Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Good enough for them

Ben Cunningham suggests we turn the tables on politicians regarding school choice.

A thought experiment: what if all the wealthy politicians who tried to send their children to private schools were met at the private school house door by the sheriff and told, "your children are not allowed to go to this private school, your children, Mr wealthy politician, can only go to the public schools."
I'll take this a step further and say 'zoned public school'. There are lots of Nashville movers and shakers who are all pro-public education but many of their children manage to get into magnet, option or design schools or they live in districts where the schools are markedly better than others. So they confidently demonstrate that they're 'for public' education and they and their supporters look down their noses at people who've chosen a private option but they're not really subjecting their children to the run of the mill public school.

My question to them is: Is Maplewood good enough for your child? Is Bailey? If not, why is it good enough for those children whose parents don't have your political clout and connections? What are you doing to hold the school board and the director accountable for schools that too many people cannot leave and the system holds captive?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

2007-08 MNPS budget

The number crunching for the Metro Nashville Public Schools budget has been ongoing for a while but today we get to see some hard numbers start to shake out as the first draft of the budget was presented to the BOE this evening. According to the MNPS website this budget is $571,200,000.00 JUST 1.1% above last year's budget. Of that $14,700,000.00 is employee compensation already contractually committed.

Per the MNPS website we have the following available:

2007-2008 Budget Slide Presentation: This includes an overview of our accomplishments, limitations and budgetary challenges.

2007-2008 Budget Rationale: This explains the budget changes in a reader-friendly format, with an explanation of how the proposed additions and reductions will affect our educational services.

2007-2008 Line-Item Budget: This document includes the full line-item budget, along with summary sheets and detailed explanations of various categories.

2007-2008 Unfunded Priority List: The list details the additional services that could be added to the budget if the district receives more revenue.

Metro Schools Fact Sheet: This provides a summary of the district’s 2006-07 budget, students, facilities, personnel and technology. It also highlights some of the most impressive MNPS achievements since 2001.

Metro Schools Budget Brochure: This new brochure explains the funding process, the next steps in the budgetary process and contains the first analysis of MNPS expenses on a per-pupil basis.

Metro Schools Per Pupil Cost Comparison: This information shows how the money spent by MNPS has changed from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008.

Their your children and our tax money. You might want to cruise through and see what's going on.

And of course, contact the BOE members with your concerns and let them know what you want them to do. There's also a link on the right ---> so you can e-mail them all at the same time.

No upside to homework

Alfie Kohn is going to be very well like in the K-8 community. From the UK Observer article "Why Homework isn't Working":

Family tension is just one of a string of negative effects of homework for young children, according to an explosive new book which says much of it is pointless. The book, The Homework Myth, to be published in Britain in the spring, also says too much if it turns children off education and does not make them do any better in tests.
What surprised me is not the downside of homework, but the fact there appears to be no upside,' said Kohn. 'No study has ever shown an academic benefit to homework before high school.
'It needs to be meaningful,' said [Susan Hallam, a professor at the Institute for Education in London]. 'If it is just being set as something schools feel they have to do with no real thought to its purpose, then it is a waste of time. Homework, if taken to the extreme, can completely disrupt family life.'
Ms. Hallam is exactly correct. If it's busy work it's worse than wasteful it cuts into valuable family time. Every teacher ought to be able to provide a parent with a reasonable explanation of the educational benefit of the homework.

2/3rd for the students

And while we're on the subject of the lottery. Thursday's (1/23/07) Tennessean tells us that the Tennessee Lottery sold "$1 billion in tickets in its third full year of existence...$2.8 billion since it was launched." I'm supposed to be happy that $778 million was provided for education. I'm not. It should have been more like $1.96 billion.

$778 million divided by $2.8 billion = 28%. Less than a third of all that money people are spending for lottery tickets actually begins to benefit any student. 2/3rds of this money benefits the bureaucracy that runs it. This enterprise is so bloated with administrative costs that Charity Navigator would score it this way:

We believe that those spending less than a third of their budget on program expenses are simply not living up to their missions. Charities demonstrating such gross inefficiency receive zero points for their overall organizational efficiency score.
So if the effort is 'not living up to their mission' and the poor among us are getting shafted--what's the upside? Oh, yeah---lots of adults are making a very good living from this enterprise and...
“What it says is that poor people are sending wealthy kids to school, children that will be going to college anyway,” [State Senator Thelma] Harper said.
That's a broad statement that's not entirely true but you get the drift. If we're going to keep the lottery--we've got to see that percentage of money going to student rise dramatically. The numbers ought to be flipped 1/3rd for the bureaucracy and 2/3rds for the students.

Asininity in its highest form

Suddenly, State Senator Thelma Harper is recognizing what could have been seen 4 years ago. I wish she'd listened back then or spoken up more loudly. I have remembered all along the points made by the anti-lottery crowd and how it fell on deaf ears or how it was just the Puritanical, tightly wound morally sanctimonious that were against this. It was not possible, in some minds, that we had the best interests of the poor at heart when we opposed this lottery. Well, those chickens have come home to roost.

A trip down memory lane anyone?

From the Knoxville News Sentinel November 11/26/2002 regarding how we would determine who gets a scholarship. Since grades are not standard across the state something else had to be used:

"Students from poorer backgrounds - the example cited most frequently by people in higher education is the Memphis city schools - have a greater disparity between their grades and their ACT scores, and ACT scores tend to be a better predictor of academic success in college.
The composite ACT scores of students with GPAs of 3.0 or better in high school in 2002 found that family income was the best predictor of ACT performance.

The ACT scores increased in linear progression with family income. The poorest group averaged 19 on the ACT; in eight successively greater income categories the average ACT score rose with each step, to a high of 24.5 in families with incomes of more than $100,000.

There is a growing sentiment to set aside some of the money based on financial need as opposed to academic achievement."
I was witness to the House Education Committee hearings (where the bulk of this debate occurred) and I saw the contortions the legislators (many from Memphis) went through to try and qualify their poorly performing students for these scholarships. Their students were certainly needy but they were not going to score well enough on the ACT. At one point the ACT bar was going to be 23--but that was unacceptably high for those Memphis legislators. It eventually fell to 19. They squabbled over a grade point average AND and ACT score vs. a grade point average OR an ACT score. The legislature's Black Caucus eventually spoke up through House Speaker pro-tem Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis:
"We want our kids to have an opportunity.

If you want to put in a 3.0, then start it three or four years from now and give kids who have been victims of failing schools an opportunity to move on and get a college education." Tennessean 4/18/03 pg. 6B
Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, offered an amendment that would have done away with the ACT/GPA requirement and reimbursed college students based on their performance at college. No going.

They did their level best to find SOME way to broaden the eligibility eventually settling on an access grant for those who only make a 2.75 GPA AND and 18 ACT. The lottery had been sold to voters as for the best and brightest yet these legislators were seriously considering a C+ as 'bright'.

From the Gambling Free Tennessee site in 2002 (thanks to the Wayback Machine).
"Through much study, we have come to the conclusion that the introduction of a state lottery will be harmful to our children and the poor. We believe that lotteries open the door to the possibility of political corruption. We are convinced that a lottery will be harmful to the economic interests of the hard working people of Tennessee."
There is no excuse for anyone not having more than a clue this situation was going to happen. There was plenty of testimony by education folks, understanding by legislators, warnings from those 'right wing religious fanatics' and publicity in the papers that the poor were not going to be substantial beneficiaries of this program. Don't cry 'unfair' now.

What can you do now? Fix those 'failing schools' that Senator DeBerry mentioned. Have those education committees actually investigate some of these schools systems and demand some answers for the money we're sending them. Encourage replication of systems that are working. Be willing to hear the truth regardless of who speaks it. Put people on those education committees that aren't tied to the status quo and its keepers and are willing to support some choices for those children that are trapped in failing schools. Stop protecting those failing systems and protect the children instead.

Bonus: a What If moment: State Senator David Fowler proposed skimming off ten cents from every lottery dollar for K-12 education. A sum estimated to be $60 million back then.
"The money would give teachers an additional $100 for classroom supplies and raise teacher salaries, Fowler said.

Sen. John Ford, D-Memphis [he of Tennessee Waltz infamy], called the proposal "pork barrel."

"This is asininity in its highest form," Ford said.
Tennessean 4/16/03 pg 6B

Friday, January 26, 2007

Republican Education Priorities

I've pulled these from the TeamGOP blog entry listing the Tennessee Republican Caucus priorities for this session and included my comments.

Education First Act

The House Republican Caucus is proposing the Education First Act, which would require that the General Assembly pass the education budget first, before considering other budgetary items. Prioritizing education spending would help the education system get the funding it deserves and avoid the reallocation of those funds to other programs.

Yes! It's an annoying joke that Tennessee is 1st in roads and 49th in schools. If this is a priority--prove it. Deal with this before you fulfill promises to the road builder lobby, the tobacco lobby, the liquor lobby...

Lottery Reserves

Another piece of Caucus legislation moves to use some of the excess proceeds from the lottery to fund capital improvements for K-12 schools. As of July 2006, Tennessee had $323.4 million in its Lottery Reserve Account. The constitutional amendment that authorized the lottery allowed for excess proceeds to be used to fund capital outlay projects for K-12 facilities. The bill will propose to take lottery funds in excess of $250 million and distribute them statewide on a per-pupil basis, with a 50 percent local match required.

OK, I have problems with the term 'surplus'. There is surplus because legislators manipulate the amount of money they give in scholarships in order to create this 'surplus'. It's not that it would all go unused otherwise.

I would encourage legitimate capital improvements over pre-K. No money for redoing the quad. Classrooms, HVAC, mold eradication, ADA compliance, clean water and security measure are all legitimate, in my opinion.

Basic Education Program Funding Formula

The Basic Education Program is the funding formula the state uses to determine the funds necessary for each school system to provide a basic level of education for its students. The level of funding includes an amount the state should pay and an amount that local governments should pay for education. This year, it is estimated it will cost the state an extra $90 million to fully fund the formula for K-12 schools as it is because of expected growth. Lawmakers have discussed the possibility of proposing legislation this year that would alter the formula. For example, it has been suggested that the program should send extra money to schools in anticipation of growth, instead of waiting until the growth occurs within the school system.

I like the anticipation of growth suggestion. I would like to see some mechanism for ensuring that if the growth didn't occur (these sorts of numbers are notoriously difficult to nail down) then the money will be deducted from the next year's funding.

Pre-K Program

The administration has discussed expanding the Pre-K program by $25 million a year. The administration is also asking that the legislature remove the restrictions that limit enrollment to lower income or at-risk students. School districts are expected to ask for an additional 200 classrooms this year, and if the restrictions are removed, the education commissioner expects an additional 147 classrooms will be requested to accommodate interested students. The 200 classrooms would cost $20.2 million and the 347 classrooms would cost $33.3 million.

I remain unconvinced that Pre-K's impact lasts beyond the elementary years. Many people see this as free glorified daycare but for the sake of what they've been told are 'at risk' children they'll fork over the tax money. They won't be happy to see this expanded to everyone.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are authorized under legislation passed in 2002 and there have numerous complaints about the current process and procedures. Some fear that the schools, which can only teach students who previously attended failing schools, rely too much on the failure of those schools. Further, when the failing schools begin to perform at the standard, charter schools lose their enrollment.

Reforming the process of funding for charter schools may be on the agenda this year. As it stands now, a public charter school may apply to the local board of education to create a new school, or a sponsor may apply to the local board of education to convert an existing public school into a public charter school if 60 percent of the school’s teachers or parents of the school’s children sign a petition supporting said conversion.

Yes, our charter legislation was conveniently written to nearly ensure the failure of the charter schools. (See we told you they weren't needed.) We need some boundaries for these school boards who find it all to easy to deny these applications and we need a legitimate appeal process. They should not be limited to students from failing schools (failing students is better) but thrown open to the public at large. (Have we not learned anything from the recent magnet school lottery applications in Metro Nashville. Parents WANT other choices.) If the school's or student's AYP continues as the criteria for enrolling their improvement should not mean the child is returned to their zoned school. The system had their chance. No take backs. Regular public schools ought to be held to the same standards.

And let's remember, these are still PUBLIC schools. These are still PUBLIC school students. If a system says their budget will get hit--that's misinformation at best and a panic inducing lie at worst. Their enrollment is smaller and so their budget ought to be smaller.

UPDATE Saturday 1/27/07: Rep. Stacy Campfield says this isn't really a Republican Priority list but a list of what is likely to be discussed in this General Assembly. Read his explanation here.

Standard School Attire

I attended the Parents Advisory Council meeting last evening in the MNPS Board room. Several of the regular attenders were participating in the Strategic Plan retreat. It was interesting. It was frustrating. The bulk of the meeting involved discussing the current standard school attire fact finding mission.

As did the Standard Schools Attire Committee Superintendent Garcia created I'll start by pointing out that the TCA allows every local school board the freedom to make this decision. The only legal parameters are that the clothing be 'simple, appropriate, readily available and inexpensive". Then we must understand that there is a difference between standard school attire and uniforms. The former being much more general and the later fairly rigid. MNPS is looking into the use of the more general, more easily available and less expensive route of standard school attire.

Also mentioned was that the standard school attire policy must have an accommodation for religious or 'strongly held' beliefs regarding dress. The Memphis policy was suggested as a model.

Co-chairs of this Standard Schools Attire Committee include Dr. Monica Dillard, Principal of Overton High School and Dr. Tonya Hutchinson, Principal of Isaac Litton Middle School in my Inglewood neighborhood. Litton has had great success with standard school attire where faculty and staff also conform to the clothing rules. In my visits this comes off very professional and business-like and I, in normal clothing, stand out as obviously a visitor.

There was great testimony from two parents at Litton one of whom was initially against the implementation of the attire. But she whole heartedly embraces it now and even has her other child, attending a different school, dressing the same because it's easier and less expensive. The second mother, of five children, also emphasized the ease and cost effectiveness of this clothing option. A couple of committee members seemed to be concerned about the other clothing the children had available to them in their non-school hours and if the child had fewer options than their siblings. This mom of five was very patient with those questions. Really, folks, that's family business and certainly not the concern of MNPS. There is no right to a full closet of current fashions.

The most frustrating part of the exchange between the PAC members and those testifying was their inability to believe that you could buy a pair of khaki shorts for $5.00 or that Dollar General had clothing that was worth buying. I had to wonder if any of them had ever been to a Dollar General*, K-Mart or second-hand store at all.

Several on this committee also got hung up on whether the local merchants would have time to bring in enough stock before the new school year. I was completely amazed in their lack of understanding of the capitalist system. I believe that if the school board voted tomorrow that standard school attire would be implemented in February (one week from today) their shelves and racks would be brimming with product by then. Some also seemed unable to hear the testimony that many stores already stock these very items all year round. They were told that Memphis gave retailers a four month lead time and there was no problem.

Probably most interesting was the presentation after the presentation. I was never really clear on what their connection to Dr. Garcia's committee was but two parents passed out their presentation called "Standard School Attire: Its Problems and Disadvantages". These parents, Randi Trochtenberg and Mark Schoenfeld, [photos at left] took a very aggressive tone and, as one PAC member correctly pointed out, created a very polarizing environment in that room.

They said their motivation was that presentations thus far had been very pro-standard school attire and that there was 'no empirical evidence' supporting their use and suggested that it was other factors such as 'engaged' learning, teacher methodology and training that also contributed to any decrease in crime and increase in learning. They threw out a lot of statistics, none of which were actually included in their handout. They kept hammering the point--no empirical evidence, no empirical evidence--to the point that one PAC member put up her hand and said "I got it. You two don't want uniforms." So strident was their testimony that I dare say people quit listening.

The City Paper reported it this way:

Parents at the meeting sensed a disconnect with Trochtenberga’s presentation and that of the standard attire committee’s, but Overton High School principal Monica Dillard assured them her committee members were not advocating for or against the change in school attire.

“In defense of the committee — saying it looks like we slanted our information… if somebody had told us we’ve done it and we hate it, we would report that,” Dillard said. “But nobody we had talked with has said that and we’ve not avoided systems that hate it.”
A couple of things that all seemed to agree on:

There needs to be parental involvement. Having community support was going to be essential to ensuring that there was compliance.

It's easier to implement in K-8 than in high school. One student, in what almost came off as a veiled threat, said that if they thought it was tough getting middle schoolers not to leave home in compliance and show up at school in non-compliance wait until you force it on high schoolers. He suggested phasing implementation in.

The Nashville School of the Arts representative (I didn't catch her name. Her photo's on the left) said that NAS students and parents would be against this. "My principal would be against this." She asserted that NAS students need to be able to wear leotards and would resent exceptions for athletes. Dr. Hutchinson had testified previously that on game days athletes were allowed to forgo the white collared shirt for their jerseys.

Mr. Shoenfeld's wife got to her husband's mike and wisely pointed out that this debate is worldwide and may never be settled so expect to revisit this topic in the future.

Dr. Dillard pointed out that they had yet to hear from a school system that had implemented standard school attire anything like "We've done it and hate it." Her committee has been presenting their facts to the BOE in installments. At the next BOE meeting they will cover the pros & cons. That presentation, I've no doubt, will adequately answer the assertions of Trochtenberg and Schoenfeld.

*Dollar General side note: I personally believe that Dollar General has been a lifeline to many urban areas. They do provide the basics of life for a reasonable price in places the big boxes fear to tread. AND they back that up with jobs programs and hefty financial investments in those same communities. If these PAC members don't know the value of a Dollar General--they should do themselves a favor and visit. Their budgets will thank them. It'll be a good reality check for them. Often we're buying the very same brands but at a better price. There is a world outside of Target and the mall.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Not divisive, just the opposite

Remember that NAPE incentive pay plan proposed for Alex Green and Inglewood that the MNEA wouldn't allow? Remember how the union was all concerned it would be divisive? Well, some examination of the Little Rock, AK plan based on where it is now has been done. It's only year one--but so far it's looking good.

This is where the more startling observations are found:
  • The more prevalent criticisms of merit pay by detractors, such as corrosive competition or a negative work environment, didn't surface in the study. In fact, the opposite may have occurred: 83 percent of teachers participating in the program reported increased collaborations with fellow teachers, compared with just 19 percent of teachers outside of the program. There were similarly lopsided responses with respect to counterproductive competition: 22 percent of teachers in the merit pay program agreed that this occurred, compared to 74 percent of teachers outside the program.
  • Teachers participating in the program didn't report being more innovative or working harder than their colleagues who didn't participate in the program.
  • Teachers receiving merit pay "were more likely than comparison teachers to view low-performing students as an opportunity to demonstrate teaching ability rather than as a burden."
In short, a properly designed merit pay program can have significant benefits for both teachers and students.
You can read the 'not so fast' opinion from the NEA (not the Arkansas teacher's group--they brought out the big union guns for this).
The NEA response, reprinted verbatim below, questions the impartiality of a study financed by the same organization financing the pay experiment. It also notes the limited scope of the review, the absence of some underlying data on which the University of Arkansas's conclusions were based and suggested that a press release on the report hyped the more limited findings of the researchers themselves.

Involved neighbors

Bob Krumm tells us where the state can find $225 million--like they actually 'need' anymore. Of course, it does require a bit of effort from the grown-ups. Here's number five from the list Bob posts:

5. Family and Community Involvement. This may be the most important element of all. One of the knocks on magnet schools is that it often removes the most involved parents from the neighborhood schools. While that is likely an effect, children of uninvolved parents are less likely to succeed whether or not they are surrounded by peers whose parents are involved. We need more family and community involvement in education. An answer might be to stop forcing kids to attend schools outside their own neighborhoods so that communities can actually develop around their neighborhood schools.
I do believe that a rising tide lifts all boats and so increased involvement by some parents has a good chance of enhancing the lives of other people's children as well.

I also believe that we need to get back to smaller neighborhood schools. Bob's right--our neighborhoods took a hit when parents ended up with children in a couple of schools 'over there' and traveling began eating up whatever time they may have had to volunteer at or monitor the schools.

More on Johnson's departure

Earlier this week the Glendale, AZ Star promised more details about the hiring of their new superintendent of schools Sandra Johnson. I don't think they've really fulfilled that promise--no contract details at all. Here are a few snips:

While details of the contract, which will officially begin July 1, have not been worked out, Johnson is expected to come to the district in mid-February on a special services agreement.


Her new post entails oversight of a district less than one-fifth the size of her previous employ.


She was one of several administrators from the Corona-Norco Unified School District, near Los Angeles to move in 2001 with then-Superintendent Pedro Garcia when he became director of the Nashville school district.

“I would never have come to Nashville without her,” Garcia said. “She’s the best there is.”


Johnson also anticipates working more closely with school staff. Her first priority, though, is to “do a lot of assessment” with an eye toward student achievement.

“We want to be data driven, research-based and results oriented,” she said. “I’m very much a believer in standards-based reform.”

He never would have come without her but he'll stay without her?

Counselor resigns

A bit of good news, a Glencliff counselor has chosen to resign rather than fight allegations of grade tampering thus saving the district untold hours of work and who knows how much money in an effort to remove her. Though considering the outcome of the Bowers hearing--she might very well have had a chance at keeping her job despite the evidence.

I, though, am thankful she took the higher road this time. It does make you wonder what kind of counsel these folks are providing the children if they feel comfortable altering records.

I'm also thankful it wasn't another District 5 problem. It's still a district-wide problem and I'm glad the records are all being examined but how it is that the school was being audited and they didn't catch this.

[Metro Schools’ guidance department Kim] Mansfield said her team was present at Glencliff, conducting an audit, when it was discovered that Cobb has allegedly altered grades.

She said they did not, however, discover the errors during the audit process.

Public school choice

If you thought the MNPS Magnet school lottery rush was impressive--this could certainly cause a stampede.

At the [South Carolina] State House, legislators are testing out a new kind of school choice for parents. Rep. Bob Walker (R-Spartanburg) says, "All 85 school districts would have to participate in this."

Rep. Walker is behind a proposed bill that would allow open enrollment, meaning any student could go to any public school regardless of the district they live in.

By limiting the choice to just public schools, not private, Walker believes the bill has a good chance to pass, "We in government, should allow parents to make that choice as to where they feel best for their child to be educated." [emphasis added] WIS TV

They do have a few restrictions regarding financial impact and capacity--but I'm impressed that they're actually talking out loud about it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Strategic plan committee

Today's Tennessean gives us the names of the members of the Strategic Plan Committee which will rewrite the overarching plan for the system. Here's a link to the expiring plan.

According to MNPS Spokesman Woody McMillan today they begin day one of a three day session. God bless 'em.

What's also curious is that the Tennessean has chosen to post the education status of some of these people but not all. That doesn't seem fair.

I've included comments and links to the Tennessean's list. If you have information about the rest feel free to clue us in about the people working on this enormous task.

Mebenin Awipi NAACP, Tennessee State University [Fresh off the MNPS BOE, and head of the NAACP Education Committee.]
Julia Baldridge — FACE, Family Advisory Council for Special Education
Gail Carr Williams — private school parent; Vanderbilt University
Stephanie Chatham — elementary school principal [Percy Priest elementary]
Vern Denney — Metro schools, facilities/zoning
Margaret Dolan — Nashville’s Agenda
Lendozia Edwards — Metro schools, learning support services [She caused some serious concern in 2005 with her attempts to find homeschoolers for her dissertation. A parent spoke to the BOE on 12/13/05 outlining her conduct and asking for her to be sanctioned. Check this page for more details.]
Kim Finch — middle school principal
Jose Flores COPLA, ELL [COPLA is the newly formed Hispanic parent organization]
Jim Forkum — Metro Council[man] representing the Madison area.
Angela Galloway — middle school teacher [Litton Middle]
Pedro Garcia — director of Metro schools
Lora Hall — high school principal
The Rev. Barton Harris Tying Nashville Together
Susan Howard — Steel Workers [United Steelworkers Local 9426 and bus driver]
Erick Huth — Metro Nashville Education Association
Ed Kindall — Board of education [member]
Julie Lamb Parents Advisory Council, parent of child at Title 1 school
Gretchen Logan — high school counselor
Lance Lott
— Metro schools, information technology
'Rita McDonald — magnet school parent, YMCA
Brenda Morrow — Edgehill Family Resources Center
Carmen Overby — high school student
Virginia Pupo-Walker — high school teacher
David Rhodes — high school student [and student member of the BOE]
Sydney RogersAlignment Nashville, nonprofit organizations
Betty Russell — SEIU [Service Employees International Union Local 205]
Ralph Schulz Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce [formerly of the Adventure Science Center]
The Rev. Victor Singletary — Interdenominational Ministerial Fellowship
Ralph Thompson — Metro schools, assistant superintendent
Tonya Venters — elementary school teacher

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

SOTU: Education

If Edspresso is correct these points are going to rock the education blob.

  1. As in the past, he will call for a competitive grants bill that will allow school districts or nonprofits to create private school choice programs.
  2. As we have been urging, he will propose private school options for kids in schools that have been failing for five or more years. In an interesting twist, such "restructuring" schools also would be freed from the obligations of their union contracts, much like private firms that are in bankruptcy.
  3. For the 20 percent of Title I funds that are supposed to be used for supplemental services, a "use it or lose it" requirement to encourage the provision of services will be suggested.
Bring it on!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Just weeks left

Creative Liberty has the MNPS release making Dr. Sandra Johnson's exit from Nashville official.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 22, 2007) – Dr. Sandy Johnson, Chief Instructional Officer for Metro Nashville Public Schools, will be leaving Nashville in February to become superintendent of Glendale Elementary District 40, a K-8 school system in Glendale, Arizona. Dr. Johnson has been with MNPS since August, 2001, overseeing Learning Support Services and serving as a member of Director Pedro Garcia’s cabinet.


Dr. Garcia said he is dealing with mixed emotions.
“Sandy Johnson isn’t just a colleague or business associate; she’s a long-time friend whose wisdom and courage have helped me many times,” he said.


Dr. Garcia would not speculate on when a replacement would be named. He said the district has a strong group of capable administrators who can work more closely with him as the search for a new Chief Instructional Officer gets underway.

Creative Liberty is hosting a party. I expect they'll be many in attendance.

I hope Glendale Elementary School district, a K-8 district barely one-fifth the size of MNPS with just 14,000 students, 17 schools and 5 board members is a better fit for her. I sincerely hope it's a good fit for those children.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Johnson's gone

Dr. Sandra Johnson, Chief Instructional Officer for Metro Nashville Public Schools, got the superintendent's job in Glendale, AZ according to their Glendale Star newspaper.

Sandra Johnson, a deputy superintendent for instruction with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, has been selected as the next superintendent for Glendale Elementary School District. A special governing board meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Jan. 22 at the district office. At that time, her selection is expected to be ratified.

What really sold the GESD board on Johnson were her classrooms, [GESD Governing Board President Steve] Johnston said. Four board members went to Nashville and visited classrooms.

"To see for yourself makes all the difference in the world," Johnston said.

In one school, Johnston said, there were no bells to signal the end of one class and the beginning of another. Johnston said when the children saw the time on the clock, they picked up their books and filed out of the room and went to their next class.

"Transition was less than a minute and a half," Johnston said. "I interviewed a panel of principals and they told me pointblank she saved their careers by what she gave to them. She is very popular with her staff. There has to be something special to beat out Mark Joranstaad. We're going to give her every opportunity to show why we chose her."

Anyone know what school this would have been?

No details on when she's leaving. The Glendale paper promises more details on January 25, Thursday.

Friday, January 19, 2007

It's about time!

Hot off the Nashville Post press is the news that a teacher is suing the MNEA because the union won't let her quit the union when SHE wants to quit.

Kristy Carr, a teacher at Haywood Elementary School, filed the lawsuit this week in Davidson County Chancery Court (copy of complaint and attachments available at this link). The legal filings show that she has been trying to quit the union since early in the current school year, but that the MNEA has responded that according to its bylaws, she can only resign during a two-month window of time in April and May of each year.

Carr says the union, and the school system that has acted in accord with union policy in the matter by continuing to withhold dues from her paycheck, have violated her rights under Tennessee's Right To Work statute and other provisions of state law.
You've got to read the rest. Remember, the story isn't Larry Crain's other clients--it's the fact that MNEA doesn't play well with it's own 'members'. Is this how a professional organization treats it members or is it a protectionist union tactic?

MNPS needs to default to the current wishes of the employee and immediately stop withholding these dues. The money MNPS will be spending to justify the union's actions will be money not available for the benefit of our children. This expense will only benefit the union.

Page 3 of the complaint says the union requires teachers to quit the union before the end of the school year between April 1 and May 31. Many teachers won't even know then if they'll be working the next year. Seems to me that union membership ought to mirror a teaching contract.

Page 8--it's not just MNEA dues, it's also TEA and NEA dues that were being deducted without Ms. Carr's permission.

Page 11--Attorney Crain has had this run in with MNEA before. Apparently, this time he's got a client willing to fight. Good for her. I hope this is the first of many more.

I'm glad to see someone take up this fight. It's ridiculous that an employee can't control the deductions from their own paycheck and that MNPS is acting as MNEA's agent.

The MNEA alternative is Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Reading gains or padding a reume?

Is anyone really surprised that at a time when Dr. Sandra Johnson is in serious contention for a superintendent position in Glendale, AZ a study appears propping up her credentials?

Even if the study is completely accurate.and we'll have to see if that's true, the timing is pretty fortuitous.

“My colleagues and I have spent a long time working in the Metro Nashville Public Schools, working with a whole bunch of teachers to develop and to rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of instructional programs for children from pre-school through elementary school,” Fuchs said.

The biggest problem isn't 'pre-school through elementary' it's those high school students that are crashing and burning. Can we focus on them--they're the ones who don't have any time left.

English first

I don't think the recent resolution passed by the council (and already signed by the mayor) making English the official language of Metro government and the English First bill of CM Eric Crafton are mutually exclusive. I believe that the resolution lets folks know what the heart of the council is in the matter and CM Crafton's bill deals with the important practical side of the issue. I think councilman can support both and I hope they will on February 6 for the third and final reading of CM Crafton's bill.

And as a reminder this is what Crafton's bill says

Section 1. Chapter 1.04 of the Metropolitan Code of Laws is hereby amended by adding the following new section 1.04.070:

"1.04.070. English the official language of the metropolitan government.

A. English is hereby established as the official language of the metropolitan government.
B. Except when required by federal law or when necessary to protect or promote public health, safety or welfare, all communications, publications, and telephone answering systems of metropolitan government boards, commissions, departments and agencies shall be in English."

Free speech isn't free

I'm glad to read the Bennett amendment to SB1 the Legislative Transparancy and Accountability Act has passed. My thanks to those organizations that were watchmen on the walls and sounded the battle cry. I was not surprised that the new Democratically controlled congress felt the need to protect me from misinformation and lack of information but I'm an adult now, have been for quite some time. I don't need a nanny. And when groups like OMB Watch advocate for this and they report their largest donors as Anonymous 1 and Anonymous 2 --I don't believe they're walking the talk.

On the horizon: if you haven't already--you may want to amend your W4 for the coming year to raise the amount withdrawn from your paycheck every week. Someone's going to have to pay for that broadband access, student loans and the sacrificing of babies to follow the sketchy science of embryonic stem cell research.

Is high school football a public good?

Blasphemy alert (not the religious kind--well, then again, maybe):

One of the big problems with public schools is there is such a conflicting set of ideas on what should happen at school. Many parents want their children to have a traditional academic education; they want their children to learn to read, write, and master arithmetic. Other parents are more concerned with socialization, or sports, or getting their children fed. A few parents are mostly interesting is having a place for their children to go during the day - free babsitting. Some parents want their children to be taught ethics, or a trade, or how to be a good citizen. With so many orthagonal views, it is no wonder that public schools struggle. Why homeschool
and then the author links to:
Is high school football a public good?
Of course when Nashville takes tax payer money for the benefit of professional teams it's hard to say it's not.

The next TVA

This quote seems so similar to the reasons we started the TVA:

“Tennessee needs to make a purposeful effort to serve rural areas with broadband service,” the report states. “Until that occurs, Tennessee will lose ground – and jobs and educational opportunities – to state’s willing to make that commitment.” Nashville City Paper
And where will it stop? They'll need computers, software, training, and upgrades....

Incentive to quash

From today's Wall Street Journal comes this nugget of truth:

The desire to learn disappeared down the bottomless well of centralized public-school bureaucracies.
The article goes on to describe the incentive pay plan in Little Rock, AR that was a model for the NAPE Inglewood/Alex Green incentive plan that was so throughly quashed by the MNEA. The local union in Arkansas is fighting back by getting their own candidates on the school board--and they're succeeding. Sounds familiar.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

105 GA legislation 1

It's that time of year again. Legislators are filing bills and I'm going through the list for things that need to be tracked. I'm usually looking for education legislation but I'll post others here as they concern me. I've started with the House bills. Here's the link to the main index if you want to take a look for yourself.

Lottery money: Some legislators are constantly looking for ways to manipulate the scholarships for college students so that they can bring some of this money back to their home districts. This year is no different:

*HB0009 by *Hawk, *Brooks H.

Lottery, Scholarships and Programs - Creates K-12 lottery capital outlay special account; establishes grant program for capital outlay projects for K-12 educational facilities administered by comptroller of the treasury. - Amends TCA Title 4, Chapter 51, Part 1; Title 8, Chapter 4; Title 9, Chapter 4 and Title 49.

So they limit the amount of money college students can receive in order to create excess funds, move the money to this fund which can only be used for capital outlay (not early learning or after school programs) and voila--bring the bacon home. And no, unexpended funds don't revert back to the scholarship fund the state will invest the money for future capital projects. The comptroller gets to decide who is grant-worthy.

HB0020 by *Shepard. (*SB0025 by *Jackson.)

Lottery, Scholarships and Programs - Changes income eligibility requirement for receipt of need-based ASPIRE award, HOPE access grant, and HOPE scholarship for nontraditional students from incomes not exceeding $36,000 to incomes not exceeding $45,000. - Amends TCA Title 49, Chapter 4, Part 9.

Election laws: This is just a bad idea. Early voting is excruciatingly long as it is--we don't need to extend it. do we really want 7 more days of television and radio ads, mailings, debate and polling expenses?

HB0016 by *Shepard. (*SB0018 by *Jackson.)

Election Laws - Extends early voting period for state elections by seven days. - Amends TCA Title 2, Chapter 6, Part 1.

And if we're going to allow anyone to vote absentee--what's the need for early voting at all?

HB0017 by *Shepard. (*SB0012 by *Jackson.)

Election Laws - Permits any registered Tennessee voter to vote absentee. - Amends TCA Title 2.

And let's pull in every vote possible:

HB0021 by *Shepard. (*SB0015 by *Jackson.)

Election Laws - Allows persons who will be 18 years of age by the general election to vote in the primary election. - Amends TCA Title 2, Chapter 2, Part 1.

And you knew it was coming:

HB0023 by *Shepard. (*SB0036 by *Jackson.)

Tax Assessors and Collectors - Enacts the "Tennessee Minimum Wage Act." - Amends TCA Title 50, Chapter 2.

Apparently, they've decided that $6.15 an hour is a livable wage ($3.13 if you earn tips).

More as I have time.

How many teachers?

Again, the MNEA voted on incentive pay. The Tennessean reports:

Members of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association voted 70 percent to 30 percent to participate in the $10 million scientific study, in conjunction with Vanderbilt University's new National Center on Performance Incentives.
My question is how many is 70% and 30%? How many of the 4,983+- teachers employed by Metro and how many of the MNEA membership got to decide whether these 300 teachers would be allowed to participate in this study? Was the voting process improved after they rejected the NAPE project? Or was that unnecessary since the MNEA had already made it clear they were for this version?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Straining at a gnat

THIS is worthy of serious attention by the MNEA? The system has over 71,000 students and nearly 5,000 teachers and the MNEA turns their attention from incentive pay, health plans, working conditions and professional development to focus on one alleged misuse of one of those 50 cell phones?

Previous post: Cell Phones for students--just not board members

No on RS2006-1679

I think CM Summers resolution to tie the superintendent's salary, and those of the senior administrative staff, to the salary of teachers is a bad idea. It doesn't allow the freedom we ought to have to pay people based on their performance.

"I filed it to draw attention to the fact that the school board is giving the director of schools more than the teachers," he said. Tennessean
No doubt. But the solution isn't to wholesale add a salary increase to all the teachers because the BOE finds that the superintendent is deserving of a pay raise. If you disagree with that pay raise, and I do, hold the BOE accountable. Each employee ought to be given a raise based on their own performance. It's tough enough to manage the MNPS budget with all the automatic expenses we're already committed to--we don't need to add this to the budget problem.

There is some truth in CM Summer comment:

Still, Councilman Summers said he doesn't feel the school board is investing its money in the right places.

"If you got rid of the school board and the director of schools, we'd still have a good school system, and the teachers would still show up to teach," he said.

It sure feels like the whole thing is on auto pilot.

Here's the resolution


A resolution requesting the Metropolitan Board of Public Education to limit salary increases for the Director of Schools and senior staff to the same percentage increase teachers receive.

WHEREAS, unfortunately in our society, teachers are not paid at a level that is consistent with the important role they play in shaping the lives of children; and

WHERAS, education administrators consistently make more money than teachers, even though the teachers make a much greater contribution toward a child's education; and

WHEREAS, on October 18, 2006, the Metropolitan Board of Public Education voted to extend Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia's contract for three years and gave Dr. Garcia a $16,600 raise, which increases the Director's annual salary to $216,000; and

WHEREAS, the 2006-2007 starting salary for a teacher in the Metro Nashville Public Schools with a Bachelors degree is $33,067, and the salary for a teacher with ten years experience is just over $42,000 a year; and

WHEREAS, it is fitting and proper that the Board of Education limit the salary increases for the Director of Schools and upper level administration staff to the same percentage received by the teachers.


Section 1. That the Metropolitan County Council hereby goes on record as requesting the Metropolitan Board of Public Education to limit salary increases for the Director of Schools and senior administrative staff to the same percentage increase teachers receive.

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

Section 3. 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: John Summers

Write your councilman and let him know how you want them to vote.

Please don't overlook the chart provided by the Tennessean that shows the AVERAGE Metro teacher salary is $48,513 dollars. I don't believe this includes their generous health insurance and pension benefits.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

They ARE public schools

There's an e-mail from a Parent's Advisory Council representative that's making the rounds. There is a bit of panic in the air as people are suddenly realizing that the money isn't going to just flow from the Metro budget to the school system and cuts will have to be made, money will have to be accounted for and too much of the MNPS budget is uncontrollable.

I'm really concerned if the following is the quality of thinking that's advising Superintendent Garcia on the schools.

Here's the quote:

The district will lose $1,000,000 in funding to Lead Academy, the new charter school that was approved this month. Kipp and Smithson Craighead charter schools also receive approximately $1,000,000 each from our school budget to operate their schools. This is a provision of NCLB.
Two things--the easy one first. This isn't a provision of NCLB. There is plenty in NCLB to quibble about but these schools are NOT funded because of NCLB. They're funded because the school board signed a contract (a charter) with these school administrators to run these schools on behalf of MNPS.

Secondly, and most importantly, these charter schools ARE public schools. Their students ARE public school students. This $3 million would have been spent from the MNPS budget to teach them no matter which school they were enrolled in. Charters are just one of the tools that MNPS uses to teach a portion of its student population. If you follow this logic we should start complaining about the amount of money the district loses to magnet schools every year.

Please, let's remember charters are public schools--public schools that are far more accountable than the other schools in the district. And especially in regard to KIPP, a school that is providing an excellent return on taxpayer investment. We could use a dozen KIPP's in Nashville. I hope LEAD does as well.

Out of date

I was cruising through the Metro Council Agenda trying to check on some things and needed to reference the Metro Code in order to know just what was going on with a particular bill. Unfortunately, the code I needed to read hasn't been added to the online version of the Metro Code. In fact that online version hasn't been updated since April of 2006 according to its main page.

A call to the Metro Clerk's office provided the frustrating information that the code is only updated three times a year. The code I needed to read was passed in August of 2006 but still doesn't appear in this online version five months later. The clerk told me how to search the ordinances waiting in the que for the update but I don't understand why five months after the bill is passed the code hasn't been updated and made readily available to the general public.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Gracie's chosen David

5th District School Board Representative Gracie Porter has chosen David Briley as her mayoral candidate of choice if a recent fund raiser invitation listing her as a supporter is correct. The invitation goes on to list dozens of the usual liberal East Nashville crowd--Gracie Porter and members of her election team among them. I'm looking forward to hearing from Gracie why, specifically, she thinks he's a better candidate for mayor than the rest.

Note to David--I know the opening is meant as a joke--but there's a definite 'ewww' factor there. You might want to rethink similar attempts.