Future of Schools

Metro Nashville Schools kicks off school discipline reform, hopes to be model for state, nation

PHOTO: G. Tatter
Tracy Bruno, a middle school principal in Nashville, leads a group discussion on school discipline as part of a new initiative to address racism in Metro Nashville Schools.

District officials, educators, and community members came together today in Nashville to kick off an initiative aimed at reducing racial disparities in school discipline. Their ambitions were not merely local.

District leaders and the national organizations backing the initiative, called PASSAGE, hope Nashville can help Tennessee and the nation change a status quo that President Barack Obama has called unacceptable. Across the country, students of color are suspended and expelled at a far higher rate than white students.

The same is true in Nashville. Nearly 70 percent of students expelled in the district in 2011-2012 were black, even though black students made up only 45 percent of the student population.

PASSAGE, which stands for Positive and Safe Schools Advancing Greater Equity, aims to harness educators’ and community members’ insights to understand and reduce those disparities. The Atlantic Philanthropies and Annenberg Center for School Reform at Brown University are organizing the initiative, which includes Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City in addition to Nashville.

At the kickoff meeting, Nashville Superintendent Jesse Register said the district was chosen because of its capacity for improvement. Last year, Nashville began using data about absences, academic performance, and misbehavior to refer middle schoolers who would be likely candidates for suspensions to social workers instead. The district had 300 fewer middle school expulsions, while the number of expulsions in other schools rose.

“For areas to which we’re paying attention, that we’re leveraging effort and resources, we’re seeing positive outcomes,” said Tony Majors, the district’s director of support services.

Majors said changing the way students are disciplined is an obvious strategy in the district’s push for academic improvement. He noted that not a single elementary school student who had received in-school suspension in Nashville last year achieved proficiency on the TCAP, the state’s standardized tests.

Over the next two years, the steering committee will come up with a model for addressing school discipline that tries to both prevent behavioral infractions from occurring by pairing students with more support services, as well as making sure disciplinary responses are fair when infractions do occur. The district will be sharing their findings with the other cities in PASSAGE. If successful, the Annenberg Institute, which districts from across the country consult about education reform, will promote the models the cities come up with over the coming months.

Despite the reforms Nashville has already undertaken, there’s more to be done, said keynote speaker Allison Brown said. Brown is a former civil rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and a leader of the school discipline reform movement.

“I don’t usually get to address folks who have done it right,” Brown said. But, she continued, “I want you to push yourselves.”


It's Friday. Just show a video.

How a push to save some of Indiana’s oldest trees taught this class about the power of speaking out

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Students working at the School for Community Learning, a progressive Indianapolis private school that depends on vouchers.

Alayna Pierce was one of seven teachers who participated in story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library on Sept. 5. Every teacher shared stories about their challenges and triumphs in Circle City classrooms.

Pierce’s story is a letter she wrote to her second and third grade students at the School for Community Learning, a private school in Indianapolis. In it, she recounts how they came together as a class and as a community to save some of the state’s oldest trees.

Check out the video below to hear Pierce’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students and parents here.

Charter appeals

Siding with local district, Tennessee State Board denies two Memphis charter appeals

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
B. Fielding Rolston, chairman of Tennessee State Board of Education

Tennessee’s education policymaking body is switching course this year to side with the state’s largest school district in denying two charter school applicants.

On Friday, the nine-member Tennessee State Board of Education unanimously rejected the appeals of two charters that sought to open all-girls schools in Memphis next fall. The charter applicants will now have to wait until next year and reapply with Shelby County Schools, which had rejected their applications this year, if they so choose.

The decision on Friday stands in contrast to the state board’s dramatic overruling of the local board last year that resulted in the first charter school authorization by the panel in Memphis. That essentially added another state-run district in the city, and the State Board of Education joins just one other state in the nation to also operate as a school district.

The board acted in accordance this year with recommendation from Sara Morrison, the executive director of the State Board of Education, in the denial of appeals by The Academy All Girls Charter School and Rich ED Academy of Leaders.

The vote comes a month after the Shelby County Schools board turned down their applications,  along with nine others. After a charter applicant is denied by the local school district, they can appeal to the State Board of Education and be re-reviewed by a six person committee.

Morrison told board members that both charter applicants failed to meet requirements in their plans for school finances (Her analysis specified that one of the schools relied too heavily on philanthropic donations).

She added that the applications did not fully meet standards in the other two categories measured: operations and academics.

Board members accepted her recommendations on Friday without questions.