Recognizing the good and bad at Metro Nashville Public Schools, the theme of the latest Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce annual Education Report Card is “encouraged but impatient.”
Released Thursday morning, the 18th version of the chamber’s report card is the product of a 24-member committee assigned this past year to assess the progress of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Opting not to tag an official letter grade on the district’s state, the committee instead recognized advancements and areas of weakness.
On the positive end, the committee noted, is the district’s 10-point graduation rate improvement, the expansion of alternative educational programs for high school students and the arrival of corporations that have stepped up to partner with “career academies” operating within Metro schools.
Then there’s flip side: A measly 27 percent of Metro high schools seniors scored a 21 or greater on the ACT, the score required to qualify for the HOPE scholarship. The district failed to meet adequate yearly progress under federal No Child Left Behind, and was spared from consequences only because of May’s flood. Meanwhile, the number of students to reach proficient TCAP test scores decreased across the board because of increased standards.
“It’s now time for the many reforms that have been underway to make a measurable difference,” said committee co-chair Cabot Pyle, director or charitable giving with Turner Family Foundation.
“We are encouraged that we do believe that Metro schools is headed in the right direction, and we have confidence that many of the reform strategies are underway,” he said. “At the same time, we still await ... improvement in student achievement. 2011 is the year we expect that improvement to become visible.”
The committee provided 10 recommendations for change, many of which Director of Schools Jesse Register said are already being implemented. Register has overseen MNPS for two years.
“I am very pleased and encouraged that this report and its findings are so aligned with the vision and the reform efforts and the direction that I think we’re making in this district,” Register said. “This is indicative of a common vision that is developing in this community of creating the best possible public education system that we can imagine for our youth and our community.”
The 10 recommendations are as follows:
• Conduct an external, business processes audit of a sample of individual schools to identify inefficiencies in school-level infrastructure and staff deployment.
• The state should preserve a consistent comparison of high school graduation rates across years by continuing to report the current National Governors Association (NGA) calculation of four years and a summer school for most students, and five years for English Language Learners and students with disabilities.
• The many leadership development programs and initiatives within MNPS should be integrated into a cohesive system, creating a true pipeline of leadership from the classroom to the director’s office.
• Teacher leadership roles — such as team leader, department chair and mentor teacher — should be encouraged and rewarded as part of a differentiated compensation system.
• Each principal evaluation should include a section on how principals are developing leadership capacity in their buildings, including the periodic reassignment of duties among assistant principals so that these future school leaders have experience with all aspects of running a school.
• Support efforts by the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) to play a leadership role in education reform, such as human capital reform or the creation of a teacher-led school
• Each school should develop a plan for student leadership beyond the traditional student government structure that engages a significant portion of its student body.
• The governor and Tennessee General Assembly should protect existing pre-K funding as a critical building block for the effective education of Tennessee’s children.
• The State of Tennessee should create a measurable definition of kindergarten readiness.
• The Mayor’s Advisory Council on Early Childhood Development and Early Education should create a citywide plan with a unified vision for Nashville’s existing pre-K programs that is driven by current research, best practices and program evaluation.