STAY IN YOUR LANE

“You cannot observe people through an ideology. Your ideology observes for you.”
Philip Roth

“Our children begin by loving us; as they grow up they judge us; sometimes they forgive us.”
― Mary Higgins Clark,
Where Are You Now?

This weekend taught me a very valuable lesson about the importance of listening to experts. I mean really listening to experts.

The rise of the internet has led to the rise of the belief that with a couple keystrokes, and a few afternoons spent reading, we all can become experts on any given subject. That suddenly we have the knowledge equivalent of people that have spent a lifetime in the pursuit of said subject.

Falling into this trap leads to missing much of the subtlety that goes into any topic and as a result, we tend to paint with too small a brush on just a portion of a much broader canvas.

Luckily over the last decade, I’ve been very blessed to have access to experts and practitioners in the field of education. Their patience and willingness to explore subjects have enriched my perceptions in so many ways and have given me a deeper, though not on par, understanding of education issues. I always say the popularity of Dad Gone Wild has not continually grown because I’m such a smart guy, but rather because I’ve been granted access to a plethora of really smart people.

With that said, I must confess, I don’t always grasp the concept right out of the box. Sometimes it takes me a period of time to mull things over – talk to other people, read a little bit more, observe more practices – until the tumblers of the lock fall into place and the door springs open. Such is the case with the current reading bill HB 2229.

Over the last several months I’ve spent countless hours emersed in the nuances of the bill through talking to people who craft legislation for a living and those who put that legislation into practice in the classroom. In the process, I’ve garnered many reasons why this is a bad bill – overriding of local control, stripping higher ed of its autonomy, unfunded mandates with preferred vendors poised to benefit, increased testing – but I failed to grasp the foundational flaw with the bill, until this weekend.

In Tennessee, there is a clear delineation of responsibilities when it comes to education policy. The TNDOE and legislators are responsible for setting the standards and the state board of education is responsible for curriculum and strategies for meeting those standards. This is beneficial because once you codify something it takes on a sense of permanence. This sense of permanence helps prevent against the threat of an ever-shifting target. What you are shooting for should remain fairly consistent while strategies to reach the target should be more fluid.

That’s why there is a review every few years of curriculum and materials. That’s why the process calls for a review committee to be created consisting of Tennessee stakeholders to review the proposed curriculum and recommend it or not based on the Tennessee standards as established by legislation. It’s why the list of recommended curriculum is then reviewed by the state board of education for approval. After the list is approved, districts select the best curriculum based on locally established expectations and qualifications while guided by the standards. It is a fluid process, that allows for alterations as evidence presents itself.

There is even a provision provided for LEAs to petition for an exception if they have a desire to implement a strategy that is not on the preferred list. The expectation is that the state has set the standard that must be reached, it’s up to the individual LEA to figure out how to get there.

It’s like if you are a car salesman and the owner of the dealership tells your boss he expects you to sell 10 cars a month. Your boss passes on the expected standard along with some strategies that have proven successful for other salesmen, but ultimately it is up to you to figure out how to meet that set standard. It’s likely that your boss has also implemented a strategy that provides you with additional pieces of training and technics in the event you fall short of the goal. The owner may have even implemented a policy that dictates that all salesmen who fall short of the goals must receive additional training.

This is not unlike what the state has done with RTI. Unfortunately, RTI has been underfunded since its inception. So it’s kind of like if your company provided supplemental training but only supplied a portion of the necessary materials. The salesman who had the personal resources to supplement the minimal materials provided would benefit the most from the additional training and strategies. A salesman who didn’t have the resources to access additional materials, would likely still continue to struggle. But that’s another story, for another day.

The monthly sales goal should also probably be viewed through the lens of where you are employed. If I’m at a dealership located on a high traffic road in an affluent neighborhood odds are it’s going to be a lot easier to sell 10 cars a month than if I’m on a side street in a poor neighborhood or if I’m out in the country with access to a minimum number of customers. I don’t think anybody would argue that the demographics of the clients I had access to – age, mobility, employment, income -would have an impact on my ability to reach the goal of 10 cars a month. Nor do I think anybody would argue that certain dealerships are going to lend themselves to meeting the stated goal more than others, due to factors beyond the control of the individual salesman. Yet we fail to recognize the same when it comes to the education of children. But again I digress.

Now suppose I work at the same dealership, and the owner comes along and says everybody must sell 10 cars but they must also utilize these strategies to do so. That’s how Schwinn Honda did it and so that’s how we are going to do it.

In the initial scenario, your boss had the ability to work with you, consider the local challenges and develop a sales strategy through a partnership. The later strategy strips him of that ability. It changes his role from one of facilitation to one of adherence. The owner has laid out a set of tightly prescribed directions with little consideration of local factors. The adherence to the strategy has become just as important as the goal. It’s no longer enough just to meet the goal, now how you do it has the same level of importance.

Now we add to the equation your ability to receive bonuses, raises, and even retain employment. Say Schwinn Honda in addition to implementing the sales strategy, had also infused money into marketing, sprucing up the locations, provided a more flexible work schedule for employees. Would anybody argue that the additional factors probably played as much into the success of the dealership as the rigid sales staff? Your boss didn’t do the same and now the dictated strategy is not working and as a result, you’re failing at your job. How long until you quietly altered strategy and hope no one noticed?

That’s what is playing out here with HB 2229. The TNDOE is trying to get legislators to not just codify the standards but to assume the role of dictating the path to those standards. It’s a move that completely usurps the power and role of the TN Board of Education. If state law dictates that nothing but a curriculum that aligns with the  “science of reading” the role of the board changes from one that helps LEAs secure the best materials for their district to one that is charged with making sure that all materials adhere to the prescription of the state and by extension the TNDOE. Is that what we really want.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that feels like a bit of power grab. And maybe you are alright with it, but before you sign off you might want to consider both the precedent being set and the potential unintended consequences. I’m not comfortable with either.

The latest amendment to HB 2229 is now available. (HB2229-SB2160_AMENDMENT #2 )  It makes some considerable palpable changes, but does it maintain the delicate balance between the legislators, the TNDOE, the State Board of Education, and LEAs? State Superintendent of Schools is telling people that she’s talked to stakeholders and they are all good with the changes, but did she and are they? I’m sure that’ll be the subject of discussion at tomorrow’s House sub-committee meeting. Hopefully, everybody will have done their homework.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Being the interim director in the midst of a director search certainly comes with some perks. After months of being pushed to make adjustments on the district’s discipline policy and failing to do so, on the eve of director interviews interim-director Dr. Adrienne Battle sent out an email to district employees that included some proposed adjustments to the policy.

Specifically, we are acting in four areas:

  • Revising the discipline matrix for the current school year to give teachers and principals more options to address student behavior.
  • Continuing communicating that principals have the flexibility to suspend elementary students if the behavior warrants the action. We are editing the student handbook to remove requirements for elementary administrators to seek supervisor approval to take disciplinary action if it follows the discipline matrix.
  • Proposing a budget that builds support for students that address the root causes of student behavior.
  • Providing summer and on-going professional development for teachers and staff members to learn more about the practices available to address student discipline

Each of these actions is a direct result of the feedback you have shared with me. We have a long way to go to ensure the safety of all teachers, staff, and fellow students in the learning environment. We need to make changes now to improve our culture and climate in the current year—not wait for changes over the summer.

It’s welcome news, but I’m curious as to why it took this long and I believe that the timing should be factored to the evaluation of who should lead the district forward. As much as I appreciate the work that Battle has done – I’m a fan – it needs to be noted that she was a Community Superintendent for two years before she assumed the interim job. I would have to ask why she didn’t have the information required to make adjustments upon assuming the interim job since dissatisfaction with the discipline policy has not been a secret. And if not then, why almost a year into her tenure?

There seems to be a pattern with making needed difficult decisions only when feeling political pressure. Majors was cited for insubordination a month ago based on orders that were given back in the summer. Sito Narcisse and Monique Felder were allowed to serve for months after Dr. Joseph’s resignation and were only terminated when the specter of a superintendent search was raised. Legal action pending against the district that arose out of Dr. Joseph’s time at the helm could have been settled months ago but was only brought to a conclusion when the superintendent search was begun.

Dr. Battle enters this week with certain advantages. But along with those advantages come some disadvantages. I think it’s important that as the interviews unfold this week, people weigh words against actions. Do the words align with the actions that have transpired over the last year in MNPS?

Equally important to ask is, are the words espoused by the challengers consistent with whats transpired in their home districts?

As we progress through this week’s superintendent candidate interviews it’s imperative that we don’t fall for flowery oratory. Pretty words that don’t align with actions are what got us to the current situation. Walking the talk is what’s going to lead us forward.

QUICK HITS

ChalkbeatTN has a report on a bill that would return Tennessee’s grading scale back to a 10-point grading scale. Currently the state’s uniform grading policy for high school awards A’s for point percentages between 93 and 100 and B’s for 85 to 92. This is out of alignment with colleges and universities. The primary goal of bill sponsor Rep Jason Hodges is to put Tennessee students on an even playing field with their peers elsewhere, including eight bordering states in order to secure more scholarships. It seems like a no brainer to me.

As we’ve discussed previously, per the BEP, teachers are given $200 a year to spend on their classrooms. Did you realize that the number has not been adjusted in decades? A teacher in 2001 got the same amount of money as a teacher today. Do you think it’s time that the number was adjusted? $200 went a lot further 20 years ago.

It is a bittersweet announcement that we deliver here, Melinda Williams – Percy Priest Elementary School Principal – announced her intent to retire at the end of the school year to her staff this week. Williams is an exceptional leader, who steady hand at the helm will be deeply missed.

Congratulations to the students of White’s Creek HS who just received a full scholarship to Belmont University! 7 out of 7 have been accepted! Special shout out to academy coach Ms. Littlejohn for all of her work in helping facilitate this great news. 

Want to play a fun game? Identify the legislators who are openly opposing the literacy bill and then check on how their proposed bills are fairing. The governor is putting some of its muscle behind this one.

POLL RESULTS

Time now to take a look at the poll results from the weekend.

The first question asked for your thoughts on whether or not the portfolio teacher evaluation process should be discontinued or not. It is a process that has been fraught with issues since inception and a recent comptroller report argued against its effectiveness. 54% of you thought that it was time to end the train wreck, while 20% of you thought that perhaps instead of getting rid of the process, they should get it right. Only 1 person said they really like the process in its current form. Here are the write-in votes.

Yes 1
Trash. Tough to evaluate when the applicant pool is so shallow. Anyone can teach 1
Yes, but still can’t understand why these idiots are still voting for trump 1
Going back to basics just like edTPA 1
Both it & TEAM that uses student test scores need to go 1
Teachers could use the time spent on it to teach! 1
Most likely 1
No one does evaluations correctly after Black left

Question 2 asks which of the finalists for the MNPS Director job are you most interested in. Dr. Battle is a clear favorite, with 81% of you voicing your support. The next closest is Spokane Superintendent Shelly Redinger followed by former MNPS principal Brenda Elliot. Here are the write-in votes:

Battle if she shakes things up 1
None. 1
Mayor Pete 1
Most competitive candidates are not in the running 1
Whoever will fire Tony Majors. Cannot believe he is still employed. Thief. 1
None yet 1
Who ever will slash a bloated district office 1
I am not sure 1
None 1
None of them. We are screwed.

The last question asked how likely you were to attend any of the interviews for MNPS Director of Schools. 33% of you said, not a chance. While 23% of you were unsure. 6% said “absolutely”. Here are those write-ins,

No 2
Too tired after working all day. Will contact board members 1
not bothering because Battle probably has it in the bag, as she deserves. 1
No time. I’ll be making copies of books I don’t have, with paper I have to buy. 1
I can’t as I’ll be working my second job. 1
Absolutely not, sham show!!! 1
I’d rather know what pay raises are being proposed. Doesn’t matter who supt is. 1
Don’t have time to do what I do now 1
Unfortunately not 1
No need to interview-Battle is the one

That’s a wrap, I’m sure I’ll be back before Friday.

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

4 replies

  1. At least Battle is talking the talk on discipline. Joseph couldn’t even do that. Time will tell if she can actually do anything real on that. I think we have many reasons to give her a shot and many fewer reasons not to.

  2. There are some good things in the glossy SCORE reading report. There are some dumb things in the glossy SCORE reading report. And then there are some really, truly, inexplicably stupid beyond words things in the glossy SCORE reading report. Such as page two’s giant boxed quote:

    “RESEARCH IS THE ONLY TOOL WE HAVE
    THAT ALLOWS US TO DETERMINE THE
    KINDS OF TEACHING MOST LIKELY TO
    ADVANCE OUR STUDENTS’ LEARNING;
    COMMONSENSE AND PAST EXPERIENCE
    ARE USELESS BEFORE SUCH QUESTIONS.”

    Just digest that last bit and ask yourself if there’s a good reason to expect a non-biased report could possibly follow a quote that includes the phrase “commonsense and past experience are useless”. Not my words. Theirs.

    Sheesh.

  3. Among all the silliness in this Bill, where’s the funding for the screening program? If your school or system is using a cheaper one, shouldn’t the state pay for the privilege of telling us which program to use? My estimate is that would cost about $5 million just to fund the differential, maybe 3-4 times that to fund buying a program statewide.

    That’s just for a sorting hat.

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