TELL ME WHY

4

Tell me why Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache Tell me why Ain’t nothin but a mistake – Tell Me Why, Backstreet Boys

“In that moment, when watches and clocks misbehave and you feel a cold vapor wrap itself around your heart, you unconsciously draw a line at the bottom of a long column of numbers and come up with a sum. Perhaps it’s one that fills you with contentment and endows you with a level of courage and an acceptance that you didn’t know you possessed.Or maybe not.” – James Lee Burke, “The Glass Rainbow: A Dave Robicheaux Novel”

I must admit that I compose today’s column with a tint of green. Yesterday Education blogger Zack Barnes hit one of those proverbial home runs. A recent new report from Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams detailed discipline issues with Overton coach Arnet Bodenhamer. Zack did some digging and discovered that the story doesn’t end there.

Turns out, MNPS failed to report the suspended coach to the State Board of Education for review. An action that must take place within 30 days of the district handing out disciplinary action. Tennessean reporter Jason Gonzales decided to follow up even further and inquire about how many other cases haven’t been reported to the state. The answer is nothing short of appalling.

Remember yesterday when I talked about the upcoming HR audits and the danger of leaving leadership in place that already exposed the district to financial and legal risk? This is more of what I am talking about. According to Gonzales,

The list details 89 complaints, and 47 of those were against teachers. The other complaints are against principals and support staff, including bus drivers and educational assistants.

The allegations of teacher misconduct include reports of altercations with students, inappropriate conduct toward students and notifications to the district of police investigations.

In most cases, employees were placed under administrative leave and then returned to work — those cases also weren’t reported to the state by Joseph.

That’s a lot of missed reporting.

Ironically, reporting laws were strengthened this past year based on a USA report showing lackadaisical reporting of misconduct by local districts. Instead of trying to manipulate headlines, perhaps the district leadership’s time would be better spent reading the actual articles.

In the Tennessean article  soon to be ex-board chair Anna Shepherd is quoted as saying the district is undergoing a human resources audit approved by the board early this week and that the lack of reporting of the cases is one reason why the review is needed.

“We take our responsibilities seriously,” Shepherd said. “We have to follow state law, there’s no other option.”

I have to point out here though, that at this week’s board meeting Director of Schools Shawn Joseph emphatically pointed out that the district was not hiring Bone, McCallester, Norton to do an investigation, but rather to ensure that the district’s HR department was following proper protocols and employing best practices. Let me save the district $99999.00, you are not.

It should be appalling that the HR department is incapable of conducting rudimentary day to day business, which I would argue is what reporting to the state falls under, while paying the executive director and the director a combined salary in excess of $300k. While on top of that, they still need to pay another entity another possible $100k to ensure that they know what they are doing. That dull thudding noise you hear is the sound of me banging my head against the desk. Can an adult please step up to the plate?

Some of you may be familiar with Zack Barnes, while to others his may be a new name. Zack has been at this education blogging game for a little longer than I have. He was one of the founders of the TNEd Report, along with Andy Spears. Zack and Andy split awhile back and so Zack hasn’t had an outlet for his muse until recently reviving his Tip Sheet. I see I’m going to have to work a lot harder if I’m going to keep up with him. Kudo’s to you Zack!

RANDOM THOUGHTS

I’d like to spend the rest of this column clearing off the desk. Here’s a plethora of thoughts, articles, rumination that I’ve been turning over of late.

If you haven’t watched this week’s board meeting, I would encourage you to do so. The conversation on the budget that transpires near the beginning of the meeting is one of the best conversations I’ve seen this board engage in. Understanding the way the budget works for a large urban school district is a very difficult proposition. Truthfully, I didn’t fully grasp that the board creates an expense budget, while metro council and the mayor create a revenue budget. I was under the impression that MNPS presented a budget, the council reviewed it and decided how much revenue they were going to supply, and then the board amended the budget based on the amount of revenue awarded.

Apparently that is not how it works. To paraphrase board member Christiane Buggs, metro council actually awards a revenue amount and then offers permission to go into the districts saving account, fund balance, for the remainder. Board member Sharon Gentry offers some additional valuable insight. It’s worth watching.

You can hear board member Will Pinkston’s “underfunded school district” speech in its entirety. Admittedly Pinkston raises some good points, but those are undercut by the fact that he is gone from the meeting before the conversation is completed on the budget and he is absent for the entirety of the discussion on the audit. So while his commentary is somewhat astute, Jason Gonzales is already supplying that service. What’s needed is another hand on deck.

If you can stomach it, I would also advise watching the conversation on the Metro Audit. I’m not sure when people became aware of the fact that head of the audit department Mark Swann wouldn’t be in attendance, but it’s clear that this was a conversation that was never intended to take place despite being on the agenda. Shepherd does her best to curtail conversation, but to their credit Speering and Frogge proceed undeterred.

I fail to understand why when something of this magnitude is on the agenda, so few answers are prepared and so little preparation is done in advance. You would think that every board member, and the director would have marked up copies of the audit in front of them. You would think that some effort would have been put into anticipating what the individual questions would be. Nah…it’s not that important. Culture baby, culture, it’s everything.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Peter Drucker, Management Guru

Rumors are starting to circulate that the new priority school list is coming soon and it is not going to be pretty for MNPS. I’m hearing that up to 20 Nashville schools could be included.

Andy Spears continues to stay on top of the fiasco that is the state’s new portfolio evaluation process. Looks like districts are starting to opt out. Will MNPS follow suit? Time will tell.

As many of you know, I am the father of a fourth grader and a third grader. As such, they often have homework. I am not a believer in homework and therefore the extent of my involvement is periodically asking, “Did you do your homework?” They understand that for me, doing their homework rest solely on their shoulders. Their mother, being a teacher herself,  is better about it then I am and often helps them. I feel confident in my position because research continually mounts that homework in younger grades has no real benefit.

I’m a fan of the letter that Texas second grade teacher sent home to her parents in 2016,

“There will be no formally assigned homework this year… rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success,” she wrote. “Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.”

Two years later she stands behind that edict. Though she readily admits that there has been a learning curve. Some students actually do want homework. Some students need additional supports, supports that may not be readily available at home and therefore need delivery in a different manner and at a different time. She does say that her core belief has only been re-enforced, that teaching is about relationships.

“I want my students to know that I care about them at every second,” she said. “I want parents to trust me and let me into their family. I want open communication lines between us so that I can better understand their children and help them succeed.”

By now many of you have been impacted by MNPS raising the prices on buses. PTO’s began planning for and raising funds for trips back in the spring under the impression that costs wouldn’t change and they would just need to raise say, $2500. Only to find out that over the summer prices had been raised and that the same trip would now cost $5K. That’s an oversimplification, but will have to suffice for our purposes today.

A Hunter’s Lane parent took this information and decided to start making phone calls to raise additional funds for the band. Long story short, they hooked up with the producers for the Pickler and Ben show. Said producers proceeded to invite the band on the show this past Wednesday. By all accounts, a large time was had by everyone. A shout out to Band mom Ms. Pulley for advocating so hard for their Human Boom Box!

Here’s a fun came to play. Name all the literacy coach leaders that have over 5 years experience teaching in the classroom. Take your time, I can wait.

When I first started this blog I was seeped in the privatization vs non-privatization battle. Over the years I’ve become a little less partisan. I find myself asking myself, if you get rid of TFA, charter schools, and all that comes with it, then what? Will local superintendents suddenly become more transparent? Will districts suddenly give EL kids and those in poverty the supports they’ve been arbitrarily taking away for years? Will teachers suddenly start getting the pay, respect, and autonomy they deserve?

As I’ve seen similar egregious acts play out from actors on both sides, I’ve become a little more cynical. Is this war against privatization really where our efforts should be directed? Luckily there are people like Peter Greene out there to remind us why these fights are important.

As he points out,

We’ve heard it over and over in the modern ed reform movement– schools should be run more like businesses. Yes, that means watching the money side of things, but it also consistently means, “I want to be able to run this school like my own personal private business. I don’t want the government to tell me there are rules I have to follow. I don’t want unions telling me what I can or can’t do. I just want to exert my will, unfettered and unrestrained, like I would over any personal, private operation I owned.”

He goes on to offer some sound advice on how we should proceed and the important questions to ask,

Resistance to privatization can’t just be about asking, “So who will make money on this deal.” We also need to be asking, “So, once this has happened, who will be the decider? Who will decide who gets treated at the hospital? Who will decide who and what get taught at the school? Who will decide when the roads are plowed and paved? And what can I do if I don’t like their decision?” The pitch will always be, “Well, the government decides that stuff now and they do a lousy job, amiright?” That may be true, but it doesn’t answer the question. Get an answer to the question, because we’re seeing the answer demonstrated right now in the White House– “I’ll decide. I’m the only one that matters. I’ll decide, and if you don’t like it, tough, and if you complain, I’ll find some way to use my personal power to punish you.”

Speaking of Teach for America, it looks like they’ve made the move into supplying pre-school teachers. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing or not.

Out on the campaign trail this summer I often spoke of the need to create more robust teacher compensation packages. It can’t be just about giving teachers more money. In a meeting with Scarlett Foundation head Tara Scarlett I laid out some of these ideas and how the Scarlett Foundation could have a real impact upon educational outcomes if they were to spearhead such an initiative. To her credit, she seemed intrigue.

Turns out Detroit is already writing up the blue print for what such an initiative can look like. According to Chalkbeat,

Now a citywide initiative funded by Detroit philanthropies and businesses is bringing education leaders together around the idea that a bigger pool of teachers will lessen the pressure on every school in the city. Teach 313, announced Thursday morning by a who’s who of Detroit leaders, will mount a nationwide recruitment campaign to find new teachers while offering discounted cars and home loans to educators who already teach in the city.

Two new sweeteners were announced Thursday by executives from General Motors and Quicken Loans as part of the announcement:

  • A discount on a new GM vehicle, which Detroit teachers can add to any other discount. They’re also eligible for a free two-year subscription to GM’s OnStar, a service that can connect cars to a call center in an emergency.
  • A discount of $1,500 on a home loan or home refinancing from Quicken Loans.

Tara are you listening? Tara are you listening?

I’ve been meaning to share some of Overton HS parent Teri Watson’s pictures of Overton students for a while now. They really are fantastic and capture the magic that takes place in our schools.

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) is a volunteer program we designed to engage elementary classrooms with role models in the community. It’s only five visits throughout the school year. Want to volunteer? Sign up for training:

Want to help girls in Metro Nashville Public Schools who don’t have feminine products and miss school? You can! Follow the link to donate:

That about does it for the week. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Have a great Labor Day Weekend. We’ll be back on Tuesday.

 
 

 

 

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LAND OF CONFUSION

4

Now this is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make it a place worth fighting for. – Land Of Confusion, Genesis

Things keep getting more and more interesting around here. So much so, I felt like I had to write a little bonus post today. Though I doubt it will turn out to be so little.

Tuesday was the last official board meeting for Tyese Hunter, Mary Pierce, and JoAnne Brandon. It’s important to take a minute and say thank you for your service. This was also the last meeting that Anna Shepherd would preside over as chair.

Of note on the consent agenda was a renewal of the contract for Imagine Learning. While Imagine Learning is a computer based learning tool, I’ve seen it effectively used with EL teachers pairing students together and having them work as a team using english to communicate among themselves. It is a program that gets high marks from teachers and has produced results, but was unfortunately discontinued at the beginning of the year. Luckily wiser heads prevailed and it is being brought back.

That’s all fine and good except there seems to be a disturbing trend taking root, one of cutting supports to non-tested elementary school grades. Reading clinics, Literacy Partnership, Imagine Learning, and yes Reading Recovery, all on the chopping block. Which begs questions of the “programs that are replacing Reading Recovery and other… what are they and where is the support data? As schools lose supports without new ones ready to go, it gives the appearance that we seem to be moving into the realm of correction vs prevention.

You should not be able to remove a proven plan with having equally proven plan ready. To do so screams politics over policy.

The next thing on the agenda was the recently completed audit by Metro Nashville Government. The general consensus by those who have actually read the audit is that there is very little analysis and therefore the whole thing is inconclusive at best. Mark Swann, who over sees the Metropolitan Audit Division, could not be in attendance at Tuesday’s school board meeting but he sent internal auditor Mary Cole in his stead. Outgoing board chair Anna Shepherd tried to use Swann’s absence as grounds to avoid having a public discussion on the audits results. Instructing board members to write down their questions and she’ll get them answers. WTF?!?

Where is that stipulated in board policy? Where does it say that the board chair gets the privilege of filtering commentary? Discussion of the audit was on the agenda, why in god’s name did Shepherd feel that she is somehow empowered in her role as chair to limit conversation. Fortunately, board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering were not buying it. Frogge going as far to point out that all of Nashville was talking about the audit, so why wasn’t the board.

“This has obviously been a huge issue. An entire city is talking about it. Now that we have an opportunity, we are saying, well, you know, hey, just send something in writing and we or may not put it out publicly.”

Speering ignored Shepherd’s direction and proceeded to open discussion. As Speering began her questions and observations, board member Sharon Gentry could be heard talking. While it’s unclear who she was talking to, it appeared as if she was talking to herself. Either way Speering was undeterred.

Using the data included in the audit, Speering and Frogge, drew attention to several areas of concern,

“In 2018, when there was a freeze on teachers and administrators, the director went over his own travel budget by 283 percent. This reflects poorly about us living within our budget,” Speering said.

She also drilled into some departments that have been consistently over or under budget in recent years.

“I’m wondering,” she said, “why we are not adjusting?”

Another board member, Amy Frogge, zeroed in on a handful of vendor contracts over $100,000 that she said should have come to the board for review.

Answers were not forthcoming and I have little faith that they will be in the future either. MNPS administrators seem to be challenged by reality as evidenced by a press release, released on Wednesday, in which Dr. Joseph proclaims,

“This rigorous third-party audit process shows Metro Schools demonstrates strong, legal stewardship of taxpayer dollars relative to the education of our more than 85,000 students,”

It does nothing of the sort and to assert such is disingenuous. But MNPS is content to just make up stuff for themselves, they want other news organizations to help perpetrate their myths. MNPS continually pressures local news outlets to report stories in a matter that is flattering to the district. An example would be their recent success in getting The Tennessean to change a headline that proclaimed the audit inconclusive. Unfortunately the Tennessean gave in.

When the initial announcement of the audit was made, Joseph took umbrage and often told associates that when the audit came up clean he would be expecting apologies from everybody. Now the audit has, in his words now come up clean, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. Why? One would think that if the results were reaffirming as he is trying to portray them he would be shouting them from the mountain top. Instead, it’s the opposite that is happening, as leadership strives to limit conversation as much as possible. It truly begs the question of what tale do those numbers truly tell?

Despite the limited discussion, it did arise that the audit department was working on two additional investigations involving…wait for it…the Human Resources department. Joseph claimed that he had no knowledge of these yet to be concluded audits and but chose to focus on a commissioned  audit by Bone, McCallester, and Norton PLLC that had been approved during the consent agenda and would cost upwards of $100k,

“We are not doing an investigation,” Joseph said. “We are looking at processes … We are looking at cases completed — if they were done appropriately, the best practices and a look over policies.”

Anybody want to bet me on how that “investigation” is going to turn out?

Board Member Will Pinkston stayed for the discussion just long enough to utter his current catch phrase, “We are an underfunded school district” as he scooted out the door. Let me be blunt here, we have 2 audits and a separate $100k expenditure necessitated by the actions of the current leadership of HR. Today there has been no accountability applied to either of these administrators. One was allowed to leave on a 3 week vacation and another was elevated to leading the division in her absence. Does that speak to good management of financial resources?

To add to the equation, there are several lawsuits out there waiting to be filled in response to actions, again, by HR leadership. Why would you leave them in power, to potentially cost the district more money, while 3 investigations are on going?

I don’t understand why it’s such a hard concept to understand that if you want more funding, and we need it, the public has to perceive that you are a good steward. If Pinkston want’s to solve the problem of underfunding, perhaps he should apply his considerable talents to making sure that the public believes MNPS is using resources wisely. Maybe, Phil Bredesen could give him a few days off the campaign trail so he could do the job that he was elected to.

If Pinkston doesn’t want to do the job, which includes talking to people, asking hard questions, and pushing an agenda other than his own, he needs to resign and let someone step in that will do the work. Someone that will ensure that our schools get the funding they need and that they follow good policy. Frogge and Speering, previously allies of his, are getting help in Fran Bush. But they cannot be the only ones. It’s way past time for others to step up.

TNReady results were also briefly discussed with one excuse being offered that kids’ did not try because they knew results were not going to count and thus, they scored lower on the High School tests. Really? Is that where we are at? I can’t even dive further into that one.

WHAT’S AN MOU?

At the end of last year MNPS and MNEA concluded the collaborative conferencing process and agreed upon several conditions that would define expectations for teachers. For the first time in years teacher’s went to work with a memorandum of understanding(MOU).A lot of good people put a lot of back-breaking work into getting the MOU passed and their efforts deserve recognition. Unfortunately we are now in the enforcement phase of the process and that’s where things get interesting.

At the beginning of the year, director of HR Sharon Pertiller -yes, that Sharon Pertiller  – did a perfunctory presentation at a principal’s meeting that did little but piss off and confuse principals. By all accounts Pertiller didn’t understand the MOU, nor did she attach much importance to it. As a result, many teacher themselves were quite upset when it was communicated to them that a new attendance policy, that was part of the MOU meant they could be docked professionalism points if they used all of their professional days. An interpretation reportedly different from what was negotiated.

MNEA head Erick Huth has indicated that he arrived late at the principal’s meeting and therefore Pertiller was allowed to communicate a policy different then the one that was negotiated. Either way, things were off to an auspicious start.

Friday marks the first professional day and per page two of the MOU the day cannot be longer then 7 hours, include a one hour lunch which can be taken off campus, and three hours of individual planning. Shockingly – ok, not really – many teachers across the district received planning day agendas from individual schools that were not compliant with the MOU. This is where things get a little tricky, because who enforces the MOU? Many teacher’s will be hesitant to step forward in a manner that risks getting them labeled as troublemakers.

To their credit, MNEA leadership has stepped up and tried to address as many of the individual cases as possible. Hopefully, most principals will comply and the MOU will be adhered to. Once again, if you had a competent HR department, this wouldn’t be an issue. Planning day agendas would have been approved as being in compliance long before they made it into teachers hands and principals would have a deep understanding of what the expectations are.

JUST LISTEN TO THEM

The families that make up Eakin ES are finding themselves in a strange predicament these days. Eakin has a reputation as being one of the better elementary schools in the city and one were parent input was valued. Things have started to shift. It started two years ago when the community supported a different choice for principal then the district proposed. Things didn’t work out as planned for the district’s choice and at the end of last year the school found itself once again in search of a leader. Once again, the community made their preference known and again that preference was ignored. Hopefully this time things work out better than they did last time.

Back during budget season the community also took exception to the enrollment projections by the district. It was argued that the district numbers were too low. Again parents of Eakin, whom historically have had a good handle on the needs of their school, were overruled. This underestimation means that not enough kindergarten teachers were hired and as a result existing classes were over populated. This has been a pain point for parents since the start of school.

This week, the district conceded that the community was right and approved the hiring of a new kindergarten teacher. Great, but I have a few questions. Where will this high quality teacher be found? I don’t believe that there is a surplus of quality educators out of work in September. Which kids will get to be placed in the new teachers classroom while she becomes acclimated? As a Kindergarten parent I would be hesitant to have my child separated from a teacher they had already adapted to, but that’s just me.

Once again, a problem has arisen because district leadership just does not listen to anybody but the voices in their head. How many problems could have been avoided over the last couple of years if someone in the inner circle had just listened to someone else?

Furthermore, isn’t this the kind of situation in which the position of Community Superintendent was created for? There was a lot of lip service paid to knowing exactly what the supports the new principal needed, how was student population not caught earlier then this? In order for Community Supes to be effective they have to know their “Community” inside and out, hence the name.

One more side note, in sending a note home with kids, you might want to include staff in the distribution list. They never enjoy hearing news about their school from a loud mouth blogger. just saying.

Hopefully a new teacher will be quickly hired and they acclimate equally as quickly. But perhaps, just perhaps, leadership could learn something from this incident and maybe listen in the future.

That does it for this special edition. Make sure you tune in tomorrow when I’ll include the next round of poll questions. I leave you with a shot of what used to be Tusculum ES. A shot that took way to long to produce.

 

 

NO SCRUBS

3

So, let me give you something to think about insinuate your mind
With intentions to turn you out
Lets get the focus on the picture in front of me
To get as clear as dvd on digital tv screens
Satisfy my appatite with somthing spectacular
Check your venacular
Then I’ll get back to ya – TLC, No Scrubs

I often find my self in reflection and if I knew 5 years ago, when I started this blog, what I know now, I believe I would have chosen a different subject to write about. Maybe the proper placement of garden gnomes in perennial gardens. Or the history of Northern Irish punk bands. But at that time I was under the assumption that writing about education policy would involve logic and be rooted in data.

I was wrong. The conversations are seldom logical and often ignore data. People create narratives based as much on outside influences – race, politics, personalities, etc – as they do on proven best practices. It’s a subject rooted in accountability as long as it’s overseers aren’t the ones being held to a level of accountability. There are hundreds of teachers who are considered unemployable for committing actions one-tenth as egregious as the ones committed by state and district leaders.

Let’s run through the list just for giggles.

In order to make sure that every child has a good teacher at the head of their class, states have been charged with implementing a system that evaluates teachers and schools. Tennessee relies on TVAAS. There has now been enough data collected to show that TVAAS is at best, unreliable, and in reality, junk science. In an article from last summer on Chattanoogan.com, writer Roy Exum quotes a friend who succinctly sums it up, “I am still in the schools a lot. You should go with me and see for yourself. All the TVAAS scores have done is perpetuate a myth our public schools are failing. That’s not the truth! To think that is wrong.”

Exum then goes on to talk about 2 schools less than 3 miles apart with identical teachers and students in Hamilton County, “Thrasher Elementary received a “5.” Nolan Elementary was given a “1.” Any fool can see that is clearly improbable and defies common sense.” Evidence of this sort just continues to mount and continues to be ignored.

Think about any other profession. If the data showed that a practice was not contributing to the production of results, then the practice would be discontinued. Standardized testing has been in place for decades and the data shows outcomes have stayed about the same. However, detrimental side effects have begun to amass. Stress levels for teachers have risen, instructional time has shrunk, and the scope of curriculum has narrowed, especially for EL students and kids from low-income families. In other words we are hurting the very kids we claim to be trying to protect.

Does anybody sit across from the governor or the Tennessee superintendent of education and say, “This testing thing, coupled with your inability to properly execute is actually hurting schools?” No, instead we let the governor spout off about our “success” and proclaim, “Throwing in the towel on the policies instrumental to our progress should not be an option.” What success?

Tennessee is still consistently ranked in the bottom half of states when comes to performance. Reading scores have been flat for 4 years. You can argue that TNReady has been contributing to something, just not success. Yet nothing changes, leadership just keeps doubling down on failed policy.

I’ve heard the defense offered that, “Sure, there are problems with the testing, but what’s the alternative.” That’s one of those arguments that if you say it fast it sounds good. But name me one other detrimental activity that you continue to participate in because you haven’t come up with an alternative. If you are on a diet, and you’re not losing weight, and you are getting sick because you lack nutrition, do you continue on the diet while you research other alternatives, or do you quit the diet and explore other ideas?

One of the first things AA taught me is that you have to stop the detrimental behavior while you search for alternatives. Administrating a test that is hurting outcomes while you search for improvements is like that AA member who reads the big book with a tumbler of whiskey in his hand.

Now I know, that I questioned the Pinkston, I mean Joseph letter calling for a halt to TNReady, but that was as much about timing as it was anything.

Currently problems are emerging with the development and measurement of early elementary education standards. All the incoming data is indicating that the creation of the standards and launching of the portfolio process of evaluation for teachers is not working. Is that being acknowledged by the TNDOE? No, instead teachers are getting memo’s pointing out that, “The portfolio process increased the importance of kindergarten. Our teachers were saying “It starts with us.” Teachers wanted to show what they could do.” Amazing, I thought it started with 4th grade.

In actuality, if you wanted to get picky, its starts with birth. Children hit the ground running with the learning thing. What kindergarten actually signifies is that shift in priorities from a child learning what they deem important – walking, talking, manipulating mom and dad – to what the state and society deem as priorities – how to stay off welfare and make a lot of money for our corporate benefactors. Okay, so that last line was a little cynical, but hopefully you get my point.

The state though isn’t alone in ignoring logic, data, and best practices. let us look at our beloved MNPS. Over the last month Channel 5 has presented ample evidence that the director of human resources mishandled not one, not two, but three cases of misconduct. The evidence is strong enough that at tonight’s board meeting, board members will vote on approving a 100k contract to Bone, McAllester, Norton PLLC for the express purpose of,

Contract for legal services, review of procedures and practices, and redrafting of procedures to comply with legal requirements as it relates to Human Resources and employee relations. Review and assessment of past cases and investigations for consistent compliance to current law. Gather stakeholder input and identification of reporting barriers to improve HR practices.

So let me spell this out, over the past year, MNPS’s HR practices raised enough concern that the director feels compelled to spend a 100K to have an outside entity look at how the HR department conducts business. He’s doing this at a time when professional development and other programs that have direct impact on the classroom are being cut. This is not a proactive endeavor the director happens to have an extra 100K and says, “Let’s make sure we are doing things right.” No, this is taking money away from students and student outcomes. Whew…the two directors of HR must be sweating bullets and worrying about their jobs. I bet they are working long hours getting ready for BMN to come in.

Naw, one of them is out of the country on a three-week vacation and the other is…running the department. Think about your place of employment for a minute. If you were implicitly involved in your division costing the company 100k at a time when revenues were done, can you envision a scenario where you were elevated to a position of leading said division? Yet, that’s what we get with MNPS these days. Plenty of talk about accountability, but little action. Screw up on a grand scale and it won’t affect your vacation, let alone your employment.

Let’s look at district initiatives. We talk endlessly about the importance of raising literacy levels. We are laser focused on increasing student outcomes. Literacy specialist tell leadership that the literacy partnership with Lipscomb University is the number one professional development tool they need. Widely recognized as highly effective. So what does MNPS do? They let the contract expire.

Lip service is paid constantly about “exceeding expectations”, and being “the fastest rising district in the nation”, yet failure to secure an overwhelming request for the districts literacy specialists only warrants a terse email,

Greetings Elementary Principals-

 

This is to notify you that the professional development content days with Lipscomb has been cancelled indefinitely. Our first session was scheduled for this Tuesday, August 28, 2018.

 

Procurement informed us that MNPS’ current contract with Lipscomb has expired and an RFP is needed going forward.  We will let you know the outcome of the RFP process, which can take several  months to complete.

 

Thank you!

Kind regards,

Barbara

_____________________________

Barbara Lashley, Ed.D.

Director of  Elementary Literacy

Curriculum & Instruction

Division of Teaching and Learning

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools

2601 Bransford Ave

No outline of alternative strategies was included. There was no recognition of the importance of the program. There is no apology for failing to fulfill the specialist request. Once again, the announcement comes just days before scheduled training.

Here’s another gross failure of expectations, yet do you think anybody has any concerns about their employment? I’m betting the literacy specialist do if their schools don’t make the expected progress, but nobody else.

Let’s shift gears here a little bit. Over the last two years there has been a lot of discussion over President Trump’s relationship with the media and his attempts to influence how they do their job. With people raising concerns that his actions are systematically undermining the ability of the press to fulfill its responsibilities as a watchdog on government. Imagine for a second if President Trump got his people to put pressure on the Washington Post to change a headline on a story about him that they thought was unflattering.

Yet that’s what happen here last week. The Tennessean published an article about a recently released audit of the school system by Metro Nashville Government. The original headline read, “Audit of Nashville Budget Inconclusive; two other reviews ongoing, board member says”. That is a true statement. Dr. Joseph didn’t like it. He called out the troops and got them to pressure the Tennessean into changing the headline and they capitulated, “Audit of Nashville public schools budget finds one item; two other reviews ongoing, board member says”, a statement that while also true, leaves out a whole lot of the story. But it’s a bit more flattering isn’t it.

Especially when you couple it with MNPS’s statement on Twitter.

“Thanks to our Board members for asking for an audit & assuring the community that we are spending dollars as they have been allocated in our approved budget. We will be communicating more about our budget this year to increase transparency & confidence.”

Huh?!? Where in the audit is that statement supported? I’ll readily admit that there is nothing in the audit that clearly states the district is guilty of financial malfeasance. But I’d expect that district leadership would demonstrate the same degree on honesty and admit there is nothing in the audit that assures the community that they are spending dollars as they have been allocated in the approved budget.

All one has to do is look at one of the exhibits in the audit to counter that assertion. Virtually every line item is either substantially over budgeted or under budgeted. At the very least, the audit opens up the door for more questions. Yet the district, once again defies data, logic, and best practices, and makes a statement that is unsupportable.

Some may shrug and call this pressuring of the press a small infraction. Though it’s not only with the newspaper that they’ve applied pressure. All the TV stations have also received calls from MNPS demanding that stories portray MNPS in a favorable manner. I find the attempts to influence news outlets problematic. To those that shrug and call this business as usual, I offer the words of Nelson Mandela,

A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.

I could offer more examples of how data, logic, and best practices are ignored by the district, but at some point you have to shift to solutions. How do you correct course? How do you start to hold this previously held unaccountable administration, accountable? How do you get to a place where leadership operates with best practices based on research and data?

This week three new MNPS school board members – Gini Pupo-Walker, Rachael Anne Elrod, Fran Bush – will be sworn in to begin their 4 year terms. All three were elected under the auspices of bringing some change to how business is conducted. They were not elected based on a mandate of supporting Dr. Joseph and ensuring that we maintain course. Quite the opposite.

While all three have received similar directives from voters, they differ in how I perceive they will go about fulfilling their voters priorities. Walker is probably the most experienced of the three, and outwardly appears to have the most deep-rooted political connections. She will proceed in a deliberate manner. One that looks to offer solutions and solve problems simultaneously. Some may grow frustrated with Walkers pace, but they shouldn’t underestimate her commitment to getting it right and enacting meaningful change.

While I have less insight into how Elrod will operate, I can say that while on the campaign trail with her, she projected an air of deliberateness and propensity for doing her homework. She struck me as a confident woman who would not be easily bullied. I get the feeling she’ll be pushing change as well.

Fran Bush is the wild card in the bunch. She is not a politician and she is not going to communicate in a politicians manner. She is going to say what is on her mind and let the chips fall where they may. I find that incredibly refreshing but I can already hear the tongues clicking and the cries coming of how, “That woman just doesn’t understand how it works.” No, she doesn’t, at least as it applies to current practice, and we are all going to be better for it. Look where supposedly “knowing how it all works” has gotten us. Is there anyone who can back up an argument that the district is in better shape today then it was 3 years ago? I didn’t think so.

Who’s to say that Bush’s way isn’t the right way? She’s a smart woman with deep connections to the community. If her methods aren’t an improvement, we don’t have to point it out to her, she won’t be reelected in 4 years. Till then, let the games begin. I’ve talked to Bush on several occasions and every time come away impressed by her knowledge and forth rightness.

It cannot be said enough, Bush, with no money, beat an incumbent who had the director of schools trying to influence the election in her favor. On the campaign trail she didn’t portray herself as anybody but who she was. Why do you think Joseph felt the need to work against her? Now she’s got the job and she’s going to do it just the way she told her constituents she was going to do it. They in turn know who she is, and entrusted her to lead.

Large swaths of Nashville are going to not appreciate how she does things. That’s fine. I didn’t always care how Mary Pierce went about things. But you can never say that Mary didn’t represent her constituents exactly how she told them she was going to represent them. That’s the way democracy works and that’s why elections have consequences.

Going forward I’m filled with optimism. On his own I have no confidence that Joseph has the ability to get things right. A perception that is rooted in logic, data, and best practices. With the introduction of these new board members I believe that the board will take a more active role in helping Joseph get it right. If he doesn’t want their assistance, or continues on doing things his way or the highway, I’m also confident that this new board will be more willing to engage in that conversation then the board of the last 4 years.

As I told a senior district official last night, they shouldn’t confuse Nashville civility with endorsement. They may feel they have no pressure, but it is mounting, and whether they acknowledge it or not, this administration is on the ropes. Right now they are standing at a cross roads. They can embrace the new members and the opportunities they bring to the table or they can defy logic, data, and best practices and continue to conduct business per usual. One road leads out-of-town, the other to less time spent with Phil Williams.

POLL RESULTS

Responses to this weekends questions were down a bit but let’s review the results.

The first question asked what you thought about the just completed audit of MNPS. Out of 132 respondents, 65 referred to it as worthless with 29 additional people indicating that it raised more questions then it answered. Not one person felt that it made them feel better about how MNPS was managing resources. But the headline and press release said…here are the write-in votes, and again to the person who indicated that the audit came back “clean”, please indicate on what page I can find that pronouncement.

Came back clean and people still want to find problems 1
When laundering money, your audit should be clean. 1
The audit means nothing when the paychecks are smaller. It’s just too late. 1
This was not the audit that was needed. Need a deep dive into MNPS – everywhere 1
Is Maritza Gonzalez still making all that $? 1
There are gaps that need explaining, so the Board shd be asking questions. 1
The one about the former Mayor was equally vague so maybe hire better auditors 1
I know as much today as I did six months ago

Question 2 asked about your impressions of middle schools moving to Standards Based Grading. This one got 134 replies with 87 people indicating that it just made more work for teachers and confused parents. Second leading answer with 17 votes was, “with some tweaks it may be all right.” No one indicated that it makes teachers life easier. Here are the write-ins,

great idea 1
Who follows up on these things? Are they ever enforced? Nothing ever changes. 1
Useless. Vastly more work required of teachers to produce very convoluted info. 1
Other districts do it well, I don’t feel it will happen here. 1
why can’t we call it what it is – standards based grading – geez 1
MNPS failed GFL rollout. They’ll fail this too

The last question was on the Governors race and who you plan on voting for. If the Dad Gone Wild results hold, Karl Dean will be the next governor of Tennessean. Y’all favored Dean by a margin of 69 to 47. Here are the write-ins.

Neither 3
Not sure yet 1
Verdict is still out. 1
Karl Dean, but he wasn’t my first choice. 1
Writing in Barack Obama 1
Don’t like either one. 1
Anyone but dean

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon.

TOO MUCH MONKEY BUSINESS

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Same thing every day – gettin’ up, goin’ to school.
No need for me complainin’ – my objection’s overruled, ahh!
Too much monkey business. Too much monkey business.
Too much monkey business for me to be involved in! – Chuck Berry, “Too Much Monkey Business”

 

I’ve got a confession to make. I feel like I’ve been struggling a bit with coverage of education issues as of late. In most places throughout the district schools seems to have gotten off semi-smoothly. The reason I just say, “semi-smoothly” is because for many schools there are few issues while for others the challenges have grown and become more complex. In some areas the issues stem from state policy, where as in others it’s district policy. There seems to be a great deal of disjointedness transpiring in our schools right now, and in talking to educators I get the sense that I’m not the only one feeling it.

I appreciate your patience as I wrestle with understanding and communicating these issues. Luckily MNPS is a district blessed with a lot of talented educators that are willing to openly discuss policy and are willing to take the time to do so. Though I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there are less of them today then there were yesterday.

I’m also grateful to all of you who read my ramblings and comment. You have no idea how much I learn from all of you and what a perk it is to be able to have this ongoing conversation. And a deeper richer conversation has always been the guiding force behind this blog. That said, let survey the landscape of the past week.

If you study politics and policy long enough you’ll learn to spot certain game plans, for a lack of a better word, that repeatedly get put into play. There’s the “Friday Evening News Dump” where you release bad news on a Friday afternoon to avoid too much media scrutiny. There’s the using of percentage points instead of real numbers to shape a narrative. Or creating a graph that visually contradicts the information being shared.

A tried and true game plan when confronted with failing policy is to form a committee to review. When results don’t change even after you formed a committee, it’s time to go on a listening tour. Because everybody acknowledges that listening is a good thing right? That is exactly what Governor Haslam and the Tennessee Director of Education Candice McQueen are betting on as they undertake their own listening tour in relation to TNReady.

The tour makes me chuckle. Though I may not agree with the Governor and the Superintendent, I have a fair amount of respect for their intellect. TNReady issues have been going on for at minimum 4 years now, with no shortage of public documentation on its shortcomings. Am I supposed to believe for 1 second that out on the road anybody is going to hear anything that hasn’t already been repeated ad nauseam? Am I supposed to envision a conversation like this taking place as the two share a car ride home from a listening session,

Candice: Man, Bill I heard some of the craziest things today. There are technical problems with the TNReady test administration.

Bill: I know, I never knew that. And people were citing evidence that linking results via TVAAS to teacher ratings was junk science. I never heard that before, have you?

Candice: No. And teachers are concerned about the continuing loss of instruction time due to high stakes testing. One teacher even pointed out to me that it wasn’t the actual testing time, but all the prep time as well. When she said that…it was like a light bulb went off in my head.

Bill: Me too! We have to get back to the capitol and fix this thing. Just think we would have never know any of this if we hadn’t gone out on this listening tour. 

No, that’s not going to happen. These are two intelligent individuals that are very aware of the failings of TNReady and have made a conscious effort to disregard them in order to stick to their agenda. I could have dinner at the governor’s mansion all next month, produce reams of data to back up my criticism, bring hundreds of teachers and parents in to testify, and the best I would get is a, “We’ll take this under advisement and really appreciate all of you getting involved.” But little would change.

Part of that is because of the purpose of state standardized testing. Everybody tries to sell the canard about it being about student learning and improving outcomes, but if you are buying that, I’d like to talk to you about some waterfront property I have for sale in Arizona. State testing is simply an accountability tool that also works well as a marketing tool. Period. It’s all about the money, either the justifying of what’s being spent or the need to spend more.

Pro public education advocates are deep-seated in the belief that public education should be funded at whatever level schools say they require. Unfortunately not all tax payers are public education advocates and many of them question the amount of money spent on educating the kid’s of America. Politicians like to get elected, so they look for ways to justify those expenditures, or when necessary justify the increasing of investment. Nothing like a test given to all kid’s every year to give you material for the tale. Hence here we are.

Listening tours conjure up images of a politician walking into a room, rolling up their sleeves, and saying, “So tell me what’s on your mind?” Anybody who’s ever been to a listening session will testify that’s not what happens. They are much more scripted affairs then that.

First of all, not everybody gets into the room. There is a very deliberate selection process to make sure that the right people get in the room. If you don’t say the right things, show the proper “respect”, or say things that make people uncomfortable…rest assured, you are not getting in the room.

(Fig 1)

(fig 3)

Second of all, topics for conversation are tightly restricted(fig 3) in an effort to “stay on point”. So if you are a kindergarten teacher or fine arts teacher and you think you may show up and make a comment on the CF that is the portfolio evaluation, since they are part of state testing policy, think again. You folks have only worked yourself up to “glowing, but factually challenged email” status(fig 1). Next year you might get your own committee to study the process and you are probably at minimum of two years away from getting your own listening tour. So you’ll have to be patient and try to stay on task.

Lastly, Haslam and McQueen are both headed to the door. What makes you believe for one minute that Dean and Lee haven’t already been having their own informal listening session? Do you think for 1 second that either is going to say to Haslam or McQueen, “Hey before you pack up the silverware, why don’t you tell us what you heard on the listening tour?” That’s about as likely to happen as them calling me up and asking for my opinion. The conversation between the parties is probably going to be of the “thanks for the memories but can you get your car out of the driveway” variety.

In my opinion, people are better off showing up at campaign events for either candidate and trying to provide insight there. Those events are also tightly scripted, but at least you’d be talking with someone who had power to do something 6 months from now. Better yet, candidates would either show up personally, or send reps to the listening tour stops and talk to the folks in the parking lot. That’s where the listening needs to happen.

AT THE LOCAL LEVEL

Middle school teachers are expressing concern about a change in grading methods this year. Last year elementary schools made the shift to a model of Grading To The Standards and this year it moves to middle school. Student report cards will no longer just show a students grade in the subject, but rather a breakdown and grade for each individual standard required for each subject at that grade level that impact the overall grade.

Teachers were instructed to tailor their in class assessments to groupings of the standards, typically grouping three or more standards together.  What a student received on those assessments would be recorded as a grade on each standard. The grades are then fed into a computer program which translates into a grade for each subject. The theory is that instead of parents just seeing a grade of say, 86, and having no insight into how that was achieved, they would be able to see the scores on the standards that determined that final grade. Which is sound in theory but I’m not sure translates into practice.

(Fig 2)

In order for this switch in grading to occur, it is going to require a tremendous amount of extra work by teachers. As one teacher very eloquently summed up in an email(See fig 2). Per usual, teachers are trying to find a way to make district initiatives work, but the amount of work required, is to say the least, a bit troubling. I’ve heard from some teachers that complying with this initiative would translate into a grade book with over 1500 entries. That’s a lot of numbers.

Furthermore, I question how much parents will actually benefit from this move. I know from last year, understanding the standards on my kid’s report  was extremely difficult. As versed as I am in education language, the requirement of the standard was not always clear to me. It seems to me that if we are going to move in this direction, there needs to be a parental education component. If the districts PAC’s were all still functional, they would provide an excellent vehicle for this component. As it is, there is no consistent parental involvement model in the district, so there is really no readily available good way to conduct those information sessions.

The concern for students possibly getting penalized for a low grade on three standards has also been risen. For ELA, the standards are often interwoven so an assessment may include questions that include three or more standards in each question. If a student doesn’t do well, the risk exists that they could be dinged on 3 or more standards based on one assessment.

The upside on all of this is that the transformation would give parents assurance that all schools are all teaching to the standards. That would be verifiable through the individual report cards. This has the potential to bring more equity to our schools. Though I am not sure how many schools/teachers are not already teaching to the standards and if not, what are they teaching to.

The other good news is that I hear from teachers that head of curriculum and instruction David Williams has been very open about listening to concerns with the process and tweaking where necessary.

Let’s see how it all unfolds. Next week I’ll take a look at the SEL standards that are report cards and in Infinite Campus.

QUICK HITS

While district leadership has not released an official statement about the recently released Metro Audit on MNPS Finances – though in all fairness it’s not Friday evening yet – Tony Gonzalez at WPLN has filed a story on the audit in which he concludes, a new audit finds that the finances of Metro Nashville Public Schools were not as unusual last year as some critics feared. I must admit to being baffled as to where in the audit he finds information to support that supposition. I’ve read it repeatedly and can’t find enough information to support any conclusion, either pro or con. There are numbers that show central office has grown by about $3m over the last two years and budget line items that seem fluctuate at random. But as I stated in the piece I wrote earlier this week, there is not enough context in the audit to supports assertions either way.

Gonzalez writes, “But auditors found that overall spending wasn’t unusually far off from what was budgeted.” Ok…what would constitute unusually far off? Under Leadership and Learning it shows that the district overspent by $4,695,698. Under fixed charges the district under spent by $1,976,865. Both of those numbers meet my threshold for unusually far off. Does it have to be 5 or 10 million to meet Gonzalez’s threshold?

Soon to be ex-board chair Anna Shepherd goes as far as to proclaim,

“I was happy to see there was nothing egregious — nothing criminal. I didn’t think that there would be. But the best way to allay suspicions and fears is to shine a light on something,” Shepherd told WPLN. “I see some trends where we have come down in expenses. I’ve seen some trends where we’ve gone up. And some where we’ve stayed the same.”

I’m not sure where in the report it states there was nothing “criminal”, probably right next to where it states there was something, “criminal”. In other words, the audit draws no conclusion either way. A fact that Shepherd reiterates with the rest of her statement.

I really like district spokesperson Dawn Rutledge’s response, “Typically, any increases in contract costs are consistent with the increases in the market and any growth in services provided,” said Rutledge, with the district.” Oh okay…but wasn’t the purpose of the audit to look for the atypical. say it fast and it sounds good.

Jason Gonzalez at the Tennessean has a piece out today that draws a very similar conclusion to mine. Though I do like how Rutledge once again tries to create a false narrative, “The audit affirms that the district is managing finances responsibility and we are pleased, although not surprised, that the audit was found clean.” Hmmm….what page is that on again? Sarah Huckabee would be proud.

Next week is the swearing-in of three new MNPS school board members – Gini Pupo-Walker, Rachael Anne Elrod, and Fran Bush. I must admit that I’m pretty optimistic about how these 3 will change the conversation. In talking to them, and hearing others impression, I get a picture of individuals with a clear understanding of the issues the district faces and a clear sense of purpose.

The coming weeks will also mark a change in leadership for the board. Indications are that the position of chair will come down to a choice between Amy Frogge, Jill Speering or Sharon Gentry. Pinkston is too busy, Buggs has indicated that she is not interested in a leadership position, Shepherd wraps up two years, and the other three positions are held by newcomers. I think the leadership choice can be summed up as follows. If you want things to continue as they have for the last two years, where issues are not openly discussed and Joseph has free rein, cast a vote for Gentry. Either Speering or Frogge will open up the conversation and have indicated a willingness to hold Joseph accountable. I urge you to email, or phone, your board rep and let them know how you’d like them to cast their vote.

One of my pet peeves is when my social media gets clogged up with pictures of educators engaged in rigorous meetings. I hate being in meetings to begin with, so why should pictures of others engaged in an activity that makes me cringe, lead to inspiration. Did any parent ever say to another, “Man all those pictures of teachers looking at data really makes me feel good about the instruction my child’s getting.”

Or did the conversation go more along the lines of, “Man did you see all the pictures of things the kids are doing at school? Wow, that looks like the place to be.”

Some of the schools in the district really get it. Check out the twitter feeds for IT Creswell, Overton HS, J.T Moore MS, Croft MS, McMurray MS, Oliver MS, Hunters Lane HS, and you’ll see images and news that will inspire. There are others that do it well as well, but these are the ones that pop to my mind first.

To give credit where credit is due Ron Woodard, Ryan Jackson, and Tim Drinkwine during their MNPS tenure were among the first to realize the power of social media and to harness it for their students benefit. All three continue to raise the bar these days in Maury County.

Damn, I’ve got a conundrum. Dr. Paula Pendergrass, who is quoted in this press release, is a beyond exemplary teacher, so I’m loathe to criticize. But try as I might, no matter how I read this Blueprint to Literacy, I can’t find action steps. I find a lot of beautiful buzz words about “advanced literacy”. At the same time Reading Clinics, the Literacy Partnership, and other supports are being discontinued. I am grateful that Imagine Learning is being brought back for EL kids. Those supports consisted of action steps that guided how we taught literacy. Maybe when we get done “unpacking” the Blueprint we’ll get some concrete steps. Sorry Dr. P. You know we love you and the Weber kids miss you.

That about does it for the week. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions.

 

 

 

 

 

METRO NASHVILLE AUDITORS DELIVER A PUNT WORTHY OF RAY GUY.

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If you read the title of this blog and scratched your head wondering who Ray Guy is, you are obviously a sight younger than me or don’t follow sports. Let me help clarify. Ray Guy is a punter who played for the Oakland Raiders back in the 70’s. He is the first punter ever inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame. His trademark was kicking punts that stayed in the air for so long that by the time the punt returner was able to field it, the Raiders’ coverage unit had the field covered so well that a return was not possible. Yesterday with the release of the Audit of the Metro Nashville Public Schools Financial Matters(20180820MNPSFinancialMattersFinalReport-ilovepdf-compressed), the Metro Nashville Department of Internal Audit did Ray Guy proud.

In case you haven’t been closely following this story closely let me get you caught up. Back in March the MNPS budget process had gotten so convoluted that board chair Anna Shepherd and Vice-Chair Jill Speering reached a conclusion that an audit by Metro Nashville Government was needed in order to fully understand district expenditures. The promise of an audit by Metro Nashville Government was welcomed by the public and it quickly became the most anticipated release of the summer. There was a lot of speculation on just what conclusions would be reached, ranging from damaging to dismissive.

Five months later and with the release of the audit, anticipation has been replaced by disbelief. There is nothing in this audit. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. There is merely a listing of expenditures with no in-depth analysis. Under the section titled “What we found”, there is one paragraph,

The current accounting and budget structure do not completely meet the needs of certain members of the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education to identify central office versus centralized services costs.

This observation stems from the discovery that MNPS has no means to separate central office employees from centralized services employees because a definition of central office does not exist. Furthermore, Metro Nashville Public Schools is unable to separate expenditures for consultants from contracted services expenditures.Which leads to their sole recommendation,

Determine if the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education could benefit from a cost accounting report that separates central office costs from other district costs.

BAM! That ball is hanging in the air. I wonder if it will ever come down. Since the conversation around the size of central office has been going on for a decade, I can only conclude that the lack of a definition is intentional. Same holds true in regard to consultants. These are not new conversations and as such the lack of definitive definitions in inexcusable.

Despite this large shortcoming, the audit does collect some interesting numbers for inclusion.

Apparently the average salary for a central office employee has risen approximately 4k to $90,139. Payroll itself has risen roughly 3.2 million dollars over the last 2 years. To be fair to Dr. Joseph, we don’t know if that is good or bad, because this audit shares no context. For some reason, under the year 2016 the amount of growth is considered N/A. 3.2 million sounds like a big number to me for payroll growth, but is it. I don’t know and the audit gives me no clue. Though there are some conclusions sprinkled through the report.

One of my favorite conclusions in the audit is in regard to when MNPS leadership should have been aware of the loss of funds due to a drop in enrollment. After running through a brief summation of the methodology involved with monitoring enrollment between the district and the state, auditors conclude that, “The timing of when management “should have known” and made adjustments accordingly is an internal decision by the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.” Well, thank you for that insight. How about a little history and context of when these adjustments were communicated in the past?

There is another section that compares budgeted areas with actual expenditures. Looking at it I get a sense of a mixed bag. Some items come in over budget, some under. While there are comparison charts with 2016 and 2017, there is little explanation of context, past performance, or best practices. For example, under fixed costs, in 2018 we were nearly 2 million under budget, in 2017 roughly half a million over budget, and then in 2016 we were half a million under budget. So what does that mean? Is that fluctuation normal?

My interpretation is that fixed costs are just that, fixed, and therefore should be a bit more predictable. But I’m not accountant, Are these kinds of swings common? What does best practices say? What happens to the money that is under spent in a category? A little help here would have been nice. Instead, everyone is left to their own interpretation and little gets definitively resolved.

To say this report is a disappointment would be an understatement. For whatever reason, a large portion of the Nashville Community believes that MNPS leadership is mismanaging resources. There was an expectation my many that the audit would illuminate MNPS’s financial practices in a manner that clarified if this was indeed true or not. Clarification that would lead to better informed decisions being made. Now whether that was a right or wrong expectation is another conversation, but to fail to acknowledge that expectation, at the very least points to a colossal failure by those charged with constructing the audit. A request for the auditing departments specialized knowledge was made, and for the most part that knowledge was not applied.

There very real, and emotional conversations taking place around the financing of MNPS. There are many that believe the cloud of suspicion surrounding the district spending contributed to our schools being further underfunded this year. While others hold fast to the belief that money is being mis-spent. There was a hope by many that upon release of the audit there would be some clarity. Instead 5 months later, things are as opaque as ever and ultimately school funding will suffer. As long as there is distrust in the system, increased funding will not be realized.

MNPS is a district plagued by distrust. An argument could be made that much of the distrust in the district stems from people feeling like their concerns are not being addressed. This audit could have served as a counter argument to that belief.

People came forward in large numbers to discuss their concerns and observations with the auditors. They did so at the expense of their time, and in some cases at risk to their professional future. To have an audit come back with so little meaningful information discourages people from participating in the future. The narrative will take root that nobody will address documented concerns anyway, so why bother. There is nothing contained in this audit that can be used as a counter argument to that narrative.

As long as long as this cloud continues, and a sense of transparency and accountability is not established, people will continue to divest. That divestment can result in nothing but the destabilizing of our public education system.

It is like that friend who continually asks to borrow money because his family can’t eat, yet we run into him at the local tavern. That might be the only time in a month he’s been there, he might really be trying to get a better job, there might be a host of other elements to the story, but sans evidence to the contrary, we are going to assume that he’s taking the money we lend him and blowing it on booze. Odds are we are not going to give him more money. MNPS is no different.

The recently completed audit had an opportunity to clear up important elements to the narrative on MNPS spending, one way or the other. Unfortunately that is an opportunity that is going to go unrealized. That’s a shame, because you don’t get to many opportunities at this.

There is a continuing investigation into human resources practices being conducted still. When that will be completed, is anyone’s guess.

At the 1976 Pro Bowl, Guy became the first punter to hit the Louisiana Superdome video screen. Officials raised the screen from 90 feet to 200 feet. I’d argue that the raising of the screen is  what’s called for in regard to MNPS as well.

WHEN TWO TRIBES GO TO WAR

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As of late there has been a lot of chatter about how culturally Americans are dividing into basically two tribes, conservatives and liberals. There are smaller tribes, but even those tribes are slowly getting absorbed into the two larger tribes.

Look at the last couple of elections here in Nashville and you’ll see evidence of what I’m talking about. Whether it is the transportation plan, electing a new mayor or electing a new state senator, it seems that the same people divide into the same sides and the same battles ensue. I hear y’all starting to protest, and sure some of you remain outside the boundaries of the bigger tribes, but if you are honest you’ll admit the slide towards a tribe has already begun.

Sociologists have long noted the trend and last year economist and best-selling author Tyler Cowen released a new book called, The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. In this book he notes how Americans are becoming more and more a part of a matching culture. “We’re moving residences less, marrying people more like ourselves and choosing our music and our mates based on algorithms that wall us off from anything that might be too new or too different. Match.com matches us in love. Spotify and Pandora match us in music. Facebook matches us to just about everything else.”

No where is this trend more evident than when it comes to education policy. It reminds me of the adventure clubs you could join when I was a kid. You signed up and in return you got a T-shirt, a window decal or bumper sticker, a list of beliefs, and the first news letter. You were always told that your adventure club was A number 1, and any others were just second-rate and not to be trusted.

That’s how it is now in education circles, except there are only two clubs, the reformers and the defenders. Each has a list of tenets that the joiner must subscribe to, as well as some that you ascribe to members of the other club. Each tenet comes with a catch slogan,

  • Y’all just want to preserve the status quo.
  • We believe all kids can learn.
  • Charter schools promote segregation.
  • Traditional schools fail kids.

You get the gist. I don’t need to list them all. The one thing these slogans all have in common is that they sound good as long as you don’t look too deep. For example, “Charter Schools promote segregation.” Sounds good if you just look at the Black and Hispanic families that chose to attend charter schools and don’t pay attention to your urban public schools. But, remember what I told you Friday?

Pearl Cohn HS has 17 white kids. Julia Green has 25 black kids in grades 3-5. Percy Priest has 12 black kids in grades 3-5. Glendale, the Spanish Immersion School, has 10 Hispanic kids in grades 3-5. Napier ES has 5 white kids. Carter-Lawrence ES has 25 white kids in grades 3-5.

Those numbers don’t exactly reek of integration. Now Charter schools don’t be getting all uppity. You’ve got plenty of misconceptions on your own side. Charter’s will talk about huge rates of teacher turnover in public schools, but if you look at Knowledge is Power Academies in Nashville. They’ve already hired 73 teachers/support staff/administrators to start 7/1/2018. That’s a lot of teachers starting so close to school and suggests some large turnover rates. The High School hired 20 more.

Sure, Valor Academy is doing some ground breaking work, but I’d argue Fall Hamilton is breaking some barriers itself.

I’m not putting any of this out there to try embarrass or shame anybody. Recent TNReady results after all show KA performing quite well. My point in all of this is that education policy is hard and you can’t reduce it to simple tribal tenets and then argue that the adoption of one set of tenets over another will solve the issues and always prove beneficial to kids.

Part of the problem is that so much of the real action takes place in that magical place called the classroom. Few of us try to access the classroom with any regularity so we are a little in the dark as to what actually happens in that nether world. We also don’t often feel comfortable talking to those who are regular visitors to the magical realm, i.e. teachers, so we miss out on additional information there as well. Since we don’t really know what goes on in the classroom, it’s easy to make suppositions. Those suppositions fuel the growth of the two tribes.

The cynic in me attributes money and ego as the fuel for the battle between the two tribes. At the top I see both tribes afflicted with the same malaise. The growth of the reform tribe began in earnest right around the time of No Child Left Behind but exploded with the adoption of Race to the Top. Tennessee alone received $500 million for their successful application. That’s a lot of cabbage around an industry that perpetually cries underfunded. It’s enough cabbage to fund a separate economy around school performance.

Between 2011 and 2015 the number of testing companies, curriculum developers, intervention specialists, educational software developers, principal trainers, teacher trainers, data specialists, grew disproportionately compared to previous years. The reformers saw gold in them dar hills and the defenders saw some one coming for their bounty, and thus war broke out. With war came the opportunity to be a savior. A bit of an over simplification but the more I think on it, the more I buy in to it.

Now, I’m not saying everybody involved in education over the past several years picked sides based on potential financial rewards or ego, just mainly the generals. Every general needs soldiers and few areas attract well-meaning and caring souls like education. The chiefs in both camps became very good at keeping their respective acolytes fired up. Continually convincing them that the other side was up to dastardly deeds at the expense of the nations children. Not too difficult a task when your soldiers have the best interests of kids as a primary motivation.

There is a lot of money out here in the world of education if you don’t waste it on kids. We all know about the high salaries of the leaders in the reform community, but how many of you realize that MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has a compensation package – salary, retirement, health plan, vacation days – that sits around half a million dollars annually. Not exactly missionary work is it? His salary is not an outlier.

In his aforementioned book, Cowan argues that this dividing into tribes is ultimately hurting us. Where once we were a restless culture, we have begun to substitute change for comfort. Being around like-minded individuals allows us to feel a higher level of comfort and as a result we are postponing change, due to our nearsightedness and extreme desire for comfort, but ultimately this will make change, when it comes, harder.

You can see evidence of this resistance to change over the events of the last month. Phil Williams at Channel 5 News has been continually for the last three weeks filing stories that point to deep corruption at MNPS.

Collectively it’s a pretty damning portrait and one that I would think would inspire some calls for change. But instead it has resulted in a collective shrug. The school board raises no questions publicly. The mayor continues to publicly praise the Director of schools who feels no compulsion to answer inquiries by the media. In fact he feels safe to just avoid them at will. The human resources director feels so confident in the lack of public outcry that she just goes ahead and heads out on a three-week vacation, reportedly to Africa. Nobody feels any impetus to change.

What does dominate the news? Testing of course. Both sides have tenets that clearly address this subject. A letter gets sent and it is open season for discussion.  Everybody from the state commissioner of education, to equity groups, to individual school districts, gets to shout an opinion. Most of the opinions are of the “test is good” or the “test is bad” ilk.

Here’s one I’d like to see something someone shout about. In a test like TNReady, that is based on performance, the practice has always been rooted in a bell curve. 3 is considered your median. 1 and 5 are your outliers, under performing and over performing. 3’s and 4’s are each considered one index away from the norm. I think the expectation would be that the majority of your scores would fall into the middle categories right? Here’s approximately where they fell on this year’s TNReady,

  • 493 ones
  • 144 twos
  • 320 threes
  • 163 fours
  • 574 fives

Hmmm…that’s quite the distribution isn’t it? How is that you have nearly double the number falling into the outlier categories as you do in the desired categories? Based on these results, you are either really kicking it or you are missing by a mile.

In other words, if Memphis is the destination, people are either going to Dallas or Miami, few are getting to Memphis. Lucy…you got some explaining to do. Yet, nobody feels any compulsion to actually explain how these results failed to comply with expected statistical results.

This is where I’d like to see less public out cry, but questioning behind closed doors, with Director’s of Schools attending meetings with the state and pointing these discrepancies out. I would think that these results would present a conundrum to both tribes and that they would both be equally vested in getting them right. The same as I believe both tribes would be equally vested in getting our school systems right when it comes to sexual misconduct.

I’ve said it before, and I imagine I’ll say it a 100 more times, we’ve got to go deeper in these conversations. “Charter school bad and traditional school good” or “Traditional schools just support the status quo” are comfortable slogans to chant, but they don’t begin to address the real needs our schools and our kids face. It is imperative that we avoid the trap of tribalism.

QUICK HITS

The ⁦⁩ Burro Brew is open for business. Great work and business related experiences for these students daily. Thank you, Dr Kriebel, for your leadership!

Speaking of Tribalism, I couldn’t help but note this one. Jason Isbell, an example of the unhinged left? Isbell is probably one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and about the last person I’d describe as unhinged. He’s a thoughtful man with an inquisitive soul. Why the GOP would go here is beyond me. Sometimes you have to just let a fundraiser be what it is, a fund-raiser. Isbell ain’t exactly Billy Bragg.

It’s oft debated whether Shakespeare is still relevant to kids today. Read this special profile of Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s fearless leader Denice Hicks for insight on just how relevant the Bard’s words are. She is a Nashville treasure. Take the family to see A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream. You won’t regret it.

MNPS and Director of Assessment Paul Changes are claiming that technical problems with online testing led to the recent poor TNReady scores for the high schools.

“It is impossible to quantify the impact on these growth scores of the numerous online
assessment interruptions that occurred during the spring 2018 EOC assessments,” Changas said in the news release. “Given the reports we received from high schools during the spring testing, we were not surprised that our EOC exams took a hit this year.”

I guess the excuse of test fatigue has already been used once in the last two years, so you couldn’t use that one.

Missing from MNPS’s statement was the fact that Pearl-Cohn high school scored a 5 on TVAAS for growth. Apparently they managed to overcome the technical problems that plagued the other high schools. Also worth noting are the exceptional chemistry scores recorded by Hunter’s Lane. A growth index of +38 is pretty damn impressive.

Does anybody remember when Paul Changes actually did data analysis and didn’t just arrange the data to justify the narrative Dr. Joseph wanted told. Between test fatigue, an inexcusably bad internal study on Reading Recovery, over touting of MAP results, and now this…leads me to believe that the real Paul Changes along with the real Chris Henson have been kidnapped by Hydra agents and been replaced by these doppelgängers. I hope Nick Fury sets them free soon.

Here’s a fun little story for you about a retired New Mexico public school teacher and a famous painting. Cue the theme from the Pink Panther before reading.

Hunter’s Lane principal Sue Kessler talks about the continued over-reliance on testing in an editorial written for EduDive. Laying the blame squarely at the feet of ESSA, she argues against putting too much emphasis on test results.

We bandage boo-boos and write college recommendation forms. We reinforce the values of not hurting one another or taking something that doesn’t belong to us. We dry tears. We applaud growth. The combination of all of these things we do each day is the method behind the magic. The quality of a school or a teacher cannot be reduced to a standard of effectiveness based on how a student performs on one test one day. The tests should be a small part of a larger picture. A human is the most complicated being on the planet, and a child is so much more than a test score.

I encourage you to read the whole piece.

POLL RESULTS

I continue to get good response to the polls. I found the answers this week very interesting. Let’s take a look.

The first question asked how long you think Dr. Joseph will remain director of schools. This was a hotly contested question, but ultimately out of 169 of you, 50 figured the end of the year. 47 said until the end of his contract which is two years from now and 40 answered “6 months”. Two of you answered “5 years.” Good to know the doctor and the missus are participating. Here are the write-in answers. I found it very sobering when I realized Dr. Joseph makes a grand a day just for waking up.

Please go now! 1
When a job opens up in San Diego, Charlotte, or Atlanta 1
Until he gets a bigger and better offer 1
He makes damn near $1000 every day of his life. He’ll fight like hell to stay. 1
Too long! 1
I wish Joseph and Pinkston were already gone! 1
Until the elusive AUDIT appears 1
Until neighborhoods with failing schools are bought up by gentrifiers 1
Depends on what the audit shows. 1
Too long 1
Long enough to lose awesome teachers! 1
One more week is too long…. 1
It can’t be soon enough. I’ve never seen MNPS in such a mess. 1
Word on the street is 3 to 4 more weeks 1
He needs to be gone now, but he will last until his contract ends. 1
Till tbe end of his contract because most of the school board has been duped 1
Hopefully, he will be gone sooner than later. He is an embarrassment to us. 1
Dear God, let it be over soon 1
How long do I *think*, or how long do I *hope*?

Question two asked how long you thought Dr. Felder would remain with us. These replies were a bit puzzling to me. I expected them to mirror Dr. Joseph’s, but that wasn’t quite the case. Out of 154 of you, 71 said the end of the school year would do it for her tenure. 29 of you gave her 6 months, but 19 of you said she retires with MNPS. That kind of surprised and may be an indicator that she is making progress. 5 of you answered “5 years.”

Here are the write-ins,

Please go now! 1
Til Dr. J departs 1
Not even sure what she does except collect a fat paycheck. 1
I think Dr. Felder has potential. Her light is dimmed a bit from above her. 1
End of Joseph’s contract 1
As long as Dr. J is here, she will be! 1
She leaves when Joseph leaves. Anyone else will see she can’t do her job. 1
Last day tomorrow 1
Till a job opens up in Newark, Dallas, or Orlando 1
When Joseph leaves 1
Only until SJ needs to create another diversion . Then she’s under the bus. 1
Until Joseph leaves 1
She’ll go when DrJ goes 1
Her salary is out of whack. She’ll stay as long as she can too. 1
Who knows? Teflon C-suite

The last question asked about the hometown hero, Chris Henson. What a different story the replies for the question on his projected tenure were. Out of 159 responses, 109 of you felt he retires with MNPS. The number 2 answer with 19 responses was the end of the year. The write-in votes were a lot kinder as well.

I would take Chris Hanson, over Henson any day. 1
He needs to go. 1
When is the audit? 1
I think he is trying to keep his job. I have no problem with him. 1
he needs to be run out now! 1
Teflon Chris, until he retires.! We have to have an experience Interim . 1
I hope he outlasts this craziness. I think the real Henson is still around. 1
once he has accumulated 6 months vacation and gets bought like C. OTT 1
The one constant. 1
He needs to jump ship

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. have a great week!

COMMUNICATION LEFT ME DOWN

13

Communication let me down
And I’m left here
Communication let me down
And I’m left here, I’m left here again! – Communication, Spandau Ballet

Once again we have arrived at the end of another week. That may appear to be a case of stating the obvious, but lately that doesn’t seem to be a given. A whole lot got crammed into this week, let’s see how much of it we can cover.

We’ll start with the releasing of this year’s TNReady scores. Let me throw a little warning flag up here. Those of you in the “TNReady is worthless crap” camp may not like today’s post so much. While I’m certainly no testing fan, for me the world is not as black and white as some may like to paint it. I tend to find a whole lot of gray out here.

Two week’s ago Will Pinkston, oops, I mean MNPS Director Shawn Joseph and Shelby County Chief of Schools Dorsey Hopson sent a letter to the press calling TNReady worthless to the press hoping to catch TN State Director of Education Candace McQueen’s attention and hopefully kick up enough dust that nobody would talk results. It worked.

After the letter hit, everybody with a keyboard, or a microphone, weighed in. Consider the dust kicked up. Into the maelstrom, TNReady results were released and for MNPS it was a mixed bag, There were some positive results but the district scored a composite TVAAS of 1 due to low high school scores.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday going through the data and I want to reiterate that there are some good stories in there. More good stories then I initially thought there would be. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because the resiliency of Nashville teachers and administrators is the stuff of legend. Contained in last years stories are testimony to some incredible hard work and a dedication that should not be summarily written off because you think the test is crap. Some examples,

  • Tusculum ES, a school with a high poverty level and a high concentration of EL students, that was previously in the lower 10% of the state scored 5’s across the board. One of only 65 schools across the state to do so.
  • Whitsitt ES, another school with a high concentration of poverty and EL students, that was previously on the priority list scored a composite score of 4 and will surely exit the priority school list this year.
  • John F Kennedy Middle School, a school whose leadership is currently embroiled in crisis, still managed to achieve 5″s in both Literacy and Science.
  • McMurray MS, which has basically been a construction site all year, overcame significant obstacles in order to achieve a composite score of 5.
  • Eakin ES, a school that was led for most of the year by the AP Mary Holland, managed to score 5’s across the board.
  • Charlotte Park, a school where just 3 years ago things were so bad the that 6 weeks before the end of school the principal had to be walked out of the building , scored 5’s across the board.
  • Valor Academy scored 5’s across the board. Maybe they are a charter school, but those are MNPS students achieving at high levels under an MNPS banner.
  • Una, Glenn, and Swabb ES, all scored composite scores of 5.

Those are just a few of the stories, and if I missed your school, please correct me in the comments. Those scores weren’t achieved just because a magic fairy came a long and touched them with a wand. They did the work. Teachers did the work and self sacrificed and should be damn proud of their work. Students did the work and should be extremely proud of it as well.

Now do the results tell everything about that school? Did those who did not hit the high marks not sacrifice and sweat blood and tears? No and of course they did. The scores are just a snap shot of what goes on a school at a given moment. Like any other snap shot, you can’t just look at one picture and pronounce the definitive evaluation. But if I showed you a handful of pictures and one of them happened to catch me in a better light than in the others, would you just those it out , or would you say, “This is really good picture of you”? And we’d both smile and enjoy the moment.

I hope we get to a place where the emphasis on standardized testing is diminished, but there are so few celebrations in public education. Teachers, parents, advocates, will testify that it often feels like you are always fighting something. That’s why I think it’s important to celebrate the victories when they come. If you are a school that did well, celebrate while realizing that the race is not over. If you area school that did not do well, evaluate. Take what’s valid. Leave what’s not. Build for the future. Celebrate the success of your peers and their stories. I am unabashedly proud of my wife and her teammates. Theirs and other’s stories deserve to be told.

Unfortunately, since the director of schools told us all that the scores were crap, we can’t tell those stories ourselves. Knox County Schools are telling their story. Greeneville County Schools are telling their story. Cleveland County Schools are telling their story. Chattanooga Schools are telling their story. Even Memphis schools are telling their story. Nashville is leaving it to the Tennessean’s Jason Gonzales to tell our story. A story without one quote from our director. After all Pinkston’s, I mean, Joseph’s letter said it all, right?

Gonzalez’s story chooses to focus on abysmal high school scores and rightfully so, they are extremely concerning. These scores’ would seem to indicate that a lot of good work and progress made over the last several years is being undone. That’s something a director of schools might want to speak to.

But that said, there are also some elements to the story that a director might want to help explain. Did you know that students enrolled in the advanced academic programs generally do not take EOC exams?

At Overton High School this year 16 kids earned the prestigious Cambridge AICE Diploma. Up from 12 in 2017. The overall pass rate was 67%. Slightly lower than last year, but still better than the national average. Last year was exceptionally good, and therefore would have been tough to match.

At Hillsboro HS the cohort averages a 26 on ACT. I think it’s safe to say that if you added those scores into the results, things would look a little different. Pearl Cohn saw growth in a number of areas and Hunters Lane saw 37 points of growth in Chemistry.

So perhaps instead of sending meaningless memos to the state via the press, our director of schools could be adding some context to our stories. Owning failings where they exist and offering context where needed. That doesn’t mean accepting policy as is. It means playing long ball and understanding that narrative matters and that policy change can only come if you are in the game and actually participating.

In this day and age most people are wise to the strategy of diversion. They can spot it better than they can spot fake news. They see right through efforts to distract. What they want is transparency, details, and focus. Central ingredients of quality leadership and things that are sorely lacking in MNPS right now.

OUR SAVIOR MAP

Round these parts we love us some MAP testing. It’s become the chicken soup of the soul for MNPS. I already predicted how leadership was going to try to use it as a supplement for TNReady. But they have also decided that it makes a great universal screener and a qualifier for magnet school admission. We try to use it for everything but what it was intended for, a formative assessment designed to guide instruction.

As much as we love MAP, we seem to be about as good at administrating it as the state is at administrating TNReady. In two year’s we’ve yet to give it with fidelity. One year it was given after TNReady, then last year citing test fatigue, we moved the administration up to February. I’m not sure on what day of statistics 101 the concept of assigning a meaning to a one time occurrence was covered…but I digress. Last year the district attempted to instruct ELL teachers to not allow the accommodations that students are awarded on TNReady. That didn’t go far once teachers informed administrators that they were feeling compelled to share those instructions with TNDOE officials.

This year, it’s special educations turn as we are trying to test students with disabilities sans their accommodations that are listed in their IEP?The district will allow them for math but not reading. For example, kids that are visually impaired will not have the text read to them for reading as they do with TNReady. Neither will kids with dyslexia. This is despite the fact that NWAE has built these accommodations into MAP testing.

Some of the defenses that have been raised are that MAP is being used as a screener and that its not a high stakes test. Weeeellllll…if my child already has been identified with a learning disability and an IEP been created with the state, why do I need another screening? I would also argue that MAP is very much a high stakes test. Once it’s results were designated as a key performance it assumed that role. Decouple it from the KPI and I’ll bite on the myth of it not being high stakes.

I think it’s cruel to sit kids down for a test were the results are completely predictable. For the life of me, I can’t understand why a professional educator would sanction such an action. The cynic in me suspects that prior to the 2nd round of MAP testing the accommodations will be miraculously restored and we’ll marvel at the growth these kids made. I certainly hope I am wrong.

It’s a shame that we are misusing MAP to the extent that we are. When used properly, MAP offers teachers great insight that can lead to better differentiated instruction. Our current practice is squandering a valuable resource.

BUS BLUES

Early in the year I told you about mNPS raising the rates on buses for field trips and outings. Consider this Facebook post from a Hillsboro HS mom,

MNPS families, I learned this factoid tonight —

Metro Nashville Public Schools increased the cost for bus use for things like field trips, sports team travel, band competition travel and the like by 50 PERCENT for the school year! The increase is effective starting July 1, 2018, but they only alerted teachers, etc., on August 1 — well after budgets have been made, etc.

I’m on the Hillsboro High School Marching Burros band booster board, and we had allotted $2,400 to travel to competitions this year. We were told on August 1 that effective JULY 1, that the cost had increased so much that we are now looking at $5,000 in bus travel costs. In case you’re unversed in this sort of thing, a $2,600 unexpected increase is SIGNIFICANT. That’s a lot of car washes, recycling events, and Smart Card sales.

Here’s where that communications thing raises its head again. Rates on buses haven’t been raised for years, so the rate hike was probably overdue. That said, perhaps back in the spring notes could have gone out to parent groups, boosters, and teachers alerting them to what was coming down the pike? Surely back then somebody looked at somebody else and said, “I bet people are planning Fall events right now based on existing prices. We need to let them know so they don’t get caught short.” Or maybe not?

I don’t think that anticipation is too much to ask, especially considering the fact that we pay the top 5 positions in communications over a half million dollars. Makes me holler.

QUICK HITS

What do you do if your department is under fire for gross mismanagement and you just went on channel 5 and conducted an interview that played like a SNL skit? Well if you are the Chief Executive Officer for the MNPS Human Resource Department you go on a multi-week out of the country vacation. Good work if you can get it. Better work if you can keep it.

What do you do if you are an MNPS administrator and you are placed on administrative leave for gross misconduct? Why you retire of course. Today the head of MNPS security joins the growing ranks of retired MNPS administrators. I appreciate you.

This week Office Depot/Office Max presented students at with $4,000 worth of customer-donated school supplies to help kick off the new school year. Make sure you thank then for becoming a new community partner and helping to fulfill our students’ needs!
Some fun facts I learned looking at the results from TN Ready. Peal Cohn HS has 17 white kids. Julia Green has 25 black kids in grades 3-5. Percy Priest has 12 black kids in grades 3-5. Glendale, the Spanish Immersion School, has 10 Hispanic kids in grades 3-5. Napier ES has 5 white kids. Carter-Lawrence ES has 25 white kids in grades 3-5. I find these numbers troubling in the “It” city in the year 2018. With these kinds of number it’s hard to argue that just charter schools foster segregation.
I would like to wish Leticia Elcy Skae good luck as she takes her considerable teaching talents to Maury County. At some point MNPS has to stop giving talent away. How about it Ron and Ron, can we get a player to be named later? All kidding aside, they are getting a quality educator and we’d like to thank her for her service.
Remember that fun FAQ that MNPS produced after the District 6 community forum? You the one that said Antioch High School had only lost 17 teachers last year? Hmmm…word on the street says that they are currently sitting with 16 openings. That comes after hiring 23 teachers to start on 8/1. The good news is that current leadership seems to making the right moves. But the jury is still out.
Another fun fact for you courtesy of TNReady, of the schools that had Reading Recovery in place for the last two years, the majority were at minimum a 3 for literacy for this past year. Just saying.
Be sure to check out the just released Educator Diversity Report that sheds light on educator diversity in Tennessee. For the first time, the TNDOE is sharing detailed data on educator race and ethnicity demographics for every school district in the state.
This new Prince, Anthology: 1995 – 2010, reminds me just how amazing he was. Not a lot of hits, but a lot of great jams.
Of course it wouldn’t be Friday without a new teaser for another story from Channel 5’s Phil Williams.
Tonight Dad Gone Wild will hit 100k views for the year. The chart below shows our growth for the last 5 years. We’ve already passed last years total by over 15k views with 4 months to go. Thank you so much for your support!
That about does it for the week. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions, it’s a Chiefs survival special.

NOT YOUR HOLLA BACK GIRL

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I heard that you were talking shit
And you didn’t think that I would hear it
People hear you talking like that, getting everybody fired up
So I’m ready to attack, gonna lead the pack
Gonna get a touchdown, gonna take you out
That’s right, put your pom-poms down, getting everybody fired up – Gwen Steffani, “Holla Back Girl”

That’s the tune that started running through my head as I read the reply letter from Candace McQueen to Shelbly County Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson and Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Shawn Joseph. Last week the two of them thought that through a ghost writer they could make a holla back girl out of Dr. McQueen. I say that since Dr. McQueen has yet to receive said letter, “Let me begin by sharing my disappointment that the letter you addressed to Governor Haslam and me has been shared widely in the media but has yet to actually be shared with the Governor or me.” Really bad form.

Upon initial release of the letter sent to McQueen, I raised a number of concerns. In a letter dripping with southern hospitality, McQueen wastes little time shredding Hopson and Joseph’s arguments. Pointing out that if they actually attended meetings they might know that there are already Tennessee teachers involved in the creation of TNReady. The purchase of technology argument, which made me laugh aloud when I first read it, is also quickly dismissed, “To suggest that an investment in technology is limited to online testing shows a misunderstanding of the increasing role of technology in education and undervalues the great work many of your teachers have done to enhance their teaching through technology.” Ouch.

Look, I’m no fan of McQueen’s but if we are ever going to make meaningful change to education policy, we have to demand more from our quarterbacks. You can’t have a game plan that consists of nothing but “Hail Mary’s” and expect to win the game. Yet that’s what they threw up, and not just a hail mary, but one that stunk of CYA.

Over at TNEd report Andy Spears offered his analysis of the back forth. Spears takes an exception to McQueen’s claim that halting TnReady would violate federal law,

Let’s be clear: The Tennessee Department of Education is the enforcer of the state testing mandate. The DOE could refuse to penalize districts who paused testing OR the DOE could take the suggestion made by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville and just hit the pause button for this year and work toward an effective administration of testing for 2019-20.

He continues to argue that the federal government tends to leave decisions regarding punishment up to the states. And the problems with testing have not been limited to Tennessee.

I get the issues with the test. But you can’t just say, “The test sucks, look at my MAP scores”, which is what Joseph seems to be proposing. You have to look at the data and evaluate what is useful and what is not. In my eyes there is information revealed by the tests that needs to be pulled out and examined a lot closer.

Most of the reporting on results uses percentages to convey results. I believe that is intentional by design in order to dehumanize the results. For example, if I say that 1.8% of black kids between grades 3-5 scored at a “mastery” level, it’s concerning. But what if I tell you that out of nearly 8k kids across the district only 142 scored at a mastered level. That’s makes things a little more disturbing to me, as it comes to less than 2 kids per school.

Looking at Hispanic kids it is even worse. Out of 4800 kids, 83 are on the “mastered level”. You good with that?

Conversely, white kids grade 3-5, out of 5563 kids 625 scored mastery. Still not great shakes, but a damned sight better than 83, or 143.

So why is that? I don’t know, but I certainly believe it needs to be addressed. If the test is so bad that so few can reach mastery, and some will argue that it is, why are we subjecting kids to it? Going back to the teacher advisory committee, why are they letting a test go through that one a minuscule amount of kids can score mastery?

Some would argue that mastery is not a good indicator, we should look at on track as well. Why? The test is given in the Spring, towards the end of the year, shouldn’t the goal be to “master” each grade levels subject content by the end of the year? Doesn’t “on track” mean that students will be entering their next grade trying to catch up and master last years subject matter? How does that play forward?

I looked at high school numbers for black kids and out of nearly 6800 tests only 122 scored mastery. For Hispanics, it’s 2966 kids producing valid tests and only 66 kids producing mastery numbers. That certainly doesn’t indicate anybody catching up to me.

It’s hard to find comparison numbers in districts across the state because few have similar sizes of Black and Hispanic populations. Though examining other Tennesse urban districts paints a similar picture. If you look at Shelby County, you’ll see they produce similar results but with double the number of black kids. Hispanic numbers are comparable. Hamilton County, with smaller numbers, produces slightly worse, but still comparable numbers to MNPS and Shelby County. Knox County writes the same story.

Montgomery County, which is Clarksville, produces slightly better numbers. Out of 2502 Black kids, 112 showed mastery. With Hispanic kids it’s 81 showing mastery out of 1046. These numbers shouldn’t produce dancing in streets, but they should fuel a deeper conversation. What is Clarksville doing that the other urban counties are not doing? Obviously socio-economic factors are coming into pay, but clearly Clarksville is doing a better job at mitigating those factors and perhaps tailoring curriculum.

What if instead of sending nasty-grams to the press, the state’s urban superintendents sat down with members of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition and discussed these numbers and how the test appears to not be serving the needs of black/hispanic kids. Either TNReady is not giving an accurate portrait of achievement or instructional practices, and/or socio-economic needs have to be further addressed. Based on a perfunctory look something seems to be going on. Than, what if after they reached a conclusion, they went to the TNDOE and presented a united front on why the testing/instruction wasn’t working? Might that not be more productive?

We spend so much time vilifying each other and not nearly enough time looking for collaboration. Admittedly, at times I’m guilty as well, but based on my observations of the data, there is a lot of room for collaboration and we owe it to schools to explore those opportunities.

I’m sure right now, there are readers shaking their head and saying, “TC, TC, you are looking at things all wrong. That’s not how you read results.”

Maybe I am reading them wrong, but that’s how I read them as a parent. These are the questions I would ask as a parent. I don’t care how you look at results, having only 143 black kids achieve mastery in a school district the size of Nashville, is not acceptable to me. And it shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone else.

INSTEAD OF WHAT YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DO, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

On the agenda for today’s MNPS School Board meeting is a proposed policy that will prevent MNPS from suspending any child between the grade levels of K-4. There are no shortage of studies that demonstrate the damage done to kids when they are continuously removed from the class room. Studies also show that there are a disportioncate number of black and brown kids that are suspended. Today’s proposal is framed with those facts in the background and the implied supposition is that you are either for this policy, or you are for the suspending of kids between k-4.

I most certainly am not a supporter of suspending kids between grades k-4. But neither am I supporter for this policy. As with everything, the devil is in the details and there are way too many missing.

What are we going to do with kid’s that are kept in the classroom despite committing egregious offenses? We all recognize that too many kids are entering the classroom suffering from severe trauma. They need professional services. Schools are not equipped to provide those services. So how are we going to serve them?

No offense to teachers, you are about as caring and willing a lot as could be imagined, but teachers are not equipped to provide adequate social emotional services to students suffering from severe trauma. I applaud the efforts the district has made in the realm of social emotional learning, though it’d be nice if they gave the department a budget, but no amount of restorative circles or 4 hour PD sessions are going to make teachers qualified caregivers.

That means schools need increased social services through licensed psychologists and counselors. There is no mention of that in the announcement for the proposed policy. So what are we going to do for kids?

Furthermore, I believe that all teacher have the right to teach in a safe environment and all students have the right to learn in a safe environment. What’s the plan to keep kids who commit violent infractions in school and ensure safety for all students? Is there increased funding for SRO’s? Again no details about our promise to all students, just a proclamation of a promise to a limited number of students.

Instead of proposing policy that says what we are not going to do, why don’t we propose policy that says what we are going to do? How about we promise to fully equip schools with the resources to get kids the help they need? How about we promise to meet the needs of all students?

Tonight’s meeting is another example of stacking the comments program. There are 10 people speaking in support of this proposal and zero against. Does that mean everyone supports this proposal? No, it just means that only supporters were made aware of the pending presentation in time to sign up to speak.

I see that MNPS leadership is on the program, did they even run this by membership? I know plenty of teachers who are a little alarmed at this policy proposition. Is this just one more example where the current leadership makes decisions without input from members?

Let’s see what happens. Proponents argue that this is just the beginning and that they fully intend to focus on things we plan to do for kids and not just on what we are not going to do. They refer to today’s action as a conversation starter in which all people will be invited to the table. There are some very good people involved in this initiative and there should be some optimism around it.

Regardless of the outcome, I still disagree with the process of stacking the comment agenda. It is not congruent with democratic principles and as such, should not be an acceptable practice for anyone. Before something of this magnitude is brought to the floor, ample notification should be given to all parties. This would ensure robust conversation by all.

HUMAN RESOURCE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES

Last night, Channel 5 News reporter Phil Williams aired his latest report on the mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations by MNPS’s HR department. This report focuses on an interview with head of HR Debra Story and it’s nothing short of embarrassing. In the interview Story touts the newly created anonymous tip line, only to moments later confess that they don’t investigate anonymous tips. The exchange reads like an Abbott and Costello episode.

“You’re saying that people can make anonymous complaints.”

“Yeah, they can,” she answered.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, “But Dr. Joseph is saying we don’t do investigations based on anonymous complaints.”

Story’s response: “If somebody’s being accused of something, you can ask a question of that person: did you do this? That person could say yes or no, but you would have no way to corroborate it.”

Could HR not interview the employees in that person’s department?

“Possibly,” Story said, “but you run the risk of — if it’s not a valid complaint — you run the risk of perhaps characterizing that person in a way that’s not fair.”

The pain doesn’t stop there as questions arise about the investigation that was done into allegations against Joseph’s friend Mo Carassco.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Story, “Did Dr. Joseph tell you that he had been told there was a problem with Mo Carrasco?”

“We did a full investigation on Mo Carrasco,” she insisted.

We pushed, “Yes or no, did Dr. Joseph tell you?”

Again, she deflected, “We did a full investigation on Mo Carrasco.”

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, “So you are not going to say whether Dr. Joseph told you about that complaint or not?”

Her answer: “I say, we did the investigation.”

“Months later,” we noted.

“When we got a complaint, a written complaint, with names involved, we did an investigation.”

One only has to watch the story to understand that current HR leadership is in way over their head. It would behove Dr. Joseph to recognize that and perhaps, make changes at the top less the dumpster keeps burning.

QUICK HITS

MNPS has an update out to information on the Community Eligibility Program. Check out if your school is eligible for free lunch or not.

Hume-Fogg High School librarian Amanda Smithfield was recently featured in the Tennessean for her work on ProjectCivAmerica, a project that teaches civic and community engagement to students.

Does putting pressure on schools produce better results? Maybe not says a brand new study. “These results suggest that the ratcheting [up] of test-based accountability pressures alone is not enough to sustain improvements in student achievement,” conclude researchers Vivian Wong, Coady Wing, David Martin, and Anandita Krishnamachari. Check out the whole article.

It is football time in Tennessee. That includes high school football. Gone are the days when games were the centerpiece of the weekend social calendar. That doesn’t mean they are not still good for a pleasant start to the week-end. Do yourself a favor and check out the action this year.

The Scarlet Foundation has created a new resource for parents. Their site called Nashville Education Facts takes a deep dive into the individual school districts of Nashville. I’ve spent a little bit of time with the tool trying to get a gauge of its usefulness and I’m still a little unsure of its value for more than just trivia. I admittedly didn’t know the discrepancy in size between the individual districts. For example, District 8 has 4785 students while district 6 has 10765. What that means, I’m not sure. Some of the other facts are interesting but in the case of some, i.e. teacher attrition, they come directly from the district so I’m not sure of their veracity. All in all though, I appreciate the information being centralized.

Local teaching legend Scott Bennett who now resides in South Africa has a new blog post out. I recommend it.

In keeping with our testing motif, national blogger Steven Singer does us all a favor by listing the 10 Reasons You Can’t use Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers.

 

 

POLL QUESTIONS

Lot’s of responses again to this weekend’s poll questions. Let’s take a look at results.

The first question relates to the aforementioned HR crises and asked whether you thought HR number 2 Sharon Pertiller should be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into how HR handled internal investigations into sexual misconduct allegations. 170 of you responded and the majority of you thought somebody should be placed on administrative leave. 60 of you favored Pertiller, but 66 of you felt that it should be Joseph himself. Only 4 of you felt that nobody should be placed on leave.

Here are the write-ins,

A snake who needs to quit! ASAP 1
Yes 1
Both she and Doctor Joseph while their is an investigation. 1
All parties involved should be held accountable 1
If allegations are true, she should be fired. 1
Hell yeah. And Joseph, too 1
All of HR should be wiped clean. 1
She should be terminated…totally clueless. 1
Joseph and Pertiller both. 1
She should be fired. She came from corporate, Corporate doesn’t do admin leaves. 1
Fired 1
Yes, probably. 1
Absolutely. Why can people at Bransford do whatever they please? ACCOUNTABILITY

Question 2 asked how you rated board chair Anna Shepherd’s leadership over the last year. Out of 158 responses, 73 of you gave her leadership an F and another 38 rated it a D. Only 2 people gave it an A, and 9 a B. That’s what happens when you don’t address major issues. Here are the write-ins,

F… out of touch with the reality of major problems wiith MNPS 1
What leadership? 1
F. I refused to vote for her. Wrote in Anyone Else

The last question asked for your opinion on the Tennessean’s coverage of MNPS. This one received 168 responses. 63 of you felt it was the best PR firm Joseph had ever hired. 54 of you were a little kinder but no less disappointed, noting that the Tennessean sure seemed to miss a lot. More telling was that not a single person felt coverage was excellent. Here are the write-ins,

bias 1
Pitiful! No wonder no one reads the Tennessean for real MNPS coverage. 1
What coverage? 1
Do they cover MNPS? 1
Completely checked out. 1
John Seigenthaler’s spirit left Broadway long ago. 1
Not very good. 1
Who is Shawn Joseph paying off? Tick tock. His time is coming. Soon.

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. have a great week!

BACK TO THE WELL

5

As I mentioned yesterday, we got a lot of catching up to do. So much has happened in the last week. Some of what has transpired is actually quite good.

“Another tradition to politics, a tradition (of politics) that stretched from the days of the country’s founding to the glory of the Civil Rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.” – Barack Obama

The role of a public policy advocate is often one that is fraught with disappointment. It takes a lot energy and a lot of belief to move the mountain even slightly. You often go months believing that your actions have little impact. Then you get a win. A win that makes you realize and believe anew how important this work is.

Over the summer of 2016, MNPS tested schools’ drinking water for lead. They did so on their own volition and for that should be commended. That’s where the accolades stop.

After the results came in, they did nothing. They didn’t share the results and they didn’t take action to address the situation at schools with high quantities of lead found in their water. It wasn’t until the Spring of 2017 that they shared the information with building principals. Mind you, I said shared, not gave a direction of action. It was more of a, “Hey, you might find this interesting” thing as opposed to a, “Oh lord, we have to fix this” kind of thing.

Luckily, Phil Williams of Channel 5 News got a hold of the report and thus began a year-long crusade to force the district to take action. A crusade that there never should have been a need to undertake. Williams’s first report was so damning that it should have been an instant call to action. Instead the District decided to congratulate themselves on the initiative to test, all the while failing to recognize the need for a follow-up. A campaign to spread half-truths and misinformation was undertaken and minimal steps at correction were pursued.

Over the year, Williams produced multiple stories. MNPS’s reaction was always the same: “We are doing the best we can,” “filters don’t really work,” “We are studying the situation.” They trotted out the worst trope – our levels are below EPA suggested levels – so often they might have actually believed it. One more time – for clarification purposes – the EPA levels are indicators of a need for a corrective action, not an indicator of safe levels of lead. There is no safe level of lead. Chris Henson should have to get that tattooed on his forearm.

Earlier this week, Board Chair Anna Shepherd took exception to my criticism of her leadership over the past two years. Going as far as to declare our friendship over. I’d like to point out that while MNPS students were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water, the board, under her leadership, never had a meaningful public conversation about how we could protect our kids or even about the level of risk they were exposed to. Instead, there was one perfunctory discussion where Dr. Joseph and Chris Henson said everything was all right, the board drank their Kool-Aid, and everybody said, “Okay.” Note to Anna Shepherd: friends don’t expose friends’ families to harmful toxins, especially without acknowledgement.

Luckily, Phil Williams didn’t drink his glass of Kool-Aid, and on this past Monday, Mayor Briley made an announcement that should be met with deep gratitude by all MNPS parents. MNPS will stop using a controversial technique, pre-stagnation flushing, for testing of toxic lead levels. “You know, you’ve got to applaud people for doing the testing, but frankly those results need to be thrown right in the garbage,” said Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, an expert who has studied Flint’s water crisis extensively.

Briley’s plan calls for random sampling of 10 percent of all drinking and food prep outlets every year and aims to keep levels under 5 parts per billion. Levels considerably lower than the 155 ppb that MNPS previously found acceptable.

Mayor Briley deserves a standing ovation for this action. What makes it even more remarkable is that initially he wasn’t convinced that there was more that MNPS could do. He felt that they were adequately addressing the problem. But then he did what all of us should do, he sat down with experts and listened to what they had to say. Then he did the right thing. That’s what leadership does.

Thank God Williams doggedly pursued this issue. The print press certainly didn’t have much to say. The Tennessean published one article that talked about MNPS’s plans to test water with little mention of the high levels already found in drinking water. They wrote one more report when an MNPS official was caught on tape discussing plans to bypass water filters. In that piece, then-MNPS public information officer Michelle Michaud was quoted as saying, “We are committed to making sure that the water quality in our schools is as good as it can be.” The Tennessean never checked that and apparently Briley disagreed with her and MNPS.

Two years ago, the Tennessean took a very vested interest in the selection of the next Director of Schools. Editor David Plazas wrote multiple editorials extolling the selection process. When school board members veered away from the endorsed path of the Tennessean, they were quickly slapped back in place. None of that should have been permitted and all of it should have raised eyebrows. To be fair, for some it did, including me.

The point is, that by allowing itself to get as enmeshed with the process of selection as they did, the Tennessean has become invested in the success of a candidate instead of the success of a system. It would seem that the two are the same, but when the candidate is underperforming, and you actively work to protect him, the system can’t improve. It should be immaterial who the director is because we are focused on outcomes, not personalities.

In just the last two months, the Tennessean has failed to give coverage to a director’s evaluation where some board members were highly critical of the director, in-depth coverage of recently released TNReady scores, and lawsuits accusing district leadership of covering up sexual misconduct. Fairly large stories, I would say. Though I should mention that they put out a press release touting the director’s letter on sexual harassment.

We constantly hear the importance of a free and independent press. I think the Tennessean needs to heed the words of journalist Tom Wicker: “If the true freedom of the press is to decide for itself what to publish and when to publish it, the true responsibility of the press must be to assert and defend that freedom… What the press in America needs is less inhibition, not more restraint.”

Nashville needs the Tennessean to do their job. Kids’ safety, future, and very lives are at stake. They owe it to the families of Nashville to give a true and unbiased portrait of what transpires in MNPS. District leadership cannot be the only source of information. In the immortal words of Bill Belichick, “Do your job.”

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

I always say that if you fail to give people a true narrative, they will invent their own and invariably it will be negative. Case in point is the recent resignation of Smith Springs Principal Lance High. Before we go any further, I’m going to state for the record that I have a great deal of affection for Lance. I truly hate the pain that he and his family are feeling right now and pray that they will find the healing they need. That said, nothing sets the rumor mill afire faster than an abrupt resignation in the midst of district wide allegations of sexual misconduct. Right or wrong, it fuels speculation.

In an effort to dampen rumor, and hopefully move the conversation forward so that the High family can get to the healing, here’s what I know and feel comfortable sharing. By his own admission, Lance suffered intense trauma as a child, that trauma has impacted his ability to navigate adult relationships, and at times has led to questionable actions. He and his family are taking steps to address those issues. I have seen no evidence that at any time his actions potentially put kids at risk.

I would ask that people put aside speculation on the past, and instead focus on helping new leadership pull that school together and continue embarking upon what appears to be the beginning of the best year ever. There are a lot of talented educators at Smith Springs and those families are in good hands. I believe Lance has a strong support system and they will help lead him out of this crisis. It’s not going to easy for either, and everyone will need our prayers.

UPDATED 8:30 PM, 8/10/2018: When I initially wrote the above piece, I was so concerned about the pain of the High family that I neglected to fully consider the pain of those who were on the receiving end of Lance High’s advances. I do think it’s possible to love the sinner but hate the sin. However, there is a lot of hurt to go around. All of it is worthy of our sympathy, empathy, and prayers. It was inexcusable for me not to include everyone and y’all didn’t give me a pass. Here’s what one of you wrote in the comments:

TC, I am really disappointed at the pass you have given Dr. High for his inappropriate behavior. He sends a conveniently timed email about his abuse as a 4-year-old and his behavior “didn’t directly impact kids”, as you state, and he gets a total pass. We’re supposed to feel sorry for him? By your logic, we should also give a pass to Dr. Braden because his behavior also didn’t “directly impact kids”. What if he was abused, too, as a 4-year-old and just hasn’t made it conveniently public like Dr. High has done. Does he, too, get a pass on his behavior? I’m disappointed that you did not call this out for what it is. Blatant, unwanted sexual advances towards a subordinate and outright sexual harassment. Dr. High has faced his day in the public eye for his behavior and his actions have likely damaged every aspect of his life. Let’s not forget what this is, though. It is a pattern of sexual harassment at multiple schools, and the only reason he shared this personal information is because “time is up” and he is trying to gather sympathy votes on his behalf. I am disappointed to see you cast your vote for him.

I am sorry that I wasn’t more considerate. By not fully addressing the issues, I was falling into the trap that district leadership is mired in. We are a district that has some very serious issues, compounded by a Human Resources department that feels their primary duty is protecting Dr. Joseph. We have a Director of Schools who is unwilling to lead when we need it most. We have a school board that finds it easier to bury their head than demand action. They’d rather cheerlead and send letters to the TNDOE on testing. In the end we are all failing teachers, students, and families that look to leadership to provide a safe haven to teach and learn.

For me, this is a learning experience. If you are going to raise people’s expectations, you owe it to them to live up to those expectations. This blog has become, and will continue to be, a place that strives to tell the truth to the best of my ability. Today I tried to duck that responsibility. Thank you for caring enough for me not to let me. That’s the kind of love MNPS needs.

QUICK HITS

District Leadership met this week with members of the immigrant community. The meeting came about after previous Executive Director Kevin Stacy resigned to take a position in Clarksville, and while previous Number 2 Molly Hegwood was named his replacement, her position was filled by former Paragon Mills Principal Joie Austria. Austria’s tenure at Paragon Mills was not a successful one. Eyebrows were further raised when she was installed at a salary higher, by several thousand dollars, than Hegwood. Where else but MNPS can you make more money than your supervisor?

By all accounts, the meeting was successful. Many of the community’s fears were allayed and they were given a sense of priority. There has been a shift as of late to have EL teachers spend more time supporting content teachers. The idea is that EL students are so prevalent that all teachers should have the tools to educate them. Apparently, content teachers were voicing feelings of inadequacies in that area. So it’s good that the district is addressing this concern. I can’t help but wonder, though, if those feelings of inadequacies isn’t a byproduct of the district losing so many veteran teachers and therefore having to construct more supports for younger teachers.

We’ll continue watching as things develop, but at this juncture everybody seems pleased with the direction things are going.

MNPS teachers be aware, today’s check does not include insurance deductions nor updated sick leave information. That should be on the next check. So don’t get excited and think you got a raise.

I nominate early education teachers and fine arts teachers to be in charge of organizing all future protests. Their well-organized actions in regard to portfolio evaluations have produced results. TNEd Report’s Andy Spears has the details. Those teachers are a force to be reckoned with.

Blogger Peter Greene has an excellent piece on teacher evaluations this week. Greene points out that “The root problem with the current state of teacher evaluation is that we never had the necessary conversations about what we think it is for.” True dat. Read the whole piece.

On Wednesday, August 15, Ride for Reading is hosting a Teacher Book Pick-up! Teachers in Title I schools are invited to attend and select books for their students and class libraries for the school year. Space is limited to 40 teachers. Register here: http://bit.ly/BookPickup_Aug

The Maplewood Cluster is hosting a back-to-school event this Saturday, August 11, at Ida B. Wells Elementary School.

Interesting article on teacher salaries in Williamson County. Evidence that it’s about more than just the money. As a school board member, I wanted to push creating compensation packages. Packages that might have offered day care at schools, low interest loans for those wishing to purchase homes, health club memberships to places that weren’t across town from their homes. We have to create packages that invest in teachers so they will invest in us.

Apparently teachers have been getting emails instructing them to curtail energy costs at school, going so far as to limit the number of appliances they are allowed to plug in. MNPS seems determined to drive home the “we are broke” messaging as deeply as possible. That always inspires the troops.

And one more word on testing. This one is from Chattanooga by way of my good friend J.C. Bowman.

The jury is still out for me on many of the main characters in this Chalkbeat article about Principal management, but I respect me some Gary Hughes. So I share it with you for your evaluation. I’ve yet to see wide scale evidence that the restructuring of central office has produced improved outcomes, but I’m always open to counter arguments.

That should keep you sated for the weekend. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GUESS WHO’S BACK? BACK AGAIN. SHADY’S BACK, TELL A FRIEND.

5

We’ve all witnessed the scene on television: the hero is backed into a corner by a pack of angry dogs growling at his heels, ready to tear him to shreds. His fate seems sealed until suddenly he reaches into a pocket and pulls out a bloody red piece of meat. He waves the meat overhead, getting the animal’s attention, and then hurls it across the room. The dogs quickly turn from him, race to the meat, and tear into it, whilst our hero scampers to safety, unscathed. That, in a nutshell, is what we just witnessed this past week as MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and Shelby County Schools Director Dorsey Hopson tossed out a piece of red meat by sending a letter to the TNDOE calling for a halt to TNReady testing.

In their letter, the two stated the following:

“After years of repeated implementation failures and missteps by multiple vendors, we believe educator and public trust in TNReady has fallen to irretrievably low levels. We are challenged to explain to teachers, parents, and students why they must accept the results of a test that has not been effectively deployed.”

That is a fair enough statement. Lord knows that for years I have been critical of TNReady and the state’s inability to correctly implement the standardized testing process. It’s almost become a spring ritual for me to write about the inadequacies. I wrote about issues in 2015, 2016, and again in 2016, 2017, and… you get it. The point is that I am clearly not a fan of standardized testing and have not been afraid to speak out about it for the past 5 years. I am so anti-standardized testing that it truly offends me when the issue is used purely as a distraction with little concern given toward making meaningful change.

Sending a letter at this juncture is nothing but a publicity move. Trust me, Candice and Bill ain’t having coffee somewhere when Bill looks at Candice and says, “You read about this letter in the paper from Dorsey and Shawn? I think they might be on to something.”

And Candice replies, “I was thinking the same thing. Bill and Karl called me and said they are ready to stop the madness if elected.”

Not happening. In fact, probably just the opposite, and if any of the aforementioned are prone to four-letter words, they are probably filling the air with them.

I hear the chorus now, “Come on, TC! This is big! These guys are making a stand! They believe in what they are saying.”

Ok, then riddle me these questions:

  • Why was the letter sent to coincide with the first day of school, thus taking away focus from the most optimistic day of the year? Why didn’t they pen this opus back in May when state legislators actually dealt with the issue? This year is as close to a pause as you can get and still follow federal policy.
  • Why are there no meaningful alternatives offered? Surely these two thought leaders have some ideas of what should be utilized sans TNReady.
  • Where is the official response to TNReady Scores from MNPS? Scores have been out for nearly a month, yet the only commentary comes from the Tennessean and it’s a bit buried in their article on Middle Tennessee results. Dr. Joseph has nary a word for students and their families. If the test are so invalid, why was that message not conveyed to parents, students, and teachers before it went on the big screen? I suspect that if the results were better, the problems with the test would lessen.
  • When did the school board sign off on this letter? Knox County Schools voted to send a letter to the DOE yesterday, but it was the school board who commissioned the director to do so. Why was Nashville’s School Board not given the same courtesy?
  • Why was the letter released to Chalkbeat prior to McQueen receiving it? Again, if you are looking to make meaningful change, why not show courtesy to those who facilitate that action?
  • The letter talks of the forming of an educator cabinet while failing to acknowledge one already exists. Why not just say that you don’t like the makeup of the newly named committee? Maybe if you spent more time collaborating and less time writing letters that land with the press before hitting the commissioner’s desk, the make up of the committee would be a little different. Just saying, you catch more flies…
  • Why no mention of the fact that suspending of testing for any amount of time would be in direct violation of federal policy and make the state vulnerable to financial penalties? Damn, that ESSA thing!
  • How come the letter coincides with a week’s worth of TV reports on alleged sexual misconduct by district employees? Hmmm… doesn’t that deserve a letter?
  • If we are so concerned about teachers and families, why does the letter just address TNReady and not the portfolio process, which is in crisis mode right now? If there was a real concern for teachers, the letter would have asked that access to the platform to check errors be available past tomorrow. Right now I’m sure a few on the ELT team are saying, “Platform? Huh? What’s he talking about? Is he talking trains?” If you are confused right now, ask a first grade, kindergarten, or fine arts teacher. I’m sure they’d be willing to elucidate.

All this leads to the best unkept secret of the week, the author of said letter. In talking to people across the district over the last couple of days, I can safely say not one person believes that anybody other than board member Will Pinkston wrote that letter. His fingerprints are all over it, with lots of hyperbole and little depth.

Of course, the superintendent letter generated a response letter. Members of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition released a letter asking that testing not be halted. In their words:

“We urge all of our education leaders and policymakers to press forward, tackling our testing challenges head-on, and rebuilding trust by staying the course and getting it right for every student in Tennessee,”

The statement was signed by 13 education advocates, including the leaders of the NAACP state conference, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Knoxville Area Urban League, and Conexión Américas, which advocates for Latino families in Nashville.

Let’s step back again and take a look at the author of the original letter for a minute. In this instance, you have a board member who takes it upon himself to set the district on a course of action without consulting any other elected leaders. One who’s been so busy working on a United States Senatorial run by Phil Bredesen that he’s been barely present at board meetings for the last 6 months, yet he feels comfortable using the Directors of Schools for two counties to drive his own personal agenda. How is that all right?

Imagine if board members Mary Pierce or Jill Speering tried a similar action. Special meetings would be held in a heartbeat. We might even be talking expulsion from Davidson County. In Pierce’s case, they’d probably drop Bransford Avenue on top of her.

How is it that Pinkston is allowed to continually act with impunity? Why does no one call attention to his lack of adherence to board policy? Pinkston treats board policy as mere suggestions. Deadlines for director evaluations are missed, he speaks to whomever and in whatever manner with impunity, he meddles in district operations on a whim while chastising others for getting “in the weeds,” and directs his ire at those he empowered in the past. No matter how egregious his actions are, no one ever demands accountability from him. If they do, they are met with an avalanche of scorn and public humiliation. He does as he pleases and people just shrug and say, “That’s Will. I don’t want him coming after me. What are you going to do?”

Currently, he chastises others for their public criticisms of Joseph. He tells people behind the scenes that his friends and public supporters have lost their mind – further evidence that loyalty is a four letter word to Pinkston. Yet, back when Dr. Register was the director of schools, Pinkston went after him with a zealousness that was often uncomfortable to witness. Utilizing every one of the skills honed as the pit bull for Bredesen’s gubernatorial cabinet to make Registers life miserable. Again, there always seems to be one set of rules for Pinkston and one set of rules for everybody else. I always say that it’s not that he’s smarter than everybody, but rather his lack of a moral compass allows him to go places that others won’t go which makes him formidable.

Example being that in last election cycle he had his, as he likes to refer to them, minions pulled the divorce records of an opponent’s staff member. That’s right, not the opponent, but the supporter’s divorce file. Yet his rather rich personal file remains untouched. Did you know that…. never mind… as Nietzsche says… “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

In the past, I might have argued that teachers and students benefited from his ruthlessness. Though I would point to the plethora of issues that have sprung from the roots of Race To the Top, including excessive testing and unchecked charter school growth, in which Pinkston often claims a role in having shaped. Now, though, he is using his considerable prowess to cover up bad policy that ends up hurting kids and teachers. Instead of focusing his attention on improving MNPS, he’s focused on preserving his perceived legacy by propping up a man that he was instrumental in selecting. Keeping that man in place has become more important than doing the right thing.

Every piece of red meat that he tosses out draws attention away from real issues that need solving. In deflecting attention away from policy deficits, an environment is being created where parents who have alternative options will take those options. This is not a new phenomenon; we saw it during Pedro Garcia’s reign as well. When families with means leave, those with lesser means are left behind. Unfortunately educating those with higher needs comes at a higher cost which leads to increased underfunding. We will be left with a system that has fewer families, but a higher cost, and that will take decades to recover from, if ever.

After this summer, I think it’s become clear that the Human Resources Department in MNPS is incompetent. However, after the last week of stories on Channel 5 involving sexual misconduct, I don’t think incompetent is a strong enough word. Last night’s story reveals a department whose inability to properly function is exposing teachers and students to grave risk.

You have not one, not two, but three independent entities telling stories of the HR executive director not just mishandling sexual misconduct investigations, but attempting to influence them to the benefit of the perpetrators.

“Ms. Pertiller came to the man in charge of this investigation and told him that he better ‘get this right’ in terms of outcome or Dr. Joseph would fire him,” Blackburn said.

The lawsuit says that – even though Joseph knew there were allegations against his friend – Pertiller told the HR employee he would not be allowed to interview the director of schools about what he knew.

In the end, the investigation still concluded Carrasco was guilty, and he resigned.

But the lawsuit says that wasn’t the end of it.

“The outcome was contrary to Mr. Carrasco, and all sorts of retaliation ensued for this employee afterwards,”

Those comments are made in reference to the investigation into allegations against former MNPS administrator Mo Carrasco earlier in the year.

Several lawsuits have either been filed or are pending due to the mishandling of investigations. Yet the only response from Shawn Joseph and MNPS has been to announce that an independent investigation would be taking place. Of course a few details are left out of that announcement. Details like who’s going to do the investigation and who’s going to pay for it. Minor details. Excuse me, Dr. Joseph did say sexual harassment is bad and not to do it. Actions speak louder than words though.

Up in Columbus, Ohio, head football coach Urban Meyer is on administrative leave while the university looks into how he handled charges of spousal abuse against one of his coaches. Here in Nashville, everybody is showing up and going to work. Don’t think people aren’t watching how things unfold and drawing conclusions about priorities. Why does a university hold its football coach to a higher standard than MNPS holds its leaders?

You’d think that somebody on the school board would read these reports and demand that action be taken. Not all of the pending lawsuits will end in favor of the accusers, but either way, through legal fees or judgements, Nashville is going to get a bill, and a school system that cries poor will have to divert some more money away from students. You’d think somebody would get proactive instead of waiting to react. Nah… everything is good… nothing to see here… move along… did you see that piece about standardized testing? Yeah… student rights!

But what about the right for students and teachers to attend schools where they are not subject to sexual harassment? Is that not important? What’s the message that is being sent through the handling of these cases? If I’m a teacher in a school where my principal is a known confidant of Dr. Joseph and I’m being sexually harassed, who am I going to turn to? Especially after witnessing on multiple occasions what happens to those who bring accusations against someone with favored status? Why would I not just grin, try to bear it, and transfer out at the end of the year? Is that the standard we wish to set? Is that exceeding expectations?

Apparently, that’s some MNPS board members interpretation. Because they have shown absolutely no compulsion to offer any direction to Dr. Joseph or even ask for more information, and instead have appeared content while a fellow board member hijacks the conversation for their own agenda. It is nothing short of shameful.

Some of you right now are probably thinking, “Damn, TC, you are going to piss Pinkston off.”

I don’t think so. I really don’t think he cares what I say. Why should he? As long as nobody will step in and actually check his actions, nothing I say is going to make a difference. The Bredesen campaign obviously has no problems with his behavior. It’s remarkable how much a similarity he bears to the current occupant of the White House. He acts with impunity, people get mad and wring their hands, but in the end he’s allowed to continue his behavior unabated. Thanks to Zac Barnes and his recently revised Tip Sheet, we now know just how much Bredesen values Pinkston. $120k for 6 months of work is some good cheese.

Meanwhile, really good behavior is being thwarted because we don’t have a comprehensive literacy plan, we don’t have enough teachers, we don’t have a deep enough sub pool, we don’t have enough literacy coaches, we don’t have enough crossing guards, we don’t have enough bus drivers… these are the things we should be writing letters about instead of picking fights with no chance of victory against those who should be allies.

Right now, there is jockeying behind the scenes for the position of school board chair, but I would ask, “Does it matter?” There was one person steering the conversation on Dr. Register and there is now one steering the discussion on Dr. Joseph. In neither case is that person the board chair. So whomever gets the position is going to hold it in name only unless they demonstrate the ability to make Will Pinkston adhere to board policy. Without that taking place, everything else is moot, and the board will continue to be dysfunctional.

Over the last couple of years, the board has taken a position of if you don’t say anything negative publicly, the public won’t think anything is wrong and things will just move along. Funny, Antioch HS and JFK Middle School both fall in District 6 and have been grossly neglected by MNPS. Ask former school board member Tyese Hunter how ignoring those problems worked out for her. I promise, board members may not be paying attention, but families are, and they’ve shown the ability to tune out the noise and use their vote to make their displeasure known. The message sent was clear: ignore them at your own peril. The rest of us will hopefully keep our eyes on the prize and work to make MNPS worthy of our love.

By the way… did you hear that in the nineties… I used to like to drink whiskey… chase girls… and make really bad decisions? Join us tomorrow when we celebrate a welcome announcement by the mayor on lead in school water and we see what else we can find lurking under the rocks.