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!

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6 comments on “WHEN TWO TRIBES GO TO WAR

  1. Bin size says:

    Just so you know, that distribution of 1,2,3,4,5 is exactly what the state expects to get and pretty much always does get. The 2,4 categories are thinner by design than the others. It’s stupid and it’s only due to a really inane reason that this is the case, but it’s really hard to score 2 or 4. Once you’re leaning one way or the other it pretty much ends up at the extremes if there is a lean. The inane reason for the thin-ness of the 2,4 categories is arcane and has to do with the way the state breaks down the bell curve so that it can be interpreted easily. The state is well aware of the issues, and they’ve never done anything about it. The goofy distribution of 1,2,3,4,5 does not actually represent a buildup of results in the tails of the actual distribution. It’s just that the category bins are actually very very differently sized.

    • norinrad10 says:

      Interesting. Wouldn’t that make it an inverted bell curve? I’ve been trying to figure out benefit and it just makes no sense why you want your 1’s and 5’s to be your biggest bins.

  2. Maria Alvarez says:

    Concerning the overall lack of interest/concern of Dr. Joseph and the school board… Recently, I posted an article regarding Dr. Joseph on my neighborhood FB site. It was the first article that appeared when I “googled” his name and it concerned his ‘alleged’ corruption at PGC. With the onslaught of investigative reporting regarding the school board and Dr. Joseph, I assumed many comments would ensue; especially, since local panhandlers, missing dogs, loose dogs, and the local Kroger garners 50+ responses consistently to any posts concerning them. I received two comments…TWO. One person thought Dr. Joseph paid his friends too much; and the other commented the article was a blog, not from a reliable source. In the blog’s defense, the content was well-vetted, but the title choice could have been different.
    As a lifelong Nashvillian, educated by MNPS, and a taxpayer who does NOT have any friends or relatives attending MNPS, I was SHOCKED by the apathy of my neighborhood towards the Board, Dr. Joseph, and my Board Representative, Pinkston. Is the constant media blitz of investigative reporting regarding corruption, cronyism, lack of transparency, etc. (in almost all of Nashville’s departments), having Nashvillians turn their collective heads away from what needs addressing? Is the constant criticism and exposure of wrongdoing in this city having the opposite effect? What short-circuits an individual’s drive to make right what is clearly wrong? How can the citizens of this great city continue to look the other way? In spite of the apathy, I applaud those soldiers of information (TC and others), who continue to spread the information to the masses! Thank you for your hard work!

    • Dude says:

      This shows the depth to which the external communication problem exists for Mnps. Feel good stories are not enough to make up for a staggering lack of confidence that the public will be well served. We are in a very big hole on the trust level and not improving

  3. LisaM says:

    That is not an unusual salary for a Broad trained, business CEO type of Super. The funny thing is that your Super’s salary is way more than your Governor. The Super deals with millions of dollars and your Governor deals with billions….but your Super is earning way more money with way better benefits. This will likely get worse unless your Board decides to take a stand, get parents fired up and make some changes. Just Google Renee Foose and you will see where you are headed before you go down the rabbit hole. Foose and Joseph were very tight and your situation sounds exactly like what happened in Howard County, MD. We are still dealing with the ghosts of Foose’s administrative blundering.

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