SHORT ON DAYS, BUT NOT ON NEWS

“Not being heard is no reason for silence.”
Hugo, Victor, Les Misérables

“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”
Michelle Obama, Becoming

This may have been a short week – due to the Labor Day holiday – but there sure was a lot packed into it. So much so, that it’s hard to know where to begin. Might as well follow the normal progression, start at the top and work our way down.

TNDOE BLUES

There is an interesting dichotomy currently transpiring with the TNDOE. Talk to people doing business with them and you’ll get reports of things being in a state of disarray. They describe a department plagued by mass defections and a lack of direction. Stories run the gamut from describing personal shortcomings to the hiring of a largely young and inexperienced staff, all painting a picture of a rapidly widening rift between Governor Lee and new Education Commissioner Peggy Schwinn.

But to hear it from people still working at the TNDOE, things are going amazingly well. Sure, everyone is having to double up on responsibilities because there has been some turnover, but other than that, things couldn’t be going better. Moral is high and everyone is focused on the work.

Somewhere between the two narratives is where the truth likely resides. What I do find interesting is the lack of scrutiny that the department has faced since Schwinn’s arrival. If you’ll remember previous Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s tenure, it seemed like every move she made was made under a microscope. For whatever reason, Schwinn hasn’t had to endure that kind of attention as of yet. That may be getting ready to change.

There were two important meetings scheduled for today, The first was the Textbook Commission Meeting at 10 AM. Based on the agenda, it looked like they were also going to discuss Instructional materials. This year the commission is working on the adoption of an updated list of approved textbooks and materials for ELA instruction. The expectation is that Tennessee school districts will only utilize materials included on this list.

This is a huge deal and word on the street was that the commissioner was not pleased with either the process or the final list compiled. There may be some truth to that rumor because today’s meeting was canceled upon inception. It’s worth noting that this meeting was scheduled without the required 15-day notice. No reason for the cancelation was given and the chair reserved the right to call a special meeting on September 20th.

The second meeting was the SBE Testing and Accountability Subcommittee Conference Call. The focus of this meeting was the move by the state to utilizing letter accountability grades for schools and districts. Apparently, somebody wasn’t happy with the direction things were heading here either. Late yesterday the following message appeared on the website.

The meeting of the State Board of Education Testing and Accountability Subcommittee scheduled for Friday, September 6th is postponed at the direction of the Board Chairman and at the request of the Chairmen of the Standing Committees on Education of the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives. Please check back for updates on our schedule.

Read that statement again. This is an unprecedented move in my memory. Word on the street is that several legislators are not happy with the policy as proposed. As a result, things are being pulled back and revamped. What needs to happen is the whole plan needs to be scrapped. There is absolutely no evidence that shows assigning school letter grades positively impacts student outcomes.

You’ll notice the name Michael Hardy on the slide presentation. Hardy comes to Tennessee via the Texas Department of education and is a former administrator with IDEA Charter Schools. One only needs to compare Texas’s controversial plan with the proposed TN plan to see the roots of the proposed policy.

Based on today’s events, I would say there is more than a little smoke around the TNDOE. Perhaps it’s time for Tennessee news organizations to stop being hypnotized by the state’s public information officer Jennifer Johnson and start asking some real questions. It’s clear that there are a lot of things that are not working in education policy in Tennessee – BEP, Kindergarten Portfolio, testing, teacher satisfaction, turnaround school models.

Despite mounting evidence that when it comes to education policy Tennessee is heading in the wrong direction, SCORE and the TNDOE continue to tout Tennessee as the fastest rising state in the country. They cling to 2011 NAEP results like Vol’s fans cling to a National Championship win from over two decades ago. Neither should lay claim to past glories as being reflective of today’s status. If either wants to become relevant again they need to stop resting on past laurels that at best serve as outliers, and start doing the heavy lifting.

MAYORAL BLUES

Many predicted that the mayoral run-off election would turn ugly for current mayor David Briley, but I’m not sure they thought it would plunge to current depths. This week Briley continued to behave in the manner of a man who gives lip service to wanting a job while his actions continually send a different message.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a bipartisan effort to secure a much needed high school for the Hillwood cluster. The current structure is in severe disrepair and students desperately need the new facility. After an incredible amount of work, the project was approved and funds have been dedicated,

On Tuesday at a mayoral forum, Briley stated that perhaps the Bellevue area would have to wait while other needs were addressed. The reaction from Bellevue’s elected officials and community was fast and furious. Now Briley can write off one more part of town.

Last night the parent organization P.R.O.P.E.L held their mayoral forum. Because of some of its founder’s history, the organization gets lumped in as a charter advocacy group. I think that’s a simplistic view and in talking to members, I believe their firs,t and primary goal, is increased parental involvement. Briley didn’t get that memo.

When asked for his thoughts on the expansion of high performing charters, he answered that he felt charter schools were leading the way in high performance and that he considered them a significant component of the overall solution. He also advocated that district schools emulate the charter model of providing more autonomy. Just to make sure the pandering went full circle he also championed a property tax increase and increased pay for teachers.

I call this pandering because I’ve known Briley for well over a decade and I’ve never known him to be anything less than critical in regard to charter schools. Suddenly now that he’s getting his political ass handed to him, he thinks they play a significant role in improving student outcomes. Charter schools have never polled well with the general population, so I do see how he perceives this stance as a path to victory.

Meanwhile, instead of chasing voters off, challenger John Cooper was out picking up more endorsements. The Tennessee Tribune, a newspaper that serves Nashville’s African-American community gave him their endorsement. As did the International Alliance of Theater Stage Employees. Congratulations Mr. Cooper.

Financial disclosures were released this morning. Cooper reports raising $978K (including a $350K loan) and spending $1.06M and has $48,466 on hand. Briley raised $352K, spent $464K and has about $87K on hand. You draw your own conclusions. Next Thursday this all comes to a head.

INQUIRY CYCLE

Nashville is now the proud home of 32 state-designated Reward Schools. An accomplishment that was facilitated by the support executive principals provided to building principals. Based on that success you would think that we take the existing work and build upon it. Nope, MNPS leadership has a new plan centered around the inquiry cycle. One without a proven track record and one that will limit the amount of personal support executive principals will be able to provide to their school.

Keep in mind that MNPS has over 25 new principals this year. Because of the focus on the inquiry cycle and the increased number of schools each executive principal handles due to budget cuts, they’ll be able to visit schools independent of IC sessions about once every 6 weeks. That’s not a recipe for increased success.

This is also not a new concept. Former CIO Jay Steele utilized a similar model. However, he didn’t require mass training and a highly paid specialist in order to implement.

Starting this week, training sessions on the inquiry cycle were held at individual schools across the district. The sessions were four hours in duration with participants being highly discouraged to leave the room during that time. A social media picture from Overton HS showed over 25 administrators in the training. 25 administrators whose services apparently were not required the Wednesday after a 4 day holiday during the second month of school.

What did they do for 4 hours? A large chunk of time was spent having educators evaluate data – that should already be familiar with – to identify 1 standard for 1 grade to serve as a focus for that school to work on for the entire year. Never mind that it is now September and the data being analyzed is 4 months old. This all reeks of the old-tutoring-of-the-bubble-kids strategy.

In case you are not familiar, there is a strategy where you provide tutoring for kids but you focus on the so-called “bubble-kids” – those being the ones right on the peripheral of scoring on-track. The reason being, that with a tweek or two they could easily increase their score which in turn would reflect better on the school/district. The same would seem to hold true if you could get enough kids to improve on one standard.

In of its self, the inquiry cycle is a good practice. But it is a simple one. One that shouldn’t be this disruptive. Next week there are 12 sessions scheduled.

I would question that if there are principals who are not already familiar with it, should they be principals. Furthermore, if they can’t pick it up rather quickly, maybe they shouldn’t be the head of a school. I would also argue that at a time when the district is suffering a chronic teacher shortage, a dysfunctional discipline policy, a plethora of problems that need addressing from the past administration, perhaps this is not the right focal point for right now.

Exacerbating the issue is who’s heading the initiative,  Karen Desouza-Gallman. Word on the street is that Ms. Gallman is a close friend of Dr. Battles. Many predicted she would be awarded a supervisory position and increased compensation by Dr. Battle. A prediction that has come true. Gallman now has a salary of $143K to oversee the implementation of the inquiry cycle. A move that is seen by many as a continuation of Dr. Joseph’s practice of taking care of friends.

Whether that is perception or reality is arguable. What is not arguable is that at a time when Battle is proclaiming a need to clean up our house, she’s leaving one room untouched and actually allowing it to do further damage. That’s not a winning strategy.

QUICK HITS

Remember that time at the end of last year when MNPS administration said that they’d heard teachers loud and clear, they wanted fewer meetings? Raise your hand if you are a teacher and you’ve seen fewer meetings this year? Yea…I thought so.

Positive news continues to come from new MNEA leadership. This week they announced that dues payments through payroll deduction have been spread out from 14 to 20 payments in order to reduce the amount taken out of every check from $49.46 to $34.63. That is good news and I urge you to take advantage of the change so they can continue to spread the good news.

Tuesday, September 10th, is an MNPS School Board meeting. A look at the agenda indicates that it will be a quick one, albeit an important one. The new chair and vice-chair will be elected. Will the Briley supporting Christiane Buggs and Gini Pupo-Walker become the new leadership or will a challenger emerge? We’ll see on Tuesday.

What happens if during the next legislative session vouchers and the A-F grading system get repealed, the inequities in the BEP get addressed, new Dyslexia legislation gets passed, and teachers get a raise? All or some of it have a realistic chance of happening. Maybe then we could finally let go of the 2011 NAEP results.

Welcome back to dyslexia advocate and all-round superwoman Anna Thorson.  Thorson has had 14 kidney surgeries in the last 6 months, but she’s now diving back into work. Hers is a voice that is needed in the conversation. Welcome back.

College and Career Expo is from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9 at TSU’s Gentry Center. More than 200 college, career, and military representatives will offer information on admission, financial aid, college life, career paths and more.

Come on out Overton fans and cheer on the Bobcats tomorrow night at HOME against Smyrna High. Our Band marches in at 6:40 P.M. and the game starts at 7:00!
We need you there! Students get in for $5.00 with their Overton ID, and regular admission is only $7.00! I like pushing Overton games because they are a lot of fun and it gives me a good reason to share the incredible photos of Teri Lampley Watson.

The Reading Wars have once again ignited. Leave it to professional educator Peter Greene, to sum up, my feelings on the subject. If you read nothing else, read his sumation.

Also, while we’re on the subject of stupid– it’s really hard to get somebody to read, let alone do it in a way that improves their ability, if they are exposed to reading via nothing but painful, soul-crushing, tedious, terrible drudgerious exercises. If you teach them to hate reading, it will be that much harder for them to get better at it, let alone achieve the exalted Life Long Learner status. However, it is nearly impossible to get somebody to love reading if they suck at it. Nobody loves doing things they do poorly, which means that poor readers will have to be coaxed, cajoled, bribed, pushed, encouraged, supported and even dragged through the valley of suckitude before they can learn to love reading (which means what, really? I love reading history and biography, used to love reading SF, and I hate reading technical manuals and bad pop novels). You can say that the love of reading is your instructional goal, but the pathway to that is through getting better at the skills involved.– which will only be fruitful if that bettering instruction isn’t terrible and awful and completely dismissive of the student’s individual personality, skills, determination, and interests. So, no, you can’t separate these two things.

Likewise, what classroom observations and research have shown time after time is that actual teachers who are actually effective teaching reading are doing some combination of a whole bunch of things. We can give students a variety of tools, and we can give them a setting that fosters growth in the use of those tools, and we can prod and encourage and provide a safe setting for the harnessing of those reading tools to the deeper intellectual tools of analysis and thinking, but as soon as we start approaching students as if they’re machines in which every time press Lever X we get Result Y then we are going to accomplish less than we could have. They need the tools to break down the pieces, and they need the tools to see in those pieces a larger, richer pattern of meaning.

PS. Starting them younger and younger will do more harm than good.

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.

A huge shout out to all of you who lent your financial support this past month. I am eternally grateful for your generosity.

The official begging is over, but you can still 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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3 thoughts

  1. A few things

    HR is beyond beyond. The time scale for hiring has never been early enough save for maybe one year in the last ten. We get the bottom of the bottom even when our salary isn’t half bad by comparison

    HR and sp educ combined will spend what percent of their budgets on lawsuit settlements this year? You tell me. It’s not a flattering number I can say that

    Battle needs to hear clearly and unfiltered from her principals some constructive criticism before her time just ticks away. I think she is open to that but does she know how to pivot? The leadership seminar stuff they are and have been getting for the last few years is a big waste of time. Try and find a principal or AP that says otherwise. You can’t find any!

  2. I forgot to mention the number of bus issues and the lack of materials to properly start the year have been bad for morale. I feel like the message is we just can’t have nice things

  3. The inquiry cycle is a waste of time. Our school has already analyzed data and determined our instructional focus for the year, based on that data, along with experienced leadership, knowledge of our teachers, and input from those who know our school. Now we’re told that our focus will be determined by this inquiry cycle — a bunch of people who will be observing one grade level for one morning will help us figure out what our focus should REALLY be. When will the district stop micro-managing what is working well and start focusing on true district needs? Can we come and do an “inquiry cycle” with THEM? Maybe we could help them figure some stuff out . . .

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