OF HURRICANES, TEACHERS, TNREADY AND POLL RESULTS

No matter how bad your weekend was, it certainly was not bad as in SE Texas. They were hit by a devastating hurricane this weekend that continues to wreak havoc even now. Yours truly spent time growing up in NE San Antonio and spent many a weekend and vacation at Port Aransas where the storm reached ground. It is all extremely heartbreaking. If you can, I encourage you to reach out to either Texan star JJ Watt’s relief fund or the American Red Cross and help. The need can not be overstated.

TEACHERS WORK TOO MUCH, GET PAID TOO LITTLE

Part of my weekend was spent on Twitter discussing teacher expectations versus teacher compensation with a principal from a school in Montana – I love Twitter and you can follow me at @norinrad10. The discussion began when a picture was posted on Twitter of a school parking lot filled with teacher cars on a Saturday morning and the tweet that celebrated their dedication. I countered that we probably should be a little slow in celebrating this dedication because most of those teachers, in all likelihood, were not getting paid for that dedication.

Thus began a little bit of brouhaha over expectations and compensation. I was called cynical because it was truly a beautiful thing that these teachers were willing to come in on their own time to do what was necessary. It was brought to my attention, as if I wasn’t aware, that teaching is a service profession, and how dare I say negative things about those willing to serve.

First of all, I am well aware that teaching is a service profession and that we are blessed that people are willing to step up and dedicate their life to educating our children. However, as one follower of the discussion pointed out, why can’t they be both compensated and passionate? Why must it be an either/or situation?

Over the years, expectations on teachers have grown exponentially while salaries have failed to keep pace. Andy Spears at TN Ed Report has done an excellent job documenting this trend. Teachers’ work ethic and dedication have had the unintended consequence of contributing to allowing expectations to exceed compensation. Politicians and policy makers have banked on the fact that no matter how much you put on teachers’ plates, they will rise to the bell. Ever hear the phrase, “You can’t sell the cow if you give away the milk for free”?

While it’s extremely noble for people to go in and do required work on their own time, it contributes to a culture of teachers working more than they are paid for. It also puts no impetus on increasing salaries in a timely manner or safe guarding planning time. Every year, the issue of teacher raises comes up, and every year it’s either a minimal increase or a promise of addressing it in the future. But there are never a shortage of new initiatives because everybody knows teachers will do whatever it takes to get it done.

I received a chorus of responses as well that said, “My working harder has no impact on other teachers.” Unfortunately, that’s not true. People’s behavior creates a culture. If teachers are all working extra hours and having success, a natural byproduct will be either an implicit or explicit endorsement that will create a culture of expectation. An expectation that all teachers will be willing to give freely of their personal time. After all, when was the last time you saw a principal walk into the teacher’s lounge on a Monday and thank all of those who stayed home over the weekend? What about that new teacher who asks, “When do you get all this work done?” and gets a response of, “The school is usually open on the weekend.”

Ultimately, this dedication affects the whole profession. After all, if I’m a young person with student loan debt, am I going to want to stay in a profession in which I am under-compensated and expected to work for free? How many weekend trips with my college friends, who went into law, business, or medicine, am I going to have to pass up before I start exploring other options? How many years am I going to pay rent on an apartment because I can’t afford to buy a house before I make a career change?

So while I admire the dedicated teachers, and I am glad they exist, ultimately it’s a zero sum game. People must be compensated in order to preserve their passion. We also need to recognize that just because we are willing to wear a hair shirt, everyone else shouldn’t be expected to as well. It is not a sin or a betrayal to the profession to expect to be compensated for your work and expertise. After all, if working extra hours produces better results, should’t that alone be justification for higher pay?

Show me a picture of some teachers flinging bling like rap stars, and I’ll celebrate that as much as I celebrate pictures of teachers volunteering on a weekend. As parents and community members, we need to make this a priority if we truly want the best educational outcomes for our kids. We can’t keep drinking the milk and not buying the cow.

TN READY AND ILLUSIONS

There was an interesting article in Chalkbeat TN over the weekend. Never one to miss a Friday afternoon news drop, the TNDOE confirmed that test scores for grades 3-8 had dropped. But we shouldn’t be concerned because everything is right on track and improving. In order to have better results in the future, this drop was necessary. Which, if you follow the logic through, means that previous classes over the last 10 years just weren’t that well educated, and it’ll probably take another couple years before future classes are well educated. But I digress.

My favorite quote in the article came from State Board Chairman F. Fielding Rolston, who celebrated the noble task of establishing the cut scores. He said, “This is really the result of 10 years of hard work to get the standards where they need to be. We’ve increased expectations. We’ve approved standards. Now we’re setting cut scores.”

Well, okay. I liken this to hiring a contractor to build my dream home. After 10 years of paying him, he takes me out to a field with just a basement dug and with great pride announces, “We bought the nails and lumber, surveyed the property, and wrote the plans. This is going to be a magnificent house.”

Huh? What are you basing this on? After paying you for 10 years and living in my hovel, I’d like to see a foundation, maybe some walls, a frame… you know, progress. Instead, all I’m getting is heady proclamations rooted in nothing concrete.

Cut scores used to be based on a bell curve, and they were suspect enough at that time. Now, the cut scores are based on expectations determined during the summer by a panel of Tennessee educators, plus subsequent analysis of their recommendations by state experts. Let me translate: a bunch of really intelligent people get together, and based on their experience and research, determine what they think kids should be capable of doing. Far be it from me, the non-expert, to raise the specter of subjectivity, but in this era of upward-spiraling expectations, who will be the one to ground them?

Oh well, it’s really a moot point anyhow. Full results won’t be released until later in the fall, and at that time, kids will have been in school for at least 2 months. Two months void of data that supposedly is compiled to guide instruction, but in reality is more about adults and their need for perceived accountability than it is about actually serving kids.

RANDOM NOTES

Congratulations go out to Oliver Middle Prep drama teacher Carolyn Sharp, who was recognized over the weekend as the 2017 Teacher of the Year by the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Now in its 23rd year, the award recognizes excellence in arts education and includes a $500 grant for the recipient’s school. I think the parent quote in MNPS’s press release needs to be highlighted:

“A teacher as dedicated and encouraging as Caroline Sharp is a gem in today’s busy, over-committed world,” said Jessica Mitchell, whose daughter attends Oliver Middle School. “She deserves to be honored for improving the school’s drama program, producing exemplary musicals and, most of all, for positively impacting thousands of students. She makes a difference in the lives of her students every day.”

There is a meeting scheduled for August 31st at Cane Ridge ES to discuss new zoning plan. All parents are invited.

If you are a youth, the Mayor may be looking for you. Applications are now being accepted to join the Mayor’s Youth Council. The deadline to submit your application is September 1, 2017. The Mayor’s Youth Council works to engage youth across Nashville in community initiatives.

Local blogger Vesia Wilson-Hawkins has a new post evoking the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King. Since I’m a firm believer that we all need to repeatedly read the whole “I Have a Dream” speech, I encourage y’all to hustle over there and answer her question.

POLL RESULTS

I always like it when the poll results don’t completely reflect my own opinions. It means that we are staying out of the echo chamber. This week’s results present an example of that disparity.

The first question was in regards to the school board’s recent review on whether local charter school Smithson-Craighead Academy should have its 10-year charter renewed. Your answer, and one I agree with, was a resounding no. Over 75% of you answered such. No other answer reached double digits. Closing a school is extremely painful and shouldn’t be treated lightly, but sometimes the results demand action.

Here are the write-in answers:

data or not, charters are a poor idea 1
No 1
the data has been screaming no for years. 1
I thought they had already closed! 1
Probably so, but closing a school is so painful and disruptive for kids.

Question two was on how concerned you are with the district’s sharing of student data. Sixty-five percent of you indicated that you were deeply concerned. Sixteen percent of you responded in the manner I would have, which is that I don’t really care because the information is readily available elsewhere. Clearly this is a subject I need to become more attuned to.

The majority of you did indicate that your concerns went much deeper than just charter schools. Which I was good with because to me, the charter marketing is secondary to improving our schools. If we take away the demand for charters, we reduce the need and marketing becomes inconsequential. I don’t believe a single parent who feels that their kid’s school is adequately meeting their needs gets a flier from a charter and decides to enroll. We have critical work to do in the areas of teacher recruitment/retention, capital needs, and ensuring that we are fully utilizing our existing resources, and I think those areas have more of an impact on parental choice than any marketing campaign.

That said, I do believe an overarching conversation on what data is available to whom is required. There have been misuses of student data by all, and the district needs to take whatever steps necessary to ensure those misuses aren’t repeated. We share so much data with third party vendors, and that needs to be looked at more closely. If I’m not mistaken, we use a third party vendor to do district call outs. That’s just one example. I would also hope charter operators note that 25% of respondents indicated a distrust of charter schools. Work needs to be done there.

Here are the write-in answers:

Very. Not held to same standards, not true MNPS schools 1
Charter schools are district schools. It’s a non-issue to me. 1
Charters will possibly use this information as a recruiting tool 1
I thought charters were part of the district?

The last question was the most serious, and it was in relation to recent newspaper articles investigating the subject of the reporting of child abuse instances. Over the weekend, the Tennessean explored why cases may be going unreported. I asked if readers who are teachers felt they had received proper training on reporting abuse suspicions. Thirty-one percent of you said you could use more, which I think is a valid response to an issue this serious. Twenty-six percent of you felt you’d received adequate training. That’s heartening.

What was a little disheartening was that 17% said it’s never been discussed and another 20% thought training was inadequate. Hopefully, district leaders will take these answers to heart and quickly make sure that is not the case. I would extend that to charter school operators as well.

Here are the write-in answers:

MNPS dictates sulley process 1
No longer in MNPS. No training in my ten years. 1
N/A 1
There is never enough training on such a serious issue 1
parent/ NA

That does it. Be safe out there, and I’ll see you Friday. Remember, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com

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