Tennessee NOT Ready, Again!


I’ve sat each day since Monday wanting to write and each day, something else changes that compounds my feelings and thoughts as both a parent and educator.

Each day, I have placed hope in a system that consistently fails me. I feel like I’m a devout Christian, living out the WWJD? mantra in a loveless marriage with a habitual liar. I keep turning the other cheek and getting hit again...

As of today, the TN Ready tests that some students have taken since Monday will not count this year against teachers or students. The scores will not be used for teacher evaluations nor will it negatively impact students.

According to various news outlets,  the “Tennessee General Assembly struck a deal on Thursday that said the testing results will only count if it benefits students, educators and districts.”

Only if it benefits…

It is no secret that I have taught in the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis, in schools that have been taken-over by the state for their years of “failing” test scores. These schools were adopted by charter management organizations who have labeled themselves as “turn-around” schools (stay tuned for a subsequent blog about this term and the actual results).

It is these schools that won’t produce beneficial scores.

It is these students who have, once again, been failed.

Let’s not mention the fact that many are subject to teachers who lack the experience and pedagogy to hone their practice of teaching in order to not teach to the test, which has in Tennessee, changed almost each year since 2013 (when I arrived).

It is these students who have endured countless hours of instruction while their teachers tried to close the “achievement gap” with individualized instruction, small group instruction, homework, and even double-blocks of reading and math.

The decision makers of Tennessee has once again failed my students.

I can’t speak for all students, but I do speak for my black students, who believed in themselves and their abilities because I intentionally sought to build their confidence and efficacy while strengthening their foundational reading skills. They were proud to sit and try their best these last few days. They didn’t give up and get frustrated with words they didn’t know, nor did they give up in frustration because their academic endurance isn’t like their more affluent counterparts.

It is these students whose scores won’t be “beneficial” because they won’t be Proficient or Advanced. But I knew that.

It is these students who won’t be able to see their growth or even try for the rest of the remaining testing days (over 2 weeks) because, it doesn’t count anyway.

I hate to say it, but I’m sick and tired of failing my students. I’m sick and tired of giving my all each day to a system that doesn’t respect anyone’s efforts, time, energy, and dedication.

How can a teacher stay motivated in a state that doesn’t have an effective system to measure knowledge acquired? How can parents believe their child is getting an adequate education that will be a foundation for the rest of their lives if the tests don’t count in the fundamental years?

And why the hell would a student, who has been accustomed to a lackluster school who skates by because there aren’t standardized tests to hold them accountable to excellence in education, even care about being better, being different, or giving more when their school year can be wiped away by end-of-year tests that don’t count?

I’m so disappointed; I’m physically ill.

There will always be those that think this is a good idea. Sure it is, when it isn’t executed properly, but WHEN will it be done properly? WHEN will Tennessee get it together? Why is it ok to play with students in this manner? Who doesn’t see this as another slap in the face to our black and brown students who are already underserved? Because in most cases, their scores won’t be beneficial.

It’s not like we’re the only state in the entire country that has schools. At this point, someone needs to phone a friend, get a lifeline and buddy up with a city that is executing properly and have them print up the tests. Tennessee clearly can’t get it together and we’re losing ground with the people we have in place now.

I said it before – excellence starts at the top. With who we have in charge, it’s no surprise things are the way they are.


Marlena Little

Educator, visionary and leader.

Marlena Little grew up in the inner-city of Chicago in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. Yet the contrast of her home and school life provided evidence to the statement, “it’s not where you’ve been but where you are going”. Having attended one of the best elementary and high-schools in the country, she was determined to live beyond the poverty and violence of her neighborhood, knowing education was the escape.

Marlena Little, a Memphian by choice, relocated to Memphis to fight for educational equity. As a teacher, it was important for Marlena’s students to see her as an example of that escape. As an administrator, Marlena challenged teachers and staff to illuminate education as the way out, yet as a visionary, Marlena has created paths of escape.

As Founder of Life Prep Academy Schools, Marlena Little has seamlessly merged her childhood with the standard of excellence imbedded in her educational experiences to provide students, regardless of any “label”, the limitless opportunities a high-quality education affords.  Her philosophical beliefs about education are the guiding principles of Life Prep.

In addition to her many roles, Marlena Little is also a mother and forever learner.  She is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership and has the pleasure of raising a nine-year-old daughter.


Thanks for the HBeyCU Love!

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By Naomi Shelton 

This article was first published at http://www.k12dc.education

The think pieces are in and folks are falling over themselves about King Bey’s #BeyChella performance. Late Saturday night (stupid early Sunday morning for those of us on the East Coast), Beyoncé took to the stage at Coachella Music Festival and gave us what I will refer to as her blackest performance to date, an HBCU homecoming halftime show on steroids - a midwest Classic game with two Southern football teams serving as the bookends to the real entertainment. Beyoncé gave us peak blackness that we’ve only seen come to life a handful of times both on the small and large screen with A Different World and School Daze(for the throwback) and Drumline (if you’re new school).

But all good things come with backlash… before I get into that, let’s continue to revel in Bey’s GOOD vibes.

During a yearlong raincheck, King Bey took her double the pleasure, double the fun artistic Mama juices to dream up the most glorious headline experience that Coachella has ever seen. Beyonce Giselle ‘My Daddy Attended Fisk University’ Knowles-Carter knew that if she were going step on stage in front of a majority privileged white gaze, she was gonna be black and pretty as ever. Giving us homecoming Queen meets J Sette’s finest, Bey and the more than 100 performers and musicians gave us a show that will not soon be forgotten. Y’all can go and read about it, so I won’t go into detail, just know my mother is still mad at me for not waking her up to allow her to bask in the gloriousness of the moment in real time.

However, this love fest of one of the most popular facets of HBCU culture wasn’t the end all be all for Mrs. Carter. The BeyGOOD initiative announced the HBCU Homecoming Scholarship, a gift of $100,000 to four UNCF member institutions (a lucky and academically prepared student from Tuskegee University, Bethune-Cookman University, Xavier University of Louisiana and Wilberforce University will receive a $25,000 scholarship) was announced less than 48 hours later. This second iteration of gifts follows the 2017 Formation Scholarship in honor of the one year anniversary of the drop of her Lemonade album.

Your cousins can’t let us be great without a little contrarian love.

AfAm Ivory tower folks have complained about the performance (eyeroll), essentially saying it trivializes the totality of the HBCU experience. To that I say: Can We Live? Can we enjoy a moment where someone who isn’t required to love on our 101 tells her own mama: these white people will make it and Google will help them? Others have complained that the financial gift Beyoncé will bestow upon four students is a drop in the bucket. To that I say: DID Y’ALL ASK DR. DRE WHY HE DIDN’T GIVE HIS COINS TO UNCF OR AN HBCU?

As a graduate of Tougaloo College, a small but mighty private, football team-less, four-year institution in the heart of Mississippi, I know what it means to lean into another school’s light (shout out to Jackson State University, the Sonic Boom of the South, The Prancing J Settes and of course the football program that made it all possible – the JSU Tigers), allowing the cultural experience of their fall weekend routine spill over into my studious, academic focused enclave. Both of these institutions (and four others) offer Mississippi much more than art and entertainment, and are economic drivers for the Magnolia State, that goes without saying. But to treat an hour and forty-minute performance as the sole amplifier of the perception of entertainment being all HBCU’s have to offer is laughable. By virtue of my student loans and day job, I am forever a member of the larger academia focused HBCU community and culture, which includes athletics and entertainment. Like “my people, my people,” HBCUs are not monolithic.

What I’ve learned in my time with my nearly 75-year-old organization (and as my girl Dr. Crystal de Gregory recently said) is we must bask in the sunlight when it shines on us. This time last year, my colleagues and I were still fielding questions about a certain meeting and photo op in a house that is often referred to by its color. If this year, Beyoncé wants to shift the narrative, show our schools some love, share some financial resources and school white folks on all tied up in the gloriousness of our halftime shows, guess what? I am not mad, and you shouldn’t be either.

And of course, if you found yourself inspired by Mrs. Knowles-Carter and want to show a little scholarship love on your own, feel free to visit www.uncf.org/invest and put your money to work to make more HBCU halftime shows possible.

TN Ready…Not Ready. Again…


Testing was not ready yesterday. When will we do something about others setting standards for us they cannot reach themselves?

I am not the biggest supporter of testing, but I do understand its place. However, the least we can do or should be able to expect from our state department of education, or the powers that be, is a test that is ready to be taken, when its supposed to be.

We talk about the test all year. We teach to the test all year. We try and prepare our students for the test all year. And then when the time comes, it’s not the students, parents, school staff that’s not ready. It’s the test.

That’s problematic for me. Highly problematic. What’s more disheartening is that more people aren’t outraged or at least pissed off enough to do/say something.

But I really want the stakeholders in Memphis to understand this: I just don’t know how to go about it.

But here’s what I do have:

Commissioner Candice McQueen Contact Info-


Please let her know your concerns with TN Ready.


Four Years Old and a Target of Racism


By guest blogger Kristle Pressley

Fears. We all have them – fear of heights, fear of spiders, fear of failure. Before becoming a mom, my fears were simple. I don’t do heights, I don’t do insects, and I don’t do clusters of tiny holes (yes, that’s an actual phobia called “trypophobia”). After giving birth to my daughter four years ago, my fears suddenly multiplied. 

As moms, we try to keep our kids as safe as possible to calm our own fears. One of the aspect of parenting we worry about most is protecting our babies. We pay for swim lessons to hopefully protect them from drowning. We have talks about “stranger danger” to hopefully protect them from predators. We buy bug spray to help protect them from insect bites. We are in “protection mode” from the very moment that new life is placed in our arms at the hospital. That is our mission in life – protect our offspring at all costs. I didn’t think about having to protect my daughter from other people’s prejudices and preconceived notions about her based on the color of her skin at such a young age. 

I took my daughter in to the American Girl store here in Atlanta for a little shopping. We went two days earlier to enjoy lunch in the café as a kind of last hoorah before spring break ended. It was her first time in the store and she walked in and immediately fell in love. I mean, what little girl wouldn’t love a toy store full of fancy dolls and matching accessories? It’s like a designer shoe store for girls. We purchased some items after our lunch (she just HAD to have the exact sleeper and blanket the display doll had on), but of course she convinced me to go back and buy more stuff, so on this trip, we brought daddy.

We walked in and her eyes lit up like it was her first time all over again and she hadn’t just been there two days ago. She forced us to bring along two of her AG dolls with us so she could see how the clothes would look on them and try some things on. We walked around as her little fingers gently glided over dresses, boots, hair clips, and a plethora of overpriced baby doll blankets. I slowly walked behind her and held on to everything she picked up because I have seemed to pick up the role of personal assistant lately *insert side-eye*. Her eyes spotted the little white Bitty Baby rocking chair she had rocked her Bitty Baby baby in two days earlier and she just HAD to show her dad since he wasn’t there to see this beauty the first time.  She dragged us over- Bitty Baby in hand- sat in the rocking chair and began to sing a sweet lullaby to her baby as I have done to her for countless nights since her birth. “Oh what a great mommy you are!” shouted my husband. I stood back and just watched as I often do, because I like to just take in these precious moments of toddlerhood. “This scene is just perfect,” I thought to myself. 

Then an older Caucasian sales associate approached us with a forced smile on her face. She glanced at my little brown skinned girl holding onto her brown Bitty Baby dressed exactly as the display Bitty Baby, then glanced immediately at the display to see if the store one was still perfectly swaddled where it should have been. After glancing back and forth a couple of times she made a little small talk, always stressing the word “YOUR” when asking about my daughter’s baby doll. “Oh is that YOUR Bitty Baby? Are you having fun with YOUR Bitty Baby? All the while constantly staring at the display and the other AG doll in my hand in a questionable fashion. I could tell my husband felt just as uncomfortable with this scene and I was right. Once I hurried away from her, he looked at me and said, “Did you notice that?” “I sure did,” I responded. “She was trying to make sure we didn’t take that display doll.” I could feel my blood starting to boil. Not quite a full on “throw in the noodles now boil,” but more like that slow boil when your pot of water has just crossed the threshold from being cold to that first bubble that signifies boil status. 

“Let it go,” I told myself. “Don’t overreact.” We headed to the counter to pay for our items and I noticed the sales associate still watching us. “She is making sure we are going to pay,” I said quietly. We paid and headed towards the door because I was more than annoyed at this point. My daughter was oblivious and still shrieking with joy and asking for more items on the way out. This same associate stopped us on our way out and inquired just a little more about this Bitty Baby. As I leaned my body against the door to push it open and get the hell out of there, my husband and I heard her yell to another associate, “Ok, the Bitty Babies are now accounted for!” I immediately saw red as my husband looked at me and said, “Yep, I heard that too.” 

We headed to the car, but something inside of me just wouldn’t let me leave. I made hubby and Delainie wait in the car while I went inside to sneakily ask another associate whether or not they usually take inventory of dolls while customers are in the store playing with said dolls. Her half-ass response ended with, “Yeah we just had to make sure she wasn’t taking one of ours.” I ran faster than Jackie Joyner Kersey out of that door because I could feel myself about to do something I would regret. She had basically told me that they had to make sure I wasn’t going to steal – that my BLACK family wasn’t going to steal. We were the only black family in the store. The only family being treated differently. Once again, I went to the car and told my husband what happened. We talked and agreed it needed to be addressed further. I was so angry that I had to fight back tears while retelling the story to the manager. I REFUSED to let this woman see me cry. I REFUSED to let anger make me act of our character in front of my child. I had to set an example for her. 

We left and headed to brunch, but I couldn’t get the scene out of my mind. I was so angry and even my husband could see it. I went home and ran a hot bath later that night to relax a little. As I sat down, I took a deep breath, and I cried. Big, silent tears flowed down my face as I covered my mouth so my husband couldn’t hear me sobbing. As a mother of a black child, you know one day you will have to face race issues and explain them to your child, but a FOUR YEAR OLD?! My innocent, four year old daughter was harassed and followed like a criminal in a place that is supposed to be euphoric for a little girl. Have you ever heard black people say, “No matter what we do, it’s never good enough?” It’s true. 

That sales associate didn’t know my daughter is a great kid from a loving home with two hard-working parents. She didn’t know this little girl’s parents have never been in trouble with the law or that she goes to a top notch private school where she excels in everything. Nope. None of that was ever thought about, nor did it matter. 

That sales associate just saw a little black girl with afro puffs walking around an expensive doll store and she immediately went on high alert.  The sermon at church a few hours earlier was about race relations and loving your neighbor no matter what race, religion or ethnicity. I sat in the tub and prayed for God to remove the anger from my heart. I also prayed for him to give me the strength to fight battles like this more often because I realized that as I am a woman raising a black child, this is just the beginning of a lifelong fight of preparing her for being judged because of her skin. 

In the end, I received a call from AG’s corporate headquarter less than 24 hours later addressing my concerns.  They informed me the associate was no longer employed there. Kudos to AG for fighting to maintain a culture of inclusiveness and resolving the problem so quickly.