It has been a busy week. Hopefully you found yesterday’s piece informative. We’ve got a lot more ground to cover today. Hard to believe this is only the third week of school.
AN ALT-WORLD SCHOOL BOARD MEETING
Yesterday I sat down and watched this week’s MNPS School Board meeting – I know, I need a job or, at the very least, a hobby – and was just flabbergasted, for lack of a better word. The whole meeting seemed to be grounded in some kind of alternative reality. Let’s see if we can’t make some sense of what transpired.
Before we go any further, can I make a request? Can we leave the grasping at pearls at the door? I’m going to try to do this sans the casting of aspersions or the assigning of motivations to people. That’s a difficult task in these conversations, and I probably won’t get it 100% right, but I think we need to make a greater effort to remove the hyperbole from these conversations. There are no devils and there are no angels at the table, merely mortals trying to navigate through the waters.
That being said, do I believe that every entity involved has their primary focus on kids? Absolutely not. Now before you start howling and throwing accusations of hypocrisy my way – a charge that I don’t run from because my views are constantly shifting as I absorb more information, therefore leaving me open to that accusation – hear me out and note that I’m not identifying who I think are the guilty and the innocent. I personally believe that some of the involved parties have a different primary motivation other than kids, but that said, I think we do need to focus more on evaluating actions and less on interpreting intent and picking teams. And that goes for everybody.
On Tuesday, local charter school Smithson-Craighead Academy was up for its 10-year renewal. In preparation, the MNPS Office of Charter Schools had completed a report along with its recommendation for the school. It’s not a flattering report, and they recommended the charter not be renewed.
The school has struggled since its inception a decade ago. They’ve been on academic probation for the years 2013, 2014, and 2015. They’ve had 5 executive directors since inception. The principal has remained the same up until this year, and now they have a new principal and an interim executive director. They’ve got unsustainable debt and no substantial plan to retire it. There were complaints from teachers over the summer about not getting paid. They have no substantial plans for teacher or student recruitment, and enrollment numbers have been dwindling.
There is no shortage of documentation backing up these allegations and very little tangible positive news. In my eyes, this was a clear cut decision for the board to make. In talking with members of the charter community, that opinion was further fortified. Charter community members, for the most part, recognized that this was an example of holding yourself accountable to the rhetoric.
But board members did not see things that way. In defense of the school, it was brought up that the last 2 years of test data was not available, which is a fair argument had everything else been positive. One board member brought up that this school hired a large number of African American teachers and how important that was. That’s an argument I’m extremely sympathetic to, but shouldn’t the primary goal be to have effective teachers, no matter their race? Do kids really benefit from having teachers who all look like them but are not on par with those assigned to other students?
The underlying argument was that the founders of Smithson-Craighead Academy were good people and loved children. One school board member went so far as to pronounce them “one of the good guys.” Which is good, I guess, because we don’t want those responsible for children to be out twirling their mustaches and tying women to railroad tracks. The conversation was very different than the one held recently for LEAD Academy’s renewal. I’m guessing LEAD imports mustache wax by the gallon.
The end result was that action on Smithson-Craighead’s charter re-authorization was put off for a future date. Now what’s supposed to happen between now and then, I don’t know. Maybe test scores will suddenly become available showing dramatic growth, or maybe they’ll find a pot of gold, and teachers will flock to teach there. I find all that highly unlikely, and that we are just delaying the inevitable.
I think the district as a whole would be better served if the renewal was denied. Since the district needs more teachers of color, those teachers at Smithson-Craighead could be offered district positions. And I’m sure there is a priority school in MNPS that could use the skills of the new principal, who by all accounts has skills. A plan could be developed to help those families enrolled understand their options and get placed in the best one. I am not denying that it is an extremely difficult decision, but based on the facts on the ground, it’s a necessary one.
After the culmination of the discussion about Smithhead-Craighead, the board moved to a discussion on data sharing – more on that in a minute – that included one board member speaking about the Tennessee Achievement School District and their lack of academic progress over the past decade, lack of fiscal responsibility, shortage of teachers, and declining enrollments. However, in this case, the ASD was declared to be the bad guy. Huh?
What are we doing? Are we shining our transponder quartz ultra-truth ring on people, and if you get a blue aura you are good, and red means bad? Is Malika Anderson, who oversees the ASD, a “bad” person? I don’t know, she’s always been kind of nice to me. Are the people at Smithson-Craighead good people? How do I know?
What I do know is that both entities have a model that, based on a decade of work, has proven to be ineffective, and therefore, both need to be discontinued. Motivation should not come into play. The focus needs to be on results, not who we want to hang out with at a BBQ or who is going to push our political agenda forward. We say it, but I don’t think we really understand it: kids don’t have an infinite amount of time. If they lose a year because someone made a choice based on a personal feeling sans evidence to back it up, and things don’t work out, they ain’t getting that year back.
The other main discussion at this week’s MNPS school board meeting was the brewing battle between the district and the state over the sharing of student data with charter schools. This discussion comes on the heels of several recently published articles in the Tennessean, ChalkbeatTN, and TNEd Report. These stories make it really easy for parents to become inflamed. Nobody want their child’s data readily available. The issue of privacy is a huge concern. But then I got to thinking.
This morning, I picked up the phone and called over to the TNDOE.
“Hello,” I said, “Can we talk about these pending data wars?”
“Sure,” the nice-sounding lady on the other end responded, “What would you like to know?”
“Can parents opt out?”
“There are actually two provisions for parents to opt out in the policy. The local district is required to annually send out notice to parents informing them of the policy and giving them an option to opt out. Charter schools, once they receive the data, also are required to give parents a chance to opt out,” the lady with the nice voice informed me.
I resisted the urge to ask her if she was a nice person and instead just thanked her and hung up.
I went back and re-read the other articles and didn’t see any mention of this parent opt out provision. Chalkbeat did publish an article late yesterday outlining exactly what data was potentially being shared and letting parents know how they could opt out. For Shelby County, the directory data includes the following (I’ll confirm that MNPS is the same):
- student name
- address and email
- phone number
- date and place of birth
- major field of study
- participation in officially recognized activities and sports
- weight and height of members of athletic teams
- date of attendance
- degrees and awards received
- most recent previous school district or institution attended
Now the question becomes, why are the districts sharpening their knives instead of informing parents of the opt out possibilities? MNPS employs a horde, and I mean that in the nicest way, of family engagement specialists. Are you telling me that they are incapable of putting together a FAQ and creating a campaign that allows parents to make an informed decision about their kids’ data?
I asked the TNDOE what happens when a parent opts out with a charter school. Does the school just not use the data anymore or do they actually delete the data? This is the response from Sara Gast, Director of Strategic Communications and Media at the TNDOE: ‘We have not issued formal guidance, but our recommendation would be that the student’s information is deleted if their parent declined to receive additional communications from the charter school or authorizer.” Seems like a fair enough response to me.
In my humble opinion, this is another example of seizing on an opportunity to label people “good guys” or “bad guys.” They are “bad guys” because they want to take advantage of your kid’s data. We are “good guys” because we are publicly battling for your privacy. Personally I could use a whole lot less super hero duels and more focus on things that directly impact kid’s lives for the better.
This week, Overton High School received a visitor from across the pond. It seems that Cambridge Assessments CEO Simon Lebus has been so impressed by the results at Overton that he had to come check it out himself. I understand he left even more impressed.
If you still think that virtual school idea is a good one, you need to go over to the TNEd Report and read Andy Spears’ latest. Andy also does a deep dive into teacher salaries. I know y’all are interested in that.
The MNPS Student-Parent handbook video has won a Telly award. According to the press release, “The Telly Awards, founded in 1979, is the premier award honoring outstanding content for TV and Cable, Digital and Streaming and Non-Broadcast distribution. Winners represent the best work of the most respected advertising agencies, production companies, television stations, cable operators and corporate video departments in the world, and are judged by a prestigious panel of 600+ accomplished industry professionals.” If you watch the video closely, you’ll see a certain dad and his offspring going wild.
If you haven’t checked out the Hillsboro student newspaper yet, what’s your excuse? Follow them on Twitter @HillsboroGlobe.
My dear friend Mary Holden has published a new blog post, Back to School Once More. Mary is a former classroom teacher who still educates people through her writing. Read it. You’ll be a better person.
Creswell Middle Prep introduced their ambassadors for 2017-2018. Very exciting. Last year’s group set the bar high.
Before this post becomes too long – I know, I set myself up there – let’s get to the poll questions. This week’s questions are of a serious nature. I don’t want to in any way downplay their real world implications, but I think DGW has established a reputation for being a trustworthy format for addressing those serious issues. We’ve always talked about those issues that scare others.
The first question is in regards to Smithson-Craighead Academy and whether you feel they should have their charter renewed or not. Please keep in mind that the renewal must be for a full 10-year duration and if there are any egregious situations that arise the charter could be revoked, it is a very difficult process.
The second question is in regards to whether or not you would, as a parent, opt out of your child’s directory information being shared.
Lastly, and this is the most serious of the questions, the Tennessean published an article today questioning whether MNPS has been adequately reporting cases of child abuse. They question whether teachers and administrators have been adequately trained on the proper protocol of reporting incidents of abuse. Again, not looking to grind an axe, just thinking you guys will give an honest answer and that’s what is called for.
There you have it. Have a great weekend. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.