Defend the Dream: All students deserve the chance to be educated

We believe in the best education possible for all students. We believe every student is capable of reaching college and finding success as a lifelong learner.

But many bright students in Metro Schools are left behind and counted out of a full education through no fault of their own. Undocumented students, brought to this country by their parents, want to be educated.

They are left to be dreamers, imagining what it could be like if higher education were in their future. Some even drop out of high school because they don’t see how a diploma will make a difference when most college and employment opportunities are closed to them.

That’s why the Board of Education has gone on record as supporting immigration reform.

As elected officials in Washington debate immigration reform, we hope you’ll remember these dreamers. We need to open access to our educational systems to them so all Americans can benefit.

Write to Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker

Contact Tennessee’s U.S. Representatives

As one of the most diverse school districts in the country, we know why immigration reform is important to the future of our community, our schools and especially our kids.

Students here without proper documentation worry about their security, whether they will be separated from their families, how long they’ll be able to attend school and their future opportunities.

When it comes time for college, these students are left behind. In Tennessee, undocumented students pay three times the normal in-state tuition to attend state schools, even if they have lived here since infancy. Scholarships and financial aid are also out of reach.

See the challenges faced by many immigrant students on the road to graduation.

Write to Tennessee’s U.S. Senators and Representatives. Tell them you support giving undocumented students a chance at building a future in our country. Tell them to support immigration reform.

Myth vs. Fact: Building a new school for Antioch

MYTH
There are no elementary age students in the area.

FACTS
Lakeview and Thomas Edison Elementary Schools are overcrowded. Right now Lakeview serves nearly 900 students in a building meant for 650. Overcrowded schools mean portables, large classes and increased difficulty serving students in a building and grounds designed for fewer children.

There’s no denying it. These schools are packed to the rafters and need relief. On top of that, the Antioch area is the fastest growing in the city. We currently have six projects in the planning stages for adding classrooms to this area of Davidson County, and the demand keeps growing.

The need is clearly there, but what about this specific school? What sort of impact would it have?

In the proposed (not final) zone for a new elementary school on Smith Springs Road, there are 400 elementary age students currently attending Lakeview and Thomas Edison. That doesn’t count students in optional schools or students who will reach elementary age before the school is built.

The immediate impact of a new school opening right now on Smith Springs Road would be 400 fewer students at Lakeview and Thomas Edison. In the two years it would take for the school to open, that number will be much larger.

Ask teachers at Lakeview or Edison and they will tell you: that means welcome and sweet relief from a serious overcrowding issue.

MYTH
The school would cause major traffic problems on Smith Springs Road.

FACTS
We never build or renovate or expand without considering the impact on traffic. We commissioned a traffic study from an independent civil engineer who graded different areas of Smith Springs Road an A-F scale. Separate grades are given for different times of day to give a complete picture of traffic throughout the day.

As it is now, the road rates A’s and B’s. There is one C, given to the intersection at Smith Springs and Anderson Road during morning rush hour.

Existing Traffic Study - Resized

Looking into the future when an elementary school sits on the property, traffic doesn’t look much different. There are a few more areas rated C, but added delays would not be significant.

Projected Traffic Study - Resized

Any development on this property would have an impact on traffic. It’s a large piece of land with just two houses on it. No matter what this land becomes in the future, it will bring more traffic with it. But we believe strongly in respecting and enhancing the neighborhoods we serve. We want to minimize the impact. That’s why our plan calls for installing turn lanes in front of each school entrance. We also plan to build sidewalks all along the property line on Smith Springs Road.

Ordinarily we would connect those sidewalks with the city sidewalk system, but there are no city sidewalks in this neighborhood. The Metro Planning Commission has recommended sidewalks be installed on Smith Springs Road. That recommendation is before the Metro Council right now.

MYTH
There are other properties better suited for a new school.

FACTS
There aren’t. This is the best available property for our needs. Here’s why.

Picking a site for a new school is a long and complex process. A lot of thought goes into choosing just the right spot. The property on Smith Springs Road fits several key criteria for a new school:

  1. It sits in the middle of a high-need area. We need more classrooms in this area, and this site is well suited to provide them.
  2. It’s available. This is surprisingly important. In an area that’s seeing a lot of development (like Antioch), it can sometimes be tough to find an available property at the right price.
  3. It’s already well-suited for construction. We need our property to be relatively flat and easily accessible to families. This property isn’t filled with hills and rises. In other words, it won’t require a million dollars worth of digging before construction can begin.
  4. It’s in close proximity to all needed utilities. This includes water and sewer, which can be expensive if not already present. It also comes with the needed water pressure for fire services, which can also be expensive to make from scratch.

There was one other piece of property on Smith Springs Road that looked promising, but it was much smaller and would have been more difficult and costly to develop.

Some have suggested the former Starwood site as a perfect location for an elementary school. In theory this isn’t a bad idea. But in reality it’s a long way from ideal.

To start with, that property is directly across the street from Mt. View Elementary School. It doesn’t make sense to build one elementary school right next to another one. How do you draw the zones? Why build a new school where one exists already? In addition, it’s too far away from where it’s needed most: Priest Lake.

We didn’t make this choice lightly. School site selection is a long and involved process that looks a lot of different factors. This property on Smith Spring Road checked off all of those factors better than any available property in the area.

MYTH
New schools would reduce property values.

FACTS
New schools on Smith Springs Road would add public green space, community meeting space, ball fields and playgrounds to the neighborhood. They would also bring high-quality education to the neighborhood in brand new facilities.

Neighborhood schools add value to their communities.

MYTH
Metro Parks wants to buy the property for a new public park, but can’t because we want to build a school.

FACTS
This is not true.

While Metro Parks officials expressed interest in the property years ago, they currently have no plans to pursue it. Parks Director Tommy Lynch personally assured us of this fact. Any rumor to the contrary is completely untrue.

MYTH
This decision was made with no community input or consultation with the city.

FACTS
There were several community meetings when the district developed its 10-year student assignment plan for the area, which was approved in 2010. See the website for more information in Spanish and English.

Our planning teams met with the Planning Commission more than a year ago to review this specific site. They have also met with Metro Public Works to look at the plan. The appropriate parties were consulted at every stage of the planning process and will continue to be.

Our Board members have held two public community meetings on this issue open to all neighbors and Council Members.

MYTH
We want to immediately build two schools – one elementary and one middle.

FACTS
Our immediate plans call for a new elementary school. The Antioch area badly needs a new middle school, as well, but that is not in our immediate plans.

We do plan to work with Metro Public Works to address neighborhood infrastructure needs in anticipation of a new middle school in the future.

The property is well suited for both an elementary and a middle school. We prefer to buy property that can serve both tiers, as we have done for A.Z. Kelley Elementary / Thurgood Marshall Middle and Shayne Elementary / Oliver Middle.

Avoiding a fiscal cliff in Tennessee public schools

As we open more charter schools, our ability to maintain zoned schools for neighborhood children will be challenged. In the 2013-14 school year, about $40 million of the district’s budget will flow to charter schools. That is a $15 million increase from this year, without a comparable reduction in expenses. With more charter schools applying to open and current charter schools increasing their enrollment, the fiscal impact will continue to increase.

In a column in today’s copy of “The Tennessean,” Dr. Register outlines why we should all be concerned about how the legislation for a statewide charter authorizer could affect the district’s budget and Davidson County taxpayers.

It is unfortunate that politics and political-style bickering has had such a prominent place in this debate. In the end this should only be about how we best serve students – in traditional and charter schools – and how we can sustain those services.

There are radicals in this state who have given up on public education. They have ignored our tradition of civility and collaboration and replaced it with Washington-style hardball politics. They are quick to criticize and slow to collaborate. The misused data and nasty commentaries dominating this discussion are not helping a single child, and they are not building on the traditions that have made Nashville great.

We must work together, set aside our differences for the greater good, roll up our sleeves and solve our problems. We are doing that in Nashville’s schools — both traditional and charter — and it’s working.

Read the full column:

In Nashville, for every student enrolled, charter schools will receive about $9,100 next year. Approximately two-thirds of that is from Davidson County taxpayers and one-third is state tax funding.

As in many Tennessee districts, Metro Schools’ expenses are mostly fixed. When a student enrolls in a charter school, we cannot reduce expenses by $9,100. The children continuing in our classrooms still need teachers, principals, librarians, bus drivers and cafeteria staff. They still need special education and English Learner services. We still heat, cool, clean and maintain their schools.

It is very difficult to cut our infrastructure because our student enrollment continues to grow. In fact, the district and charter schools are collaborating to match facilities and students. The district will provide five charter schools access to our facilities this fall. A new charter school in southeast Davidson County could relieve crowded schools in that area.

As we open more charter schools, our ability to maintain zoned schools for neighborhood children will be challenged. In the 2013-14 school year, about $40 million of the district’s budget will flow to charter schools. That is a $15 million increase from this year, without a comparable reduction in expenses. With more charter schools applying to open and current charter schools increasing their enrollment, the fiscal impact will continue to increase.

The number of charter schools we have authorized has put Metro Schools in the top 10 percent of districts nationally, and we want high-performing charter schools. As we authorize more, our expectation is for every charter school to outperform our district average, but exceeding the district average is getting harder. We continue to make very good progress in our zoned schools across the district.

There are radicals in this state who have given up on public education. They have ignored our tradition of civility and collaboration and replaced it with Washington-style hardball politics. They are quick to criticize and slow to collaborate. The misused data and nasty commentaries dominating this discussion are not helping a single child, and they are not building on the traditions that have made Nashville great.

We must work together, set aside our differences for the greater good, roll up our sleeves and solve our problems. We are doing that in Nashville’s schools — both traditional and charter — and it’s working.

Originally printed in in “The Tennessean.”

Watch Dr. Register, Board Chair Cheryl Mayes and Board Vice Chair Anna Shepherd talk about the budget in detail on OpenLine from NewsChannel5+.

Nashville’s conversation on ACT scores is misleading

With all the recent conversation about ACT scores, you would think the facts would be well established, but we keep reading ACT stories that report the same mistakes. Here are the facts.

Even though the average score in Tennessee and in Nashville remain well below what they should be — and what they will be — strong growth is happening. In Nashville, we saw big gains in the ACT this year, bigger gains than Tennessee saw as a whole. In fact, we were one of the top ten districts in the state for growth and earned 5’s—the top score—for value added. On top of that, Metro students averaged an ACT score almost a full point higher than projections.

That is huge news.

Why? These projections were made four years ago when these students were about to enter high school. That means our high school instruction has improved a great deal over the last four years.

  • Projected Mean Score: 17.49
  • Actual Mean Score: 18.43

But it’s still not good enough. We want every student to score a 21 or better on the ACT.

Let’s compare Tennessee’s average ACT score to that of Massachusetts:

  • MA – 24.1 (the highest in the nation)
  • TN – 19.7 (fourth from the bottom in the nation)

Looks pretty dim. But now let’s compare where those scores are coming from in those same two states:

  • MA – A quarter of students tested: Those headed to college who choose to take the ACT (and pay for it, study for it, etc).
  • TN – All students tested on the ACT: Everyone. Like Tennessee, the other states at the bottom of the rankings have universal testing of high schools students.

Are those playing fields level for comparison? No.

There are those who would argue that shouldn’t matter, that scores are too low in Nashville and Tennessee no matter how you look at it.

They are correct.

Every student in Tennessee takes the ACT. It’s not only used to measure our collective achievement, but it also gets them into a college mindset and assesses whether or not they are prepared for college.

That last part is where we have to do better. We have to better prepare our students for college. Anything less is a disservice to students in our schools.

Let’s go over that part again because it’s important.

No one in Metro Schools believes an 18.4 district average is acceptable. No one in Tennessee believes the 19.7 statewide average is acceptable. Anyone who thinks we are resting on the laurels of incremental score growth is wrong.

When you’re talking district-wide transformation, test scores are always the last piece to move – especially ACT scores. That’s because ACT scores measure the accumulated wealth of years of education.

The recurring obsession with ACT numbers does two things: it unfairly compares states with different populations taking the ACT and gives short shrift to the growth in student achievement and the hard work to make that happen.

The real solution is building stronger high school students who turn into stronger graduates. That starts as soon as they enter kindergarten.

Good thing, then, that we now have a district-level executive guiding instruction for K-12 as one, continuous whole. A unified vision for instruction at every grade level means elementary students will be better prepared for middle school. Middle schoolers will come to high school achieving at higher levels. And eleventh graders will score higher on the ACT.

Good thing, then, that we are moving our top experts in instruction into schools, where they can adapt and guide instruction for individual clusters, schools, classrooms and even students.

The transformation of Nashville’s public schools is ongoing and ever evolving. But it’s driven by – and has always been driven by – the same goal: across the board improvement in academic achievement for all students, by any measure.

Is the ACT important? Of course. Colleges use ACT scores for admissions decisions. Educators rely on them to assess how they are doing and how they can better prepare students for graduation.

But is it the end all, be all of the education conversation? No.

What should be the end all, be all of the education conversation? Everything leading up to the ACT.

Board of Education opposes the bill for a statewide charter authorizer

In remarks during the Feb. 12 Board of Education meeting, members expressed their strong personal opposition to the amendment to House Bill 702, which would create a statewide charter authorizer.

Here are their remarks. (They will be posted as they become available.)

Will Pinkston:

  • We knew something like this might be coming, and I think it’s regrettable.
  • The same way I think it’s important for us to listen to the State, I also think it’s important for the State to listen to us.
  • Our work is their work, and vice versa. I’m tired of the whole thing and I’d like for us to just start working together.
  • However, if the legislature, in its zeal wants to go down this path, then I am personally ready to fight over this particular issue.
  • I’ve worked in and around state government for 20 years. And my view is: This is bad policy.
  • Regardless of what anyone thinks about the basic policy of what’s being proposed — to circumvent local school boards — there are other questions about the specific approach that’s being contemplated.
  • First, I wonder if this proposal is constitutionally suspect. As recently as November, a federal judge in Shelby County took a step toward essentially voiding a state law that lifted the prohibition on new special school districts because the law applied only to Memphis and Shelby County. How the legislature thinks it can do this, on the heels of that failed policy and federal court intervention, is a little surprising.
  • Second, I wonder what — if any — precedent there might be for the State to confiscate local taxpayer dollars without the school board or the Metro Council’s consent.
  • It’s one thing for the State to drop a new policy or regulation on local jurisdictions. It’s something entirely different to take local resources without local consent. If the State wants to get in the business of running schools, have at it. But take 100% of the responsibility for it, financial and otherwise.
  • So based on this fairly unprecedented step the legislature in its “wisdom” is taking, I think we need to step back and examine our options.
  • I’m not a fan of litigation, but this is one where I think our hand is being forced and this has the potential to have long-lasting negative repercussions.
  • So Madam Chair, Dr. Register, fellow board members: I’d like to get some legal analysis sooner rather than later.

Amy Frogge:

  • We’re hearing from people who have paid a lot of money to be involved in this discussion in Tennessee. I implore the legislature to listen to those who are impacted by this bill.
  • Davidson County has a great record for high performing charter schools. We exceed the national averages in performance of charters and approval of charters. We’re open to innovation and have shown good management of charters.
  • This bill would undermine our relationships with charter schools and cause “shotgun weddings” of charter schools in our district. We need collaboration for success.
  • The only grossly under performing charter school in our district is one the state authorized outside of our control.
  • This places an undue financial burden on our city. Charters are not at capacity here.
  • This bill is a reaction to a disagreement over the quality of one charter.

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.

You are invited: A conversation on School Vouchers

Join in a thoughtful discussion on a topic on many minds in Tennessee: School Vouchers.

The League of Women Voters of Nashville and Vanderbilt’s Peabody College are hosting a panel event called “Options in Education: School Vouchers – What Research Shows Us.” Alan Coverstone, the Metro Schools Executive Officer for Innovation will be on the panel, along with two professors from Peabody College.

The event is open to the public. Details are below.

The League of Women Voters of Nashville

in collaboration with

Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College

invites you to attend

Options in Education:

School Vouchers—What Research Shows Us

Thursday, February 7, 2013

4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

The Commons Center in Room 233

Peabody Campus of Vanderbilt University

18th Avenue South at Horton Avenue, Nashville, TN 37212

Parking available in Lot 77, 18th Avenue South at Horton Avenue

Panel

Alan Coverstone, Executive Director

Office of Innovation

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools

Dr. Claire Smrekar, Associate Professor

Department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations

Vanderbilt, Peabody College

Dr. Ron Zimmer, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Education

Department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations

Vanderbilt, Peabody College