A NEVER ENDING STREAM OF CONFUSION

“The good news for the Washington Federals is they do not have a quarterback controversy. The bad news is they do not have a quarterback.”
Jeff Pearlman, Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL

 

 

On Friday, after I first flipped through the recently released CREDO study focusing on learning loss, I fully intended to spend the weekend reading through it and painstakingly taking notes. After all, this is the study that Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn had cited as a basis for her dire warnings about a pending crash in proficiency scores.

Luckily, I read teacher Peter Greene’s piece first. Greene reminded me of why the CREDO study is…he says baloney…I say, bullshit. I consider it such because it’s rooted in a made-up measurement that attempts to standardized something that can not be standardized. Per Greene,

Second, you know that this “report” is baloney because it leans on that great imaginary measure, the “days of learning.” Students during the pandemic will “lose” X number of days of learning. “Days of learning” is actually a measure that CREDO made up themselves, based on some “research” in a 2012 paper by Erik Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann. And if “days of learning” seems like a bizarro world way to measure of education (Which days? Days in September? Days in March? Tuesdays? Instructional days, or testing days, or that day we spent the afternoon in a boring assembly? And how does one measure the amount of learning in a day, anyway?)– well, here’s the technical explanation from that paper

To create this benchmark, CREDO adopted the assumption put forth by Hanushek, Peterson, and Woessman (2012) that “[o]n most measures of student performance, student growth is typically about 1 full standard deviation on standardized tests between 4th and 8th grade, or about 25 percent of a standard deviation from one grade to the next.” Therefore, assuming an average school year includes 180 days of schooling, each day of schooling represents approximately 0.0013 standard deviations of student growth.

As Greene points out, more eloquently than I ever could, they took some made-up data applied some complicated math, that few of us would understand, and than came up with some numbers that supported their assumptions, which in case you forgot are expressed in the “study’s” introduction.

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?

A proper scientific study would have begun its approach with a question, instead of an assumption. But CREDO has never been one to miss an opportunity to push an agenda under the guise of research. Whether it’s Charter Schools, TFA, or how bad public schools are, they’ve got a study ready to back the agenda. Part of that agenda is keeping the testing industry fully employed. In a paper that supposedly indicates that one school in Tennessee is losing 2-3 years of learning, their number 3 takeaway is that suspending testing makes predicting tough,

Knowing that the best performing simulations required multiple years of data to estimate the missing achievement values for Spring 2020, there is a clear hazard to education agencies if more than a year of assessments is deferred. This has immediate and urgent implications for state education leaders.

Whoa…better not cancel though tests because not only will we not “know where kids are”, but it’ll be tough to predict their futures.  CREDO reiterates their point in their final takeaways,

Third, the need for rigorous student-level learning assessments has never been higher. In particular, this crisis needs strong diagnostic assessments and frequent progress checks, both of which must align with historical assessment trends to plot a recovery course. The losses presented here implicitly endorse a return to student achievement testing with the same assessment tools for the foreseeable future. At the same time, preserving and expanding the existing series is the only way to reliably track how well states and districts are moving their schools through recovery and into the future.

Here is my favorite part though. In an email, to superintendents, Friday announcing the results being released Commissioner Schwinn nonchalantly mentions the supposed learning losses in Tennessee,

The CREDO study indicates that across all schools in Tennessee, the estimated average learning loss from is approximately 88 days (49% of a school year) for reading and 158 days (88% of a school year) for math.    

While the largest losses statewide are in math, Tennessee’s greatest discrepancies and variation between schools are in reading. Between Tennessee’s highest and lowest estimated learning losses for reading, the estimated difference is three years. In math, the greatest discrepancy is about two years. 

She seems to accept these pronouncements as fact, despite her recently detailing to legislators the plethora of efforts her department had delivered to districts in order to prevent devastating learning loss. Maybe it’s just me, but if I was working my ass off and a study came out saying that the students were going to be 2 years behind despite my efforts, I’d be up in arms. Not our Commissioner, though she does toss a few bones,

Since the start of this school year, I have seen our teachers and school leaders work tirelessly to adapt to this new reality and start the year strong, and I deeply believe that unlike any time before, we must come together as a state to support our educators as we work to support our students.

The bold highlighting is hers, I guess that supposed to indicate a deeper appreciation. Here’s the irony, the CREDO study, questions the very strategy employed by Commissioner Schwinn and her department,

Fourth, the measures of average loss and the range around it immediately call into question the existing practice of letting communities plot their own path forward. The communities whose schools have the largest estimated loss of learning are far less likely to have the means and capacity to create and implement recovery plans on their own. Insistence on local autonomy in this case will not yield equitable responses.

In other words, it’s not just schools that are at fault. But, the strategy employed by your Department of Education also sucks. At least that’s one conclusion by the CREDO study we can agree on.

You can heed the CREDO study if you choose. Me, I’m not paying much heed to any study that prescribes more testing and less local control as a remedy top hypothetical learning loss.

I NEED A PART_TIME JOB LIKE THIS ONE

This week we got a little more clarity on our Commissioner’s previous part-time employment. You’ll remember that earlier this year I wrote about her receiving a salary from her California Charter School while being employed in both Delaware and Texas. On Friday through an open records request to Capitol Collegiate Academy, I received what passes for a contract between the school and Ms. Schwinn.

In June of 2014 Penny and her family moved to the fine state of Delaware. She was to serve as the state’s Chief Accountability/Performamnce Officer. You’ll love the irony here. Just two weeks before she started in Delaware, she signed a contract with CCA agreeing to become an employee and receive a compensation rate of $125K annually starting July 1. The contract included medical benefits. Just in case Maryland wasn’t offering them. I wonder if she signed the contract on her husband’s back or if the movers had left her a table on which to sign.

Right now you might be thinking, “Ok, she signed the contract with CCA not knowing she was going to get the job with Maryland. Once she got the job with Maryland, the CCA contract just wasn’t executed.”

That’s fair enough. I might buy that. Except for the fact that come 2015, after being employed with Maryland for nearly a year, she signed another contract with CCA. One that took her out of the “Founder” role and declared her as “Ececitive Director”. The new contract was for $140k a year and went into effect on July 1, 2015. It also included a clause that stated the contract would roll over every year until one party or the other terminated it.

Now perhaps the contract was terminated, though I doubt it because from January – May of 2016, Ms. Schwinn was unemployed, and that $140k would have come in handy. Furthermore, in response to my open records request, CCA supplied me with the termination letter from 2013, but there were no other termination letters supplied.

That 2013 letter contains its own little mystery. It’s the first I’ve heard that the job at SCUSD being a temporary position. According to a NewsReveiw article, “Penny Schwinn resigned her elected post on the Sacramento County Board of Education last month in order to take a high-paying job in the bureaucracy of the Sacramento City Unified School District.” Who goes through a contentuous election that you barely win only to resign 9 months later for a temporary position that only pays 8K more than your self-professed “favorite job” in the world, supervising a school with less than 100 kids?

It certainly raised NewsReveiw writer Cosmo Garvin’s eyebrows, who noted at the time,

Perhaps as an added perk, the district is appointing Schwinn to Capitol Collegiate’s governing board. According to district policy, Schwinn will be the district’s “eyes and ears” and help provide oversight of the school she founded.

Who better to be the public’s watchdog over a charter school than the person who started that charter school, hired its staff and created its culture? Surely, if there were anything wrong over at Capitol Collegiate, Schwinn will let us know, pronto. Right?

Meanwhile, CCA’s 990’s for 2015 show Capital Collegiate Academy paid Schwinn $93K in compensation. I’ve no idea about why there is a discrepancy, but I’m sure there is a logical explanation.

Now some of you may be looking at the “Founder” title and making the reasonable assumption that Schwinn served as a fundraiser for the school and that role serves as justification for the high compensation. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Like most California charter schools, CCA is dependently almost solely on taxpayer dollars for it’s funding. Per their 990, in 2015 only $2132 came from sources other than government funding. So in other words, Schwinn was getting paid by California taxpayers while serving Delaware taxpayers and getting paid by Delaware taxpayers.

Don’t forget, 7 months later she got her hand slapped because husband Paul had apparently gone to work for an agency that received funding from Delaware’s Department of Education.

It’s also worth noting that CCA works with a predominately high needs student body. I find it hard to accept that 6% of the school’s revenue couldn’t have been better applied.

Schwinn has repeatedly reasured legislators that she has not taken a cent from CCA while employed by the state of Tennessee and that this year she has spent less than 7 hours working on the schools needs. And maybe that is true.

But per usual, with Ms. Schwinn, the more information supplied, the more questions raised. We’ll keep digging, maybe eventually a clear picture will emerge. Though I would argue, it is already starting too.

FORGIVENESS INSTEAD OF PERMISSION

As a by-product of Metropolitan Nashville Public School’s leadership putting the brunt of pandemic planning in the hands of principals, some have in turn taken a position of asking forgiveness instead of permission. Teacher’s don’t like TEAMs, go ahead and use ZOOM. Don’t like Florida Virtual School? Use whatever you like. These are just a couple of examples.

Across the district, every school is employing a different strategy and as a result, the student experience is different. From the scheduling of classes to grading policy, variances are happening in various degrees. The latest is where teachers will teach virtually from once live instruction is resumed. It’s been the general assumption that those teachers who will be teaching in-person will return to schools as designated, while virtual teachers carry on as they have been. Not so fast.

I’ve received several reports of principals attempting to force virtual teachers to return to school with everyone else and conduct lesson from an empty classroom. That is not sitting well with a lot of teachers.

In trying to get clarification, I have yet to see an official district policy produced. When I attempted to nail it down, nobody could give me a definitive answer.

It would be my suggestion that this issue be addressed sooner rather than later.

Equally important would be getting an accurate count on available substitute teachers. I doubt they have been sitting around sans income waiting for live class to resume and provide an opportunity to earn income. They are going to be an integral part of any successful return to school action. They need to be treated as such.

QUICK HITS

A recent tweet by Brad Johnson needs to be put on a t-shirt and sent to every school board member and executive team member in every school district. This not a situation born out of the pandemic, but rather one that has existed for all to long. Recently I heard of another quote that goes hand in hand with this one, “Y’all think you know what transpires in schools, but you have no idea. What you think takes 10 minutes, takes 2 hours.” That can go on the flip side of the shirt.

Meghan Mangrum has a good article in today’s Tennessean outlining the potential cost of students leaving MNPS. She does a fine job of pointing out that not all of the attrition can be pinned to the pandemic.

Many of you have sent me pictures of MNPS school board member Fran Bush at the beach with her family while the rest of the board attended a retreat on Friday. All I can say is, are you surprised? It’s no secret Bush is at odds with her fellow board members. As someone who has attended some of those retreats, they are excrutiating at the best of times, let alone when the room is filled with contention. Bush was elected to serve constituents in a manner aceptable to both them and her. In two years they’ll have the opportunity to voice if she’s met that bar or not. Till then, I suspect Fran Bush will keep right on being Fran Bush. I kinda admire that in a sea of constant virtue signaling.

POLL RESULTS

As promised, here is a look at the weekend poll questions.

The first question asked for your opinion on whether the closing of the ASD should be pushed back two years. 50% of you answered that the time for closing was now, with an additional 22% indicating that it should have been closed years ago. Only 1 person indicated that pushing it back would be appropriate. I’d like to thank Representaive Mark White for participating in this week’s poll. No write-in answers for this one.

Question 2 asked, how much stock are you putting in first quarter grades? It was a dead heat at 31% of the vote on whether you were completely dismissing them or just looking for progress. 13% indicated they were regarding them with the same level of fidelity as in the past. Same number responded that they were using them as roadmarks. A few write-in answerson this one.

  • Grades are shockingly bad district-wide. Will parents/kids get serious??
  • What a joke!
  • I never ever put stick in grades

The last question asked who you saw as the first quarter MVP. Apparently this was an easy choice for y’all. 68% of you designated teachers for the honor, while 12% said jack Daniels and Tito. Here’s a look at the write-in votes for this one,

  • Lee/Schwinn (lol)
  • Don’t even mention the school board. What a joke!
  • School counselors
  • Students
  • Principals & Teachers

That’s it for today.

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Categories: Education

7 replies

  1. There are so many things not being said anywhere, not least including your column. This is a theme now, though. So you aren’t special that way.

    1. What is the plan for continuity of service when the inevitably widespread quarantines begin to occur? This question will go way beyond subs. Resource allocation decisions are currently being made without transparency in an attempt to avoiding spooking parents into leaving the district at even higher rates. And those contingency plans where they even exist at at nay or may not be workable. District level vacuum has led to an attempt to provide sustainability by principals. Hard to fault them for trying. Whether they succeed is another thing. What’s not said “says” more than what is said. As usual teachers just have to figure it out on the fly.

    2. On that topic of autonomy. What makes you think that principals aren’t meeting the needs of their populations the only ways they know how when they are making content and logistics decisions in the face of this vacuum? Such impactful decisions happen all the time with or without covid. Nothing is particularly surprising or new to report in this regard. Nor even particularly likely to bend existing trajectories for vast numbers of children. The only thing new is lack of effective communication at all levels, sowing fear and uncertainty. Principals didn’t make that mess. Some aren’t cleaning it up either, but they didn’t make the mess. Teachers certainly didn’t make the mess. They are just meeting needs where they know how. You want to fault that out of idealism? Please. Instead what’s not said by the various levels of leadership says more than what is said.

    3. The city referendum stands to do irreparable harm to teacher retention in the district beyond what covid hath already wrought. This is about to be very serious. Because if revenue increases are capped at 2% it will be impossible to do any fancy things for retention much less recruitment. That’s the cold truth. What’s not being said is pretty big here.

    4. Schwinn doesn’t care if she lies like a rug. Do you believe she even cares? This is all fuel for more testing and more money for choice. Pushing people to in-person is like the antipasto to a five course meal. The real courses are much larger. If she cared a whit then in the face a heightened uncertainty she would have a sleeves-rolled face on. Instead the face is of someone ready to exploit the uncertainty. What did we expect? You know she has no vested stake in being in the state long term. Or else she’s actually be interested in growing talent in her organization. What she doesn’t say “says” more than what she does say, always.

    In brief: 1&2 are colossal failures of leadership that leave our district likely to continue to hemorrhage both enrollment and talent (the kind of people who can actually afford to leave are exactly the people you cannot afford to lose).

    3&4 mean that public support for public ed is going to be severely tested once again in the spring legislative sessions. People are tired. All around. And politicians never let a good crisis go to waste.

    • 90% of this I agree with. The problem I have with 2 is that work around prevent the system from ever really improving, because it’s working for just enough people to make an argument against meaningful change. 3, I’m not sure where I stand. We keep approaching that one like everybody in the city is flush with cash. Which is unfortunately not true. Large swaths of people are being priced out of the city and we continue to keep our head in the sand about it. The rest is pretty spot on.

  2. It is indeed frustrating that our Board is about “virtue signalling” and inaction, while so many families are fleeing.

    In light of the reclosings of school in New York City this past week, I am happy that our Board is supporting online as aggressively as it can.

    As for the flight drives, thanks for posting that Tennessean article – good reporting there.

    I think the new COMMENTS section in the Tennessean is quite good – and continue to wave the flag for sanity where I can. I posted there

    “Thanks for the excellent reporting.  You are right to point to our district being a basket case on transition to 5th grade.  This is precisely when MNPS starts telling families at their Choice Day “Celebration”: “ATTENTION PARENTS: You need to leave your zoned school now.  Here are 20 lotteries you can use to get out”.

    But, what happens when skittish 4th grade parents learn they are lottery “losers” or they “win” and face a long drive across town?  You are right right.  They leave.  In droves.

    If MNPS were to ever decide that it desires our familes to not flee, the first zero cost and obvious step it would take is to delay the bad news to 8th grade from 4th. 

    Imagine the stability of our school system if MNPS could simply empower all 8th graders ( especially those attending lower-average-scoring economically integrated zoned middle schools) to apply for Hume Fogg (and MLK) score-segregated seats on equal footing!  But this can only happen if we first eliminate today’s academically purposeless middle school auto-pathways, with their long drives across town, with their endless “you lose again letters.”.

    Impossible you say?  No.  Look again.  No surrounding county informs their families that they must look for alternatives out of 4th grade.  On the contrary.  They support every kid all the way through to the end.  Their lottery-free per-grade enrollments grow on transition to middle school, as Nashville families flee our tangled system.

    A few years ago, we surveyed parents at JT Moore (integrated) Middle school – and the majority signaled a preference for allowing their kids to stay together with friends through 8th grade.  Why is our Board so wedded to their “Run from middle school now” message, when parents are so exhausted with the shell games?

    Shawn Joseph’s Transition Teams pointed to these and other terrible policies in their recommendations.  Sadly, our Board punted on them.  Sadly, the flight continues.  Sadly, in the face of 20 recommendations of zero-cost ways to improve things, our Board continues to shrug as if nothing can be done to improve the fundamental structure of this district, and the relentless flight you well report.

    (If you ever wish to dive further in to the history of how the autopathways evolved, I have School Board minute excerpts for all these decisions.  No one can explain why we have the structure we have today.  Only the history explains how we got into this ridiculous pathway tangle.  Only our history (and parent voices) point to the needed fix).

  3. TC I have been listening to a podcast by NPR Nashville called The Promise. The first was about Cayce Homes and the move to have mixed income housing and the second series is about public education. She does do her homework but it lacks local voices, yours, Board Members or others in the “scene”. Have you heard this show and thoughts…

  4. Chris it all comes back to talent retention. If parents could demonstrably see MNPS retaining high numbers of teachers&admins capable of keeping classrooms from being disruptive, demand for magnets&charters would tank. I think the board does not take your middle school proposal seriously for fear the district cannot retain talent(*). Unleashing MS magnet teachers to the zoneds would lead to many leaving, and would be a ripe situation for further MS charter pandering toward panicked parents (and charters have learned to run on a model of replaceable talent anyway).

    The half-life of a teacher leaving the classroom for good in America is 5-6 years. It’s more like 10+ years in desirable schools (read: white middle class). In MNPS the half-life is just under 4 years. In priority schools it’s just 2-3 years.

    MNPS is very unlikely to do something like your proposal, which could upset the already tenuous retention problems. You may imagine dissolving Meigs would do the opposite for the zoneds in the long run, but in the short&medium run will your idea lead to fewer disruptive classrooms in the aggregate at the zoneds? That’s the barometer.

    The only way out is creation of fewer disruptive classrooms(**). Until the public senses this is really happening, it will get harder to prop up any systems other than magnets&charters.

    (*) This is what’s just not talked at either the board or exec level. The district will come out of the pandemic so further starved for the talent to provide stability. These people know this at a gut level. Step raises help but will not get this done. I’m not sure money is even the answer. Although, if you did want money to be the answer I’d start by talking to the one person in MNPS who knows what it takes: Sharon Griffin. She put a 15-20% premium on teacher salaries at Innovation Zone schools in Memphis. It worked.

    (**) One can credibly argue that if the pandemic goes on another year the critical barometer shifts more strongly to being the building of a meaningful, workable online environment—instead of the barometer being a cram-down on classroom disruption. MNPS has failed to provide the best resources for online work so far. (Hence principals and teachers going off-script to meet student needs—see original post.) MNPS hasn’t failed _miserably_ at this, merely predictably. However, to get to a place where it can match or outcompete the online experience elsewhere, MNPS is already in the hole. Just as it is with classroom management. We’re we to need to stay online for a very long time to come, your middle school magnet&feeder proposal comes with less obvious talent-oriented downsides. But it would still cause parent panic, likely limiting the board&exec conversations from ever letting the idea advance.

    • My daughter is at one of our score-segregated high schools, Hume Fogg. At open house, to your point, we hear over and over from teachers that “It is a joy to work at Hume Fogg” that “I would not teach anywhere else”. Many taught at private schools before transitioning to Hume Fogg. And, of course, the relentless “You are so __LUCKY__ to have won the lottery”.

      Thank you for the retention data – because it does resonate with my observances of seemingly higher teacher church at integrated schools my kids have attended.

      It would be very interesting to learn whether there was more teacher churn in middle schools from 1981 to 1999, before the auto-pathways were installed. I don’t know the answer to that. I frankly doubt it. And when Meigs parents lined up in 1996-9 to demand an autopathway, none of them (in the record) talk to teacher retention or the situation at their zoned middle schools. Rather, they simply pointing to wanting to go to Hume Fogg without the stress of the lottery the rest of us must endure.

      This is not rocket science.

      If segregation is best, as you say, then of course we need MORE magnets, and MORE resulting retention of teachers in these score-segregated schools. Or simpler still, return to the 1969 zoning lines – and a Williamson-like world where teachers can serve their entire careers in our West Nashville schools. Either way, let’s please stop declaring so many families to be lottery losers. Wait lists and “you lose again letters” surely are unhelpful to the teacher retention you point to. Right?

      But, when we ask the administration for more segregated magnets, they immediately retort that we should not do that, and that raising the test-segregation standards (another oft heard request) would undermine aspirations for racial integration. (And then, they change gears again and expand segregated Valor Charter last year – bizarre)

      If teacher retention is the driver of the insane lack of action of our Board in face of astounding familiy flight, then our Board ought to at least have the courtesy to tell us that is why the magnets exist, and then tell us what their plans are to increase retention at lower scoring integrated schools.

      Thanks for introducing a new twist on the topic! Nothing in your note informs me that the structure of this district is ideal as is. I’ll continue to chase after improvements to reduce flight, increase revenue per pupil, and by extension – increase teacher retention everywhere in this district (or in as many schools as possible).

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