“Be kind and considerate with your criticism… It’s just as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good book.”
“People were not peaches. Like guns and saddles, they were all the better for becoming slightly worn.”
The series finale of Homeland aired last night. If you’ve never watched the show before, I urge you to rectify that. It was a brilliant show that illuminated the price of politics and ideology, and their impact on the average citizen while giving enough cheap thrills to keep the story moving.
At its core is the protagonist, Carrie Mathison, who suffers from bipolar disorder. As a high ranking CIA officer, she is forced to make decisions in the name of the greater good. She often disregards the human element, and the cost of her decisions to the individual is not part of the final equation.
This year, Mathison was forced into positions that were not only between two bad options but led her to betray those that she purportedly loved and pledged loyalty to. It left a lot to consider and I would argue, like the best art, holds up a mirror to current world affairs, both on the national level and locally. I’ll miss the show, but in its last season, as with much of its run, it has left me with much to consider.
REMOTE LEARNING 2.0
I’m going to be careful here, as my wife is an MNPS teacher and we have a policy of strict separation of church and state. That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to acknowledge the herculean efforts made by teachers over the last week to prepare to offer some form of remote learning to Nashville’s students here at the close of the unofficial school year.
In its initial response to the COVID-19 crisis, MNPS’s initial response struck the right chord in response to the pandemic. Teachers were instructed to focus on reaching out to students and ensuring that they addressed the kid’s primary needs of food and SEL needs, efforts were made to deliver worksheets and recommend books, or computer platforms in an effort to continue some form of formal learning. But kid’s well being was considered first and foremost.
It wasn’t an easy task.Being a large diverse district meant that family conditions ran a wide gamut. Teachers, many who suddenly found themselves becoming the sole source of income for their families, themselves were not immune to the effects of the pandemic. Despite everybody being confined to home, day to day tasks became more complicated – a grocery trip could take hours as due to shortages, you couldn’t just go to one store – and many people struggled with motivation. People may not have been performing their normal work tasks, but anxiety levels remained high.
Throughout this period, Dr. Battle offered instructions that addressed the needs of both students and staff, hers was a calm voice in a tumultuous storm. MNPS deserves commendation for keeping everybody on the payroll throughout the initial stages of the pandemic, no easy feat, other businesses – restaurants, hotels, warehouses, and media outlets – didn’t fare as well. furloughed their employees.
Last week things shifted. Teachers were suddenly thrust into a role that required mastering technology, and learning a new method of teaching in the midst of an ongoing crisis that were also subject to. Suddenly despite school being officially canceled for the year, and only 3 weeks left in the official school year, MNPS teachers were expected to once again overcome the opportunity gap, mitigate societal inequities, and deliver meaningful instruction that wouldn’t be graded, but would have an accountability factor.
Per interim-Chief Academic Officer David Williams in a WPLN report,
“What we want to do is provide teachers with a very simple, repeatable, systematic framework,” he says. The new system will call on teachers to post daily assignments “and have ways to connect with kids through our learning management system.”
Without getting in the weeds, what Williams and company have provided offers none of the above. As he has in the past, what’s been offered is a plan that is long on goals and short on details. While some training is offered to teachers, the bulk has been accomplished by teachers once again leaning on colleagues. It’s a strategy that is once again dependent on the knowledge that teachers will always rise to the challenge, no matter what the personal cost.
Much has been made of charter schools, private schools, and smaller wealthier schools having the ability to almost instantaneously pivot to distance learning, unfortunately, large urban school districts aren’t positioned to make that transition with ease. Inequities are rife on the best of days, the current pandemic just shines a brighter light on those issues. Those inequities mean that in order to have successful implementation you have to have greater planning.
Do you have access to the internet is not a sufficient question in which to build planning. Without knowing the speed of a household’s connection, the number of students in the household, the number of devices accessing the internet, the number of parents working from home, and other factors that question becomes moot.
Many of the families served by MNPS live in housing that is under 1200 sq feet. If space is shared by 5 family members, where is the student supposed to go to participate in online classes? Holed up in a closet? On the dining room table surrounded by distractions? This is a very real consideration.
What about teachers? As Nashville has grown and boomed, teacher salaries have not kept pace. As a result many teachers are forced to live in a smaller space, take on a roommate, or cut financial corners elsewhere. That means finding a place within their homes in which to host classrooms and balance the needs of others who share the home. In some cases. that’s a lot easier said then done.
When you make $150k plus a year, it’s easy to lose sight of the daily realities for people that make less than $50K. When you live alone or only have one kids, it’s easy to underestimate the demands placed on those that have larger households. Not pointing fingers, just saying.
We also seem to have forgotten that just prior to the onset of the pandemic, Nashville and other areas of Middle Tennessee were struck by a series of tornados. Tornados that wrecked damaged on the homes of both students and teachers. Many MNPS families and teachers are still in the process of rebuilding in the aftermath of that natural disaster.
I have heard reports of teachers huddled in cars outside closed restaurants with active wi-fi, holed up in makeshift offices in bedrooms or garages, or outside their closed schools, all in an effort to tap into needed bandwidth in order to meet the district edict. It bears repeating, the one thing you can always say about teachers, no matter how unreasonable the demand, they’ll rise to the challenge. But it’s safe to say if these are the lengths teachers will have to go to in order to comply, the same requirements will be foisted on the shoulders of MNPS families.
In developing a plan you can’t dismiss history. The WPLN article, and others, fail to acknowledge that this is not MNPS’s first foray into embracing technology. Veteran teachers will tell you all about “Blackboard”. It was a digital initiative put forth by the district a few years ago. Teachers were encouraged to put all their written work on the digital platform for easy access, many heeded the initiative and invested countless hours in compliance, only to see Blackboard abandoned by the district three years later. A move not without precedent.
Optics are important, but effectively doing something should be more important. Right now a whole lot is being demanded of stakeholders without evidence that what is being done will be effective. Pursuing action sans adequate planning also ensures that there will be some undoing that needs to be done before an effective plan can be put into place. That business of undoing will also be placed on the shoulders of those who will be tasked with future implementation. In other words, we are ignoring the work smart not hard meme.
It’s often said, that doing something is better than not doing anything. I disagree, imprudent action can serve to not only be ineffective but to also complicate future efforts. Proper planning should also not be confused with inaction.
I ended up getting further into this than intended, so I’ll end here. But I won’t do so without offering hearty appreciation for the work contributed by teachers during this ongoing unprecedented crisis. At this point, it should be more clear than ever how essential y’all are. Essential not just to our children’s future, but to our society’s future as well.
Thank you, for all you do. All you sacrifice. All you offer. All you provide. The world would be in worse straits without you.
FLAWED TEXTBOOK ADOPTION PROCESS
Tomorrow the MNPS school board is slated to be presented with an updated presentation on textbooks and materials proposed for district ELA adoption. Two weeks ago, a vote to accept the Curriculum and Instruction department’s recommendation – based on a 19 member teacher panel – was delayed so board members could be provided with additional information and clarification.
In the wake of the decision to delay, there were efforts to paint board members as being disrespectful to the MNPS teachers who had participated in the adoption process. I’d argue that forcing teachers to offer an opinion based on a manipulated process is more disrespectful to not just those on the 19-member committee, but to those across the entire state. It doesn’t take more than a perfunctory look to realize, that’s exactly what’s transpired with this year’s ELA adoption process.
Textbook Commission policy 4.100 prohibits “piloting” of curriculum/materials within 18 months of an adoption process.
4.100 TEXTBOOK AND INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS PILOT POLICY No local school board or publisher may participate in a pilot program of materials being considered for adoption during the 18-month period before the official adoption of the materials by the State Textbook Commission.
Despite this policy, SCORE LIFT Districts were allowed to continue their early adoption of favored materials, CKLA and Wit and Wisdom. Not only were these districts allowed to pilot the materials, but the piloting was promoted.
In case you are feeling the need to split hairs on whether these districts were actually piloting or not, I offer this excerpt from a 2018 SCORE Report on early literacy,
Fayette County began their pilot with aligned instructional materials in the spring of 2016. The district was both thoughtful and strategic from the outset of the pilot, designing a model in which two schools would pilot the Wit & Wisdom materials and two schools would pilot the CKLA materials. Dr. Marlon King, superintendent, engaged school leadership at a very early stage, bringing the principals, called Chiefs of Schools, in as the leaders of the pilot work.
It sounds like a pilot to me and a clear violation of the textbook adoption policy. In fact, SCORE’s website is filled with reports documenting their curriculum pilot efforts.
On July 2, 2019, the final results of the first round of textbook reviews were made known to the Commissioner and to publishers. All three of the programs used in SCORE’s pilot districts significantly failed the main review:
- CKLA Amplify failed all grades 1-8, with the exception of grade 4;
- Great Minds Wit and Wisdom all grades 1-12 with the exception of grade 7;
- Open Up El Education failed all grades 1-5;
Yikes! Better change the review process. So the process was halted, John Hopkins was hired with permission to revise the review process. The rubric was changed and new reviewers were utilized. Previously reviews were done remotely, this time reviewers were gathered and did their work under the watchful eyes of the department of education. Miraculously CKLA Amplify and Learn Zillion passed 100% under new reviewers.
At the same time, the Textbook Commission, guided by Lisa Coons, denied HMH’s appeal to add Into Reading-Grade3 to the approved list even though it was proven that reviewers had not accessed online material that would have shown that required indicators were present.
In case you weren’t aware, the approved materials all align with SCORE’s favored theory “Science of Reading”. Into Reading is aligned with a “Balanced Literacy” approach to reading. TN Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn has spoken repeatedly of her intended demise of “Balanced Literacy” as an instructional practice. When one looks at this year’s corrupted adoption process, SCORE and Schwinn, work together to create a local version of the chicken or the egg question in regard to who’s agenda is being pursued. For her part, Schwinn likes to pint out that the adoption process had become prior to her arrival.
What I just outlined should be enough to raise eyebrows, unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to achieve Schwinn, Coons, and SCORE’s desired effects. Days after the Commissioner learned that some grades of Wit and Wisdom and El Education had failed again on the second review, the LEAs were contacted by the TNDOE to announce a change to the textbook waiver process. With the change, waivers would only be granted for “materials already in use”, a move that created a path for easy waivers for the failed grades of Wit and Wisdom and El Education. They also deleted from the waiver process the ability for districts to seek waivers for special circumstances and for which they would have submitted a supplemental plan such as for HMH Into Reading –where every other grade except grade 3 is on the approved list, and the specific failed grade scored higher than materials on the approved list.
In for an ounce, in for a pound. (2019 ELA Adoption Review Results rev 04062020)
Here’s where it gets even better. The currently stalled Reading Bill included reimbursement opportunities for those who adopted materials off of the TNDOE’s preferred list. Throughout the legislative session, Commissioner Schwinn floated numbers ranging from $10 per student to $18 per student. Included in the bill was language to ensure that the department’s favorite sons didn’t get left out in the cold, early adopters were also eligible for the reimbursement.
So the department wasn’t just turning a blind eye to those who broke policy 4.100, they were offering to financially reward them for their lack of adherence. In looking at the state’s list of waivers, it appears that early CKLA adopters were granted a waiver for their early adoption. And that’s acceptable how?
The adoption process has now moved to the local level, and the TNDOE and Lisa Coons are not done playing with the process. In a year that there was supposed to be little variance permitted from the state’s list of proposed materials, almost half of Tennessee’s 147 districts have applied for a waiver. The Governor’s Science of Reading Bill stalled in the general assembly, but in looking at the waiver list, the TNDOE is trying to establish by practice what they couldn’t establish by statute.
There have been 33 applications for a waiver to use Wit and Wisdom k-2 have been approved, that’s 23% of the districts in the state. Despite scoring higher than Wit and Wisdom on the state’s rubric, all 5 requests for a waiver to use HMH – 3 have been denied. Keep in mind that districts have until June 15 to report their selections. I suspect the number of waiver requests will increase.
On the local level, CAO David Williams has repeatedly touted the number of people who viewed the proposed materials while they were on display at MNEA. He’s repeatedly cited the number of people who offered feedback on the proposed materials. Yet when pressed on how that feedback was incorporated into the final evaluation of materials he becomes demure. Apparently, there is no way to gauge the fidelity of the public review process, one example cited is that people may have entered more than one review. As a result, the public reviewers were given little weight in the final recommendation.
I’ve always maintained that nothing that starts corrupt ends up pure. We can try and ignore the early corruption all we want, the bottom line is that this adoption process is irrevocably tainted. The majority of that taint falls on the hands of the TNDOE, but Williams and his department are not without blame.
I hope that I’m wrong, but odds are that the recommendations of the MNPS textbook committee will be accepted. What that translates to is SCORE and the TNDOE successfully manipulating a process that was designed to be impervious to outside manipulation. Just so we are clear, they are allowing the DOE to do through practice what they couldn’t accomplish through statute. A statute that MNPS has been paying lobbyists to oppose since the first of the year. If legislators were unsure enough to codify the curriculum, why is MNPS enabling them to do so?
We should not be shocked either when down the road, the district finds itself even more under the thumb of the state. We spend so much time focusing on charter schools and vouchers that we completely miss trojan horses like the one in front of the board tomorrow. Every year LEAs lose more and more control to the TNDOE, what they don’t take we give them.
Think about it, MNPS is on the verge of adopting materials that couldn’t pass not one rubric, but a second one designed by Lisa Coons and her department to facilitate approval. The only thing worse than cheating is cheating badly.
Colorado recently created its own list of approved materials. According to their reviews, CKLA and EL Education were approved for some grades. Wit and Wisdom was approved as a supplemental and/or intervention program. HMH’s Into reading was approved for all grades.
Please don’t believe that I am advocating for any curriculum over another. What I’m advocating for is a curriculum that is adopted through an equitable process devoid of manipulation. That hasn’t been the case with this year’s ELA adoption.
Let’s take a look at the responses to this week’s poll questions.
The first one asks, now that the state is open for business, will you be venturing forth with more frequency? 52% of you indicated that you’ll be hunkered done a little longer until things are deemed safer. 36% said you’d be venturing out but only while taking proper precautions. Only 5% of you indicated that you’d be engaging in full re-entry. There was only one write-in vote, “Only if/when I need groceries/meds.”
Question 2 asked for your thoughts on MNPS’s remote learning 2.0. 34% of you felt that the curriculum expectations were unreasonable, while 31% of you recognized that it was challenging but were willing to dive in. Only 5 of you thought that it was a well thought out and doable plan. Here are the write-ins,
|Busy work for teachers with little thought to a pl||1|
|Too top down without empowering educators||1|
|it’s a shit show||1|
|No grades means students will do nothing. Teachers who have kids can’t work 4-5||1|
|I think it’s a good low-risk time to practice|
The last question asked about your level of concern over lost classroom time. The majority of you, 65%, were more concerned about student and teacher mental health. 15% of you admitted to having some concerns but were confident students would quickly catch up. Only 6% of you voiced concern that students would fall so far behind that they would never catch up. Here are the write-in votes,
|Worried most about K-2||1|
|Students arrive in classes all the time unprepared – we will get it down in the||1|
|What is maps doing to take care of mental health?||1|
|Same kids not doing class work are not doing work at home. It’s a wash.||1|
|Not at all. This time of year is for testing and then fun learning opportunities||1|
|Worried about expectations & “testing” next year. W||1|
|Not worried, parents should would with their kids||1|
|My kid will be fine but worry about the district as a whole.|
That’s it for now, 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.