THANKSGIVING WEEK KICKOFF

This being Thanksgiving week and all, I thought I would start the week off by saying thank you to all the wonderful public school educators who have really helped me over the past year get a better understanding of how policy translates from the boardroom into the classroom. Then I remembered, nobody wants it to be public knowledge that they talk to me, so I best make that a general thank you. Y’all know who you are and please know how appreciated you are.

I do want to publicly acknowledge all of the hardworking professional reporters who deliver daily coverage of education issues. Writing this blog has taught me a whole lot about what a difficult job reporters have, especially since I started writing with a self-imposed deadline of Mondays and Fridays. Writing on a deadline means writing often when you don’t feel like you’ve fully grasped all of the elements of a story but know that it needs to be told. It can mean that some things get missed and some things get over-covered. It’s a delicate balance and better executed by those who make their living delivering the news.

We, as readers, often feel that our passions don’t get enough coverage or that the coverage afforded is biased. Writing this blog over the last four years has taught me that covering issues in a timely manner that captures all of the nuances and complexity is a difficult task. I’m extremely grateful for the men and women who take up the challenge daily and would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to them for their efforts.

CHARTER SCHOOL REPORT

The Network for Public Education released an in-depth study last week on the subject of charter schools and their impact on the educational landscape of America. It is 50 pages long, well written, and provides as complete an argument as any you’ll read on the downside of charter school growth. If you’ve been even marginally involved in the charter school debate over the last several years, most of what’s included will be familiar to you. The depth of the research presented here should be evidence enough to warrant proceeding with caution when considering charter schools as a method for improving educational outcomes. That said, I don’t find this report without fault.

As is so common in the fight over charter schools, with guilt attached to both sides, parents are, for the most part, underemphasized. Sure, evidence is cited about how parents are mislead, ignored, duped, taken advantage of, etc., but where is the study on why parents initially made the choice to explore a charter school option? We have lots of anecdotal stories about charter schools’ marketing plans and deceptive practices, but little insight into why parents were open to these strategies.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep reiterating it, nobody ever was satisfied with their school options, even marginally, and upon receiving some marketing material thought, “Hmmm… things are good at our kid’s school, but this unknown entity sure sounds good. Let’s give it a try.” People don’t like change. As much as we talk about the allure of the new, people are creatures of habit and unless there is real impetus to change, they are perfectly content to continue with the same patterns. So in order for the charter school movement to have taken root and grown, that impetus has to exist, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a real conversation about what it is and how it influences demand.

I don’t know the answer. I used to believe it was about nefarious forces setting out to destroy our democratic institutions. But then I actually started talking to parents that have made the choice to send their children to charter schools, something that the MNPS School Board can’t seem to bring itself to do, and a different picture emerged. In talking to parents, I discover few of them have malicious intent. Most tell stories of their children not getting what they need at a traditional school and therefore creating a need to find an alternative solution. Few have the means to move housing or arrange transportation to an out-of-zone school, so they act based on their options. Options that wealthier families explore every day.

All you have to do is look where school board members and other district officials send their kids. Sure they are in zoned schools, but that’s a lot easier when you can buy a home in a wealthier neighborhood. Furthermore, nobody likes to hear this, but if you chose a traditional district school over your zoned school, the impact on the zoned school is the same as if you had chosen to send your child to a charter school. MNPS’s current “choice” system allows wealthier families to be champions of public education while still fleeing our high-needs schools. So even if charter schools were eradicated tomorrow, the system would still be tilted to the benefit of the wealthier families over poorer families. The only real solution I see is to fight to ensure that all schools are offering the same opportunities to all kids.

Yesterday I came across this letter from parents at a Los Angeles area elementary school. In it, parents respond to a proposed survey by calling attention to the aspect of LAUSD that rankles them the most:

The format of this survey epitomizes the aspect of LAUSD education that we are LEAST satisfied with: an apparent obsession with numerical, rather than qualitative, data. Willingness to sacrifice expression and genuine engagement in the name of standardization and check-box “accountability.” In short: standards = standardization = standardized “tests” = LAUSD/Ed Department hears only what it wants to hear (positive or negative, depending on the hearer’s love of charter schools).

I encourage you to read the whole letter. It should serve as a call for our public education leaders to actually engage in a real conversation and not just toss around words like “parent engagement” and “parent voice” which in reality translate into nothing more than another tool to push personal agendas. We are so quick to look for boogeymen in the charter school wars that we neglect to examine how the state of public schools and leadership plays into parental decisions. The Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee recently asked a charter school parent to come talk to us about why they made a choice other than their zoned school. It was very eye-opening. Which high school their elementary school kid would attend, safety, and course of study all played a role in their decision. Destruction of the public school system did not. Maybe if we sat down and actually talked with parents who have explored the charter school option, we would find that they are overly swayed by misinformation. But that would be a conclusion based on conversation and not assumption.

This past weekend, I listened to an interview about race and patriotism with Ta-Nehisi Coates on NPR. In the interview, he talked about patriotism a la carte – picking and choosing the parts of history you want to celebrate. In his eyes, this form of patriotism does a disservice to our country and we need to adopt a patriotism that resembles our personal relationships. We need to love our country like we love our spouses and our spouses love us. Our spouses love us in spite of our faults, but they never ignore them. They don’t pretend that we are infallible. They don’t blow smoke up our ass when we are not living up to our potential. Being critical does not translate to being unsupportive. I was struck by just how much this holds true for our schools as well. We need to love our public schools and push them like we are loved and pushed by our significant others.

QUICK HITS

Tomorrow, November 21, at 9AM, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry will be sitting down with the MNPS School Board to “report out” on forward progress the board has made over the past 18 months since hiring Dr. Shawn Joseph as the Director of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Board members will brief the Mayor on their “Building a Better Board” initiative, including the development of a new strategic framework to guide MNPS into the future, intensive professional-development efforts between the board and senior management, identification of key performance indicators that will allow the board and the public to better monitor organizational performance, design of new board and superintendent accountability systems, and an overhaul of the board’s governing policies in partnership with the Tennessee School Boards Association. Got all of that?

(Jared Amato/Jason Reynolds)

The event is open to the public, and I’m weighing my attendance based on whether it’ll be an actual conversation or just another love fest that ignores some of our very real issues. It will most likely a game time decision.

Maplewood HS teacher Jared Amato continues to reap accolades for his work with ProjectLit. Congratulations to him for being named Penguin Random House Teacher of the Year.

Congratulation to the Pearl-Cohn and Cane Ridge High School football teams. Both won their games this past weekend and will advance to the next round of State playoffs.

At McKissack Middle School, the football champs spent some time learning about the science of football. That’s right, I said science. It’s all connected.

Please don’t assume that because I’m not talking about the rumors that I am not aware of the rumors. Timing is everything.

(Dupont-Tyler’s Young Men of Distinction)

Over at Dupont-Tyler Middle School, last Tuesday was tie day for the young men of distinction. Looking good guys! Young Men of Distinction is a mentoring group for high-risk young men. This is an opportunity for young men to learn life skills, including how to treat women. 

Croft Middle Design Center folks spent the weekend planting trees and working in the community garden. The commitment to community at Croft is part of their core philosophy and is just one of their admirable qualities.

Last Friday I was invited to watch a Reading Recovery session. Afterwards I was asked my opinion. My answer was that it looks like good teaching to me. I know there is some question of Reading Recovery’s value to students diagnosed with dyslexia, but the session I observed utilized several different elements and was extremely keyed in to what a child’s needs were. I was very impressed by what I saw and look forward to seeing more sessions.

(Croft Middle Design Center)

Hundreds of books were delivered on bicycles to Dodson Elementary thanks to the nonprofit group Ride for Reading. The program was started by a MNPS school teacher back in 2008 and has grown into a nationwide campaign that’s delivered more than 300,000 books to students across the country.

 

(Read and Ride)

 

POLL RESULTS

Let’s turn now to this week’s poll results.

Our first question asked for your thoughts on the recently sent home MAP test results. I shouldn’t be surprised that the number one answer was “Don’t we have enough tests already” with 42% of the answers. I understand that many district educators feel that MAP is a valuable tool, but parents have been sending a message for the last several years that there is too much testing not that we need another tool. Only 5% percent of respondents answered in a positive manner.

Here are the write-ins, and there are quite a few:

Should have been sent with the explanation you suggested, or not sent at all. 1
They sent home color copies -costly due to color ink!!! 1
Only 6 pts growth expected over whole year. 1
What’s the point of sending them home? Do they tell parents anything? 1
It’s actually the most helpful data I’ve received since joining MNPS 1
Good to know national comparisons 1
It doesn’t match State Standards so what’s the point 1
The test is crap. 1
MAP is a great and very valid test; however, from the info — implementation?? 1
Uh, I’m a teacher and my school didn’t send them out 1
We didn’t get any results! I have kids in 2 MNPS schools and nada. 1
Advanced academic kids don’t take them. No scores here.

 

Question two was about AP’s becoming the “Acting Principal” for the first 6 weeks of the first quarter after winter break. The logic of this program appears to be lost on DGW readers with 32% of you responding that it was the dumbest thing you ever heard of and 25% of you asking if this was a “Prince George’s thing.” Only 3% of you thought it was a fantastic idea.

Lots of you had write-in thoughts though. A couple cringeworthy ones, but I always print them all. Here they are:

The AP pool and pipeline system is total crap. 1
Who will teachers really be accountable to for those 6 weeks??? 1
Wonder how my inept AP got in the program. 1
Great in theory but whose AP and principal are actually a great team? 1
Who gets paid what? How about someone does my hard job while I sit around? 1
Ours isn’t ready, so why give her the chance to fail? 1
Should have had someone “acting” instead of Ron Woodard

The last question asked for your thoughts on NOAH’s recently-held forums on restorative practices. Most of you, 29%, indicated that you would have liked to attend but were unable to. The second leading answer, 23%, wrote the forums off as more liberal BS. When coupled with the 23% of respondents who indicated that they had no desire to attend, I would say there is a need for an informational campaign on restorative practices.

Once again, we got quite a few write-in entries, many of which back up the above assertion:

I don’t even know what this is 1
What is it? 1
I didn’t even know about it. 1
Good info, but Elementary schools were not discussed. 1
Is this org blaming schools for poverty trauma? 1
The practice doesn’t work–period. 1
I was unaware 1
It CAN be an effective program 1
Didn’t know about them

That does it for the week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. Have a great Thanksgiving and we’ll see you on the flip side.

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