INSIGHTS FROM A FRIEND

If something is leaked to the press, the bigmouth will be tracked down and punished. Scandals aren’t public scandals if you get there before your enemies do.”
Mike Royko, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago

“But I’d rather not predict. I’d rather affect.”
James Carville

 

I ran into my old friend Slotzki at the gym yesterday and we got to talking.

“Slotz, seems like I’m spending more and more time these days focusing on state education issues instead of local. It just seems like the state is eaten up with more nonsense.”

“Want my opinion?”

“What’s that?”

“Stay focus on the local. At least there it appears that people care. State-level…not so much. It’s all about protecting the party brand.”

A little taken back, I tried to counter, “I don’t know about that man. Look at the subcommittee meetings from last week. People seemed genuinely pissed at the commissioner of education.”

“Pfaw,” he waved his hand to dismiss my argument, “All that stuff the public sees… it’s like professional wrestling. Everybody knows what’s coming. Everybody stands up and acts righteously indignant and then…poof…nothing happens. You think legislators don’t know that Schwinn hates the governor and vouchers? You think they don’t know that that literacy adoption process was hijacked, or that they are unaware that the TNDOE is offering no-bid contracts to friends? Or maybe you think they haven’t heard the stories about Schwinn buying tickets to Minneapolis and then no-showing, all in an effort to avoid being seen with Betsy DeVos. These people aren’t idiots. They know what’s going on. They just choose to support the party over doing whats right. And you think Schwinn doesn’t know that?

Last week she repeatedly dismissed people’s suggestions that she had problems, by saying it’s just politics. You think she’s the least bit concerned about a bloviating state representative? puhlese…she knows it is all sound and fury signifying nothing. ”

I was little taken aback and truthfully at a loss for words.

“Trust me”, he continued, “If anybody cared about any of this it would all be handled very quietly in the back room. People would lose their jobs. Other people would be hired. Policies would change. Has any of that happened? Exactly.”

It seemed like I’d struck a nerve.

“Think about this, for nearly a decade teachers have been complaining because the money that legislators promise for raises never makes it to their bank account. This year, everybody makes a big show of how they are going to prevent it. Everybody talks about their love of teachers. The idea of a one time bonus is floated. Other ideas are explored about making sure that money designated for teacher salaries gets to teachers. In the end, what happens? The same as it always does, the money is awarded for teacher salaries and it is up to the local district whether it gets there or not. Most will not, but at least everybody can say they tried. Not only that but while these discussions acknowledging that teachers are under-compensated are going on, Schwinn and her cronies raid a dormant fund that holds designated money for teacher raises and uses it to secure a contract to manage the state’s vouchers. In other words, they don’t give a fuck.”

He’s getting wound up now, “That meeting you mentioned, where the legislators were really holding Scwinn’s feet to the fire over ClassWallet … it was supposed to continue yesterday. I tune in to watch it, and the TBI is up there talking about their appropriations. I’m confused, so I look at the agenda, thinking I might have made a mistake…nope… the meeting is supposed to be with the DOE. Somehow though it got canceled. Last-minute canceled. Word at the Mole Hole is that the Governor sent word that he’d heard enough about ClassWallet and it was time to move on. So they moved on. They got an “R” behind their name, the governor has one behind his, got to protect the party brand. Ain’t got no time for constituent concerns. Of course, they’ll have different songs to sing when they are out campaigning this summer and voters keep asking about what the hell is going on with the department of education.

About the only thing I really find interesting is the giving of a consultant contract to this former Nevada Education Commissioner..Steve Canavero. 50k to consult on the forming of a charter school commission when we already had somebody doing a great job managing charter school growth. Forget all the fluff around it, ya got a hyper-conservative governor with a self-identified liberal democrat education chief – who has never been shy about her opinions of him – and now you have a conservative who resigned as education commissioner after a democrat was elected governor – a job that while he’s not my cup of tea, he at least seemed to be competent at – signing a 6-month contract scheduled to end this summer. Seems to me that with a few more contract shenanigans, key employee departures, questionable hires, that come July, instead of extending his contract, it would be easy enough to just slide him into a commissioner role while the current commissioner is unfortunately forced to deal with personal issues that demand her full attention. Thanks for your service, next! But what do I know?”

With that, he picked up his towel from the barbell rack and started heading towards the shower. Stopping right before he entered the locker, he turned, gave me a crooked smile, and said, “Like I said, focus on the local. People can better understand that insanity. At the state level…it’s all about the party. See you soon.”

MAPP TESTING

Let me wheel out my soapbox so I can go ahead and say it, say it loud enough that those in the back row can hear, “I fucking hate MAP testing!”

Sorry for the language, but sometimes there are no other words to convey the depth of feeling and it can’t be understated how much I fucking hate MAP testing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have no issues with the MAP test itself and I think that when it’s utilized correctly, it is invaluable. My issues come with its usage.

Picture it like this, you tell me that you have a job that involves installing a picture frame with a screw and I show up with a hammer and proceed to start pounding the screw in. Sure it might give me the desired results, but nowhere nearly as efficiently as if I’d brought a screwdriver. That’s how MNPS uses MAP testing.

If we go to the NWEA website and spend a little time perusing it, it becomes clear that MAP was never intended as a high stakes test and it is designed to measure what students know in order to guide instruction. When used as such, it’s a powerful tool.

AT MNPS it is used as a screener for SWD, EL, and Advanced Academic courses, as well as justification for instructional practices. That makes it high stakes testing.

MNEA recommends testing three times a year – Fall, Winter, Spring – and have recommended dates for each window. MNPS administers MAP 3 times a year, but only two really count because the one in November really counts as being in the Fall window. February is considered Winter and few MNPS schools test in April since WIDA and TNReady are already being administered during that time. MNPS’s November test is mainly to check if students are on track.

Like any good high stakes test, the pressure for students to perform is placed on the shoulders of the teachers. While expectations may not be explicit, you can bet they are implicit. The expectation is that the majority of a teacher’s students will meet the MAP’s growth expectations with the implication being that if they don’t, the teacher is at fault.

As a result, an increased focus is placed on MAP testing. A focus that in my opinion gets out of hand come testing time. In the days leading up to the test, in an effort to extract the best results from students, teachers promise all kinds of treats ranging from donuts to pizza parties, to extra recess. All in an effort to get students to appreciate the importance of the assessment.

This is problematic for a number of reasons. First off, if the purpose of the test is to measure learning in order to guide instruction, why is it necessary to offer bribes for performance? Can’t we just give the test, evaluate the results, and adjust instruction based on results?

Secondly, who pays for these “rewards”. The teacher of course. Four classes, four pizza parties, 100 dollars. We’ve already established that teachers are underpaid in MNPS and now we are demanding that they pull money out of their pocket in an effort to justify how good a teacher they are? What if a teacher does not have that kind of disposable income? If they don’t participate in the unofficial rewards program, what message does that communicate to students and fellow teachers along with administrators?

It’s not unlike how prior to state standardized testing school parking lots start to fill up on weekends and nights. The implied expectation is that teachers will sacrifice family and personal time and work extra hours for free in order to prepare kids for state tests. Teachers should not be expected to shoulder these extra costs and sacrifices.

Thirdly, the first couple of times, a pizza party may be a nice reward. How about the 6th time or the 10th time? Over the course of their 3 – 10 career – the grades in which MNPS administers MAP testing – students can expect to take the test 24 times. A pizza party is going to get pretty old, pretty quick. Ultimately a teacher is going to be challenged to find bigger and better rewards in order to motivate and once a student is firmly entrenched in an external motivation model, god forbid you stop and don’t offer any reward for them meeting their goal. That’s a recipe to be identified as an underachieving teacher.

Fourth, focusing on performance scores inadvertently turns education into a competition. Things quickly digress into a resemblance of one those robot war competitions. Teachers, rightfully so, take scores as a reflection on their practice. Unfortunately, since the expectation is that all kids will meet these growth scores, the teachers whose kids exceed expectations do not receive nearly the focus of those who’s kids do not meet expectations. The result is resentment and bitterness felt by teachers in both categories.

While MAP in itself, is better than most standardized tests, it still remains simply a snapshot of where a child is that day. It should not be considered a complete depiction of a child. Which brings me to my last objection.

Growth goals are fine as long as they are kept in perspective. Kids for numerous reasons, may not make their growth goals every time. By overemphasizing these goals what is the message we are sending when they fall short?

That’s the problem when you treat education as a competition – you create winners and losers. Children who fail to meet their growth goals are immediately placed in the losers category, as are the teachers that instruct them. It doesn’t matter how you try and spin it, the stench of failure remains.

It doesn’t matter if there are legitimate reasons why that student didn’t meet their growth. That score is now part of their permanent record and will shape future perceptions.

The same holds true with a teacher and any class of hers that doesn’t meet their goals.

At a teaching and learning committee meeting last week, Innovation School Chief Sharon Griffin outlined her plans to improve schools classified as priority schools. As part of that initiative, she cited hiring veteran teachers. Teaching in a school where achievement scores are low offers an opportunity to show tremendous growth – it’s much more difficult to show growth in higher-achieving kids – but holds the caveat that obtaining growth comes with the same challenges that produced low achievement scores, to begin with. As a veteran teacher, knowing the emphasis that is placed on MAP scores, am I going to be prone to take the risk of teaching in a priority school or am I going to stick with a school where I’m more likely to show both growth and achievement?

I can’t say it enough, MNPS teachers are working their ass of whether their kids are nailing MAP scores or not. ALL deserve to be celebrated and recognized on a daily basis. ALL need our support. Using test scores to create winners and losers only hurts the whole district and ultimately kids.

Some of you may be asking, then how do we get the bad teachers out of the classroom? Considering that the district has over 150 openings and that doesn’t even include classes headed up by long term substitute teachers, I’d argue that getting teachers out of the classroom isn’t our problem. Creating an environment that allows for every school to have a certified teacher in every classroom is the challenge that needs immediate addressing. Until we do that, the district doesn’t stand a chance of offering every student the education they deserve, no matter how many kids meet their MAP growth scores.

We have to stop placing teachers in what feels like a perpetual “Got’cha cycle”. We have to stop perpetually asking, “Got anything else in the tank.” We’ve got to offer support instead of the illusion of accountability. And it’s got to start sooner rather than later.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back with more tomorrow. Again, thank you, teachers and administrators, for everything you do.

Until then, if you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work 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 and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy.

If you so desire to join the rank of donors, 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, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.

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

3 replies

  1. It’s ALL a political dog and pony show and we carry on with business as usual. Time to organize and start pulling kids out of this system because the very people that broke it will continue to destroy it because they do not see the big picture or the agenda behind people like Schwinn, Canavero, Huffman, Rhee, Walton, Gates, Broad, Charters and vouchers and the false choice movement.

  2. Mike Royko was my favorite columnist, and his Slats Grobnik columns were my favorites of his columns!

    Thanks for telling it like it is with the legislators. I routinely vote for non-incumbents in the same party in the primaries. Since the legislators’ concern is with the party above all, that way we are all working for the same goal!!!

    I have emailed maybe a dozen legislators over the past five years. What I find interesting is that only twice have I received an acknowledgement of my contact – and one of those was Glen Casada!

    I remember reading an article where a political operative discussed one of the big problems with politicians, which was that they viewed all votes they received as being votes for them personally. He went on to say that many votes were votes against the opposition, which was a different situation entirely.

    I suspect our current governor, being a neophyte politician, has that belief. It seems he views his primary votes as being FOR him, rather than AGAINST the negative campaigns of Randy Boyd and Diane Black; and that his general votes were FOR him, rather than AGAINST any Democrat.

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