WELCOME BACK TO THE THUNDER DOME

4

“We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“Make your interactions with people transformational, not just transactional.”
Patti Smith

 

I just finished the latest book by Bernard Cornwell. If you have never read Cornwell, you are doing your self a disservice. He writes well researched, keep-you-on-the-edge of your seat historical fiction. The book I just finished, War of the Wolf, is set in England at a time when Christian kings were trying to unite the country against the Danes, and the so-called pagans.

Uthred is the unofficial king of Northumbria, which is officially ruled by his son-in-law King Sigtryggr. As a sub-plot of the book King Edward is forcing Sigtryggr to swear fealty to him and become a Christian. This despite the fact that in Northumbria citizens are allowed to worship as they see fit. Sigtryggr does not want to swear allegiance, but he recognizes the disadvantage he finds himself with.

Uthred and he are discussing the pending swearing of allegiance which leads Sigtryggr to make the following statement about why he is agreeing to sign the proposed allegiance.

“I have the Scots to the north, my fellow Norseman to the west. And Saxons to the south, and fewer than two thousand men to fight them all. And that is why I am here.”

I stopped for a minute and thought, that is not unlike the situation that Metro Nashville Public Schools often seems to find themselves in. Truth is, I’d wager that it’s the circumstances that the very institution of public schools finds itself in. Public Education as we know it is under the constant threat of attack. This week and old force raised a new banner.

Per an article in the Tennessean, several local charter school leaders have been meeting informally over the last several months to address common challenges. That’s a good thing because through collaboration solutions are often more readily found then through the lens of one individual. The problem comes with the move to formalize the collaboration under the umbrella of an organization that has been politically active, the Tennessee Charter School Center.

According to the Tennessean, the goal is, “forming a collective in an effort to learn from one another and leverage resources”. And according to that press release “Talent Recruitment” is one of those resources. Furthermore, they claim that the formation of this formal collaboration will allow them to better communicate with MNPS. Huh?

Does MNPS not already have an office of charter schools? Does Dennis Queen not already have the reputation as the man who walks central office with nothing ever in his hands? Why are we paying him $155k a year if the charter schools need to form a collaboration in order to better communicate with MNPS? Of course, that begs the question, what are we paying him for the period?

But we all know that none of the previous reasons is why formal collaboration is being established. The reason for the formation of this collaboration is for the reason it’s always been, to grow the brand. If it was about educating kids, then the charters would take the relative anonymity that they’ve been given over the last two years and use that space to improve student outcomes. Outcomes for some members that are in definite need of improvement. I dare anyone of those involved in the new collaboration to argue that every one of those schools involved is a “high performing” charter schools. Because guess what, that not what has been said privately over the last year.

Let’s take a deeper look at the “success stories”. Something I’ve held off on doing this for the last year because my focus has been elsewhere and I’ve got no problem with schools that are serving their families and focusing on educating kids. I have repeatedly stated that I have no desire whatsoever to continue with the endless debate over charter schools, however, I will defend something that I believe in when it’s under attack and this creation of a collaboration is a sign of a pending attack.

Valor Flagship Academy. Doing an awesome job right? Setting records. Blowing the doors off MNPS schools. Let’s peel the onion back a minute. How many kids do you think are enrolled? Try 270. Of that 270, 14% are black and 15% are Hispanic. Yet Hispanic and Black kids make up 50% of suspensions. 49% of their students are considered impoverished. Vallor Collegiate SE is 230 kids. 19% black, 23% Hispanic and 50% white. 42% of out of school suspensions are by black students with 11% being Hispanic. 56% get free and reduced lunch.

Compare those numbers with nearby Croft and McMurray Middle Schools which serve 712 and 800 students respectively.  The percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunches are 70 and 94 percent. The percentage of non-white students is 63% at Croft and 82% at McMurray. Yet these 3 schools are all within 5 miles of each other. How can that be since its an equal playing field, right? Unless, like we’ve always known, it’s not a level playing field. But charter folks never seem satisfied, even with the rules tilted in their favor.

If the true intent of this new organization was just to create collaborations, why the need to make a PR push and create a hashtag? Is that hashtag suddenly going to ease communication between MNPS and the charter community or is it going to spur interest from families that weren’t previously considering a charter school? Is Randi Dowell suddenly going to want to talk more with Todd Dickson because it’s now a formalized collaboration, or will the increased communication come between them and those who write the checks?

The cynic in me believes it’s a lot harder to collect checks when it’s just Dickson and Dowell sitting around having coffee. It’s probably just coincidence that this announcement comes the week before the race for governor ends and Bill Lee, an avowed choice proponent takes office. Between Trump, Lee, and the culture they will collectively create, I suspect there will be no shortage to the cash heading towards charter schools operators and you got to have a formal organization to rake that in.

Local blogger Vesia Hawkins gets credit for saying what others try to talk around,

Charter leaders from the city’s highest performing schools representing more than 12,000 students have solidified a coalition under the umbrella of the Tennessee Charter School Center on the choice battleground that is Nashville, TN.

And it will become a battleground. Expect the school board race of 2020 to more closely resemble 2016 then the just recently passed election. I expect that zealots from both sides will quickly ramp up the rhetoric while our district continues to suffer. After all, this is a fight you can engage in with little fear of being called a racist and offers up straw men to attack for both sides and no shortage of candidates for villanhood.

Over the last year, I heard several people voice the belief that organization like the Scarlet Foundation, Nashville Public Education Foundation, and other traditional supporters of privatization efforts supported Dr. Joseph because his leadership weakened the district thereby providing fuel for increased charter school demand. I never really bought into it, but in reading the tea leaves over the last several months, it becomes a theory that is hard to dispute.

Meanwhile, who suffers? Teachers and kids. Instead of everybody focusing on their charges and growing things organically for the betterment of kids, we are going to dictate winners and losers and use kids learning to propel adult arguments. Instead of bragging in their press release about how this will benefit charter schools talent recruitment, tell me how this collaboration will benefit that kid at Joelton ES, a high poverty school that suffers from constant teacher attrition. Tell me how any of this benefits the majority of kids in MNPS and not just the select few that have resources to take advantage of the coming growth in charter schools.

We look at the schools on the priority school list and we scratch our head, “Why are things not improving?”, completely ignoring the fact that we continually do the same things over and over. We continually hire superintendents that try to use the same failed strategies and we remain forever locked in the same battle of charter versus traditional schools. As a result, nothing ever changes, And I mean nothing.

So welcome back to the Thunderdome. I hope you haven’t let your Twitter skills get ready or forgotten the old talking points. No need to learn new ones, the old ones will suffice just fine.

I’m just sad because I really have enjoyed my newly forged relationships with local reformers and I have felt that the conversations had matured. That’s what I get for being an optimist and believing that it really is about teachers and kids.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, then you are ignoring the fundamental fallacy of charter schools; you can’t run two school districts side by side while drawing resources from a single pool.

ACT SPIN

Hopefully, you’ve had the opportunity to read the recent article on ACT scores from McNeely, Pigott, and Fox – I mean the Tennessean. The article praises MNPS scores for raising from 18.8 to 18.9. In the article, Dr. Joseph accepts the accolades but offers some caution.

Right now, you might be scratching your head and thinking, “18.8? But Dr. Joseph has been accepting accolades for the last 6 months on scores of 19. I heard him on the radio saying we scored a 19. What’s the story?”

The story is that it was initially reported that MNPS scored a 19, but district officials have been appealing that score based on the belief that 150 students scores had been left out. The state recently revised the score to 18.8 and that means we grew .1 this year. There you have it.

QUICK HITS

The reading wars are once again heating up. I know, everything that is old is now new. Emily Hanford wrote an article making the accusation that teachers were ignoring science in the teaching of reading, and battle lines were quickly drawn. This week Erin Hinrichs has a thoughtful piece in the MinnPost that attempts to look even deeper into the use of phonetics in the teaching of reading. I find it curious that the same science warns of the dangers of teaching kids to read too early as well. Wonder if anyone will heed that advice?

Dr. Joseph once told a roomful of principals that there ain’t no crazy, like Nashville crazy. I’m not sure that is true. Seems to me that things are pretty crazy in Prince George County. There’s a school board race coming to a head and it’s drawn some bitter lines.

Those challenging the establishment-backed picks are touting their outsider status, saying it makes them more likely to provide strong oversight of a school system plagued by controversies including large pay raises to top aides, inflated graduation rates, a sex abuse scandal and the loss of a multimillion-dollar Head Start grant.

“I know there are problems in the schools, and I’m going to tell it all,” said Belinda Queen, who is challenging incumbent Carolyn Boston (District 6), the current board vice-chair. “I’m going to speak up for the people.”

Critics of the minority bloc accuse them of seeking the media spotlight and failing to work constructively with their fellow board members — problems they say would be exacerbated if the group adds new members Nov 6.

“It would be a disaster,” Boston said. “We need to work together and to speak with one voice.”

Good thing none of those issues are happening here in Nashville.

Blogger and educator Zac Barnes has his take on the recently created Charter Coalition. Obviously, it’s a bit different from mine, but I urge you to read it and make up your own mind. Congratulations to him as well for recently earning his doctorate.

On Friday passed a melee broke out at the Antioch/Overton High School Football game. As a result, Overton has been disqualified from this year’s playoffs and both teams have been banned from the playoffs for 2 years. A bit heavy-handed but this kind of stuff can’t happen.

This is what happens when you have an HR department that comes from a medical background instead of an education background. Here are some questions from the recently administered climate survey.

#33 How easy do you find interacting with students at your school who are from a different cultural background than your own?
#37 How easy would it be for you to teach a class with groups of students from very different religions from each other?
#39 How easily do you think you could make a particularly overweight student feel like a part of class? 

Let’s be clear here, there ain’t nothing “easy” about teaching. To insinuate such shows a lack of cultural sensitivity.

The former head of MNPS STEAM education, Kris Elliot, continues to do great things out west. Sure wish we had a program like this in Tennessee. It shows what can happen if you stop doing the same things over and over.

Some new principal announcements for you. Jessica Hardin will be the new principal at Inglewood. She was previously at Ivanetta H Davis Early Learning Center. Dana Eckman the current Director of Early Learning will replace Ms. Hardin. At Warner ES Ricky Gibbs will be returning to MNPS as their new principal. He’d previously rocked it at Glengarry ES before heading to Memphis. We are glad to have him back.

Only a few days left to cast your vote for Bob Freeman in District 56. Come on y’all.

My conservative friends may not like it, but check out the latest from my good friend Will Hoge.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon.

 

 

 

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4 comments on “WELCOME BACK TO THE THUNDER DOME

  1. Chris Moth says:

    Lots of great data and research. Welcome back, indeed. The mathematical truth of the ACT is that it is a “normed” test, meaning that the test is given to wide swaths of students, and the ACT company sets an average of 20, standard deviation of 5, in the process of scoring the results. We will never ever have a public education system that exceeds an average of 20. When we screen out lower-scoring kids, we can certainly observe little groups of higher scores, and watch the rest exhibit lower scores.

    But, it is downright fraudulent to connect _any_ operational steps in running of a school, in teaching practice, to observed ACT scores without de-convoluting the input student population, as you have started to do.

    The most deranged thing our state leadership did was to change the way that they calculate the ACT, when they started counting “best scores” from 2 or 3 test administrations. Yes, you can harvest a little statistical noise when you do that. Each student’s results will bob up and down 0.2/0.3 or whatever. But, going from 18.8 to 18,9 after making this state-level change tells us nothing about what students are learning. Yet, we celebrate.

    After listening to the news, the reports, the debate, and the recent “State of Education in the Black Community” talk at Mt. Zion Baptist, I can now say that I am 100% behind the vision Yes, I wish Dr. Joseph had a self-driving Tesla instead of the SUV. But, the larger problem, that our district is underfunded at least $200,000,000 a year, is so much more important that I am going to fight another year for funding, for Dr. Joseph’s transition plan, and for changes to our district that are clearly obvious to anyone considering raising their family here in Nashville alongside mine.

    Great post. Keep ’em coming. Thanks!

    • mister ed says:

      Thanks. A chart of schools in the state with ACT vs FRL would be more useful. Outliers would be important to note, on both sides of the trend line.

      Chris sums up well that there is a real challenge here and it won’t be solved without resources. The charter dollars are part of that but minor. I am all for staying on the pause button for low quality charter seats. We don’t need gambles. We need sure hits. About half of the charter seats are high quality. I wish them well. It is quite natural that they’d band together to share some HR and get the best talent, that they would share curriculum, that they would lobby the state. You know, like any central office should do.

      And to finish off….. I do not anticipate it raining 200 mil anytime soon.

  2. la familglia says:

    Interesting article in this morning’s Tennessean. And not by Jason G, I see. It details how the MOB center in E. Nashville has played favorites with the clientele they are serving. Remember just how much public money the MOB has extracted through the public housing administration to build their next newest shiniest upcoming thing.

    Not all charter operators are “in it” for the right reasons. Some are. Some aren’t.

  3. JC71 says:

    Teachers at our elementary school used to be able to embed Science and Social Studies within the literacy block, so that they could teach reading skills and content simultaneously. Now, with the push to use mainly anchor texts dictated by the district and the heavily-scripted IFL, our educators are unable to use their professional judgement in any capacity, and our students are not getting their content-area needs fulfilled.
    It amazes me that, when we have walk-throughs from the district, the main concern is whether or not the teachers are utilizing the anchor texts. How is this the main gauge for the effectiveness of the literacy block?

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