IS ANYONE LISTENING?

“We can’t all and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
A.A. Milne

“The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it”
― D.L. Moody

 

Anybody who has spent any amount of time being a parent has likely experienced the following scenario. Child comes shares a problem with you. You, sans thorough listening, leap to provide a possible solution. The child rejects the solution and expresses frustration because you failed to really listen and as a result, failed to provide a solution that aligns with their needs. You, in turn, become frustrated with the child, perhaps going as far as labeling them ungrateful. Nobody is happy and the problem persists.

This is how I perceive the Tennessean’s latest promotional stunt – Adopt a Teacher. They got a panel of teachers together and the teachers expressed to them frustrations about resources. Instead of realizing the depth of the issue, the Tennessean latched on to a strategy that would allow them to play the hero. They would run a promotion that would encourage readers to sign up as “classroom sponsors”.  A very noble endeavor, if not a very effective one.

Word has it that to date, less than 200 teachers have signed up to become potential sponsees. Are you shocked? You shouldn’t be. Let me explain.

First and foremost, the whole plan sends the wrong message about public education. Public Education is a public good, not another public charity. The distinction is very important. As MNEA head Amanda Kail  expressed so eloquently on a recent Facebook post,

While I really do appreciate people wanting to support teachers directly, and I know a lot of teachers are grateful for the support, there is something that doesn’t sit right with me about us being “adoptable”. We aren’t shelter pets. Public education is a public good that is the foundation of democracy, not a charity cause. I actually think there is a danger in the public thinking they can donate some school supplies and then not push our elected officials to fully fund our schools.

I couldn’t agree more.

In perusing the information provided by the Tennessean, I can’t really differentiate between this promotion and a DonorsChoose promotion, or even an Amazon Wish list – which many teachers already have. After some initial controversy, the district recently approved the use of DonorsChoose. But, I’m not sure that the Tennessean’s promotion adequately addresses the concerns raised by district leadership over teacher participation in crowdfunding. A category this promotion clearly falls into.

If the Tennessean was really looking for a way to get classrooms funded they would find a way to educate the public on the many ways that schools are underfunded. They would shine a light on a tax system that sends the majority of Nashville’s tax revenues to the state while using those revenues as an indicator that the city doesn’t require as much state funding.

Furthermore, they would fully vet the potential cost of new legislation on an already struggling school system. If the governor would fully fund the BEP than perhaps we wouldn’t need the public to sponsor classrooms. If we weren’t diverting money away from schools via charter schools, vouchers, and other private interests, classrooms wouldn’t need sponsors. If the paper didn’t constantly perpetuate the myth of a failing school system that has made no progress over the last 50 years, perhaps the funding for classrooms would be there.

A recent superintendent roundtable has produced a graphic that shows just how much progress public schools have made over the last 50 years. Only about 50% of young Americans had a high school diploma in 1970. The figure stands at nearly 90% today. Test results show that all major ethnic groups—African-American, Hispanic, and White— are now scoring higher on achievement tests of reading and mathematics at ages 9, 13, and 17 than they were in the early 1970s. Somehow those facts get lost in the wash.

I’d like to point out, nothing is free. Teachers have made it quite clear that the constant barrage of how they should teach, by people who’ve never been in the classroom, plays a large role in their dissatisfaction. Who’s to say that a classroom sponsor wouldn’t turn out to be just one more voice in that chorus? After all, that is one of the reasons that schools are funded by the government, to keep them responsive to the public as opposed to private interests.

Through the Red4 ED and various other forums over the past year, teachers have expressly shared what needs to be done in order to address funding inequities. If we really want to help, we’ll listen and consider their concerns. Yes, helping your local classroom out is greatly appreciated, but equal attention needs to be paid to making sure the roots of public education are also being adequately tended. That’s where the majority of work needs to be focused.

If the Tennessean truly wants to be a hero, how about doing more of what they were designed for, quality journalism.

CONSULTANT BLUES

Over the summer former Houston, San Diego, and Williamson County Schools Superintendent Terry Grier was hired to help coach current MNPS interim superintendent Dr. Adrienne Battle. It was a welcome move. The successful former superintendent has a lot to offer the relatively inexperienced Battle. Grier had been named a National Superintendent of the year multiple times.

Despite his high level of success though, Grier’s history wasn’t without controversy. Over the years he has been portrayed as gruff, dismissive of critics, and combative towards teacher’s unions. In Houston, he was accused of embracing Teach For America at the expense of veteran teachers. Based on recent social media posts it seems that despite mounting evidence in relation to TFA’s lack of effectiveness, Greer still supports the organization wholeheartedly.

That’s a little concerning considering how TFA has contributed to the devaluing of the teaching profession. Sure, some corp members have proven to be very good teachers. But that is the exception more than the rule with the majority of them leaving the classroom after only teaching for a couple of years.

Despite what TFA may say, 5 weeks is not enough time to adequately prepare a teacher to enter the classroom. As a result, the actual training of TFA teachers falls to current experienced teachers. Now that’s not unlike what’s required for other new teachers, except that the higher attrition rates associated with corp members leaving translates too often wasted efforts.

By perpetuating the myth that anyone can walk into the classroom and become a high-quality teacher, TFA has changed the narrative of teaching as a lifetime profession to one that is pursued until you move to your next endeavor. Which only serves to destabilize a profession where stability should be a primary concern.

The other major concern is that TFA takes a fee from contracting districts, those revenues are then turned around and utilized to fund politicians and legislation that further destabilizes public education.

All of the unintended consequences associated with TFA, could arguably be justified if they actually could provide the number of recruits needed by a large urban district. The fact is they can’t. Greer’s time with HISD was largely conducted during the last recession when college graduates had difficulty obtaining positions in their desired fields. TFA provided a way to earn income while awaiting the desired work.

Those circumstances no longer exist. An improved economy has led to fewer recruits for TFA. They struggle to meet quotas established by districts. This is one of the reason’s why in recent years they’ve evolved into more of a social justice organization.

In following Grier on social media, I’ve often wondered if he actually understands the importance of “culture”. The majority of his leadership was served at the beginning of the nearly completed decade, when “culture” was less emphasized. In this day and age, organizations have come to realize the importance of having a healthy culture and how it impacts outcomes.

A prevailing theme with MNPS in regard to it’s continued hemorrhaging of teachers is the lack of a healthy culture. As I’ve remarked in the past, it’s a theme that Dr. Battle seems to understand but arguably lacks either the skills, resources, or will to change the MNPS culture. She has repeatedly allowed those who undermine her message of teacher value to act with impunity and without recourse, despite her saying all the right things.

Anybody who thinks the issue of teacher retention and recruitment can be resolved without a change in culture is fooling themselves. Notice I listed retention first, despite the customary reversed order?

It’s because I believe that you can’t address teacher recruitment until you’ve addressed teacher retention. Otherwise, you are just trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it by turning up the faucet. So many intelligent people would recognize the futility of such a strategy, yet cling to the notion that you can recruit your way out of the current teacher crisis.

When was the last time you heard anyone propose a plan to retain teachers with 5 or more years of experience – the number of years most teachers cite as the benchmark for when they truly felt like effective teachers? Probably about the last time the building of a unicorn barn was publically discussed.

To her credit, Battle has differentiated herself from Grier by embracing the teachers union. Today she’ll be holding a public conversation with membership and she keeps in regular communication with union leaders. This is encouraging.

My hope is that Grier’s coaching involves giving Battle the skills to effectively lead while imparting few of his philosophies. There is no denying the success that Grier has had over the last 25 years in leading large urban public education districts. Eighty-two of the women and men that worked with him have gone on to become school superintendents. As such, he has a skill set that few possess. A skill set that could serve Battle well as she tries to instill her philosophy.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Congratulations to the Pearl Cohn HS football team. After their win this past weekend, the Firebirds are heading to the state championship game. the game will be in Cookeville and you can get your tickets at Pearl-Cohn or online before the gameIf you can’t get to the championship game you can still show support of Pearl Cohn by purchasing game tickets through @GoFanHS. A portion of playoff tickets goes directly to support the school.

REMINDER: Town Hall w/ Dr. Battle today from 5:00-6:30 at the MNEA offices. If you can’t get there at 5, come when you can!!  While the event is exclusively for members, nonmembers can join Monday night & receive a $50 rebate!

Tennessee has long relied on TVAAS data to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools.  They’ve done so despite mounting evidence of the unreliability of such a practice. TNEd Report’s Andy Spears dives in even deeper to the futility in a new piece – Growth Scores. definitely a worthy read.

Educator Peter Greene dives in even deeper when he illustrates in a recent piece how we continually fail to differentiate between correlation and causation,

Research shows that students who don’t reach a certain height by third grade will be short as adults. Therefore, we should keep them in third grade until they reach a certain height.

Research shows that if students use corrective lenses in third grade, they usually use them as adults. Therefore, no third graders will be allowed to use corrective lenses.

Research shows that students who have beaten up, ill-fitting shoes in third grade often are poor in high school. Therefore, we will buy all third graders a nice pair of shoes, ensuring that none of them will be poor when they are in high school

This failure to distinguish becomes even more concerning when taken in the context of the recently reignited Reading Wars. The whole article is worth reading, but here Greene reiterates the argument I’ve been making for years,

And it doesn’t appear to have put a lot of thought into the idea of “on grade level,” a construction that seems straightforward, but is not. Lots of folks have different ideas about what “reading on grade level means,’ and there are a wide variety of tools available for measuring the grade level of a piece of writing, and they all mostly disagree with each other when it comes to any one piece of writing. The functional definition of “on grade level” has huge implications for these sorts of policies. If, for instance, you get “grade level by looking at the bell curve of reading test results for all third graders, and you mark the top of the curve as “on grade level,” then voila!! Half of your third graders read below grade level. Or maybe you use a measure that a reading scientist cooked up in a lab, and you don’t really know what “on grade level” means.

Nor is reading ability a static state, a set of skills that transfer equally well in all situations. A student who loves baseball may be a great reader of a passage about baseball, and a terrible reader of a passage about economic policy in early Asia. Measures are further warped by the biases of the test designers. But a student who is good at interpreting marks on the page as sounds isn’t necessarily a good reader, just as a student who is good at making guesses about the passage based on pictures and hints without actually decoding any of the marks on the page– well, that child isn’t necessarily a good reader either.

All of which is to say that assessing literacy is really, really hard, and virtually every expert has an investment in one particular point of view, including the people whose point of view is “I would like to make a lot of money selling you reading stuff.”

It can’t be said enough in my opinion. Greene closes with an extremely important question,

Imagine your eight-year-old child is having trouble reading. Who do you call? A legislator? A consultant? Or do you get ahold of the actual teacher who is actually working with your child on a daily basis?

POLL RESULTS

Here’s a look at the weekend’s poll results.

The first question asked for your opinion on whether you would support a tax on marijuana sales going to after school programs. Most of you had no moral conundrum with the proposal. 48% of you answered, “Why not? Schools need funding.” Only 15% of you felt it was a terrible idea. Presently it’s just a hypothetical question but one I’m sure we’ll face in the next decade.

Here are the write-in votes,

Hell yes. 1
Every cent should go to schools and teachers. 1
Since we don’t have marijuana sales in TN, this is a moot question 1
Absolutely! 1
The taxes will never make it to the programs 1
Sure , tax staff on substances they use to train them and pay their salary. 1
I’d support it going to schools- not after school programs. 1
We still need to fund regular school hours 1
Why after school? Support underfunded schools!

Question number 2 asked, “Do you participate in Black Friday?” 64% of you indicated that you avoid it like the plague. 26% said they go out for a bit. Here are the write-in votes,

I’m a broke teacher. I work on BF. 1
No need. It’s all on line 1
No. 1
I shop online 1
NO, not ever!!! Gluttony at its finest. 1
Online only

The last question asked for your current preference in next year’s presidential race. The majority of you, 31% of you are still deciding. Surprisingly 24% of you answered Donald Trump. Predictably,  Warren and Biden led the rest of the field. It will be interesting to see how these numbers change over the coming year. Here are the write-ins,

Anyone but trump 2
Any responsible adult 1
shawn joseph 1
probably 3rd party 1
Anyone but Trump. 1
Anyone other than Trump 1
Biden – Booker, though I wish Ajamu Baraka would run w/ Biden 1
Mayor Pete now; whoev is leading the Dem ticket in November 1
The Democratic nominee 1
Anybody but Trump

That’s a wrap. 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. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do.

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 is always greatly appreciated.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on. I’d love the opportunity to share them.

 

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