By Sally Absher


The draft Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force Report and Recommendations were discussed at length during three Board of Education meetings in the past two weeks.

Over the past 18 months, the Disparities in Educational Outcomes (DEO) task force conducted a comprehensive review of data including: school and district demographics; academic and discipline outcomes for all students; law enforcement reports; KCS employee demographics and recruitment efforts; and best practices from other districts.

Comparing the statistics of in-school-suspensions (ISS) and out-of-school suspensions (OSS) for various student populations, the study found that certain groups were being suspended at a higher ration than other groups. Subgroups examined include Ethnicity: Indian, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Hawaiian, and White; Gender: female and male; Economically Disadvantaged (ED): yes or no; Students with Disabilities (SWD): yes or no; and English language learners (ELL): yes or no.

The data indicate:

  • Disparities in discipline do exist for students in the Black, SWD, ED, and male subgroups.
  • Poverty has a significant impact on educational outcomes for all subgroups of students.
  • There appears to be a negative correlation between suspension rates and academic performance.
  • KCS is improving. The achievement gap met state targets for reduction in nine out of 16 areas in 2014-2015. But significant achievement gaps still persist.

Using stakeholder feedback from community and educator forums and other community outreach initiatives (Save our Sons, Push Out/Teach In) and the District webpage, the DEO Task Force identified four general focus areas: training, programs, policies and practices, and personnel.

Acknowledging the need for “immediate action as well as strategic implementation over a five-year period,” the Task Force presented a draft Recommendations/Action Plan detailing a total of thirty six action items in the four focus areas, which McIntyre called “smart, common sense, reasonable approaches.” The recommendations were presented at the May 25 mid-month Board meeting.

Amber Rountree, who served as the Board representative on the task force, said her biggest take-away from the study was the disparities that poverty causes for students, regardless of ethnicity, disability, or other factor.

Lynn Fugate added, “The things that are within our control we absolutely have to address – the discipline disparities – that’s only up to us, but some of the underlying issues that may influence discipline problems, may not be all ours to solve.” She reiterated this point in Board meetings last week

In response to the request by several Board members for the recommendations to include an estimate of cost, a range of possible costs was presented during last Tuesday’s work session. The annual cost to implement the recommendations includes:

  • $100,000 for a Central Office “ombudsman” (serving as a liaison between families and the district, and reporting on the progress of the recommendations to the Board of Education);
  • Up to $4 million for up to 60 Social Workers;
  • Up to $5.2 million for up to 80 school counselors; and
  • $230,000 per year for additional staff for Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) staff;

Superintendent Jim McIntyre explained that the maximum number of social workers and counselors above is in line with the staffing ratio in the Metro Nashville school system. How many additional staff KCS ultimately adds is up to the Board. Currently $56,000 is budgeted, primarily for Cultural Competency training.

Terry Hill voiced concern over the proposed ombudsman role, which would add yet another six-figure position to the KCS budget. But the community group Coalition to Stop School Pushout said this role is necessary, and should be independent from the district.

On Wednesday, Mike McMillan said he shared Hill’s concerns, and questioned why the rush to get this passed just one week after the presentation, when the Committee had it for 18 months. And while Dr. McIntyre stated that voting for the recommendations would not be a commitment to the money, McMillan said he felt that the perception by the public would be a “commitment to at least a sizable portion of the funding.”

Hill offered an amendment to the motion: “to approve the recommendations of the DEO Task Force, and the intent to implement will be accommodated as funds become available per Board decisions. Chairman Doug Harris agreed with Hill that the Board should send a message that there will be further budget discussions.

Rountree voiced concerns that the cost analysis wasn’t inclusive of all of the elements in the DEO recommendations. Gloria Deathridge shared concerns about budget, but said she wants to move forward with items that don’t require specific funding. Fugate said she supported the amendment, but urged that action needs to be taken because the Board asked the Task Force to make recommendations.

The amendment passed, and discussion moved to the amended motion on the resolution.

Karen Carson, who voted no on the amendment, took comments made by McMillan and others to task. She said, “It’s not teacher buy-in – what the Board is making a statement on here is that we firmly believe that there should not be disparities in education for our students…I don’t need teacher buy-in…It’s our duty to identify what we believe is best for students in this community and put forward those ideas and work with Commission to get the appropriate funding.”

Deathridge again urged the Board to consider the timeline and make sure those responsible have time to get it done. Rountree reminded the Board that there are lots of good things already happening in our schools related to the DEO Task Force recommendations, including expanding the community schools program and PBIS.

A roll call vote on the amended DEO motion followed, with 8 yes votes. McMillan voted no.