HOW ABOUT A LITTLE CLARITY?

“Hey, if it’s up to you about TNReady, vote “no”, because this year there are no snacks, longer recesses, or parades. Those are the only reasons I was in before. None of those happening, and I’m out” – Peter Weber, 10, student commenting on the debate over TCAP

 

Remember those halcyon days of yore, when we were extending grace to each other, reminding ourselves daily that this was all new, we were in this together, and many of us were learning as we went? It was widely recognized that teachers and schools were doing the best they could so patience was needed. Ah…those were the days. And to think they were only 6 months ago.

Guess what, this is all still unprecedented. No principal has ever attempted to run 2 schools simultaneously. No teacher has ever provided in-person learning to students after nearly a year of being remote. No teacher, nor administrator, has done school with the copious amount of new protocols required to keep everyone safe. Students and teachers may be returning back to school buildings, but they are not going back to the way things were.

It’s like when you go away on vacation, you try to shut your suitcase for the return trip and you can’t because it’s overflowing. You can try sitting on it, jamming things in, or you can recognize that you need another bag or a new suitcase.

Reopening school buildings come with new protocols in place. Students are returning after a year of experiences, many of which we know nothing about. They bring new expectations and fears. We must make space for those differences. The reality is that no two students have had the same educational experience over the last year. It’s going to take a minute to create a new normal.

What about those students who are remaining virtual while their peers return to buildings. How is that going to affect them? Many may be thriving in the virtual world, but still, miss the daily contact with classmates. How do we ensure that they aren’t neglected while we welcome back students in person? It’s going to take a minute to create a new normal.

Teachers who return to the building will resume some of their previous strategies and practices, but most will have to be modified to meeting altered realities. Things like bathroom breaks, transportation, lunch duty, which were previously considered rudimentary, now must be re-planned out. Hiccups and miscommunications are likely to happen, especially since we’ve all been navigating a pandemic. Your peer that you worked with for years, has probably been affected in a variety of ways by the events of the last year, some of which you may be unaware of. Give them, and yourself, a little grace during this re-entry period. None of this is easy for anybody, no matter what you may assume. It’s going to take a minute to create a new normal.

Principals and administrators are no longer just overseeing a school. They are managing two schools, both of which have very different needs and very different challenges. Like a parent of a single child suddenly welcoming home a new edition, they need time to figure out how to balance attention. One is going to require a little more, but neglecting the other can have devastating effects. It’s going to take a minute to create a new normal.

We all have to be a little more flexible, a little more patient and for god’s sake’s stop acting like anything that happens now will have an irreversible effect on students. Learning has not, and will not stop, while we navigate this ongoing crisis. Children are still growing and still accumulating knowledge, though some of it is beyond our ability to measure. Is that on them, or is that on us?

Once again, I turn to educator Peter Greene who recently pointed out the dangers of painting a picture of a failing generation,

In the rush to indict the public school system, the teachers, the unions, some people have turned students into collateral damage, forcing them to live in a world of adults who are constantly broadcasting that Kids These Days are awful failures. And right now, as always, they are directing the worst of it at the students who already get the worst of it–Black, brown, poor.

Amen, my brother amen.

I’ve always felt, that in our rush to overly control and standardize life, we lose some of the key elements. Some of the magic, per se.

This part may not jibe with some of you, but I’ve always hated adult organized rock bands. I know, it’s all about getting kids to express themselves and embrace artistic endeavors, but making this an adult-approved activity, to me, robs it of some of the inherent power. Picking up a guitar, or another instrument, and somehow finding the ability to unleash its ability to speak for you is life-altering. Taking what you learn in a school band class, and figuring out how to subvert it to meet your own needs, shouldn’t be dismissed.

My Grammy award-winning friend producer friend Jay Joyce said it best years ago, when he told me, “We are losing those kids who go into a garage with their instruments and doing everything wrong, but it somehow turns out all right.”

Over the last year, there has been a lot of that going on, both with educators and students. As we resume old practices, we can’t just shove that into the suitcase and think that by sitting on it we’ll be able to close the clasps again. We’ve got to take time to reconvene and reassess, and then recreate a reality that better serves everyone. We’ve all grown, and we’ve all changed.

Successful project management has three distinct steps – planning, execution, review. When it comes to education during a pandemic, we failed to do the first. The second produced mixed results but suffered, due to the shortcomings of the first. Let’s not try and rush through the last and as a result, fail to improve the whole process.

Before switching gears, I’m going to leave you with this lengthy quote from a piece that appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, recently shared by Diane Ravitch. I encourage you to reads the whole thing,

Teachers are working both in person and virtually, often at the same time.

They have been charged with mastering virtual technology that is only as good as the virtual framework supplied by their districts. They have had to become software experts and tech support for students and parents, all while implementing standards of best practices for remote learning in the lessons they design.

They are working nearly twice as many hours, typically for no additional pay, yet these are the teachers whom politicians and pundits often publicly disparage as “not wanting to work.”

Teachers who have returned to in-person classrooms have to implement and sustain pandemic protocols with children – cleanliness, social distancing, mask-wearing.

They have to modify their curriculum to adapt to those protocols (no group work, no shared supplies, etc.).

They risk exposure to COVID-19 every day; the safest and cleanest school buildings have no impact on what students are exposed to outside of school.

Teachers are being asked to risk their health, or the health of their loved ones, all while TV news and social media are full of ignorant vitriol claiming teachers just don’t want to work.

Nuff said.

CHANGING FOCUS

In reading education news of late, I can’t help but get a sense of shifting priorities. This education stuff is hard work and we are not always successful. But I’ll tell you what we are good at – data collection.

Hear me out. We collect data on kids every year via TNReady, but starting next year LEAs will be required to share data from a screener given three times a year with the TNDOE. Sending your kids to a district-supported summer school? There will be an assessment pre, and post, camp with results sent to DOE. The same holds true if your child participates in any tutoring programs.

This week MNPS is sending out a survey about students’ “neighborhoods, themselves, and their peers”. There has already been another survey completed by kids earlier this school year. As a parent, I get weekly emails from Possip, Smore, and maybe others soliciting data on how my school is performing. If my kid is going back to school, I’m asked to sign a consent form allowing medical personnel to administer COVID tests and collect…more data.

Currently, there is a very public, but wrong narrative about kids falling behind. But when faced with a choice between fighting for the instructional element or the data collecting element, the chorus for the latter is the loudest. It’s like if I decide to lose weight and you demand that I spend more time shopping for a scale than learning about nutrition. It’s ass-backward.

I know that the effort to reduce kids to data points has been ongoing for decades, but it just seems like things have gotten even more insidious. Increasingly, the question becomes, who are we serving?

Yesterday the USDOE had to shut down its call center because of the volume of calls coming from parents asking that the edict mandating standardized tests be waived this year.

A recent editorial in the Pittsburgh Trib points out the folly of trying to administer tests, while also illuminating the deeper issues,

They set up the false equivalency of progress or regression, since this year’s third-grade numbers have nothing to do with last year’s numbers that measured a completely different class of students with different strengths, weaknesses and challenges. By the same token, measuring last year’s third-graders against their progress in fourth grade says nothing, as they are learning entirely different material from different teachers — assuming they are, in fact, the same students and no one moved or was otherwise shuffled.

Educator Steven Singer says it best when he points out that administering a standardized test during a pandemic is corporate welfare, not student equity. Testing is promoted as a means to identify student needs and provide more resources. Unfortunately, as Singer states,  The fact is, that this has never happened. Testing has never resulted in more resources being provided to needy children other than providing more remedial test prep material purchased from – you guessed it – the testing industry.

Singer also points out why the accommodations offered by USDOE are insufficient.

As a compromise measure, Biden is allowing flexibility in just about every way the tests are given. They can be shortened. They can be given remotely. They don’t have to be given now – they can be given in the fall.

However, this completely erases any measure of standardization in the processes.

Standardization means conforming to a standard. It means sameness. A test taken by a student at home is not the same as one taken by a student in school. A short version of a test is not the same as a long one. A test taken with 180 days to prepare is not the same as one taken with 250.

And if standardization is not NECESSARY in this case, why can’t we rely on non-standardized assessments teachers are already giving to their students? For example, nearly every teacher gives her students a grade based on the work the child has done. Why isn’t that a good enough measure of student learning?

If you are looking for a localized view, former MNPS School Board member Amy Frogge offers a pretty compelling argument in a recent piece for TNEd Report,

The decision to require testing this year was rolled out by acting Assistant Secretary of Education Ian Rosenblum, Executive Director of the Education Trust- New York. The Education Trust is a corporate reform nonprofit funded (likely in the hundreds of millions at this point) by Bill Gates. Gates and The Education Trust have pushed for more standardized testing, Common Core standards, and No Child Left Behind, which was an abject failure. (Bill Gates did not subject his own children to all this nonsense. He sent them to private school.)

Here in Nashville, The Education Trust is run by school board member Gini Pupo-Walker, who has also advocated for more testing and standardized testing during the pandemic.

The Education Trust purports to be focused on equity and closing the achievement gap- but don’t be fooled. There is evidence that all this testing has actually widened the achievement gap, and at the very least, it has maintained the achievement gap, which should be obvious to anyone paying attention. We should be spending more time on classroom learning and less time on endlessly assessing children.

Testing companies seeking a profit off children are swarming the Tennessee legislature. This year alone, 135 lobbyists are lobbying for privatization interests, including testing companies, at our legislature. That’s what this is really all about.

At some point, we are really going to have to ask ourselves, are we in the educating business or the data collection business. Because one isn’t serving the other well.

WHO’S WRITING THESE RFPS?

So I mentioned earlier in the week that the TNDOE had released a new RFP. Here’s my challenge, read it and tell me what it’s for. It’s advertised as soliciting support for k-2 teachers but offers scant details on what that means until page 37, and the contract is presented. That’s 37 pages of rules and regs before outlining the scope. Here’s a sampling of what they purportedly looking for,

The Contractor shall provide monthly Synchronous virtual learning sessions (two (2) hours each) for regional early literacy network cohorts of school and district leaders focused on providing educators with high-quality feedback aligned to research and best practices in early literacy instruction and to the TNFSCS.

  1. A total of twenty (20) sessions are designed based on a quarterly list of topics co-developed between the State and Contractor.
  2. Virtual sessions shall include a completion task at the end of each session that shall be required for participation credit.
  3. At least 25% of sessions shall be focused on use of the TN Foundational Skills IPG.
  4. At least 25% of sessions shall be focused on Knowledge Development.
  5. At least 25% of the sessions shall focused on data analysis, Intervention, and literacy supports for struggling learners.
  6. At least 25% of the sessions shall be focused on Lesson Preparation and lesson delivery feedback.
  7. Sessions shall be recorded by the Contractor and placed by the State on its BFAC portal for public use within one (1) month of the last learning session.

There is a little bit more, but the gist seems to be that the contractor will create, and post, learning modules for teachers to receive PD around the usage of foundational skills in teaching reading. Hmmm…but didn’t they just complete an RFP for somebody to create a required training program for teachers on using foundational skills in teaching kids to read? So why the need for a new company? Why wasn’t this scope just included in the original?

So how much money is set aside for this project? According to the contract,

In no event shall the maximum liability of the State under this Contract exceed TBD ($TBD) (“Maximum Liability”). This Contract does not grant the Contractor any exclusive rights. The State does not guarantee that it will buy any minimum quantity of goods or services under this Contract. Subject to the terms and conditions of this Contract, the Contractor.

So this contract could be worth $5 or it could be worth $5 million. I don’t know who is writing these RFPs or how they are getting by procurement, but they certainly raise some eyebrows.

We are heading into an unprecedented time in educational funding. Schools are about to be more flush with cash than they’ve ever been. Those who were around in the aftermath of Race To The Top can attest to the amount of waste that accompanied the sudden influx of money. Bad actors were quick to rush into the breach. This time out, the money is far greater and the opportunities for self-enrichment equally so. Therefore, there is little reason to believe things will be different than a decade ago.

All the incoming federal cash is non-reoccurring and must be spent by 2023. That means it can’t be used for staffing or long-term reoccurring programs, which is what schools really need – investments vs handouts. The parameters for spending are semi-loose but again, spending is limited. The general public is unaware of most of the qualifications that go with the influx of cash, just that it’s a butt load. That means that administrators need to be extremely prudent in its usage.

Campaigning for teacher salaries while…say…spending $18 million on a 4-month COVID testing program, ain’t going to be a good look and ultimately will erode taxpayer support. So maybe it’s not a great idea. We’ll talk more about that on Friday, but suffice it to say, now, more than ever, it’s important to keep our eyes on the benjamins.

A quick note before wrapping things up. Those who thought the escape hatch at the TNDOE had been plugged should offer former assistant commissioner for standards and materials and district operations Jerry Boyd congratulations on his new job as Washington County’s Superintendent of Schools. Boyd is the former Superintendent for Putnam County Schools. The move marks a win for Washington County and yet another loss for the DOE. Somebody needs to take Mrs. Schwinn to an employee retention seminar because she is certainly…challenged in this area. A department assistant commissioner with experience running a district probably could have been a valuable asset, instead, he’s left to run a small rural district.

Boyd lasted roughly a year at the TNDOE, while his predecessor Bill Flannery served 39 years in the Washington County School System. Compare and contrast.

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

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