Over the last few years, the Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) Board has has been squeezing a lot of oranges and not getting much juice.
The attempt to re-draw the school zones resulted in little more than recriminations between people who could and should be working together to improve the quality of public education in Nashville. In order to close a 1% gap in the MNPS budget Nashville stripped the lowest paid employees of benefits and pay and alienated one of the most consistent advocates for increased resources for MNPS. Now, as a result of the The Great, Great, Great Hearts Cluster … Nashville is fighting to keep its State education money when it already was denied its fair share.
I don’t fault any of the Board members who were actors in these events – I know many of them, respect them all for their work and would probably have made many of the same decisions. Sometimes, however, the pressure to make decisions of the moment prevent us all from assessing the changing reality in which we operate. So, as someone who is not involved in the daily decisions of MNPS but who has supported and followed MNPS and thought and read about education a bit, I’d offer a few things for consideration:
1) There is no question that achievement testing is here to stay – and should be – but every system of evaluation needs to be constantly re-evaluated to address its weaknesses and the inevitable gaming of the system which undermines its objectives. There are growing questions about whether achievement testing, and using it as a single punitive benchmark of success, actually increases long term success. We should consider whether we are too focused on achievement testing.
2) We should look more objectively at the role of parental employment as it relates to student achievement. For example, would altering a single mother’s employment situation result in categorical improvement in achievement for disadvantaged kids? With the high incidence of children raised by single mothers in conditions of poverty, a small change by our community could result in a large increase in achievement.
3) Are developments in neuroscience altering how we should think about education? There is probably as much garbage as there is value being created in this field but some of the recent developments will have a great impact on how we think about the brain. Let’s not forget that we have to keep thinking about thinking if we truly want our public education system to allow the highest levels of achievement and happiness for our kids.
4) Charter schools are here to stay and there is evidence that some but not all of them are successful. At the same time, we lack a community consensus on what role charters should play, how we should assess their success or how we integrate their successes into the broader system. Who should lead that consensus building process? Why are we waiting?
5) If there were a silver bullet, someone would already have found it.
There’s only so much squeeze . . . let’s squeeze the oranges that have juice.