From Amy Frogge on December 17, 2019
I spoke at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce Education Report Card event this morning. Here are my remarks:
“Good morning. I would like to start out this morning with a confession, speaking only on my own behalf: Since I was first elected, I’ve bristled at the very idea of the business community grading the school system with a yearly report card. If I, as a school board member, decided to ‘grade’ the Nashville Chamber for the dismal state of Metro’s finances and offered suggestions as to how you might better conduct your business dealings to avoid such poor outcomes, I’d wager that you would take offense. You would likely respond that I’m not qualified to make such an assessment, since I have no background in business, and you’d be right.
This is how our educators feel. Our teachers and public schools are continually scapegoated for the societal ills that impact student learning. Our schools and teachers are often labeled as ‘failing,’ which destroys morale and is an entirely inaccurate statement. They are faced with a constant barrage of new policies, procedures, assessments, and ratings tools crafted by those with no real expertise in education- by politicians, by lawyers (like me), and by business leaders. The metrics used to assess our teachers and students are often deeply flawed and ever-changing. We must begin to respect our teachers, grant them the autonomy they need to succeed, and pay them handsomely. They are our true experts. Our school staff members best understand how to reach students and how to help them grow academically. They often give of their own limited resources to ensure that our children have what they need- food, clothing, shoes, supplies, etc., and even the love and care many do not receive at home.
That said, I want to commend you today for the general focus of this year’s Report Card: investment, equity and support. These are the true keys to success in public education. It’s become painfully obvious that Nashville schools and teachers are underfunded and that there exist vast inequities within our school system. As a city and larger community, we must ensure that every child in Nashville has access to an excellent, well-rounded education. ALL children- not just those in private schools or wealthy neighborhoods- should have access to the arts, to physical activity (recess, PE, athletics), to proper nutrition, to time in nature, to books and school libraries, to learning through play when they are young, to enrichment activities that spark their creativity and interests as they grow, and to healthy, evidence-based educational practices. So many of Nashville’s students come to school having experienced trauma and adverse childhood experiences, which impact their ability to focus on learning. That’s why the Chamber’s emphasis on social emotional learning has been so very important, and we must also maintain focus on whole child education. We need more school counselors, social workers, and nurses. MNPS needs greater support and increased partnerships from our larger community.
But our current national fixation on ridiculous amounts of flawed standardized testing, which ultimately measures little, has impeded progress toward these goals. The number one factor impacting a child’s test scores is the socioeconomic status of the child’s family. This does not mean, of course, that children who come from impoverished backgrounds cannot succeed; it simply means that we as a community must provide the extra support to help these children thrive. School privatization efforts also impede progress toward these goals.
Conversations about vouchers and charter schools are ultimately about equity- whether we want to fund the few at the expense of the many and whether we can continue to support a parallel, competing set of school systems when we cannot afford to support our existing schools. These conversations are also about accountability, the need for public regulation and transparency, the misuse of tax dollars intended for children, and school segregation- again issues of equity and fairness. Ultimately, though, these issues are a distraction from the hard work at hand- a band-aid on a much larger problem. It is a sad day when we all rally around the idea of ‘Adopting a Teacher’ in a city as rich and thriving as Nashville. It’s embarrassing that we have come to this point.
I’ll close today by adding to this Report Card a few ways that you, sitting here in this room, can help MNPS succeed:
First, I invite each of you to tour your zoned schools before deciding where to enroll your own child. My husband and I opted to send our children to our zoned schools, and it has been an excellent choice for our family. We have utilized schools that our neighbors once warned us against, those with poor ratings on sites like greatschools.org- and yet, my children are both thriving, academically and otherwise. Their test scores are just as high as those of their friends who have attended elite private schools, and my children have benefitted from diverse learning environments. It saddens me that we in Nashville have somehow come to view our public schools as charities meant to serve only those without means. Children in our public schools shouldn’t be viewed as future worker bees for businesses, and our city’s schools are not just for other people’s children. Public schools are the very hearts of our community, and if everyone in Nashville actually utilized our public schools, we would have very different outcomes. Socioeconomic diversity, as well as racial diversity, in schools are proven drivers of success.
And when we all get involved in public schools, small miracles happen. When I was PTO President at our local, Title I elementary school, I helped bring in community partnerships and local support for the school. As a result, test scores went up, the school’s culture improved, and a waiting list developed at that school. This could happen throughout the whole city with your support.
On a related note, please do not recruit businesses to Nashville with the promise that they can live in surrounding counties and send their children to school in places like Williamson County. This increases the divide between the haves and the have-nots and paints a misleading picture of our city.
Second, in addition to the suggestions you’ve made in this year’s Report Card, I hope that you will consider a greater investment in MNPS’s Community School programs, which provide wrapraround services to children and families in need. Businesses could partner with local schools to meet student needs and provide community volunteers. This would absolutely change a school’s outcomes.
Third, please help us advocate at the state level for our needs- increased funding, greater teacher pay and autonomy, and local control of schools so that Nashville can make the best decisions for our community.
Finally, I hope that you, as leaders in our business community, will put effort into advocating for larger changes in our city that will have the greatest impact on our schools and children. We need more affordable housing. Last year, over 3,400 of the children in our school system qualified as homeless. And as you are aware, our teachers and support staff desperately need better pay. Many can no longer afford to live in the New Nashville. We must stop investing in shiny things at the expense of infrastructure and community needs. When our city becomes more equitable, this will be reflected in our schools.
Thank you for your time this morning and for your commitment to public education. I know that a lot of hard, thoughtful work goes into your Report Card each year. I will leave you with the encouragement that Dr. Battle, Mayor Cooper, and the board are already working on the issues that your Report Card Committee has identified. It’s a new day for Nashville, and I hope we can all work together in partnership to make a difference for Nashville’s children.”