“Maybe the truth was, it shouldn’t be so easy to be amazing. Then everything would be. It’s the things you fight for and struggle with before earning that have the greatest worth. When something’s difficult to come by, you’ll do that much more to make sure it’s even harder–if not impossible–to lose.”
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
Christmas Eve arrived and I just felt as if I had nothing to say that would jibe with the holiday spirit and so I passed on writing a new Dad Gone Wild piece. Christmas Day arrived and the hours were filled with family obligations. Wednesday the sun came up and I was perusing various social media posts when I stumbled upon a piece from Education Post, If You Want to Keep Kids in Your School, Parents Need to Buy What You’re Selling.
This article struck me as wrong on so many levels, yet it also served as a key to open the door on flaws with the choice movement.
No matter the school, the goal is to ensure students know and feel that they are welcomed, valued and that the staff appreciates students attending every day. It is important that this feeling extends to parents as well. Essentially, parents and students serve as customers to those working in schools.
Yikes! Is that really where we are now? Parents send their kids to schools be welcomed, valued, and appreciated as opposed to being educated? I know many of you will argue that the two go hand in hand but still, the primary focus of schools should be to educate children not to be substitute family units for them. So instead of writing, I did some reading and that’s how we arrived at today’s piece as the first in a week.
When it comes to school choice, my first question would be, should it be just students and families that are appreciated for attending every day? Shouldn’t those same families and students be appreciative that there are teachers willing to teach and buildings to house them on a daily basis? Instead of taking the opportunity to attend publicly funded schools for granted, should there not be some instilling of appreciation?
This is where the canard of choice takes root. Instead of looking at education as a public good, choice argues that education is a commodity, not dissimilar from a six-pack of Coke, a new car, or an insurance policy. The only difference is that education is also touted as a right, therefore consumers should be able to utilize federal, state, and local dollars in order to make their purchase. What is ignored in that in treating education as a commodity, invariably it translates into more access for some and less access for others. I’ve repeatedly asked for an explanation on how choice and equity can coexist, with nothing but the proverbial crickets in response.
My argument hinges on the premise that if you turn education into a commodity, then you turn students and families into consumers and not all consumers are equal. Look at the previous insurance example. The quality of the product you purchase is going to correlate with the depth of knowledge you have about the product. Those with more time to research, a greater ability to understand the intricacies of the policies, and the resources to explore more options will have an advantage in the marketplace. The same holds true if you treat education as a commodity.
One of the biggest canards, that is repeated ad nauseam, is that nobody knows better than the parents what’s best for the kid. Think about that for a second, if it were true there would be no need for foster care, juvenile courts, or child psychologists. Parents would just apply their all-knowing powers and, walla walla, things would be optimal for all kids. The truth is, most of us need all the help we can get.
As a parent of two pre-teens I can testify, I have no idea what’s best for their future success. I know how to love them and I do my best to feed, clothe, and house them, but my daughter has hit puberty and there are days where I think she’s been possessed by three different people in the span of an hour. Other days I watch my son interact with his friends when they don’t think I’m paying attention, and I’m mesmerized by this strange creature who while made from my flesh is an entirely different entity.
There was a popular postulate when I was growing up that parents should encourage their kids to have a relationship with another adult. An adult besides their parent, one that they can trust and confide in. The reason being, that there are many things that kids won’t address with their parents.
Whoa now, before you start protesting that you have a deep bond of trust with your child and they tell you everything, let me just say we both know that is not true. All children have parts of themselves they only share with peers, or teachers, or mentors. That’s not a bad thing, nor is it a sign of a lesser relationship. It’s just what it is. Being that it is, there is no way that two adults can know with absolute clarity what is best for a child. They may know what’s best for that child as it relates to them and their feelings of comfort, but who’s to say that’s what is best for the child and its future?
As part of my reading this past week I read an article by Kay West in the Nashville Scene, A Long Haul. It was written almost 18 ago to the day, and after listing a laundry list of issues faced by MNPS, West closes with the following,
Regardless, all of us have an interest in seeing our city’s public schools improve. Longtime education advocate Nelsen Andrews shrewdly notes that if you want to see the future of Nashville, all you need to do is look at its public schools.
I assume she was trying to predict the future, but it’s a future that didn’t come to fruition. Today Nashville is growing faster and booming at a rate higher than ever, despite our failure to address the issues of the city’s educational system. I’m not offering this as an excuse for us to do nothing about our schools, but rather as evidence that predicting the future is near impossible.
I used to say that people buy insurance as much for its future benefits as for the comfort it brings them today. Insurance allows you to go to bed at night knowing that if something bad happens in the future, someone will show up and make it better. We all want to make sure the future is as comfortable as possible. School Choice preys upon that fear. It allows a parent to feel as if they are doing their job and guaranteeing a better future for their child. The problem is life doesn’t come with guarantees.
It’d be nice if we could go into the market of life and purchase 8 pounds of literacy, 7 pounds of math, 3 pounds of critical thinking, and 2 and 1/2 pounds of self-esteem, go home and mix it all up into a successful life. It doesn’t work like that though. Life turns on a dime and the future is influenced by all kinds of factors – intended and unintended. There is no way of knowing where the sparks of the future will derive from. As I said earlier, to parents that is a scary proposition and choice plays upon that fear. It makes parents believe that they are not just choosing an education for children today, but rather securing a successful tomorrow.
The ironic thing about choice is that it gives the illusion that it is the consumer that is making the choice while all along it’s the producer that’s actually doing the choosing. The hip restaurant in town may have “All Welcome” as a slogan, but in reality, they don’t really want the coffee drinking, stay-all-day, customer. Insurance companies may tell you they’ll cover everybody but they don’t want the unhealthy accident prone. Or as I’ve said before, the team may be called the Tennessee Titans, but if you can’t drop a hundred bucks at a game, they don’t really want you in the stadium. Things work no different when it comes to education.
Schools don’t really want the hard to educate. Those students require costly specialized services and accommodations. If you fall into the desired demographics for a choice system – ability to be involved, access to transportation, ability to search out information – choice sounds fantastic. It plays into those American narratives of pulling your self up by your bootstraps and rugged individualism. The truth is always messier than the myth. If you happen to fall outside of the chosen demographics, it can be downright devastating.
You see, choice always means winners and losers and the two usually congregate together. What invariably happens is that those with limited resources tend to end up in the same school. A school that due to the high cost of educating those of limited resources, ends up terminally underfunded. You see, public education works a lot like an insurance pool.
In an insurance pool the premiums of the healthy help to pay the cost of medical care for the less healthy. With public schools the children that are less costly to educate help balance out those that are more costly to educate. I know we all like the idea that our taxes translate into a backpack of cash for each child, but that just ain’t how it works. The state may designate $9800 per child, but that doesn’t translate into each child costing $9800 to educate. Educating some kids may only cost $7300, for some it may be $14k. Obviously, a school would like a lot more $7300 students than $14k students, at the very least they are looking for a balance.
Most of you are probably familiar with the strategy of offering tutoring services to so-called “bubble kids”. It is an often used strategy whereby instead of offering tutoring resources to those most in need, a school will choose kids who sit on the bubble of pass or fail and provide tutoring services to them. The theory being that no amount of tutoring would lead to passing scores by the neediest on the standardized test, but the bubble kids may do well enough to paint the school in a better light.
Schools choose the same way. This isn’t a criticism directed at just charter schools, traditional schools are just as complicit in the process. The more of those high achieving kids and bubble kids they can get, the better it all looks. The better it all looks today the more parents can convince themselves the better it looks in the future. What do you think the whole purpose of the MNPS School Choice Festival is? It is nothing but a recruiting tool for those perceived high-achieving schools. Recruitment which invariably leads to further segregation, racially and economically, of students.
One last thing to consider, sometimes a little discomfort today leads to better outcomes in the future. How often have we gone through an uncomfortable situation only to understand its importance upon reflection? How will a student handle a terrible boss in the future if they never got through a year with a teacher that they didn’t bond with? How will you ever self motivate if every day as a child, adults were consumed with making sure that you were engaged? How will you ever know the value of education if you never are put in a position where you have to fight for it?
Read enough biographies and you will notice a pattern. Quite often the subject was exposed to horrible conditions as a child. They had to overcome poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, or some other malady in order to succeed. The exposure to these horrible conditions created a desire to soar to heights that they might never have aspired to without being exposed to the trauma they faced. Obviously, nobody is proposing that mistreating children is the path towards future success, but perhaps the lesson should be that rigging the game for comfort in the present can have unforeseen consequences in the future. Lessons come in all shapes and sizes, and its impossible to predict which will resonate and which will fade from memory.
My personal choice would be to ensure that all children have access to quality schools. Quality that is determined and measured more by educators and parents collectively, than politicians and millionaires individually. I’ll advocate for what I feel are best practices, but in the end, it should be those actually doing the work who should be driving the bus. Parents and educators should work in a symbiotic manner, not one where one is a producer consumed with convincing the other that they’ve made the right choice.
So until we come up with a way to predict the future, my school choice will continue to be working on improving a system that is a common good and not a commodity. My choice will be to empower those who seek to improve the system and not those who seek to develop a better business model.
In my readings, I came across an article from the Nashville Scene written by Roger Abramson in 2008. I’d like to leave you with a quote from that article that should give us some further thoughts to chew on,
One major problem with what passes for policy discourse on education issues has been the use and misuse of terminology, especially that which describes schools in general. Public school advocates hold up “good schools” for acclaim, while public school reformers like to use “bad schools” as examples of failures. For purposes of real discussion, however, these terms are essentially meaningless, not because they hurt people’s feelings, but because everyone has his own definition of what a “good” or “bad” school actually is. Some people make their evaluation in terms of academics, some in terms of what types of students attend a school, still others in terms of how much money flows into a school. Some—many parents fall into this category—apply a “day care” paradigm to schools: Was my child’s every need and desire acknowledged and attended to during the day? If so, then it’s a good school, irrespective of whether the child is actually learning anything.
HERE WE GO AGAIN
MNPS High School students start school at 7am every morning Monday thru Friday. That start time is among the earliest in the country and has been for almost 20 years. Once again the subject of changing those times is being broached. It’s not a new conversation. It’s one not dissimilar from last years conversation on moving 5th grade back to elementary school. A policy with strong arguments for change, but a lack of resources to make the change.
Last year, Williamson County studied start times and made a slight adjustment, high school start times were moved to 7:40 and elementary moved to 8:50. It is a change that has produced mixed results. A prolonged conversation is unlikely to produce any new barriers or solutions. Something acknowledged by school board member Gini Pupo-Walker who is driving the renewed conversation.
“A barrier previously was the fiscal note attached, and that is a legitimate issue,” Pupo-Walker said. “We don’t have money, as is, and I am not going to propose we buy 50 buses to undertake this change.”
It is a subject that was raised over two years ago when Dr. Joseph arrived and while acknowledged as important, produced no follow up in the ensuing years. So why this conversation and why now?
I suspect the subject is being broached for a number of political reasons. First of all, this issue is a prominent one for West Nashville parents, many of which were less than thrilled with Pupo-Walker’s vote for school board chair. It should also be noted that many of her personal mentors and allies have left their previous positions of power. Renata Soto has resigned her leadership at Conexion. Megan Barry is no longer the Mayor of Nashville and Candice McQueen has left the Tennessee Department of Education. That’s a lot of political clout to lose in a six month period and it wouldn’t be the first time a politician utilized a populist position to shore up support.
Experience has also taught me that if politicians are leading you towards one conversation, there is usually a conversation that they don’t want you to have. January’s calendar is filled with potential pitfalls for MNPS leadership. The Tennessee State School board is expected to discuss discipline reporting infractions committed by Dr. Joseph. Bone, McAllester, Norton PLLC is set to deliver their overdue report on HR practices, it was initially scheduled to be completed in November. Dr. Joseph’s evaluation is expected to be conducted and is sure to include his handling of sexual harassment allegations. The teacher compensation committee is slated to report to the board ahead of budget talks. Not to mention that new lawsuits continue to fall semi-regularly against the district. Talks about school start times would pit stakeholders against each other as opposed to demanding accountability from district leadership. Setting a more favorable agenda is not a bad strategy.
All of this adds up to a January that should be chock-full of activity for MNPS. Unfortunately very little of it student-centered. January will be followed by the beginning of this years budget process. One that could prove to be even more contentious than last year. In other words, enjoy your rest and then buckle up, because the crazy is sure to heat back up.
LAST WEEK’S WRITE-INS
I know this week’s post is already too long but I’d be remiss if I didn’t do a quick recap from last week’s poll.
Question 1 asked, How much credence do you give the chamber’s report card?
The number 1 answer with 44% of the responses was “an academic exercise by people with no skin in the game”. Here are the write-ins:
|They know nothing. You’re not in the building, you don’t know.||1|
|Someone trying to find a positive spin on the —— show at MNPS.||1|
|Used to serve political agendas while ignoring actual facts||1|
|How many teachers did they ask for and received input?||1|
|SEL succeeds with no budget? Where’s the support?||1|
|Worthless. Why don’t we spend time finding ways to retain quality teachers?||1|
|It’s meaningless! They don’t dig deep but just listen to SJ and cronies.||1|
|Rich White Folks pretending to care||1|
|too much disconnect||1|
|Comes out every year & nothing changes|
The number 2 question asked if you were bothered by the delay in report cards. Two answers dueled for the number one spot, “Very. We can’t seem to adhere to any policies” and “I think it’s perfectly fine and am grateful they gave teachers more time.” Here are the write-ins:
|Don’t care. Give me my cost of living raise.||1|
|See over 200 separate students/day. Grades were done before i left for Break.||1|
|It’s annoying for seniors hoping for that second semester on transcript.||1|
|If they had listened to teachers in the first place, no change would’ve been nee||1|
|More evidence of gross incompetence !||1|
|more bothered by what gets rptd than by delay. Crushing workload for teachers.||1|
|Sophisticated metrics are probably best BUT simple metrics typically tell story||1|
|Like additional time for teachers, but why the late announcement?|
The third question asked, “How do you feel about the recommendation of each school appointing one peer-elected teacher to lead SEL efforts?” The number one vote was, at 30%, “I do not need another person “offering me feedback”” and closely behind was, “the devil is in the details.” Here are the write-ins:
|Is that an additional job duty? If so, big fat “no”||1|
|We had a kid looking at porn on a school computer. SEL works? Discipline works.||1|
|I don’t think any teacher wants to add another thing to their plate.||1|
|In how many schools would adding FACULTY, rather than SEL people, do more good??||1|
|We need more teacher lead anything. They are the only ones I trust||1|
|Don’t see the point. No one really cares about SEL. Sad but true.||1|
|More stuff to do||1|
|If School Counselors weren’t doing paperwork all day, it’d be great for all|
That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Lately, I’ve been promoting local school’s teacher of the year winners. Send me a picture of your winner and I’ll be happy to promote them.
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. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions.