“The shell must break before the bird can fly.”
“We are here on earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I do not know.”
2020 has wasted no time in getting rolling. This past week a several stories played out on the large stage with a trickle-down effect to the smaller stages. These were stories that brought welcome news.
The first transpired out of state, as long-time Louisiana School Superintendent John White finally brought his reign of ineptitude to a close. Some of you may not be familiar with White, but you should be.
White as Superintedent of Louisiana schools was also a founding member of an organization created by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called Chiefs for Change. The ranks of the Chiefs were drawn from the rolls of sitting state superintendents of schools. Originally they numbered around a dozen and together they were going to “fix” education through increased standards, increased standardized testing, and by putting those pesky teachers in their rightful place.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. It turns out the members of the Chief’s weren’t very adept at holding jobs or following laws, let alone implementing successful policy. Within a year, nearly half of them found themselves unemployed as superintendents and many of them were defending themselves against charges of unethical or illegal behavior. Not a very good look.
A quick review of White’s tenure reveals a nearly unrivaled level of incompetence. As superintendent, he was an architect behind the implementation and growth of the Recovery School District, the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum, and a designer of god awful teacher evaluation system. A strong supporter of Teach For America, White relied heavily on corp members to staff Louisiana Schools. Which didn’t work out either.
Early in his tenure, White testified before state legislators that experience was overated and tenure should almost never be granted. Louisiana would adhere to a merit pay system that would reward the best teachers and chase the lowest performers out of the system. Unfortunately, that’s not quite what happened. And today Louisiana – like many states – faces a growing teacher shortage.
The reality is that Louisiana is now producing student outcomes that are among the lowest in the country. Louisiana is now 49th out of the 50 states in average ACT scores, 47th out of 50 states in NAEP scores, and the gap between rich and poor students in Louisiana is now the widest ever in recent history. What supporters also don’t mention is that during his tenure, White lowered cut scores on several occasions in an effort to portray growth in student outcomes. That didn’t work out either.
My favorite part of the White story is that he’s actually been working without a contract for several years. As education writer Mercedes Schneider explains,
The complication was that in Louisiana, the governor submits her/his preference for state superintendent to BESE, and the board usually votes on the governor’s preference. However, the governor does not control the ability to terminate the state school superintendent. BESE does. And since 2015, BESE has lacked a majority wishing to oust White. BESE also lacked the supermajority (8 out of 11 votes) to issue White a new contract. So, BESE did not have the votes to renew White’s contract (though 7 out of 11 BESE members apparently wanted to), and the governor could not force a termination, which left Louisiana taxpayers continuing to foot White’s $275K salary for another four years as White became a month-to-month employee.
That insane, and speaks to the level of narcism that often inhabits the reform movement.
White’s departure is good news and signifies a continued swing of the pendulum away from policies championed by him and his peers.
As a side note, in order to be even considered semi-relevant White’s old cronies, the Chiefs For Change, had to open up their ranks to members drawn from every level of education leadership. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of Tennesseans who rushed at the opportunity to join an organization that is habitually wrong on education policy – Canice McQueen, Penny Schwinn, Nakita Edwards, along with Kevin Huffman are all affiliated.
Even the name itself is nonsensical. By now we should realize that change just for change’s sake, is not a healthy proposition.
I would take careful note of the who posts laudatory statements towards White on social media. Anybody who praises his accomplishments over the last 8 years is either not a friend of public education or is willfully ignorant.
ACHIEVEMENT SCHOOL DISTRICT BLUES
John White’s impact on Tennessee is mostly keenly felt through his exporting of Louisiana’s RSD. Back in 2005, the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans allowed for the creation of the Recovery School District. The plan was to use the natural disaster as cover for converting the majority of New Orlean’s public schools into charter schools.
It was a plan that initially appeared to be successful, but then people realized that the poorest of New Orlean’s families had left the city in the wake of the storm and were unable to return afterward. Those that came back had more economic means as did the additional families that relocated to the city. Since the new students had less financial instability, student outcomes were higher than in the past. Officials presented the data taken from two different groups of students as evidence of growth and improvement. It didn’t take long to see through that canard.
Per usual, the reform movement didn’t let facts stand in the way, and immediately began planning expansion. They thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could reproduce the RSD sans a natural disaster”. Tennessee with newly appointed State Superintendent Kevin Huffman seemed like a natural fit and walla…instant man-made disaster.
As Andy Spears has pointed out in a recent TNEd Report, there was no shortage of people who warned about the dangers of this plan, my self included. Over the years I and others have continued to write about the failure of the ASD, while its supporters continued attempts to try and hide the failings.
Every year it felt like we were inching closer to putting an end to the money pit that was not serving students or the families of Tennessee, yet somehow the ASD continued to plod on without lawmakers putting tax payers out of their misery. Apparently, though the clock has finally expired.
This week it was announced that all 30 schools in the turnaround district would return to their home district. But of course – in typical ASD fashion – there is no real plan of what that transition is actually going to look like. Superintendents in the impacted districts were not even forewarned of the pending transistion. It appears that very little thought has been put into the potential impact that will be felt by students, their families, and educators associated with the ASD.
The majority of schools in the district have been turned over to charter school operators. What if the home districts don’t feel inclined to accept the return of these schools as governed by a charter school operator. Both Nashville and Memphis have taken dramatic steps to curb the growth of charter schools in their districts, accepting these schools back as charter schools doesn’t necessarily fit into their vision. So are do these school further transition into traditional public schools?
What about the impact to accountability measurements of the home districts? All the schools in the ASD are underpermoring, so when those students are shifted to district responsibility it only stands to reason that district metrics will be negatively impacted. Will accomodations be made or will they be forced to bear the burden of state accountability expectations?
Word is that the charter school operators themselves are angry because they’ve invested all this money into establishing schools and have yet to reap reimbursement on that investment. They bristled when former ASD director Sharon Griffin tried to place additional restrictions on them, what makes anyone think they’ll welcome even more oversight from the local school districts? Why should they make further investments over the next 2 year when they possibly won’t be operating these schools after that?
Tennessee State House Education Chair Mark White seems intent on demonstrating that we’ve learned absolutely nothing from this failed experiment. He’s proposing that all the charter schools in the ASD be placed under the authority of the newly created State Charter Authority. An entity that won’t be up and running until next year.
It’s a suggestion born of a strategy that is popular with the reform movement – change the name, not the policy. After all it worked when they renamed vouchers Education Savings Accounts, right?
In my opinion White tips his hand on his priorities,
“I don’t think it’s in our best interest to return these schools to the school districts given all the effort we’ve put into the charter movement in Tennessee since 2002,” White said after speaking with Schwinn.
Yep, all the effort he’s put into the “charter movment”. Not the improving education movement, the charter movement. An important distinction.
Lost in all the hub bub is one really important ingredient, the students and their families that have been enrolled in the ASD over the past decade. Is anybody going to apologize for robbing them of their educational experiences for the last several years? It’s been clear for at minimum 8 years that this strategy was not in the best interests of kids, yet nobody took corrective action. Aren’t the ASD families owed something for that lack of action? To fail to acknowledge those families is border line criminal and full on immoral.
What about the current students enrolled in ASD schools? MNPS board member Gini Pupo-Walker raises a very salient point, “Children are sitting in those schools right now, and every day is important to their future. Are we still showing a sense of urgency around improving those learning environments?”
Eve Carney, the department’s chief districts and schools officer, counters by saying, “It will remain the state’s most intensive intervention. When you’ve been doing something over a long period of time, there are lots of good things that we’ve learned and we’ll capitalize on those.”
It’s a statement that if it wasn’t so disturbing it would be considered comical.
When you’ve been doing something for a long there is a body of evidence that is built up. There is nothing in the ASD’s body of work that indicates any truth in Carney’s statement. In fact I would counter that Carney’s staement actually allignes with the achievement district’s past actions – the offering of a lot of platitudes and promises while failing to deliver on either.
It’s business as usual for the ASD, but now finnally it’s coming to closing time.
IN HINDSIGHT IT”S LOOKING MUCH CLEARER THESE DAYS
This was not a good week for former MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph’s legacy. If you’ll remember that the board let Dr. Joseph quit instead of terminating him back in the spring. Dr. Joseph’s arguement was that he and the board had a differing vision. Certain retired school board members went as far as to add racial implications to the criticism of Dr. Joseph. The argument was put forth that he had done nothing wrong and all criticism of him was a personal attack.
““Dr. Joseph is ready to go and leave what amounts to hostile working conditions so this a voluntary separation conversation. This is not a firing,” said Will Pinkston (District 7). Board Chair Sharon Gentry agreed.”
It’s a narrative that took a bit of a hit this week. First, Channel 5 reported that a settlement had been reached pending board approval in the wrongful termination and sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former district administrator Vanessa Garcia. The tentative settlement was spurred by a ruling less than 3 weeks ago by U.S. District Judge William L. Campbell Jr. that there was sufficient evidence of wrong doing in which to proceed to trial.
Later this week, I discovered that Dr. Joseph’s educator license had been surrendered. A call to the Tennessee board of education confirmed that he had surrendered the license in December and there was contigency placed on it that his license couldn’t be reinstated until after 15 months. Which indicates that the state board had likely found enough evidence to support charges that would translate to a one year suspension.
When the charges, and possible suspension, was first announced, Joseph promised to, vigourously defend his office against any allegations of wrong doing. As part of his severence package the board awarded him up to 10k in order to defend his educator’s license against pending charges. No word on if any, or all of that allotted money has been spent.
I suspect that as we continue to move further and further away from Dr. Joseph’s tenure we’ll continue to see justification for his removal that has nothing to do with race or personality. Just the good old fashion failure to execute the duties of the office.
Legislative season is just about upon us. Rumors continue to swirl that this years session will not include any large scale education pieces. The only area that leadership is indicating that it will pusue new legislation is in regard to the “Science of Reading”. Once again we are going down the path that the says the secret to student success is tied to one curriculum. It’s almost like we didn’t learn a damn thing from Common Core.
I spent this morning at the MNPS board of education retreat. Part of the time I was there was spent listening to interim-director Dr. Adrienne Battle present on the district’s strategic objectives. I must say that I was impressed by the change in tenor of the meeting I observed. Throughout, Dr. Battle was poised and willing to engage board members in open dialog. Unlike previous administrations, it was clear that she had done her homework.
After lunch the board asked Battle and the staff to leave the room while Dr. Tammy Grissom of TSBA updated the board on the upcoming director search. On Tuesday the board will approve the search criteria, immediately following that approval TSBA will post the position and reach out to potential candidates. They are scheduled to bring the finalist to the board on February 25th.
TSBA has promised to bring no more than 5 finalists though Grissom advised the board that if she didn’t have 5 legimate finalists she would not be bringing 5 names. I’ve got a little trepidation here.
In my opinion there should be a minimum number of candidates also set in order to avoid an incident like what happen in the recent Denver superintendent search. In Denver’s recent search only one finalist was brought forth by the search team – Susan Cordova who at the time was the interim director.
it was a result that angered many in the Denver community and arguablly still undermines Cordova’s authority to date. A similar outcome in Nashville would have a dissasterous effect, especially in light of how hard the school board has worked to ensure a fair and equitable search. On that creates a united front behind whomever is selected to lead the district.
Public Education champion Diane Ravitch has a new book coming out this month. Rumor has it that she spelled my name right. All kidding aside, preliminary reviews paint the book as a must read for those engaged in education policy discussions. I know I can barelt wait to get my hands on it.
I’m with Ace Atkins, I keep praying that Clint Eastwood will someday complete his long promised “Any Which Way” Trilogy . . .
Ah that beautiful moment when you are talking with a reporter and someone else comes up to talk with said reporter and then subtlely maneuvers body positions to where you end up being faced with their back. Effectively blocking you out of the conversation. Yes I noticed.
I must admit that my 9 year old son is one of those boys that insist on wearing short year round. Drives me batty. The Atlantic Magazine explores the phenomenom in a recent article that’s a fun read.
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