“The essence of man is really his paradoxical nature, the fact that he is half animal and half symbolic.”
― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
“Dada, I need you to schedule an eye appointment”, my 7th-grade daughter says to me last week, “School starts soon and I need new glasses.”
“Ok, but what is wrong with the ones you have?”
“I don’t like them and they don’t look good on me”, she promptly replied, “You know that the first week of school is mainly a fashion show. So, I need new glasses.”
The implication being, that she needed to get it right from the start or there would be consequences throughout the year. And I know, some of you are probably ready to chime in with a lesson plan for this teachable moment.
Blah, blah, blah…looks don’t matter…blah, blah, blah…don’t be superficial…blah, blah, blah…anybody who judges you is just covering up their own insecurities….blah, blah, blah…anybody that judges you isn’t really a friend…
You know the drill. Anybody who has had the pleasure of an adolescent eye-roll directed at them knows exactly how efficient that is.
The problem is while we are painting our idyllic pictures, kids are living in the Thunderdome. As much as we’ve become a kinder, gentler, society – the world of kids can still be especially brutal.
We like to pretend that kids are all angels, kissed by god. The reality is a little harsher. They are capable of inflicting pain on each other of a depth that lasts a lifetime. Navigating the halls of a middle school is as much a contact sport as being on the floor of the New York Stock exchange – it’s all sharp elbows.
So I told her we’d make an appointment this week.
As she walked away, I flipped back to my social media feed, where much time of late has been devoted to whether or not there should be a mask mandate for kids as they return to school. It’s an issue that finds me on the fence. Obviously, we should error on the side of caution when it comes to our kid’s safety, but as humans, we derive so much of our social cues through facial expressions. I fret about the impact of masks on kids’ long-term social development. It’s a sticky wicket.
In scrolling through my feed fresh off of my daughter’s conversation, I realized that the one area that nobody was discussing was the impact of masks on peer interactions. If kids pick on each other for clothes, hair, body sizes, humor, intelligence, athletic ability, music, favorite TV shows, and so forth – what makes us believe that an optional mask policy won’t prove fodder for further division?
If three kids wear a mask will they allow the child not wearing a mask to interact socially, or will they ostracize them? Since kids at an early age mimic their parent’s views. often with near fidelity, are we not setting them up to pay for their parents viewpoints? At a time when social anxiety is already going to be high, are we adding another level by not having a clear all-in or all-out mask policy? Is this just another example of adult desires being placed above those of students?
Working in the service industry and therefore exposed on a regular basis to the general public, let me testify that there is no shortage of folks that haven’t quite adjusted to re-entry into society as of yet. People are quicker to anger, and a whole lot less rational than they have been in the past. I see no reason why it should be different for kids and as such, suspect that the first several months of school will be dominated by behavioral issues. Is an optional mask policy going to make things any easier for teachers and administrators to navigate?
This is another one of those no-win situations for schools. Put in a mask mandate, and you are likely to see more families exit public schools.
Don’t instill one, and you are likely to see more families exit public schools.
MNPS starts school next week. Unfortunately, it seems to me, the ship on a clear mask policy has sailed. A change in policy now would demand a herculean communications effort. One that is unlikely to reach the families of 85K students in the week prior to the start of school.
Apparently, they plan to try though. Per an MNPS press release received late this morning,
Metro Nashville Board of Education Chair Christiane Buggs has called a special meeting for Thursday, August 5 at 11am to meet and discuss the COVID mitigation protocols in place for the 2021-22 school year that starts on August 10.
My only wish remains that in setting policy for schools, we would expand as much energy considering the impact on students, as we spend considering the political ramifications.
But I guess those are the dreams of an aging pollyanna.
CONSIDERING THE TIMING OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT
Speaking of politics, I have oft explained to you the importance of the timing of a press release. If you want people talking as much as possible, you release it at the beginning of the week with hopes that it dominates the week’s news cycle. If you don’t want people talking, you release it on a Friday afternoon, knowing that most people turn off the news on the weekend, and therefore it’s unlikely to gain much traction before a new story hits the pavement on Monday morning.
For example, the Tennessee Department of Education released its press release on the deplorable “Best for All” district’s creation two Fridays ago. You would think that something as momentous as the uniting of the state’s LEA’s to collaborate on increasing student outcomes would be something that you’d want to spread from the Mississippi to Bristol. And it would have been, had the elements not been so troubling once you took a peek under the hood. Such a peak reveals just another power grab by the DOE and another effort to erode local control.
Today, there is an opposite goal. Individual student results from TCAP are scheduled to be released. Results that reportedly will re-enforce the Governor and Ms. Schwinn’s dire predictions of student learning loss proclaimed last year. Predictions that ran counter to the evidence. The results will likely serve to strengthen the two’s prescriptions for solving the woes of Tennessee’s underachieving scholars.
It’s all very ironic because remember back in the Spring when Ms. Schwinn and Governor Lee crowed proudly that the state had passed legislation that would hold school districts, teachers, and students harmless for last year’s unprecedented challenges? Well, this week will be the time to speak out of the other side of their mouth. Read the coverage over the next couple of days, and then get back to me on that unaccountability thing.
There are things that likely won’t be included in today’s press releases. Foremost is the role of the State Collaborative On Reforming Education(SCORE) on policies and practices during the last year.
Once the pandemic hit, SCORE wasted little time leaping to the forefront and releasing advice on how to combat the effects of an interrupted school year. Many districts across the state adopted those recommendations, much as they have in the past. I think it’s safe to say that the test results will prove that SCORE’s policy recommendations were once again unsuccessful. But that shouldn’t be a shock, they’ve got a decade of mediocrity to stand on. It’s what happens when you have a violin player instead of an educator driving policy discussions.
Quick example, SCORE is currently all-in on “high-dosage” tutoring. At the same time, they along with TNTP, have been the driving force behind the state embracing the “Science of Reading” approach to literacy instruction over a “Balanced Literacy” approach. If you dive down into high-dosage tutoring, you discover that once again it’s a marketing term utilized to promote a simple concept – a three to one ratio of tutor to student delivered primarily during the school day.
So – riddle me this – what is different between what I just described, and small group instruction delivered by a teacher during a student’s literacy block – a primary element of a Balanced Literacy approach? Yea…
I’m still puzzled by where all of these tutors will come from. In light of increased federal funding, there is an incredible demand for an already limited supply. We can’t adequately fill teaching or substitute teacher positions, yet somehow we’ll be able to find enough tutors to provide 3 to 1 instruction for all of Tennessee’s kids. Let’s not forget you’ve also got Governor Haslam out looking to staff his alternate tutoring program and parents with means will also be looking to secure the services of qualified tutors. Hmmm…that sounds familiar.
I suspect, if history is any guide, student/teacher ratios will be widened and tutoring qualifications will be relaxed. Not like we haven’t this movie before. But I’m getting sidetracked.
Another thing that won’t be included in today’s TNDOE press release will be any acceptance of accountability by the TNDOE. Remember all of those fantastic things that the DOE was providing over the past year? Video classes? PBS programming? The plethora of policy papers that offered guidance? It doesn’t seem like those things produced a lot of results. Don’t expect Schwinn to acknowledge any shortcomings nor admit that the department has not been able to assemble any kind of team capable of providing meaningful support to districts, but know that to be true.
I doubt there will be any mention of the invalidity of the tests. On one hand, legislators pass hold harmless legislation in acknowledgment of the assessment’s unreliability, while on the other hand, the department will use these results in order to try and bully LEA’s into submission. It’s why neither of my children took TCAP this year, I refused to let them be pawns in a narrative that was pre-written.
That’s the last thing they won’t tell you in today’s press release, who took the test. i suspect the release last week of participation numbers was an attempt to frame today’s release as being a product of widespread participation. Maybe in some districts, but take a look at which districts had the lowest scores and the results they produced.
Early indications are that MNPS and Shelby County Schools results are abysmally low. But consider the greater impact both suffered from the pandemic. Consider the number of kids who remained remote throughout the year. Consider the number of kids who’s family’s experienced physical or financial hardship this past year due to COVID as compared to those in smaller rural districts. That might provide a little insight into the numbers.
Since more kids were remote in the urban districts, there was a greater need for acclimation when they came into the building to test. Anecdotally, I’ve heard repeated stories from teachers describing a need to almost re-teach kids how to take a test. Many were using check marks or x’s instead of bubbling in answers. Hmmm…that’s your proverbial learning loss? Unfortunately, even if we accept that, we have no way to measure it, just like the learning loss argued by proponents.
When you see the test results released today, by all means, be concerned, but also be prudent.
There is a lot of work to be done over the next several weeks as kids return to the classroom. But rest assured, they are in very capable hands and if I had to bet on either teachers, legislators, or non-profit operators to combat the effects of an unprecedented year…I’m all in on teachers.
If you care to compare my predictions to the actual reporting, ChalkbeatTN has released its article on the test results. I think I pretty much covered it.
QUICK HITS…OR THINGS THAT GO HMMMMM
Last week ChalkbeatTN published an article arguing that Tennessee students weren’t learning enough Black History. It’s a good read and makes some compelling arguments. But what they haven’t published is any kind of article about the departure of one of the state’s urban school district superintendents. As a black man, who’s recognized nationally as a superlative school superintendent, he’s making history. It seems that, in keeping with their stated mission of supporting equity, his leaving might be an important story.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind while we are discussing last Springs’ TCAP results, in just a couple of weeks the state will have access to LEA’s current literacy rates. Per recent legislation, all districts must administer and report the results of a reading screener to the DOE within the designated beginning of school window. That means a chance to assess the impact of the state-sponsored summer schools and their ability to accelerate learning. I eagerly await those results.
Ever had a desire to run your own Achievement School District? Continually felt that you could do a better job turning around schools than the state? Now is your opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. Last week the DOE released an RFQ to search out an administrator for the latest version of a school turnaround program,
This RFQ is based upon T.C.A. § 49-6-3601, et. seq., “School Turnaround Pilot Program Act,” which requires the Tennessee Department of Education (“Department”) to develop and implement a four-year School Turnaround Pilot Program for schools identified as in need of intervention. Performance for schools included in the pilot will be compared to Non-pilot Schools to gauge performance and/or outperformance of pilot. The desired outcome should result in 100% of the five (5) selected intervention schools meeting the Priority School exit criteria established by the state’s federal approved Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”) plan no later than the end of the pilot with the support of qualified vendors
Since everybody else in the old gang is making money again, let’s get Kevin Huffman and Chris Barbic on the phone. Or better yet….what’s David Mansouri doing?
MNPS will be holding the first of two information sessions on planned ESSER funds usage on August 3rd at 6 pm. The session is remote and you can register here. Learn more about the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and how the district plans to use the funds.
It’s worth noting that MNPS has removed links to its social media feed from the home page. This may be a new development, or not, I noticed it for the first time today. A glimpse at their Twitter feed shows that it is still regularly being updated, so I’m not sure why the change…or if it even matters.
It ain’t education necessarily, but hopefully, State Senator Heidi Campbell is calling for increased scrutiny and review of Governor Lee’s contract awarding process. There has been a whole lot of questionable contracts awarded during his first term, and we applaud Senator Campbell for raising questions about them.
That’s a wrap. See ya on the flip side.
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