Earlier this year, Governor Bill Haslam shared what has motivated his administration’s tireless work on behalf of students, “I do believe in, as much as possible, trying to level the starting line, and the best way to level the starting line is education.” This thought succinctly encompasses the mission our state has set forth: to provide all Tennessee students with a clear, attainable pathway to economic prosperity through education. Not only does a well-educated workforce benefit our state as a whole, but it also ensures that year by year, more Tennesseans will have the ability to support themselves and their families through quality jobs.
Over the last decade, Tennessee has taken bold, purposeful steps to improve the quality of education students are receiving and to support their overall success. After years of progress– and with a change in state leadership forthcoming—we must set our sights on the path ahead, as our next steps will be some of the most important yet. To do that, we need to remember where we have been and evaluate what challenges still lie ahead.
High Expectations and Accountability Laid the Foundation
In 2007, Tennessee received failing marks from the US Chamber of Commerce for “truth in advertising” related to student proficiency results. This became a galvanizing moment for our state, a chance to raise expectations around education in our communities. Tennesseans came together to create and adopt rigorous K-12 standards and addressed tough issues like mandatory assessments and teacher evaluations.
By implementing high standards— and holding our teachers, schools, and students accountable to them— Tennessee has become one of the fastest improving states in the nation and stands out among our Southern peers for student growth.
Although there is much work still to be done, Tennessee has laid a formidable foundation to improve student outcomes and to increase the number of well-prepared students sent on to college and career pathways. We cannot continue this improvement unless we maintain our commitment to high standards and the continual assessment of student learning.
Post-Secondary Education Opportunities are Key to Economic Success
While 87 percent of high school students say they want to go to college, 34 percent of Tennessee’s students forgo higher education to enter the workforce immediately after high school. Without any post-secondary training, these students can expect an annual salary of $10,880— not nearly enough to live on or to raise a family. It is also important to note that at least 55 percent of jobs in our state will require some form of higher education credential by 2025.
All students deserve a bright future, a life that includes a steady job and a living wage, no matter the path they choose to take after high school. For this reason, the stakes are high for our students. The question is no longer, “How do we get students to graduation day?”; but “How can we ensure high school is an on-ramp to college and career?”
Next Step: Building a College-Going Culture
Tennessee is implementing innovative programs and approaches to increase readiness and to create seamless pathways from K-12 to postsecondary certificate or degree attainment after high school.
- As a state, we have set a goal to improve participation rates and performance on the ACT, a key metric of high school students’ college readiness. In 2018, more Tennessee students took the test than ever before and scores are improving.
- Through the Tennessee Promise and Reconnect programs, now any Tennessean has the opportunity to attend two years of community or technical college tuition-free. As a result, our state leads the nation in FAFSA applications; and postsecondary enrollment is up.
- Early Post-Secondary Opportunities and Career and Technical Education programs at our high schools are helping to give students more exposure to potential postsecondary options and equip them with the tools and skills they need to be successful on their chosen path.
- The Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support (SAILS) Program has helped thousands of students get face-to-face instruction time in high school to catch them up and avoid remedial coursework in college. Since launching statewide in 2013, the program reduced the percentage of students needing math remediation by 15 percent.
- The Labor and Education Alignment Program (LEAP) brings together business and education to identify and address high-need skills gaps in a region. LEAP grants created opportunity for students to participate in dual enrollment, work-based learning and career exploration programs for high-demand jobs.
Through the programs above, Tennessee is redefining what it means to go to college. By offering students both financial and educational support, our state is ensuring that Tennessee students have more onramp opportunities for postsecondary education and then stay on track to complete a degree or credential. Technical colleges, community colleges, certification programs and 4-year universities are all producing the certifications, degrees and credentials that the workforce of today and tomorrow will require; our students should view each of these options as a powerful pathway to prosperity.
Tennessee will welcome new state leadership in the coming year. Our new governor, in tandem with our state legislators, will have a prime opportunity to shape education policy in ways that will have lasting impact on our workforce and economy. These leaders should focus on accelerating our progress by building upon education policies and reforms that have been shown to work, and finding innovative solutions to persistent challenges.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the ways in which our students can benefit when elected officials from both parties join forces with education, business and community leaders. If we encourage the leaders of our state to dedicate themselves to expanding the programs that are working well, enabling more students to exit K-12 well-prepared for their next steps in life, we could forever change what it means to live and work in Tennessee.Read More
In the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success, a citywide framework to improve Nashville’s literacy rates, the words “parent,” “family(ies),” and “generation” are mentioned more than 300 times. The Blueprint’s research and recommendations indicate that parental engagement is critical for childhood success. However, such support is practically impossible for parents who can’t read or who lack English-speaking skills.
The Nashville Public Library estimates that 250,000 Nashvillians need adult education support, like basic literacy, high school equivalency, and English. As a city, we are serving just one percent. Adult literacy rates impact every part of Nashville: employment and poverty levels, healthcare costs, K-12 school performance, and general dependence on systems for support.
The Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC)’s vision is for all Nashville adults to attain the literacy skills they need to navigate life and support their children. NALC learners become more independent and confident through improved health, financial security, and family and community engagement.
NALC’s mission is to teach reading, writing, and English-speaking skills to Nashville adults. Since 2008, the Foundation has supported the Start Now tutoring program at the Antioch branch. Their services provide learners with a safe place to learn and grow, primarily through one-on-one tutoring, supported by a network of dedicated volunteers. The nonprofit efficiently coordinates with partners and ensures students find the best options for their goals so they can feel the difference in their day-to-day lives.
Whether it’s working toward a new job, earning a degree, or helping a child with homework, NALC values and prioritizes each individual’s learning needs. In short, NALC teaches children how to read by teaching parents how to read.Read More
Metro Nashville School Board District Profiles: Good data empowers parents, advocates and local leaders
Even while a lot of media and attention is paid to state and Federal races this election season, public engagement in local school board elections is just as important.
School board members have a major impact on education in Nashville, and this election will set the direction for Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and the 85,000+ students it serves.
On August 2, along with the statewide primaries, Nashville will vote on four of the nine school board seats— Districts 2, 4, 6, and 8.
Board members serve a four-year term and act as the primary oversight of our public schools, make key decisions about academic strategies, and develop the annual operating budget. They have a big influence in how taxpayer funding is allocated to schools, classrooms and special services. The Board also has oversight authority over the District Superintendent and reviews charter school applications.
While voters should certainly learn about candidates for the Metro Nashville school board, they should also learn about the school district, the students served, and the teachers and principals it seeks to attract and retain.
Because some education data is hard to track down or spread out across different state and district sources, we compiled key metrics to empower local voters with the right data for sound-decision making.
Our goal in providing this data is to equip our community with good information as we work together to ensure every child receives a high-quality education.
Key Insights about Metro Nashville Public Schools
Demographically, MNPS is unique for a few reasons. Twenty percent of the student population qualify as English Language Learners— four times the state number. Additionally, half of the students are economically disadvantaged, compared to 35 percent statewide.
Of the 85k-plus students served by MNPS, about 12 percent attend charter schools, which are independently run public schools that have increased flexibility in exchange for greater accountability. Charters serve demographically-similar student populations as MNPS traditional schools do but with a slightly larger percentage of economically disadvantaged students.
When looking at student and school culture data, some concerning trends emerge. MNPS has high chronic absenteeism, with 17 percent of students missing a tenth or more of a school year. This means almost one in five students are missing a large chunk of instruction every year.
Recruiting and retaining great teachers and school leaders is also a known challenge— and the most recent data affirms it. The teacher retention rate for the 2017-2018 school year was 76 percent for MNPS traditional schools and 75 percent for charters. And the average principal has served in their role for only four years.
Finally, while MNPS lags behind the state in student achievement, there is a difference in achievement levels for different types of schools. When comparing traditional MNPS schools to charter schools, charters show near equivalent or higher achievement scores and surpass the state in growth scores.
Digging Into the School Board District Data
In addition to MNPS data, we have compiled key achievement, student culture and teacher data by School Board district. You can download the district profiles for the 2016-2017 school year here to see detailed breakdowns for each.
Here are a few key takeaways:
- Districts 1, 3 and 7 have the lowest percentages of students qualifying as “college ready” in MNPS (7%, 11%, and 15% respectively).
- District 2’s student population is so diverse it has no racial or ethnic majority, and its charter schools have the highest achievement and growth scores in MNPS.
- District 4 has the longest average for years a principal has served in the role, but is still only 4.9 years. District 8 has the shortest average for years a principal has served at 2.6 years.
- District 5 serves more students than any other district. It has the highest percentage of students in charter schools and the highest district growth score in MNPS.
- District 6 serves the second largest student population and is home to three newly-founded charter high schools (one in 2015 and two in 2017).
- District 7 has the highest percentage of ELLs in MNPS and the second lowest cumulative growth score.
- Districts 8 and 9 have the smallest student populations and lowest percentages of economically disadvantaged students; while they have higher than average district achievement data and percentages of “college ready” students, growth scores are lower.
Almost 19 percent of Metro Nashville Public Schools’ student population qualifies as English Language Learners (ELLs). This means MNPS alone serves one-third of the states’ students who are learning English. With the right support, and intensive focus on their unique needs, these newcomer students can not only integrate socially— but also succeed in school and life.
So in 2016, the Foundation helped launch the Nashville Newcomers Academy (NNA), an innovative, first-of-its-kind partnership between MNPS and public charter school STEM Prep Academy to serve our newest young Americans with the most urgent needs.
Funding specifically supported placing additional highly-trained teachers in classrooms at the school to provide direct, intensive language instruction and co-facilitate the school’s inquiry-based college preparatory curriculum within general education classes. Through focused delivery of instruction and services, NNA is advancing immigrant and refugee students’ social-emotional well-being while promoting stability and empowerment within a small, safe classroom environment. Nearly 100 percent of NNA students have experienced interrupted formal education, and in some cases, no formal education. To support social integration and preserve important cultural identities, students participate in daily advisories with diverse peers, trauma-informed group and individual sessions with the school’s counseling team, and are paired with an older peer to help them thrive socially as well as academically.
To be eligible to attend the Nashville Newcomer Academy, students must have lived in the United States for less than one year and scored the lowest possible level on the state’s English language assessment given to all students with non-English language backgrounds. The program annually serves over 100 students in grades 5-9. NNA students represent over 20 different native countries from around the globe.
To date, in reading these students have grown four grade levels in one school year, beginning with no alphabet recognition to reading at a high third grade level. NNA students’ attendance averages 95%.
The Academy also advances achievement of this population district-wide through a demonstration school model and provides professional development for educators at other schools serving high concentrations of newcomer students.Read More
There are a lot of exciting things about Nashville today. The construction cranes and new hotels, office buildings and apartments dotting our skyline offer a real time, visual reminder of our progress.
But all this success is masking a massive, fundamental problem. For over two decades, the third grade reading scores of students in Metro Nashville have remained abysmally low. Three out of four Nashville students do not meet basic grade level reading standards by the end of third grade.
This reality, if left unchanged, spells a slow-moving disaster for our students, our workforce and our city.
Third Grade Reading Matters — A Lot
Third grade reading performance is one of the most important early benchmarks we have for predicting a student’s long-term academic and career success. Students must first ‘learn to read’ in order to ‘read to learn’ everything else in life— which makes third grade a watershed year for literacy.
Research shows the majority of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are likely to never catch up. They then face a cascading number of additional challenges that follow them through life –higher incidences of school discipline issues, crime and incarceration.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one in six students not reading proficiently by the end of third grade will not earn a high school diploma. Every child without a high school diploma costs society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity — a number that will increase dramatically as low-skills jobs continue to disappear and demand for skilled work increases.
Today, adults without a high school degree earn only half as much annually as their peers who graduated. As more of our jobs require a skill or credential beyond high school, those who do not have a high school education will only fall further behind.
The Need in Nashville is Now
Nashville Metro Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph prioritized the issue early in his administration and helped give way to an unprecedented coming together of community partners to develop the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success – a citywide framework for helping us make significant gains on an accelerated path. That plan recently won Nashville certification as a Campaign for Grade Level Reading Community.
The plan is a great first step, but our city is at a pivotally important juncture. The hard work really starts with implementation. As Ron Fairchild from the Campaign shared with key Nashville education groups at our first NED event, their work provides insights for Nashville on what it will take to help more students read on grade-level.
It is time to mobilize a community-wide effort, activating business, non-profit and government stakeholders around early literacy. These efforts look to make connections between support programs and engage across issues like housing, health care, and parent engagement.
This work cannot start in third grade, and it is not limited to only what happens inside the classroom. Literacy feeds off other factors like chronic absenteeism and the quality of learning before kindergarten. Closing the literacy gaps for at-risk populations means finding ways to introduce more book-rich environments and improve attendance.
Finally— and critically— our success requires a long-term commitment to stay engaged and focus on the challenge despite the temptation to become cynical or complacent.
The Call for Action
Other communities are making progress on this important issue— and we know Nashville can, too. Here are three ways to help right now:
Get involved at a local school. Whether it’s reading to kids or supporting other community efforts, people power is important. Local organizations like PENCIL4SCHOOLS connect volunteers to opportunities in schools.
Speak out. Hold our elected officials and school leaders accountable. We must remain vocal to ensure this issue stays a top priority for city leaders and all of our community. Members of the business community are also uniquely positioned to make an impact as we have an obvious interest in a healthy, educated, and competitive local workforce.
Support the Blueprint incubator. We won’t be able to reach our goal without a true public/private partnerships. The communities who have accomplished bold ambitious plans, and worked together. Find out more at https://blueprintforearlychildhoodsuccess.com/
We believe in Nashville, and if we work together, we can get there.
About the Speakers
Ron’s role with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is to serve as the director of the GLR Support Center, which functions as a hub for peer exchange, a broker of tools and technical assistance, and an accelerator of the scope and pace of change in the more than 360 communities in 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Canada currently involved in the Campaign. Ron fulfills this role while also serving as President and CEO of the Smarter Learning Group, a national consulting rm focused on helping education-related organizations achieve better results, build stronger partnerships, and attract more investment. Prior to launching the rm in 2011, Ron served as the founding CEO of the National Summer Learning Association and the executive director of its predecessor organization, the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University from 2002 to 2010.
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a nationwide, collaborative effort that works to ensure more low-income children can succeed in school and life by focusing on this key indicator— grade-level reading by the end of third grade. The Campaign helps cities and leaders mobilize community-wide solutions to promote quality teaching and school readiness, improve attendance and summer learning, and engage parents.
Dr. Shawn Joseph
Dr. Shawn Joseph is the current Director of Metro Nashville Public Schools. He is an experienced educator who had fought for excellence and equity for every student he has served in his more than 20-year career. Dr. Joseph has served as a teacher, principal, district administrator, deputy superintendent and superintendent. His work has garnered national recognition, and his expertise has been sought by other districts during transitional periods.Read More
Parents are key to a child’s academic success— they are their first teacher, advocate, coach and more. If a parent is unable to navigate the school system or build strong relationships with teachers, the student isn’t able to benefit from an effective partnership between home and school. Empowering all parents, regardless of background or income level, to partner in their children’s education can improve academic achievement and spark community-wide change.
That’s why, since 2010, the Foundation has provided funding to grow the “Parents as Partners” program through Conexión Américas, which aims to foster a working relationship between Latino parents and schools, to improve children’s academic achievement.
Conexión Américas staff and a team of trained parent facilitators deliver workshops in Spanish and use a unique curriculum specific to parents’ needs for pre-k, elementary, and middle/high school.
Participants partner with this team of parent facilitators who have already gone through the program to learn topics like how to understand and navigate the US school system; parent-teacher communication and advocating for their child; and building a strong learning environment in the home. Parents also have the opportunity to talk with principals and teachers in a supportive environment.
This parent-to-parent approach aligns with Conexión Américas’ core value of building the skills of participants and assisting them in being the principal agents of community change.
Annually, over 300 parents participate in the program, representing more than 500 children at 15 to 17 schools.Read More
Lipscomb University School Leadership Program: Preparing Future Principals to Lead High-Quality Schools
Just like any business or organization, high-quality schools need effective leaders. Yet each year, the State of Tennessee faces the challenge of filling roughly 270 school leader positions. That means 15 percent of school leadership positions turn over annually. To help our schools, teachers, and students succeed, our state must recruit and retain more quality leaders.
That’s why The Foundation is helping to fund scholarships for aspiring school leaders to participate in the Ayers Fellows Program at Lipscomb University. The two-year program is built around 31 research-based competencies and best practices in principal leadership preparation.
In addition to earning a Master of Education (M.Ed.) or Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree in Educational Leadership, high-caliber aspiring school leaders develop and master these competencies and benefit from mentoring relationships and district clinical experiences with current administrators. These partnerships allow fellows to connect their coursework directly into real-world work and learn from seasoned professionals about leading schools and districts.
Graduates are equipped to be transformational leaders in their districts and make an impact. As of 2017, 50 percent of graduates have already been promoted to full time principal roles— including 6 counties in middle Tennessee.Read More
Academies of Nashville: Helping High School Students Earn a Post-Secondary Credential & Be Career-Ready
The majority of jobs in today’s economy require education beyond high school before employment. Having the opportunity to gain an industry certification while enrolled in high school equips students with a market-ready skill upon graduation. Colleges and universities also value industry certifications, as this designation indicates a student has successfully taken and passed a rigorous exam in a specific field, demonstrating promise for college and career success.
The Academies of Nashville, housed in the 12 largest neighborhood high school campuses of Metro Nashville Public Schools, provide students the ability to pursue a career pathway of study in fields ranging from healthcare and engineering to hospitality and automotive technology— all before graduation. Every pathway offers early college credit and many provide an opportunity to gain an industry credential. However, the exams can cost up to several hundred dollars— a prohibitive financial barrier for many students.
In partnership with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the Foundation provided funding to support the expansion of MNPS’s student industry certifications program and help remove that financial barrier for students pursuing a credential.
Specifically, the three-year investment helped to defray the cost of industry certification examination fees and supported professional development for career and technical education teachers to earn the related industry certifications.
As a result, the number of students registered and sitting for the exams nearly doubled in the 2017-2018 school year. The number of students who passed industry certifications also increased, raising the pass rate two percentage points to 61 percent.Read More