For the students of today, a role in the workforce of tomorrow might have very little to do with a desk and a cubicle – instead, for some of them, a normal day could involve the use of a 3D printer, a laser cutter, a drone, or even a robot. Who better to help students explore these new skills as early as possible than a K-12 school? Franklin Road Academy presented its own brand of future-minded thinking in 2017 when it launched the Innovation Lab, a 2,000-square-foot space that offers students hands-on learning experiences using the tools and technologies they might encounter in a modern STEM workplace, while also allowing for creativity and problem-solving. Today, in addition to their regular coursework, you’ll find Franklin Road Academy (FRA) students using the Innovation Lab for robotics and Science Olympiad competitions.
There is perhaps no greater gift to a child’s educational experience than the gift of a highly-skilled teacher. Since 2016, Nashville Teacher Residency (NTR) has provided educator preparation training that aims to foster diverse cohorts of new teachers, develop in them an appreciation for their Nashville and Clarksville communities, and – through the cultivation of this high-quality educator pipeline – bring Middle Tennessee one step closer to the dream of excellent education for all.
Through a one-year, state-approved education program, NTR transforms teacher hopefuls from novices to highly effective educators – due in large part to the support of Mentor Teachers, seasoned classroom teachers who provide hands-on, consistent mentorship to NTR residents. This on-the-job training during the school day is the perfect complement to the practice-driven coursework administered by NTR staff at night. NTR’s approach to educator education is not just practical; it’s also proven. According to the 2019 Tennessee Educator Preparation Report Card, Nashville Teacher Residency has the highest percentage of teachers at TVAAS Level 3 and above, as well as the highest percentage of teachers at TVAAS Level 4 and above – compared to 38 total educator preparation programs statewide.
Nashville Teacher Residency’s recent success extends to the national level. In 2019, NTR became one of only eight programs to receive funding through the National Center for Teacher Residencies’ Black Educators Initiative. NTR will use these funds to expand and improve its efforts to recruit and develop Black teachers in Middle Tennessee. Teacher diversity stands as a high priority for the NTR program; across four cohorts, two-thirds of residents have identified as People of Color.
Upon completion of their residency requirements, NTR stays with its cohort members as they navigate the search for full-time employment in the teaching profession. Nashville Teacher Residency’s style of teacher prep might best be described as “all-encompassing”; its individualized style of training and support ensures that residents must never walk alone. The Scarlett Family Foundation is proud to support the work of Nashville Teacher Residency, an organization that so clearly shares the belief that every student deserves the opportunity to learn from the best.Read More
Tags: Grantee Story
Part One of the “Pathways Counseling: The New Essential Service” series presents both the function and incalculable value of a specialty college and career counselor, and makes the case for an expansion of this role across Tennessee schools. The piece’s central argument hinges upon a stark reality: not every high school student has access to guidance from adults equipped to provide education and/or career advisement (also referred to as pathways counseling) to a young person. In the transition from secondary school to college or career, too many students are flying solo.
The latest installment of this series takes a solutions-focused view of pathways counseling. Though our state lacks a comprehensive strategy for college-and-career advising – a plan that would extend these services to all Tennessee students – there do exist both state-led and community partner-organized advising programs working to fill these gaps in some communities. This piece does not seek to spotlight the totality of these programs, but will highlight several strategies for pathways counseling that should force us to wonder what could be – if even one of these models could find a home in every school in Tennessee.
State-Level Efforts to Close the Advising Gap
In 2016, under the leadership of the Haslam administration and with the recently-established Drive to 55 goal in mind, the state of Tennessee sought to address the lack of college and career counselors in our state’s public schools with the launch of Advise TN. The program, designed to “provide college advising services to up to 10,000 junior and senior students across Tennessee”, has placed pathways counselors in 33 high schools across Tennessee – including one in Davidson County. State-level work has also led to the creation of TN Achieves, a partnering organization to the TN Promise Scholarship that offers mentorship from community volunteers to local students as they prepare to enter postsecondary education. But mentorship is only offered to high school students who have already been approved for the TN Promise scholarship, and have therefore already taken steps toward attending college.
Although both the Advise TN and TN Achieves programs are capable of providing helpful guidance to those students who are selected to participate, obvious gaps remain. Who will provide intentional college-and-career advising to students not enrolled in the 33 Advise TN schools? If the guidance of a TN Achieves mentor is only provided to students who have already applied to a postsecondary institution, what happens to the student who has never believed that college could be an option for them? With the creation of these programs, the state of Tennessee has taken a noble first step; but students will inevitably fall through the cracks if college-and-career advising initiatives like these are not expanded to a wider student audience.
Locally Grown Approaches to Pathways Counseling
Across Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), pockets of high school students receive advising services from college and career counselors employed by local nonprofit organizations. Two of these organizations, Oasis College Connection and the Martha O’Bryan Center, are grantee partners of the Scarlett Family Foundation. Oasis College Connection staffs five full-time college counselors (called “Mentors”) at 11 MNPS high schools, and begins college-going conversations with students as early as the ninth grade. Oasis Mentors make it their job to meet students where they are – literally – whether in the cafeteria or the basketball court; and the program’s near-peer model allows students to form authentic relationships with well-trained advisors not much older than themselves.
The Martha O’Bryan Center takes a more embedded approach to pathways guidance through its Academic Student Unions (ASUs), dedicated spaces found in three MNPS high schools and one MNPS middle school, and offers college and career-related guidance as one option on a menu of student-centric services. Inside these Academic Student Unions, designed to be appealing, comfortable and welcoming, a student may walk in for a cooking class or homework help, but also leave with a TCAT course guide. In this advisement model, as in the Oasis College Connection model, access is key – advisors are steps away from students, and accessible to the entire student population at almost any time.
Though Oasis and Martha O’Bryan differ in their methods of operation, both have seen tremendous success on their mission to guide students to fulfilling lives post-high school. In order to serve as many students as possible with the resources available to them, both Oasis and Martha O’Bryan have adapted and innovated. As we consider how more Tennessee students could be served by college and career Counselors, both programs should be regarded as model innovators.
Other Innovators on the Pathways Counseling Landscape
There are lessons in pathways counseling innovation to be found all across the country; and one model in particular has reached new levels of importance in the COVID-19 era. Virtual college-and-career counseling, already a feature of dozens of student readiness programs nationwide, is more necessary today than ever before. College Advising Corps (CAC), established in 2005, has risen to prominence due in part to its success in bringing virtual college-specific counseling to communities – many rural – where such guidance is limited and college-going has not historically been a part of school culture. CAC’s virtual model employs eAdvisors who rely on a mix of video chat, email, phone calls and text messages to create and sustain student relationships. In a time of school closures and social distancing, leaders in Tennessee and across the nation should consider that a virtual approach to college-and-career counseling may be the solution to the challenge of offering seamless advisement through the pandemic.
To their credit, traditionally in-person counseling programs (like Oasis College Connection and Martha O’Bryan ASUs) have pivoted to a similar approach in recent months. At some point, we will be living in a post-COVID-19 world; and with virtual pathways counseling programs firmly in place, trained counselors may be equipped to reach students in numbers and from distances they could never have achieved through a traditional model.
Though an emphasis on well-trained, student-centered college and career counselors is necessary and important, it would be a mistake to imagine these counselors only as adult administrators. The 2018 documentary “Personal Statement” highlights the work of Peer College Counselors at a New York City high school – young people, themselves high school seniors, guiding their classmates on a path to post-secondary success. The students featured in “Personal Statement” are part of a CARA (College Access: Research and Action) peer-led college access and persistence program, a model that offers 70-80 hours of training and financial compensation to its Peer Leaders as they guide their fellow students through the challenges of college fit, readiness, persistence, and more. As Tennessee confronts the reality that many of our young people do not have access to any form of college and/or career counseling, it is worth considering how the power of mentorship and guidance could flow through the students themselves – another excellent example of innovation in the face of scarcity.
Yes, obstacles to increased counseling services do exist. A lack of funding, lack of classroom space, and lack of necessary time in the school day are perhaps the most oft-cited hurdles. These challenges are real and legitimate; but the state of Tennessee is already home to organizations and initiatives who, through out-of-the-box thinking, have found a way to serve where they are needed. Locally, and across the nation, solutions abound. When we are innovative, we get closer to our goal of bringing intentional, student-centric, college-and-career specific guidance to all TN students. Let’s decide, as a state, that all students are deserving of such guidance; and allow proven solutions to guide our course ahead.
Katie Hazelwood is a Program Officer at the Scarlett Family Foundation, where she champions the Foundation’s college scholarship program and “College and Career Ready” initiatives.Read More
Each day, the educators and administrators of Metro Nashville Public Schools bring their fullest effort, the very best of themselves, to their classrooms in service of Nashville’s children; it is only appropriate that they be given the benefit of a strong support system. Since 1982, PENCIL has played that role for Nashville’s public schools – and in the almost 40 years since the organization’s founding, PENCIL’s impact on the community has only grown. As MNPS educators, students, and families prepare for a back-to-school experience unlike ever before, the tireless work of the PENCIL organization deserves a moment in the spotlight.
PENCIL takes a multi-pronged approach to supporting Nashville’s public education community, one of these being its brick-and-mortar LP PENCIL Box, a teacher supply store that offers classroom essentials to MNPS teachers at absolutely no cost. The value of free classroom supplies cannot be understated, particularly when – as reported by the Tennessean in February 2020 – Nashville teachers regularly spend an average of $410 per year on their own classroom supplies. In the 2019-20 school year, the LP PENCIL Box distributed over $1.8 million in supplies to educators from 159 MNPS schools. But for the PENCIL team, this impressive reach is not good enough. PENCIL understands that certain barriers do exist between Nashville teachers and a visit to the LP PENCIL Box – distance, shop hours, and awareness of the resource, to name a few – and remain committed to developing solutions to these challenges in order to make the Box a truly accessible benefit for all MNPS educators.
Behind the scenes, PENCIL staff serve as the bridge between generous community members interested in supporting MNPS schools and the schools themselves. Equipped with a deep knowledge of school needs, PENCIL is able to recruit and match community members with the students and teachers in need of their skills. In the 2020-21 school year, PENCIL’s Partnership Managers oversaw over 750 such partnerships, working with a range of businesses, universities, faith-based organizations and civic groups. PENCIL staff work diligently to identify a best-fit volunteer opportunity for interested parties, from sorting supplies at the LP PENCIL Box to hands-on tutoring or success coaching in MNPS schools. PENCIL volunteers have been particularly essential in the COVID-19 era, meeting the needs of MNPS students and families by creating at-home learning tool kits to be shared at the district’s meal distribution sites.
PENCIL’s student-centric, partnership-focused work ensures a strong bond between the Nashville community and our MNPS schools. By linking community resources to Nashville’s public education system, PENCIL creates a world of opportunity and support for students, families, and educators. The Scarlett Family Foundation has been proud to support PENCIL since 2009.Read More
Tags: Grantee Story
All too often, we place the onus of a college or career pathways choice on young people themselves. Community leaders – in education, government, industry and beyond – make note of the gaps between degrees earned and degrees required, of the chasm between number of students graduating from high school and the number earning a skilled credential or entering the workforce. In Tennessee, we react to these realities – but it’s time we caught the problem upstream. How might our community look different if each of us had been provided intentional, student-centric, college-and-career specific guidance during our high school years – or even earlier?
Perhaps our own parents, guardians, or other trusted adults helped us determine which path we would take after high school. Maybe we benefitted from the service of a college and career-specific counselor. But an assumption that all students have access to this specific brand of academic support would be incorrect, and would not reflect the thinking of a truly equitable public education system. The truth is that not every high-school student has access to guidance from adults equipped to provide education and/or career guidance (also referred to as pathways counseling) to a young person.
The need for expertise in such a role is clear – this counselor should be an individual who knows the ins-and-outs of post-secondary attainment, career pathways, technical education, military opportunities, and so on. A 2018 study found that students with access to advising services are seven percent more likely to enroll in postsecondary education. As the state of Tennessee pushes forward its Drive to 55 Initiative – a goal to see 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025 – dedicated college and career counselors should be regarded as crucial assets in the mission to set young Tennesseans on a path toward economic success.
It is critical to remember that the role of college and career counselor is different from that occupied by a school counselor, who is responsible for myriad student needs including academic counseling, social and emotional health services, and crisis management. With a statewide student-to-counselor ratio of 335:1, and large caseloads proving to be the rule rather than the exception, it is not realistic to assume that Tennessee school counselors have the time, capacity, or requisite training to provide robust pathways counseling in addition to their other key duties.
School counselor education has historically emphasized the social-emotional component of student care, frequently leaving pathways counseling out of the equation. Fortunately, change is coming; in 2016, the main accreditor of American counseling programs added college and career readiness to its practice standards. But applicable programs have until 2023 to comply; and this change will only affect candidates who are in the process of completing a counseling program. Though currently-practicing school counselors may have a deep desire to offer college and career counseling to their students, a robust base of knowledge in the field of pathways counseling cannot be guaranteed. In order to appropriately counsel students through their college and career options, it is essential that college and career counselors – trained to provide exactly this form of guidance – be made available to young Tennesseans.
A pathways counselor’s first priority will often be to walk with a student, hand-in-hand, through the pros and cons of various post-high school pathways. In a perfect world, this pathways counselor will have access to information regarding each student’s individual aptitudes and interests – perhaps determined through a program like YouScience – and will use this information to guide students to their next level of education or to a career. The process of making a pathways choice can be an emotional one, often involving deep self-reflection on one’s own skills, passions, and hopes for the future – combined with consideration of subjects like cost and eligibility. Students who have a trusted hand guiding them through this whirlwind are likely to benefit in the long-term; a 2020 research study found that high-school students guided by effective counselors were more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and persist in college than peers who did not have the same access.
Through a pathways-specific guidance process, a counselor also has the opportunity to introduce students to careers they may never have discovered otherwise. Students do not always have access to such neutral forms of career exploration; research tells us that for many students, a pathways choice is highly influenced by the profession of their parents. In some instances, a student will be well-placed to follow in the footsteps of their parents. But this certainly is not the case for all. A dedicated college and career counselors can coordinate a field trip to the site of a large local employer, organize guest speakers from various walks of professional life, or coordinate internships for their high school students. In today’s socially-distanced reality, a college and career counselor may lean on virtual job-shadowing software to accomplish the same goal. By increasing the availability of college and career counselors, students will be given the opportunity to seek professional guidance from a non-familial adult who has been trained to meet that very need.
The process of pathways examination should eventually lead students to a phase of decision-making – a period of time that will often involve a flurry of forms, tests, deadlines, and fees, all of which can be more easily navigated with the guidance of someone who has experienced this process many times before. This moment in a student’s college-or-career-going journey may also require a series of pivots. Perhaps a career in medicine sounds perfect, until a student comes to understand the time commitment involved with that particular pathway. Maybe launching into a manufacturing career post-high school sounds tempting, until a student realizes that they will not have the opportunity to advance upward without a particular degree in hand. These twists and turns can come loaded with stress and a fear of the unknown – the perfect moment for a professional pathways counselor to step in and responsibly guide the student through the process of changing course.
For so many pieces of a student’s academic journey, a well-trained adult supervisor is regarded as not only beneficial, but absolutely essential. Today, Tennessee schools include teachers, paraprofessionals, speech and language therapists, special education service providers, school counselors, principals – the list goes on and on. But when it comes to the crucial cliff between secondary school and the real world – the world of college, certificates, careers and independence – too little has been done to prevent students from merely dangling off the edge. But there is hope; intentional and thorough college-and-career counseling can help our students bridge this gap. The Scarlett Family Foundation firmly believes that we must prepare our students for success after high school; as such, we designate “College and Career Readiness” as one of our four key initiatives and proudly support organizations who empower students through pathways guidance.
In the next installment of the “Pathways Counseling: The New Essential Service” series, we’ll explore the wide range of innovative counseling solutions popping up across the state of Tennessee and around the country. In the field of pathways counseling, student success stories are plentiful; it’s worth wondering how many Tennessee students could become the stars of such stories if given the right counselor-champion.
Katie Hazelwood is a Program Officer at the Scarlett Family Foundation, where she champions the Foundation’s college scholarship program and “College and Career Ready” initiatives.Read More
The public education landscape in Nashville has always been littered with inequities, but the COVID-19 shutdown has aired much of this dirty laundry, and technology, or lack thereof, has become the subject of significant community attention.
As school-aged children across Nashville moved to a remote-learning system, a “digital divide” was quickly brought to light. In a city often celebrated for its economic prosperity, we learned that over half of the students in our public education system do not have access to both a device and to high-speed internet. By taking steps to close this divide, we will position our community to benefit far beyond the days of COVID-19.
COVID-19 will badly damage some student’s learning
As we consider how technology might expand opportunity for all children, let’s first consider how a lack of technology has already harmed many of them. The Brookings Institute tells us that when students are out of school for the standard two-month summer vacation, they lose 25%-30% worth of school-year learning, and the numbers are even worse for students of color.
If Nashville students return to classrooms in August, they will have been out of the classroom for a period of five months. If the Brookings’ numbers are to be believed, it is entirely possible that tens of thousands of Metro Nashville Public School students will have lost up to 75% of school-year learning by the time this summer ends.
But for some Nashville students, learning never stopped. Some schools and educators provided high-quality online resources to their students — of which there are countless — and some even provided real-time lessons through videoconferencing platforms. But it must be noted that without access to the internet and a device, a student would not have even had the option to take part in such offerings. Come fall 2020, these students may find themselves standing at the starting line — while their classmates are already halfway down the track.
John Cooper took a crucial first step
It doesn’t have to be this way. On June 8, Mayor John Cooper announced that every public school student in Nashville-Davidson County will be provided a laptop and, if needed, internet connectivity. This is an excellent first step in what is sure to be a long, grueling journey to create a more equitable public education system. But with a technology plan in place, one that will serve ALL Metro Nashville Public Schools students, we have reason to hope. With virtual learning opportunities in place, our school system has an additional tool in its toolbox, a way to inch toward closing the many student learning gaps we know exist.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our community faced a terrible battle with college and career readiness: 70% of graduating MNPS students did not meet this mark. Literacy had long presented its own challenge: three out of four MNPS students do not read on grade level. The data has long tried to tell us that students required additional supports.
Imagine an inclusive future
Today, let’s imagine what Nashville’s student technology plan might make possible for MNPS families. How quickly and conveniently might students be able to take part in tutoring, self-paced academic courses or summer learning? For English language learners or students with disabilities, specialized supports could be offered around the clock. With fully equitable access to technology, we could push the doors of opportunity open for more than 80,000 students.
Hear more Tennessee Voices: Get the weekly opinion newsletter for insightful and thought provoking columns.
As we approach the 2020-21 school year, we would be remiss as a community if we did not prepare for a schooling scenario that involves a combination of in-school and home-based learning. With the appropriate technology in the hands of every MNPS child, virtual learning solutions can be pursued with vigor, educators secure in the knowledge that all students have the ability to participate.
There will be challenges, certainly — we’re all familiar with the pains of technical glitches and internet outages. But by investing in a comprehensive technology plan for all public school students, our city has taken an enormous step in the right direction. Pandemic planning aside, equitable access to technology for Metro Nashville Public School students could lead us to a world in which students are not bound only to those supports that exist inside their school building. A one-to-one technology plan just makes sense.
A conversation about opportunity
At its core, this is a conversation about opportunity. With a technology-for-all plan, we move closer to creating a community in which every single student has access to a high-quality public education, regardless of where a student lives in our city. We can offer students a true 21st-century education, providing them a strong sense of digital literacy while supplementing traditional literacy work. We can better prepare every student for college and career by introducing technology-based pathways counseling, virtual job shadowing, career aptitude tests and so much more — to all students.
The first step to equitable public education in 2020? Connected devices for all. Thank you, Mayor Cooper, for leading our community in this direction.
Tara Scarlett is president and CEO of the Scarlett Family Foundation.
Read more at The Tennessean.Read More
But the impact of the Innovation Lab extends far beyond FRA’s own student community. Thanks to a partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), FRA has hosted and collaborated with hundreds of MNPS students and educators through the Summer Innovation Institute. In the summer of 2019, the Institute welcomed over 100 students and eight teachers from four MNPS middle schools for summer camps held in the Innovation Lab. Summer 2019 marked the third summer of this partnership, meaning hundreds of middle school students across MNPS have now had the opportunity to craft, solve, and create using tools like 3D scanners and a virtual reality computer.
Perhaps most impressively, the Summer Innovation Institute experience has sparked community-wide good: in the summers of 2018 and 2019, student innovators used their lab to create products for the Nashville-based nonprofit Shower The People, which provides mobile shower and bathroom facilities to homeless individuals. Through this partnership, students are able not only to explore their own potential, but also to explore how these skills may be a force for good in their communities for years to come.
Thanks to Franklin Road Academy’s Innovation Lab and the Summer Innovation Institute, students across Nashville can dive deeper into science and technology, practice collaboration and problem-solving, and discover new passions. Although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented FRA from hosting a 2020 Summer Innovation Institute, the Innovation Lab stands prepared to host students as soon as it is safe to do so, and for many years to come. The Scarlett Family Foundation is proud to support this program.
Tags: Grantee Story
Although many of us are quick to associate school leadership with teachers, principals, and superintendents, it is important to remember that many of the key decisions made on behalf of Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and our community are made by our city’s nine school board members.
2020 brings another school board election cycle for Nashville – this time for districts 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. As such, there’s no time like the present for all local voters to re-familiarize themselves both with the responsibilities of the MNPS school board and with the schools and students served in each of these nine districts.
To aid in this pursuit, the Scarlett Family Foundation is excited to release an updated version of our District Data Pages, a collection of profiles featuring achievement, student culture, and teacher data for each MNPS school board district.
These updated pages, consisting of data from the 2018-19 school year, reveal to us a few notable themes.
Total student enrollment has changed dramatically, but only in certain districts.
The most significant decreases in total enrollment can be found in District 1 (North Nashville), which saw a drop of 1,002 students from 2016-17 to 2018-19, and in District 5 (Central & East Nashville), which saw a loss of nearly 4,000 students from 2016-17 to 2018-19. During the same time, District 6 (South Nashville) experienced a boom in student enrollment, growing from 10,765 students in 2016-17 to 13,771 in 2018-19.
The MNPS student body has become increasingly diverse.
When our 2016-17 District Data Pages were assembled, only District 2 (South Nashville)’s student population was so diverse that it had no racial or ethnic majority. The 2018-19 data show that the same can now be said for District 4 (Central & East Nashville). Only in Districts 1, 5 and 8 does any single racial or ethnic demographic group make up 50% or more of the entire student population.
More Nashville students are attending charter schools.
This trend is particularly evident in Central & East Nashville (District 5), where the percentage of students attending public charter schools increased from 38% in the 2016-17 school year to 59% in the 2018-19 school year. This is the only MNPS school board district in which a majority of students attending public schools are attending public charter schools. Northwest Nashville (District 1) saw its own notable increase, jumping from 24% of students attending charter schools in 2016-17 to 32% in 2018-19. Charter school enrollment also grew in Districts 2 (South Nashville) and 6 (South Nashville). There are no charter schools in Districts 8 or 9 (both Southwest Nashville).
Every district struggles to get its high school students “College Ready”.
With only 22% of all MNPS students hitting the “College Ready” benchmark (a score of 21 or above on the ACT exam,) achievement in this category is a struggle for every school board district. Not a single district can say the majority of its high school seniors achieved “College Ready” status in 2018-19. Districts 8 (Southwest Nashville) and 9 (Southwest Nashville) saw the highest number of students reaching college readiness, at 44% and 43% respectively. In District 5 (Central & East Nashville,) measures of college readiness range widely, with 47% of students at LEAD Academy high school meeting this mark, while only 9% of its Pearl-Cohn students do the same.
How does this data connect to the school board?
If the collected information in these district pages prove anything, it’s that each of Nashville’s nine school board districts is unique. In addition to making key decisions around subjects such as budget, curriculum, school calendar, director accountability, school openings and closings, and more, it is crucial that an MNPS board member serve as a voice for the students and families of their unique district.
In Nashville, school board members are elected by the public; and good data empower parents, advocates, local leaders and community members to cast a confident and informed vote when that vote is required. Though school board districts cannot be fully understood through facts and figures alone, we hope that the at-a-glance information found in these data pages will be helpful to those who seek to better understand the students and school communities in their district before visiting the polls in August.
The election for school board seats in Districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 will take place on August 6, 2020.
Tags: High Quality Schools
In 2019, the Scarlett Family Foundation released the Cluster Profiles resource, a data-driven look into the performance and demographic metrics of Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) zoned school clusters. With these profiles – one for each MNPS high school feeder pattern or “cluster” – we aim to present the educational pathways of students who choose to attend their zoned school from elementary through high school. This month, we’ve released an updated version of these pages, to include school data from the 2018-19 school year. With this updated data, one stark truth remains the same: too many Nashville students attend low-performing schools.
In some cases, the data are startling. In the Maplewood cluster, a child may very well attend a Priority school – a school ranking in the bottom 5% of public schools statewide – for every year of their K-12 education. The same is true of the White’s Creek cluster. Still, there are bright spots to celebrate: in the Hunters Lane cluster, Gateway Elementary stands out as the only Reward school (ranking in the top 5% of public schools state-wide) in a cluster that includes four Priority schools. The accomplishments of this school community deserve celebration, and the same can be said for dozens of others within MNPS. However, taken together, the Cluster Profile data overwhelmingly point to a lack of high-quality public school options within the zoned pathways.
Though no cluster is perfect, we must acknowledge the distinct geographic divide in the location of our city’s highest-performing traditional public schools. These are found disproportionately in the West Nashville area, with Hillsboro and Hillwood clusters standing out as two primary examples. Both clusters contain three Reward schools, and high school graduates in these clusters post ACT scores of 19.9 and 18.9, respectively – the highest average ACT scores among all MNPS clusters.
Students in East and North Nashville, in clusters such as Pearl-Cohn or Hunters Lane, are far more likely to follow a K-12 pathway dominated by some of our lowest-performing schools. Three of the Pearl-Cohn cluster’s seven schools are Priority schools, and Hunters Lane High School – the only zoned high school option for families in this cluster – rank near the bottom for every metric included on our profiles.
This year’s updated Cluster Profiles include two new metrics: Three Year Enrollment Trend and Building Utilization Capacity. With the addition of these measurements, we are able to better understand changes in school population, which may point to broader population trends in a particular neighborhood. For example, we can see that the Hillwood cluster has experienced a -14% three-year enrollment trend decline, while the Overton cluster has seen a 10% enrollment increase in the same time period. With this information, we are prompted to wonder whether Nashville families are leaving the Hillwood cluster for another area of the city, or if they might be choosing to enroll their students in schools outside of their cluster. Conversely, the Overton cluster’s enrollment increase trend indicates that this Nashville neighborhood might be experiencing population growth, or perhaps Overton High School has attracted a large number of new students through MNPS’ high school open enrollment system.
The addition of the Building Utilization Capacity metric serves a similar purpose – if we know what percentage of student seats in a school building are occupied, we can understand not only the utilization and therefore the cost efficiency of the facility, but also how families in a particular neighborhood are taking advantage of their zoned school options. If a cluster’s building utilization capacity falls on the low-end – like the 57% measure observed in the Maplewood cluster – we might draw the conclusion that the school-aged population choosing to attend zoned schools within this cluster has decreased over some period of time. On the other end of the spectrum, we see that buildings in the Cane Ridge cluster are utilized at a rate of 100%, indicating that students filled all seats planned for that cluster’s school buildings in the 2018-19 school year.
Though the updated Cluster Profiles allow us the opportunity to better know our MNPS zoned schools, the data leave us with a disappointing conclusion: we still cannot say that every child in Nashville has access to a high-quality education. Though some clusters include high-performing magnet or charter school options, students who live in these cluster neighborhoods are not guaranteed a seat in such schools. Attending a non-zoned school option may also necessitate lengthy travel on the part of the student, making this option less than truly accessible. The truth remains that Nashville cannot currently offer an excellent public education to all of its children. At the Scarlett Family Foundation, we remain committed to driving positive change in this area.
Join Tara Scarlett, President of the Scarlett Family Foundation for a virtual fireside chat with Emily Freitag, CEO of Instruction Partners.
Instruction Partners is a nonprofit organization that walks arm-in-arm with educators to support great teaching and student learning. Emily and her team work with small school systems, both district and charter, to ensure ALL students have an excellent education experience.
As school districts across the country have been forced to quickly adapt to a new reality – one that takes students and educators out of the classroom and forces them to go remote – Emily and team have stepped up with clear guidance and resources aimed at making this transition as smooth as possible – though she’ll be the first to tell you, messiness is guaranteed.
For Superintendents & School Leaders
For Parents & Families
Nashville will truly thrive when every student, no matter where they live in our community, has access to a high-quality school and an outstanding education.
As a city, we have not yet accomplished this goal. But for some Nashville families, the best possible educational fit for their student comes in the form of a public charter school.
When a city can provide several high-performing public school options – whether traditional, magnet, or charter – families benefit. But good, clear information about these options is essential if parents are to make the best, most informed school choice for their students. That is why the Scarlett Family Foundation seeks to equip parents, educators, elected officials, and community leaders with data-driven insight into Nashville’s public schools.
Last year, we released our Charter School Profiles – a data resource that provides comparable, straight-forward information on our city’s charter schools. Using these profiles, families and community members can quickly and easily take a look at a school’s academics, culture, and demographics.
(We also created the MNPS Cluster Pathway Profiles, which follow a student’s educational journey along each cluster pathway in Nashville’s traditional, zoned public schools.)
We are committed to making this resource relevant and useful to the community for many years to come. In that spirit, we are pleased to announce that our Charter School Profiles have been updated to reflect data from the 2018-2019 school year – the most recent data available. These updated profiles also include new measurements of College and Career Readiness for our high school charter schools. You can explore and compare each school’s updated profile here.
As more Nashville families look to options outside their traditional neighborhood school, it is more important than ever that data-rich educational resources be accessible to them. In the 2018-2019 school year, 15.5% of Nashville’s 81,407 students attended charters schools. This is a slight increase from the 14% of students who attended charter schools in the previous year.
Key Takeaways about Nashville’s Public Charter Schools
Nashville’s charter schools continue to closely reflect the overall student population and demographics of the city. Although Nashville’s charter schools have a slightly lower percentage of English Language Learners and students with disabilities than Metro traditional schools, our local charter schools do enroll a higher percentage of lower-income, economically disadvantaged students.
Similar to last year’s profiles, Nashville’s charter schools scored, on average, higher in both Reading and Math than traditional schools. In the 2018-2019 school year, Nashville’s charter schools’ math achievement scores were higher than the Tennessee average.
College and Career Readiness
Nashville has five charter high schools. Because the majority of these schools are only a few years old, most have just begun to graduate students. In our updated profiles, we have added key metrics on college and career readiness to help evaluate how our charter high schools are performing in this area.
In the 2018-2019 school year, five of Nashville’s charter high schools reported composite ACT averages and two reported graduation rates and “Ready Graduate” percentages (a metric the State of Tennessee uses to determine college and career readiness). Students at Nashville’s charter high schools scored almost three points higher on the ACT, on average, than students at Nashville’s traditional high schools. However, the 19.6 ACT composite score is still below a 21, the widely accepted indicator for college and career readiness.
Continuing the trend seen last year, there are mixed results when looking at student attendance and school culture. Nashville’s charter schools have lower than average chronic student absenteeism and lower student attrition than Metro’s traditional public schools, but they also have higher average suspension rates and slightly higher teacher turnover.
In the coming weeks, we will be updating our other Nashville Education Facts and data resources to offer the most up-to-date picture of Nashville’s public education system possible. Check back soon for this additional information.