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TENNESSEE: Metro Schools must embrace change to reach lofty goals

changeIn September, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools released its five-year strategic plan, Education 2018: Excellence for Every Student, which was derived from a comprehensive look at the past four years of reform efforts and the results they have generated.

Those four years have seen substantial change in the district, from a rapid expansion in charter schools and attendance, to the steady and increasing growth in overall enrollment, and some marginal but encouraging improvement in achievement scores across every demographic subgroup, the result of the district’s embrace of a range of reforms designed to enhance teacher effectiveness and accountability, which it called MNPS Achieves.

The new strategic plan recognizes that while progress has been made, the adoption of new performance expectations increases demands on the district to improve student, teacher and administrative performance.

The plan asks:

“How do we provide excellent educational experiences for every student, given the diversity in our student population with respect to culture, language, race, socioeconomic status, learning style, interests, abilities and needs? … We are preparing our students for life beyond graduation, but given the rapid pace of change in our economy, and our world, how do we prepare students for careers that have not yet been invented, or college experiences that require broad application of knowledge to increasingly complex fields of study?”

And concludes:

“We believe the answers to these essential questions are found by personalizing learning experiences for all students.”

The MNPS definition of its personalized learning experience has five components: Value the contributions of every learner; raise the rigor in academic content and set high expectations for all learners; support progression based on mastery of individual goals; customize content and instruction to meet the diverse strengths, needs and interests of every learner; and strengthen relationships that lie at the center of teaching and learning.

If successfully executed, there would be a 70 percent increase in the number of MNPS students scoring proficient or advanced on standardized tests, from 41.7 percent in 2012 to 70.9 percent in 2018.

These are ambitious plans and goals that will require significant commitment and change from everyone in, and outside of, the system.

There is no doubt that Nashville needs that kind of improvement, as we read nearly everyday about how, in an environment of relatively high unemployment, jobs go begging for want of qualified applicants.

However, a dramatic increase in our schools’ historic success rate will require rethinking every aspect of the district.

An example is the continued us-versus-them thrust of the school board’s complaints about the “cost” charter schools impose on MNPS. The board’s budget committee reiterated its view in a roundtable with Metro Council members on Oct. 17 at which it emphasized the 22 charter schools operating in Davidson County in 2014-15 will “cost” $62.2 million, up from $4.6 million in 2009.

The cost is created because students, and their parents, are choosing to attend the publicly funded alternatives to traditional schools.

It is a continual wonder why MNPS enthusiastically embraces the reforms it sponsors but looks wildly askance at reforms that parents choose to embrace.

The first step MNPS should take in executing its strategic plan is to change its rhetoric and figure in how charter schools will be used to achieve its plan, instead of seeing them like a chancre that must be treated with strong medicine.

If that does not happen, we can look forward to all kinds of rationalizations about how stretch goals are stretches not meant to be achieved.

That would be unacceptable.

Source: The Tennessean – by Frank Daniels

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This entry was posted on October 28, 2013 by in Advocacy, Charter Schools, Tennessee and tagged .

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