“a whole lot of ideas isn’t a plan. A plan is a bunch of details that mesh with one another, so you go from this step to this step like crossing a stream on a lot of little boulders sticking out, and never fall in. Ideas without a plan is usually just enough boulders to get you into the deep part of the stream, and no way to get back.”
“Please, don’t torture me with cliches. If you’re going to try to intimidate me, have the courtesy to go away for a while, acquire a better education, improve your vocabulary, and come back with some fresh metaphors.”
Someone said to me the other day, “I feel like the whole world is collapsing. Between tornados and Coronavirus, I am under constant bombardment. Then I go on Twitter and see you railing against this reading bill like there is nothing else in the world.”
The comment made me chuckle, but in some ways, I do think this reading bill is every bit as important as anything else going on in the world right now. Middle Tennessee will recover from last week and rebuild. The coronavirus threat will lessen. But what’s in this reading bill will negatively impact students for years. We are rushing down a path that should only be considered after careful consideration and exploration. Which frankly hasn’t been done to date.
Over the past 6 months, SCORE has been busy trotting out its guinea pigs to testify about the huge gains they’ve been making by using the favored curriculum, but closer inspection reveals, the evidence just isn’t there yet. Early adopters of what the department is prescribing are only in the second or third year of implementation and they seem to have forgotten that by focusing on just one grade level that each year you are considering different cohorts – i.e. every third-grade class is different. There just isn’t enough data to back up claims on a scalable and sustainable level.
I’m troubled by the manner in which proponents of the bill will argue for the science of reading as made up of the components phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension – few will argue that all are important – without ever showing what that looks like in practice. If suddenly tomorrow teachers were called upon to teach reading 90 minutes a day using SOR what would a student’s day look like?
As it stands today, no teacher in the state of Tennessee is prohibited from using any of the elements of SOF in teaching students to read and I feel comfortable in saying, all do to varying degrees. What that right balance is open for interpretation and should be rooted in practice.
The thing that some people seem to fail to recognize is that is there is a learning curve between theory and practice. To find the right balance of theory and practicum takes time. We can take steps to lessen that time and ease people along, but it is still going to take time.
I’ve had to reinvent myself several times in life. That meant converting theory into practice as quickly as possible on several occasions. How was I able to to that? Whether it was broadcasting, waiting tables, bartending, or insurance sales, the strategy was always the same – find the most successful person in the room and soak them for knowledge.
When I started in insurance, that person was a woman who regularly took cigarette breaks. I made sure that even though I wasn’t smoking, I was out there when she took her break. And I was asking questions. She taught me more, in a shorter time than any professional training session I attended, because she’d already successfully translated theorem to practice and was able to share that balance.
When it comes to education we act as if the experience doesn’t matter. District and state initiatives are repeatedly focused on recruitment as a means of meeting staffing needs, with little or no attention paid to retention. Mentor programs are given lip service, while energy is thrown behind recruitment programs like Tennessee’s recent grow your own programs – a worthy initiative but you can’t fill a leaky bucket by turning up the spigot.
When it comes to presenting professional development, outside consultants are brought in to lead sessions as if the nobody in the district was capable.
Currently, there is over 1100 teacher opening across the state of Tennessee. You’d think that somewhere, someone would be pushing legislation that would address that shortage. Nope, instead, on a Tuesday afternoon, I find myself in the statehouse chamber listening for the third week in a row to a discussion on the merits of the latest amendment to HB 2229 – it’s up to 3 if you are keeping score at home. A bill that dictates what and how schools will teach reading with nary a consideration for who.
Yesterday, State Superintendent Penny Schwinn outlined 4 new concessions that had been made in the latest version of the bill. The first addressed claims that the bill is a means to bring Tennessee back to the Common Core state standards. Schwinn refutes any ties to Common Core in spite of many of the Department of Education’s primary partners having long-standing ties to the aforementioned standards.
Wit and Widom is a curriculum marketed by a company called Great Minds inc, but until 2015 that company was called Common Core inc.
CKLA stands for Common Knowledge Language Arts and is championed by none other than David Coleman and the Core Knowledge Institute’s Board of Trustees being populated by Common Core proponents like E.D. Hirsch, Chester Finn, and Robert Pondisco.
Personally, my views are mixed on Common Core, but I haven’t spent the last couple summers promising voters that I was doing away with it. Whether it’s coming in the front door or the back is immaterial to me, but should concern Republican legislators. To deny the connection between the “science of reading” and “common core” is a bit disingenuous.
Initially, the bill called for the state’s chosen diagnostic tool to replace all diagnostic tools currently used by individual LEA’s. The amendment allows for the continued use of those tose tools by LEA’s if that’s their desire. This offers reassurance to those districts who have long term financial obligations to their current vendors but does little to alleviate concerns over forfeiture of local control and the ability to adequately predict the number of students who would require additional services.
Interestingly enough, per a handout from the TNDOE, implementation, and management of the diagnostic tool will not be handled by state employees but rather a third-party contractor. This contractor will, as a result, be privy to data on every elementary school child in Tennessee. I sure hope protocols are in place to protect student privacy, but I can’t help but have some concerns.
I guess I shouldn’t worry too much though because in reading the TNDOE handout, it feels like the department has a vendor in mind. So perhaps those concerns have already been addressed.
I do wonder what the fiscal note on this new contract will be. There doesn’t seem to be a price tag attached to it, though at yesterday’s sub-committee meeting Schwinn speculated that it would run between 1 and 2 million dollars. It seems like a low estimate to me to fulfill all the obligations outlined in the handout, and I’d be interested to see where those numbers come from. Hopefully, they are not intent on raiding another dormant account in order to fund this initiative.
Luckily, in the newest amendment, a provision has been added that guarantees that the education department will use a competitive bidding process to choose all vendors associated with the rollout. This may feel like overkill, but based on the recent history of the primary players, I think it’s justified.
The last change in the amendment relates to the EPP’s. Previously the bill had called for those training teachers to have a current Tennessee Teachers license, that has since been relaxed. This was viewed as a large concern to the state’s EPPs, who have remained rather quiet on the bill.
Yesterday in her testimony to the sub-committee Schwinn attempted to downplay charges that the TNDOE was trying to take control of curriculum selection away from LEA’s. This is an area of some dispute and I think that it needs to be recognized that there are various ways to accomplish such an objective. Another recent handout from the department shows that they plan to reimburse districts at a rate of $15 – $18 per student for those who select curriculum off of the state’s approved list of books and materials. That money will allegedly come from the $10 million in the governor’s proposed budget.
I’m a little confused here, the FAQ states that all schools who adopt off of the approved state list of materials will be eligible to apply for the reimbursement. It was my understanding that all districts were expected to adopt materials from off of the list…so why not just say everyone will receive the reimbursement? I suspect that the key sentence is “can apply” and that it’ll be worth watching what grants are actually approved and which are denied.
The changes in the bill are welcomed, but there are still a number of areas that need work, including but not limited to, the student retention verbiage and the exclusionary clauses. Excluding certain counties, while forcing adherence from others creates an equity issue. If this bill is good for students, then it should be good for all students, not just the ones that weren’t fortunate enough to be born into wealth and privilege. Legislators are flirting with setting a dangerous precedent by continually adopting legislation that is aimed at some students while others are exempt.
At the core of the conversations surrounding this legislation is the definition of the role of the Department of Education. In the past, it has served a role of support and many would argue that is a proper role. Over the last several years it has slowly shifted more into the role of overseer and chief accountability officer, a role many would argue is an improper one. I would put forth that when it comes to the latter, the TNDOE doesn’t in the best of times have the capacity – let alone in times like the present when it is woefully understaffed.
In a nutshell, the argument over HB2229, and its accompanying Senate bill, comes down to, who do you think is best equipped to meet the needs of their students – the local community or the state.
Today the bill made it out of sub-committee, after being stalled there for three weeks, and now advances to the full committee. Schwinn, her team, and their allies celebrated like they just won the Super Bowl, but they need to remember it’s a long road to passage, and it winds through the Senate. As Chairwoman of the Senate education committee has so eloquently stated, the governor proposes and the legislative branch deposes. Yesterday is potentially the best it gets for the TNDOE for a long time.
Couple more quick side notes before we wrap today’s post up and I start assembling coverage of today’s Senate Education meeting for publication tomorrow. Which should bring credence to the previous paragraph.
Reportedly, the State Superintendent has been telling state educators that Governor Lee has already secured private funding for the skills portion of HB 2229, so whether or not the legislature passed the bill, or not, was immaterial. The TNDOE plans on implementing regardless, with private dollars if necessary. I’m not sure of the context of that statement or what the landscape looks like under that proposal, but I have to admit such a proposal is a little troubling and again I would worry about the precedent it would set.
In an unrelated but equally troubling note, over the weekend MNPS School Board Chair Gini Pupo-Walker penned an op-ed piece in which she supported passage of HB 2229 and voiced her belief in the ‘Science of reading.” She did so despite the fact that MNPS is paying lobbyists to act in opposition to the bill and without acknowledging that the terminology “science of reading” has already been stricken from the bill. In reading her piece I would question whether Walker has even read the latest amendments.
Given that Walker now holds a senior leadership position with Education Trust, an organization with close ties to many of the organizations that stand to benefit from HB 2229’s passage, it begs the question of who’s interests she was voicing in writing that op-ed piece – those who elected her to represent them or those who sign her paycheck?
While we may not have an immediate answer to that question, I’m sure we’ll be asking it again soon because I doubt this is the last time the agenda of MNPS and that of Education Trust are at cross purposes.
That’s a wrap, I’ll be back on tomorrow to talk about Penny Schwinn’s terribly not fabulous day on the hill. We’ll also discuss the painful lesson of outsourcing custodians, it’s a painful one that I suspect MNPS won’t soon forget.
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