EVEN MORE QUESTIONS

“Maybe my passion is nothing special, but at least it’s mine.”
Tove Jansson, Travelling Light

 

Today we are going to revisit the themes and stories of Fridays’ post, as more has come to light over the weekend. Hopefully, I’ll provide you even more fodder for thought.

First up, let us revisit the case of the disappearing Superintendent, Last week we discussed the resignation of National Superintendent of the Year Finalist Bryan Johnson from Hamilton County. A departure that was creating few ripples, despite his status. At the time, he had not indicated what was next.  This weekend Chattanooga’s daily rag clarified,

According to the paper – I can’t link to it because it is behind a paywall – Johnson will be assuming a leadership role at the trucking and logistics company U.S. Express. He’ll be reporting directly to the company’s CEO Eric Fuller. Over the past year, Fuller has raised his voice in calling for businesses to make a deeper commitment to increasing equity. A cause both men are deeply committed to. Equally committed is Johnson’s wife Candy, who sits on the Education Trust’s Resource Equity Task Force.

While I can certainly envision the three combining forces to do incredible work in advancing diversity issues, still, at a time when there is a national shortage of individuals that process Johnson’s unique skill set, shouldn’t we be fighting a little harder to keep him in the education field? We are letting a highly competent leader leave to the trucking industry while schools struggle to find competent leadership. But I thought it was all about the kids?

The Times goes on to say that an added bonus to his stepping away is that it will allow Mrs. Johnson an opportunity to step up her career efforts. Apparently being married to the city’s director of schools was an impediment to her activities. Yea…I don’t know.

To me, this feels more like a safe holding spot until the desired landing spot has a chance to develop. The whole argument for his departure makes some semblance of sense until you factor in the timeline. I find it hard to believe that the Chief of Staff position was unavailable 2 months ago, as it was a self-admitted newly created position.

Johnson is only 38 years old, so there is a lot of tread on those tires.

An education career, for most, is a calling. Something you are internally compelled to pursue. All indications are that Johnson is cut from that cloth. In that light, his sudden departure feels like a Catholic Cardinal waking up one day and announcing that he’s quitting to go into the grocery business.

Maybe…but we’ll keep watching this one.

THE MYSTERY OF THE TN SOLE-SOURCE CONTRACTED SCREENER

On Friday, I told you that the proposed list of state-approved screeners was now available. It was a curious list, to say the least, and got me asking questions. Answers to those questions, open the door for even more questions,

Sometimes, the Department of Education does something that is actually useful. In this case, they’ve posted the list of Tennessee’s LEA’s Early Childhood Literacy Plans. These plans provide a wealth of information, and I guess instead of praising the DOE, accolades should go to legislators.

Legislation passed during this year’s special session requires school districts to develop a Foundational Literacy Skills Plan to articulate locally driven solutions to improve literacy outcomes for students. These plans must be submitted to the Tennessee Department of Education for approval. And then posted to the DOE Web site.

Reading through the plans makes for some interesting reading. Each district’s plans were crafted, submitted, and approved prior to June 1. This is prior to the state publically announcing the recipient of the contract to create a Tennessee Universal Screener, which would be made available to districts for free this coming school year. That date will become important in just a minute.

The learning plans include descriptions of instructional practices, intervention plans, parent notification plans, and professional development strategies for grades k-5. They also include approved materials and which screener the district plans to utilize.  These items are what they intend to use for the 2021/2022 school year.

Over the last month, I’ve openly wondered why all the emphasis on materials and curriculum had shifted away from Amplify – CKLA and towards Great Minds – Wit and Wisdom. During the adoption process 2 years ago, it seemed as if CKLA held favored status. Reading through these FSLP’s gives me a clue as to why.

There is no need to self-promote when you are number 1, and CKLA is number 1 with 47 LEA’s indicating an intent to use the Amplify created product. Substantialy higher then other options.

Number 2, with 30 districts, is Benchmark, another Science of Reading aligned program. EL Learning holds the number 3 spot with 26 districts. Wit and Wisdom is the preferred choice of 19 LEA’s. Some districts indicated that they were going to use the aforementioned in combination with other materials. In that case, I gave one credit to each.

I was a little surprised to find that 15 districts were using Wonders, a quality, but older product.

Now I want you to think back to two years ago when the DOE was pushing their Literacy Bill that was very much Science of Reading branded. Legislators weren’t comfortable with codifying a one size fits all approach and struck all references of Science of Reading from the bill. The bill eventually failed, but when its tenets were brought back during this year’s special session, all references to Science of Reading had been scrubbed. Yet here we are, with 2/3 of the state’s districts adopting a curriculum rooted in Science of Reading.

Some of you may feel inclined here to push back, arguing that all of these districts were just exercising their right to local control. And there is some truth to that, but let’s not forget some things.

The TNDOE contracted with the Libens, who were deeply involved in Common Core, and proponents of the Science of Reading curriculum, to devise on Literacy instruction. The TNDOE partnered with the Achieve the Core campaign, open advocates of SOR, to promote Tennessee districts that administered early pilots of CKLA and Wit and Wisdom. According to their 990, Achieve Inc, who created the campaign, is,

DEDICATED TO SUPPORTING STANDARDS­BASED EDUCATION REFORM EFFORTS ACROSS THE STATES. ACHIEVE HELPS STATES RAISE ACADEMIC STANDARDS AND GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS, IMPROVE ASSESSMENTS AND STRENGTHEN ACCOUNTABILITY.

Currently, the DOE is supplying state-mandated teacher training, that from what I’m told comes straight from the pages of CKLA. In other words, the state is mandating and financing, an infomercial for the Commissioner’s preferred vendors. Wonder how that’s going to end? I suspect with CKLA growing its market share.

Still think it’s just districts exercising local control? Try asking for guidance on piloting and supplementing materials from the TNDOE. Let me know how that works out for you. After all, it was through questionable piloting and supplemental programming that we got her.

Here’s a chuckle for you, a participant of the aforementioned training, counted the number of times that the word Common Core was said during training and arrived at a number of 50. That’s only of note because, despite evidence to the contrary, Governor Lee continues to position himself as a modern-day Saint Patrick – driving the snakes of Common Core from Tennessee.  Yet somehow, the citizens of Tennessee keep getting snake bit.

Looking at the list of proposed screeners for the next school year, another intriguing picture emerges. Here’s where that date of June 1st becomes important. All of these plans were submitted and approved by the DOE before anyone hypothetically knew who the state would award a sole source contract for their free screener and what screeners would be on the approved list of districts to choose from who didn’t want the state’s offering.

Luckily the vast majority chose AimsWeb. 58 indicated that would be their preferred choice. This begs the question, were some districts given advance notice of what the state would choose as its offering?

In all fairness, AimsWeb has been subsidized by the state in the past, so some districts are already familiar.  Had this been a competitively bid contract, we could answer the question easily and reassure that no insider information was shared. But since it was not…

The number two choice was Easy CBM with 32 and then STAR with 21. Things do get a little complex here though, and legislators may have to do some tweaking of the law.

A common practice among LEA’s is to use one screener for identifying “standard-based” challenges and then another to identify the “skills-based” deficiencies. Few use a one size fits all model. We’ll dive deeper into this in the future, as I’m still learning, but it’s fairly clear that there will likely is, and will be a need to further define the definition of “universal screener”.

I do find it interesting that there are 9 screeners of which Tennessee’s districts indicate they plan to use to measure students. Of those 9, only 8 are included in the proposed list of state-approved screeners. Missing from the list is the very popular IReady, 17 LEAs indicated plans to use it in 2021/2022. That means 17 districts will be forced to file a waiver.

There have been speculative talks as to why IReady was omitted, but maybe we should just wait until Thursday’s State Board meeting and we’ll get a clearer picture. The number who plan on using the screener is substantially less than the number of districts that have used it in the past.

So what’s the real story behind all of the department’s machinations? Is there fire to go with the smoke? I don’t know, but the House of Representative’s Summer Study might be a good place to get some answers.

QUICKS HITS

Tennessee politics sure are fun. Last week you might have seen Dr. Frist leveling accusations of dereliction of duty at Governer Lee. He tweeted out the following,

It should be the top priority of our state’s leadership to lead – to unambiguously lead each and every day – in encouraging #Covid and childhood vaccinations, especially in the midst of a pandemic where infections and new variants continue to spread.

Hmmm…this is the same Bill Frist who has been telling Lee what to do on education through the organization SCORE, which he founded. If Frist is adding healthcare advice to his sphere of influence, maybe it is time we cut out the middle man and elect him governor. Just saying.

Out of one side of their mouth, the TNDOE talks about how all kids need to be in-person, out of the other they tout the approval of 29 new virtual schools.

As we head into the new school year, educators and school and district leaders throughout the state are focused on ensuring student achievement and serving the needs of all students in their communities,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Last school year, districts responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing additional operating models and learning formats to ensure that families had options and students could continue learning with their classmates and teachers when out of school buildings. While research shows that students benefit most from in-person classroom instruction, districts are ensuring families who prefer a virtual education setting for their students have those options and can continue to make the best choices for their children.” 

That is as fine a piece of doublespeak as I’ve seen.

Hmmm….it seems like someone other than me got tired of looking at all the unfilled positions listed on the TNDOE website. No…they haven’t filled them, just removed the link. Usually, it’s been housed under “top links” or “About the TNDOE”…whatever the case the listings aren’t there now and after a prolonged search I still couldn’t locate them.

In sticking with the state, the list of finalists for the honor of Principal of the Year was released last week. Sadly, despite their formidable self-promotional skills, not a single MNPS principal made the cut. All kidding aside, MNPS certainly has at least one candidate worthy of consideration, but you know how these things go.

According to a new report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability, the average public school classroom teacher in Tennessee made $52,596 during the 2019-20 school year. Teachers in six Tennessee school districts have an average salary of more than $60,000 a year: Oak Ridge Schools ($66,926), Maryville City Schools ($66,863), Alcoa City Schools ($65,064), Arlington Community Schools ($63,196), Franklin Special School District ($61,822) and Johnson City Schools ($61,277). The highest increases were at Williamson County Schools (6.9%), Lewis County Schools (5.94%), Carroll County Schools (5.25%), Fayette County Schools (4.89%), DeKalb County School District (4.83%) and Pickett County Schools (4.81%). Eight districts in Tennessee had a decrease in average classroom teacher pay, with Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools seeing the largest decrease (2.01%).

Wait a minute…Clarksville-Montgomery County…isn’t that where MNPS’s Chief of Schools Mason Bellamy hails from?  Yea, that makes sense.

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. Not begging, just saying.

Next month will be our annual fundraising push. So please contribute if you can



Categories: Education

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