Here’s a man-bites-dog development: Nashville may have voted for a mayor who actually meant what he said during his election campaign. Karl Dean is making political reporters miserable. Where’s the fun in covering a politician who’s trying to keep his promises?
True, Dean has always seemed a little odd. He rarely smiles, for one thing, and seems averse to human contact. Entering a room, he goes straight to the nearest corner and stands there awkwardly with his hands in his pockets, exuding an “I-hate-this-shit” vibe. Not your typical politician, we could see that right off, but we never bargained on sincerity.
From the beginning of last year’s mayoral campaign, he talked incessantly about keeping kids in school, saying he learned as Metro public defender that most kids in trouble were dropouts. “More kids graduating means better jobs and less crime,” he said in an early TV ad. “It’s all connected.” Of course, we assumed it all sprang out of some political consultant’s polling.
But unlike other politicians—say, Phil Bredesen, who railed against illegal immigration in TV ads, then forgot all about it after the election—Dean has never stopped obsessing over his signature issue. Even weirder, he’s actually getting something done. Among his ideas:
• Early intervention for kids caught playing hooky. At an annual cost of $500,000, the juvenile court system is about to open what Dean’s calling an Attendance Center, where police will drop off truant children for evaluation, possible assignment of family social services (and presumably a little stern lecturing).
• Alternative high schools for at-risk children. Nashville beat out other cities to win help from the National League of Cities to start a network of innovative schools where, for instance, students who don’t want to go to college can learn job skills.
• Better after-school programs. Dean is creating “after-school zones,” promising networks of programs with consistent standards starting this fall.
The mayor also is talking about putting more counselors in schools and giving extra pay to teachers who take on tough assignments. And he’s lobbying to bring Teach for America to Nashville. A kind of Peace Corps for teachers, this nonprofit group places high-achieving college graduates in hard-to-staff schools, and they may do a better job than traditional teachers, according to a new study measuring math and science test scores.
Whether any of this actually prevents dropouts is an open question. But in interviews, Dean has gone so far as to challenge voters to hold him accountable. If dropout rates don’t fall at the end of four years, he says, then feel free to vote him out of office. You can bet that no political consultant told him to say that.
Nashville’s schools have been belittled as dropout factories. One in five children who start the ninth grade don’t graduate—double the state dropout rate and more than Memphis, Knoxville or Chattanooga. In a 2007 survey of 7,660 Nashville students, nearly all said they wanted to learn but many said their schools’ culture didn’t allow it. One-fourth of regular high school students reported not feeling safe at their schools, and one-third said they didn’t have an adult at school they could talk with about a personal problem.
Last week, Dean’s 40-member “Project for Student Success” task force reported its findings. Many of the recommendations are a little too obvious. (Keep better attendance records; don’t suspend students and send them out on the streets but put them in special alternative programs instead.) Dean probably could have come up with most of them with an afternoon of Googling at his desk.
But the whole exercise was an almost guaranteed success from the beginning in at least one way: It focused the city on reducing dropout rates and created a bunch of cheerleaders for that goal. All 40 of the task force’s members—community leaders who spent 1,600 hours over six months studying the problem—are now heavily invested along with the mayor in making sure something happens.
“This is one of the really key issues facing this community and all of urban America, and I’m going to stay focused on this for the entire time I’m mayor,” Dean says. “We’ve got to reach out to these kids. To me there are no throwaway people in our society. The time for change is now.”
Spoken like a true believer. Of course, sincerity goes only so far. More school counselors and teacher incentive pay cost money, which Dean won’t have unless he raises property taxes. And he said he wouldn’t do that, remember? There’s one campaign promise that’s made to be broken.
Children are not able to bathe themselves, so we expect the parents to bathe them…
Direct quote; The point of the article was to remind readers to take a moment…
Unions make me wet and mess my Captain Kirk jammies!
So what are the egregious sins the unions will be addressing? Not enough strikes?