MR. WEATHERBEE’S BLUES

“The beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed.”
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

“Jesus Christ said ‘by their fruits ye shall know them,’ not by their disclaimers.”
William S. Burroughs

 

Over the last several weeks, I’ve spent a great deal of time studying TNDOE’s proposed reading bill and the subsequent amendment. (HB2229-SB2160)

Repeatedly I find myself asking, who actually wrote this proposed legislation? The language throughout is curious at best, amateurish at worst.

Policy and legislative expert Elizabeth Fiveash left the department of education just prior to the start of this year’s session. Fiveash had been with the department since 2013 and in her role had established strong relationships with legislators. Many of whom voiced concern in the aftermath of her leaving. Concern that seems to be highlighted by the poor quality of the reading bill.

Problems with the bill stem as much from its language as they do from with the policy it supports. For example, look at the definition of “Science of Reading” included in the bill. The standard definition includes the 5 spokes of the wheel – phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Google “science of reading” and you’ll consistently find those five spokes. That’s not the definition in the reading bill.

The author of the reading bill has substituted “oral reading” for comprehension. It’s a switch that doesn’t seem to make much sense, because if I Google “oral reading” I get the following definition:

Oral reading fluency is the ability to read connected text quickly, accurately, and with expression. In doing so, there is no noticeable cognitive effort that is associated with decoding the words on the page. Oral reading fluency is one of several critical components required for successful reading comprehension. Students who read with automaticity and have appropriate speed, accuracy, and proper expression are more likely to comprehend material because they are able to focus on the meaning of the text.

It seems that the bill’s author has substituted a component for the whole. A preliminary look at the term would indicate that “oral reading” is a means to improving comprehension, but not it’s equivalent. So in essence what this bill does is promote the “science of reading” while removing a foundational element of the “science of reading”. How does that work?

This may seem like I’m just nitpicking but bear with me. As you dissect the proposed bill you start to discover that much of it calls for actions that are already in place or contradicts action that has already taken place.

For example, the bill calls for a skills test to be given to k – 2 three times a year and if necessary, students offered remediation. It sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? It is because it is already happening as part of recently passed RTI legislation. So all that is being called for here is a continuation of current practices while stripping districts of local control.

In the first section, the bill calls for all teachers to instruct students in K – 2 on the state standards in a manner that includes the “science of reading”. So take a gander at our 5 spokes again. Is the TNDOE arguing that any of those elements are not currently included in reading instruction? That schools are teaching reading sans fluency? Sans focus on vocabulary? I find it hard to believe that there is a classroom out there where they teach kids to read without using phonics.

Individual teachers may not be devoting the amount of time to each element that the commissioner feels they should, but there is nothing in HB229 that addresses that. No requirements are laid out other than adherence to the brand. So essentially if teachers just keep on doing what they are doing, are they not fulfilling the requirements of the law?

The next up is textbooks and the bill calls for LEAs to only use textbooks that are based on the “science of reading”. If I’m not mistaken, Tennessee has just gone through a textbook adoption process and LEA’s are now choosing their textbooks and materials based on the state’s list of approved materials. Some of which line up with the “science of reading” and some of which don’t, so how is that going to work out?

Without even going past page two of the bill you already have a convoluted word salad that offers no true prescription for increasing student outcomes. This makes me wonder who in the hell wrote this trainwreck of a bill that seems to do nothing but promote today’s flavor of the day. This is extremely dangerous to codify because as anybody who has been paying attention to education policy over the last 20 years knows, flavors change quickly.

When I started digging into who wrote this bill, some familiar culprits were soon offered up – SCORE or TFA folks employed by Vanderbilt. That didn’t feel right though, so I kept digging. What emerged was more of a consensus, the bill was being written by Commissioner Schwinn herself. Word is, she has been bragging to several people about her authorship of this bill and promised the Governor that she would produce legislation he could be proud of. Maybe she will, but this bill isn’t it.

What this bill does is demonstrate Schwinn’s lack of depth of knowledge on Tennessee’s education practices. Lay HB 2229 alongside bills from Texas, Mississippi and even previous Tennessee bills and you’ll find remarkable similarities. The difference is those other bills were able to address the issues they were prescribed for without stripping local districts and teachers prep programs of their power and autonomy. Those bills also didn’t house internal conflicts created through their language. HB 2229

I appreciate Tennessee legislators’ desire to try and improve student outcomes. But this isn’t a bill that will do that. This bill serves as nothing but a clarion call for vendors.  Perhaps it is time for legislators, most of who possess the institutional knowledge required to write their own amendment. One that requires all mandates to be adequately funded. One that doesn’t hand private companies an ATM card linked to taxpayer money. That’s an amendment I look forward to reading.

The kids have had a shot, maybe it is time for the adults to step in.

NOW THAT IS AN IDEA

Concerns are starting to be raised about the potential of a Coronavirus pandemic. Many are talking about the potential of closing schools. It’s a conversation worth having, but I think there are some steps we could take first.

As part of BEP funding, teachers are given $200 a year for supplies for their classrooms. The money comes with a list of things it can be used on and those that are prohibited. On the unacceptable list are Kleenex, hand sanitizer. and wipes.

Hmmmm…perhaps now would be a good time to revisit the list. Maybe legislators could find an additional $50 per teacher expressly for those previously prohibited items?

Some would counter-argue that these items have been removed due to the expectation that schools would provide the materials.  However, when you consider how chronically underfunded schools are, its hard to see where that money would come from. It just makes sense to clear any barriers that keep kids from classrooms and teachers at the head of them.

MNPS HR CHALLENGES

As most of you know, I’m pretty excited about the arrival of new HR chief Chris Barnes. Preliminary conversations have led me to believe he has the right skillset and temperament to make a difference. That said, this week’s HR presentation to the school board did little to reinforce those preliminary impressions.

I appreciate Barnes’s honesty in laying out the numbers when it comes to teacher attrition. Though I really don’t understand why 160 openings in late February isn’t generating more of a sense of urgency. TNReady testing starts very soon and I can’t see how these numbers won’t negatively impact results.

In presenting to the board, Barnes did add the caveat that his presentation was only focusing on one aspect of teacher attrition. Unfortunately, it is the one area that already receives more than enough attention – recruitment. He shared HR’s main goals as being; obtain, train, and retain. I would argue that it should be; retain, retain, retain, obtain, and retain. I struggle to find a single initiative undertaken this year directed at retaining veteran teachers and as a result, we continue to see a mass exit.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a 100X, you can’t fill a leaky bucket just by turning up the spigot.

In that light, I eagerly await the next presentation that will hopefully unveil strategies for retaining our most valuable resources.

LEADERS ARE BLEEDING

Leaders by nature hold their hurts close to their vests. They tend to focus on the needs of their charges over their own. Don’t let their silence lead you to believe that they are not hurting. To put it bluntly, for the last couple of years, we’ve been kicking the hell out of our principals and the bills are coming due.

Under the former director of Schools Shawn Joseph, principals were regularly placed in untenable positions with no clear direction or meaningful supports. All too often new principals were placed in assignments that they were ill-equipped for while being given little insight into the community, and its history, that they would be serving. This has led to predictable outcomes.

As teacher dissatisfaction grows, it needs to find an outlet. Unfortunately, that outlet is often the person in charge of the building. It is one more reason, among a litany of reasons, why teacher retention is so damn important.

We can’t afford to lose the talented principals we have any more than we can afford to lose the talented teachers we have. But that’s exactly what’s going to happen if the issue of teacher retention isn’t adequately addressed and soon.

QUICK HITS

If you are one of those people that are still keeping up with the MNPS superintendent search, interviews with the finalists are scheduled for next week as follows

  • March 2, 2020 – Dr. Shelly Redinger, Superintendent, Spokane Public Schools, WA
  • March 3, 2020 – Dr. Rod Richmond, Executive Director of Student Support Services, Shelby County Schools, TN
  • March 4, 2020 – Dr. Adrienne Battle, Interim Director of Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools, TN
  • March 5, 2020 – Ms. Brenda Elliott, Chief of School Improvement & Supports and Chief of Equity, DC Public Schools
  • March 6, 2020 – Mr. Brian Kingsley, Chief Academic Officer, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, NC

Each interview will be conducted at 6:00PM CST and will consist of the same questions from board members for each candidate.

Interviews will be preceded by public events for families and community members at 4:00PM, and a meeting for faculty and staff at 5:00PM.

Interviews and events will be held at the Board of Education at 2610 Bransford Ave.

Something odd, yet eerily familiar, is taking place over in the Consolidated School Health department of TNDOE. In case you are unfamiliar, the CSH connects physical, emotional and social health with education. It’s a pretty big deal. Recently the state coordinator has left the DOE. The state CSH Nurse Manager turned in her resignation in and others are considering leaving as well. All of this on the eve of the CSH Institute which begins Monday. Should we be concerned?

Nashville School of the Arts, a Metro Nashville public high school for the performing arts, is hosting its inaugural gala to supplement the limited local funds available to support their programs. Please visit the website   https://www.sightsandsoundsgala.com/ for ticketing and sponsorship information. The event is a creative black tie cocktail hour (featuring an art gallery and student-led arts classes), seated dinner, and performance on Monday, March 30 from 6-9 p.m. at Rocketown. They would love for you to join them for what is sure to be a magical night!

The Vue of Bellvue has an excellent conversation with school board member Amy Frogge. I urge you to check it out.

Meanwhile, during my trip up the hill this week, the comptroller delivered their opinion on the state’s portfolio model for teacher evaluation. The gist being, it might be good for developing summer PD, but it’s not very effective in measuring student growth. Is it on the way out? Time will tell but Andy Spears has more details.

This week saw the announcement of MNPS Teacher of the Year finalists. Bet many of you are shocked to find out that I’m not a teacher of the year fan. teaching is a team sport. I don’t care how good you are, your student growth is dependent on administration and other teachers. Until we are honoring all teachers at a basic level, I can’t join in the celebration for any one teacher. I mean no offense towards those nominated, and if my wife was one of them I’d probably be screaming her accolades the loudest, but when we have so many teachers already leaving I believe its vital that we place the whole above the individual. That’s just me.

Are you a school district looking for a free reading supplemental program for the rest of the year? Amplify – that’s right the CKLA folks – has a deal for you. All you have to do is participate in a 2-week study and you get the program for the rest of the year. (Amplify-Reading-Mind-the-Gap-Study-RecruitmentFlyer-updated-1.27.20) According to emails that were apparently sent through the TN DOE’s ListServ by Amplify, the purpose of this study is to evaluate alternative forms of a reading comprehension assessment to ensure that this measure is appropriate for its intended use. I’ll refrain from commenting.

That’s it for today. Thank you, teachers and administrators, for everything you do.

Don’t forget to answer the poll questions at the end. Your voice matters.

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

1 reply

  1. I am peeved by this quote in the Tennessean: “ During the House subcommittee meeting Tuesday, Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said the standard would especially help students falling behind in reading and possibly thwart the need for more intensive remedial interventions later.”

    She says it might maybe possibly could prevent needing remediation later. Ugh. So that’s why we are going to spend 70 million? I thought it was so the commissioner and governor could say they were doing something. When nothing good comes out of it, by then they will have new jobs. Thanks. Thanks bigly. Why not give that money to districts instead of what will become an unfounded mandate to get training? If you want to gin up the textbook list, fine. At least provide choices, which I am sure schools will figure out anyway. For evidence see the article on WCS that this quote came from. And don’t put stupid crap in law and waste a bunch of money.

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