Opinion Piece: Banning all virtual schools isn’t the answer

What practical effects would come from revoking the Tennessee Virtual Schools Act? For one thing, it might actually decrease accountability for online education.

That’s the conclusion of Dr. Kecia Ray, head of Learning Technology in Metro Schools. She gave her thoughts about all the talk of banning virtual schools this week in The Tennessean.

Public virtual schools have the same accountability standards as brick-and-mortar schools. Under the current system, underperforming virtual schools are at risk of state takeover or even closure. Revoking the Tennessee Virtual Schools Act would actually allow schools to circumvent accountability by operating as virtual programs, not schools, with student achievement results sent to the student’s zoned school. This is not the transparency most desire.

Dr. Ray also gives a possible alternative to this drastic measure at the end of the piece.

To read her full opinion column, visit Tennessean.com.

High school graduate or dropout? It’s complicated.

When is a high school dropout really a graduate? It’s a strange but appropriate question when you look at the way graduate rates are calculated.

The education team at Nashville Public Television explores this question and breaks down what Nashville’s graduation rate really means in a new documentary airing this Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. The special is called “Graduation by the Numbers” and is part of the national “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen” series exploring high school dropout rates and efforts to boost graduation.

If you haven’t seen the previous “American Graduate” entry from NPT, called “Translating the Dream,” you’re really missing out. It looks at the challenges facing English learner and immigrant students as they try to graduate high school and navigate the options – or lack of options – given to them afterward.

If you want to join the conversation about graduates and dropouts, you can join NPT online this Tuesday night, January 22 at 7:30 p.m., for an online social screening of “Translating the Dream” using a new public media tool called OVEE. Producer LaTonya Turner and other panelists will join in on the discussion.

Translating the Dream: Online screening & panel discussion
Tuesday, January 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Click here to take part.

“Graduation by the Numbers”
Documentary airs Thursday, January 24 at 9:00 p.m.
on NPT channel 8

Here is more from the NPT press release:

Half-hour documentary looks at “Graduation by the Numbers;” part of national “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen” initiative.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – January 10, 2013 — Nashville Public Television (NPT-Channel 8)  takes an in-depth look at efforts in Nashville to keep students in school until they graduate in “NPT Reports: Graduation by the Numbers,” premiering Thursday, January 24 at 9:00 p.m. The documentary is part of the national “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen” initiative.

In Nashville Public Schools in 2012, one in 11 students dropped out — 8.8 percent — which is almost four times the previous year’s dropout rate. But a student counted as a dropout is not necessarily someone who does not graduate. The result is that the graduation rate can go up—even as the rate of dropouts goes up. The NPT report, produced and narrated by LaTonya Turner, looks at why the numbers for graduates and those for dropouts often don’t add up.

“The numbers can be confusing and in some cases misrepresentative of who is graduating and who is not,” says Turner.

Nashville school officials have taken the lead in Tennessee by looking for ways to make student data more useful, accurate, and accessible, with the goal of spotting students in trouble before they show up in school reports or drop out altogether. The main risk factors for students dropping out are: attendance, academic performance, and behavior. Using a new online digital system for tracking individual student data called the Data Dashboard, Nashville educators can now pinpoint and trace the risk factors and intervene with the student early enough to prevent failure. They are finding that high school may be too late; the risk in many cases begins in middle school or even earlier.

Nashville’s new middle school bridge program was begun to specifically start honing in on earlier for students at risk of dropping out. Simultaneously, some Nashville high schools are now aggressively working to retain the students who might have slipped through but are starting to slip off the path to graduation..” to graduation. A good example is McGavock High School, the largest school in Nashville, which was among the first to embrace the Data Dashboard as a tool – from the office to students in the classroom. It’s part of McGavock’s aggressive effort to turn around a dismal performance record.

Following Nashville’s lead, Tennessee education officials are on the cusp of launching a statewide online data tracking system. The goal is to help educators more effectively identify and reach out to individual students with strategies and support that address their specific risk factors for dropping out before graduation.

“Graduation by the Numbers” is the second in a series of public affairs documentary by NPT as part of its role in the national Corporation for Public Broadcating (CPB) initiative “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen.” The first was “NPT Reports: Translating the Dream,”  an in-depth look at the graduation rate among ELL and immigrant students in Tennessee; the challenges they face that can prevent them from graduating on time; how schools and teachers are trying to address this increasingly demanding need; and how all of us are impacted when students drop out of school. It is available for free online viewing now at http://wnpt.org/amgrad.

About Nashville Public Television
Nashville Public Television is available free and over the air to nearly 2.4 million people throughout the Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky viewing area, and is watched by more than 600,000 households every week. The mission of NPT is to provide, through the power of traditional television and interactive telecommunications, high quality educational, cultural and civic experiences that address issues and concerns of the people of the Nashville region, and which thereby help improve the lives of those we serve.

About American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen
American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen is helping local communities identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. American Graduate demonstrates public media’s commitment to education and its deep roots in every community it serves. Beyond providing programming that educates, informs and inspires, public radio and television stations — locally owned and operated — are an important resource in helping to address critical issues, such as the dropout rate. In addition to national programming, more than 75 public radio and television stations have launched on-the-ground efforts working with community and at risk youth to keep students on-track to high school graduation. More than 800 partnerships have been formed locally through American Graduate, and CPB is working with Alma and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation .

About CPB
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,300 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services.

Two teachers at Metro Schools named Nashvillians of the Year for 2012

Nashvillians of the Year Cover Photo

Cover courtesy of The Nashville Scene and photographer Michael W. Bunch

What a way to end 2012.

Two teachers in Metro Schools have been named Nashvillians of the Year by the Nashville Scene. Adam Taylor of Overton High School and Christina McDonald of Nashville Prep Charter School represent the teachers who “give Nashville’s schoolchildren, no matter what their background, a fighting chance to reach their brightest future.”

In a lengthy and detailed article, reporter Steven Hale lays out the bare – and sometimes forgotten – fact in our city’s current debate over education: whether charter school or district school, great teachers are at the center of great education.

It’s a great piece, and I strongly recommend you take a few moments to read the full article so you can see how teachers like Christina and Adam can bring the focus of the education discussion back where it belongs.

The Scene would like to refocus the discussion of public education not on differences and squabbles, but on the enormous asset that charter and public schools have in common: the teachers who are the most active, direct agents of hope Nashville’s children will face outside the home. As our 2012 Nashvillians of the Year, the Scene honors two such instructors: one from a charter school, Christina McDonald at Nashville Prep, and one from a traditional Metro district school, Adam Taylor at Overton High.

They are hardly alone. Space does not permit us to list the many outstanding district and charter teachers who slug it out in Nashville’s trenches throughout the school year, fighting the shared enemies of poverty, hunger, troubled home lives, behavioral problems, language barriers, bad outside influences and limited resources. But McDonald and Taylor are sterling examples of what can be accomplished by creative thinking, supportive administrators, and sheer determination. To look inside their classrooms is to see small miracles happen every day — and to see a brighter future for Nashville schoolchildren of all races and backgrounds than statistics sometimes let us hope.

Read the full article here.

Rumor Control: Metro Says Student Can’t Slack Off With New Grading Policy – NewsChannel5.com

This piece from Aundrea Cline-Thomas at News Channel 5 sums up the new middle school grading policy pretty well.

Good grades used to be easier to come by.

“In the past maybe some of our grading practices inadvertently kind of made some grades a little bit invalid,” DuPont Hadley Middle School teacher Jennie Presson explained.

Assignments for extra credit would inflate the grades and could be a crutch especially for struggling students.

“Under the new policy students grades will be a really really accurate reflection of their level of understanding,” Presson added.

“It is a culture shift and we know it’s going to take some time,” Dr. Lora Hall, Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools said.

Full story:
Metro Says Student Can’t Slack Off With New Grading Policy – NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports.

MNEA supports Metro budget proposal & higher pay for new teachers

Joining a growing list of supporters, the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association has pledged its support of Mayor Karl Dean’s 2013 budget proposal. Writing about the endorsement, MNEA President and middle school teacher Stephen Henry says:

While most of the buzz has centered on the $40,000 starting salary, the new compensation plan actually seeks to compress the total teacher salary schedule by reducing the number of steps, which is a significant modification and a good thing for teachers. Paying teachers well is a good way to attract and retain the best professionals to serve the children of Nashville.

Read the full MNEA letter of support.

Show your support for the budget proposal.

Link

Joining Peabody’s Camilla Benbow is Candice McQueen of Lipscomb University. In today’s copy of The Tennessean, Dr. McQueen says:

Unfortunately, some of the toughest teaching challenges in Nashville are also among the lowest-paid. Teachers are already candidates for burnout and turnover based on the work they do, but when they see how their work is valued by our city vis-á-vis other options, it is doubly discouraging. An excellent teacher willing to take on any challenge in Nashville has plenty of higher-paying opportunities in other school systems.

As dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education, I have been closely following the proposal to raise teachers’ starting salaries in Metro Schools. Many of our graduates want to teach in Metro Nashville schools after graduation, because they see the potential for impacting students’ lives and our community. But in return for their willingness to do this hard and meaningful work that ultimately affects quality of life in our city, they have to accept thousands of dollars less than they can earn in another city.

Read the entire article here.

From NewsChannel5: Mayor, Councilman, & School officials see firsthand why capital spending is needed

Officials Tour School Ready For Renovations – NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

A bit more from our Flickr page:

Mayor Karl Dean and Council Member Anthony Davis joined Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register and Board members Gracie Porter and Ed Kindall for a tour of the renovation needs for Stratford STEM Magnet High School.

Mayor Dean has proposed $20 million for needed renovations at Stratford, just part of a $100 million plan for capital spending to improve Metro Schools. Renovations at Stratford would include upgrades to HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems, many of which are original to the building. The school would also receive a new entry way and all energy efficient windows throughout. Most classrooms would receive drop ceilings to improve insulation and acoustics, as well as replacements for built-in cabinet work. Any settlement cracks would be repaired, as well as broken pavement and brickwork.

The current HVAC system does not dehumidify the school or provide air conditioning for hallways. Old single-pane windows often cannot keep classroom climates appropriate for students, leaving some classrooms unused. All renovations would be LEED certified to make the school more environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

Stratford covers more than 200,000 square feet over 30 acres and hasn’t received any renovations since 1988. The proposed $20 million renovations would update the school to match its forward looking focus on science, technology, engineering, and math.

To learn more about the capital spending proposal and how you can help support it with the Metro Council, visit our blog: onpubliceducation.com/category/budget/