What I hate I love. Ask the crucified hand that holds
the nail that now is driven into itself, why.”
The phone rang this morning, It was my pal Slatsky, “Come on down to the Faculty Lounge and grab lunch with me.”
When I got there, Slats was sitting at the bar with an empty shot glass and a half-filled beer in front of him. I raised my eyebrows and motioned to the bartender for soda water.
Slatsky looked at me with his hands out, palms up, “Come on give me a break. Been a hard week.”
I chuckled ironically, as I slipped into my seat. In front of my pal was a folded newspaper, displaying an article by Meghan Mangrum about teachers traveling for miles to get COVID-19 vaccines.
“You see this crap”, he said to me while taping the article with his forefinger, “What the hell?”
I just shook my head and said, “It’s crazy man. I got no words.”
“I tell you what the deal is, it’s teachers, once again, doing what they always do, covering up for our inadequacies. Think about it. Don’t devote enough resources to classrooms, what do teachers do? They go into their own pockets to make up the difference. Put too many responsibilities on, make it impossible to do it all in a day, and they’ll just come in on the weekend for free? A kid needs someone to talk to at 9 at night, and nobody is available, who takes the call? A teacher!”
He had obviously been thinking about this for a while.
“It’s always left up to teachers to fix. Whatever the case. If there is a shortfall, it’s made up by teachers. Teachers rarely complain, because if they do, people jump on them for putting themselves before kids. It’s a lose, lose for teachers. Now, the damn Governor can’t come up with an effective vaccine program, but still wants all school buildings open, and who’s left to once again…make it work?”
I couldn’t really argue with him so I just stayed silent. It was obvious he was just warming to the subject.
“Make no sense at all to demand something from people and then not supply the resources to get it done. But of course, he’ll quote his selective studies showing how safe it is for schools to be open and that it can be done even if teachers aren’t vaccinated. Of course, he’s not telling the whole story, is he now? Nor is he betting with his own money.”
Slats wasn’t done yet, “Everybody seems to be leaving out that part about school building being allowed to open as long as the proper protocols, including social distancing can be adhered to. Not to mention that part about making sure practices are continuing to control community spread. It’s not a simple fact of turning the keys, swinging the doors open, and saying come on in! We’ve missed ya!”
“Well, Lee always likes to play a little fast and loose with the facts,” I respond, “probably won’t be the last time.”
“Don’t get me started.’ he growls at me, “What about those craptastic bills passed during the special session?” (I guess I should have warned you, Slats’s language can get a little colorful.)
I let him go on. “For months, Lee is screaming about the horrible impact of learning loss for kids, and how they are all suffering so terribly. He uses that bunk as a reason to hold a special session to solely address the “Learning loss” crisis,” Slatsky says in an ominous voice, ” After the bills are passed, he praises them for their bold and aggressive solutions. What were his exact words, ‘What was accomplished here is remarkable, the changes will make Tennessee the nation’s “most aggressive state” to get students back on track.’ Whatever.”
The bartender, apparently picking up on Slatsky’s tone slides another shot and a fresh beer in front of him. My friend acknowledges him by picking up the shot, tilting it in his direction, and throwing it down.
“So what are those bold moves,” he asks, holding his arm up in front of him with his hand cupped as if holding a globe, “Tutoring and Summer School?”
I give a little chuckle.
“Tutoring and summer school” he continues undeterred, “wow…what vision. I can’t believe nobody has never thought of this before. Oh yea, someone did…every President since Clinton. But hey. I bet we are going to do it differently. I can see Easley sitting in the governor’s office with Schwinn pitching the idea. here’s what we are going to do Bill…”
His voice takes on a conspiratorial tone as he relays how he imagines the hypothetical conversation went, “This one is going to blow your mind Guv, we are going to create…wait for it…summer camps and a tutoring army. It’ll be great. Teachers will be chomping at the bit to work some extra hours after a year of not being in the classroom. Offer them a grand a week and you probably won’t even have to offer them a raise. This might allow you to start calling yourself…I don’t want to be presumptive here but…the EDUCATION GOVERNOR.”
Slatsky is on his feet now, adding body language to his narrative, ” Lee in turn likely thought, I like it. Direct. Straight forward. It’ll show I care and that I love kids. Let’s git er done.”
I felt a need to interject, “You read that legislation? There is no way that they bring that all to fruition. It’s a pipe dream. There ain’t nobody within a stone’s throw of this administration that has the ability to pull something of this magnitude off. ”
“Of course not. Nobody cares if it gets done or not. It just makes you sound serious when you say it. By the time that stuff is supposed to be paying dividends, Lee and Schwinn and the rest of them will be heading off into the sunset spending their money at the beach. Saw last week, that Schwinn told the state board of education not to expect results for the first two years because it,” making air quotes with his fingers, “takes a while to get things cranking. It’s year 3-5 when things start to take off. Does anybody think she’ll be anywhere near the state of Tennessee in 3 years?”
I figured this was a good point to add my two cents, “You know that 5-year trope has been evoked by every Commissioner of Education over the last decade, right? Ask Kevin Huffman and Chis Barbic how that whole ASD thing is working out.”
“I know, Bottom 5% into top 25% in 5 years…bull shit. if tutoring and summer schools were as effective as they are trying to sell them…they’d have already been widely implemented. Wait till they find out how much they actually cost. How about we start acting like it’s not 1985, recognize that while schools did the majority of things well, there was room for improvement and maybe we could actually try and be innovative. Instead of just recycling old ideas and passing them off as shiny objects. maybe we could start with getting input from the people doing the actual work, teachers, and ask them what they might need?”
“That makes too much sense. The idea of trying to make a long term strategic plan is a little ridiculous anyway. You got one Governor who hires a commissioner with one vision, then his term is up and another Governor comes in with a whole different way of doing things. Don’t believe me? Catch Lee in an off minute and ask him how he feels about Haslam. You’re talking Summer Camps, remember Haslam’s through McQueen had reading camps, Read to be Ready. They were doing some good work. Might’ve helped a few folks. But they didn’t say Lee or Schwinn on them so, out the door, their funding went. Now we are supposed to be thrilled because we got new summer camps.”
Slatsky nodded in agreement, “I’m telling you, if you want to make a real game-changer, update these local schools. Want to hear my plan for that?”
“You know how New York City has P.S. 105 and such? Stands for public school. My idea is if you are a Governor or a Mayor, and you build a school, we name it after you. So the 10th school Bill Lee builds becomes B.L. 10 and so forth. George Washington High School…nobody cares if it goes into disrepair. B.L. 15…oh yea…people would be moving to make sure it didn’t look like crap. If we followed my idea, there would be all kinds of benefits,” he shrugged, “but what do I know?”
I waved the bartender over, realizing that I’d better order lunch before time got away, “Let me get a cheesesteak and fries. No peppers and onions, and can I get a little cheese and gravy on those fries. Make sure he eats something as well”, I said gesturing towards my buddy.
“Let me get a spam sandwich and some perogies”, Slats added.
As the bartender moved away to put in the food order, my pal picked up the thread, “Take a look at this reading bill. It’s all about the so-called “science of reading”. They don’t call it that, but it’s what it is. They pitch it like science has suddenly shown the light forward, a bunch of bunk, do they even understand “science” and how it works? For the record, this fight has been going on as long as we’ve been teaching reading. Let me find this article for you real quick.”
He picks up his phone and starts flipping through it. Eventually, he finds what he’s looking for, an article by P.L. Thomas called, The “Science of Reading”: A Movement Anchored in the Past. He begins reading from the article,
“But the biggest reveal about the so-called SoR movement is in the definition, where there is a narrow parameter set for “scientifically-based”: experimental/quasi-experimental study design, replication or refinement of findings, and peer-reviewed journal publication.
If that sounds familiar, you have simply awakened to the same day some twenty years ago when the National Reading Panel made the exact same claim—and proved to be a deeply flawed report while the policy implications not only did not improve reading but also became mired in funding corruption with Reading First.
The SoR movement is a bandwagon with its wheels mired in the same muddle arguments that have never been true and silver-bullet solutions that have never worked.”
Tossing his phone down on the bar, “See? The same old, same old, instead of anything new, we just rinse and repeat. Maybe that’s why they called it Reading 360 because it takes us back to the beginning.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
The food arrives and we begin to eat. Between mouthfuls he continues, “What they don’t tell you is how is all of this really works. Ya know…the testing and the so-called “critical” third-grade thing, if you are not reading on grade level by third-grade you are doomed idea.”
He picks up his phone and begins scrolling through it again. After a minute he finds the recent Peter Greene piece about third-grade retention and begins reading,
And while it is traditional to shift fourth-graders into “read to learn” mode, there does not seem to be any body of research that suggests that some developmental door slams shut when students are eight years old.
Nor do the various discussions of third grade reading retention mention one other reason states might find erecting this artificial barrier useful; third grade marks the start of years of Big Standardized Testing, and letting bad readers rise through the grades is bad for the numbers. On the other hand, if the poor-testing third graders aren’t allowed to take the fourth grade test, the state is going to look like it is accomplishing miracles with the teaching of reading.
He looks up at me, “Like I’ve been saying all along, it’s a numbers game, and as such people are playing with the numbers.”
“Here’s where they get me,” I say as I finish up my sandwich, “They refuse to acknowledge the role poverty plays in student outcomes, yet if you look at who qualifies for free admission to the tutoring and summer camps… it’s every poor kid. Why? It either matters or it doesn’t. If poverty doesn’t affect student learning, why are you assuming every poor kid needs remediation? If it does matter, why not address it in a meaningful manner with policies that focus on issues outside of the classroom. Nah…we’d rather just let teachers mitigate it and move on.”
Slats wipe the last fry in ketchup and pops it in his mouth as he motions the bartender over, “Put these together and give me the bill. Add another shot to it, as well.”
Noticing my disapproving look, he gives me a “what me” expression and responds, “Give me a break. I don’t get how you follow these education issues and don’t drink.”
Changing the subject, I ask, “You see the letter the EDucation Trust sent to the new Secretary of Education about not granting states a waiver for testing this year?” he nods in the affirmative, so I continue, “You see where the basis of their argument comes from, right?”
“I don’t think I noticed, the Education Trust is that the organization run by the woman on MNPS’s school board?”
“She’s the state head, yea. If you read the footnotes you’ll find a citation from McKinsey & Company claiming that by their estimate, if the black and Hispanic student-achievement gap had been closed in 2009, today’s US GDP would have been $426 billion to $705 billion higher. If the income-achievement gap had been closed, we estimate that US GDP would have been $332 billion to $550 billion higher.”
With a scoff, Slatsky waves his hand and retorts, “The people that just settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit over their role in misleading the country over the opioid crisis? Now they want to advise on education and economics?”
“Oh it gets even better,” I say with a chuckle, “The cited study was produced back in June of 2020, and a whole lot has changed since then. But here’s Edu Trust using it to prop up a bad argument. Like nobody will read the footnotes. We need to administer standardized tests this year like Tom Brady needs to go to Mahomes football camp.”
Slats shake his head, stands up, downs his shot, and says, “Well better get out of here. Dr. Battle has a press conference today about vaccinations. You don’t think she’s doing this today to steal some thunder from the Governor’s speech tonight do you?”
With a laugh, I respond, “I hope so. Though I got to say, if she’s going to start offering vaccines to teachers, it’s going to be a lot easier now that most of them have taken care of it themselves. But that’s kinda the way it always works, right? The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
He claps me on the shoulder with a smile and then ambles out of the lounge. I watch him go, reflecting on his words. Always good to catch up with my pal.
Taking a quick look at the questions from the weekend. The first one asked if you thought schools were safer now than in the Fall. 47% of you answered “no”, while expressing concerns about the new strains. 35% of you didn’t think so but felt we had little choice but to open schools. Only 1 of you felt they were safe. Thank you Ms. Schwinn for participating. Here are the write-in votes,
- no of course not but it’s politics and we are at the behest of the taxpayer
- Seriously? What’s changed?
- Have we fixed ventilation & hired more teachers?
- Yes, we’ve learned more about how to open safely
Question 2 was an opportunity to gauge how much seriousness you placed on learning loss. 42% were not overly concerned but recognized that some children would have more challenges than others. 22% of you felt that all would be fine. 14% of you were highly concerned. For those of you who are overly concerned – actually all of you – should read a recent piece in EducationWeek that takes a look at kid’s response to adults’ fixation with “learning loss”. Per author Larry Ferlazzo,
Here’s the truth that too many adults who don’t directly work with young people refuse to acknowledge: When our youths are frightened, disconnected, grieving, or anxious, they aren’t learning. Their brains aren’t taking in our lessons, or holding on to the Common Core standards. Their amygdalas are in charge, and adults just sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. If we are going to address the academic loss that may have occurred during the pandemic, then we also need to fully understand the other kinds of loss our young people have experienced and have plans in place to support them through those losses.
So very very true. We need to focus on quality, not quantity. Here’s a look at the write-in answers,
- Not, it isn’t real…very worried over legislators
- Ridiculous concept
- Only concerned about lives lost. The district has spoken. We are dispensable.
- some are falling further behind than they already were …next yr will be tough
- Can’t lose what you didn’t have
- This is a worldwide situation. Enough said.
Question 3 was a little bit of an unwitting repeat, what do you think about Gini Pupo-Walker serving simultaneously as ED of the EdTrust and as an MNPS Board member. 60% of you indicated that you thought it was likely a conflict of interest. 23% indicated that you weren’t quite comfortable with the arrangement. Only one of you felt confident that the two roles could be kept separate. Let’s look at the write-in votes,
- Hell yes. just like John Little and PROPEL.
- i don’t know what you are talking about, actually
- Pupo-Walker must go. She is a special-interest wolf in sheep’s clothing.
- Yes. (Your answer selections = F-)
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