“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”
“I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.”
When I first moved to Nashville in 1989, the city had its own television network. The Nashville Network was made up of programming that was intended to promote the Nashville way of life as epitomized by the city’s country music artists. One of those shows was called Nashville Now.
Nashville Now was a was a folksy variety show – in the vein of the Tonight Show – hosted by Ralph Emery. The show aired 5 nights a week and included a puppet named Shotgun Red, whose name says it all.
Fast forward to 2020 and the name has been resurrected but not the show. The name now belongs to a gaggle of Nashville business folks who like the proverbial camel, keep trying to insert their nose into Nashville’s public education tent. The name, just like those involved, is not new, nor is its objective. Many of the players have been working to privatize Nashville’s education system for years.
Reading the role call – a veritable who’s who of the city’s public education detractors – will bring back not so fond memories of previous incarnations like Project Renaissance. Once again Nashville’s wealthy business leaders are decrying Nashville schools as failing enterprises. Criticism that when placed in juxtaposition with Nashville’s current financial situation, beg the question of who’s truly failing? Perhaps if these well-meaning patrons were to place their focus on the city’s finances – an area where they might have some expertise – instead of continually trying to disrupt schools, we would be able to fully fund our school system.
I can’t help but chuckle as I peruse this list at the number of Williamson County residents peppered through it. I’m guessing that the participation bar was that you must drive through Nashville at least once a week.
At the root of the new organization is the omnipresent non-profit run by Joe Scarlet and his daughter Tara – the Scarlet Foundation. Joe has been trying to exert influence over Nashville’s public schools for at least a decade. Initially, he tried to characterize the district by recruiting as many potential charter school suitors as possible. When Shawn Joseph – shocked his name isn’t on here – was appointed as Director of Schools, Scarlet quickly became his confidant. Joseph loved money and Scarlet has plenty, leading him to often refer to Scarlet as a mentor.
This favored status would lead most reasonable people to ask the question, if you were a mentor to the last director then why are our schools supposedly in such dire straits?
One only needs to take a gander at the NashvilleNOW website to gain an understanding of what this is all about. Among their stated goals is a school board that is not, dysfunctional. A statement that seems to ignore the fact that the current board under Anna Shepherd’s leadership is working together better than ever. But when you’ve pushed a narrative for years, it’s hard to give up the ghost.
I suspect that in this case, dysfunctional translates into a board that “doesn’t do our bidding.”
School board elections are next August with 5 seats being up for grabs. It’s not a stretch to think that the timing of this organization’s formation is meant to coincide with the pending beginning of the campaign season. Most everybody on this list has written a check in order to try and defeat board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge and I’m sure their pens are poised to try it again despite disastrous results during the last two election cycles. Hell, they couldn’t even defeat Will Pinkston.
Expect to see some candidates announced soon that will benefit from the generosity of the city’s wealthy businessmen. It’s not like the Scarlett Foundation hasn’t played this game before.
I don’t want to write business involvement in schools off as being on wholesale bad or unwelcome. The involvement of local businesses in public schools is not just desirable, but I would argue essential. Besides being a needed provider of resources, the business community is uniquely positioned to offer vital life experiences to students. A true partnership between the schools and the business community could be beneficial to all.
The keyword is a partnership, which means both sides have equal input. That doesn’t mean the formation of an organization that will attempt to shape schools in their desired image. It doesn’t mean business taking on a patriarchal role. Unfortunately, history indicates that this is exactly what NashvilleNow will attempt to do.
What transpires fairly regularly for me, is that I’ll be flipping through social media when I come across a post on education that I find mildly irritating. I’ll throw a response out, not intending to get too deep into the weeds on the subject. The original writer, usually a local politician will respond and that response, along with ensuing responses will only serve to incense me. Such was the case yesterday.
Eastside councilman Brett Withers posted on Twitter that at the behest of a District 5 constituent he had solicited fellow board members Erin Evans, Tonya Hancock, and Zulfat Suara in drafting a non-binding resolution recognizing 2020 as the year of STEM/STEAM and to look for kick-off in January. A kick-off of what in January I have no idea, but a kick-off was coming.
It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of STEM/STEAM. In my eyes, it’s a narrow curriculum whose prescriptions for teachers is simply best practice for all teachers. Good STEM/STEAM teaching to me just looks like good teaching period.
Furthermore, I think its a curriculum cooked up by the tech industry in response to a phony crisis. It’s been argued by the tech industry that there are not enough skilled applicants to fill positions in STEAM-related fields and so we must increase school participation. But I believe that what they really mean is that there are not enough skilled applicants to fill the openings at the desired pay level, Flood the market lower the value of the required skills.
A few years ago the Arts were introduced into the equation thus making the acronym STEAM. This was an effort to add some candy flavoring to the medicine because everybody likes the Arts. It troubles me that STEAM programming justifies the importance of the arts through their relationship to the sciences. I’m a huge proponent of the arts education but feel strongly that arts education should stand on its own intrinsic merit not how it supports science.
My criticism is not meant to take anything away from some of the wonderful work being done in classrooms by teachers employing a STEAM program. A program that many professional educators favor. I would argue though that the strong work is due more to the strength of the teacher than it is the program. I would also argue that there are teachers doing exceptional work across the district utilizing various programs. So why not celebrate the teacher instead of the program?
Nashville, like much of the country, is experiencing huge issues in the area of teacher retention. An issue that is directly traceable back to us, the public and a perceived lack of respect. As an article in the Bitter Southerner points out,
“Teachers are not burning out. They’re being burned. Teachers are not quitting the profession because they don’t love teaching. They quit because their profession is being devalued by exploitative public policies and a lack of fundamental investment — both monetary and societal. Teachers are not failing. The public is. We are.”
My argument with the council folks, all public education supporters, is that instead of focusing on a narrow program, why not make 2020 the year of the teacher? Why not draft a resolution that honors the city’s teachers. We make copies and hang them in every school. It may not solve the issue of teacher attrition, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt it.
Apparently, it wasn’t a winning argument, because none embraced the idea. Instead, they all danced around the idea, attempting to point out that celebrating STEAM did celebrate teachers because they were in the room when the magic was happening. In the end, Wither’s told me to relax.
Yea, not going to happen.
Earlier in the week, I wrote about MNPS school board member Christiane Buggs public support of the interim director of schools Dr. Battle for the permanent position via social media. Through her actions, Buggs has served to corrupt the director search before it has a chance to even start. We can debate whether this corruption is intentional or not, but I think there is one point that needs to be reiterated.
Through her actions, Buggs has jeopardized the success of Dr. Battle.
Dr. Battle’s authority as director of schools will not be derived from the board naming her permanent director. It will come about through the application process. It will come about because the board executed a complete and equitable search, and against the best candidates Dr. Battle emerged as the primary choice. A choice that recognizes her as the clear best choice.
Should she win the position, any hint of impropriety will only lend credence to the narrative that Dr. Battle did not earn the job, but rather that she was given it. A narrative that will fuel talk that she is not the best candidate and will only serve to undercut her as she leads the district.
If Alabama plays LSU and LSU is missing most of its best players due to Alabama locking them out of the stadium, Alabama will never be looked upon as the true champion. It’s only when both teams are given the opportunity to put forth their best effort against the other’s best players, does a true champion emerge. It’s no different from the director’s search.
Hopefully, Bugg’s actions were just a foolish indiscretion and won’t be repeated.
READING WARS CONTINUE UNABATED
You got to love this new article by Emily Hanford in the NY Times. In case you are not familiar with Hanford, she’s the writer who almost singly handily has re-ignited the reading wars with her advocacy for the science of reading. In her latest, she writes about the incredible success of Mississippi when it comes to raising literacy scores on the PISA test,
“What’s up in Mississippi? There’s no way to know for sure what causes increases in test scores, but Mississippi has been doing something notable: making sure all of its teachers understand the science of reading.”
Interestingly enough in her latest, Hanford backs off on her focus on previous phonetics – only mentioning the word once. She also shares a formula for “reading comprehension”, that sounds an awful lot like “Balanced Literacy” – decoding ability x language comprehension = reading comprehension.
In her celebration of the great gains made by Mississippi, there is one thing she doesn’t mention, the rate of third-grade retention by Mississippi. You see the state has a policy that states all third-graders must be approaching proficiency on the state tests or else they do not proceed to fourth-grade. Last year that translated to several thousand kids being held back. I would think that would impact test results.
Yesterday educational writer Peter Greene released another piece on the fallacy of the reading wars,
“The current push for the “Science of Reading” insists that the science is settled. It isn’t (you can read the article, but don’t skip the comments). Even if the “brain science” were completely settled, so what? We know a lot of science about love and relationships, but that doesn’t mean you can use it to scientifically make someone become the love of your life. There’s a limit to how much you can program people like computers. Why this current crop of agenda-driven journalists and amateur reading analysts is so devoted to phonics and phonics only is a mystery (well, partly– some folks depend on this stuff to make a living). What’s also striking is how unscientifically the science argument is often made– this article follows the usual pattern, built around a heart-tugging anecdote and vague on specifics.”
Greene, as always get’s to the meat of the matter.
“The reading wars, at their worst, are always the same thing. A bunch of chefs standing in a kitchen, trying to make a salad, with a couple of them insisting “It has to be all lettuce and nothing but lettuce” and another arguing, “No, it has to be all cucumber slices, and they have to be sliced exactly like this.” Also, one of them will turn out to not actually be a chef at all– just someone who read a book about vegetables.”
I urge you to read Green’s whole piece.
When was the last time you heard anyone say anything positive about MNPS’s discipline policy? When was the last time you heard an MNPS school board conversation around the district’s discipline policy? Just asking for a friend.
Speaking of discipline issues, apparently, Memphis’s Director of Schools Joris Ray has some unique ideas about school discipline. To reduce the chance of student arrests or contact with the juvenile court, Ray says he wants to create a “peace force” of armed district officers to replace sheriff’s deputies in schools. I’m assuming the idea is to create an independent police force much like the ones already employed by colleges. An interesting idea, but one that may prove difficult to implement.
The TNEd Report has an interesting piece out today in which Andy Spears discusses Tennessee having one of the lowest investments in the nation when it comes to rural schools. It’s probably not coincidental that I continually hear that the primary focus for the governor this legislative session when it comes to education, will be around rural schools. Fair enough, but please don’t do it at the expense of urban school districts. In other words…fix the BEP.
In the “it’d be funny if it wasn’t so serious” category, Tennessee government officials still don’t know if voucher payments will be treated as taxable income. With the program expecting to come online next fall, confusion still reigns, “We simply do not know at this point,” said Sharmila Mann, the commission’s policy director. Every day brings new revelations that bring new concerns.
Collaborative Conferencing Update: 1,700 votes have been cast. That means 1,300 more are needed!! Please contact your colleagues to make sure they vote!! https://sharepoint.mnps.org/…/CollabConfSurve…/overview.aspx
Pearl-Cohn High School held a celebratory send-off for its Firebirds football team yesterday as they head to the State Championship game tomorrow!
Do you see Coach Tony Brunetti in there in the middle of the team? Not only is he leading the Firebirds to the State Championship but he is one of nine Tennessee coaches in the running for Tennessee Titans Coach of the Year. ��The award honors head coaches in Tennessee who “continuously demonstrate excellence in their profession, dedication to their football programs and focus on the safety and character of their players.”
The winner will be announced following the 2019 BlueCross Bowl state championship games. The winner will also earn a $2,000 grant for their school’s football program, an all-expense-paid trip to the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl in Orlando and the will automatically be in the running for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year award. Congratulations Coach Brunetti on being selected as a finalist for this award. Let’s go get them tonight Firebirds!
Psssttt….MNPS leadership…just a note…CYA only works when people don’t recognize that you are just CYAing…last week’s AP training…yea, they saw through it…just saying.
The rumor mill keeps saying that MNPS executive officer of organizational development Sonia Stewart is among the front runners for the job of education advisor with Mayor Cooper’s office. There is no shortage of people who would welcome her selection.
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