HMMM…NOW THAT”S A CHALLENGE

“This story was made up by his neighbours not because they were fanciful or wanted to deceive, but like most tittle-tattle to fill a gap, as few like to confess ignorance, and if people are asked about such or such a man they must have something to say, or they suffer in everybody’s opinion, are set down as dull or “out of the swim.”
David Garnett, Lady into Fox

 

My son, Peter, and I walked the dog this morning. Not dissimilar from most mornings. As we walked he shared the highlights of yesterday.

“Do you think it’s a bad idea to try riding the bike while standing on the seat? It’s not really useful but it is fun. Ali’s father can sit on the handlebars while riding. I can’t do that.”

We’d gotten him a new used bike, Bought from a man working on a house straight out of an episode of Scooby-Doo. A house built in 1835, and undergoing a major renovation in 1912. It’s currently under renovation. The parlor filled with 12ft foot posters from the ’20s. After securing the bike, as we pulled from the driveway, Peter remarked, “Cool a new bike and we got out alive. Win and win.”

This morning he was full of tales of adventure with his friends and the new bike.

“We like to go down the hill as fast we can, timing each other to see if we can reach the speed limit. We probably can’t but we still try. Noah gets the closest. We went to the creek, though Hussain doesn’t like to go that far.”

Later in the day, they went over to another friend’s pool, followed by an impromptu street hockey game.

“Can we get another hockey stick? It’s only five bucks at Walmart and then we can do one-on-one?”

I just smile and try to keep up. This is what summer is supposed to be about for children. Mischief and adventure, playtime with friends, and soaking in the lazy days of summer recuperating from the rigors of the classroom. Soon enough it will be summer jobs and then before too long, these idyllic days will give way to the demands of adulthood. Carving out two weeks to relax and recharge will become a chore of its own. This time should be considered precious in a child’s life.

I know this isn’t the reality for all children, but we should make it such for as many as possible. In the past, districts like MNPS created summer camp adventures for those children who couldn’t experience such at home. Instead of focusing on the rigors of reading, writing, and arithmetic, kids did crafts, played games, and generally had a great time. The problem was, that while these experiences greatly enriched student lives, that enrichment didn’t always translate to test scores.  And you can’t build a resume without those test scores.

This year at the behest of the Tennessee Department of Education districts are busy building unicorn barns, In this case, the unicorns would be so-called “learning loss”. A term that has made it into our lexicon despite any convincing evidence that it even exists. As a result, kids are being pushed into classrooms that more closely resemble the normal school year, than the loose, fun, exploratory, offerings of the past. Per the Tennessean,

This year, school districts are required to offer six-week programs for grades K through 8, with at least six hours of instruction time, including four hours of reading and math instruction, and time spent on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics). An hour of physical activity every day is also required.

In an essence, the DOE, legislators, and non-profit bureaucrats decry the time stolen from kids due to the pandemic while stealing additional time in the aftermath of the pandemic under the guise of concern.

Think about your own childhood memories and which have stood the test of time, I doubt the majority of them are made up of times spent in a sweltering classroom engaged in rigorous instruction geared to improving test scores. Save the protestations, with required assessments at the beginning and end of summer sessions – coupled with repeated implied threats from both the commissioner and legislators about potential repercussions if schools fail to make adequate progress during this time of financial windfall – it’s not hard to identify the true priorities.

Hell, the commissioner is so determined to make sure these summer sessions land on her resume that she has scheduled a 10-day 50 city bus tour for the summer. A move that is being met with questions of, “why” and ‘who’s paying for it”? I don’t remember seeing “bus tour’ on any approved line-item expenditures in either the state budget or approved usages of ESSA money. Despite the promo picture, I doubt she’ll be traveling the state in a school bus.

According to Chalkbeat TN,

The road trip seeks to spotlight summer programs required under a new state law to bolster learning that was disrupted by the pandemic. The work mirrors acceleration academies happening this summer in schools across the nation to help students learn key concepts they may have missed, while also preparing them for a new school year.

Acceleration Academies? Look at that, a new breed of unicorns has reportedly been discovered. Much like Teach for America proposes to adequately prepare teachers for the classroom in just 6 weeks, it is now being proposed that 6 weeks of summer instruction will not just ‘catch students up” but catapult them past their peers. Meanwhile, my children, and their peers, are mired in studies of how to produce the biggest splash from a cannonball and the maximum distance one can ride on their bicycle without holding on to the handlebars.

I’d share other insights that they are developing, but since I don’t see them for long periods of time during the day – time spent free of adult intervention – I have little data to deliver.

But fear not, the Commissioner has adequate hyperbole to spare.

“This summer, students are in their schools and learning,” Schwinn said in a statement. “Districts and schools are planning how to spend historic amounts of federal funding to accelerate student achievement. The Accelerating TN 2021 bus tour will support this important work.”

Keep in mind that only a fraction of a district’s students are enrolled in the “Acceleration Academies”. In MNPS, it’s approximately 15k out of 80K 0r 19% of the student population. So what happens when school opens in the Fall and these summer participants are miles ahead of their counterparts? I suspect another unicorn will then be revealed – differentiated instruction.

I’m also sure that for those children not enrolled over the summer, a need for remediation will be declared. Luckily we have thought partners – sounds better than vultures – who are ready to pounce…oops, I mean…to provide the same high-quality materials that produced historic gains over the summer on a large scale. And the checks will keep flowing.

As of late, I’ve been running with my son as he prepares for this year’s Pan American Games. Pacing is an issue for him. He tends to run too fast in the middle of the run, and as a result, doesn’t have the energy to finish. Legislators and state officials share his lack of prudence.

Teachers are exhausted. Families are exhausted. So as we race to accelerate, what happens if we make gains now. only to lose them when later in the next school years people’s exhaustion again takes its toll?

Furthermore, the need for speed is as addicting a drug as any known drug. As we accelerate student learning – if such a thing were possible – when would we reach, fast enough? And what are we willing to sacrifice in order to reach that acceleration rate? if we are capable of accelerating student learning, why force kids to go 12 years? Why not just 5 years? or 8?

When we talk about schools and student outcomes, we act as if learning was a linear process unencumbered by outside factors. That’s just not true. Nowhere does the axiom, “It’s not just the destination but the journey that matters”, apply more than when it comes to children’s education.

If we don’t allow students time and space to discover the many nuances of life and learning we are doing them a huge disservice, and robbing future generations as well. I find it ironic that even as students across Tennessee were gearing up for 6 extra weeks of classroom instruction, Commissioner Schwinn was taking her own kids on a quick weekend jaunt to Yosemite. (I know how do you have a quick trip to Yosemite when you live in Tennessee, but those were her words, not mine,)

I wonder in the latter years what the kids will remember more, summer spent at a state park or that summer set behind a desk work on foundational skills?

THE WIT AND WISDOM ALBATROS

An interesting conundrum is starting to unfold across the state, and I must say that I’m curious to see how the commissioner, the DOE, and legislators wiggle out of this one.

Over the last two years, I’ve been writing about how the Commissioner and the TNDOE manipulated the ELA textbook adoption process in order to tilt the playing field in favor of preferred vendors – Great Minds and CKLA.

At the completion of the process, while she was unable to ensure approval for all of their material, everything but Wit and Wisdom K-2 made it onto the state’s approved list of materials. Then COVID struck. As a result, nobody had any money and state law at the time allowed states to adopt a curriculum without purchasing materials. Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with the preferred vendors as they had already made a substantial investment in Tennessee in anticipation of a financial windfall. Something had to be done.

Luckily along came the feds with bags of cash. During the special session, state law was changed in a way that forced districts into purchasing and walla…the cash registers began to sing.

But not so fast, because materials were now available, parents were able to get a look at them. What they saw didn’t sit well for many. And now they are speaking up. Several parent groups have sprung up across the state speaking out against what they see as inappropriate materials for children. The most organized and loudest right now is a group out of Williamson County called Moms For Liberty.

Despite efforts to paint them otherwise, this is a group of Williamson County parents that are well educated, well organized, and politically connected. Anybody that is wondering whether or not they are formidable, should recall that the beginnings of Common Core’s downfall in Tennessee also began in Williamson County.

As part of their research, they and others, have linked Wit and Wisdom to the teaching of Critical Race Theory, an especially hot-button issue right now. Per the Tennessean,

[Ciritcal race theory] is already here in ‘Wit & Wisdom,’” Brentwood resident Susan Masie said. “I’ve done much listening and studying, and with the deepest love for everyone in this room, I reject that all white people are oppressors, I reject that all people of color are victims, that all systems in America are racist and that we haven’t made the most laudable progress in this country when it comes to race issues.”

Keep in mind, that Tennessee is led by an avowed conservative and he lives in Williamson County. One would think that his preferences would be more closely aligned with his neighbors, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Already he has had to refute Wit and Wisdom’s ties to Common Core, which is not permissible in Tennessee.

Disavowing the Common Core link is a little difficult because of the fact that everybody involved with Wit and Wisdom, was also involved in Common Core. It’s as if everybody in the Jets suddenly went out and bought leather jackets with “Sharks” embroidered on the back in an effort to convince you they were no longer Jets. Sill Jets, and still Common Core.

Distancing herself from Wit and Wisdom should prove uniquely challenging for Commissioner Schwinn. Not only did she fight tooth and nail for its adoption by Tennessee school districts, but the charter school she founded, led up to two years ago, and still sits on the board of, has been using Wit and Wisdom for several years. It’s not a stretch to say she is a supporter of a curriculum that a large segment of the Governors’s base finds objectionable.

Luckily next year is a campaign year, and the governor will be out on the stump with ample opportunity to explain why his commissioner is right and his base is wrong. Should be fun.

One interesting tidbit that emerged from the Tennessean, Wit and Wisdom is apparently planning to release an updated version of their curriculum, Wit and Wisdom 2.0. Dave Allen, WCS assistant superintendent of teaching, learning, and assessment says Great Minds is working on a “Wit and Wisdom 2.0” that will be ready for implementation by this fall. Hmmm…I would assume that in order for districts to adopt 2.0, they would have to apply for a waiver. Otherwise, publishers could make all kinds of changes to the curriculum after approval with no oversight at all.

The Tennessean identifies Great Minds as a Non-profit. But don’t think that means they didn’t make any money. According to their tax returns, 2019 brought in gross receipts of $118,804,791, with a profit of over $7 million. Not exactly chicken scratch.

We’ll just have to see how all of this plays out over the next couple of months. But it should be more entertaining than a game of Twister.

QUICK HITS 

Up in Clarksville, Superintendent Millard House has packed his bags for Houston, while Angela Huff has been named interim superintendent. Some of you may remember Huff was a finalist for the MNPS job before the offer went to then WCS Superintendent Mike Looney who ultimately turned it down. Ironically, Looney now leads Cobb County Schools, the district where Huff spent the majority of her career. Ms. Huff has agreed not to apply for the permanent position and CMCSS is expected to start a search soon. I recommend that when they start that search they take a look at Mason Bellamy. I think he’d make a great Superintendent for CMCSS.

The TNDOE continues to be a source of endless mirth. You might remember me telling you about the hiring of a data analyst from Chicago. Despite working for Tennessee’s state government, she took to her social media pages pledging to remain in Chicago while fulfilling her duties. It’s a commitment she’s kept despite pressure from legislators. Initial state officials claimed that the data analyst had indeed moved to Tennessee, however, these days, when pressed, they will simply say, she has produced receipts that indicate she is paying rent in Tennessee.

Recently while in the grocery store I picked up a milk carton with a picture of the state’s new literacy screener. You know the one mandated by state law. It seems that with less than 2 months to go until the start of the new school year, not a peep has been said about that new magical screener that was going to be made available to LEAs at no cost. Maybe Commissioner Schwinn will be working on those while traveling the state in her bus.

Another thing that she could work on is an itemized list of exactly what is being purchased with the supposed $120 million investment in Reading360. Myself, I’m extremely curious about what required spending would entail and I question if that number is even necessary. Yes, decodable books are nice. Yes, increased teacher training is nice. Yes, supports are appreciated, But $120 million dollars worth? Let’s see the spreadsheet, Ms. Schwinn.

MNPS board member Gini Pupo-Walker continues to let her true feelings for her constituents show. At this week’s board meeting, while thanking other board members for their support, she characterized the district she represents as possibly “the most difficult district”. Hmmm…and what would cause her to say that?

That’s it.

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

2 replies

  1. One quick update…Looney leads Fulton County Schools not Cobb County

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