In Nashville, a child’s path to a high-quality school may extend far beyond his or her neighborhood block. That’s because, in Davidson county, families have the ability to take charge of their own education pathway through the school choice process. Access to school choice helps to ensure that families can choose the best possible fit for their children’s unique needs; and Nashville parents do have a wide array of school type options from which to choose.
Families in Davidson County can choose to educate their children in traditional public schools, public charter schools, optional and magnet schools, homeschool, or in dozens of nearby private schools.
But school choice only serves families if they are fully aware of their options, and understand how to access or pay for them. And even if parents are knowledgeable about their options, they may face barriers that prevent them from successfully enrolling their children in their top-choice schools, challenges like a limited number of open seats, transportation costs, or private school tuition.
If we want to ensure that all Nashville students receive an excellent education, we need more high-quality schools, regardless of type, existing in all neighborhoods. True school choice only exists when there are many good schools from which parents can choose, along with clear, widely available information about those options.
In an effort to help fill that gap, we have put together a short primer on School Choice Options in Nashville.
Public Traditional Schools
Metro Nashville Public Schools is divided into 12 clusters, or zones— with all traditional public elementary and middle schools feeding into one high school per zone.
Families in Davidson County are zoned to a traditional public school according to their home address, and will follow an assigned pathway from elementary to middle to high school. Traditional public schools are free to attend, and students are guaranteed a seat in their zoned neighborhood school. Parents can find their zoned school option through the MNPS online tool, ZoneFinder.
The Scarlett Family Foundation recently released Cluster Profiles to trace the experience of students who follow their assigned zoned pathway for all years of their education. When we look at cluster-level data, we find that student access to quality public education looks drastically different depending on where a student lives.
Public Option Schools
In Nashville, we have a variety of public schools available to our students beyond traditional schools, including public charter schools, optional schools, magnet schools, and alternative schools. All of these options are tuition-free public schools. To help families sort through these options and make an informed decision about what best fits their student’s needs, MNPS offers an online tool, School Match, that provides information on the variety of schools and programs offered within the district, as well as step-by-step instructions to apply.
In addition to traditional zoned neighborhood schools, families in Nashville also have access to tuition-free public charter schools. Charter schools are independently run public schools that are granted increased flexibility in exchange for greater accountability around student growth and achievement. Sometimes, a public charter school will receive more applications than it has open seats. In these cases, students are accepted based on a lottery system. But four of Nashville’s public charter schools actually function as zoned public school options for their neighborhoods, meaning all students with a home address in these zones will be admitted if they wish to attend.
To help parents see and understand their options, we created Charter School Profiles that feature key metrics for each school. With this information, parents can compare the performance of Nashville’s charter schools to other options in the city.
In additional to zoned traditional and public charter schools, Nashville families also have the option to enroll their children in a public school that is not in their assigned zone through the district’s optional school transfer application. This allows students to access programs and offerings at different public schools throughout the city.
But not every optional school is open to every student. Some have academic eligibility requirements, and many have a limited number of available seats.
Academic Magnet Schools
Academic magnet schoolsare tuition-free public schools that offer specialized courses. In Nashville, these schools range from Head Magnet Middle School of Science and Math to Glendale Spanish Immersion School.
Some have additional academic requirements to enroll, like Hume-Fogg High School, Martin Luther King, Jr School (7-12) and Meigs Middle. These three schools are among the highest performing schools in the district, but are only accessible to students who have met specific academic criteria.
Other Public Options
MNPS offers several other optional schools, ranging from Stanford Montessori Elementary School to the Nashville School of the Arts. These schools provide students and families the opportunity to take advantage of a variety of curricula, regardless of where they live.
Another optional school, Nashville Big Picture High School, provides students learning opportunities in the form of internships, workshops, and community volunteering. Middle College High School allows students to take classes on a college campus and earn post-secondary credit throughout their junior and senior years.
MNPS is also home to the first public online school in the state of Tennessee, MNPS Virtual School. As an optional school within MNPS, Virtual School is free and open to all residents of Davidson County, and is available to students interested in learning from home or outside of the traditional school setting, on a full or part-time basis.
In order to serve the children in Davidson county who have special needs, MNPS also has a number of schools dedicated to providing specialized staff, assistance and programming to these students. Additionally, Alternative Learning Centers provide an education option for students who would otherwise be excluded from public education due to expulsion from school.
In addition to public school options, Nashville is home to dozens of private schools. Parents who desire a private education for their children must decide how to pay the tuition, a cost that varies significantly school-to-school. There are a handful of religious schools in the area with tuition costs between $5,000 and $9,000 per student per year, but the costs of most private schools in Nashville reach much higher— often ranging from $12,000 to $20,000 or more per year. There may also be application fees, technology fees, school trip costs, or supply purchases on top of that. But many private schools do offer need-based financial aid and tuition assistance to attract a diverse group of students.
The principal types of private schools located in or near Nashville are:
- Independent religious schools – not affiliated with a specific church, but offering families a faith-centered education option.
- Parochial schools – supported by a specific church or denomination. These schools commonly offer tuition subsidies for church members, and reduced tuition for families enrolling more than one student. Because of these considerations, parochial schools are often on the more affordable end of the private school spectrum.
- Montessori schools – based on the Montessori method of education, which focuses heavily on child-led, activity-based learning.
- Independent private schools – have no religious affiliation. Nashville is home to girls-only, boys-only, and co-educational independent private schools.
In 2019, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation to create Education Savings Accounts (ESA). The ESA program that will allow students and families in the state’s two-lowest performing school districts to access state funds that can then be put towards certain education-related expenses, including tuition at participating private schools. Tennessee’s ESA program, which will be in place no later than the 2021-2022 school year, will provide $7,300 of state funds per child to eligible families in Davidson County.
Parents may also decide to educate their children at home through homeschooling. Families interested in pursuing homeschooling have several paths to doing so, and should ensure that they are in line with Tennessee laws and requirements.
By giving Nashville families the autonomy to make their own schooling choices, our city increases the likelihood that students will be able to enroll in a best-fit school. However, school choice alone can only do so much; Nashville must have abundant high-quality school options if we want to ensure that every student is receiving an excellent education.
As our city works towards this goal, we must evaluate what is working in our schools and what is not. Clear information about the performance of available school options should drive a family’s school choice process. When this information is accurate, understandable, and shared widely, parents and local leaders alike can make sound decisions around education in Nashville.
Explore the local education landscape further by checking out our Nashville Education Facts webpage.
Tags: High Quality Schools
In a major coup for Nashville public schools, interim Director Adrienne Battle is appointing the state’s education turnaround czar to a top Cabinet position.
Sharon Griffin, who heads the state-run Achievement School District, will join Metro Nashville Public Schools on July 1 as the chief of innovation.
As well, Hank Clay, Communities in Schools of Tennessee CEO, will rejoin the district as chief of staff on July 1, replacing Marcy Singer-Gabella.
The high-profile moves show Battle’s desire to leave a stamp on the operations of the district after securing a two-year interim contract. While the board could decide to start a search at any time, Battle’s appointment is a signal she doesn’t plan to be just a caretaker of the district.
Under the district’s previous interim director, top positions were left unfilled or were appointed in the interim.
“I think what is clear to everyone is (Griffin’s) track record and her work in the turnaround space with the iZone work in Shelby County,” she said.
And she cited Clay’s institutional knowledge of MNPS and his connections with statewide resources as part of why she hired him.
Battle’s decision to bring in the two won praise from at least one school board member. Board member Gini Pupo-Walker said Battle is showing through both hires that she wants to make district improvements immediately and spoke highly of Griffin.
“Adrienne Battle is not your average or ordinary interim,” Pupo-Walker said.”Her (Griffin) coming to MNPS signals she believes in Adrienne, but it also shows the urgency Adrienne has.”
Griffin’s departure from the state’s turnaround district
Griffin’s move, however, means more leadership woes for the ASD. The state will need to find a fourth replacement to lead the district in as many years.
The Tennessee Department of Education will appoint an interim within the next week, said Amity Schuyler, a deputy commissioner who helps oversee the ASD. Griffin’s last day as ASD chief is June 28, according to her resignation letter.
Schuyler said the state Education Department will embark on a national search for a replacement and could have a new leader in place as early as January.
Schuyler said the turnover of leadership in recent years is a concern.
“Changes of leadership have to be managed carefully,” Schuyler said. “You are hoping to get a leader that will stick around and remain committed in the long term. It is hard work, and it is understandable that turnover is more frequent than desired.”
A top school turnaround expert
Nashville public schools will get a leader who is recognized as one of the top school improvement experts in the state. Griffin was tapped in 2018 by former Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to lead the ASD.
The Achievement School District is the state district tasked with taking over and improving the bottom 5% performing Tennessee schools in terms of academic achievement.
The ASD works mostly in Memphis and employs a more hands-off approach by using primarily charter schools. Nashville has two ASD schools operated by LEAD Public Schools, a charter management organization.
Since her appointment, Griffin has sought to align the district’s work with the best research practices. She has also sought to ensure the charter schools tasked with running the ASD schools have a stronger teaching staff.
Marty McGreal, who oversees Pathways in Education, a school in the Achievement School District, said he is sad to see Griffin leave.
“She gets kids,” he said. “She really, really gets it. She stops by a lot. Not as many people get it right away.”
The leadership position also placed Griffin in a role where she helped advise low-performing schools, even if they weren’t part of the ASD.
Before her stint leading the ASD, she served as Shelby County Schools’ chief of schools, overseeing direct support to schools, principals and teachers.
In Shelby County, she helped lead the iZone, which is known nationally for making strong improvements among Memphis’ lowest-performing schools.
Battle reorganizes the central office
Clay heads to Nashville schools after previously serving under former Superintendent Jesse Register as an assistant to the director.
Clay has led Communities in Schools of Tennessee for two years. The nonprofit works statewide to help connect community resources and ensure students stay in school.
Battle said she will not fill the vacated chief of schools position formerly held by Sito Narcisse.
Her administrative Cabinet will also see changes, including appointing associate superintendents who oversee the elementary, middle and high schools.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
For most Middle Tennessee students, the school day doesn’t end when the final bell rings – it follows them home, where they’ll continue to build on their classroom learning through homework assignments. But in this setting, there is no teacher on hand to help if the student faces a stumbling block, and parents or guardians may not be able to provide the guidance needed.
Since 1990, Homework Hotline has provided a solution to this challenge by offering cost-free tutoring to Tennessee students. In the 2018-19 school year alone, Homework Hotline teachers completed 11,731 tutoring sessions with 6,314 unique students, parents or guardians, sessions that totaled 3,780 hours of tutoring – all of it completely free.
The Scarlett Family Foundation has supported Homework Hotline (HH) since 2008. Each school year, Homework Hotline pairs thousands of Tennessee students and their families with certified teachers who can guide them through even the most challenging homework problems.
HH teachers work with all K-12 students, regardless of learning style or educational background, and can do so by phone or through online chat. Teachers and students can even learn together via an online whiteboard, allowing teachers to coach their students step-by-step through the problem-solving process. Students can also share typed essays with HH teachers to receive real-time, savable feedback. By making use of phone or online communication, HH brings homework help right into a student’s home – eliminating the need for a student to travel to a tutoring center.
Homework Hotline also recognizes that Tennessee students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and with different abilities, and seeks to find ways to serve all populations. That’s why the organization employs teachers who speak English, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Farsi, and Swahili. Students who are hearing-impaired can also work with HH teachers through the online chat feature, or by texting photos of their homework to the teacher using the Image Share program.
Homework Hotline strives to be innovative in their offerings in order to ensure that all students can learn and understand their assignments. In 2018, 94% of students expressed understanding of a concept and 83% proved mastery when given a post-test. By providing free, accessible, high-quality homework help, Homework Hotline prepares Tennessee students for success.
Here’s the No. 1 concern that Tennessee’s new education chief heard during her statewide listening tour
After visiting classrooms in 30 school districts across the state, talking regularly with superintendents and other stakeholders, and reviewing more than 25,000 comments from teachers, Tennessee’s new education commissioner says one theme keeps emerging: the need to support the mental health needs of students.
“Without question, it’s the No. 1 piece of feedback I heard from every single group,” Penny Schwinn told Chalkbeat this week. “There is a growing concern about how we can support our children, not only academically but also behaviorally.”
Student mental health — an issue that has received a lot of lip service in Tennessee in recent years, but little in the way of funding — is one of 12 priorities identified in the state education department’s proposed five-year strategic plan, released Friday.
“We have an increasing number of children living in predominantly low-income communities and also coming from environments of addiction or abuse. We’re seeing upticks in suicide rates and bullying behaviors,” Schwinn said.
The commissioner unveiled the first draft of what she calls a “roadmap for the future,” after conferring this week with superintendents during regional gatherings in East and Middle Tennessee. She’ll meet with district leaders in West Tennessee later this month.
Schwinn also is inviting all Tennesseans to offer their input via an online survey that ends on June 21. “The voices of our students, our educators, and our superintendents are throughout this document, and we want even more feedback,” she said.
The final strategic plan is scheduled to be released in late July.
In addition to mental health, the proposed version lays out other priorities, including strengthening the state’s pipeline of teachers, developing and retaining school leaders, defining pathways to give students opportunities after graduating from high school, supporting rural schools, engaging with families, and STEAM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math.
When Schwinn left Texas in January to become Tennessee’s new education chief, she promised to “listen and learn” as she kicked off her tenure by touring three schools — one rural, one urban, and one suburban — on her very first day.
She’s since visited more than 175 classrooms statewide and says it’s important that the state’s next strategic plan is rooted in ground-level conversations in school communities, not top-down edicts from her department.
“Commissioner Schwinn has been very open and willing to listen in developing this proposal,” said Dale Lynch, executive director of the state superintendents group. “Right now, I’d give her two thumbs up.”
In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Schwinn identified classrooms, educators, schools, and community as the four main pillars that will set the plan’s parameters. Girding those are academic standards, testing, accountability, and teacher evaluations — four policy strategies that grew out of Tennessee’s overhaul of K-12 education as part of its federal Race to the Top award in 2010.
Those four policies — all of which have generated controversy at one time or another — are “foundational,” Schwinn told reporters, calling them “not something that’s up for discussion.”
But other strategies and needs are on the table.
For school improvement work, the draft calls for “restructuring school turnaround so that there is more shared ownership between the state and local districts.” That suggests that Tennessee could choose to rely less on the state-run Achievement School District — its most intensive model in which the state has taken over low-performing schools in Memphis and Nashville and converted them to charter schools — and more on “Partnership Zones,” a collaborative state-district approach that just finished its first year in Chattanooga.
The draft also suggests that rural schools will get more attention under the administration of Gov. Bill Lee, a farmer and businessman who attended public schools in rural Williamson County and has pledged to make additional investments in the state’s more remote areas.
“We have to take a really strong position around how we support educators in those communities,” Schwinn said.
The need to beef up student mental health services has been a topic of conversation in Tennessee, especially since 2018 when one former student’s shooting spree killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida. In response, then-Gov. Bill Haslam convened a task force on school safety and urged local districts to explore ways to step up support for students’ emotional needs. However, most of the $25 million in extra funding approved by legislators that year went to improving school security, including upgrades to door locks, entryways, and screening equipment.
More than a year later, Schwinn said it’s becoming more apparent that — whether it’s called mental health or the “whole child” approach — schools need to do more to help their students feel healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged in order to achieve long-term success.
She recounted a powerful conversation with one student in Robertson County, north of Nashville, who told her: “What I need in my school is to have a buddy to eat lunch with in the cafeteria every day and an adult I can go to when I have a problem. Those would make all the difference.”
“Too many of our kids can’t say they have both of those things, and that’s something we have to take seriously,” Schwinn said. “We’ve got to find ways to better support them as they develop as people.”[To read the first draft of the strategic plan visit Chalkbeat] Read More
Research has shown that teachers having leadership roles in their schools can lead to improved student achievement. So why not formalize those roles?
That’s the argument in a new report by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, a group that works to increase educator effectiveness. The group convened a panel discussion at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to discuss how state and district leaders can create sustainable systems of teacher leadership. This form of professional learning—in which an accomplished teacher is given instructional leadership responsibilities while still remaining in the classroom—has become popular in many places, but the NIET report says there is a lack of explicit guidance on how to use federal funding to build this capacity.
“We need to have a larger national conversation about how do we formalize what teacher leadership is, in a way that actually moves student growth,” said Candice McQueen, the CEO of NIET and the former education commissioner for Tennessee, in an interview. “Giving a title is not the end. Giving the title begins the conversation of, ‘Now, what capacity do you need to grow other teachers and serve on this leadership team?’ We see too often that we stop at, ‘OK, now you’re the teacher leader, … with no release time, no additional compensation, no coaching, no professional learning, and no clarity around goals that are now part of the vision for your particular role.'”
“When you do [teacher leadership] well, you get results,” she added. “We sometimes give teacher leadership a bad name by creating a title without any of these other components around it.”
Some of NIET’s recommendations for building these formal teacher leadership systems include:
- District leaders should work with teachers and principals to develop a clear vision for teacher leadership roles. This will help create buy-in.
- Teacher leadership can be funded through both Title I and Title II dollars. NIET recommends districts combine local, state, and federal funds into a single pool to support schoolwide goals.
- States should create sustainable, dedicated funding streams to support teacher leadership.
Iowa, for instance, invests nearly $160 million per year in the teacher-leadership system. Ryan Wise, the director of the Iowa Department of Education, said on the panel that there are more than 10,000 teachers serving in funded leadership roles.
“Formalizing these roles and having teacher leaders in every building has been the fuel to get things done,” Wise said.
For example, the state has been prioritizing early literacy, and making sure every student can read by the end of 3rd grade. To help spread that work, teacher leaders are trained in best practices and then can spread that information to other teachers.
In the 2019-20 school year, NIET will partner with about 90 districts to provide training and support as they implement the group’s instructional framework on teacher leadership. NIET runs a teacher-leadership system called TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Achievement, which puts high-performing teachers into “master teacher” and “mentor teacher” roles.
After all, Christina Jamison, a teacher leader in Grand Prairie High School in Texas, said one-size-fits-all district training is rarely useful for teachers.
“None of that is relevant to my work,” she said. “Being able to be a leader of professional development on my campus has allowed my students to grow exponentially. … Teachers want to know stuff that’s going to help them.”
Indeed, many teachers say that professional development delivered by facilitators from outside groups is often disrespectful to teachers’ expertise and experience.
“Teacher leaders can go to a conference and come back and teach what they learned,” said Ross Wiener, the executive director of the Education & Society Program at the Aspen Institute, in closing remarks. “No outside vendor can do that with that kind of cadence and that kind of credibility and level of context.”[Read more at Education Week] Read More
Tennessee is making strong improvements in raising academic achievement among its students, but Bill Gates believes there is plenty of work still ahead for the Volunteer State.
Improvements for the state over the last several years include changing its academic standards, curriculum and feedback to teachers, Gates said.
But low academic achievement in concentrated sections of urban areas and poor rural counties continue to plague the state. Tennessee is near the middle when compared nationally on academic achievement in math and reading.
“On a relative basis, Tennessee is still below average,” Gates said during a Friday interview in Nashville with The Tennessean. Gates, one of the world’s wealthiest men, pledged during the visit to continue investing millions of dollars in the state’s education through his foundation.
Nationally, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focuses its education efforts on minority and low-income students near urban centers. The foundation has invested about $34 million in Tennessee statewide, with an emphasis in Memphis.
Gauging support for Gates Foundation work
The Gates Foundation works in higher education, K-12 and early learning in Tennessee and that is “one of the very few states that we do all those things,” he said.
The billionaire philanthropist came to Nashville on Friday as part of a flurry of meetings to gauge the climate under first-term Gov. Bill Lee, who was elected in August.
Gates said in his interview that his foundation focuses primarily on working with local and state governments. The effort can be difficult if they change priorities, he said.
But after Thursday and Friday in Tennessee, Gates indicated his foundation will continue to invest in the initiatives it is undertaking. Gates was encouraged by Lee — who hosted Gates Thursday at the governor’s residence — and said it looks as if there will be another seven years with a governor whose focus is on education.
“Tennessee is a big focus state for us because education has been prioritized,” Gates said. “I am not sure what we would have done if the governor didn’t have education as a priority, but he does so … we are committed to keep working here with the partners in Tennessee.”
He was complimentary of Tennessee for its collaboration, and also for tackling tough changes under Govs. Bill Haslam and Phil Bredesen. Tennessee is shown to be one of the few states from 2009-2015 seeing academic improvement in almost every county.
Recent changes — such as the state’s academic standards — need patience, he said.
“The lag time in all these educational-related things are very long and you have to stay the course,” he said.
The work in Tennessee
Over the course of a 35-minute interview, Gates touched on aspects of Tennessee’s work in education.
The foundation is spending money in higher education, Gates said, to help systems align resources for students. Nationally, he said he worries that more than a third of students are not ready for college.
In Tennessee, about 46% of students enter Tennessee’s colleges needing remediation in math. About 33% need remediation in reading.
“You shouldn’t have more than a third that needs remedial classes,” Gates said.
He said the state is delving into dual credit opportunities for students, which allow students to come out of high school either exposed to college classes or earning some type of college credit. Under Haslam, the state also embarked on a concentrated effort to help 55% of its residents earn a degree or certificate by 2025.
The Gates Foundation also is working heavily in early education in Tennessee, which has been the focus for districts such as Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools.
The quality of voluntary pre-Kindergarten programs across the state varies, but those two districts are showing strong results.
Gates and his visit to Chattanooga
Gates shared thoughts on Chattanooga’s efforts, which were also part of the reason he was in Tennessee for his two-day trip.
He applauded Chattanooga for its efforts to get businesses involved in education through a community effort.
“… I am a huge believer that communities, especially the private sector, if you draw them in that is where you get things done,” he said. “That is where get permission to raise the community tax rate.”
He also visited with students, whom he said were positive about their experiences but complained about teacher attrition and resources.
Students told him resources were focused on students either in the top or bottom 10%.
“They said the teachers are amazing, but then they would leave,” he said.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
The last two years of middle school are crucial in preparing students for the greater responsibility and academic rigor of high school. If students fall behind in seventh or eight grade, they have that much more to catch up before being ready for college or career. Many never do.
The Martha O’Bryan Center’s Academic Student Union at Stratford Middle is working to fill this need and engage students before they enter high school.
In the fall of 2016, in partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools and Stratford STEM Magnet Middle School, The Union was designed specifically for 7th and 8th grade students to help them prepare for success in high school.
The Union offers after-school programming five days a week to assist with homework, tutoring, and enrichment opportunities. In addition to this programming, The Union also has a full-time Middle School Transition Coach who provides support to 8th grade students. The Coach helps them set personal and academic goals and then continues to meet with these students throughout their first semester of 9th grade at Stratford High School.
The Scarlett Family Foundation has provided funding for The Union at Stratford Middle since it first began in 2016. This program has been successful, with 50% of 7th and 8th grade students at Stratford Middle participating in The Union in its first 3 years.
Once entering high school, students have the opportunity to connect into the O’Bryan Center’s “Top Floor,” an academic student union serving high school students— creating a seamless pathway of support from middle to high school.
Tags: Grantee Story
Gates Foundation Launches Postsecondary Value Commission in Hopes of Influencing the Ongoing Higher Ed Reauthorization in Congress
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is launching a new initiative to measure the value of higher education, an effort leaders hope will influence the ongoing federal debate over reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.
“This cannot, and must not, be done like any other report that we’ve heard, that goes right to the shelf and no one uses it,” said Mildred Garcia, co-chair of the new Commission on Value in Postsecondary Education and president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “We intend to produce relevant, actionable information to help people make decisions.”
The goal is for the results to be used by students and families to make decisions about attaining higher education, by college leaders to determine how well their programs are performing, and by policymakers to help gauge the value of public investments, Garcia said on a call with reporters last week.
One of the groups the commission hopes will find the information immediately relevant: Congress, which is in the midst of rewriting the Higher Education Act.
“If we can provide that clear definition about college value,” one that can be measured and that has been created by a diverse group of advocates, “we definitely are hoping it will affect the higher ed reauthorization,” Garcia said.
Specifically, the definition of value the commission comes up with could help Congress make decisions about Pell Grants, the approximately $28 billion the federal government spends annually that helps support low-income students, and federal-state partnerships, which would incentivize states to maintain public investments in higher education in an effort to hold down costs for students.
Time, however, is not on their side. Reauthorization efforts on Capitol Hill have begun in earnest, with Senate education committee leaders reportedly releasing a draft of the bill later this month, but the Gates commission is not scheduled to produce its final report until mid-2020.
“We are going to be working through our value commission in real time, as there are conversations happening on Capitol Hill … To the extent that we can inform those conversations, we certainly will,” said Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Gates Foundation and co-chair of the commission.
Gates will also use the commission’s definition of higher ed to judge future investment decisions, Desmond-Hellmann added.
The 30-member commission will emphasize the economic value of degrees, but it will also look at other factors like the better health outcomes, voting participation and critical thinking skills that correlate with higher ed attendance.
Most people would say they attend postsecondary education to enhance their career opportunities, Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a member of the commission, told The 74.
The economic measures that reflect better career opportunities are particularly important to the growing number of students who are older adults going back for additional education to boost their job prospects, rather than the traditional 18- to 22-year-old student entering right after high school, she added.
The Gates effort will go further than existing earnings data, such as the federal College Scorecard, which provides average earnings for graduates of every university. Beyond earnings, the value measurement will include things like employment and economic mobility, and how those outcomes vary across race, gender and family income.
Americans are increasingly worried about the value of a higher education, the Foundation said in press materials. It cited polling data that showed that a majority of respondents believe higher ed is going in the wrong direction, with “tuition costs too high” and “students not getting needed skills” as top reasons for that perception.
The economic value of higher education is much like the value of a healthy diet — widely recognized, but unavailable to some groups for reasons like community norms, inaccessibility and competing options, Desmond-Hellman said.
“Our goal is to uncomplicate the connection between higher education and economic opportunity,” she said.[Read more at the 74] Read More
Following Nashville Students’ Educational Journeys
Through the release of our Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) Cluster Profiles, the Scarlett Family Foundation hoped to share data in a clear, concise format, and use this information to help tackle some of our city’s most pressing education questions, including: what happens to proficiency levels as students progress through their zoned schools?
In our last blog post, we zeroed in on another critical question: are Nashville students graduating ready for college or career? And we drew the conclusion, based on the data available to us, that an overwhelming majority of students are not graduating ready for their next step. But is this exclusively a high school problem? In order to paint a full picture of our student achievement deficits, we decided to take a deeper look into the pathway MNPS students will take toward graduation, beginning in their earliest school-going years.
In schooling, grades act as stepping stones, connecting one level of academic understanding to the next. Each grade creates different opportunities for students to be curious, explore their world, and leave prepared for the next step awaiting them. But when we look at cluster-level data, we find that student access to quality public education, and the opportunities found therein, look drastically different depending on where a student lives.
In too many neighborhoods, the pathway to graduation is like sinking sand, pulling students deeper into a broken system of low-performing schools— at every consecutive stage of their education.
All students deserve easy access to high-quality, public schools. But in Nashville, this is not a reality.
If a student lives in the Hillwood cluster, she will be zoned to attend one of four elementary schools. Two of these are Reward schools (ranking in the top 5% of all Tennessee schools), and another far exceeds state average proficiency levels for both English Language Arts and Math (58% and 50% achieving proficiency, respectively). On average, less than 1% of the elementary school students in this cluster have been suspended, only 11% are chronically absent (missing 10% of the school year, or 18 days), and teachers choose to remain in their positions by a rate of 92%. Looking at these metrics alone, it appears that families in this neighborhood have access to elementary schools able to provide their children a high-quality education.
In the Maplewood cluster, a student will also be zoned to attend one of four elementary schools, depending on where exactly he lives. One of these schools is a Reward school – but one is a Priority school, ranking in the bottom 5% of all schools in Tennessee. Only 17% of all elementary students in the Maplewood cluster are proficient in English Language Arts, and 15% in Math. On average, close to 4% of elementary students are suspended annually, 23% are chronically absent, and almost 16% of teachers are new to the job each year.
Let’s imagine that a family in the Maplewood cluster is considering enrolling their student at Tom Joy Elementary. A Priority school, only 5% of Tom Joy’s 421 students are proficient in English Language Arts, and the rate is even lower for Math. Unless this family has the ability to enroll their child in a charter or private school, their only elementary school option is a school that fails to bring 95% of its students to proficiency. This is a disservice to the family and to the child.
The metrics presented in our Cluster profiles make clear that a scenario like this is the reality for countless Nashville families, and illustrate that even in elementary school, a majority of MNPS students are already being left behind.
The degree to which student achievement lags behind grade level standards only grows from elementary to middle school.
The Maplewood cluster is home to two zoned middle schools – and both rank in the bottom 5% of schools statewide. Across the cluster, enrollment drops from elementary to middle school, and nearly 17% of students will either be suspended or chronically absent from school. The two-year rate of educators who do not return to teach in these schools is 20% . Taken together, these challenges affect the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn: only 6% of middle school students in the Maplewood cluster are proficient in English Language Arts, and less than 5% are proficient in Math.
Hillwood also has two middle schools, but in this case, both exceed the MNPS average for proficiency in English Language Arts and Math. Proficiency rates for students in English Language Arts is 29, and 26% in Math. However, like the Maplewood cluster, enrollment drops from elementary to middle, and the percentage of students who are suspended or chronically absent nearly doubles.
If we compare the two clusters, Hillwood’s middle schools are performing well – but let’s flip some numbers. If roughly 30% of students are proficient in ELA or Math, that means at least 70% of Hillwood students are not achieving proficiency. Imagine the effect this will have on our students as they enter high school, and eventually a college classroom or professional workplace.
As we comb through these numbers, a trend emerges. In all clusters, academic achievement sinks as we follow the pathway of elementary to middle to high school. It seems that students progress from one grade to the next without gaining the academic knowledge they will need to flourish in the future.
As students in the Hillwood cluster transition from middle to high school, even more of them will miss at least 10% of all school days— now, one in five students is chronically absent. Consequently, English and Math proficiency numbers also decline. Although the vast majority of students in this cluster will graduate, a much smaller number will score a 21 or higher on the ACT, indicating that they should be considered college and career ready — only one in four, or about 265 students.
In the Maplewood cluster, we see an even more significant spike in empty seats during the school day, with 42% of students chronically missing school. The number of students “On Track” dips below 5% in both English or Math, and only around 41 students are considered college or career ready upon graduation. Still, just as in the case of Hillwood High School, most of these students will receive a high school diploma.
Unless dramatic improvement is made, a student in the Maplewood cluster will attend a school ranking in the bottom five percent statewide for every year of their education.
For a student in the Hillwood cluster, the academic experience is likely to be better— but far from exceptional. From elementary to high school, the percentage of students that are considered “On Track” continues to slide lower at each step, until only 17% (ELA) and 7.2% Math) of students are learning what they need.
Incredibly, the graduation rates between these two high schools, Hillwood (81%) and Maplewood (79%), are almost the same— with only a 2% difference.
These numbers demand a city-wide conversation. Let’s decide, finally, that zip code will not be destiny for Nashville students.
It’s time for all members of our community to band together and push for transformative change. We must create a system that allows all high school graduates to succeed after graduation, no matter which post-grad pathway they choose. And when we say all students, we mean all— from Hillwood to Maplewood.
Read more about ways you can get involved and make change here.
Tags: MNPS Cluster Profiles
On May 16, LEAD Academy’s largest ever graduating class will walk across the stage at Belmont’s Curb Event Center for our sixth annual senior signing day.
Surrounded by parents, teachers and community members, these young men and women will declare to friends and family the next big step in their journey.
All of them have worked hard to determine this next best step, whether it be to a university, college, military or career pathway. All of them have overcome challenges to get here. And thanks to their hard work— we are pleased to say this is the sixth-straight year that 100% of LEAD’s eligible graduates have been accepted to college.
In some ways, this senior signing day is even more important to us at LEAD than graduation day–because we know our job does not end with high school graduation. Our goal is to prepare our students for the lifetime of opportunities ahead of them.
Nationally, students from low-income backgrounds, students of color and first-generation college attendees— the same students we serve in Nashville— are much less likely to complete a post-secondary degree than their middle-class peers.
We are not OK with that.
That’s why we are working to prepare every student, regardless of family background, socioeconomic status or zip code – to graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be both Ready for College and Ready for Life.
That may be a revolutionary perspective for some. But our students deserve nothing less.
According to the Tennessee State Report Card, 35% of LEAD Academy graduates are considered truly “Ready Graduates,” which combines students who graduate on time and who also scored a 21 or above on the ACT–a widely accepted measure of college and career readiness.
That’s much higher than Metro Nashville’s district average of 24%, which also includes the highly selective academic magnet schools.
We are proud of the progress our school and students have made, but we are nowhere near done.
As we looked at our alumni data, we saw that some of the biggest barriers to post-high school completion aren’t just academic but related to what happens outside the classroom.
So we have developed a comprehensive approach to preparing students for their next step, with a focus on helping them make college and career decisions based on the very best fit— for their own unique goals and needs.
Our students actively participate in an intensive college seminar for all four years of high school. They research and evaluate college and career choices based on what is the best fit for them and make a decision based on five buckets—financial, academic, social, emotional and living. We challenge them to think through questions about paying for college, housing, study habits and classes, confidence and mental health. We challenge them to own their decision.
No one else is doing anything like this. We believe our LEAD college and career process is much more intentional and intensive—for both the student and the school. But we believe it makes a huge difference.
All of this leads up to Senior Signing Day, an opportunity for students to make a commitment to themselves, to their families and publicly to our school community. It is that one big day when every single year they’ve spent within our building is finally paying off.
That’s why we invite all of Nashville to come to our senior signing day and witness and celebrate as these students take this next big step in their journey. They’ve done the work both academically and personally to get here.
Please join us on May 16 at the Belmont Curb Event Center at 9:30 a.m. We hope you will come cheer our students on and see firsthand how the hard work of these students will pay huge dividends both for them and for our community in the years ahead.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More