Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Education and the Men who Would be Mayor

Today's City Paper gets the candidates on record on the question of what each would do to improve Nashville's schools in light of the NCLB sanctions. Each candidate seems to hit some of the important issues, but not surprisingly, each dodges the Mayor's role a bit, at least according to the article. Nevertheless, we are on the right track, and hopefully the next few weeks will offer opportunities for more probing follow ups to be asked.

Bob Clement:
“I will work with the school board and director of schools, but as next mayor I am not going to sit on the sidelines and say nothing,” Clement said about his efforts to move the system off the list. “I’m not going to be that kind of mayor. If it means being confrontational, if it means speaking my mind, I will do that.” (City Paper, August 8, 2007)

The City Paper had to go to Clement's web site to see what that might mean:
According to Clement’s Web site, his plan for education in the city is to oppose efforts to drain money from public education and fight to make schools stronger. (City Paper, August 8, 2007)

That sounds good, but we need to know what that means in terms of the mayor's role. Will Clement veto City Council budgets that do not include the money the School Board deems necessary to fund School Administration priorities? Will Clement fund education first and force budget battles over public safety instead? Will Clement employ staff who tell the School Administration what priorities will be acceptable? In short, to whom will he speak his mind and be confrontational?

Karl Dean:

Dean said the district’s improvements in the elementary and middle school levels are to be highlighted, but improvement was also needed in increasing parental nvolvement.

According to his detailed education plan, topping the priority list is parent involvement, increased graduation rates in high schools and support for teachers.

He suggested holding more school meetings in the neighborhoods and communities around Nashville to allow parents access to information about their child’s education.

“I do think it’s a complex problem and not unique to Nashville,” Dean said about the district’s new “corrective action” status. “I think I would look at increased parental involvement. I think you accomplish that by educating parents on how they can be involved and we should work to make it easy for them to do so.”(City Paper, August 8, 2007)

This reply also sounds good, and Mr. Dean is definitely right about the impact of parental involvement. Dr. Garcia has structures to help facilitate parental involvement in place, but broader participation is needed. So, how will Dean promote that involvement. Meetings in neighborhoods are a good start, but who will he rely on to organize and lead those meetings? Also, how will he cope with the challenges of families whose work schedules and other children do not allow participation at school? What will he do about magnet and enhanced option schools whose parents supply transportation from all parts of town and face extra hurdles in getting to the school to help? Parental participation is absolutely essential, but Mr. Dean needs to explain how he will use his power as mayor to promote it. Otherwise, parents too easily become the scapegoats for failing schools, and principals wind up spending more and more of their limited time educating parents rather than children.

Supporters of these candidates need to help me go deeper. Established news outlets cannot press and press on these questions because they don't have space, and if the candidates get tired of answering, the news outlet will simply lose access to the candidates. This space can be used to press harder because I have no access to the candidates here to lose.

I am glad we are on this track, and I commend the City Paper for asking the initial questions. I am pressing for more specifics. The NCLB news is not new. Everyone involved in education has known that these sanctions were eventually coming. Now they are here, and we need decisive action. We also need community-wide understanding of the situation and support for efforts to improve it.

No individual can do it alone, but the mayor can play a large role. I am looking for the mayor that help can do that.


Martin Kennedy said...

Wow, you are diplomatic Alan, and positive and upbeat. I am not, at least when it comes to candidates talking about education policy. They are unwilling to fight for genuine reform because the teachers' unions are so powerful. There are exceptions. Check out Cory Booker in Newark, NJ

RAH_RAH said...

What do you think about the mayoral takeovers of the school systems in D.C. and New York City, respectively? Does the next mayor need to implement some of the policies enacting in those cities? The school system here in 10 years, if the status quo is upheld, will look like D.C.'s system.