I know it’s not a perfect analogy, but every time MNPS rolls out a new presentation, it’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that comes to mind. In the Oscar Wilde-written novel, the character, Dorian Gray, wishes to remain young and beautiful and so he makes a promise that transfers all the effects of his sins onto a painting that is stored in his attic. Gray continues to appear untouched by age while the hidden painting shows the effects of age and his sins.
Whenever MNPS releases a new plan, the presentation is always slick and beautiful, as long as you don’t peer beneath the surface. Because it is below the surface where all the flaws and inconsistencies reside. The same holds true for the new Literacy Plan that will be unveiled at tomorrow’s school board meeting.
Since it’s June and most people are starting vacations, June is the perfect time to do a presentation on a new literacy plan. The fewer eyes, the better, after all. Why do this when families and the community actually had a opportunity to be engaged? But I digress.
The plan, which is included in the board meeting agenda, at first glance, seems like a marvelous piece of work. One filled with inspiring quotes, lofty goals, and enough edutalk to quiet and intimidate most potential critics. None of which should be surprising to anyone, since the brunt of the work was written by a paid consultant with ties to the state. I am sure tomorrow’s presentation will adequately play to the gallery. But let’s look a little closer at the picture and see if it holds up under scrutiny. After all, this is advertised as a proposal and not a final draft.
An attachment to the plan includes a list of all the minds that worked on this literacy plan. Notice anything missing? That’s a softball question because it should be readily apparent that there is but one classroom teacher on the list. How come there is not an EL teacher cited? 24% of the district receives EL services and it’s not considered necessary to include an EL teacher? Why is Dr. Felder’s friend Caroline Cobb involved in this plan instead of one of our principals who actually has a doctorate? We had a five-member team attend the state-initiated Read to be Ready training, so why weren’t those participants included on the committee?
One classroom teacher in the whole bunch. Did no one sit around at a drafting meeting and think, “Hey, you know who doesn’t have enough of a voice in this project? The people that will actually be doing the work.” It’s unbelievable to me that nobody thought to add more classroom teachers to the project.
I’m sure that district leadership will raise the defense that things were vetted by the teacher panel as the plan was created. My counter argument would be, where does the true power lie, with the proofreaders or the authors and why are their names not listed in the acknowledgements? At least 1/3 of the authors of the literacy plan should have been culled from the ranks of those who are in the classroom and in our schools every day teaching students to be readers.
My next observation is in relation to the stated key performances indicators (KPI). Let me pause here for one second and point out how ridiculous it is that we have KPI’s with no explanation of how we plan to achieve them. Do you think Bill Belicheck stands before the Patriots and tells them that the goal is to score 4 more touchdowns a game, and then fails to reveal any details about how they are going to accomplish that feat? Do you think he just tells them that they are going to pass the ball and run the ball, and then tells them some anecdotes about other teams that ran the ball and passed the ball? Or do you think he might actually include a few actual plays so that players get a sense where he is going?
That’s what this whole literacy plan is, one big hypothetical statement on what we believe, some why we believe it, with very little explanation of how we are going to arrive at results. What tools are we going to utilize to realize our aspirations? We just cut a successful intervention for most high risk k-2 kids, surely there is an alternative plan to address those needs, shouldn’t that be included in this literacy plan?
We know that 1 in 5 kids suffer from dyslexia. We know that Orton-Gillingham (OG) has proven successful with kids diagnosed with dyslexia, but currently MNPS doesn’t have enough staff trained in OG. Shouldn’t a district literacy plan that stretches out until the year 2025 at least have a thumbnail sketch of how we are going to address the need to train more interventionists?
The plan talks a whole lot about what we are going to expect from third graders, but how are we going to lay the groundwork to meet those expectations? What about interventions at the higher grade levels? What are they going to look like? Why does this document clearly skip struggling readers? What is the plan for the bottom 15% students? What about RTI for our students? Yeah… I got questions.
Now back to those KPI’s, how are we going to measure our success? Two tests is how. One that the state hasn’t been able to administer without any fidelity for the last four years and another that MNPS hasn’t been able to administer with fidelity for the last two years. If that is not enough of a concern, how about the fact that we are utilizing a tool in a manner that was it never intended to be utilized?
A FAQ from Howard School District in Maryland answers the question of what is the purpose of MAP testing:
The MAP assessment is designed to measure a student’s academic achievement and growth over time in reading and mathematics. MAP assessment items are designed to align to objectives in the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards, which are now being taught throughout the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS). Together with other classroom-based information, information from MAP can help teachers make instructional decisions that match the needs of each child.
The Northwest Evaluation Association, the group that administers MAP testing, wrote the following in 2013:
In recent months, however, some questions have been raised about MAP and its role in the classroom. As educators are asked to do more with less, student performance data is now being applied to educator evaluation and instructional time is increasingly threatened by high-stakes accountability exams. Many are questioning the validity and value of tests. Interim assessments, such as MAP, have been caught up in such debates.
It is important to understand the different types of tests and their purposes in the ongoing discussion about testing, as each test is used to make different educational decisions. MAP is an interim test typically administered fall, winter, and spring. The purpose of MAP is to measure academic status, irrespective of the grade level at which a student is performing, and to calculate academic growth over time so that these measures can inform instruction during the year.
Apparently nobody bothered to read NWEA before creating this literacy plan. Which surprises me a little because most of the research cited by this administration is circa 2013.
If you like shiny objects, and lots of words that people use because consultants convinced them that they make them sound smarter, by all means read the whole plan and watch Tuesday’s presentation. Myself? I’m of the opinion that if you are not going to have a plan that explains in depth the “how,” I would rather go with ProjectLit founder and Maplewood HS literature teacher Jarred Amato’s concept: “Commit to surrounding every student with great books. Every day. Even, especially, over the summer. What if we took all that testing money, all that scripted curriculum, and spent it on books that all kids could read in school and bring home?” That would be a literacy plan I could support.
ANOTHER SPILL IN HR
You know when you are in the grocery store and a call goes out over the intercom, “We need a mop on aisle 5 please. We’ve got a spill”? That’s the constant chorus over in MNPS HR these days. A call that continually seems to go unheeded. Nobody shows up with a mop and the messes continue to grow.
Three weeks ago, notices were sent out informing tenured teachers whose positions had been eliminated at individual schools that they been terminated. Oops… came the reply a couple days later. “You are not terminated. You are just unassigned, but still eligible for assignment. We’ll be in touch.”
Apparently that incident was so much fun, that MNPS decided to do it all over again. Yep, another round of non-termination termination letters. Here’s a news flash for the folks at Human Resources: if you’ve worked for the district over a decade and your employer keeps sending you termination notices, eventually you are going to take your skills and go elsewhere. As an added note, it’s just good manners to notify the people who applied for and didn’t get a position before you announce who did get the position. Two simple things that could make a world of difference in current events.
I often hear Dr. Joseph refer to himself as being like Obama. The truth is, that in practice, this administration more closely emulates the current occupier of the White House than the former. District chiefs are constantly in pursuit of supposed leakers while touting transparency, overly vindictive of perceived opponents, intellectually incurious with little attention paid to the past, and constantly complaining about fake news. And much like the current president, Dr. Joseph is better at running a talent relocation service than he is at leading an administration. MNPS is creating an unprecedented talent windfall for surrounding counties at an unprecedented pace.
If chasing talent off isn’t enough, MNPS has been equally inept at recruiting talent. Please name me one replacement that is even equally competent to the person they replaced? I struggle with this question daily. Two years ago there were people in the HR department that I would have helped pack up their office in anticipation of their departure. Fast forward a year, and I’d wash their car weekly if they would come back. A sentiment that I don’t believe I am alone in. I honestly don’t know if MNPS can take another year of this.
I’m obviously not devoid of hope; otherwise, why would I be running for school board? Especially since I know exactly how much work this is going to take to fix. But it’s time for all of us to begin rolling up our sleeves and demanding some accountability. We cannot continue to treat people like this.
Despite what some may claim, I have never called for the dismissal of Dr. Joseph and I’m still not quite there yet. But damn, some things have got to change. Teachers, students, and their families deserve better.
WHATCHA TALKIN’ ‘BOUT, WILLIS?
Here’s another one in the “so dumb I think I’m missing something” series. Since TNReady was such a train wreck again this year, legislation was passed that stated scores could not have adverse effects on schools, teachers, or students.That means that the state’s plans to grade schools on an A-F scale had to be scrapped. But in what is being hailed as a “creative and ambitious” action, the state will instead rate each school on a scale of 0-4 on six different performance indicators. And in a major concession to local district leaders, schools won’t receive a single overall grade or rating as initially planned.
Ok, I must admit, apparently I am not as smart as people leading the TNDOE because I don’t see how there is anything creative or ambitious in this action, nor do I agree with TN Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, who according to ChalkbeatTN said the change complies with a new state law ordering that this year’s TNReady scores “shall not be used to assign a letter grade to a school” — a nod to concerns that the test results may be unreliable. Um…if a 4 is an A, 3 is a B, 2 is a C…what’s changed? Are parents going to have more faith in a school that has 3 “3”‘s and 3 “2”‘s than one that is considered a “C” school? Are the schools that have “3”‘s going to suffer consequences? In my opinion, this a flagrant violation of the intent of the legislation that was passed this year.
Further cementing my opinion is the fact that scores will not be available until… wait for it… December. Please explain to me how scores from last year that are not available until midway through the current year will help parents and communities have robust conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of their schools. Once again, personal agendas trump what’s best for kids and families. This reeks of stuff my kids would pull and then defend by saying, “Technically…”
The rumor mill is grinding on imminent departures and arrivals. Some have voiced doubts to the veracity of DGW. Well, time shall tell and we shall see. I just report what I hear. Well, not everything I hear. Lucky for some.
P.L. Thomas is a former South Carolina high school teacher who now teaches teachers and writes a blog. His latest is called Everything You Know is Wrong. I consider it a must read, but I may be wrong.
Interesting budget news – at the end of each fiscal year, MNPS is required to provide final budget projections to Metro City Council. Word is that there was an increase in three areas of fixed cost spending: Health insurance, MDHA, and Charter school enrollment. What that translates into is a need to ask Metro Council for a nice round number of $3.5 extra to close out this year’s books. Everyday I’m shuffling.
A modest response to this week’s poll questions. To those who participated, I thank you. Let’s review.
This week we graded the MNPS Chief’s performance over the last school year. First up is frequent flier Dr. Sito Narcisse. Based on poll results, I would say he’s not the only one hoping he gets a new job. Out of 112 responses, 67 of you answered that you were not sure what he did last year. 17 of you wondered if he still worked here. 1 person gave him a solid “B” or as the TNDOE likes to say… a “3.” Not exactly results that would lead to another district beating down the door to make him the number 1 guy. Here are the write-ins:
|He’s the guy not hiding the fact that he wants out||1|
|He’s horrible…”Am I making this up?”||1|
|Still did not address issues at my school so F||1|
|Less then average. He knows it. Smoke & mirrors touted as truths & run for better||1|
|Talks a lot of BS and can’t make a firm decision.||1|
|If his role is Dr. Joseph’s hype man, then he knocked it out of the park…||1|
Next up is fellow transplant Dr. Monique Felder. Interestingly enough, there seems to be a softening in opinion around Dr. Felder. Out of 109 respondents, she managed to receive 13 votes that could be considered positive. Now that pales in comparison to the 64 that volunteered to help her pack to go home. Still, that is a more positive response than in the past, so maybe, just maybe. Here are write-ins:
|If she is a leader, shouldn’t we have heard something positive from her?||1|
|if she knows so much, why hire all those consultants?||1|
|Plans look good on paper but what about the execution?||1|
|Rumor has it that she is basically doing all of Dr. J’s work for him but also ha||1|
|Poor communicator. Still gets nervous talking in front of people.||1|
|Don’t let Austria ruin the only functioning MNPS dept||1|
Last poll was for the hometown boy, Chris Henson. Doesn’t seem like playing on the home field has helped him much, as out of 107 responses, 70 asked if we could have the old Chris Henson back. I got nothing to add that. After the way he’s taken point on the lead in school drinking water issue, I lost faith. Here are the write-ins:
|If you only knew how bad he really is…||1|
|If he guts and another job, he should tell Joseph to cover his own butt||1|
|He has changd—and not for the better||1|
|Partner in crime with Dr. Joseph if you ask me.||1|
|He’s gone to the dark side||1|
|He is their puppet.||1|
|I bet he can’t wait til the MD crew is out.||1|
|Snake oil salesman||1|
|he’s a puppet||1|
|He’s been awful for years|
And that’s a wrap. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send me as possible, but I do apologize in advance 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. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. 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 my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can.