THE NEW ABNORMAL HAS IT’S PLUSSES

“The mind can calculate, but the spirit yearns, and the heart knows what the heart knows”
Stephen King

Clipping the leash to the dog, I check that I have the necessary plastic bag in my pocket. Once verified, I call out to my 10-year old son, “You about ready?”

“We going now?”, he responds from the living room, “Coming.”

It’s 7:45 and in a normal year, we’d be rushing to get him and his sister out the door to school. It’d be a flurry of activity – breakfasts grabbed, hair combed, homework checked. This year though, they’ve been remote all year,  so when class starts at 9, they only have to travel across the house instead of crosstown. traffic is always minimal.

With dod in tow, we head out the door and down the stairs. As we cross the lawn, another voice calls out, “Hey, wait for me. I’m coming.”

It’s his soon-to-be 12-year old sister, today she has deemed us worthy of her presence. She just started a new book – They Both Die at the End – and can barely contain her urgency to tell me all about it. In just one night, she’s already finished half of it.

“Daddy, I so resonate with one of the characters. It is so good. But I know it’s going to end so sadly. You’ll be seeing tears running down my cheek.”

As we head up the street, talk soon turns to the upcoming school band concert. He, a beginning band student, is a little less excited about the upcoming performance. His older, and more experienced, sister tries to share some of her worldly knowledge with mixed success. The conversation soon devolves into the familiar bickering.

The school bus passes us, it’s lightly filled but there are some students heading to the school building. We raise our hands and raise to the driver.

The bus passes, and the bickering takes a pause. The conversation changes to what school will look like next year, followed by questions bout the ongoing state testing period. Neither child is taking TNReady this year, nor do they see a reason they should. Both bemoan the upcoming district-mandated MAP testing,

“You know how you help your school and your teacher?”, the boy asks, “You totally screw up the test at the beginning of the year, and then when you do really well later, the teacher gets credit for the growth.”

I shake my head, if the kids get it, why is it still a puzzle for the adults?.

As we hit the halfway point, questions are raised around this weekend’s baseball games and a possible sleepover. Since 10-year-old boys tend to not be as aware of gender stereotypes as 12-year-old girls, the boy makes a statement that bears correcting by my daughter. She proceeds to list all the ways that he is being insensitive, he politely listens but I’m not sure how it resonates. After all, it’s not the first time he’s gotten the information. Progress over perfection.

Throughout it all, I choose to say little. Instead, I just stay quiet and drink it all in like I use to drink Jack Daniels and Budweiser. Though this is infinitely more pleasurable. Once in a while, I’ll throw a little something in, just to keep it all flowing.

Before too long, we are back home, and I’m hit by a sense of melancholy. Come August, these morning walks will become a thing of memory.  It’ll be back to the old normal of rushing in a thousand different directions, trying to carve time out of an overburdened schedule.

Kids will be away at school all day, and evenings will be eaten up by more activities. Weekends will become a time for friends and in my case, work expectations. Family time will be another commodity to be fought for.

Everywhere I turn, I see lamentations over a “lost” year, and I feel guilty because this year has given me so much. it’s been difficult, but we are still here, stronger in some ways than ever before. COVID forced us to simplify life and return our focus to what’s really important. It gave me hours with my children that I might never have had. For that. I’ll be forever grateful.

Money. Employment. Possessions. All can be replaced. This time, at this stage in their lives, can never be reclaimed once it’s gone.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to see my wife shine in ways that I had begun to take for granted. This year reminded me of what a remarkable woman she is and how deep my love is for her.

It’ll be good to resume normal interaction with people. To go to public gatherings again. But in our rush to return to the new normal. I hope we don’t forget the gifts of the old abnormal.

A BIG WIN

I’ve been a Texas Rangers fan for going on 50 years. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, its history is one of perpetual failure. Years of losing followed by more years of losing. That kind of repetition contributes to a certain acceptance. I always cheer hard for my squad, but ultimately, I know, they are going to fall short.

A few years ago, there was an exception. Somehow the team managed to make it to the World Series and were now only two outs away from doing the previously unimaginable – winning the World Series. I remember standing in front of the TV watching events unfold in a state of confusion. They were poised to win the championship and I was at a complete loss as to how I should feel. Obviously, I was elated, but that elation came with a sense of discombobulation. After all the years of heartbreak, were these lifelong dreams really going to come to fruition? I wanted to believe. I needed to believe. But could I believe?

Mayor Cooper’s announcement yesterday of the city’s intent to fund a substantial raise for teachers felt eerily similar to those World Series memories. For many years I, along with others including NPEF and past and present school board members, have been pushing for increased salaries for teachers. We’ve argued the need to reward veteran teachers at a higher level than new teachers. We argued that schools were losing too many high-quality educators and it was time to do something about it.

In the past, it was always, “next year”. Or let’s start small, and grow. Mayor Cooper has charted a different course. One that will translate to the average teacher seeing nearly $7k more in their pay envelope. Those with 10 – 15 years of experience, could see as much as $11.9K. Cooper’s proposal is nothing short of amazing and for it, he deserves a standing ovation and more.

I am very happy for all of those teachers that will finally see some benefit for their endless sacrifice. I’m grateful for the tireless work by Katie Cour and NPEF to make this a reality. NPEF paid for the study on their own initiative that supplied the data to cement the argument. Council still has to pass the Mayor’s proposed budget, but I have every confidence that they will do so.

When the Rangers had the opportunity to finally reach the pinnacle of the league, they flubbed a play and suddenly found themselves on the losing end of the score. My confusion was thus resolved. I might not have been familiar with how to act when they won, but losing was familiar territory.

Hopefully, that part of the equation won’t be repeated and those that have dedicated their lives to our children will begin to reap their deserved rewards, You got this Nashville, let’s make sure we don’t grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.

MY WIT AND WISDOM

As a result of recently passed state legislation, Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn’s preferred curriculums are beginning to roll out. And with that rollout, comes some interesting takes.

My issues with the curriculum stem less from the content, and more from the politics around it. Like all curriculums, these come with good and bad points. It’s good to see that there will be a return to using whole texts, and books, as opposed to excepts. Still, the hyperbole around these products is a bit over the top and I suspect the results in 5 years will reflect that.

MNPS officials this week guaranteed teachers in training that Wit and Wisdom would be the law of the land for the next 5 years. I have to chuckle about that because history shows that very little lasts for 5 years in an urban school district.

No offense to Dr.Battle, but the average tenure of an urban superintendent is 3 years. Every new superintendent brings their own silver bullet. If Wit and Wisdom remain in place for 5 years that would mean 7 years at the helm for Dr. Battle. That would be a huge feat.

The rollout comes with a warning to teachers not to expect instant success. In fact, positive results might not come in for 3 years. Meanwhile, teacher’s TVAAS scores will continue to factor into their professional lives during that time period. Maybe Commissioner Schwinn could suspend the TEAM rubric until the magic of HQ materials takes root. I know…not likely.

If scores do decline in the first two years, who will have the stomach to hold the line? Teachers will be loathed to risk their professional reputations on just a promise with no evidence. Parents aren’t known for their patience and rightfully so as their children only have one shot at each grade level. Ms. Schwinn likely will be long gone and her predecessor might not share her inclinations. What happens then?

This year we witnessed what happens when teachers sacrifice to learn a new skill. Less than a year later, all those hard-won insights on virtual schooling are being quickly abandoned. Thanks for the work but we now have this new thing that will be eternal to pursue. At least until the next new thing comes along.

Speaking of parents, on a state level, things are getting interesting as some of Tennessee’s more rural districts get a look at the proposed curriculum. For some counties, the reception hasn’t been positive. These curriculums incorporate knowledge building as a core tenet. Some of that knowledge includes teachings on religion, race, and gender issues for young children.

Appropriate? Not appropriate? I don’t know. But I do find it ironic that on one hand, you have the General Assembly passing laws on what teachers can expose kids to, at the same time the Governor, through his Commissioner of Education, is opening the door for the very same subjects to enter the classroom.

Going back to the vendors of the prescribed curriculum warning of limited success in the first couple of years has anybody taken notice that this potential dip in scores could come concurrently with the policy of retaining third graders who aren’t scoring adequately on TNReady going into effect? Where I come from, we call that setting people up for failure, but we’ll see.

But it won’t be the first time we’ve seen this kind of disconnect between the Governor, the General Assembly, and the people.

After all, this is the same body that had to hold a special session to create laws requiring millions in funding in order to address an issue that is already solving itself – Learning Loss – while failing to adequately fund schools due to an outdated funding formula.  I suspect that as time marches on we’ll see even more issues developed from the unprecedented special session on education.

I suspect none of it will get prettier.

COMEDY GOLD

You know when two-thirds of an organizations founding leaders are either indicted or fired, they are always going to be good for some laughs going forth. Chiefs for Change, to their credit, never disappoint. Initially started to only include state commissioners, legal troubles and terminations forced them to open membership wider and they now include just about anybody who bosses teachers around.

Tennessee has four members among its ranks – Candice McQueen, Bryan Johnson, Millard House, and Penny Schwinn. Elliot Smalley who used to help lead the perpetually underperforming Tennessee Achievement School District and is now in North Carolina is also a member. His old boss Kevin Huffman is also a member. Hamilton County’s Dr. Nakia Townes has the designation of “Future Chief”. No offense to anyone, but I’m pretty sure a book of success stories from this crew would be a slim novel unless you included chapters on improving self-wealth.

Anybody who’s been paying any attention over the last two years will recognize the cozy relationship between the Chiefs, HQ curriculum, and the Gates Foundation. Since 2016, the CFC has received more than $5 million. And to their credit, they’ve invested it wisely…in furthering their interests.

Today they released a new PR piece featuring Tennessee’s very own Penny Schwinn. Regular readers of Dad Gone Wild won’t have any problem recognizing this plethora of Schwinigans for what it is, but here are the 4 main recommendations,

  • Encourage school systems to select instructional materials from a state-vetted list;
  • Modernize requests for proposals;
  • Use shared platforms to showcase resources; and
  • Braid funding streams related to curriculum, professional development, and curriculum-embedded assessments.

It’d be comical if it wasn’t tragic and laden with self-interest. I guess by, “modernize RFPs”, the commissioner means release multi-million dollar calls on Christmas Eve, closing the intent to respond the day after the holiday’s end, and then make constituents have to go through state legislators to determine who got the contract. It also means releasing and withdrawing several RFPs because they are poorly written, or written with an unrealistic timetable. All of which are acts committed by the TNDOE this year.

I guess it also means making sure that you secure employment for your spouse with the company applying for the RFP. Yes, TNTP – the winner of the RFP to train Tennessee teachers on HQ curriculum – employs Commissioner’s husband. You may call it “modernizing”, I call it good old fashion “grifting’.

Furthermore, I speculate that “Encourage school systems to select instructional materials from a state-vetted list” must also include granting waivers to districts to adopt materials from friends who didn’t make the list. Last year the TNDOE granted over 70 waivers to districts to adopt materials, not on the state-approved list. Something that didn’t escape the notice of legislators, as they stripped the DOE of the power to grant waivers and placed it with the state board of education.

In education, it seems that nobody ever really gets fired, they are just shifted to different positions. Hopefully, this PR fluff is the opening move to something widely talked about in Tennessee education circles these days, the imminent departure of the commissioner. It’s just a matter of pinning down those future opportunities. Hey, I hear a fellow Chief is out of a job in Broward County.

Another Chief, another indictment. The only thing for audacious than Penny’s PR piece is the statement of support offered up by Chiefs for Change the day before Boward County’s Director resigned,

Bob Runcie is a member of the Chiefs for Change Board of Directors and joined the network in 2016. He has always shown himself to be a person of the highest integrity. Growing up in an immigrant family, schools changed the trajectory of Bob’s own life, and he has devoted everything he has to advancing justice, equality, and opportunity through public education. To my knowledge, every decision Bob has ever made as superintendent has been with students’ best interests at heart. I do not know the specifics of the allegations against him; however, I know he is a man of character with a strong moral compass. Chiefs for Change is grateful for Bob’s leadership and is proud that he is a member of our community.

Yes indeed…

QUICK HITS

Tennessee is a state governed, and populated, by conservatives. A core tenet of conservatives is small government. Take a look at the job postings for just the TNDOE and tell me how that’s a reflection of small government. Irony abounds. Take a deeper look at the list, and note how many jobs are being created just to watch the money.

Rumor has it that next week will be when the General Assembly begins to discuss Critical race Theory in relationship to schools in earnest. Interestingly enough, last week also saw a more nuanced conversation begin among national thought leaders. John Mcwhorter is a linguist and professor at Columbia University who has penned several pieces pushing back against the theories of Anti-Racism put forth by Ibram Kendi. In response to both, author Robert Pondiscio asks the question, “I believe “antiracism” is misguided. Can I still teach Black children? All three raise salient points, and though I don’t agree completely with any of them, I think they represent the beginnings of a much-needed conversation.

Pondisceo closes with the following,

I cannot be made comfortable with the idea that teachers should conceive of ourselves primarily as social engineers whose responsibility is to dismantle “systemic racism” in the name of “equity.” When I took on this work, no part of me signed up to disrupt, dismantle, or overthrow anything. We are teachers, not revolutionaries. Does saying so render me unfit to teach?

It’s time for districts, charter school networks, and school leaders to grapple with these issues candidly and unflinchingly. What are the non-negotiable beliefs that a teacher must have to stand in front of a classroom where all or most of the students are Black or Brown? What beliefs are disqualifying? Let’s also ask parents of color. In the view of many teachers, effective education for all children means high standards and expectations, both academically and behaviorally. That meets my test for antiracist education. But does it meet yours? Would you feel comfortable with me as your child’s teacher? Yes or no?

Each of us will have to supply our own answer.

Congratulations to the Class of 2021 Valedictorians and Salutatorians. Check out the full list of Metro Schools and names and help us cheer on these truly remarkable young people. Further proof that it hasn’t been a lost year by any measure.

That’s enough for today I think.

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 to answer the poll questions.



Categories: Education

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