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VOL. 126 | NO. 18 | Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cash Reform Agenda Clashes With Referendum

By Bill Dries

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Two years into an aggressive reform agenda for the Memphis City Schools system, MCS Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash had a lot of points to cover on the next phase of that reform. But a lot of frustration came through as well this week.

Cash outlined what comes next against the backdrop of the coming MCS charter surrender vote in March.

“The public perception needle has not moved nearly as much as it should have for the positive direction even though the positive progress has been overwhelming,” Cash said this week. “Perhaps a consolidation with the banner of Shelby County schools on it will impress into the brains of our constituents in such a way that that automatically carries positive connotations.”

It was one of several remarks by Cash indicating frustration with the long shadow of the charter surrender ballot question.

The most serious of the problems obscured by the shadow, according to Cash, is economic segregation of MCS graduates who meet achievement standards, go on to college, graduate from college and can’t find a life they want in Memphis.

What they find when they return, in too many cases, Cash said is “stack and pack,” a reference to warehouse and distribution center jobs.

“They still do not get to go from the classroom to the boardroom. … And they’ve done everything they are supposed to. We are segregating economically in a way that I can’t explain. This needs to be addressed. It must be aggressively addressed. And putting these school systems together does not address that.”

Meanwhile Deputy Superintendent Irving Hamer told the board that a plan to change “what it means to be properly educated in this millennium” would cause some board members to ask “who was smoking what when they wrote this.”

“The schools are organized exactly the same way they were organized in 1850. We’ve not changed the length of the school day or the school year,” Hamer began as he referred to schools across the country. “This is a big conversation – a huge conversation.”

The recommendations, which are tentative with a goal of reaching a consensus in three to four years, include lengthening the school week to six days, the school day by an unspecified period and the school year to 190 days from the current 180 days.

“We are clear that instructional delivery systems have to include the new technology. Every school child over the next three years will be handling and managing instructional content with some kind of mobile device,” Hamer continued. “In the next 36 months every single child, if they are going to be properly educated for this millennium, will have to be receiving content electronically 24/7. It’s a challenge.”

In December, Cash had already said the school system’s Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is about to enter a critical phase.

“We’re just going to focus straight ahead,” Cash said when asked about the impact on the consolidation discussion on the work.

The school system is about to begin an overhaul of the way MCS teachers are paid. The study is to be completed for the 2012-2013 school year. It is a shift of the criteria for teacher pay to specific evaluation criteria and student performance data. The use of that data was a major point of the 2010 special session of the Tennessee legislature, which lifted a statutory ban on using such data to make tenure decisions.

MCS is working with private sector CEOs and a Vanderbilt study group in building a new compensation system. And in the spring, some teachers will have their classes recorded on a regular basis for evaluation purposes.

Hamer termed the study and what it yields “the biggest hardest part of the work we have to do.”

Cash has already acknowledged that the task and other parts of a complex reform agenda have become more difficult with the rapid ascent of the charter surrender since November.

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