Dr. Jesse Register, the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, spoke with students and faculty today in the Baskin Center on the topic “Linking Academic Excellence and Diversity.” Register, who began his career as an English teacher, is a nationally-recognized expert in urban education. His remarks in today’s academic lecture convocation centered on insights garnered from “America’s Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation’s Future,” a 2006 report that highlights how changing socioeconomic conditions are impacting education.
“The first point this report makes is that there’s a widening disparity in literacy and numeracy skills among our school-age and adult populations,” Register said, pointing to decreasing graduation rates as one indicator. In 1969, high school graduation rates peaked at 77 percent but have dropped significantly since that time.
Moreover, today’s job market differs markedly from earlier generations with much greater emphasis on technology, Register noted. “Manufacturing and textile jobs are gone forever in this country, and they will not come back… There are hundreds of jobs in Nashville going unfilled because they require technological skills.”
The third force mentioned in the report involves changes in demographics as the U.S. population gets older and more diverse, a trend seen vividly in Nashville. Register pointed out that 81,000 students fill Metro Schools, and those students currently represent 135 native countries and 130 native languages. Forty-six percent of students in Metro Nashville schools are African-American, 33 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic and four percent Asian. Register was pleased to report that the Board of Education unanimously adopted this week a Diversity Resolution, committing to be very intentional about decisions in regards to developing a comprehensive diversity strategy.
All of these factors indicate that public education must take a different direction, Register argued, and in Nashville he is focusing efforts on ensuring students truly receive an education rather than simply achieve a test score.
“No Child Left Behind and standardized test have caused teachers to teach to the test. It has not encouraged a deep understanding of knowledge. We want students to understand the content.”