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Tennessee Public School Children: Talking About Poverty

Publication Date: 2012-11-20

Although there has been a shocking rise in the number of homeless public school students in Tennessee, school folk aren't supposed to talk about it.

I posted this on 11/2/12. I received this note on 11/4/12 (Jeremy is at work on a Sunday). We should never forget that folks at places like the Achievement District are thorough about their agenda. . . even on Sundays.

Hey Susan --

My name is Jeremy Jones, Communications Director and Deputy Chief of Staff for the Achievement School District.

Just noticed some things you wrote about the ASD on your blog. I wanted to reach out and make a connection here in case you ever had any questions about the ASD. I am happy to help should you want any info from us to help inform some of your commentaries.



At Linked In, Jeremy is known as "Ninja at Achievement School District." His specialties are: "Human capital Acquisition and talent strategy"

He has a prototypical resume for human capital acquisition:

Achievement School District
January 2012 â Present (11 months)
Helping serve students attending schools in the bottom 5%. Building a system of schools in Tennessee that perform in the top 25% of schools in the state.

Achievement School District
2012 â 2012 (less than a year)
Assistant Principal

Rocketship Education
Nonprofit; 51-200 employees; Education Management industry August 2011 â November 2011 (4 months) San Jose, California
Ensure effective individualized education through Response to Intervention support

Senior Director of Recruitment & Selection
YES Prep Public Schools
Educational Institution; 501-1000 employees; Primary/Secondary Education industry
August 2008 â August 2011 (3 years 1 month)
I manage teacher recruitment and selection for the best school in Houston.

Institute School Director
Teach For America Houston
Nonprofit; 1001-5000 employees; Education Management industry
January 2010 â August 2010 (8 months)

Dean of Faculty
The Breakthrough Collaborative
Nonprofit; 11-50 employees; Nonprofit
Organization Management industry
2007 â 2008 (1 year)

Teacher coaching, program management, strategy 6th Grade Level Chair/6th grade Math teacher
YES Prep Public Schools
Educational Institution; 501-1000 employees; Primary/Secondary Education industry
January 2005 â June 2008 (3 years 6 months)

Corps Member
Teach for America
Nonprofit; 1001-5000 employees; Education Management industry
June 2005 â June 2007 (2 years 1 month)

Breakthrough Austin
2002 â 2003 (1 year)

Texas A&M University
BA, Political Science
2000 â 2004

by Susan Ohanian

The Tennessee Offices of Research and Education Accountability, OREA Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, released a legislative report in August 2012 on the rise of homeless public school students in Tennessee. The San Francisco Chronicle ran this brief AP item about it in late October.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee saw the number of homeless public school students increase by 74 percent between 2007 and 2010.
That number was well above the national average of 38 percent, but the true number may be even higher.

According to a report from the state Comptroller's office, several neighboring states have a larger percentage of homeless students. That could be a clue that Tennessee's numbers are an undercount.

Also, some districts in Tennessee with high foreclosure and jobless rates did not identify any homeless students.

The comptroller's report says the dramatic increases in Tennessee -- from 6,565 in 2007 to 11,458 in 2010 -- may be a consequence of job losses and the economy. They may also be the result of some school districts' improved efforts to identify homeless students.

The AP item also appeared in Education Week, Oct. 30, 2012.

Tennessee didn't totally ignore this report on the alarming increase in the number of homeless children. WMCTV in Memphis carried the AP item. So did WBIR.com, News Channel 5 Nashville, WKRN Nashville.

In searching the major Tennessee newspapers between August 1, and Nov. 2, 2012, I found the following mentions of homelessness:

The Tennessean

Oct. 2, 2012 . . . while poverty rates in America and Tennessee have increased, Nashville's poverty rate is actually on the decline! (Emphasis in original.) No mention of children.

Oct. 16, 2012 2,000-plus people sleep on Nashville's streets each night. No mention of children.

Nov. 2,2012 Fundraiser finds homes for homeless pets

Commercial Appeal

Sept. 9, 2012 Achievement School District -- Tennessee superintendent aims for fast but enduring turnaround. As the headline indicates, this piece fawns over "the point person for turning around Memphis' failing schools." The article notes that Tennessee has 83 schools in the bottom 5 percent; 69 are in Memphis. The new turnaround guy emphasizes, "It's not the kids that are in the bottom 5 percent; it's the school." So teachers who sign on have no seniority benefits and may be dismissed at will.

A first-time principal tells the reporter:

The goal is not to do everything differently; it is to do everything better. The school day is longer and every minute is to be purposeful.

See that bulletin board, he says pointing over tables in the lunchroom. We'll use that to show how we are shaving minutes off the serving time. Every minute we can save is another minute we can use for instruction.

One mention of homeless children is made in this puff piece about the new leadership in the Achievement School District: "Half the school was filled with kids from the Star of Hope homeless shelter; the other half were bilingual neighborhood kids." But that homeless shelter is in Houston. No mention is made of the problem in Memphis.

Here's more about the Achievement School District.

At its website, the Achievement School District announces, "We are looking for operators that [sic] share our values.


The highest value seems to be not to mention poverty.

Sept. 12, 2012 About 215 families in Greater Memphis are homeless on any given day and often end up on the streets, living in a vehicle or a shelter. One can assume some members of these families are public school children, but they aren't mentioned.

Oct. 16. Ending 'Monopoly of Mediocrity' in Memphis by Margaret Spellings makes no mention of poverty or homelessness but does call to end "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Oct. 22, 2012 Achievement School District gets jolt: low test scores
No mention of poverty. The message given (in a direct quote) is "This is not a student problem. This is a teacher problem."

When you deny a student problem, you are denying the existence of poverty, denying the terrible role this plays in children's lives.

Tennesseeâs answer to this teacher problem?

Here is Tennessee Department of Education mandate for teaching students in alternative programs.


It is clear that alternative educator has thoroughly taught two or more types of thinking, and students are encouraged to utilize the type of thinking that best suits their individual needs. . .

Students are encouraged to self-monitor their thinking and can clearly articulate which learning strategies they are using and why. . . .
--Tennessee Department of Education Observation Guide Alternative Educators Nov 2012

The website logo is Tennessee: First to the Top, Kevin Huffman, Commissioner

To earn a 5 on the new Professionalism Rubric (2012) the teacher Engages in evaluation process with eagerness. . . .

Remember, in July 2011, egged on by the Race to the Top pot of gold, Tennessee became one of the first states in the country to "implement a comprehensive, student outcomes-based, statewide educator evaluation system." The act requires that 50 percent of the teacher evaluation be comprised of student achievement data. The 6-page TEAM (Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model) rubric was chosen as the state model for teacher evaluation. Hey, the Denver rubric is 28-pages long.

Here's a sample of what Tennessee judges as important:

  • The lesson starts promptly.

  • The lesson's structure is coherent, with a beginning, middle, end, and time for reflection.

  • Pacing is brisk and provides many opportunities for individual students who progress at different learning rates.

  • Routines for distributing materials are seamless.

  • No instructional time is lost during transitions.

  • A teacher is rated "Significantly Below Expectations" if The lesson has a structure, but may be missing closure.

    In my book, closure is a malevolent word; when applied to one's work with children it is obscene.

    People who rely on this term exhibit the classroom savvy of a toadstool. Just call me Ms Open-Ended. Or Mme Loosey-Goosey.

    I'll answer.

    World traveler and social commentator Paul Theroux, troubled by the sight of a mob of people waiting on a sidewalk in Osaka for the light to change, cautioned, "A society without jaywalkers might indicate a society without artists."

    I hate to consider what kind of society we will produce when we follow the teaching prescriptions of these operators.

    Most importantly, there's always the the gorilla in the room.

    Do not skip this morality tale. I suggest reading it aloud at the next professional development meeting.

    How many Standaristos can see the relevance of the gorilla story?

    When I began my teaching career I was fortunate enough to encounter an essay by David Hawkins, who insisted that "a fundamental aim of education is to organize schools, classrooms and our own performance as teachers in order to help children acquire the capacity for significant choice, and that learning is really a process of choice. If children are deprived of significant choice in their daily activities in school, if all their choices are made for them, then the most important thing that education is concerned with is simply being bypassed."

    How quaint that seems now when choice isn't even mentioned as a possibility for children and is being systematically removed from the teacher's options, where teachers are required to follow a script while monitors roam the hall to make sure they're on the right page.

    And reaching closure every 50 minutes.

    In Memphis they want "operators" who can pass out the test-prep worksheets efficiently. And shave
    minutes off kids' lunch time so they can have more time for skill drill.

    Weep for the children.

    Then get mad as hell and do something about this!

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