“I really did not feel okay about any of this, and there was really nothing I could do about any of it.”
“I don’t know whose brilliant idea that was, but it wasn’t mine, that’s for sure.”
This has been one of the most insane months that I can recall. We are only 2 weeks in and already enough has happened to fill 3 months, with no signs of fate taking the foot off the gas. Despite this being the 4th column this week, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover so unfortunately, we can’t take the foot off of the gas either. Let’s get to it.early
STATE”S LACK OF RESPONSE
Now that local officials have closed schools, they are looking to the state for further guidance and if indications are to be believed, they are going to be disappointed.
In response to local officials expressed concerns, Commissioner Schwinn released a letter today outlining the state’s position at this time which she was planning to share with superintendents on a 2 PM call. A quick read of the letter establishes that the responsibility for making decisions as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic would by all indications remain squarely on the plate of the local districts. It appears that the only science she is interested in exerting control over is the science of reading and the only leadership she wishes to engage in when it comes to local districts, is that which can help shift monies and influence to private entities.
She states that the Department will not be making recommendations on school closures, but rather only advise in the event a district chooses to close. On Monday they will share the advice of the Center for Disease Control in order to offer some guidance to local officials.
On the subject of teacher pay during any shutdown, she’s passing the baton back to the LEAs. They can ask questions but the responsibility belongs to them.
On the subject of instructional days, again, up to the local LEAs. They can try appeals to the state but…well…you know the drill.
On the subject of testing, we are continuing as scheduled. She lets us know that it is full steam ahead for both testing and accountability – including chronic attendance measurements – putting any exemptions squarely in the hands of legislators. Which as much of a “who me” move as it is, could be good. As of late legislators have shown greater empathy and understanding than that of TNDOE leadership. The odds of them doing the right thing are much higher than that of the embattled commissioner.
Some may cite her willingness to punt as an indication that she recognizes that her time as the commissioner may be limited. I can’t speak to that but there is nothing in this letter that indicates she plans to demonstrate any leadership for local districts as the state of Tennessee goes through these unprecedented times.
METRO MAKES IT OFFICIAL
If the MNPS School Board needed any evidence that they were embarking on the right path today, all they needed to do was look out at the packed board room. At a time when people won’t go to the grocery store or a sporting event out of fear of catching the Coronavirus, the board room was standing room only in support of Dr. Battle. When the announcement that she was the new permanent director schools the room erupted and occupants jumped to their feet. This is the right move at the right time.
I’ve long been a proponent for the power of the process and preached a need for the board to fully vet Dr. Battle before awarding her the position. Unfortunately Mother Nature chose to weigh in by throwing both a tornado and a pandemic at us. Dr. Battle has taken it all in stride and risen to the challenge.
Now more than ever, we need a steady hand at the wheel and Battle has proven that she can provide it. Since her appointment as interim, critics have tried to paint her as indecisive, inexperienced, just a continuation of Dr. Joseph, along with questioning how she would handle balancing motherhood and district leadership. Her answer to critics has been simple and blunt – she just did the job. And as a result, her critic’s numbers have waned.
Only one board member, Rachael Anne Elrod, spoke against the suspension of the search and the need to honor the process.
With no disrespect meant toward the other finalists, none of them were going to take the job from her. While I too am a proponent for honoring the process, I think it’s equally important to shift when the facts shift. Putting stable leadership in place and allowing them to focus on leading the district, is more important than spending a couple of weeks playing kabuki theater.
I much appreciate vice-chair Amy Frogge speaking up and requesting that contract negotiations be placed on hold until all board members could be present. Board member Jill Speering is in the process of returning from New Zealand, where she had been studying the country’s reading instructional practices. New Zealand has a literacy rate of around 99%, so those practices are probably worth emulating.
After the vote to make her director had passed, Battle excepted the offer by saying words that should be hung in every school in Nashville – This is not a stepping stone for me, this is home.
Today’s announcement is well earned and with it, I believe that we are continuing to embark down the path of improvement. One of the appealing aspects of Dr. Battle is that she is truly a product of the city – she was born here, educated here, employed here, raising a family here, and now leading here. A true Nashville story that will now begin writing its next chapter, I look forward to helping chronicle it. It appearances are correct, it looks like it is going to be a love story.
CRAZY TIMES AT THE STATE
Yesterday I told you about Commissioner Schwinn’s terribly bad not so great day on the hill, well don’t think that others didn’t notice how bad it was. Schwinn and her posse’s performance has tongues a-wagging in the halls of Legislative Plaza. Seems like everybody’s got jokes. So much so that the laughter could be heard over at the governor’s mansion and I don’t think he’s finding it very funny.
Governor Lee, I’m sure doesn’t appreciate the humor at the expense of his hand-picked Commissioner. As a result, word is he’s following the time-honored tradition of his predecessors by summoning legislators to his chambers. Word is that he’s bringing Schwinn’s loudest critics into the principal’s office in an effort to silence them and their criticism of Schwinn.
Not sure how that’s going to work, as neither of them, the governor nor the commissioner, is especially popular. Compounding matter’s is Schwinn’s testimony on Wednesday that the department had not been meeting with contractors about potential RFP’s around HB 2229. An assertion that seems to run counter to a webinar stored on the department’s own web site.
Video shows that Schwinn not only met with some vendors on 2/4/20, but she met with all of them. In the meeting, she not only outlined the scope of the upcoming potential RFP’s but revealed the budgets attached. A move that to me is akin to going into a car dealership and describing the car I want to buy and telling them I’ve got 15k to spend. A strategy guaranteed to get me a $8k car for $14999.
Besides the obvious issues with Schwinn’s presentation, I have a number of other concerns.
First, throughout her presentation, Schwinn never mentions that these potential RFP’s are tied to pending legislation and instead seems to indicate that they will go forward regardless of legislative outcomes. I would be surprised if vendors haven’t already devoted manpower to creating the basic outline for these requests based on her presentation.
To me, this lends credence to the rumors of Governor Lee having lined up private money for implementation regardless of legislative outcomes. Surely, Schwinn wouldn’t have enlisted the time of potential vendors without some assurance of funding. This potential merging of public and private funds attached to government mandates should be of concern to everyone.
Secondly, in listening to the Commissioner outline upcoming initiatives, I get the sense of a plan to create a preferred list of textbooks and materials inside the officially approved list of materials. The department continues to make reference to “adoption of high-quality materials off of the list of approved materials” and the availability of a grant opportunity that would pay $15 – $18 a student for those that adopt high-quality materials.
Keep in mind, that after finding problems with the textbook review process and enlisting John Hopkins University to confirm those issues, the only materials that were re-reviewed, and subjected to the quality vs compliance rubric, were those that failed the initial review. So it could be argued that the only materials truly identified as “high quality” are those that went through the adjusted process. Oddly enough, those materials that were re-reviewed are the ones that most closely align with the “science of reading”.
The most disturbing part of the presentation for me comes around the 40-minute mark when in response to a vendor question, Schwinn says per the literacy bill,
“every educator prep program in the state will be required to teach the foundations based on the science of reading, not as a supplement or add on, they must remove anything related to leveled instruction, and…ummm…<laugh>…anything related to balanced literacy…cueing…all of it…so if we are doing just one way of teaching literacy in this state, which is the direction we are going and will be required in this literacy bill, we understand that a number of our education prep providers are going to require significant technical support to make the necessary changes.”
Does it get any clearer than that? The impact of such a move is almost indescribable.
Thanks to the recent infiltration of TNTP, there are currently fewer TN school districts that use a balanced literacy model of instruction, but the number is not insignificant. Both Nashville and Knoxville would fall into that category. Many of those schools have invested heavily in leveled texts. What will happen to those investments?
The folks who market CKLA, which is marketed by Amplify, supplied an answer to that question at SCORE’s recent Literacy Summit – they get placed on the curb. In a breakout session, CKLA representatives stressed the need to remove all previous materials from the building. They bragged about the sheer volume of material they recently placed on the curb of a school that had adopted their curriculum.
I would think that this agenda would also concern the state’s EPPs. By demanding they teach only one method of literacy instruction they are essentially turning them into vocational schools for the state. Maybe they are all right with that, but if I was looking for a school for my children, or myself, I would be looking for one that supplied a higher level of instruction.
Personally, I don’t believe there is only one way to do anything when it comes to people, and I am suspect of anyone who purposes such.
HB 2229 has already been through several rewrites, and much of the troubling language has been removed, but unfortunately, the intent still remains.
Literacy instruction can always be improved but I’ve never yet met a problem that was best resolved by limiting options. HB 2229 was a bad bill when introduced and remains so today. It’s time to send it to a summer study to work out the kinks and then turn our attention towards the leadership of the TNDOE. It needs to be determined if the department has a leader who meets the two major requirements for the job – competency and a true concern for the children of Tennessee. Right now evidence is beginning to mount that the current occupant of the seat has neither.
ChalkbeatTN through an open records request has secured the list of private schools approved to participate in Tennessee’s pending voucher program. No surprise, most are religious schools with many being affiliates of the Catholic Church. Looking at their websites reveals a heavy emphasis on the Christian religion. Not a bad thing in itself, as long as you ignore that whole separation of church and state thing and you don’t mind your tax dollars going to religious indoctrination
For the past several years, kindergarten and first-grade teachers have bemoaned the state’s portfolio evaluation process. The process was unwieldily and time-consuming. Last month the state comptroller backed up their complaints and this week, legislators agreed. A bill that would remove the Tennessee Department of Education’s ability to administer standardized tests to students in grades K-2 passed the House Education Committee midweek. The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough who has long been an outspoken champion for eliminating rigorous mandates that tie the hands of local education professionals in the classroom,
“Teaching is a profession unlike any other. It takes an enormous amount of passion, commitment and hard work to walk into a classroom every day and give your best. This bill is about giving teachers back the time to do what they entered the profession to do: teach.”
This is great news for teachers but is a development that had Education Committee Chairman Rep Mark White fit to be tied.
Speaking of White, rumors of his pending demise continue to swirl. Word out of Memphis is that he’s drawn one tough mother in Jerri Green as an opponent. As a result he is viewed as very vulnerable by political observers. Carrying water on a poorly written controversial bill can’t help.
Sorry to hear that former MNPS administrator Aimee Wyatt did not secure the superintendent’s job in Tullahoma. Last week the board chose to go with Dr. Catherine Stephens, the associate director of schools for teaching and learning in the Franklin Special School District. Either would have made a great choice and I’m positive you’ll soon see Wyatt’s name surface as a finalist to lead another school district.
Yesterday the Predators announced that they will pay all of their concession and hospitality employees despite games being canceled. MNPS also will pay all of its support personal – other than crossing guards who are paid by MNPD – while schools are closed. That should relieve some of the high levels of anxiety being felt by those employees. Kudos to both for doing the right thing.
Next Thursday Mayor Cooper is speaking at Overton High School and if the street can be believed, this will be a big one that will make many pro-education folks very happy. Details are still emerging, but anticipation is high.
In case you haven’t heard, for MNPS, third-quarter report cards will be postponed and the grading window extended as a result of school closures. Specific instructions will be given to staff and students upon reopening. (Pass it on
The following statistic was brought forth during last week in the state senate education committee meeting, I plan to re-iterate it every week until it is addressed. Currently, there are over 1200 openings for teachers across the state, impacting over 20K kids. That doesn’t exactly align with the recognition that teachers are the singular most important in-school factor impacting student outcomes. Maybe changing those numbers is where our focus should be directed.
That’s it for today. Congratulations once again to Dr. Battle.
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