DELICATE CONVERSATIONS

“He’s clearly a man with a mission, but it’s not one of vengeance. Bruce is not after personal revenge … He’s much bigger than that; he’s much more noble than that. He wants the world to be a better place, where a young Bruce Wayne would not be a victim … In a way, he’s out to make himself unnecessary. Batman is a hero who wishes he didn’t have to exist.”
Frank Miller, Batman: Year One

“Love your rage, not your cage.”
Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

 

Mid-week, I heard that the New England Patriots were in town conducting open practices with the Tennessee Titans. This presented a rare opportunity to see a legend – the Patriots Tom Brady – up close. So I took the boy out of school on Thursday and we spent the day at the practice field. He was mesmerized.

Seeing Brady up close, you quickly understand why he is arguably the greatest QB ever. He made a 20-yard throw across the middle that was simply jaw-dropping in its beauty.

My son, Peter, was amazed at how big the players were up-close. If you just watch the games on TV or from the third level at the stadium, you may not realize just how freakishly large some of these guys are. Though that size did not necessarily intimidate the boy.

Upon spotting Brady, who was focused on practice, he strode right up to the barrier and hollered, “Yo Brady. Hey Tom” at the top of his lungs. He then turned to the security guy and asked, “Hey, can you please get Brady to come over here for me?”

“They don’t greet fans right now. He may come over after practice.”

After we walked around for an hour one of the Titan’s personnel stopped us, “You staying till the end of practice?”

When we said yes, he produced an armband and told us where to meet after practice. At the end of practice, we were escorted on the field with 10 other kids and an individual audience with Titan’s QB Marcus Mariotta was arranged.

Mariotta was beyond gracious and accommodating and I think that day he earned his future biggest fan. The rest of the day Peter couldn’t stop talking about how cool he was. Thank you Tennessee Titans for making a memorable day for a young sports fan.

THE RESULTS ARE IN

Time now for a delicate conversation – warning, we’ll be having a few of those today. This week saw the release to the public of last spring’s TNReady scores. The list showed that MNPS is now home to 37 Reward Schools. That is awesome and all those schools deserve accolades. I say that with caveats though.

As we discuss the results of this year’s TNReady, I think it’s important that we recognize that these numbers are connected to honest to god children and teachers. I shouldn’t have to say that but, when discussing results, we often act like the numbers are nothing but an academic exercise. They are not. They attached are to real people who did an incredible amount of work over the year and we should treat them as such.

My next caveat is the test itself. How good is it? I don’t know. Tennessee has just entered into a contract with its third vendor in 5 years. Is the test each vendor creates compatible in quality? Does each spend as much focus on the same standards as the other? Do they have the same degree of difficulty? Nobody has seen the test questions, so who knows.

Several years ago Tennessee passed a testing transparency law, but since we continually change vendors, the state has been able to circumvent that law. As a result parents and educators just have to assume that the test is indeed measuring what it’s supposed to accurately. The TNDOE is asking stakeholders to give something that is in short supply these days…trust and faith.

My last caveat is a call to recognize that these test scores are not the be-all and end-all, nor the complete picture of the quality of education a child is receiving. The TNEd Report has an excellent piece from Ken Chilton, who teaches education policy at Tennessee State University called Regression to the Mean.

In his piece, Chilton points out the fallacy in putting too much stock into these results and the focus on growth. He concludes,

“The sad truth remains: most of the factors associated with student performance are related to socio-economic status. Inasmuch as poverty rates, absenteeism, parental involvement, household stability, and economic certainty are outside the control of school administrators and teachers, school performance data will underwhelm. Thus, we celebrate improvements in TVAAS algorithms that are not valid predictors of teacher performance.”

That can not be said enough. I know people don’t like to hear it, but it is an indisputable fact.

Let’s look at two MNPS schools. Both Reward Schools as designated by the State, which means they are hitting their growth projections and excelling in other areas deemed important – discipline, English proficiency, chronic absenteeism. That’s great news and worthy of applause. But let’s go past growth.

Crieve Hall ES has – according to the TNDOE – 445 students, 19% of which are economically disadvantaged. Napier has 255 students with 94% economically disadvantaged. Both, as previously mentioned, are hitting their growth projections. But what about the achievement levels?

Crieve Hall has 58.3% of its kids on track in ELA. Napier has 12.1%. Do the math.

Crieve Hall is home to 265 kids who are on track when it comes to literacy. Napier has 30. Are you going to tell me that these two Reward Schools are performing in a comparable manner? How much annual growth would Napier have to make in order to produce comparable numbers to Napier? How many years would it take? And should schools with large discrepancies in enrollment numbers even be compared?

Politicians would have you believe that Napier is producing similar results. You know why? Because if you believe that schools and students can overcome societal issues, they don’t have to address them. They can continue to put the onus on schools to deal with the trauma that comes with poverty.

I used CM Freddie O’Connell as an example here, and that’s not exactly fair, as he has always shown a willingness to tackle the hard conversations but he does conveniently provide a means to illuminate the situation. If he can fall into the trap, imagine all the other politicians who are buying the canard.

A big part of the problem is the way the state’s “accountability” system is constructed and how it allows the illusion to persist that schools are the “great equalizer:” They create these designations and narratives that serve to instill false perceptions and provide excuses to not only fail to fully fund schools, but to neglect to address issue like addiction, homelessness, and underemployment – all of which impact school performance.

District lines coupled with parental choice create other barriers. What happens in the classroom obviously matters, but so do the factors outside of the classroom. It’s not enough to just say. “I can only focus on what I can control.” City and state officials have to take a closer look at the societal factors that impact student learning. Luckily there are CM’s like O’Connell that are trying to lead the conversation and it’s appreciated. It’s up to the rest of us to join in.

Here’s more to consider, if 5 of those 30 kids at Napier move before the test next year, statistically Napier could be right back on the priority list. With Crieve Hall if 30 of those kids on track move, odds, due to economic status,  are pretty good that they’ll get 30 additional kids to step right in. They aren’t at risk to be a priority school anytime soon.

Again, let me be clear, I am not being critical of Napier nor Crieve Hall. Both have committed students and educators, but to pretend that they are offering a similar educational experience is disingenuous and damaging to the kids both serve. To pretend that both face similar challenges and that the only difference is teaching is equally disingenuous.

Of course, Dr. Shawn Joseph couldn’t wait to twist results for his benefit. The former MNPS Director of Schools is out waving his flag of success with help from the Tennessee Tribune. Per the Tribune, MNPS outpaced the state in growth and “On Track or Mastered for English Language Arts also increased for grade spans 3-5 and 9-12.”.

As board members sat quietly and listened to how the district has seen consistent improvement for the second year in a row, only board member Christian Buggs asked, “How often have we matched or been above the state?”  Dr. Changas responded, “It’s been a while since we have been above in literacy for consecutive years like we have seen this time”.  Mrs. Buggs shared, “I was just sitting over here jumping out of my skin.  This seems like great data that should be tweeted about, posted about, talked about, and clapped over.  We should be sending a shout out to our teachers and our students and our central office staff.”

But as Paul Harvey used to say, “and now the rest of the story.”

ELA for grades 3-5 grew from 27.1% to 27.8% on track. ELA for  6-8 dropped from 26.7% to 24.2% on track, The result is a drop in 3-8 ELA from 26.7% to 25.9%. How is that progress? Especially in light of the increased focus by the district on literacy.

We may be outpacing the state in growth, but that’s out of necessity because we lag behind them in Achievement in every category but Algebra 1.

Of equal concern should be how our achievement scores compare to surrounding districts. Currently, most of the people moving to Nashville are single and upwardly mobile. Over the next couple of years, they will be settling down and starting families or their currently young kids will be entering the school system. In deciding where to send those kids, will they focus on growth or achievement?

I hate the fact that districts are given the results 4 weeks ahead of everyone else in order to craft a beneficial narrative. I would prefer that we all looked at the data through the same lens at the same time instead of one shaped by the school district.

The results this year are mainly flat with some encouraging growth in math. The increase in reward schools should be celebrated. Social studies scores should raise concerns. These scores are neither worthy of gloom and doom pronouncements nor orgasmic-like outbursts on the board floor. As Dr. Battle is fond of saying, “Use them to locate where you are and then don’t stay there.”

There is one area that I one hundred percent agree with MNPS on, their charge to the school board. Results from state testing have to arrive earlier so that they can impact classrooms. There has to be more transparency around testing and our schools need better funding. Carrying that message forward is not just a battle cry for the school board, but for all of us.

STRANGE DAYS

Here’s another delicate conversation for you. People’s mental health and circumstances in life should never be treated as anything but sacred. Life is hard for all of us, and at times we don’t necessarily meet the bar we strive for. That said when you choose to live a public life, intense scrutiny often comes with the job.

During Dr. Joseph’s tenure, there were a lot of stories that circulated about MNPS’s director of schools. Chief among those were stories of infidelity. I left most of those alone because, frankly, I fall into the camp of what happens between two adults should remain between those adults. I struggle with living up to my own ideals without measuring others.

That said, I do not think that an intimate relationship between a sitting board member and the director of schools is at all appropriate. This week an email is making the rounds that more or less confesses that such a situation recently occurred. The email is from former board member Tyese Hunter to Metro Council Members asking for their help. She writes,

I can no longer hope, pray, and  trust that my children and I are safe not only in our home and vehicles but also in our country. I am both outraged and disturbed by what we have experienced.  Thank you for your position statement on sexual harassment and sexual violence.  I feel that it is essential that I at least attempt to share this with you and pray for an agreeable resolution. Please pardon anything that appears as rambling. There is so much to share. 

As a United States citizen, I have lived a life of service and sacrifice for my country and for the state of Tennessee. I am a Navy Veteran, Speech Therapist, Educator and former politician.  I served on the Metropolitan Nashville Public School (MNPS) board for 4 years (2014-2018). While serving, I had the very proud opportunity to make a motion to hire the first African American Superintendent for MNPS, Dr. Shawn Joseph, who is also a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. He is extremely brilliant and has a heart for improving struggling school districts. I believe he is one of the greatest in the country to serve in this capacity.

In the email – too long to print in its entirety – she levels several charges against Bishop Walker and the Black Greek system. She also relates a troubling story,

“Dr. Shawn Joseph and I developed a very unique bond. I grew to love him both professionally and personally. When my 20 year old son was shot 7 times in the head and 2 times in the knee in January 2017, Dr. Shawn Joseph suggested I meet his cousin who was also a survivor of gun violence. While out with them in Atlanta, Dr. Shawn Joseph collapsed and became unconscious. Being unable to arouse him and zero signs of a pulse, I performed CPR on him, saving his life. This should have been appreciated by his brothers and my safety should have been sealed forever. Instead, I have endured unimaginable turmoil since shortly thereafter. “

If the story is true, then Dr. Joseph owes a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Hunter. If true it also raises a lot of questions. Hunter lists the many challenges in her life, and she deserves much credit for facing those challenges. I won’t share those here because many are extremely personal involving her children. But the one passage that does bear mentioning is where she apparently references her feelings toward Dr. Joseph,

HOWEVER,  I MADE LOVE with another ONE every chance I could get. That was the feeling my sweet little soul knew existed. I didn’t try to fall in love. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. This time I wasn’t trying to be happy because of a sick kid. Moma was just having an amazing experience. I told him and meant that it would be over if his wife moved to Nashville. It was difficult, I miss him dearly. But I truly value family. I never thought I would ever cheat.  Yet, get a sick kid and need to feel ever so slightly uplifted just to function. It is unhealthy for anyone to remain in a low place. Again,  I didn’t do drugs or drink and my husband treated me like $h!+.

It’s never clear exactly what transpired between Dr. Joseph and Dr. Hunter, but it is clear the relationship was a lot more intimate than most would find appropriate. It also reveals that she is a woman in a great deal of pain and filled with feelings of fear – may be some real and maybe some imaginary – that are causing her great distress.

At the very least, this email, and the details it revealed serve to draw a stark contrast with where we were and where we are today. These stories are non-existent when it comes to Dr. Battle and her team. And that’s how it should be.

There are those that will cite this email as just another attempt to smear Dr. Joseph’s good name. Maybe they are correct. But I was always taught that where there is smoke, you’ll usually find a fire. It seems that with the departure of Dr. Joseph, there is a clearing of the smoke. And that’s a good thing.

As for Dr. Hunter, keep her in your prayers that she finds what it is she needs. Life is tough and for some, it is tougher than for others, That is true whether it is because of fate or our own decisions and either is worthy of our empathy.

EPSTEIN’S MOTHER 

Those of us of a certain generation remember a show called Welcome Back Kotter. It was a sitcom about a teacher at an inner-city city school in New York. One of the running jokes was when one of the students – Juan Epstein – would repeatedly bring in an absentee excuse letter purportedly from his mother but signed, Epstein’s mother. This week Mayor Briley out Epsteined Epstein.

The Tennessean on Wednesday ran an editorial from David Briley’s mother imploring voters to give her son another 4 years.

Our family has a history that is similar to many other families in our community: We worked hard and played by the rules.

 

There are quite a few people who have been around these parts for a while that would take exception to that statement. I’m not quite sure that the mayor’s grandfather nor his brother Rob were known for their ability to follow the rules. In fact, I would argue that they also took the position that the rules were for everybody else.

In her editorial, David’s mother outlines why she feels that he should remain as mayor. While it is a nice letter by an accomplished woman, rightfully proud of her son, it’s mystifying that none of Briley’s advisors pointed out that it was a problematic strategy. But that’s been the problem with Briley all along. He continually surrounds himself with the wrong people telling him the wrong things.

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 and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com.

Thanks for your support, but now it’s time to do the last bit of shameless begging. The blogging platform I subscribe to allows me to run some ads in order to defray costs, and I’ve got costs. I don’t make much, but it helps offset some of the time invested in researching issues. The renewal is $350 and is Monday. I could use some help in making that number. I’m currently $100 short and I am extremely grateful for those who have already contributed.

If you can, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help would be greatly appreciated.

Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions and once again a big shout out to all of MNPS’s Reward Schools. Teachers, students, and administrators, y’all rock.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts

  1. it’s worth saying more about Tnready

    The data’s pretty mixed

    First schools aren’t teaching algebra 1 they are teaching Int Math so what is that in your graphics??? Charters?????????

    Second the pattern in 4-8 for math and reading doesn’t follow the patterns for map which should give us a lot of pause

    Next we can see that failing to count SS for many yrs leads to bad results when the test reboots. and look for some poor science results next year at this time for same reason

    Lastly it clear that the system has awesome ESs all over the geophysical map and the system is serious trouble in MS and in upper Int Maths. Can’t keep teachers!!

    Magnet situation must change and retention must be dealt with

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