RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT RANDOM THINGS

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“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”
Lester Bangs

“Some people see things that are and ask, Why?
Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?
Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that.”
― George Carlin

When I first started writing this blog, I fretted that I would find enough to write about. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that there was more than enough to cover and in fact, there was no way that I could do the necessary research in order to do it all justice. As a result, some things fall by the wayside. That doesn’t mean that they are not important, just that I can’t gather enough information and understanding to do them justice, so I put them on the back-burner.

I figured the start of Fall break was as good a time as any to clear some of those items off the plate. As always, if anybody has more information and knowledge please feel free to comment, I’m always looking for more clarity. So without further adieu, here are the things on my mind these days.

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING NOTES

Last week’s MNPS school board meeting raised a lot of interesting questions. It was a meeting that probably had more presentations then should fit comfortably in a meeting, but that’s what you do when you are trying to hide the trees in the forest.

The first presentation was on MNPS’s pre-k programming. Whenever you talk about pre-K things get tricky. Nobody wants to be perceived as being against pre-K. Oh no, that’s like being against puppies and rainbows. I believe in pre-K, but as always the devil is in the details.

I do not believe in sacrificing play for “rigorous” instruction when it comes to pre-K. More and more play is being sacrificed in order to focus on instruction. This is in spite of research that shows the value of play in child development. What I’d like you to do is watch the presentation, it starts at approximately the 1:01 mark, and count the number of times you hear the word “play” versus the number of times you hear the words “test scores” or “data points.”

A lot of people tell me that we are doing really good work in our pre-k centers, but I continually see signs that we are moving further and further away from play centric-curriculum. That concerns me. The dedication to increased parental involvement though is very encouraging.

The head-shaking part for comes when they talk about aligning all pre-k’s across the district, public and private, in a curriculum. I just don’t see that happening. Why would a private pre-k modify what it does to fit with Metro’s strategy? As a family, we chose to send our kids to Tusculum Presbyterian for very specific reasons; exposure to religion at an early age is one. We worked with them to tailor instruction for my son based on a very specific goal set through working in tandem. Maybe I’m missing something but I just don’t see an alignment of all pre-k’s across the district being a realistic initiative, nor one that parents would really want.

Now fast forward the board meeting to the 1:36 mark. This is where the presentation on MAP testing begins. There is a lot of interesting information in here but the really important part begins at the 2:01 mark when board member Fran Bush asks Director of Assessment Paul Changus how many kids are reading on grade level. Changus responds that “there is not a common definition about what it means to be on grade level.”

Think about all the messages you’ve heard recently about how only one in three kids is reading on grade level, yet here we have the districts data guru telling us that there is not a common definition. It makes my head swim.

Changus goes on to explain how national norming actually works when it comes to MAP testing. This is something that is extremely important for parents to get their head around. That achievement score of 54 %, means MNPS kids are outperforming 53% percent of kids nationally. The natural assumption is that the majority of those kids that make up the 53% are passing the test, that would not be a correct assumption. There is nothing in that number that tells you how many kids are passing the test, or even where they are scoring.

In order to get a better idea of what a student’s achievement level is, you need what is called the RIT score. The RIT score is the actual achievement score. In order to get the true value of the growth numbers, you would have to have the average RIT score for each grade. If the RIT score is low, obviously outpacing 53% of the kids is not going to translate into meaningful progress. The lower the RIT score the higher the rate of growth needed to get caught up. Unless I’m missing something, I didn’t see any meaningful discussion of RIT scores in the presentation.

Another thing to remember is that not everybody takes MAP. The MAP test is a test created by a private company, NWEA. Look at their web page, scroll to the bottom and you’ll see the number for the sales department. That’s right, MAP testing is a program sold to individual school districts. So when they say, “nationally normed” that doesn’t mean every kid in the country like TNready says every kid in the state. What MNPS students are being normed with are students from other districts, nationally, who bought the MAP testing program. I think that is a pretty important caveat to keep in mind as well.

I can not say it enough, MAP is a very valuable tool, but only if it is used as intended; a formative assessment used to guide instruction. It’s not a screener, nor should it be used to justify policy. It should not be used to screen for disabilities, gifted students, EL services, nor as part of an entry qualification for magnet school admission either. Yet we are. If you have questions, I urge you to call NWEA at 877-469-3287. They’ve been extremely helpful every time I’ve called them.

The last presentation comes at around the 2:15 mark and is on teacher recruitment and retention. I could spend all day on this one, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll only hit a few points.

To the left, you’ll see the outcomes that presenter HR Director Pertiller thought were worthy of highlighting. I don’t know the significance of any of them, or if they even have significance. Without context, they are just meaningless numbers. Why highlight 3-5 years? What were percentage rates for other experience bands? Last year we celebrated the 1-3 year band, what were those numbers this year? Both bullet points one and two are hard to evaluate without the total number of teachers employed each year.

The sub fill rate number compares a year worth of data to 2 months of data. Really?!? I don’t think there is a high school statistics class out there that would allow students to make that comparison. It only stands to reason that as the year goes on, and people get worn down, sub fills become more difficult. Celebrating the 17/18 numbers right now is like chalking up a Titan’s win based on a first-quarter score. Got to play the whole game.

Pertiller is so proud of the number of vacancies on the first day of school that she gave it its own slide. One that you are supposed to look at and say, “Yep, 92.4 is less than 124. Great job!”

Nowhere does she mention the number of positions for both years, are we supposed to assume that both years the same number of teachers were employed by the district? There is no mention of the use of long-term subs to fill positions. What about classes that kids are taking through an online platform because a teacher couldn’t be hired? Are those positions counted as filled?

One more point, Pertiller goes on to list vacancies at the priority schools and then downplays those vacancies. After all, Joelton MS only has 2. That’s pretty low huh? Except when you consider that they are only budgeted for 13 positions. In other words, 13.3% of their positions are unfilled. Would you consider that acceptable?

Whites Creek HS was projected at 623 students. How many teaching positions do you think that equates to? Five is a number that should be very concerning. Instead, it’s just brushed aside.

Talk moves to retention. The presentation looks at data derived from exit surveys. This year even fewer exit surveys were collected as compared to last year; 105 vs 109. Of those 105, 56 cited personal reasons as the cause of leaving. Hmmm…does “I’ve had enough of this shit and I’m losing my mind” count as a personal reason?  Under the subject of what’s your next move, 31 said teaching in another district. In other words roughly 1/3. Yea…no problems here.

As part of the recruitment strategy, the district revealed their plans to recruit by quadrant. Am I the only one that sees this as a means to throw gasoline on the inequity fire? The likelihood of getting 4 equally qualified recruiters is slim, this means that naturally one quadrant is going to have a better recruiter then the others which will lead to…wait for it…increased inequity.

Once again board member Fran Bush gets the party kicked into high gear by asking why the numbers on teacher retention changed from when the board received the numbers to tonight’s presentation. Apparently, a business rule was enacted measuring numbers from September to September as opposed to previous August to May. I’m baffled by why you wouldn’t want to match up with the fiscal year and go July to July unless you are parameter shopping to put numbers in the best light.

Bush also brought up the subject of teacher morale, which apparently falls under the purview of Sito Narcisse. Good news, more surveys, and more focus groups. Last year’s focus groups started off with stated outcomes and rules of engagement. Those rules of engagement served to limit conversation and obviously failed to positively impact morale. Are there any teachers out there clamoring for more teacher voice sessions?

Interestingly enough, the surveys are considered so important that Narcisse had to defer to Changus, with others chiming in, to answer Bush’s question about how often surveys are administered. No one could answer the question with real confidence. Very indicative of the priority attached to securing input from teachers.

The most frustrating exchange for me comes when board member Walker asks Pertiller about whether they collect data on mid-year turnover. Pertiller, predictably, doesn’t have the numbers available and downplays it – “I don’t have that but we can get that for you” seems to have become the go-to move for district presenters. Pupo-Walker says that was her sense as well because teachers don’t like to “leave their kids mid-year”.

First of all, I suspect the numbers are much high than either is willing to concede. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear about teachers preparing to leave over break or just plain walking out. So yes, there is a high level of mid-term attrition.

Secondly, we need to stop playing on the benevolence of teachers. They may not like leaving their kids mid-year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do it if we push them to their limit and we are pushing them to their limit.

I’d also like to know the number of teachers who took early retirement and since none of the answers on the slide showing reasons for leaving included retirement, what’s the story there. The number of transfers would be useful information as well. Transferring is often a precursor to leaving the district, and as such should be closely monitored. Yet, it’s not even mentioned in Pertiller’s presentation.

Pupo-Walker goes on to raise the specter of Teach for America. I was shocked to find that TFA has raised their finder fee from 6500K to 10k annually per teacher. Yikes. In addition to philosophical differences I have with them, TFA is not a viable solution because they can’t supply the numbers needed. During the recession when top-flight students couldn’t find jobs, going into teaching for a couple of years was intriguing. Now that we have a robust economy…not so much. So let’s not run too far down that rabbit hole.

Besides, the goal is to make teachers feel more valued not to devalue their skills by saying anybody with 5 weeks of training can do their job. It never ceases to amaze me, we are in the business of education, which means we should all be active learners, but we never seem to learn anything. We just keep running around in the same circles.

In that light, the conversation on recruitment wraps up with talk about a teacher licensure process that would be run through the district. Participants would save money and time but would be required to stay with the district for a number of years. During this discussion, nobody brings up the current MNPS cohort currently having half of their tuition paid to earn their doctorate at Trevecca. None of whom were required to make an extended commitment to the district. SSShhhhh…we don’t talk about that.

Board chairman Gentry closes the presentation by praising the work of the HR department. Apparently, it is a big deal to ask teachers their opinion twice a year. Gentry is also of the opinion that the HR staff has been very creative, I concur, they have been very creative in the manner in which they present the data. Now if they could only apply some of that creativity to recruiting and retaining teachers we might get somewhere.

QUICK SHOTS

Word is starting to trickle out to me about changes coming to the MNPS enhanced schools. The “enhanced schools” grew out of an agreement in 1998 that allowed a Federal judge to declare MNPS unitary – a legal term meaning free of any vestiges of segregation. As part of the agreement, MNPS would provide certain elementary schools with primarily African-American and impoverished populations additional supports. Chief among those supports were extended school days. Enhanced option schools operate on a day that goes from 7:45 to 3:45, providing an extra hour of instruction.

The money to fund these additional supports comes from central office. According to reports, principals have been informed that the district would like them to strongly reconsider that option and perhaps utilize a more effective strategy. The cost is approximately $200k. This week, schools are in the process of deciding whether to change school schedules or to explore other options. The changing away from the extended hours has could prove quite detrimental to a school and it’s families. Some teachers may leave due to the loss of extra pay, or families will have to scramble to change work schedules.

In pushing for the change district leaders have pointed to data that shows the lack of impact the increased hours have actually had. I would caution here though, because this is one of those tales were data doesn’t tell the whole story. To further compound things, there is some concern that the district is forcing this decision on individual schools in order to retain plausible deniability with the feds if schools choose to change hours. This bears watching.

Rumors are also swirling that there is a new communications chief in town. This makes what, 3, or 4, in the last 2 years? Word is MNPS is recruiting from the ranks of the Department of Child Services.  Because nothing says quality like the level of communication over the last few years from that government entity.

I often talk about the importance of knowing our history and how much we have forgotten in regard to the Nashville school system. Here is a fascinating read from the Nashville Scene circa 1998: How Separate, How Equal. It’s amazing how little progress we’ve made in 20 years.

Last week Mayor Briley attended the monthly meeting of ProjectLit. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this picture. The Mayor is clearly engaged and not just using ProjectLit as a photo-op. Way to go!

The Handle with Care Partnership between Metro Schools and Metro Nashville Police Department was recently named Innovative Domestic Violence Program of the Year. MNPS and MNPD received the award at the Meet the Bridge event hosted by the Nashville Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Kudos to those involved.

It’s just about time for Tennesseans to head to the polls and cast their vote for Governor. Chalkbeat TN outlines the differences on education policy between the two candidates, Bill Lee and Karl Dean.

Speaking of elections. Please remember to vote for Bob Freeman for State Representative. He’s a keeper.

Our ear to the ground tells us that everything went well with school board member Jill Speering’s medical work. She came through it with flying colors and is now busy recuperating. I’m sure she’ll be back in the fray before you know it.

Volunteers are still needed for the JTM Carnival on Saturday, October 27th! Parents and students, sign up here:

POLL RESULTS

We got a few replies to this past weekend. Let’s take a look at what you had to say.

The first question asked for your thoughts about MNPS’s current approach to charter schools. 38% of you indicated that charter schools were the least of your current worries. The number 2 answer was “I wish we were closing more” with 25% of the vote. Only 7% of you gave an indication that we needed to be opening more. I hope people will keep those numbers in mind as there seems to be a push to get us talking charter schools again. Here are the write-in votes.

Close Rocketship. They dump EE kids w/o proper IEPs after the Sept count. 1
Some excellent, some appalling. Unequal use of $$. 1
Likely the game plan for diviividng the district ; priority to charter!!! 1
priority concern is the sJoseph leadership vacuum 1
I don’t want anymore. 1
We don’t need more. 1
Let’s convert them to magnets and take control of their funding without closing 1
Charter schools will suck the life out of public schools – then what? 1
Charters & vouchers…the same…the difference is who makes decision… 1
Sick of resources being diverted from neighborhood schools. No $ for programs

Question two asked for your opinion on plans to increase the use of Teach for America. You weren’t shy about your opinions on this subject. Forty percent of you said, “Absolutely not!”. Eighteen percent of you admitted that we might need to use them, though you wished we didn’t. The number 2 answer to this one was actually the write-ins:

The T stands for “Trainwrecks”. Please, no more in our classrooms!!! 1
Just say NO! Underprepared and don’t last. 1
Hell to the no! 1
No, just absolutely no. 1
Use that $ to raise salary instead of give away…. 1
Compare that to university programs… let’s talk capacity…equal? 1
Hard no 1
I’ve worked with some incredible teachers From TFA. Just be careful. 1
Nope! Discredits the teaching profession. 1
Bad idea. TFA are rarely successful 1
Highest ranked prep program in TN again. More pls 1
Low quality, high energy, working loan forgiveness on the backs of kids. 1
Yes! They produce quality, hard working teachers 1
The teaching profession is dying – get some minimum wage factory workers 1
Raise salaries and it won’t be necessary 1
Why? TFA touts diversity applicants for hard to fill areas. It doesn’t do that 1
as long as the district is not sabotaging and demoralizing current teachers 1
Only if assigned seasoned mentor teachers 1
They won’t. Too costly and the return on investment in terms of retention is NIL 1
It’s a waste of time if they aren’t mentored well. 1
The devaluation of veteran teachers is astounding. Teaching as a career is dying

Question number 3 asked how much teachers were using MAP to guide instruction. Based on your answers, I think it’s safe to say, “Not as much as the board has been led to believe.” Fifty-one percent of you answered in a manner that indicated results were not being widely used. Eleven percent of you answered, “Not as often as you should, but you found them useful.” Only 6% of you indicated that they had become essential to instruction, which was ironically 2 percentage points behind “What’s MAP.” Here are the write-ins:

When it’s used properly, I’ll use info properly. Smh! 1
will use growth data, get immediate feedback 1
when I taught, did not use benchmark test results as they were useless 1
It’s a good tool for differentiation . 1
Worrying more about the second job I need to pay for my bills in Nashville. 1

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. Peace out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One comment on “RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT RANDOM THINGS

  1. save ferris says:

    Defining grade level is a little like defining rigor. Anyone can recognize when it’s not present in a lesson, but it’s hard to accurately define ab initio. Kind of like Ed Meese in reverse, if you are old enough to get the reference.

    Anyway, MAP may be close to the worst instrument in the universe for defining whether a student is “grade-level” proficient because it is an adaptive test and you’ll only get a couple dozen “grade-level” questions while the rest probe above and below to determine where a student falls. Paradoxically, this is an efficient way to determine a student’s relative “level” or their progress relative to peers but not their proficiency at whatever that level even represents. And remember there is still no equating table to TNready, so it’s anyone’s guess what a particular RIT “means”. I.e., there is no such thing as passing or failing it.

    An interesting tidbit is that there IS an ACT equating table, and the correlations are good. Not much worse a predictor than the ACT’s own suite of middle grades tests. If you look at actual MNPS RITs (not the growth crap from the presentation), they are very much in line with the ACT levels we get at the end of the student pipeline.

    PS: You may recall that at least one other state’s teachers tried, unsuccessfully, to get the ACT suite to be used in lieu of state testing. Although such a move is supported by the likes of the Maury superintendent, heck will freeze over before TNDOE allows it.

    Until then, MAP should be treated with a grain of salt the size of the future soccer stadium.

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