected to it. If it's not good enough for your children, why should it be good enough for mine? Apparently, it is good enough for this teacher and I'm happy for her and her daughter.

Mother Sarah Hibbett, who taught in the system for four years, wanted her daughter, Elisabeth, in Chester County Schools.

"I know what kind of teachers they are, and I wanted my child to sit at their feet and learn from them," she said. "We thank God every day she is where she is, and we've never been concerned about whether she was getting what she needed academically."

And here's a bit of truth:

They say they're not doing anything unique and they don't have any secrets when it comes to the high test scores they've consistently received since the state began giving report cards in the early 1990s.

School system officials compiled a list of 18 factors they believe contribute to their students' success. Those include dedicated teachers, community and parent support, high expectations, team meetings among the teachers, a remediation lab that helps students who are behind in a skill level, and credit recovery for high school students.
Finally, comes this comment:

"We've seen great gains for systems that have students that come from low incomes, but it depends on the personalized instruction of the schools. That's where you'll notice the real improvement," said Rachel Woods, an Education Department spokeswoman.

I really believe that personalized instruction is really hard and expensive to get in larger district schools. The day we moved away from smaller neighborhood schools was a dark day for our children, our families and our neighborhoods. It's good to read of the success in Chester County. And to read that rural and poor doesn't have to mean dumb.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Brave and Free

We buried my nephew on Veteran's Day in northern Wisconsin on a day that broke weather records for its warmth and which mirrored the kindness of that small town and many strangers.

When we arrived Ben's mom was on the phone with Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind. A man who could not have been better named considering what he was about to do for this grieving family. It seems the Army was able to locate and order my Naval Reserve brother, Ben's uncle serving in Kuwait, to accompany Ben home but it wasn't able to persuade someone in Dover that getting Ben home in time for his own funeral was a high priority. In the next couple of hours Rep. Kind was able to turn that around.

The Army assigned a wonderful woman named Sgt. Thomas to aid my brother and his wife through the whole process. It's one thing to lose your son, it's a whole 'nother battle for civilians to try and interface with the military system. This was Sgt. Thomas' first funeral and she did an outstanding job. It was obvious she was on top of everything and very gracious and accommodating. She displayed a tenderheartedness that is rare.

It was during our conversation with her and the chaplain a couple of hours later to discuss funeral arrangements that she got a phone call on her cell saying that Ben would arrive home in the early morning. The relief to us was huge and it was to her also. She shut her phone saying "Thank you, Jesus. Now I can breath." and then after a short pause "I could sure use a cold one." It was a wonderfully honest moment and while she was embarrassed at the mention of liquor in front of the chaplain, apparently, we completely understood and got a chuckle out of her comment. We were at least equally relieved.

Within moments Cong. Kind's office was ringing my brother's phone and the funeral director was walking in and confirming what Sgt. Thomas had just told us. Ben was on the move and things were back on track.

The only sticking point in the arrangements seemed to be that my brother and his wife wanted there to be fireworks after the visitation. Ben loved fireworks and his last display had been named "Shock and Awe". But, apparently, even small towns have strict regulations. Getting just about whatever they wanted wasn't the problem as a close family friend was in the business. The discussion about how to get around the ordinance, not wanting to have the funeral home suffer the consequences of this display and debating what sort of neighbor wouldn't understand or whether local law enforcement would overlook this special occasion took some time. In the end the large box of fireworks were doled out to those attending the visitation who wanted them, we witnessed a 20 minute display in the funeral home parking lot and the remainder, 'the big stuff', was given to Ben's local Civil Air Patrol buddies. After the visitation they gathered at the home that has regularly hosted this group of young people and the police were called. But no ticket was issued.

If there is any upside to an event like this it's that family makes a special effort to gather. We did the calculating and my brothers and I hadn't all been in the same room since the late '70's when I left home. Most of this diaspora was the result of military service. I was sent to Fort Campbell, one brother did his service in Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay during Gulf War I and my other brother kept the Washington State coastline safe and is currently in Kuwait. We had a lot of catching up to do.

Our conversation with the chaplain was a time of remembering the amazing number of family members, on both sides of Ben's family, that had served in the military and, specifically, the number who, like Ben, had been assigned to Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne.

It was one of those military members that noticed at the visitation that Ben's uniform lacked his Air Assault wings. Representing Fort Campbell was a Sgt. Dorsey. He took the wings off his own uniform and put them on Ben's. It was a touching and telling moment. To the last, his comrades were making sure he had what he needed. To the last they extended themselves and gave what they could.

Just before the funeral dignitaries from the army and local and state politicians paid their respects to my brother and his wife. Ben was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. The last of many awards this remarkable young man received.

My brother spoke briefly at the funeral. He rose to say that his son had taught him many things and one of those was to be a man when it was time.

We were told that some protesters were out front of the church but that a group of vets on motorcycles were between us and them revving their engines in order to drown out the noise. We never saw the protestors. We never heard them. We did see folks lined up outside the funeral home with signs of thanks and blessing. We did see the blocks in front of my brother's house lined with American flags. We did see hundreds come to pay their respects and express their thankfulness for Ben's service. Many had never met Ben but were compelled to come. Their coming and their protection were appreciated by the family.

The two hour drive through the rough backroads of Wisconsin lead us to a relatively new veteran's cemetery and Ben's spot on the lawn. The commitment ceremony was brief. The 21 gun salute was loud and startling after a period of quiet reflection. The folding of the flag and the presentation to Ben's mom, while always heart wrenching to witness, was even more difficult. Somehow my brother and his wife managed to maintain their composure and accept the thanks of a grateful nation.

We were instructed by the military that we couldn't stay for the actual internment. But we ignored that order. We asked the men actually burying Ben's casket if we could see the marker. They didn't hesitate to remove its protective box and let us read:

Spc. Benjamin A. Smith
July 5, 1984 - November 2, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

Away for a week.

I'll need to be away for almost a week. Thanks for your patience and your prayers during this time.

Fort Campbell holds a regular memorial service for these patriots on the second Wednesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. Go in Gate 4 (that big main gate on 41A), go to the Welcome Center and they'll get you there.

In the meantime, hug a soldier or a soldier's mom and dad if that's as close as you can get to one.

John 15:13

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

Thank you, God, for Ben and his willingness to serve. Thank you that we know, by first person testimony, that he had a part in freeing a grateful people and keeping a grateful people free.

His mom is quoted as saying: "He believed in the mission and told us he knew what they were doing was right."

When we welcomed my nephew home last year, after his first tour in Iraq, he was dusty, exhausted and very shy about all the attention we lavished on him. He was just doing what he loved to do and knew was the right thing to do. We've had many military members in our family. This is the first time in a long time that we've suffered a loss. His uncle, in the Navy, will escort his body home to a family that understands this sacrifice but is still heartbroken at this loss. Your prayers for their comfort will be appreciated.

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Gen. 50:20

Friday, November 04, 2005

Symphonic Bait and Switch

We're tremendously disappointed to learn that the soloist we expected to hear at Saturday's Lord of the Rings concert has been told at the last minute that she won't be allowed to sing. Apparently, the guest conductor isn't concerned that correspondence between him and the Nashville Symphony stated that a local soloist would be hired, that the soloist has invested time in preparing, that she's actually got an amazing voice well suited to the piece (Mr. Huber hasn't bothered to even listen to her), but prefers instead to use his own traveling soloist.

This is NOT the way to attract symphony patrons. We bought 5 (yes 5!) tickets becauset an artist we love and appreciate was going to perform. We were willing to carve out a considerable chunk of our limited budget to support this local talent--something we're always being challenged to do, and this bait and switch is our reward.

I'm suggesting that Mr. Huber's soloist defer to our Nashville artist, Mr. Huber pay his soloist for her time and recognize that Nashville has top rated talent that's worthy of being heard and appreciated by letting our Nashville artists sing.

The Nashville Symphony
Marketing Department E-mail
2000 Glen Echo Road
Suite 204
Nashville, TN 37215
Phone: 615.783.1200
Fax: 615.783.1575

(Oh, and no, she doesn't know, didn't ask and might even be embarrassed that I've vented in this manner. It's all on me. She can't help it she has friends who are passionate about her career and know quality when they hear it.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Another gun

So are those signs stating no guns allowed on school property too small? Can those high schoolers attending public school not read them? Are schools really so dangerous that you've got to carry a loaded gun? Are the consequences for carrying not severe enough?

This from the Nashville PD just now:

November 2, 2005


A School Resource Officer assigned to Stratford High School a short time ago arrested a 16-year-old sophomore for carrying a fully loaded .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol on campus.

A student’s report to Officer George Patonis regarding the potential presence of the gun led to the investigation. Patonis and Stratford’s principal located the 16-year-old outside the school building skipping class. The pistol was found in the teen’s jacket pocket during a search.

The student told officers he was carrying the gun for protection. He will be charged at Juvenile Court with carrying a firearm on school property.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives will assist in the investigation by helping determine the origin of the gun.

Netflix nonsense

I got a notice this morning telling me I'm part of a class action lawsuit against Netflix. It seems someone took their advertising literally when they said 'unlimited' and 'next day' delivery of the DVD's. That didn't always happen and they've gone whining to a court.

So now, because we had a subscription the plaintiffs have wasted my valuable time by throwing out as broad a net as possible and included me in their foolish waste of effort. The notice says I have several response options none of which fits what I really want to do.

I want an option that says: I don't want to be a part of this suit. I wasn't harmed. I don't want one free month of service. I don't want to bring my own lawsuit. I don't want these plaintffi's speaking for me or counting me in the numbers of folks they're representing.

I want an option that says--this was a waste of my time, the court's time, taxpayer resources, and the plaintiffs should be ordered to get a real life.