“Science, my boy, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.”
“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”
I feel like I’ve been pretty clear in my warnings over the years about teacher attrition and MNPS, both through my words and the words of others. After all, this is not a new issue, but rather one that started small and like the proverbial snowball rolling downhill has reached critical mass. The signs have been there for years, but leadership has continually dismissed those signs and focused elsewhere.
In 6 years of covering education issues, I never seen teacher attrition this high. Everyday I hear from schools who are searching for teachers or teachers who’ve thrown in the towel. Both the refrain and the chorus are oft repeated, with “great regret” and “I’m done”.
MNPS leadership – whether it be any one of the last three administrations – remind me of the proverbial cheating spouse who thinks it’s enough to just owe up to their mistake and send flowers, without allowing time to rebuild trust or even alter behavior. They are convinced that the others love is so great they’ll never leave. They fail to understand the depth of their spouses distrust and dissappointment. Twisting things around to a point where they feel they are the wronged party and the disillusioned spouse is just not being fair.
How many focus groups have MNPS conducted over the last decade? How many surveys – they are pushing one right now? There are a plethora of teacher cabinets that have been assembled throughout the city and more than one study has been conducted in an effort to get a greater understanding of what teachers want, yet the level of teacher dissatisfaction continues to grow unabated with few solutions proposed by leadership.
I’ve talked to enough teachers and watched this show for long enough that I feel qualified to boil it all down for you, the bottom line is – leadership – y’all don’t know how to treat people. Sorry, if that hurts anybody’s feelings, but that’s the god’s honest truth of it. Like the philandering husband, you profess your love, you vow to do better, and then you continue doing the same old same old. The pretty words you mouth in public don’t match the moves you make in private. Now teachers are meeting en mass with the divorce lawyer and MNPS is sitting at the bar with a scotch clueless about what’s gone wrong.
I can not be anymore blunt about the current state of affairs when it comes to teachers, MNPS is in crisis mode. There are over 150 classrooms without certified teachers and teachers are leaving classrooms daily at an alarming rate. But all you hear talk about is finding more teachers.
Alternative licensing, pseudo – employment firms like TFA, partnerships with colleges, preparing teachers better, are all kicked around and put forth as solutions to the shortage of teachers. All those are wonderful ideas, but what ensures that those teachers secured through these strategies won’t emulate current teachers and follow them right out the back door as fast as you usher them through the front door?
Time after time after time, the three main elements of teacher dissatisfaction have been identified as school culture, discipline, and pay. Teacher’s also cited a perceived lack of respect as a major factor in job dissatisfaction. Let me explain this, publically declaring your love and respect for teachers is undercut when your actions say otherwise.
When employee relations fail to follow up with a teacher in a timely manner, that undercuts your message of respectr. When meetings are continually scheduled before and after school – when teachers are technically off the clock – that undercuts your message of respectr. Repeatedly requiring teachers to engage in PD to learn new strategies because the district never sticks with anything for an extended period undercuts your message of respect. Repeatedly telling teachers they’ll have to wait for earned increases in compensation, undercuts your message of respect. Enacting policy without taking consideration for the actual impact it will have on teachers and their classrooms undercut your message of respect.
At a time when the district is hemorrhaging teachers, leadership deems it prudent to create a new initiative – overseen by a newly created six-figure salaried position – that puts even more scrutiny on teachers and fosters even more distrust between them and central office with no explanation on possible benefits. It’s like the aforementioned spouse who focuses only on their healing with little regard for the wronged party’s healing needs. Currently I’m getting reports from multiple sources that the requirements of the inquiry cycle are now negatively impacting the scheduling of IEP meetings. Not only does that not create message of respect, it’s inexcusable because it hurts kids.
Due to the number of classrooms that don’t have qualified teachers, teacher retention should be the singular focus of the district at this juncture. If we don’t have enough teacher’s nothing else matters. We can capture all the data imaginable through the inquiry cycle but there is not a damn thing that can be done with it unless we have enough teachers. We can court all the community partners imaginable, without enough teachers, those partnerships are ineffective.
I really thought that by this point in the game we understood that teacher issues are student issues. But apparently not, so let me reiterate, the number one thing that can be done to facilitate student success is to put them in front of a quality teacher. At this juncture, by any measure, MNPS is failing to do that and somebody needs to be held accountable for that continuous failure.
When it comes to education policy, expectations are a tricky thing. We have no problem holding kids accountable if they fail to meet our academic expectations despite being hungry, tired, or traumatized, but when it comes to administers failing to fully staff school we adopt a much more amiable disposition.
Right now some of you are probably saying, slow down Francis. This teacher attrition thing is a national issue. MNPS teachers now have a lot more options than they did previously and it’s hard to work against those surrounding counties. All that is true, but that doesn’t give an excuse for doing nothing.
Businesses that are known for the quality of their customer service often stress the importance of treating every single customer interaction as an opportunity to foster greater customer loyalty. In my opinion, MNPS needs to adopt a similar disposition when it comes to teachers. It should be stressed to every central office employee and every building leader the need to self reflect after an interaction on whether or not that interaction fostered teacher loyalty to the district. That may sound extreme to some, but extreme times demand extreme measures.
To give credit where credit is due, MNEA has made a substantial contribution to cultural improvement by securing pure planning days for teachers. Both October 18th and January 6th will be solely used for planning/records. The value of these days can not be understated. I promise you, the benefits derived from this change in policy will far outweigh any potential benefits that could be gleamed from using half the day for prescribed professional development. This a big win for MNEA.
To also give credit where due, Dr. Battle continues to look for resources to boost teacher compensation. I don’t question her commitment to teachers, that commitment just needs to flow down to the rest of the organization and it needs to do so quickly as the district now finds itself in crisis mode.
MY HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED
Last night Rocketship Academy appeared before the MNPS school board with an application for a new school. It was an application that MNPS’s charter school department had reviewed and reccomended approval. That recommendation was overruled and the board voted 7-1 to deny the application.
That denial vote came after an awkward moment where board member Gini Pupo-Walker made a motion to approve. A motion that was unable to even secure a second.
As a retired veteran of the charter school wars, I found the board alignment against approval very interesting. It’s something that would never have happened in the past. Is it good thing? I think it is if you like to paint with broad strokes, otherwise its mixed.
During discussion prior to the vote, Rocketship was criticized for its disciplinary policies, use of computers for instruction, and an overreliance on test scores to measure success. Playing devil’s advocate, Southeast Schools – where this Rocketship campus would have been located – are severely overcrowded. The district’s discipline policy is a dumpster fire and MNPS has been guilty of over-relying on digital instruction due to teacher attrition.
Despite that, the bottom line still remains that Nashville can not adequately fund two separate school systems. It is unsustainable.
This one will probably be appealed with the state as permitted by law, and perhaps another lawsuit against the state will be filed to go with ones already in the works over vouchers and BEP funding. I suspect this will also galvanize charter school supporters for the upcoming 2020 school board election, especially if the director of school position hasn’t been made pernament.
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE TNDOE
Things at the TNDOE continue to resemble a day time soap opera. Last week, Superintendent Peggy Schwinn agreed to slow down her reform train after getting her wrist slapped by Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Rep. Mark White of Memphis. Schwinn had proposed revising the school grading system – allowing schools to choose either growth or achievement as the evaluation method – when some superintendents and legislators balked.
Her plan, while short on details, seemed to indicate a lessening of reliance on the TVAAS scores. That certainly did not sit well with the accountability crowd and caused a mini – but well connected – uprising. Personally, I’d be very interested in hearing more about any plan that removed TVAAS from educator and school evaluations. I’d echo Scwinn’s words as quoted in Chalkbeat TN, the state’s grading formula “can’t be a black box of information” that teachers and leaders don’t understand.
In my estimation, the real issue here though is that Schwinn is following a path that is well worn by both her out-of-state predecessors at the TNDOE and MNPS. She’s arrived on the scene with the intention of implementing policy without securing allies. Both former State Superintendent Kevin Huffman and MNPS Superintendent Shawn Joseph could have warned her on the pitfalls of that strategy.
Last I checked the Vegas odds of Schwinn lasting as the state superintendent were running about 2-1. She’s been openly critical of Tennesse’s state policies, while many have noted that she is not as familiar with as them she is with Texas policy, her previous stop. The rumor mill has produced a narrative that she is already out looking for her next stop. Which shouldn’t be surprising in that Schwinn has never remained anywhere for an extended period of time.
Channel 5 News aired a story earlier in the week about Belmont University, over the objections from Edgehill neighbors, building an athletic building on MNPS property. Keep your eye on this one and remember this passage from the story,
“I’m aware that a few neighbors have some concerns, yes,” Jason Rogers, the Vice President of Administration and the Counsel for Belmont, acknowledged. But Rogers insists the project will be good not only for Belmont, but the community. He said Metro high school teams will be able to use the batting cages and the downstairs area will also be used by Metro after school programs as well as the Nashville RBI community baseball program.
Word on the street is former MNPS Superintendent of Schools Shawn Joseph’s new book, Finding the Joseph Within, will hit stores next month. Per Joseph the book will highlight the challenges that he’s endured personally and professionally as he’s sought to get things right for kids. Should prove interesting.
It is Community Achieves Coordinators Appreciation Week. Here is a photo of the folks who build community relationships and create volunteer opportunities in our schools. Learn how you can get involved: mnps.org/communityachie… Thank you, coordinators!
The Reading Wars have once again become inflamed and as a response, professional educator Peter Greene has written a new piece for Forbes Magazine. As Grenne observes, “The “war” framing can seem awfully overblown to actual classroom teachers. While reading warriors may frame the choices as “either-or,” actual classroom teachers more often think in terms of “how much of this gets used with how much of that.” Greene makes a whole lot more salient points and I encourage you to read his whole post.
I’ve long argued that in combatting achievement gaps we need to focus on the effects of poverty. A new study conducted by Stanford University would appear to support that view. They found that the gaps were “completely accounted for” by poverty, with students in high-poverty schools performing worse than those from schools with children from wealthier families.
“Racial segregation appears to be harmful because it concentrates minority students in high-poverty schools, which are, on average, less effective than lower-poverty schools,” concluded the paper by academics, led by Sean F. Reardon, professor of poverty and inequality in education and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. I urge you to read the whole study.
This is National Banned Book week and in that spirit I’d like to leave you with the words of professional educator Jared Amato,
“Reminder that by denying student choice, elimminating independent reading time, mandating scripted curriculum, and obsessing over Lexiles, schools and districts are esentially banning books. they just hope we don’t notice.”
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.
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