Modernized Classrooms & Affordable Internet Service: Partners in closing the digital divide

Technology is in our homes, at the grocery stores, doctor’s offices, athletic events, and – most importantly – waiting for our children in college and their future careers. For that reason, it’s crucial that educational institutions teach students in a way that is relevant and trains them to use the tools that are ever-present in our daily lives.

When the National Alliance for Black School Educators (NABSE) and Promethean, a global education company, offered to donate more than $150,000 worth of classroom technology and professional development services our employees were ecstatic, and rightfully so. Those tools and that training will help our teachers work with students and begin to close the digital divide that exists between families with technology in their homes and those without.

At Napier Enhanced Option Elementary on Wednesday, the two organizations announced the donation that will help the 15 schools receiving technology and support.  Schools will receive touch-screen interactive whiteboards, hand held student response devices, and educational software. Teachers will be trained on how to best use these new tools to increase student engagement and better lead interactive lessons.

The donation will immediately turn classrooms in fifteen Nashville schools into modern-day learning centers complete with interactive whiteboards (ActivBoard), touch-screen interactive tables (ActivTable), hand held student response devices (ActivExpressions), and educational software. Schools receiving the donation include: Napier Enhanced Option Elementary, Harris-Hillman Exceptional Education School, Ross Elementary, Neely’s Bend Middle, Dodson Elementary, Old Center Elementary, Oliver Middle, Bordeaux Enhanced Option Elementary, J.E. Moss Elementary, Gower Elementary, McMurray Middle, Shwab Elementary, Caldwell Enhanced Option Elementary, Madison Middle, and the Martin Professional Development Center.

But this donation is much more than a one-time act of generosity. It is part of an annual program by NABSE and Promethean to close the achievement gap by modernizing classrooms and boosting parental engagement. Our schools were selected to receive this donation since Nashville is serving as the host city for the 40th NABSE Annual Conference (Nov. 14 – 18). Thousands of educators are spending the weekend in Music City tackling issues surrounding urban education, higher education, and exploring the role of diversity in public schools.

At the same time, but across town, Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register, Mayor Karl Dean, State Representative Brenda Gilmore, John Gauder from Comcast, and Patricia Stokes from the Urban League spent the morning at a Digital Literacy Rally encouraging families to explore Comcast’s Internet Essentials program. The program provides affordable Internet services for low-income families and is meant to aid students and parents in academics, job searches, much more.

Bring the Internet home for just $9.95 a month.

While slightly more than half of our students have access to the Internet at home (56% at last count) and 14,500 families are eligible for this discounted service, only 800 families enrolled in the program during its first year. Hoping to boost participation, Comcast is promoting the program to the community and is funding the Urban League’s Project Ready Digital Academy with a $15,000 grant. The Academy will teach skills in digital literacy, computer programming and college readiness to under-served youth.

To say the support and commitment of these businesses and community partners is worthy of a big pat on the back is an understatement. These donations, programs and partnerships are setting the stage for us to close the digital divide in Nashville and to give every family access to technology and training. They are helping us give our students and families the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century. Now we need your help in spreading the word and making sure every family knows about the opportunities and takes advantage of them.

District-charter collaboration leads to transparency, high standards, & real opportunity

by Alan Coverstone, Executive Director of the Office of Innovation

In Nashville, when we first sat down to determine if it would be possible to build a collaborative relationship between our school district and charter school leaders, very few places had tried it. Just a short time later, our District-Charter Collaboration Compact was recognized as one of the first nine nationwide, and charter and district leaders have been building their cooperation ever since. We are learning a great deal with and from each other, and most of the lessons were made possible by the leaders who agreed to explore that first step.

We are fortunate the district leaders and charter leaders who helped develop the compact had the foresight to realize that unless we agreed on the outcomes we expect from our schools, we would never be able to work together effectively. Spending our time trying to show the data on our schools only in the most favorable light, whether in favor of charters or district schools, is a waste of time and contributes to misunderstanding and cynicism. Parents need to know objectively how schools are doing with all schools measured on the same balanced, objective criteria so their school choices will be informed through data.

Our District-Charter Collaboration Compact begins and ends with our shared commitment to high-performing schools for every student in Nashville regardless of whether that high performer is a charter, magnet, design center, enhanced option, or zoned school. Holding all schools to the highest possible standards is good for kids and making the information fair, useable and available for parents is too.

Nashville Public Schools Scorecard

We have taken an important step in that direction with the release of our new Scorecard comparison tool that allows parents to see the same measures for different schools side–by-side. With this information, visits to schools can be even more helpful as parents get to know the people in the building working hard to improve achievement by creating real opportunities for students.

 

Explore the Scorecard

Explore Your School Options

A letter to parents: So you’re a Focus School. What does that really mean, anyway?

UPDATE: The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded Focus School grants to Amqui, Carter Lawrence, and Ruby Major Elementary Schools, as well as Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School. These grants are worth anywhere from $100,000-300,000 and will be used to help close achievement gaps at these schools.

To learn more about these grants, visit the DOE website.


Dear Parents,

When the Tennessee Department of Education released the list of “Focus Schools” with a few MNPS schools on it, we heard from parents right away. There was some confusion and more than a little concern. Focus is a new label with a new definition, and it’s not immediately clear what it means. Some assumed it was a replacement for the old label of a High Priority or “Failing” school.

That’s not the case. The state defines Focus Schools like this:

“The 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners.”

The achievement gap is a key concern of Tennessee’s new accountability system for schools and districts. MNPS wants to see all groups of students achieving at high levels, and we are making progress across the district.

Here’s what it can mean to be a Focus School:

  1. The school has high achieving students.
    The state’s own guidelines say, “Schools on the Focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement. In fact, many showed excellent growth last year.” If your school saw big gains in all students – including those at the very top of the honor rolls – that’s a wonderful thing. But, it also means the gap between the top students and everyone else didn’t get any smaller. We need to increase all students’ achievement and close the achievement gap at the same time.
  2. The school is diverse.
    Our schools have many students with different backgrounds, different home lives, and different abilities, and they’re all held to the same standard. Some students have a great balance of support systems at home and at school to help. Some don’t. By giving schools this label, the state is asking that we “focus” part of our attention on these schools to increase achievement for all students of all abilities. That’s just what we’ll do.
  3. The school is eligible for additional financial help to close the gap.
    Again, from the state guidelines:

“Focus Schools will be eligible to apply for grants aimed at dramatically closing the achievement gap. Schools not awarded a competitive grant will be provided state resources to close their achievement gaps.”

The school labels under the new system are much more accurate and provide a fuller picture of a school than the old No Child Left Behind labels. The new labels place the focus on increasing academic performance for our schools’ highest achievers as well as on those who need the most help, so everyone achieves more.

Sincerely,

Your Metro School

Statement from Cheryl Mayes on her meeting with Commissioner Kevin Huffman

Board of Education Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes met today with Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. After the meeting she made this statement:

“We appreciate Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s willingness to sit down in a spirit of concern for Nashville’s students. It was a good meeting based on our mutual commitment to improving student outcomes. We have no change in status at this time. We will continue to talk with the State.”

Board Chair Cheryl Mayes writes to Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman

Sent Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012:

Dear Commissioner Huffman,

The Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education is in receipt of your notice to withhold a portion of our school system’s next scheduled Basic Education Program (BEP) payment. As the newly elected board chair, I am disappointed that you are taking this punitive step toward our system of 81,000 students. While I understand your position, I respectfully disagree and request a meeting with you to revisit this matter and avert this action.

Our local School Board had legitimate concerns about the diversity plan, or lack thereof, put forward by Great Hearts. Allow me to share with you some information about our community and its history. We are an urban school system that only emerged from federal court-ordered desegregation in 1998. As recently as this past summer, our rezoning plan was the subject of a federal lawsuit. Nashville has eight percent of the total public school students in Tennessee, but 29 percent of the English language learners in our state and 75% of our students are FARM eligible.

For us, “diversity” is not a political term. Diversity is a real concern in our community, and we take seriously our obligation to promote it. While you assert the local School Board broke the law, we were acting as responsible, duly-elected and duly-sworn public officials upholding the U.S. Constitution and its Equal Protection Clause.

I know Metro Schools must do a better job of articulating diversity guidelines for new charter schools. We are in the process of developing policies that will allow us to clearly communicate our priorities going forward. Additionally, we must continue working to promote diversity within our own schools of choice, and are striving toward that goal, as well. But that does not relieve us of the responsibility, in the meantime, to press new charter operators on these questions.

We understand the State Department of Education is a partner in our efforts, and we embrace the privilege of helping to lead Tennessee’s bold reform strategies. While the matter at hand today is Great Hearts, there no doubt will be another school or issue in the future that has the potential to put us at odds. I would like very much for us to think through ways we can work together. I look forward to meeting with you at the earliest possible opportunity.

Sincerely,

Cheryl D. Mayes, Chairwoman

 

Cheryl Mayes Letter to Kevin Huffman

MetroSchools:

We are so grateful for Hands on Nashville volunteers.

Originally posted on :

Metro Nashville Public Schools serves 81,000 students and taking care of the places where these children learn and play is a big job. That’s where the Metro Schools Facility and Grounds Maintenance team comes in.

Not only are they responsible for 180 buildings (that’s 14 MILLION square feet of space!), but they also oversee 2,000 acres of campus. And on top of all this, they play a critical role in making Hands On Nashville Day happen each year. (This year’s Hands On Nashville Day Presented by Grainger takes place Saturday, Sept. 22. Read more and register here starting Sept. 4!)

Thomas Hatfield, director of facility and grounds maintenance for MNPS, receives a token of appreciation from Hands On Nashville president & CEO Brian Williams during Hands On Nashville Day 2009.

Thomas W. Hatfield, Metro Schools director of facility and grounds maintenance, has been helping to coordinate Hands On Nashville…

View original 270 more words

It’s Official: Metro Nashville Public Schools rates “Intermediate” status

District meets seven of nine benchmarks; student achievement grows

Metro Nashville Public Schools showed growth in achievement among all subgroups of students last year, placing the district in intermediate status – the second highest accountability category. The State Department of Education earlier today released district-level status for all Tennessee districts, including for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Under this new accountability framework, the top-performing districts are “Exemplary” while the bottom performing districts are in two “In Need of Improvement” categories; the remaining districts are in an intermediate category. Tennessee’s new accountability system replaces No Child Left Behind’s Annual Yearly Progress measures. Rather than expecting all districts to meet the same benchmarks year after year, the new system acknowledges that districts are starting from different places and rewards those that show the most growth. Under the new system, approximately 43% of districts were categorized as “In Need of Improvement” or “In Need of Subgroup Improvement.”

“These results show that thousands more of our students are performing at a higher level,” said Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register. “Tennessee standards are among the highest in the country and this new accountability system is real, it is holding districts to standards that are difficult but attainable.

“The growth we have seen this year is the result of a lot of hard work, of making changes to instructional practice, providing more professional development and meeting our students’ diverse needs. We want to accelerate that growth at all levels and close achievement gaps.”

The accountability system, adopted after Tennessee secured a waiver from part of NCLB earlier this year, looks to districts to increase achievement levels for all students and reduce achievement gaps that exist between certain groups. Metro Schools serves approximately one-third of the state’s English Learner students, as well approximately 12,000 Students with Disabilities. The district also serves more than 56,000 economically disadvantaged students, which is about 71% of total enrollment for last year.

Metro Schools’ students made significant academic progress in the 2011-12 school year and the district met the majority of Tennessee’s academic achievement targets. In 2010, Tennessee adopted new academic performance standards that are among the most demanding in the nation. Metro Schools have shown steady improvement against these higher standards.

Grade 3-8 TCAP Tests
% proficient/advanced
  2010 2011 2012 
Reading/Language Arts 33.9% 38.9% 42.1% 
Math 25.9% 32.2% 38.4%
Science 36.2% 38.8%  44.5%
High School End of Course Exams
% proficient/advanced
  2010 2011  2012 
Algebra I 28.7% 37.6% 41.8%
English II 47.4% 46.6%  48.7% 

In addition, the district made impressive improvement at every grade level on the TCAP writing assessment with nine out of ten middle and high school students scoring competent or better.

Writing Assessment
Competent or Higher
  2010 2011  2012 
Grade 5  77% 77% 81% 
Grade 8 86% 86% 90%
Grade 11 90% 88%  91%

With this new system, Metro Schools met seven of nine benchmarks. The district showed improvement but narrowly missed the set benchmark for third grade reading/language arts. The district also missed in the graduation rate, the one calculation that has a one-year lag. The state has changed its calculation of graduation rate from a 5-year calculation to a 4-year calculation. Many students served by Metro Schools, such as English Learners or Students with Disabilities, require five years to graduate and are not included in the district’s overall graduation rate. Last year, Metro Schools’ graduation rate was 76.2%, down from 82.9% under the 5-year calculation. The 2012 graduation rate is not available.

Under Tennessee’s new accountability framework, the top-performing districts are exemplary while the bottom performing districts are in two in need of improvement categories; the remaining districts are in an intermediate category.

“I appreciate the support of our Board of Education as we transform our district. We knew test scores would be the last thing to change and we are pleased to see this growth,” said Register. “We must continue to improve in all categories. Reducing the achievement gap among student groups is our most significant challenge.”

Individual student reports are in transit to the schools where students are assigned for the 2012-13 school year. Each school will send the reports home to families. The State of Tennessee has not yet released school-level data.