“The dream begins, most of the time,with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth”
In the wake of last week’s Dodger’s World Series win, I’ve read a lot of analysis about Game 6. The joy of is baseball lies in its ability to emulate life. In this case, unfortunately, it imitated some of the worst tendencies of the education world.
In the 6th inning of the pivotal game 6, the Ray’s were up 1-0. Their pitcher Blake Snell was cruising. He’d faced 18 hitter s and only 3 balls had left the infield, while he’d struck out 9 with no walks. Needing only 73 pitches to get this far meant there was plenty of juice left in his arm.
After getting the first out of the 6th, the Dodger’s Austin Barnes hit a floater to center field for a single. With a man on first Snell was set to face the heart of the Dodger lineup in Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner. Reason for concern, but collectively they’d struck out 6 times today already. No one was expecting what happened next.
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, called time out and made the trek to the mound for what most thought would be a pep talk. Instead, he took the ball from Snell and made a call to the bullpen. Inexplicably, he was removing his ace pitcher, who was cruising, prematurely, and calling for a reliever. The results of the move proved disastrous.
With Barnes on first, Betts — helpless against Snell — ripped a ball down the third baseline, a double to put runners on second and third. When the reliever, Nick Anderson, uncorked a wild pitch, Barnes scampered home. Tie game. The Dodgers went on to score twice more, winning the game and the World Series.
What happened was that baseball, like education, has become a world dominated by data at the expense of human intuition. While Cash’s pitcher may have claimed he was good, the cyber metrics, that so many teams have come to rely on, showed that pitchers who face hitters a third time in a game fare decidedly worse. The math showed it was time to make a change and so, despite what his eyes and heart told him, Cash made the change.
Baseball is a game long influenced by data, but in the past, a manager’s “gut”, developed through years of experience, played an equal role in managing games. But those days are fading. These days, analytic staffs influence games more than managers. On some teams, those staffs even create line-ups based on collected data instead of the manager’s observations and knowledge. The Ray’s have been at the forefront of the march towards the greater inclusion of data
In some ways, that helps teams. After all the Rays did make it to the World Series. But overall, it takes away from the game. Baseball, just like education, is a game played by humans and not data points. Losing sight of that can as recently witnessed, prove detrimental. Taking the experience and intuition out of the decisions being made by those on the field can result in missed opportunities.
After the game, Snell spoke to reporters,
“I get it. It’s the third time through the lineup, but I think I’m gonna make the adjustments I need to make as I see them a third time,” Snell said. “I don’t know, man. I just believe in me. I believe in my stuff. I believe in what I was doing.”
Sometimes you just have to share the belief of the people playing the game. Data and statistics are useful tools, but in the end, that is all they are. Sometimes you just need to use the other tools in the box, experience, and intuition.
Another week and another shipload of questions arrive for the eternally beleaguered Tennessee State Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. This week’s questions come around the handling of the IEA vouchers program and CARES federal grant money spending. Per Vivian Jones over at The Center Square,
Senate Education Committee Chairperson Dolores Gresham, R-Sommerville, and House Education Committee Chairperson Mark White, R-Memphis, have sent a letter to State Comptroller Justin Wilson, asking for an investigation into the Department of Education’s management of the Individualized Education Account program and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds allocated to education.
Admittedly this one gave me a bit of surprise. Gresham has long recognized the incompetence of Schwinn, but nobody has worked harder to grease the wheels for Schwinn than White. Every time fellow legislators have tried to get to the meat of the matter with the commissioner, White has been at the ready to run interference.
Interestingly, White is now calling for a comptroller inspection of where CARES Act money was distributed. If you’ll remember back in May when White was trying to revive a literacy bill that was by all accounts dead in the water, he was among the first to raise the specter of using federal money to do what he couldn’t secure state money to do, fund the governor’s literacy bill. In hindsight, it seems White may have been privy to the Governor and the Commissioners plans to circumvent the General Assembly in bringing their agenda to fruit. In that case, this just maybe a case of CYA.
Perhaps the comptroller should ask White, “How much did you know? And when?”
Maybe the comptroller can figure out why the Common Core promoting Liben Consulting Group is both an endorser and a benefactor of the literacy grant?
Wonder if Robert Lundin has any interesting tales for the comptroller?
Whatever the case, this is some welcome news and dovetails nicely with State Representative Ragan’s recent letter to the TDOE(20-10-16 TED Inquiry). Still trying to find out if the department ever responded to that one. For some reason, all of this brings to mind Charlie Sheen, who at the height of his personal problems repeatedly publicly declared that he was shwinning…I mean winning.
KIDS NEED TO BE IN CLASS, WHETHER IT’S VIRTUAL OR IN-PERSON
Back at the start of the school year, Metro Nashville Public Schools, based on a recognition of technology shortcomings and personal situations, rolled out an attendance plan they felt was rooted in equity. Students would not be required to actually attend virtual classes to be counted present, but instead would be counted by merely logging in to Schoology each day before 12AM. I’m sure thoughts were that many families were struggling with circumstances due to the pandemic and that virtual instruction would be a temporary method of teaching.
Here we are, in the first couple weeks of the second quarter, and changes are afoot. Of course, as per the case throughout this whole crisis, what the new policy looks like, varies with each school. The general idea is that students are now being required to sign in to each individual synchronous class and participate in that class. Teachers will pull attendance numbers at various times during instruction time. Student attendance will impact their grade.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that the policy of merely signing in, is a bar set too low. The expectation should have been from the beginning that all kids need to be in virtual classes and participating at all times. It’s expected for in-person learning, so why not for virtual instruction.
I get that there were technical issues and personal issues that made attendance more difficult for some more than others, but we are now 11 weeks into the school year and many of those issues should have been mitigated by now.
That said, I don’t think it’s good practice to change policy mid-stream. Just because a poor decision was made on the front end doesn’t mean that those impacted should pay the price mid-stream. Expectations should have been higher from the beginning.
Part of the problem is the continued focus on a return to school buildings as a balm for all. We also continue to pay the price for lack of foresight back in May. MNPS, like many schools across the country, were so focused on returning kids to buildings that little focus was placed on developing remote instruction. Even when it became clear that school buildings would not be able to re-open, remote instruction was treated as just a temporary fix. As a result, development has been slow.
Here we are, weeks into the second semester, and district leaders are once again trying to make up for mistakes made months ago. If we are not careful, it’s a pattern that could e repeated throughout the school year. Instead of focusing on strategies to fill school buildings, the focus needs to be on educating kids. Through whatever methods are available.
ELEMENTARY EDUCATORS AIN”T FEELING THE LOVE
The MNPS decision to halt the re-opening of school buildings for middle school students has left many elementary school educators feeling a little left out in the cold and feeling a little disfranchised from the district. There are two major elements at play that contribute to these legitimate feelings.
First up, there seems to be a continual and growing disconnect over what ES principals are being tasked with. They are essentially beings asked to run two schools while being supplied with the resources to barely run one. It is often overlooked that teachers are responsible for a whole lot more than just teaching classes. Somebody has to responsible for monitoring students during lunchtime and during drop-off and pick-up, just to name 2 examples. If half a building’s staff is teaching remotely, that means fewer bodies to fill those roles. The number of students in the building may have dropped, but that doesn’t translate to a drop in responsibilities.
What happens if a teacher becomes sick? Where does a sub come from? Throughout the early part of the year, there was little focus on cultivating the substitute teacher corp. Now that they are needed in schools, it shouldn’t be surprising that there is a dearth of people looking to put their health at risk and enter schools to fill in for teachers.
What about cafeteria workers or other support staff? What happens when they are forced to quarantine or become sick with a non-COVID illness?
Invariably unfilled responsibilities fall to teachers and principals. There was little or no discussion during either of the previous MNPS school board meetings over whether schools have adequate staffing in order to be fully operational. Instead, the district bragged about it’s increased responsiveness around technology and SEL. But again, who’s doing the actual work in those areas? Its teachers and principals who are already overtaxed.
Among the consuming daily tasks for principals which they are not able to delegate to others in the buildings or have no one to delegate to, but are health risk-taking, and managerial, include subbing in classrooms, transporting and passing out breakfast in the classroom, distributing EBT cards to families, notification of COVID exposure/ running quarantine rooms along with an assortment of other assumed duties. All of that is on top of their normal day to day responsibilities. It’s not sustainable.
There is an ever-widening chasm between district leadership and building leaders, often referred to as a “crisis of deaf ears”, when it comes to the central office’s perception of what happens in schools and the reality of day to day operations. Building leaders are bombarded with mixed messages delivered through both emails and executive directors which, as previously mentioned, has resulted in varying practices taking root in schools. When principals ask for clarification there are met with derision and dismissal instead of concrete uniform support. In all fairness to executive directors, part of the issue is that they are not getting the necessary clarity of communication either. Hard to guide when you are not given guidance.
The second concern is the very real health threat. Like I’ve previously written, they didn’t volunteer to be anyone’s canary in a coal mine. MNPS may be releasing weekly COVID number counts, but over the week I’ve heard a considerable amount of disbelief voiced regarding those numbers. Many people have pointed to the number of people quarantined in their school and the lack of alignment with the numbers published by the district. The truth is that many people believe that the threat is much greater than reported. A recent MNEA survey bears out their concerns.
As expressed by one respondent,
“We all know that in-person learning is ideal, but how ideal is it when teachers are having to quarantine and there is no one to cover their class? How ideal is it that EE/EL students are not receiving their services because their teachers and paraprofessionals are being pulled to sub? Our most diverse learners are suffering due to being understaffed. This is not okay.”
The situation with elementary schools is not a tenable one. If you ask me, based on the growing number of cases and as a result, the challenges presented in keeping schools operational, there is only one reason why elementary schools are currently open – a lack of political will. Nobody has the stomach to actually do what’s best for kids and face the wrath of potentially angry parents. So instead, we risk the health – medical and physical – of elementary school educators and children out of fear of reprisal.
Leadership is hard. It is seldom a popular position. Sometimes you have to be willing to take the hits that come with the position. If buildings are not safe for middle school and high school kids and teachers, they are not safe for anybody. If circumstances require superhuman efforts from the staff just in order to maintain an illusion of normalcy, schools don’t need to be open. While politics impacts everything, it shouldn’t supersede doing the right thing.
I want to thank Andy Spears for adding his voice to the call to suspend teacher evaluations during a pandemic. Absolutely and utterly the wrong strategy. Even though Schwinn and Lee are calling for teachers to be held unaccountable for results, let’s be honest, if you’re keeping score, there are winners and losers. Even with my Little League team, I may call it a scrimmage, but everybody knows who scored the most runs. That’s why TNReady needs to be suspended in the Spring and we need to focus on instruction.
MNPS is determined to forge forward with Winter sports. All are scheduled to begin their season soon, however with out parents in the stands. Among the more interesting guidelines released by the district is the one that prohibits bowlers from sharing balls, though presumably, the sharing of balls will be permissible for basketball. Go figure.
Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin has a new one out. Presumably the last chapter in the storied career of investigator John Rebus. Do yourself a favor and check it out. If you have never read Rankin, you are missing out on a literary giant.
An Overton High School senior, Solmin Kim, will preside over 700 delegates during next week’s virtual YMCA Model UN Conference. Kim, a former student of Julia Green ES and Oliver MS is driven by her love for Overton. The many languages overheard in the hallways inspire her, making school “so much more fun,” and she fully appreciates the school’s teachers and their efforts to keep students on track.
Tomorrow is Election Day. Try to keep things in perspective, According to an article from Reuters, a recent poll by the Pew Center found that nearly 80% of Trump and Biden supporters said they had few or no friends who supported the other candidate. That’s not a good thing. At some point, we have to stop focusing on our differences and celebrate our similarities. That used to be the superpower of public schools. It provided an opportunity in which to learn how to forge relationships with people from all backgrounds and beliefs. Obviously, that is something more needed than ever.
Elections are important but so are personal relationships and family. At the end of the day, no matter who wins we are each left to navigate our personal lives with the help of family, friends, and neighbors. Many who believe differently than us. Dedication to diversity doesn’t mean just surrounding ourselves with people who look different than us, but also requires including people who think different than us.
Last look at the weekend poll questions. The first question asked your presidential preference. If the Dad Gone Wild poll is any indicator, it’s going to be a long day for Mr. Trump. you favor Biden by a vote of 65-24 percent. Here are the write-ins,
Question 2 asked if Commissioner Schwinn’s recent PR campaign was working on you. 33% of you indicated that you don’t pay any attention to her, while 29% of you expressed familiarity with her strategy. Only 3 of you felt she was really trying hard. I’d like to thank Ms. Schwinn, the Governor, and his wife, for continually participating in our polls. Here are the write-ins,
- Fire Schwinn and Lisa Coons
- Looking like a Super spreader to me
- No, not in the least
- She makes my soul weary. I want her out of TN. She’s a disgrace to education.
- This isn’t abnormal. She visits schools at least once per week.
The last question asked if you favor a state-wide mask mandate. This one was pretty overwhelming with 90% of you expressing favorability. No write-ins on this one.
That’s it for today.
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