A CORE PROBLEM

“Our values are the same. We disagree on policy, but we don’t disagree on humanity, we don’t disagree about love and compassion. I think that’s true for all of us — it’s just that we get lost in our fear of what’s different.” Michelle Obama speaking on her friendship with George Bush

 

It’s 9 AM on Friday morning, the second day of TCAP testing for MNPS students, and my fifth grader and sixth-grader are holed up in the TV room watching Fairly Odd Parents on the tube. As I’ve written before, we are a family that has elected to remain remote for the entire school year. A decision based on a desire to establish as much stability as possible. A decision that has been continually validated.

Everyone in our household knows their responsibilities and schedule. Expectations are clear. Earlier in the year, there were some…shall we say…adjustments that needed to be made, but just like in any other year we got there. Both kids received all A’s and high one high B, on their last report card. Wednesday we received a progress report in the mail that showed similar grades.

To be fair, my son has struggled with the drawing part of models in math. He can calculate the problem but has difficulty drawing out the models. His teacher has worked with him and he’s getting it. Like I said, none of it’s perfect, but continually improving.

This week, Schoology went down. I emailed my wife about it and she responded, “Bet they are excited about that.”

But they weren’t. Both were agitated and concerned. they had work to do and this was hindering it. Both emailed their teachers and informed them of the circumstances. Both monitored the site until it was available again. Their response told me more than any standardized test results.

Now this week, the expectation from the state is that my children will abandon their established routines, and enter a school building for the first time in a year, in order to take a test that supposedly is meaningless. To do so they will potentially put their health at risk.  They will tramp down any apprehension over reentry. And they will submit to a meaningless exam that was created last year. Yep, not going to happen.

My decision to opt my children out of TCAP this year – and yes I’m opting them out – isn’t rooted solely in ideology but also practicality. Nobody from MNPS could provide me with a compelling reason why they should participate, nor could I receive an accurate schedule in an adequate time frame. At 6pm on the eve of testing, I received the latest version of the testing schedule.  Yea, that’s not how we roll around here.

I’m not putting blame on the individual school either, because like everything this year, each school was left to its own devices. Some schools brought kids in on Monday so they’d have time to acclimate to being back in school, others didn’t allow virtual kids in the building until the day of testing. Some demanded that virtual teachers come in and help proctor, others took a different approach. What part of standardized were people missing?

The bottom line for me was that if the district couldn’t figure out how to implement a consistent policy and timeline for all schools, then it must not be that important. So why am I making it a priority? If the state can’t make a compelling argument for the need for testing, why am I playing their game? Thus here we are, TV on a Friday morning.

In the early part of this week, I spoke with my son’s teacher and confirmed that by her observations he was doing well. I also confirmed that once TCAP ended, the kids would be taking both MAP and IReady tests. If there were deficiencies that needed to be remediated, both would show that in a timely enough manner, unlike TCAP results which wouldn’t be available for several weeks. Yet another reason why TCAP testing is unnecessary not only this year but every year.

By not having my kids participate in testing I’m denying their usage as data points in a narrative that in my estimation has already been written. A narrative that paints all remote instruction as an abject failure, and by default our kids as failures as well.

I do have a slight concern that by not having my kids take the test, I’m still facilitating the Commissioner and the Governor’s desired narrative. In order to cut checks to her friends, the commissioner needs to show that teachers and kids are failing. In order to further widen the door for private interests, the Governor needs to show schools and kids are failing. If somehow results came back contrary to their desires, their agenda would be sunk. An agenda that paints teachers and local school districts as dastardly villains that fail to provide adequately for their children unless prodded by the state.

In the past, it has been documented, that schools increased their test scores, and hence appear more successful, by strategically keeping home a few kids on testing day. This year, I do fear that the opposite may happen.

Which kids are still remote? Which kids have parents that are unlikely to bring them in for testing? In this light, keeping my kids out may work to serve the interests of the governor and his Commissioner of Education. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take because my kids see right through the scam of standardized testing and I’m not going to allow them to be used as pawns in an adult game.

A cottage industry has exploded in response to so-called “learning loss” due to missed instructional time during the pandemic. Those standing to make a buck are beating a drum of an impending crisis as if a wave of barbarians are poised to sweep the land and destroy all in its wake. Yet the crisis isn’t bad enough to prevent us from sacrificing 9 weeks of potential instructional time to the gods of accountability. Again, follow the money and it all becomes crystal clear.

You know what would make me take the threat of learning loss seriously? If all those that are pushing their proposed solutions refused to take money for their remediation efforts. If SCORE’s David Mansouri, and all the other educational non-profit leaders that signed the letters to the USDOE demanding we continue testing this year, agreed to forfeit their salaries during the weeks designated to testing, I may concede some points.

After all, that’s what teachers have done for the last year. Do you think any of them got compensated for the extra hours they spent exploring alternative options to serving kids? All that time searching the web and talking to peers in an effort to find solutions was done on their own dime, a dime much smaller than the one that education non-profits are dropping in their pockets. So if you are doing to tell them what needs to be done, shouldn’t you begin by making similar sacrifices?

But, as I’ve previously stated, the climate today is akin to that of Iraq after the fall of Saddam, with so many millions of dollars floating around and so many hands trying to grab them. TNTP, former advocates of Common Core, is racking up contracts left and right. The state of Tennessee just awarded them $8 million over 2 years to train teachers. Which I guess is a deal, because the East Baton Rouge School District is poised to give them a quarter of a million dollars for just a week of teacher PD. Think about how many other places are writing checks. I’d say Commissioner Schwinn’s husband, as an employee of TNTP, is looking at a decent Christmas bonus this year.

With all the Federal dollars floating around, it hasn’t taken long for local folks to start forming corporations that are eligible for funds. Case in point, Jared Myracle was formally the academic chief for schools in Jackson Tennessee. Myracle also worked for 2 years for Instructional Partners, the company owned by former Assistant State Superintendent Emily Freitag, also in line for federal dollars. Now he’s doing work for National Insitute for Excellence in Teaching(NIET) which is led by former state education commissioner Candice McQueen and is also eligible for state and federal money. Over the past several years Myracle has been very vocal in advocating for material produced by Amplify and Great MindsCKLA and Wit and Wisdom.

Recently, Myracle announced the formation of a company that would help districts with curriculum adoption. Keep in mind, that prior to the pandemic few LEA’s had the funds from which to draw in order to undertake large-scale curriculum adoption. Problem solved with the influx of federal dollars, and who do you think Great Minds and Amplify will recommend to the districts that have to succumb to pressure from the TNDOE and chose their materials? It’s almost like somebody said, “Hey, you gotta get yourself some of this too.”

Just for the record, and not to disparage any of the work done by the teachers and students of Jackson – Madison County Schools, but during Myracle’s tenure, according to the Tennessee State report card, literacy scores declined and the district was a Level 1 in growth in Literacy. Not a ringing endorsement for his endorsed curriculum.

But it’s not like he hasn’t been down this path before. Back in 2013, when the state was flushed with Race To The Top money and pushing the adoption of Common Core, Myracle saw a way to cash in and penned the manual Common Core for Dummies. Now nearly a decade later, here we go again. Unfortunately, Myracle is just one example out of what’s sure to be a growing flood of prospectors.

Under current circumstances, everybody gets paid. Well everybody but those that are actually doing the work. They get tossed a minimal bone – maybe a thousand dollars – and more responsibility. I’m sure that when things rebound the accolades will go to the profiteers and bureaucrats as well. I really can’t understand why young people don’t want to pursue teaching as a profession. that was sarcasm, in case you missed it.

This year TCAP tests will only serve to justify districts writing checks to so-called education accelerators. Who for their part, hope you don’t notice that the more data that comes in, the less the theory of “learning loss” is supported. Per Educationweek, 

Overall, the analysis found, students’ scores rose during the first half of the 2020-21 school year. In other words, children did make academic progress during COVID-19. Even more encouraging, the amount of progress made was similar to what Renaissance would expect in a non-pandemic year.

But ssshhhhh… don’t tell anybody until the tests are administered, students are registered for summer camps, tutors assigned, and curriculum is purchased. We don’t want anybody looking for a refund.

Earlier in the week my son and I were walking the dog. He peppered me with questions about upcoming testing. Finally, he exclaimed, ““Wait a minute…you’re telling me that after TNReady we have to take MAP and IReady? All in 3 weeks? Good thing we aren’t going in for TNReady! Someone trying to scam me out of my life.”

Yes, they are son. Yes, they are.

COMMON CORE BLUES

On the heels of Race To The Top, states were encouraged to adopt Common Core State Standards. The argument at that time was that student outcomes suffered because Tennessee didn’t have rigorous enough standards, CCSS was the proposed solution.

Some people loved them, some hated them. Republicans tended to favor the latter position. As a result, we went through an exercise of rebranding, and now Tennessee adheres to the Tennessee State Standards, which in reality are the CCSS reworded. Everybody in the state knows this, except perhaps Governor Lee.

In what under different circumstances might be considered humorous, he released a Tweet yesterday bragging about signing a bill that would end the scourge of Common Core in Tennessee. If this is his intent, somebody needs to tell his Department of Education because its commissioner has been handing out checks to Common Core Alumni like margaritas on Cinco De Mayo. Let’s review.

First, we’ve got the new supposed high-quality instructional materials being touted by Schwinn. Core Knowledge Language Arts(CKLA) is the brainchild of E.D. Hirsch. Education pundit Robert Pondiscio once wrote, “One of the arguments I’ve long made in support of Common Core is that properly understood and implemented, it’s a delivery mechanism for the ideas and work of E. D. Hirsch, Jr., and the Core Knowledge curriculum he created.” well now Tennessee is installing that delivery mechanism.

Wit and Wisdom is a curriculum created by a company called Great Minds. The company was originally called Common Core inc, before changing its name in 2016. Per teacher and education writer Mercedes Scheider,

In 2010, Common Core, Inc., also paid DC-based education consultant Sheila Byrd $113,000 for “curriculum mapping/pro.manager/writer.” Byrd was an external reviewer of CCSS ELA standards. (In 2015, Byrd reviewed the EngageNY ELA CCSS curriculum. Note that Eureka Math was first known as EngageNY; in 2012 Common Core, Inc. contracted to create EngageNY’s math curriculum. I wrote about EngageNY/Eureka Math and its connection to Louisiana and to CCSS lead math writer, Phil Daro, in this September 2014 post.)

What about SCORE? They have been big advocates of high-quality curriculum and its relationship to Common Core, even going as far as creating their own laboratory using Tennessee school districts. Founder Bill Frist was a big supporter and the organization happily took some cash from the Melinda and Bill Gates fund to promote CCSS. This year, they are taking $2.2 million, last year it was over a million. Whatever keeps the checks flowing, right?

What about TNTP? As I mentioned before they just signed an $8 million contract to train teachers. They have also been feeding at the CCSS standards trough. Their founder Michelle Rhee was all in and you know who cut her teeth in education reform with Rhee and her husband? None other than Tennessee’s beloved Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn.

Then there is the Liben’s. Merideth and David helped write the foundational skills supplements that ES students are using, Both have made no secret of their love for CCSS.

What about David Steiner, the Harvard administrator that Commissioner Schwinn brought in to review the Tennessee textbook adoption process? You know the guy she had no prior relationship with. You guessed it, a Common Core proponent who wrote a paper on how the CCSS and HQIM could align.

At this point, it would be harder to find a person cashing education checks from the state of Tennessee who didn’t have a long-term affiliation with CCSS. In fact. I think an argument could be made that under Lee, CCSS’s influence has grown. Yet here he is, trying to paint a picture of CCSS eradication.

I wonder if he knows that the Department of Education is using a definition of “exclusive” in order to guage usage of CCSS? Wonder if he knows how many people and companies are taking advantage of that  “loophole” in order to push their agenda.

Somebody might want to tell him. Or better yet, save the effort and vote him out next year.

QUICK HITS

Meghan Mangram has an uplifting piece in the Tennessean about a new program at Maplewood and Pearl Cohn that allows students to obtain patient care technician certifications. per the Tennessean,

The goal of the program is to establish a career pipeline for students interested in health care to earn a credential while still in high school and start working as soon as they graduate. It only takes three weeks to complete the program — and it is free for students. 

Good deal and very exciting.

Congratulations go to former MNPS assistant principal Ryan Jackson. Jackson is the principal at Mount Pleasant High School which is Tennessee’s only PK-12 STE(A)M campus, as designated by the Tennessee Steam Instructional Network and the Tennessee Department of Education. On May 3, they are ribbon-cutting on their very own recording studio. Pretty big deal. 

I’ll tell you what, if this list of executive job openings at the TNDOE doesn’t start to go done, they need to consider holding a telethon and giving them away like Oprah, “And you got a TNDOE job! And you got a TNDOE job!” It’s almost like nobody wants to work there or something.

Sad to hear about the passing of Tennessee’s first African American State Senator. What more can you say about her that hasn’t already been better said by others. She was a force to be reckoned with.

Next Tuesday is an MNPS School Board meeting. A glance at the agenda, reveals several items of interest. But we’ll leave those for Monday.

Till then, have a great weekend.

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.

Don’t forget poll questions.

 



Categories: Education

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