“The evil we do, Monsieur, is within us; it does not come from circumstance.”
“Any war that requires the suspension of reason as a necessity for support is a bad war.”
Prayers this morning to the residents of Chattanooga, Ooltewah, Brainerd, Cleveland and the surrounding areas who were hit last night by a duo of tornadoes. Nashvillians are all too familiar with the destruction wrought by Spring storms, and the heartbreak that comes with them. This has been a rough Spring for Tennessee and the hard times show no signs of easing up anytime soon.
Even without the storms, this was already slated to be a pivotal week for the state. Tomorrow Governor Lee’s shelter-at-home executive order expires and he’s shown little indication that he plans to extend it. The expiration comes as the chorus for re-opening the state for business grows louder, despite the pandemic being far from over.
Two weeks ago it was predicted that this week would be the peak of the crisis and that we would see as many as 192 deaths in one day. That model no longer seems reliable, but that shouldn’t be taken as evidence that predictions were wrong, but rather that Tennessee’s efforts, no matter how imperfect, to date have worked. Because of that success, it’s doubtful that the mayors of Tennessee’s major cities will lift their orders, even if the Governor allows his to expire.
In the business and project management world, a great deal of study has gone into the challenge of the “Last Mile”. The last mile is that period of time when a project nears completion, but people are tired – the excitement level has waned since the project was begun – and they are ready to move on. As a result, work becomes shoddy, deadlines missed, and projects end before actual completion. This leads to, rising costs brought on by a need to redo initial work, necessary features remaining incomplete, and the final payment being delayed.
Such is where we are right now in regard to COVID-19.
People are restless from being cooped up for a month and tired of being preached at by politicians, and others, over the seriousness of the threat. Some are venturing out, amid slipping adherence to social distancing protocols. By relaxing stay-at-home efforts, the risk is increased for the second round of infections.
Concerns over finances are growing. As economic fears grow, so does a desire to get back to work. This is one reason why it is so important for the federal government to get stimulus funds distributed as soon as possible. Extra money in people’s pockets will at least assuage economic fears for a little longer.
Concerns about schooling for kids are beginning to escalate as it becomes more and more apparent that digital learning is a poor substitute for the actual classroom. There are a rumbling of perhaps opening schools in May, or implementing summer school. But even if schools are opened, the question remains, how long will it take for parents to feel safe in sending their children?
There has been a reluctance by government officials to cancel the school year across the state out of fear of disengaging students in schools in districts where wide-scale digital learning is transpiring. I would argue that if your instruction is reliant on accountability for engagement, you’re focusing more on compliance as opposed to learning.
I would urge schools to go ahead and make the call, close for the year, continue offering services, but shift the focus to the planning for the start of next year. ABS’s decision last week to furlough all MNPS custodians until further notice, save for the ones attached to food distribution centers, could be interpreted as another indication of the inevitable.
The pandemic is also highlighting the political chasm in America. For the most part, Republicans are taking the health threat less seriously than the economic threat, and it’s the opposite holds true for Democrats. An argument is currently being made that President Trump has plans to fire the administration’s point person, Dr. Anthony Fauci over his comments involving the early days of the crisis. Such an action would have devastating consequences. We have to be careful that an unintended consequence of the pandemic isn’t further division among Americans.
I’ll admit that many of the strategies being employed by officials give me concern over the potential loss of civil rights, as I tend to agree with the Swedish way of thinking, that in a democratic society you need to convince people to take unified action instead of ordering them to. With that said, it’s clear that social distancing strategies are working and so it’s incumbent on all of us to commit to saving as many lives as possible.
In light of all of this, I would urge both Tennessee’s Governor, and its citizens, not to fall prey to the challenge of the last mile. To commit to seeing things through to completion. It’s imperative that we remain diligent in the fight against the coronavirus and that we don’t allow our frustration and fear to overrule our best instincts. Most Americans believe in the necessity of social distancing and at this time the best course of action for government is to support actions that align with those beliefs.
Heather Boushey, CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and former economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress expresses it best,
“We can’t take shortcuts. As long as people can still get sick in places of business or in their workplaces, and so long as our health system is being overtaxed because there are just too many cases, we’re not going to be able to get the economy functioning back the way we would like it to. It simply won’t be possible.”
We don’t know how this whole crisis will end, but it’s a pretty safe bet that if we try to speed the recovery process along we could seriously hamper long term recovery. This last month has been a huge sacrifice by all, re-engaging too soon runs the risk of negating that sacrifice. These weeks may seem endless, but they are but a microcosm in our lives and will soon pass.
Let’s not quit the race before the last mile is complete. In the recovery world we have a saying that addresses the importance of that last mile – don’t quit before the miracle. The miracle is right around the corner, let’s see this thing through.
ELA ADOPTION PROCESS
As I mentioned Friday, tomorrow the MNPS School Board is slated to consider a recommendation for the curriculum and materials that the district will utilize to teach English Language Arts for the next 6 years. The Curriculum and Instruction department is recommending the adoption of Great Mind’s Wit and Wisdom for grades k -6. This is in spite of the proposed curriculum’s failure to meet all the standards set forth by the state’s rubric for review of ELA materials.
This year the state’s process of ELA materials adoption was rife with controversy. Enough controversy that it inspired both an audit from the state comptrollers office and a Lawsuit from a competing vendor. At the heart of the controversy were two proposed curriculums – Great MInd’s Wit and Wisdom and Amplify’s CKLA. Both of whom embrace the recent Science of Reading trend and both of whom failed their initial review.
As a result of their failure, Commissioner Schwinn supposedly recognized problems with the adoption process and made the decision to change not the rubric but also bring in new reviewers. Furthermore, only those vendors whose materials had failed to pass the initial review were re-reviewed. In other words, if the flawed review process had served to validate materials it was deemed acceptable, if not, a correction was needed. It is a judgment that defies logic. Either the process produces valid results, or it doesn’t. Simple.
CKLA passed its re-review while Wit and Wisdom once again failed to pass. (Great Minds – Wit & WisdomGrade 3) Despite its failure, Wit and Wisdom was added to the list of approved curriculum and materials with the following caveat,
The re-reviews determined that titles for grades 3 through 5 passed sections I through III but failed Section IV (Foundational Skills). In review of Section IV of the rubric, the Tennessee Department of Education recognized overlap with Section II. Because your materials passed Section II, you will receive a passing score for Section IV as well. However, comments left in Section IV by reviewers will be published under “for information only” for reference by districts during their local adoption processes. As you work with districts during their local adoption processes, we recommend that you encourage them to find supplemental materials that focus on foundational skills support to pair with your materials.
It’s interesting that when you put the review of Wit and Wisdom next to that of a separate vendor(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Into ReadingGrade 5), the reports bear little resemblance. The initial reports supply much more detail than the re-review ones.
Throughout the Fall and early Spring, Commissioner Schwinn and the TNDOE have been ardent supporters of the Science of Reading and the TNDOE has used its Knowledge Matters partnership with the Knowledge Matters Campaign, to share so-called important and impressive early literacy stories from across the state. There are a series of pieces in The 74, and this one was published this week featuring Putnam County. I’m sure they are chomping at the bit to add MNPS to the roster.
It’s worth noting that Schwinn’s husband Paul Schwinn, currently employed by STEM Preparatory Academy, was previously employed by both IDEA public schools – a Texas Charter School who was an early adopter and proponent of Wit and Wisdom – and The New Teacher Project – a reform-minded organization that is both a promoter of Wit and Wisdom and a trainer of teachers on the curriculum. Admittedly all of this could be a correlation and not causation, but doubtful that there is no shared interest in adoption.
There is also no doubt that the politics around this year’s ELA materials adoption process has been messy. Based on that messiness, it’s hard to keep an open mind when things seem to flow along a predictable path. But let’s give Chief Academic Officer David Williams the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps this really is the best path forward. And if it is, he should be able to defend it and sell it.
The local review process of potential ELA materials was completed roughly 2 months ago. Due to the since completed director’s search and the budget process, presenting the recommendations and securing board approval has been delayed for several weeks. That should work to Williams’s advantage.
A switch to Wit and Wisdom means a complete switch in how reading is taught in MNPS. For veteran teachers, it will mean completely abandoning past teaching strategies, many of which have proven successful. Old materials will require replacing and training sessions will need to be purchased and scheduled, both of which will come with a financial cost.
Teachers are already filled with anxiety due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s essential that the proposed curriculum adoption comes with a detailed filled plan that lays out a timeline that includes the what, when, and how of training and expectations. When Baltimore adopted the curriculum in 2019 they created an entire strategic plan around it. I don’t know why MNPS stakeholders should expect anything less.
I would urge school board members to listen to tomorrow’s presentation with an open mind, sometimes politics and needs do align. But I would urge that they recognize the challenge behind the adoption and not accept any recommendation that does not come with a complete financial analysis and strategic plan that includes as much “how”, as “what” and “why”. I would ask that they carefully consider how this investment aligns with the current challenge and needs of the district in order not to place an increased burden on an already overtaxed system.
Tomorrow is a big ask, and as such, a decision shouldn’t be rushed into. MNPS leadership needs to be sure that they are setting students and teachers up for success and not just adding to a plate that is already filled to the rim.
I got an exceptional response to the poll questions this week, so let’s take a look at the results.
Question 1 asked for your feelings on Commissioner Schwinn’s proposed plan to recoup lost instructional time for students. Shockingly, that’s sarcasm, most of you were not fans of the plan. 67% of you felt that it, like her tenure, was a trainwreck. Only 1 of you thought it was a bold and exciting plan. In other words, she’d be advised to scrap the idea and start over. Here are the write-in votes,
|There are so many more important issues than this||1|
|Utterly ridiculous. Communities would never accept “mandatory” summer class, etc||1|
|Pretty clear TDOE/board can’t. Local supers will.||1|
|She can stick it where the sun don’t shine||1|
|I don’t like it.||1|
|I’ll believe it when it happens. All very fluid right now.||1|
|Grossly Incompetent, Lee crushes on her anyways|
Question 2 asked what you thought of the potential adoption of the curriculum Wit and Wisdom by MNPS. The leading answer, at 36% of you, idicated that you were not a fan of the idea. 36% of you indicated concern over either the cost or extensive training potentially required. 18% of you offered varying degrees of acceptance of the proposed recommendations. here are the write-in votes,
|now isn’t the time to be spending millions we don’t have||1|
|Two years in something new will roll around. Ex- C||1|
|Don’t do it. Save $&||1|
|Both the cost and training concern me||1|
|Let’s adopt a plan to cover 100 Million first||1|
|I don’t know much about it.||1|
|cost AND TRAINING||1|
|Won’t be teaching ela next year||1|
|I thought we had to cut the budget???||1|
|A curriculum change. Yes, that will solve all our problems.||1|
|Let’s focus on what matters. Kids. This can wait.|
The last question asked who you would like to see as the next state superintendent of education. MNPS board member Amy Frogge received 44% of the votes with PET executive director JC Bowman and former commissioner Candice McQueen following her. Lot’s of write-in votes with this one. Here they are,
|None of the above||1|
|I’d like to hear a word about potential layoffs.||1|
|A district superintendent who actually knows Tennessee’s needs||1|
|Bring Lana back||1|
|David Mansouri??? No way.||1|
|A native Tennessean with classroom & admin experience in public schools||1|
|Your list is isn’t realistic. Too hyper local.||1|
|Anyone with a brain||1|
|None of the Above on this list!||1|
|A trained monkey|
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