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.
Barbara Lashley, Ed.D.
Director of Elementary Literacy
Curriculum & Instruction
Division of Teaching and Learning
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
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.
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,
|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.
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon.