A CONVOLUTED PATH FORWARD

“You’re the only one that you are screwin’, when you put down what you don’t understand.”
Kris Kristofferson

“She liked to argue, especially with people who were serious about weird ideas they swore were true.”
Elmore Leonard, Up in Honey’s Room

 

ESPN’s The Last Dance has proven to be a welcome respite from the constant upheaval that has become the new normal. If you are not familiar, The Last Dance is a documentary focusing on the last NBA championship season of the Bulls and Michael Jordan. It contains never before seen behind the scenes footage from that final championship run.

While primarily focused on 1998, the film also spends time examining the years leading up to the cumulative season. Modern-day interviews with key players are melded in with the archived footage. It’s interesting to see what people look like today and to hear their thoughts on events from over two decades ago.

What’s striking, and has provoked much public commentary, is how much Jordan still holds on to past grudges. It may be nearly 20 years since he stepped on a basketball court, but it’s clear that he still feels every perceived slight as if transpired yesterday and those perceived slights still drive him like they did when he last laced up his sneakers.

Watching the highlights, and listening to the player’s talk leads me to realize that there has been a fundamental shift in sports over the last several years. Somewhere along the way, sports became more about entertainment and marketing, and less an all-out battle between competitors. Sure championships and winning are still important, but I don’t think they hold the same priority they once did. Career longevity and brand value have become the new gold standard.

I try to think of a modern-day athlete who still holds on to that win-at-all-costs mindset like Jordan and I’m hard-pressed to name one. Maybe Tom Brady. The recently departed Kobe Bryant comes to mind, but other than that…the cupboard is bare.

These days, players trade jerseys before games and go out to dinner afterward. It’s safe to say, Jordan and Isiah Thomas don’t own each other’s jerseys and Scottie Pippen and Bill Lambier never shared an after-game meal.

These days players weigh playing a game against the potential impact on future earnings. Jordan played on an injured ankle before fully healed despite warnings that reinjury could curtail his career and he has yet to forgive Scottie Pippen for allowing a migraine to negatively impact his game. Those views are decidedly out of synch with today’s players who openly discuss load-management.

My 9-year old son is fully immersed in the 10-part series and it’s got him speculating how current players would fare in the past. It’s a hard question to answer. Today’s athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger than their peers of the past, yet those players of the last century had resilience and determination that is missing from today’s games. This leads me to believe they would have found a way to offset the superior physicality of today’s players in order to be competitive.

If you haven’t watched any of the series, I encourage you to do so. Two episodes air every Sunday, and there are four remaining. It’s time well spent.

VOUCHERS

As I promised yesterday, today brings more voucher news. If you’ll remember yesterday we left our voucher villains in a state of denial. Both Governor Lee and his henchwoman Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn were trying to conduct voucher business as if the court’s opinion carried no weight – continually enrolling potential families with nary a notice that the program had been put on hold.

In response to a question at Wednesday’s COVID press conference, Lee proclaimed his confidence that the program was indeed constitutional and his intent to appeal. The first order of business would be getting Davidson County Chancellor Anne C. Martin to lift her injunction while waiting for the state’s plea to be heard. Well, that didn’t go so well and earned him a gentle rebuke from the judge.

Martin not only upheld her injunction but seemed a little put out that the TNDOE hadn’t followed the requirements of her earlier ruling,

“It is not helpful when representatives of the state make statements to the public and press that are inconsistent with the court’s ruling and the true status of the program. It is confusing to parents and indicates a disregard of the court and the rule of law.”

Now if Martin has been following proceedings during the recently halted General Assembly she probably wasn’t surprised that the state continued to try to conduct business as usual despite her initial ruling. Schwinn and company have been regularly following their own lead, sans input from legislators, since her arrival. If you are not going to listen to elected officials, why would you adhere to the opinions of a judge?

It’s that willingness to follow their own lead while ignoring outside influence that makes a little of yesterday’s proceedings a bit concerning. Despite the injunction, the department of education was allowed to continue taking applications from interested families throughout the end of the business day, the natural end of enrollment. That means the application period has been completed and opens the door to a potentially accelerated implementation process should a reversal come in the coming months.

There also seems a little mystery around exactly how many people have applied for the program. An earlier ChalkbeatTN article cited outgoing Deputy Education Commissioner Amity Schuyler, who has overseen the program’s rollout, making an estimate that as of April 30th, a week before the deadline – about 500 students would probably be approved this year to receive an annual average of $7,100 each in public funds to pay for private school or other private education services. This week reports put the number of applications the state had received at 1,825 for 2,648 students, that number reported includes incomplete applications and 318 denials.

The lack of clarity on the number of applications shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has followed the ongoing saga, it’s been a process clouded in mystery since inception.

So where do we go now? That’s anybody’s guess. The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene after the first of June. The two bodies seem to be of mixed minds about what ground to cover. The Senate wants to convene, consider budgetary issues, and then disperse. The House, on the other hand, wants to pursue a more robust schedule that includes more questions for Schwinn and the DOE.

In the current proposed state budget most education-related spending has been cut, but the $38 million set aside for the governor’s boutique education program remains intact. As legislators re-examine the needs of LEA’s in the wake of the ongoing pandemic that money could probably be better applied towards technology, online summer schools, or preparing the state’s schools to open in the fall.

Hopefully Governor Lee heeds his own words from Thursday and shifts the money to a place where it can truly benefit the children of Nashville,

“I think anything that is going to allow children in this state to have a high quality education is worth fighting for. It’s worth pursuing. I believe very strongly in those children. They will have had a very challenging educational end of the year this year, and if ever we need to be investing in education for kids, now is the time.”

TEXTBOOK ADOPTION SHENANIGANS CONTINUE UNABATED

Over the last year, I’ve devoted a great deal of ink to the terribly bad, awfully conducted, state textbook adoption process in which the TNDOE has wielded undue influence in an effort to get LEA’s to adopt their preferred curriculum. It’s been a two-pronged campaign by the department, using both legislation and practice, in order to reach their goals. This week brings new twists.

The waiver process has proven to be a very useful tool for Deputy Superintendent Lisa Coons and her department. While LEA’s are expected to adopt a curriculum off of the state’s approved list of materials, they are allowed to apply for a waiver to use materials not on the list. However, in an effort to ensure that, in their words, for the time ever districts were adopting a “high-quality curriculum” the expectation was communicated by the TNDOE to LEAs that few waivers would be granted this year.

But a funny thing seems to have happened on the way to the completion of the adoption cycle. Out of 147 districts across the state, 70 have applied for a waiver – all but 10 have been granted. Of the 10 denied, 6 have been for Into Reading Grade 3, which is a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt produced curriculum that is aligned with a balanced literacy approach to instruction.

Low and behold though, on May 1st something changed. Kingsport City which had been denied a waiver for Into Reading Grade 3 on 4/9 was suddenly approved to adopt the curriculum.

What changed? I don’t know.

What was different about Kingsport City’s application and those other districts – including MNPS – who were denied? I don’t know.

Was it a case of Schwinn and Coons raising a middle finger to districts who wished to adopt the HMH material since the adoption process was now nearly finished? I don’t know.

Is it causation or correlation that Kingsport City’s State Senator is Jon Lundberg who sits on the Senate Education Committee? I don’t know.

About a week ago I put an open records request in for copies of the waiver forms created by the individual districts who applied for waivers. A few days ago I received a response asking if I could be a bit more specific. A request that usually indicates a desire to hide something, but I’ll extend the benefit of doubt. Hopefully, I’ll get that request filled by next week.

The deadline for districts to submit their adoption selections is June 15th. Many have already made those selections. It’s hard to predict how many made their decision based on the expectation that a waiver to adopt Into Reading Grade 3 would be denied. Grade 3 is the only grade that failed to make the state’s approved list of materials, therefore putting it at a disadvantage for districts that desired continuation for grades k-8.

Locally, MNPS applied for and was granted a waiver to adopt Wit and Wisdom K-2 after being denied a waiver for Into Reading Grade 3. MNEA continues to take exception with any one who questions the transparency and veracity of this year’s adoption process. While they may feel that the local process was untainted, I don’t see how that claim can be made with the multitude of issues that transpired at the state level. Had all options been presented to the local committees on equal footing, they may have arrived at the same recommendations, but it’s equally likely that the outcome would have been different. Thanks to the machinations of Schwinn, Coons, and company, we’ll never know.

The entire textbook and curriculum process is designed to function free of undue influence by outside forces. In that sense, the process this year has clearly been an abject failure and I hope that the Tennessee General Assembly will take a closer look at what has transpired and adjust where necessary. We don’t need a repeat in the future.

AN EDUCATION DISRUPTOR CHRISTMAS

Everybody’s got a plan for what schools should look like when they open in the fall. The latest comes from The American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank dedicated to defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and building a freer and safer world. Sounds awesome huh? At least until you look at those involved in the think-tank and in writing the report – a veritable who’s who of Chiefs of Change and education disruptors including our very own former Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

You might also notice the name David Steiner on the contributors’ list. You’ll remember that Steiner is the fellow that Peggy Schwinn got to do the independent audit on the textbook adoption process despite, as she told Senate Education Committee Chair Delores Gresham, never having had a previous relationship with him. A claim that grows increasingly ludicrous the more you research.

In their pre-amble AEI lays out why they are uniquely qualified for the job of re-imagining schools,

At times like this, think tanks such as the Ameri- can Enterprise Institute can play a constructive role. Because we are not burdened with the day-to-day responsibilities of serving students and families, we have the luxury to look further ahead. We can also bring together experts and veteran leaders who are versed in the particulars of what schools are facing and give them a platform to share their recommen- dations and guidance. Equally important, we can do all this with a degree of autonomy and independence, which can be more difficult for professional associations or partisan entities.

Feel encouraged?

We all know that veteran teachers can be a pain in the ass, what with their knowledge and experience and all. They cost a lot of money. They don’t follow directions. They go off-script. They slow down the over-dependence on technology. Luckily COVID-19 gives cover to do what the disruptors have always wanted to do,

OVID-19 Susceptible Personnel. With vulnerable personnel, those over age 55 are the most at risk from COVID-19.25 This would suggest that an estimated 18 percent of teachers and 27 percent of principals are considered vulnerable. States should explore possibilities to offer early retirement or reassign at-risk staff.

But of course. It’s for their own good. They go on to suggest making it easier to hire across state lines and providing early graduation opportunities for students enrolled in education colleges as methods of restocking.

They’ve also recognized that some of those pesky collective bargaining agreements might also provide some obstacles.

Collective Bargaining Agreements. Whatever one thinks of collective bargaining agreements in ordinary circumstances, contractual constraints on class sizes, schedules, staff work hours, and more could make it difficult for schools to adapt in response to social dis- tancing requirements—compromising their ability to educate students and potentially putting vulnerable educators’ lives at risk.

Good thing they are on the job but they are going to need some help from the unions,

National unions can provide clear and necessary guidance to their local chapters to help expedite negotiations. Obviously, it might be prob- lematic for unions to contemplate waiving some contractual language for the coming school year. On the other hand, part of the agreement should be creating off-contract roles and duties (such as remote educator or homework coach) that would allow districts to create appropriate roles for at-risk staff.

How about academics. You know if Steiner is involved, there’s a plan for curriculum and he does not disappoint,

School leaders should engage their curriculum providers to identify the best way to use the publisher’s material to identify student learning gaps, how their materials can be used in differ- ent ways (e.g., in-classroom instruction, remote learning, and hybrid learning), and how the provider can help give professional development for teachers in each modality.

Obviously, districts are incapable of doing this and must lean on providers.

How about that school day,

Schools may need to extend the school day or school year to give students more instructional time. Distance learning also provides the opportunity to extend the learning day with both in-classroom work and at-home learning.

On-call teachers? Sounds great.

The report is filled with several other grand ideas including new assessments and grading proposals. Some of the plans are worth considering, especially around transportations and food, and districts do need to begin formulating plans. However, those plans should be free of personal agendas that serve adults more than children. After all, the COVID-19 crisis shouldn’t serve as Christmas Day to education disruptors.

QUICK HITS

Former Scene writer Matte Pulle has an excellent article looking at a prosed property tax increase for Davidson County and why the Peg Leg Porker BBQ’s owner might want to pipe down.

Memphis’s school board members received a budget proposal yesterday that included a 1% raise for teachers, but also called for positions to be eliminated. Administrators were unclear about exactly how many teachers would be released saying that “many” of the proposed position cuts are currently vacant. This should be considered a warning that circumstances will call for tough decisions on whether raises should supersede retention.

An MNPS School Board meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday. Part of the agenda will be a presentation on MNPS ReimaginED. I gotta say if Ms. Norris’s presentation is half as good as the support materials supplied with the agenda, I’m going to owe her an apology. She’s definitely earning her money.

MNPS in an effort to save money and provide more opportunities to schools is looking to consolidate several schools. I’ll talk more about it next week, but in looking at the materials provided MNPS is laying out the clear benefits and addressing the challenges in making the proposed moves. Nobody likes building closures but it’s important that we are not holding on to brick and mortar structures at the sacrifice of student opportunity. The proposed consolidations are as follows:

  • Buena Vista and Jones Paideia
  • Robert E Lillard ES & Cumberland/Alex Green ES
  • Joelton MS & Haynes MS (Haynes would become a feeder school for White’s Creek)
  • The Cohn School would be closed and students dispersed to zoned schools.

The potential savings are estimated at around $3,494,500. Beyond the savings, are the potential increased opportunities for students, While Joelton/Haynes would remain an innovation school, Buena Vista/Jones Paideia would not.  That alone is a huge step. I eagerly anticipate hearing Ms. Norris’s report on Tuesday and commend Dr. Battle for taking on an initiative that former superintendents balked at. Color me impressed.

That’s it for now. 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.

 



Categories: Education

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