THE RESULTS ARE IN

Hope everyone is enjoying their Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. We should all take a moment to reflect on his words and deeds while we are enjoying the time off from work. This morning I re-read his quote: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” It is a quote that resonates with me and should be at the forefront of any conversation on education, but unfortunately is all too often pushed aside.

FRIDAY NEWS DUMP

If you are a regular reader, you’ve probably heard me reference the Friday evening news dump. If you are not familiar with the term, it refers to the action of releasing bad news on a Friday in hopes that fewer people will see it. This morning I took a quick look at the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) website to check the dates on the School Choice Festival – more on that later – and lo and behold, I found a release of the results from the MNPS Fall 2017 School Climate Survey. In all fairness, it was right there on the front page, but it was added on Friday, January 12, which due to being a snow day, was the first day of a four-day holiday.

Per the MNPS website:

Unique to MNPS’ strategic framework, Characteristics of a Great School describe those elements that research and practice have shown to improve student achievement and a school’s culture and climate. In MNPS, we want every school to be a great school.

To achieve that goal, we set out last to measure school climate– to improve climate it must be measured first. We launched a survey that asked teachers, staff and students how they felt about certain aspects of our schools. For example, teachers were asked about their relationships with students’ families while students were asked about student engagement. Staff were asked a different set of questions.

Together, their answers make up the Fall 2017 MNPS School Climate Survey and we will use this information as a basis to measure our work. This spring, we will survey parents to gather their feedback and plans are for these surveys to become an annual process to allow us to track and measure progress. We know we have work to do, but now we have a roadmap to guide our efforts.

The press release then goes on to put a little spin on the results. To me, the format of the survey, conducted by Panorama, is a little odd. Each question has 5 answers; the first two are the positive responses. Those two responses are combined to give each subject a percentage, i.e., Educating All Students gets a 79%. It’s a little confusing.

In the middle of the page in tiny letters, between several graphs, is a link to see individual school results. That’s where you want to go because that’s where the meat resides.

Once you get there, you’ll find some really interesting data. The results are broken down by student responses vs teacher/staff responses. You are also able to compare individual school’s scores against scores grouped nationally, district wide, and by executive principal, cluster, and quadrant. Which will give you some useful data, but perhaps not always reliable data.

When looking at any school results, I would go the bottom and check response rates. These rates tend to illustrate a wide discrepancy among schools. For example, let’s look at the response rate among teachers for 4 different schools:

  • Cole ES – 100%
  • Antioch HS – 50.3%
  • Dan Mills ES – 50.8%
  • Tusculum ES – 77.8%

I would argue that based on response rates, you are getting a more accurate picture at Cole ES and Tusculum ES than at Antioch HS and Dan Mills ES. At the aforementioned schools, there is no way to know the demographics of the teachers who responded. Was it predominately the satisfied ones or was it the ones with an ax to grind? There is no way of knowing, and just a few from one camp or another could have a dramatic effect on the results.

Sticking with schools – I’ll get to student results in a minute – let’s take a look at a school that has long been recognized as having serious teacher morale issues, Antioch HS. Looking at the School Leadership and Staff/Leadership Relationship results, it appears things are on an upswing with scores of 30% and 50% respectfully. These scores represent a growth of 12% and 23%.

However, go into the individual survey and click on the sub-category, leadership and staff, and you’ll get an ugly picture of what last year looked like. Under the question, “How much trust exists between school leaders and faculty,” 32% responded this fall with a positive answer, an uptick of 25 percentage points. Do the math, though, and you realize that last spring that number was at 7%. The trust between leadership and staff was at 7%, and nobody at the district level deemed a leadership change necessary. Instead, district leaders tried to deflect by offering alternative reasons for problems at the school.

I think it’s pretty clear that at the heart of these issues is trust. I’m not sure how having repeated meetings covering the same ground and a chocolate fountain inspire trust. You know what inspires trust? Acting on concerns.

Now you may be saying, “Hold on. Look at the growth they made. Leadership is getting it under control.” In response to that, let’s remember that over the summer, the school lost 67 teachers. Let’s also look more closely at the school’s response rate. That 50.3% response rate represents both teachers and staff. When looking at individual questions, it shows 79 teachers responded. Is that up or down from last year? I don’t know, but it is an indication that more information is needed to make any kind of accurate proclamation that things are improving or not.

Before we move on to student results, I want to look at one other individual school, Hattie Cotton ES. If you glance at the overall picture under Staff-Leadership Relationship, you’ll see that they scored a 48%. Not great, but not horrendous. Open up that section, though, and what you will find is alarming. Responses regarding trust have dropped 53 percentage points from last spring. Last year they were at 78% and they are now 25%. On the question pertaining to support, positive responses dropped from 74% to 31%, a drop of 43 percentage points. In fact, every one of the questions asked saw a double-digit drop.

That should be very alarming to parents and district officials. The current principal, who started this fall, was previously an AP at Charlotte Park ES, where the principal was let go shortly before the end of the school year because of similar issues. She brought the old Charlotte Park ES principal on as an AP under a 120-day contract. Did anybody not see this coming?

In this case, 87% of teachers at the school answered the poll. Yep, I think you have cause for alarm. Hopefully the district will do more than they did in the case of lead in school water, where they considered merely measuring lead levels to be a significant action. To be fair, I do know that the principal has reached out to some respected former administrators for support. Let’s see what spring looks like. Hopefully this is an anomaly.

I could spend all day going through these, but I would prefer that you do it yourself and draw your own conclusions. There are some very good results in here. The schools that you would expect to score high do and should be commended. We have some very good schools in this district, and we need to replicate what they are doing right.

Going forth, I would like to see charter schools participate in this survey. For some reason, they didn’t this year. The Choice Festival is coming up, and this would be just one more tool that parents could use in making their decision. It’s not really fair to have data on your zoned school, but not on one that you are considering having your child attend.

Before I turn it over to you, I want to take a quick look at student results. Whenever we discuss the policies implemented, we always defend them by citing evidence of how they’ve made adult lives easier. I constantly try, with little avail, to get answers on the impact on kids. Luckily, we now have survey results completed by kids to get an indication.

I’d like to point out the responses in three categories that I think are probably the most important, by quadrant.

Under Student Engagement:

  • Northwest quadrant – 41%
  • Northeast quadrant – 44%
  • Southwest quadrant – 45%
  • Southeast quadrant – 42%

Under Trust and Caring:

  • NW – 44%
  • NE – 44%
  • SW – 51%
  • SE – 44%

Under Safety:

  • NW – 48%
  • NE – 45%
  • SW – 51%
  • SE – 47%

Granted, the quadrant superintendents had only been on duty for a couple of months when the surveys had been conducted. Therefore, these scores can only be used as benchmarks. Let’s see what things look like in the spring.

Again there is a lot of great information in these survey results, but there are some things missing that could help with interpretation. Things like teacher turnover rate, past response rates, changes in student demographics, and teacher demographics are among the things I’d like to see included. I’d be interested to hear y’alls’ thoughts after reading the responses.

SCHOOL CHOICE

The MNPS School Choice Festival is scheduled for Tuesday, January 23, at 5pm. I know, seems that something of this nature should be on a weekend when parents have more flexibility to attend, but maybe that’s just me. If the district is going to offer a choice option to families, they shouldn’t make it more difficult to participate.

I don’t want to get too deep into the subject of school choice because I’m not a fan, but I understand why some parents like the ability to have school choice. I would just ask that if you participate, you recognize some of the problems that arise.

A choice system means there will always be those chosen and those not chosen, i.e., winners and losers. Some schools are going to be inherently more attractive to parents than other schools. That doesn’t make them better schools, just that their positives are more readily visible. I’ve heard principals say, “I’m not competing against XY school.” That’s not true. You are because that’s the way the system is constructed. We need to recognize that.

When you choose to send your child to a school outside of their zoned school, there is a loss of resources for that zoned school. That loss happens whether a parent chooses to send their child to a different district school, a charter school, a private school, or a home school. The cost of the loss is the same regardless and none of those choices should be perceived as more “evil” than another. As long as people recognize that cost, I have no issue with whatever choice a family makes.

My desire is that parents choose their zoned schools, but I recognize that there are many factors that make that a less attractive choice. I would also ask that we recognize exactly which kind of students are being courted at the Choice Festival.

Those parents who have the means and desire to take an active role are the ones being courted. Nobody is trying to recruit the students who are chronically absent, are chronic discipline problems, or who come from families that are disengaged in their child’s education process. Those children will remain at their zoned schools and are usually not the ones at the top of the choice list. This results in an even higher cost to those schools not chosen.

Again, let me reiterate, as long as parents recognize the inherent cost of offering school choice, I don’t think those who participate should be criticized, nor should the process be made more difficult. I concede that it is a process that wealthier families have engaged in for years, and that poorer families deserve the same consideration. I just don’t believe that it sets all of our schools up for success. I also believe that it reinforces an increased focus on data instead of on relationships, where I think I the focus should be.

QUICK HITS

One of the most successful programs in MNPS may be at risk. Over the last several years, under a federal program, MNPS has been able to provide free breakfast and lunch to students. This has been a vital service. Word on the street is that the program may end next year due to Nashville not having the poverty numbers required for participation. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as I get more info. If this program were to end, it would be extremely detrimental to Nashville’s children.

Need help with homework? Try the Homework Hotline! Free one-on-one tutoring and homework assistance is available by phone and online to all Metro Schools students, grades K-12, in every subject area, and in multiple languages. Teachers are available from 4-8 PM Monday through Thursday until May 2018. You can access the Homework Hotline by calling 615-298-6636 or visiting www.homeworkhotline.info.

Retired teacher and historian John Thompson has written an excellent review of one of the most most important books to come out in years, Daniel Koretz’s The Testing Charade. Both the review and the book are must reads.

It seems that the boy has become hooked on Kendrick Lamar, which is creating a parental dilemma for me.

This article out of Colorado outlines a school’s policy on recess that I find horrific, Will Recess Boost Learning, One Struggling Colorado District Wants To Find Out. It’s not like there isn’t research that demonstrates kids learn better when they have regularly-scheduled breaks. Hopefully this isn’t something that gets any legs.

POLL RESULTS

There was drop in voter turnout this week, but results were no less interesting. Let’s take a look.

The first question asked you to identify what quadrant you were in. I know that this question has been asked before, but it’s important to me that I continue to make my coverage as broad as possible. I was encouraged to see that the results indicated that I was making progress in that endeavor.

The Southwest Quadrant led things at 34%, but Southeast followed closely at 29%, and Northeast at 17%. It seems I still need to do a lot more outreach to the Northwest Quadrant, as only 11% of you indicated that was your home. Not many write-ins, but here they are:

Too scared to say 1
Live in northeast, teach in southwest. but quadrant borders are weird

Question two asked for your opinion on the recently-released Transition Team Report Update. If I scored this in the same fashion as the district’s climate survey, it would receive a score of maybe 7%. That’s the number of you that responded, “We’ve done a lot but I’d like to know more about the quality of work.”

The leading answer was “More smoke and mirrors” at 48%, followed by “Checking a box isn’t enough” at 24%. Those results would indicate that you are not buying what Dr. Joseph is selling, and he probably needs to get a little deeper in his evaluations. Here are the write-ins, and they are not any prettier:

Crap 1
would love some more details or links to docs and things like KPIs 1
I think he really believes the scope and sequence is good 1
Someone should investigate how money is being spent 1
Checking boxes to add to their resume. Leave already! 1
I didn’t read it, no need to. 1
It is in my hand as I type. Wish I had a color printer. I plan to read it.
The last question was in regards to the status of heat in district schools. This question illustrated why we need to ask more questions. How many of you knew that in several schools it wasn’t a lack of heat in rooms, but rather a lack of control that resulted in rooms that were too hot? Thanks to you guys, I now know that. Too hot is just as much a problem as too cold. It’s amazing to me how much information we lack simply because we don’t ask the questions.
The number one answer was “Hit and miss. Some rooms have it. Some rooms don’t” at 39%, followed by “Working like a charm” at 22%. Here are the write-ins for this one:

 

Slightly cool, but temps were fine. 1
Classrooms pretty good, but hallways cold. 1
Check back when it’s 20 next week 1
It’s been 82 in my room all week because the heat doesn’t shut off. Feast/famine 1
always too hot or too cold, never just right 1
Teachers have no control over the temperature in their classrooms. Mine is hot most of the time 1
Thursday was 80+ in some rooms. Other rooms were in the 50s just days prior.

As always, thanks for participating.

That’s it for now. Stay warm. Stay safe. Stay home. Rumor has it there may be more snow on the way tonight. 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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