“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
“There is some blogging jerk out there who feels he can generalize his way to validity.”
― Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream
A little unsolicited education advocate advice for you this morning. First of all, if you choose to pick up the challenge, expect this work to become all-consuming. There really is a lot to take in and grasp. No matter what anybody tells you, nobody operates with a whole lot of transparency. People will be very gracious in offering to share their knowledge, but that doesn’t mean that it comes without strings or biases, you’ll have to sort through those. Trust me when I tell you, that you’ll get to a place where anytime that any phrase is uttered that attributes motivations as being purely devoted to kids, you’ll want to stick a fork in your eye because you’ll come to recognize the shift in conversation from being idea centered to motivation centered.
You need to prepare your self to utter the same basic tenets ad nauseam. It has been my experience that instead of modifying a policy, we just modify descriptors. Vouchers are no longer vouchers, they are education savings accounts. Priority schools are no longer priority schools but rather School of innovation. Helicopters are no longer helicopters but rather RDPV’s, rotor driven personnel vehicles. Since these are all now considered new entities, you’ll be expected to come up with all new arguments against them since past arguments, while still applicable, will be dismissed.
You will discover that there are only two ways of approaching anything; the way it’s been done in the past or the way that is being proposed. There is no third, fourth, or fifth way, of doing things, and if you poke too many holes in the reform idea you will be considered an instant defender of the current way of doing things and thus declared as having no true desire to make things any better. The idea that two flawed plans can live side by side simultaneously is considered a non sequitur.
Lastly, you’ll hear a lot of talk about having “research-based” and “data-driven” conversations. Don’t be fooled by those scientific sounding non-biased terms. What those phrases actually translate to are conversations that are based on research that backs a chosen position and data that supports such a position. If you introduce research and data that contradicts those points, you do so at your own risk.
These are just a few things I wanted to share this morning as I reflect upon nearly a decade as a public education advocate. I should also point out that as a public education advocate you run the risk of becoming a witness to miracles. There are things you will see teachers and students accomplish in classrooms that’ll blow your mind. You’ll run across politicians that defy common perceptions and demonstrate what it means to be a true public servant. You’ll see the power of investigative journalism unleashed in order to protect student safety and to hold those who think they are above question, accountable.
It’s the most maddening of actions while being the most rewarding of endeavors. To those who’ve shared just a little bit of your world, I thank you one and all and look forward to continuing down this path with your accompaniment.
All right, that’s enough self-serving muse, let’s get to some meat.
A little forewarning here, my patience with voucher legislation is about shot. Arguing this nonsensical policy point has eaten up about 5 years of my life and at this point, I think it’s pretty clear why a voucher policy – in whatever form it takes – is a pretty crappy idea. So crappy that I have to question whether it’s proponents think we are all stupid. In 2014 the idea was sent packing, as it was in 2015 and 2016. Yet here we are again in 2019.
In fact, in 2015 Rep David Alexander(R-D29), who at the time was Vice-Chair of the Committee for Finance, Ways and Means wrote,
“We already have Achievements School Districts, Magnets Schools and Charter Schools in our State. There have been many changes in our Tennessee Education Department over the last four years, and we moved the needle farther that any state in history as far as increased test scores of our Public School students. And now, for some reason, there are people who want to figure a way to get students out of that public school system.”
That statement is as relevant today as it was when it was written 4 years ago. Especially in light of the fact that the districts targeted for vouchers are the very ones that currently offer parents the most choice. Based on these facts, the question that bears asking is, why?
Why the desire to undercut our public education system that is showing signs of growth? Why find ways to split the financial pie even further, instead of baking a bigger pie. Why is it that greater choice is such an important option for urban parents but not nearly as important for rural families?
In 2016, it looked like it was a Dunn deal, pun intended. I’ll never forget being at the capital that day and the look on Representative Bill Dunn’s face when realization set in that he didn’t have the votes for a bill that most recognized for what it was, an opportunity to privatize our public school system. Yet here we are again, trotting out the same old canards.
Governor Lee has introduced a bill that per usual with voucher bills starts with one fiscal note, and then quickly balloons. In this case, it was introduced as costing $25 million, only to soon be amended to potentially as high as $125 million. Meh…what’s a 100 million between friends?
My favorite part of this whole charade is where the governor with a straight face argued that under his voucher, I mean ESA bill, public school funding wouldn’t be affected because he had a plan to replace per-student funding for those students who opted to utilize a voucher. Oops – he forgot to mention that his plan only covered the first three years and after that schools were on their own.
In reading through this proposed legislation, I see nothing that hasn’t already been addressed in the past. Tennessean’s still don’t like the idea of public funds going to religious schools. We still don’t have enough private schools to meet potential need. Private schools, no matter what some politicians say, are still not going to give up their autonomy and be held accountable by a state standardized test. $7300 is still not enough to pay tuition at private schools. The parents that are the most involved will still see an increased benefit over our neediest students.
I’ve always maintained and will continue to do so, that passing voucher legislation is legislators way of passing the buck on adequate school funding. It’s a means to shift responsibility from their collective shoulders and on to the shoulders of parents. In essence saying, “If your school is underperforming because it’s underfunded you don’t have to stay there. Here is a bus ticket out of town.”
Over at the TNEd Report, Andy Spears and Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch make a strong argument for what equitable funding for public schools would look like. Why would we not increase investment in a school system that is continually touted as among the “fastest growing in the country” and instead choose to place money in unproven entities? Remember, private schools do not currently administer TnReady – the state-mandated achievement test by which public school performance is measured – and therefore we have no apples to apple means to measure public school performance vs private school performance. Just because those of means making the choice to enroll in private education, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good one. As the recent college admission scandal demonstrates, being wealthy doesn’t translate into all your decisions being good ones.
This week blogger and professional educator Peter Greene writes about one of my personal pet peeves; college and career readiness. It is a term that is constantly tossed around like it’s a tangible entity that we have readily defined.
Look, we have very little idea what makes a student ready for college. We know the larger outlines. A decent command of a body knowledge in her chosen field. Enough maturity to self-regulate (as I told my students for years, most of my former students who flunked out did so not because of academic issues, but because the freedom to drink till 2 AM, sleep till 2 PM, skip half the classes and half the assignments was too much for them– though we all know privileged folks who did all that in college and still grabbed a diploma). Some half-decent writing skills. Actual interest in learning more stuff. Enough money to be able to get through. All of that, more or less, matters. And enough money and privilege can substitute for any or all of those qualities. And the Big Standardized Test measures none of them.
All I can say is…hallelujah and that I further concur with his conclusion.
We need to stop pretending. We need to stop pretending that all colleges operate as full-time meritocracies. We need to stop pretending that college disrupts our socio-economic class structure, when mostly it just reinforces it (and while we’re at it, we can stop pretending that Affirmative Action is somehow disrupting the imaginary meritocracy). We need to stop pretending that we know what “college ready” means, and we REALLY need to stop pretending that we know how to measure it.
Amen and I urge you to read the whole piece.
In a move that smacks of a lowering of the lifeboats, the Tennessee Tribune has a piece out this week defending Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder from recent allegations. Interestingly enough the defense chooses to focus solely on allegations connected with her work with Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI) and chooses to ignore any mention of Scholastic and the trip to Florida where Scholastic conveniently forgot for a year, until an open record request revealed the omission, that MNPS owed them about 13K. Nor does the piece mention academic performance under Felder.
Curiously the Tribune had to go all the way to DC to get a witness for Felder’s character, which to me raises the question, why after three years was there no testimony readily available from a Nashville resident?
In case you are keeping score at home, here are the revised findings of the recently conducted Metro audit into MNPS expenditures,
- The district never competitively bid for consultant Bruce Taylor’s services, despite using federal funds in all but one invoice.
- The district’s payments to Research for Better Teaching exceeded the $25,000 per contract policy and didn’t have a contract in place before spending the funds.
- The district followed proper procedure in paying education consultants Sharon Fogler and Sharon Hemphill but didn’t properly document why they were selected.
- The district used Edgenuity for credit recovery for students and to fill teacher vacancies, through an emergency contract but never listed a written determination for the basis of the emergency and selection of the vendor.
- The district used Amplify, an educational research development institute, but never listed written determination for the basis for the process of selection of the vendor.
- Dr. Monique Felder’s omitted the Educational Research Development Institute as a source of income on her January 2018 disclosure of interest form.
- The district discussed a potential $1 million amendment to an existing $300,000 contract with Scholastic without a formal competitive and sealed process. However, it did not move forward for consideration.
- The district used Unify, a student assessment system, but it was procured from Performance Matters using a Florida solicitation and not Tennessee.
Just for giggles, compare those findings to the assertions in MNPS School Board Member and Budget Chair Will Pinkston’s recent op-ed piece defending Dr. Joseph where he asserts that “the Metro Nashville Office of Internal Audit has reported that more than a dozen allegations, leveled by a handful of conspiratorial-minded school board members and anonymous complainants, are baseless.” Hmmm…that does not appear to be a factual statement.
Director of Advanced Academics Laura-Lee Morin is leaving MNPS next week, reportedly to take a position with Cambridge. Her’s is an amicable parting and as such should be a smooth transition. Morin was working diligently to improve the district’s Advanced Academic offerings for all kids and in that capacity has served the district well. We wish her future continued success.
Earlier in the week, MNPS principals received an interesting communication in their MNPS inboxes. The email was from Teach for America’s Kevin Haggard and read as follows,
As you know, Teach For America has partnered with Metro Schools since 2009. On March 26, the school board will review our response to a Request for Proposal, and we need your vote of confidence. Can you help? Consider signing the attached letter of support! We look forward to deepening a partnership with your school community. “
The email goes on to solicit support for the upcoming vote of confidence via an email link. I question the appropriateness of utilizing MNPS official email to solicit for a private entity and would question who provided TFA with the email addresses and who approved their usage in this manner? Of further interest is the list of those who have apparently already lent their support.
After you sign, and email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and 20 others complete Help Teach For America Nashville-Chattanooga Renew Its 10-year Commitment to Nashville, all parties will receive a final PDF copy by email.
Note that Conley, Lawrence, and Bethurum are all current MNPS principals and as such their input is valid and valued. But Wiley, a former Antioch HS principal, left at the end of the last school year and her tenure was not exactly a shining success story. Does she still have an active MNPS email account? Why is she listed as a supporter?
Word is starting to filter in through sources from out of the city limits, and within, that Dr. Joseph is not confident that his contract will be extended at the March 26th board meeting and that he could be exploring other alternatives. How reliable is that information? I’ll leave that to your determination, though it should make for a very interesting State of Schools speech on this coming Wednesday. Which incidentally, it sure would be nice if that speech was held at a time where teachers could attend.
All certified, school-based employees are encouraged to participate in the state’s Tennessee Educator Survey before April 19. Once completed, participants are eligible for a lottery that awards classroom grants. Take the survey here: http://bit.ly/2O3h8Ub
That’s a wrap. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page where we try to accentuate the positive. If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight, send it on and I’ll do the best I can. Send things to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Thanks for your support if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Make sure you answer the poll questions and we’ll see you Monday.
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