ARGUING OVER MARKETING TERMS

“If I were going to tell one of my sons how to possess the world, I would simply bring him into my house, show him that solid wall of books, and say to him: ‘the secret is in there somewhere, and even if you never find out what it is, you will still have come closer.”
James Dickey

 

Some of you may notice the Spotify header. From here on out, you can listen to Dad Gone Wild as a podcast or read it traditionally. The podcast is obviously in its beginning stages, so it’s going to be a little rough for a while, but the option is available for those who so chose.

I’ve also started distributing posts via Substack. Substack allows you to sign up to receive posts via email. Currently, subscriptions are free, but there is an opportunity to help support my work as well. It’s my hope that Substack provides a means to decrease my social media footprint. As much as I once loved Twitter and found it to be an irreplaceable source of information, over the years its toxicity has only grown and it continually regresses into something that strangely brings forth recollections of high school.

People have retreated to their individual tribes and honest discourse seems to occur with increasing infrequency. Rare is the Tweet that says, “Hmmm…I never considered that. You’ve given me more to think about”, or, “I concede your point and I appreciate the thoughtful argument.” Instead, it’s personal attacks when someone voices an opinion that runs counter, disparaging terms, like “boomer” and “Karen”, are tossed around as if they aren’t the latest tool to dismiss and marginalize people.

The only thing that does hold me to social media is old friends and the positive voices of people like Hume-Fogge librarian Amanda Smithfield, Cresswell Middle Arts, and Matt Taibbi. There are others, but today these 3 people standout, for always keeping the bar high, even when I don’t agree with their take.

I’m also not above owning my role in adding to the toxicity of social media. Though I’ve tried to evolve in my approach, sometimes I give in to my worst angels as well. Perhaps my absence would aid in making social media a less toxic place. Who knows, all I know is that it’s increasingly negatively impacting my mental health.

But I’m getting off track. Today, these new options are available and I’m still on social media. So let’s exit the ruminations, and get to the meat.

BEATING THE LEARNING LOSS DRUM

Years ago, I was working a sparsely crowded Sunday night bar. At the bar was a pair of couples engrossed in conversation. One man was playing mental gymnastics with the other, insulting him in ways that went mostly unnoticed by the other. The first man was very good, and it took a while for the second to catch on that he was being degraded. But he finally did catch on.

“Are you calling me stupid?”, he said raising his voice and pushing away from the bar. I was sure a fight was about to break out, but remember I told you the first man was very good.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa”, he said, holding his hands up in a placating manner, “I never said you were stupid. Only that you had never benefited from a proper education. That’s not your fault. I’m definitely not calling you stupid.”

A puzzled look came over the second man’s face. I ducked back a little bit, waiting to see his reaction. Slowly he decided to accept the explanation, but I think he also decided he didn’t like the first man very much. He turned back to the bar, a tense moment diffused. He finished his drink and about 10 minutes later he and his date exited the bar. After he left, the first man enjoyed a laugh at the second man’s expense, declaring him a rube.

The incident comes to mind because that’s what I see being done to students right now. Nobody has bothered to assess what they’ve learned over the past year and instead has focused on using pre-existing measurement tools, that may or may not be valid, to declare them a failing generation, one that may not “catch up” to future generations. In other words, the message we are sending to kids is, we don’t think your stupid or a failure, you just haven’t had the benefit of the lessons we think are important.

The word “unprecedented” means, without previous instance; never before known or experienced; unexampled or unparalleled. In other words, nobody is an expert. Not Education Trusts John King, not Governor Lee, not Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn, not blogger TC Weber. Everybody is offering their opinion. Often times it is an opinion shaped by their personal experience and serves to benefit them.

No matter what anybody tries to tell you, kids are learning. Exactly what they are learning is unclear at this point. But they are learning, and much of it has to do with the fact that teachers are teaching, and that instruction is getting better every day. Unfortunately, that is a fact that is largely ignored in our rush to declare a crisis, one that can be capitalized on for personal benefit.

Standardized tests were created to measure the outcomes produced by students in a standardized environment. By and large, under normal circumstances, the instructional experience of most kids is similar. There is a little variation between different models, but for the most part, the similarities are greater than the differences. That is no true for the past year.

Every child’s experience over the past year has been different. Some have received great remote instruction, some very little. For others, there were technology barriers that didn’t exist for others. Some families lost multiple members to COVID, some none. Some student’s families experienced economic hardship, while others remained unscathed. Some students contracted COVID-19, while others were immune to the illness. Everybody has been impacted, but it has been different for everybody.

Even those kids, who remained largely in-person experienced disruption to varying degrees. Not every classroom experienced the same risk of quarantine. As a result, some were in constant flux while others remained relatively stable.

When we look at kids’ mental reactions to the ongoing crisis, we again see great variations. For some, the isolation has been devastating, while others adapted more readily and in some cases thrived. Until we get a more universal handle on where kids are currently, and address that, how can we make a blanket diagnosis on all of them? It is no more valid to say that all kids have suffered negative effects than it is to declare all kids unaffected.

Through it all though, there have been gains. Much has been said about the incredible progress made by kids in technological literacy. Adults like to brag about their rejection of technology, to some the use of a flip phone is perceived as an achievement. The reality is that without fluency in Excel, let alone mastery of email, the barriers to success are every bit as high as those erected by lack of skill in reading or math. Yet, I heard very little discussion about preserving students’ newly acquired skills or a strategy to increase that growth.

The last year has required that many students assume new roles around the house. Roles that likely came with a learning curve. This should not be dismissed as inconsequential.

At the very least, students have had to exercise greater control over their learning. I’ve heard many a story from parents about how their children are up at 7 AM, get themselves ready on their own, fix their breakfast, and at nine they get on the computer ready for class. They then go through their school day just like if they were in a school building. All without input from any adults save the ones overseeing their virtual classrooms.

The stories are always told with a mixture of awe, pride, and amazement. But what’s never talked about is what this newfound control will look like once all kids return to in-person learning. Will students willingly concede the control that they’ve acquired over the past year, or will they bristle at the forced compliance to adults? I don’t know. But it’s probably something we should talk about, right?

What children actually learned during the last year? How the events of the past year have affected the mental outlook of students? How do we preserve and build upon technology skills acquired over the last year? How do we balance students’ newfound independence with required compliance, and how does it affect behavioral practices going forward? All worthy subjects I would say. One’s that require a robust conversation.

Better yet, instead of just focusing on what children learned during the pandemic, how on what we as adults have learned? Remember, unprecedented? Nobody is an expert? Surely the past year has revealed some new strategies and practices that can be incorporated going forth to better serve all kids, right? Let’s review what worked and what really didn’t. Let’s look at how, with a little modification, certain practices can be improved.

But no. The education world is apparently filled with experts, ones that apparently have no need to learn anything. Because our solutions, at least the ones most publically discussed, are to return to the past as if we’d already reached an apex. Instead of sitting down with teachers and principals over the summer and really getting a concrete sense of what’s going on with students, we are going to rush out and create summer schools and tutoring programs. Programs that historically underperformed. Educator Nancy Baily has an excellent post on the pitfalls of repeating past strategies and serves as a caution to follow the money,

“Accelerated high-dosage” tutoring. We have been here before. With No Child Left Behind, tutoring didn’t work so now there’s brand new terminology and an intense marketing campaign by the same individuals who promote school privatization.

Yes, we’ve been here before. Imagine if you went to the doctor, and he diagnosed you only after taking your height and weight measurements. As a diabetic, I’ve often been let down by my oncologist who overly relies on my blood sugar test results. Yes, those numbers tell a story, but one that is only relevant when taken in the context of my day-to-day life. He prefers to tell me how I should live, instead of taking the time to understand how I actually live and how that impacts my blood sugar numbers. As a result, we remain forever at an impasse, one that will likely end badly for me.

One of the articles Bailey links to is from 2013 but feels eerily prophetic.

Principals would have little control over which companies parents could select for tutoring services on their campuses — the companies only had to be on the state approved-list. And the state often found that its authority to intervene in local disputes was limited — telling districts that reported issues with the program that they needed to pursue resolutions on their own.

Lagging student participation also added to the challenges. Many campuses in the state reported that fewer than 20 percent of students eligible for tutoring under the law received services. But with a huge pot of federal money for the taking, a proliferation of new companies sprung up. At one time in Texas, almost 200 were authorized to provide tutoring services — many with instructional techniques teachers viewed as lacking evidence, like completing lessons via phone or online.

Even those that trot out evidence of the success of tutoring recognize its high price tag. I love this quote from the 74 article, “Instead, they argue in favor of an alternative theory — that working with just two students allows each tutor to personalize instruction much more than a teacher, working with as many as 30 teenagers, can do.” Yet apparently nobody makes the leap to a need for smaller class sizes.

To support these retro-strategies, it’s imperative that we also return to another flawed practice – the standardized test. Before the pandemic, cracks were already showing in the veneer of the big test. It was becoming more and more clear that it was a better indicator of socio-economic status than it was of actual learning. Giving it now though is nothing short of lunacy. I like the way Education writer Steven Singer puts it, “Insisting on testing is like bringing a thermometer into a burning building to tell firefighters where to spray the hose.”

But once again, follow the money and it becomes no surprise that we are testing this year. All are driven by the PR campaign orchestrated by the PR firm McKinsey and Company.

It completely baffles me the level of credence given to McKinsey and Company regarding learning loss. These are the people that fueled the increase in opioids that directly led to today’s crisis. And that was no accidental tourist kind of situation either, you know where they just kind of wandered into the situation with no real understanding. They knew exactly what they were doing and they pushed sales even as deaths were mounting. Per the Guardian,

“McKinsey’s efforts worked. The number of pills prescribed, Purdue’s profits and McKinsey’s fees all skyrocketed,” said Stein, whose state stands to receive nearly $19m in the settlement. “But so did the number of overdoses.”

 These are not events from some distant past, but rather ones that occurred over the last 5 years. Despite clearly showing a proclivity toward putting profit over people, here we are giving their advice credence once again, as we format strategies to adjust to an unprecedented year of instruction for students.  Why? 

Well, it’s money honey, and to get a clear picture, all you have to do is look at the list of those organizations that sent a letter to the Department of Education in support of testing this year. All of which are beneficiaries of the Gates Foundation which has long been an ardent supporter of testing. With the kind of money they are hauling in, where do you think their loyalties lie? Here’s some with Tennessee ties,

Yes, you read that right, SCORE has received in excess of $17 million from Gates since 2010. Any idea on what they used it for? I certainly don’t have an idea. Maybe somebody could ask them.

To appease anti-testing folks, the Department of Education has given flexibility in test administration this year. Among the options is the widening of the testing window. In Tennesse, that window will open in two weeks and extend for 9 and a half weeks. Which begs the question, how will those results even be relevant?

If a child takes the test at the beginning of the testing window, by the time results are back, they would have benefited from 2 months of instruction, and hopefully not be in the same place as when they took the test. If the student doesn’t take the test until the end of the window, then their results will likely benefit from an extra 2 months of instruction. How can the two possibly be compared? Again, lunacy.

Once again though, in our drive to do something, even if it is not the right thing to do, we are plowing forward.

Today, USA Today produced a lengthy article that describes the perils children are facing when it comes to learning to read during the time of COVID. Primarily focusing on the k-2 grades. Missing from the article is the fact that some Scandanavian countries don’t even begin to teach reading until age 7. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we discover, the delayed year has been beneficial to some students and when given more direct instruction they accelerate.

The point is, we don’t know and as such, it’s imperative that we don’t just rush off to act, but rather that we take prudent steps that address students’ needs.

  1. Get all schools up and running in-person learning.
  2. Normalize as much as possible in-person learning.
  3. Allow teachers and building administrators time to rekindle relationships and make formative assessments.
  4. Collect information from educators and formulate plans based on the information and not speculation.

None of this can begin to take place until the pandemic has subsided. You can’t find the solutions to a problem until you fully evaluate it. And you can’t evaluate until you have all the data.

As previously mentioned, our assessments at this point are designed to measure student growth based on a standard year. They are at best estimates and expectations, not unalterable facts. What is not acquired this year can always be acquired next year.

I offer this example. My son started riding a bicycle at age 8. At that age, my daughter wanted nothing to do with a bike. It wasn’t until she was 10 that she decided she wanted to ride as well. Within a month of that decision, she was up and running. None the worse for wear due to the two years difference with my son. She wasn’t behind him, she was where she was, and once ready she quickly took off.

There is no test in existence that measures learning loss. Despite what politicians and marketing companies tell you, no test measures learning loss. So if kids were indeed falling behind because of learning loss, how can we know when they are caught up?

It’s a little ironic to me that the dominant topic of conversation for the last decade has been around the importance of having high expectations for students. Educators are often warned of how low expectations could lead to low performance. Yet here we are normalizing low expectations around remote learning.

Over the last year, there have been some extraordinary events. Oliver Middle School, a school steeped in the Arts, recently concluded the performance of an all-virtual play. While it bore little resemblance to a traditional school play, it still allowed students to express their artistic skills. By all accounts, it was a huge success, for both the audience and the performers. I’m pretty sure the project didn’t kick off with the idea that you can’t do a school play virtually, but rather the thought of, how do you do a play all virtual.

Right now we could use a little less of the former, and a little more of the latter.

In closing let me leave you with my favorite Tweet of the day,

Today someone asked me, “Aren’t kids going to be overwhelmed by how behind they are?” To which I responded, “Behind whom? And in what ways?” Kids are only going to feel like this if adults MAKE them feel like this. “Learning loss” is an adult problem foisted on kids.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a quick look at the weekend’s poll results. The first question asked, how concerned you were over MNPS’s 18 million dollar contract with Meharry for COVID testing. This one elicited more responses than usual, but opinions were varied. 22% expressed an interest in knowing more, while 21% thought it was another case of more of the same. 20% of you thought it was a good deal. Here are the write-in votes,

  • I’ve seen them once to ask questions. That’s it. Partnership? It’s March 8th!
  • SOS, don’t get distracted, there’s bigger news brewing
  • How much did they spend on MNPS gator masks for everyone that you can see thru?
  • Gini is a $nake
  • this teacher struggles to pay rent. Saddening.
  • I’ve seen them in our building 2x.
  • Always throwing money at anything except teachers.

The second question asked for your level of concern that Common Core is being utilized in Tennessee. 70% of you indicated a desire for someone to explain to legislators that TN Standards are nearly identical to CommonCore. Only 2% of you indicated that you were deeply concerned. Here are the write-ins,

  • Why exactly, is that worrisome?
  • It’s all smoke and mirrors

The last question was meant for fun and asked if you were planning to watch Coming to America 2 this weekend. 46% of you said, “Me”. 22% said maybe in the coming weeks. here’s those write-ins,

  • Did. It was pathetic.
  • Saw it
  • It’s a no for me dawg

That’s it for now.

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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