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.

Ten letters of intent to open charter schools in Nashville

With ten letters of intent to open charter schools here in Nashville, 2013 promises to be a big year.

We’re very excited about the level of interest shown in operating high quality charter schools in our district. Our city keeps drawing applications because of the collaborative opportunities we provide and our nationally recognized application process, which we continue to refine.

Our view is every charter school in Metro Nashville should perform above the district average. Schools approved and opened using our current process are meeting that expectation.

The possibility of opening more outstanding schools in Nashville is worth getting excited about. We look forward to seeing the completed applications this spring.

Read the letters of intent linked below to see the charter school operators now eyeing Nashville.

Name Grade Levels Beginning Grade Level Total Enrollment* Focus Sponsor
International Academy of Excellence K-4 K 400 Elementary focus with foundation in global and cultural awareness and foreign languages Beyond the Border
Nolesnville Academy for Math and Science 5-10 5-7 600 Provide a math and science focus for students primarily from minority and immigrant populations who predominately live in poverty Nolensville Academy of Math and Science
Nashville Prep II 5-8 5 440 College Prep Nashville Prep Charter School
KIPP Nashville College Prep Elementary K-4 K-1 480 College Prep KIPP Nashville
Kemet Academy PreK-8 PreK-8 250-500 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) The Teach One Foundation of TN, Inc.
Valor Collegiate Academy 5-12 5 740 College Prep Valor Collegiate Academies, Inc.
Thurgood Marshall School of Career Development 9-12 9-12 200 High achievement and support for juvenile offenders The W.E.B. DuBois Consortium of Charter Schools, Inc.
One Nashville Preparatory Academy PreK-8 PreK-K 996 College Prep and closing the achievement gap within subgroups Martha O’Bryan Center
Young Women’s Leadership Academy 5-8 5 400 Single gender female, college prep Young Women’s Leadership Academy of Nashville
Rocketship Nashville K-5 K-5 630 Combination of traditional classroom with blended learning, parent engagement and college prep Rocketship Education Tennessee

*Total enrollment means the total enrollment for a 10-year charter, not initial year enrollment.

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.

Building the future of magnet schools in Nashville

by Anna Kucaj, Coordinator of Magnet Schools

It is an exciting time to work with magnet schools here in Nashville.

While magnets aren’t new to Metro Schools, we’ve recently added new ones and are developing more for the future. Two years ago we welcomed six new thematic magnet schools to the fold providing theme-based programs that engage students in STEM (Hattie Cotton, Bailey, & Stratford), museum studies (Robert Churchwell & John Early), and the entertainment industry (Pearl-Cohn).

READ MORE on thematic magnets in Metro Schools

These schools converted to magnets through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and keep us plenty busy. But we’re also gearing up to apply for the next round of funding offered by the Magnet School Assistance Program, meaning even more of our schools may offer enriching, hands-on programs like these.

Thanks to the optional schools process, we’ve had the chance to talk to students about what they like about their schools and to open our doors to parents looking to find the best fit for their children. We have also asked schools to show their interest in developing a magnet program by engaging parents, teachers, and community members in the process of identifying a theme and making a plan to serve students within their zone and across Davidson County.

It has been truly amazing to watch these groups join together and participate in conversations around new and innovative instruction that could provide even more options to Metro students and families.

Once schools have submitted their preliminary proposals, we will consult the U. S DOE guidelines and choose which schools to include in the application. We’ll work closely with those schools to develop a competitive grant application.

We believe in the theme-based magnet model. We have found that when students choose their school based on an interest in a theme, their level of engagement with the learning process increases, attendance increases, and discipline problems decline—all factors in successful schools and academic achievement.

In fact, Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet Elementary School was recently named a Tennessee Reward School for being in the top 5% of schools in the entire state for annual growth.  We are exceptionally proud of the hard work of Hattie Cotton students, teachers, staff and families that made such a tremendous achievement possible.

One thing we have found as we build these new magnet programs: it’s the people involved who make the difference. We have students who come to school each morning ready to engage, teachers who participate in professional development after school and during the summer, parents who bring their child to school every day – either from across the street or across town, and partners who give of their time and resources to share their expertise.

With all of us working together, our magnet programs are becoming stronger!

What does a bank executive think about being principal for a day?

by Connie White, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Fifth Third Bank

As I walked up the stairs to start my first morning as Principal for a Day at East Nashville Magnet School, I wondered what the walls of this 80 year old school would tell me if they could talk. After my visit, again, I was curious what these walls will tell us in the next five years.

My prediction: I believe they will talk of the seniors who are better prepared, academically and socially, to be active members of society. I believe that 100% of the seniors will graduate, and even more students will gain and seize the opportunity a college education can bring. Yes I believe the walls will talk about reaping the harvest from the seeds sewn by the MNPS Paideia Lead Principal, Steve Ball, staff and teachers, in just a few years.

Why is this data geek (me), making a prediction without reviewing test scores? Engagement. Respect. Collaboration. Caring. Pride.

Yes, I saw all of that and more, when I recently had the privilege of visiting East Magnet Middle School and High School with Principal Steve Ball. I saw a team all focused on learning in an environment where students are encouraged to express their ideas and opinions. I saw students who were actively engaged and were taking responsibility of their quest for knowledge.

I wish you could have seen the fifth graders smile as they proudly gave articulate narratives about the outcome of a recent project using Power Point, posters, and props to make their points. Or if you’d seen every hand in the room eagerly waving to answer questions in science class, you might understand the level of enthusiastic engagement I saw. If you could hear the pride in Principal’s voice announcing in the morning call that two more seniors gained their college acceptance letters, you’d understand the caring for students. Or if you’d heard the students making their way to their next class continuously saying, “Good morning Principal Ball,” you could witness the mutual respect I experienced.

Admitting that I’d never seen such an engaged student body that seemed to have more interest in learning than social exchange at that age, I asked about it. “These students want to be here to learn,” said Principal Ball. I was somewhat astonished because in my high school days we thought about our dates, parties, and attire and talked about how we couldn’t wait to graduate to be on our own.

As we talked more, I learned that Principal Ball was responsible for bringing the Paideia education process to East Nashville Magnet Schools, a process where students actively engage in intellectual discussions and learn from each other. Using this process to discuss current issues, students also learn the art of collaboration as they learn to listen and value many ideas and opinions. I came to respect this process and understood that students could practice this process to learn throughout their life’s journey, whether in school, the business world or their community.

If you ever gain the opportunity to visit East Nashville Magnet School, I encourage you to go. I promise you, it will be worth every minute of your time to witness a team that focuses on equipping children with a good academic base, social and learning skills for life… and the academic knowledge to exceed national test scores.

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