THE WINDS OF CHANGE

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
― Bertrand Russell

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you mad.”
Aldous Huxley

 

That loud noise you are currently hearing around Nashville is the sound of residents’ heads exploding. This week Mayor Cooper formalized what everybody should have already been expecting, this year’s budget includes a $1 property tax increase. Dad Gone Wild readers really shouldn’t have been surprised because I tipped you guys off weeks ago.

Knowing and confirming are too different things though. Knowing leaves wiggle room that you could be wrong, confirming removes that wiggle.

Even though Mayor Cooper is confirming the dire straits the city’s economy is in, there appears to be some denial still taking place. Tax proponents are dancing with glee that they finally got their long-desired tax increase which will lead to increased benefits. Tax opponents are pissed because they still think there has got to another way. Meanwhile, the realists are unhappy with the additional burden required but also realize, this is where we are at.

Nashville’s situation is not dissimilar from that of a family whose income is repeatedly running short and they suddenly have a medical emergency. They’ve been spending above their means for a while and are now left with the prospect of someone being forced a second job. The income from the second job won’t be sufficient to enable the family to go on trips or purchase new vehicles, but rather simply maintain the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to while addressing astronomical medical bills. Some family members are fighting to not take on the second job and are continually arguing that if the family just cuts expenses – things will be fine.

The problem is that the family has been cutting expenses for years and without a fundamental alteration of their lifestyle – something no one wants – there is nothing left to cut. Nashville needs a second job, and not a part-time one or one that pays minimum wage.

It sucks, but when you shut down the economy for an extended period – whether it’s justifiable or not – there are consequences. In this case, the consequences are potentially losing 300 million dollars in sales tax revenues.

Some argue that once retail opens back up again, people will instantly start spending money again. Maybe, but that’s counting coins and what we need is bills. Nashville will not start to substantially refill the coffers until large scale special events return to the city. For that to happen, people have to collectively be willing to reassemble in large groups. When that will happen, is anyone’s guess.

I hate the fact that property taxes are going up – my family is rapidly being priced out of the city – but I applaud Mr. Cooper for treating the citizens of Nashville like adults. He could follow the lead of his predecessors and sugarcoat coat things and propose half measures that only work to delay the inevitable. Instead, he’s chosen to be frank, honest, and trust that we as adults will recognize the reality of our situation. It’s what we always claim we want from leaders, let’s see how we handle it.

In honoring his commitment to honesty, I’m not going to assume we’ll be in a better place after the effects of the pandemic retreat. We may be, but we may not be. Many people will probably lose homes, jobs, and business that they have heavily invested in, that fact can’t be understated. Some are going to have to give up their personal agendas for the benefit of the common good, that’s on both sides of the aisle. We are all going to have to pull together.

During the pandemic, it was oft said, we are all in this boat together. That’s not true.

We are all on the same ocean together, but in different boats. Some boats are better equipped for the storms than others, but all are susceptible to unpredictable forces. We owe it to each other to get as many boats to shore as possible. If we do that, we may turn out better after the storm than we did before. Time provides the tablet, it’s up to us to write the script.

A SCHOOL BOARD UNITED

The MNPS School Board often gets a bad rap as a dysfunctional body incapable of forming a consensus on anything. Tuesday’s board meeting provided evidence to the contrary. All nine-members voted to approve the recommendations of the district’s textbook adoption committee. They did so with a few caveats though.

The proposed curriculum was adopted for a period of 3 years instead of the standard 6. This was done with a motion that included a reaffirmation that MNPS is a Balanced Literacy district. That means reading instruction delivered by the MNPS will adhere to the balanced literacy framework and any usage of Wit and Wisdom K-2 would be through the balanced literacy framework.

Under previous MNPS CAO Dr. Monique Felder, the district’s reading instruction philosophy was blurred. She and those who served in the C&I department under her where often dismissive of balanced literacy in favor of a method that demanded strict adherence to a focus on phonics and foundational skills. Without a clearer direction, teachers were often left in a state of uncertainty. Tuesday’s meeting should clear up that lingering confusion.

Still I’m hearing reports that leadership is pushing literacy coaches to get trained in Wit and Wisdom and not creating training that focuses on balanced literacy and how Wit and Wisdom can be used in that framework. To be clear, all nine members of the MNPS school board gave a directive that MNPS remains a balanced literacy district. Shouldn’t be any confusion going forth.

Wit and Wisdom is a curriculum that is closely aligned with the science of reading – a philosophy that works counter to that of balanced literacy. In presenting materials to the board, both Dr. Battle and CAO David Williams argued that despite its alignment with the science of reading, Wit and Wisdom material could be used in a balanced literacy framework. That’s an arguable position, but now they have three years in which to prove it. Again, that proff will statrt with getting literacy administrators on board and understanding the board’s directive.

Three years from now, MNPS will redo the entire adoption process, including creating a new review panel and hopefully once again providing parents and community members the opportunity to evaluate proposed materials. At that point, we’ll have a clearer idea of whether or not Wit and Wisdom truly meets the definition of hi-quality materials.

Any celebration of the adoption of new materials should be tempered by financial reality. It is unlikely that MNPS will have the wherewithal to purchase new textbooks due to the current financial straits we are in. There have been rumblings that the TNDOE may use some of their share – $26 million – from the COVID stimulus package in order to purchase materials. Remember before schools shut down, Commissioner Schwinn was touting reimbursements of $13-$15 per student for those districts that adopted off of the approved list or secured an approved waiver. If this option does again become available I would urge caution, the TNDOE is not interested in supporting balanced literacy and any funds made available would likely come with strings attached.

Kudos need to go out to Nashville’s board of education. They did their due diligence, asked the right questions, and then came together on a strategy that hopefully serves everyone. Throughout the ongoing discussions, it was clear that board members were doing their homework. Very refreshing and I, for one, am appreciative of their efforts. I can’t help but think it bodes well for the future.

IS THE TNDOE IN THE CURRICULUM BUSINESS

On Wednesday, I came across a strange tweet from the TNDOE’s Associate Superintendent of Materials and Curriculum Lisa Coons. It was a tweet that would seem to indicate that Coons and her department are in the process of creating a supplementary curriculum for use by Tennessee School Districts.

This to me feels like the department is heading unto some shaky ground. Curriculum decisions are supposed to be made independently by individual LEA’s. If the department is creating a curriculum, I would think that would have an impact on that independence and open the TNDOE to charges of undue influence. But what do I know?

While we are talking about undue influence, word on the street has it that the commissioner’s husband is no longer employed by STEM Prep, a Nashville Charter School where he served as academic officer. Reportedly his contract was terminated this week and he’s currently going to be working to promote Wit and Wisdom. The street doesn’t seem to be certain of the where and how he will be doing this promotion work but, keep in mind, Mr. Schwinn has previously worked for both TNTP and IDEA Public Schools, both of which are big proponents of Wit and Wisdom – making him very qualified for the job.

One last curriculum tale as it relates to the TNDOE. Back in August of 2019, Coons and Schwinn contracted with David Steiner from John Hopkin’s University to review and identify issues with Tennessee’s textbook adoption process. During a February Senate Education Committee meeting the commissioner was asked if she had a previous relationship with Steiner. Schwinn answered, other than getting a degree from John Hopkins, there was no other relationship. But…is that true?

Many of you have been watching the Wire during this stay-at-home time. Right now I need you to envision one of those boards with pictures of the major players and string showing their connections.

CKLA curriculum is created and promoted by a company called Core Knowledge Language Arts Foundation. Look up their board of trustees and you’ll see that David Steiner sits on their board.

In order to promote the success stories supposedly associated with CKLA, the TNDOE has partnered with a SCORE’s LIFT schools as part of the Knowledge Matters Campaign. look at the names on the steering committee and who do you see? Well, David Steiner again. I’d say this presents a couple of problems.

How unbiased is the opinion of a reviewer going to be when the process they are reviewing has failed to validate a curriculum that they are on two boards overseeing the promotion and marketing of said curriculum. Not exactly what I would define as an independent third-party review.

Secondly, the TNDOE has done extensive work over the last three years with both CKLA and Curriculum Matters, work that they frequently brag about. To suggest that despite this extensive work the commissioner remains unaware of a prominent board member requires a bit of a stretch. I would also argue that her response to the senators falls into the category of lying by omission. Had her intentions been to deliver an honest testimony, she could have still denied a relationship but offered up Steiner’s credentials instead of just referring to him as an expert in the field.

Hopefully, at some point, when the General Assembly reconvenes, legislators will ask for more clarification on this and other responses offered by Ms. during her previous testimony.

MNPS RESTRUCTURES

In response to the current medical crisis and in an effort to make MNPS even more streamlined and classroom-focused, MNPS is about to undertake a massive restructuring of the central office.  Stakeholders can expect an email later day with more explanation, but it’s safe to say that almost every area of administration will be impacted. Keep in mind all those affected by the proposed restructure will remain in their current positions until June 30th. Here’s what I think I know,

The Associate Superintendent positions will be phased out with current occupants being offered the opportunity to apply for other positions within MNPS. All executive directors will be required to reapply for their position. From what I can piece together through conversations with multiple sources, there will be 4 ES executive directors and then 2 at each of the other levels. Currently, each level has it’s own central ED as well, those positions will remain.  The executive directors will all report directly to the CAO position.

David Williams, currently Chief Academic Officer, will return to his previous position as executive director. Several other holders of interim titles will also return to previous positions. Dr. DeSouza-Gallman’s position will be phased out and she’ll be invited to apply for another position. Several other upper-level positions will also be eliminated and their present occupants invited to apply for a different position with MNPS.

Both the communications and human resources departments have seen a recent successful change in leadership, Battle, and her cabinet will now focus on finding new leadership for student services and the C&I department. She’s presently batting 2 for 2, so I anticipate her going 4 for 4 on quality hires.

I’ve heard speculation from numerous parties that the potential savings due to the restructuring could be around $1 million. That is not unsubstantial. I view this as a much-needed restructuring and pray that it’s not just a rearranging of deck chairs, though I don’t get that sense despite a perceived desire by the district to see as many of the current title holders assume other roles within the district.

It can not go unacknowledged the level of difficulty this restructuring presents for Dr. Battle. Many of those affected are people that she has had long personal and professional relationships with. Implementing is a difficult decision even without the burden of friendship, yet Battle continues to demonstrate a focus on putting the district before personal relationships. Between the recent dismissal of her former principal Tony Majors, and now the latest shuffling, I don’t think anyone can question Dr. Battle’s commitment to doing what’s best for the district.

I’ll say this, I don’t always agree with the moves she makes – Remote Learning 2.0 has been a big CF – but she is always moving the needle forward. Today’s announcement proves to be another step in that direction.

A REFORMER”S CHRISTMAS

SCORE’s David Mansouri is just the latest to offer his gleeful expressions over the opportunities provided by the COVID crisis. I find these visions and prescriptions to be extremely offensive. There is a worldwide crisis going on and students face not just lost educational opportunities, but the loss of parental employment, homes, and the very lives of loved ones. Now is not the time to be making plans to capitalize on the incredible losses being inflicted on students and their families. Now is the time to be helping to navigate the challenges presented by this unprecedented global crisis.

Furthermore, I find it equally offensive that all these proposed new models are rooted in the assumption that students will return to school next year with huge deficits in learning. Obviously, there will be loss, but in an attempt to predict at what level, disruptors fail to take into account the efforts teachers are making to reach out and aid students, as well as the individual efforts of families. It also assumes that students are incapable of learning sans adult intervention. I take exception to both.

There is no way of predicting the level of loss because there is currently no way of predicting the extent of the current crisis. It’s like assuming that just because the opposition scored 14 points in the first quarter, they will continue to score at will and you’ll lose 63-0. Play the game and you may be surprised, it’s just as likely the score comes out 14-13 or 28-14.

I’m not arguing against the need to make plans for the future, just that those plans are crafted in response to actual needs of children and not born out of a need to push an adult agenda. To effectively do that is going to required continued conversations with parents, students, and teachers.

SHORTCUTS

Per ChalkbeatTN voucher applications are not quite being submitted at the rate anticipated by proponents,

As of Wednesday night, education department data showed 291 completed applications were still active, while 189 have been denied since the state began accepting them in late March.

Nashville reportedly has 530 families that have started the application process. It’s anticipated that not all of those will complete the process by the May 7th deadline. Some of those families may be applying for multiple children in the household. Despite being available since 2017, only 164 families out of 42k eligible have chosen to participate. Some view this as underwhelming enrollment numbers, I’d argue that it’s about 530 families to high.

Meanwhile, Davidson County Chancellor Anne C. Martin heard arguments Wednesday in regard to a number of motions challenging the legality of Lee’s voucher program.  Motions that included a request for a temporary injunction to keep the program from starting. Martin said she’ll issue her first ruling or rulings by next Wednesday. The state has agreed not to award any vouchers until after May 13th.

Tennessee’s Constitution guarantees a free public education. Specifically, it states, “The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Tenn. Const. art. XI, § 12. The TNEd Report offers some insight from David Sciarra of the Education Law Center on what constitutional guarantees to public education — like the one included in Tennessee’s Constitution — mean in the time of a global pandemic. I strongly suggest you check the article out.

An idea that I wish MNPS would embrace is one now being implemented by the Denver School District. After the choice process is complete, the district provides searchable databases that show how many students were accepted at each Denver school in the so-called transition grades of kindergarten, sixth grade, and ninth grade. The “accepted” numbers include both students who applied through school choice and students who didn’t apply but who live within the school’s boundary and will likely attend. The list isn’t complete and 100% accurate based on several mitigating factors outlined in a recent Chalkbeat article, but I would say this is a great first effort.

That’s it for now, we’ll back with more tomorrow. If you’re 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.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on. I’d love the opportunity to share them. I urge you to read a current entry by Bellevue Middle School student Cossette Sullenberger.

 



Categories: Education

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