Today’s post may be a little disjointed and for that, I apologize. It’s been a crazy week. On Tuesday while teaching her class, my wife got an urgent summons from her father. Her mother had fallen out of bed and broken several vertebrae. She was very lucky to still be alive but the threat of paralysis still loomed over her. She lay in traction until yesterday, when doctors performed surgery that will hopefully ensure a full recovery.
Thank God my mother-in-law is in great shape, and fortunately everything looks positive right now. It’s still going to be a long road to recovery. But we as a family feel extremely blessed and ready to face whatever challenges are presented going forth.
It was a grim reminder of just how fragile life is. All the precaution and planning can’t protect us from the randomness that is an integral part of life. We are all at its mercy. As John Lennon sang in “Beautiful Boy,” “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” This week drove that point home and served as a reminder to love a little harder, be a little kinder, and to maybe prioritize a little better.
Despite my personal tragedies, the world did not stand still this week. In fact, quite a bit happened. Let’s get after it.
STATE HEARINGS ON TESTING
As turmoil continues to swirl around the state’s standardized test, TNReady, the state House Education Committee held hearings to try to assess the validity of the process. State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen offered testimony along with testimony from teachers, a superintendent, a school board member, and a researcher. Things got a little testy at times, but I would not expect a major change in policy going forth.
Several teachers, representatives of SCORE, got up and testified that TNReady is an important driver of instruction and without the in-depth data it provides, their ability to teach kids would be seriously hampered. I am always loathe to criticize teachers, but in this case, I’m skeptical. Where are examples of this in-depth reporting that they cited? How does data that doesn’t arrive until well after the school year begins drive instruction with a completely different set of students?
I’m always baffled by teachers who argue they need the data to get an accurate picture of where their students are performing. Really? What teacher has gotten back results from a kid’s test that totally shocked them and changed the perception of what level the child was performing? A high school English teacher told me last week that he could predict within a couple points the ACT score of most of his freshman students from two years ago. I find that to be the rule and not an exception.
Another common refrain echoed former US Secretary of Education John King’s words delivered this week at Cleveland’s City Club. It’s all about equity in education, he said. Though school “accountability” measures like tests are unpopular, he said, they help make sure that students of all incomes and ethnicities have fair resources and learning opportunities.
I’ve got to call a little bullshit on this. The act of measuring in itself is not enough. If we are not making sure that we using an accurate measurement tool, then we might as well be gathering anecdotal information. Would you build a house using a ruler whose foot measurement was actually 12.5 inches? Accountability means nothing without accuracy, and by trying to utilize an inaccurate measurement tool, all you are doing is inflicting accountability on children while letting adults off the hook. We need to bring the same level of accountability to those creating the tools as we expect from those impacted by the tools.
Testing should never be more than a tool and should have no more impact on education than a hammer has on the building of a house. We don’t overemphasize the use of a hammer during construction; rather, we recognize that it is one of many tools we will utilize to finish the project. Education should follow similar practice.
I heard a great analogy from a dear friend this past week. Test results are like school class pictures. They provide a snapshot of what a child looks like on that day. They tell a story about a child’s life at that moment on that day, but should never be considered the whole picture.
For a deeper look into testing issues, I encourage you to check out my dear friend Mary Holden’s recent blog post. Wise words from a long time educator:
You can’t use these tests to measure school success. Or to measure equity. In fact, that is what some pro-testing advocates believe – that we need annual tests to show us the inequities. But hello! We already know where the inequities are (since there is a strong correlation between test scores and poverty levels – see also here, here, and here)! So here’s a novel idea —– let’s actually fix the inequities!!! Let’s take a long, hard look at how to eradicate poverty and reduce the effects of trauma on our kids.
WHITE LIVES MATTER
As Shelbyville and Murfreesboro brace for a White Lives Matter rally this coming weekend, there is already one casualty. Middle Tennessee State University was scheduled this weekend to host the Contest of Champions, which is a huge, end-of-season marching band contest. Spring Hill HS organized the contest for Saturday. Out of safety concerns, the event was cancelled for this weekend.
Late Tuesday night, area band leaders received an email notifying them of the decision to cancel. The prestigious, invitation-only band competition is one of several weekend events cancelled at the college, which will also lock its residence halls, said university President Sidney McPhee in an email. This is a real shame because the amount of work that students had invested in preparation for this event cannot be understated.
On top of the all the on-field preparation, students worked equally hard at raising money to pay for transportation and other associated costs. The event is a rare opportunity for the spotlight to be focused on those dedicated marching band members. “It’s a big honor, and our kids worked so hard,” Halls High band director Eric Baumgardner said, adding that although the band enjoys playing football games, there’s nothing like playing for an attentive crowd at the college football stadium: “The crowd is there to see them. The stadium is quiet. They talk in between the groups, not during the groups.”
A CHIEF MOVES ON
This week saw the first departure of one of the members of MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph’s initial leadership team. Chief of Staff Jana Carlisle will be leaving at the end of November. I must admit that I have mixed emotions about this development. I was often critical of Ms. Carlisle and still believe that while she did good work in other areas, she was never the right person for the Chief of Staff position nor was she ever given the opportunity to become that person. That said, I always found my personal interactions with Ms. Carlisle very pleasant and was impressed with her professionalism.
No official reason is provided, and Ms. Carlisle is certainly too professional to offer her own. I will say that over the past several months, I have received steady reports of her having an open door policy and a willingness to actively listen to those who wished to engage. The rumor mill cites this open door policy as a contributor to her departure. While I try to avoid trafficking in rumor, and I’m sure Ms. Carlisle would discourage me from doing so here, I think she’s earned the right to have that one out there. I cannot confirm nor deny it.
One also has to speculate how much board member Will Pinkston had to do with this change. It was common knowledge that the two of them often were at cross purposes. There is a board policy that is intended to prevent board members from overinfluencing district staffing decisions. However, Pinkston has always treated board policy as more of a suggestion than an edict.
Let’s see who is up next. Rumor had it that initially Dr. Joseph wanted STEM Preparatory Founder and Executive Director Kristin McGraner to fill the role. Overton HS Principal Jill Pittman was also once considered a candidate. Will these names rise to the top again, or will Dr. Joseph go in a different direction?
If you didn’t read all the way through the Tennessean article on the departure of Jana Carlisle, you might
know that at the last board meeting the plan to consolidate Glenn and Caldwell Elementary Schools was introduced. What I find ironic is that we are considering this consolidation at a time when we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first steps in Nashville schools desegregating.
On September 9th, 1957, according to an article by John Egerton published by Southern Spaces, Glenn and Caldwell were one of 8 schools that were the primary focus of desegregation actions:
It was principally at these six—Buena Vista, Jones, and Fehr on the north side and Bailey, Caldwell, and Glenn on the east—that public attention was focused, due in part to extensive advance coverage by the city’s newspapers. Two more elementary schools also were desegregated that morning—Clemons, south of downtown, and Hattie Cotton, to the northeast—but they had not been listed in the papers and thus drew no sign-waving protesters.
Of those 8 schools, Buena Vista, Jones, Caldwell, Glenn, and Hattie Cotton are still educating students.
This week I requested demographic information for MNPS based on race. What I got back was a very interesting graphic.
It shows that the number of black kids vs the number of white kids are very similar during the early elementary years but as kids progress in grade, the gap dramatically grows. It was very disheartening to me and perhaps the conversation should be a lot more specific than it is. I greatly appreciate MNPS for providing this data.
Nashville Rise Board Chair Allison Simpson talks about school choice and what it means to her in a piece recently published in Education Post. Education Post often gets criticized as being nothing but a mouthpiece for the reform movement. Be that as it may, I find that though we may have differences of opinion, Ms. Simpson is a an engaged parent who’s arrived at her personal beliefs through her own life experiences. I believe that everybody’s opinions can, when taken collectively, lead to a deeper understanding. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming Dad Gone Wild interview with Ms. Simpson. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and hope you will as well.
Nashville Rise also takes a lot of criticism, by myself included, as an organization that indoctrinates more than educates parents. Warranted or not, I will say that over the past year I have seen Nashville Rise get parents to the podium at school board meetings whose voices have never been heard before. Some of those voices don’t even speak English. That needs to be recognized and commended. We should celebrate all parents getting involved not just just those that say what we find palpable.
Congratulations need to go out to Whittsett and Inglewood Elementary Schools. Both made significant gains on the recently released TNReady scores. Scores were high enough that both were named “priority improving” schools by the state, meaning they did well, but not quite well enough, to exit the list.
I can’t help but think that Community Achieves, and their work in establishing a community schools model at these schools, played a huge role in raising those scores. The community schools model was able to increase parental and community involvement and commitment in both schools. Of course both are now slated to become STEAM Schools because nothing is ever done with fidelity.
Wondering what former MNPS Central Office rock star Kris Elliot has been up to? He’s Oregon State University’s new outdoor schools guru. Hat’s off to Kris and his accomplishments!
Nashville Blogger Vesia Hawkins continues her intense focus on literacy. Check out her latest for directions on how you can get involved.
Lastly, in the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category, at yesterday’s principal meeting Dr. Joseph brought a special guest, Maryland candidate for Governor Rushern Baker III. For the last several years Baker has been the County Executive for Prince George’s County.
I’m guessing that MNPS principals gave him a better reception than teachers at last week’s Maryland State Education Association convention. There, upon his introduction, several dozen Prince George’s County teachers walked out in protest. According to the Washington Post, Theresa Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said the protest on Friday afternoon was in response to an ongoing wage dispute with county leadership. “We weren’t going to listen to his garbage,” Dudley said, adding that the group voted Friday morning to take the action.
It baffles me why Joseph would invite Baker to a principal’s meeting. Was transition team member and personal friend Dallas Dance not available? Perhaps Joseph was unaware that Tennessee is in the midst of a governor’s race.
As always, Friday means poll questions. So let’s get them out there.
First question is in regards to TNReady. Hearings were held this week and I’m curious what you think the next step should be.
Question two is in regards to this week’s cancelled marching band competition. Was it the right choice? Several other events are proceeding as scheduled. Should this one have as well?
In light of Dr. Joseph’s inviting Mr. Baker to a principal’s meeting, who should get the next invite? Inquiring minds want to know.
That’s it. If you want, you can contact me at email@example.com. also check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.
There is precedent where board members have resigned their board position to work as a district staffer. Maybe Dr. Joseph could hire Mr. Pinkston as Chief of Staff? Would that remove the revolving door in the Communications Department?