WINTER BREAK REFLECTIONS

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Yesterday was supposed to be a day for an update, but instead I decided it was a day for family. We took the dog to the dog park, ran some family errands, went to the movies, and had dinner together. It was a marvelous day and much needed.

The movie we saw yesterday was The Greatest Showman, and I can’t praise it enough. My daughter stared in amazement through most of the show and my son was equally mesmerized. Imbedded within the movie was a very important lesson: don’t lose sight of what’s important while chasing perceived glory.

In his constant pursuit of elevated status, P.T. Barnum lost track of his family and the very things that made him successful in the first place. It is important as the year closes for us all to reflect on our own pursuit of greatness and ensure that we are not falling into a similar trap. As stated by Mrs. Barnum to her husband, “It’s not important that everyone love you, just a small group of important people.”

DGW RUMINATIONS

It seems that this season lends itself to reflection, and lately I’ve been doing a little more reflecting than usual on the state of public education. I used to spend a great deal of time railing against the forces of privatization and their machinations. But I’ve come to believe that in some ways, those of us who claim a love for public education are in fact enablers of its destruction. I know that’s going to upset some of you, but hear me out.

Everyday social media feeds are filled with tales of corruption committed by those who appear bent on destroying our beloved public schools. Yet nary a word is said about the injustices that are committed in traditional schools just as frequently.

Consider, for example, if KIPP Charter School had replaced its elementary school principal with one whose only experience was at the high school level. At the same time, they also ended a multiple-classroom leadership program that allowed for their very best teachers to earn extra money. A program that had contributed to the much needed stabilizing of their staff. Furthermore, back in August when registration was low, KIPP decreased their staffing levels, thus failing to take into account the influx of homeless students who would show up when the weather turned cold, just like those students did every year.

I believe school board members and community members would be outraged and would, rightly so, demand action. But this didn’t happen at KIPP. It happened at Buena Vista Elementary School. One of our most challenging schools. These are actions that have a direct impact on students and their learning, yet I haven’t heard any outcry. Have you?

Two years ago, there was a huge controversy about a book assigned to students at Nashville Prep, a charter school. There was outrage that such an inappropriate book was assigned to students. This year, the district has implemented a literacy plan that is almost universally rejected by teachers, yet not a question is raised on the board floor. In all fairness, board member Jill Speering did try to raise questions during a presentation at a board meeting earlier in the year, but received little support from fellow board members. One was so disinterested that they decided to go ahead and leave the meeting.

These are just a couple of examples that, in my opinion, have contributed to an overall acceptance of the shortcomings of public education. Just this year alone, on top of the literacy issues, we’ve seen a multi-million dollar initiative, STEAM, devoid of leadership for the majority of the year while implementation was ongoing. At a time when there is a heightened awareness of workplace sexual harassment, we’ve seen one investigation take almost two months before reaching a conclusion and another that is still unresolved, despite complaints being filed on November 17th. Imagine if Rocketship Academy had similar issues.

I’ve come to the belief that public education, like many of our democratic institutions, sufferers from a public perception of being inherently inept. Some of this is the result of prolonged attacks by those who devalue the role of government, but much of it stems from our unwillingness to demand more. Instead of expressing outrage over these failings, we shrug and consider them just a factor of a large organization.

If you look at polls over the last several decades, you’ll see that faith in the system has suffered while satisfaction with our individual schools remains consistently high. I believe that’s because we expect the large bureaucracy that is public education to be filled with inadequacies, while we are not as willing to accept that in our individual schools and so we demand more from them. In essence, that’s what parents who choose charter schools are doing.

By choosing a charter school, they are reducing the size of the bureaucracy to a much more manageable level. And in a choice system, like Nashville has, I would argue that parents who choose non-zoned schools are doing the same. They are choosing to fight for their piece of the pie and to leave the whole to basically fend for itself.

This weekend’s post received a comment that illustrates that very tenet:

I wonder on some level, when has MNPS been a stellar place to work, where teachers felt supported, students were wonderfully behaved in every cluster, and diversity was championed? IMO the frustrations and problems are systemic and indicative of a larger issue that goes far beyond a figure head or board. I’ve definitely desired more planning time, but when colleagues use planning time to go to bank, run errands, and not actually “plan” it hurts the argument. Ive needed more resources, but when I went to another school with abundance I lacked nothing, I’ve disliked curricular choices BUT that didn’t stop me from making it work with what I have and Ss succeeding. There’s no quick fix, magic bullet, one person to change it all…it isn’t me vs my principal vs my school vs my area sup vs my district vs Dr J vs the school board vs the state vs the feds.

The argument put forth here is that it’s a flawed system by nature, and therefore, the only way to navigate is to focus on just the immediate area. The flawed literacy plan is rendered moot because individual teachers are able to modify and ignore it in order to make it effective. Sexual harassment is not taking place in my building, so I leave that to someone else. In essence, ignore the whole and focus only on what you can impact.

Parents recognize that not all schools are created equal. They recognize that not all schools have the resources to fend for themselves. They don’t have PTO’s that can provide technology when the district fails to provide. They don’t have parents who can supplement a budget to ensure that the best teachers remain employed. They recognize they don’t have the political clout to demand that the district respond to their inadequacies.

In response, parents search for schools that are set up in a manner that they feel will be more responsive to them and meet their needs. Some have the ability to do so within the district, while others choose to leave the district or choose charter schools. I believe if you strip it all down, most parents want the same thing, and the major discrepancy is access.

Listen to charter parents talk and they will often site a sense of community and responsiveness as a reason for their choice. Public school advocates will quickly cite incidents as a counterargument and speak to their own sense of communities. But are these advocates putting forth their arguments based on the schools charter parents are leaving or the ones their own children attend? It’s important to acknowledge when discussing choice that not all schools are created equal.

There is a scene in The Greatest Showman where one of the performers is introduced to the wealthy parents of the ringmaster and they dismiss her as being a lesser person. He tries to reassure her that their reaction has no value, whereas she responds to him, “You’ll never know what it’s like to have someone look at you like that.”

I think too often we try to make proclamations based on our own experiences and by dismissing the experiences of others. I try to instill in my children the value that just because it didn’t happen to you does not make it an invalid experience. Our experience at our school may be exceptional, but that doesn’t make it a universal experience. If we don’t acknowledge that as a truism, how will we ever achieve equity?

These are just my thoughts today. More than ever, I have become convinced that in order for public education to be preserved, we need to raise our expectations for the entire system. We must not dismiss inadequacies as long as our own experience is relatively good. I don’t believe the solution lies in reducing our focus, but rather in recommitting to making all schools a place where we would feel comfortable sending our children.

Maybe MNPS was never a good place to work; does that mean it can’t be today? Maybe discipline and segregation have always been problems; does that mean they must always remain so? Why is it that we have no problem continually raising expectations for students and teachers, but remain unwilling to do the same for the district? Why is it considered beneficial for students to point out that 1 in 3 are reading at less than grade level, but pointing out the failings of the districtwide literacy plan is considered as undermining our schools?

Those are questions I am sure some are uncomfortable with me asking because they don’t afford easy answers. Some will write my questions off as giving a pass to charter schools when nothing could be further from the truth. There are certainly elements in the charter school movement that have greatly contributed to the undermining of our public education system. But we can’t allow those elements to distract us from making all our schools the best that they can be, and I believe that begins with raising the expectations for the whole system.

QUICK HITS

One of my favorite education bloggers, Peter Greene, has a child facing a huge medical challenge. Per usual, he uses the crisis to remind us of some universal truths that we may have forgotten. Peter is one of the really good guys, and I know he wouldn’t mind a few additional prayers for his child. I can’t even imagine facing such a challenge.

I think this is a really interesting look at the effects of school choice on racial segregation in EducationNext, New Evidence on School Choice and Racially Segregated Schools. The author does a very good job of not just focusing on charter schools, but also on other elements that are connected. I encourage you to read it.

Have questions about the school choice process? MNPS can help! They are hosting a School Choice Festival on Tuesday, January 23, to help you with all your school choice needs. More info here: .

MNPS folks, I hope you enjoy the rest of the week. Remember, teachers report back on Tuesday and kids on Wednesday.

I realize that this post is probably full of contradictions, but then again so is life. We just try to work our way through them.

POLL RESULTS

The response to last week’s questions was overwhelming. Apparently they resonated with more than a few of you. Let’s break down the results.

The first question asked for your impression of this year’s Chamber Report Card. The overwhelming reaction was negative, with 47% of you dismissing the leading recommendation for more data coaches. 22% of you felt they once again missed the mark, and 18% of you said that you weren’t even going to read the report. Only 5% of you had a positive reaction.

I’m sure that the Chamber is of the mind that readers of Dad Gone Wild are predisposed to dismiss their report, but I would argue that those who take the time to read my musings are among the most dedicated to public education in whatever form it takes and it would be a mistake to ignore them. I would suggest that maybe it’s time for a little self-reflection on the report card committee’s part and perhaps discussions on how to make the report card more relevant are long overdue. I do believe that the report card can play a vital role in improving our education system.

Here are the write-ins:

Haven’t read it. Enjoying vacation. 1
Should have said that Dr. Felder is the problem 1
Haven’t read it yet 1
???????????? the report card and their love affair with Joseph

The second question asked for your reaction to last week’s Central Office holiday party. It must be noted that this question received nearly twice the response of a typical poll question. That’s noteworthy in its own right.

The majority of you, 42%, found fault more with the district’s response than the actual party. For 18% of you, it wasn’t a big deal, but you found it indicative of MNPS’s culture. Only 3% of you indicated that it was of no concern to you. I’d say that MNPS has some work to do on its culture, but then again that’s nothing new.

It is my opinion that the district continues to suffer from a dearth of leadership. Nobody, whether it’s district leadership or the school board, seems predisposed to filling that void. The party is another example of where leadership could have easily preempted any perceived crisis. A simple addressing of the issue and acknowledgement of concerns would have diffused everything. Instead, actions were allowed to become fodder for yet another negative news story. Sooner or later somebody is going to have to step up and be a leader instead of a reactor.

Here are the write-ins. They’ll make you think.

Who cares? My Title 1 school has no supplies 1
Typical whacked priorities of MNPS. 1
How much longer will Dr. Joseph & Team be able to waste taxpayer $ going tof 1
Party fine, gifts too extravagant, lies and blocks by PIO unacceptable 1
It bothered me that they lied about inviting teachers 1
HELP US! The culture is so bad. 1
many hard working hourly paid employees at board 1
Badly handled, par for the course for central office, sadly. 1
indicative of the culture and Joseph’s refusal to acknowledge any issues 1
We got leftover bagged popcorn and powdered hot chocolate…not one thank you

The last question was on what you plan to read over break. I was glad to see that many ProjectLit selections made the list, though I was dismayed to see that over 25% of you indicated a lack of time to read. That must be addressed if we are ever truly going to have a culture rooted in literacy.

Thank you for sharing what you are reading. Here are your write-ins:

The Hate U Give 2
Brian’s Winter (with my daughter) 1
Huge stack. 1
My Eyelids 1
Counting by Sevens 1
The warmth of other suns 1
New books for Project Lit this upcoming semester 1
The Conquerors 1
The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F%$k 1
No time-grades and lesson plans 1
The new tax reform bill 🙂 1
Journey of Souls 1
This year’s Project Lit selections 1
Joan Didion 1
Past issues of Dad Gone Wild 1
My next IFL unit, of course! How else will I be ready for January 3rd??? 1
Mani: Travels in S. Peloponnesus by Patrick Fervor 1
Reading about jobs outside of MNPS 1
Mom Set Free by Jeannie Cunnion 1
Anchor texts for IFL required unit 1
Subtitles on my Netflix binging 1
how to get rid of a corrupt school administration 1
Do Not Be Alarmed by Maile Melloy 1
Tribe of Mentors 1
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 1
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi 1
Infinite Jest 1
Christmas Classics 1
Pursuit of Power: Europse 1815-1914 1
Piecing Me Together, Enrique’s Jout 1
Some selections from Project Lit 1
Talk Like Ted 1
freakonomics 1
Simon Sinek – Start With Why 1
A long walk to water
That’s it for now. I hope everybody continues to have a great holiday. 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.
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One comment on “WINTER BREAK REFLECTIONS

  1. Ranger says:

    I understand and agree with your point, but it doesn’t have to be that way. AND there are certainly examples of those changes and raised bar.

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