A TALE OF TWO RE-OPENINGS

“What was difficult
was the travel, which,
on arrival, is forgotten.”
Louise Gluck

 

As fall Break for MNPS comes to a close, I can’t help but be struck by the irony of the Tennessee Titans struggling to return to the football field due to COVID as MNPS will be simultaneously returning kids to class.

If you haven’t been paying attention, it’s going on nearly two weeks since any football has been played by Nashville’s NFL team after three players and five members of personnel all tested positive for COVID-19. Since that initial outbreak, 23 members of the Titan’s organization have tested positive – 13 players as 10 personnel and facilities remain shuttered until at least tomorrow.

Luckily this morning it was announced that there were no positive tests yesterday. A repeat today would mean the Titans can re-open their facilities and resume gameplay on Tuesday against the Bills.

Adding to the irony around the situation is that several weeks ago when it was announced that high school sports would resume, but parents wouldn’t be allowed in to watch, criticism based on the Titans resuming play was deflected by pointing out the extensive, and expensive protocols, put in place by the NFL franchise. It was argued that the NFL could allow participation because they had resources in which to ensure protections. However, no matter the level of resources, those protocols failed to prevent an outbreak from taking place and disrupting the season.

Come Monday, sans either the extensive protocols or expensive equipment, MNPS is poised to welcome it’s youngest students and their teachers back to in-school. Will the events of the past two weeks with the Titans serve as a precursor to events within MNPS? It’s anyone’s guess. But I think the confidence level is a whole lot lower with schools than it is with the football team.

Supporters of the resumption of in-person instruction continually point to the low level of severe consequences for children. That’s all fine and good until one of those children becomes severely ill, or transmit the virus to a teacher who transmits it to a loved one who becomes severely ill. Then the game changes.

Since the inception of the pandemic, 90% of the planning and execution of strategies for schools has been placed squarely on the shoulders of principals and teachers. Sure Central Office has sent memo’s out on grading two days before grades are due. Printed up a bunch of workbooks for Florida Virtual School. And worked either handing out food or at the technology centers established at various schools to supply aid to families having trouble navigating technology systems. To be fair, they’ve also attended high school sporting events as observers,

But when it comes to planning and execution, that’s been the responsibility of the individual schools. It’s why student experience at each school is entirely different at each school. With great degrees of variance between scheduling, use of curriculum, technology usages, even grading. None of that is going to change with a return to school.

There has bee a district-wide communication of what parents should expect upon a return to in-person instruction, but I wouldn’t consider it an accurate reflection of what will transpire in individual schools. Will mask mandates continue to be enforced even after a child is repeatedly told to keep their mask in place? We are loathed to send a child home for physically injuring a teacher, what makes you think they’ll be sent home for not properly wearing a mask?

The rest of the supplied guidance is pretty vague and easily open to interpretation. I’m already hearing variances among schools when it comes to bathroom breaks, lunch practices, and recess, just to name a few instances. Many schools are promising parents that their children’s experience will be as close to normal as possible. For that to happen, quite a few district protocols will need to be modified, in light of everything else put out by the central office that’s been modified, I can’t help but have some trepidations.

School is scheduled to resume in person next week, and we still have schools wrestling with teacher accommodations. Some schools are permitting teachers who teach virtually to remain at home, while others are demanding that all teachers return to the building and if you teach virtually, you do it from an empty classroom in the building. Helping with car duty, cafeteria monitoring, or sundry of other necessities is being cited as reasons to forced teachers back to school. These are duties that while necessary, put teachers at risk.

Just because a teacher has an accommodation does not mean that they will be allowed to teach virtually. Every effort is being made to ensure that, but don’t think that pressure is not being put on them to modify their needs, to help meet the needs of building administrators.

Many teachers applied for accommodations back in August. While for others, circumstances didn’t warrant application in August but have now changed. Either they or a loved one has developed increased health risks, or they’ve had to assume care for elderly parents. Whatever the case, teachers are being forced into deciding between their own health, the health of loved ones, or their career. That’s not a tenable position especially when districts around Nashville, who did not remain all virtual, are losing teachers. Now those numbers may not be huge for outlying smaller districts, but remember MNPS does and experiences everything on a much larger scale.

Furthermore, teachers are being forced into this decision making process sans complete information. As principals struggle to cover classrooms, teachers find themselves faced with the task of teaching grade levels different than the ones they started the year and teaching subjects they may not be familiar with. Science teachers are adding math to their plate, and social studies teachers are adding ELA to their repertoire. Which for me raises the question of grading fidelity. If my child’s social studies class was previously taught by a dedicated specialist and is now being taught by a teacher primarily focused on ELA, how will grading be impacted? Maybe drastically, maybe not at all. The bottom line is an increase in uncertainty.

I’ve raised the question to several principals about how you prevent having the division of labor be a culture killer. While most acknowledged the potential, few have a clear idea of how to combat the potential ill-effects.

In defense of a lack of a coherent plan and the potential pitfalls, supporters point to the problems in other districts and how they are also struggling. It’s a defense, that for me, falls on deaf ears. How well somebody else is doing should have no impact on the evaluation of our plans, unless they are doing something well and we can steal it. Otherwise, it’s a deflection from our own shortcomings.

We spend so much time rending our garments over our concern for kids, yet I fail to see how any of this benefits kids. Looking beyond the potential health risks – newsflash: COVID-19 has not left Tennessee – is the mid-year disruption of their learning experience. After 9 weeks, students are suddenly going to find themselves with potentially new surroundings, new teachers, new curriculum, and new classroom expectations. Just as they are forming relationships with present teachers, mastering the navigation of curriculum and technology, and understanding expectations. Then come January, we are going to throw all the cards up in the air and do it all over again.

“But TC, we have to get kids back to the classroom. It’s way past time to get back to normal. Students are losing so much learning.”

News flash number 2, if you are waiting for a “return to normal”, you are waiting on the birth of a unicorn. Classrooms are never again going to look like they did in October of 2019. Those days are gone, and the more effort we exert to trying to bring them back, the more we delay the true addressing of students’ needs. In the immortal words of Travis Tritt, “Time marches on.”

Secondly, this whole “learning loss” malarky, is just that…malarky. Per Chalkbeat,

Researchers projecting learning loss are not doing so with actual information about what happened after schools closed due to COVID, but with historical data and a host of assumptions — “statistically informed guesses,” says education researcher Paul von Hippel.

This is where mainstream media like the Tennessean and Chalkbeat printing unchecked words by the Governor and his Education Commissioner, without supporting data, causes real damage. It gives those who serve an agenda other than serving all kids, fuel to argue their faulty prescriptions.

Despite some vested parties’ predictions of pending doom, the reality is, we currently know very little about the loss of learning due to COVID and there is little actual data that supports the dire predictions that have been voiced by certain parties. Parties that are motivated by the political agendas of returning kids to class and propping up the testing industry.

What should we be doing instead? Exactly what cooler heads have called for since inception. Once again quoting Chalkbeat, experts say that teachers should instead use diagnostic tests or exams they create themselves to figure out where their students are at. “Putting students back for remediation when they may not need it based on projections” would be unwise, said Megan Kuhfeld, a research scientist for NWEA.

“Teachers should be using the data that’s most close to the students,” she said.

Somethings need to change, but some things are best left as they’ve always been. Unless of course, you don’t trust teachers. And that is the elephant in the room.

Will MNPS’s return fare better than the Titans? The jury is out, but I certainly hope so. Per usual, I pray that I am wrong and that circumstances turn out much better than predicted.

MNPS’s school board meets next week for the first time. MNEA is encouraging teachers to come down and lend their voices, as is Let Nashville Parents Choose. Should be interesting.

EVALUATION, SMELLUATION

I’ve been meaning to raise this subject for several weeks, and I don’t want to let it slide again. Under pressure from the TNDOE, many of Tennessee’s LEA’s are beginning to administer teacher evaluations. Is there a larger exercise in futility than engaging in those assessments at this time?

First, most teachers in Tennessee spent the first quarter teaching remotely, utilizing skills they were accumulating on the fly. Good teaching via a virtual platform is very much a work in progress. So exactly who is qualified to evaluate teachers? Is there a hidden orchard of remote learning experts from which to pluck evaluators? Or is the in-person rubric being blindly applied to remote instruction? I would assume that it would take at least a year to really identify best practices backed by data for remote learning. Until then, I’d argue against evaluating teachers at present.

My second argument hinges on the purpose of evaluations. It’s my understanding that their primary intent is to improve practice. But the TNDOE has repeatedly voiced its intention that the vast majority of teachers will return to in-person instruction as soon as possible. Instruction that will look markedly different than what they delivered online. So what are we looking to improve?

Suspending teacher evaluations for a year makes a lot of sense. It’s not like not conducting these evaluations will suddenly lead to a decline in teacher performance or improvement. Just like with student evaluations, at some point, we have to focus on the quality of the assessments and not just the act of assessing. In other words, instead of just checking things off of a hypothetical list, let’s work towards actual quality.

TEA MISCUES

When it comes to unions I struggle. In theory, I support them, unfortunately, their practices often make it impossible to maintain that support. A case in point this week is the Tennessee Education Association’s endorsement of Steve Dickerson over Democrat challenger Heidi Campbell.

The running joke among political insiders is that Republican Dickerson is the most effective Democrat in the State Senate. But make no mistake, he is not a friend of public education. In the past, he’s refused to help address BEP issues, increase teacher pay, and reign in a department of education that is out of control. Sure he voted against vouchers, but that doesn’t offest the level of support he’s enjoyed from Tennesseans for Student Success – an organization that despite its friendly name is dedicated to the disruption of public education. They gave him a 97% rating just last week.

Heidi Campbell would be a fresh voice in the Senate and a true supporter of public education. Right now, she’s poised to beat Dickerson despite his huge money advantage. TEA had an opportunity to help facilitate true change, instead, they’ve chosen to stick with the status quo. Truly disappointing.

QUICK HITS

An interesting article in the online newspaper The Center Square has Mayor Cooper basically saying that the scare tactics he’s employed these past two weeks are essentially just that, scare tactics. Many people have asked for my opinion on the potential tax repeal. To be honest, my opinion is still in flux. A month before Cooper announced the tax increase, I admitted that a substantial increase would be a necessity, and I still recognize it as such. That said, I do think, per usual, city officials overreached. They failed to acknowledge the financial pain that many of Nashville’s working-class feels. Would they have gotten less pushback had they kept the increase below a dollar? I don’t know, but failure to acknowledge the financial situation of many of Nashville’s citizens has not helped their cause.

The Tennessean reports this week that Nashville’s millionaires are attempting to extend their reach on education policy past the city limits. The Scarlett Foundations Tara Scarlett, along with the usual suspects, Bill and Crissy Haslam Foundation, Nashville PROPEL, Nashville Public Education Fund, City Fund, Hyde Family Foundation, Memphis Education Fund, and State Collaborative On Reforming Education (SCORE) are joining forces to combat learning loss. Of course, no new initiative can be announced without evoking some fear,

With the challenge we are seeing right now, we could lose half a year across the state in academic growth … economic growth,” Scarlett said. “If we are really going to change where we are today and drive our students’ outcomes we need to be thinking through an innovative lens.”

Most of these groups have been around for over a decade, yet the only success they continually cite is 2013’s NAEP results. Has one test ever gotten more mileage? Fear not, they are still touting that test to mark their credibility. They continually remind me of that high school QB reliving that one big play well into middle-age.

Much was made of the courts recently ruling against US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s distribution of CARES Act money to private schools, but does it really make a difference? Much of that money has already been delivered. Will any effort be made to secure its return? By whom? And how will we know?

In light of the recent passing of Eddie Van Halen, some folks are attempting to re-invent Diver Down as a record that is not cover laden and half-baked. Myself, I stand by my original dismissal of the record as being worthy of standing alongside the first four records.

As previously mentioned, there is an MNPS School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 13th. The meeting agenda continues to shrink with each meeting. There is no scheduled discussion around the re-opening of schools, nor is there even a scheduled report from the director. There is no discussion around technology and where we are with the purchase of computers for all students. There is a discussion on the district’s progress around the implementation of its literacy programs. An update on sports and where we are in allowing student families to be spectators is also not on the agenda. A look at our facilities and what has been done to make them safer for the imminent return of students are apparently not worthy of discussion either? Teacher recruitment and retention? Recently completed MAP testing update? Nope, just public participation, governance issues, announcements, and adjournment. And my disillusionment continues to grow.

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.

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.

Oh, yea… don’t forget to answer the poll questions.

 

 



Categories: Education

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