WE HAVEN’T INNOVATED ANYTHING IN 15 YEARS.

“It’s not an easy time for any parent, this moment when the realization dawns that you’ve given birth to something that will never see things the way you do, despite the fact that it is your living legacy, that it bears your name.”
Richard Russo, Straight Man

“For me, Superman’s greatest contribution has never been the superhero part: it’s the Clark Kent part – the idea that any of us, in all our ordinariness, can change the world.”
Brad Meltzer

 

You’ve probably had a friend at some point in your life who’s a little wealthier than you. Because of his wealth, they’re always picking up the tab or offering you advice. You let them pick up the tab and often take the advice. Hey, they’re wealthy, they must know what they are talking about.

After a while, though you begin to notice that their advice…it’s really not high quality. When you heed their words, you either end up stuck with a bigger bill or you find yourself missing out on all kinds of prime opportunities. It begins to dawn on you, that they are really not as smart as you thought, nor as wealthy.

The funny thing is that they never grasp how bad their advice is. You may have come back and told them how bad things turned out, they just shrugged and figured you didn’t follow their advice close enough. Either that or you didn’t invest enough money, or you injected your own views into it, or things happened that they couldn’t predict. I doubt you ever got a, “Damn, I steered you wrong on that one”, or an offer to help defray added costs incurred when you followed their advice.

Nope, I bet they just kept carrying on as if they knew exactly what they were talking about and any shortcomings, they were on you.

You likely didn’t abandon your friend, after all, they were kind of fun to hang out with. You might still let them buy you lunch every once in a while. But I bet you stopped taking their advice, even if they didn’t stop offering.

That is kind of where we are now with the State Collaborative On Reforming Education (SCORE). They were founded back in 2009 by a medical doctor, and former US Senator, Bill Frist, as an organization with an expressed commitment to improving educational outcomes across the state for Tennessee’s student.

I know, if a teacher started an organization with the express purpose of improving health care across the state we’d look at them a little crossed-eyed, but that’s a different convo for a different day.

Over the years, due to Frist’s money and his relationships, SCORE has shouldered their way to the front row of education policy conversations – freely offering input and leading us in directions that do not always benefit schools or students.

Shortly after their inception, the state adopted a new set of standards that closely mirrored Massachusetts – a state recognized by most as being the apex for k – 12 education – they changed them again a couple years later for Race To The Top. Whether it was causation or correlation, based on 2013 NAEP results, Tennessee lay claim to the title of fastest-rising state in the unionin regard to public education. A title we’ve since clung to like a drowning man to a raft.

Even as scores have flattened, SCORE and legislators continue to promote the nearly decade-old title like it’s a birthright. It’s not and after 5 years of stagnant growth, I’d say it’s pretty clear that SCORE’s policy advocacy ain’t quite panning out.

But have no fear, they’re not going away. When you have access to Bloomberg and Gates money, there is always a seat at the table for you, especially when it comes to politicians.

Yesterday I attended SCORE’s Early Literacy Summit, and the depth of their pockets was in full view. The Summit took place at the Omni Hotel – a hotel that normally charges $500 a night. I’m not sure what the attendance number was – I’m guessing just under 500 – but the big ballroom was packed with educators from across the state. A wonderful breakfast spread was laid out and parking was paid for all at the Music City Center.

The event kicked off with Executive Director David Mansouri welcoming everyone and outlining a literacy crisis that SCORE seems to have just stumbled on – enough kids aren’t learning to read. He proceeded to throw out all kinds of data intended to put a chill in every heart and spur demand for bold action. It didn’t have to be the right action, merely bold.

Luckily for us, SCORE has just completed a report that outlines the anecdote and the vendors that are all too willing to fill the prescription for your literacy ailments will be available later in the day. But before that, we get to hear from a few experts.

Up first was author Natalie Wexler – The Knowledge Gap. Somebody probably should have told Wexler she was addressing a roomful of educators, some who been teaching kids to successfully read for decades. It’s safe to say that these educators are well versed in the importance of comprehension when it comes to reading and that none needed an in-depth explanation of the baseball experiment. Wexler presented little new information and little that educators would take exception to. But at least she was an interesting speaker and I did agree with her dismissal of standardized tests. Unfortunately, despite her recognition of the issues with standardized testing, she was still willing to quote the dismal statistics produced by those tests.

Next up was a panel made up of state senator

  • Delores Gresham chair of the Senate Education Committee,
  • Rep Mark White, House Education Committee
  • Mike Krause, Executive Director, Tennessee Higher Education Commission
  • Shannon Tufts, Instructional Coach Lenoir City Schools
  • Charlie Tufts, Second Greater Lenoir City Schools

Despite the best efforts of the moderator, SCORE’s Dr. Sharon Roberts, anyone expecting the politicians on stage to embrace the Governor’s reading bill had to come away disappointed. White offered up that the bill was still in sub-committee were it would likely remain for a couple weeks, a prophecy that has since proven false. Gresham talked more about her commitment to education and the strong work by former Tennessee Governors as opposed to discussing any one bill.

It’s interesting that White tried to keep the bill at arm’s length at the SCORE event, but today in sub-committee he described the recent literacy summit he’d attended the day before, yet never mentioned that it was a SCORE event. All of this twisting and turning is typical of a politician that knows they have an extremely difficult race coming up in the summer and want to do everything they can not to alienate any potential voters while possibly picking up some campaign funding in the process. White is in a very precarious position and his playing of both sides was very impressive.

That brought us to lunch, and what a spread it was. SCORE knows how to feed a body. I had sirloin beef strips, dinner rolls, hummus, a nice salad and two out of three of the offered desserts.

After lunch, Governor Lee addressed the room. I wish I could tell you what his message was but, to be honest, I have no idea. Something about caring about education but not as much as the people in the room…his wife is an educator…being bold and honoring the legacy put forth by his predecessors..the rest was lost in translation. Maybe I should have taken better notes, but I was starting to saturate.

It was now time to get to the meat of the matter – the reason we were all here – time to meet the vendors. Under the guise of break out sessions, summit attendees were afforded the opportunity to meet with vendors for the department’s favorite curriculums – CKLA, Wit and Wisdom, and Expeditionary Learning.

This is what the whole day actually boiled down to, a good old fashion American sales conference, just like the ones taking place in hotel ballrooms all across the country, and not unlike the one taking place next door at the Music City Center, presented by Berkshire Hathaway. The only difference is that at MCC they were selling homes, in the OMNI, SCORE was selling curriculum. Both events were designed to dazzle the attendees, feed them well, and pry open the checkbook.

As I left the Omni, after deciding I didn’t need to hear the wit and wisdom of the Superintendent of Schools, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the rooms in the hotel would be filled with people staying the night in Nashville on SCORE’s dime. Later when I saw the flurry of social media testimonials, I felt confident that the number was substantial.

SCORE and its acolytes continually maintain their commitment to kids but how many teacher salaries could have been paid instead of a day at a luxury hotel? How could have the money on food and drink been repurposed in order to better serve kids? In looking at SCORE’s 2018 tax filings, you’ll find that they spent $795k on conferences. They spent 1.3 million dollars on salaries, just 25K less than they spent on grants. They spent $1,259,765 with The New Teacher Project (TNTP) who by the way are big supporters of CKLA.

I know that money feels like no object when it’s flowing from Gates and Bloomberg, but when teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they can’t pay their mortgages, that’s a lot of money that could be better purposed. When the state has over 1100 teacher openings shouldn’t we be trying to fill those positions instead of growing the bottom line for education vendors?

I attended a session before the final breakouts on the Mississippi miracle. I asked the woman in charge, “When you codify curriculum for preparing teachers, how do you handle the potential unintended consequences of stifling innovation?”

She replied to me, “We haven’t innovated anything in 15 years, so that shouldn’t be a concern.”

Ah…but it is, but maybe that’s just me.

CAN I HAVE SOME LIME WITH THAT?

Supporters of former MNPS Superintendent Shawn Joseph like to say that he inherited a more difficult situation than any of his predecessors, but I think it’s safe to say that nobody has faced the challenges that Dr. Adrienne Battle has in her brief tenure. It was already hard enough to be the interim director at a time when Metro Nashville was suffering a revenue shortage and teachers had reached an unprecedented level of dissatisfaction. Now, in back to back weeks, she’s had to face the devastating effects of 5 tornadoes and a potential pandemic. All while she tries to prepare for an upcoming job interview.

Any one of those challenges, individually, would be a handful, let alone all of them combined. Through it all, she’s led with grace and class.

She has led with an eye cast forward instead of just towards survival. Many have been critical of the move to combine Gra-Mar and Jere Baxter in the wake of the tornados, but it was a move that has been long pending and needed. What better time than now, with Nashville already in healing mode, to make a difficult transition and enlist the city to help make it a less painful one. Some might argue that not enough care was given to students that were already hurting, I would argue that it was done at a time when the district was capable of offering the most supports in order to ease the change. In the wake of the decision schools, teachers, and students have risen to the challenge.

Recently Dr. Battle announced some alterations to the district discipline plan, a plan that has heavily contributed to increased teacher attrition rates. Predictably she has received pushback. But she is holding firm by respectively telling critics she appreciates there expert opinion, but she has to listen to her experts as well – the classroom teachers who are daily impacted by district policy.

It’s a common refrain to say we put kids and teachers first, unfortunately, it’s a refrain seldom accompanied by a complimentary dance. For the first time, in a very long time, MNPS is being led by someone that is indeed putting students and teachers first – through her actions, not just her words.

Now that’s not to say she hasn’t had missteps – it was foolish to try and claim that schools were being deep cleaned while they were closed last week – but she’s owned those missteps and corrected where necessary.

As we head into the week’s head, there will be more and more conflicting information about the Coronavirus. To navigate these waters it’s going to take all of us keeping our heads and doing our best not to buy into rumor and innuendo. We are all apprehensive, some more than others, and are searching for how best to deal with the pending pandemic.

Today rumors ran wild about a student who had been diagnosed with the Coronavirus. The truth is that WSMV sent 6 employees home today after someone present at Friday’s telethon was reported to have tested positive. Some of those employees have children that attend MNPS. None of the employees have tested positive but have had contact with a suspected infected person.

Let’s take a moment here. The reality is that there are probably several children in MNPS who have been exposed to the virus. Many parents work in the entertainment industry or another industry that requires frequent travel. Nashville has many children who have arrived here from other countries, some in the last week. I would suspect that there are kids carrying the virus and that many of us have already been exposed. Rushing to close schools is not going to change that. Publically pointing out every unclean area in every school is not going to save us. Alerting people and notifying where there are shortcomings is beneficial and necessary, but doing so in a manner that doesn’t incite more panic is crucial.

MNPS is remaining in close contact with the health department and taking their guidance from them. Personally, I feel that is the proper strategy, but I recognize that it’s awful hard to put faith in an organization that has done little to earn it. This is where it really becomes apparent how impossible it is to scale the difficult heights sans trust.

Right now, few are considering the economic ramifications of what the city is facing. In a couple of months, we’ll be forced to face the effects of our actions. I’d never put money before people, but if we are not careful, and don’t control the panic after this has all faded away we may faced with such decisions due to an increased lack of revenue. We need to be prudent and cautious as opposed to giving in to the fear.

The next several weeks will present challenges that are unprecedented. All of us are struggling to strike the right balance. There will be mistakes made. What happens after those mistakes will be paramount going forward. Of all the people we’ve had at the helm over the last couple of decades, I believe Dr. Battle offers our best option for successfully coming out on the other end of these crises. Her calm and thoughtful demeanor has served us well after the departure of Dr. Joseph, and it will be required to go forth. We got this.

The tornadoes established the bar, but I think Nashville is capable of setting it even higher. Let’s pull together and get through these challenging times.

QUICK HITS

While I appreciate all the local musicians and promoters’ willingness to quick leap into action in order to help victims of the tornados by holding benefit concerts, let’s face it not many of those dealing with the aftermath of the storms were in a position to attend the desirous events. I’d be willing to bet that in a couple weeks most of them will be in desperate need of the healing music can provide. What if those same musicians were to print tickets up to a concert to be held in June, and passed them out in the neighbors hit by the destruction. In effect doing a concert for the victims in a roomful of those impacted. Kind of like a future parents night out. Just an idea.

John Ogozalek teaches in rural upstate New York and he has some ideas on what teachers might be able to contribute in the event of an epidemic crisis,

I do not want to sit around my house if school is closed.

Could I volunteer with a local doctor? Check on shut ins?

At the minimum, schools can have meetings right now to make sure teachers and staff have accurate contact information including alternate means to communicate in case the internet is stressed. What happens to families who are lacking child care? And, those kids who rely on school lunch?

We can start to organize and at least offer our volunteer assistance to the government. A sort of “Teacher Force” at the ready for those of us who can lend a hand.

By moving forward without fear and working together maybe we can create a model for other groups? And, most importantly, offer some help to the children in our communities.

All good ideas.

With all the tragedy and challenges that we are already facing us, it feels sadly ironic that one of the truly good guys is wrapping up his journeys around the sun. AP Jeff Davis, and his wife Cara, are two people whose impact on both individuals and the community can not be measured. Along with their two little girls, they’ve demonstrated what a life well-lived looks like. For Jeff, it’s a life that nearing its conclusion – done in after a long brave battle with brain cancer.

He may be leaving the physical plane but I believe parts of Jeff will always remain a part of me and others. After seeing the way he lived, it’ll be impossible not to look at the world a little bit more through his eyes.

It’s the strangest thing to say about someone you were never in a room with at the same time. I suspect though, that Jeff’s friends will tell you, that was his superpower, to touch you just through the way he lived his life. I could ramble on forever in search of just the right words and never find them. But why bother, when Cara already supplies the perfect coda in her Facebook post.

Keep your hands up white boy, you got this.

I’ll be back tomorrow with an update about the reading bill, more coronavirus stories, and who knows what else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Categories: Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: