Saturday, December 02, 2006

My Conversation with Bob Clement's Campaign

The Bob Clement campaign contacted this blog and was kind enough to engage my questions regarding education policy. I will post my side of that conversation here. I invite the Clement campaign (or any other) to join this discussion of public education in Nashville. Send me comments.

Here are my thoughts for anyone who wants to be mayor of Nashville:

I have more thoughts than I can write with the time I have right now, but I will boil it down this way. I appreciated the money that Bill Purcell was able to bring to the MNPS, and his administrators (Garcia and Johnson) did a commendable job of focusing the District on standards and getting the schools ready to educate well (or at least evaluate how well they were doing accurately).

I, however, do not believe that money is enough. Money is very important, and the schools need more, but without creativity and innovation, money alone will be wasted. Education too easily misses the need to educate the next generation by clinging too long to practices well suited to the world of the previous generation. Creativity, innovation, and flexibility are required if a school system is to prepare students of today for the creative, innovative, and flexible job demands they will face when they graduate. School choice is not an option or a way to resegregate schools; today, school choice is an essential ingredient for successful education. And Nashville has school choice, but not for everyone. If we are not careful, the present school administration will misapply very good standards to undermine flexibility and choices for those who are unable or unwilling to choose private sector alternatives. We need good charters, public-private partnerships, innovative schools within schools (here the prospects look better), and a host of other good ideas to be successful. Those of us in education have to work together rather than at cross purposes whether we are in independent, zone, magnet, charter, or sectarian schools.

So, in short, I believe that an education mayor worthy of the name needs three things:
1. Creativity, innovation, and ideas (specific ones) for helping the public schools meet the unique challenges of educating for the next century rather than the past.
2. A willingness and ability to work the legislative and bureaucratic process to secure significant and well-managed monetary increases to support those good ideas.
3. A charismatic personality and the passion to inspire the people of the city to support public education.

So, although I love and trust Larry Woods, and I believe wholeheartedly that Bob Clement is a very good man, I will admit that I am torn. Does Bob Clement agree that these are the three things a Mayor needs regarding education, and does he believe he has these characteristics?

If so, I am interested in helping him be elected. If not, since education is the issue about which I am most concerned, I will have to continue to look for a Mayor who does. If none of the candidates has these three characteristics, I will still make a choice, but it will be a choice about which I will have far less actual passion. Education, to my thinking, is the most important thing our community does. I don't undervalue economic development, and I appreciate all the other aspects of the job, but education is my life's passion, and I am looking for a Mayor who shares that passion and has the tools to make serious progress.
Thank you for contacting me, and I hope you will receive this response in the spirit in which it is intended.

After a response from the campaign, I further wrote:

You are on to something if you acknowledge the significance of standards and the work the MNPS has done under Purcell and Garcia, but we are ready now to hear more about authentic instructional strategies with the flexibility to ensure that different students have an equal chance to meet the standards. One of the biggest problems in our school system are the ridiculous divides we spend so much time on (public-private; zone-magnet; public-charter, etc.) We need leadership that shifts the focus from these persistent debilitating conflicts to the common purpose we share as a community to see that every child has the instructional capacity and educational tools he/she needs to meet the standards we have set. Debate is a great example of a teaching tool that works wonders for many students, but there are many others. LEAD Academy, a charter school application currently being reviewed by MNPS (and on which I have worked significantly) is an example of a public charter that seeks not to reduce the public school's ability to educate but rather to enhance the system's success. We need to speak out against the thinking that views public education resources as a zero-sum struggle between magnets, charters, zone schools, special needs schools, reading specialists, and so on. If we really believe that every child can learn, we cannot seriously believe that every child learns equally well from the exact same instruction. Variety in instruction is needed within and outside the pure public system. When a charter school student succeeds, MNPS succeeds if the goal is to see Nashville's children succeed. Unfortunately, the potential synergy among different forms of instruction is lost when the scarcity of resources forces the MNPS into a continually defensive posture (see my Nashville Eye piece

We need a mayor and a city council that can help the main parties as well as the citizens of Nashville understand this new focus. How can we work together to ensure the every student has the best chance to meet the standards even though different students learn differently? That, in my opinion, is the question we need to hear much more clearly.

I look forward to continuing to share these thoughts. If Bob Clement is committed to a debate team in every high school, then he must implicitly understand this point of view. I hope that the upcoming campaign can help to make this view more explicitly clear in the city's discourse.