I’m looking forward to the day when I write a piece that focuses on the success of students and fails to mention the inadequacies of adults. Though it doesn’t look like this will be the week for that to happen. So much has happened this week that I hardly know where to begin. Unfortunately, it’s all about adults failing to live up to expectations.
TNNOTReady PART 5
Remember those old Police Academy movies? The first one was a mildly entertaining flick, good for a couple of laughs. By the time they got to Part 8, it was flat-out ridiculous and unwatchable. Currently, the Tennessee Department of Education has decided they want to emulate the arc of those movies using TNReady as the primary player. This year will mark Part 5.
Raise your hand if you were shocked today when reports started trickling out that the testing platform was crashing. Now keep your hand up if you actually started looking for a reason the tests failed or if you just did like me: shrugged and said to yourself, “But of course.” I saw the Tennessean article giving an explanation, but I didn’t read it. To me, this is just business as usual.
This will be at least the fifth year that there have been problems with the state’s standardized tests. By some accounts, there hasn’t been an error-free testing season since Don Sundquist was governor. Raise your hand if you remember Governor Sundquist. Yeah…. it’s been a while. Yet nothing ever seems to get done. I’m sure we’ll reconvene the assessment council, or whatever it’s called, and act like we are doing something about it. It appears that we’ve gotten better at reacting to the failings of the test than we have the administration of the test.
We are not yet up to TNReady Part 8, but already things have gotten ridiculous and unwatchable. I don’t see how you preach accountability to kids while modeling this behavior every year. Oh well. If you would like a more in-depth analysis, as always, Andy Spears is your guy.
MEMPHIS TEACHER BONUSES
According to the latest in Chalkbeat TN, Memphis has a new salary plan for teachers. If you are a teacher with an evaluation score of 3 or higher on a 5-point scale… you are getting a raise. That’s about 96% of Memphis teachers. The teacher evaluation system for Shelby County Schools is based on growth and achievement scores from the state test, classroom observations, and student surveys. It is known as the Teacher Effectiveness Measure, or TEM.
Now, not everybody gets the same raise. If you are a 3, you get $750, level 4 is $1,000, and level 5 is $1,500. Just for laughs, let’s break out the calculator. $1,500 divided by 26 paychecks equals $57. That’s an extra $57 before taxes in a teacher’s paycheck if they are among the best.
The only reason I’m highlighting this is because ideas like this seem to spread quickly, and next thing you know it’s coming to a district near you. Hopefully, I’m not the only one who recognizes problems with this plan. Not only is it a minuscule reward for excellence, but it also sets the richer schools up to get richer due to the fact that adequate resources make it a little easier to be a 5. Hinging a teacher raise on a flawed test and an evaluation influenced by teacher placement is a recipe for disaster. No offense.
This brings us to the shit show that is the MNPS budget process this year. I really try not to swear in these posts, but please, find me a better way to describe what has been transpiring in Nashville for the last month. It just been one CF after another. Burning up reputations like kindling, in trying to prop these proceedings up.
I know a school board candidate ought not to talk like this, but if you think I’m being too harsh, let’s examine the facts. We’ll start with the cutting of Reading Recovery from the budget. For those of you unfamiliar with Reading Recovery, it’s a Tier 2 intervention meant to get identified early elementary kids reading at grade level in 12-20 weeks. It’s not meant as a long-term solution, but more as a way to get kids to a place where they have the opportunity to compete with their peers and grow at the same rate. It’s one component of an overarching literacy plan.
Based on an internal and an external study, Dr. Joseph is proposing next year that these interventionists become general education teachers in one of 21 high need, low achieving schools. All in one sentence, he explains that Reading Recovery teachers are among the best in the district, but that the program is not getting the desired results. It’s never spelled out exactly what those results are, and just minutes earlier he called the program well-researched and exemplary. It’s kinda like he’s complaining that his F150 isn’t working like his Maserati.
Dr. Joseph likes sports metaphors, and in fact, he invoked one in discussing the proposed cutting of Reading Recovery. In his metaphor, he referred to having really good players on a team that wasn’t winning games, so you have to shake things up. In mine, I say his plan to make RR teachers into classroom teachers is like the Patriots deciding they weren’t winning as many games as they should, and that since all their best athletes were wide receivers, those receivers should become linemen. Because being an athlete is being an athlete, right? You’d ridicule that plan, and you should ridicule this one.
Let me lay some facts on you. First of all, there are requirements for a teacher to retain their RR credentials. A RR teacher must conduct 4 one-on-one sessions a day, plus run small groups in a classroom. Classroom teachers have to teach math, science, social studies, technology, SEL, and a thousand more things every day. So tell me how you envision those two statements aligning.
At Tusculum ES, our RR teachers have worked with 200 kids this year. Three RR teachers, 200 kids! Three classroom teachers reach 60 kids. Now I don’t have a math degree, and I’m certainly not taking anything away from classroom teachers, but in my eyes, the alligator is eating the RR side.
One more thing. Those RR teachers do more than teach children; they teach teachers. Now I don’t remember seeing anywhere in today’s presentation where that impact was measured. Is it possible that some of the success of the highly-touted MAP results could be attributed to RR teachers working side-by-side with and supporting our classroom teachers? In his recent presentation to the board on MAP scores, Dr. Changas admitted that he couldn’t draw a correlation between any of the district’s strategies and the results, therefore I don’t think you can outright dismiss the input of RR teachers. And until you are able draw a line between strategies and results, you might not want to shake things up too much.
Let’s go back to our sports metaphor. Imagine that the Dolphins and the Jets learn that you are attempting to turn your receivers into linemen. How do you think they’ll react? I bet they’d be burning up the phone lines, calling receivers and telling them to come on over to their team and be receivers. I suspect that’s one thing many of the neighboring counties will be doing. Training RR teachers is an expensive proposition, and if you can get a neighboring district who has already absorbed that cost to give you theirs, why would you miss out on that opportunity?
I recognize that there are counterarguments to mine, and I respect those. That’s why you don’t bring a proposition of this magnitude to the table an hour before the budget is to be voted on. Dr. Joseph would like us to believe that a study on a favorite program of a board member who has been openly questioning him as of late has suddenly been completed the Friday before the final vote on the budget. Really, anybody actively propping up this canard should be ashamed of themselves. If this was truly based on policy instead of personality, this conversation would have begun months ago.
Every policy conversation we have of late is framed through the lens of equity. Well, tell me how is it equitable that 7 social workers were provided a month to plead their very worthy case, while 86 RR teachers learned only today that they were going to be linemen or working somewhere else and are provided no opportunity to plead their case? An alternative suggestion was that they could apply for a literacy specialist position. As board member Gentry said, “We are asking for this expertise to be put into the classroom.”
Do we really not understand how this works? Yesterday, Dr. Joseph sent out an employee email telling teachers how much he values them and that he stays up nights thinking about them. Perhaps instead of just thinking about them, he should spend time familiarizing himself with what they do and their individual qualifications. Hey, I know, some of those RR teachers could become math coaches and put their expertise in the classroom through that method. Because a teacher is a teacher, right?
It’s been mentioned that if schools thought RR teachers were so valuable, they could engage them under their individual school budgets. Under student-based budgeting, every school receives a budget based on the demographics of their school. Those budgets have been completed and turned in already, despite Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse failing to approve a single one of them yet.
The failure to approve these budgets in a timely manner is problematic because a school cannot fill its teacher vacancies until all budgets have been approved. Schools amending their budgets will add further delay to the process. Do you think for a second that the best teachers are sitting around until May waiting to see if they have a position in MNPS? Once again, we are losing valuable recruiting time.
Last night, Narcisse informed the board that any school that wanted to hire a RR specialist would have the opportunity to edit their budget. He presented this in a manner that suggested all a principal had to do was call up and say, “Hey, add an RR teacher for me.” The reality is that those school budgets are tight, and adding an RR specialist means cutting something else. Welcome to the Thunderdome, where everybody fights for survival by justifying their value over others.
I’ve heard people voice their discomfort with the tone these meetings have taken, and on some level I get that. I think some context is necessary though. Board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge have followed the wishes of the Director of Schools for 18 months and kept everything behind closed doors. During that time they have given unequivocal support to Dr. Joseph in public. They’ve allowed their own personal reputations to suffer in order to help bolster his. Unfortunately, he did not treat their reputations as precious as his own.
It’s apparent that answers behind closed doors didn’t align with what was happening in schools. Contracts were brought to light that didn’t match what the board had approved. Evidence surfaced that purchasing policies were not being followed, and the only explanation the board could get was that it only happened a small percentage of times. Procedures are created to be followed 100% of the time, not 96% or 94% of the time.
Lost in all the hub bub is the fact that Metro’s auditor announced yesterday that his office is no longer conducting just an audit. It has also begun an investigation of “allegations of impropriety in Metro Nashville Public Schools procurement practices recently reported by NewsChannel 5 investigates, and reports received on [the] fraud, waste and abuse hotline.” That alone warrants these issues being brought to the board floor.
I have no doubt that Speering and Frogge hate addressing these issues on the board floor as much as we hate hearing them, but if policy isn’t being followed, and talking behind closed doors isn’t changing, what is a board member’s recourse? The fact that the Chief of School’s wife is receiving a stipend, on top of a generous salary, to do an unidentified job, and travel on trips that don’t seem to align with the strategic plan would be a huge red flag to me.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the paying of the stipend to me is no different – minus the salacious details – than the circumstances that led to Mayor Barry being removed from office. Again we speak of equity, so where is the equity in holding one person accountable while giving a pass to the other? Those are taxpayer funds that are enriching a public employee’s household coffers.
Not only that, but after 5 years, under Tennessee state policy, that household will be vested in the state’s pension program, the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. At retirement, they will be eligible for a pension based on those salaries. In the case of the Gonzalez-Narcisse family, that equates to roughly $350k a year. Not bad work if you can get it.
According to the salary schedule, an elementary school principal with a master’s degree maxes out at roughly $100k. The same principal at the high school level maxes out at roughly $116,500 a year. Carolyn Cobb, an elementary school principal and close personal friend of Monique Felder, makes $120k a year. And we are paying for half of her tuition to procure her doctorate. Which, once she procures, will make her eligible for yet another salary increase.
EDDSI’s with a doctorate max out per the pay schedule, based on years of service, at $124,989. Karen Desouza-Gallman, a recent transplant from Prince George’s County and also in the same doctorate cohort as Cobb, makes $124,779. Latricia Gloster, another Prince George’s County transplant, makes $117,636, the maximum for an EDDSI without a doctorate. In short, people who have moved from Prince George’s County to Nashville are receiving higher salaries than educators with more qualifications and longer tenure in MNPS. A point that Dr. Narcisse acknowledged in a meeting several months ago.
When Amy Frogge brought a motion to the floor to add an amendment to the budget that calls for the district to adhere to the established salary schedule, she was met by laughter from budget and finance chair Tyese Hunter, and Dr. Joseph once again raised the specter of litigation. Which, I have to ask, who is going to sue who and for what? Are any of those facts untrue? Dr. Joseph has alluded to hindering people’s ability to earn money, but I don’t know how pointing out facts and offering opinions based on those facts leads to a litigable offense.
Not too long ago, I asked Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson why some of these folks made salaries that were not aligned with the salary schedule. He responded that Dr. Joseph has the right to pay folks whatever he sees fit. I then said, so the schedule is merely arbitrary. A statement that caused Henson to take umbrage, but he was never able to offer a counter argument. The definition of inequity is lack of equity; unfairness; favoritism or bias. Not adhering to the established salary schedule for friends and family would seem to meet that bar.
I’m going to have to wrap up this episode now. Otherwise this piece will eclipse the length of War and Peace. But I will be working on another piece examining how budget talks have revealed how little we’ve done for our priority schools over the last two years, fake news, sunshine laws, and I’m sure much more. Thank you for your patience.
This week’s questions received the most responses of any to date. As always the results are very interesting. Let’s get to them.
The first question asked for your opinion on a proposal to limit raises to just those making under $125k. Out of 175 responses, 64% of you voiced that you fully supported the proposal and another 19% felt it was a move that the administration should initiate themselves. That translates to 83% of you supporting the limiting of raises. Pretty clear to me. Here are the write-ins:
|Good if temporary||1|
|Focus on increasing funding and elevating teachers’ salaries||1|
|I say bump it down to $100,000.||1|
|Limiting the top still doesn’t help the bottom.||1|
|I support it, but would much rather see salaries for veteran teachers raised||1|
|Support staff should be at least $30 k||1|
|It reminds me of the time Congress voted in their own pay raises.||1|
|depends on how the savings would be used||1|
|Why are we raising pay gaps from our lowest employees? Percentages aren’t equal.||1|
|They are making too much money anyway.||1|
|Is it ethical that all Dr J’s friends all make that much??||1|
|There are some making more who deserve even more. But teachers are desperate.||1|
|It would violate he policy||1|
|No problem with it. It is commonplace in the private sector.|
Question 2 asked for your thoughts on an instance that happened during public comment where board members were labeled as participating in a public lynching of the Director of Schools after openly questioning him. 159 of you responded to this one, with 48% indicating that they found it disturbing. 28% felt that the Director of Schools should have spoken up when the accusation was made. What makes me sad is that 7 people felt it was an accurate depiction.
Lynching is one of the most horrific acts I can imagine, and to equate it with anything that happens in a public board room undercuts its severity. It like using the word “rape” to describe any action other than a sexual assault. It is perfectly legitimate, though I disagree, to argue that board members were disrespectful. Maybe even undermining. But let’s be clear, nobody was lynched in that board room.
Here are the write-ins:
|it was an absolute disgrace, and seemed like a plant.||1|
|Dr. Joseph seems focused on segregating our schools||1|
|Apparently adults need to be in my ELA class for convos about connotation.||1|
|Dr Joseph & MNPS are harming black children||1|
|Terrible comment made by ONE individual.||1|
|It bothers me, but I’m not surprised.||1|
|Diversion for the smoke & mirrors… not taking responsibility||1|
|I think Joseph invited that guy to come in and lambast his critics. Shameful.||1|
|It is race-baiting done by people of ill-will.|
The last question is derived from a statement by Dr. Joseph during a recent interview that he didn’t consider these hard times. So I asked, do you consider these hard times? Out of 164 responses, 64% indicated that they find these to be hard times. An additional 18% acknowledged that the budgeting process was harder this year. Not one person responded that things were running smoother and only one respondent indicated that they felt we had a handle on things.
If Dr. Joseph truly believes that these are not hard times, then he’s clearly in the minority. Empathy means understanding and validating how others are feeling. It’s an essential trait of an effective leader. The acknowledging of difficulties can serve to unite people in a common cause. Failure to acknowledge difficulties indicates that the leader is either too isolated from the general public or disingenuous. Neither inspires followers.
Here are the write-in votes:
[As a side note, I’d love if the person who wrote that It’s hard being black in America and this process + blog showcase this fact would elaborate. Perhaps we could sit down and conduct a dialogue for publication. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
|This. is. a. mess.||1|
|Read this book, what is happening here is a national trend:Many Children Left Behind||1|
|It’s hard being black in America and this process + your blog showcase this fact||1|
|Parents should be encouraging teachers to strike||1|
|About time upper level got a shake down instead of the teachers!||1|
|We’ve had worse.||1|
|Only because of bad leadership||1|
|Chickens coming home to roost.||1|
|Yes, money being taken from direct services to kids and put into ‘office’ people||1|
|Any extra difficulty is self-imposed.||1|
|Yes. MNPS has been invaded by grifters.||1|
|Yes. We are fighting for sanity and respect both inside and outside of school||1|
|People only pay attention when it affects them personally||1|
|We need a no confidence vote on Dr Joseph.|
That’s a wrap. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Your opinion is vital. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.
I have started using Patreon as a funding source. 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. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.