This summer may have passed faster than any in recent memory. It seems like just last week that the kids were escaping the halls, and the endless possibilities of summer stretched out in front of them. I know for many, summer is not as freeing as it is for my family. Thankfully, over the years, churches and community groups have successfully worked with schools to alleviate some of those challenges. In any case, the season has passed and the time has come for the halls and classrooms to reclaim their denizens.
Unfortunately, teachers will not be starting the year without distractions and concerns. This is especially true for kindergarten teachers, first grade teachers, and those who teach fine arts. You see, last year, the state created a new system of accountability for those teachers. Two weeks ago, they released preliminary results for K-1 teachers. Predictably, it’s a mess.
THE INABILITY TO EFFECTIVELY MEASURE
Last year, in the endless quest to quantify and hold everybody but themselves accountable, the TNDOE rolled out a portfolio method of evaluation to be used for kindergarten, first grade, and fine arts teachers. The way it is supposed to work is that teachers submit 4 examples, or portfolio collections, taken during the year of students performing work related to the standards. A rubric is used to self-evaluate, with peer review used to complete the process. The TNDOE refers to this process as the collecting of artifacts.
As many of you know, I’m not a fan of standards for early learners. While the Kindergarten standards are questionable enough, looking at a sampling of standards for fine arts makes my head hurt.
For example, under student performance indicators (SPI), one standard a kindergarten student should be able to perform is as follows:
- 2.1.1 Identify a steady beat.
- 2.1.2 Imitate a steady beat using body percussion or instruments.
- 2.1.3 Maintain a steady beat independently.
I’m telling you right now, as a 53-year-old man, I would fail that SPI. I have never been able to stay on the beat. And guess what? It has never been a deterrent in my appreciation of music. Music is an integral part of my life and I often find a great deal of joy in singing loudly and off-key. That’s probably a failing of my elementary education teachers, but hey, you win some, you lose some.
A little side rant here. While I disagree with the use of standards for evaluation of primary kids, using standards in fine arts completely runs counter to the purpose of the arts. Art should be a reflection of the human condition and are entirely dependent on the individual. Some individuals convey emotions and experiences that relate to a culture as a whole, others to smaller subgroups. Both serve to enrich lives and none is more important than others.
Creating standards in art is nothing short of an attempt to construct uniformity among individuals. In the long run those standards will work to hinder the pushing of boundaries, which is essential to the vitality of the arts. As one friend of mine, a multi-Grammy award-winning producer, has said in the past, “We are losing that kid that goes into the garage and does everything all wrong, yet somehow it turns out all right.”
Enough of that now. Back to the portfolio process. I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading and re-reading the requirements and instructions as laid out by the TNDOE on their website and I’m still baffled. Here’s their outline for creating a high-quality portfolio:
- Create a long-term instructional plan for the school year, considering when standards will be introduced, pre-assessed, and monitored.
- Deconstruct standards so that planning can be explicit and clear for students and develop or identify aligned performance tasks that will be used to measure performance.
- Utilize the scoring rubric to develop task-specific expectations.
- Collect Point A work at the most appropriate time within the instructional plan.
- Score and sort Point A student work artifacts into differentiated groups (emerging, proficient,advanced) based on the scoring rubric, task specific expectations, knowledge of students, and other assessment data such as universal screeners or entry inventories. See the section titled Point A ELA Student Work Artifacts: Collecting, Scoring, and Differentiating Grouping for additional information on the sorting process.
- Differentiate instruction for specific needs and strengths that were identified within the Point A student work artifacts.
- Collect Point B work at the most appropriate time within the instructional plan.
- Score Point B student work artifacts and analyze growth between Point A and Point B student workartifacts.
- Determine which samples within each differentiated group demonstrate the most representativegrowth; this guides the process of purposeful sampling. See the section titled Point B ELA Student Work Artifacts: Collecting, Scoring, and Purposeful Sampling for additional information on purposeful sampling.
- Submit the purposefully sampled student work artifacts into portfolio collections using the online platform prior to the April 15 due date.
I hope you follow those instructions better than I do. In any case, it should not be surprising that the release of scores was delayed from mid-May until late-July, because nothing communicates “drives instruction” like releasing data near the beginning of a new school year. Also not surprising, errors were found within the results. According to the State Education Commissioner this was due to teacher error, as opposed to problems with the system.
According to the state, some teachers mismatched students and standards which led to them receiving 1’s. Why the potential for that to happen wasn’t recognized on the front end and safeguards built-in to account for such occurrences, I’ll never understand. But it seems as much as we worship at the church of critical thinking, we put very little of it into practice. The TNDOE response to complaints leaves a lot to be desired:
If you have a concern with your score, you will need to go through each one of your submissions where you received a 1 on the Educopia site and check on the items that are listed above and below before filing a grievance.
Check to make sure you have a context form for each student and achievement level for point A and point B that received a score of a 1
Check to make sure that you didn’t have two different standards between point A and point B on each submission and achievement level where you received a 1.
Check to make sure that you didn’t upload two different student work samples for point A and point B for each achievement level where you received a 1 on the submission.
Check to make sure that you didn’t include multiple standards on the context form or included on the context form on submissions where you received a 1.
Check to make sure that you had 3 different individuals for each achievement level for the submission where you received a 1. Make sure duplicate work samples were not submitted.
Review your collections thoroughly to look for any of the items above. If a submission error is found, it does not qualify for a grievance. If you have double checked your submission and did not find a submission error, a grievance form can be submitted. The grievance window has been extended to October 1st.
I am not going to pretend to have a full grasp of any of this process. While I understand that I am not a professional educator, I believe that education policy needs to be written in a manner that can be grasped by parents, and this policy, and subsequent DOE communication, fails that test. I also believe that this process is entirely too labor-intensive. Even though the window to file grievances has been extended to October, is this really where a teacher’s attention needs to be focused at the start of school?
Some have pointed out that this is a trial year and that scores won’t actually count against teachers. That may be true officially, but do you know anybody that would be comfortable under any circumstances with a 1 on their record? Secondly, unofficially those scores are out there and there is nothing to protect teachers from opinions being formed based on those scores.
Business long ago realized that there are only a limited number of hours in the day. That’s why when you go to buy a car, the salesperson is focused solely on the sale. He’s not completing your credit check, or your loan application, nor is he completing the final sale paperwork. The most effective salespeople are focused on only one thing, selling the product. Everything else distracts from the primary objective. Why can’t we provide that same consideration to teachers? Instead of just being allowed to teach, they are continually forced to devote as much time to proving they are teaching as they are actually teaching.
By creating a process where an early elementary teacher has to decipher dense instruction, create artifacts, upload those artifacts, and then review them, after the fact, to ensure that they were uploaded properly, creates a number of distractions. Time wise alone, something has to be sacrificed, and invariably that becomes focus on children. Surely a better process can be created.
TEACHER MENTAL HEALTH
Chances are that if you drove by an MNPS school this past weekend, it was littered with cars. These cars belong to teachers who are sacrificing their own time, uncompensated, in order to get their classrooms ready to receive students. This is due to the district continually failing to provide adequate time to do so. I brought up this issue with several teachers this weekend, and all answered that it was “just part of it,” “it had to get done,” and “what are you going to do?” I had one teacher offer as a compliment to the principal, “Our principal is only unlocking the doors to the school one day. Other principals are opening the building both days.”
Principals need to understand that teachers, despite the best efforts of Betsy DeVos and her ilk, are members of the service sector. They entered the profession to help kids and as such will do just about whatever is necessary to give kids the best opportunities available. Often to their own detriment.
This dedication to service has been exploited for years and continues to grow. Case in point, the proliferation of back-to-school sale fliers directed at teachers. Principals posting social media messages, or even inter building messages, extolling those teachers working long extra hours and sacrificing personal time subconsciously reinforces a culture of sacrifice. Who’s going to even consider refusing to sacrifice when acceptance comes from adherence?
What do you think would happen if, in response to the district failing to schedule adequate classroom prep time, teachers didn’t self-sacrifice and classrooms were unprepared for students upon arrival? I’m willing to bet that ensuing chaos and disruption would lead to a re-evaluation of scheduling the next year, and that provisions would be made. However, teachers refuse to take that step because they always put kids first and are unwilling to take action that could be detrimental to children and so the self-sacrificing expectations continue to grow.
2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples has an excellent piece out today, How Your Back-To-School Messages are Hurting Teachers. She points out the following:
There’s tremendous pressure on teachers to be up and on, always positive, always “engaging.” When the issues students bring to school with them accumulate to a degree that they feel too heavy for many teachers, there’s not many places to turn.
This can cause what feels like a constant, low-grade emotionally abusive relationship. Too much of school, in my experience, fosters a dark co-dependency where staff are told that if they just work harder, give up more hours of their lives, tutor more, then students will “achieve.” Achievement, in this regard, of course means higher scores.
It’s an observation that I see play out endlessly. She echoes my thoughts when she points out this:
Often, these messages are delivered from a corporate or business partner who will send in a marketing person to hand out baskets full of old chocolate while using her most dramatic voice to tearfully tell teachers: “You are all candles. You consume yourself so that you can create light for others.” As my friend Justin says, that’s not only completely unsustainable as a metaphor or a policy, but it’s also a literal prescription for burnout.
That’s not a recipe for a healthy culture. A subliminal message is continually sent that you can’t effectively teach without giving a pound of flesh. In other professions, that expectation may exist, but in those cases compensation that offsets the sacrifice is offered. For teachers, the only compensation is the success of their students.
What if, instead of unlocking the school on weekends, the principal made a public announcement highlighting that over the weekend, “Ms. Johnson spent Saturday at her kid’s soccer game, which they won 4 to 3. Ms. Smith joined friends for a wonderful dinner at Husk and then they saw a concert afterwards. Mr. Brown took his family hiking and if anybody needs recommendations on good trails, he’s your guy.” What kind of cultural impact would that have?
Many of you are probably chuckling right now. Nobody has any time for any of that because it doesn’t add to achievement scores. Or does it? Who is going to be more effective as a teacher? The one who is hanging by their last emotional thread because they’ve been working ungodly hours due to a combination of internal and external expectations? Or the one who disconnected for a bit in order to recharge and refresh? Teacher mental health is a real issue and needs to be treated with the same priority as student growth scores because the two are intertwined.
I think everyone needs to heed Peeple’s concluding message:
Education critics act as though there is an unending supply of people standing outside their administrative offices waiting to apply for teaching jobs. This self-serving fantasy is giving way to real numbers of teachers retiring and those who are refusing to go into teaching in the first place.
Much like the #MeToo movement forced the culture to see the reality of sexual harassment, teacher walkouts and teacher attrition will finally make us all see the reality of the emotional labor and abuse we’ve heaped upon our teachers for too long.
And no amount of discount door prizes at meetings, banal speakers, or slides dripping with edu-guilt and edu-shame will make that go away.
On Friday, the last of the Reading Recovery teacher leaders, Marissa Hicks, resigned from MNPS. The district was publicly paying lip service to allowing RR to continue in some schools, while behind the scenes they were trying to bastardize it to fit their needs. What Hicks resignation means is that Reading Recovery will not continue in the district as RR teachers will no longer be able to retain certifications. But we know that was the goal all along.
MNPS HR strikes again. On Friday, principals introduced teachers to the new attendance policy as mandated by the recently passed Memorandum of Understanding between MNEA and the district, and it wasn’t received well. According to the explanation supplied by HR, teachers who utilized all their sick days, or occurrences, in a given year could be subject to a disciplinary write-up. That was never the intent, nor is it reflective of what was negotiated. However, MNEA leadership was present when HR’s version was rolled out at a recent principal meeting and felt no need to clarify despite visible confusion and anger by principals.
This is just one more example where current union leadership has failed teachers. The ranks of MNEA are filled with hard-working, dedicated, public servants who have been frustrated with leadership’s failure to adequately advocate for them. This is in no way a criticism of the union, whom I believe under proper leadership, could be and will be a vital advocate for teachers. This past election, the miscommunication of the MOU, and other incidents point to a current leadership team that feels entitled to their positions and places their agenda over the needs of teachers. I can only pray that at some point members take back their union and refocus it on what it was created for, to serve teachers.
In an effort to pass on positive news when I hear it, it was recently conveyed to me that district Number 2 guy Sito Narcisse did exemplary work on the recent High School Football Jamboree. I was very happy to hear it, though I must add that when I tried to confirm this opinion with other sources, I was met with a look akin to having just reported a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. Take it for what it’s worth.
I also heard this week that a kind soul mailed Dr. Joseph a map of the downtown library. That was very considerate of them and will hopefully ease future exits for the director.
We gotta a whole lot of responses to this week’s poll questions. For the first time, responses numbered over 200 per question. Let’s review.
The first question asked for your thoughts on Fran Bush winning a seat on the school board over incumbent Tyese Hunter and the effect it would have on Dr. Joseph. 31% of you responded that it was a blow and that he had lost an important ally. While 20% of you indicated that you didn’t think Dr. Joseph knew a school board even existed. Only 5% of you thought the effect would be negligible. Here are the write-ins:
|Fran Bush is the real deal. Watch out Dr. J.||1|
|Doesn’t. He will continue to do whatever he wants.||1|
|depends on how the new voices are heard||1|
|Not sure, but I hope Pinkston takes your advice.||1|
|I imagine he’s a little nervous at the moment.||1|
|Scared as he counts votes who may fire him.||1|
|I can ONLY HOPE his days are numbered. He lost one of his alllies. Good!||1|
|Who knows? But no more goo goo eyes betwen him and Tyese||1|
|I think he’ll take another job before the year is out.||1|
|I hope there are changes||1|
|I pray that the board holds his feet to the fire!!!||1|
|I hope the newbies hold his feet to the fire|
Second question asked who you thought should be the next chair of the MNPS school board. 63% of you favored the choice of Frogge. Speering was second with 24% of the vote. Interestingly enough, third place went to the newly elected Pupo-Walker, who drew more votes than 2-year veteran Buggs.
Frogge has indicated that she has no desire to take up the position, and in fact, she supports Speering. Shepherd and Gentry have both already held the position and have proven unable to provide a semblance of adequate leadership. Pinkston can’t be bothered to show up for work most days, so he’s unsuitable for the position. All the others are too inexperienced to assume the mantle.
That leaves Speering, who despite recent public criticism of Joseph, remains the best option. Speering has 35 years of educational experience to draw upon, and I believe that many of her public stances derived from the board’s failure to have meaningful conversations. I think as chair, she would recognize the magnitude of the position and would conduct public business as such. Some question whether Joseph would work with her or not, but in my eyes that is immaterial.
Despite the way business has been conducted over the last two years, the director works for the board and not the other way around. If Joseph finds himself unable to work under Speering, like any employee that finds themselves under the supervision of a boss they don’t personally care for, he is free to seek employment elsewhere. Joseph’s feelings should be irrelevant in the decision of who becomes chair. In Prince George’s County, the director may get to dictate who they work for, but in Nashville it’s the voters who do.
Here are the write ins:
|Frogge. Really, as long as it isn’t Pinkston.||1|
|Hurts him but not very much|
Question 3, asked for what quadrant you claim. The majority of you, 63%, continue to call the southern quadrants home. Though the Northern quads are well represented. I do need to focus more efforts on the Northwest quadrant. Here are those write-ins:
|Live in Southeast, teach in Southwest, heart is in both!||1|
|Live – southeast, work – northeast|
And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Enjoy the first day of school. I leave you with Vesia Hawkins’ reflections on the day.