Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Unexcused absence

For the record:

MNPS Addresses “Great American Boycott of 2006”

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 26, 2006) – The administration of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools issued a statement today regarding the “Great American Boycott of 2006,” a May 1 nationwide protest regarding proposed federal immigration legislation.
“While we understand the passion of this issue, parents need to appreciate how valuable classroom time is and how important it is for children to be in school, studying, taking tests and focusing on academic progress” said MNPS Director Pedro E. Garcia, Ed. D. “All of our 132 schools will be open with normal schedules May 1; we will not be giving excused absences to children who miss school due to the boycott. (emphasis added)
“We know this is a matter of great concern for many in our community, but we can’t afford to lose any of the critical time we have for teaching children,” Garcia said. “We are hopeful all parents will recognize how important it is for children to be in school, and that we can’t shut down our district whenever there’s a debate on proposed local, state or federal legislation.”
Garcia said the district would encourage schools throughout the district to discuss the issue in government, history and other classes.
“It’s important for our children to discuss topical issues; that is a cornerstone of good citizenship,” he said. “We believe conversations on important matters are healthy for children to learn and grow. Our goal, as a district, is to permit these conversations in an orderly way that benefits the learning process.” (snip)

AP test results

This chart was presented at last evening's Metro Nashville Board of Education meeting. The presenter focused on the fact that they were getting so many more students taking these advance placement classes. One board member asked if the class members were required to take the actual AP test. They aren't. I assume that those who decline to take the test feel they wouldn't be able to pass. What might the rate be if all were required to take the test?

No one asked why we can't break the 60% pass rate and are, obviously, losing ground.

My scanner isn't the best but that Percentage of Tests Passed rate along that bottom line reads: 59%, 58%, 55%, 59%, 57% and finally 54%

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

TEA gets a lesson

from Bill Hobbs. The current TEA legislative report encourages members to lobby against Sen. Jim Bryson's bill to constitutionally limit state spending.

The TEA says, "SJR 629 is largely modeled after the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) which was enacted in Colorado in 1991. The 1991 provision had such a negative impact that Colorado voters last year suspended several key provisions of the amendment. "

Not true.

A side-by-side comparison of SJR 629 and Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights shows that the two share almost no similarities.
...SJR 629 really only does three things:
  1. It changes the Tennessee constitution's existing cap on the annual growth of the state budget to allow it to be broken only if two-thirds of the legislature approves, rather than the current simple-majority vote.
  2. It puts unspent surplus funds in the state's rainy day fund.
  3. Once the rainy day fund reaches a set target, additional surpluses go to reducing the state sales tax.
It's one thing to disagree on the issue--and a completely different matter to encourage advocacy based on error. You should read both the TEA report and Bill's corrections to that report. And I encourage you to contact the Senate Finance Ways & Means Committee members and let them know how you feel about how they take and spend your money.

Friday, April 21, 2006

SOS proposal

I've not seen any of the SOS materials but from what I read in this morning's City Paper--there seems to be good reason to read and discuss their information. Part of our problem is that we don't have enough information, it's hard to find it, it's really hard to interpret.

And yes, it's the rare report and overview that doesn't have some sort of point of view encouraging a specific agenda. But let's not throw out the effort without examining it first.

Today, the group — called Save Our Schools (or SOS) — will present to the council and to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce a program they say will greatly improve the city’s public schools.

But before doing so, SOS will present a series of statistics, culled primarily from the Tennessee Department of Education, that SOS feels shows Metro Nashville Public Schools is lagging behind most other Tennessee school systems.

I've advocated for paying excellent teachers excellent wages here several times and the SOS proposal apparently includes teacher bonuses for taking on the hard jobs and succeeding. Superintendent Garcia also suggested that teachers receive incentive pay in his state of the schools speech in February.

"We must also reward excellence and pay our employees according to their effort and results. We must enter the dialogue of incentive pay so teachers are encouraged and rewarded for teaching successfully in our more difficult schools. We must move forward on these issues."

So--bring it on SOS. Let's see what you've got.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Education Davids

Today's must read comes from a new blog called Starting from Tennessee's Instapundit Glenn Reynolds' new book "An Army of Davids" Dan Lips ask some questions that the public school system would be wise to consider as it looks toward the future.

Reynolds argues that technological advances will lead to fewer Americans spending their days at Goliath institutions like factories or offices. A case in point is the 724,000 Americans who now are working full- or part-time through eBay. The trend suggests that family life in the new century may look more like 18th century when parents spent more time at home with their children.

As society changes, what society wants from its education system will also change.
Surely we can agree that last line is already absolutely true. Parents of today are not the parents of the 50's. We've moved into the customized age where everything from our television viewing to our cars are highly personalized. Why should be expect those same people to stop asking for personal service when it comes to something so much more important than what is in their coffee cup?

What are we going to do about it?


I'm disappointed that the only quotes contained in this morning's Nashville City Paper article about the 3rd draft of the MNPS budget are (once again) from board members that are leaving (Nevill & Hunt). I would really like to hear what the rest of the board members have to say. And I'm sure lots of voters in the 2nd, 6th & 8th districts would appreciate knowing what those school board candidates have to say about the entire process, what they'd do differently and what they support regarding this $556,250,500.00 budget before the August 3rd elections.

Superintendent Garcia told us back in February that last year the school budget was 37.6% of Metro's overall budget and more importantly 73,000 of our children.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

$1.8M update

This morning's Nashville City Paper has some additional information about the $1.8 million mentioned here yesterday. Unfortunately the article doesn't explain why the money is sitting in escrow and needs council intervention to get to the schools. See the post below for that explanation straight from the Metro Council Agenda.

Keep in mind that these aren't NAPE (Nashville Alliance for Public Education) raised funds--they're acting as a conduit for the cash. Thanks to them for the help around this legal bar. I'd link to NAPE but I can't seem to find a web site. [Update: Thanks to Eric for the URL for NAPE. Does MNPS host the websites of other non-profits?.]

[Councilman Charlie] Tygard has proposed via a resolution that $1.8 million be given as a grant to the Nashville Alliance for Public Education (NAPE) for equal distribution among Metro’s 132 schools. The money, about $15,000 per school, would be used to purchase technology equipment and science lab supplies.

Today, a letter crafted by Tygard goes in the mail addressed to principals, asking them to quantify how they would use the grants.
and this :
School Board Chairwoman Pam Garrett is a non-voting member of the NAPE Board of Directors. She said Metro Schools has given the Alliance a list that prioritizes the district’s needs – music, science and reading.

Monday, April 17, 2006

$1.8 million paperwork shuffle

An interesting bit in the Metro Council agenda for Tuesday. The city got some money. But the city can't just 'give' it to the schools they have to funnel it through a non-profit. There's got to be a better way--surely.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2006-1244 (TYGARD, DOZIER & OTHERS) – This resolution appropriates $1.8 million from the unappropriated fund balance of the general fund of the general services district to Nashville Alliance for Public Education, Inc., to provide funding for the purchase of technology and science equipment for use in public schools. Nashville Alliance for Public Education, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of raising money for Metro public schools.

In February 2006, the council approved the assignment of the Renaissance Hotel lease. As part of the lease assignment, the Metropolitan Government received a twenty percent share of the anticipated profit from the assignment, which resulted in a payment to Metro of $2,234,000. This resolution relies on this share of the profit from the assignment to bolster the unappropiated fund balance of the general fund of the GSD to fund this appropriation. However, the director of finance has stated that he has been advised by the legal department that this appropriation would violate an ordinance enacted by the council in 1990, which requires that such funds go to the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) for affordable housing opportunities and economic development activities. In addition, the director of finance states that the department of law has raised concerns that this appropriation may violate the Charter prohibition requiring that the general funds of the Metropolitan Government be kept separate from the schools, and that it may violate state laws granting the sole authority to the school board for determining how school funds are to be expended. Therefore, the director of finance has refused to certify that funds are available for this appropriation. A copy of the director of finance’s memorandum is attached to this analysis.

The Council Office would point out that not all of the required documentation has been provided in order for Nashville Alliance for Public Education, Inc., to be eligible to receive grant funding from the Metropolitan Government. The Metropolitan Code of Laws requires that certain information be provided by nonprofits prior to receiving grant funds from Metro. This includes a copy of the organization’s charter, a copy of the letter from the Internal Revenue Service certifying that the agency is tax exempt, a copy of the organization’s audit, a statement of the proposed use of funds, and the proposed budget for the organization. A proposed budget and statement of the proposed use of funds has yet to be provided.

Lottery Scholarships

Today's Chattanooga Times Free-Press reports what was known before the Tennessee lottery was enacted--it's not the poor students that benefit. Unfortunately the Times-Free Press doesn't link to the actual data for independent analysis.

State Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, along with other members of the Tennessee General Assembly's Black Caucus, has criticized the lottery scholarship program for not helping enough minority and low-income students.

She said lawmakers knew when they approved the program nearly two years ago that it would cater more to well-off students.

She's exactly correct. She chaired one of the education committees reviewing this legislation. But it's not the program that needs to be amended. The answer lies somewhere between the school districts, the parents and the students working together at finding the right educational options to ensure that each student gets that basic education they've been promised.

I was in many of the education committee hearings, even testified, and can confirm how hard legislators worked to include their own poorly performing students in this opportunity. That's why a "B" average was included in the bill. Many of those committee members knew and expressed their opinion on this very subject. The ACT score bounced around from high of 23 to a low of 19 and finally landed at 21 with the subjective "B" average option as the best chance many of those children would have to obtain this money. It was a shameful fact that many of the children in their districts couldn't make it with just an ACT/SAT score alone. Something had to be done to accommodate them.

The entire lottery scheme was sold as being for the 'best and brightest'. It was never advertised as a hand up for poorly performing or minority students. Lottery opponents routinely pointed out that poor people were more likely to buy lottery tickets and more well off students were the usual beneficiaries of those lottery losings. It should be no surprise to anyone who was half paying attention at the time that the Free-Press analysis is old news.

The only way to fix lack of scholarships for poorer students is for the legislators to go back to their home districts and raise a huge fuss. I would be mortified to sit on any of the state's education committees attempting to steer the public education system for the entire state without being an outspoken advocate for serious changes and accountability in my own home district. They say all politics is local. So let's fix the local problem first.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why should I pay twice?

The recent excellent investigative reporting by the Tennessean actually lured me back to subscribing. Today I discovered something new--I have to pay for archived articles. I'm a subscriber--why should I have to pay for archived articles? I know Gannett has to recoup its expenses somehow, but maybe they ought to sell free archive access as a benefit of subscribing?

However, it was apparent yesterday they may not have the whole subscribing thing down since we got a card asking us to subscribe. The money is coming out of my checking account and the paper magically appears in the drive every morning---I'd call that subscribing.

Interestingly the paper is using the same NewsBank service the library does--and I'm not charged if I utilize their web site:

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Ed reporter hired by MNPS

Tennessean education reporter Diane Long has been hired by the Metro Nashville Public Schools according to a press release from MNPS today.

Long To Aid Parental Information Efforts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 13, 2006) – The Metro Nashville Public Schools Public Information and Community Relations office announced this week that veteran journalist Diane Long will serve as a public information coordinator for the district. Long, who started work with MNPS Monday, April 10, will help manage the school system’s website and work on projects to improve communication with parents and other MNPS stakeholders.
“We’re delighted to have Diane working with us,” said Woody McMillin, MNPS Director of Public Information and Community Relations. “In addition to being an education reporter for more than two decades in Nashville, she is also certified as a secondary English teacher. She will be a tremendous asset as we strengthen our efforts to provide timely, accurate information.”
Long succeeds Chris Russell, who resigned earlier this year to pursue other opportunities. She will be based in the MNPS central office at 2601 Bransford Avenue, but will spend much of her time at the 132 schools within the district.

This is one of those good news/bad news situations. She'll probably do a very good job for the city based on her work for the paper but I'm concerned about being one education reporter short. Considering the amount of money involved in education, the number of citizens involved and the impact the system has on our society as a whole, education reporting is vital. And let's not forget that we've got school board elections on the horizon. This is not the best time to be short handed in this arena.

Friday, April 07, 2006

MNPS School Board Elections

Kathy Nevill, Metro School Board Vice-Chairman, is not going to run for reelection this year according to this morning's City Paper.

Nevill has groomed Steve Glover, an involved parent and insurance broker by trade, to take her spot representing District 4. He will run unopposed in the Aug. 3 election.
Glover said he will focus his initial efforts on future graduation rates by ensuring students know how to read when they leave fourth grade and by enhancing middle school curriculum to better prepare students for high school.

I should think this should have been done all along. With a 50% graduation rate at McGavock somethings been done wrong for a long time. And, of course, the unanswered question is what's his plan beyond "initial efforts" as if the initial efforts weren't tough enough?

I don't know why, but I have been unable to find any election information at the MNPS website for weeks. It used to be there, years ago, but it's sure no where near obvious anymore. And the Metro Election Commission isn't of any help either. Why does the Chamber of Commerce have more info?

Districts 2, 4, 6 & 8 are all up for election. The rundown:

District 2 formerly held by George Blue who is resigning has three candidates: Terri Harris, Michael Kerstetter (a current councilman who will resign to run), and Joann Brannon.

District 4 formerly held by Kathy Nevil has Steve Glover as the unopposed candidate.

District 6 has Dr. Mebenin Awipi running for reelection and two or three other contenders, Duane Dominy, Karen Y. Johnson, according to the Tennessean (and additionally Lane Simpson according to the Chamber of Commerce.) This is when official election commission info would be very handy.

District 8 has Kathleen Harkey running for reelection and David Fox opposing her.

Get out there folks. Get to know the candidates. Ask them the hard questions. They're your children. It's your money. Make 'em account for every minute of those precious young lives under their care and for every dime they take from your families.

Stossel's still waiting

Some of you may remember that ABC's John Stossel ran a report on January 13 called "Stupid in America". I gave my observations at the time and yesterday learned that Mr. Stossel is still waiting for the teacher's union to make good on their invitation.

Randi Weingarten, head of New York City's union, took the microphone and hollered, "Just teach for a week!" She said I could select from many schools. "We got high schools, we got elementary schools, we got junior high schools!"

I accepted.

Well, it's sure looking like they don't really want him to teach in a normal classroom. Read his report here. That's a pity. If they really wanted to make the case for additional help, having a national forum like Stossel's would surely have been a great place to make their point.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Mandisa's coming home! :-)

Last night our favorite Idol contestant, Mandisa, was voted off of American Idol. I can't say that I wasn't entirely surprised by this turn of events. Previously, we'd only been able to get in about twenty votes per episode. Tuesday night we managed 127. Something wasn't normal and I hated what that might indicate.

Like most of America our family only tuned into American Idol for the first few shows. It was hilarious to see some of those people try and make an impression on the judges and America. Often they did impress because we wondered "What were they thinking?" But months ago we got the word that this season we might want to watch a bit more closely. And so we did. We were thrilled that one of our own was participating and became faithful watchers. We weren't surprised to see the cameras taping a recent worship service at Mandisa's home church (with my hubby playing upright bass) and we actually bought the t-shirt saying "Mandisa is my American Idol. All hail the Diva."

Like Stevie Wonder and Barry Manilow, we know that she has an awesome voice. Each time she's been a part of our music team we've been encouraged by her. Kenny Rogers was right, she does have a sweet spirit. Not only can that girl sing--she can worship! And more importantly, she encouraged us to worship.

We're of two minds around here this reality morning. We're sad that she didn't win. Very sad. But we're also very thankful for the national exposure she did get (and that job offer from Manilow ain't shabby) and especially glad that she'll be coming home. She's been missed. It's been fun. I'm sure that her abilities will never be overlooked again.

And I'm willing to bet that she's "still believing God".

Monday, April 03, 2006

Information please

Why does Circuit Court Clerk Richard Rooker have an 'about' page on the Circuit Court's web site? Shouldn't that be an 'about the job' or 'about the court' page? Considering he's running for reelection this comes off as an inappropriate way to obtain votes. It's not a hidden page deep within personnel files, either. It's right there on the main Circuit Court navigation section. And don't overlook the Rooker name again at the top navigation line. Shouldn't that really attractive "Rooker Report" be renamed something less self-serving--unless, of course, he's paying for it.

And why aren't the actual judges listed? Knowing about Mr. Rooker and his personal life and accomplishments are more important than who the judges are?

I'm thinking the Circuit Court page ought to be more focused on the court. Something along the lines of the Chancery Court page for example. But I don't see the names of the Chancery Court judges there either.

I'm just a voter looking for information for the upcoming election who foolishly thought that she'd find the answers by checking the appropriate web pages. Well, at least there's a nice Rooker seal to look at.