Wednesday, May 31, 2006

KIPP trips

I just got off the phone with Randy Dowell head of KIPP Academy in East Nashville. To my surprise he and a group of his students were in the Smithsonian at the time!

We had a great conversation about the school and its place in the MNPS system and have agreed to meet together when they return.

Randy also told me that they are blogging the trip at

It looks like they're hitting all the usual destinations to include the Zoo, Senator Frist's office and the Senate floor, the war memorials and presidential monuments as well as the Smithsonian, the White House, cruising the Potomac and the ESPN Fun Zone.

Be safe guys. Enjoy. Soak up our heritage. See you when you get back!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Reading is fundamental

On the heels of Sharon Wright's presentation to the MNPS School Board on Tuesday where she pointed out that 80% of her special education charged were identified as requiring special services because they had not learned to read and that 40% of those were identified because they were not taught to read I find a new study about how teaching colleges prepare prospective teachers. [UPDATE: clarification at the request of BOE member Kathy Nevill on 5/31/06. The 80 and 40% statistics Ms. Wright presented were from the "Presidential Commission on Special Education, 2002 and not MNPS specific.]

The report, released on Monday by the National Council on Teacher Quality, looked at coursework and textbooks used at 72 leading colleges of education and found that most use what the council considers outdated, discredited approaches to teaching reading — especially for underprivileged children. From USA Today.

Other than their safety there is nothing more important than teaching them this foundational skill. Ms. Wright and her staff shouldn't have to spend time picking up what someone else dropped.

Here's the executive summary and here's the acutal study.

Thursday 5/25/06

Monday evening I attended the graduation for Stratford Comprehensive High School at TSU’s Gentry Center. What a difference from the graduation for East Literature Magnet on Friday. The East one was quiet and sedate in comparison to the Stratford students and their families who could hardly contain themselves they were so glad to have made it that far. They had a lot to celebrate and I’m very glad for them. Most students hardly wanted to shake the hands of dignitaries as they crossed the platform and many didn’t even bother—I don’t blame them a bit. We laughed and cheered most of the way through the ceremony.

BOE MEETING: Tuesday evening was my first board meeting. I met with Chair Pam Garrett beforehand and we went over the agenda and the previous minutes, I asked several questions regarding who had approved items for passage where they money had come from, if they’d gotten notice of some of these things before hand. All were satisfactorily answered by Ms. Garrett.

She also surprised me by telling me she wanted me to lead the pledge at the opening of the meeting—which I did.

Judge Carol Solomon did my public swearing in after an award from the Education Consumers Foundaton to Principal Brenda Steele of Amqui Elementary, a couple of perfect attendance awards that were overlooked previously (they missed this event though) and the goodbye and hello of the student board members.

The consent agenda was passed unanimously. It contained some contract changes to maintenance work and the awarding of the contract for the remodeling & additions at Glengarry Elementary school awarded to a company called Kerry-Campbell, Inc.

Next up were the final readings of what are monitoring reports for the results the board desires in the system, specifically the results in AP classes and ACT/SAT/PSAT testing. Ms. Garrett told me that since I hadn’t been on the board for the previous presentations of these I would not vote on those but I did comment.

I had been at the school board meeting on 4/25/06 when testimony about the AP classes was presented and noted at the time that while the number of students taking the classes was increasing and the number of students passing the classes was increasing two important pieces of informtion were missing. I had a chance to mention those during the discussion at this BOE meeting. One was we don’t know how many students are taking the classes and the students aren’t required to take the final test. I did stumble and ramble a bit trying to make this point. I can only attribute it to my first time speaking up in that venue and I got better quickly.

SIDE COMMENTARY: If we’re to really understand our rate of return, if you will, on providing these classes we’ve got to know if the goal of obtaining that college credit is being accomplished. I think taxpayers are willing to help these students get a jump start on their college credits. But it was news to many that night and I’m sure news to many taxpayers that students are not required to take the test if they take the class. If we have 100 students in the class and only 50 take the test and then only 54% of them passed are these classes really a wise investment of taxpayer dollars in a system that has so many foundational needs? We can’t accurately assess the success of these classes without all the numbers. So the Board is going to require them.

Also at that 4/25/06 meeting the woman presenting had a slide I considered very enlightening. We know that not everyone is a good test taker. MNPS is tracking good test takers and encouraging them to participate. The slide called “Next Steps” said: MNPS Assessment and Evaluation department provides lists of all students who are capable test takers to the principals in the fall. These freshmen and sophomore students are encouraged to take the PSAT as a practice test. The presenter said those students would be encouraged to participate in these AP classes.

Next up was the final reading on the ACT/SAT/PSAT monitoring report. Here there was a bit of discussion initiated by Dr. Awipi about the Board’s goal of 22 as the average ACT score for Metro students. He suggested that since 21 was the rate for lottery scholarships perhaps we should drop that down to 21 also. I spoke up and told the Board that I had attended several of the House Education Committee meetings where this score was discussed. The intention of most of the legislators I heard was to allow as many students to participate in these scholarships as possible and a higher score was definitely going to be a problem for too many. And so they settled on 21. I told the Board that 21 was certainly not the gold standard and I felt our students could do better than that. No change in that rate was made.

On First Reading were monitoring reports on college entrance requirements and ELL/Special Ed.

Regarding College Entrance the goal is to have 65% of the students meeting the college entrance requirement (mostly via ACT score of 19 and above) by 2007. It’s only at 57% to date with new data not available until the fall. It became obvious that it was unlikely, considering the past rates, that this goal was going to be met.

2001 46%
2002 46.2%
2003 49.2%
2004 48.7%
2005 51%

English Language Learners information was confusing to most of us on the Board. Part of the problem was inconsistency in wording and charts that didn’t consistently include the same population. The presenters are going to work on that. Bottom line on average—across all ELL students-- it takes 3.3 years for them to obtain sufficient English skills to be test takers. Younger students catch on more quickly than the older students.

The real highlight of the evening’s reports was the Special Education presentation. Ms. Sharon Wright (and I’m sure she had a team) presented what could have been a confusing amount of information/definitions and statistics but wasn’t. There are 8,202 students classified as Sp Ed ages 6 to 21. They’ve got 685 teachers and 531 assistants tending these children. That sort of attention is massive, granted, but they’re getting things done if this presentation is accurate. Amazingly 80% of these children are there simply because they haven’t learned to read. And of those 40% were just not taught. [UPDATE: clarification at the request of BOE member Kathy Nevill on 5/31/06. The 80 and 40% statistics Ms. Wright presented were from the "Presidential Commission on Special Education, 2002 and not MNPS specific.] That’s just an amazing statistic shadowed only by the fact that they’ve managed to have 42.9% of their charges obtain a regular high school diploma. I had to repeat that back to her just to make sure that I understood correctly.

Wednesday morning: I was pleased to help serve the teachers at East Literature Magnet school. Their PTO provided them a hot lunch and fabulous desserts. My task was filling the cups with ice. This PTO also had on hand a man from Essence Day Spa providing massages, and so, many teachers left full of good food, fellowship and quite mellow from the massages.

Thursday morning: Finally, this morning I attended the Mayor’s State of Metro Address at the Convention Center hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. Since I had previously blogged ( that this event should occur in the council chambers finding myself at the BOE table was interesting. And in honor of a constituent request* I asked the wait staff to clear my place setting and drank just ice water. Interestingly the Mayor announced that next year’s State of Metro address would be held at the new public square as part of Nashville’s Bicentennial.

Regarding the budget the Mayor announced he would recommend on Friday that the Council fully fund the BOE budget (to include their list of “we’d rather not do without but we will if we have to.”) The BOE members at the table who’d done the yeoman work on creating that budget were quite excited and thankful for his support.

So, Friday the Mayor will tell the Council how much he wants and then the Council will wrangle out the details and tell the BOE how much they have. You can view the budget here:

Other news:

Inglewood Elementary is being considered for an exciting incentive pay plan being sponsored by private funds. The staff there voted yesterday to participate if chosen. If specific academic goals are met every employee there would receive a cash bonus for their team success. I certainly hope that Inglewood is chosen. I’m sure Dr. Garcia understands that he has my support and earnest desire to see this happen in our neighborhood.

*This mom is very concerned about the physical condition of her child's school (Isaac Litton Middle School) and is wondering why MNPS is feeding folks when that money could be going to improvements in schools. She's asked me and is encouraging other people to forgo any MNPS paid for meals to demonstrate solidarity with her efforts. I'm happy to do so.

There was a lot of wasted food on tables and plates after the State of Metro Address. I can’t imagine how much paint, plaster and ADA renovations all that would have paid for.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Monday 05/22/06

Saturday I spoke briefly at the SEIU hall in East Nashville. They were disappointed that I didn't fill in their survey, but they let me explain who I was and why I wanted to continue on the school board which I appreciate. One woman was offended that I hadn't filled in the survey. She said that if all people thought like homeschoolers she wouldn't have a job. Immediately thinking of all the families that are leaving Nashville and choosing private education options because of the current condition of our public schools my response was: If we don't improve public schools you won't have a job.

This morning I attended Dr. Pedro Garcia's usual Monday morning cabinet meeting. I was warmly welcomed. They introduced themselves and gave me a brief overview of their duties. I also saw a presentation on the status of the new Cane Ridge High School in Antioch.

I'm going to get with a couple of them on improving the MNPS website so that it's actually useable by mere mortals. I was told that they have been working on behind the scenes foundational issues and very much welcomed my suggestions and asked if we could meet later. I expect that the BOE page with the agendas and minutes will be updated soon so that we can all stay better informed about what has happened.

Afterward it was paperwork time. It seems despite being a Metro employee in order to get a security badge for MNPS facilities I must have an employee number which I can only get by filling in an online job application which wouldn't allow me to continue with the application unless I agreed to a background check. I was told BOE members didn't need to have background check but there was no workaround in order to get a security badge. Surely someone can figure out how to put a 'NO' box on that page for such circumstances. (I'll add that to my conversation with the fellows in the paragraph above.)

And before I left I got more homework. I brought this box of policy papers, reference materials, health insurance information, strategic and strategy plans (I guess I'll find out the difference soon), organizational charts, Board Minutes for the year to date and budget information home with me.

That big binder is a grand report from January of 2001 called "Long-Range Implementation Plan Resulting from a Performance Audit of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools from MGT of America. " Let's hope it's long range--it's now 5 years later.

This evening I'll attend the graduation celebration for Stratford High School.

UPDATE: 6/2/06: My first paycheck arrived. They charged me $31.00 for a background check.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Language, please.

I can't believe that I'm even having to write this but I've removed a comment for crude language. In places where foul language is common it wasn't that bad--but I don't like hearing it, I don't want to read it and won't have it published here under my name. Comments containing foul language will be removed hereafter without any notice whatsoever.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

She's not alone

Just bumped into this while trying to catch up from a very busy week.

Sharon Anthony, an active parent at Whites Creek High, said the district's focus on improving high schools is overdue but critically important.

"It hurts me to see what's going on," said Anthony, whose daughter is a junior at the high school. "More parents need to be aware of what's going on in public schools. The kids need to be pushed a little harder."

Anthony said the graduation rates at many Metro high schools make it clear that it's time for change. Eleven of the 15 regular and magnet high schools in the system have a rate below 70 percent.

"It makes me sick," she said.
Tennessean 5/19/06
Me too. See for yourself.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My homework arrived

NewsChannel 5 ended their online version of our conversation yesterday with this:

Metro's school board meets next week. Wednesday, boxes of information were sent to Brooks to help her get up to speed.

Well, when I got home today it had arrive and--well--you see the great heap the courier left. One envelope was the usual board agenda and accompanying documents of about 40 pages total. The other was a robe for upcoming graduation ceremonies.

I am expecting documents regarding the BOE policies and the usual employment documents.

BTW, I never saw the actual broadcast so I've no idea how accurate that was.

And so it begins

This afternoon Judge Carol Solomon graciously interrupted her busy day and officiated at my swearing in as the new MNPS School Board Representative for the 5th District. Family and friends were in attendance.

I have received many notes of support and encouragement as a result of the Metro Council's vote on Tuesday. They have been a salve and an encouragement. Thank you all for writing. My heartfelt thanks to the councilmen that believed the good reports about me and decided that I was worth taking a chance on:

Jason Alexander, Feller Brown, Carl Burch, Michael Craddock, Eric Crafton, Buck Dozier, Adam Dread, Jim Forkum, Randy Foster, Jim Gotto, Jason Hart, J. B. Loring, Rip Ryman, Parker Toler, Charlie Tygard, Ludye Wallace, Harold White and Edward Whitmore. These men will not be disappointed or embarrassed by their votes.

It was a treat to learn yesterday that one of the perks of being on the BOE is our special place in the graduation ceremonies. I was tickled to learn that my first graduation will be at East Literature where old friends have a daughter graduating. I'll try not to embarrass her but I consider it a special gift that she'll be part of my first official duties. Mazel tov sweetie. :-)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I'm in.

As of about 8:00 p.m. this evening I'm the new school board member for Metro Nashville Public Schools representing the 5th District. It was a close 18 to 17 vote but that was good enough.

Here's my first official press release dropped on the media desk before I left the meeting after already having talked to several reporters.

Announcement of Candidacy

I am formally announcing that I am a candidate for the 5th District School Board position for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

I am deeply concerned about the quality of education the children in our district are receiving and know that my efforts can make a positive difference in the lives of these children.

This is a difficult district. To start with we’ve got more schools than any other district. Of the 32 Metro schools on the Tennessee Department of Education’s “High Priority” list, seven are in this district. Two of those are our comprehensive high schools—-Maplewood and Stratford. They have graduation rates of 41% and 50% and test scores that should be much better. That’s hundreds of young people in our city discouraged, frustrated, angry and lacking the basic skills we promised them and their parents they would get. This is unacceptable and has to change.

Like it or not, in today’s world public schools are in a competition with private, home, and online schools. If MNPS wants to compete well with those other education options then it must listen to voices from outside the choir and not the usual educators and administrators. If we continue to appoint and elect the same sort of people to the school board we will continue to get the same sort of educational results for our children. For too many of our children that’s not good enough.

I am also announcing that in an effort to encourage conversation about the district and its needs I have created an e-list at and I invite voters and parents in the district to subscribe. I have also created where I have begun to include information about the schools in the 5th district along with links to helpful resources and where I will be reporting on my campaign activities.

I understand that not everyone is on the Internet and welcome invitations to attend community gatherings where we can talk in person about our district, its needs and possible solutions. I look forward to those conversations and working with my neighbors for the benefit of the children.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Yes, that's my hat.

It's true. Nathan Moore correctly reports that I'm being nominated for the school board's District 5 vacancy. Further, I intend to run for the position.

This Metro Council appointment will last just 11 weeks until the August 4th election. Then the voters of District 5 will elect a board member who will serve for only a 2 year term instead of the normal four years to accommodate the regular election rotation for the board. Voters will have a rare opportunity to keep that board member on a very short leash and I don't mind that at all. Four years is a long time in the life of a child. This is a unique opportunity to serve the children, families and taxpayers of my neighborhood and I'm ready and willing to take on the challenge of this difficult district.

I'll have a lot more to say Tuesday evening and following. I'm working on putting in place some communication tools and information about our district for us to utilize in this effort and I am looking forward to working with my neighbors to make some real improvements in the educational life of our children.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Change the venue

This morning's Tennessean has an article about the Metro Council receiving free meals and how that could be a conflict. Being used as a prime example is the Mayor's State of Metro address before the Chamber of Commerce which has previously been free to councilmen but is no longer due to a recent rule change.

My question is: Why is the Mayor presenting this information to a private group when this is public information being provided by a public servant? No citizen should have to fork over cash to hear their own mayor give this important overview of their city. The problem isn't who pays for the meals. The problem is the private nature of the venue. Both the State of the Union and the State of the State speeches are given in legislative chambers. Why not the State of Metro speech?

[Councilman Parker] Toler said it's "a little idiotic," however, that he can't have a soft drink or cookie if he attends the grand opening of a store in his district.
My suggestion is that at any event where the public is invited and freely offered food councilmen can eat free too. If it's not offered to the general public--it's off limits to the council members.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Another Ford throws his hat in the ring

No, not from that Ford family.

This is Jeff Ford of Williamson County.

He's running for State Senator Jim Bryson's seat.

For the purposes of this blog here's the statement on his campaign site regarding education.


The formula for funding of schools is confusing, incomplete and unfair to both Williamson County and Metro Davidson County Schools. Williamson County is punished for tremendous growth. Metro Schools are punished by the lack of recognition of the ELL population. Williamson County had approximately 30% of all the growth in student population for the most recent school year. We must find a way to make certain that we fully fund the growth portion of the BEP, as well as make certain that Williamson County receives the growth funds it deserves. We must also find a way to get the growth funds into the system in the year the growth occurs, rather than one year later.

Metro Davidson County currently has approximately 30% of the ELL students, but only receives approximately 10% of the ELL funds. We must ensure that the funds received by Davidson County are sufficient to handle this growing population.

Both Davidson and Williamson are punished because of an ability to pay. The BEP formula is outdated, and does not take into account changing populations.

Good start, imo. Every attempt at being fair to one set is always going to end up being unfair to another--welcome to life. This is why I think control and funding need to be as local as possible.

Jeff will be blogging at if you want to keep tabs on him and his positions.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Kudos to Claudette

Nashville education reporter Claudette Riley gets strokes for a job well done from Mike Antonucci in his May 1 Communique and she deserves them.

This morning, Claudette Riley of the Tennessean also took the time to look at the Metro Nashville teachers' contract, and discovered that a handful of teachers are spending a significant portion of the school year attending to union business. "We didn't know we were being policed," said Metro Nashville Education Association President Jamye Merritt.

Most of this stuff never gets "policed," which is why the unifying factor for most school district operations is inertia. Local newspapers can not only generate some decent stories from this, but maybe even effect some positive change.

It really was a very informative piece and I would encourage the media to provide us more in-depth reporting. From my point of view parents and taxpayers are thirsty for this sort of information and I encourage folks to read it. Any time a teacher is absent from work 24% of the time it's cause for concern.

Most interesting to me was this section of the piece:

Tracking leave time

Suggested ways around the problem include extending the length of time contract negotiations can take place on any given day and waiting until the school day ends to start negotiations.

There's some question about how many approved leave days have been used. Garcia said he tracks the requests he approves each year and rarely turns one down unless too many teachers would be out or the activity doesn't seem necessary.

"There are some that I have denied or asked them to have less people," Garcia said.

Neither the district nor the union has kept track of how much approved time was used. Merritt said that if she had known it would become an issue, she would have reported each time the member opted not to take approved time off.

"Not everything has been used — less has been used than requested," said Merritt, who wouldn't speculate on how many of the approved days went unused.

"We didn't know we were being policed."

Policed is such a negative emotional word. Can we use the phrase 'being held accountable' instead? And then let's start tracking this information and find a solution that is best for the students and then as accomodating as possible for the rest of the participants.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tied for 49th

From the May 1st Education Intelligence Agency Communique:

We're Number 49! No, We Are! EIA gets tons of reports, policy papers and other assorted documents from people and organizations with an interest in public education. And – to be perfectly honest – unless it has something in it that is immediately eye-catching, I'm not going to spend too much time with it.

But, while thumbing through a March 2006 report from the Independence Institute titled, "Counting the Cash for K-12: The Facts about Per-Pupil Spending in Colorado," I came across a graphic that illustrates why it pays to be skeptical.

The institute found that "at least 10 states claimed in 2004 or 2005 to rank 49th in education funding."

The list includes Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Utah. (emphasis added)

Call it the reverse Lake Wobegon effect. When it comes to funding, everyone claims to be below average.

Newsweek's top 100 high schools

I'll be picking up a copy of this week's Newsweek magazine today. You can read much of it online here. Seems that there are some "urban" schools that somehow manage to be excellent. How did that happen?

One big hint:

If you want to understand what's happening in some of America's most innovative public high schools, think back to your own experiences in that petri dish of adolescent social stratification known as the cafeteria. Were you a jock? A theater geek? A science whiz? Part of the arty crowd? Whatever your inclination, it defined where you sat. Now imagine that each of those tables was a school in itself—with a curriculum based on sports, drama, science or art and a student body with shared interests and common aptitudes. That radical idea is transforming thousands of high schools. A one-size-fits-all approach no longer works for everyone, the new thinking goes; a more individualized experience is better.

On the plus side, students get more adult attention and are less likely to be lost in the crowd. They can focus on subjects they really care about while still getting a grounding in the basics. But some educators think this boutique approach comes with a cost: the loss of a common experience that brings everyone together under one big roof.

What's worse--not being able to read and do math or not having that common experience? One common experience that must stop is that 56% dropout rate at Stratford & Maplewood High Schools.

Nashville's MLK comes in at 39, Hume-Fogg at 43. Most of the Top 100 schools have way more 'free lunch' students than the roughly 10% at both those area magnet schools by the way.