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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions.