NOT EVEN GOING TO LIE ANYMORE

“Begin by learning to draw and paint like the old masters. After that, you can do as you like; everyone will respect you.”
Salvador Dalí

“We find ourselves in the last of the three generations history chooses to repeat every now and then. The first generation needs a god, and so they invent one. The second erects temples to that god and tries to imitate him. And the third uses the marble from those temples to build brothels in which to worship their own greed, lust, and dishonesty. And that is why gods and heroes are always, inevitably, succeeded by mediocrities, cowards, and imbeciles.”
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Fencing Master

 

In her latest book, Slaying Goliath: Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools Diane Ravitch renames “reformers” with a much more appropriate name – “Disruptors” – and pronounces their movement as being on the wane. The “disruptors” moniker derives from a popular business theory – disruptive innovation – that sprung forth alongside the reform movement over the last 2 decades. 

Throughout the pages of her book, Ravitch presents strong evidence for her argument of the declining influence of those who wish to privatize America’s school system. Despite being in control of education policy for nearly 2 decades, the disruptors have not been able to produce any meaningful gains and in some areas – teacher retention recruitment, depth of knowledge, capital needs – things have actually gotten worse. Furthermore, it seems like those in power have gotten worse at hiding their machinations and manipulations. It’s as if they realized that people have gotten wise to their duplicity so why even try and disguise their actions.

If you need an example of what I’m talking about, you need to look no further then the current TNDOE and some of their associates.

Last Friday, Andy Spear at TNEd Report wrote about a recently filed lawsuit by textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), alleging that the Tennessee Department of Education “unilaterally altered” the textbook adoption process in a way that disadvantaged HMH and possibly benefitted other, preferred vendors. The lawsuit appears to support what was covered by Dad Gone Wild back last Fall. I urge you to read it. (Lawsuit)

A quick recap, in case you haven’t caught on to what’s up.

Every year the TNDOE revises its list of approved textbooks and curriculum for individual subjects. One year it is math, the next social studies, the next maybe science, – this year it is ELA.

The process started almost a year ago with well-publicized guidelines. Review groups would be formed. Materials would be reviewed and scored with an established rubric. Highest scoring materials would be placed on a list of which school districts were expected to choose from for adoption. Those that didn’t pass the initial review would be afforded the opportunity to make corrections and be re-reviewed. Pretty straight forward.

Fast forward to the beginning of summer and word on the list is that it is not meeting the expectations of new state superintendent Penny Schwinn. In fact, there are several companies that she feels are deserving of being on the list that didn’t make the cut. As a result, the newly hired associate superintendent, Lisa Coons, was handpicked to take over leadership of the process.

Coons had been recently not been renewed by MNPS as the executive director of the district’s innovation schools. In this role, Coons had turned over a substantial amount of the district’s professional development of innovation school teachers to The New Teacher Project(TNTP). Coons was hired as an associate superintendent in August and in January she was named Chief of Standards and Materials. She’s previously been with the TNDOE from 2014 – 2016.

If the lawsuit is to be believed, Coon’s hiring is where the abnormalities began. When she comes on board membership in established review committees is changed up. The rubric for evaluating the curriculum is also changed. It is not formally disclosed that Coons has been a strong proponent of both TNTP and CKLA in the past. TNTP is a strong proponent of CKLA and they are now considered a partner of the TNDOE.  CKLA did not pass the initial review.

Looking at 3rd-grade materials, neither CKLA(Amplify – Core Knowledge Language ArtsGrade 3) nor the HMM product(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Into ReadingGrade 3) passed their initial review. I would argue the initial review for HMM was stronger than the CKLA review. Upon re-review, CKLA passed while the HMM product was failed again. Failed despite the same product being approved for use in K-2 and 3-12. How is that even possible?

So while both CKLA and HMM are on the approved list, there is no way to adopt HMM as a continuous curriculum for K-12. If a district wants to adopt HMM they must supplement the 3rd-grade curriculum. Which probably makes things a little more expensive.

Built into the process is the ability to request a waiver. Waivers though are only supposed to be granted if the product is one that the district has been previously using or is considered open source. HMM is a brand new product and so technically it is ineligible to be subject to an appeal. Compounding things is the strong informal message that the TNDOE has been sending that appeals are not really welcome and that the expectation is that districts will adhere to the approved materials list.

Let’s not forget either that the TNDOE has reportedly tagged $15 million in this year’s proposed budget to assist districts in procuring “high-quality materials”. It’s not a stretch to infer that if districts want to tap into that cash pot they’ll want to follow the state’s lead. I’m sure there are plenty of prepared speeches on fiscal responsibility, prudent decision making, and doing what’s right for kids, just waiting to be delivered behind closed doors.

Got another one for you to take a look at. Two programs, Open Up Resource’s EL Education and Great Mind’s Wit and Wisdom failed for grades 3, 4, 5 section IV which relates to foundational skills. On re-review, they failed again. However, they were given a passing grade because re-reviewers noted that they passed sections I, II, III, and since II kinda overlapped with IV, they awarded a pass. The DOE just advised the companies that if anyone decides to use their product to make sure they get some supplementary help as well. Huh?

So who are these companies you might ask? Well, Great Minds started off as a company called Common Core Inc and their claim to fame was a product called Eureka Math! Luckily Louisianna writer Mercedes Schneider has previously dug into them. There is a lot of salient information in Schneider’s post but my favorite is where she reveals the connection between Great Minds and the Supes Academy.

In 2015, right before they changed their name from Common Core inc to Great Minds, the position of Board chair was held by a woman named Barabara Byrd-Bennet. Unfortunately, Ms. Byrd-Bennet had to resign her post when she pled guilty to helping steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms for $2.3 million in kickbacks and bribes while working for CPS. Byrd-Bennet had been on the Common Core Board since 2008.

As outlined by prosecutors, Byrd-Bennett conspired with executives of the SUPES Entities and Synesi Associates consulting firms to direct contracts their way, in return for promises to pay her. Supes shortly thereafter morphed into Education Research and Development Institute(ERDI). Which readers of Dad Gone Wild are familiar with because of former Dr. Joseph associate Dallas Dance.

Schneider’s concluding statement in her look at Great Minds bears repeating,

Great Minds is raking it in big time on Eureka Math and losing money on Wit & Wisdom, and seemingly stalling on its science curriculum development.

Couple state encouraged might help balance that out, huh?

Interestingly enough the following quote is front and center of the Great Minds website,

Every child deserves high quality curriculum. When we give teachers a curriculum that is both exceptional and accessible, we bring down barriers for all students, including students with dyslexia. Our motto at Great Minds is every child is capable of greatness. And we are proud to support the International Dyslexia Association, which is teeming with colleagues who we know clearly agree.”   
 –Great Minds founder and CEO Lynne Munson at the International Dyslexia Association 70th Anniversary Soiree

Hmmm…seeing as State Superintendent Penny Schwinn has recently come out with strong support for the Science of Reading movement, a movement strongly supported by Dyslexia advocacy groups…it raises questions for me. Why the focus on just Dyslexic readers and not all struggling readers?

Open Resources, like Great Minds, has a relationship with the Louisianna Department of Education which always raises a few flags. CEO Jessica Reid Sliwerski began her career as a Teach For America teacher in the Bronx, NY before becoming a founding teacher and then an Assistant Principal at Success Academy Charter Schools. This past weekend Open Resources kicked off an 8-week webinar titled, Solving America’s Literacy Crisis is All in the Science

But what about HMH? Perusing their website and you get a sense of a company that is much more rooted in learning and the business world. The leadership team has some ties to Pearson and some of the other longstanding publishing houses but little or no ties to Common Core Standards, Charter Schools, or Teach For America. They also seem committed to a balanced approach to literacy instruction.

I find the entire ELA adoption process very troubling. Especially in light of recent revelations that the TNDOE did not go through a competitive bidding process or the legislature’s fiscal review committee to secure its contract with ClassWallet. The company was contracted at a cost of $2.5 million to manage online payments and applications in regard to state ESA accounts.

In the past, disruptors would at least pretend to adhere to the rules. Apparently, we’ve now reached a place where we just drop the guises. Nobody is really going to care anyway and if they do, we’ll just re-arrange the deck chairs, change the names on the masthead, and continue on with business as usual.

The MNPS school board is not slated to vote on which materials it will choose to adopt until April. I’m told that HMH’s lawsuit has been dismissed, though nobody seems to know the reason why. I sure hope this isn’t a harbinger of the future.

QUICK HITS

As the school year proceeds, more and more reports continue to surface of classrooms devoid of certified teachers. Everybody seems to be talking about this failing except the people with the power to make a difference.

The last report on the state of MNPS staffing was delivered way back in September. Since then their have been no updates. What do the numbers look like today? What are we doing to address the reported shortage? How successful has the district’s strategy been? This is such a vital issue, that until we’ve made solid progress, it should be reported on at school board meetings once a month. Can you think of anything more important?

This year, the St Louis schools implemented what they consider a necessary intervention — it is now mandatory for all eighth-graders to attend summer school. It’s an interesting proposition and I can see arguments for and against. The transition between 8th and 9th grade is a pivotal time and we should remain open to any idea that can help make the transition smoother.

The Nashville budget process is accelerated and the final Metro Gov’t budget will be voted on by May 31st. First City Council meeting Tuesday – press conference at 5:30 PM & meeting at 6:00 PM. Be there or be square.

MNPS will be holding a series of community budget meetings. The meetings will give parents, families, and staff an opportunity to learn more about the budget process and MNPS’s priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. All meetings are from 6 – 7:30 p.m. and will be held on the following dates,

  • Monday, 2/17, Cane Ridge High School
  • Monday, 2/24, McGavock High School
  • Wednesday, 2/26, Hillwood High School
  • Thursday. 2/27, I.T. Creswell Middle School

Progress reports come home on February 7th for MNPS students.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a look at the weekend poll results. As I reported last week, Colorado is considering putting a cap on the amount of money that can be raised for a school board race. I was curious if you thought it would be a good idea for Tennessee to emulate. 73% of you thought it was a great idea, with only 2% in opposition. Here are the write-in results.

Support cap on Bransford ave pay. 185k plus majors new salary?? 1
Wouldn’t this be unconstitutional under Citizens United? If not, then YES! 1
Corruption either way. Cap this HVAC contracts the board keeps paying 1
No 1
Just glad “little will” pinkston is gone.

Question 2 asked how often you use Twitter. Oddly enough 29% of you said you hated Twitter and didn’t use it. I say odd because Twitter and Facebook are the two main methods of promotion for Dad Gone Wild. Maybe I should rethink that strategy. 21% of you confessed to being on the site often. Here are the write-ins.

I have an account. I checked it twice. 1
Enough to know council members need to educate themselves on MNPS funding crisis 1
Read tweets that pop up 1
Read it daily, never post. 1
I read it, but don’t tweet. News is fast.

The last question was about Dr. Battle’s proposed “week of no meetings”. It was something she had done with great success as a SE Quad Community Supe. In her commitment to being more responsive to teachers, she was looking for a way to decrease the number of meetings teachers were required to attend weekly.

I’m not a big fan of the idea because while I believe that teachers’ workdays are ridiculously overloaded, I would prefer a deeper look at what meetings are necessary and which are frivolous, with the frivolous being discontinued. This “no-meetings week” idea felt gimmicky to me and failed to address the deeper issue. Most of you didn’t agree with me.

31% of you were 100% for it and an additional 19% of you embraced with reservations. Only 18% of you agreed with me. That’s why I ask the questions. Here are the write-ins.

Foolish. Quit trying to find free ways to get out of paying us decently. 1
No courage to go in our classes on site visit; no courage to axe mtgs. either 1
Will anything be done when our principal ignores direction?This is a real issue 1
IMPOSSIBLE!!! Got to meet to fire more peeps🥳 1
Teachers given required 90 minute sexual trafficking video with test. 1
That’s old news. Already happened. 1
We need every other week without meetings 1
Like – so people could do actual work? 1
How about a damn step raise? Foolish. Good people cost money.

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 throughout the year. 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.

 



Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. How much of that of that 4% will end up in our paychecks? Battle, please do the right thing.

    We will be able to gauge what’s going on soon, as principals get their projected dollar amounts in a few days.

    Predictions: a perfect round billion dollar budget. A small tax increase.

    Hopefully we can fight the proposed state leg tax cap, though. Nashville will never pay for the next five years of capital budgets if that is in place. Those numbers are staggering.

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