ANOTHER ROLL ON THE HAMSTER WHEEL

“Everyone had a reason for everything they did, even if that reason was sometimes stupidity.”
Karin Slaughter, Fractured

“A writer, like a sheriff, is the embodiment of a group of people and without their support both are in a tight spot.”
Craig Johnson, Another Man’s Moccasins

 

Why is that Nashville is incapable of holding a school board election without the subject of charter rising up like the ghost of Christmas past? Whether it’s a special appointment by the metro council or a full-fledged election season undertaking, charter schools continue to set the agenda for school board elections at the expense of other more pressing concerns.

Recently metro council appointed Dr. Berthena Nabaa-McKinney to fill the vacated position of Anna Shepherd on the MPS School Board. Despite having two very strong candidates competing for the position, strategies did not center around discovering the best candidate, but rather on how to make sure a charter school-centric candidate did not secure the position. As a result, the victory dance wasn’t for the appointment of a highly qualified school board member, but rather for stopping another imagined attack from the charter school army. Who won was reduced to an afterthought, overshadowed by backslaps over who lost.

Those who put personalities over policy – their personal agendas over the common good – fail to recognize the consequences of their actions. Good people, with good intentions, take the plunge into campaigning for a school board position out of a desire to serve children and their families only to discover the ugliness of politics. Politics they find distasteful and as result they withdraw from the field, leaving it to those all too willing to play the game.

Now here we are in the middle of early voting for 5 school board positions. Three of the seats are being contested.

District 3 has a fantastic candidate in Emily Masters, one who is knowledgeable, experienced, personable, and capable of seeing the big picture. She understands the need to address teacher recruitment and retention in a meaningful way. She is ready to serve as a champion to reduce inequities, and address the capital needs of our buildings. As a parent of two MNPS children, she is well versed in the history of MNPS but not at the expense of being blind to the future challenges that the district will face.

It’s been said that school board elections are the perfect time to hold conversations about what a community’s schools should look like. Nobody is better poised to host that conversation than Masters. She’s knowledgable and articulate on the subjects that should be the focus.

But those weren’t the subjects that dominated this weekend’s conversation. A mailer for her opponent paid for by a previously undeclared PAC – Nashville Parents Committee – that shared an address with the Nashville Charter School Center hit mailboxes and started tongues a-wagging. Here we go again, talking about dark money, charter school proliferation, and their evil plans to destroy public education. Lost in the conversation were the high-quality traits of Mrs. Masters, and the reason her name should be on every voter’s ballot.

It’s easy to blame charter schools for the never-ending over focus, as they continually employ questionable tactics, but public ed supporters are equally culpable. Why does it matter who funds a mailer from a clearly less capable candidate? Nothing against Brian Hubert, but stacked up against Master’s, it’s clear that she is the better choice for the position. Yet, some of her supporters think the only way to motivate voters is by framing her as a champion against the evil empire and him as a soldier for that entity.

The reality is that she is the better candidate and we should be talking about her priorities and not those of the people who desire to keep us endlessly arguing over charter schools. The irony of it all is that come this time next year the whole argument could become moot.

Both public schools, charter schools, and private schools all stand poised to lose enrollments as parents become more and more versed in the new opportunities that will be made available via remote education. Expect both a federal and/or a state voucher bill that will open up remote opportunities to more families. Families are constructing “pods” and “micro-schools” to harness their increased power.

The reality is that automobiles are being built while we are arguing over which horse is best equipped to pull a wagon. It wouldn’t surprise me if this time next year, charter schools and traditional schools are united together in an effort to try and hold to as many of their students as possible.

I’m sorry that unscrupulous characters have invaded the school board race in district 3. I’m even more sorry that a quality leader like Emily Masters is forced to waste precious time defending herself against a nebulous threat, instead of being able to use that time to sell people on her vision for the future.

Emily Masters deserves better, as do all of us. The problems facing public schools are much larger and more complex than just the proliferation of charter schools. Now more than ever we need to stop being reductionists, and instead, open our minds to consider all of the other challenges our schools face.

We need leaders that can see past the trees for the forest. Leaders that are not blind to other threats due to a relentless focus on one issue. Leaders that recognize that this ain’t 2016 anymore and that the threat to public education has morphed in so many ways. In other words, this ain’t your parent’s education system.

Candidates of Mrs. Masters’s quality don’t come around often. Let’s not squander this opportunity to put her on the school board by getting bogged down is the sins of past. Now is the time to focus on the future and to forge strategies to address unprecedented times.

THE GRAVEYARD of BAD IDEAS

Yesterday across Tennessee, a rally was held by teachers to alert the public around their concerns about opening schools for face to face instruction. The idea behind the rally is a legitimate one.

Teachers are scared for their health and rightfully so. The majority of Tennessee’s teachers are over the age of 50 and therefore at greater risk to the spread of the coronavirus. They have legitimate concerns about re-entry into the classroom without adequate protections in place. Unfortunately, the marketing, and messaging around yesterday’s event only serve to undercut their worthy concerns.

The event was billed as a “Die-in-Vigil” because dead kids can’t learn, dead teachers can’t teach. After reading this, the questions I have, are we trying to chase families away from public education? Once you elevate the level of fear, how do you eventually plan to de-escalate it?

A central demand is that schools don’t open for f2f instruction until after 14-days of no new cases. If that demand is met, schools won’t be open this time next year. By that time, parents will have made new accommodations and new loyalties.

Schools are already experiencing the loss of students due to uncertainties around the offerings provided by public schools. That loss will only be acerbated by the instilling of terror in parents.

I don’t think it’s an unrealistic prediction that each school could lose 30 students. Take 30 kids and multiple that by 10K a kid, that’s $300K. Multiply that by 140 schools – I know that’s an estimate, but lets go with it – and you get roughly 44 million dollars. Chew on that for a minute

Davidson County is raising property taxes this year, partially to fund step-raises for teachers and provide more funding to MNPS. How long do you think it will take for taxpayers to look at their tax bill, then look at closed schools, and then demand to know why they are paying more in taxes?

Yes schools will be open virtually and yes teachers will be doing the difficult job of teaching virtually, but families will be paying for child care and hiring tutors. Do you think that in that light they won’t be questioning the use of their taxes? Doubt it at your peril.

I’m not downplaying the seriousness of the health risk, but I hope that the seriousness of the risk to public education is not being underestimated either. I can not stress enough, that we are moving out of the realm of crisis management and into the setting of future policy. If teachers and districts are not extremely intentional about their messaging around short term concerns, the long term effects could be disastrous.

ATTENDANCE

Classes are set to begin come next week, and that means accountability measures are about to kick in as well. In the rush to provide the best instruction possible to as many students as possible, the discussion around what those accountability measures will look like is getting lost. Let’s take a closer look at a few areas.

Let’s start with attendance. Under MNPS’s current policy, students are only expected to log in once before 11:59 in order to be considered in attendance. That’s a little concerning, because, as it was explained to me for the first time last week, attendance is a safety feature.

Through attendance monitoring, students at risk both physically and academically are uncovered. If the only requirement is that a child check-in and not interact, how will anyone visually check their mental and physical health? How do we know that an adult is not both abusing the child and checking them in once a day?

Grades, or failure to complete work, may provide an indicator of a problem at home, but that’s no guarantee either. Students are expected to attend synchronous classes for 2.5 hours a day, but there is nothing that says they have to. All classes are recorded and students may watch later. This means that even if kids don’t attend synchronous classes, they would still be able to do the work in a sufficient manner to slip under the radar. That’s concerning to me. Even more concerning to me is that there will be others sliding under the radar.

As I’ve stated before my child’s best friend in elementary school was a refuge kid from Tibet. He lived in an apartment complex populated by other kids in refuge families. It was not uncommon to go pick him up at a playground where he’d been playing for the entire day without adult supervision due to his parents working. His parents barely speak English.

I am not confident that they will receive emails from the district telling them how to pick up a laptop. If they somehow procure one, there will be no one to monitor usage, let alone ensure that he will be on the computer the required amount of time.

So who’s going to make sure that he won’t be right there on the playground come August 4th. How about on September 8th? Who is really going to go into these overpopulated apartment complexes filled with high-risk residents and look for a 5th-grade refugee child who probably lives in an apartment with 12 other people?

What is the likelihood that an assumption will be made that the family just moved – after all they’ve done that in the past – without disenrolling and as a result he’ll be removed from the district roles. Come November whats to prevent that child from remaining right there on the playground, just like every day for the last 6 months.

I’m hoping that the district’s attendance plan becomes a little more robust.

LESSON PLANS

The purpose of purchasing the Florida Virtual School curriculum was that it would be a universal curriculum uploaded to a universal learning platform. In other words, everybody would be singing the same song out of the same hymn book.

Well, that plan is already developing cracks. After initially setting expectations that all the curriculum would be uploaded to MNPS’s preferred learning platform Schoolology, plans changed, and teachers now must individually upload their own lesson plans using the FVS curriculum to the Schoology platform.

Early reports from educators that have begun working with the FVS curriculum is that the ELA lessons are weak and that the math is too easy at the middle school level and too difficult at the high school level. If these early indications are true, and there is no reason to believe they are not, then there will be required modifications.

Teachers are certainly capable of doing the neccesary modifications to the synchronous instruction plans, but what about the 4 hours a day of asynchronous classes?

How do you align modified synchronous lessons with unmodified asynchronous lessons – both rooted in the Florida state standards – with standardized tests rooted in Tennessee state standards? That’s a tall order.

This is where someone might be inclined to chime in that we’ve been doing this through the MNPS virtual school for a decade. Well, let me point some things out.

MNPS virtual school is only 358 students. While 39% of them are Black, Hispanic, or Native American, only 19% are economically disadvantaged. Academically the results have been mixed. The literacy scores are good, with 56% considered at or above grade level. Math is a different story, only 21% are considered at or above grade level.

But in order to achieve these results, the district has made significant in students based funding. The average funding per pupil at the district level is just shy of 13k. Whereas at the MNPS virtual school, its 20k plus.

I still believe that contracting with FVS was the best option, but it should be clear that there are bugs that need to be worked out and only a few those solutions will be discovered through an examination of past practices..

TEACHER EVALS

As it has been revealed all to often, politicians and administrators don’t have a lot of faith in teachers. State laws and district policies offer ample evidence of a shared philosophy that if teachers are left to their own devices they will continually underperform. A philosophy that at the best of times would be considered offensive, but under current conditions could have dire implications.

The return of teachers delivering instruction is closely followed by a rush to evaluate that instruction being delivered. It matters little that there is no clear rubric on how that evaluation should look and that potential evaluators have little experience themselves in the virtual sphere.

Students and teachers are simultaneously learning a new method of doing school. Teaching and learning via an electronic platform is not the same as delivering and receiving instruction in a f2f classroom. I would be very cautious about trying to take the current method of teacher evaluation and try to apply to virtual teaching.

I would also caution against doing any teacher evaluations during this time of metamorphosis. What teachers need now is support and additional training, not heightened accountability. Teachers with 15 and 20 years of experience with high degrees of success are suddenly being forced to re-evaluate their entire approach to their profession. That’s a difficult process on its own, let alone with the sword of accountability hanging over their head.

Evaluating teachers teaching via a new platform with a curriculum, that they weren’t privy to until mere days before they were expected to teach it, while navigating a global pandemic does not seem to be the ingredients for a recipe for success.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a look at this past weekend’s poll results. I’m pleased to say that response levels were back to previous height.

The first question asked for your confidence level on schools opening up next week. 33% of you answered that you’d chosen to take a “what will be, will be”attitude,closely followed by 32% of you who felt the start of school should be pushed back. Only 4% of you indicated full confidence in a return to school.

Here are the write-in votes,

take it online. 1
Some Principals haven’t contacted their teachers! 1
C & I team needs to go! 1
Mixed feelings 1
They will “open” but I can’t find my computer:)

Question 2 asked you to grade MNPS’s communication with parents as the start of school approaches. 31% of you gave the district a “C”, with 22% awarding a “B”. Results seem to indicate plenty of room for improvement. Here are the write-ins,

My principal-A, the rest of MNPS-F 1
Better than usual, but vague

The last question asked for your thoughts on delaying the start of school. 68% of you indicated that a delay of at least two weeks would be welcome. 20% indicated that school has to start sometime, might as well be now. Here are the write-ins,

January 2 1
I have no confidence. It’s gonna be a train wreck. Absolutely push it back. 1
It will be a mess regardless, so let’s start on time. 1
If it is virtual, push back until all computers are available and distributed

That’s it for today 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.



Categories: Education

8 replies

  1. Great piece. I agree with your statement about elevating fear. I’ve gotten a bunch of emails and calls from people angrily telling me they are either moving out of Davidson county or applying for their local Christian school. I’m not sure if they will eventually do it or not I don’t know. I hope you’re doing great. Let’s catch up soon.

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  2. Just wondering if you are differentiating full-time MNPSVS students and part-time MNPSVS students. My understanding was that the VS was capped in the 95 student range which skews your numbers as a full-time site – maybe. Remember also that full-time students must submit a video and written application and are thus screened. Students with minor disabilities are admitted, but those with greater needs are not accepted. It has to do with hours of services required or did a year ago. There are no full-time students in a second language program. ELL services are not available. SEL is not a part of the program although it is a district mandate. Traditionally there have been a number of LGBTQ students in attendance who have had issues at previous sites, as well as students needing emotional support. Although the program is asynchronous, C.Van Hawk runs an intervention lab where off-paced students are required to attend in person until they are caught up. Attendance is tied to assignment submissions in a virtual program thus the daily check-in. That is a fairly traditional situation in an online program that is restrictive. In most asynchronous programs it is not required at all. The WCS virtual program is a hybrid where students get assignments weekly, complete them, and receive the next week’s work. Students in content classes are required to attend monthly (or by-weekly??) meetings with the teacher. There are all sorts of different models meeting the needs of a school, district, state – or whatever group is using the LMS or program being delivered.

    • Great information. I took the data cited from the state report card. While there I did see the jump in enrollment btw 2017 and 2018. A couple years ago I looked into the MNPSVS and heard glowing reviews. My only issue is that we continue to try and portray what we are about to undertake with past practices and I don’t believe the two are comparable. Thank you though for the additional information. It’s invaluable to the ongoing conversation

  3. 0 new cases for 14 days is completely unrealistic. COVID is here to stay. it would mean schools would never open again, most likely. once this strain runs its course it will probably morph, like the flu.

  4. TC I am glad to see you cranking on and being a crank! I wondered what the folk were saying and doing with regards to schools. I was on the verge of returning to the classroom and the next day BOOM. So I am now sitting wondering here in my new home if anyone has any idea. We have gone from the worst to the least but I am not sure what that means as I see now Nashville is in the hot zone. Welcome, its a horrific ride but we have leaders who daily announced the lottery draws to instill fear and compliance but also some info which is better than none. And you have none and why that does not surprise me in the least. I had a hard ride there and the drivers were horrible but when I look back I realize that people there just live in perpetual fear and that moment when Nashville was “it” they were so excited to finally have something they thought was good aka money being tossed like dollars at a strip club they were out of control with it. And in turn, the violence, the rage, the systemic historic racism finally surfaced and then Tornado, then Covid and now what? Back to the bad ole days when the rich were always rich just less of them and the poor are poorer. Same as it ever was as David Byrne says and that has to be terrifying. I dropped communicating with those I knew as I have not seen one happy success, a lot of lies and covering up which is normal but from my Yoga studio, to shops I went to, to businesses I used they are closing doors or changing plans. To think that they will go back to the way it was anytime soon is a mistake. And sure enough from the Plumber to the Family Dynamics that run the state and the city it is not shocking to see how they have failed. It’s easy to run something when it is not failing but that is not what they signed up for. Their agenda’s to privatize schools, to stop ladies to choose, to keep pesky LGBTQ folks out and of course run the streets like a party bus and keep those busses running is what they thought was all they were going to do. Well, as they say, the dust and road met and they are causing a major storm.

    No one NO ONE knows anything about Covid other than it is a contagious virus that has serious effects on many people, young, old and everyone in between. We have no treatments but we have theories and we have no vaccine but we have something. The goalposts move daily and we run to get a touchdown and the messages change with the messenger and they are all confusing, misleading, and utterly bizarre. So it falls on us to somehow save us from ourselves. Well, that is working out clearly! My time in Nashville and its ‘schools’ taught me one thing, they are all like Nashville. I didn’t realize it but I do now, yours are just worse than many but not the worst. The attitude about education there is the real problem, there are two camps. Yes and no and nothing in between so the rich can send their kids to wherever but even that doesn’t mean they value it, no they have a path and you see it all over Nashville, the kids who are part of family dynasties so their path is secured, the rest are well there to serve or be served a plate of lies with some biscuits and sweet tea to swallow them that meritocracy exists and they can move up the ladder. Sure right, what.ever. That is not the South its in the DNA. Family matters, history matters, and they live deep in it and it now shows how that worked out. And for the record it is the same everywhere it just the South does it better. See you do some things right!

    As for schools, what is fascinating across the board NOT ONE district had plans as in more than one. They had ample time to have Plan A and B and fund, organize, and strategize how to do it. Communicate that and even test it. Nope. Relying on science means you have a theory run a test, do another, and then announce the result. We in the time of Covid have seen NONE of that. Bleach? Sure! Wait, No? Blue lights? Sure, Wait no? Masks? Yes, No? And on and on. So eventually you do you. My favorite is the editorial in The Washington Post by two Harvard Professors telling us how to do the schools, the irony is that Harvard sure ain’t’ doing those things so hmmm. Again the rich and well off are happy to use the poor to run those lab tests as they are the rats in the maze. We did it here in the North and we now are doing better. Gosh, ya think that was the plan? Probably not but it was a great “coincidence” Right.

    So no plan, no idea, and the few that are saying no and demanding answers will be the same as it always was and that has not changed. Wishing you well and good health.

  5. I am well as I have said it will take more than Covid to kill this bitch. But one thing that is not being mentioned is staffing. In the ‘best’ of times there is a Teacher shortage. True with the unemployment high and the standards low for getting a sub job in Tennessee/Nashville that may lead to fill some desks, but given my experience with that there is no training, no support and more importantly HEALTH CARE which is a must given this circumstance.

    The next is a fully staffed support group including trauma specialists. The kids again in the “best” of times arrive already in a state now imagine during the time of Covid and Civil unrest the confusion, the issues and needs of children from already disenfranchised, dysfunctional homes will face another hurdle.

    I cannot forget the Phil Williams special about the violence and aggressive behavior of MNPS students in all grades. I met Mr. Williams over the holidays in Hilton Head and thanked him profusely for his work of which he was leveled charges and accusations of his person for telling said stories. And anyone who has the audacity to point out the obvious that system racism, poverty and continued isolation into mainstream society lends to much of the violence and crime that Nashville faces throughout the city and the murder of the musician is one of many. And the blame of outsiders will have to cease as we are leaving or have left.

    Recall the Police who wanted to leave Johnston and Bass schools and funny how that was responded and now we want Police out of all the schools. Well their failure at those schools kind of prove that they actually do nothing and I can attest that my experience with Police in your schools was a farce. I was stopped not once but twice at Wright for sitting in the bleachers just waiting until the last minute to enter the building as I hated walking in there. I felt that way in 90% of the schools only three schools treated me with dignity and respect, MLK, Hume Fogg and Glencliff. Yes that is right, Glencliff. They actually gave a shit about me as a person. I was never demanded to run from room to room to cover subs not showing, they actually asked me. They addressed me by name and treated me as a member of staff. I got to know kids as a result and had less behaviorial and discipline issues. I went to almost ALL of the schools. I can actually tell you the ones I did not and frankly the worst Pearl Cohn and that is where a supposed acclaimed Admin was promoted from. I recall my encounter with her as demeaning, derogatory and utterly unkind. And I found that throughout the district at one point being told that as long as I passed the fingerprint test I was good enough. I saw lesson plans that were sheer garbage and classrooms not run but just barely managed.

    So now what is anyone expecting today. That this is the new enlightened age and we are going to go forward with happy smiling faces? The divisive nature of the district shows. It was perhaps not the worst, that goes to Oakland but I lasted there only two months and thought working retail would be an improvement. It was it paid more. But in the three years I lasted it got to a point where I tried to figure out the easiest work arounds I could. As a sub you are not allowed a computer or a sign in, I worked around that and got one. I was not allowed to have a prep, I figured out that as well. I made it my business to keep it to few schools, had a business card and communicated directly with teachers to get the what what. All of that takes time and effort and all of it for 13/hour. I made 125 dollars a day and do here as well. And can get sick leave and buy health care. Oh wait we are unionized. Whoops.

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