“I believe that managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.”
In 1994 Major League Baseball went on strike. Like many fans, I was disappointed, angry, and frustrated. The games resumed in the Spring of 1995, but not without damage done to the preception of the game. Many fans stopped following the games, never to return. Blame was spread among both parties – the owners and the players.
I remember watching an interview on television with a high-ranking union leader – it could have been Donald Fehr, but I wouldn’t swear to it. The reporter asked the union official if they thought this strike was good for baseball, the official shrugged and responded that basically, he didn’t know and that wasn’t his concern. His concern rested solely with the baseball players and ensuring that they played the game in as safe an environment as possible and that they received fair compensation. What was good for the game, was outside of his purview.
I remember hearing that and reevaluating my view of unions and their responsibilities. To my mind, he was 100% correct, and why unions are so important. Yes, it is logical that well-compensated and safe baseball players make for a better game, but what’s good for the game is best left to the commissioner and others to consider. The union’s sole responsibility should be protecting union members and perhaps those that could become future union members. It’s what they were hired for and it’s why, for the most part, they’ve been successful at improving worker conditions.
As much as we like to criticize unions, the reality is that without them workers wouldn’t enjoy many of the amenities that currently exist – 8 hour days, 40 hour weeks, paid time off, safety protections and so much more have become a part of reality due to the efforts of unions. Want to bring it closer to home? How many teachers would be placed at risk by being forced into unsafe classrooms had MNEA not set in on their accommodations meetings?
You can argue whether that is good for schools or not, but you certainly can not argue that is good for teachers. Though I would argue that healthy teachers are more effective than unhealthy teachers or teachers riddled with anxiety.
I bring this up because the word on the street is that President-Elect Biden – see how easy that is to say – is leaning towards appointing NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia as Secretary of Education. While she is certainly qualified, I don’t believe she is the best choice.
Eskind benefits from being a classroom teacher for a decade. In 1989 she was named Utah Teacher of the Year. But she’s been a politician and a labor leader since the mid-’90s. As a leader of NEA she is very versed in the needs of teachers, but that doesn’t mean she’s equally versed in education policy as it benefits all stakeholders. What if Biden was considering appointing the head of the National PTA as Secretary of Educations? Or somebody from the Superintendent Association of America? The point is, all of these candidates might be qualified, but they would be biased to certain stakeholders as opposed to others, and therefore would be problematic as Secretary of Education who must design a policy that benefits all stakeholders.
Should Biden listen to Eskind when it comes to education issues? Absolutely. He should have her on speed dial, along with representatives from other groups. If he wants to appoint her to a senior advisory role, I’m all for it. But to put her in charge of the Department of Education, in my opinion, would be a mistake and ultimately, due to the required widening of scope, could prove detrimental to teacher concerns.
Personally, I hope that if Biden is going down this path, he reconsiders.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY PREVIEW
Details are starting to emerge on what the upcoming Tennessee General Assembly will look like when it opens in mid-January. Tennessee Legislators are scheduled to convene on January 17th. The expectation is that they will quickly pass a few pressing bills and then recess until Spring, or condition become more conducive to meeting in person. I know, I know…the irony.
The Governor has floated the idea of holding a special session devoted just to education issues, and that may or not happen. Personally, I think that is dependent on whether or not the General Assembly deals with a couple pressing issues before they recess to the governor’s satisfaction.
First up is addressing BEP funding for schools. State funding is typically contingent on attendance numbers. Due to the pandemic, school districts across the state are losing students. According to Chalkbeat, the statewide decline in student enrollment this fall would normally decrease the allocation by at least $320 million.
Recognizing, that if those lost students come back next year when the Coronavirus is more manageable, districts will be under economic hardship, Representative Cerpicky has introduced a school stabilization bill that would in essence freeze funding at current levels, providing relief to districts.
To his credit, Cerpicky understands that this is just a beginning and he would like the General Assembly to conduct a review of the current BEP formula. Most stakeholders recognize the shortcomings of the current model, which was adopted in 1992, and its failure to adjust for inflation, government mandates, a growing charter school sector, and expenses driven by changes in technology. There seems to be a growing willingness to redress it.
Cerpicky’s thinking is that if a bill keeping districts financially solvent for another year can be passed, it would create a window of opportunity to address the BEP. Legislators would have 14 to 15 months in which to address the BEP formula in Education Committee meetings. I can’t disagree with that thinking.
Legislators for the most part appear to understand the importance of freezing district funding and appear amendable to keeping funding frozen. Well, all except Chairman Sexton who thinks that only schools who have open school buildings deserve protection. Apparently, he is unaware of the level of work teachers are doing remotely to keep students engaged. Somebody needs to hand him a clue. Instead of criticizing Memphis for taking their savings and giving teachers a 1% raise, he should be praising them for recognizing the level of sacrifice being made by teachers and principals.
The funding picture needs to be clarified as soon as possible so that superintendents can begin accurately creating their budgets for the next school year.
Equally important is a decision on whether TNReady will be administered, or not, and if administered, what impact scores will have on schools, teachers, and students. Most recognize that the administration of testing at this juncture is an exercise in futility. But there is a contingency who believes that the tests should be administered though results should not be used for accountability. My argument is that if I hold a scrimmage game and I keep score, despite calling it practice, everybody knows who the winners and losers are.
Not testing this year will not permanently damage kids, in fact, it would provide opportunities for additional instructional time. It’s been floated out there that this year’s tests should be canceled and money instead is allocated to summer school. I don’t know if that’s feasible or not, but it makes a lot more sense.
Teacher evaluations also need to be tabled, though many teachers have already endured them. I’ve said it 100 times, and I’ll say it 100 times more, administrating teacher evaluations amidst a pandemic, while teachers are utilizing strategies that have never been used on such a scale in the past, is beyond dumb and is more about compliance than improving practice. Luckily most legislators also seem to recognize that reality.
The last item of importance is the Literacy Bill. Last year, Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn put forth a Literacy Bill that would have taken power from local control, placing it in the hands of the TDOE, and dictating that there was only one way in which to teach reading. Legislators pushed back and by the end of the session, a bill was put forth by Rep. Cerpicky that limited the control of the DOE while addressing most of the issues the governor was concerned with. This week, Lee has indicated that passing a Reading Bill is still high on his list. The question is, what will it look like? Will it be Cerpicky’s Bill? A new Bill? Or another try at the old bill?
Based on the expressed need for expedience, it will likely be the Cerpicky Bill with maybe some additions by Lee. Cepricky’s bill is admittedly an improvement from what was previously proffered. Besides keeping greater power out of Commissioner Schwinn’s hands, it also strips the branding language of “Science of Reading” out of the bill and recognizes the need to increase the number of tools in a teacher’s toolbox, not reduce them.
That said, it is not without issues. There is still an overemphasis on testing and foundational skills. along with the ability to retain third graders. Perhaps those troublesome elements can be mitigated before the legislation is brought to a vote. At the very least, it’s a step in the right direction, and to his credit, Cerpicky seems committed to doing things “with” the state’s educators as opposed to doing things “to” them. That’s a welcome shift in attitude.
As the start of legislation approaches, I’m guardedly optimistic, If the General assembly limits themselves to the aforementioned, schools will benefit. There is still a chance that Governor Lee attempts to sneak a modified voucher bill into the mix, but let’s hope not. If he tries, he can be assured that opponents will be prepared.
It seems that MNPS has become increasingly enamored with assessing our students, even as many aren’t showing up regularly. Further complicating things, is that the different assessments can produce different results and by de facto, different education plans.
For example, a 5th-grade student could test this year in math in the 90th percentile, congruent with where they have tested for the last several years, while a month later the I-Ready assessment could determine that the student is only on a 5th-grade level, or slightly above. Current circumstances only increase this likelihood. As a result, the MAP scores would be disregarded and the student would be assigned I-Ready PLT work at that level. Work that would likely prove unchallenging and result in disengagement.
But don’t worry, come January, we are going to repeat the process. The MAP testing window is scheduled to open from 1/11 to 1/28. I know, that’s four days after kids return and we don’t know if that return will be in person or virtually. I-Ready testing will take place at some point in that window as well. And I’m being told that a third assessment will also be administered. Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?
There has already been a push to get principals to ensure that students take MAP. Though I’m not sure how much more they can do than what they did earlier in the year. A time that found them practically hiding in bushes with a laptop until students passed by, and then leaping out and forcing them to take the test.
I’ve got other questions. Of the assessments, which will carry the most weight? Again at a time when we are challenged to get students to show up for class, how do we expect they’ll show up for multiple assessments? If we are so concerned about potential learning loss, why are we sacrificing valuable instructional time for assessments?
I’m going to say something here that’ll likely be unpopular with some, but I’m going to say it anyway. We have to stop treating our public school systems as if they only serve students with deficiencies. Yes, some need remediation, but some also need acceleration. Some need increased emotional supports, but some are receiving adequate supports at home. If we say we are going to serve all students, let’s serve all students – meeting their individual needs.
I’ve expressed that I believe that the MNPS school building will open come January 7th. I don’t know at what capacity or what the timeline to full opening will be, nor do I have supporting evidence to indicate such, but in reading the tea leaves that’s my prediction. In pushing back against my predictions, others have offered the objection that going from our current COVID-19 risk level of 9.6 to below 7, which is the level required to begin school openings, seems impossible. Well an article in ChalkeatCo, might provide some insight. Per Chalkbeat,
When local public health officials first developed a dashboard to help Denver Public Schools decide when it was safe to hold in-person classes, they set the red level — meant to signify a flashing warning light — at 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days. But Dr. Bill Burman of Denver Public Health, who has been advising the district on its reopening plans has said that since then, schools have shown they can operate safely when community transmission exceeds that: even at 500, 600, or 700 cases per 100,000 residents.
For its part. Memphis Schools announced today that buildings will be closed until Feb. 8 for elementary-age students and Feb. 22 for grades 6-12. Which means they would open in time for TnReady. Sorry I couldn’t resist. I do applaud Dr. Ray for making the call now and providing people adequate time to plan.
The Tennessee Department of Education continues to be fertile ground for spotting the unexplainable. Many of you are probably under the illusion that the Tennessee state government is operating under a hiring freeze. A glance at the TDOE employee opening listings doesn’t seem to support that supposition. Currently, there are 15 executive openings listed, likely representing close to a million dollars in salary. A couple of the positions are clearly tied and hence funded, to two recently awarded federal grants. Several though, appear to be newly created positions – Director of Choice, Director of Engagement, Manager of Procurement, and Logistics. I would dare, say this list deserves some clarification. Hopefully, state legislators are looking at it.
Speaking of those Federal Grants, despite the DOE maintaining that they will utilize a strict RFP process is resourcing projects associated with the grants, not a single RFP has been publically listed. This is curious because a timeline produced by the department in conjunction with those applications indicated that efforts would be underway by now. So where are the RFPs?
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education(SCORE) held its annual event this week, and per usual it was lots of promises with little delivery. SCORE has been sounding the alarm that Tennessee is in the midst of a Literacy crisis while failing to acknowledge that many of the policies of the past came at their urging…i.e. you are part of the problem. A previous running joke had it that that SCORE only existed to fund former ED Jamie Woodson’s retirement. Well, I guess now we are working on David Mansouri’s retirement package. Andy Spears has more at the TNeD Report.
Educator Nancy Baily has a new piece out discussing children’s mental health. While I don’t subscribe to all of her assumptions, she does offer some very good advice which makes it a good read.
Before closing, I want to offer a sincere thank you to all the principals out there. Many of you recognize that a primary part of your job is protecting your teachers, and you execute it well. Unfortunately, you do it so well that the beating you are taking goes unnoticed. I see you and I appreciate it. Those teachers who serve under you might not realize the full extent of what you do, but I know they are appreciative as well. Thank you.
That’s a wrap.
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.
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