Tennessee Needs a New Plan

Senator Alexander watches as President Obama signs ESSA into lawOn Monday morning, I joined many other leaders from Tennessee's education community at Belmont University for a conversation with Senator Lamar Alexander and Dr Register about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Grace Tatter has a great article about the event on Chalkbeat: Sen. Lamar Alexander on the nation's new education law, and how it could shape Tennessee schools.

There are a few things in particular that resonate with me and that I have been thinking about since:

  1. Tennessee should throw away the old plan and create a new plan.
    This was a comment from Senator Alexander that I wasn't expecting. Much of the State's current plan is based around federal requirements required to receive a waiver from No Child Left Behind accountability. Those requirements are no longer valid and some of them may be bad ideas because...

  2. No one is smart enough to sit in an office and design an education system that works for all kids.
    Senator Alexander was specifically talking about the US Department of Education and 100,000 schools, but I feel the same is true at the state level and even the district level. We have over 150 public schools in Nashville that serve 85,000-ish students, and I don't believe we can create a single set of requirements that work in all situations. While ESSA responds to this by relinquishing more control to the states, Senator Alexander encouraged districts to push the state to similarly relinquish more control to the districts.

    This is also an approach I have been advocating for at the district level. Increasing student-based budgeting and principal empowerment is in line with ESSA.

  3. Limited standardized testing is still a good thing.
    ESSA keeps the requirement for annual standardized tests for grades 3-12. In Tennessee this is now TNReady (side note: ESSA should result in fewer changes to standards, so once we get through the TNReady transition, the state has the authority to create some stability and not muck with the standard and/or tests for a while).

    Currently, there are 17 tests that are a part of ESSA. I didn't quite understand what Senator Alexander meant when he said that each test averages 2.5 hours and that each student only takes an average of 1.5 tests each year. Luckily, it sounds like there may be a more detailed conversation taking place soon with some of the bill's authors so that we can get a deeper understanding of the details and the intent behind them.

    So what is the purpose of the annual standardized tests? It is largely so that we have a clear picture about how school systems are doing in meeting the needs of all kids. It is because of standardized tests that we have clear data about achievement gaps and "achievement of subgroups" (an inside-baseball way of talking about under-served populations like students with special needs, students living below the poverty line, racial minorities, etc). Senator Alexander also mentioned the opportunity to look are more subgroups than we have been (students living with foster parents, homeless students, etc).

    I also believe that the annual tests (particularly when there are limited changes over time), provide us with important trend data to see how systemic changes are creating improvements over time (or not).

  4. The tests serve a purpose, but shouldn't serve every purpose.
    This was a really interesting point, and one where I think will be challenging to some people who advocate for the importance of annual standardized tests. The problem is using the annual tests for every decision.

    Should we be using annual standardized tests to measure the effectiveness of schools?
    Should we be using annual standardized tests to identify the "bottom 5%"?
    Should we be using annual standardized tests to evaluate teachers and principals?
    Should we be using annual standardized tests to inform instruction?
    Should we be using annual standardized tests for college entrance and placement?
    Should we be using annual standardized tests for access to academic magnets?
    Should we be using annual standardized tests as a measure of school funding?
    Should we be using annual standardized tests when calculating report card grades?

    All valid questions under ESSA and questions we should be asking.

I look forward to continuing the conversation about ESSA and working with the State Department of Education to help Tennessee get it right.

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It could have been my kids

There was a shooting this afternoon at the downtown bus station.
It happened at a time when many Nashville students transfer from the MTA bus that picked them up from school... onto the MTA bus that will take them home. 
I know, because 3 of my sons were there. 
They're there everyday, at that time... Many kids are.
Thankfully, my sons are ok.
Public school students ride MTA for free each day thanks to a program called STRIDE. I advocated hard for this program as a member of the Education Report Card Committee. It is an important program that gives Nashville's kids an opportunity to attend the school they choose. It is critical to participation in after-school programs -- especially for kids with working parents. 
I am still a strong believer in the STRIDE program, and will continue to advocate for it. 
I also recognize why riding MTA is a tough option for many families. 
Several parents have told me that they are uncomfortable with their kids riding MTA buses, and today we see why that is a valid concern. 
As I hug my family a little tighter tonight, I can't help but think of two takeaways from today's events:
  1. Parents weigh many costs when choosing where to send their child to school.
  2. We need great schools in every neighborhood.
I know, even if you did not have a child at the bus station today... if you're getting this email -- I know this story will impact you. This story is why I am running for school board. 
I know we can make a difference and I know that together we can give EVERY neighborhood a great school to be proud of. 
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Have you heard about my record?

We run our home by two rules, and I promised to run my campaign the same way:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Be brave.

That’s why I’m writing to tell you about my record.

I’ve been out in District 7 talking to voters and supporters – sharing my story and my vision for public schools in Nashville. And I have been getting a great response. We are building steam. And I know that together we are strong enough to make Nashville the #1 urban school district in the nation.

Meanwhile, my supporters get an “unwelcome surprise” in their inbox… sent courtesy of my opponent, a career politician and longtime member of Tennessee's political establishment.

The email is jam packed with classic schoolyard-bully-type stuff – he says a whole bunch of nasty things about me. 

Things that he’d love you to believe.

He is hoping that you don't learn the truth about my record.

Like my record as a PENCIL Partner, and the “Panther’s Closet” program we created. It provides essential clothing to low-income kids. It’s credited with reducing suspensions and increasing instructional time. 

Or my record at Maplewood High School: 

  • Covering the cost of exams for students who can’t afford them
  • Working with school leaders to support after-school coding programs
  • Engaging entrepreneurs and tech leaders at the school level 

Or my record on the Education Report Card Committee:

  • Creating a program where students can ride MTA buses for free
  • Supporting a law that closes low-performing charter schools by default
  • Increasing pay for teachers in leadership roles
  • Expanding student-based budgeting
  • Increasing principal budget autonomy

And my record: 

  • Serving on Dr. Register's East Nashville Advisory Committee
  • Developing professional development for marketing teachers
  • Teaching inner-city high school students to make websites

Look, Nashville needs real leadership – and a record of results that you can rely on. 

Join my campaign today and send a clear message that real leadership is kind, and brave. 

Together, we can support those who need it most: Our STUDENTS.

 

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District 7

Where is District 7?

Can I vote in The Race for District 7?

Which schools are in District 7?

District 7 is highlighted in the map below. Schools are color-coded based on their latest standing in the MNPS Academic Performance Framework.

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