“Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty?”
Mother Nature did MNPS interim-superintendent Dr. Battle a solid this morning.
All week long temperatures for Nashville have hovered in the high 50’s to low 60’s, so imagine the surprise when the weather services announced a winter storm warning yesterday. Predictions called for a half-inch of snow. Predictions that were met with mass disbelief.
Now, this is where all the northern transplants start regaling us with their tales of going to school in sub-artic temperatures with 6-foot snowdrifts and the threat of avalanches around every corner. Not only did they go to school, but they walked barefoot uphill both ways without a coat. Here in Nashville kids are just weak in their estimation. The only part of the story they leave out is why they are living here instead of back in the frozen tundra. But I digress.
The weather warning coupled with the alarming rate of illness running rampant through the schools afforded Dr. Battle the opportunity to give the troops a much needed mental health day and she decided to seize the opportunity by canceling schools at 8:30 last night.
It was a prudent decision and one that Mother Nature apparently supported because she went ahead and supplied a modicum of snow – enough to justify the decision shortly after Battle’s announcement.
So all you teachers and kids, rest up, heal up, and enjoy a much-needed palate cleanser.
Meanwhile, there is a whole lot of ground to cover on the education news front, so let us get to it.
Normally I’m not a big fan of lawsuits. It’s my general opinion that if you get involved in one, you’ve already lost and the only people that really seem to benefit are the lawyers. Sometimes though life leaves you with no alternatives. Such is the case with Davidson and Shelby County in relation to the state’s recently passed voucher legislation.
The proposed plan would rob the two urban centers of much-needed resources and would hinder the district’s ability to offer an equitable education experience to all students. Fighting against the legislation isn’t just a prudent move but a moral one.
Yesterday Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced that he had instructed the metro legal department to file suit over legislation that experts feel is incongruent with the Tennessee State Constitution.
“Ensuring a bright future for Nashville requires more, not less, investment in our public schools,” the mayor said in a statement. “It is both my job and the responsibility of this administration not only to protect Metro’s limited resources for public school funding but to seek more public education investment from the state.”
The central argument is that the state constitution prohibits the singling out of individual municipalities for targeted legislation without those municipalities’ citizens’ implicit approval. So the choice is to either open the voucher program to all school districts in the state or put participation up to a vote by Nashville and Memphis residents. Neither strategy is likely to prove successful.
The voucher adoption program has been a disaster since inception. Just passing it for two cities demanded a tremendous amount of arm twisting and exclusion of certain other urban districts in the state. Since it’s the passage the Governor has tried to fast track implementation in order to try to set roots before the courts rip the program out of the ground.
My favorite part of the lawsuit – and you know how I love irony – is that it names State Education Superintendent Penny Schwinn as a defendant. Now Schwinn is no stranger to lawsuits, the irony here is that she doesn’t like nor support vouchers. Anybody who has had any interaction with Schwinn can attest to her non-support of voucher programs and in several instances, she has tried to help kill the policy. Thus putting her in an adversarial role in Lee’s attempt to get his signature program off the ground.
Yet here she is named in a lawsuit pitting Tennessee’s two largest urban school districts against the state. That’s not an enviable position to be in. Depositions should prove to be quite entertaining.
Of course, Republican lawmakers immediately pushed back against the lawsuit. Dresden Rep Andy Holt called the law “good enough” when asked about arguments presented in the complaint. “I’ve already cast my vote in favor of the ESA legislation,” he said. “It seems like maybe now we’ll see the take that the judicial branch will have.” yes we will.
It’s worth noting that two Libertarian-leaning private entities – The Institute for Justice in Virginia and the Beacon Center of Tennessee – have vowed to help the state defend itself.
Personally, I find this a positive move and I applaud Mayor Cooper for being willing to stand up for the families, educators, and students, of Nashville. If the state won’t do it, it’s up to city leaders to take up the sword.
ABOUT THAT READING LEGISLATION
Earlier in the week, I discussed elements of Governor Lee’s budget as it related to increasing literacy rates, in doing so I also outlined the plethora of problems that plagued the recently completed ELA materials and textbook adoption process. Let’s look at the issues a little more.
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the new front in the ages long reading war – the science of reading. I’ve seen too many of these kinds of campaigns in the past. Campaigns financed by big-money interests that downplay the skills of teaching colleges, professional educators, and propose that there is only one way to produce successful outcomes. Campaigns that are rooted in the narrative that our schools are failing institutions.
These campaigns are led by non-educators that propose that they know the best strategies despite never having spent real time leading a classroom. That’s a place I’ll never go.
Through this blog, and in my advocacy, I try to illuminate who the players are and the political machinations around certain policies, but I will never try to tell any teacher what they should be or should not be doing in their classroom.
For example, I’m not a fan of CKLA based on the history of the people involved and their past exploitation of the system. It’s also worth sharing that many teachers have expressed dissatisfaction with the curriculum.
Some teachers though like CKLA, that’s certainly their prerogative. On the scale and in the manner they are using it, it may be effective. Since I’m not in their classroom observing and participating every day, I can’t counter their arguments. To do so would require a tremendous amount of hubris on my part and I’m not willing to go there.
The same holds true when I criticize the curriculum at teacher colleges. I can offer opinions based on feedback from the limited number of teachers I talk to, but ultimately I didn’t earn the degree so I’m not really qualified to discuss whether any failings are on the education school or the individual.
It’s like when I call a plumber. I assume that he knows how to fix my plumbing problem. If he doesn’t adequately fix my issue I don’t instantly start demanding an accounting from the people that trained him as a plumber. Instead, I don’t reuse his services and I look for plumbers that are capable of meeting my needs.
If a certain plumbing school continually fails to produce plumbers that can solve plumbing issues, odds are that the school will begin to have problems placing those students in jobs. They will be forced to either adjust their training or go out of business.
If you want to have some fun, call up Hiller plumbing tomorrow and explain to them that you’ve never worked as a plumber but you have some prime ideas about how their plumbers should be trained. Sounds like an exercise in audacity, no? Think your insights would be well received?
Yet here we are with those outside the classroom dictating to those inside the classroom on what should be done. If the proposed legislation is successfully passed, every teaching college in the state will have to change its curriculum and every teacher will be forced to change how they teach. No matter how successful they’ve been. That should make everyone a little uncomfortable.
Here’s another thing to consider as we contemplate this forced adoption of the “science of reading.” As I previously stated, the proposed legislation would require that every single k – 3 teachers would undergo a 2-week training on the principles of the “science of reading”. So right from the beginning, you are starting with expectations of deficiency.
You are assuming that even teachers that are currently level 4 or 5 teachers are insufficiently trained to adequately teach students to read. Sure they’ve had some success, but this new strategy is going to be the key that unlocks the door. Poverty issues and other issues beyond the control of the teacher are going to fall by the wayside under the power of explicit phonics instruction.
Whoops…sorry…letting my snarkiness show and getting away from my point. Back to where I was going.
Tennessee still evaluates the effectiveness of teachers using student test scores as a primary contributing factor. A teacher’s evaluation score affects their employability, tenure eligibility, rate of pay, among other things. What we are demanding from teachers, with this new legislation, is that they adhere to the state’s strategy and if it falls short they accept accountability for its failure. Why would anyone willingly agree to that?
What’s more likely to happen is the state will invest millions of dollars in training that will be attended by resentful teachers who will then return back to their classrooms, close the door, and continue teaching in a manner that has a track record of success. Will they incorporate some of the training into their practice? Probably a bit, it has been my experience that teachers are always modifying and augmenting their practice, pulling from all kinds of disparate sources in order to reach more kids.
The reality is instead of urging mandatory adoption and adherence, taxpayer dollars would be better spent in creating collaboration. Time could be spent by engaging higher education institutions in how instruction could be modified. Training could be centered around successful teachers and building upon what they are doing right using elements of the “science of reading.” The TNDOE should be looking for partners instead of adherents.
The reality is that Tennessee has some damn good teachers and it’s teaching colleges turn out some damn good candidates.
That’s the reality that “science of reading” advocates don’t want you talking about. The entire reform movement is intent on painting teachers as change-resistant practitioners who adhere to one never modified strategy that never considers outcomes. It’s a false narrative and one that has to be pushed back against at every turn. Yet the governor’s budget is chock full of such assumptions.
Personally. I think this is a manifestation of their vision. If you can turn over the teaching profession to younger practitioners who adhere strictly to what’s been scripted, you can get rid of all that pesky modification. Because after all there is only one way to teach right?
ANOTHER BLACK HISTORY MONTH. ANOTHER INSENSITIVE LESSON PLAN
February marks the beginning of Black History Month. It is a valuable opportunity in which to educate everyone on the incredible contributions Black Americans have made towards making this the greatest country in the world. Unfortunately, over the last several years it has also provided an opportunity to present insensitive lessons on slavery to young school children.
America’s history of racial inequality rooted in the practice of slavery remains a very sensitive subject despite the abolishment of the practice back in the 19th century. It’s ugly tendrils still stretch through our modern institutions to the detriment of many of our country’s citizens. Despite the progress we’ve made as individuals, our society is still plagued by the institutional racism that is a remnant of what is often referred to as the “America’s original sin“.
When news broke on Wednesday of a teacher in Nashville teaching a lesson plan to fourth graders based on the Willie Lynch Letters it brought with it a sense of deja vu. Here we go again. Unfortunately, initial reports didn’t present a clear picture of what had transpired.
The lesson plan was designed by a black female student teacher. The teacher of record was a white male who signed off on the plan without thoroughly vetting it after being told that the student teacher’s Vanderbilt professor had signed off on it. The press received notified of the offensive lesson from an individual employed by MNPS even as MNPS was taking corrective action. Parents of other children in the class are employed by Vanderbilt University.
The cynic in me suspects that there was more in play here than just the presentation of an inappropriate lesson to fourth graders. I’m hoping that I’m wrong. At the very least several adults failed to adequately protect students.
The student-teacher should have been more sensitive. The teacher of record failed his obligation to both the student teacher and his class by not being more diligent in his review of the proposed lesson plan. The Vanderbilt professor should have provided better guidance to the student-teacher.
MNPS and Vanderbilt should have been provided ample opportunity to address the failure without the press being called. By calling the press, the MNPS employee indicates a lack of faith in their employer to adequately address the issue in a meaningful manner. This leads me to question the employee’s commitment to the mission and vision of MNPS as a whole. If you don’t trust them to mitigate the negative, how do you trust them to implement the positive?
When incidents like this transpire, it doesn’t just hurt the students in the classroom, it hurts all of us. In order to continue the dismantling of institutional racism, it is important that we all work together. In order for that to happen, trust has to be present. A lack of sensitivity fails to build that much-needed trust and as a result, sets us on a path to failure. A failure that should be unacceptable to all of us.
We have to do better.
State Representatives Bill Beck and John Ray Clemmons stopped by MNEA this week to find out more about what teachers really need to better do their job. Nice.
An article in today’s Tennessean focuses on the amount of out of pocket money teachers spend on classroom supplies. Per the paper,
Nashville public school teachers spend, on average, $410 of their own money on school supplies each year, according to a new survey conducted by a special Metro Council committee. That outlay comes in addition to the $200 in reimbursed funds each teacher is provided by the state.
Luckily people are starting to pay attention and some solutions are being proposed.
Bob Shepherd is a textbook writer who also writes about education issues. Today he’s got some things to say about the detrimental effects of common core standards on literature. As you read his thoughts you’ll recognize many of the players as being among those at the forefront of the “science of reading” movement. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
If you are looking to apply to be MNPS’s Director of Schools, this is your last week to do so. All applications are expected to be submitted by the end of the day Friday.
What do you do if you are a career educator committed to learning everything you can about literacy? Well if you are school board member Jill Speering you dig into your own pocket and book a trip to New Zealand to visit schools and observe their literacy practices in person. New Zealand’s literacy rate has consistently hovered around 99% and Ms. Speering is interested to see how they do it. I’ll be interested to hear about her observations when she gets back next month.
Cameron Middle School is named for an admired Nashville educator Henry Alvin Cameron, who was killed in action during World War 1. Learn more about Professor Cameron: bit.ly/2ve70Tq
If you are not on Twitter you may not have seen the latest post by the account “shit MNPS says”. It’s a good snow day chuckle.
This week’s blog post was written while listening to the brand new musical stylings of Green Day. This new record is pretty damn good. I urge you to buy it, slap it on and turn it up. Dancing to this one is definitely permitted.
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