HARD PLUS INCONVENIENT DOES NOT EQUAL INEFFECTIVE

“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”
William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace

 

Am I the only one that sees the irony in us planning to send kids back to school the same week as the President is diagnosed with the virus?

Or the irony that we are sending kids back to school because we feel we can keep them safe for 7 and half hours, but we are not allowing parents into sporting events because we can’t keep them safe for 3 hours?

Then there is the irony of spending 3 weeks focusing on SEL only to blow up any reaped benefits 6 weeks later in order to get back into school to satisfy some sort of political agenda.

It ain’t irony, but it’s still puzzling, we want to send kids back to school in an effort to “return to normalcy” while refusing to acknowledge that what they are returning to is going to be no more familiar then remote learning. Kids will arrive at a school where unscheduled bathroom breaks will not be permitted. If recess time is allowed, and playground equipment is used, equipment will need to be wiped down regularly. For many students, it’ll require remaining in the same room, while teachers rotate, for the majority of the day.

Interactions between kids will be limited. No small group studies. Computers will travel back and forth to school. Florida Virtual School will continue to remain the flavor of the day.

Right now, some of you are reading this and saying to yourself, “That’s not going to be my school. My principal has already told us, things for us are going to be as close to regular school as possible. We’ll be prudent but not militaristic.”

Sure that sounds great, but think about the last guy who thought he could pick and choose what recommendations he could heed and which he could ignore.

Those that know me, know I’m far from a germaphobe, and I still often leave my car without my mask, forcing 2 trips from the car to the entrance nearly half the time. But I gotta tell you, I have serious reservations about reopening schools at the beginning of the flu season when families and teachers are just getting the swing of remote learning. If you need evidence of why you need to look no further than Nashville’s Cora Howe. Open one week, closed the next.

It’s like when I was a kid playing with fire in the woods. Invariably, one of our flames would catch some dry leaves a fire and we’d be forced to jump back as the flames spread. We’d quickly try to limit the spread by stamping on the spreading flame or pouring some nearby water on them. Usually, our containment efforts were successful, but the threat of creating a much larger conflagration remained ever-present as long as we continually engage in our fire play. We’d shrug off the danger though and go right back to our fire games.

What we are doing with the Coronavirus is not much different. Just because we’ve been lucky in controlling the spread to date, doesn’t mean that the risk of an imminent configuration isn’t a continuing possibility.

I get it, virtual instruction is hard. For some families, it seems impossible. But how do you declare an initiative a failure after just 9 weeks? Look at things we now take for granted – cars, air flight, indoor plumbing – and consider what life today would like had its pioneers decided after 9 weeks their effort was a failure because it was difficult. The singular innovative moment in 20th-century history, the Apollo Project, was littered with years of failure. Yet look at the benefits we’ve reaped from it since.

I can’t help but wonder, how many families haven’t even given remote learning ample opportunity. Simple declaring it a failure out of inconvenience and a nostalgic bent.

Remote learning challenges how we perceive learning as a linear process, with checkpoints that lead to success along the way. Which just isn’t congruent with the way people learn.

The path is filled with stops and starts – concepts that are readily grasped and others that take more effort. Sometimes we need to fall short of the mark before we hit it. Having to work harder for something, and create our own path to success, tends to give more value to the learning acquired.

I’ll continue to drive home the point that nothing happening with remote learning is anything that doesn’t happen with in-school learning in the past. I know this will shock some people, but even with in-person schooling, some kids don’t do the work, some kids are unegaged, some kids cry in the classroom, some kids require extra work. The difference is that remote learning has put all those issues front and center where they can’t be ignored. We like being able to send our kids off under the illusion that all schools are created equal and that somebody else will address the inherent difficulties.

For many of us, the truths revealed have been a very uncomfortable revelation. We don’t like admitting to the inequities baked into the system. We don’t like realizing that all schools are not created equal. We liked being able to send our kids off and letting someone else be accountable for their learning. We don’t like being forced into taking a larger role in our child’s education.

I’m not trying to paint all parents with the same brush, and I understand there are very legitimate reasons to get kids back in school, but to leave a lack of effort to adapt out of the conversation is certainly not appropriate.

Thre truth is we don’t know how effective remote learning is. We haven’t done it long enough or refined our practice enough, in order to get a true measurement. Ancedotely, some kids are really struggling, but some kids are also doing really well. Who knows what the research will show once we’ve started to improve our practice. Some of us may never embrace remote learning, but that does not mean it is ineffectual for all.

The other day at baseball practice, we were doing a scrimage using the tee. This is a 12U team, so they don’t always approach tee use with the proper respect. There were runners on first and second when one of the boys stepped to the plate. He looked at me and asked, “Can I bunt?”

I immediately held up my hand and brought the scrimmage to a halt. “Let’s the look at the purpose,” I said, “What do you feel the purpose of this drill is?”

“To work on our hitting?”, he responded

“Right,” I said, “It’s to work on training your eye to see better and to perfect your swing so that you are able to be a better hitter. It also gives us a greater opportunity to put the ball in play, which provides an opportunity for those in the field to improve. What is your purpose by choosing to bunt?”

“Score some runs and win the scrimmage.”

“Which do you feel is more important winning a 12U scrimmage that people will forget about by the end of the day, or improving your skills so that you can win more important games in the future?”

That’s the question we need to be asking today when we lay out our educational practices going forth. Are we trying to score a few political points today, or are we doing everything we can to set kids up for future success? The answer is within each of us and that’s what needs to guide the conversation going forth.

The pandemic is not in the process of receding. It remains as much a threat today as it was back at the end of the school year. The president’s diagnoses should drive that point home. If the leader of the free world can contract it, any one of us can. We can spend time gloating, or we can learn a lesson. That choice is also within each of us.

THE UNACHIEVEMENT SCHOOL DISTRICT

Last month, when the House Education Committee met, Memphis Representative Antonio Parkinson spoke passionately on the failings of the Tennessee Achievement School District. Succinctly summing up what we all know to be true,

“I can say this with certainty that there is not one single person in this room, or in your staff, that will send their child to an Achievement School District school, not even yourself, and if we would not send our children to a state run school, why on God’s Earth do we sit here and justify achievement schools in our state to the citizens?”

So much so, that it was proposed that schools currently in the ASD be handed back to their local district by January 2022. This week it was decided to push that timetable back two years to 2024. After all, if I’ve been kicking you in the ass for over a decade, what’s another year or two.

Eve Carney is one of the few leaders at the TNDOE that still enjoys a degree of respect, but that status won’t last if she continues making statements like the one quoted in Chalkbeat,

“The ASD was not intended to be any school’s forever home, and we still believe it should not be,” said Eve Carney, the state’s chief districts and schools officer, who is leading the advisory group and spearheading the transition plans. “As such, there is a need for a thoughtful transition plan for schools that are ready to exit.”

No they were not intended to remain in the ASD forever, they were intended to meet specific criteria in order to exit the ASD in a reasonable amount of time. Criteria that they have consistantly failed to meet for nearly a decade. To try and paint their current status as anything but what it is – a unmitigated failure – is disingenuous at best.

There are no schools in the ASD that are ready to exit. Let’s not pretend otherwise. If there were, they would have already exited.

Both Memphis and Nashville are choice districts with a plethora of options for students. I fail to see why the plan couldn’t be to dismantle the ASD and have its schools reapply for their charter. By 2022, families would know if those charters had been regranted and if they chose to re-enroll they’d have the opportunity, or they could avail themselves of any of the other options made available by the districts. We have no problem releasing all the teachers at a traditional school and forcing them to re-apply, why in this case is that suddenly a problem?

Lets be honest. A glance at the make up of the transition committee gives clear indication of whose interests are being looked out for,

  • Michelle Armstrong, coordinator of instructional support at Pyramid Peak Foundation and KIPP Memphis board member
  • Jay Brown, head of schools at LEAD Public Schools in Nashville
  • Vinessa Brown, chairwoman of Libertas School of Memphis board of directors and co-founder of Lifeline to Success
  • Maya Bugg, CEO of Tennessee Charter School Center
  • Eve Carney, advisory group chairwoman and Tennessee Department of Education chief of districts and schools
  • Sarah Carpenter, executive director of Memphis Lift parent advocacy group
  • Victor Evans, executive director of TennesseeCAN
  • Sharon Griffin, chief of innovation schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools and former superintendent of Achievement School District
  • Aleah Guthrie, director of policy and government relations for SCORE and former director of policy at the Tennessee Department of Education
  • State Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), member of Senate education committee
  • Stephanie Love, Shelby County Schools board member
  • Terence Patterson, CEO of Memphis Education Fund and board member of Tennessee Public Charter School Commission
  • Gini Pupo-Walker, Metro Nashville Public Schools board member and Education Trust Tennessee director
  • Lisa Settle, interim superintendent of the Achievement School District
  • Tara Scarlett, CEO and president of Scarlett Family Foundation
  • Sonia Stewart, executive officer of organizational development at Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Michael Whaley, Shelby County Commissioner
  • State Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis), chair of House of Representatives education committee
  • Angela Whitelaw, deputy superintendent of schools and academic support for Shelby County Schools
  • Marian Williams, principal of Kirby Middle School, Green Dot Public Schools

Look through the list. See any parents that aren’t educators, other than the representative for LIFT, which has a bias? See any teachers? I see lots of charter school folks and billionaire babies. I see one school board member from each of the two affected districts – one of whom I’m not sure if she’s there as a representative of the district or of the private advocacy group she leads. I see one representative from the executive teams of the corresponding districts, as Sonia Stewart is no longer employed by MNPS.

Nothing makes the intent clearer than the inclusion of Tara Scarlett. Her sole qualification for inclusion is that her foundation gives a great deal of money to school districts, and charter operators. Nothing is more DeVos-ian than having someone on the committee making decisions about educational offerings for impoverished children simply due to their wealth. That in a nutshell is everything that is wrong with the process.

We continually say its all about kids while repeatedly offering evidence to the contrary.

QUICK HITS

Fall Break starts for students this week in MNPS. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that teachers will be getting a reprise as well. Sure they’ll be told to rest, relax, and recharge, but the expectations make that an impossibility. In order to get the demanded work done, they’ll be forced into working this week.

Please recognize that many are also teetering on the edge. Like your teacher? Want to keep your teacher? Start advocating for more realistic expectations and better working conditions. As the spouse of an educator, this past quarter has been akin to watching someone walk into the house throughout the day and punch her repeatedly in the eye. It’s not a situation unique to our household, as teachers across the district will testify.

We need to do better or those teachers you like, will no longer be available and our kids will be taught predominately by those with provisional licenses and little experience. I’ve been sounding the fire alarm for years now and even as the attrition numbers grow, the warnings go unheeded. At some point, the pain will be transferred from teachers to students unless we act.

This seems like a good time to mention that while I don’t always see eye-to-eye with MNEA leadership, it’s undeniable that they are in the trenches fighting fearlessly for MNPS teachers. At times it probably seems like they are the only ones, well along with JC Bowman. Might be a good time to join MNEA or at least talk to them. Their efforts have been incredible.

Nothing says attention to detail like sending out an email outlining grading policy changes 2 days before the end of the quarter. Just saying.

I wasn’t going to bring this up today, but the multiple twists keep coming. Center Square, who’s reporter Vivian Jones has been consistently supplying the best coverage, outlines a new defense being put forth for those proficiency rate predictions Commissioner Schwinn offered last week.

To calculate the projections, analysts at the department compared data from two national studies: an April study conducted by the Northwest Evaluation Association, using nationwide student data from the 2017-2018 school year, and a Tennessee-focused CREDO study, which used Tennessee student testing data from 2014 to 2019.

Tennessee student data from 30,000 student checkpoint assessments to begin the 2020-2021 school year then was used to “gut check” the projections. Beginning-of-year testing is ongoing, and the department now has data from about 40,000 checkpoint tests.

This all flies in the face of what LEA’s were told about student “checkpoints” at the beginning of the year. Also, it’s week 9, for most districts the first quarter is coming to an end, why is beginning-of-the-year testing still ongoing? Furthermore, none of this explains how proficiency rate projections were arrived at. Last I checked, “gut check” was not considered a scientific method.

If you are interested in which districts voluntarily supplied data through the Checkpoints, here’s the list; Alvin C York Institute; Anderson County; Athens; Bradford; Bradley County; Cannon County; Clay County; Clinton; Coffee County; Cumberland County; Decatur County; Dickson County; Dyer County; Elizabethton; Fayette County Public Schools; Greene County; Henderson County; Hickman Count; Houston County; Humphreys County; Jackson County; Lake County; Lenoir City; Macon County; Manchester; Marion County; Marshall County; Maryville; McMinn County; Meigs County; Newport; Obion County; Overton County; Perry County; Pickett County; Sweetwater; White County.

All rural and smaller, none of the large urban districts.

In a related note, results from CREDO’s national study on learning loss was released yesterday. We’ll discuss it more on Monday, but I’ve got several questions and it appears that the source of data cited in the report by CREDO does not exactly align with what I was told by Mackie Raymond prior to release. But we’ll talk on Monday. For right now, I just want to leave you with the first paragraph of the introduction, a paragraph that, in my eyes, indicates a study begun with an inherent bias,

Since March 2020, a common scene has played out in millions of homes in the United States: parents have looked over the shoulders of their children as they pursue remote learning and have been flabbergasted by what they see. There is no dispute that the coronavirus pandemic slammed educators and policy makers with a herculean task of pivoting from classroom-based instruction to other modalities. At the same time, there is no dispute that the amount and quality of learning that has occurred since school buildings were closed has been deeply inferior. The only open question has been: how bad is it?

Seems to me CREDO was intent on showing that remote learning was not only as bad as you thought but worse. Afterall Tennessee kids learned nothing during those three months school were closed, despite Raymond acknowledging to me that the testing scheduled during those days would have taken up at least half a day. Not a great position for a researcher to take from the outset.

That’s it for today.

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.

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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.

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Oh, yea… don’t forget to answer the poll questions. I promise I’ll share the results on Monday.



Categories: Education

9 replies

  1. Why is it that you have failed thus far to meaningfully discuss the potential repercussions of the property tax referendum (should it appear on a ballot and possibly be confirmed)?

    I think most people grossly underestimate the catastrophic impact this might have on MNPS.

    I understand your criticisms of the state, and I wholeheartedly agree, but state policy won’t matter if MNPS is in the soup line.

    • Good points. Partially because I’m still trying to decipher myself. I don’t buy the chicken little. I still believe we are spending money where it could be better spent else where. But by the same token, MNPS is still grossly underfunded.

  2. FYI, the staff at my school were told by our principal today that all staff will have to work from the building stating 10/12, even if they have accommodations to work virtually. I am working in person, but I think it’s absolutely ridiculous and should have been communicated with teachers and staff from the beginning that they would have to work from the building even if they were teaching virtually. I worry about the exposures that, even if remaining in the classroom without any in-person students all day, medically vulnerable teachers will have.

  3. MNEA has already worked out with the district that teachers who are working virtually are allowed to work from home. https://mnea.com/about-us We would love to have you join us.

    • Agreement is not always implementation.

    • My principal is requiring virtual teachers to work from the building and told us that, if a teacher is out, a virtual teacher may be asked to supervise the other teacher’s students. This would happen while the virtual teacher might also be teaching virtual students. Even virtual teachers are being assigned arrival/dismissal duties in direct contact with students. Just saying!

    • My principal was told 10/1 by HR that virtual teachers would have to work in person. That info was shared with staff at my school on 10/2 by my principal.

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