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

Report: District-charter collaboration is alive & well

“The reports of the death of [district-charter] collaboration in Nashville are greatly exaggerated.”

Cute, but true.

Nashville has a lot to be proud of in its commitment to high-quality education in all types of schools. A new report evaluating the collaboration-compact between Metro Schools and public charter schools agrees, while also laying out a path for future success.

The report finds collaboration alive and well in Nashville, despite a headline-grabbing controversy and the media storm that followed.

Through this summer of discontent, however, the substance of genuine collaboration enshrined in the original compact has persisted, and the charter school sector has continued to grow and thrive. Overall district performance has been enhanced by the work of charter schools as well as district schools with increased autonomy and strong, innovative leadership. The commitments in the original compact have, by and large, continued to develop, and Dr. Register and Dr. McQueen, Dean of the College of Education at Lipscomb have introduced monthly collaboration dinners linking charter and district leaders who have begun to cross-pollinate even more rapidly than before. Decentralization of the central office, greater school-level autonomy, and networks of excellence are expanding the promises of the original compact more aggressively than ever before.

Educators of all stripes continue to learn from each other thanks to this compact, according to the report, because success is success, no matter where it comes from.

But much has changed in the two years since the compact was first signed. Our district transformation continues to evolve, school personnel have changed, new schools have opened and the political climate is… different. Does this mean we need to update the compact?

This report says “yes” and recommends cementing collaboration into our very institution.

One thing is certain: We have come too far and laid too strong a foundation to allow collaboration to falter at this critical juncture…

However, the time is right for each of these recommendations to be considered in deeper substance and more lasting…

None of this would be possible without every-thing we have been through and experienced in the past two years. Without our first effort, we would not be in a position to institutionalize substantive collaboration as a centerpiece of district reform. We are in this position now because of everyone and every-thing that went before, and we owe it to them as well as our future generations of students and families to continue the work on behalf of our shared commitment to high-performing schools regardless of type.

Read the full report here. It’s well worth it to get a refreshing breath of optimism for a system that is working.

District-Charter Compact Annual Report 2012

Metro Public Charter Schools Website

Metro Schools shifts authority, resources to schools to accelerate improvement

Lead principals to expand to all schools over three years, central office to shrink 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 23, 2013) – Lead principals who oversee several schools in addition to their own will have an expanded role in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools under a new organizational plan Dr. Jesse Register, director of schools, shared in a public event today in the district’s central office. Each lead principal will work with five or six other principals in a network and will be responsible for increasing student achievement, evaluating principals and sharing effective practices across their network of schools.

Register also announced changes to his executive staff and promised changes to middle management through the end of June when the current fiscal year ends.

“The key element of the plan is to take to scale the position of lead principal over the next three years so we move resources and authority closer to students and accelerate achievement. This is a natural progression of the work we have been doing over the past few years, most recently with the Tribal Education Group consultants,” Register said. “With this approach, we will keep the most highly skilled principals in schools rather than promoting them out, expand their scope of influence to multiple schools and give them ongoing leadership training.”

Lead principals will be selected based on qualifying criteria that include test data, leadership skills and teacher input. Lead principals will have increased autonomy including final say on all staffing and the flexibility to organize instructional and support staff. They will also have school-based budgeting autonomy so funds can be used flexibly within fiscal guidelines.

There will be nine lead principals for the remainder of this school year, with 18 projected for 2013-14 when all high schools will be part of a lead principal network, 25 planned for 2014-15 with all middle schools participating, and 30 in 2015-16 with all elementary schools in networks.  Numbers may vary by one or two lead principals each year. As the lead principal ranks increase, the central office will shrink,

Register also announced his new executive leadership team to include Fred Carr, chief operating officer; Chris Henson, chief financial officer; Tony Majors, chief support services officer and Meredith Libbey, special assistant to the director for communications. Jay Steele will be part of the team in the newly-created position of chief academic officer as will Susan Thompson as the chief human capital officer.

SEE the New Master Organizational Chart

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and philanthropist Steve Turner worked with Register to recruit Steele to Metro Schools from Florida in late 2009. During Steele’s tenure as associate superintendent for high schools, the district’s graduation rate has climbed steadily; the Academies of Nashville college and career readiness program has expanded to every zoned high school and earned national recognition for excellence. Steele has worked to increase academic rigor in high schools and has expanded the district’s Advanced Placement Scholars program, reinvigorated the International Baccalaureate Programme and launched the Cambridge University AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) program. The district is among Tennessee’s top 10 districts for ACT composite score growth for 2012 and over three years.

The exceptional education and English learner departments, under the continued leadership of Dr. Linda DePriest, and the iZone schools, under Alan Coverstone, will report to Jay Steele as will the executive officer for elementary schools, Brenda Steele. This ensures every student and every school will be part of a rigorous instructional continuum.

Thompson has responsibility for recruiting, retaining and developing teachers and staff and for human resources operations. A lifelong educator, she joined the district in 2012. She has experience as a teacher, school and central office administrator and national consultant. Most recently, she worked with low-performing schools across the state of Texas to increase student achievement. Thompson has made changes to the human capital function, formerly known as human resources:

Katie Cour has joined the district as the executive director of talent strategies from Education First Consulting where she was a senior consultant. Previously a senior legislative research analyst with the office of education accountability in the State of Tennessee’s comptroller’s office, she has additional experience working with nonprofit organizations.

Sheila Armstrong is promoted to the director of classification, compensation and human resource information systems. She joined the district in 2012 with more than 20 years’ experience in human resources, most recently with St. Thomas Hospital and Ascension Health Services.

Craig Ott is the executive director of human resources operations. Ott joined the district from Sumner County Schools in 2011 and has a wealth of experience in human resources in both education and corporate settings.

Dr. Lora Hall, most recently the associate superintendent for middle schools, will be the district’s university liaison with responsibility for working with higher education to develop effective teaching programs and new teachers with the goal of putting the best in Metro Schools’ classrooms.

“Susan Thompson has put together a first-rate team. Katie Cour has been a value consultant in our schools and we are delighted to have her expertise in house now. In their short time here, Sheila Armstrong and Craig Ott have already made important contributions. Dr. Lora Hall brings valuable experience as a teacher, principal and district leader to the university liaison role,” said Register. “She knows the district, what it takes to be an outstanding teacher and principal and will be a tremendous addition to our human capital team.”

Register also announced the district’s data resources have been brought together under the leadership of Fred Carr, chief operating officer.

“With this change we will have our data warehouse; research, assessment and evaluation; and technology support under one roof,” said Register. “Each of these functions has a strong leader—Laura Hansen, Dr. Paul Changas and John Williams, respectively–and supports student performance in multiple ways.”

Metro Schools’ strong relationships with Metro Police and other emergency personnel will be even stronger with a new director of security. The district plans to hire an experienced law enforcement professional who will ensure the district and emergency personnel have consistent approaches to security and emergency preparedness.

“School security and other student services departments have been re-aligned under Tony Majors to ensure they work more closely with principals and the security department,” said Register. “We will have effective interdepartmental collaboration to provide the social services our students’ needs in a secure setting.”

The changes announced today are effective immediately.

 

2013 brings fundamental change to the way our schools are run

2013 will be a year of big changes for Metro Schools.

Sure, we’ve had more than a few big changes in the last few years, but if you’re feeling “reform fatigue” don’t fret. This plan for transformation is an evolution of what we’ve already done: expanding it, adjusting it and learning from what’s working.

We could feel the disappointment last month when word trickled in that we had not won the Race to the Top District competition. That extra $30-40 million dollars would have made a huge impact on the plans for transforming our schools.

But that disappointment didn’t last long. We knew the blueprint for success laid out in our application was solid and would still move forward. Without the extra boost that money would have provided we may have to change pace, but the transformation will go on.

It’s a plan based on the individual: individual students, teachers, principals, classrooms and schools. It’s a plan to decentralize power and decision-making in our district, moving from a top-down, Central Office power structure to alliances of schools that decide what works best and how to replicate it.

Every student in the schools first targeted by this plan – 27,000 of them – will have a personalized learning plan. These plans will be created by students, teachers and parents. They will be fluid, changing based on the very latest data from assessments done throughout the year, and will allow us act more quickly when intervention is needed. Students will learn at their own speeds without waiting for the rest of the class to catch up or struggling to keep pace with their classmates. No two plans will look the same.

Many of these changes in learning will be driven and designed by principals who have proven successful in their own schools. These Lead Principals will bring together networks of 4-5 schools and lead by example through mentoring and collaborating with other schools that are committed to personalized learning for students. Methods and strategies that work in one school will be replicated in another. Best practices from teachers and leaders will be shared across the district. And all of this will be done with a common accountability framework, as well as some non-negotiables and more autonomy from the central organization.

Individual principals will be empowered under this plan because who knows better what a school needs than the person who spends hours each week walking its halls and talking to its students, teachers and parents? School leaders will be given more decision-making power over hiring, budgeting, scheduling, curriculum offerings, and more. They will be responsible and held accountable for these decisions and the structures put in place to meet the needs of their learners.

There will be a shift toward greater school autonomy. With reductions in staff in the Central Office and greater power inside our schools, principals will be able to respond more quickly to the unique needs of every student.

In some cases this could lead to a radically different school culture. Students will benefit from closer relationships among students and teachers, students and students. There could be more shared learning among subjects, classrooms with more than one teacher and new leadership opportunities for teachers that won’t take them out of the classroom. Students will lead parent-teacher conferences and parents will get hands-on with their child’s data. We’ll also be changing the way we think about how students make progress, looking much more closely at mastery rather than time spent on a task.

We will make our schools more agile and responsive to the individual because that is what the 21st century requires. We must prepare students for careers that don’t yet exist. We need them to be motivated, engaged and in charge of their own learning. Lifelong learners, those who can quickly adapt to change and those with the cultural literacy our diverse schools provide will thrive in our globally connected society.

Our plan for radical school transformation will make that happen.

Support for higher teacher pay spreads across Tennessee

Hats off to the Achievement School District for announcing last month a plan to offer teacher salaries of $62,500 – and all the way up to $90,000 – in its Memphis schools. This is exactly the right direction for teacher pay to take in Tennessee: upward.

The citizens of Nashville showed their support for higher teacher pay last year when Mayor Karl Dean and the Metro Council worked to approve the Metro Schools operating budget, which included raising starting teacher pay to $40,000.

Because of that important step, we are a competitive player in the nationwide search for the best teachers. We saw an immediate increase in interest from our teacher candidates.

It’s wonderful to see that support for teachers spread to the other side of the state, and to have it supported by the Tennessee Department of Education.

We hope that commitment continues and carries over into statewide education policy, allowing all of us to attract the very best teachers out there.

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.

In preventing fiscal cliff, don’t fall off “educational cliff” – Council of Great City Schools

The Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) is urging lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to strengthen – not cut – federal education programs in reaching a deal to prevent the fiscal cliff.

In a statement released today, CGCS calls on lawmakers to avoid cuts to education programs for disadvantaged students, English learners, students with disabilities, and teacher professional development.

“The economic implications of the educational cliff are as serious as those presented by
the fiscal cliff itself, and the nation’s leaders should keep these twin issues in mind with the same sense of urgency,”

Without a balanced resolution to the “fiscal cliff,” federal domestic discretionary
programs in education and other areas (which constitute only 16 percent of the budget) will be squeezed out, and important investments in the nation’s future like better schooling will be permanently undermined.

The group has outlined what it believes that “squeezing out” will look like in a report titled Impact of Sequestration on the Nation’s Urban Public Schools.

Read the full statement & report:

Council of Great City Schools Statement on Sequestration

Impact of Sequestration on the Nation’s Urban Public Schools