QUESTIONABLE ASSERTIONS

“Belief is a virus, and once it gets into you, its first order of business is to preserve itself, and the way it preserves itself is to keep you from having any doubts, and the way it keeps you from doubting is to blind you to the way things really are. Evidence contrary to the belief can be staring you straight in the face, and you won’t see it… True believers just don’t see things the way they are, because if they did, they wouldn’t be true believers anymore.”
Philip Caputo, Acts of Faith

 

My wife, a fifth-grade teacher, and I sat on the couch the other night, half watching a show on HGTV.  “You know,” she started, her voice tinged with sadness, “In another two months it’ll be a year. A year since I’ve been in my classroom. A year since I’ve spent time with my precious students.”

I said nothing and we continued watching in silence. What could I say? What was there to say? Her sadness was palpable and I no words to ease that sorrow.

For nearly a year, I’ve watched her struggle. Struggle to provide instruction through an unfamiliar vehicle? Struggle to master technology to better serve her students. Struggle over concerns for the well being of her students. Struggle with teaching a class to a screen filled with outdated pictures, because many students don’t turn on their cameras? Struggle with not seeing her parents, because they are older and highly at risk. Struggle to try and stay on top of her own children’s education, while trying to meet the needs of the students in her class. Struggle to try and meet the socio-economic needs of her students, many from families that live in poverty, despite lacking the ability or training to meet all of their needs. In short. Struggles that face all teachers to varying degrees.

Yet every day, she gets up and plunges in again. Teaching classes all day from the makeshift workspace created behind the door of our bedroom. Nights are filled with phone calls to teammates to plot strategies or to help each other navigate ever-shifting direction from building administrators who are struggling themselves. All in an effort to serve students in an unprecedented time. Everybody pulling together, brushing off the disappointments and heartaches to get it right tomorrow.

Despite the popular narrative, it hasn’t been all failure. There has been a lot of success along this difficult route. Technology skills for students have grown at an exponential rate. Many kids are doing something we long deemed a necessity – taking charge of their education. Yesterday my son called me, despite our refusing to buy him a phone, he has learned on his own to use the Google voice that he purchased with his own money, to make phone calls.

“Hey, dad”, he said, “Looking at my schedule, I have a class at nine and one at 11, but we are supposed to meet independently at 11:30 with Dr.A. Looking through my emails and folders, I don’t have a link for that one. Also, I’ve finished my asynchronous work in science and social studies. I’m going to tackle my math after 2 when I get back from Gary’s. Any chance you can bring lunch home?”

He’s 10. A year ago, I couldn’t spell asynchronous, now it rolls off of his tongue as natural as listing his favorite sports teams.

I get it, many of us are uncomfortable with technology. We don’t like the increased role it plays in our lives and we worry about the potentially detrimental effects. All legitimate concerns, but the reality is that it’s here to stay and it will play an even more prominent role in the world our children inherit. In the future, failure to master technology will prove just as limiting as to the inability to read. To many of you, that is sacrilegious, but unfortunately, it’s a  growing reality.

Another important lesson being taught right now, building the capacity to navigate the world as it exists and not just as we desire. Illness, heartache, financial troubles, will all impact children as they become adults and navigate adulthood, none of us get out of here unscathed. The skills they have learned during this past year will serve them throughout their lives. That can not be under-recognized. As parents, we have to guard against shaping our children’s world view through our own fears.

Teachers have invested personal time and made financial investments to pursue a career working with kids. Notice I said career and not a job? Words matter.

As bad as parents want their children to be in schools, teachers want to be in front of students just as badly. For the vast majority of teachers, working with students isn’t just a means to earn an income but is also part of their self-identity. It’s how they see themselves, and an essential part of their self-worth. Not being able to see their kids daily and in person takes a tremendous social and emotional toll on them, only offset by the risk of death to themselves or others.

We can argue all we want about the relative safety of opening schools at this juncture or not, but the data is inconclusive at best. So much so that Europe, long pointed to as an example of what’s possible, is now rethinking earlier assumptions. Per the Wall Street Journal, closures have been announced recently in the U.K., Germany, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands on concerns about a more infectious variant of the virus first detected in the U.K. and rising case counts despite lockdowns. As stated by An­toine Fla­hault, di­rec­tor of the Uni­ver­sity of Gene­va’s In­sti­tute of Global Health,

“In the sec­ond wave we ac­quired much more ev­i­dence that school­children are al­most equally, if not more in­fected by SARS-CoV-2 than oth­ers,

I know that’s not what we want to hear but it’s the reality. In the wake of that reality, we struggle to find villains, to find understanding. The teachers union makes as good a candidate as any. But in doing so, we ignore the fact that the union is merely a collection of teachers, working to represent the interests of other teachers as expressed by their members, who are teachers. In other words, the teachers union is really just a collection of teachers. As such, they derive no benefit from school buildings being closed. None, zilch, nada. To insist otherwise is disingenuous at best.

I’ve heard the ludicrous argument put forth that union heads are using closures for leverage to secure teacher raises. Really, pissing off parents is an effective means of securing increased compensation? Who knew? The answer? Nobody, because it works as just the opposite.

First of all, the argument ignores the sheer volume of free time and unreimbursed expenses that teachers donate to schools. We are going to ignore that well-documented aspect, to put forth the argument that teachers are willing to use students to blackmail communities to receive what is likely to be a paltry raise? For example, Governor Lee is currently proposing 4%, which if you make 50K a year averages out to about $90 a paycheck before taxes. Break out the champagne and caviar. That money comes with the caveat, that come election day, teachers will express their immense gratitude at the polling stations.

As blackmail schemes go, this one seems terribly unthought out. Hmmm…work extra uncompensated hours under increased stress to secure a couple grand a year. If true, teachers might be even dumber than politicians thought. This is a blackmail plan that contains far more risk than reward. But, let’s take a look at who really benefits from school buildings being back open.

Besides parents, teachers, and students, the biggest beneficiaries are all those private education self-proclaimed experts and their foundations/companies that have been feeding at the trough for decades, while failing to substantially improve student outcomes. Empty school building might mean actually evaluating their contributions.

If we are not petrified about the looming black hole of “learning loss”, why would we continue to honor those expensive assessment contracts?

If we recognized that teachers were navigating closed school buildings and meeting the needs of students, why would we need all those experts to prescribe what schools should be doing?

The longer school buildings are closed the closer the policies of the past are evaluated, and the more many will be found wanting.

These vested individuals need to get buildings back open as quickly as possible, not out of concern for kids, but to protect their own interests. They want to get long-standing issues out of our living room and back behind closed doors before we hold them accountable.

Perhaps, if lawmakers were considering suspending assessments this year, I might be a little more sympathetic, but there has been no indication of movement in that direction. Since we don’t trust our teachers, we have to test, even if we don’t believe the results.

Thus the pressure is ramping up to open schools now, though it’s January. Say schools open in February. Spring Break starts mid-March, followed by state testing, followed by the last month. So, like I said, who really benefits?

The bottom line is, if it was truly safe to open schools now, they would be open. That’s the muse missing from the convo. Teachers would demand it. Unfortunately, the number of Coronavirus cases continues to rise. The number of hospitalizations continually increases. The number of deaths mounts. With little end in sight.

We can try and bend the world to our will, or we can realize that we are not the masters of all, and sometimes it is us who must adapt. That’s another thing we could use a little more practice at. That’s another one of those AA lessons, sometimes realizing you have no control, brings more control.

PRUDENT USE OF FUNDS

Last week it was announced that MNPS would receive roughly $123 million from the Federal government. That’s welcoming news, but now the question becomes, how to prudently spend it?

I’ve put forth the argument of using the bulk of the money for capital needs. Too many of MNPS’s students go to schools in buildings where the ventilation systems are inadequate, mold is prevalent, or they are simply overcrowded. This would be a prime opportunity to address those needs.

Certainly, a much better idea than…say…creating a COVID monitoring system that pays a company to hire staff to monitor COVID protocol adherence in school buildings. Capital needs are an important investment, but equally so are the city’s people.

The average teacher is working, at a minimum, an extra 20 hours a week in overtime. That’s time that is uncompensated, but essential to meet the needs of students. For the sake of our math, we’ll take a quarter of that and use 5 hours a week. OT is typically paid at a rate of time and a half, but again, for simplification purposes, we’ll make it a flat $30 an hour. I know, I know, that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface, but bear with me.

Take 5 hours a week and multiply by 30, which gives you $150, Multiply that by 36 – weeks in a school year – and you get 5400. Take the roughly 6000 teachers in MNPS and you get $32.4 million.

Now since schools can’t function without support staff or substitutes, you give them each a bonus of $2400. Multiply that by another 6000 people and you get $14.4. Couple the two together and you are still under $50, which leaves plenty of money for private entities.

Doing this wouldn’t be a giveaway, but simply an attempt to address a debt owed. Furthermore, it would be a step in the right direction to acknowledge the sacrifice that staff has made, and the need for their services going forward.

By paying a bonus to teachers you would enable benefit the city as a whole because the funds would stay here. Teachers live here and spend here, not like the private companies in which so much is invested. They take the money and share it with the communities where they are located. Recently awarded contracts have benefitted communities in Texas, California, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia.

Some might argue that this what they signed up for but tell that to the electric company the next time your electric costs go about due to an extended cold snap. If your boss required you to carry double the workload while maintaining the same pay, you’d likely seek a new employment opportunity. It’s time to invest prudently and locally.

MORE SCHWINIGANS

A memo must have gone out to the Tennessee Department of Education that a holiday means time to drop a request for proposal(RFP). On Christmas Eve they dropped one for a multi-million dollar contract to train teachers in literacy instruction. On Friday, they dropped another. This time for a company to create a curriculum around civics and citizenship, a million dollar a year endeavor.

You gotta love the timing of this one. Just days before the General Assembly is poised to enter a special session, one in which the Governor is calling for a laser-like focus on specific issues, the DOE is undertaking the development of civics and citizenship instruction in schools.

Back in late summer, Commissioner Schwinn tried to slip by a “Child Well-Being Check” program, before legislators caught wind. When they caught on, they weren’t pleased and forced her to walk back the program, “Although well-intentioned,” she wrote on Aug. 14, “we have missed the mark on communication and providing clarity around our role in supporting at-risk students during an unprecedented time.”

To what extent she complied with that edict is debatable, as several school districts, including MNPS, continued with like initiatives – the navigator program. Schwinn recently announced her latest plan, Reading360. which contains a program, Ready4K, that sends parents regular texts offering parenting tips. Families are being auto-enrolled in this program through individual school districts.

It’s worth noting that the “Whole-Child” initiative, as well as this latest RFP, is overseen by Katie Houghtlin. Who if you’ll remember, earlier in the year was found guilty of contributing to a hostile workplace. An HR investigation said Houghtlin’s behavior amounted to “abusive conduct.” It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest she undergo civics and citizenship training personally, before helping to create one for the state. At the time of the investigation, Houghtlin was an assistant superintendent, the RFP lists her as “Special Advisor to the Commissioner.”

Don’t tell that to former Knoxville Bill Dunn who recently accepted a position with the same title. Houghtlin, who Schwinn recruited from Texas, makes roughly $40K more a year than Dunn. Further evidence that friends of Schwinn benefit more than the average joe.

Good news, this latest proposal, based on the wording in the RFP, seems to leave an open door for friends and family,

3.3.8.  The State shall not consider a response from an individual who is, or within the past six (6) months has been, a State employee. For purposes of this RFP:

3.3.8.2. A contract with or a response from a company, corporation, or any other contracting entity in which a controlling interest is held by any State employee shall be considered to be a contract with or proposal from the employee; and

3.3.8.3. A contract with or a response from a company, corporation, or any other contracting entity that employs an individual who is, or within the past six (6) months has been, a State employee shall not be considered a contract with or a proposal from the employee and shall not constitute a prohibited conflict of interest.

.8.1. An individual shall be deemed a State employee until such time as all compensation for salary, termination pay, and annual leave has been paid;

Wonder if anybody will raise any question or if they’ll all be too busy berating Representative Griffy for introducing a call for no-confidence in the commissioner? I suspect the latter, due to Tennessee having a General Assembly that is overly dedicated to not embarrassing the Governor while having a Governor, who along with his Commissioner of Education, has no problem embarrassing the state’s General Assembly.

QUICK HITS

Former MNPS school board member Amy Frogge has some thoughts about Tennessee’s upcoming Special Session of the General Assembly. While addressing the individual bills to consider, Frogge also writes,

While Tennessee continues to push the narrative that schools and teachers are “failing” in order to open the door to more and more private profit, we should be instead investing in our students, schools and teachers. The state has long failed to properly fund Tennessee’s schools. This year, there is a surplus of $369 million in our rainy day fund, and the state is about to put another $250 million into that fund. We have more than enough to pay our teachers reasonable salaries and to truly address student needs through more social workers, school nurses, guidance counselors and wrap-around services.

Tru dat. Tru dat.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into Indiana schools this week because of multiple complaints filed with the state that their virtual learning plans did not include individualized services for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, this is a scenario likely to be repeated in other states. The department has also opened up investigations into Los Angeles Unified, Seattle Public Schools, and Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools, according to letters obtained by Chalkbeat. The four investigations — each announced in letters dated Tuesday of this week — all cite “disturbing reports involving the District’s provision of educational services to children with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Once again, Nashville makes the national news. This time for the apparent inconsistencies between MNPS Board Chair Christianne Bugg’s personal behavior and the policies she supports. While Ms. Buggs is certainly free to conduct her personal life as she sees fit, part of the burden of leadership is that those actions are placed under increased scrutiny. Leaders need to take extra precautions that their personal actions don’t serve to distract from their mission and stated objectives. It’s a lesson that former MNPS Superintendent Shawn Joseph never learned. This is not the first time that Ms. Buggs’s social media posts have caused her issues.

Interested in attending a 5th through 8th grade Fine Arts Middle School next year? Cresswell Fine Arts Magnet is holding an upcoming future student open house. Check it out.

Maplewood High School’s automotive program continues to break barriers. Classes may be virtual but MHS is still preparing women, along with men for a career in the auto industry.

Today’s MNPS COVID-19 tracker sits at 8.5 out of 10.

Check out the article about SEL at Head Middle Magnet. “Building A Place to Belong: A case study in social, emotional, and academic development.” Well done guys!

POLL QUESTIONS

Time now to review the answers to this week’s poll questions. The first question asked if you planned to enroll your child in Summer School. 45.5% of you said that would be a “no”, as you already had plans. 16% said, “Maybe, if it’s structured right.” Only 6% of you expressed gratitude for the option. Here are the write-in votes,

  • Hell no. Let them be kids
  • Does it include before and after school care and meals,breakfast&lunch? Yes!!!
  • My child is currently learning in online school and won’t need it
  • No kids and I wouldn’t enroll them if I had them
  • Educators need an unplugged summer
  • If it’s free and conveniently located
  • Absolutely not
  • Highly encourage participation in education-based summer camps, but not “school”

Question 2 asked if, as a teacher, you would sign up to teach summer school. 45% of you indicated that you weren’t sure if you could make it to the end of school, let alone through the summer. 21% said, “At a grand a week? Hell yeah!”. While 12% indicated you already had plans. Here are those write-in answers,

  • Hell No!
  • Am I vaccinated by then? Big IF
  • ’ll leave that to all those newly trained seals, I’ll be watching
  • Children need a pandemic free unplugged summer!
  • Hahahahaha! NO.
  • After this freaking school year? Ha

Question 3 asked for your opinion on central office folks serving in schools one day a week. 33% of you saw it as a publicity stunt while 25% saw the potential for some good. Here are the write-ins,

  • Only if they are going to teach classes
  • Who’s doing their job on that one day?
  • f it’s actual help, yes. If spying, no.
  • Maybe it will lead them to realize how much they have dumped on the schools
  • Bad idea, why expand the bubble?!? Besides not everyone is suited for the work.
  • Proof it’s a bloated overpaid cesspool
  • They’ll likely call in sick, but it’s only one day, right?
  • The principal will make about her- so..a 💩show. 🤷🏻‍♀️
  • Overstaffed much? Who can miss 20% of work weekly?
  • Nice intention, seems like it might not be as helpful as they think

That’s a wrap.

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. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish 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.

 

 

 



Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. Profound clarity. Thank you.

    Our kids are also taking responsibility as you report from your household. They are learning the 21st century tech, in fascinating ways… and EVERYONE wants to be back in person when it is safe.

    If only our government would let us know where grandmom is on the waitlist. The vaccine sign-up seems a black hole of “sign up and hear nothing back” worthy of your digging too! The vaccine sign-up is almost as ludicrous as the MNPS lottery for test-score segregated magnet schools….

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