Want to be a mentor or a tutor for an Memphis City Schools student but don't quite know where to start?
The local chapter of Stand for Children, a grassroots education advocacy group, recently launched puteducationfirst.org, a site where citizens can sign up to volunteer time or money to a number of local organizations.
"What makes this site different is the fact that we have pulled together organizations, including Memphis City Schools, who will assist in directing support resources to the appropriate school or person," Kenya Bradshaw, executive director of the local chapter, said in a statement.
"Oftentimes, people want to help, but don't know where to begin, so we will serve as a one-stop shop for public school assistance."
Supporters who sign up will receive information about volunteer opportunities through a network of non-profit organizations, including the Grizzlies' charitable foundation, TEAM UP, Our Children, Our Future tutoring program, Memphis City Schools Foundation and the Memphis Urban League.
I didn't get it by deadline, and there were people out there who said I've never get it.
Well, I finally got it. And it showed what you might expect.
Many of the schools in the southwest quadrant of the city — Westwood, Mitchell, Carver, BTW — are about 2/3rds full.
Northside, which is between Manassas and Douglass, the district's more recently built core-city high schools, fares worst with a 44 percent utilization rate.
To see how they all compare, I put together this handy-dandy chart.
The size of the box is the size of the school. White Station, for example, has a capacity of 1,733. But with 2,203 students, its utilization rate is 127 percent, which is denoted by color.
The bluer a school is, the more under-capacity it is (percentage wise).
The redder a school is, the more over-capacity it is.
The purples are somewhere in the middle. For a baseline, Sheffield has an almost 97 percent utilization rate while Kirby has a 108 percent utilization rate.
A year after Memphis City Schools (MCS) won $90 million from the Gates Foundation, co-chairs Bill and Melinda Gates were in Memphis today to see, in part, how all the "pieces line up."
"To hear how the community is coming together is quite something," Melinda Gates said.
In the past 10 years, the Gates Foundation has focused its domestic efforts on education, and most recently, teacher effectiveness.
"I was surprised when we got into education how little was known about effective teaching," Bill Gates said. "Years of experience, various degrees — it doesn't explain the differences (between teachers)."
MCS is currently working under its teacher effectiveness initiative or T.E.I. Learn more about that and what it means for Memphis, in this recent Flyer cover story.
In addition to initiatives directly impacting student achievement, MCS is participating in a Gates study on what makes an effective teacher. As part of that, volunteer educators have had their classrooms filmed.
"There are lots of great teachers out there," Bill Gates said. "What we haven't done is identify what effective teachers are doing and spreading that to others."
By the time December rolls around, all the residents currently living at Cleaborn Homes will have moved out to prepare for demolition of the public housing development. But that leaves a number of students enrolled at Georgia Avenue Elementary, Vance Middle, and Booker T. Washington High schools most likely changing schools.
Today, the Memphis City Council asked MHA & HCD head Robert Lipscomb about the decision to move families —and the students — during the school year.
"The chair has received numerous calls concerned about the residents and the children being moved from their homes and their schools in the middle of the school year," said council chair Harold Collins. "Initially the chair saw it as a Memphis City Schools issue, but because our division is leading the charge, I thought we needed to publicly hear it."
Lipscomb told council members that the city has typically heard about Hope VI grants in February. This time, however, they did not receive word until June.
"Short-term, there's a bit of disruption. Long-term, we're moving them to a better situation," Lipscomb says. "I don't want to move kids in the middle of the school year, but it's the hand we've been dealt."
Case workers have been assigned to each of the families, but it's slowed down the process for residents eager to move.
"It's about 400 families and they've been ready to move for a long time," Lipscomb says. "They've expressed frustration to us: Why are you holding us up?"
Collins asked how to planned to re-populate the three schools, one of which — Booker T. — is Lipscomb's alma mater.
City Council member — and former school board commissioner — Wanda Halbert noted the city's lack of oversight or accountability from the school district.
"The city is responsible to improve the city," she said. "We can't focus projects and infrastructure around keeping the schools full."
Over the years, outside observers have talked about the school system's need to close schools with dismal enrollment numbers, but it's not a popular topic among school board members or administrators.
Lipscomb said he hoped redevelopment efforts would eventually revitalize area schools.
"Over time, people will come back, but we've got to clean that area up. As we rebuild [Hope VI project Triangle Noir], people will come back," Lipscomb said. "Sprawl is killing us. That's the problem."
Congrats are in order to one of my favorite departments over at the U of M.
The school's Graduate Program in City and Regional Planning was recently awarded a 2010 Outstanding Planning Award by the Tennessee Chapter of the American Planning Association (TAPA) for the Vance Avenue Collaborative Community Visioning Initiative.
The project, which was conducted under the guidance of program director Ken Reardon, used a broad public participation process for collecting and analyzing data, as well as developing a vision for the historically significant African-American neighborhood.
Flyer reporter Halley Johnson recently wrote about the Vance Avenue Collaborative project, which was selected by TAPA from several entries in the student project category:
Residents of the neighborhood, bounded by Crump Boulevard, Third Street, Beale Street, and East Street, decided their initial plans would be to create a homeless service center, start a minority youth entrepreneurship initiative, and focus on the area’s musical history.
You can find the rest of her story here.
Tomorrow is the University of Memphis' Tiger Blue Goes Green day, complete with a Sustainable Design Showcase in the third floor ballroom in the University Center and exhibits on recycling, the campus gardening initiative, and eco-job opportunities on the Student Plaza.
U of M President Shirley Raines will kick off the event at 10 a.m. The Physical plant will display its cost-saving building improvements, but for my money, I wouldn't want to miss the department of architecture's "bioplastic lights."
In addition, the U of M Cycling Club is hosting its first Bike to Campus Day. They are planning several group rides to campus, about two to three miles in length leaving around 9 a.m. and converging on campus at the fountain near the Administration building at 9:30 a.m. To find out more about specific group rides, click on the Facebook page.
Also, if anyone wants to play roving reporter for me tomorrow — I'll be on deadline — I'm more than open to hearing from volunteers.
Lately, we've been keeping an eye on national education reform, if only b/c of Memphis' unique place in it.
But Memphis isn't the only place looking for new models and innovation in education. Last week's NYT magazine was all about the intersect of technology and education, and included a long piece about a public school in New York that uses video games as their basis for teaching.
It might sound radical to design an entire school around gaming, but the people involved make a pretty good case for using video games and technology: Children who have access to computers master point and clicking with a mouse by age 4. When it comes to getting a child's attention and keeping it, game designers are "getting something right that schools, in many cases, are getting wrong." Failure in a game is considered "brief, surmountable, often exciting" while failure in school is discouraging.
And we live in an increasingly digital world, one that most children have to learn about outside of school.
From the story:
"Quest to Learn is organized specifically around the idea that digital games are central to the lives of today's children and also increasingly, as their speed and capability grow, powerful tools for intellectual exploration. ...
A game, as Salen sees it, is really just a 'designed experience,' in which a participant is motivated to achieve a goal while operating inside a prescribed system of boundaries and rules. In this way, school itself is one giant designed experience. It could be viewed, in fact, as the biggest and most important game any child will ever play."
In the federal Race to the Top, Tennessee is surely a competitor.
In June, Florida submitted an application on behalf of a consortium of 26 states, of which Tennessee was one. The goal of the group is to create a common assessment system, with students taking parts of the assessment at key times during the school year, i.e. nearer to when the class has covered the material rather than at the end of the year.
"The funds awarded to this partnership will allow us to create a common assessment and performance standards anchored in college and career readiness," Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen said in a statement. "This will help us reach our fundamental goal of increasing the rate at which students graduate from high school prepared for success in college and the workplace."
To ensure the assessment system is aligned with college standards, more than 200 higher education institutions are participating in the development of the new high school tests.
As part of this week's print extravaganza, I interviewed controversial Memphis City Schools (MCS) consultant Jeffrey Hernandez. His $1,500-a-day consulting fee, coupled with an intense animosity for him from some parents in Palm Beach County and his ties to superintendent Kriner Cash and deputy superintendent Irving Hamer, have caused questions about his employment at MCS.
During the last few months of his contract there, however, Hernandez was concurrently working for MCS as a consultant.
And In June, when his contract was officially up in Palm Beach, one of the blogs for the Palm Beach Post reported that the schools that used Hernandez's methods showed gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test while those that didn't, didn't.
You can read the print Q&A here. Other portions of the interview are excerpted below:
Flyer: How did you begin your career in education?
Hernandez: I started as an office secretary in an elementary school. I started from the perspective of the bottom up. I worked with a phenomenal principal and he mentored me.
How old were you at the time?
I was 16. I had just graduated from high school ... I was one of several students across the district selected to do high school in two years. I then became a teacher in the inner city.
After spending 7 years as an assistant principal, former Miami-Dade County superintendent Rudy Crew then appointed you as principal. How was that?
Crew came and opened the School Improvement Zone. I was one of the principals he appointed the day before school started. It was an inner-city high school populated mostly by Haitian Creole students. We had 100 percent free/reduced lunch. The day before school started, we had 16 teacher openings, no books, a negative budget by about $50,000, and graffiti all over the school.
Crew is like superintendent Cash. By Monday, the school had to look like I'd been there all summer. I took that school from a D to an A and we maintained an A for three years.
You have a history of turning around failing schools. How do you do it?
Last week, the LA Times began an ambitious series focused on teacher effectiveness at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Using value-added data compiled from seven years of math and English test scores, the newspaper is exploring the (often, quite large) disparities between effective and ineffective teachers.
The fifth-graders at Broadous Elementary School come from the same world — the poorest corner of the San Fernando Valley, a Pacoima neighborhood framed by two freeways where some have lost friends to the stray bullets of rival gangs.
Many are the sons and daughters of Latino immigrants who never finished high school, hard-working parents who keep a respectful distance and trust educators to do what's best.
The students study the same lessons. They are often on the same chapter of the same book.
Yet year after year, one fifth-grade class learns far more than the other down the hall. The difference has almost nothing to do with the size of the class, the students or their parents.
It's their teachers.
As Memphis is all well aware, teachers are traditionally viewed as if one is just as good as any other, even though principals and teachers know they're not. That's what the MCS teacher effectiveness initiative is striving to solve, in part by bringing less effective teachers up to the same level as their effective counterparts. Because of tenure, it can be difficult to get rid of an ineffective teacher.
(In Waiting for Superman, the movie references what is called "the dance of the lemons," wherein the teachers that principals dub lemons are fobbed off on other schools at the end of each school year. There are other names for it, but the movie calls it "the dance of the lemons," and I have it on good authority that's what it's called here, too.)
The investigation found that the best teachers were not concentrated in the most influential neighborhoods, that a child's teacher had three times more influence on the student's academic success as the school they were enrolled in, and that a teacher's experience or training had little bearing on whether they improved their students' performance.
There is some question as to the validity of value-added data, and the local teachers union has already called for a boycott of the LATimes over the series.
Car-sharing is going to college.
Rhodes College just announced car-sharing service Zipcar will be on campus this fall.
For $35 a year, members can rent a Zipcar by the hour or the day, with $35 in free driving their first month of membership. Reservations are made on the internet or by cellphone, and in-car technology unlocks the car doors and reports the car's location.
"We looked at it a few years ago when it was a fledgling operation, but at that time, users had to be 21 years old," said Tracy Adkisson, the associate director of physical plant. "It wasn't ideal then. Now they've changed the program to accommodate college and universities so that people 18 to 21 can join."
The school hopes the service might help, in part, with parking issues on campus.
"It is an excellent way to conserve parking spaces and provides an alternative to those not requiring daily transportation," John Blaisdell, Rhodes' associate dean of students, said in a statement. "I believe the ease of use should make the program a success."
Adkisson also cites sustainability and student service as reasons to have Zipcar on campus.
"One of the main reasons is to give students who don't bring a car to campus a viable alternative and to give students an alternative to bringing a car to campus," she said.
Rhodes is the third location in Tennessee for Zipcars. The others are Belmont and Vanderbilt universities in Nashville.
The school's two Zipcars — one a hybrid — are scheduled to arrive Tuesday and will soon be available for pickup in the Briggs Student Center parking lot. For more info, click here.
The Commercial Appeal reported yesterday that the Memphis City Schools had quietly hired consultant Jeffrey Hernandez, a former associate of superintendent Kriner Cash's from the Miami-Dade Public School District, at a rate of $1,500 a day to turn around its lowest-performing schools.
Like members of the school board, we wondered exactly who this guy was. Here's what we found.
In April of this year, the Palm Beach Post called him the "most despised person in the Palm Beach County school system" in a story about him vying for a superintendent position in two other Florida counties:
Stripped of most of his duties as the district's chief academic officer in December to appease angry parents and teachers, it was clear his $180,366 contract wouldn't be extended when it expires June 30.
Still, reaction to Saturday's news from his critics was as venomous as that which was unleashed on him shortly after the curriculum he devised was put in place in August.
"Thank God, he's leaving Palm Beach County," said Stacy Gutner, a Boynton Beach woman who was a vocal critic of the test-heavy curriculum Hernandez developed.
It might still be summer for many of us, but class was definitely in session this morning.
With LeMoyne-Owen College president Johnnie Watson and U of M basketball coach Josh Pastner in attendance, Leadership Memphis kicked off its 100 Things in 100 Days initiative today at Christian Brothers University.
Part of the Memphis Talent Dividend's College Attainment Initiative, 100 Things aims to have 100 commitments from organizations and individuals of quick things they can help more people in the region graduate from college.
Local institutions are also eying the more immediate impact.
Watson noted that all the area college presidents are involved in the initiative.
"I'm committed because I'm selfish," he said. "If we can increase enrollment by 10 students, that means $100,000 for LeMoyne-Owen."
To give participants an idea of what 100 Things could mean, scholarship programs and corporate tuition reimbursement programs flashed on the screen behind co-chairs Tomeka Hart and Kathy Buckman Gibson.
But a more personal idea came from Owen Phillips, a professor at UT who teaches at the Med. Her idea for a "Tiger Parent" program, which would pair students from the University of Memphis' Fresh mentoring program with a local family.
The idea was spawned after she saw a NYT article that talked about how hard colleges work to recruit freshman, but don't do as much to recruit — or retain — sophomores.
"Whey they really need is a Tiger family, a Memphis family," Phillips said. "We're looking for professionals, empty nesters, maybe just people with a little energy. Once a month you touch base with the student and their peer mentor."
Another thing is a college fair being held this Friday, August 13th, at the main library from noon to 5 p.m. So far, more than 20 college and universities are scheduled to attend.
In fact, the talent dividend has already garnered more than 60 commitments for "things," but is looking for at least 40 more. For more info, visit Leadership Memphis' new talent dividend website.
"We have tissues in the front and tissues in the back," Kenya Bradshaw, director of the local chapter of Stand for Children, told local educators, business people, and education advocates in the Methodist Presentation Theater at the U of M yesterday.
"People think they're not going to cry. You are going to cry."
Memphis was chosen as one of 16 sites for a special screening of Waiting for Superman, a film from Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) about the "crisis of public education."
The film focuses on the systematic problems hardwired into the current system, such as tenure guidelines that don't allow districts to get rid of unsuccessful teachers, but it also follows five children (and their parents) who are trying to find better educational options than the traditional public school system.
A friend of mine recently sent me a link to the Brookings Institute's interactive "State of Metropolitan America Indicator Map," which shows educational attainment, race, age, and immigration status, among other things, across the country.
"The State of Metropolitan America is a signature effort of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program that portrays the demographic and social trends shaping the nation’s essential economic and societal units — its large metropolitan areas — and discusses what they imply for public policies to secure prosperity for these places and their populations."
In terms of high school attainment, Memphis is ranked 60th, with 81.5 percent of the population having graduating high school.
Memphis is ranked 70th (of 95 cities) in the percent of the population with bachelor's degrees and 67th in graduate degrees. Those percentages are 23 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively.
Little Rock, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga all rated higher than Memphis in each of those categories.
In related news, Leadership Memphis plans to kick off its 100 Things in 100 Days project next week. As part of the group's larger college attainment initiative, Leadership Memphis is asking individuals to develop a list of 100 ideas that can be done within 100 days to increase the number of college graduates.
“While this short 100-day time frame poses a fun and interesting challenge for the community, this initiative is not to be taken lightly,” says David Williams, president and CEO of Leadership Memphis. “More college graduates will increase the attractiveness of our workforce for employers resulting in more jobs, serve as an antidote for poverty and improve the overall quality of life in the metro area.”
For data junkies out there, you can use the maps to drill down into certain subsects of the data, capturing educational attainment by race, for instance, or breaking data down by city, suburbs, or state.