It’s a snow day for schools in Middle Tennessee. Now I know some of you Northerners are scoffing right now because we are only expecting 1 – 2 inches. The reality, though, is that here in the South, we just aren’t prepared for anything more than a dusting. Our cities don’t have the resources, our cars aren’t outfitted for bad weather, and our homes aren’t built for it. So scoff all you want – I’ve got a fire in the fire place, the new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club record playing, and a blog entry to transfer from my mind to paper. Today is a good day. No matter what happens weather-wise, I think Dr. Joseph made the right call. A quick disclaimer before we get started: this is a going to be a long post, but all killer, no filler.
I always like to get the state news out of the way first. As I reported earlier in the week, Tennessee legislators are back in session with a rather light schedule when it comes to education issues. Vouchers seem to be off the table, but as Andy Spears over at the Tennessee Education Report points out, advocates should never sleep without one eye open.
The big news out of the state this week was a report issued by the comptroller’s office on Educator Misconduct in Tennessee Schools Involving Students. The report, heavily reliant on a 2016 USA Today investigative report, identifies a number of ways that Tennessee is failing to offer adequate protection for kids against sexual misconduct. Among the things pointed out are a lack of policies that prevent teachers accused of sexual misconduct from moving to other districts in spite of a provision in the recently-passed ESSA legislation. The root of this problem lies in the fact that there is no uniform definition utilized across the state for what constitutes sexual misconduct.
Furthermore, there is a lack of clear uniformity in how districts expect teachers and administrators to report sexual misconduct. In 2014, Tennessee legislators passed “Erin’s Law.” As a provision of “Erin’s Law,” there was supposed to be the development of in-depth training for administrators, teachers, and students on what constitutes sexual misconduct and how to report it. This, unfortunately, runs counter to legislation passed in 2012 referred to as the “Gate-Way Law,” which puts teachers and school districts at risk if they teach anything but abstinence-based sex education. Creates a bit of a conundrum, no? Hopefully, that issue gets taken up this session.
I encourage you to read the whole comptroller’s report and don’t rely on newspaper reporting alone. The media coverage of the report has tended to be more focused on licensure issues, but I think the parts focusing on the Teacher Code of Ethics, reporting, and training are equally important. As the report states:
“(A review) of district policies concerning child abuse and neglect policies found that 118 districts’ policies provide information on how to report child abuse and neglect but do not refer to child sexual abuse at all.”
That needs to be addressed.
In late breaking news, a Nashville judge has sided with Tennessee’s Achievement School District in the fight over whether or not local school districts must share student contact information with charter networks under a new state law. MNPS has until March 16th to turn over data to LEAD Academy. At this point, there is no word on whether they plan to appeal or not. The judge set a deadline of March 16th in order to give the school district a chance to notify parents of their opportunity to opt out and to give legislators a chance to possibly clear up any ambiguities.
WE GOT SNAKE OIL, Y’ALL
This past week, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) Director of Schools Shawn Joseph took his act out on the road and made several stops around the district to sell his Transition Team Report Update (TTRU) and to double down on support for this year’s Literacy Scope and Sequence, which heavily relies on scripted curriculum from the Institute For Learning (IFL). To say that this new literacy plan has not been embraced by teachers and principals would be a bit of an understatement, and as I stated last week, the TTRU is nothing but an exercise in checking the box in an attempt to thwart criticism. Hence the need for the traveling road show.
The first stop was Monday at Jones Paideia Elementary School for the Northwest Quadrant Educator’s Voice Session. This was the first of four sessions scheduled, one for each quadrant. The session was scheduled for a 4:30 PM start time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this was two-and-a-half hours after high school teachers are done, but only a half hour after middle school teachers. Reports tell me there were about 50 people in attendance with most being from central office.
Dr. Joseph presented his TTRU and then took input from teachers. In all fairness, some of the young teachers voiced approval and appreciation for the IFL units. Which speaks to one of my concerns: if young teachers embrace the IFL units, what will be the long term impact on our teaching pool? Will the art of unit planning and teacher autonomy be lost, and in 10 years will the district be forced into a position of having to outsource this function because nobody in-house will be capable of doing it?
Tuesday, Dr. Joseph presented his TTRU to the MNPS School Board, and I was heartened to see some questions asked by board members. If you go to the 53-minute mark in the video of the board meeting, you’ll see an interesting exchange with Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder and Community Superintendent Pippa Meriwether in response to a question from board member Jill Speering about feedback on school walkthroughs. Walkthroughs are supposed to be rooted in 3 core actions: level of text being utilized, level of questions students are being asked, and level of engagement exhibited by students.
Felder claimed that they were getting great feedback from the walkthroughs. However, when asked by Joseph to explain the 3 core actions, she and Meriwether struggled to explain actions two and three until a computer was given to them with information on the core actions. Now I’m not an educator, nor do I play one on TV, but I would think that in order to evaluate the quality of feedback, one should be fluent in the core actions themselves. Just saying.
At the 1 hour 5-minute mark, school board member Christiane Buggs gets into a Who’s-on-first? routine about planning days when she tries to get a clearer explanation on how the district plans to offer planning time to teachers. In all fairness, the TNDOE has not been clear on the designation of planning days, and it’d be nice if this year’s legislative session cleared up the existing policy. Felder mentions such an initiative, but offers no insight into what it looks like. It’d be nice if teachers had a clear indication of the amount of planning time they are going to have. Make no mistake, planning time is essential to student success.
Later in his presentation, Dr. Joseph speaks of the creation of an assessment committee and their task of evaluating assessments. Upon questioning, Felder admits that there are no teachers on this committee. Hmmmm…. since teachers are the ones utilizing the assessments, shouldn’t teachers… oh, never mind. Anybody detecting a pattern here?
Speering showed the ability to remain positive while asking hard questions, and both board members Dr. JoAnn Brannon and Mary Pierce added their own insightful questions along with Buggs. None were critical, but board members’ willingness to openly ask questions deserves some recognition. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend. There needs to be a focus on the quality of the action, not just whether or not the box was checked.
Wednesday and Thursday were the monthly curriculum meetings. Once again, the TTRU was presented and the administration doubled down on the use of the IFL units. Previously it had been communicated that the texts used in the IFL units were not mandatory but merely recommendations and that there was some flexibility in using them. Yeah, as it turns out… not so much. On a power point slide, the rules were spelled out very clearly:
Texts in the IFL can be supplemented but not substituted
The sequence of unit must be followed
Tasks are to be given as written
Scaffolding should only be used as needed on a limited basis.
A handout was given to participants arguing the merits of the IFL units. Some of the research sources cited were as follows: (Gamoran & Mare 1989), (Rubin, 2003), (Oakes, 1985, 1990), and (Callahan, 2005). So, 2005 was the latest source cited. I don’t include research in my writings older than 2012. If the earlier information is still valid, there would be a newer source to cite. Did literary research stop in 2005? It deeply troubles me that we are developing policy based on research over a decade old.
My next question would be why are we holding this conversation in January? Teachers have already planned lessons, begun teaching, established a rhythm, and are now shifting focus to upcoming TNReady tests. Why are we looking to disrupt the process now? A disruption that could potentially have a negative impact on upcoming TNReady assessments?
We can argue all day long about whether focusing on an upcoming standardized test is proper or not, but the reality is that when the test carries as much weight in determining the perception of both teachers, schools, and districts as TNReady does, that’s where the focus is going to go. Do well on the test and life is good. Do poorly on the test and you are deemed a failure. Failure to recognize that is a failure to understand what the day-to-day realities are for teachers and principals and further sets them up for failure.
I look at it like this, when bartending, I’ve had shifts where I’ve failed to do the proper amount of prep work. Do I stop in the middle of serving and make people wait while I do the work I should have done at the beginning? Or do I do the best I can with what I have, apologize and acknowledge shortcomings, evaluate at the end of the shift, and then make sure I do the amount of prep work needed before the beginning of the next shift?
At the board meeting Tuesday, Dr. Joseph made the statement that transitioning is hard but that teachers would adjust. He’d been in four different districts and teachers have always adjusted. I’m assuming he’s referring to Seaford School District, Montgomery County Schools, Prince George’s County Schools, and now MNPS. Upon closer inspection, I would question how much adjustment was made at those stops.
To some extent, Dr. Joseph is probably right though. People will and do adjust, but I would argue that the role of leadership is to not just set policy, but to ease any transition. If the job was just setting policy, then why pay someone $300k a year to do it. There are plenty of people who can create policy and sit back and wait for people to adjust. I thought the goal of the search committee was to find a transformational leader. Leadership is more than just setting policy. It includes, but is not limited to, inspiring, teaching, empowering, disciplining, and correcting people, and is rooted in the forging of relationships. Again, if you need a model – agree or disagree with her – Mayor Megan Barry will serve quite nicely.
Wednesday and Thursday saw two more Educator Voice Sessions held. Both reportedly were attended by about 50 people. Both long on the TTRU and defense of the IFL units. Were teachers’ concerns addressed? Doubtful. I’m loathe to share details because session sizes were so small and leadership has been so obsessed with discovering “moles” that doing so may put people at risk, and I never want to do that. Suffice it to say that Educator Voice Sessions were one more exercise in checking a box. Talk to teachers… check.
In doing my research, I came across a Nashville Scene article from 2008 written by Bruce Barry. Some of you may know him as the Mayor’s husband. The name of the piece is The New Math, the Old MNPS. He talks about a letter from “assistant superintendent Sandra Tinnon declaring (as if it needed declaring) that ‘mediocrity is an unacceptable goal in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.’ She announced that ‘middle school language arts and mathematics programs are currently being strengthened both in content and expectations’ and that ‘standard or mediocre courses will not be the norm.'” Sound familiar?
Barry goes on to say:
Few would object to higher expectations and diminished tolerance for mediocrity. But some parents are dismayed to see the system once again opting for a once-size-fits-all mentality mandated by the central office for every school, leaving little room for principals and teachers to adapt to the needs of particular populations and circumstances.
Hmmmm… The money quote for me, though, is the conclusion:
I’m inclined in theory to give school officials the benefit of the doubt and reserve judgment, but there remains a serious information deficit as reforms take shape. And it certainly doesn’t help when Metro school administrators overstate the role of state education officials as a means to diffuse their own responsibility. This kind of uncertainty about what school officials are really up to when they make noise about changes is all too familiar, and is precisely the sort of thing that breeds suspicion and doubt among parents thinking about opting out of the system. (Are you listening, school board candidates?)
Remember, this was written in 2008 by a man who has influence with our current mayor. Just saying.
At Antioch HS, the district continues to play Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush. A series of 3 Tuesday meetings have been scheduled to address the continuing low morale and performance issues. Unfortunately schools are closed today, so teachers won’t get the promised chocolate fountain. Why a chocolate fountain? Because nothing clears up professional dissatisfaction like a chocolate fountain… well, except for making meaningful change. Somebody needs to write on the blackboard, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”
The Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee held its 3rd meeting of the year this week. Attendees sacrificed the first period of the National Championship game to attend, and we are appreciative. The PAC focuses on working together to strengthen all schools in the Overton Cluster. The next meeting will be the first Monday in March. Put it on your calendar.
Maplewood High School cut the ribbon this week on their new outdoor training lab. The lab will be part of the Maplewood Academy of Energy and Power. Go Panthers!
My niece has started a blog called Patriotic Hippy. Check it out. It’s not about education per se, but I think you’ll enjoy her thoughts. I know I do.
I’ve been trying to post all of MNPS schools’ Teacher of the Year pictures on the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Check it out, and if you don’t see your school, send me a pic and I’ll share it.
Vesia Wilson-Hawkins is back with a new blog post, and she starts the year as fiercely as she ended the last one.
With the Tennessee State Legislative session commencing, it’s interesting to look at proposed legislation in other states. Colorado has quite a bit of interesting legislation hitting the floor. Some of it possibly quite good.
Harvard professor Daniel Koretz has a new book out called The Testing Charade: Pretending To Make Schools Better. In it, he takes a deeper look at standardized testing in America. Per the Amazon blurb: “Right now, we’re lying to ourselves about whether our children are learning. And the longer we accept that lie, the more damage we do. It’s time to end our blind reliance on high-stakes tests. With The Testing Charade, Daniel Koretz insists that we face the facts and change course, and he gives us a blueprint for doing better.” I plan to check it out and urge you to do so as well.
Looking for some great music? Check out the latest by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, Tribute To 2.
Out of the Hillsboro Cluster… the Gaw family lost their house in a fire last night. Thankfully, everyone is okay, but the house is lost. Please help out one of our students and his family in their time of need. Thank you! https://www.gofundme.com/rebuild-the-gaw-family-home/thankyou?d=A0SkKQC1RkXyXki9U2uEaEtb%2BjIe6kt2Kki2JowlWqs%3D …
One of my primary themes is the need to have an honest and serious conversation. Blogger and educator Peter Greene gives an indication of what that conversation might look like when he asks, Can We Be Serious?
Last, but certainly not least, mark your calendar for Croft Middle’s Chili Cook-Off. Should be an excellent time for all.
Time now for our weekly questions. We’ve asked this before, but I thought I’d see if anything has changed. What quadrant do you live in?
Next question is about the Transition Team Report Update. What is your impression?
For our last question, I want to ask about heating conditions in your schools. Did the heat work, not work, or just kinda work? I figured I would go to the source for the answer.
That’s it for now. Stay warm. Stay safe. Stay home. 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.